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Heartache to heartache, we stand

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Tadashi is 13 when he finds out via eavesdropping what the kitchen help says happened to Ainosuke-sama’s mother.

They’re playing hide-and-seek and Tadashi is hiding behind a door to a pantry that’s always open, inched against the cold wall, sitting on the floor, knees to his chest. The maids don’t see him, of course they don’t, so they speak their mind without ceremony.

Rumor has it that the poor woman was truly in love with Aiichiro-sama and did love Ainosuke-sama. But she had a weak mind, as they put it. Tadashi doesn’t think he understands everything, mentions of Aiichiro-sama’s picking lovers while she was pregnant – as all rich men do, so why did she take it so personal?, they whisper – and postpartum depression colliding with scathing remarks from Aiichiro-sama’s sisters. She couldn’t resist, she couldn’t handle all of it, the heartbreak, the loneliness, the harsh undeserved criticism.

He doesn’t understand everything, but he understands plenty.

One says Ainosuke-sama has her smile, bright and open and unguarded.

(Tadashi will find out later in life that Ainosuke-sama is also capable of grinning madly like Aiichiro-sama, all cruel teeth and sharp edges.)

Another says Aiichiro-sama basically pushed her towards madness, who could survive in an environment such as this one?

Tadashi puts his hands over his mouth and prays despite their family being non-believers that Ainosuke-sama can survive here. God, not just that, he wants for Ainosuke-sama to thrive.

Tadashi never retells any of this to Ainosuke-sama. He scurries away as soon as everything is quiet again, pretending he hasn’t listened to adults talking about the butler finding Ainosuke-sama’s mother in the bathtub one chilly morning, water dyed red, her complexion pale and unhealthy, slashes on her wrists. He thinks he vaguely remembers the flurry of servants and medics, even a few police officers years and years back. No, Tadashi never asks Ainosuke-sama if he knows his mother killed herself. He just hides in another spot and calms his racing heart, hoping Ainosuke-sama finds him soon so they can skate or even do homework together. Anything that puts his mind away, his queasy stomach in disagreement with this new knowledge.

Tadashi is 15 when Shindo Aiichiro calls him with his parents to his office.

He feels sick, probably can’t hide the trembling of his body. Aiichiro-sama has never directed a word at him but Tadashi isn’t as naive as to think the man hadn’t notice how Tadashi befriended Ainosuke-sama, how unbecoming, the child of a servant not knowing his place, grasping for something he shouldn’t be able to reach.

And for him to call the whole Kikuchi family...

His father is a loyal worker, his mother too. They own the Shindos for hiring them when they were young and Tadashi barely a baby, no one else was offering them jobs and for that, their parents will always feel indebted to the Shindos. Tadashi, childish and ungrateful and selfish, stepped out of line.

He was so stupid, he wanted to comfort little Ainosuke-sama so badly those years ago and then every time the boy sought him out, how was Tadashi supposed to say no to him? How was he supposed to deny Ainosuke-sama from skating when it makes his eyes shine and his smiles so bright?

His father puts a hand on his shoulder, and knocks on the door.

Aiichiro-sama’s voice is a blooming authoritative sound instructing them to come in, a placid smile on his face, a woman with a notebook in hands at his side. Somehow despite being the only one sitting down, he looks more powerful than any of them. It checks out. That man is the most important person in this room, in the manor to be honest.

His stare singles out Tadashi and his legs almost give out. He walks forward anyway, hiding any trace of discomfort; he’s been learning to look inconspicuous, to not react to the Shindos in any disrespectful way, especially before the three women Tadashi despises so much. His face, as blank as a teen can manage.

The woman – Aiichiro-sama’s secretary, Tadashi knows her name, of course he does, but it isn’t coming to mind at this terrifying moment – clears her throat and puts some papers down the desk, giving a curt nod, a sharp greeting to the Kikuchis and then she’s excusing herself. As if this doesn’t concern her in the least.

“Please have a seat.” And raising a hand, palm open, he indicates the three sturdy chairs in front of his desk.

His father nods and it’s the first one to sit, his mother follows and he at last complies, forcing his hands to remain relaxed on his lap.

For a flash of a moment, Aiichiro-sama’s whole focus is on him, Tadashi licks his lips in a nervous involuntary movement and the way those cold eyes are alight with something he can’t name makes every alarm in him go off. It doesn’t last long enough for his parents to notice but it conditions Tadashi’s disposition. This is a cruel man, just like his sisters, who rather people fear him than anything else. He’s okay with presenting himself impeccably and grandiose and flawlessly charming but inside, deep inside, he has no care for others, no fondness to exert. When he looks at others, he just sees tools to achieve whatever he wants.

He fears so much for Ainosuke-sama. Will he become like this? Will his genes or the influence of the adults of the manor turn him into a horrible man like his father?

(This question will haunt him for so long, it will take him literal years to find an answer.)

“You’re friends with my son, are you not?” He opens the conversation with that.

It startles him and he hears his mother suck in a breath, shocked or worried he can’t tell as he is still looking directly at Aiichiro-sama’s amused grin.

“Shindo-sama… Sir, we are extremely sorry—”

The man chuckles, a cold shudder runs down Tadashi’s spine and it silences his father immediately.

“No need to apologize.” He says. Aiichiro-sama launches himself into a nice speech about the importance of kids socializing, how the two boys get along which has prompted him to think of so many possibilities for Tadashi’s future.

Tadashi watches Aiichiro-sama talk, lips moving, voice gracefully confident along with non-threatening hand gestures. The perfect politician. He doesn’t hear a word, he barely processes the general idea of it. It feels like an out of body experience, maybe this is what dissociating is like.

The man proposes to take Tadashi under his wing so to speak, send him to a prestigious school, pay for him to go to college while working as an assistant for his secretary to make sure Tadashi learns and gains practical experience, if he’s talented enough he will replace his secretary as soon as he’s ready and someday will become Ainosuke-sama’s personal secretary.

It’s a double edged sword.

Tadashi can’t believe it. Aiichiro-sama isn’t doing this from the good of his heart, he’s sure of it. But his parents— their eyes shine with unshed tears, imagining something better for Tadashi, a degree, an important job. A future they can’t offer. It makes Tadashi sick to think he will own the Shindos so much.

He has nothing to say, it is decided for him, his parents beyond grateful, Aiichiro-sama scheming something.

(Tadashi will remember this moment and convince himself this is where his true betrayal to Ainosuke-sama started. A punishment from Aiichiro-sama, taking Tadashi away, dangling a promise of them working together in some distant future.)

Tadashi stands out like a sore thumb in his new school. It’s only a few years, he knows. Still, it alienates him more and more as time goes by.

Ainosuke-sama is mad at him, for having accepted Aiichiro-sama’s proposal because it means his workload has increased and his free time is spent with Aiichiro-sama’s secretary doing what little a boy his age can to help her. Preparing for the future.

He doesn’t have the heart to explain to Ainosuke-sama that he didn’t have a choice. But this is what sets them apart after all. One can choose his path and the other is forced to accept what’s put upon him.

(Later, much later, Tadashi will understand that they weren’t that different in this regard in the end.)

Sato Kumiko – that’s her name – is a serious middle aged woman, dark clothes and impassive expressions. Her heels click loudly wherever she goes, steps steady and lips in a thin line as if indicating she’s way too busy to make any small talk or stop more than a few seconds to supervise something. It might as well be true, she’s Shindo Aiichiro’s personal secretary after all.

Tadashi is amazed as soon as he lands eyes on her, she’s efficient, meticulous and very much the right hand of the master of the Shindo state.

She isn’t particularly patient or welcoming but she’s kind enough to him. And besides the real knowledge he requires for the position, she sometimes offers life advice. Tadashi doesn’t always know what to do with her words of wisdom, but he stores it all in his mind, sure someday he will have use for them.

He’s young, young enough to be her son for example. However, she doesn’t treat him like a child, Aiichiro-sama doesn’t do that either. He’s a quick learner, that much pleases them both and he can see himself at Ainosuke-sama’s side when he’s older just like this, like Kumiko-san and Aiichiro-sama right now.

(Oh how right and how wrong he was, Tadashi will muse about those thoughts and comparisons and it will be a source of amusement and distress.)

The validation feels nice even when he can tell there’s always something somber beneath the surface. Maybe he is naive despite it all. Maybe he enjoys sitting with Kumiko-san in silence filling and archiving while she pours over Aiichiro-sama’s schedule. Mostly, he misses Ainosuke-sama but loves that they find stolen moments to be together, skate and talk to each other.

He doesn’t realize how useful he is until one day Kumiko-san claims to have a day off. Panic settles in, Aiichiro-sama laughs and proceeds with the proposal he was writing down without any opposition. He can’t, for the life of him, tell her she isn’t allowed a free day so forcing his face to remain neutral he nods and asks if there’s anything important he must know.

“Sure.” She replies, offering an atypical tiny smile. “Follow me.”

“Ah, keeping secrets from me, I see.” Aiichiro-sama manages to complain, no heat behind it, as they retreat from his office.

“You’re alright.” She mentions, both walking towards the window that surveys part of the garden. Down there, his father is diligently working, tending to the roses he so dearly loves. “You’re capable.” It seems she’s reciting manufactured uplifting phrases, it is a bit strange. But that small smile remains and it makes him feel better. “Just don’t give him the satisfaction to snap. No matter what he says or does or implies or yells, just stay calm.”

That’s the first real noticeable clue Kumiko-san gives him about Aiichiro-sama not being the marvelous man others think he is.

“Don’t show him emotions he can latch onto and exploit.” It’s nothing more than a whisper carried by the wind, Tadashi hears it loud and clear and nods.

This is a test, leaving him alone with Aiichiro-sama.

His father lifts his head, sees them and waves warmly. Kumiko-san is serious once again, she raises her hand in mute acknowledgment and Tadashi feels nauseous all of a sudden. He doesn’t betray his newly-acquired stoicism and waves back expressionless. His father doesn’t seem to care that his son has lost his smile.

Time goes by and Kumiko-san has a few more free days, not too many. Aiichiro-sama does yell and imply and do many things that make Tadashi uncomfortable. More times than not Kumiko-san bears the brunt of this treatment, sometimes both of them receive his rage or cruelty.

He does prove himself valuable though.

He holds every moment with Ainosuke-sama dear to his heart, trying to show him the affection the boy isn’t receiving from anyone. And Tadashi wishes he had the bravery to ask about those scars on his arms, to take him to Kumiko-san and plan with her how to save Ainosuke-sama, how to save the three of them, his parents.

(Tadashi will understand much later that Kumiko-san wasn’t a beacon of light and salvation, she was another broken adult dancing at the rhythm of the Shindos. Usually, willingly. But sometimes…

Either way, he doesn’t resent her.)

Tadashi is 17 when he starts thinking he loves Ainosuke-sama more than advised. More than he should, for sure. A part of him rationalizes by understanding that no one else loves him, not his father who doesn’t really care for him more than as an heir and accessory, not his aunts that only want to shape him into the kind of man that will assure their lives’ status.

Tadashi loves him selfishly in his own way. In the way one loves something beautiful and unattainable, he wants him to be free and exuberant and happy. He already did too much by introducing the boy to skating, by enjoying the friendship they have. He knows he took one too many liberties with his relationship with Ainosuke-sama because even Aiichiro-sama noticed. Because this job and his education, it’s all a plan to subtract him from Ainosuke-sama’s life. It works in tandem, but it doesn’t diminish completely the way Tadashi still feels for Ainosuke-sama and some days the absence only makes the heart grow fonder.

Tadashi is 19 when he’s faced with the glaring evidence that Aiichiro-sama fucks around. He allows himself the use of those crass words because by now he has proved again and again to be a useful tool, a discreet one at that, Tadashi knew Aiichiro-sama’s preferences if only by overheard comments and suppositions and he has never divulged or questioned anything. By the Lord, how he wants to question him, his absolute power and confidence. Defy him after he has the guts to slap Kumiko-san. He’s proved himself useful and understands what he’s dealing with here, no need to sweeten things inside his own mind.

The woman coming out of Aiichiro-sama’s office is barely Tadashi’s age, conventionally attractive, she has what looks like her underwear in her hand, absently patting her black curly hair to tame it some. Aiichiro-sama is at the door, watching her with lustful eyes and rumpled clothes, a pleased smirk that Tadashi imagines is his post-coital smile.

His face morphs into an ugly grimace at the mere sight of Tadashi.

Maybe he forgot Kumiko-san was attending an important matter Aiichiro-sama himself delegated to her, although he shouldn’t be surprised to see Tadashi after asking for his secretary, at this point Tadashi and Kumiko-san are almost interchangeable. The young woman licks her lips and gives Tadashi a once over, apparently hoping for another client.

“You know what to do.” Aiichiro-sama sneers.

It makes the woman turn around but Tadashi doesn’t give her time to say anything.

“Yes, sir.” He avoids the name as if the sex worker couldn’t figure out who this man is, as if Shindo Aiichiro isn’t a public person. Standing on her line of vision, blank expression and empty eyes, he raises his hand to point the direction they must go. “Please follow me.”

And that is that. He takes her outside of the mansion by the most deserted hallways making sure no one sees her, calls her a car and watches her disappear into the dying afternoon.

Except it isn’t the end of it.

The plan forms in his head and he tries his luck. Probably it’s the lack of sleep that makes him bold – between college classes and assignments, his working hours and sneaking around at night to drive Ainosuke-sama to the city so he can skate with his school friends, he basically has no time to rest. If he gets three or four hours of sleep at night, that’s nearly a miracle.

He’s frayed and doesn’t show it.

Absentmindedly, he wonders if he should run his idea through Kumiko-san or speak with his parents at least. He doesn’t. He marches towards Aiichiro-sama, lounging calmly in the northern garden with a glass of imported whiskey, suit jacket missing and tie loose, the first few buttons of his pristine white shirt undone, his shoes are beside the deck chair he’s resting on.

It is quite late, his sisters won’t be bothering him about decency here and now so he grins at Tadashi, all teeth and readiness to lash out.

“Aiichiro-sama, a word?” He asks.

The man waves his free hand in the air, dismissive. “If it’s work-related, it can wait. If Kumiko sent you because of what happened, I don’t care to hear it.”

“What happened?” His face remains impassive, but it doesn’t prevent the other from glaring at him, irritated.

“You know what. That special visit.” He intones through gritted teeth like it stings to mention that young woman.

“Ah.” He forces himself to not look away. “Kumiko-san didn’t send me. In fact I haven’t talked to her about it at all.” He explains.

Tadashi is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them. Kumiko-san knows of each and every sexcapde of Aiichiro-sama, she supplies the women surely. That isn’t to say that discretion isn’t valuable, he knows the importance of keeping quiet about the things that you’ve witnessed. And Aiichiro-sama is smarter and more cunning than him so of course he knows there are ulterior motives here.

Narrowing his eyes at him, Aiichiro-sama takes a hearty sip of his drink. “I imagine then that what you want to speak with me has nothing to do with that.” And the both of them know where the lie is placed, precariously above the trust they’re developing for each other. “Talk.”

He licks his lips despite having been fighting this bad habit, he’s nervous but mostly just tired.

“I gather Aiichiro-sama has heard by now that my mother is pregnant.”

And wasn’t that an incredible surprise for Tadashi? She’s showing enough that everyone in the mansion knows and what a wild thought to remind himself he will be an older brother soon. Aiichiro-sama smirks, suddenly amused by this turn of events. Tadashi can’t imagine what the man was expecting, this wasn’t it though, that much is evident.

“Yes, of course. I have congratulated your parents already.” There’s a nauseating lilt to his voice, suggestive even. It makes Tadashi want to empty his stomach. Is Aiichiro-sama implying something untoward here? “What about it?”

It’s a dreadful plan, and he’s already here so he braves it out.

“Yes, I know they aren’t really that old but I would like for them to retire from servitude.” I want them away from the Shindos he doesn’t say although it must be crystal clear. I want them to raise my little sibling where none of us can damage them. The grin widens, Aiichiro-sama blinks at him, watchful and amused apparently. “I apologize if this is overstepping your trust, but I would like to propose for them to retire, maybe get a bonus so they can buy a little house.”

Another sip, Tadashi laces his fingers behind his back trying to straighten himself even more.

“And how would they sustain themselves and the new addition?” It is said as if Aiichiro-sama is waiting for Tadashi to confess that he will give his whole salary to his parents.

“I would like to think my father can have his own flower shop or vivarium.” He says slowly. “I would also be taking advantage of Aiichiro-sama’s generosity and asking for money in advance to help them set it up, I was thinking Aiichiro-sama wouldn’t mind lending me the money from my salary raise once I become your only secretary.”

He doesn’t choke on his drink, because that’s beneath a man of his status, but it is a near thing. Tadashi hardens his expression if only to not let it show how it satisfies him to ruffle Aiichiro-sama up. It’s a game right now, and Aiichiro-sama has always enjoyed playing. The line that divides this being blackmail from this being merely a wild request is thin, barely visible. Both count on it.

Aiichiro-sama considers it. Tadashi doesn’t really think his silence costs this much, he never thought about divulging anything. However, he will grab onto this chance, he truly needs his sibling out of this mansion as soon as possible and if it can be before birth, that’s even better. He knows his parents will hate him some, they are way too loyal to the Shindo family – and that’s saying a lot coming from someone like Tadashi, who is also loyal to a fault.

But there’s a substantial difference. His parents believe the Shindos are good people, Tadashi doesn’t. No, to be fair, Tadashi has the certainty that they aren’t.

“I suppose if I grant you this silly demand of yours—” Aiichiro-sama stops himself, once again a sour look crossing his face as if the mere idea of saying out loud anything relating to the sex workers he favors is phisically painful. Tadashi nods all the same. “I was right, I saw it in you and here you are, little minx that you are, I’m almost impressed.” It isn’t the first insult like this one he receives, he’s sure it won’t be the last one either. There are times when his scheming does impress Aiichiro-sama though. “I don’t want to hear another demand out of you, speak only if spoken to, boy.” His voice turns into cold fury, controlled but unmistakable. Tadashi has crossed a line and he already knows too much to be a loose end, Aiichiro-sama will indulge him this time and this time only. “I don’t want to hear another word from you, do you understand? You won’t have desires or opinions or wishes, become the puppet you’re meant to be, disgraceful little vixen.”

Those hard gelid red eyes are piercing through him and this is probably the first time Tadashi feels real fear, afraid this man will honestly hurt him.

He remains silent, dropping his chin to his chest and submitting.

Aiichiro-sama finally sighs, rearranges himself on the lounge chair forcing his muscles to relax.

“I will personally thank your parents for their hard work and ask them to retire. I will, as you gracefully put it, offer them a retirement bonus or to buy them a house.” This is what he wants, and still it feels like he’s having a feverish dream. “Prepare a budget so we can get over it, check with Kumiko her current payment and we’ll go from there.”

It’s more work, one Tadashi will gladly do.

“Thank you very much, Aiichiro-sama.” He hates his steady voice, the low bow in gratitude, the performance of it all. His heart is beating erratically inside his chest, trying to escape.

“For free, I will tell them how hard-working and honest their little Tadashi is and how I hope the new child will be at least half as committed.”

Tadashi hates everything about that promise that sounds like a threat. Mostly, he hates how he knows his parents will love to hear those words, how proud they will feel, how Aiichiro-sama will be convincing and charming paving the path for him to tell them about his plan, the money lent, the flower shop or any other kind of shop they want. And they will accept, because Aiichiro-sama will smile and embellish the work Tadashi pulls for him and the Shindo family.

(One day he will remember this conversation and convince himself that disobeying Ainosuke-sama can’t be that bad, entering a skating tournament wishing to once and for all take skating away from him can’t be worse than the time he subtly blackmailed Aiichiro-sama to get his parents and sister away from the Shindos.)

Seeing his parents parting is easier than expected, various maids and guards and other employees watch them go as well, a few even crying. It fills his chest with indescribable warmth to know they were loved and cared for as much as servants can for others. It mustn't show on his face because he can feel the stares, Tadashi has perfected the stoic act, a shield and a knife on its own merit.

When they disperse, it’s only Tadashi and the dirt road, the midday sky and his new loneliness. He wasn’t particularly attached to his parents, these last years he’s been so busy with everything Aiichiro-sama expects of him that he has rarely shared more than minutes at a time with his family. Still, there’s a gaping wound he himself opened. He’s glad no matter what.

Kumiko-san finally approaches him, Ainosuke-sama a few steps behind.

“Are you okay?” She asks.

He isn’t sure how to explain he isn’t but he also is very much okay, because this is what he wanted and he risked himself for it, it’s a plan come to fruition.

“Will you miss them?” Ainosuke-sama asks next, like he understands Tadashi can’t answer Kumiko-san’s question.

“Yes.” He replies and Ainosuke-sama stands next to him, as close as possible, even closer than property in public dictates.

It’s only them and Kumiko-san and the shy sun. He feels timid fingers near his hand, a pinky entwining with his own. Ainosuke-sama isn’t looking at him, watching the road ahead.

Maybe he’s thinking he wants to leave too, or maybe he thinks that if he isn’t looking back no one will be able to tell they’re holding hands.

Kumiko-san gratefully doesn’t say anything, he only hears her steps when she walks away from them.

Years have passed and Tadashi is still amazed at Kumiko-san. The way she artfully disengages from the drunk Diet member Aiichiro-sama is dining, regal and polite. Aiichiro-sama only observes the scene, amused to the core to find someone insane enough to flirt with his secretary.

The man makes an off-handedly comment wondering if Tadashi is Kumiko-san’s kid. It isn’t directed at him so he complies with his part of the deal, he keeps quiet. No need for him to answer though, as she curtly informs the man that he is not, but he might as well be so they should stay on their best behavior.

Tadashi doesn’t look like a teen anymore, but it’s outrageously obvious he is very young amongst middle aged people.

Drunk as he is, full of expensive food and quality alcohol, the man laughs and proclaims they almost seem like a lovely family. The parents and their child. Aiichiro-sama laughs with him and Kumiko-san shoots daggers at both.

It makes him want to puke. He has parents, and he loves them very much. And Aiichiro-sama has a son, who he ignores very much. Tadashi is hyper aware of the fact that he is here because Aiichiro-sama only wanted to punish Ainosuke-sama, remove Tadashi as a source of happiness from his life. He can’t let any of this show on his face.

He admires Kumiko-san a bit more after the one look she gives him, almost soft, before diverting the conversation to work-related topics.

Tadashi is 20 when Ainosuke-sama steals his first kiss.

He’s patching up some nasty scratches on his knees and legs in the middle of the night after he’s drived them both back to the mansion. Ainosuke-sama leans into him so Tadashi lifts his face thinking the boy will whisper something but in the end their lips collide, soft and inexperienced.

His own lips are dry while Ainosuke-sama’s feel plump and avid.

Seconds tick by and Tadashi moves away, eyes wide.

“What—?” He starts to say, getting cut off by Ainosuke-sama burying his hand in his hair and pushing him into another kiss.

He does surrender this time around, as a curious tongue probes at his closed lips. He kisses back, he holds onto Ainosuke-sama’s back and waist and when they end up in a tangle of limbs, trading hushed kisses back and forth it hits Tadashi full force he is an adult now.

Allowing himself this one make out session, he leaves the room with one last look and a promise.

“When you’re older.”

Tadashi is 21 when Kumiko-san advises him something he can’t even try to follow.

“Don’t fall for Ainosuke-kun. Loving a Shindo is condemning one’s soul to grief.” She tells him very seriously.

He nods nonetheless and clamps his mouth shut. He might be already doomed.

She will be retiring in a few months, right now they’re mostly focused on smoothing the transition of tasks – there’s only so little Kumiko-san does that Tadashi doesn’t know about, but it’s better to make sure everything is on track.

They’re taking a rare break in a coffee-shop not far away from where Aiichiro-sama is having a meeting.

She’s smoking more than drinking her coffee and he has a wild thought, wondering if Kumiko-san and Aiichiro-sama have ever shared a cigarette. For some reason it seems too intimate, too personal for the sharp-edged business relationship they have. However, he can imagine it has happened at some point.

“Actually, let me give you the last two lessons I can before leaving.” She shakes the ashes from the tip of the cigarette and they fall soundlessly into the ashtray. He nods again. “These are the last ones since they completely fall on you, there’s nothing I can do about them. Not because I’m leaving, but because…” She trails off, looks away, sucks another time and waits a bit before exhaling the smoke. “Well, you’ll understand.” She concludes.

Tadashi sips his coffee, it’s getting cold.

“Yes, Kumiko-san.” He agrees, without having any idea.

She smiles, it’s a tired pull of lips honestly. “The first one I just told you.” She puts the cigarette off methodically. “Don’t fall for Ainosuke-kun. Loving a Shindo will only ruin you.”

But he is already ruined. He has been between Shindos before he understood what that meant. Between the friendship he gives to Ainosuke-sama and the tool he’s become for Aiichiro-sama. Tadashi thinks of Ainosuke-sama’s mother and the rumors and thinks about Kumiko-san’s loyalty, her spark when Aiichiro-sama is in a good mood. It makes sense. It destroys him.

His silence is charged, as if she can read all of that on his face, on his hands that have touched Ainosuke-sama, on his lips that have kissed Ainosuke-sama, on his heart that desires Ainosuke-sama.

“Ah. I see.” She breathes out, looks at her cup and then back up at him. Tadashi prays the blush he’s feeling heating his cheeks isn’t noticeable. “The second one is this, an obvious one but worth the mention: beware of the ladies of the manor.” The way Kumiko-san whispers ladies in a tone almost disgusted undoes him.

Yes, yes he knows. He hates those three disgusting women. How can he not? How can aunts be like that with their nephew? How can they treat Ainosuke-sama like that?

Her tired smile turns into a half grin.

“You already know how to navigate around Aiichiro.” No honorific, it isn’t needed when it’s the two of them, when she’s leaving soon. “How to please him and play him.” That’s her way of saying she knows how he got his parents out of the Shindos’ grasp. “I’m not saying it will be easy, but you can do it. Now, the sisters…”

The uncompleted sentence is more than enough for Tadashi, he knows Kumiko-san can’t say her mind either.

(Years later, he will finally understand, for real. The power those women have over him, and the power they had over Kumiko-san, doesn’t derive from their last name. It comes from their relation to the men they love.)

“Tadashi.” She calls when he doesn’t say anything, lost in his own thoughts. “Don’t let your guard down. Don’t let them get the upper hand. Be smart, be secretive. Make sure to stay on Aiichiro’s good side if you’re expecting to go toe to toe with those bitches.”

The insult makes him gasp. He does believe they are bitches, but he’s been trained to be proper, he barely allows himself to think of them in those terms.

“Thank you, Kumiko-san.” He manages to utter at last. For everything she’s done, but he doesn’t know how to express the whole extension of his sincere gratitude.

She never touches her cup, going for another smoke instead.

Tadashi lied. He takes Ainosuke-sama’s hand when they’re sneaking back into the mansion and guides him to the most secluded spot in the garden. Ainosuke-sama goes willingly, the cologne one of his new friends uses still clings to him and it twists something inside his chest uncomfortably.

He’s already ignoring one of Kumiko-san’s lessons and she hasn’t been gone a day.

He stops and watches into red eyes. He has no opinions, he can’t speak unless spoken to, how is he supposed to tell the other what he wants?

“What is it?” Ainosuke-sama presses. His voice sounds so good now, he’s turning into a gorgeous young man and Tadashi feels like a perverted old man all of a sudden.

Ainosuke-sama grins, it’s nothing like his father’s grins. He lets go only to find himself being pressed against Ainosuke-sama’s chest and their heights are all wrong but he doesn’t have time to dwell on it, Ainosuke-sama is already kissing him with a ferocity that claims him and weakens his knees.

Tadashi suspects he’s been making out with other kids, he’s too good at this now. He spares two seconds to be jealous and then discards the notion, too busy trying to follow the other’s lead, hands twitching before holding onto Ainosuke-sama’s blazer.

He lied to himself thinking he could wait until Ainosuke-sama grew older for a repeat, but here he is, melting into his mouth, needy and sad in a way that he can’t explain.

“What’s the matter?” Ainosuke-sama asks out of the blue, separating them enough to look into his eyes. So it must be obvious.

He swallows against the lump in his throat, Ainosuke-sama seems serious now.

“Kumiko-san is leaving.” He informs him.

It makes the other blink.

“You’ll be my father’s only secretary from now on.” He affirms but this tone sounds like a question. Tadashi nods. “And what’s the matter?” He insists. “Are you afraid of staying all alone with my father?”

It’s a joke, it’s told as a joke. Besides, Tadashi isn’t exactly afraid of Aiichiro-sama, not really.

The amusement leaves Ainosuke-sama quickly. Fuck it, Tadashi must be really out of it today, is he really showing so much on his face?

“Are you?”

“No.” At least, he’s honest.

Ainosuke-sama looks him over, inspect his eyes, focuses on his mole for long seconds. He’s committing his pliantness to memory, or archiving the way he’s lax but tense at the same time, strung out under the deadpan expression.

“You’re worried about Kumiko?” An involuntary sound escapes him and Ainosuke-sama narrows his eyes. “You’re going to miss her.” He tries again, cautiously.

“She was like a second mother.” Tadashi half lies, half shocks himself because it feels true.

“Okay.” He concedes at last and brings them both to the mushy grass so they can keep making out while lying down.

Tadashi is 22 when the dream explodes on his face.

Funny because his life has been, more than anything, like living in Hell with a little taste of Heaven here and there.

Aiichiro-sama has always been smarter and more cunning, there was no way they could fly under his radar. And the only reason Tadashi only escapes with a slap and shouted insults is because Kumiko-san isn’t here anymore, it isn’t profitable to fire Tadashi and waste time looking for a new secretary.

So since Tadashi can’t go, he became a too useful instrument, then Ainosuke-sama must go.

Not before seeing his beloved skateboard burn and listening, to his surprise and total despair, how Tadashi doesn’t defend him. Ainosuke-sama will be shipped to America, to complete his degree, he can pick any servant he wants to accompany him except for Tadashi – not that Tadashi expects him to want him after this betrayal. It’s just Aiichiro-sama’s way of flexing in front of his son how much power he has and how the boy is helpless, it’s just Aiichiro-sama’s way of breaking both Tadashi and Ainosuke-sama with one hit.

The loneliness only widens the gap in his chest, Tadashi can’t have opinions and he wishes he wouldn't have feelings either.

That day Ainosuke-sama accuses him violently of being Aiichiro-sama’s dog.

(That day was the first time but it wasn’t the last. It will be something to accompany them in their relationship, changing as they change.)

Aiichiro-sama makes him book the flight and hotel, pull a list of places near the campus of his chosen university. Nothing is consulted with Ainosuke-sama. Tadashi doesn’t oppose, does as he’s told silently.

That night, he dreams of a garden full of black roses, a dark heavy sky and burning hearts.

“Cheer up.” Aiichiro-sama instructs him. It’s a light tone but he hears the command underneath it.

Without a professional woman amongst them, Tadashi is the target of everything as the youngest. He prefers the meetings where he can stand at the door and be completely ignored. These informal gatherings are torture. That’s probably why he’s here, Aiichiro-sama’s cruelty is a guessing game these days.

A man, Matsuda Ren if he recalls correctly, pours him more sake. He’s a good connection to the newest members of the Diet and there’s a point in having him along with old acquaintances of Aiichiro-sama.

Tadashi suspects he’s trying to get him drunk enough to assault him. No proof yet, but he has a feeling, and usually he’s right. Nodding his thanks, Tadashi doesn’t even fathom a movement to take it.

If something like that happens, it could be a scandal.

On days like this one, he misses Kumiko-san so much.

Not as much as he misses Ainosuke-sama, although he must be in America hating his guts, making new friends and lovers.

“You’re kind of pretty to sport that frown.” Matsuda praises. Tadashi isn’t frowning exactly but he isn’t here to entertain anyone, he’s confident in his neutrality.

“Cheer up.” Aiichiro-sama says again and inches the glass of sake towards him.

He nods at that and takes a tentative sip. Tadashi can handle alcohol with some success, still he looks at the last morsels of food with intent. Property doesn’t allow him to order more unless Aiichiro-sama asks him to.

“Are you hungry?” Another man says and he recognizes the voice, Fukuda-san has always been sort of attentive and he gets on fairly well with Aiichiro-sama. At least when they’re both in good mood. “Matsuda-san stop intoxicating the kid.” He jokes. “You’re only giving him alcohol, don’t you see how starved he looks? Give him some food, too!” He laughs heartily, loud and amicably. Aiichiro-sama accompanies him, the glint in his eyes makes Tadashi shudder. The men know Matsuda is interested in him.

“Of course, of course!” Matsuda promptly agrees and gestures for the chef to cook more of whatever they’ve been having. “I didn’t notice!” He lies through a chuckle. “Didn’t imagine Shindo-san wouldn’t keep his valuable secretary well-fed.”

They aren’t talking about food.

Aiichiro-sama smiles showing white teeth, a bit menacing. It does the trick.

“You know my tastes are too refined. Tadashi-kun shouldn’t be having what I’m having.”

They all laugh.

Tadashi wants to escape more intensely than before. He drinks and eats and says nothing. Later accepts the coffee and glass of water Aiichiro-sama orders for him. Matsuda puts a hand on his thigh when they’re about to leave the place, squeezes and licks his lips and that’s about it.

“Don’t let any of those wolves touch you.” Aiichiro-sama tells him when Tadashi’s driving them back.

“Yes, Aiichiro-sama.” He agrees easily. After all, it aligns with his wishes, Aiichiro-sama is disgusted by homosexuals and wouldn’t offer Tadashi around.

Ainosuke-sama’s face flashes in his mind, but it’s only that, a flash of feeling, of memory.

Without Ainosuke-sama everything is dull. He tries his hardest to drown himself in his classes and his work, for the little free time he has he forces himself to visit his parents and bond with his little sister.

I might go insane, he writes to Kumiko-san and never sends the email.

He tries a few lovers, classmates who mean nothing. In the end it all feels tasteless. He can’t stop himself from trying to imagine if Ainosuke-sama would do the same things in bed as he does with those lovers, he wonders if his kisses have gotten better.

It makes him sick knowing that after becoming Aiichiro-sama’s shadow and arranging every kind of meeting the man might need, he has seen his post-coital relaxed face countless times while he missed any chance with Ainosuke-sama. How unfair. How very disgusting.

He not only misses Ainosuke-sama and Kumiko-san, he misses the days when he was ignorant, when he still didn’t know the magnitude of Aiichiro-sama’s vice-like grip on them.

Tadashi is 26 when he receives his first punch. It isn’t a physical fight so it takes him by surprise. Aiichiro-sama has only slapped him and pulled his hair, never punches, never something so unsophisticated.

The security staff promptly holds the man down and drags him out, all the while spitting insults towards Aiichiro-sama. Tadashi could find out what made this ordinary man so angry at Aiichiro-sama, but it feels insignificant. His job was to diffuse the situation or at the very least protect Aiichiro-sama and he did.

“Are you okay?” He asks mostly uninterested and holds a handkerchief.

Ah, his lip broke, he’s bleeding.

“Yes, Aiichiro-sama.” There aren’t other possible answers.

“Clean yourself, I’ll wait in the car.”

And he does. The bruise isn’t extremely obvious and his lips heal quick enough, he’s grateful once again for his parents living somewhere else. Breathing in and out to calm himself, he watches his hollow eyes in the mirror of the bathroom. He can’t stand it.

He rushes back to Aiichiro-sama and starts the car silently.

“Tadashi.” He snaps at attention. “My son will be returning to Japan soon, don’t you think?” Aiichiro-sama goes through the mimicry of phrasing it like a question when he’s forbidden Tadashi to have opinions.

“I’m unaware of Ainosuke-sama’s schedule.” He replies, the only safe thing to say. He wishes to know but there isn’t an outcome where he ends up winning if he were to meddle in such a way.

Aiichiro-sama smiles at him. All knowing. Tadashi pretends to focus on the road, the little cruelties spice their days like some sick game with no rules and no clear goal in sight.

“I know.” He takes his phone out of his pocket, proceeds to scroll around in his email inbox Tadashi supposes. “Tadashi.” He calls again. “Postpone my medical check up tomorrow, you know who I’d like to see in that free spot.”

A new young woman has caught his attention, sweet spoken and brunette, who plays clumsy and coy and Tadashi has heard moaning and screaming in ecstasy like an experienced porn star.

“Yes, Aiichiro-sama.”

(Tadashi will, with a heavy heart, remember this as the first of many skipped appointments with different doctors. Tadashi will remember receiving a punch only as a tangencial thing happening that day, zeroing on Aiichiro-sama’s tendency of promiscuity and insufficient health care.)

Tadashi is 27 when Aiichiro-sama dies.

Ainosuke-sama was meant to fly from the States the next week but this accelerates things. Tadashi is forced by the ladies of the manor to book the earliest flight and make sure Ainosuke-sama is here as soon as humanly possible.

He has no time to process any of it. He gets the flight, sends the tickets to Ainosuke-sama and his servant. He arranges a press conference where the family lawyer makes the bad news public, a heart attack, Shindo Aiichiro unluckily had been suffering from some cardiac illness worsened by his stressful position in Japan’s political society. He calls his parents and tells them the same speech with a steady voice, consoling his crying mother and confiding in his father that it was an instant thing, Aiichiro-sama didn’t suffer. He texts Kumiko-san a simple Have you heard already? Turn on the news, as if he expects her to not follow whatever information is made public of the Shindo family.

Tadashi is exhausted, running after every whim of Ainosuke-sama’s aunts. He feels weak with hatred for them and morbidly sad at feeling nothing in regards to Aiichiro-sama’s death. He’s even too tired to calculate how long it will take for Ainosuke-sama to be here.

He wanted to see him so badly, to see the man he’s become, that outlandish blue hair, those beautiful red eyes. Nausea hits him, will he look like Aiichiro-sama?

I heard, Kumiko-san texts him back. Are you alright? He’s about to assure her when her next text knocks all the air out of his lungs.

Are you ready to see Ainosuke-kun after all these years?

He isn’t, he isn’t, he isn’t. He doesn’t show it. He’s dying to see him. Will he fire him?

He has most sorted out with the help of the medics and lawyers and quick pointed questions at the oldest sister. Tadashi is efficient in his own right and the women are a mess of fury and weeping in tandem.

Tadashi makes sure the maids take them food and tea regularly, and asks the butler to keep the servants in their best behavior. If someone is feeling exceedingly emotional, they can take a day off. He instructs the cleaning staff to ready Ainosuke-sama’s old room, new clean sheets, clean clothes, toilet supplies, anything he might need. And also to ready a guest room in case he won’t want to sleep in his childhood room.

He wonders if Kumiko-san is truly waiting for an honest answer. Or something that won’t put him in the line. He doesn’t reply and focuses on ordering whatever needs to be ordered.

And then, after way too many sleepless hours, Ainosuke-sama arrives. The commotion barely allows him to look from afar, his aunts sequestering him immediately. Tadashi can hear the echo of their wailing, fake sorrow, clamoring for Ainosuke-sama to be more responsible than Aiichiro-sama, to be a better man.

It’s the first time Tadashi wants the same thing. Although probably their meaning of better man than Aiichiro-sama is different from his.

Lets meet?

Everything is done here, and the aunts have their darling nephew to keep them occupied. There’s no need for Tadashi to torture himself. Kumiko-san reminds him that she can’t enter the Shindo manor, much less now, so they should meet somewhere else.

Taking a car and leaving for a few hours is easy enough.

Rage awaits him, the guard at the entrance warns him in hushed confidential tones how Ainosuke-sama himself asked him where Tadashi was and if he knew where he went.

Tadashi feels for this poor man. Most servants don’t know the quality of raw ferocity a Shindo is capable of. He doesn’t blame them, it’s easier to believe these powerful and rich men are only civilized.

“There you are.” Ainosuke-sama sneers as soon as he sees him. Tadashi could die. Ainosuke-sama has grown so much, he’s taller and broader and he’s still young, he can get bigger and that has him fighting a blush. “Where were you?” He hisses, grabbing him by the arm.

There will be bruises, Tadashi knows. More than that, he relishes in the idea.

He’s truly pathetic after all.

This is their reunion, and it’s surreal and not enough and Tadashi wants to melt into the touch, ask Ainosuke-sama what he’s been doing these years, has he thought of Tadashi? Does he still hate him so?

“I’m sorry Ainosuke-sama.” That’s what leaves his mouth instead. And it’s impassive as usual, no inflexion.

“You don’t sound sorry at all.” He chastises and his voice rings divine, masculine and deep, long gone are the days when he was a raocous kid. “Where were you?” He’s trying not to shout, probably wanting to avoid making a scene.

Tadashi ponders his options, how mad Ainosuke-sama would be if he tells the truth. But he is a weak man right now. And besides, he’s pretty sure Ainosuke-sama esteemed Kumiko-san.

“I met with Kumiko-san.” It’s the wrong thing to say, the displeased tightening of his features shows it. Tadashi is lost. “I haven’t told her anything that isn’t public knowledge by now.” He adds for good measure.

“You better.” And he’s dragging him into the wing where Aiichiro-sama’s office resides. Ah. “Don’t ever leave without asking for my permission, do you hear me?”

“Yes, Ainosuke-sama.”

“Do you think you can do whatever you want?”

Tadashi readies to answer, of course not, he doesn’t think that. But then Ainosuke-sama pushes him against a wall, crowds into him, intimidating and arousing in equal parts. Their faces are too close and Tadashi realizes despite himself that neither of the two had shed a tear so far, eyes tired but dry – and it isn’t because they’re particularly tough men.

“Don’t think you can run around unleashed, you dingy mutt!” Ainosuke-sama continues, voice low and severe. “I’m the new Master of the house, I am inheriting you too.” Like a possession. “You hear me?”

He’s being promoted from little vixen to unruly dog by the new Master, he’s nothing more than a tool Aiichiro-sama used and now he belongs to Ainosuke-sama by law of succession. It’s the destiny he sealed for himself.

“Yes, Ainosuke-sama.”

With barely a step back, Ainosuke-sama releases his arm and Tadashi is left feeling like he can’t support his own weight. He takes a breath, a bit lightheaded, resting one second too long on the wall.

“Now you’re going to show me all the documents my father hid and you didn’t show the lawyers.”

Certainty. Aninosuke-sama is sure of this, there are hidden things. And he’s convinced Tadashi knows as well, that he can show him the worst secrets of Aiichiro-sama.

He isn’t wrong. And Tadashi complies.

They spend another sleepless night going through every drawer and cabinet, pouring over document after document. Every number, every word, every expense, every secret. Ainosuke-sama glares at the budget Tadashi prepared years before, knowing now without a doubt that Aiichiro-sama didn’t let the Kukichis go because he was benevolent or was worried about conflict of interests while employing Tadashi also.

It’s too late now to be embarrassed about it, and there are so many other things in their shared history to be ashamed of. This is simply a tiny nail into the coffin, almost meaningless.

They destroy papers as they go, digitizing and encrypting what’s important. Tadashi could be amazed at Ainosuke-sama, at this leader he became, full of intent and sure of himself. However, it’s impossible to be shocked, because Tadashi knew he’d be greater than everything. He’s awed but Tadashi didn’t expect anything less of Ainosuke-sama.

When the first rays of sunshine start to sneak in, a maid knocks on the door, announcing that the ladies have requested Ainosuke-sama to have breakfast with them. The man smiles at her, a fake perfunctory smile, and thanks her. Dismissing her kindly, Ainosuke-sama turns to him, face in a grimace.

“We’ll continue later, go have something to eat, take a shower and rest.” He orders ushering him outside and locking the door, pocketing the key.

Tadashi wonders if Ainosuke-sama naively thinks he doesn’t own a spare key but keeps quiet. What good could it do to mention that now? And it doesn’t matter, he isn’t planning on disobeying.

(Not just yet.)

It’s been four days since Aiichiro-sama’s death. Ainosuke-sama’s aunts have settled quite languidly, the whole place feels somber but calm and Tadashi is starting to fear Ainosuke-sama will replace him even with the whole recurrent talk about him being a dog that belongs to the Shindo family.

It isn’t really what Ainosuke-sama thinks, he sincerely treats Tadashi as his personal dog exclusively. Tadashi believes it if only for the way he appoints a few specific servants to his aunts, keeping Tadashi far from them. It could be that he thinks Tadashi isn’t to trust near them, or it could be the other way around. It could be Ainosuke-sama is still full of rage, finding his place, going from violent fury to perfect polite young man to dramatic performer in unhinged mood swings.

The only one to witness how he balances all of these acts is Tadashi. And he angers the man by being cryptic and silent, not offering anything. It kills him but they aren’t kids anymore, they aren’t friends like they were before Aiichiro-sama burnt that board. The only space for Tadashi to occupy is the one of a secretary, just like he did for Aiichiro-sama.

(Going back to these days, Tadashi will curse Aiichiro-sama and the way he tainted every interaction with Ainosuke-sama for so long. Even in absence, Aiichiro-sama still reigned over them.)

Ainosuke-sama soon finds an abandoned place to skate away from the Shindo state, attracting people with his skill. Tadashi hates it. And as expected, doesn’t complain. As he doesn’t complain about anything really.

Not about the insults. Not about the long work days. Not about unending meetings with lawyers and accountants where he can’t even speak, only there to take notes or serve coffee or whatever Ainosuke-sama might have him doing.

The skating hurts more though.

Ainosuke-sama performs and proclaims to love it, to search for a deeper meaning. But he never smiles like he did when they were kids, honest and warm, galaxies shining in his eyes. His smiles now are frigid and frightening, the love he gives is the same he received as a kid, hurtful and fake.

Tadashi internalizes this is all his fault.

It’s been a week since Aiichiro-sama’s death and Tadashi finds himself sprawled on the house office’s floor, Ainosuke-sama over him, a hand on his throat, not pressing yet but a threat for sure. From this close he can see the sharp canines, the soft lips, the irate red eyes. An expression not unbecoming but slightly hysteric, uncontrolled on such a handsome face.

There are only two possible outcomes here and neither would be a first for Tadashi, just a first with Ainosuke-sama. Be it only violence, Tadashi has already received punches before. Be it hate sex, Tadashi has already explored his body with others’ help.

It’s actually kind of hard to follow the thread of moments that led them here but here they are nonetheless and Tadashi is trying not to think of all the sex workers Aiichiro-sama has probably fucked on this spot.

It doesn’t seem to mind, Tadashi would willingly offer himself to whatever it was needed of him right now. He guesses Ainosuke-sama has reached a limit.

Ainosuke-sama breathes slowly through his nose, inspecting him, like a predator checking if their prey is still struggling.

“Tell me this is okay, and mean it.” Ainosuke-sama orders, a mild tremor in his voice. Tadashi blinks and opens his mouth. “If you say you have no opinion, I swear I—”

Loving a Shindo will ruin you, that’s what Kumiko-san had said. She was right.

“This is okay, Ainosuke-sama.” He replies, and to prove it he tilts his head as backward as he can still pressed into the floor, bearing his throat willingly, Ainosuke-sama’s hand fitting perfectly thanks to this.

It keeps happening. Tadashi never says no, and is always honest.

Years go by in this agonizing limbo. Ainosuke-sama builds S and resurrects Adam, an expression of himself he loves and hates in equal measure, leaving innocent people hurt and broken. Ainosuke-sama builds his career, leaving behind the days where Aiichiro-sama was the most discussed topic.

Tadashi for his part builds his own cage. An invisible leash that ties him to the man he loves. And now, older, wiser and more stupid at the same time, he calls it love unabashedly. His own definition of love. Not an accurate one, yet Ainosuke-sama’s concept of love is even more distorted.

Tadashi is 31 when Ainosuke-sama obsesses over Hasegawa Langa, a teen who could be called a skate prodigy if only for how quickly he learns. It’s Adam seeing his Eve. It’s bullshit, like every other time had been, and Tadashi sees Ainosuke-sama’s public image shaking because of a police investigation and his polite but insistent refusal of finding a nice woman to settle down as his aunts have been requesting.

He can’t have opinions but he can disobey, the snake that tempted and offered the forbidden fruit that he is. And he goes all wrong about it, thinking that taking skating away from Ainosuke-sama is the answer. Kyan Reki, Langa’s friend, tears him a new one for saying he shouldn’t skate either. Tadashi has his reasons, but well, it is true after all, people who love skating are quite foolish. Standing up again and again after every fall, biding their time after injuries if only to step on a skateboard again, healing process be damned. Having fun, wind messing their hair and friends at their side.

It’s what it was like when they were children. It’s what Langa shows Ainosuke-sama in the final race of the tournament and Tadashi won’t ever be grateful enough.

It closes a cycle, it opens a door – something akin to redemption as a possible and even desired resolution. Ainosuke-sama frees him of being a scapegoat if he ever was one, and proposes a future together, inseparable as they were meant to be. A happy ownership. Tadashi could cry happy tears.

The road ahead is a bumpy one, for one Ainosuke-sama still profits from the love slogan even though he’s trying to morph the term into something that doesn’t necessarily hurt. He’s investing in the small changes, therapy once a week, honest conversations with Kaoru and Kojiro, gifts and words of penance for the kids. It isn’t easy, he’s caused so much damage and Ainosuke-sama is still a Shindo, was taught to never ask sorry nor permission, he still has his ego and traumas and dramatic flair.

Yes, it isn’t easy. But it’s the road he’s taking and Tadashi couldn’t be prouder.

Between them the ocean of unsaid things remains, but it’s easier to breathe now. Slowly Ainosuke-sama is coaxing opinions out of him, sick of his lack of sincere responses. Tadashi has it hard, to accomodate, to find the spaces where there are no performances, no lies, where they steal kindness from each other.

Sex turns even more intimate, mostly in Ainosuke-sama’s bedroom now and it erases the previous squick about doing it in the big house office where Tadashi is sure Aiichiro-sama has done similar things with various women.

It’s a difficult road and Tadashi is glad Ainosuke-sama is taking it.

Ainosuke-sama is watching Shadow and Miya’s beef, a cigarette in his hand but he’s enthralled with the way Miya has gotten better these past few months. Tadashi secretly believes that it’s thanks to Reki and his friendship, Miya has stopped being so cynical and started to enjoy having friends again.

“Ah puppy, just in time.” Ainosuke-sama calls him, a smile on his face, putting the smoke out. In time for what he isn’t sure. He nods slowly, hiding the effort it takes him to stop his own smile from forming. “I’ve heard Langa-kun is challenging you to a beef, is that right?”

It’s true, Reki and Langa have been asking to compete with him for weeks now. And he knows the minute he accepts, Shadow will want a rematch too. He also thinks Cherry and Joe might try to beef with him if given the chance. Probably Miya too, wanting a rematch of his own.

“Yes.” He answers simply.

“And you haven’t accepted.” It isn’t a question or even a reproach, it’s a statement, like Ainosuke-sama can’t figure out why Tadashi wouldn’t want to show off his skills.

He doesn’t confirm it, there’s no need for it.

Below them, the crowd cheers for both skaters, laughs and shouts and music fill it all. Like some colorful dreamscape.

“Tadashi.” And he’s taking the mask off. “Do you still love skating?”

It catches him off guard.


“Be honest.” An order. “I want to know if you still think skating is fun. Is it fun to skate with me?”

It doesn’t go unnoticed the change from loving skating to having fun but there’s no point in latching onto that right now.

“Yes.” Ainosuke-sama comes closer as he breathes out his affirmation. “I’m being honest.” He adds because it feels important to drill into Ainosuke-sama that he is, he can be, he wants to be honest for him.

“Then why don’t you skate anymore?”

The hand on his cheek is surprisingly soft, Tadashi is still getting accustomed to so much gentleness.

It’s half a lie. He does skate, occasionally and mostly when he’s alone in the mansion or visiting and playing with his little sister. But Ainosuke-sama wouldn’t know.

He has an excuse on the tip of his tongue. He isn’t that young anymore, his body tires so easily these days, he enjoys so much watching Ainosuke-sama skating so freely and happily now that he forgets to ride his own skateboard.

None of those things are completely true.

It’s uncomfortable to bear his soul, to offer his vulnerabilities. Does he really think he shouldn’t enjoy skating? Does he really believe he shouldn’t be allowed so much happiness? He lives with a penance he forces himself to carry, and what for? Hasn’t Ainosuke-sama already proved he cares for him despite his betrayals?

He closes his eyes and leans into the contact.

“I’m sorry.” He tries out.

“Not the answer I’m looking for. Also…” Ainosuke-sama trails off. It makes Tadashi snap his eyes open instantly. “Also, there’s nothing for you to feel sorry for.” He finishes. “Tadashi I… I can’t say I fully understand your silence that time but I was there too and I couldn’t stop my own father from burning my board, from sending me away. I was a stupid kid, I trusted you so much that I thought you could protect me from him.”

Tadashi sucks in a breath. Years of perfecting the act of self control prevent him from crumbling down at the confession.

“I still trust you but I’ve been cruel.” Ainosuke-sama continues. “I still have a long way before we can agree I’m not a malicious bastard.” He says this with a smirk that shows off his teeth, amused because he adores being just like that. Tadashi doesn’t really think Ainosuke-sama would be himself without being a bit of a bastard, but he can deal as long as the rest of the world isn’t onto them. “My father wasn’t a good man.” A bitter laugh. “My aunties aren’t good either. Honestly, you were the only one who gave me love. And I pushed you away, I mistreated you.”

“Ainosuke-sama, no…”

Ainosuke-sama tips his head-cap backwards until it falls to the floor and leans down, shutting him up with a kiss.

“I don’t want to be the reason you don’t skate, whichever convoluted reasoning goes in that silly head of yours, puppy.”

Tadashi accepts Reki’s challenge next time. The boy is so shocked that they don’t even bet anything before rushing to the starting line.

Tadashi is 33 when he notices he’s happy. Content with his life.

He’s lying on his stomach on Ainosuke-sama’s luxurious mattress, sheets kicked to the feet of the bed, enjoying the remaining bliss after a good orgasm. Ainosuke-sama is by his side finishing a cigarette, the nicotine mixing in with the smell of sex in a way that should be revolting but it’s a comfort at the moment. They’re both sweaty and naked and dirty and Tadashi realizes he can’t ask for more in life. Every bitter occurrence, every happy memory, everything was leading him to this.

“Where are you? It seems you’ve drifted away from me.” Ainosuke-sama murmurs, finally setting back down, the tips of his fingers drawing nonsense silhouettes on his back.

His throat feels dry and his voice is probably as pleasantly wrecked as he feels. He answers somewhat honestly nonetheless.

“I was thinking how I got here.”

Ainosuke-sama doesn’t miss a beat, grinning perversely, his hand suddenly venturing below, below. Teasing Tadashi’s abused rim, making him gasp.

“I can tell you.” He whispers, tone dark and smooth as chocolate. “You went looking for me because it was late and we have an important meeting tomorrow—” He cranes his neck towards the bedside table where a clock sits unassumingly. “Scratch that, the meeting would be today in a few hours. And I smiled disarmingly at you, I’ve been told I am irresistible after all.” The finger doesn’t breach him but Ainosuke-sama finds a new satisfaction in nipping at his shoulder, scraping teeth over the bite marks he left that night.

The sound it tears from Tadashi is something between a chuckle and a moan.

“That’s not what I meant.”

A chaste kiss at the nape of his neck.

“Were you perhaps thinking of something deeper, more meaningful? Were you thinking how lucky you are to finally be here?” He asks and it’s teasing but there’s also something else, like he’s elated too. They’re both lucky.

“Yeah.” Tadashi breathes out and hides the blush into the pillow.

“Oh puppy. Do you think we’re soulmates? Destined to be?”

Leave it to Ainosuke-sama to be the hopeless romantic out of the two. Tadashi knows things haven’t been easy for them, and believing in a red string always tying them together is a beautiful thing.

They aren’t really that naive though. Both have seen the worst in people, both have done questionable things, illegal and immoral and whatnot. This isn’t a fairytale and soulmates are just a lovely concept for fictional works.

“No.” Tadashi replies then and Ainosuke-sama isn’t prepared for his intense stare, fear flashing for a second in those red eyes. As if Tadashi could seriously consider denying their love now. “Soulmates imply we had no choice. And that’s not it. I love you on purpose, I chose to love you.”

Tadashi is getting better at voicing his opinions and feelings. And Ainosuke-sama is utterly delighted. This confession, however, hits hard. It’s the testament of Tadashi’s resolution. It’s the final opposition to everything he’s been taught.

He smiles, matching the sudden grin on Ainosuke-sama’s face.

“Such a loyal pet.” Ainosuke-sama praises. Even exhausted as he is, Tadashi’s cock gives an interested twitch. “You serve me willingly.” He murmurs this against his ear, reverent, and the hand on his ass is back, petting a bite mark there. “You serve me so well.”

And before Tadashi can react, Ainosuke-sama is manhandling him to all fours, a feral kiss to keep any protest quiet, the angle is uncomfortable but burning passion makes up for it. Ainosuke-sama is already sporting a hard on and a part of Tadashi foolishly thinks about the meeting with Fukuda-san, they won’t have enough rest, maybe he’ll have to reschedule it. It’s a small price to pay to have Ainosuke-sama behind him, grinding against his thighs, still deciding if they should go all the way again or do something lighter, easier on their bodies, maybe just frottage will do.

“Ainosuke-sama.” He moans, for more, for everything. No more easy way out.

“Hush, I’m taking care of you.” It’s the reply. Tadashi feels the wild grin against his neck. “I love you too, Tadashi. My pet.” He says and presses inside slowly, hands on his hips keeping him still.

Tadashi cries out, from the burning sensation or the pleasure or the possessiveness. Maybe it’s those three simple words that now mean so much.

If Kumiko-san was right, Tadashi has been ruined. Loving Ainosuke-sama might have condemned his soul to Hell. But he learned to live there, he made a home for them in this madness after all.

We are strong, no one can tell us we’re wrong

Searching our hearts for so long, both of us knowing love is a battlefield