With a stuttering lurch, Miho threw herself to her knees and began to gather the pictures.
“You don’t need to see this,” she hissed, scrambling to make a pile, but Issei took both her wrists, and leaning forward with his weight, pinned her hands to the floor amidst the carnage.
“I guess this is how you knew he wasn’t wired that way,” he grated in a low voice overflowing with loathing. “And you’re going to marry my brother, while fucking Subaru like a whore?!”
“That’s…” she inhaled painfully, trying to recoil though he held her tightly.
“Issei!” Seiji barked, striding through the door and in behind his beleaguered fiancée. “Let her go.”
“You’re okay with this?” Issei snapped, balefire glared now up at Seiji as he threw Miho’s hands away from him. “Or maybe you didn’t even know.”
Toward Seiji, Issei thrust a particularly graphic image, Miho and Subaru’s expressions both the epitome of powerful orgasm.
“What I do and don’t know is a matter between she and I, no one else,” Seiji states, still hovering at Miho’s quivering back. “I’ll be taking these photos now.”
For a second Issei’s lips seemed poised to argue, but when Seiji crouched beside Miho and began to collect the lewd portfolio of images, he rocked back to his feet. He flicked the photo in his hand like a ninja star and it landed in Miho’s lap, face up, but her focus was on his face.
Such an intense expression of betrayal, but given what little she knew of him, she thought it had less to do with his brother and more their conversation from last night.
“I… have a few things I’d like to say to your family about this,” Miho said as she also rose, and immediately Issei began toward his door, halted only when Seiji caught his arm.
“Give her the chance to speak,” he instructed sternly. “This isn’t her doing.”
“That’s not her then?” Issei spat, shaking himself free.
“It’s me,” Miho frowned, desperately trying to pull herself together. “But what I did before committing to Seiji is no sin, and I don’t deserve your scorn.”
Issei huffed out an incredulous grunt before leaving the room, and for a moment Miho and Seiji just stood there in silence, he with the stack of photographs in his left hand.
“Are you all right?” he asked finally, wincing because he didn’t know what else to say.
“I am so far from all right,” she muttered, swallowed, clenched her fists.
Couldn’t decide whether to lose herself to rage that someone would do this, or lament.
She didn’t finish her sentence, but nodded her head and began her way back out to the lounge, where the rest of the family sat at the table in silence.
Before joining them, Seiji took the Subaru pictures and stowed them out of sight with the others. Miho was already speaking before he positioned himself at her side.
“I won’t apologise for my past,” she said slowly, forcing herself to make eye contact though it was painful to all concerned.
Issei simply refused.
“Who I have and haven’t been with prior to my relationship with Seiji, all of which these were, should be of no concern to anyone other than myself, and those people,” Miho continued carefully.
But she was proud, and she had no reason not to be – all depicted encounters had been consensual after all.
“I will, however,” she exhaled, “apologise that you had to see these images. They were taken without my consent, without my…”
Her voice faltered, and though Seiji meant the placement of his hand over hers as a gesture of a support, Miho struggled to keep herself together even more.
“… without my knowledge, and the person who has sent them here, addressed them specifically to you, has done so as an act of malice and spite and…”
“You know who did this?” Shinichi questioned, his voice quiet and cautious – Miho could not yet tell if his first instinct was to condemn also.
“Miho received flowers from an anonymous individual early this week,” Seiji responded in her stead, “and was then confronted by a masked man outside her work building. It seems highly likely this is connected. I’ll see if any fingerprints can be lifted from the photos, but I’ll need yours to eliminate them.”
“I’m not giving you my fingerprints,” Issei dropped flatly – no sympathy, no mercy.
“That’s fine,” Miho assented, directing her gaze into his face. “I just… this is my private life in its barest form, captured in places I thought were safe and now…”
Her eyes shifted to Haruka.
“… it will be impossible for you to see me the same way.”
She stood, dragging her hand out from under Seiji’s. Not bowing, she didn’t owe anyone humility for this, she was the victim.
“I think I need some air,” she declared, calling the ‘conversation’ to a close without leaving room for opinions.
When she moved in the direction of the front door, however, Seiji stopped her.
“You can’t go out,” he told her under his breath. “Whoever did this knows enough about my family and our plans, to send those pictures while you’re here. It doesn’t take much to figure they want you to distance yourself from us, from me.”
“It doesn’t bother you? At all?” she questioned, louder than him, loud enough for the others to hear though that hadn’t been her intention.
Seiji looked completely conflicted.
“I’m sorry,” Miho sighed. “That was out of line.”
“It’s fine,” he smiled thinly, but his eyes were soft and full of sympathy. “Let’s go for another walk.”
The day had been so cheerful, but now when they stepped out of the house into the twilight, the dim seemed so fitting. Miho was glad for it, as she didn’t know how much longer she could hold herself together.
And it wasn’t just that her fiancé’s family had seen her naked, with various partners, in the most intimate of circumstances; it wasn’t just that any ground she had made with Issei was well and truly lost; there were consequences reaching far beyond the immediate. She needed to contact Takao for legal advice – what would the ramifications be for MJS? The three individuals she had been pictured with would need to be notified – would they sue? The woman pictured, had already left Japan to be married to her partner, and returned to live happily, but to not tell was simply not an option.
Even if it wasn’t her fault, or MJS’, Miho also felt guilty that whatever personal mission her enemy was on, it could negatively impact her colleagues, her friends. Would they also be targeted?
“Hey,” Seiji prompted at her side, taking her hand, sliding his fingers in between hers. “Stop the wheels turning for just a minute.”
“No time,” she mumbled, shaking her head. “Those clients could be in danger and…”
“You are the focus of threat,” he interrupted. “You’re the only one I care about right now.”
God, if you’re too kind…
“Knowing doing that was a part of my job, and seeing…” she began again, her words grinding out through clenched teeth – because if she allowed her lips to part too much, the giant sob gathering in her chest might escape. “… I didn’t want… for you to see…”
“You said it yourself, that was before we were us,” he pointed out.
He could feel she wanted to pull away, to isolate, insulate, even if only to try in some way to protect him – though the damage was already done. Seeing her with, of all people Subaru, seeing the pleasure in her face, the intimacy and the passion, had been at best jarring. He had told himself, over and over, she was no different from any other woman, or man, with previous partners that had nothing to do with her love for him now.
But she was right; knowing and seeing was different.
It made him feel sick that someone else had made her feel like that, someone else had touched her in places he felt belonged to him, but more than anything it made him so incredibly angry someone would attack the woman he loved like that.
“You know,” he said slowly, “I’ve thought at length about your job, all parts of it…”
Her fingers slackened even more.
“Mhm,” he murmured, frowning, fishing around for the right words. “Subaru said he proposed to you too, before me…”
“He wasn’t being serious,” Miho chuckled mirthlessly.
“He’d have been the better option,” Seiji pointed out. “His family has prestige; his education was Ivy League…”
“I don’t care about societal gain,” she choked out, losing the battle, and Seiji stopped walking, turned her to face him, and slid his hands to either side of her face.
“Right,” he smiled affectionately. “You care about me, the person, the man. The man who chose you not based on education or family background or your history. Just the you, you have been with me.”
Tears ribboned down her cheeks and settled beneath his thumbs.
“You’re right, I never wanted to see that, but don’t you dare entertain the thought I will think any less of you for trying your utmost to find love for your clients, even back then.”
That was Miho’s limit. She buried her face against his chest and cried with his arms wrapped around her.
“My family will not hold this against you,” he reassured her. “And we’ll find out who is doing this, stop them, and bring them to justice. I promise.”
For some time they remained that way, and Miho allowed the cracked mask of her composure to leak out her angst. She didn’t feel guilty for MJS. She didn’t feel guilty for any of the sexual encounters she had had in her past. She didn’t feel responsible for what was happening now.
But it was impossible for her not to feel angry and embarrassed and frightened, even with Seiji so close and his reassurances in her ear.
Seiji, meanwhile, seethed quietly, sharp eyes tracking a car with tinted windows rolling slowly past, scrutinising a couple walking in the deepening dark on the other side of the road, and standing ready to act should something lash out from shadows.
“I’m okay,” Miho sighed finally, aware her face must have been an ugly mess of smeared makeup and bleary eyes. “I… we should head back to Tokyo right away. I don’t want your family to feel awkward with me in the house.”
“We’d have to hire a car,” he pointed out, gently wiping beneath her eyes. “And like I said, it’ll be fine.”
Just as he said that, a familiar motorcycle flew past, familiar to Seiji’s practiced eye anyway.
“We can leave early tomorrow,” he told her when the bike had disappeared. “I want to get those photographs to the lab, and we need to report this to the officers who responded to MJS Monday.”
“This is a pretty sensitive affair,” she exhaled. “I don’t want just anyone leafing through the ‘evidence’ when I promised clients their confidentiality.”
“I’ll make sure it’ll be handled with discretion,” he assured.
“Mm, I don’t know that you should be too involved with this,” she murmured, looking into his face properly. “This isn’t a Public Safety matter.”
“Be that as it may, I’m hardly going to stand by while…”
“It’s fine,” she interrupted. “I know some people in MPD – I’ll call markers in.”
He could have said something sordid about how exactly she was owed so many favours, and maybe, probably, it bothered him to think it was because her clients, despite having paid for her services, enjoyed their time with her – but he didn’t want to make things worse. Nor did he think he had any right to do so, no matter how jealous he felt.
“It’s going to be difficult to keep out of this,” he pointed out, stroking her hair.
“I know,” she smiled, and actually felt it. “You want to don your armour, mount your warhorse and charge into battle to defend my honour, but this will need to be handled much more quietly than that.”
“I know, I get it,” he grumbled. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it. You should stay at my place full time for now,” he went on – didn’t tell her she would be, but pointed out she should. “And I don’t think we should discount the possibility this could be about me, and that you’re just collateral damage.”
“I guess I didn’t think about that,” she nodded, emptying her lungs again and sliding her arm in under his jacket. “But most of your work is done undercover isn’t it? For someone to target me to get to you, your cover would have to have been blown.”
There was a new kind of fear, and Seiji saw it blossom in her eyes – not for herself, but for him.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” he told her, sliding his arm around her shoulder and turning her back in the direction of his parents’ house. “But I’ll look into it anyway, just to be sure.”
He wasn’t going to leave anything to chance.
When they reached the house, Haruka was not her normal, chirpy self, but not just because seeing Miho brought up some very interesting images in her mind.
“He’s gone isn’t he,” Seiji sighed, even before his mother could explain.
“Hmm?” Miho frowned.
“Issei,” Haruka clarified, avoiding Miho’s eyes, not that Miho could blame her. “He was very upset. I couldn’t stop him from leaving so, he’s gone back to his dorm.”
“At this time?” Seiji huffed, then his shoulders slumped a little. “I’ll follow up with him when we get back to Tokyo. We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
“Unless,” Miho began, resisting the urge to bite her lip, “you would prefer I leave tonight.”
Haruka’s head tilted a little, and she looked over at where her husband was watching television before back at her son and his fiancée – and finally met Miho’s gaze.
“Of course not,” she smiled sadly, then held her hands out to Miho… who immediately teared up again. “Poor thing,” Haruka soothed, hugging Miho though she was considerably shorter. “Whoever did this, Seiji will catch them. Don’t let anything get in the way of your happiness.”
Monday morning arrived. Goto (of the Seiji variety – I’m just way too embarrassed to call him by his first name any more –blush-) had helped Miho collect additional necessities from her apartment and arranged for Shinonome himself to take a look at her apartment for hidden cameras and other devices. Promising she would go nowhere without a ‘buddy’, Miho returned to work, and convened a staff meeting to convey updates.
She stood at the head of the table, at which also sat all three other girls and Izumi, Takao had managed to make it, and even Baba showed up. Kyobashi arrived late, and blamed his boss. After drawing in a really deep breath she explained the situation, what had happened, and the potential ramifications as she saw it.
Typically, Takao blushed – the idea of such graphic images of Miho in the hands of her soon to be in-laws (let’s face it, the idea of Miho nude at all) was a bit too much for him to cope with, until his brain clicked into lawyer mode. Kyobashi, who Miho had already spoken to briefly, indicated he wouldn’t be able to look into it in an official capacity as it wasn’t something that would normally fall under Second Unit’s purview, but Miho headed that off with news she’d already called one of his superiors and arranged, somehow, for Kyobashi to receive a special assignment.
“Seriously?” Kyobashi commented. “Dare I ask how you managed to swing that?”
Though she didn’t feel much like smiling or laughing, Miho shot a glance at Jazz and fashioned a small smirk.
“Something about a singles’ event, tequila and…” Miho began, but Jazz headed her off.
“They don’t need to know the gorey details,” she muttered.
“Yeah we do,” Baba piped up, but Miho shook her head, and even managed a short chuckle.
“The point is, your superior should be giving you the case at some point today,” Miho declared. “Seiji will have lab results from the photos forwarded directly to you.”
“How’d you get Lieutenant Goto to stay out of this?” Rose questioned.
Though she didn’t know him very well, what she did know was largely base off her observation of his interactions with Miho in the office.
“He knows he can’t mix his personal and work life,” Miho replied. “And this really is way out of Public Safety’s jurisdiction. Luckily that isn’t the case for our in-house detective.”
“Those pictures were taken somehow from inside a private residence and two different hotel locations,” Miho then frowned. “So there is some serious premeditation going on that I don’t want to chance is restricted to just myself. Despite what I just said, one of Seiji has suggested he might be able to get one of his colleagues and his students to sweep our homes and the office for things like listening devices and hidden cameras as a part of a learning exercise; that’ll keep this actual incident away from unnecessary eyes, but help give us a bit more piece of mind.”
“What about Mr. Ichiyanagi’s home?” Takao queried, and Miho’s shoulders slumped a little.
“Seiji and I are going to visit him together – after all, he’s going to be best man… maybe.”
Jazz, who had already had several run ins with Subaru over wedding planning, pursed her lips.
“I’m sure he’s not going to be happy about any of this, but I swear, if he wants to take it out on the two of you personally after the megalomaniacal tantrums he’s thrown over cakes and wedding favours, I’m…”
This allowed Miho to draw herself up again. She’d been the fierce friend, and now Jazz reciprocated. In truth, all the people in the room were supportive, not just of her, but also of one another, and it made her feel warm.
“I don’t think it’ll come to that,” Miho said. “Especially not with Seiji there – it’ll just be… really awkward. It’ll be fine.”
She kept saying that.
“Anyway, I’m calling for the suspension of date scenarios until we can do a proper review and upgrade of security, including our personal spaces, meeting places, legals, and even medicals – across the board.”
“If you don’t mind delegating, I can work on that?” H offered, and Miho smiled again. “Unless Jazz wants to do it – and I know she doesn’t – sure. Review current procedure and policy, and draw up a proposal. Takao?”
“I’ll definitely help,” he agreed without the need for further prompting.
“And I just want everyone to be safe,” Miho sighed, sitting though she continued. “We’ve had overly grateful clients before, but this is next level and so far we’ve no idea who is behind it.”
“Client does top the list,” Kyobashi put in. “Not that I’m going to make assumptions.”
“You know, I got this really weird vibe at Seasonelle when I was there the other day,” Rose frowned, casting her mind back.
“Well Kyobashi can access our client list, we’re talking at least a couple of months back for the first photographs,” Miho added. “And I don’t want to discount clients that weren’t mine either.”
“I’ll be thorough,” Kyobashi sniffed, and Miho sent him an apologetic look.
“Okay well… that’s it for me, so unless there is any other business presently, just be safe and report anything unusual immediately.”
Some lingered in the conference room, H and Takao and Rose and Kyobashi, while Baba made a quick getaway.
Jazz, however, followed Miho to her office, and watched from the door as the other woman collected her handbag.
“Where you going?” Jazz asked in a sing-song tone – the tone that conveyed iho knew she shouldn’t be going out alone.
“Relax,” Miho responded, poking out her tongue as she straightened. “Seiji’s picking me up. We’re going to tell Subaru – I want this done.”
“And Goto’s really okay with being there?” Jazz asked, a little more carefully.
“I think he’d be less okay with not being there to be honest,” Miho chortled, but it didn’t touch her tired eyes. “Understandable seeing as he now can very clearly envisage what Subaru and I got up to.”
Jazz tried not to cringe, but if Kuni was to see pictures like that of her with one of her former clients? Yeah that’d suck.
“I’ll survive,” she assured, giving Jazz a quick hug. “At the very least, MJS won’t leave me.”
The closer it got to the time for Subaru to arrive at Goto’s apartment, the more nervous Miho became. It’s not like they were planning to blindside him exactly, though it’s not like he could possibly see their news coming.
When the intercom buzzed, her stomach was a twist of dread, but she knew Goto had to be feeling something similar. After all, he and Subaru had been friends and colleagues for long before Miho was even in Japan, and though they bickered, they were clearly best friends.
“Okay, I’ve got this,” she exhaled at the front door.
“We’ve got this,” Goto said at her side, his hand giving hers a squeeze.
When she opened the door, Subaru looked at them with an unimpressed expression.
“If you’re just going to act all lovey-dovey, I’m leaving,” he huffed, but his face sobered up when he saw they didn’t react as usual. “Okaaaay.”
“Come in,” Miho smiled thinly, and they moved out of his way.
He off his shoes and took great care to ensure they were lined up, before following them into the lounge.
Miho swallowed, but at least they hadn’t gone to Subaru’s place.
There, she would have had to see his kitchen and that bench, face the wall where she’d been pressed, and know his bedroom was just a small way down one corridor.
Never before had she felt guilty about undertaking a date scenario with a client, until now.
Never before had she felt so uncomfortable in his or her presence, until now.
“You’re not going to like this,” Miho began slowly, seated beside Goto with Subaru opposite.
She explained it all again, including why they obviously weren’t meeting at his place in case it was still compromised.
He remained calm, looking between her and Goto – he did not blush, and he did not make jokes.
“Are you okay?” was the first thing he asked, and Miho bit her lip and nodded, because if she opened her mouth, she was absolutely going to cry.
She had been prepared for him to lose his shit, but he proved his worth as a friend instead.
“She’s coping,” Goto filled in. “But your place… how the hell was someone able to get images like that from inside?”
Subaru scowled fiercely, his eyes focused elsewhere as he thought back.
“There hasn’t been anyone in there at all except me in ages, well before we… um… then, not even member of the team,” he said finally.
“No signs of break-in?” Goto prompted.
“If there had been, it’d have been the first thing I’d say,” Subaru grunted. “Jesus, I’m going to have to pull everything apart.”
“I’ll send Shinonome you’re way when he’s done at Miho’s,” Goto nodded. “And so you know, the prints are in a closed loop. One tech I trust at the lab, then directly into the hands of the detective on the case – a friend.”
Subaru inclined his head, but his grimace persisted as he looked back at Miho who had fallen silent.
“You’re going to be all right,” he affirmed, smoothing his face over with a confident grin. “Think this idiot would let anyone near you?”
“This idiot has a job to do,” Miho pointed out, and Goto inclined his head.
“A new investigation begins tomorrow, so I have a favour to ask,” he said seriously, and Subaru was paying attention. “Could you, stay here, with her for the next few nights?”
He’d been fretting about it, Miho knew. On top of everything else, the idea that he would be away from home and unable to keep an eye on her was distressing – still, she hadn’t guessed he’d ask Subaru to be her babysitter, especially given what he’d seen in those photographs.
“That depends,” Subaru answered easily, “on whether she’s a better cook than you.”
“There is nothing wrong with my cooking,” Goto defended, and for the first time since he arrived, things felt somewhat normal.
“Has he even cooked for you yet? You may want to reconsider your engagement,” Subaru smirked, and Goto glared.
“Don’t go putting stupid ideas in her head,” he growled.
“I’ll show you what good cooking is,” Subaru grinned boldly, totally ignoring Goto now.
“If you mention dessert I’m going to hurt you,” Goto added.
“I make a mean…” Subaru challenged, and Goto got to his feet.
“Time for you to go,” Goto prompted.
Finally, Miho laughed, and both men looked to her and smiled.
“Thanks Subaru,” she exhaled, also getting up when Subaru joined Goto standing.
“I’ll get my schedule from Katsuragi and get back to you, Pajamas,” Subaru snickered, heading for the door. “Let me know if there is anything else I can do.”
When Subaru was gone, a quiet settled, and Miho and Goto returned to the couch.
“Nothing will happen with Subaru around,” Goto declared, but it sounded to Miho more like he was trying to convince himself, not her. “He’s a bodyguard after all.”
She very nearly told him there was only one person she wanted to guard her body, but she didn’t want him to feel guilty about doing his job.
“I know,” she said instead, leaning her head against his shoulder. “Do you have to go back to work?”
“Nope,” Goto replied, turning his head and kissing her hair. “What should we do?”
“Hmm, I wonder,” Miho mused, sounding thoughtful, before she looked into his face. “I’ve got it, why don’t you cook me lunch… you know… so I don’t reconsider my engagement?”
“Damnit Subaru,” Goto muttered under his breath, but he pulled himself to his feet and headed for the kitchen.