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Duty

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Mei is easy to watch over. Her needs are simple, and she frequently forgets that he is there to do whatever is needed, whatever is desired. It's easier to do things herself, she says. Or she forgets she's supposed to ignore him standing behind her, and twists around to whisper questions to him about her next test, or what sort of dress she should wear to the latest party. She blinks up at him behind her glasses, and he leans down to answer her.

It is a different thing then being her butler - Shiori-sama's butler. Shiori-sama always knew he was there, always kept him in her sight, and always remembered that he was a butler. Her orders were frequent and careless, expecting him to follow through in an instant without hesitation. And he had.

Seeing Shiori-sama getting weaker and weaker in body had hurt. He had tried so hard, struggled to be her strength and the support she would need. And he was so accustomed to taking her orders, that he didn't consider that some of them could be..wrong. How could a butler's lady be wrong? He was there to fulfill her needs. It wasn't until she had reached for him that first time, drawing her wet fingers across his face as he was helping her out of the bathtub, his eyes politely averted from her bare body, that the first clang of wrong sounded inside his chest.

He had stepped away, covered her with her silk robe. Never mentioned it.

Neither did she.

But his duties began to take on more personal tasks then he was comfortable performing. She gave every order with a gentle smile on her face, and her eyes never left Rihito's.

She could no longer button up her dresses, even the ones that closed in the front. Her hands drooped on the fastenings. She stopped wearing undergarments- said putting them on and taking them off was too taxing. Needed his full support to get into and out of the bathtub daily. He turned his face away, but he couldn't turn away from the touch of her skin under his fingers.

Clang went that warning inside of him. His heart hurt. This was not how a butler and a lady's relationship was supposed to go. Yes, things sometimes happened between a butler and his lady, but it was not spoken, and, Rihito guessed, the butler usually had more of a stake in it.

Rihito learned to perform his duties as unemotionally as possible. He had thought it would help, but it had no effect. A cup of tea heated a degree imperfectly would leave her flying in a rage, tea service smashed and his shirt stained. After a sandwich made with all of her chosen selections was returned to him in pieces, carved out with a pair of manicure scissors, for taking too long to make, and being away from her side for too long.

He began to hide the knives, and rushed through any duties that took him out of the room.

Sometimes she was lovely and perfectly normal, chatting quietly with him as he pushed her chair smoothly along the garden path, and he would relax. This time she'll stay well. She will get better.

In the middle of one night when she came to him, brazenly walking into his small room unclothed - hips too slender to be attractive, sickly pale skin glowing unnaturally in the dim light - she gave more orders. Unexpected and unwanted, but she was his lady. What was he supposed to do?

He followed them.

And she curled up possessively around him after, and lovingly whispered, "Mine, always mine," in his ear, and he had closed his eyes and wished he had the strength left to cry.

He left the next day. Rihito wished he could say that he approached Hongo-sama with dignity and explained the situation, but he didn't. He packed up the few things he had of his own - two small changes of normal clothes, some toiletries - and walked until he found a bus station. He left behind him the only world he had known, and the small S badge he had taken such pride in obtaining.

These were things he couldn't bring himself to tell Mei. She had forgiven Shiori-sama for everything wrought upon her, and Shiori-sama was getting treatment. He worried, sometimes, that Shiori-sama would get better, and would try to apologize to him, or to Mei for him, but Shiori-sama was not the type to apologize. And sometimes, Rihito still felt like he could have done things differently, done things better, and then Shiori-sama would never have become sick.

Mei was asleep on her desk, drooling into her text book. She would not even allow him to knock on the door while she was bathing. She insisted on laundering her private things herself. She bullied him into taking time off to sit in the sun with her, or to play chess with Kiba.

And sometimes he had to stop himself from reaching out to her warmth and light, from breathing in her smile. From holding her in his arms as he thanked her over and over again, for being strong and brave enough to support his weaknesses.

END