It was strange.
Even though Jazz had only been at Miho’s a couple of nights, not having Goto in her bed, or not being in his bed, felt wrong.
And this made Miho happy. Not that she enjoyed the wrong feeling, but that Goto was there, in her thoughts and emotions, even when he wasn’t.
After sending Rose off on her mission to Shiki Publishing – about which Miho smirked – she headed out of the building to meet with her next client during his lunch break. He was the kind of man she didn’t think needed any help attracting women, but at the same time she knew full well that often it was those types exactly, who had difficulty finding the one.
So many women looking to marry into an easy life, easy money.
He was charming, good looking and courteous, and even after just one meeting, Miho already had a list of women he thought would match.
Returning to the office, she smiled at MJS’s relative new receptionist Izumi Takasaki, and he looked up and smiled.
“Flowers arrived for you, Miss Fujiwara,” he grinned. “I put them in your office, I hope that’s okay.”
“You know, somehow I feel like your mother when you call me Miss Fujiwara,” she huffed sitting herself on the edge of his desk, and he looked a little bit stricken.
“No no! I don’t mean… you’re not old enough to be my mother by a long shot,” he rushed.
“Right, so call me Miho, ugh Miho-san if you absolutely must,” Miho grumbled, but it was clear she wasn’t even close to being mad.
When Selina decided to take some vacation leave it had been someone Jazz knew they brought in to fill the administrative gap. Though hardly his dream job, his mind set on being a vet, Izumi was able to pull enough hours with MJS to keep himself alive, and still leave time enough to study.
And, of course, he was such a little puppy, he was simply fun to tease.
“Who’re the flowers from?” Miho questioned, though her thoughts had gone straight to Goto… of course.
The fact was, however, they did on occasion receive gifts from clients, even though it was procedure to tell them they wouldn’t be accepted.
“Card was sealed so, it could be any of your… um…” Izumi began, then thought better of finishing his sentence the way it had played out in his head. “Eh, but given you’re not doing dating simulations anymore, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to assume a certain, um, hunky fiancé is responsible?”
“He is hunky, isn’t he?” Miho giggled – yeah she giggled, like a friggin’ school girl. “Well I’m not going to complain,” she added, and wandered into her office to investigate.
The flowers were nothing short of spectacular, perhaps a couple of hundred dollars worth of beautiful blooms, and humming happily to herself like a lovesick moron, Miho plucked the envelope free and tore it open.
See you tonight.
That’s all it said, but it was enough to put butterflies in her stomach. Flopping into her chair, Miho dug her phone from her bag and tapped out a message to Goto.
The flowers are gorgeous, thanks. Looking forward to some us time as well.
Jazz hadn’t stayed long, and thankfully she and Kuni had gotten their shit together quickly, but it not being a given she would have Goto beside her at some point every night, had been surprisingly taxing.
Allowing her good mood to carry her quickly through typing up her new client notes, Miho lost herself in the work zone until the shrill call of her ringing phone broke her free.
Seeing it was Goto made her feel stupidly giddy all over again.
“You’re clearly not working hard enough, Lieutenant, if you have time to make social calls,” she teased, but Goto’s reply was brisk.
“Miho, I didn’t send you flowers,” he stated flatly, and Miho’s stomach clenched.
“Oh,” she dropped. “The card wasn’t signed so, naturally I figured it was you.”
“Client?” he offered and though the word wasn’t cold, Miho felt guilty.
“Won’t lie, it happens from time to time, even though we tell clients not to,” she revealed.
“Card?” he prompted.
“Yeah,” she murmured – wanted to lie about what it said, but didn’t want to lie.
“Um… it said, see you tonight.”
“I’ll pick you up from the office,” he declared. “I will be seeing you tonight.”
“Please try not to catastrophise,” she chided lightly.
“collecting my fiancée from work isn’t catastrophizing,” he argued. “It’s prudent when she’s receiving flowers and promises from someone other than me.”
“You know I was an assassin in a past life, right?” she offered, but he remained serious.
“This is the only life I care about,” he growled. “Will you be ready by 7:30?”
“Sure, that’s fine,” she conceded, trying not to sigh. “But don’t complain later when I demonstrate my kungfu on you.”
“Kungfu all you like when we’re home,” he told her, his tone only now tempering toward affection. “And in the meantime…”
“I have no more appointments today,” she interrupted. “So I’ll be here at the office, so don’t stress.”
He didn’t deny he was stressing, but didn’t admit to it either.
“Send me a picture,” he said instead – an odd request.
Miho fell straight into the gutter.
“Mr. Goto!” she exclaimed, her voice dripping with honey. “What kind of picture are you asking for exactly?”
Coughing noises answered, and Miho laughed, the image of his flushed face filling her mind’s eye.
“The flowers,” he said eventually, and she imagined him looking at the ground bashfully.
“God you’re cute,” she chuckled. “You want to run forensics on the flowers do you?”
“Just do it, Miho,” he grumbled. “I’ll see you at 7:30.”
It wasn’t often he flat out told her to do something, but she was too amused to notice, and with an I love you she hung up and sent him the picture he was after.
He replied with a simple thanks, leaving Miho to get on with her work – but now she knew the flowers weren’t from Goto, and that he was bothered by her having them, there was no help for it but to throw them out.
Izumi looked surprised when Miho appeared with the huge arrangement in her arms.
“Um… Miho? Do you need me to help you with that?”
“Nope, I got this. Just taking it out to the dumpster,” Miho clarified, awkwardly making her way toward the back of their ground floor rooms, unlocking the door, and stepping out into the alley where their dumpster was located. “What a waste,” she sighed, wondering if maybe she could get away with salvaging the lovely vase the flowers came in, or whether that would still irritate Goto.
“A waste,” came a voice suddenly behind her, and startled, Miho reflexively dropped the flowers.
The ceramic vase smashed against the wet asphalt, red roses scattering around Miho’s feet, and her guards came up.
He was as tall as her, a he by his build and voice – but his face and his hair was obscured by a balaclava, and his dark clothing covered most of his skin.
“You didn’t like them?” he asked, taking one step closer to her, a testing step, and Miho’s reaction was to move diagonally around the edge of the dumpster toward MJS’s back door.
“They’re from you?” she questioned, her voice not shaking, but breathy.
In response, the masked man inclined his head. She could see his eyes, dark eyes, Japanese eyes, and they were studying her closely, coolly.
“Well… thank you but, I have a fiancé,” she forced out, shuffling again and reaching with one hand for the door handle.
“Wait,” he snapped, and though Miho wanted nothing more than inside she froze.
“Don’t,” Miho hissed, gritting her teeth, lips peeled back and her fingers flexing in and out of fists. “Leave, and don’t come back,” she blurted, and then made her move.
By the time her back pressed against the inside of the door, she was panting.
The ambiguous message with the flowers hadn’t thrown her, not even finding out Goto hadn’t sent them had caused her much concern – but a man in a disguise creeping up on her in an alley outside her place of work?
Yeah that got her.
“Holy shit,” she shuddered out, not quite sure what to do with herself.
“Hey Miho,” Rose greeted, coming down the hallway. “I’m going to make tea, do you want some?”
But Miho just kind of stared like she hadn’t heard her, hadn’t seen her, and this caused Rose to pause and make a more serious study of the other woman’s face.
“Miho?” she prompted, drawing closer, and only then did Miho’s eyes narrow and seem to focus.
“Ahh, Rose,” she exhaled, shaking her head. “Sorry, what did you say?”
“Your hands are shaking,” Rose observed, scowling. “What’s wrong?”
Miho bit her lip, fiercely, and it remained that way for some time until she managed to answer in a low and quiet voice.
“There was a man, in the alley,” she explained. “Balaclava, I was…”
“Did he hurt you?” Rose hissed, snatching Miho’s right hand and giving it a squeeze.
“No,” Miho assured, dragging in a deep breath and straightening. “Just surprised me.”
“Izumi!” Rose barked, and Miho cringed.
Like he’d fallen out of his chair in fright, Izumi appeared with a startled look on his face.
“Call the cops,” Rose instructed. “Miho was just approached by creeper.”
“What? Here?” Izumi blinked. “Miss Fujiwara, did he…”
“No, no I’m okay,” Miho muttered, shaking her head again. “Go ahead and call the police,” she then continued, but as she clawed out of the moments of threat outside, she knew what calling the police would also mean. “Rose…”
But she didn’t get to finish.
“I’ll make some tea,” the other woman asserted with a definitive nod.
Regaining her faculties, Miho went back to her office and picked up her mobile phone.
“Oh this is going to hurt,” she murmured, then dialled Goto.
He didn’t answer, which was perhaps a small blessing, and so Miho left a voice message.
“You know, this is a real pain in the ass,” she began with another sigh, “but… there was a guy, the one who sent the flowers, in the alley out the back of our building. He didn’t touch me, and I’ve already called MPD, so there’s no need to rush over here – I’m fine, just… you know…”
There she floundered a little.
Truthfully, logically, this guy hadn’t harmed her in any physical way, though the balaclava said loud and clear he didn’t want his identity known and that was the biggest red flag of them all. Still, the what ifs and the could haves played on her mind, made her shift uneasily in her chair and really wish Goto was there.
“Unless MPD need me to go somewhere,” she continued finally. “I’ll be staying here, indoors, until 7:30 so don’t feel like you need to come early…”
It was difficult for her to admit weakness – she was just an in-charge kind of person.
“… but, I am looking forward to seeing you.”
Hanging up was surprisingly difficult considering he wasn’t actually listening to her talk in real time.
“Miss Fujiwara,” Izumi said quietly from the doorway, and Miho’s head snapped up.
“Miho,” she corrected, forcing a smile to her lips.
“MPD is sending someone over now,” he informed her, his young face so stiff and serious. “I’m going to take a look outside, make sure he’s not still hanging around.”
“No,” Miho countered, leaning back in her chair just as Rose brushed passed Izumi, a steaming cup in her hand. “Who knows what ideas this person has. You don’t need to be provoking him.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t kick his ass into next week,” Rose snorted, putting the tea on Miho’s desk.
“Yeah well, he caught me off guard,” Miho grumbled, blushing a little. “And he didn’t try to grab me or anything so an ass kicking might have been premature.”
At this, Rose sniffed.
“And I’m fine, thank you both,” Miho added. “Izumi just let me know when the police arrive. I’m going to text Jazz and H so they know to be careful.”
They left Miho alone until the police arrived, though Miho knew both Izumi and Rose weren’t far away – not hovering, but on edge and ready to run in should she call. It was sweet, especially since she hadn’t known them that long – but that was how MJS was.
The police came and went, taking her statement, checking the premises and making a few security suggestions here and there, before moving to the Tax Accountant and Dentist offices that also shared the building.
Miho returned to Mr. Tachibana’s profile, tapping away on her keyboard intermittently, but her mind kept returning to something that now seemed to bother her more than anything else.
There was no placing it, but something about her mysterious fan was not so foreign to her. The most obvious answer was he had been a client, which is what she had suggested to the police, but she had frustrated even them when she refused to give them a list of said clients.
Even the ones they had decided against taking on were protected by the same confidentiality clause as existing and past clients, so it made for a difficult situation.
“I should call Takao,” she told herself, reaching for her phone until…
“Is she in her office?” Goto questioned, but his voice got louder as the short sentence progressed, telling her he was moving at speed and not waiting for an answer.
“It’s not even seven yet,” she huffed, getting to her feet.
Covering up how much of a relief it was.
“I didn’t run any red lights,” he scowled, taking her face between his hands and looking her up and down. “And I happened to finish my paperwork early.”
Those eyes of his were a ferocious squall of protectiveness and tightly wound rage; normally so calm, often seen as impassive, anger for him was a battle, one he fought for her in that moment.
“I’d say don’t fuss, but you’re going to no matter what I do,” she chuckled, leaning in to kiss him lightly before laying her head on his shoulder.
“I’m just going to have to convince Ishigami to assign me as your bodyguard,” he sighed into her hair, arms folded around her, muscles tensed against her back.
“All he did was talk,” Miho said, muffled against his jacket.
“Gifts, suggestive messages and a personal visit isn’t nothing, Miho,” he responded sternly.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t nothing,” she grumbled. “I’ll be careful.”
“I know you’re not not careful,” he stated, pulling her away a little so he could look into her face. “And I know how hard it must be for people to not fall in love with you.”
“For the ones that don’t know me very well anyway,” she snickered, and finally she got a smile.
“You ready to head home?” he asked, and Miho separated from him to grab her bag and laptop.
“My place,” he determined, his hand in the small of her back as she passed through the door.
“Jazz and Mr. Aikawa made up you know, so my apartment is good to go again,” she informed him.
“Hm, you downgraded him to Mr. Aikawa?” Goto noted, nodding a serious thankyou nod to Izumi
“He’s going to have to earn back friendly privileges by treating Jazz with a whole lot more respect, consistently,” she sniffed, obviously still irritated by some or all of Jazz and Kuni’s whole situation.
“Hope you never get that mad at me,” Goto frowned, and Miho nudged his shoulder with her head.
“No promises,” she grinned, then latched onto his arm, while looking at Izumi. “Make sure Rose doesn’t take a train home,” she instructed. “Cabs on the expense account, you too.”
“No worries, Miss Fujiw…” he began, but stopped when Miho sent him a warning look.
Being as new as he was, he put up with a lot from the girls and did so without much backlash – this time, however, a somewhat impish smile tweaked his lips.
And Goto stumbled just a little bit, Miho with him – but he was definitely the one to blush.
“I like the sound of that,” she smirked, then childishly poked her tongue out at Izumi before she urged Goto to head outside.
Typically, Goto’s place was a mess, though it seemed he had been trying to be more tidy since she began visiting on a regular basis.
“Sorry,” he apologised sheepishly when she was forced to step around several stacks of folders and papers on the floor next to the coffee table.
“So you finished your paperwork at work early, because most of it’s here,” she snickered, grabbing a hoodie and a stray sock from the back of the couch and beginning a collection of laundry.
“Hardly,” he groused, but he didn’t sound all that burdened, in fact, he hadn’t really gone that far into the apartment.
He stood, just watching Miho wandering around, getting busy with ‘wife stuff’.
“Seriously Goto Seiji,” Miho said out of nowhere, stopping and looking at him sharply, “if you make some comment about wife stuff, you’re sleeping on the couch, if you can find any space.”
“The narrator would never depict me as being so misogynistic,” he replied, running a hand through his hair. “And I don’t think I am – I just… like having you here.”
“Now you’re trying to seduce me?” she questioned pointedly, dropping the bundle of clothes and planting her hands on her hips.
“Umm, I wasn’t,” he said slowly, his brows twitching as he gauged her mood, “but it might be a nice side product… if it’s working.”
“Like you even need to try,” she smirked, blowing him a kiss, but his step toward her faltered when her next move was not toward him, but to gather up the clothes again. “But I guess you should have done your laundry first,” she called out in a teasing voice from the bathroom.
After cleaning and tidying was complete, Goto and Miho ate a simple dinner and then turned in for the night.
Despite their earlier talk, beneath the blankets their bodies lay mostly still – entwined, but simply enjoying being close to one another.
“Tomorrow I’ll see what I can do about a couple of days off,” Goto said, breaking the comfortable silence, idly curling a strand of Miho’s hair around his finger. “I’d like you to meet my parents… and my brother I guess.”
“He’s pretty young hmm? Considering you’re an old man and all,” she goaded, but he returned fire with ease.
“I suppose that makes you ancient then?”
“Oh ho, I’ll have you know I look relatively young for my age,” she sniffed, poking against his chest until he took her hand and pressed it to his lips. “Think that’ll fix everything huh? Smooth bastard.”
“Is it working?” he grinned, before kissing the flat of her palm.
“I’m going to work you,” she growled, rolling on top of him and sitting up, straddling him and triumphantly staring down.
“And I am not going to argue,” he smiled.
MPD were unable to catch Miho’s disguised visitor on any nearby cctv, despite there being a number of cameras in the area. The flowers had been delivered by the florist, and the courier was confirmed as being elsewhere at the time of Miho’s encounter in the alley.
Ultimately, the office was a bit tense, and Jazz and Miho had to go over the expenses to increase security in the building, and a proposal to get the other two businesses to pay their share.
Though the other girls met their clients out of the office, Izumi called Miho’s appointments and arranged times they could come to her, much to her irritation, and Goto’s satisfaction. Jazz ‘escorted her’ to the café and the store when required during the day, rotating with H and Rose where schedules clashed.
She didn’t put up a fight, though it was clear in her sullen expression she was not enjoying ‘being taken care of’. It was sweet Goto wanted to protect her and wasn’t super overbearing about it, and, not that she needed it, there was proof of her friendships in the way they too went above and beyond to make sure there were no nasties lurking around corners or under her desk.
Yes, Jazz even checked under Miho’s desk.
Sadly, Goto was not there.
It seemed all quiet – no more gifts, no more surprise appearances, and after a few days MPD told Miho there wasn’t anything more they could do without a potential suspect or clues that might lead them to one. She knew Goto was itching to get involved, or at least lean on someone else who could, but Miho warned him against caving in to that impulse. After all, it wasn’t like MJS didn’t have police connections and friends, clients, employees even – but MPD was right. It wasn’t their job to act like a bodyguard, no crime had been committed, and there was no hard evidence suggesting one might be.
So removing Miho from Tokyo for a while was Goto’s best option, and of course it served to kill two birds with one stone.
On the bullet train to his hometown, where his parents and brother still lived, he stuck to her like glue. When Miho pointed out how people were looking at them, how sick in love they must have looked because of the way he always had at least one hand on her, his reaction was as one might predict.
“I don’t care,” he asserted flatly, his tone contrasting the shade of his cheeks. “If someone snatched you out from under my nose, I’d never forgive myself.”
“As if you wouldn’t notice,” she grinned, their arms looped as they sat next to each other, Miho on the window side. “I’d be screaming so loud they’d hear me back in Tokyo.”
“You do have quite the set of lungs,” he noted with a cheeky nod.
“Like that is it?” she sniffed, slithering her hand into his lap and stroking downward slowly.
“Wah… what are you doing!” he exclaimed in an urgent hiss, snatching her wrist.
“Now who’s being loud?” she grinned broadly, reaching for him with her other hand, which he also caught and held firmly.
“Really? Right here, on the train?” he muttered, hoping no one could see the blaring red beacon that was his flustered face.
“It’s not my fault I can’t keep my hands to myself,” she pouted, but didn’t struggle. “I need to make up for lost time.”
“I think we did plenty of that last night,” he pointed out, relaxing his hold.
“So you don’t want to join me in the lavatory?” she offered suggestively.
“Damnit Miho,” he muttered, and she laughed.
“Fiiiiine,” she sighed. “But if your parents hear us going at it, you’ll regret letting me get all pent up.”
For a second it looked like he was going to comment on that, and Miho could almost hear him ask, ‘when are you ever not pent up?’ He did, however, keep it to himself, because he had a fair idea how she’d have responded, and he wasn’t sure if he could survive her grinding in his lap on the train.
Even if he actually really wanted her to.
Miho tried to keep her teasing to a minimum for the rest of the trip, but it was a way to curb some of the nerves tying knots inside her. Forget creepy stalker dude, meeting the in-laws… and it wasn’t just meeting the in-laws, because that in and of itself should have been a breeze – it was explaining, without lying, the circumstances of their meeting, the development of their relationship and well, Miho’s occupation, even though she felt absolutely no shame.
We already knew that, huh?
Outside the station they caught a taxi.
“You’re fidgeting,” Miho noticed, putting a hand on Goto’s thigh, this time not because she wanted into his pants – well, not specifically anyway. “You know, if you’re nervous, I’m going to be nervous.”
“I know I shouldn’t be,” he told her, clearly embarrassed. “But I just… want them to love you like I do.”
“I might want to screw you sideways every chance I get, Seiji, but I can be loveable and totally daughter-in-law material.”
Goto glanced to see if the cab driver heard what Miho had said before responding.
“You don’t have to be anything other than yourself,” he told her gently, putting his hand over hers.
“Daaw,” she grinned, dropping her head onto her shoulder. “Still, I do want them to like me.”
“They will,” he assured her, and his leg stopped twitching.
There was no time to hesitate outside of the Goto residence. The moment the taxi came to a stop outside the house a beaming woman exited and all but bounced to greet them.
“Seiji it’s been too long!” she grinned, leaping up to throw her arms around Goto’s shoulders. “But under the circumstances…”
“You’re making a scene,” Goto grumbled bashfully, prying his mother free, only to find Miho smiling.
“Cute,” she commented, shouldering her handbag and watching the pair.
“What do I have to do to get you to stop calling me that?” he groaned, his shoulders slumping a little, but Miho looked unrepentant.
“Oh you two are both so cute,” Goto’s mother chirped, clutching her hands to her chest, peering between them.
“But rude, Mrs. Goto,” Miho put in, bowing to the woman. “I’m Fujiwara Miho, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Oh no don’t be silly!” Goto’s mother was quick to dispel any formality. “Call me Haruka, or…”
“Haruka will be fine for now,” Goto interjected, knowing perhaps it would take a little more for Miho to be ready to call her mother.
“Oh Seiji, she’s stunning,” Haruka gushed, taking Miho’s hand as Goto paid the taxi driver. “Where on Earth did you find someone so lovely?”
“I’ll have to ask the same thing of your husband, Haruka,” Miho chuckled. “I’d say you look far too young to have adult children, but I don’t want to just repeat Voltage verbatim.”
Haruka opened her mouth to comment, no doubt, upon the plot limitations of the Voltage franchise, when the growl of a motorbike drew close.
All eyes turned to the figure that approached, then came to a stop as the taxi pulled away. He was dressed in full motorcycle protective gear, his identity concealed, and for a moment, Miho tensed – but when he removed his helmet the resemblance to Goto was far too similar for the young man to be anything other than a relative.
“Issei!” Haruka exclaimed, latching onto his arm and just about dragging him from his bike. “Perfect timing. This is Fujiwara Miho, Seiji’s fiancée.”
Issei seemed to take his mother’s exuberance in his stride, but looked a little surprised at the news. Apparently Goto hadn’t gotten around to personally telling his brother.
“That’s why you wanted me to come home this weekend?” he frowned a little.
“I see good looks run strong in this family,” Miho mused, and that actually drew Issei’s attention to her. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
He blinked as she bowed, but managed to smooth away some of the irritation in his face when she rose and smiled at him.
“I didn’t realise my brother had such good taste,” he noted – meant both as a compliment to her and a swipe at Goto. “You’re here for the weekend?”
“If you’ll have me,” Miho nodded.
“So polite,” Haruka sighed. “Come on, your father is inside waiting. Issei, help Seiji with their bags.”
With Haruka clinging to her arm, Miho was guided to the Goto family home, and introduced to Goto’s father – grief they’re all Goto’s so I’m going to have to use their first names now sheesh.
Over tea, Miho and Seiji laid out the story of their eventual engagement.
“You didn’t tell me you were enlisting help to find a wife,” Haruka chided. “Oh my, I have a list as long as my arm – but then again, of course you’d not have met Miho if I’d done that so I suppose it’s well enough.”
“I’m glad I didn’t,” Seiji declared.
He had been struggling throughout not to blush. Miho was plain and forward in her explanations, and while she didn’t mention the sexual nature of the date simulation – indicating there were simply some things she couldn’t say for legal and privacy reasons – she was clear about her resistance to him until he’d pushed and pushed for her to let go of her baggage and accept her true feelings.
“Why him?” Issei asked.
He’d sat, a little sullen, though it didn’t seem to fitting for a young man to do so, and had said nothing until that point. Miho knew he and Seiji weren’t close, and so she was not entirely caught off guard by the question.
“Dedication, kindness, skill, persistence, intelligence, professionalism, drive… I could go on,” she replied, casting a sideways glance at Seiji beside her, and this time he could not hold the heat back from his face. “I wasn’t looking for love, still carrying around the burden of the love I’d lost, but there he was, knowing it well before I did, that he and I just… work.”
“There are much better men around than him,” Issei shrugged, and Seiji scowled.
“Don’t even,” he warned. “Especially since I’ve asked Subaru to be best man.”
It hadn’t occurred to Miho that Seiji hadn’t asked his brother to fill that role, but thought considering they didn’t really get along that well, it wasn’t especially surprising. What she did note, was how Issei’s expression changed when Subaru was mentioned.
“Actually we’re going to need at least one more groomsman, since there are two bridesmaids,” Miho put in, studying Issei the way she did her clients. “Selina will need a partner.”
“Subaru will be there?” Issei queried, but that had already been answered – when he sought in the asking was reassurance it was true.
“Am I missing something here?” Miho questioned, looking between Issei and Seiji, then to Haruka.
“Oh Subaru is simply wonderful,” the latter clarified cheerily. “He and I can talk for hours.”
Seiji’s father, Shinichi, just sighed a small sigh. He hadn’t said much, but his expression was very much like Seiji’s resting face – it looked severe, but beneath it Miho thought the same gentleness was present.
“I see,” Miho chuckled, looking to Seiji again, this time with a teasing, knowing smirk. “Subaru is a family favourite? Perhaps I have made a terrible mistake.”
“Hey!” he exclaimed, and thought she’d meant her poking as a joke, Miho regretted that he actually looked a little hurt.
And he wasn’t the only one who looked alarmed.
“Relax,” she grinned, patting his leg. “It seems Subaru is already spoken for anyway.”
Her eyes flickered to Issei, who looked relieved.
And when he caught her gaze, he smothered that expression with a frown.
“Well Subaru has a Harvard education anyway,” he declared, proud it seemed of Subaru’s achievements as if they were his own. “It’s not like someone like him would be interested in…”
“Issei, don’t finish that sentence,” Seiji cautioned seriously, and the air in the room suddenly chilled as brothers faced off.
Miho might have been offended, she could plainly see where Issei’s statement had been going, but she was much more interested in why the young man was so defensive about Subaru.
“What is it exactly you and he talk about, Haruka?” Miho asked pleasantly.
“Oh he’s good at so many things,” she replied cheerfully. “Cooking mostly, though, he is wonderful in the kitchen.”
Must not… must not smirk… must not smirk.
“Oh?” Miho verbalised instead. “I must admit, while I can follow a recipe, I’m not especially creative with my food.”
“Oh, perhaps you can help me with lunch?” Haruka offered, getting to her feet, and Miho joined her.
“I would love to.”
While the men of the Goto household did whatever it was the men of the Goto household did when they weren’t glaring at each other… or maybe that’s what they were doing the whole time… Miho enjoyed Haruka’s merry personality. She was so welcoming, perhaps because she had two sons, no daughters, Miho felt completely welcomed and very much already like a member of the family.
At the same time, however, it reminded her of a time when she had been that close to her own mother: the family who eventually decided her crusade for justice following the death of her husband was more trouble than it was worth.
The family who thought she took it too far.
The family who…
“Miho?” Haruka queried, looking up into Miho’s face with concern.
“Oh, sorry,” she laughed, trying to shake off the sads. “It’s just, being here, received so warmly like this, reminds me how far from my own family I am. Will always be.”
“Is it really that hopeless?” Haruka asked. “Whatever you did, or, whatever they did, there’s no way to fix that damage?”
Sighing, Miho smiled, but she could see in Haruka’s eyes the other woman knew it was just a bandaid.
“Too much water,” Miho concluded with the shake of her head, and before she knew it, Haruka had thrown her arms around her and was squeezing her far more tightly than a woman of her small stature should have been able to.
“You don’t have to call me Mum,” Haruka sniffled into Miho’s shoulder. “But, I’ll be your mum anyway!”
With a shaky exhale, Miho closed her eyes against the sting.
And when she opened them again, Goto was leaning against the kitchen door jamb watching, smiling placidly.
“You’re safe with Seiji,” Haruka told Miho, unaware of her son’s gaze.
“I know,” Miho smiled, blinking away a few tears and hugging Haruka back.
It was Shinichi who cleared his throat and broke the moment.
“Issei is about to chew through the furniture,” he stated flatly. “Heh, the metabolism of young men.”
“Sorry,” Miho laughed, and lunch was served.
Miho had family – MJS – but being in the Goto family home, actually feeling a part of it, was so nostalgic that Miho continued to wander in and out of enjoyment and loss. Practiced, however, she maintained a mask now that perhaps only Seiji could see through, but in the presence of everyone else he made no enquires.
Later that evening, on the way to prepare for bed, Miho passed by the open door of Issei’s old room. The light was on, but Seiji’s brother wasn’t there. She nearly continued on her way, when something of interest caught her eye and caused her to pause.
There on the nightstand was a framed photograph signed Work Hard ~ Subaru, the man himself making a determined face, truly cutting a heroic image. Miho smiled.
Seiji was every bit what Subaru was, in Miho’s eyes more, and though she knew the brothers had never truly bonded as many brothers do, it did seem a little strange Issei had formed such a tight connection with someone so alike.
Or not strange at all.
“Hey,” came a voice behind her, and Miho actually started.
“Oh, sorry,” she apologised, stepping out of the way. “I just noticed that picture of Subaru as I was walking by; you really look up to him hmm?”
“What’s not to like?” Issei scowled oversensitively, and his following expression told Miho he knew his tone was telling.
“No, I completely agree,” she smiled, nodding. “Well educated, incredibly smart, exceptionally… handsome. You’ve got good taste.”
Issei’s eyes widened, and though the brothers did not get along, it seemed they shared blushing in common.
“Good night Issei, sweet dreams,” Miho offered with a wink, then shuffled down the corridor to Seiji’s room.
And as she entered the dim room where a futon of all things had been laid out in the centre of the room, arms closed around her from behind.
“Wah!” she exclaimed, her reflex to struggle, despite what was the unlikely event of someone other than Seiji being in there.
“Hey, hey,” he quickly soothed, swift words into her ear that stilled her body, but not the racing of her heart. “I’m sorry, I… I shouldn’t have… I didn’t even think.”
“No,” she breathed, but drooped her head back against him and took a few slow lungfuls of air before speaking again. “I’m way too jumpy.”
“Understandable,” he murmured, somehow closing the door over with his foot while maintaining his hold on her. “And I’m not helping.”
“You do, you are,” she reassured him. “Haruka is right; I’m safe with you… or maybe I’m not. You’re awfully bold grabbing hold of me like this in your parents’ house.”
“You think you’re the only one who pines?” he hissed against her neck before kissing it gently.
“Next time you think to chastise me for wanting to touch you, Seiji, I want you to remember this moment,” she smirked, turning slowly in his arms and wrapping herself around him.
There is no safer place.
In slumber, however, it seemed Seiji wasn’t all powerful. Inside her sleeping mind, Miho drifted blissfully through the warmth of her welcome into the Goto household, her brush with Issei’s briskness aside – but her dreams didn’t stay there. They roamed beyond the boundary of happiness and slipped into a quagmire of unpleasant memories that caused her heart to ache. They weighed her down in a swamp, a marshy bog that threatened to swallow her – and no matter how loudly she screamed for Seiji to come to her rescue, there was only one figure on the shore.
Bouquet of red roses in one hand.
And this persisted until she somehow forced herself awake.
Night was still thick, and Seiji remained asleep beside her with just his arm draped over her.
For a few minutes she just laid here, trying to relax, but each time she closed her eyes uneasiness returned: until finally she couldn’t be still.
Careful not to wake Seiji, Miho shimmied from under the covers, wrapped herself in her long robe, and exited the bedroom. On silent, bare feet – she was an assassin in a past life remember (yeah wait for me to write THAT fic… it WILL happen) – she padded down the hall, past the closed door of Seiji’s parents’ room, and the slightly ajar door of his brother. Quietly she let herself out onto the back veranda, even though the shadow mottle yard held some apprehension.
“Stop being such a god damned pussy,” she reproached herself bitterly, closing the door behind her and sitting herself down in the pale moonlight. “What are you even afraid of?” she asked herself. “Some weirdo that sends you flowers this one time? Like that hasn’t happened before.”
There was that one time her panties kept going missing, and she’d blamed Jazz – not that Miho’s undies would even fit Jazz. Then there was that time with the guy that delivered their water-cooler bottles and strangely erotic sticky-notes all over the office.
“So what makes this so fucking terrifying?” she hissed, then just about jumped out of her skin when a blanket dropped around her shoulders. “Holy fu…!”
Launching from the veranda onto the grass, Miho flew from beneath the fabric and spun, feet planet just far enough apart for a solid stance, her brain ready to fight off her attacker – but Issei just stare at her in shock, until he frowned and pressed his lips together and looked unimpressed.
“You guys have a fight or something?” he asked flatly, but for him to have been close enough to wrap the blanket around her, he must have heard her utterances, at least some of them.
“Jesu…” Miho gasped, ordering her muscles to unclench, but they defied her and remained tense. “Issei… you scared the life out of me. Were you an assassin in a pa…”
“What are you so terrified of?” he questioned, his tone unchanged, and Miho shook her head, perhaps to dispel the panic, maybe to shake off how odd it was to be looking up at what she imaged was Seiji’s younger self.
“Being snuck up on, obviously,” she hissed, swallowing the lump in her throat and carefully adjusting her robe, shivering at a gust of wind that murmured a harsh song through nearby branches. “What are you doing up at this hour?”
“Saw you sneak past,” he shrugged, picking up the fallen blanket and spreading it between his hands. “You’re going to get sick sitting out here in the cold.”
This was Miho’s lifeline, and she even managed to chortle.
“You’re more like your brother than you’d ever admit I think,” she said wryly, stepping back up onto the veranda and toward him, then stopped just shy of his reach. “And more different than you’d ever say aloud.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he grumbled, glowering, even as he fluttered the blanket around her shoulders and tucked snuggly to her front, careful not to be indecent.
“That you’ve an amazing, talented, highly skilled brother you could have worshiped,” she smiled. “But, it’s not like you could fall in love with him. Subaru is good man.”
Issei’s scowl deepened and he stepped back, but he didn’t storm away. He turned his back on her and glared at something invisible in the middle of the yard.
“I’m sorry,” Miho exhaled. “It’s not my place to make wild assumpti…”
“How did you even know?” he whispered, and unlike all the other times she’d heard him speak, in the very short time she’d known him, this time he sounded so very small.
“I may not have a Harvard degree,” Miho began quietly, gently – she was not the only fragile one in the world, “but it’s a large part of my job to read people, see the things they’re afraid to articulate because they fear being judged, because only in revealing those things to me can I properly find the person who is right for them.”
Again she sat herself down, clutching the blanket.
“I take it no one else knows?”
“Ha, like that’s so easy,” he snorted, pressing his balled fist to the nearest support post.
An admission, and as if suddenly realising as much, he spun around and stared daggers so sharp Miho was actually impressed.
“Don’t you dare say anything, especially not to Seiji,” he snarled, but Miho was now calm.
“It’s not my secret to tell,” she told him softly. “But I bet it’s hard, keeping it all to yourself – does no one know?”
“Just you,” he huffed. “Leave it to Seiji to ruin my life.”
“Really? Someone knowing a part of your true self is ruination?” she snorted. “Give it a rest kid, life gets much harder from here on out.”
“What the hell would you know about it?” he snapped, stepping closer again, but Miho simply couldn’t feel threatened.
Too much a Goto.
“Sure, I don’t know your specific struggle, but everyone has them,” she replied honestly. “And I happen to know from personal experience, that sharing those things with people you trust, can help alleviate some of the pressure.”
“And I’m supposed to trust you?” he volleyed, but even in the dun she could see much of the heat had fled from his eyes – eyes that told her of torture.
“I’m as good a person as any,” she shrugged.
Issei ground his teeth, and Miho simply sat and peered around the yard, until the young man flopped down beside her.
“You know Subaru,” he began, voice even smaller than before, fearful of his sentence’s continuation, but he pressed on. “I… I don’t have a chance in hell, do I?”
For a few seconds Miho thought about how best to tactfully respond.
“I do know Subaru,” she conceded. “And, unfortunately for you, all signs point to no, simply because he’s not wired that way.”
Hanging his head, Issei let out a long breath of painful resignation.
“I already knew it,” he murmured forlornly. “Have known it, forever, just… didn’t want to… I don’t want to…”
“Yeah, I know,” Miho responded gently.
“It’s not fair!” he growled, the exclamation cutting its way between his teeth. “How come…”
“… everyone else gets to be happy except me?” Miho finished for him, and the quick jerk of his face in her direction shook angry, hurt tears from his eyes. “Yeah, I’ve been there too,” Miho smiled sadly. “When you love something so much, and it’s taken from you, it’s like the whole world is mocking you with smiles, patronising you with false words of comfort, rubbing salt into the wound with everything will get better, when everything is in flames.”
“Ha, you’ve got all the answers, don’t you?” he sniffed, refusing to acknowledge the moist on his cheeks.
“Nah, I only like to think I do,” Miho smirked, giving his shoulder a nudge with her own. “But don’t tell Seiji I said that; as far as he’s concerned, I’m always right.”
“You really won’t say anything?” he ventured cautiously.
“Nope,” she responded, looking at him plainly. “I’ll just be around, on the other end of the phone, if you need a big sister to bitch to about how stupid men can be.”
Finally, Issei huffed a short laugh.
“I am happy for you and him, even if it doesn’t look like it,” he told her very quietly, embarrassed despite the rest of their conversation. “Jealous I guess.”
“Hey,” came another voice behind them, and both turned their heads to find Seiji standing in the doorway behind them. “What’s this?”
“Decided I couldn’t choose between the Goto brothers,” Miho announced in total calm. “And my conclusion is, we’re just going to have a threesome.”
The brothers both spluttered, but Miho grinned.
“That’s a yes right?” she added, really pushing the envelope, and Seiji swept forward and snatched her wrist, pulling her to her feet and against him.
“That’s a no,” he rumbled definitively.
“Jeez Seiji,” Issei muttered also getting to his feet. “Marrying a succubus?”
“What did you just say?” Seiji blinked, his body instantly taut with anger, but Miho just laughed and put a hand on his chest.
“He’s just jealous of his big brother’s success,” she explained.
“Issei,” Seiji barked, motioning to Miho’s face. “Her eyes are up here.”
“It is a bit chilly out here, huh Miho?” Issei added for good measure, and though Miho wanted to continue laughing, she could feel Seiji getting totally worked up – and not in a good way.
“Okay okay, that’s enough,” she snickered. “But it is cold and I can’t feel my toes, so we should go back to bed, Seiji.”
It took a considerable nudge to get him to move, but when Miho got Seiji moving he continued through the door with her close behind him.
Back in his room, Miho snuggled back against the curve of his body, happy to be little spoon – this time – and to warm her frozen tootsies on his warm legs.
“You going to tell me what that was all about?” he prompted, breath in her hair.
“Brother-sister bonding,” Miho told him, gently stroking his forearm. “You know, he acts all tough, and like he doesn’t think much of you, but I don’t think that’s the case.”
“You got all that from just one day?”
“It’s my job to profile people, remember?” she smirked, closing her eyes. “And this family… I really did luck out with you didn’t I?”
“Mhm,” he huffed. “No more midnight rendezvous with Issei, okay?”
“No problem,” she chuckled softly. “We’ll do brunch instead.”
Breakfast was another extravagant indication that Haruka did nothing by halves, but more than that, Issei actually smiled.
“You’re in a good mood,” Seiji noted suspiciously, and Miho elbowed him in the ribs.
“Can’t a guy smile without getting the third degree?” she poked, and Seiji grunted a little.
“So, what is your plan for today, Miho-san?” Shinichi asked reservedly, and Miho bit her lip at the absolute cuteness.
And she couldn’t help herself.
“I was hoping Seiji would show me around his old hometown, Father.”
And Shinichi actually started choking on his mouthful, Seiji, sitting to Miho’s left, very nearly mimicked him.
“Aww, look what you did,” Haruka chuckled, patting her husband’s back but beaming over him at Miho.
“I’m sorry,” Miho apologised, inclining her head. “It’s just, I feel so comfortable here with you all already, his formality…”
“She’s out daughter now, pretty much,” Haruka told Shinichi, who was still trying to recover his composure. “No need to be so stuff.”
“Could you pass the salad please, Miho?” Issei asked politely, and Miho could see he was doing it to illustrate Haruka’s point to his father.
“Sure thing, Issei,” she replied, leaning over Seiji to convey the bowl to her new brother’s awaiting hands. “You alright there, Seiji?” she grinned, and he nodded, clearing his throat.
“I’m fine,” he muttered, taking a sip from his glass of water, and it only made Miho’s smile widen.
After helping with the dishes, Seiji and Miho left the house. Together they meandered through streets where he grew up, and happily she listened to his childhood anecdotes, probing to pick apart his reluctances to give too many embarrassing details at times. The weather smiled on them, their lunch was simple, but Miho couldn’t help but reflect upon how luck she was to have such wonderful company.
“If you keep smiling like that, you’ll get wrinkles,” he teased, pulling Miho against him and wrapping his arm around her shoulders.
“I hope I age as gracefully as your mother has,” she laughed. “She has so much energy, hmm, just think…”
She looked into his face, sliding her hand beneath the back of his jacket and looping her thumbs over the top of his pants, right into the crease of his butt-cheeks.
“… what I could do with so much energy.”
Naturally, his eyes widened and his body tensed, but she loved that about him too.
“You’re going to kill me as it is,” he told her, but his voice was filled with the kind of affection that…
Swallowing, Miho fell silent and looked ahead.
“I feel like I need to pinch myself,” she exhaled after half half a minute of just their feet shuffling against the footpath. “You, your family, it’s all just too perfect.”
“It’s real,” he told her seriously, stopping her, turning her, and touching the underside of her chin with the flat of one index finger. “But,” he added, then kissed her ever so lightly, “if you want me to pinch you…”
Distracted, she hadn’t noticed his other hand until he’d already sharply pinched her bum, and she let out a yelp.
“You sneaky bastard!” she exclaimed, giving him a playful whack before linking arms with him.
“I guess you’re a bad influence on me,” he explained with a wry smile.
“Oh don’t you start that shit too,” she complained, but really, she took it as a compliment.
“Hmph,” he huffed contentedly. “You’re not the only one who feels fortunate,” he continued. “And I really can’t wait for this to be official.”
“Well, I guess we now know it’s not especially difficult,” she pointed out, shaking her head. “We can always just get everything registered as soon as we’re back in Tokyo.”
He seemed to be mulling this over.
“There is something to the anticipation though too, isn’t there?” she said, knowing it wasn’t hesitation that made him pause.
“There is,” he agreed. “And there are so many things we haven’t figured out, like where we’re going to live.”
“That’s a good point,” she nodded. “I like my apartment, and yours, but it would be nice if we could…”
“… get a place that’s ours?” he finished, and Miho narrowed her eyes at him.
“Mind reading now?”
As they walked back to his parents’ home in the late afternoon, they threw out all kinds of suggestions for their future, and arrived at the house in great spirits.
“We’re back,” Seiji announced, having scooped up three padded postage envelopes from the doorstep. “You didn’t hear the mailman?”
“Oh hmm?” Haruka murmured, taking the envelopes from her eldest son, passing them to her husband. “Could you give this to Issei, Miho? He’s in his room.”
“Sure,” Miho nodded, and off she went, to find him at his desk, a couple of textbooks open and headphones on.
She did clear her throat, but he didn’t hear her, and so she stepped inside, and put it down beside him just in his peripheral vision.
His head turned to her slowly, and she smiled.
“Don’t mind me, just making a special delivery,” she told him, then headed to the toilet.
She couldn’t have known.
But she heard Haruka’s startled exclamation from the other end of the house, followed by Shinichi’s deep voice.
“What the hell… is this?”
When Miho returned to the living area, it was like time had frozen.
Haruka sat at the dining table, glossy photographs scattered in front of her – Shinichi sat on the couch, glossy photographs scattered on the coffee table before him – and Seiji stood half way between them both, true horror in his eyes, chiselled into his face.
“What’s wrong?” Miho scowled, and her sudden intrusion in the silence caused time to catch up.
“Miho it’s…” Seiji began, but Miho had already zoned her vision on Haruka’s collection.
“That’s…” she shuddered out, a gasp of shock so powerful it scrambled her thoughts.
Slowly, Haruka’s hands moved to cover her mouth, but she was unable to look away from the images.
Miho and another man, lean and blond, naked and connected.
In some pictures Miho was restrained, her wrists bound by scarves, her legs held apart and tied to bedposts; in some, her skin was peppered with wax dripping from a candle held over her breasts; in some, her arms were wrenched behind her so far it looked like her shoulders might pop, and her body, the man’s body, shimmered with the product of their labours.
“Wha…” Miho managed, turning her head to Shinichi.
He too continued to peer at the prints he’d been gifted.
Miho and a stunning woman, slender and pale-skinned, naked, entwined.
In some pictures Miho was lying sprawled back on a bright pink shag-pile rug, the long copper waves of her partner’s hair brushing against her abdomen; in one they were clearly grinding together, their lips locked, their arms locked around one another; in another, Miho’s head was tilted back into the pillow, the other woman’s head just visible between her legs.
“How…” Miho blinked, and then she darted with ninja-assassin like speed for Issei’s room. “Issei!” she barked. “Don’t…!”
But it was too late, and Miho felt the floor fall away.
Issei was sitting on the carpet, the entire contents of his envelope placed side by side. His jaw moved as if he was trying to form words, but there was no sound, just the trembling of incomprehensible disbelief and the chaotic gatherings of a shattered heart.
Miho lounging back on Subaru’s counter.
Subaru pressing her back up against the wall, her legs wrapped around him.
Subaru poised behind her, about to press in…
She had no idea how such photos had been taken, such angles, such clarity and detail – it was like someone had been in each room with them, a twisted record keeper holding the private moments of what were in truth professional transaction hostage until that moment.
That moment when they were placed into the hands of her fiance’s family.
And Miho didn’t know what to do.