The butlers at St. Lucia Academy were having their monthly meeting, which consisted of attending to business as usual, maintaining security, keeping informed of new International Butler policies, and discussing any agendas that would improve the environment in which their ladies resided.
At the end of the meeting, Rihito ushered Nezu aside. “May I have a word with you?”
While the other butlers took no notice, they lingered about, chatting about recent events that occurred in the academy, exchanging ‘secrets of their trade’ as Daimon would call it.
“What is it?” Nezu asked, leaning casually against the wall.
“I was wondering…how do you go about, ahem, what do you do…to set up boundaries between yourself and Fujiko-sama?”
“I don’t,” he replied.
Rihito gulped audibly, and Nezu smirked in return. “It’s not up to me to determine anything. Besides, you should know, I do whatever my lady wishes.”
Rihito thought for a moment. “I see. Perhaps I should consult someone else who—”
“Are you having troubles with Mei-chan?”
“Nezu-san, please don’t call her that.” While Rihito’s tone was stern, Nezu couldn’t help smirking even more when he looked at Rihito’s reddening face.
“Here’s a word of advice. Even though your lady sets the boundaries, you can always test them out yourself.”
This had obviously never occurred to an S-rank butler who obeyed his lady’s word to the T. Suddenly, the room was very quiet and he realized all the other butlers were circled around him, listening intently. Some were also nodding in agreement.
“Mei-sama’s not really one to show her true emotions outwardly, so this may be the best option.” Roppongi stated.
“That’s true,” Okachimachi chimed in. And soon, all the butlers started giving him suggestions and it took everything in Rihito’s objective power not to turn in a blushing tomato.
Later that night, Rihito prepared Mei's dinner as usual. He had just served her some Miso soup and salad when he noticed Mei staring intently at his hands.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
Without even looking back at her, he answered, "Cutting up the chicken. Is there something else you'd like with your meal?"
"No...but you've been slicing that piece of chicken for two minutes. Look, you've nearly cut through half the bone!"
"Ahaha, I have." His laugh was totally faked in an attempt to distract Mei while he hurriedly fixed another plate of food for her."Sorry for the wait, Mei-sama." She nodded.
"You're acting oddly strange today. Is something wrong?" She tried not to laugh at how bad Rihito was at lying and hiding things, though she was immensely distracted by how close he was standing next to her. To answer her question, he bent down, his face inches from hers and smiled. "No, don't worry about me."
She blinked several seconds and tried to breathe. What is this man doing to me?, she thought. He keeps forgetting that we’re not supposed to be close like this.
"O-okay." Suddenly, the chicken seemed really interesting and she started digging in. "This is delicious."
There was a loud thump on the door and they both turned around. Rihito went to investigate only to find an empty hallway. He shut the door and found Tami and Kanda eating along with Mei. He sighed. "I should have known."
"How have things been for you, Mei?" Izumi asked as Kiba poured them both tea. Izumi had invited Mei over to see how the garden was doing since Shiori had left. Instead of roses, the greenhouse was filled with Kiba's own batch of daisies and petunias.
Mei took a sip of her tea. "The usual. Trying to catch up. Grandpa has me taking lessons on top of class, so it's a little tough. I don't understand the concept of 'ladylike' walking. It’s all the same to me, putting one foot in front of the other. And I have to learn how to eat without moving my head or hands too much..." Mei let out an exasperated sigh and laughed. "But I'm sure you've already mastered that, Izumi-san. Have you been enjoying yourself here?"
“I have, though I have to admit…” They continued talking as Rihito and Kiba busied themselves by the window.
Kiba was watering some plants. "How are things?" he asked, referring to Rihito and his ‘dilemma.’
"Still trying to figure things out. Mei-sama is like a puzzle; there are so many pieces and I’ve yet to find the corner edges."
"I'm sure you will. I've been with Izumi-sama since I was 12, but I remember how it was like trying to figure out what was normal for us. Usually, she’d keep her distance, but sometimes, when she had nightmares, I would actually hold her hand until she went back to sleep. It was hard not showing my adoration for her, but during the times when we're alone, we just disappear into our own world it seems.” Kiba was as enthusiastic as ever. “As butlers, we are the closest thing to family away from family. For me, Izumi-sama is family.” He beamed simply by looking at Izumi. It was nice to watch Kiba and Izumi together, despite her Sole rank now, they acted just as they always had.
Family, huh? Rihito thought to himself.
The next week proved to be a challenge to the dismay of Rihito’s sanity. Ever since that kiss a couple months ago, he couldn’t get past the fact that he had crossed a line, but there was no ending in sight. There would be no progress for their ‘relationship,’ because he was forever going to be Mei’s butler and nothing else. At least, according to the world they lived in. He easily stepped back into his role as the S-rank butler, but where did the butler side of him end and the man in him begin? He had balanced it so well before…what changed?
“Me.” Mei’s voice filtered into his thoughts.
Rihito coughed. “Excuse me?”
“Oy, did you not hear me?” she said, placing her arms on her waist. “I said, come help me.”
“Oh, of course.” He rushed to gather things around the room to put in the suit case.
“The one time I order you to do something and you’re day-dreaming,” Mei mumbled to herself. “I can’t believe Grandpa is making me go overseas to attend some conference. This has got to be some kind of torture.”
“It’s part of your training, Mei-sama. The more of these ‘parties’ you attend, the more you’ll get used to it. Besides, a lot of people have been waiting to meet you.”
“I don’t care. They can wait till I’m officially out of school.”
“You’ll do fine. This is your first time on a plane, right?”
“After riding a helicopter, I really don’t think it would be any different. Not exciting in the least.” Rihito chuckled. Mei was on an ‘I’m-against-everything’ streak at the moment.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be there to protect you,” Rihito said, moving closer towards Mei and putting an arm around her shoulders. She couldn’t help but relax a little at his touch, but then a thought flitted into her mind. Oh crap, what am I going to do? We’re going to be staying in the same room, like actual room with no walls between us….
“Mei-sama?” Rihito questioned her silence.
“Oh..ahem, just thinking what else to pack. I’ll go grab my stuff from the bathroom,” she quickly excused herself and locked herself in the bathroom.
New York, USA
“We have a room reserved for Mei Hongo, please,” Rihito said in perfect English.
Wow, this man is really good at everything, Mei thought.
The girl at the desk handed over the room key and smiled. “Are you on your honeymoon?”
Rihito laughed. “Oh no no, we’re here on business.”
“Oh,” the girl said, like she didn’t believe him. “Well, I hope you enjoy your stay at the Hilton.”
Mei looked over at Rihito, expecting translations as they entered the elevator.
“She asked if we were on our honeymoon.” Rihito hid his smirk well, even as Mei was coughing from disbelief.
After a few calming breaths, she stated, “She only said that because we look like tourists. I’m still trying to get used to you wearing normal clothing.”
“Of course, people would stare if I were wearing a suit and vest.”
“Great, and then, we would really look like a married couple.” Mei rolled her eyes.
“We still have a few hours before you have to attend the party. What would you like to do?”
“Can we explore the city?” Mei asked excitedly.
“As you wish.”
They took a cab to Central Park, Mei watching the countless skyscrapers in awe as they traversed through traffic. They remained in a comfortable silence even as they walked around the park, enjoying the foreign scenery, making a game out of watching other people in the vicinity.
Mei started, “Okay. See that young girl over there, sitting on the blanket? She’s sun-bathing, waiting for her best friend to come back with food. What do you think?”
“I can see that as well. How about the little family right over there?”
“Hmm. It looks like it’s their first time to this park. Perhaps even their first picnic as a family.”
“You seem to be really good at this, Mei-sama,” Rihito commented. “If only our lives were as simple as what other’s appeared to be…” Rihito sighed, but suddenly thought that he had spoken out of line. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that—that I’m dissatisfied…I am very sorry, Mei-sama. I didn’t mean to sound rude.” Rihito said, his head hanging low and hoping he had not offended his lady.
“Rihito…” She said softly, yet wanting to yell at him, for thinking that she would be bothered by something so small. “You and me, we're not exactly the average combination. Here I am, someone who knows nothing about being a lady, and you, who is a lady’s greatest companion. But you and me, we're just...us. If that means that I'm a butler's worst nightmare when it comes to having other people do things for me, then that's just how it is. If being us means me wanting you to be Rihito and not my butler, then…" Mei realized that she may have said too much.
“…then that’s what I’ll be,” he stepped in to fill in the following silence, naturally completing her sentence.
Mei stared at him for a moment, searching his eyes for that would mean.
Rihito smiled warmly at her, “I’ll be your family.” He slowly and gently pulled her closer to him, and they stood there, holding each other.
“People are going to see us like this.” Mei quietly said. She held him tighter, ears pressed to his chest as she listened intently to the rumbling echoes of Rihito’s slight chuckle.
“It’s okay. We’re family after all,” he stepped away slightly and taking a hold of her hand. She felt the warmth of his hands for the first time and held on tight.