[personal profile] amnosxmatsujun


Pairing: Aiba Masaki x Kusunoki Shion (OC)
Rating: R for whole series, PG for Ch.4
Genre: Romance, Mystery Drama
Word count: 2,533 (*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 Chapter 3


Chapter 4: The Fifth Wheel (*Ninomiya POV)

The dearest people in my life happen to be broken, lonely individuals. Do I attract those kinds of folk, or is there something about these people I just can't ignore?

Take for example, Maa-kun. There was something about him when he joined the youth baseball team. Reserved and shy, he went the whole practice without saying a word. Even when the coach introduced him as our new teammate, all he did was give a timid bow and mumble his name. After we were dismissed, I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he wanted to walk home with me.

"Sorry, I have a ride," he had said. As if on cue, a man in his mid-thirties parked his car at the entrance of the field, got out, and bowed at him.

I knew right away that we were from completely different ends of the social class spectrum. But I was curious: if he were so rich, he could have paid his way into any baseball team. Why did he choose ours, an average, "you get an A for effort" kind of team?

"...Do you want a ride?"

The new kid looked at me hesitantly, but I took it as a warm invitation. Since, he and I have been best friends and still see each other on a regular basis. He's a busy guy but if there's one thing I know about him, it's that he's always valued friendship. No doubt, his broken home has influenced his way of life. But his heart has always been in the right place. I can attest to that.

And then, there's this one.

"Hello, this is Kusunoki calling from Yamakaze Hotels. Am I speaking with Ninomiya-sama?" Her voice was professional and all business, and yet, I knew my ears weren't fooling me.

"...What?"

Silence. Then, I heard her clear her throat.

"Am I speaking with Ninomiya-sama?" she repeated.

"Shion-chan?"

After a few seconds, she let out a sigh of defeat. "There's no hiding from you, Kazu-kun." Her voice had sweetened a bit and felt smoother at the edges.

"Don't underestimate me," I joked.

"I never have."

"Besides, you're the only Kusunoki I know," I chuckled. I could hear her sighing again, this time resembling laughter.

My mind filled in the blanks. I had no idea these paths would intersect, but it made sense in an eerie way.

"Your new job was at Yamakaze Hotels?"

"Yeah."

"You never told me that."

"Sorry."

"How's Maa-kun?"

"Who...?"

"Oh, sorry. Aiba-san."

"Oh. For better or for worse, he lives up to his reputation."

"According to his reputation, his secretaries don't last," I warned playfully.

"I'm doing okay so far," she assured.

"That's good to hear."

"I knew it would be you that I'd be calling. I recognized your number right away." She paused. "I should have known this would happen eventually."

I decided to make the job easier for her and ask the question on her behalf. "Did he want to play ball?"

There was no sound on the other side, but I knew she was nodding.

"How about this Saturday?"

I heard her flipping through some papers. "Yes, that works just fine. I'll mark it in his calendar. Thanks for taking my call."

"Shion-chan?"

"Yes?"

"You okay?"

"What do you mean?"

"I'm assuming Maa-kun doesn't know anything."

"..."

I could hear her struggling for words, but her silence spoke on her behalf. Again, my mind filled in the blanks. This skill was both a blessing and a curse.

"I see."

"...Kazu-kun, I--"

"Don't worry," I stopped her. "But be careful."

She sighed, and we both understood.

"...Thank you. I'll talk to you later." And with that, she hung up the phone.

--

"Have you been practicing without me?" Maa-kun playfully accused.

"You're just getting rusty," I joked back.

It's always fun getting together with him, and I hoped he felt the same way being with me. Knowing he has a tendency to recluse, I try to get him out and about as much as I can, though I'm no social butterfly, either. Sometimes, I wonder if that's the reason why we bonded so effortlessly.

"Hey, you hungry?" Maa-kun asked as he put away his glove.

What a welcomed invitation. "Got any ideas?"

"There's this pub just on the other side of the train station. It's got private rooms so we can relax and take our time."

"All right, let's do that, then."

As we were putting our bags into the trunk of his car, his phone buzzed. He looked at the screen, held up his hand to apologize, then took the call.

"Yeah? Uh-huh... by tonight? I see. I'll be right there."

"Work?" I asked.

"Yeah, there's paperwork I need to sign by tonight. My secretary's meeting me at the office."

"Secretary? You mean, that Kusunoki girl?"

"You know her?"

"She called me to schedule this ball game, remember?" I chuckled.

"Oh, right," he smiled back. "Sorry, that's a raincheck on dinner."

But, I had a better idea. "Why don't you invite her to dinner?"

"What?"

"Yeah. That way, we can still eat, and she can get the signatures she needs." I took my cap off and ran my fingers through my hair.

He thought for a minute, then agreed that it was a good plan.

"Oh, but in that case, there's a place I want to take you," I added.

"I've never been disappointed with your selections, Nino." Maa-kun smiled. "Give me the name of the restaurant. I'll call Kusunoki and let her know to meet us there."

--

"Here?"

I nodded.

Maa-kun took a seat on a nearby wooden, picnic bench. The white paint was chipping off and it tilted toward him as it supported his weight. There were two more benches in front of a run-down shack, and the man inside had oil stains on his t-shirt.

"Smells good," Maa-kun flashed a smile.

This is what I liked about him. Knowing his upbringing, one would assume that he'd take no interest in common folk food, that he'd refuse a meal that didn't come with sets of knives and forks he had to use in proper order. But Maa-kun was just the opposite. He was never "too rich" to appreciate different cuisines.

"Did you want to order first?" I suggested.

"Let's wait for Kusunoki."

I nodded, then waved at the man inside the shack. He gave me his usual grin. Maeda-san had been in business here for the last ten years. It was one of my favorite places to eat during my student years, and after weeks of patronage, he asked me to call him "Pops" instead.

"Hey, Kazu-kun! It's been a while."

"I've missed your cooking, Pops."

"Glad to see you again. So glad, in fact, that I’ll give you the student discount!"

"You're too good to me," I replied with a joking wink.

"Hm? Are you not here with Shion-chan today?"

I turned my head and noticed that Maa-kun had stopped checking his phone to listen to our conversation. His eyes sparkled curiously at the mention of her name, but his expression told a different story.

"She'll be here soon."

After grabbing a few napkins, I joined Maa-kun at the table.

"Do you and Kusunoki know each other?"

As expected, it was the first thing he asked. But, before I could respond, I saw her familiar face heading toward us. The sunset in her long, straight hair created a golden aura around her head, her small frame accentuated by the backlighting. She was wearing a white, summer dress with tiny, floral embroidery at the hem and a tan-colored belt that further accented her thin stature. She completed the look with a light pink cardigan, ballet flats, and a rather large woven bag.

Maa-kun's eyes followed mine, as I was no longer looking at him, but at the girl standing behind him.

"Sir, I've brought the papers."

Maa-kun turned around and looked up at her without getting out of his seat. "...Ah, thanks."

I watched him interact with her for the first time. It was quite obvious to me that he wasn't used to seeing her in outfits like these. His eyes wandered about, not really knowing where to direct his gaze. To me, though, this is the Kusunoki Shion I've always known.

"Shion-chan."

Her eyes immediately shot a surprised glance, but soon after, she sighed softly and tipped her head down toward the ground. I looked over at Maa-kun, who seemed to be mumbling something to himself.

"I was telling Maa-kun we're friends from college."

"Oh, so that's how you know her,” he nodded.

"Yeah, she's my junior. We met during a seminar for a business course. Right, Shion-chan?"

She fixed her gentle eyes on me, then gave a firm nod.

"Kusunoki. Why didn't you tell me this when I told you to call him?"

In an instant, I saw her expression turn rigid and professional. "Because it had nothing to do with business, sir."

"I told her not to mention it," I butted in. It was a lie, but I didn't want Maa-kun to get any ideas.

"Is that Shion-chan I hear?" Pops yelled from inside the shack.

Her head turned toward the sound. Pops waved, and she returned the gesture.

"Your usual?" he asked.

Then, facing away from Maa-kun completely, she nodded, a bright smile on her face.

Ah. There she is.

"Let's eat, now that we're all here," I suggested.

.
.
.

"That’s your usual?" Maa-kun's said in disbelief. I chuckled at his reaction and took a bite of my food. I looked over to my right and saw her snap open her chopsticks.

Maeda-san's food stand, as you'd expect, has a name: Maeda's TakoyaKING. As one can guess, he sold takoyaki. But for me, he'd make other things, things not found on the menu. My usual was a half yakisoba, half chicken teriyaki combo plate. Her usual? Five orders of takoyaki.

"That's... two, four, six...eight times five... 40 takoyaki balls?!"

"Are you judging the way I eat again, sir?" Shion-chan's voice was cool and unaffected. It was refreshing to hear.

"Maa-kun, have some before it gets cold," I gestured across the table with my chin and pointed at his takoyaki.

From my peripheral vision, I noticed that she had taken a bite. A big bite. The whole takoyaki ball, in fact. And let me tell you, Pops' takoyaki are not small.

"How is it?" I glanced over and asked.

I'm glad I did. She put her chopsticks down, turned my way, and grabbed my arm tightly with both her hands. Then, like a burst of vivid colors, her expression changed instantaneously, from rigid and cautious to relaxed and joyful. The edges of her eyes wrinkled, the corners of her mouth curled delightfully upward, and her squeal told the rest of the story.

"Mmm!!" she smiled.

Ah. There she is again.

"You're hurting my arm," I chuckled.

"Oh, sorry!" She let go and covered her mouth. "Nothing beats Pops' takoyaki!"

"Are they as good as you remember?"

She nodded, picked up her chopsticks again, and popped another one into her mouth. I glanced over at Maa-kun. As I suspected, he was staring. At her. I couldn't blame him. Her smile is breathtaking. Clearly, he hadn't seen such an animated side of her. He almost looked dumbfounded, as if he didn't know how to react. My mind began filling in the blanks. I saw in him myself. I, too, had reacted that way in the past, when I first saw her smile. She entranced me. What I would give to see her smile like that again, I thought to myself. I knew that's exactly what he was thinking, too.

"Shion-chan, make sure you're chewing," I joked.

She pointed to her puffy cheeks and demonstrated that she was.

"Hold still."

Before she could react, I reached for the corner of her lips with my middle finger and cleaned off a bit of sauce. After getting a stunned look from her, I showed her my finger and licked it off.

"H-Hey, Kazu-kun! Stop that..."

She was flustered. That was my plan.

"That's because you keep taking huge bites," I warned playfully.

"Don't tell me how to eat!"

"Uh..." A third voice chimed in.

"Hm? Hey, how come you haven't taken a bite, Maa-kun? Are you not hungry?"

He shifted his gaze between us and searched for words.

"Is takoyaki too cheap for your liking, sir?" Shion-chan broke the silence.

"I never said that," Maa-kun replied.

"You have to try Maeda-san's takoyaki. It's simply the best," she lectured.

After much coercing, he finally took a bite of his takoyaki.

"Ow!" he huffed. "This is still hot!"

I chuckled. She watched, amused. Maa-kun's eyes lit up after a few chews.

"So good!! And look how huge the octopus pieces are!" He picked up a half-eaten takoyaki ball and showed us excitedly as if we had never seen it before.

Then, stuffing another takoyaki in her mouth, she looked across the table and smiled at him.

"I told you they're the best," she giggled softly.

In that moment, I witnessed a man falling in love. I wondered to myself: is this how foolish I looked when I first fell under her spell...? An unsettling feeling found a home in my mind, but I decided to ignore it for now.

--

"Here."

After dinner, I handed Shion-chan a plastic bag. She immediately knew what was inside.

"Kazu-kun! I can't accept this!"

"But I already bought it."

"Then, at least let me pay you back," she insisted.

"With Pops' discount, it barely cost me a thing," I reassured. "Come on, let a guy be nice to you."

She peered into the plastic bag where three more orders of takoyaki stared back at her. After several seconds, she looked back at me with warm eyes.

"Thanks, Kazu-kun..."

I nodded. "You're welcome."

"Kusunoki." Maa-kun approached her.

"Yes, sir?" Her voice had returned to her business tone.

"I'll take you home."

She shook her head immediately. "I have to take these papers back to the office."

"Then, I'll drive you there," he pushed.

"I've interrupted your time with Ninomiya-sama. Please don't worry about me."

"You're such a stubborn woman," he sighed, slightly annoyed. "I'm trying to be nice."

"I know, sir. And I'm trying to be polite."

"Maa-kun, want to stop by that pub you mentioned earlier?" I interrupted purposefully. "I feel like a beer or two."

He glanced over at me and, realizing that there was no winning this argument with her, gave me a quick nod.

"Fine. I'll see you Monday morning," he mumbled.

"Thank you for letting me join you for dinner," she bowed.

"Yeah."

"...Sir?"

"What?" he replied, annoyed.

"I was wrong."

"About what?"

"It's not half bad sharing meals with you, sir."

For a moment, her expression softened and gave way to a modest smile. Her gaze then shifted toward me before she looked down at the ground shyly and excused herself for the night.

Maa-kun turned around to watch her go. I didn't have to see him to know what was written on his face, for I'm sure my expression was singing the same tune.
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