I don't own Sekaiichi Hatsukoi, Nakamura Shungiku does. This is my attempt at writing a fluff story. This is a lemon fanfic, so if you don't like this then I suggest closing out of this window, lol. This is a Ritsu POV, and there's potential for OOCness. I hope you don't mind.

Make It Easier

…I was exhausted. It wasn't anything new, but the unpleasantness that accompanied the exhaustion made everything seem worse.

I sighed shortly, my eyes shielded by my arm draped over them. I was sprawled on my back on my couch. I had Mutou-sensei's storyboards I still needed to edit. Takano-san was going to be pissed if I came in tomorrow with nothing.

But…but I couldn't help it. My mind refused to focus.

My cell phone was on the coffee table. I picked it up and began to dial. I lost track of how many times I dialed this number. I didn't really expect an answer, because it was close to two in the morning.

So I was mildly surprised to have someone pick up. "…Hello?"

"Nanjou-san," I said. It was my father's personal secretary. "Have there been any updates?"

"Ah, Ritsu-san." There was a slight hitch of apprehension in Nanjou's voice. "She is still under sedation, but the doctors have told us that once she wakes up she should be fine."

"T-That's great." My tone was calm, but my insides were twisted up. This bit of news helped somewhat to ease the tension in me. "How…How is Otou-san? Is my dad okay?"

"Onodera-kaichou of course has stayed by her side. It is his wife, after all. However…" Nanjou suddenly sounded uncomfortable. "He wants you to abide to the doctor's orders."

My hand clenched hard around my phone. "To not come and see Okaa-san?"

"Yes. After what happened today, he's fearful of her health. Until the doctor lifts the ban, he wants you to stay away from the hospital."

…Of course it would be like this. Why was I expecting anything different?

"I understand," I said reluctantly. "Can you pass along a message to him?"

"Absolutely."

"Tell him I'm sorry for what happened today. I don't know what came over me, and I didn't mean to make things worse."

There was a long, uncomfortable pause on the other line before Nanjou spoke. "I will pass along the message to him, Ritsu-san. Good night."

"Good night." I hung up the phone, but I could feel the burning in my throat. I squeezed my eyes shut and took a few deep breaths. I was a mess, and yet I'd been able to hold everything in. But I felt so awful…and for the first time, I truly felt alone.

"Why…" I mumbled aloud. I could feel moisture behind my eyes. "Why did this happen?"


Thirteen hours ago…

The Emerald Department was in chaos. We were in the cusp of our Hell Week, where things either made a turn for the better, or a turn for the worse.

"T-Thank you for sending me your storyboards, Mutou-sensei," I said into the phone. "I'm going to finish up the edits today and fax them back to you."

"Thank you, Onodera-san," Mutou responded. "I'll try to have my latest chapter done by the deadline in two days."

"Don't worry about that. If problems arise I'll deal with the printers."

I hung up the phone and stacked up the storyboards. She sent me the remaining six that need to be edited. I could easily do all of them by the end of the day. "Now then—"

My cell phone suddenly went off on top of my desk, vibrating slightly as the generic ringtone filled the room. I immediately ducked as Takano threw a stapler at me. "BAKA! What have I told you about cell phone usage during work hours?"

"I-I'm sorry," I gritted out, snatching up my phone to check the caller-I.D. There weren't a lot of people who would call me during work hours, so I felt that the call may be important.

When I saw who was listed, I was startled for a moment. Then I quickly flipped the phone open. "Hai, Nanjou-san?"

"ONODERA!" Takano hollered, slamming his hand onto his desk as he stood up. "You have deadlines coming up! You don't have time to be socializing!"

"Please, just give me a minute!" I demanded. I didn't wait for his response and jumped up from my seat and took off running. My father's secretary hadn't called me personally in a long time, so I knew that he had something important to tell me. I rushed into the men's room. "I'm sorry Nanjou-san, what were you saying?"

"I'm sorry to disturb you at work," Nanjou began. "However, we've received word that something serious has happened."

I froze where I stood, feeling a cold knot of fear inside me. "W-What happened?"

"Your mother seems to have suffered a fall."

I almost dropped the cell phone in shock. "An f-f-fall? What sort of fall?"

"One of the servants found her unconscious at the bottom of the stairs. No one heard her fall down them, but…"

"She FELL DOWN THE STAIRS?" I screamed. I wrung my free hand through my hair. "Is she okay? Is she conscious?"

"We haven't seen her personally, and she was rushed to the hospital. Onodera-kaichou is on his way there, but he wanted you to know about it. He didn't want you to worry though—"

"Which hospital was she taken to?" I interrupted, leaving the bathroom to run back to my department. "I'll meet you guys there!"

"That's not necessary, Ritsu-san, you're at work—"

"I'll meet you there!" I insisted sharply. "Now which hospital was it? Please tell me!"

"…All right," Nanjou said reluctantly. "She was taken to Tokyo University Hospital."

"Tokyo University Hospital…got it! I'll see you guys soon!" I hung up the phone and picked up the pace. I heard someone shout to me to not run, but I ignored them.

Mom fell…I felt so sick on the inside. All I ever seemed to do lately was argue with her. What if she was seriously injured? What if she had brain-damaged or was paralyzed, or…

No, stop it! Stop thinking like this! Just get there quickly and support her!

Takano was glaring at me as I ran back into the Emerald Department. "You certainly took your ti—"

"Please excuse me, but I must go!" I cut in, hurrying back to my desk to pack up.

"Go?" Kisa echoed, looking up from his storyboards with concern. "But it's still the early afternoon, Ricchan."

"I-I know, but I have an emergency! I'm very sorry, but I must leave!" I looked up at Takano pleadingly as I shoved Mutou-sensei's storyboards into my bag. "Is it all right, Takano-san?"

Takano stared back at me with a harsh look. "You promised your artist you would have her storyboards done today. How will it look to her if you send her nothing, Onodera?"

I'd forgotten about Mutou-sensei in the chaos of this news about my mother. Guilt swamped my conscious, but then ugly images floated around in my mind. Of my mother in a broken heap at the bottom of the stairs, blood everywhere—

Just STOP IT and get to her! Make sure she's all right!

"I'll send her the storyboards later on tonight," I said finally, finishing packing my stuff. "But I really must leave now, Takano-san!"

"What's your emergency?" Takano asked, folding his arms over his chest. "Does it have to do with that phone call?"

"It's a family emergency," I explained briefly. I didn't know if I could put my full worry into words.

"What sort of emergency?" Takano repeated harshly. Why was he so insistent on knowing everything?

"A family emergency!" I finally snapped. I slammed my fist against my desk, startling Kisa. "I really must go, Takano-san!"

My outburst caught the attention of the entire department, and I felt self-conscious by the sudden silence. The only sounds I could hear were the beeping of telephones, fax machines, and conversation in the other departments.

Takano stared back at me with an unreadable expression. His mouth had formed a thin line. He looked angry, and I couldn't really blame him as I was leaving in the middle of a workday. But couldn't he understand the severity of my situation?

Finally, he scoffed and waved a hand. "Fine, get out of here and attend to your emergency."

"A-Arigato—" I said gratefully.

"But call your artist," he cut in. "And let her know that you're not going to be on time today!"

I was taken aback by this proclamation and I tried to explain myself. "I-I'm sure that I—"

"If this is really an emergency, then chances are you aren't going to have anything done today. So call her and tell her you'll be running late!"

I was humiliated to be dressed down like this in front of everyone. I wanted to scream at him about how dire my situation was, and how my mother had been seriously injured. But I bit my tongue and held my words at bay. "…I understand."

"Take care now, Ricchan," Kisa said to me, forcing a smile. "Give us an update later, okay?"

I was only able to smile painfully at him. "I'll try."


I called Mutou and let her know about my delay. I didn't tell her about my family situation because I didn't want to worry her, and I didn't want to put this crisis into words. Mutou was very understanding, but I didn't miss the disappointment in her voice. She'd sounded eager to finish her latest chapter on time and now, because of me, this might not happen.

In between the trains and getting lost, it took me over an hour to reach Tokyo University Hospital. I'd never been to the hospital before, and to make matters worse a train station attendant told me the wrong stop to get off on. After more mishaps I simply cursed everything and called a cab. Though it ended up costing me 5,000 yen.

But my irritation was flared by my worry. I hadn't received any further phone calls from Nanjou, and when I tried to call him nobody picked up. I didn't want to think that they were avoiding me because the situation had taken a drastic turn, but I didn't know anything. I couldn't help but think the worst.

Okaa-san…while I was in the cab, I said a silent prayer. If you make it through this, I swear I won't do anything to trouble you again. I can't go along with everything you want me to, but I won't be as argumentative as I've been. Please be all right…

I tried to edit Mutou's storyboards in between waiting for trains and in the cab, but I couldn't focus. My stomach was hurting so terribly and I thought I would be sick. I just wanted to see my mother…I wanted her to be all right.

I reached the hospital and paid for my cab. To my immense relief, I saw Nanjou in the lobby. "Nanjou-san!" I waved to him.

"Ritsu-san," Nanjou greeted me as he hurried over. His expression was neutral, and he didn't look worried about anything. It was reassuring, but I knew that anything could be going on. "We've been waiting for you."

"Okaa-san…" I grabbed his sleeve. "Is she okay? Did she regain consciousness?"

"Ah…" Nanjou winced very slightly. "About that…"

Five minutes later, I was gaping at my father and then at the doctor. "She only fainted?"

"Mild fatigue," the doctor clarified. "She had mentioned she'd been having hot flashes recently, and since today the weather is warmer than it usually is, her body went into overload."

"B-But…" I wrung a hand through my hair slightly. "They found her at the bottom of the stairs! Right at the bottom!"

"She was able to make it down the stairs just fine," Dad assured me. "She felt dizzy as she was walking down, yes. But she held onto the rail as she went down, but being on the ground floor didn't steady her in any way and that's when she fainted."

…That was it? Mom didn't fall down the stairs, but just fainted at the bottom? The servants just overreacted? I almost fainted myself from the relief of this knowledge. She's okay. She's okay…

At the same time though, I quickly felt terrible about the attitude I'd given Takano over this. It seemed foolish to act like that, and then for everything to be okay in the end. I-I'll apologize to him later…

"Because of her age," the doctor continued. "We would like to keep her overnight for observation. But she's awake now, and eager to see visitors."

Dad smiled and took my arm. "Then, let's go see her."

I nodded eagerly. "Right."

Mom was propped up against the pillows, and she smiled at us when we came in. Her complexion was very pale, but she seemed energetic. "Ritsu! I'm so sorry you rushed out of work like this over nothing!"

"Don't worry about it," I said, kissing her on the cheek. "I'm just relieved that you aren't seriously injured."

"I just need to take better care of myself, is all." Mom smiled at me before she focused on Dad. "And you had a big meeting today, right? I'm so sorry…"

"There will be other chances," Dad said. "What matters most to me is my family, and the well-being of my family."

I took a seat at the bed, watching my parents speak to each other quietly. In times like these I felt that I was really inconveniencing them. Dad had so many prospects for me in Onodera Publishing, but I quit and moved on to Marukawa Publishing to prove myself. And Mom…she was constantly interfering with my personal life, but I knew she just wanted me to be happy.

"I have to go and make a business phone call," Dad said, smiling at us. "But I'll be right back."

"Take your time," Mom said. She started craning her neck towards the door.

Dad walked out of the room to meet with Nanjou outside, leaving me alone with Mom. I knew it was the perfect time to make everything okay between us. "Okaa-san—"

"So how are things going?" Mom interjected, still looking towards the door.

I was startled, but also relieved. She wanted to break the ice, too. I laughed a little and rubbed a hand through my hair. "Things are going fine. I'm still giving it my all at work, and now I have three artists I supervise. Takano-san allowed me to take charge of a recent issue, and though it was stressful for me I was able to pull it off."

I looked up as I finished speaking. Mom was looking at me now, and…all of a sudden I felt a cold chill. Because Mom didn't look happy to hear this. She looked irritated.

"Don't be coy with me, Ritsu," she said sharply. "You know what I mean!"

I blinked very slowly. "…What?"

"An-chan!" Mom said in frustration. "I want to know how things are going with An-chan!"

A lump formed in my throat, and for a long moment all I could do was stare at her. I thought things could finally be pleasant between us, but…

"Okaa-san," I said slowly, trying to swallow the lump. "Nothing is going on. I broke off the omiai with her, remember?"

"I'm surprised she's not here," Mom said, as though I hadn't spoken. "I was expecting her to have arrived with you. Didn't you pick her up on the way here, Ritsu?"

"Okaa-san, I rushed here from work," I said defensively. "Besides, why would I pick her up?"

"Because she's your fiancée, that's why!"

I couldn't form words for a long moment. My mouth opened and closed as I gaped at her. She was really going to go on about this NOW? When I was so worried about her that I ran out of work midday to check up on her? When all I wanted to do was spend time with her?

"Okaa-san," I repeated my tone a little firmer. "An-chan and I are no longer engaged. I've told you this numerous times, and I've told An-chan—"

"Why don't you want to marry her?" Mom demanded, not bothering to hide the frustration in her voice. "Why can't you make this commitment?"

"I don't love her!" I insisted, trying to keep my anger in check. "And I never made the commitment! Otou-san and you did!"

"An-chan loves you and is a good girl! She's respectable and comes from a good family!" Mom shook her head. "After what you did to her in Odaiba, you owe it to her to be nice to her!"

"Wait a minute!" I snapped, raising a hand. It was getting harder for me to keep my anger in check. "Wait-a-minute, Okaa-san! You're the one who told An-chan to meet me in Odaiba for a date! Even though I told you I was only there for work! I-I mean, why do you think I don't ever tell you my schedule anymore?"

Odaiba had been a humiliating experience. I'd arranged an autograph session for Kaitou-sensei right across from Odaiba's indoor amusement park. Takano had been there, and so had many executives from Marukawa Publishing. When An-chan showed up, expecting us to have a 'date'—thanks to Mom—and seeing I was in the middle of work, she grew hysterical and couldn't stop crying. Takano didn't stop glaring at me for the rest of the session.

I'd broken off my engagement to An-chan numerous times, but Mom certainly worked hard to undermine it and convince An-chan we were still going to get married!

"I don't understand you!" Mom's voice was rising as her frustration mounted. "An-chan is a family friend! She has a good constitution and would never be unfaithful to you! This omiai is very important to your family and hers! So why must you insist on being stubborn? Oh…" she swayed slightly in the bed and pressed a hand to her head. "This whole thing has put me under a lot of stress, Ritsu! Why can't you be pleasant to An-chan just once? Look at the state I'm in! It would really help me to see the two of you at my bedside!"

I gaped at her, and a cold feeling passed over me. It…It almost sounded like she was using her fatigue to guilt-trip me! She was using her condition to try and force An-chan and me to be together!

"You've had this omiai for years, Ritsu!" she snapped suddenly, glaring at me from behind her hand. "And only NOW you want to break it off? How selfish can you be?"

"I NEVER wanted it!" I shouted. I jumped out of my seat, knocking the chair backwards. Mom gaped at me as my anger sizzled out of control. All I'd wanted was to have a pleasant time with her! But now she was blaming me for her fatigue and trying to guilt me into accepting my engagement to An-chan! "I've never wanted to marry An-chan! YOU forced this on me when I was in middle school!"

"WHY?" Mom yelled back at me. "Why can't you marry her? What's so foul and wrong with An-chan that you reject her?"

"I DON'T LOVE HER! I've never loved her! She's just a childhood friend of mine, nothing more!"

"But—"

"No!" I cut her off, my anger rising with my voice. "You're going to listen to me once and for all, Okaa-san! I won't marry An-chan! I don't have any romantic feelings for her! Our marriage would only satisfy YOUR NEEDS! I'd be spending the rest of my life miserable because I'd be married to a woman I don't love! No matter what you say, we would never be able to make each other happy! If I'm EVER going to get married, it's going to be to somebody I DO LOVE!"

It was Mom's turn to gape at me. Her face was growing pale, but I didn't notice.

"I'm going to call An-chan one last time, and tell her the omiai is off!" I continued, glaring at her. "And I'll tell you this as many times as I need to! I. Won't. Marry. Her! Stop interfering with my personal life and actually take my feelings into consideration! I'm not going to marry a girl just because YOU TELL ME TO!"

Mom suddenly pitched forward. A strangled noise came from her throat, and she clutched at her chest. "Guh…huuuuuk…"

"O-Okaa-san!" my anger died and I grabbed her. "Okaa-san, are you all right?"

The doctors rushed into the room. "Clear out!" he shouted.

Nanjou entered the room and dragged me out of the room. My mind and body were numb. What was going on? What was wrong with her?

Dad was there to greet me in the hallway, and he didn't look happy. "What was that?" he snapped at me. "Why were you screaming at your mother?"

"I…uh…" I couldn't form proper words. "I-I didn't—"

"I thought better of you, Ritsu!" Dad yelled at me. "You, a grown man yelling at your invalid mother! Can't you see that stress drove her to this? And yet you put MORE stress on her? How could you be so thoughtless?"

"I…I…" I didn't know what to say. I was speechless. What the hell was I thinking? How could I yell at my mother when she was lying in a hospital bed?

But I was so frustrated! All she ever talks about is marrying me off to An-chan! And no matter how many times I tell her I can't do it, she doesn't get it!

But that didn't matter. Mom had fainted because of fatigue. Maybe were worries were misplaced, but I had no business making things worse for her. There was nothing I could say to defend myself against Dad. I walked over to the wall and pressed my back into it. I slid to the floor and held my hands in front of my face.

A few minutes later, the doctor emerged. "She had a mild episode, nothing more. We had to sedate her in order to calm her down, but she's going to be fine."

"T-Thank goodness," Dad stammered, holding a hand to his head. "When she held her hand to her chest, I-I thought…"

So Mom was still okay. That didn't really make me feel any better.

The doctor then glared at me. "Her condition deteriorated because of your violent outburst towards her. I allowed you in to see her because you are her son and I would expect you to be encouraging of her health."

"I-I-I'm sorry—" I stammered.

The doctor pointed to me. "Get off this ward this instant! I'm hereby barring you from coming here until further notice!"

"B-Barring?" I shouted, jumping to my feet. "I can't see Okaa-san? Wait a minute—"

"Her condition now," the doctor interrupted. "Is your fault."

I froze, and my protests died in my throat. My fault…and I knew it was true. Mom was worrying over something so ridiculous, but I did stress her out with my screaming. Even though it was something she needed to hear, I shouldn't have said it.

I swallowed, and slowly nodded. "…All right, I understand. I won't come here anymore until you tell me it's okay." I bowed to the doctor. "Arigato, for taking care of her."

He said nothing to me. I walked over to Dad and forced a smile. "I'm going home now, but I'll keep in touch."

"Nanjou can give you a ride back to your apartment," Dad said. His voice wasn't so hard anymore, but his expression didn't soften.

I shook my head and forced a smile. "T-That's okay. I'll just take a cab back home."

"Nanjou, please give Ritsu your private cell number," Dad said. "I may or may not be here tonight, but Nanjou will give you any necessary updates. You already have his work number, right Ritsu? With this you'll be able to contact him easier."

"Arigato." I turned to Nanjou, who was pulling out his cell phone. "I'll call you periodically throughout the day to see how she's doing."

"Okay," Nanjou said. "And I'll do as Onodera-kaichou asks and keep you updated."

I left the hospital armed with Nanjou's contact information, but a terrible aching pain in my stomach that only rivaled the pain in my heart.


Present

I pressed a hand over my stomach, willing the pain to go away. It didn't seem like all of this had happened in the same day, but it did. The burning sensation reappeared in my eyes, tears threatening to spill out. But I swallowed hard, and concentrated my energy on driving the tears away. I couldn't cry. I didn't want to cry.

I sat up, and collected Mutou-sensei's storyboards. For the thousandth time that day I tried to focus on editing them. But I couldn't find the energy or willpower to do it. I dropped them back onto my coffee table and flopped onto my back on the couch once more. "It's no use…"

I hugged my cell phone to my chest, wanting…no, needing to talk to someone. But who could I talk to about something so personal?

I raised my head, and looked at the wall behind my couch. On the other side of that wall rested Takano's apartment. Maybe I could…

No. I shook my head furiously. He's probably trying very hard to finish his edits. I can't distract him with my personal problems. He'll probably just scold me because of it. Besides, if I go over there at this hour, he'd try to get me to sleep with him.

An unpleasant shiver crept over me. But what made it unpleasant wasn't that the thought of sleeping with Takano disgusted me…it was because I was growing to desire it more and more. If I went over there, especially with how upset I was, I wouldn't be able to refuse him if he offered.

Whatever. I climbed off the couch. I don't need to go over there.

Five minutes later, I was wearing a coat over my work clothes—I hadn't even changed yet—and standing in front of Takano's door. My storyboards were tucked into a bag slung over my shoulder. Even if my body was full of anticipation, I couldn't help but dread what may happen once I went inside.

I'll ring the doorbell once, I told myself. I'll ring it once and wait a couple of seconds. If he doesn't come to the door, I'll go back to my place.

I rang the doorbell, and quietly waited. Ten seconds went by, and then twenty and Takano didn't come to the door. I sighed to myself and nodded. Well, I tried. I'll just go back—

The door swung open. I screamed and jumped back. Takano was glaring at me over his glasses, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. "What do you want, Onodera?"

"A-Ah, how did you know it was me?" I sputtered.

Takano arched an eyebrow. "Who the hell else would ring my doorbell at two in the morning?"

"R-Right." I quickly raised my bag. "I w-would like your input on my edits, please!"

It was a lie. I wanted someone to talk to about this horrible mess that was my day. But I was too embarrassed to admit it out loud.

Takano stared at me for a long moment. He looked irritated with me and I took a step back. "O-Or maybe no—"

"Come in." Takano pushed open his door and stepped aside so I could enter. I entered his apartment quickly, and kicked off my shoes. "Did you call Mutou-sensei to tell her about your delay?"

"Y-Yes," I said, hurrying into the main room. "I called her before I reached the hospital."

"Hospital?"

I was startled at the shocked tone in Takano's voice, but then I realized I never actually told him what my family emergency was. Even though it ended up being a false alarm.

"I have her storyboards," I said without answering his question, sitting down in front of his table. "B-But I think I'm missing the mark on something. Can you look at them for me, please?" I held them out to him.

Takano stared at the storyboards for a long moment, and then stared at me. He scoffed. "Fine." He took them from me and sat down at the couch.

I sat there and watched him go over my storyboards, waiting to see what he would say. Although, I had a sinking feeling…

"Hardly any of these are edited," Takano said sharply, tossing them onto the table. "Do you expect me to do your work for you Onodera?"

"No!" I snapped, though I couldn't help but feel guilty. "I-I'm just having a hard time with these and I was hoping you could assist me."

Takano took a long drag off his cigarette and blew out a long stream of smoke. "Why did you need to go to the hospital today?"

I stiffened, and I could feel heat on my cheeks. "I-I-It's personal…"

Wait, what was I saying? I'd knowingly came to Takano, not for help with my edits but because I needed someone to talk to!

"I'm your boss," Takano said flatly, leaning his chin into his hand. "And when you leave your job midday with nothing done, your personal problem becomes my problem."

I gulped, and looked away. "It…It turned out to be nothing serious, so I'm sorry."

Takano put out his cigarette, and tapped the couch seat beside him. "Come here."

"EH?" I shouted, scooting away.

"Get up on the couch, Onodera," Takano said sharply. "And tell me what's going on."

"Why?" I sputtered out.

"Because that's why you rang my doorbell in the middle of the night, right? Not because of your half-assed work but because of these so-called personal issues, right?"

I gritted my teeth, feeling angry again. "Takano-san—"

"Ritsu." Takano's tone became softer, and my heart unexpectedly lurched. "I know you came here to talk to me. So talk to me."

I sat there on the floor for a long moment. Then…my body moved on its own. I stood up and stumbled over to the couch. I took a seat next to him, but I scooted far away. "What do you want to know?" I mumbled.

"Why did you leave work early to go to the hospital?" Takano asked, his tone surprisingly calm. His chin was still leaning into his palm. "Who called you today?"

"Nanjou-san," I said before I could help myself. "H-He's the personal secretary of my father."

"Was there something wrong with your dad?"

"N-No…it was Okaa-san." The lump reappeared in my throat unexpectedly. "N-Nanjou-san called me from his work…and he didn't know all the details, but he basically told me she fell down a flight of stairs at my parent's house."

Takano's eyes widened. Then, they narrowed at me. "Why didn't you tell me this?"

I blinked. "Eh?"

"Don't 'eh' me! If you think one of your parents is dead or something, I would think you would at least CLUE me in on it!" Takano scrubbed a hand over his face in frustration. "All you kept saying was 'family emergency', 'family emergency', but you NEVER told me what it was!"

"I-It's fine," I said, raising my hands. "It turned out to be a false alarm—"

"But you didn't know that at the office!" Takano barked at me. I couldn't help but wince. "Next time, tell me what's going on! I have a RIGHT to know, Ritsu!"

I stilled. Wait a minute…was this what made Takano most angry? Not that I skipped out on work or haven't done my storyboards, but that I didn't tell him what was going on with Mom?

Well, I was certain he was angry about those, but he seemed more offended that I kept him out of the loop.

"I'm sorry," I said sincerely, lowering my hands. "I'm sorry I didn't say anything. B-But I was panicking, and…and I didn't know how seriously injured she was."

Takano relaxed very slightly, but he looked irritated. "Go on. You said it was a false alarm?"

"Yes. She didn't actually fall down the stairs but fainted at the bottom. But nobody saw her faint; a servant found her like that and jumped to conclusions."

"That's not exactly far-fetched," Takano said, lighting up a new cigarette. "So she's okay?"

"…Somewhat," I said painfully. "She was sedated, but she's not as bad as anyone initially thought."

Takano blew out more smoke and looked at me. "Then why are you so upset? She only had fatigued, or menopause—"

"Don't talk about her like that!" I snapped.

Takano shrugged. "So, why do you look miserable? This is good news, right? Did something else happen?"

I looked away from him. This was the big thing. I knew once I told him he would either react with pride that I stood up to her, or get angry that something so trivial was weighing me down. My eyes started to hurt, and I blinked repeatedly to prevent tears from forming.

"I went in to see her," I began, looking down at my hands. "Things have been so poor between us that I wanted to take that opportunity to mend fences. But…" I trailed off.

"But?" Takano asked after a long moment.

"…She wouldn't stop talking about An-chan."

Takano stiffened beside me. He knew that An-chan was my fiancée, and my omiai was one of the reasons he had a breakdown a few years ago. "So what happened?" Takano asked slowly.

"We got into an argument."

I wasn't looking at Takano's face, but I could tell by his body language he was surprised. "Really?"

I nodded stiffly. "She didn't ask me how I was doing personally, just wondering how things were going with An-chan. I don't know how many times I've told her that I broke off the engagement, but I felt like I was arguing with a brick wall. She wasn't really listening to anything I was saying." I snorted painfully. "She even had the nerve to bring up Odaiba and make it seem like it was my fault."

I glanced at Takano. His face twisted up briefly at the mention of Odaiba, and I knew the incident wasn't a pleasant memory for him, either. Gradually, his features relaxed. "So what happened?"

"I…lost it." It hurt to talk about it as much as it did to think about. "I just lost it and started screaming at her. I've never really yelled at her before. All we've done lately is argue, but today…I just completely laid into her." I tried to shrug again, but this pain was engulfing my body and it looked like a twitch. "I-I may be wrong, but it sounded like she was trying to use her physical condition to guilt-trip me into seeing An-chan."

"Did she say anything that would make you believe that?" Takano asked.

"Ah…" why do they say it's better to air your feelings than keep them in? Because I wasn't feeling any better. "S-She told me that it would do her good to see me with An-chan at her bedside."

"That's guilt-tripping," Takano said bluntly, flicking ashes into the ashtray. "So you weren't being paranoid, Ritsu."

I knew that was probably the case, but it didn't make me feel any better. "After it, she…she had this attack of sorts. I thought she was having a heart attack, but all she needed was to be sedated. Now I've been barred from seeing her in the hospital."

"Hmm…" Takano took another drag off his cigarette, and I looked back down at my clenched hands in my lap. "You're probably better off. I've heard your cell-phone arguments with her, and she doesn't seem to really care what would make you happy in this, Ritsu. Parents like that are a hassle…"

Two teardrops hit my hand. Takano probably saw this, because he immediately stopped talking. Surprised, I reached up and touched my cheek. It was soaking.

"…Onodera?" Takano said slowly.

A laugh bubbled up inside my chest and burst out of me. I didn't know why I was laughing. Nothing was funny about any of this. But…the minute I started laughing, more tears spilled out of my eyes. The pain felt like a pulse inside me, and I pressed my hands to my forehead.

"I didn't want things to be this way. I don't want to be fighting with Okaa-san all the time. If I could call her, without having to worry about her bringing up this omiai…if I could tell her what I'm doing during the day without worrying that she'll send An-chan or some other girl to me…I don't know why things are so bad. It's not like I've been vague with my intentions. I've told my parents I can't go through with this. I've told An-chan to her face that I won't go through with it. But none of them listen to me on this…"

"Onodera," Takano said slowly.

I laughed again, though it sounded so hollow. "It's not like I'm running away from responsibilities. I didn't even run away from Onodera Publishing. But why does it seem like to everyone around me that I'm some inconsiderate asshole? I've never wanted to marry An-chan, not even after we broke up, Takano-san!"

"Ritsu," Takano said again. I raised my head to look at him. He was putting out his cigarette. "Come here." he motioned to himself.

I could barely see him through my tears, even though they ran shamefully down my face. "W-Why?"

"You came to me because you wanted someone to talk to," he said softly. "Now you need someone to comfort you. Come over here. I can make it easier for you."

"M-Make it easier?" I almost laughed again, but my throat was too tight. "How can you do that?"

"I can hold you. In a HUG, baka!" he snapped when my face twisted up. "Just come over here!"

"What good will a hug do?" I mumbled bitterly.

"Why don't you find out?" he asked me calmly.

I knew I may as well try, because sitting on the couch curled up and crying wasn't helping. Reluctantly, I slid across the couch and reached for Takano. His arms were already waiting for me and he pulled me up against his body. Both arms wrapped around my shoulders, and his hand was buried in my hair, nestling my face into the crook of his neck.

My body immediately relaxed, and my heart started pounding. His smell and the way his body framed mine felt so soothing. Something inside me broke, and I couldn't hold it in any longer.

It was shameful. I was a grown man, and this man was the source of many of my irritations. But I clung to him and buried my face into his neck and cried my eyes out. The last time I'd cried so hard was when we had our horrible breakup ten years ago. And yet here Takano was, holding me to him and stroking my hair. He kissed my temple and buried his face into the side of my hair, and he hung on while my body shook with the force of my sobs.

I didn't know how long I cried, but the tears didn't subside for a long time. When they finally ran out, I had a massive headache from it, and my face felt numb. I knew I looked like a mess too. I tried to pull out of Takano's arms, but he wasn't letting me go easily.

"Feel better?" he asked, after he realized I was finished.

"Not really," I said numbly. I finally was able to push away from him and yanked a handkerchief out of my pocket. I scrubbed at my face and noisily blew my nose. "I actually feel worse."

"Even after talking about it?" Takano asked.

I shrugged, and felt awkward about my now messy handkerchief. I tossed it in a trash bin by the couch. "I just feel sick, and embarrassed—"

Takano slid close again, and pressed a kiss to one of my eyelids. I froze where I sat as he slowly hugged me again, leaning over to kiss my other eyelid. It was such a simple touch, but my heart started hammering once more.

Then he leaned back and kissed my mouth.

My insides turned to jelly. I couldn't fight him and I didn't want to. My arms automatically slid around his neck and he pulled me into his lap, turning my head at an angle to deepen the kiss. My mouth tingled as he swept his tongue through, and I groaned. That familiar, loathsome warmth that always settled in my heart when Takano did this to me erased the sick feeling inside me. Somehow, this kiss made me feel better.

Takano pulled away, smiling against my cheek as he pulled me close. "You're compliant today, Ritsu."

I stiffened, and my face heated from anger and embarrassment. "I-I just had a shitty day, that's all!"

"Hmm." Takano nuzzled my ear with his nose, pulling me completely onto his lap. "Then…if I told you I wanted to carry you into my bedroom and make love to you, you would still be compliant?"

My heart thudded. I shouldn't have been surprised. Anytime I was in Takano's place, or he in mine, whether we were pleasant to one another or arguing, and our encounters almost always ended with sex. I knew that this may happen if I came to him.

But…oddly enough, it didn't bother me. Maybe because something else was bothering me more.

I hung into his shoulders tighter, and ducked my head. I didn't want him to see my face. "…Yes."

Takano didn't say anything more. He stood straight up from the couch, still holding me, and calmly walked to his bedroom. I looked over his shoulders, at the rest of the apartment. It almost felt like some romantic movie; carrying the lover over the threshold of the bedroom.

And I was letting it happen.

I didn't stop Takano when he did carry me over the threshold. I didn't stop him when he laid me down on his bed. And I still didn't stop him when slid on top of me and started kissing me again.

The room was so dark…the nightlights of Tokyo helped to create silhouettes on the walls. It seemed almost dreamy-like to lie there, kissing Takano. Both of his hands were resting beside my head on the pillow, and my arms clutched at his back. When we had sex, there always seemed to be a sense of urgency in Takano. Now his kiss felt calm and slow, and we were still fully clothed.

He suddenly broke the kiss and sat up, straddling my body. I couldn't see his eyes in the darkness of the room, but I knew he was watching me. He always got a kick out of watching my facial expressions during sex. But even if I couldn't see his face fully, I saw the outline of his body as he slowly unbuttoned his shirt. He took his time, but the working of each button made my heart race faster. He eased the shirt off his shoulder and calmly dropped it over the side of the bed. His hands dropped down and undid his belt. I heard the scratch of his zipper, but he didn't take his pants off yet.

Takano leaned down and kissed me again. Still it was very calm, very slow, that everything seemed to be surreal. He grabbed my hands and pressed them to his cheeks, then slid them down over his shoulders and down his chest. Without words he was asking me to touch him. I did enjoy the feel of his torso, and his back. After a moment he let my hands go to slide them up my shirt. But I was still touching him. My hands slid back to the front and flicked his nipples. He broke the kiss and let out a soft noise. I didn't know if that hurt him or if he liked it, but he didn't say otherwise.

He shoved my shirt up, exposing my chest as he leaned down to lick at my navel. My body arched up against him involuntarily, and he held my hips down to keep me still. His mouth worked its way up my abdomen, and his tongue flicked out to catch one of my nipples. My breath hitched, and I couldn't stop the groan from erupting from my throat. It was so strange about me. I resisted him from time to time when he wanted sex from me, but I always gave in. and when I gave in, I couldn't hide the noises I made. I almost didn't notice them at times, though Takano loved to point them out.

His mouth engulfed the nipple entirely and he began sucking on it. I cried out and my head launched forward. My face became buried in the top of his head and I found myself kissing his scalp. I didn't know what I was doing. I couldn't think past this yearning building up in me. It overshadowed all the negativity I'd felt all day.

Takano kissed and sucked on it until it was red and sore. He breathed on it and I yelped at the sensitivity it felt. His mouth attacked the other one as his hands worked my shirt completely off. I was gasping for air, for relief. My pants felt so ungodly tight from my erection, which was pressing up hard against his. Unthinking, I reached for my own belt but Takano grabbed my hands. He pinned them to the mattress as he began to move down my body once more.

I didn't know what he had planned next, so I was startled when he began mouthing my erection through my pants. I flicked my wrists, but they wouldn't move against his hands. "T-Takano-san!" I sputtered, looking down at him. "W-What—"

"Shh."

"Mmm." That soft whisper blew straight across my groin. I wanted to lie back and let him do what he wanted, but I resisted this idea a little. "Takano—"

"Ritsu," he cut me off with such a low and sensual voice that I couldn't help but shiver. "Just relax. Lie back and relax…"

Words failed me. I was embarrassed, but I relaxed once more against the bed. I twitched when he began to kiss my down there once again, but I slapped my hands over my eyes. It helped to make me feel less self-conscious as my hips pushed upwards against him, and moans escaped my mouth…

Then I realized he no longer held my hands down.

Hands free, Takano undid my belt. He flicked the button open with his thumb and leaned forward. His teeth caught the zipper of my fly and drew it down and open. I didn't think that this would be sexier than him doing it with his fingers, but somehow it was.

"T…" my hand reached down and ruffled through his hair. "Takano…san…"

"…to me," Takano mumbled as he pulled my pants down along with my underwear.

I opened my eyes. "Wha—ah!" I fell back against the bed as his hand grabbed my now bare penis.

"You never speak to me about yourself," Takano said quietly. "I know nothing about you, and you know nothing about me." he began to pump me in his first, from the base to the tip. "We want to get to know each other, but we say nothing. You wouldn't even tell me as your boss what was wrong with you. Would you have told me if it wasn't me?"

"Ta…ah…" I didn't know how he could expect me to answer his questions. He was rubbing me, and logic fled my mind. In its place was pleasure and need. "I-I'm sorr—"

"Please tell me next time." He'd said this to me before, but this time he sounded genuinely hurt. "I love you, Ritsu. And when I see you as an emotional wreck, and I don't know what caused it, then I don't know how to help you."

It still surprised me how easily he could tell me he loved me. At times it felt like he was overcompensating because he'd never told me he loved me when we'd initially dated. His emotions always felt all over the place, that I didn't know when he was serious or joking. But he never joked about loving me. "Takano—"

Takano leaned up and swallowed me whole. I almost screamed and bucked against him. Seriously, why did he want to have these conversations during foreplay? I never had answers for him during this!

I couldn't think when I was with him. And I couldn't think at that movement while his mouth moved over me. My head thrashed against the pillow and I pushed my hips up against him. He seemed encouraged by my reaction and squeezed his mouth harder around me. He slid his hand down to fondle my scrotum. Sharp pleasure ricocheted through me and my release came hard. My body stiffened and I cried out and shivered.

Takano leaned up, wiping his mouth with his fingers. He slid one of my legs over his elbow and suddenly leaned over me, his fingers pressing against me. "Relax…" he murmured against my ear.

My body relaxed for him. I was so use to it by now that I wouldn't cause me as much pain as it had before, but he still took the time to prepare me for him. I had barely recovered from my orgasm, but soon I was moaning and thrashing against him once more. He chuckled against my ear and sucked on the lobe as his fingers moved; creating a delicious friction that filled my body with anticipation. When they withdrew, I knew what was coming next.

I saw the glint of Takano's eyes as he leaned over me. "Ritsu." His voice was so quiet. "You can trust me. You know that, right? If you have something troubling you, I can make you feel better."

I stared at him for a moment, wondering if he was going to assault my senses before I could answer. I realized in a way that Takano was trying to continue his comfort. He wanted me, sure, but he was handling me so different today than he usually did. It really did feel like he cared about my feelings, and wanted me to feel better.

I nodded. "I know."

Takano shifted. He leaned down again and kissed me, even as he stretched me wide. When he slid into me, I accepted him and held onto his body.

When he pressed me down into the mattress and moved over me, my eyes slid closed as bolts of sensation rippled through my body, across my skin. My fingers dug into his shoulders, and my mouth blindly found his again. When he adjusted his angle, a wonderful feeling pulsated through me and I cried out. Takano laughed against my cheek, and moved faster.

The heat building from where our bodies joined wasn't as strong as the heat I felt in my chest. Because my heart was beating so fast, and it swelled with so many emotions. Because…because I knew I loved Takano. That was why I needed him when everything got to be too much for me. There was no one else I could've talked to.

And it wasn't fair to him. No matter what I did, this engagement of mine that refused to die kept coming up at random and inappropriate times. And I knew it hurt him. That was why I constantly reassured him about it, even before I wanted to acknowledge these feelings for him.

Even if I couldn't say them out loud.

Takano grabbed for me again. I didn't think I would be able to come again, but my body surprised me. I arched against him and screamed so loud, and my body squeezed tight around him. He snapped his hips against me and his body shuddered as he met his own release.

He lay on top of me for several moments as he struggled to catch his breath. I was still wheezing as he slid off of me and curled up at my side. He wrapped his arms around me and kissed my face. It was strange how much he could express his feelings for me in these little gestures. It made me uncomfortable as well, because it wronged the perceptions of Takano that I had for all these years.

"I'm here," he said. His tone was barely above a whisper. I didn't know why he kept emphasizing this point to me, but I knew it mattered a lot to him. "I'm here, so don't shoulder these things by yourself again, Ritsu."

I closed my eyes, feeling drowsy but…happy. "I'll try."


The morning after, Takano would generally revert to his usual personality. If a deadline was due, he would wake me up nice and early to get me off to work so I could finish my work. I still had Mutou's storyboards to edit, so when I drifted off to sleep, I was expecting about the same thing.

So, when I was awakened by a kiss to my temple, it was a bit surprising.

When I felt Takano breathe, "Onodera," at my ear, I snapped awake and quickly sat up. "W-What?"

Takano stared at me blankly. "Ohayo."

"A-Ah." I clutched his comforter to me. "Ohayo gozaimasu." I felt a little self-conscious because he was already fully dressed, whereas I was still naked.

"I gave the printers a call," Takano said, lighting up a cigarette. "They agreed to give you two extra days."

I blinked slowly. "B-But the deadline—"

"I explained you had a family situation and since you don't throw around excuses like that, they're willing to let it slide."

I was embarrassed that my family problems were out there in the open, but I bowed my head. "Arigato, Takano-san."

"Make sure you give Mutou-sensei a call about it," Takano said, blowing out some smoke. "So she's not in a panic."

"O-Of course," I stammered. I started looking for my cell phone. "I'll give her a call right—"

Takano's hand caught the back of my head, and he pulled me in for a quick kiss. It was so sudden; I didn't have time to react.

When he pulled away, he was smiling at me. "I'm glad you're feeling better today…Ritsu."

He left me gaping at him from the bed.


I was so surprised by that, that I forgot to call Mutou. I only remembered a couple of hours later when Takano snapped at me about it.

By that time though, I had finished her edits and had faxed her storyboards back to her. I hated to think that Takano was the one to make me feel completely better, but I was back in focus.

"Mutou-sensei, did you get the edits?" I asked her, shuffling through some paperwork on my desk. "And don't worry about the printers. We got an extra two days to submit it."

"That's good," Mutou said. "But can I say something Onodera-san?"

"Of course. What is it?"

"I wanted to apologize about the attitude I gave you yesterday."

"Attitude?" I asked in confusion. "What attitude?"

"I-I know it's none of my business what caused your delay yesterday. But you didn't sound well yesterday, and I knew something was bothering you. But I was so rude and impatient with you, and I've been thinking that that's unfair. I'm constantly late with my deadlines and I have no real excuse for it. You always deliver for ME without complaint, but I couldn't return the favor. I'm truly sorry, Onodera-san."

"T-There's no trouble," I assured her. "I did have some issues yesterday, but it's all been taken care of! The deadline's been extended, but let's work very hard to meet it!"

"Yes, of course! Thank you so much!"

"All been taken care of?" Kisa asked me as I hung up the phone. "So everything's okay with your family, Ricchan?"

I remembered that I intended to give everyone an update about my emergency, but didn't do so. "Y-Yes, it turned out to be a false alarm." I stood up and bowed to the room. "I'm sorry for inconveniencing everyone."

"If you have the energy to apologize, then get some work done!" Takano snapped from his desk.

I resisted the urge to glare. He was back to his overbearing bossy self. "Right…" I slumped in my seat.

"False alarm or not, it's good that nothing serious is wrong!" Kisa said cheerfully.

"True," Mino said, his smile unwavering. "Especially when it's family you're talking about."

I couldn't help but smile. As crazy as everyone in the Emerald Department was, I enjoyed the moments that showed they had my back. "A—"

My cell phone went off. Takano snarled and stood up, but he didn't yell at me outright. I checked the caller-I.D. and quickly stood up. "I'll be right back!"

"If it's an emergency, tell me what it is!" Takano shouted after me.

I rounded the corner and flipped my phone open. "Nanjou-san?"

"Ritsu."

"Otou-san!" I stopped dead in my tracks. "W-What's wrong? Okaa-san…is she—"

"She was just released and was sent home," Dad interrupted. "She's going to be fine, Ritsu."

I almost collapsed in relief. "I'm so happy to hear that."

"She wanted me to pass along a message to you."

I sucked in a short breath. "If this is about An-chan, I'm not—"

"I don't know what happened yesterday, but once she woke up from sedation she wanted to talk to you. She said she wanted to say sorry for what happened."

"…Really?" I asked quietly.

"She told me that you'd never screamed at her before. She said it looked like you were exhausted and stressed out and that she made things worse. She says she's sorry for pushing you like that."

I swallowed thickly. Mom hadn't seemed too concerned about me when she was shoving An-chan down my throat, but she was concerned? And she wasn't angry I yelled at her?

Did this mean she would finally leave me alone on this?

"You're an overachiever, Ritsu," Dad said. "You've always been. But we don't want you to push yourself too hard or too far. Otherwise, you may end up hospitalized like she was."

I thought of the stomach pains I always had, and shook my head to clear the thought away. "I'm taking care of myself, don't worry. And I'm not bothered by what happened. I'm just glad she's okay."

"If you need anything, don't hesitate to call us."

"I won't." I hesitated before I spoke. "Otou-san?"

"Yes?"

"Did she say anything about An-chan?"

There was silence on the other line for a long moment. "No."

I tried not to be disappointed. Since Mom felt guilty about my stress, I would've liked a reassurance that she wasn't going to bother me about An-chan anymore.

But, at the same time, she didn't bring An-chan up at all. So…maybe it was a start?

Maybe?

"O-Okay," I said finally. "Thank you for calling."

I headed back to my desk, feeling much better than I had for a while. Mom was going to be okay. Even if she wasn't going to budge about An-chan, she knew my feelings about it.

And…I felt better. And I knew I had Takano to thank for it.

Takano was waiting for me as I returned. "Was it a family emergency?"

I shook my head and smiled at him. "Everything's fine."

He suddenly rapped me on the head with a rolled-up packet. "Then get back to work!"

"I AM! OW!" I shouted, storming back to my desk. Even if he WAS to thank for making me feel better, I'd rather DIE than thank him!

I glanced up at him as he returned to his desk. Takano looked over his shoulder and smirked at me. I gritted my teeth and turned back to my work. Bastard, bastard!


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