It had been ten years since he’d last set foot in the residence of the prime minister. There was apparently a party going on in the back yard, judging by the sounds of laughter and music.
In those ten years, in his position as head of security for the Japanese embassy in Paris, he had learned and he had lost. The reason he was back now is that his application to take over his father’s old position as Superintendent of the police force had been accepted. He was surprised, after having been out of the country for over a decade, that he’d won the job, but he was also grateful. In his bones, he knew it was time to come home, even if things were different.
“Welcome back, Subaru, and congratulations on your new position!” Kenta shook his hand quickly, the younger man’s smile welcoming. Kenta was the newest member of Subaru’s old squad, which was now headed by Kaiji, of all people.
“Thanks, Kenta. How is Kaiji treating you?”
“Not bad,” he said. “Most everyone is in back at the birthday party. You remember the way?”
Subaru nodded and smiled, clapping the other man on the shoulder before making his way through the residence and toward the happy noise.
His one regret was in losing her. Why he had decided to take the initial two-year posting in France, and been dumb enough to leave her behind, he would never understand. He hadn’t even tried to stay in contact with her while he had been gone those two years. By the time he had finally come back, she had moved on with her life, graduating from college, moving to a new apartment and taking a job at a bar, where she met the man she would marry. It had turned out that, not only did he own the bar at which she worked, and above which she had lived, but he was also the CEO of an up-and-coming IT powerhouse company. It had just happened that his one day back that time had been the day of her reception, and he’d had to sit in that bar, hearing the story of how they’d gotten together, watching another man give her the happiness that he, himself, should have been providing. That night, he packed a few clothes and pictures, and the glasses they had painted on one of their dates, made arrangements to sell his house, car, and any possessions his family didn’t want, and had accepted the decade-long appointment at the Paris embassy. Since that time, he’d only been back to Japan four times - Daiichi’s retirement party, and the funerals of his grandmother and parents. He had glimpsed Fae and her family briefly at Daiichi’s party - one child being carried on his father’s back, the other not yet born, though getting close. Subaru’s heart had ached fiercely at the sight. Like a coward, he’d stayed out of her sight, only entering the party after she had left. But, he had saved the three little condolence cards that had come with the flowers she’d sent as each of his remaining family members passed away, her name handwritten in her flowing script, on each of them.
He shook off those memories and stepped out the door leading to the main area of the back yard. He turned to make sure the door closed securely, and when he turned back, she was there. Drenched, carrying a large water gun, and wearing the impish grin that had always brightened his day.
Her eyes widened the moment she recognized him.
“Subaru?!” She cleared her throat. “Congratulations on your new appointment. Oh, do you have a radio or phone on you?”
“Thank you,” he said. “Yes to both.”
She nodded and turned around, yelling toward the bushes and trees.
“Man with electronics. Hold your fire, you hooligans.”
She turned back and pointed around the corned of the building.
“Dad’s on the patio.”
He nodded his thanks and started walking in that direction, highly conscious of her nearness, the way the wet shirt hugged her curves.
Lost in his thoughts, he was surprised at the sound of a wet ‘plop!’ in front of his face. He came back to himself to see her small hand holding a filled water balloon, having caught it before it hit him square in the face.
Her face was red, equal parts anger and embarrassment as she turned to the yard.
“Oi! Who threw that? I did not give the all clear. Fess up now, or deal with more severe consequences later.” Her voice brooked no argument.
The hand holding the water gun rested on her hip, while the other held the water balloon, and Subaru grinned. She was still a firecracker.
A boy about eight years old finally emerged from his hiding place and stopped in front of her. The family resemblance was obvious.
“You owe Mr. Ichiyanagi an apology, Shintaro. You know the rules.”
“But, Mom, we could have replaced anything that got ruined.”
“That’s not the point, is it?”
Their mutual glare held for all of ten seconds.
He finally hung his head, his voice sullen. “No.”
“What needs to happen now?”
The boy heaved a sigh and took a couple of steps toward Subaru. He bowed his head.
“My apologies, Mr. Ichiyanagi. I shouldn’t have thrown that water balloon.”
Subaru reached out a hand and patted the boy’s head, doing his best to keep his voice serious.
“Your mother is right. No real man would risk ruining another’s property just because he thinks he can afford to replace it.”
“I understand,” the boy said, lifting his head, meeting Subaru’s gaze before turning to look at Fae.
“Ten paces into the yard,” she intoned, reaching over to hand the water balloon to Subaru.
“What’s this all about?” Subaru asked, confused.
“You get a free shot, because he took a cheap shot. He doesn’t get to try to dodge out of the way.”
“I see.” Subaru took careful aim and lobbed the balloon in the boy’s direction. It exploded on the ground at his feet. He looked over at his mother, her impish grin on his face. Subaru chuckled quietly.
“Alright, you little punk. Get back out there. No water until I give the all-clear!” She waved her hand at her son and he scampered off.
“I’m sorry about all that, Subaru,” she said, waving him on to the patio.
He shook his head, laughing.
“No harm done. He’s an awful lot like his mother.”
She rolled her eyes. “So people keep saying. I don’t see it. I was never stubborn or willful.”
He laughed out loud as she struggled to keep a straight face.
“Oh, yes. You were quiet and biddable and agreeable…..”
“Now you’re just being sarcastic,” she laughed, looking up to meet his gaze.
Gods, but it felt good to be laughing with her again. Moments like this may be all he would ever have, but he had long since come to accept that fact.
He waved as he stepped onto the covered patio, making a beeline toward the prime minister and the men around him. He heard Fae yelling the all-clear behind him, followed by the unmistakable sound of water guns firing.
Hiraizumi sat on a chair, a sleeping child of about three years old on his lap.
“Ah, Subaru! Forgive me for not standing.” He held out a hand in greeting, and Subaru shook it, smiling.
“There’s nothing to forgive. You appear to have an important job here.”
“Being a grandfather is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Congratulations on being awarded your’ father’s old position. Youngest police superintendent in nearly fifty years. Not bad. You’ve earned it, too.”
“Thank you, Sir.” Subaru sat in the nearest open chair.
The other men seated on the patio stood up.
“Excuse us, Sir. It’s time to make our rounds.”
Hiraizumi nodded and the the three men left to check the compound.
“Kenta called a bit ago and let us know you were coming. Were there any problems?”
“No, just an adventure.” Subaru told him about the water balloon incident, causing the older man to laugh.
“Young Shintaro has some tough lessons to learn. At school, he got involved with some other boys from wealthy families, all of whom had that ‘I’m rich so I can do what I want’ attitude. Fae’s had a difficult time knocking that idea out of his head.”
He shifted the small child in his arms to a more comfortable position.
“What about you? Ten, well, twelve now, years in France must have been exciting. Did you ever marry?”
Subaru shook his head.
“There were a few tense times, but nothing especially exciting. The change of scenery was pleasant, and I was able to visit all of the places I’d always wanted to see, though it wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. As far as marriage….” he shrugged. “I dated a bit, but I came to terms a long time ago with the fact that I foolishly gave up the one chance I had for that.”
Hiraizumi nodded wisely.
“Being loved by a woman of the Kato line seems to make one’s heart a connoisseur, of sorts. It’s like being used to the finest, smoothest brandy, then being expected to drink cheap sake’. It’s not bad, just not what you want.”
Subaru chuckled, not surprised at the other man’s insight. After all, he too, had loved and lost a woman of the Kato line, and never married.
The little boy moved, stretching as he woke from his nap.
“Papa? Where Mama?” He rubbed at his eyes.
“Mama’s out playing in the yard.” Hiraizumi’s voice was quiet.
“I wanna go.”
“Okay. Let’s call for Mama, shall we?”
The little boy nodded as he jumped off of his grandfather’s lap.
Hiraizumi stood up, holding the boy’s hand, and they walked to the edge of the patio.
“Mama!” the little boy yelled loudly.
“Fae, Kuni is coming to join you,” Hiraizumi called out.
The little boy wrapped his small arms around his grandfather’s legs.
“Thank you, Papa,” he said, before running out into the yard.
Fae met him part way out, picking him up and twirling him around, before putting him back down and handing him a small water gun. They ran back into the fray together.
Hiraizumi returned to his chair, smiling.
“It’s hard for a woman to raise two boys on her own, but she’s doing a pretty good job. Of course, it helps that she and the boys live here now, so I am occasionally able to help out.”
Subaru raised an eyebrow.
“What do you mean by ‘on her own’?”
“Just over three years ago, Kunihiko was flying home after an overseas business trip, when the plane he was on crashed into the ocean. If Fae hadn’t been so close to giving birth, she and Shintaro would have been on that plane, too. As it was, I nearly lost her, and little Kuni as well. She collapsed when she received the news, spent several weeks in the hospital, and they still had to take Kuni early. He spent a few more weeks in the hospital. They miss Kunihiko terribly, and that’s part of Shintaro’s attitude. He had just barely turned five. He had, in fact, chosen to wait until his Daddy got home to celebrate his birthday. That was a rough year.”
A door on the other side of the patio slid open and carts with food started rolling out the door.
“You didn’t hear any of that from me,” Hiraizumi said quietly. He then steeped back to the edge of the patio and yelled into the yard.
He parked a big wagon on the grass next to the patio, directing each water toy armed child to place all water toys into the wagon.
Fae and her youngest son were the last to arrive. As she placed her water gun in the wagon, she eyed all of the boys on the patio.
“Remember the rules - no water fights on the patio. Anyone caught with a water toy at lunch will be cleaning up the yard all by themselves.”
A couple of them hung their heads, shuffling over to the wagon to deposit water balloons and guns that had been smuggled onto the patio.
The boys all shook their heads.
“Okay. Get your towels and then go get some lunch.”
The boys trooped over to the tables that had been set up further down the patio, tearing into the food as though they hadn’t eaten in days.
Lunch was finished, and Fae had dried and dressed herself and her younger son while the older boys ate and cleaned up the broken water balloons.
“Alright, gentlemen, your parents are going to begin arriving at the park in just a few minutes. Time to get your stuff and head out to the car.”
They all groaned, and Shintaro walked up to stand in front of her, his face pleading.
“But, Moooomm, can’t they stay a little longer?”
“Not today, and you know why. Remember the discussion we had yesterday?”
“Not even Sasuke?”
A second boy had sidled up beside him, doing his best to look suave.
Subaru coughed to cover his laughter, and looked up to catch Fae’s eyebrow raised at him, before she looked back to the two boys in front of her.
“Not even Sasuke. Not with such short notice.”
The second boy, Sasuke, clapped his friend on the back, continuing the suave, grown-up act.
“It’s alright, Shin. We’ll have other chances. And this way we can plan something big. Call me later.” He looked up at Fae, doing his best teen idol impression.
“Thank you, Mrs. Aikawa, for allowing us to come here today for Shintaro’s party, and thank you, as well, for lunch.” He bowed his head and grabbed her hand, kissing the back of it before she could pull it away.
“Ah, thank you for understanding, Sasuke. That’s very mature of you. Now, if you’ll please follow Mr. Akizuki to the car, we’ll get you guys to your parents.”
The boys filed out of the room, and Subaru couldn’t hold back his laughter any longer.
“That kid’s smooth, I’ll give him that.”
“Please don’t,” Fae sighed, smiling. “It will only encourage him.”
She knelt in front of the younger boy.
“Kuni, do you want to stay here with Papa, or do you want to come with Shin and I?”
The little boy gazed at his grandfather with his big, dark eyes, then turned back to Fay.
“Wif you, Mama.”
“Okay, little man. Let’s go.” She scooped him into her arms and followed the gaggle of boys out the door.
Subaru watched them leave, an unfamiliar feeling stirring in his chest.
A few days later, he was in his new office, straightening his tie, making certain that nothing on his dress uniform was out of place. Tonight was a state dinner, with many foreign dignitaries in attendance, which meant Fae would be there, performing her duties as de facto First Lady. He would make time to speak with her, offer his condolences at the least.
He nestled the radio’s earpiece into his ear, clipped the microphone onto his collar, tucked the small box into a pocket inside his uniform jacket and his hat under his arm, and headed out to the waiting car.
The hotel that was hosting the affair was surrounded by security, and there was a long line of posh cars, driving up to the entrance, disgorging their passengers, and driving away.
Subaru stepped out of his own car and walked toward the nearest usher.
“Has the Prime Minister arrived yet?”
“No, Sir. His car is pulling up now.”
“Thank you.” He adjusted his hat and turned to wait for the car to stop.
Kaiji stepped out of the car first, sweeping the crowd before motioning to Hiraizumi, who climbed out next.
Subaru shook his hand, then stepped in to assist Fae. She was surprised to see him leaning into the car and offering his hand, but she didn’t hesitate to take it.
‘Stunning’ didn’t even begin to describe her. The gown she wore was a simple style that hugged her curves and left her shoulders mostly bare. The green of the silk was a near-perfect match to her jade-green eyes. Her hair was pulled up at the sides to cascade in soft curls down her back. Her makeup had been done so as to draw attention to her eyes, with her cheeks and lips having only the faintest pink tinge. Her scent was the same lavender and jasmine that he’d remembered in so many of his dreams.
Her cheeks flushed a little more red under his frank gaze.
“Everything okay?” She asked as she straightened to step away from the car.
“Breathtaking, as always,” he leaned in and whispered, closing the car door.
She smiled and shook her head as she joined her father on the welcome carpet, lacing her fingers into the crook of his elbow as they walked toward the entrance among the flashbulbs and yelled questions.
Nearly twenty years of being a bodyguard was a hard habit to break, and Subaru immediately started scanning the crowd for possible threats, ignoring the questions that came his way.
Inside, he was escorted to his assigned seat. Hiraizumi must have pulled some strings, because Subaru was seated directly across from Fae, with his back as close to a corner as it could be.
The first course was served amidst the chatter of the guests, and the first of the speakers stepped onto the stage.
“So, Mrs. Aikawa,” the man seated next to Subaru spoke brusquely to Fae. “I have had my people contact yours repeatedly about a possible merger of our companies. I have yet to hear back concerning my offers.”
Subaru bristled at the other man’s tone.
Fae raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t heard back with a response that you want to hear, you mean, Mr. Ueda. I have gone over your offers, as you call them. Not a one is beneficial to Aikawa Industries. I had the CFOs of each of my companies go over your offers. They agreed, none were beneficial to Aikawa Industries. I employ nearly half a million people in ten different countries, Mr. Ueda. I owe it to them, as well as to my sons and the memory of my husband, who built Aikawa from the ground up, to be very choosy with whom we do business. So, if you make an offer that is actually of some benefit to Aikawa Industries, and not simply a poorly-disguised attempt to prop up your own company with profits from mine, as well as a bald-faced attempt to take over my company, then perhaps we’ll speak again. If you can’t even run a company of a few hundred people without nearly running it into the ground several times, there’s no way in hell I’d trust you with my husband’s legacy.”
Subaru grinned at her calm take down of the pompous ass beside him.
Dessert was an amazing, airy fruit tart. Discussions had been kept short and sweet during dinner, in the knowledge that the real meat of the gala would take place afterward.
The orchestra began tuning up as the last of the dishes was cleared away. Subaru was about to stand and ask Fae for a dance when another man stepped up beside her.
“Mrs. Aikawa, may I have this dance?”
“Of course, Mr. Ichinomiya.” She took his hand and stood gracefully, following him onto the dance floor.
They made a handsome couple, and Subaru felt a little uneasy, watching how closely they danced, how she gazed up into his face, smiling and chatting easily.
Beside him, Ueda grunted.
“If he weren’t already married, those two could take over the whole damn world.”
The dance ended, and the other man escorted Fae to her seat.
“Thank you, Mr. Ichinomiya. Please give your wife my regards.”
He nodded toward the prime minister and Subaru and smiled before returning to his table.
A group of older gentlemen, whom Subaru recognized as several of the secretaries over the various governmental departments came and swept Hiraizumi away, followed at a discrete distance by Kaiji and Kenta.
Standing quietly, he made his way around the table, stopping beside her chair.
“Care to get a drink, Princess?” He held out his hand with a smile.
“I’d love to,” she replied, taking his hand and standing again. She laced her fingers through his arm as they walked toward the bar.
He was fairly certain his feet never touched the floor as they skirted the dance floor and stood in the line to order drinks.
“Fae,” he turned to face her, and her clear green eyes lifted to meet his, friendly and open, no hint of hurt or anger in their depths.
“I..uh,” he cleared his throat. “I just wanted to tell you thank you for the flowers.”
She tilted her head to one side, a quizzical look on her face.
“When my parents and grandmother passed away.”
“Oh. I was sorry to hear about them. Your grandmother was my favorite.”
“Also, I wanted to tell you how sorry I am to hear about your husband’s death.”
She lifted on eyebrow and one corner of her mouth quirked upward.
“Dad spilled the beans, didn’t he?”
She rolled her eyes at his guilty grin.
“He’s such an old gossip. Thank you, though.”
They ordered their drinks and retreated to a quiet corner, where they sipped their drinks in companionable silence.
A silence that was interrupted by an unwelcome blast from the past.
The blond man was tall enough to cast a shadow over the glasses they held as he approached.
He offered a polite bow.
“Ah, Ms. Kato. Such a pleasure to see you here tonight.” He reached for Fae’s free hand, placing a kiss on the back of it.
“Ah, thank you, Prince Gabriel,” she pulled her hand away. “And it’s Mrs. Aikawa now.”
“Oh, that’s right. You have my condolences for your loss.”
He turned to face Subaru.
“And Mr. Ichiyanagi. Or should I say Superintendent? When last I saw you, you were fully intending to take the lovely Fae as your wife, and yet you chose not to. Why ever not?”
His blue eyes glittered like sun on ice.
Subaru shrugged his shoulders and downed his whiskey.
“I really couldn’t say, Your Highness. It’s a decision I’ve regretted for every one of the four-thousand, four hundred and twenty-one days since I made it.”
Gabriel looked about to respond when there was a sound of glass crashing all around.
Men in black outfits were crashing through the windows, brandishing guns and yelling.
Without a second thought, Subaru dropped his glass, grabbed Fae by the hand, and ran, pulling her into a dark alcove, a couple steps down a service hall. The edge of one of the heavy drapes in the room covered a part of the alcove, and he pushed her into the corner behind it, one arm around her shoulders, holding her close.
He heard panicked yelling from the ballroom and orders and requests for information coming across the radio in his ear.
He hit the ‘transmit’ button and spoke quietly into the microphone.
“Subaru here. I’ve got Fae. We’re hidden for now.”
“Acknowledged,” a terse Kaiji replied. “Let Fae know her father is safe.”
“Roger that,” he replied.
He maneuvered the two of them further into the alcove, pulling the curtain to cover them. Their bodies were pressed together, her cheek resting on his shoulder. He hoped she couldn’t hear how loudly his heart was beating, and he made a conscious effort to calm it.
“Your father is safe,” he spoke quietly in her ear. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, thank you,” she replied, her own voice tight, her hands on his chest. He could feel her trembling against him.
He covered her hands with his free one, giving them a reassuring squeeze.
“It’ll be alright,” he said, stroking her hair. “Just hold on.”
More yelling came from the ball room, random gun shots and terrified screams.
“These guys chose the wrong party to crash,” she murmured.
“You remember the man I danced with?”
“That was Eisuke Ichinomiya, probably the most powerful man in the country. You remember the big Chinese man with him?”
“That’s Soryu Oh. He’s a Hong Kong mafia boss and Eisuke’s guard dog. Whoever was dumb enough to try something tonight is going to regret it.”
“How do you know all of this?”
She huffed a laugh.
“It’s a long story. The basics of it is that I lost a bet at the Tres Spades Casino, back during the last semester of college. In the process of paying it off, I had the chance to get to know Eisuke and his partners.”
Subaru chuckled quietly, hoping he would get chance to find out about all of her adventures after he left.
They stood in the semi-darkness for another minute, listening to the noise beyond the curtain and around the corner.
“Subaru?” His name on her lips was pure joy.
“Did you mean what you said to Gabriel?”
He smiled to himself and pulled her closer.
“Every word. I realized as soon as the plane landed in Paris that first time that I’d just fucked up, big time. Then, I happened to come back on your wedding day. I thought I’d be able to move on, knowing you were happy and safe, but I was wrong. It took a couple more years, but I realized I’d been a complete idiot and walked out on the only woman I have ever loved. I can never apologize enough for hurting you. And I have regretted my stupidity ever since.”
He felt her breath warm on his neck as she let go a long sigh.
She started speaking, almost quieter than he could hear.
“As much as I loved Kunihiko, I never stopped loving you…” It seemed she was admitting this aloud to herself as much as she was admitting it to him.
He felt as though his smile would split his face in two, and his heart leaped with a sudden influx of hope as he rested his forehead on hers.
The hand that had covered both of hers raised up and traced the edge of her ear and along her jaw, stopping under her chin. He tilted her face up to look her in the eyes, brushing his thumb lightly over her soft lips.
“Then, while I don’t deserve it, I’m going to ask you to give me a second chance. Will you allow me the privilege of getting to know you again. To show you how much you’ve always meant to me?”
Her eyes widened in surprise at his question, but she answered it.
“Thank you,” he whispered, pressing a kiss on her forehead.
Then her eye lids, cheeks, the tip of her nose.
He felt her arms slide around his chest as he kissed the corners of her mouth before finally pressing his lips to hers, softly at first, then with more urgency, his hand cupping her cheek. He felt her melting into him, the way she used to, and his heart nearly exploded.
He was never going to lose her again.