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From the Mixed-up Files of Aiba Masaki, (Amateur) Detective

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The reader may justly inquire as to the cause of my jealousy; if I have occasionally represented the detective as somewhat ridiculous or (at best) overzealous in his amateur pursuit of truth, I hope these pages have also evidenced his remarkably kind, generous, and faithful character. In my defense, I can only assure the reader that I never suspected Aiba—but I feared that his heart might turn towards another. Especially towards one who seemed in nearly every respect to have the advantage of me, save his former betrayal—if more foolish, Professor Sakurai was also more sociable, more handsome, and more affluent than myself, and he possessed the full use of all of his limbs.

Only such persistent jealousy could have drawn me to a card table before Lord Kazunari; having performed my task, I was prepared to receive news of Professor Sakurai’s notorious deeds. At the moment, it was difficult to imagine the professor possessing any particularly dark secret: he was sitting by the fireside, scouring a London paper with a furrowed brow, biting his lip in concentration as he read. The professor was always eager for news, determined to “assess the current political climate” each day. Aiba, Ohno, Lady Riisa and Madame Becky were engaged in a new game in the dining room, which opened off the parlour. We’d cleared the room to replace the hardwood flooring, and in its empty state they’d taken to shuffling smooth stones (taken from the garden) across the floor with brooms, smacking their stones against one another in a complex system of gained and lost points that had been devised by the detective. The four were laughing merrily, the gentleman having removed their jackets and the ladies’ hair already beginning to escape from its pins. I was tempted to join them.

But Lord Kazunari had arranged our interview under the pretext of a card game, and I had already waited through at least four of his tricks (I guessed that he had learned something of card sharping during his London adventuring). My patience was at an end. “You admit that I have fulfilled my promise?”

His lordship nodded meditatively, passing the deck between his hands before spreading the cards in a smooth arc before me. “Those were his exact words? That he would never allow me to “support” him?”

“Yes. I do not think you need fear the loss of his affection. It is only his pride that prevents him.”

His lordship selected a card, not bothering to examine it before laying it before me. The Ace of Hearts. “Then I know what I shall do,” he murmured in a low voice, his eyes downcast.

I felt too strong an interest in the fate of the strange couple to resist inquiry. “What is your plan?”

“Draw a card,” his lordship instructed me. With a noise of exasperation, I obliged him, knowing I should get nothing out of him until I had admired his trick. I drew a card at random. The King of Hearts. “Another,” he demanded. The Queen of Hearts. “Another,” he grinned, his eyes shining. It was the Joker of Hearts.

“Very impressive,” I muttered, endeavoring to conceal my astonishment. “And your plan?”

His lordship swept the cards back into his left hand. “I shall sign all my fortune over to Riisa. Once I am penniless, Satoshi will have no choice but to take me in and support me. Otherwise I shall starve on the street.”

Now I could not hide my astonishment, “Had you not better inform Ohno of your plans?” I cried.

His lordship shushed me, continuing in a low voice, “No, it will be better to show up on his doorstep after the transfer is already completed—then he will not have the heart to turn me away. If I tell him now, he would disappear in order to prevent me.”

It may strike the reader as curious that I did not attempt to dissuade his lordship from this folly; but since meeting his lordship and seeing him with the valet, I found it impossible to imagine the two separating. Lord Kazunari had proved himself an eccentric man who placed little value on his fortune. My only concern was that the good-hearted valet should be chained to such a creature for the rest of his life.

“And Professor Sakurai?” I prompted as his Lordship dealt another hand.

His Lordship laughed aloud, perhaps at my lack of reaction to his scheme. “Is it really so necessary? From what I can tell, you and Aiba seem to be infatuated with one another.”

I could not help glancing toward the detective; catching my eye, Aiba paused in the game to gift me with a blinding smile. He raised a hand in greeting, the action cut short when Ohno’s stone crashed into his foot. The detective slipped but pulled himself back up, flushing as he nodded toward me to reassure me of his recovery.

Sheepishly, I returned his wave. I turned back to the sound of his lordship’s cackling, “You are crimson, doctor! As I thought, the two of you are sickening in your fondness for one another. I wonder that you should be jealous. Unless…” his lordship assumed a thoughtful expression.

I could not prevent myself from tensing. “What do you refer to?” I demanded.

His lordship smirked, “The two of you have not…?”

My face was aflame. His lordship shook his head, “What are the two of you about? I know that you share a bed every night. What have you been…”

“Your lordship!” I hissed, endeavoring to suppress him with all the combined force of my eyebrows.

His lordship continued in a voice of false concern, “If it is your first time, doctor, I can certainly offer you any necessary advice…”

“Nino!” I exploded, “If you do not cease these speculations, I shall go out to the lawn and dismantle Ohno’s sculpture myself, piece by piece.”

His lordship’s lips were sealed instantly, and he returned my glare with no inconsiderable intensity. He slapped down another card.

“And it is not my first time,” I mumbled, flushing again as I stared fixedly down at my hand of cards, “And we have been...affectionate. It is only that some of us have a sense of propriety and do not immediately…attack…our partners after a moment’s acquaintance…”

“I think Aiba would enjoy it very much if you attacked him.”

I prayed that the detective was not looking in my direction; I must have looked ill. “Well,” I retorted, attempting to turn the conversation in my favor, “I should have many more opportunities…alone…with the detective if I were not plagued by the professor’s presence.”

His lordship’s eyes sparkled, “For such a noble cause, I am at your service, Jun. Prepare yourself—I can inform you of how to instantly make our professor appear the most unappealing and foolish of men.” He leaned over the table to whisper conspiratorially, “Challenge him to a cricket match. He can never resist a game, but I assure you that his playing makes him look like the greatest dunce in existence. I have seen young ladies desperately in love with our professor who turned cold an instant after seeing his performance on the pitch.”

I could only sigh. “Nino,” I spoke with exasperation, “I cannot play cricket myself. I would look just as foolish.”

A rare occurrence—his lordship was caught off guard. “Why not?” he frowned. Comprehension dawned as I gestured toward my leg. “The rum leg!” he exclaimed, clearly surprised, “I forgot! I never think of it,” his lordship huffed, looking vexed with himself.

I could not help smiling at his lordship’s mistake, the disappointment of his useless information softened by his look of genuine amazement upon recalling my injury. “Then you’ve nothing else to tell me?” I inquired gruffly, but with little expectation of anything pertinent forthcoming.

His lordship was deep in thought as he reshuffled the cards. Slowly, a malevolent grin spread across his countenance. His eyes glittered. “Snakes,” he pronounced triumphantly.

“Snakes?” I repeated skeptically.

“Sakurai’s greatest terror is of snakes, of all kinds. I have seen him weep from encountering a garden snake.”

I rolled my eyes, “That is all very well, but as I do not yet plan to place a snake in the professor’s bed, I think the information will be of little use.”

His lordship looked extremely satisfied with himself. “But are you not condemned to have the professor as a member of your hunting party tomorrow?”

His lordship was right. Lady Riisa had insisted on walking out to hunt in the surrounding woods; she declared herself a capital shot (claiming to have been taught to shoot by Lord Nakai himself during a country house party), and she assured us that Madame Becky was eager to experience the hunt for the first time. While Lord Kazunari must remain in the house (Ohno naturally agreeing to remain with him), she had successfully recruited Aiba, upon which the professor had volunteered his company, and I was forced to make one of the party as well.

“Yes,” I responded, “but it is not as if there are a great number of snakes to be found in the woods. Particularly in late autumn. Perhaps a few small ones in the garden.”

“But few of us are rational when it comes to our fears,” his lordship replied confidently, “Leave it to me, Jun. I shall inform Sakurai of rumours, heard from Daigo, of a writhing snake colony in the forest, and I should not be surprised if tomorrow morning he declares himself too ill for the outing.”

The scheme seemed unlikely, but the result would be welcome. I chanced another glance at the detective, who was raising his arms with a shout of victory as his stone smashed into Madame Becky’s. “I would be glad if your plan were to succeed. Thank you, Nino.”

His lordship smiled at me warmly, “It is nothing, Jun. I am only performing the office of a friend.”

I was taken aback by his words. Can I possibly convey to the reader my simultaneous emotions of horror and gratitude at the realization that his lordship—with the one exception of the detective himself—was perhaps my closest friend in the world?

“And that’s trump!” his lordship cried, slapping down a card. “You owe me five pounds.”

 

*

 

The morning of our hunt dawned clear and cold—cool in the shadows, but warm in the sunlight, and with a hard frost upon the ground that began to melt as we took our first steps into the nearby field.

True to his lordship’s promise, a subdued professor had appeared at breakfast to announce himself too ill to hunt, and our party consisted only of myself and the detective, Lady Riisa and Madame Becky. Madame Becky had dressed herself once again as a young man, borrowing a pair of my boots and stuffing them with silk to make them fit; Lady Riisa wore a regal-looking red hunting dress that I imagined would frighten every animal in the woods away.

The two women exchanged glances as I impulsively seized the detective’s hand as we strode across the sun-dappled meadow; Aiba looked as handsome as I had ever seen him in his boots and long coat, and he held his rifle (after first dropping it several times) with an easy elegance. He was whistling softly, as if to himself, but he paused and smiled when I took his hand, “I have never seen you look so cheerful, Jun. Do you enjoy hunting so much?”

I felt like laughing, but only smiled, “I enjoy your company.”

The detective looked impossibly pleased as he squeezed my hand; it was at that moment that Madame Becky, with a wry smile, suggested that we split into two groups and compete to bag the most birds. The rest of us readily assented to her plan and, as fond as we all were of each other, I believe each pair was delighted to be rid of the other. Madame Becky and Lady Riisa took off down the opposite path, giggling softly and poking at each other’s shoulders like a pair of schoolgirls.

I saw no reason to let go of the detective’s hand, and what should have been a concentrated pursuit of game devolved into a slow stroll; I do not know whether the detective was scanning the bushes and sky, but I was only watching the play of light upon his hair, and thinking with satisfaction of the complete appropriateness of his deerstalker cap in this setting.

“I have enjoyed our walks,” the detective broke the easy silence that had fallen between us, “and this stay has reminded me of the pleasures of searching the woods and fields for specimens, and of studying animal behavior in nature. Just yesterday the field behind the shed recalled an old query of mine concerning the appearance of the common mole…”

The detective launched upon a long and enthusiastic monologue upon the mole’s particular characteristics and social relations, but I must confess that I was listening only partly to his discourse. His talk of the pleasures of the outdoors revived an idea that I had been turning over in mind since first coming across the detective’s photograph of himself with a chimpanzee.

The detective was too good-natured to be offended when I interrupted his ramblings on the difficulties of actually seeing a mole with, “Detective, have you never thought of returning to your research? That is, professionally?”

The detective stumbled and paled; our hands broke. I instantly regretted my speech, but in another moment the detective had re-taken my hand, and he began to speak softly, his eyes flicking up anxiously to meet mine, “Indeed, with your usual acuity, I think you have read my thoughts. Many times in the past weeks I have felt a strong pull towards my old work...but when I think of how degraded my research has been…of how my name is linked in scientific circles to a scholar I abhor…”

“Then can you not contest it?” I returned, rather more warmly than I had intended, but I could not bear the sadness in his eyes, “If tripe has been published, then can you not write a better book? The book you always intended to complete? I would like to read your discoveries in print, and their scientific rigor and truth would surely be self-evident to anyone of real intelligence.”

The detective’s gaze was turned from me, his voice low, as he responded, “You would be proud of me if I were to complete my book?”

Guessing his fear, I pulled him towards me, bringing our faces near, “I am proud of you already, detective. I only wish for you to be happy. I fear that you miss your chimpanzees very much. So much so that you insist on treating me like one of your chimps,” I grumbled as I averted my eyes, suddenly shy under the sincere expression of wonder in the detective’s eyes.

“I am happy now that I am with you,” Aiba replied, his expression and tone so simple and direct, and so full of—I think I may write it—love that I felt as though the breath had been stolen from my lungs. The detective had a habit of winding me with his directness of expression; after so many years spent trying to conceal the softness I sensed at my core, the detective’ ready displays of vulnerability both pained and enchanted me.

I was leaning towards the detective when we heard the twig snap; in the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a young white-tail deer grazing quietly not ten feet off from where we were standing.

With a hasty glance at each other to confirm the reality of this sudden visitation, the detective and I slowly lowered ourselves to the ground, stilling even our breaths as we slowly withdrew our rifles and prepared to shoot. The deer continued chewing at the grass with perfect unconcern, even as the forest seemed to echo loudly with the release of the rifle’s catch.

We were both in position, but I found I could not take the shot; the beautiful creature’s long limbs and large brown eyes possessed an uncanny similarity to the hunter beside me. “Go ahead, detective,” I urged, “the shot is yours.”

I watched the detective glance repeatedly between his rifle and the nonchalant animal. Finally, he turned towards me with a sigh, laying down his rifle, “Riisa will have my head for this, but I cannot. Please, Jun, you can take him.”

I laughed as I set my rifle down beside his in the dirt, “Then I’m afraid neither of us is cut out for blood sport, because I can no more shoot him than you, especially when he demonstrates such trust in us.”

The deer had improbably begun to move even closer to our position, and after much rueful laughter at our weakness, the two of us fell to conversing as we watched the lucky animal enjoying his lunch. At first I was obliged to draw the detective out, but soon he was speaking (though with hesitation) of plans he had for his work, and of the possibility of attaining a position he had heard of at another college, and soon we were debating how best a work on the correspondences between animal and human expression might be addressed to the public. The detective appeared encouraged by my interest, and I was happy to observe the glow in his eyes as he spoke of it.

After some time, our deer seemed to grow dissatisfied with his current pleasure ground, and he began tripping away in the other direction. We watched him depart without much concern until Aiba recalled that the two ladies had taken the path leading to the eastern portion of the park; he feared that Lady Riisa would make short work of our friend. “It is foolish, I know,” he mumbled sheepishly, “but now that we’ve spared his life, I have a kind of interest in his future. Perhaps we could walk ahead to prevent Riisa, in case she should come across him?”

I also felt uneasy at the thought of Lady Riisa shooting him; I would never be able to eat the venison stew that would result. Thinking it just as well that her ladyship should be confined to the slaughter of birds, I followed Aiba to the path that led to the eastern portion of the forest, joking with the detective along the way.

It was as we were nearing the end of the path, which terminated in a clearing, that Aiba turned to me with a smile and said in a half-teasing, half-serious tone, “And when shall we see you publish a book of your own, doctor? Surely such an indefatigable reader of adventure stories as yourself, and one who has really been to the Sudan and lived his own adventure, cannot stop himself from writing such a book for long?”

“I would never write an account of my time there,” I replied coldly and immediately, “To travel with an army is nothing like the way it is represented in such books, and those stories do great damage by representing senseless greed, blood, and death as heroism.” The detective flinched visibly; I realized the harshness of my tone and expression too late.

I despised myself—of anyone in the world that I might vent my anger upon, how could I choose Aiba, the person most innocent of malice in England, if not the entire world? Yet, having spoken so barbarously to him, I could not recover myself—my tongue felt thick and stupid, and a heavy silence descended between us as I struggled to formulate a sentence that would undo the brusqueness of my reply. The detective’s silent presence before me—even the tense set of his shoulders—was torture.

It was in this state of confusion that we arrived at the end of the path, where only more confusion met us—I was wholly unprepared for the scene we encountered. I had observed the fast friendship between Madame Becky and Lady Riisa during their stay at Hayworth; as surprising as such a bond might at first appear, better knowledge of both Madame Becky and Lady Riisa convinced me that the two ladies were admirably suited for each other—Madame Becky was charming yet deeply pragmatic, Lady Riisa haughty but (I soon discovered) deeply eccentric, even fantastical in her notions. However, I had thought little more of their sudden friendship—we all lived together on such terms of cordiality that their fondness for one another seemed just another manifestation of our rural utopia.

If I had been less self-absorbed, I might have detected something more. The detective appeared just as shocked as myself, however, at the sight of Lady Riisa and Madame Becky at the far end of the clearing, Lady Riisa pressed against a tree, her legs wrapped (impossibly, it seemed) about Madame Becky’s slim waist, her crimson dress crumpled about her waist, the two women kissing passionately.

Aiba turned toward me, wide-eyed, mouth opening. Instinctively, I placed a hand over his mouth (I feared he would shout out loudly in surprise), and began dragging him back down the path as he gestured dumbly toward the two ladies, who were still (if appearances could be trusted) perfectly unaware of our presence. That my own instinct was simply to flee the scene is perhaps not to my credit; in any case, I did not release the detective until we were nearly at the edge of the woods, where we gaped at each other, panting. All awkwardness between us forgotten, I gasped, “Her ladyship and Madame Becky?”

Swallowing, Aiba nodded, his eyes slightly glazed, as though with fear, “Riisa and Becky!” He shivered, “I shall never know another moment’s peace if either should discover I am aware of their intimacy. They wish to keep it a secret!” he cried, as though affronted that they should not advertise their highly unorthodox alliance. But then the detective suddenly smiled. “Riisa and Becky,” he whistled softly, “do you think they are very much in love?” he asked with a tone and expression of deep concern.

I could not help smiling at the detective’s inquiry, “I could not say. They certainly like each other very much. Though I think if their…liason…should come to end, we shall all suffer for it. Both ladies have their own special flair for the dramatic.” Aiba and I exchanged a grin. I felt a kind of swelling gratitude for the two ladies—they had interrupted the strange mood between us, and all seemed set to rights.

As we stood simply grinning at each other, an image flashed upon my mind. In vivid detail, I imagined pressing the detective against a tree, kissing him passionately. The image possessed such force that I flushed—I took a step forward as if to take the detective’s arm, but recovering my senses, I drew back. “Shall we consider our hunt a lost cause and return to the house?” I suggested instead. Eyes wide, Aiba nodded, and I moved to follow the path back to Hayworth.

Only to be stopped by the detective’s own tight grip upon my arm. Suddenly, his wide eyes were before me, so close he seemed to block out the sun. “Jun,” the detective breathed, licking his lips before tugging urgently at my sleeve, his eyes pleading. I followed the detective as he drew me towards a clearing deeper in the woods, both of us stumbling in our haste to reach a more secluded spot.

It occurred to me that I had been in a state of keen anticipation since the morning—an anticipation suppressed and denied, but always present, and now, watching the detective bite his lip as he surveyed the ground for an appropriate place, I felt desire shudder through me, a spike of arousal traveling through my leg and groin. Unable to meet the detective’s eyes, I reached out to strip him of his long coat, spreading it upon the grass before shrugging out of my own and placing it beside the other. ‘Please,” I murmured with a sweep of my hand, inviting the detective to seat himself upon the coats.

Sighing, Aiba reached for my neck with a strong hand, tumbling me down to the ground along with him. It was upon our coats in the retired clearing that we kissed, with a force that I had never before sensed from the detective—his kisses demanded something from me, and I strove to return his passionate caresses with equal fervor.

I opened my eyes when the detective’s lips broke from mine; he was gasping. I stared into his eyes, dark yet perfectly clear. I could see my own breathless expression inside of them. I wondered what the detective saw as he studied my face—his gaze was constantly moving, as though eager to track every line, note every detail. Our lower limbs were now thoroughly entangled, and soon the pressure upon my lower half became unbearable.

First, I was atop the detective; then the detective was atop me. Then I was above; then below. It was as I struggled to reverse our positions once more that we finally began laughing as we continued to grapple with each other. “Jun,” the detective giggled breathlessly, lying back upon our coats and hauling me (rather roughly) by the collar to lie atop him, “Jun,” he repeated, his voice thick but affectionate, “Take me. I want you.” He pressed his lips to mine again. I spoke my “thank you” into his mouth, recognizing in his words his kindness—the permission he was granting me, when I was too frightened to give myself to him.

It was when I placed my mouth upon his cock that he began moaning in earnest, and it was then that he began frantically digging through the coat pocket beside him to produce, to my astonishment, a small jar of petroleum jelly. “You planned this?” I inquired with a raised brow.

The detective gifted me another beautiful smile as he responded in a scratchy voice (a voice that made my toes curl like a cat's), “I’d planned to style my hair, Jun. But since first meeting you, I’ve always been planning this.” His words sent a violent wave of arousal through me—I was glad when the detective reached a hand into my hair to bring my lips back to his, when he started guiding my hand to enter him.

I am lost (perhaps willfully so) when I try to write of these sensations—I do not know how to recapture how lost I felt then, but also how whole. Even as I entered him, I felt possessed, as though I were the one being taken. The detective wrapped one leg about my waist, digging a heel into the small of my back; his other leg rested beneath but curled about my injured leg, supporting me even then. He moaned and cried my name so loudly and so often that I would have been embarrassed if I had not myself been panting his name into his ear; he stroked my ear with fluttering fingertips as I moved inside him, always urging me forward; after only my first few thrusts he tugged at my hair demandingly (almost unconsciously, I think), crying “Faster,” as he wrapped his legs more tightly about me.

I wanted to prolong our joining—I’d wanted to make love to Aiba for the first time in a bed, where I could take care of him properly, slowly. But his voice and the feeling of his thighs trembling against my sides undid me; after a shamefully short period of thrusting as deeply and strongly inside of him as I dared, I was lost—all that reassured me was the sensation of his tightening and his release beneath me.

I collapsed—his hands were in my hair, stroking. I found the sides of his ribs, the ticklish spot just beneath his chest. I bit his shoulder, my eyes still blind from the intensity of my release. His chest was rising and falling rapidly, his breathing uneven. I traced his pounding heart with my fingertips. When I felt him twitching slightly beneath me I slipped from him, the movement accompanied by a strange lurching in my chest, as though I had suddenly misplaced my heart outside of my body. The still slackness of his limbs as I traced his arms with my fingertips and pressed against his legs made me wish to make love again—but a cloud passing over the sun, and a cold wind, reminded me that we would soon be missed.

With another pang, I moved away from the detective to locate the handkerchief in my coat pocket, returning to put the detective into what order I could. “Thank you,” I murmured as I finished, leaning over him and entangling a hand in his hair, holding his head still so that I could examine his expression.

He looked tired, and he was smiling, “You are very polite after making love, doctor,” he rasped.

I smiled, but there was a twinge of anxiety, “Is it…off-putting?”

“No,” Aiba rose to sit beside me and press his lips to the back of my ear, making me shiver, “I love your good manners. You are the most gentleman-like man I have known.”

Feeling the detective nuzzling against me, his arm about my waist, my hand tracing his thigh, I felt a sense of elation previously unknown to me. It occurred to me that I had been afraid—afraid that, somehow, performing the act itself would sully Aiba, or (more frighteningly) that it would reveal me to him in a way that he would abhor—that it would hurt or disgust him. Instead, all seemed only more right. Entirely different, but the same—the detective’s beautiful smile was undimmed.

And I love you, I thought. But I did not speak the words, even as Aiba told his love for me into my shoulder.

 

*

 

This chapter can never be published, of course. Its likely fate is to be thrown into the fire. Here, I have strayed far and wide from all of interest to the common reader—the case, the fate of Lord Kazunari. But how can I resist the temptation to return to these scenes, these actions and sensations, how can I resist dwelling on your sweet generosity even as it torments me? I no longer regret that our first time did not take place as I had imagined it, that it seemed to overtake us in the woods; instead, I regret that I was not courageous enough to speak these words until there was little chance of your hearing them. Even now, I can only write them: Aiba, I loved you then.