In what had quickly become the standard for his evenings Tadashi found himself seated not at his desk - where he could be wrapped in the comforting warmth of his bedroom - but alone at a wooden table, coursework spread out in front of him, with the chill of the late night air nipping at his ears. His attention was mostly focused on his reading but occasionally the sounds of a skateboard clattering across concrete, quickly followed by raucous laughter, would pull his gaze to the main reason he was here.
Ainosuke, of course. That was the centre of Tadashi’s attention.
All three of them had been skating at the park for several months. The first few trips still had them throwing curious glances Tadashi’s way, but when it became clear he wouldn’t be joining them, they’d quickly lost interest. A decision that had been fine with him.
It wasn’t as though he could still skate. That was an activity of the past, before he’d taken on the secretarial duties for Aiichiro. Before he’d lost most of his free time.
He’d still let his skateboard clatter against the empty pool whenever he had something on his mind but truthfully that was an anomaly. Being Aiichirou’s secretary came with a wide arrange of expectations on its own. Scrapes and bruises were out of the question; no secretary of the Shindo family should dare present themselves so unprofessionally. Any mishap, any mistake, would reflect poorly on the Shindo name. So while Ainosuke spent his nights perfecting the one hobby he still took any real joy in, Tadashi spent his time quietly sitting outside, doing whatever work either personal or professional demanded of him. Honestly, he’d have preferred to do so in the quiet of his room, but letting Ainosuke run rampant in the middle of the night wasn’t an option.
Tadashi quickly looked up from his work, only to find Joe simultaneously glaring at Ainosuke while pouting up at Cherry. His skateboard was scattered about three paces away from him. Cherry and Joe. Code-names yet the only ones Tadashi had been given and the only names Ainosuke ever used. A small part of Tadashi wondered how Ainosuke had explained his own existence to them. Had he been a friend? Was he merely staff? Would it even be possible to explain their relation to one another to outsiders?
Their relationship had strained in recent years, fractured under the weight of their different statuses, under the expectations forced upon them.The last eight months had been especially contentious: Tadashi took on his responsibility as secretary and their time together was effectively cut short. Tadashi wasn’t stupid; he knew it wasn’t the time apart that had caused the ever-growing rift between them, but the fact that Tadashi had said yes to his father at all.
As though he had a choice.
Ainosuke had never understood that Tadashi didn’t have the luxury to say no, that he was the son of a servant and by all rights lucky to have been granted the position. The offer hadn’t exactly been made based on Tadashi’s merits, he knew exactly why it had, but he also wasn’t in a position to turn it down, could he? Not if he wanted to keep an eye on Ainosuke moving forward. It had never been much of a decision. The Shindo household was full of snakes: Ainosuke wasn’t a person to them, only an object to be used. Tadashi’s only desire was to keep him safe.
When it was clear that Ainosuke hadn’t gotten caught up in the crash, Tadashi allowed his attention to return to his work; the sounds of their playful argument fading into the background. Well, almost everything. Ainosuke’s laughter was a comfort he should have stopped allowing himself years ago. In truth it was a comfort that he never wanted to give up. Approximately ten minutes of work was all he’d got done, before Ainosuke dropped down unceremoniously onto his table. His work scattered.
“They want to know if you’re ever gonna skate with us one of these times.” “You know that I don’t skate anymore, Ainosuke-sama.” He replied softly, leaning over to pick up a fallen piece of paper. “But please let them know that I am grateful for the offer.”
“I already told them you’d say no because you’re a bore these days.”
Ainsouke’s disapproval was obvious. Tadashi blinked up into Ainosuke’s expectant face, that mouth curved into a smug smirk, a clear sign that Ainosuke was itching for a fight. “I do not have the free time that you do.”
This time laughter from the other side of the park dragged both their gazes away. It was hard not to feel jealous. Joe and Cherry touched each other, free and open in a way he and Ainosuke had never been allowed, and god how he envied them. It’s not as if he’d never noticed. He’d noticed it immediately, the first time he’d been introduced, a dark night so far back he should have forgotten all about it. It was a light brush of fingertips against an elbow, a hand pressed into the small of Joe’s back, the teasing glint in Joe’s eyes as he pulled Cherry’s hair, no provocation necessary.
Joe was tactile with him in a way he never was with Ainosuke.
Cherry though? Cherry was a different story. The way Cherry looked at Ainosuke was very different from the way he’d look at Joe. It was almost sly, coy eyes turned upwards; bitten lips and red cheeks. He always thought no one was looking, but Tadashi was a difficult person to fool. Cherry looked at Ainosuke in a way that Tadashi could never allow himself in public, if he had he’s certain that it would have split him from Ainosuke’s side entirely.
It turned Tadashi’s stomach with jealousy.
“Do you ever miss when we were like that?”
Papers fluttered around him for the second time that night when Tadashi startled at the question. Of course he missed it when they were like that, missed the way Ainosuke’s smile would light up, instead of the scowl he was given these days. “It would be improper of us these days,” he hesitated a moment before adding “It was improper of us back then too.”
“It’s improper for me to stick my hand down your pants but we still do that.”
“ Ainosuke-sama .”
“They're not even close enough to hear me. You worry too much.”
Ainosuke doesn’t worry enough. “One of us has to.”
“You’re so fucking boring these days.” He leaned over and flicked Tadashi in the forehead with an exaggerated sigh. “You spend too much time around my father.”
“You’re being unfair,” he replied, rubbing his forehead. “One of these days you’re going to have to remember that I’m not like you, I don’t get to say no to things. What do you think would have happened if I’d told Aiichiro-sama no?”
“Why are you always so dramatic about this, I keep telling you things will be f-”
“You’re wrong .”
Tadashi couldn’t tell if Ainosuke was willfully ignorant of his fathers growing impatience or if he honestly didn’t realize it. That didn’t mean Tadashi was ignorant to it. Ainosuke was running out of time: his father was capable of far more drastic measures than monopolizing the time of Ainosuke’s only known friend. It wasn’t a matter of if anymore, but when. Tadashi could only hope he could soften the blow somehow when the time came
At Ainosuke’s silence, Tadashi watched him quietly for a few more seconds before letting his gaze wander back over to the other two teenagers. It was impossible to miss the way that Cherry’s gaze quickly cut away from them to refocus on Joe.
“He likes you, you know?” He frowned at his work, annoyed with himself for even mentioning it.
How was it possible for one word to sound so impossibly smug? Tadashi didn’t doubt for a single second that Ainosuke had long been aware of Cherry’s feelings.
It makes it worse that he mentioned it at all.
“Nevermind, it’s not my place to comment on it.”
He expected another smug response but what he got back instead was silence. It forced Tadashi to look up from his work, cheeks flushed red, to find Ainosuke watching him.
“Maybe I’ll start flirting back with him then.”
The pencil in Tadashi’s hands snapped, but he forced himself not to comment. Ainosuke liking someone else would be best for him, it would make Aiichiro less suspicious of them. “Whatever makes you happy, Ainosuke-sama.”
“A blowjob probably.” Always quick to change his demeanor; flirtatious to downright cruel. It gave Tadashi whiplash. It was all he could do just to gape at him, shocked even though the change in demeanor shouldn’t surprise him. “You should see your face right now.”
“Go back to your friends and let me finish my work.”
“Are you going to keep watching me with big puppy dog eyes if I do?”
Tadashi swatted his hand away when Ainosuke tried to snatch the broken pencil away from him. “You’re wasting what little time you have left”
Ainosuke shrugged at him. “I didn’t realize talking to you was a waste.”
“You can talk to me anytime you want, you’re meant to be skating with your friends and I am meant to be doing my schoolwork.”
“Can I?” Tadashi kept his eyes on his paper this time but that just seemed to egg Ainosuke on. “I hardly even see you at the house these days, unless you count the times you're trotting after my father like a good boy.”
He couldn’t possibly keep up with the ferocity of Ainosuke’s mood swings.
“If you have something to say it would be easier for both of us if you would just say it plainly. I’m tired of having the same vague argument constantly.”
Had they even really stopped having this argument? It felt like it hovered on the edge of every conversation they were having these days.
As expected Ainosuke didn’t respond, didn't voice what Tadashi already knew: that his feelings were hurt. This was the way every single one of these conversations was likely to go, easier for Ainosuke to focus his irritation on Tadashi rather than his family. Tadashi prefered it this way; Aiichiro and the aunts are not nearly as forgiving as he is.
“Ainosuke-sama I didn't pi-”
“Adam, dude are you done dicking around or what?”
Ainosuke made a dismissive sound before pushing off the table and didn't bother to acknowledge Tadashi further. “If I was dicking around I’d have been with Cherry, not the help.”
Tadashi only just managed not to flinch at the words, but Cherry wasn’t as lucky. The blush spread evidently on his cheeks, provoked by the teasing. Then, Tadashi was once again left on his own; the trio forgot about him just as easily as they remembered him, arguing amongst themselves as they headed back towards the bowl. The rest of his night at the park was miserable. He spent none of his time on his work and put his remaining energy into watching Ainosuke hover around Cherry, touchy in a way that left Joe frowning and Tadashi sulking.
This was supposed to be what he wanted, what was best for Ainosuke moving forward, but all it did was make Tadashi feel like he’d been punched in the chest repeatedly. It left him feeling bitter and jealous that he can't be that way with Ainosuke, that they weren’t allowed to be that way in public, and at the same time it left him angry that Ainosuke could so easily allow himself to be like that with someone else. That he could make it seem like the act of forgetting Tadashi was so effortless for him. That dark mood remained with Tadashi well into their return from the park, one he allowed to fester rather than try and smooth over like he usually would.
It was an unfortunate move, too. He didn’t understand which ramifications it would carry come morning. After all, how could he have known that tomorrow’s events would irrevocably damage their relationship? Maybe if he hadn’t been so upset he’d have noticed the movement in Aiichiro’s window as they returned. Maybe if he’d been more observant he could have been prepared, could have avoided what was coming their way. If he hadn’t been so wrapped up in his own misery he could have protected Ainosuke instead of failing him.
It was something he’d never forgive himself for.