That night was spent in a desperate tangle of passion, as if when dawn’s light finally hit, they would never again be able to touch one another. In reality, however, Goto had an investigation that required him to be undercover for an undetermined period of time, and would not be able to chance even sending her text messages.
Of course Miho understood, but even if the timing hadn’t been terrible, this was the first time she had to relive saying goodbye to the one she loved, sending him on his way into the unknown when the past had rewarded her with loss, death, sorrow.
As they showered together, hands against moist skin, bodies pressed not with urgency now, but just a mutual desire to be as close to each other as they could for as long as they could, Goto watched his fiancée carefully. She hid her fear as best she could, but it was in those eyes he adored and the tense of her jaw. He knew he couldn’t erase it, couldn’t mitigate it – it was what it was, and would be until he came back to her. All he could actually do is tell her how much he loved her, that and he was already imagining the night he returned.
“Don’t come in,” she said in a small voice, not daring to raise it much beyond that or else risk it breaking.
“I want to,” he replied, unfastening his seatbelt and moving around the car to the passenger side.
She was still sitting there with her hands in her lap when he opened it.
“You’re such a pain,” she hissed through her teeth, taking the hand that helped her rise, the hand that remained clutching hers as she retrieved her bag – larger than usual – and hefted it over her shoulder. “Damnit, this ruined mascara is your fault.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” he apologised, pulling him against him.
“Jazz is going to make fun of me,” she sighed, taking the first, reluctant step toward the building where the MJS offices were situated.
“I doubt that,” he chuckled, and Miho looked sideways at him. “She might have chewed my ear off about coming back safely.”
“Hmph, that ear is mine to chew,” Miho muttered, but she did feel warmed that Jazz had gone out of her way to read Goto the relationship separation riot act.
“And you’ll have every opportunity to do so when I get back,” he pointed out, trying to sound cheerful.
Then they stopped at the double doors.
“If you come in much further I won’t be able to let you go,” she asserted, about as meek as Miho got.
Oh, the proud one hated feeling that way, but told herself she had every reason to.
“Okay,” he conceded, wrapping his arms around her, one large hand against the back of her head pressing her cheek against his shoulder. “When I get back we’ll do something special,” he promised.
“You coming back will be special enough,” she replied, muffled into the fabric of his suit jacket, praying her eyes didn’t spill over – at least not until he was away.
She didn’t want him to have to see her like that, knowing he had to leave anyway.
Hearing this, Goto leaned her back a little, just enough so he could kiss her – a long, convincing kiss that conveyed more than even his next works.
“I love you,” he declared, and Miho’s head bobbed.
“I love you too. Go get some bad guys.”
Stepping back was like fighting gravity, but somehow Goto managed.
“Go,” she prompted, half turning. “We’ll both go, and not look back.”
With a determined nod, Goto complied, and Miho followed suit.
Savagely she bit her lip as she walked stiffly into the building, across the foyer, and made her way to the office where Izumi looked up from his desk and smiled at her brightly.
“Good morning Mrs. Goto!” he exclaimed, continuing the joke he’d started last week, and Miho clenched her eyes closed so tightly it hurt, ground her teeth behind closed lips.
“Good morning, Izumi,” she managed weakly, finally, then continued in a hurry to her office.
Moping wasn’t really her style, but the moment she dropped her bag on the couch, the urge to flop down beside it was overwhelming. Chewing on the inside of her cheek, she opened the bag and pulled out her Domo-kun plushie and hugged it fiercely.
“So pathetic,” she sighed, setting her chin on top of Domo-kun’s head and staring at the wall beyond her desk on the other side of the room.
She knew it was pointless to catastrophise, to think about all that could go wrong, to reminisce about how alone and broken she’d felt when her husband had not come home from his last assignment, but those fear crept up on her just the same.
“Morning,” Jazz chirped, entering without even knocking, but one look at Miho’s expression bordering on tears, and she pressed her lips together.
Too much pity and it Miho would lose it, too much cheer and Miho would lose it… eh, maybe she just needed to lose it.
In the end, Jazz sat down next to her BFF and knocked shoulders.
“Alien versus Predator, couch snuggles and Subaru in the kitchen wearing a frilly apron?” she offered, and Miho let out a sob-thickened chortle.
“I know I can’t afford to lose it every time he has to do his job like this,” she murmured, squishing Domo-kun more tightly. “But…”
“These are special circumstances,” Jazz excused. “You’re allowed to be freaked out, but you know I’ll look after you, and that know-it-all Subaru will look after you, everyone here will… and frankly, Goto loves you way too much to not come back.”
Problem was, she’d thought the same of Daisetsu.
“Thanks,” Miho managed, but sogged Domo-kun with her tears just the same.
The work day turned slowly, though catching up on administrative duties was somewhat of a blessing in disguise. As she worked at her desk, Domo-kun remained in her lap like a safety blanket, and each time she felt doom descending she squeezed him to her chest, looked at her engagement ring and told herself there was no way fate could repeat itself so cruelly.
“Miss Fujiwara?” Izumi interrupted at one point.
Somehow, that name jarred in her ears now.
“Mr Yuasa is on the phone and would like to speak with you,” he elaborated.
Miho managed, just, to hide her cringe behind a tired mask.
“Okay, thank you. You can put him through,” she exhaled, but Izumi’s following question didn’t sound so sure.
“Are you sure?” he offered. “I mean, I could get Miss Mann to handle it.”
“Jazz has a lot to do already,” Miho reasoned. “Thanks, but I’ve got this.”
After discussing matters with Takao, it had been decided that he would contact both of the other clients with whom Miho had been pictured, aside from Subaru. His appointment had been with Yuasa Chiaki that morning, and though Takao had indicated he would convey MJS’ preference for the office to be contacted directly, there was no way it could legally be prohibited.
Miho did not wish to talk to him, but, she couldn’t deny him either, and with a sigh and deep inhale, she picked up the telephone receiver and answered.
There was not as much outrage as Miho might have expected, though she was sure that was largely thanks to Takao’s cool and professional approach to outlining what had occurred. When he suggested they catch up to discuss the matter further, however, Miho scowled.
“It’s my understanding Mr. Maruyama’s explanation of the situation was quite comprehensive,” she said in a measured tone, but her fingernails were dug fiercely into Domo-kun’s belly. “At this time I have no further news about the culprit responsible for the photographs.”
“I’d like to see them,” he stated, and Miho’s stomach churned.
His date scenario had been kinky – despite, or maybe even because of, his small stature, he was a dominant sexual personality that bordered upon the cruel. There had been moments when she’d nearly called it to a close, and she’d been relieved when he ultimately decided not to pursue a match.
Requesting to see the photos that had violated the privacy of them both was, at best, in poor taste.
“Absolutely not,” she dropped.
Bordering on icy.
“You know what we did that night, you were there, and you are also well aware that the terms of our contractual agreement prohibits clients from recording date scenarios in any form,” she added. “Right now the pictures are evidence in a police investigation, and when they are no longer required, as Mr. Maruyama would also have told you, they will be destroyed.”
“I’m prohibited,” Chiaki sniffed, and Miho felt her hackles rising even further, “but how can I be certain you won’t keep them for your own enjoyment?”
Because, you creepy little cretin, I didn’t enjoy you then, or now.
But she kept that response locked inside her. Just.
“This is my job, Mr. Yuasa,” she said instead, her tone tight, so close to snapping. “Our engagement was a part of a business process – nothing more. If you would like assurance the images will be destroyed beyond my word, then please pursue dialogue with Mr. Maruyama so legal documentation can be formally drafted.”
“Hmm, I guess I’ll do that then,” he mused, but it sounded like he wasn’t serious, teasing, provoking.
That’s pretty much where the conversation ended. Miho bid him a good day, hung up, and headed for the break room – but ran into Rose who had two mugs.
“Thought you might like some tea,” she said with a cautious smile, and Miho exhaled a looooong breath.
“And an opportunity to bitch about these disgusting little git if you’ve got fifteen minutes to spare.”
“Paperwork is all that’s calling me for the rest of the day,” she declared. “So bitch as long as you’d like.”
And so Miho wasted Rose’s time for the rest of the day, regaling stories of interest from the beginning of MJS. The nostalgia session was interrupted only by Jazz and H checking in, and a text message from Subaru asking her what she wanted for dinner.
“I suppose beer, isn’t really an acceptable response?” Miho smirked, but Rose grinned.
“Sounds right to me,” she chuckled.
“Hmhm, Jazz is coming over for a movie or two, you want to join? Assuming you’re not busy with your puppy?”
“My…?” Rose began, but realised Jazz must have told her about her evening at the gallery. “Oh right. Nah, not tonight. What we watching?”
And so Rose joined the party, and Miho let Subaru know he’d be cooking for five… assuming that H would join the party.
That evening, the four women rolled into Goto’s apartment, and all dressed in their pajamas piled onto the couch. With Miho and Domo-kun in the middle, they huddled under the one king sized doona, while Subaru, compete with his pink apron, delivered snacks and drinks.
“I could totally get used to this,” Rose grinned, snagging another beer from the tray Subaru brought over.
“I’ve been looking at wait staff for the wedding,” Jazz put in. “Maybe you should just do it.”
“Hey,” Subaru glared, but Miho intervened.
“Thanks, Subaru,” she smiled genuinely. “This is exactly what I needed.”
“Just don’t make a mess on the couch, okay? I have to sleep out here,” he huffed, but she could see he was relieved to see her a little happier.
A little later when he caught her on the way back from the toilet, he told her Shinonome and his students had pulled all sorts of devices from his apartment, not just cameras.
“You know I don’t want to make you feel worse but, pictures might not be all this asshole has of us,” he admitted, his entire face one giant cringe.
Asshole may not have been the best word to use.
“Christ,” she hissed, leaning against the wall, rubbing the back of her neck. “I’m sorry Subaru.”
“Hey, I don’t blame you,” he frowned, this time at the idea she actually thought he was holding her responsible. “As if I didn’t know my house was wired like that. I should be the one apologising.”
“Let’s just both be sorry,” she smiled weakly, before Jazz calling out for more beer drew them back to the lounge.
At the end of several movies, early in the morning, Subaru called the event to a close.
All four women piled into the one bed, sandwiching Miho in the middle again.
In the dark, even with a warm body snuggled up with her, Miho couldn’t sleep. That body wasn’t Goto’s. She wondered what he was doing – if he was asleep, where he was asleep, what he was dreaming about.
But something told her, wherever he was, he was wondering the same about her – and it was eventually this that led her to sleep.
When morning came, Subaru rolled off the couch bright and early and took stock of the living room. Despite his efforts to keep up with the mess, the four women had done a real number – still, he smiled wryly, because Miho had, for a short time at least, been able to forget her anxiety.
Shame she had to go marrying Goto and all.
With a snort he tidied. Folded his blanket, collected bottles, wiped down surfaces, and contemplated what he was going to feed the hungry horde.
Eggs, lots of eggs – protein.
When they still hadn’t stirred by 8am, he hazarded closer to the bedroom door. Maybe he hoped, just a little, to hear giggling and the thwap of pillows being tossed about, but all he did hear was snoring.
“That’s definitely Jazz,” he snickered quietly to himself, then pushed the door in a little. “You lot want breakfast?”
He’d raised his voice to a conversational level, but only snoring replied.
“Recording this would totally be in poor taste,” he sighed, by peeked into the dim interior.
What he found, sprawled on the king sized bed, was a ridiculous tangle of arms, legs, pillows blankets and bed-head.
Then he saw pajama bottoms on the floor, amid another articles of clothing, and arched a brow.
“No way,” he exhaled… inhaled… then sighed as he began to collect the girls’ clothes and fold everything into neat piles.
He scuttled out, however, when Miho rolled over, flopping her arm across Jazz’ chest and snuggling against her.
“Christ,” Subaru muttered, and left them be in favour of brewing some strong coffee.
Eventually they all stumbled out, not looking too hungover but certainly like they didn’t have the best night’s sleep. Subaru’s coffee and breakfast spread was very welcome, and Jazz couldn’t help but comment how Miho and Goto should keep Subaru on as a manservant after they get married.
“Unless you’d prefer to come and work for Kuni and I,” she quipped cheekily.
“Hey, he’s my butler!” Miho exclaimed, pouting in an exaggerated fashion.
“Oh god don’t mention butlers,” H groaned under her breath, before inhaling deeply over her mug.
“The apron’s kind of cute,” Rose put in and Subaru tipped his chin up a little. “Haruka made it for me.”
“So it’s true Goto’s mother is in love with you?” Jazz snickered. “I thought Miho was exaggerating.”
“Hey, she’s a great woman, and we happen to share many…” he began in defence of himself, only to realise he was making things worse.
Miho just smiled, but it wavered a little when she thought of how heartbroken Issei had looked when he’d seen the photos of her and Subaru.
She nearly jumped out of her chair when her phone rang, and it turned out to be none other than the woman they’d just been talking about.
“Mrs. Goto, good morning,” Miho greeted as cheerfully as she could while she rose from her chair and moved into the lounge to take the call
“Come on, that makes me feel so ooold,” Haruka grumbled. “You managed to call Shinichi father…”
“I’m sorry, Mum,” Miho corrected, and that made her want to smile. “What can I do for you?”
“Well,” Haruka murmured, and Miho could tell she was frowning. “I let a couple of message for Seiji but he hasn’t responded, and he’s usually so good with that if he’s not…”
“Yeah, he left on assignment yesterday morning,” Miho confirmed, flopping down on the couch and searching about for Domo-kun. “Is it something I can help with?”
“Such a polite girl, even given what you’re going through,” Haruka sighed. “It’s just, I haven’t been able to contact Issei since he stormed out. I’ve tried calling and texting and even emailing. He’s never not responded before and I’m worried.”
“He’s at the Hakusan Campus of Toyo University right? My schedule’s pretty open, I could give him a call and if he doesn’t answer, check out his dorm?”
He would love that… maybe if I took Subaru with me?
Um… yeah maybe not.
“Would you?” Haruka replied, and Miho got the impression of her clutching her hands together in prayer.
“No problem,” Miho smiled. “I really do need to talk to him again anyway; I don’t want to leave things as they are.”
Haruka was very grateful, overly so perhaps, that Miho was willing to help, and it just made Miho feel all the more like she needed to make things right with Issei – before his brother returned from his case preferably.
Before the other girls left, Jazz agreed to go with Miho to the university at lunch time if Issei didn’t answer his phone messages before then.
“He still not responding?” Subaru asked, finally getting himself ready to leave.
“Nope,” Miho frowned. “I’ve texted him a couple of times, left him voicemail. I can understand him being upset at me for what he saw, but not his mother.”
“Well, if Jazz can’t go with you, the kid can wait until I’m done with my shift,” Subaru told her sternly, and Miho nodded obediently.
“Hmm, I need to grab a couple of things from my place on the way to work, if you have time?”
She phrased it as a question, but she knew Subaru would make time.
“All right, hurry the hell up or Katsuragi is going to have my ass.”
After thanking him for last night, and for going out of his way, they arrived at Miho’s apartment bantering in high spirits, until Subaru suddenly seized her arm, shoved her behind him, and drew his gun with his free hand.
“Wha?” Miho exclaimed, peeking around him just enough to see her door ajar. “No fucking way,” she hissed.
“Stay close behind me,” he told her in a low voice. “I can’t leave you out here in case they’re just waiting for a chance to grab you.”
“Jesus,” she muttered, swallowing, trying not to panic, while at the same time trying not to be overwhelmed by anger.
Inch by inch they moved through the door, and room by room they cleared the apartment, stepping over items strewn about callously, everything turned over, nothing left in its place.
“Clear,” Subaru said finally, and though Miho’s shoulder relaxed a little, she couldn’t help the clenching of her jaw as she continued to take in the carnage.
“You said Detective Kyobashi was put on your case, right?” Subaru grunted, holstering his gun and taking out his phone. “Don’t touch anything.”
“I know,” she snapped, standing there just staring. “Ugh, I don’t… my jewellery is still here, this… if you’re going to break in why leave the good stuff.”
“Check your underwear, photographs, stuff like that,” Subaru prompted, and Miho exhaled a sickened breath. “Just don’t…”
“Touch anything, yeah I got it,” she muttered, shuffling into the bedroom.
She was relieved to find it seemed her underwear remained, while spread all over the place, all pieces she could recall were present and accounted for.
“So what? Scare tactics now, or are you really looking for something?” she sighed, again joining Subaru – who was still on the phone – in the lounge.
Not once did he look in a rush to leave her, and though while they waited for Kyobashi to arrive he had to call his boss and a colleague to fill in, at all times it was clear he would remain with her for as long as she needed him to.
Honestly, Miho didn’t know how she felt.
It seemed clear whoever was responsible had waited for Goto to be out of the way before rummaging through her belongings, but there had been plenty of nights she’d been at his place. This suggested it was just as much about unsettling here while she didn’t have her usually support, as it was about breaking into her apartment, and that was more settling than just burglary.
When her statement had been taken, Kyobashi gave her the all clear to return to work while forensics checked for prints – but he didn’t like the chances; the photographs had come back clean of any unknown fingerprints. He told Miho he’d had visible uniforms outside Goto’s place to deter anyone from going through there as well, and made certain she understood she wasn’t to go anywhere without someone else.
“You sure you don’t want me to stay?” Subaru questioned, hand against her back as they walked into the MJS building.
“You’d be bored out of your mind,” Miho pointed out. “Unless you want to actually sit and talk about the marriage candidates you keep rejecting?”
“Eh, not especially?” he replied cagily, rubbing the back of his neck. “But, if you’d feel better just having me around, I can stay.”
“Izumi’s here, and I think either Rose or Jazz are wandering around somewhere too,” Miho pointed out. “I’ll be safe enough here.”
“Well, I won’t finish until at least 9 now, but if no one is able to be here with you that late…” he began, but Miho cut him off by pulling him into a hug.
“Thanks, but I’ll manage. Someone will be here until you’re able to pick me up,” she told him firmly, then stepped back with a smile. “Go, or Katsuragi will be mad.”
“Okay, but no outings,” he grunted, backing away.
“Sure thing,” she conceded, raising her hands in surrender. “And thank you.”
Jazz was in fact waiting for Miho in her office, waiting to get the lowdown on the morning’s drama. When all was recounted, Miho finally caught a quiet moment with a cup of tea in her hands, until her phone vibrated where she’d left it in her pocket.
A text message.
Goto Junior is a little busy to answer you right now.
And Miho just stared at it, this message that had come from Issei’s number stored in her phone, with the name of her dead husband attached.
Had she told Issei his name? She could remember. Was this is petty way at striking back at her for having slept with the man he had crushed on for so many years? That seemed a bit extreme – but what else could it have been?
Miho felt frozen, unblinking and peering until the light on her phone’s screen dimmed and then went black.
Then it rang.
And she stared at it as it rang and rang and rang, until it stopped.
Then began again.
Swallowing, she pressed receive, and lifted the phone to her ear.
“One would think you’d answer your husband after the first ring,” a somewhat familiar voice declared.
Familiar for two reasons.
It sounded like the voice of the man from the alley, though echoing like he was standing in a large enclosed space. It also sounded like…
“Can’t be,” she exhaled and hung up.
Trembling, her hand and the phone fell into her lap, and with wide eyes she stared in shock at nothing in particular, brain buzzing, heart thumping, mouth suddenly dry.
Angrily her phone cried out again, and she both wanted to answer it and not.
“Where is Issei?” she growled the moment she answered for the second time.
“Issei is it?” Daisetsu’s voice responded. “That close already?”
“Where is he?” she repeated through her teeth.
The voice on the other end sounded more disant as he spoke.
“Tell her you’re fine, for now,” Daisetsu instructed, and the voice that followed was Issei’s.
“Miho?” he managed – tired, weak. “No matter what he says don’t…”
“That’s quite enough,” Daisetsu sniffed, clearly reclaiming the phone. “It seems heroics run in his family.”
“I don’t know who you are, or what you want, but don’t you dare hurt Issei,” Miho snarled, pushing back her chair violently and getting to her feet.
“Just stay right there in your office, Miho,” Daisetsu told her calmly. “Involving anyone else in our affairs could lead to someone getting hurt.”
Miho shook where she stood.
She could not fathom what she heard, could not reconcile it with what she knew – a husband dead many years, long rotten in the ground, spoke to her now as if it was perfectly normal.
“What do you…” she started, but he predicted her question and answered it.
“To see you of course,” he responded, and it sounded so genuine, so… so… like she remembered him.
It plunged a knife into her chest, sank it deeply and then tore her right down the middle.
“It can’t be,” she whispered, her eyes burning. “Daisetsu is dead.”
“Actually I’m in perfect health,” he disagreed. “But you’ll be able to see that for yourself soon enough. There’s a car parked outside, blue with a beige interior – the keys are in the…”
“I’m not,” she began, but then bit her tongue.
There was a moment of silence as he let her think about her refusal.
“Don’t hurt him,” she sighed, ever so quietly.
“Take the car Miho, and follow the GPS already programmed,” Daisetsu commanded, but his voice was light, not the voice of a man who’d taken someone Miho cared about hostage. “Tell no one, or I may have to start mailing much fleshier presents to dear old Mum and Dad.”
“Don’t you dare,” Miho snapped, digging around in her bag for her keys – if she took her bag, Izumi was sure to notice her take it to the break room.
“I will know,” he assured her. “Imagine how horrified his big brother would be to learn you were responsible for missing fingers, toes and other things.”
“All right, I’m leaving now just…”
She didn’t know what else to add, how to add.
Even if this was some sicko pretending to be Daisetsu, and that had to be it, Issei was real, there with him. She knew Goto would be just as horrified to learn she would purposefully put herself in danger, but what else could she do?
Wait for Issei’s pinky to show up?
“Go now,” he prompted, and then hung up.
But Miho remained motionless, inertia forged by disbelief, rooting her feet to the floor until her phone vibrated again.
She had, along with her narrator, spoken ill of the stupidity of Voltage MCs, but now Miho found herself in the kind of situation requiring her to rush headlong into a threat she was not trained to deal with.
But for the sake of family, it wasn’t as if she could stand idle.
With keys in hand she paused just a second at her desk to scrawl something on a note before trying to ‘look casual’ exiting her office and heading to the break room, when she was freaking out.
“You want tea Izumi?” she asked as she passed his desk, and he looked up.
“I can make it if you’d like some,” he was quick to say, but Miho shook her head.
“Nah, I need to keep busy,” she replied, and continued on her way – and kept going, just touching her palm to the door frame before continuing quickly down the corridor and out of the sight to the alley exit.
On the street and suddenly frantic, she looked back and forth until she spied the blue car, the only blue car on the street in fact.
Her pulse thundered so loudly she didn’t hear a single of her footfalls, nor the roar of the engine when she pressed the ignition button and the GPS blinked to life.
Then she drove.
After a while, it occurred to Izumi he hadn’t seen Miho go back to her office, and so he went in search of her… only to find a sticky-note attached to the door frame.
“Miss Mann! Miss Mann!” Izumi shouted, busting into Jazz’s office despite the fact she was with a client.
“Mr. Takasaki?” Jazz blinked, though less shocked than the man seated on the sofa to her left.
Izumi, however, was far too gone in panic to care, and shoved the sticky-note in Jazz’s face.
“Miss Fujiwara is gone!” he exclaimed, and Jazz focused in on Miho’s brief missive.
Bad guys have Goto Issei. Track my phone.