A/N: Happy White Day.
Disclaimer: Not mine, to my deep regret.
Words to Watch Out For:
giri-choco: "obligation chocolate." Given to colleagues and coworkers.
honmei-choco: "true sweethearts chocolate." Given to the special someone in your life, and usually far more elaborate than giri-choco.
March 14, 2008
Takagi Tokio always, without fail, woke up inordinately happy on March 14th. Not because it was White Day (although that was part of it). No, what made March 14th, White Day, a special day for Tokio was the fact that for the past six years, she'd been getting a very special box of chocolates from a secret admirer in the office she worked in.
It was always the same box of chocolates, just the right size to eat by yourself without feeling like a glutton or feeling gypped, from a pricey confectionary in Ginza. It never arrived with a card, and always mysteriously appeared on her desk before she came in. The little box was the highlight of her day, and even though she still wondered who it could be from, that wasn't really important anymore.
This March 14th was no different from the past six she'd spent as one Saitou Hajime's secretary in one of Chūō Ward's business districts. She woke up feeling as if nothing could go wrong, and showered and dressed with care, both because it was White Day, and because Saitou-san had told her yesterday that a meeting was taking place the next day, and as she was the one who always served coffee and tea at these meetings for her boss, there was a certain look she had to cultivate.
She left home and boarded her train, and rode it with a smile on her lips, humming a cheery little pop song she'd heard on the radio not too long ago, then got off at her stop and met up with the other office ladies she worked with: Kamiya Kaoru, Sekihara Tae, Takani Megumi, and Makimachi Misao, the youngest of the group by a year. Kaoru was next, then Megumi, then Tae, and Tokio was the oldest at 28. None of them were married, though Tae and Tokio were the only single ones of the lot.
"Good morning Tokio-san!" Tae called cheerfully, waving, when she saw her.
"Good morning Tae-san," Tokio replied. "Happy White Day."
"You really look forward to today, don't you Tokio-san?" she asked, her amusement in her tone.
"If you had a secret admirer that bought you ridiculously expensive chocolates every year, you would too," Misao said with a mischievous grin.
"There's also the hope that a certain foul-tempered boss man will buy her something nice," Kaoru piped up.
Tokio's smile fell away and she sighed.
"Oh don't start this again," she said in dismay. "Leave Saitou-san alone."
"He should be buying you ridiculously expensive chocolates," Kaoru said firmly, and the other women immediately nodded. "He works you like a dog."
"It's not so bad," Tokio said lamely.
"When was the last time you went home at a decent hour?" Misao demanded.
"Saitou-san is the head of our section," Tokio protested as they entered the building. "He has a lot of work to get through. As his secretary, it's my job to help him."
"He's never thanked you for it," Megumi pointed out.
"It would be very silly of him to thank me for doing my job, don't you think?" Tokio asked dryly.
"It's his fault you only have a secret admirer to look forward to," Tae grumbled. "He doesn't give you enough time to go out some place where you might have a chance of meeting a nice man. Or try to set you up with someone."
"I think I'd be uncomfortable if Saitou-san took a personal interest in my private life," Tokio said.
"I doubt he'd be able to do it anyway," Misao said dismissively. "He's scary looking, so he'd probably be a detriment."
"He's not scary looking," Tokio said.
Upon seeing the looks on her coworkers' faces, she sighed.
"Okay, fine, he's a little scary looking."
"He's made grown men cry like babies, Tokio-san," Megumi said flatly.
"Just by looking at them," Kaoru added.
"That only happened once," Tokio protested.
"That we know of," Misao said, and the other women nodded.
"That's enough," Tokio said firmly. "Leave Saitou-san alone, all of you. He's never treated me with anything less than the utmost respect, and I don't like the way you're talking about him."
The other women looked suitably chastised, and it was quiet for a moment. Then:
"Still say he should buy you ridiculously expensive chocolates for White Day," Misao grumbled.
Kaoru loudly hushed her; Tokio ignored them.
They took the elevator to the 23rd floor, got off and made their way down the hall to their work station, Megumi, Kaoru and Misao trying to outdo each other with what they had planned that evening with their other halves. Tae and Tokio kept quiet. Tokio couldn't speak for her fellow singleton, but in her case, listening to their younger friends depressed her. She hated to admit it, but it was Saitou-san's fault she was not only not seeing someone, but remained unmarried.
But not for the reason the group thought.
The fact was, Tokio had had something of a crush on her boss since basically her first day. He was a large, rangy man, the kind you wouldn't expect to find in an office, with a deep voice and a way of giving you all his attention that was both terrifying and exciting.
Plus, he had a great butt.
And Saitou-san really had always treated her very well. She went out of her way to do little things for him in appreciation of that treatment, and she knew he was aware of that. He'd even, on occasion, made sure she was rewarded when payday came around. He'd never yelled at her (or even raised his voice to her), and no matter how much work there was, he never made her work through lunch. And if that meant going home at an unholy hour, well, she didn't mind. Saitou-san was good to her, and he had her loyalty for that, if nothing else.
The great butt didn't hurt either, mind.
Upon reaching the work station, the women were surprised to find their section manager already at his desk, jacket hung on the back of his chair, desk buried under paperwork.
"Saitou-san!" Tokio blurted, horrified and embarrassed that he'd beat her to the office; since the day she'd become his secretary, she'd always arrived an hour ahead of him so as to brew his coffee and have everything ready and in place for his arrival.
He glanced up at them, amber gaze pinning them where they stood as he watched them over the rims of his glasses. The women were frozen; Tokio felt heat and cold flash through her when her eyes briefly met and held his.
"Morning," he grunted at long last, almost grudgingly. "Big day ahead—get to work."
He then went back to his paperwork.
Megumi, Kaoru, Misao, and Tae scrambled to their desks. Tokio hurried to the coffee maker without bothering to drop her coat and purse off at her desk. As soon as a pot had brewed, she poured him a cup and immediately brought it over to him.
"Please excuse my lateness, Saitou-san," she murmured anxiously, setting his cup down on the one uncovered portion of his desk she could find and bowing. "I'm so sorry."
"I came in earlier than usual, Takagi," Saitou-san said dismissively. "There's nothing to be sorry about, and there's nothing to forgive. Thank you for my coffee. Now please get to your desk."
"Yes sir," she whispered, still quite embarrassed despite her boss' response.
She bowed again, then hurried over to her desk to begin her work.
It was while she was putting her purse away in her bottom drawer that she noticed her desk was conspicuously absent of the usual little box of chocolates that greeted her every White Day morning. She paused, surprised, and stared at her desk in confusion, coat half off.
"Something the matter, Takagi?"
She flinched and whirled around, eyes wide and cheeks flushed.
"I—n—no, Saitou-san," she stuttered.
His gaze didn't leave her, and Tokio felt herself flush worse.
"I—just—there's usually a little box of chocolates on my desk the morning of White Day, but it isn't there today, sir."
He stared at her, and she looked down at the floor, embarrassed.
"Nothing's the matter, Saitou-san," she whispered, face red.
"Hn," was all Saitou-san had to say.
Tokio quickly took her seat and began sorting through what was important and what was superfluous.
And she was still flustered and embarrassed by the morning's start, but she was disappointed and sad now, too.
No chocolates this year.
The day went on, but Tokio felt out of sorts, unable to do her tasks as smoothly as she usually did. Saitou-san didn't notice, but the women did, and when Tokio went to the lavatory around mid-morning, the group snuck in after her.
"No chocolates?" Tae asked, first to speak, looking concerned.
"No," Tokio said, shaking her head.
The women exchanged disconcerted looks.
"Weird," Misao said, brow furrowed.
"He's never missed a day," Kaoru said, gnawing on her bottom lip.
"It's just a box of chocolates," Tokio said with a shrug, feigning indifference.
Megumi and Tae exchanged knowing looks; Kaoru and Misao stared at Tokio like she'd lost her mind.
"But you look forward to them all year!" Misao exclaimed.
"Maybe he couldn't come in today," Megumi suggested quietly. "The flu's been making the rounds—maybe he caught it and had to miss work."
Tokio paused, then smiled humorlessly.
"Maybe," she said softly.
They were all silent for a moment. Then:
"We should get back," Tokio said. "Saitou-san's bound to notice we're all gone, and he wouldn't hesitate to come in here after us."
The women nodded, and they all left the lavatory with her, Tae giving her arm a squeeze as they began back towards their work station.
The meeting rolled around, and Tokio served the coffee and tea as unobtrusively as possible before settling down behind Saitou-san's chair to take notes for him, and serve those who needed more coffee or tea as she noticed them. The meeting took all of twenty minutes, and then she and Saitou-san were making their way back to the work station from the conference room.
"Takagi," Saitou-san said.
Tokio looked up; she'd hugged her notes to her chest, a flimsy bit of armor against the disappointing day.
"Yes sir?" she asked softly.
"Are you…feeling all right?"
"Yes sir," she said. "Why do you ask?"
"You seem distracted today." he said.
She flushed: so much for thinking he hadn't noticed.
"I'm sorry Saitou-san," she said. "I'll do a better job of—"
He waved it off.
"Everyone has an off day, Takagi," he said. He glanced over his shoulder at her and smirked. "In the six years you've worked for me, you haven't had one. I think you're entitled to one without having to apologize."
She watched him solemnly, then smiled a little, the tightness that had gathered in her chest upon his broaching of the subject loosening.
"Thank you Saitou-san," she murmured, bobbing her head, heart warming.
And the girls think you're a boogeyman at best, she thought.
He only nodded in return, then faced forward once more.
When they reached their work station, Tokio was feeling a little better. The disappointment was still there, but there was a nice, warm feeling now too, a feeling that settled in her chest and spread out through her. Saitou-san had these little moments, every now and then, when he did or said something that was the seeming antithesis of what he was—that is, nice. He was selective about who got to see and hear these little moments, too; Tokio was almost positive that she was the only person in the office (and possibly the entire building) who knew he had the capacity to be nice. Her boss definitely trusted her implicitly, and possibly had a soft spot for her, if that was the case.
Then again, she did make his life a great deal easier, and Saitou-san was pragmatic enough to treat her well in the expectation that it would keep her as his ever reliable secretary.
Still. She didn't linger on that thought. She much preferred to think that he valued her for more than her organizational skills.
"Takagi," he said, drawing her out of her pleasant thoughts.
"Yes sir?" she asked, coming to his side and bowing, then patiently awaiting his instructions.
"I'll be leaving for lunch. I don't anticipate being back by its end, so please take care of anything that comes up."
"Yes sir," she said with a nod.
He nodded, picked up his briefcase and began for the hall. Then he paused, as if thinking of something.
"Ah. Almost forgot," he said, turning back around and coming back to his desk.
He set his briefcase down on top of it, unclasped it and flipped it open and produced a little box of chocolates. Not a box from the expensive confectionary, but she hadn't been expecting one of those from him anyway—this was giri-choco, not honmei-choco, after all.
He set it down on his desk, looked up at her and sent her a faint smile.
"Happy White Day, Takagi," he said, then shut and picked up his briefcase and left.
She smiled at his back and quietly picked up the box and returned to her desk.
They weren't her secret admirer chocolates, but they were just as sweet.
Tokio looked up and smiled when she saw the mail clerk, Sagara Sanosuke, saunter into the work station, headed in her direction.
"Hello Sanosuke-san," she said, bobbing her head.
He grinned around his toothpick, took a hand out of his slacks pocket and produced a little heart-shaped box.
"Happy White Day," he said, and she laughed.
"Thank you Sanosuke-san," she said sincerely, accepting the box.
"Where's the Wolf?" the young man asked, sitting on the edge of her desk.
"Out," she said.
"Obviously," he said idly, without sarcasm or malice. "Lunch date?"
"I wouldn't know."
"Like hell," he said, amused. "The Wolf treats you like his personal vault."
"If you say so," she said sweetly, feeling light inside that Sano would think she was that important in Saitou-san's world.
Sano laughed, leaning over to ruffle her hair.
Sano was like that. He was boisterous and friendly, and even though Tokio was older than him, he treated her like his favorite little sister. He treated all the women like that, really, and was welcome among the office ladies because his good humor was infectious and he was well-liked.
He liked dropping in on their work station in particular, though always when Saitou-san was out or otherwise not present—the two had an adversarial relationship. It was decidedly one-sided, however, since Saitou-san didn't take Sano seriously.
Much to the younger man's aggravation.
"So," he said conversationally, leaning closer. "Heard your secret admirer fumbled the ball today."
"I suppose Megumi-san told you?" she asked, chin in hand as she watched him.
"Jou-chan," Sano corrected, referring to Kaoru; the two had been friends in high school, and had begun working in the building at the same time. In the beginning, Kaoru had been the only reason he bothered trying to get past Saitou-san (who maintained that Sano's presence encouraged laziness). Upon meeting Megumi, however…well, it had been interesting to watch the Rooster and the Fox dance around each other.
Not to mention entertaining.
Things weren't quite as raucous anymore, now that the two were together, but that didn't mean they still didn't give the office ladies hours of amusement with their antics.
"I see," she said with another sigh.
"Doin' okay?" he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Oh, it's only chocolates, you know?" she replied, shrugging lightly, careful not to dislodge his hand.
"Probably caught that bug that's been goin' around and had to call in sick," he offered kindly, and she smiled up at him and patted the hand on her shoulder.
"You're sweet, Sanosuke-san," she said. "Thank you."
He squeezed her shoulder, grin flashing a billion watts bright.
"Glad you think so—Meg says I'm a pig."
"Don't worry, I've got your back," she assured.
"What would I do without you, eh Tokio-san?" he asked jokingly.
"Your job?" came Saitou-san's dry voice from behind them, and they jumped, startled, and leapt up to face him.
"Saitou-san!" Tokio blurted, blushing—oh hells, he'd caught her slacking on the clock.
"Gods above, Saitou! You gave me a fucking heart attack!" Sano raged, clutching his chest, glaring at the older man.
"Pity it wasn't fatal," Saitou-san said, then dismissed him. "Takagi?" he prompted.
"No calls, and the notes from this morning's meeting are on your desk, waiting for you," Tokio immediately said, bowing especially low as her boss had caught her shooting the breeze on company time. "I typed up the reports you needed, and I filed the ones you had already signed off on."
"And the reports you typed?"
"Also on your desk waiting for you, sir."
"Hn. Very good. Thank you for your hard work." He finally looked back at Sano, who was still standing beside Tokio, attention going back and forth between them depending on who was speaking. "Birdhead."
Sano's head snapped back to Saitou-san.
"Why are you still here?"
Sano blinked; Saitou-san stared, expression expectant; Tokio pressed her lips together to keep from laughing.
Sano left after a few more pot shots were exchanged, and Tokio stood beside her boss, amused, and watched the young man walk off.
"You really shouldn't encourage him," Saitou-san said, looking over at her.
"Sanosuke-san's harmless, sir," she said, smiling.
"Hn—for an idiot, I suppose," Saitou-san said derisively, and Tokio allowed herself a quiet laugh.
After a moment, however, her mirth was replaced by vague shame.
"Please forgive me for not being vigilant, Saitou-san," she said, bowing.
She looked up at him; he looked equal parts exasperated and amused.
"Please stop apologizing. Even if it wasn't Birdhead's fault, I'd blame him before I blamed you. Clear?"
She blushed and nodded.
"Yes sir," she murmured, smiling a little.
"Good," he said with a nod. "Now that I'm here, let's get working, shall we?"
She bobbed her head, smile widening.
He inclined his head, then began for his desk.
"Oh, Saitou-san?" she asked, almost shyly, and he paused and looked over at her. "I…well…thank you. For the chocolates," she added.
"Ah. You're welcome," he said, looking faintly uncomfortable.
Valentine's Day and White Day were always awkward, even all these years later. They had never quite figured out how to get through the holidays without some embarrassment, though they were getting better.
Maybe in another six years, Tokio thought in amusement.
The day was finally over. It was just her and Saitou-san, as usual; the others had left only a few moments ago. It was one of those rare nights that Saitou-san—and by extension Tokio—didn't have to stay late, however, so they were actually leaving at a decent hour with everyone else.
Tokio finished packing up and gathering her things, then hurried over to Saitou-san, who was waiting for her near the hall entrance. He turned and began walking as soon as she was near, and she followed along in his wake, thoughtful. It was one of the more disappointing White Days she'd had in recent memory, but Saitou-san's understanding had made up for it, a little.
The day couldn't be called a total failure or a total success, in the end.
…she still missed her secret admirer chocolates, though.
"'Night Takagi," Saitou-san said, yanking her out of her reverie.
She looked up to find him walking to the men's room, and deflated a little—oh. She'd been hoping they could ride down together, at least.
"Goodnight Saitou-san," she said, smiling.
It didn't reach her eyes, she knew, but that was all right—he only waved in acknowledgement before disappearing into the lavatory.
Tokio sighed and trudged over to push the down button, but paused when she saw it lit. She smiled, realizing Saitou-san must have punched it when he'd walked by.
The car came fairly quickly, and Tokio boarded and rode down to the lobby in silence. Upon reaching it, she saw Sano and remembered the box of chocolates he'd given her.
"Boo," she muttered, turning right back around and pushing the up button.
She hated leaving food in her desk; it attracted bugs, and besides that she never remembered it was there until she found the inedible remains later. And she felt bad letting Sano's very thoughtful gift go to waste.
So back up to her floor she went, and to her work station…and found Saitou-san leaning over her desk.
"Saitou-san?" she asked, baffled, and he leapt around to face her as if her desk had scorched him.
"I thought I told you to go home," he said calmly.
"I forgot something," she said. "What are you doing at my desk, sir?"
"I needed to borrow your stapler. Mine's out."
"It is? I could have sworn I refilled it for you last week…."
"Perhaps you only thought you had."
Feh, not likely.
"Perhaps," she diplomatically echoed instead. "So. Er. I'll just get what I came for?"
He seemed hesitant to move away, and for a moment, she thought he was going to say no. But then he moved back, and revealed her secret admirer chocolates, sitting where they usually sat White Day morning, and Tokio stared at them, shocked, before she smiled broadly and hurried forward.
"They came!" she cried, delighted, as she picked them up and hugged them to her chest. She paused, however, when she remembered that her boss was still there.
He looked horribly uncomfortable. And when Tokio thought about the circumstances, she concluded why:
"It was you?" she asked, surprised.
His discomfort grew, noticeably, and he shifted his weight from foot to foot. Finally, he said,
"Just a token of my appreciation for all the work you do for me."
Stunned didn't quite cover it. Tokio was reeling—the chocolates pressed against her chest, the ones she so looked forward to all year long and had been so saddened not to receive today, were no ordinary chocolates. One did not just buy them for one's secretary as a token of one's appreciation—not when a much cheaper little box would have sufficed.
"But…the little box from earlier," she protested weakly.
He rolled his shoulders—it was a nervous habit, one that she'd seen only three other times before, and all of them just before he'd been especially "economical with the truth," as the saying went.
"You do enough to merit two boxes, Takagi."
She really didn't know what to say, so she bowed.
"Thank you Saitou-san," she said softly, tearing up a little—well what do you know, she really was that important to the man.
If that didn't beat all.
"It's nothing," he said gruffly, and she straightened and sent him a small smile, grateful and happy and myriad other things she was unable to name because it was really just too much trouble right now.
His expression lost some of its ill ease, and he faintly returned her smile.
"Yes sir," she said with a bob of her head and a smile, and she bowed, then turned and walked back toward the elevators and pushed the down button. He joined her soon enough, and they waited for the elevator in companionable silence, Tokio still smiling and hugging the chocolates to her chest. She had completely forgotten Sano's chocolates, though tomorrow, when Saitou-san asked her what she'd come back for, she'd remember them and save them from the usual fate of all edible things that found a home for themselves in her desk.
The elevator arrived and they boarded it and rode to the lobby without saying a word, on either side of the car, patiently watching the numbers count their descent. When they reached the lobby, it was considerably emptier than it had been when Tokio had first come down, and they walked to the doors, Tokio slightly behind Saitou-san more out of habit than anything.
"I'm sorry they were late," Saitou-san said suddenly. "I'd forgotten the date, and I didn't realize it until you told me about the chocolates this morning."
She blushed, feeling even more foolish.
"They're only chocolates," she murmured, though she tightened her hold on the box.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him smirk faintly.
"Ah. Of course they are," he said. "That was why not getting them had you so out of sorts. Completely understandable."
Her blush deepened.
"I was thrown off," she corrected. "I suppose I'd gotten used to…receiving them."
"No one in the building more deserving."
"Oh I doubt that, Saitou-san," she said with an awkward laugh.
"I don't," he said casually. "'Night Takagi," he said, lifting a hand as he headed off for the night. "Happy White Day."
"Goodnight," she said, dazed. She watched him walk off until she couldn't see him, then looked down at the box still clutched against her chest and grinned.
She stood corrected: Best. White. Day. EVER.