[personal profile] amnosxmatsujun


Pairing: Aiba Masaki x Kusunoki Shion (OC)
Rating: R for whole series, PG for Ch.2
Genre: Romance, Mystery Drama
Word count: 2,390 (*Normally, each chapter is under 2,000 words)

Plot: Aiba Masaki (29) is the CEO of Yamakaze Hotels, Japan's top hotel chain. What began as a search for a secretary turns into a life-changing matter when he meets candidate Kusunoki Shion (26). As Shion challenges Aiba to question the only world he's ever known, she keeps to herself a dark secret that must remain undisclosed.

Author's Notes:
Thanks for stopping by to read my fanfic! :D I have two ongoing series: this one, and Eyes Like Honey (Sakurai Sho fanfic). I began The Beautiful Downfall with a clear concept: I wanted to write a dark, DoS Masaki. ;) From there, I jotted down a rough storyline which became The Beautiful Downfall. Each chapter is relatively and deliberately short (under 2,000 words), so they are quicker reads than my other fanfics. Although I'm not sure how many chapters will be in this series, I hope you'll stick around to the end! ❤

Prologue | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2



That night, I witnessed Kusunoki’s adaptability. At 5:00PM, just two hours before the dinner meeting, she received a call from the investor who so rudely decided to invite another chairman who was never a part of the guest list. If I had taken the call, my first instinct would have been a firm ‘no’. Luckily for that bastard, it was Kusunoki who had answered. She politely returned the call after speaking—er, convincing—me that the chairman should attend.

“This chairman has tremendous clout. No doubt his attendance will work in your favor.”

“The reservation is for four, not five.”

“That is correct, sir, which is why I will not be attending.”

“What?”

“This is an easy fix. The chairman can take my place.”

And so, as if no mishap had occurred, the dinner went smoothly, the chairman had one too many drinks and offered to invest double the amount for which I was negotiating, and the future of Yamakaze Hotels looked even brighter than before. What would have happened if I hadn’t listened to Kusunoki’s advice? It was clear she spoke in the best interest of my business, and that she was becoming an irreplaceable asset to the team.

--

"Here is your morning coffee, sir. Your 10 o'clock is on his way."

I picked up the mug from the coaster and took a sip. "What are you doing tonight at 7:00pm?"

Ever since that talk with Matsumoto in the car, I noticed that there was an itch in my brain, deep inside where I couldn't reach to relieve myself of the discomfort. I couldn't locate it or identify it. It was a bothersome tick that seemed to recur, and it made me feel uncomfortable. Only two months had gone by since hiring Kusunoki, and yet, the quality of her work had already surpassed that of all my previous secretaries combined.

"I have no plans. Is there urgent work to which I must attend?"

"Leave your schedule open, then."

"Pray you'd inform with details. If there are preparations to be done, I must know in advance." Her voice was calm as ever, her face emotionless as usual.

"I'm taking a very important client out for a meal next week."

"Hasebe-sama from DreamScene Holdings."

"Right. I've yet to taste-test the restaurant."

This was a rule I gave myself. If I am entertaining a client, I must know the restaurant like the back of my hand. Everything from lighting, ambiance, noise levels, service, and the quality of their course meals, I make sure I approve before I subject my clients to anything embarrassingly mediocre. I usually take Matsumoto or Mochida to these visits, but since she had missed out on that client dinner the other night, I thought it would be a decent way to thank her.

"Ah, I see. Why not take Matsumoto-san?"

Did she just casually decline my dinner offer? While the rest of womankind would start a war to have the chance I just gave her, this snarky woman has the audacity to turn down my invitation?

"I said, leave your schedule open. Why are you making me repeat myself? You know I hate doing that."

"That was on your own accord, sir. I heard you just fine the first time." She opened her planner and jotted something down.

My feet began to tap aloud underneath my desk, obviously impatient at her lack of respect and tact.

"You understand it is a privilege to share a meal with me."

"With all due respect, sir, having dinner with my boss at a fancy restaurant sounds stressful and unenjoyable."

My eyebrow flinched in disbelief. "Are you trying to pick a fight?”

“No, sir. I’m just being honest.” She bowed and turned around to leave.

"I didn't dismiss you." I abused my power to keep her in the office. "Be ready at 6:30pm."

She turned around, stared at me for longer than it was comfortable, then opened her mouth.

"Fine, if you're so insist."

She's making it sound as if I'm the desperate one. Usually, I wouldn’t dare give the woman a second chance.

“You’re dismissed.”

I took another sip of my coffee and scratched the back of my head.

--

At the restaurant, the server escorted us to a window seat. The twinkling lights created an outline of the city's skyline, mesmerizing those who gazed upon it. As we took our seats, I noticed that Kusunoki was no exception. She, too, had fallen victim to the breathtaking backdrop. Her eyes were fixed on the scenery outside, which had been neatly framed by the window.

"Pretty, isn't it?"

She kept her eyes fixed on the skyline, but nodded. I wasn't used to this.

"This is where the woman would usually look my way to reply, only to find that I was looking at her as I uttered those words." I leaned back in the chair and crossed my legs.

Finally facing my way, she asked, "Is that how you normally seduce women?"

"'Wait, was he referring to me?' they'll wonder. A few more generic compliments and they're dancing on the palm of my hand. Women are so easy," I mocked.

"No wonder you only attract the stupid ones." Her eyes were full of judgment and boredom.

I let out a quick, audible exhale. "I don't attract them; they're attracted to my talent, my success. They fall in love with the byproducts, not the actual person."

"How do you know that?"

"Stupid women all have the same look, the same approach. When I reject them, they run. Did they really think it would be that easy to persuade me?"

"If you don't like stupid women, then why not deter them before they even have a chance?"

The server came by with water, took our drink order, and left. Kusunoki unraveled the napkin on the table and placed it on her lap. Meanwhile, I let her question sink in. I didn't have an answer. Why didn't I take preventative measures? Did I secretly like the attention, even though I knew they were only interested in my money and fame? Did I enjoy seeing them emotionally hurt? All these questions made me feel like quite an asshole, but I didn't care to defend myself.

"Or at the very least, try attracting women who actually take interest in you?" Kusunoki continued.

"All right, Miss Smarty-Pants. How might I do that?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"Because you said you weren't like those other women."

"I'm not your woman. I'm your secretary."

"Fine. Answer the question from a secretary's perspective."

She paused briefly before she began. "First, you should never take a wise woman to restaurants like these."

"Why not?"

"Because she'll think you're stupid."

I brought my chin to rest on my fingers and gave her a look of curiosity.

"No smart man who really wanted to get to know the woman would pick such a mundane, predictable place like this."

I gave a chuckle.

"Second, don't ever use that cheesy, pick-up line with her."

"Why not?"

"Complimenting a smart woman on her looks is an insult. You're undermining her intellect."

I scratched my temple with my forefinger and chuckled again.

"Third..." She looked intently at me and sighed.

"Third?"

"Can you name any of your previous secretaries' preferences for anything?"

"What does that got to do with any of this?"

"You can't recall a single thing? How she takes her coffee, what she likes to do for fun, her favorite color?"

"Why must I, their boss, waste my time on such petty matters?" I responded irritably.

"Thank you for waiting. This is the first dish of your 6-course seafood meal." The server placed two, identical plates in front of us.

"Excuse me, sir?" Kusunoki stopped him. "I was glancing at your courses and it seems that the third dish, the seasonal fish, will be cooked with hot spices."

"That is correct, ma'am. We use imported red peppers to give the sauce a kick."

"Would it be too late to request a different seasoning for his course?" Kusunoki gestured toward me with her palm. "Perhaps something milder?"

"I'll inform the head chef right away." As our server took his leave, I looked at her, bewildered.

"How did you know I don't like spicy stuff?"

"Because I care, sir."

"But, I've never divulged that information to you."

She clasped her hands together and placed them on her lap before beginning her lecture. "If you had the choice, you'd eat chicken karaage every day. You sweat bullets pretending you enjoy spicy foods, then cleanse your palate with milk or ice water the first chance you get as you wipe the sweat off your nose and temples. You prefer Chinese for lunch, you have at least one glass of beer once you return home from work, and your favorite brand is Kirin. For dinner meetings with potential clients, you choose to wear your burgundy, checkered necktie for good luck. Your favorite pastime is a game of baseball. You take your coffee black, unless it's iced or you are extra tired. In that case, you prefer it with a bit of cream. And your favorite color is green."

After she was done, she picked up her knife and fork, and looked at me as if she were waiting for me to take the first bite. I stared at her blankly. Suddenly, I felt like a glass container, every secret, every bone in my metaphorical closet exposed for her to see. How did she know so much about me? What was scarier, how did I know so little about her?

"...What's your point?"

"It is my duty as your secretary to know your preferences. However, the same rules apply in romance. If you really loved someone, you'd care to know what that woman likes and dislikes. Moreover, it is a smart woman who knows what she wants."

Then, she picked up a rather large bite with her fork and stuffed her cheeks. She didn't change her expression, but the act was so uncharacteristic of her. It humanized her in a way, giving her different dimensions I hadn't seen before. Before I knew it, a short, hearty laugh left my lips.

"Yes?"

"The food isn't going to take off and run," I laughed at her.

"Ah," she wiped the corners of her lips with her napkin. "I see."

"Huh?"

"Should I have waited to nibble on the salad like the rest of your ex-secretaries?"

I narrowed my eyes. "What makes you think they only ate salad?"

"Your reaction."

She took another large bite of her appetizer. The Kusunoki I know is small-framed and lean. I remember her delicate wrists from when I grabbed her out of frustration, how easy it would have been to snap them in half. And yet, here she was, clearing her plate and still looking hungry. The rest of the course dishes met the same fate. While my stomach was reaching its limit, hers seemed to have finally warmed up. It was a strange sight, but more than anything, it was refreshing. Even though this dinner was for business, she seemed slightly out of her element, less like a robot and more like a human being.

For dessert, we were given three options: dark chocolate hazelnut cake, coffee crème brûlée, and tarte tatin. I chose the chocolate cake, and Kusunoki ordered the tarte. They delivered the dainty dessert with an after meal espresso.

There truly is always room for dessert. Though I was full from the meal, I took a bite of the cake and the rich chocolate coated my taste buds. It didn't take long before the depth of flavors brought a genuine smile to my face. After cleansing my palate with a sip of water, I looked up at Kusunoki and noticed that she had been watching me eat. It seemed she was so engrossed at the sight in front of her that she hadn't even picked up her fork.

"What, still hungry? Not time for dessert yet?" I joked.

She shook her head, still staring at me like she was boring a hole through my face.

"Do you like chocolate cake, sir?"

"It's my favorite kind of cake." I took another bite, but this time, with some effort. I wasn't used to such intense eyes looking at me as I ate. She still had yet to touch her tarte.

"Kusunoki."

I was going to tell her off. I was going to reprimand her rude behavior. Don't stare, I meant to growl at her.

But then, it happened.

The tension in her expression relaxed, giving way to warm, round eyes. The same gaze now seemed gentle and accepting, not judgmental and cold. Then, for an instant, there was a clouded look, as if she were uncertain. Soon after, her cheekbones rose modestly, the edges of her mouth curling upward. It was a humble, understated smile. But, it was a smile nonetheless.

"Yes, sir?"

"...Huh?"

"Did you have something to tell me?"

A tiny gasp escaped me. "Ah. Forget it, it's not important."

Without saying another word, she picked up her fork and finally took a bite of her tarte. As she chewed, she looked my way again. The smile was no longer there, but her eyes remained warm and welcoming. It felt like I was under some spell. My mind wasn't as sharp as it usually was, there was a nagging murmur in my chest, and it felt like electricity was shooting straight up my spine. It was a chemical reaction so volatile it took every ounce of effort to try to contain it within.

"The tarte is also spectacular. I'll notify the chef and ask that these two be included in our client's dessert selection."

"...Ah, good idea." My mind was elsewhere, though I didn't really know where exactly. I could hear myself responding to her but it sounded like muffled conversation from a distant location. There was restlessness within. I knew what I felt, but I didn't want to admit it to myself. It was surely not attraction, no. But I knew that I wanted to see her smile again, that I wanted to be the reason she had smiled.

In hindsight, this was the moment I lost control.
This was the unwelcome moment I must have been searching for my whole life.

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May 2017

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