[identity profile] stormymood.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] arashi_exchange
A piece of rainbow for [livejournal.com profile] shardaunei Part 1

Title: How Far I’ve Walked With You
Pairing: Sakurai Sho/Matsumoto Jun
Rating/Warnings: NC-17 (includes explicit sexual content, sex without condoms, drama/angst)
Summary: Sho arrives at Pinetree Manor as a live-in tutor for a wealthy young orphan. Though his job has its challenges, it’s the boy’s guardian, his mysterious uncle, who proves to be the greatest challenge of all.
Notes: Hello, this is for you [livejournal.com profile] shardaunei! I’m sorry it’s not Juntoshi, but I got this Sakumoto idea and just went a little crazy. This ended up being a strange jumble of Downton Abbey and Jane Eyre-type tropes but set in Japan. Historical accuracy is…quite unlikely because of the very “English novel”-style plot, but the general time period is meant to be Taisho Era (1912-1926). Title comes from Always. I hope you’ll enjoy!

Rain was falling in solid sheets by the time he boarded his third and final train. It fogged up the glass of his compartment, blotting out the mountainous countryside. Alone for the last leg of his journey, he couldn’t help a little childish fun, drawing on the glass with his finger. If anyone happened by and looked inside, spotting the faint streaks that were a cow and a flower respectively, they’d never believe a grown man had drawn it anyhow. He’d never been very skilled in that area.

He’d grown up on the other side of the mountain range and had never made the journey to Matsumoto before. But in his brief correspondence with his new employer, he’d decided to make note about being a local. The wealthy could be rather odd when making a new hire. A tutor Sho had met while working in Kyoto had said that he’d gotten his job simply because he and his employer liked the same cigarette brand.

Sho hoped that the decision to employ him was influenced more by his skills, by his positive references, but he supposed it didn’t matter now since he was hired and would be starting that week.

Growing up, Sakurai Sho hadn’t envisioned himself becoming a live-in tutor. He’d been on the scholar’s path, the same as his mother, but he’d found academic life stifling. The egos, the competition for funding. The Keio history department had been nothing more than a club of old men who would likely keel over and die in their stuffy offices, and a young man in his twenties with a fresh doctorate hadn’t been welcome from the start.

So he’d turned to tutoring. He’d started small, taking on sons and daughters of bankers and lawyers, offering private lessons and study assistance for university entrance exams. Once he’d broadened his skills, he’d turned to younger children. History, literature, arithmetic, basic sciences. He would be thirty-five come the New Year, and he’d spent nearly five years with his last employer in Kyoto, a well-to-do Lord, teaching his three young daughters.

Now he’d left Kyoto behind. He’d left behind Chie, who’d never much liked to study. Noriko, who excelled at arithmetic but saw little of interest in literature and poetry. And Marina, who was only seven but had the potential for real achievement. Sho had only been let go from his position after lasting pressure from conservative grandparents that the girls didn’t really require such a broad education. Sho’s opinion had differed greatly, but he accepted their decision rather than cause trouble. He was certain the girls would find a way to keep learning.

His newest pupil was waiting for him in Matsumoto City. And his newest pupil was a Matsumoto himself. The young boy was a Lord already at age ten, and as far as Sho knew, he stood to inherit vast property holdings once he came of age. The Matsumoto family had been lords of the area for centuries, had been adding to their wealth with every generation. However, the future of the family was in jeopardy. Sho had missed it in the newspapers when it originally happened, but he’d done a bit of studying before applying for the position.

Matsumoto Keita, age ten, was the son of Matsumoto Atsushi and his wife Natsuko. Husband and wife had perished in a train derailment in February, only six months earlier, while young Keita had survived. Keita’s grandfather, Matsumoto Taro, had passed away two years earlier. Taro’s other son, Jun, now served as the boy’s guardian until he came of age. It was Matsumoto Jun who had placed the advertisement seeking a live-in tutor for his orphaned nephew.

There will be some difficulties with Keita, Matsumoto Jun had written to Sho in reply after he’d inquired about the position. Matsumoto had declined to discuss what those difficulties were, though Sho had an idea what they might be. A young boy who lost his parents in a horrible accident was likely depressed, angry. Difficult. The newspapers hadn’t said as much, but Sho assumed that Keita had not emerged from the incident unscathed either. He’d seen the photos of the overturned train cars in the newspaper, had winced at the sight of them on their sides smashed up.

The salary offered was higher than average, most likely because of the “difficulties” Sho would face, but he was determined to do his best. It had been years since he’d been tutoring one-on-one, and he was eager to help the boy succeed after his terrible loss. In addition to his salary, he’d have his own private rooms in Pinetree Manor, the Matsumoto family’s estate outside of Matsumoto City. He’d miss the hustle and bustle of his life in Kyoto, but he was ready for a new challenge.

It was still raining when Sho’s train pulled in to Matsumoto Station, though it was more of a drizzle than a downpour now. He tugged on his suit jacket and grabbed his bag, shuffling out of the carriage and onto the windy platform. It was late summer and it had been roasting in Kyoto when he’d departed two days earlier, so the cooler mountain air was a welcome reprieve. The clean scent of the rain refreshed him as he stretched his legs, holding his hat on his head as wind rolled across the platform, fluttering female passenger skirts and kimono as they waited for the porters to bring out luggage and steamer trunks from the baggage cars.

Once his own trunk had been set down before him, a station worker helped him tug it inside. He was just about to ask someone to watch his things while he went to one of the pay telephone booths along the station wall when a man in a forest green rain slicker approached with a jolly “Hello! Hello there!” His thick rubber boots squeaked along the floor as he hurried over.

The man pushed back his hood, holding up a piece of paper that had probably said Sho’s name at one point. Instead it had been soaked by the rain, the ink running down the page in sad streaks of black. The man had written the incorrect characters for Sho’s last name anyhow, and Sho held in a smile at the attempt.

“Are you Sakurai Sho-san?” the man said, dripping all over the place. Perhaps he’d been loitering around the station long before the rain had calmed down. “Or should I say Sakurai-sensei?”

“Call me however you like,” Sho said, pulling off his hat and extending his hand. “Yes, I’m Sakurai Sho.”

The man had a firm grip and a bright smile, his skin tanned. He seemed to be similar in age to Sho, if he had to venture a guess. “Aiba Masaki, from Pinetree Manor. I’m the head butler for the Matsumoto family.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“I read the train schedule wrong,” Aiba admitted, bunching up the damp paper with Sho’s name and shoving it in the pocket of his slicker. “I was here a little early, but better early than late. Matsumoto-san would kill me if I left you standing out in the rain.”

With Aiba’s help, they carried Sho’s trunk to a motorcar parked just outside the station, a sleek black four-door sedan. Once inside, Aiba splattered droplets of water everywhere as he fretted over the car, complaining about how the glass had fogged up and grumbling about the noisy motor. Sho bit his tongue, amused by how nervous Aiba-san seemed to be. For a head butler, he seemed rather overwhelmed.

They lurched forward when Aiba pumped his booted foot against the accelerator, Sho clutching his bag against him as the wipers streaked back and forth over the windshield. Things calmed once Aiba drove them out of the city and onto one of the winding roads off in the direction of the mountains.

Pinetree Manor was fairly isolated from town, Aiba told him, but they could get most things delivered easily. The manor had already had electricity for nearly twenty years, one of the first grand houses to abandon gas lamps. They’d had a telephone line installed for more than ten. “I was told that Lord Matsumoto, Lord Taro that is, he wanted to modernize immediately,” Aiba explained.

Sho was curious, watching the windshield wipers methodically streak back and forth. “Have you not been with the family long?”

“Ah, actually, I was hired after Lord Taro passed away. Lord Atsushi, he…did a bit of shuffling after that. So most of the staff are fairly new.”

“I see.”

“Not…not to say the people who worked for Lord Taro were bad, of course,” Aiba rambled on, gesturing with one hand and accidentally flicking more drops onto Sho’s jacket. “He just…changed things up. I guess that’s why a fool like me was placed in charge of such a grand estate, though I’d only been a footman in my previous employment.” Aiba winced. “Not to say any of us are unfit…”

Sho could just feel the nervousness radiating from the man beside him. “I’m sure things will be just fine.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t know very much about Pinetree Manor or the Matsumoto family, I’m afraid, other than what I’ve read about. I was sorry to hear of Lord Atsushi and Lady Natsuko’s passing.”

“It was a shock,” Aiba admitted, sounding deeply sad. “Horrible. Such a horrible thing to happen. He’d only been the lord of the manor for a year or so. Too young.”

“But I’m sure Lord Jun is doing his best to watch over the young master.”

Aiba stiffened a little, gripping the steering wheel tightly. “Ah…about that, you see…”

Sho cocked his head, turning to look at Aiba. Matsumoto Jun’s letters had been short but perfectly cordial. Sho was used to dealing with people in higher social strata, and though some could be tyrannical or selfish, caring only for their wealth, he hadn’t gotten that impression from Matsumoto Jun. Then again, letters could hide the truth.


“He’s not a lord,” Aiba said, his voice nearly lost under the car’s noise.

“I thought he was Lord Taro’s son?”

“He was…he is…” Aiba turned off of the main road and onto a narrower one, the pavement lined with tall, soaring pines. “It’s…complicated. Something between Jun-san and his father. He’s not a lord, his title was stripped from him many years ago. Long before I ever worked for the family, so I don’t know the whole of it and I certainly don’t ask. It was Lord Atsushi who named Jun-san as guardian to his son, but his title has never been restored.”

Sho nodded, not wishing to force answers out of Aiba-san that he didn’t have. But at least he was grateful to know it. He’d found it a bit odd that Matsumoto Jun had never used his title when corresponding with him. Now he at least had a reason why. “You’ve saved me, Aiba-san.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“I was all set to introduce myself to my new employer, and I would have likely referred to him as ‘my lord’ so it’s probably best I found out before I made such a serious blunder.”

“Well,” Aiba said, still looking uncomfortable. “Then I’m happy to help.”

Pinetree Manor was not a traditional Japanese home. When he’d been young, Matsumoto Taro had traveled to England and continental Europe, the same as many wealthy young men had after Japan had reopened to the world. Before getting married, Lord Taro had demolished his family’s old home and replaced it with a two-story structure made of imported limestone, thinking it a “civilized” and “modern” choice.

It was a bit of an eyesore, if Sho had to be completely honest. It was foreign, showy, ostentatious, all sharp corners. After the rain, the gray stone had darkened, looking rather dull next to the dewy pine trees that surrounded the property. It was a home out of some dreary English novel, but Sho supposed his opinion on the architecture didn’t matter.

A gravel driveway ran around to the back of Pinetree Manor, where Aiba got out of the car to tug open a garage door. Inside there was another motorcar, this one an imported Fiat sedan painted a dark blue, a convertible with its top down. “Jun-san’s car,” Aiba explained once he pulled the far less flashy black “family” car into the garage alongside it.

Leaving Sho’s trunk in the car for other staff to fetch, Aiba led Sho inside. Before Sho could even blink, a woman came up behind him, yanking on his jacket. “Here, let’s get that dried for you.”

He turned, startled, to find a young woman with short black hair and a no-nonsense look about ready to give his jacket another tug.

“Let him inside, let him breathe,” Aiba teased, laughing and urging Sho to follow him inside.

He felt out of sorts, wandering around this grand home in his wet shoes, not having seen a place to take them off upon entering. The woman with the short hair followed Sho and Aiba, her own shoes clicking on the hardwood floors of Pinetree Manor’s kitchen and elegant dining room. Her noisy progress was muffled by the rugs in the main hall, a two-story affair with a carpeted staircase leading up to the second floor landing. A chandelier of yellow-tinted glass gave the room a sort of gaudy warmth.

Aiba paused at the bottom of the stairs. He gestured to rooms Sho hadn’t seen yet. “Through there is a library, the lord’s private study, and Keita-kun’s room. Upstairs on the left here is the family wing, where Jun-san stays. Your room will be in that wing next to Inoue-san, Keita-kun’s nurse. On the right, the staff wing.”

Sho glanced briefly at what seemed to be the open doorway of the library before he followed Aiba up the stairs. The walls of every room were adorned with western art and western portraits, reminders of the late Lord Taro’s tastes. It would be strange to teach the young boy about Japanese history in rooms that had been pulled straight from a French salon.

Aiba brought him to a set of rooms that were a bit plain compared to the rest of the house, which Sho found very agreeable. The room was generously furnished. Even though the room lacked fancy artwork and kitschy lamps, there was a large four-poster bed, an elegant armoire, and a writing desk. He had a private washroom as well. The view from the curtained window was of well-manicured lawns stretching back until they reached the pines, the greenery hidden a bit by mist from the mountain rain.

This time the woman insisted on taking his jacket, all but ordering him to change clothes so she might launder his travel attire. Introductions were made at last. Her name was Ohno Haru, and she was the housekeeper. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five or so, a testament to how Lord Atsushi had shaken up the house staff after his father’s passing. Young as she was, there was an air of calm confidence to her, and Sho had a feeling they’d get along well.

Haru-san wore a simple black dress, a ring of jangling housekeys attached to her belt with a silver chain. She gave him a quick overview of what his room and board would cover. The family cook would provide Sho with breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. He could take meals in his room, in the dining room with Matsumoto-san, or in the kitchen with the staff. Dining with his employer sounded presumptuous and dining in his room a bother for the staff. The kitchen would be fine, he told her.

Aiba left him alone to get settled before dinner, Sho’s trunk arriving from the garage a few minutes later thanks to two footmen, Fujii and Kotaki. At the evening meal, he’d meet the rest of the staff, and following that, he’d been told that Matsumoto-san wanted to welcome him. Introductions to Keita would come the following day (assuming, Sho thought, that Matsumoto didn’t change his mind about him).

He changed clothes, unlocking his trunk and putting a few things away. The smaller trunk of teaching materials that he’d sent ahead on a mail train had arrived at Pinetree Manor that morning, and Aiba-san had already moved it to the library on the ground floor of the house where Sho had been granted permission to give his lessons.

The house was rather grand, but when Sho headed for the kitchen for dinner, he discovered that there weren’t as many staff as he expected. There was the cook and her assistant. Aiba the butler and the two footmen from earlier. Haru-san and three maids, two for the rest of the house and one who mainly helped in the kitchens and elsewhere as needed. Haru-san’s quiet husband, Ohno Satoshi, the gardener and groundskeeper for the entire estate. He shook Sho’s hand firmly, his tanned skin a sharp contrast from Sho’s due to his many hours spent outside in the summer heat.

Sho was seated beside Inoue Mao, a woman with her hair tied back and a solemn expression. She greeted Sho politely, but didn’t participate in the conversation at the table. Knowing the woman was young Keita’s nurse, perhaps she always had to have her ears perked up waiting for him to call on her. With a live-in nurse, Sho had to wonder just how ill or impaired the child was.

Since most of the staff stayed around the estate day in and day out, Sho’s arrival seemed to be the most exciting thing to happen in a while. The food was delicious, but their questions came rapid fire, interrupting him. They wanted to know about his life in Kyoto, since most of them had never left the prefecture. They wanted to know about where Sho had come from, and more of them were familiar with his hometown of Karuizawa than he’d expected. They were able to talk about his home, about skiing and hiking in the area. Despite the new faces and names he had to learn, he felt welcome here.

In honor of the newest staff member at Pinetree Manor, the cook had whipped up a tasty custard pie for dessert. This job was probably going to make him fat at the rate they were feeding him, the food just as rich as the rest of the gaudy decor in the house. He’d have to do his best to get out and get some exercise.

Everyone was just digging in when a noisy howl pierced the calm kitchen chatter, a scream that sent a shiver down Sho’s spine. The noise had reached the kitchen clear from the other side of the house, the sound of a child in unspeakable pain and agony.

Mao-san’s chair scraped back against the kitchen floor, and she hurried off with a murmured “please excuse me.”

Sho held tight to his fork, most of the other staff gathered around the table staring down at their plates with sorrowful expressions. There was a second scream, longer this time. Sho found his appetite vanishing.

“A nightmare?” he asked quietly as he received his first introduction to his new student.

“Most likely,” Haru-san said, apparently serving as the staff spokesperson. The rest poked idly at their desserts.

When poor Keita’s screaming subsided, Sho knew that Mao-san had managed to calm him. But it didn’t lessen the uncomfortable feeling that had settled around the kitchen table, the easygoing faces of the staff now troubled and wary. He knew his assignment would be challenging, he knew that. But hearing Keita, hearing his pain, filled Sho with pity.

He wondered if he was really up for this.

The dessert course ended with little enthusiasm, the table cleared and staff bidding Sho good night. Sho loitered in the kitchen, watching pots get scrubbed and plates washed. Eventually Aiba found him.

“I’ve just spoken with Jun-san,” Aiba said. “He heard the commotion, but he still would like to meet with you this evening.”

“Yes, of course,” Sho said.

The house was quiet as Sho headed for what had apparently been Matsumoto Taro’s study, Matsumoto Atsushi’s after him. Aiba said that Jun-san didn’t use it much, but Sho supposed it was the most proper room in the house for their introduction.

Looking down the corridor, Sho could see the room at the end of the hall with its door shut. Keita-kun’s room. Sho hoped the boy had been able to calm down, was resting quietly.

He held up his hand to knock on the study door.

The room was lit by a solitary desk lamp, a sort of ugly pewter thing shaped like a woman’s body, topped with a green shade. Everything else was fairly dark, the desk, the outlines of bookshelves. Behind the desk was the man who’d bid Sho to enter with only a single word.


Sho closed the door gently behind him, finding his new employer sitting behind the desk in a leather-backed chair. A large radio in the corner of the room was piping out a soft, soothing violin concerto. Matsumoto leaned forward as Sho approached the desk, but he did not rise from his seat.

Instead he set down his lit cigarette in an ashtray with one hand and a glass of brandy with the other. He leaned forward even further, coming more into the light. He was handsome, with broad shoulders, black hair slicked back away from his face, and dark eyes trapped behind a pair of round, horn-rimmed glasses. He had thick brows, pouty lips, and a serious expression that didn’t exactly put Sho at ease. He wore a simple white dress shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows, a purple silk tie, and matching suspenders. He didn’t quite have the aura of an aristocrat, but he was no mere commoner either. Sho couldn’t quite figure the man out, at least from first glance.

Matsumoto Jun ran a long finger around the rim of his brandy glass, letting out a soft sigh. “Please, have a seat.” His voice was a little gentler than his body language and expression implied.

Sho sat, wondering if Matsumoto’s solemn expression was due to his nephew’s screams or something else. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Sakurai Sho.”

“Matsumoto Jun,” came the man’s reply. No title. Aiba had been telling the truth. In Sho’s experience, anyone with the slightest hint of nobility to them came right out and laid claim to it. Matsumoto Jun introduced himself as only a man. “Can I get you a drink?”

He shook his head. “No, but thank you. I’m quite full from dinner. The kitchen staff here are outstanding.”

Matsumoto nodded. “Best thing my brother ever did was hiring Shibata-san,” he replied, referring to the cook.

Sho folded his hands in his lap, waiting for Matsumoto to continue. He tried not to react when the man reached again for his brandy, downing it all with surprising haste and settling the empty glass back on the desk. Matsumoto was clearly on edge, clearly uncomfortable. But Sho didn’t sense any hostility.

“I told you there would be difficulties with Keita,” he said, and Sho couldn’t look away from him. His eyes were troubled, sad. “I wonder if ‘difficulties’ was the right choice.”

Sho waited, the soft music filling in the silence between them.

Matsumoto leaned back, his chair creaking. “I don’t…I don’t know much about children. I’ve got Mao-san for that. She cares for him day and night. The doctors say he needs more than her coddling, that he needs to be more engaged if he’s going to improve. It’s been half a year, and I cannot allow him to be away from his studies any longer. He’ll never be able to attend a proper school, so that is why you’re here, Sensei.”

Sho remained outwardly calm, even as his heart began to race. The child needed looking after day and night. What exactly was wrong with him?

“The train accident that killed my brother and my sister-in-law left Keita mangled and broken,” Matsumoto said with a straightforwardness that shocked him. “He will never walk again. He lost one leg at the knee and the other is practically immobile. There were internal injuries that we’ve been told have healed by now, but sometimes they still trouble him. He has been prescribed several medications for pain relief, but we cannot give him more without pushing him into a helpless fog or worse, into pure addiction.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Sho said quietly.

“It is why he screams,” Matsumoto said, his eyes angry, perhaps from his inability to do anything to help. “He makes it through most nights, but I do need to tell you upfront that there are nights when he will wake and cry for the medication.” He sighed, briefly removing his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I am sorry for that.”

Sho shook his head. “It’s not his fault. And I’m a sound sleeper.”

Matsumoto nodded. “You may think you are. I certainly thought I was.”

“Does Keita-kun know that I am here? Does he know he’ll be tutored?”

Matsumoto got to his feet, moving away from the desk and into the shadows. Now that Sho’s eyes had adjusted to the low light, he could see the outline of Matsumoto in the corner, heard him opening a bottle to pour more brandy into his glass.

“He doesn’t talk much. The doctors say it’s the trauma from what happened. He speaks a little with Mao-san, but most of the communication that comes from him is when he has one of his fits,” Matsumoto admitted. “Mao-san has told him that he’ll be studying soon, but…I’ll be honest, we don’t know if he understands what we tell him sometimes.”

This would be a troubling assignment indeed. Sho had never dealt with a child with such severe impairments, both physical and mental. He understood better Aiba’s nervousness. He understood better the way the staff had reacted to Keita’s screams in the kitchen. He understood better why Matsumoto Jun was paying him so much.

“We can take things slowly,” Sho said. “I’m not the sort of teacher who plows right in without understanding my student’s capabilities anyhow.”

Matsumoto returned, and Sho couldn’t help watching as he brought the glass to his mouth, watched him swallow the drink down. The last thing Sho needed was to be attracted to the person who paid his salary, but he’d be lying if he didn’t admit that the man had a pull to him. A mystery. Aiba had only said that there’d been a falling out between Matsumoto and his father, but despite all that, the man was here now dutifully caring for his nephew. The boy who would inherit the family title and corresponding wealth.

Sho had read his share of novels. He’d seen these stories play out in fiction. The greedy, malevolent uncle taking advantage of the helpless nephew or niece, stealing their inheritance. Sho doubted that was the case here. Stripped of his title, Sho knew that Matsumoto Jun would inherit nothing at Pinetree Manor. Here he was just the same, ensuring that his ailing nephew had round the clock care. Ensuring that the boy who’d lost so much would be able to move forward, to continue his education. Despite the mystery that surrounded him, Matsumoto Jun was no villain. Whether his motivation was kindness or simply familial duty, Sho sensed no cruelty in him.

“The letters of reference you provided, they touted your patience.”

Sho grinned. So Matsumoto had at least read them. “I find that children are easier to instruct when they don’t feel that they’re being forced. I’m not sure how your education went, Matsumoto-san, but when I was a boy, I found school to be a real waste sometimes. Studying and studying and studying for a test and then never really needing that knowledge again.”

Matsumoto seemed a little surprised. “You have a doctorate, don’t you?”

“In a field that interested me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t shy away from providing a thorough overview of the basics like reading and writing, but I have found that asking my students what interests them makes it easier. If they at least get to spend part of their day studying something they truly like, they’ll be more likely to put some effort into their other subjects.” He adjusted a little in his chair, trying not to let Matsumoto’s mouth or his mysterious eyes lure him in further. “While it may take longer than the usual for me to get your nephew on a proper schedule, what are his strengths? What are his favorite subjects? Even hobbies or other interests?”

At that line of inquiry, Matsumoto seemed to shrink in his seat, looking embarrassed. “I don’t know.”

“What about sports? I’ve got some books in my trunk about football and rugby now that I think about it…”

“I said I don’t know,” Matsumoto replied a bit sharply but then his features softened. “I’m sorry, Sensei.”

Sho waited for him to speak, still surprised by the man’s outburst.

“I…I honestly don’t know,” Matsumoto said quietly, finally reaching for the still-lit cigarette in the ashtray and putting it out, just to keep his hands from being idle. “Sensei, I don’t know the first thing about him. Up until six months ago, I lived in Tokyo. I didn’t know the boy. I’d been…estranged from the family for many years. After what happened to my brother, I thought that Keita would have gone to live with Natsuko’s family, but they’re from Hokkaido and Keita…moving Keita in his condition…”

Sho leaned forward, resting his hand on the desk, seeing Matsumoto desperately try (and fail) to hide his embarrassment.

“I’m a stranger to him. My brother hadn’t even told me he’d named me in his will, that I would be named Keita’s guardian if anything happened to him. Until the lawyer got in touch with me, I hadn’t seen Keita since he was a baby. So I truly don’t know much about him. If anyone does, it’s the staff here who knew him before the accident. Perhaps Aiba-san can assist you.”

He nodded, not wanting to prod him any further. “Of course, I’ll do that.”

“You’ve had a long journey, I’m sure. I won’t keep you any longer,” Matsumoto said, rising to his feet once more. He came around the desk and headed for the study door. Sho got up and followed him. Matsumoto was slightly taller than him, and Sho had to look up to meet his eyes. “I’m asking a lot of you, Sensei. I don’t expect miracles. Take all the time you need to bring Keita around.”

Sho inclined his head. “Would you like daily updates on his progress? You’re more than welcome to come to our lessons if you like, if only to provide Keita-kun with another familiar face.”

Matsumoto seemed guarded. “Let’s just have you meet and speak with Keita the first few days. Mao-san has agreed to sit in on all the lessons. She can help you, and she’ll know when Keita has reached his limit for the day.”

“Very well.”

Matsumoto opened the door. “You may find yourself with more idle time than you’re used to, on account of Keita’s health issues. You’re free to leave Pinetree Manor at your leisure. Aiba-san can drive you into town.”

“Thank you.” He extended his hand. “I’ll do my best.”

Matsumoto’s grip was stronger than Sho anticipated, his hand taking his and giving it a solid shake. “I’m certain you will, Sensei.”

He took breakfast the following morning with the staff again. Haru-san set down a stack of newspapers for him, both the local and a few of the national papers. She smiled. “They’re delivered here for Jun-san, but he never reads them very often. Just the sporting news. I thought perhaps you would like to have them.”

He smiled in return. “I’d like that very much. Shall I drop them off in the study for Matsumoto-san when I’ve finished reading?”

“He’s gone,” Kotaki the footman said, sipping his coffee.

“Gone?” Sho repeated.

“To Tokyo,” Fujii replied.

Aiba, seated beside him, was adding some sugar to a cup of tea. “He left shortly after you met last night. Took his car.”

“I didn’t realize,” Sho admitted. “He didn’t tell me about it when we spoke.”

“He’s gone more than he’s here,” one of the maids said, and Haru-san gave her a sharp look.

“On business in Tokyo then?” Sho asked, trying to smooth over the awkwardness descending on the kitchen.

“Probably,” Aiba reasoned. “We don’t…he doesn’t share much about himself. He usually just tells me to check if he has a full tank of gas in the car and then he heads off. Sometimes he telephones ahead when he’s coming back, just so we can have dinner ready for him, but otherwise, we don’t really interfere.”

Sho frowned. “But what about Keita-kun? What if something happens?”

The staff exchanged concerned looks. Haru-san cleared her throat. “Mao-san can handle most things, and Keita-kun’s doctor can be fetched from town quickly.”

That didn’t quite answer Sho’s question. The night before, he’d thought that Matsumoto Jun, as Keita’s guardian, would be a constant presence in the house. He was the master of the estate and would remain so until Keita came of age. And with the child’s difficulties, Sho assumed his adulthood would not be an easy one either. Having his uncle close would be a necessity, especially if he couldn’t even walk. And Sho had also thought that Matsumoto genuinely cared for the child’s welfare. But leaving the manor so abruptly, traveling so often and giving little notice of when he’d return…to Sho it seemed rather irresponsible.

“What if there’s something wrong with the house?” Wouldn’t the master of the estate need to be around more?

“That’s Nino’s job,” Ohno the groundskeeper said, reading the cartoon section from one of the newspapers at the other end of the table.

“Nino?” Sho asked.

“He’s the lawyer, the family’s lawyer. Ninomiya Kazunari-san,” Aiba explained. “He’s actually the one who handles most of the matters of the estate. He ensures we get paid, he can sign off on work orders if there’s repairs needed that are beyond simple handyman work. He coordinates with Mao-san and Keita’s doctors.”

“I see.”

Perhaps Sho had been wrong about Matsumoto Jun. His duty to his nephew came in the form of ensuring that other people - Mao-san, Ninomiya-san, Aiba and the house staff - did all the work. It wasn’t unheard of, especially since Matsumoto had said he didn’t know a thing about Keita, had been estranged for so long. He wasn’t the first wealthy man to shirk his duties and he wouldn’t be the last.

Sho just felt a little disappointed in him. In his condition, Keita needed everyone’s support. Matsumoto said the boy’s family on his mother’s side was in Hokkaido. Matsumoto Jun was the only family he had left near him, and the man could still drive off to Tokyo on a whim? And did so regularly? Sho couldn’t understand it, even if it was none of his business. He’d been hired to teach, not to criticize the man who hired him. He’d have to keep his opinions to himself.

After breakfast he spoke with Aiba and a few other members of staff about Keita, how he’d been before the accident. They had few answers. Most of them had been hired after Matsumoto Taro’s death, and Keita-kun had been away from home most of the time at a boarding school paid for by Taro-san. Apparently he’d been in boarding school since the age of six. Matsumoto Atsushi and his wife had been returning with Keita from his school when the train accident had occurred.

In the year or so after Lord Taro’s death, staff had been in and out as Lord Atsushi took charge. When little Keita was actually in the house, home from school, Aiba-san had noticed that the child liked playing with blocks, seeing how high or intricately he could stack them. Ohno-san mentioned that Keita had liked to hunt for bugs in the garden, at least until his mother told him to stop dirtying himself. Beyond that, there was little to be learned about the boy. Blocks and bugs. Neither activity easily accomplished from the wheelchair he was now confined to. But, Sho thought, he at least had a starting point.

It had been decided that Sho would greet Keita following lunch. Sho took the time to acquaint himself with the library, which would serve as his classroom moving forward. It was a room seldom used since Jun-san was hardly home, but it was clean and tidy thanks to Haru-san and her staff. Not a bit of dust on the shelves or on the mantel above the fireplace in the center of the room.

Taking in the room, the shelves lining the walls, the bright sunshine that came in as soon as he opened the curtains, the plush sofas, he wondered how best to put his pupil at ease. With the help of the footmen, he pushed a few of the sofas aside, allowing more room for Keita and his wheelchair in the center of the room. Mao-san would be able to sit on a sofa beside him. In front of the fireplace, he’d have a chalkboard. Aiba-san said he would contact Ninomiya-san that day about buying one and having it delivered to the house. There was a Victrola to play records, so there could be music if Keita needed a break between lessons.

Sho dug through his trunk of teaching supplies. Textbooks and scrawled lesson plans dating back almost a decade. Though his legs were severely damaged and he’d had internal injuries, Keita’s arms and hands had not been harmed. He’d be able to write, and once Sho had seen Keita in his wheelchair, he could work together with Mao-san and Aiba-san to move in a work table or have one constructed at the right height so he could draw or solve math problems.

He was just finishing up lunch when Mao-san pulled him aside. She looked apologetic, and she had dark bags under her eyes that spoke of so many sleepless nights. Did nobody else help her with Keita? Another topic Sho figured was off limits since he was new to the house.

“Sakurai-sensei, I’m sorry,” she said, inclining her head. “Keita was not feeling well all morning. I thought perhaps with a bit of lunch that he’d improve by the afternoon, that he might be excited to leave his room and come to the library but…”

“Say no more,” he replied, hiding his disappointment. “We can try again tomorrow.”

“Aiba-kun told me that you were wondering about his wheelchair?”

Sho explained what he had planned, so that Keita might be allowed to work on his lessons in the library. Mao nodded and though she’d been wary around Sho so far, whether out of shyness or worry for her charge, she warmed up a bit.

“He’s having a nap right now, but I can bring his chair out of his room if you like so you can take measurements?”

“That would be great. I’ll get Aiba-san.”

The boy’s wheelchair was brought out into the main hall. The sight of it saddened Sho more than he’d anticipated. It seemed sturdy, with large wheels and a high back. The seat was heavily cushioned. “He usually has his blankets on his lap,” Mao said quietly. “If that makes any difference.”

“It shouldn’t,” Aiba said, and together he and Sho took measurements, Mao offering some more details about how tall Keita was, his posture when he was sitting in the chair.

None of the tables or desks in the house were the right size to accommodate him, but like the chalkboard Sho had requested, Aiba told him it would be no problem to have something custom ordered.

“I’m happy to pay from my salary,” Sho said. “I’m the instructor…”

“Any funds for Keita’s schooling come from his trust. Nino can authorize the expense.”

Sho couldn’t help being curious. “Matsumoto-san doesn’t need to be notified?”

Aiba shook his head. “If it’s to help Keita-kun, I don’t think Jun-san cares about the cost. If he was here, he’d just say to have Nino handle it anyway. I’m sure of that much.”

“Is it difficult?” Sho asked. “Working this way?”

There was the slightest impatience in Aiba’s expression when he looked at Sho this time. “If you’re asking me to criticize Jun-san, I won’t.”

Sho flushed a little, scratching the back of his head. Though it seemed the family lawyer handled payments and so many other things, it was Matsumoto Jun who still retained the power to hire and fire staff. Aiba Masaki was unwilling to take the risk of speaking ill of his absent employer.

Aiba did take the risk of grabbing Sho by the arm, squeezing emphatically. “We’ve had a lot of sorrow here, Sakurai-san. All we can do with the situation is our best.”

“I’m sorry,” he replied.

“It’s remarkable Jun-san came back at all,” Aiba said, his voice quieter. “He’s done right by Keita, and whatever else he does is not my business. So long as that boy is cared for, the rest is really not my business.”

It was already Sho’s fifth day at Pinetree Manor when it was decided that he and Keita-kun might finally be introduced. Matsumoto Jun had yet to return from Tokyo, and there’d been no calls or telegrams informing the house what he was doing or when he might come back. The staff didn’t seem worried about him, and when one of the maids had cleaned his room, Sho had hung around, asking if Jun’s behavior was unusual. Apparently Matsumoto had once disappeared for nearly two weeks, returning one night as though he’d never left.

In his employer’s absence, Sho had done his best to settle in. The chalkboard order was already filled, and it would arrive by train in a day or so. A man from Matsumoto City would attach it to a frame with wheels at the base so Sho could move it freely around the library as he taught. The custom work table for Keita was being built by a carpenter in town, who expected to deliver it in the next week. On Mao’s suggestion, the table was being built with rounded corners, no sharp edges.

Aiba had driven Sho to town where he’d visited a shrine to pray for the strength to guide Keita in his studies. After that he’d gone to a few bookshops, finding a few insect guidebooks. Though Sho had never been a fan of bugs and didn’t really enjoy reading about cockroaches and ants before bed, he already had a few ideas for lessons and reading assignments he could give to Keita once he was more engaged.

Today, however, there’d be no teaching. Even before his accident, Keita had not met too many people. He’d had his grandfather and his parents, the house staff. There’d been his fellow students and friends at his school. But Keita hadn’t seen any of them since the accident. He only saw his doctors and Mao-san, occasionally Aiba-san if Mao needed help. The nurse hadn’t given Sho a straight answer about how often Matsumoto Jun visited his nephew in his room, but he got the sense that Matsumoto was not a very familiar face around the house period, let alone Keita’s room.

So the introduction to a new face, Sho’s face, would be on Keita’s terms. Mao had spoken in the library with Sho for a full hour that morning, preparing him. The boy had one leg amputated at the knee and the other was only comfortable if Keita kept it at an angle. Apparently the doctors had had to put metal pins into the boy’s leg to fix shattered bone. Mao said Keita preferred to be covered with blankets, that he didn’t want anyone to see what had happened to his body. Sho was under strict instructions never to mention Keita’s injuries in case it might upset him.

It didn’t take much to upset the poor boy, Sho had learned the past few nights. He’d heard screaming once or twice, but more often it was crying, lonely tears in his isolated room. Sho lay awake in bed each night, blinking back tears of his own as he heard Mao’s bedroom door beside his open and close in the middle of the night.

He saved his pity for night time, taking a look at himself in one of the mirrors in the hall, ensuring that he looked friendly and cheerful. He wore a brown tweed suit with a red bow tie, thinking the little pop of color would be an interesting distraction for a boy who might not be comfortable with meeting a stranger’s eyes. He had other distractions. A bright blue yo-yo. A few photographs of Kyoto and Karuizawa along with a folded paper map of Japan in case Keita was curious about where Sho had been born and where he’d last been before coming to Pinetree Manor. He also had a photograph of the big sheepdog that had belonged to his grandmother when he was a boy. Haru-san had remembered the other day that Keita had once asked his parents if they might get him a dog someday, so talking about Hoshi the sheepdog was another tactic to ease his introduction.

The bedroom door opened and Mao waved for him to come. Sho kept his footsteps quiet as he approached, standing in the doorway and waiting to be acknowledged. The room was fairly dark, heavy curtains blocking out the light (apparently a doctor’s suggestion so that the boy could sleep if he was in pain at any time of day). Keita’s wheelchair was parked at the foot of his bed.

Other than that it seemed like a normal young boy’s room, the walls adorned with pictures of snow-capped mountains and Japanese castles. The room itself had originally been Matsumoto Natsuko’s parlor, where she’d written letters in the morning and liked to knit in her free time. It was Jun-san who’d had the ground floor room converted while his nephew was still in the hospital recovering from the many surgeries done to save his life. Keita’s upstairs bedroom sat empty.

Matsumoto Keita was sitting upright in bed, large pillows piled up behind him and a blanket tucked around him at his waist. He was small, reminding Sho of his own childhood. He’d been smaller than most other boys his age, not having a real growth spurt until he was already in high school. He was pale but not sickly, with neatly combed black hair.

Like his uncle, he had a thick set of eyebrows and large, almost exaggerated features. On the child they seemed almost extreme. It was a face that needed to be grown into. Sho shook away the thought of the mysterious Matsumoto Jun with his sad brown eyes and anxious behavior. The man wasn’t here. It was on Mao-san and on Sho to see to Keita’s welfare and education in his absence.

Keita turned his eyes to Sho, and for all that the child was ten years old, there was a weariness to him - the slump of his shoulders, the way his short fingers clutched at his blanket - that made him seem wise beyond his years.

As Mao had suggested, she spoke first, standing at Sho’s side. “Keita-kun,” she said, “this man is Sakurai Sho-sensei. He’s come from Kyoto where he was also a tutor. Your Uncle Jun has brought him here to live with us.”

“Hello,” Sho said gently, bowing to the boy. “I’m Sho.”

Keita said nothing in reply, but Mao had already told him to expect it. Keita hadn’t spoken very much since the accident. Keita did, however, incline his head in greeting.

“Do you think Sho-sensei could sit here next to you and talk? I’ll sit next to him.”

The child looked at Mao with that haunted look in his eyes, but he nodded in agreement.

Permission granted, Sho sat in one of the chairs at Keita’s bedside, Mao taking a seat beside him so Keita wouldn’t have to turn and look back and forth between them. Sho couldn’t help but notice the bottles of large white pills on the bedside table, the jars that held creams to rub on the boy’s joints and skin to ensure he didn’t develop bed sores or other ailments.

Mao continued talking, explaining that Sho had worked in Kyoto, that he had come here to set up a special school just for Keita. “Do you think that might be fun? Studying with Sho-sensei?”

The boy just shrugged.

Sho spent an hour talking quietly, almost entirely about himself. He made only brief mentions of his family, his parents and two younger siblings in Karuizawa. He saw Keita perk up when he mentioned the orchards at his grandparents’ house, how he’d picked apples there in the fall and played with Hoshi the sheepdog. He’d given Keita the picture, asking him if he’d hold onto it for him. Keita had agreed, and even as Sho kept talking, the boy’s attention remained on the picture, his small fingers tracing the dog’s face and shaggy fur.

He eventually lost Keita’s attention entirely, and Mao intervened.

“Keita-kun, would it be okay if Sho-sensei came back to talk again tomorrow?”

Keita nodded.

“Sho-sensei is setting up a classroom here in the house for you. It’ll have a chalkboard and a desk just like your classroom was like at Nagano Boys’ School. What do you think of that?”

This time the boy only stared at them. It wasn’t a good sign…but it wasn’t a bad sign either.

“Maybe after you chat with Sho-sensei a few more times, we can go into the library with him and learn some more about dogs like Hoshi.”

Keita’s fingers traced along the dog’s outline again, and he nodded.

Mao patted Sho’s leg, and they both got to their feet.

“I’m really excited to talk with you some more, Keita-kun. It was nice to meet you. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said. “And please hold onto that picture. I appreciate it.”

Keita slipped the picture underneath his blanket, offering Sho a look that wasn’t quite a smile, but seemed rather close. Sho definitely needed to get more books about dogs. He’d have to check the library shelves that night and head into town to buy whatever he could find. It would sure be better reading material than the bug books he’d suffered through.

He and Mao stepped back into the hall and once the door was closed, she leaned back against the wall with a look bordering on relief. There were tears in her eyes, but Sho decided not to comment on them. “He was so quiet,” she said.

“That’s good?”

“He often screams when the doctor comes to visit. You’re the first new face he’s seen in almost three months. I’m hoping this wasn’t a fluke.”

“We’ll take things one day at a time, Mao-san,” Sho said. “You’re a real help.”

She blushed, looking down. “He’s a good boy, Keita-kun is. He’s kind and gentle, and life has been cruel to him. But I think today was a good start.”

Sho grinned. “Everyone loves dogs. Maybe you should tell that doctor to bring one along for house calls.”

She laughed for the first time since they’d been acquainted, and it made him happy to see it. Hers was the hardest job of all in Pinetree Manor. “Now that’s an idea I hadn’t considered, Sensei.”

Part Two


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AMNOS/Arashi fanfiction exchange

May 2017

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