[identity profile] stormymood.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] arashi_exchange
A piece of rainbow for [livejournal.com profile] shardaunei Part 3




Matsumoto was still ticked off as they drove back through Matsumoto City, though Sho knew it wasn’t malicious. Nino had waited several minutes before finally flagging the waitress down to order two more pieces of tamago nigiri along with a solitary piece of grilled eel nigiri as a “stamina booster.”

Sho had only offered a smile in reply when Matsumoto had scowled at him.

As they left town and got back onto the road further up into the hills, Sho raised his voice over the noise of the car. “Did you enjoy the food, Matsumoto-san? I thought the eel was quite good.”

Matsumoto responded by reaching out his hand and smacking Sho in the arm. Sho laughed and Matsumoto gave him another smack. He decided to retire his teasing questions for now, shutting his eyes and letting the wind mess his hair once more. It was now full dark, and the trees lining the road mostly hid the starry sky far above.

He felt just on the edge of danger, with Matsumoto pushing the car’s speed to what had to be against the law. But who would stop him? With such a flashy car, everyone in town and every policeman on the road had to know it was a Matsumoto driving. Nobody else could afford a car like that.

Which led Sho to wonder about what Matsumoto had said about his acting troupe, how he’d only taken on “bit parts.” Disowned from his family for almost half of his life, he’d still managed to earn enough money to live a certain lifestyle if his motorcar and clothing were anything to go on. He wondered how much of Matsumoto’s money came from his acting life and how much came from being a member of his family. Did he receive anything as Keita’s guardian?

They returned to the estate, Matsumoto pulling the car into the garage. They headed back into the house together, standing in the kitchen quietly. The house was in bed for the night, and it was a sharp contrast from the restaurant and from the Matsumoto City nightlife, such as it was.

“A drink?” Matsumoto asked. He’d stopped drinking sake halfway through their meal so he could be sober to drive. Sho had not stopped, but after Nino’s odd manner of encouragement, he felt that it would be good to accept the offer. It seemed like Matsumoto had few friends here. Maybe he needed someone to talk to who wasn’t responsible for cleaning his house or making his meals.

“Sure.” He slipped out of his jacket, settling it over his arm. “In the study?”

“No, we might wake Keita down here. Come on upstairs.”

Sho was grateful that he was probably already flushed from the meal and the sake, and he followed Matsumoto up to his room, joining him in his sitting room for the second time that day.

There was a different air in the master suite this time when Sho draped his jacket over one of the sofas, letting Matsumoto pour him some whiskey. Matsumoto set a glass down for himself, disappearing into his bedroom. He returned looking more comfortable, his jacket discarded and his red tie gone, the first few buttons of his shirt undone. He removed his glasses, setting them on the table, and picked up his whiskey glass.

“Cheers, Sensei.”

“Cheers.”

They clinked glasses quietly to hopefully keep from waking Mao-san further down the hall. She was probably already a light sleeper on account of listening for Keita. The other day, she had explained that Keita had a cord he could tug on that would ring a bell near her bed. Sho had never heard it, so it must have been just quiet enough to only make noise in Mao’s room.

“Thank you again for the meal. It was really good.” He’d been amazed that a restaurant so far from the coast was able to serve such fresh and tasty fish.

“You’re very welcome. You’ve worked hard since you’ve been here, you deserve it.”

“I have barely been here a month, Matsumoto-san.”

“And look what you’ve done in a month. Don’t sell yourself short, look at all that you’ve accomplished with Keita. I’ll have you know that I absolutely hated school.” Matsumoto had another sip. “I’m starting to think that I just had bad teachers.”

Sho chuckled. The alcohol was helping to loosen his tongue, even if the drive back in the cool breeze had mostly sobered him up. “Shall I teach you, too? What would you like to study? I know that insects are already out of the question, so I can’t quite borrow from my lesson plans for Keita-kun.”

Matsumoto laughed as well, gentle and more calm than he’d been at dinner. “You’d probably take issue with my handwriting, but I think it’s a little late and I’m stuck in my ways. I’ve always been terrible at arithmetic, considering how many things I buy without checking price tags.”

“Would you like to borrow the dog books? Keita thinks they’re marvelous.”

Matsumoto smiled. “I never did like homework or writing essays. I think I’d be your least favorite student.”

“You couldn’t possibly be worse than the little boy who gave me a scar.”

“You can’t be serious!”

Sho got out of his seat, liquid courage helping him to move over to sit next to Matsumoto on the other sofa. He rolled up his sleeve, showing the white streak on the inside of his forearm, five inches long. “He was eight years old, and it was near impossible to get that little boy to focus. It was his mother who suggested that we cut out shapes and things we traced onto some heavy paper, and this mark was from when Yoshi-kun thought it would be more fun to cut me with the scissors instead of the paper.”

Matsumoto gasped in surprise, laughing at him. He set his glass down, tugging on Sho’s wrist until his forearm was resting on Matsumoto’s thigh. Sho held in a breath as Matsumoto traced the old scar with his fingertips, a feeling somewhere between a tickle and a caress. His arm jumped a little, shocked at the bold way Matsumoto had grabbed hold of him, had moved to touch him. Then again, Sho was the one who’d gotten up to show the old “war wound” off in the first place.

“He really got you!” Matsumoto murmured, finger still drifting back and forth over Sho’s sensitive skin.

“That was the only position I’ve resigned from. Everything else was lack of funds or a decision not to retain my services. The parents were worried I’d take them to court for damages, but I was happier just to be away from the little devil.”

“Fair enough,” Matsumoto said, finally releasing him. Sho stayed where he was, only taking his arm back and sitting up a bit more instead of nearly falling into the man’s lap after that tug on his arm. Matsumoto’s eyes were dark, and it took him a moment to speak again. “I suppose I wouldn’t be that awful a student.”

“You have no interest in stabbing me, Matsumoto-san? Even after I won our wager earlier?”

“That’s not a stabbing offense,” Matsumoto said with an awkward wave of his hand. “You cheated though, didn’t you? When I was in the washroom, you told him what to order.”

“Are you calling me a liar, sir?”

Matsumoto raised an eyebrow. “Only one dinner with Ninomiya, and he’s turned you to the side of evil where he gleefully resides.” He clucked his tongue. “Despicable.”

He got back up, heading to the other sofa and downing the rest of his whiskey with only a playful smile. If Sho was honest, he missed this. He’d had friends in Kyoto, some scholars from the university and some tutors he’d been introduced to through his employer’s circle of friends. Since coming to Pinetree Manor, he hadn’t been able to speak so candidly, so teasingly. He wrote letters to his friends, but it couldn’t compare to sharing a smile with them.

Of course, as the days went on, he couldn’t say that his feelings toward Matsumoto Jun started and ended at friendship. Especially not now. Especially not after Matsumoto had so easily tugged on his wrist, had raised the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck with a mere brush of his fingers along an old scar. It was foolish to think Matsumoto was attracted in return. It was too much to hope for, that someone with such a glaringly obvious playboy lifestyle—the car, the clothes, the to-and-fro from Tokyo—would be attracted to a man, much less a man like him.

But there were many hours in Sho’s new life here that didn’t revolve around teaching. He supposed it was worth filling those hours with Matsumoto Jun’s company, as much as he allowed it. He tried not to take too much stock in what Ninomiya had claimed, that Matsumoto never let anyone else into his precious car. He probably had dozens of friends in Tokyo to go around with. Sho was just his only local option.

“If you change your mind about studying, I’d be happy to help. You’ve got quite a library in this house for self-study and improvement, you know.”

Matsumoto nodded. “Father always did love his books. Not for reading, of course, but for how smart it made him look.” Matsumoto rolled his eyes. “But let’s not talk about him.”

“Why acting?” Sho held up a hand. “Please, I don’t need any details about the what or the how once you actually started to do it. I’m just curious about how you ended up choosing it.”

“I was hired on to clean a theater, my first job in Tokyo,” Matsumoto admitted, and Sho could almost imagine a younger version of him taking on any job he could find. “I cleaned, did odd jobs, led people to their seats as an usher. Somehow or other, they asked me to help with auditions, to read with people, lines and things. Before too long I was a background player, a soldier with one line, a servant who said nothing but ‘yes, my lord’ and was never seen again. It wasn’t as glamorous as Nino thinks it was, and all of it wasn’t a choice so much as a…how should I say it, a logical progression.”

Sho grinned. “I’d be a terrible actor.”

“Mao-chan says you’re very entertaining when you read to Keita.”

Mao hadn’t told Sho that she’d spoken to Matsumoto about their lessons, but he was at least glad she had positive things to say. “That’s different. That’s an audience of one.”

“I’m sure you’re very good.”

“Come sometime, won’t you? Come to a lesson.” Sho looked down. “I know I pester you about this often, but I don’t intend to stop.”

“Maybe I will. I could give you notes on your performance.”

Sho couldn’t look up, feeling warm at the thought of Matsumoto watching him so closely when he mostly wanted the man to come and spend time with his nephew for once. “You know where to find me most afternoons, sir.”

“You don’t…you don’t have to be so polite with me.”

“It wouldn’t be right if…”

“Sho-san.”

He looked up, seeing Matsumoto with his whiskey glass, a stray lock of hair falling across his forehead. He was handsome, at ease. But lonely.

“Sho-san, when we meet like this…I’d like it if you could just be yourself.”

“I’ll try.”

“If I keep you up drinking any later, you’ll hardly be able to teach. Don’t stay up on my account.”

For all that Sho hoped that they could speak for hours and hours, that he could learn more about him, Sho knew that Matsumoto…that Jun…was right.

He got up, tugging his jacket from the sofa and heading for the door. This time Jun didn’t get up to walk with him. “Thank you again.”

Jun raised his glass, and Sho departed.



Keita’s doctor had been rightly concerned about the boy’s drawings, but when they described how content he was when drawing, it was decided that Sho and Mao would just have to continue monitoring the situation and to get back in touch if Keita’s drawings started to change, if his innocent trains became scenes of ruin and pain.

Sho persevered with his alternative lessons either way, moving on to a unit about insects as he’d planned, spending more time on lessons than on giving Keita free drawing time. The boy didn’t protest as much as Sho had expected. Though Mao usually looked away when Sho opened books and showed Keita pictures, the boy was ecstatic. The more freakish the bug, the more Keita seemed to be fascinated by it. One day he even drew a train with carriages full of bugs, writing up in the corner that it was officially the “Insect Express.”

The Insect Express was popular throughout the house, the staff laughing hysterically at the creativity of their young lord. There was a cheerful little boy who’d been hidden for so long, and even though he was quiet, even though he suffered, little rays of sunshine were starting to peek through after months of cloudy skies.

A week into the insect lessons, Keita spoke.

Sho had his back to him, was drawing his best attempt at a grasshopper on the chalkboard. His art skills still left much to be desired, and for the first time, Keita informed him as much.

“Ugly!”

Sho froze, nearly snapping the chalk against the board in surprise. He turned around slowly, seeing Keita pointing at the board in disbelief.

“Sensei! That’s so ugly!”

“Keita!” Mao scolded, emerging from shock much faster than Sho even though the boy never got this loud unless he was screaming in pain. “Don’t say such things to Sho-sensei!”

Keita leaned back in his wheelchair, looking almost smug. “I am very sorry, Sensei. Your drawing is ugly. You are not ugly. It’s the drawing.”

Sho had to hold himself back from laughing gleefully at the sight of his naughty pupil. He was speaking. Full sentences!

Sho turned, looking back at his questionable grasshopper. “You’ve caught me, Keita-kun. Art was always my poorest subject in school. I’d have Ohno-san come in here and try to draw one for you, but unfortunately he is busy in the gardens today.”

Keita nodded. “It’s okay if you’re bad. You’re good at everything else, I think.”

“Well, thank you very much. If my drawing is offensive, perhaps we could move on to something that doesn’t require me to draw. I’ve got some math tables here for you, where we can use multiplication to determine how many ants are living in these different hills.”

“There’s probably thousands!” Keita cheered.

Mao shuddered beside him. “When will we have more lessons about dogs?”

Sho left that day’s lessons in high spirits. Keita had been a little quieter after calling out Sho’s poor drawing, but he’d gone through his math lessons with admirable speed, making very few errors in his calculations, mostly out of excitement when trying to determine how many ants resided in the hills that Sho had described to him.

Keita’s return to speech and his enthusiasm in doing so resulted in another call to the doctor, who was almost as thrilled as they all were. Apparently they hadn’t expected him to speak like that again for a few more months. Though there was no real improvement in Keita’s physical health, the doctor was eager with his mental progress, encouraging Sho and Mao to continue with any lessons that held Keita’s attention.

Unfortunately for Sho and Mao that meant more bugs, and it also meant more trains. Now that Keita was a bit chattier, he was more descriptive when drawing. “And this is the first class carriage,” he’d say, describing what he was doodling to Mao beside him. “And the first class luggage car. One time they put someone’s dog in here, I saw it myself. The dog had to stay in the luggage car for the trip, but the conductor said they were giving him treats for behaving.”

Keita had yet to mention the train crash, nor had he spoken of his parents in terms of the train. He simply kept drawing trains and engines, moreso when Sho found a rather dry set of encyclopedias that had colored illustrations, including detailed drawings of locomotives. Keita slowly became obsessed with the images in the encyclopedia, using thin paper to be able to trace over the pictures or doing his best to re-draw them by hand. Each picture was more detailed than the last.

Sho had made progress with Keita, and he finally decided it was time to force Jun’s hand in the matter. Back after a few days in Tokyo, Jun asked Sho up to his rooms once more for a drink. Sho spent the entire time arguing in favor of ordering a model train kit from a toy catalog Haru-san had picked up. One of the tables in the library could be given over to house it, Sho argued, so that Keita could play with it a bit. The table was a little taller than his work table, but they could mount the small control box within comfortable reach. Keita would at least have the ability to drive the train himself, and Sho or Mao could move anything else to help him play.

The kit came with a looping track, and more items could be added on to make things more lifelike. There could be trees and houses, station buildings, even tiny people to populate the station platforms or town. The one Sho had found was one of the smaller kits available, and it wouldn’t suck up too much electricity, especially if Keita only used it to play for a short time every day. Others in the catalog could be built to take up entire rooms of a house, but that was a bit much to start with.

Jun had readily agreed, making phone calls to Ninomiya himself to custom order items as a surprise for his nephew, paying entirely with his own money. As Sho had learned so far, Matsumoto Jun was very happy to shop, even though this gift wasn’t for himself.

Within the week, boxes started arriving. Small boxes with pieces of track, with miniature figurines and motorcars and animals. Together he, Aiba, and Jun spent several hours one night transforming the library table into a small scale town. Jun directed them while Aiba set down track and Sho added decorations. He hadn’t seen Jun look so proud as he did when they were finished, shortly before midnight.

The table was covered with a cloth when Mao wheeled Keita in for his lessons the following day. The boy had spent the morning coughing a little, and Mao suspected he had a cold coming on. Summer was finally transitioning to fall, and it was a little cooler in the house now. They’d have to keep a close eye on him as time went on.

Keita didn’t notice the covered table at first, diligently listening to a history lesson Sho gave about the warring states period. The knock at the door came right on time, and Keita jerked a little in his chair at the surprise.

“Yes? Who is it?”

“It’s Matsumoto Jun.”

“Ah,” Sho replied, stepping up to Keita’s work table. “Keita-kun, would it be alright if your uncle sat in on our lesson today? He’s been wanting to for a long time, but he’s been busy.”

He didn’t like lying to the child, but it was better than the truth, that Jun had put this off for so long for whatever reason.

Mao repeated the question a bit differently. “Your Uncle Jun told me that if you work together on this lesson that he has a surprise for you.”

Sho didn’t like bribery either, but he’d kept that opinion to himself. It had been Jun’s idea, and he’d been so surprised that he’d finally agreed to come that he hadn’t complained about his methods.

Keita merely nodded, and Sho could see the slightest apprehension in the boy’s face. Sho knew that Jun occasionally visited Keita in his room to say hello and chat with him (though Keita never really spoke back to him), always with Mao present, but he had never been in the library for a lesson before.

“Come in, Matsumoto-san.”

Jun entered quietly, murmuring a “pardon my intrusion” as he opened and shut the library door, walking slowly until he was standing at Sho’s side. He inclined his head. “Good afternoon, Keita. Are you enjoying your lessons today?”

Keita nodded.

“Do you enjoy Sho-sensei’s lessons?”

Keita nodded again, though Sho saw the boy’s grip tighten on his blankets. He hadn’t thrown a tantrum in the classroom yet, but it had just been him and Mao all this time, two people Keita knew to associate with his education. Jun was more of a stranger. Like having the principal come to observe your class at school.

“Do you mind if I join you? I’d like to learn more about this era myself.”

This time Keita didn’t do anything. He didn’t nod, but he didn’t shake his head either. Jun didn’t press the issue, making a big show of sitting on one of the other sofas, crossing one leg over the other comfortably. He had been too nervous to sit beside his own nephew, not wanting to scare him.

Once Keita seemed to accept Jun’s presence in the room, Sho continued with his lesson, complete with books that had illustrations of different battles. He handed one book to Keita and Mao, another to Jun asking them to have a look and to describe what they saw. Keita spoke little, at least less than he had been the last week or so, but he seemed interested in the armor of the soldiers, the horses they were riding in battle.

The lesson concluded, and Jun leaned forward, clearing his throat to get Keita’s attention. “Sho-sensei is a good teacher, isn’t he?”

“He’s bad at drawing, but yes, he is very good,” Keita admitted in his blunt fashion, earning a gentle giggle from Mao.

“I’ve seen many of your drawings, Keita, and I can safely say that you draw better than anyone in this house with maybe the exception of Ohno-kun,” Jun said, getting to his feet. “Do you like to draw?”

“Yes, sir. Very much.”

“Sho-sensei and Mao-san have shown me some of your best pictures. My favorite was the Insect Express.”

Keita’s wary expression changed quickly into a grin. “That is a masterpiece!”

Jun laughed. “It certainly is.” He headed over to the table, taking hold of the cloth. “Now I have a present for you that I hope you’ll like. I am hoping that you’ll be able to use it to come up with some more ideas for drawings, maybe ones even better than the Insect Express. Won’t you come over here?”

Sho moved the work table, and Mao got up, pushing Keita over to watch. Jun counted to three and then pulled the cloth away. He knocked over a few trees in the process, but otherwise everything looked perfect. Keita’s eyes widened, his jaw dropping open.

“A train!”

“Wow!” Mao said, “it’s like a whole town.”

She pushed him closer so he could slowly take in the various decorations. He pointed out different buildings and was especially in love with the train station near the control box, spying a small conductor figurine ready to send the train on its way.

“Now,” Jun said, leaning over to flick a switch on the control box. The box let out a gentle little hum, the whole set of track now powered by electricity via the plug they’d inserted into the wall outlet behind the table. “Now it can move.”

Mao pushed Keita’s chair so he could watch Jun operate the train first. He pushed the lever forward to move the train around its oval-shaped loop in a clockwise fashion. He showed Keita that the further the lever was forward, the faster the train would go. He then showed that bringing the lever back to the middle slowed it to a stop. Pulling the lever towards himself sent the train in reverse, moving counter-clockwise.

Keita was thrilled, watching as Jun put the train back into forward motion, letting it slowly circle around three times before bringing it back to the station and putting on “the brakes.”

“Should we let Mao-san drive the train next?”

“No!” Keita protested. “I want to be the driver! Please, Mao-san!”

Mao grinned behind him, not looking the least bit interested in playing with the model. “Oh, I suppose that’s alright, so long as everyone gets a turn.”

Keita’s chair was placed in position, Mao gently throwing the brake mechanism so he wouldn’t roll away while he was trying to play. For the first time in a long time, Mao took a step away, walking around to look at the rest of the model. She stood on the other side of the table, setting the trees that had fallen over back into an upright position.

Now Sho got to see Jun interact with his nephew for the first time. He crouched down so that he was at Keita’s eye level, watching as Keita reached out a hand for the lever. “Now remember, this whole thing is wired with electricity, so we can’t push it too hard or it might spark. The train should go at a normal speed, okay?”

“Okay,” Keita agreed. “If it sparks, it’ll be a fire?”

“Yeah, it could cause a fire.”

“Okay, I’ll keep it normal speed.”

With Jun’s help, Keita got into a comfortable position, pushing the lever. Slowly the train got moving, bypassing the station and the trio of houses that Sho had lined up the night before, adhering them to the green cloth they kept inside the oval of track to stand in as grass.

Keita was excited as the train moved along, clicking around the curve as the electricity kept the whole thing humming. Sho had never really been fascinated by trains, but the model was rather remarkable with all its component parts. He could see the appeal in the huge models that had been in the toy catalog, the room size monstrosities that had come with mountains and farmland and city buildings like department stores or police stations.

After watching the train make several loops, Keita grew a little impatient. “Go backwards now!” he cheered, and in a moment of forgetfulness, he tugged the lever hard, bypassing the stop setting in the middle and pulling it all the way down toward himself.

The abrupt motion kicked up a tiny spark on the tracks, nothing harmful, but the speed change was so abrupt that Jun lost his temper.

“I said not so fast, Keita!”

“Sorry!”

“Jun-san,” Mao tried to interrupt, but Jun forcibly grabbed Keita’s hand, pushing the lever back to a safer speed.

“If you push it too hard, it might jump off the tracks!” Jun said in exasperation, and Keita took his hand away from the control box almost as though it had burned him. It had been the worst thing to say, and Jun immediately knew it.

Jun abruptly brought the train to a stop, his face nothing but solid panic. Beside him, Keita’s eyes were filling with tears.

“Keita, I…I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell…”

“I don’t want it to to jump off!” Keita protested, and Mao met Sho’s eyes, gesturing with a quick tilt of her head for Sho to unplug the power. He did so quietly just as Keita let out a scream of pain. “I don’t want it to jump off! I just want it to go! I just want it to go! If it jumps off…if it jumps off…”

Jun backed away, nearly colliding with the table. “Keita, it’s okay. Keita, everything’s fine. I’m sorry for raising my voice…”

Keita let out another wordless scream, a noise Sho only knew from sitting in another room or in bed. It was loud in here, so loud it broke his heart. “I just want it to go!”

“Keita, let’s take a break and play with the train again later, okay?” Mao said in her gentle voice. “You can make it go later.”

With Keita writhing in his chair, the blankets started shuffling and he desperately clutched them so they wouldn’t fall. He screamed and cried, the happy boy vanishing in a moment. Sho hurried to the door, holding it open so Mao could push Keita away, her words of encouragement and calm lost as the boy continued to cry.

Aiba had come by in a panic, his shoes scuffing against the floor as he nearly collided with Sho. “What happened? What happened? Do I need to call the doctor?”

Sho patted him on the shoulder. “Just a misunderstanding. Just a misunderstanding with the train. Masaki, please…go check with Mao if you can. She might need some help to calm him down.”

“Of course.”

Aiba hurried off, and Sho closed the library door. It muffled Keita’s cries, but not entirely.

Jun was sitting on the floor next to the train table, legs bent and gripping his knees tightly. Sho crouched down beside him. “Are you alright?”

“I yelled at him.”

“You didn’t mean any harm.”

“I yelled at that poor kid,” Jun murmured, and Sho’s heart sank at the tears already brimming in his eyes. “I thought I could just waltz in here and give him a gift. I don’t know a fucking thing about how to handle him.”

“That’s not true,” Sho said, ignoring Jun’s coarse language. “When you were demonstrating the controls, he was fascinated. You should have seen how he looked at you. He was in awe of you.”

“He was in awe of the stupid train,” Jun snapped, pulling off his glasses roughly to wipe his eyes. “I’ve just set everything back, all your hard work, Sho-san. I can’t believe I said the train might derail. How could I be so stupid?”

Sho rested a hand on Jun’s shoulder. “You said jump the tracks, you never said derail, and we don’t know if he was upset about you saying that or about the yelling. When he calms down, you can apologize properly.”

“Jump the tracks and derail mean the same god damn thing, and a 10 year old knows it!” Jun batted his hand away, getting to his feet. He was looking at the control box like he wanted to fling it away. He was looking at the entire model like he wanted to tear it apart piece by piece. Sho had never seen Matsumoto Jun in such a rage, his entire body shaking, his hands curled up in fists, his chest rising and falling with quick, fearsome breaths.

“Jun-san,” Sho said, getting back up and trying to stay calm. “It was a mistake. That’s all.”

“It’s one I won’t make again,” he said with a finality that shook Sho to the core.

Sho was so surprised when Jun took off running that he was a few paces behind when he started to move. “Wait. Jun!”

He could only watch as Jun hurried up the stairs to the second floor. Sho waited in the hall, gently asking the maid dusting to go to another part of the house for a while. When Jun came back down the stairs, his eyes were bloodshot behind his glasses, and he was in a trenchcoat, towing along a small travel bag in one hand and tightly gripping his driving gloves in the other.

“Where are you going?” Sho asked him directly, walking behind him as he stomped childishly through the hall, the dining room, and off to the kitchen. The cook, already prepping soba noodles for dinner that Jun himself had requested, let out an alarmed “my lord?” The woman was so shocked she’d forgotten Jun hadn’t been one for some time.

By now Aiba had heard the commotion and was right behind them, brushing past Sho with a quick hand to his shoulder, chasing Jun out onto the gravel drive. “Jun-san!” Aiba called, “Mao-san needs to speak with you!”

Jun ignored him, turning his key in the garage door lock and yanking it up. Sho stood there, unable to find the words. Aiba, timid butler no more, blocked the exit as Jun unlocked his car.

“Jun-san, where are you going? When can we anticipate your return?”

The car roared to life, spluttering out a small puff of exhaust that forced Aiba to back off.

“Jun-san!” Aiba protested one last time. “Jun-san!”

But Jun paid him no mind, backing up onto the gravel drive and speeding away, leaving a trail of dust behind him.

Aiba turned back, raising his hands in frustration. Sho could only shake his head, wondering which of them had been more damaged by the happenings in the library - the nephew or his uncle.



Jun called Nino from Tokyo, telling him only that he would be “staying with friends” for a while. He hadn’t told Nino how long “a while” might be.

Keita recovered from the traumatic experience in the library within a few days, the cold he’d caught slowing him down a little, but Sho had brought crayons and drawing paper into Keita’s room, letting him have a little fun in his downtime. The boy had stopped speaking for two days, but when Sho came into his room asking Keita for his “expert advice,” showing him some of his own drawings of otters and frogs, Keita had found enough reason to speak then.

“Are your drawings really that bad?” Haru-san asked at the dinner table, and in an act of true betrayal, Mao passed all of Sho’s attempts around, earning a great deal of laughter. It was a welcome sound in the house after the events of the other day, after Jun had left so abruptly.

By the start of the second week of Jun’s absence, Keita was back in the classroom and also back at his model train. Taking the warnings he’d received into consideration, he sent the train around the track at a moderate speed. As a way to supplement his learning and the time he spent with his train, Sho asked Keita to write something on his own, whether it was a poem or a short story, making up something about the village where his train was riding. He had a lot of ideas and spent the next few days writing with enthusiasm, even when he was in bed resting after lessons. It seemed like he hadn’t been affected or traumatized by the idea of the model train derailing.

With Keita back in good spirits, he even asked after his uncle. He waited one day in the library for Mao to leave for a washroom break before asking Sho to come close so he could whisper.

“Did I make Uncle Jun leave?”

“No, it wasn’t your fault. I think your uncle was upset that he yelled at you. Upset with himself, you understand. He’s not a mean person, and he just lost his temper. I’m sure he feels very sorry,” Sho explained, wondering why Keita had come to him with the question and not Mao.

“I disobeyed him, even though what he said was smart. I didn’t want to make a fire with the train.”

“It was your first time, and you simply made a mistake, Keita. Now you play with the train all the time, and you’re very good with it. I think your Uncle Jun made a mistake too. You see, he’s not used to being around kids so maybe he sometimes has problems knowing how to talk to you. He yelled when he didn’t mean to.”

Keita eventually stopped whispering. “He talks about his car with me. He showed me pictures of it.”

Sho hid a smile, thinking of Jun and his obsession with that damn car. “That sounds fun.”

“He’s shy, like me,” Keita admitted. “He told me that. He said when he was a boy that he was really shy. So he tells me it’s okay if I’m shy, too. I like Uncle Jun. I wish he’d come say hi more often.”

Sho’s heart broke. All this time, Jun had let others take care of Keita, thinking everyone else - the doctor, Mao, Sho - would know better. But all this time, what Keita really wanted was to spend time with him. It wasn’t such a strange thing to want. And Sho was determined to help.

“I know he’s away from home for a while. He often has business in Tokyo. But when he comes home, would you like me to talk with him? Maybe he doesn’t realize that you want to see him.”

“Because he’s shy.”

“Yes, because he’s shy.”

When Sho told Mao about their conversation, she’d been completely shocked. Keita hardly ever spoke with her about Jun. “Perhaps it’s a conversation among men,” Mao wondered. “Do you think?”

“Whatever Keita’s reasons, we have to help.”

Mao’s smile was sad. “Sometimes I worry that he won’t come back. Jun-san.”

“I think he remembers his duties here. I suppose if he’s gone for more than two weeks it’s cause to worry, right?”

Mao nodded. “Perhaps he’ll call Ninomiya-san soon. He didn’t have the guts to call the house. He probably knows I’d yell at him.”

Sho chuckled. “That’s probably the reason entirely.”

Aiba had business in town with Ninomiya a few days later, and Sho decided to tag along. They had lunch together, the three of them, at a cozy udon place not far from Matsumoto Castle. Sho listened politely as Aiba and Ninomiya dominated the conversation.

The two were good friends, teasing one another in between serious comments about the house. Aiba had a number of projects he wanted to tackle before winter came, and he discussed each of them with Nino, explaining what they were and what they’d cost so Nino could sign off on each of them in a timely fashion.

As they wrapped up their meal, Aiba said that he wanted to take the car over to the repair shop to get a quick check on the brakes. They were starting to squeal a bit and he wanted an estimate on repairs. Nino interrupted Aiba’s long rambling explanation about the problem, holding up a hand.

“Sho-san doesn’t have to go with for that. You can come pick him up. I wanted to chat with him about some invoices I had related to Keita’s lessons.”

“Oh. Okay then. I’ll come back when I’m done.”

Sho waited until Aiba was gone before speaking. “What invoices?”

Nino shook his head. “I lied. I just wanted to chat, see how things were going.”

He was confused. Why hadn’t he felt comfortable saying so with Aiba around? “What kind of things? About Keita’s lessons?”

Nino sighed, sipping his tea. “J hasn’t called.”

“So you told us.”

“Aren’t you worried about him?”

“Of course I’m worried,” Sho protested. “Keita certainly has no grudge against him after what happened, so I don’t know why he feels the need to stay away so long.”

“Do you like Jun?”

“He’s a fair employer. My salary is more than adequate and my room and board…”

“Let me rephrase,” Nino interrupted him. “Do you like Jun?”

Sho blinked. He hadn’t rephrased a thing. “I think he’s being rather selfish right now, if you were waiting to get Aiba out of the room so you could get my honest opinion about his conduct of late.”

Nino smirked. “Never mind.”

“Never mind what?”

Nino shook his head. “Forgive me, Chalkboard-san, I misread the air. Let’s talk more about Jun-kun being a selfish twit…”

“Misread what air? What on earth are you going on about?”

For the first time, Ninomiya actually looked embarrassed about something he’d said. “Don’t get mad at me, but I thought maybe you were attracted to Jun-kun.”

Sho’s eyes widened. Ninomiya had only met him one other time in person. Every other interaction had come over the telephone. How the hell could he know? “I…I don’t know how to answer that.”

Nino lifted the tea cup. “A man who only liked the company of women would have probably thrown the contents of this cup in my face for making such an accusation.”

Sho frowned. “I’m not the type of person to behave in such a coarse manner. And you just said ‘don’t get mad’ at you.”

His companion gave him a strange look. “Deny it. Deny it already.”

Sho sat back in his seat, knowing he couldn’t deny it at all. “You’ll tell him?” His heart was beating faster, panic setting in. “You’ll tell him that? At least let me resign my position first…”

Nino leaned forward, resting his fingers around Sho’s wrist. “Sho-san, Sho-san, relax. Relax, I’m not blackmailing you. And I’m not going to broadcast it.”

Sho was mortified, slumping in the chair a little. “It’s shameful.”

“No, it’s not. I may not be so inclined, but it’s not shameful at all. Don’t think that way,” Nino chided him quietly.

“Very easy for you to say,” Sho pointed out. He lowered his voice. “Any romantic feelings you have for another person aren’t considered immoral. Distasteful. Disgusting. If it was discovered about me, Jun would never let me near Keita again, even though I would never, could never…”

“Sho-san, you need to know something.”

He pulled his hand back, annoyed at the way the conversation was going. “Oh yes, you’re a lawyer, surely you have something to tell me to keep me from being released from my position. Some legal advice?”

“Sho-san,” Nino said quietly, “Jun was disowned for it. For being…”

“Being?”

“Must I really spell it out? I only know of it because my father had to negotiate with the boarding school. Taro-san paid them a great deal of money as compensation for their silence. He was caught with one of his classmates. At school. And when Taro-san tried to give him an out, to say that the other boy forced him against his will, Jun wouldn’t agree to it. He’s stubborn, as you surely know by now.”

Sho was frozen in place, letting Ninomiya’s words sink in. Jun was like him? Jun had the same attractions? Impossible…

“He finished school by correspondence, and even that just barely because Taro-san couldn’t stand the sight of him in his house any longer. Jun’s mother passed away giving birth to him, and the man had this coldness toward him that I always thought was unfair. And then that happened, the incident at the school, and looking back, I think it was just an excuse to finally be rid of him.”

Sho’s mother knew about him, and while she didn’t necessarily approve, she loved him just the same. His father, well, he could never tell his father the truth, but once he’d become a tutor, traveling from city to city and never settling down, his father didn’t seem too worried about Sho remaining a bachelor. Sho couldn’t imagine his parents completely disowning him for feelings he knew he couldn’t control, no matter how desperately he tried.

Another facet of Jun, sliding into place. Another secret, another mystery gone and told to Sho by Ninomiya rather than by Jun on his own terms. Barely finishing his high school education, disowned by his own father for behavior that people liked to call “indecent” or “deviant.” Sho felt for him, ached for him. That Jun’s brother must have known, however, and still maintained some contact with him had probably kept Jun from running away entirely.

Sho had a newfound respect for Matsumoto Atsushi. It explained why so many staff had been replaced after Taro-san had passed away. He’d wanted to start fresh, with people who didn’t know about his brother’s scandal. Was it self-preservation or was it a first step at reconciliation? Sho would never know, but with Jun named as Keita’s guardian, he felt it was likely the latter.

“He’s spoken about you to me,” Nino admitted gently. “Nothing serious, but when he called to say he’d be in Tokyo, he asked me to ensure you had anything you needed for Keita’s instruction. Anything you needed.”

“That doesn’t mean…”

“He only spoke to me about you. He said nothing about Keita or his doctors. Nothing about Aiba or Ohno-kun and his hedges or Haru-san and the house. He only asked me to make sure you were treated well.”

“He was in a hurry. He wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“Are you afraid of him feeling the same as you?”

Sho shook his head. “He’s my employer. He pays my wages.”

“I pay your wages,” Nino teased. “He set the amount, I ensure you get it.”

“You know what I mean,” Sho said angrily. “This isn’t a joking matter.”

“Is it so wrong for me to wish happiness for him, after everything he’s endured? Especially happiness with someone attainable? Someone within his reach who respects him, cares for him? Someone who respected and cared for him even before he found out the truth?”

Sho frowned, getting to his feet. He’d wait for Aiba outside. “I can’t care for someone who refuses to be here. Please excuse me, Ninomiya-san. It was nice to see you again.”

“Be well, Sho-san,” Nino said, bowing his head.

Sho headed outside, feeling guilty for running from the conversation. It was a lot to take in. Too much to take in. He could maintain his odd sort of status quo so long as Jun was in Tokyo, living that second and likely better life of his. The life where he didn’t have to worry about Keita or about Pinetree Manor. The life Sakurai Sho could never and would never be a part of.

But what would he do when Jun returned?

Part Four

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