[personal profile] amnosxmatsujun


Pairing: Aiba Masaki x Kusunoki Shion (OC)
Rating: R for whole series, PG-13 for Ch.5
Genre: Romance, Mystery Drama
Word count: 1,848

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



Chapter 5: Cigarette Smoke and Denial

"So, what do you want to ask me first?"

I stared back at him and took a drink of my beer. This was a characteristic of Nino I've come to tolerate. At times, his quick mind was a blessing, speaking for me when I was too uncomfortable to bring up a touchy subject. Other times, it was a curse, sparking discussions I'd much rather avoid. After arriving at the pub, I realized that Nino had invited me for drinks because he knew that I had questions. He knew I wanted an explanation. There was no denying that he was always a step ahead of me. Regarding Kusunoki, I felt this statement was both figuratively and literally true. Just what was their relationship, exactly?

"Don't look so angry," he coaxed. "You look like I just made a move on your girl."

He paused to skim my expression. I tried my best to keep my thoughts to myself, but knowing him, he probably noticed that, too. There was no hiding from him, anyway; this battle was lost before it even began. Admitting defeat made talking easy.

"I've never seen her look so genuinely happy." I didn't know where to start, but I couldn't get her smile off my mind. I supposed it was good a place as any to begin.

"It took me months to get a smile out of her," Nino reminisced. "You're not the only one."

"At first, I thought she was incapable of expressing joy. Clearly, that's not true."

"She's got a good heart. She's just not good at expressing herself."

I chuckled sarcastically. "She doesn't seem to have any trouble expressing her disapproval for my choice of neckties and how I treat women."

Nino took a swig of his beer and popped a few edamame into his mouth. He combed back his hair as he chewed his food, then tilted his gaze upward toward one of the lights.

"Do you love her?"

I nearly dropped the beer mug on the counter. "W-What?!"

He turned my way unfazed. "Bullseye?"

"Nino, she joined my company just a few months ago. She's a great asset to the business and the best secretary I've ever hired."

"Are you attracted to her?"

"Her professionalism is what attracted me."

"Does she confuse you?"

"Look, Nino, what's with all your leading ques… what?"

He took out a cigarette and lighter from his pocket, lit the tip, and, as if to expel out his frustrations, exhaled a puff of smoke towards the ceiling.

"Doesn't she make you second-guess everything you've ever known about life?"

His eyes now downcast, he sighed again and some remaining smoke in his lungs swirled out.

"...Did something happen between you and Kusunoki?"

I wasn't sure if I should ask. I'm not one to pry usually. It's just that... he looked as if he were about to cry.

Taking another puff of his cigarette, he turned his head toward me. There was not a single dust of doubt in his gaze.

"What gave me away? My shameless flirting earlier or my poor, pathetic self now?"

I chose not to answer.

Then, suddenly, he began laughing to himself. "What were you expecting, a sad love story where I get my heart broken?"

"...Actually... yeah."

"Sorry to disappoint you," he shrugged his shoulders. “We’re just good friends.”

"...Then, you two..."

"Shion-chan is like a little sister to me," he smiled and pushed the cigarette into the ashtray.

"A little sister..."

"Yeah. Big brothers can’t leave their little sisters alone, you know?"

I recalled the events from earlier that evening. I had never seen him look at a woman so endearingly. He was either lying to me, or lying to himself.

"Nino, maybe it's not my place to say this, but I think you should be more honest with your feelings."

"What are you saying? I'm plenty honest."

"Because if you hesitate, then..."

He chuckled and shot me a challenging stare. "...Then what? You'll steal her from me?"

"Why do you keep assuming that I have a thing for her?"

"Because you're assuming the same about me."

"Look, you know I'm not into this game. I don't fight friends for women. If you really do like her--and this is assuming that I have feelings for her--I'd step down."

"But if I didn't?"

I downed my beer and asked the server for another. "I don't know."

"I do."

"Huh?"

"How long have we known each other, Maa-kun?"

"...Over two decades."

He nodded. "You think I can't tell when my best friend is in love?"

"L-Love? Hey, I know you're good at reading minds but I think you're jumping to conclusions with this one."

But, he continued. "What'd you think when you saw her smile?"

What a loaded question. I could think of so many replies. But, as I went through them in my head, I had a sinking realization that every reply would be a confirmation of what I had been trying to deny, what Nino had already figured out. As usual, he was always a step ahead of me.

He crossed his arms on the counter and nodded. "Look who's not honest with his feelings."

For weeks, I tried to ignore the nagging in my brain. I had hoped that maybe with time or perhaps another rude comment from her, I'd be able to tell myself that it was all in my head. It was terrifying to admit it. But now, I was out of excuses.

"But let me warn you: she's no easy target."

"..."

"And she's not stupid."

I nodded. "That I know."

"And... remember this." Nino turned around in his chair and faced my way completely. He stared at me with intense eyes. His speech was calm, but the tone of his voice was serious and disquieting.

"If you ever hurt her, I'll hurt you."

Then, as if to disperse the tension, he giggled and continued. "But if she hurts you, I'll keep you company all night with drinks in hand, maybe even lend you a shoulder to cry on."

He was smiling but his eyes weren't. As I sat there not knowing how to respond, I felt him elbowing my arm jokingly.

"Do you think I make a good older brother?" he teased.

"What?"

"I'm being her overprotective, older brother."

After one of his friendly smiles, he downed the rest of his beer and asked the server for another. He changed the subject after that but I was still dwelling on what he had just said. Whatever their history, it was more than he chose to divulge. It was also more than I had asked for.

--

Over a month had passed since Kusunoki had joined us that evening for dinner, and the same amount of time had passed since I last saw her smile. It took Nino years to get that kind of genuine smile out of her; I wasn't expecting to see anything that spectacular. But, I was confident that I could at least get a hint of a smile from her. I tried different things, like purposefully eating chocolate cake while she was in my office, talking about Nino, telling jokes... but to no avail. Nothing was making her smile. I was starting to resent my foolish attraction to her, the cause and reason for my recently strange behavior. Perhaps it was a fluke. Maybe my eyes had fooled me. And yet, the image of her smile remained vividly in my mind, and it was starting to feel like I was in withdrawal.

"Sir, your morning coffee."

She walked in with some papers in one arm and my mug in the other. After placing the mug on a coaster, she glanced down at the stack of papers in her arm.

"These need your approval, so please look through them. Your 11:00AM meeting with Mr. Endo will be in Conference Room 6."

"Thanks." I picked up my coffee and took a sip.

When she moved her arm to place the paperwork on my desk, however, she missed and the loose papers fell all over the floor.

"I'm sorry, sir." She didn't change her expression, but quickly bent down to gather what had fallen.

"How unlike you."

"My apologies."

I placed my coffee back on the table and got out of my seat. "Let me help."

"Oh, there's no need," she declined.

"I'm your boss. I'll do what I want." I picked up the remaining papers on the floor and handed it to her.

"...Thank you, sir."

She looked my way for a brief moment. I noticed there was something different about her. Expressionless was one thing; pallid was another.

"Kusunoki, are you feeling all right?"

"Yes, sir. Sorry to worry you." She looked paler than ever and seemed to be taking shallow breaths.

"No, you're not," I objected.

"Really... I'm fi..." When she stood up quickly to deny me, her legs gave way.

"Hey! Kusunoki...!"

The papers went flying across the room once more, a sea of white surrounding us. The body I caught in my arms was so frail and light that I wasn't sure at first if there was anyone there. With both hands occupied, I was unable to call for help. So, instead, I placed her on my sofa to check if she was all right. She was breathing, so I assumed that she temporarily lost consciousness.

"Kusunoki."

She didn't stir but her breathing was regular again, and now that she was lying down, the color was returning to her face. Even though her expression hadn't changed, her sleeping face seemed softer and gentler. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't using this as an excuse to stare. I noticed how soft her skin looked, her long eyelashes, her silky hair.

Would it be a crime if I helped her get some strands out of her face...?

My hands slowly reached for them, being extra careful not to touch anything else. At least, that was the plan. Until my fingers accidentally grazed her cheek. Her skin felt like porcelain and sent a tingling sensation all the way up my arm. I moved the strands out of the way as planned, but now, I wanted more. My fingers continued their journey to her temples, then found themselves combing through her hair. It felt like water streaming between my fingers. Please wake up, I thought. Otherwise, I don't know whether I'd be able to stop.

That’s when I gazed down at the arm across her chest. I froze. There was something there I almost wished I didn't see.

Peeking from underneath her long-sleeve blouse was a heavily-bruised wrist. The blood was yellowing at the edges but the center of the bruise was still a deep, reddish-purple. This must be a recent injury. But how?

Upon careful examination, I noticed that the bruise created a certain shape. This was no accident. When my mind deduced what shape it was, my fingers couldn't help but gently caress her tiny, frail wrist.

Who would do this?
Who would crush her brittle wrists with such merciless force...?
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September 2017

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