Author's note: I first encountered this series some years ago through an anime club, and I enjoyed it well enough, but didn't think too much about it once it was finished. Having rewatched it recently, however, I was struck by how much untapped potential there is in this anime (to say nothing of the manga, which didn't even having an ending), and that potential, combined with the dearth of fanfiction for this series, inspired me to write this tale. It will probably end up as a multi-chapter story, but even if it doesn't, I'm quite happy with how it functions as a one-shot.
Disclaimer: He is My Master was created by Mattsu and Tsubaki Asu and appeared in Monthly Shounen Gangan. Studio Gainax produced the anime adaptation, and Seven Seas Entertainment and Sentai Filmworks are responsible for the official English releases of the manga and anime, respectively. No copyright infringement is intended or should be inferred.
Sawatari Izumi hummed happily to herself. Her eighteenth birthday was a week away, and if she could just avoid any mishaps involving priceless vases, her debt to Nakabayashi Yoshitaka would finally be paid off just three weeks after that. After four long years of near-constant sexual harassment from her employer, from her fellow maid, Anna, and from her younger sister Mitsuki's pet alligator, Pochi, not to mention a stream of increasingly bizarre and improbable contests devised by Mitsuki herself, she would finally be able to leave this place. Granted, she would still have Pochi's attentions and Mitsuki's dangerously creative mind to deal with, but at least she would be away from this damned house and the brute who owned it. As for Anna... well, she would cross that bridge when she came to it. Maybe, when reality finally came crashing down on the neat little fantasy world Yoshitaka had built up, Anna's fantasy would be destroyed along with it. Izumi sighed. She hated to break the girl's heart, but it would just have to be. No matter how Anna might entreat, Izumi was never going to bat for the other team, and that was that.
She finished mopping the drawing-room floor, and paused to admire her handiwork. The floor was hardwood, and though Izumi didn't know what it was made of, it was dark enough to be mahogany. In any case, it was beautiful, especially when freshly mopped. She stared at her reflection in the floor, and her smile slipped a little as she imagined never seeing this room again. There were things she hated about this job, but the work itself had never been one of them. On the contrary, while much of it was mindless and repetitive, she enjoyed being able to let her mind drift while working; for the first time in her life, she really understood why Zen practitioners used mindless, repetitive tasks to aid their meditation. Yoshitaka did have a tendency to assign her gratuitously heavy or pointless work, whether as punishment or to satisfy his own sadistic whims, but even that had happened less frequently within the last year or so. In fact, now that she thought of it, he hadn't done that sort of thing in over a month, which Izumi was pretty sure constituted some kind of record. In any case, with the right frame of mind, even a whole day of punishment labor could be quite relaxing, especially when a nice, long soak in a hot spring waited at the end of it.
Nor had she ever disliked the house itself, apart from some of the things Yoshitaka had stocked it with. The furnishings were elegant and tasteful, with hardly a hint of gaudiness to be found anywhere (presumably, Yoshitaka's parents had poured all those impulses into their tomb), and the whole place exuded a richness that made Izumi feel like she was breathing a whole different air than the people outside breathed. After living here for four years, she could easily see how Yoshitaka so easily thought of himself as separate from the rest of the world. There were even moments when Izumi felt that way, though she always slapped some sense into herself when she realized it. She would not sink to that brute's level, not even in such a relatively harmless way.
Izumi smoothed the front of her uniform. Even the clothes she wore here wouldn't be detestable, if she weren't living with people who scarcely needed enticing clothes to prompt them to try and jump her bones. Not that she had much of a choice there: with all her money going to pay her debt, she'd been stuck with outfits that Yoshitaka designed for her, the clothes that she brought from home having "mysteriously vanished" within a year of moving into the mansion. (She was never able to prove that either Yoshitaka or Anna were responsible, but if it wasn't one or both of them, her name wasn't Izumi). Still, he always used the finest materials, and his skill with a wide range of patterns and designs was impeccable. If only the outfits weren't all so perverted, she would really enjoy them. In fact, several times since the snows began to melt last year, she'd awoken from dreams in which she did enjoy them. Not just for her own sake, either – she was wearing those outfits in front of a man, and thoroughly enjoying the attention she received from him. While Izumi could never see his face, she was sure of one thing: it wasn't that damned Yoshitaka.
"Standing around?" said a familiar voice from behind her. Izumi jumped.
"Gah! Don't sneak up on me like that!" She turned to find Yoshitaka smirking. He was worse than a demon. She didn't even have to say his name; just thinking of it had summoned him. Strangely, though, he wasn't within grabbing distance of her ass. That put Izumi on the defensive almost by reflex; she knew perfectly well that Yoshitaka was never more dangerous than when he appeared harmless.
"Then don't stand around when you should be working."
She bopped him on the head with the handle of her mop. "Wait until it dries, then take a look. I guarantee you won't find a speck of dust."
"As thorough as usual, eh?" he asked, rubbing his head. Izumi knew the question was rhetorical, so she didn't bother answering as Yoshitaka craned his head around to inspect the floor. She just backed away to give him space. He didn't even try to crowd her in, which only made her that much more suspicious. He must've really been building up some sort of pervert limit break to be acting so considerately. After a minute or two, he finished his inspection and looked back at her. "Yeah... as thorough as usual." The smirk disappeared, and was replaced by something that Izumi, under any other circumstances, would've thought of as a genuine smile. On Yoshitaka's face, of course, such a show of kindness merely sent her alert from yellow to red. "Seriously, you did a good job here, Izumi."
Not sure how to respond, she reverted to her default mode when dealing with him. "Of course I did! I always do!" Ah, good: the old, familiar anger helped to blunt the edge of her nervousness at being on uncertain ground with him. However, when his smile melted away at her words, she realized the ground had become more uncertain than ever, and that the firmness beneath her feet was an illusion. His smile should've turned back into a smirk, or rather that perverted shark grin she knew so well. He was either openly deviant, or falsely kind – those were the only two modes he had. And yet, as she looked at the faintly sad expression he now wore, Izumi felt as though she were seeing something altogether new from him, and she wasn't at all sure how to respond.
"Yeah... you always do," he said quietly. "Look, when you're done here, come see me in the study. I've got something to say to you." He started walking away.
"H-hey!" she called after him. He stopped walking, but didn't turn around. "What's this? Why can't you just say whatever it is right here and now?"
"I've got some things to prepare. Don't worry – it's nothing deviant." He began walking again. Izumi tightened her grip on the mop until her fingers hurt.
"Idiot! That's not reassuring at all!"
He chuckled quietly. "No... I suppose it's not." He began walking again.
"Well, what the hell is it, then? What could you possibly have to 'prepare' if it isn't deviant?" But he neither stopped nor answered her. Well, she supposed there was no helping it – one way or another, she would find out what sort of trap he had laid.
Better to walk into it with open eyes than to be caught off-guard.
When she finished putting away the cleaning supplies, she met Yoshitaka in the study. It was a small room in a remote corner of the third floor. Its location ensured that it was quiet, even by the standards of a mansion with only four inhabitants (five if one counted Pochi, though he spent most of his time in his own house), and Yoshitaka mentioned once that his father had often used it for smoking and thinking. Of course, none of the mansion's current inhabitants smoked, and since they – which is to say, Izumi – had replaced the old stuffed armchair with an upholstered recliner, the scent of smoke was now only a distant memory.
Yoshitaka wasn't in the recliner this time, however; he was sitting at the desk, which mildly surprised Izumi. On the long list of adjectives she normally associated with her tyrant of an employer, "businesslike" was near the bottom, yet that was exactly how he looked. Papers and ledgers were spread out before him in a semi-organized fashion, and he was leaning over them and, by all appearances, scrutinizing them closely. Still, Izumi wouldn't put it past him to have deviant fantasies written down on those pages so he could read them while making it look like he was working on the estate's accounts. On the other hand, he'd never so much as asked her to keep track of the estate, and she couldn't imagine Mitsuki or Anna handling that responsibility. Mitsuki would spend all the money on whatever whim she felt that day, and Anna would use it for a couple of one-way tickets to Holland. Izumi had never really thought about the matter, but if she had, she would've figured that Yoshitaka hired people to keep track of the accounts for him. She snorted. It always came back to money with him, didn't it? That was the only way he could relate to other people.
He looked up with one eyebrow raised inquisitively, and Izumi coughed to cover her sudden chagrin. She'd been in the study for ten seconds already, and he hadn't tried to harass her once. Thinking such unkind thoughts about him when he was exercising such extraordinary self-control wasn't called for... and then she covered her mouth with both hands as she realized that she had just thought of refraining from overt sexual harassment as a sign of extraordinary self-control.
I can't get out of here fast enough – I'm even starting to think like that pervert. Besides, he's still got those damn cameras hidden all over the mansion. Even when he's asleep, he's harassing me.
He leaned back in his chair and chuckled. Izumi was good at many things, but covering up her embarrassment was not one of them. He gestured to the chair in front of the desk. "Have a seat."
She sat down and crossed her legs immediately. With a hemline that was right at her crotch, giving him a quick glance of her panties was inevitable, but there was no way she would let him see them for one second longer than necessary. That was another way he harassed her even when he wasn't actively trying to grope her: the damned uniform. The worst part, however, was that it didn't have to be harassment at all – he was the one who made it that way with his cruel nature. If he were nicer to her, more like the man for whom she modeled in her dreams, she probably would've enjoyed wearing this uniform for him.
Whoa... where did that thought come from? Get a grip, girl – his hold over you is tightening even as you're about to break it once and for all.
Even as she reproached herself, Izumi knew there was practically no danger of things turning out that way. Yoshitaka was Yoshitaka, and he was never going to change, so she had no need to worry about how she might respond to him if he did.
"Izumi? Are you all right?" he said, snapping his fingers in front of her. She shook her head and glared at him.
"Of course I am! Don't snap for me like I'm some sort of dog!"
"Right," he grinned wryly, but the grin faded as he pulled out a piece of paper. Although Izumi hadn't seen it in years, she recognized it immediately: it was the contract she had signed after Yoshitaka bounced back from bankruptcy. That was the first day she called him–
No. Not again. I will never address him that way again, not even in my head.
He straightened his glasses and looked at the contract.
Wait, glasses? When did he get those?
She had never seen him wear them. But then, she couldn't remember ever seeing him read, either, unless it was manga or the text for a video game. Maybe he only used them for managing the estate. In any case, he cleared his throat and began reading.
"'I, the undersigned, do hereby agree to serve Nakabayashi Yoshitaka as his sexy maid, and to address him with the respect his exalted presence deserves – namely, as "Master" or "Yoshitaka-sama" – until such time as my debt to him has been fully paid off.'" He looked up from the contract and grinned wryly. "Man, I was full of it back then, wasn't I?"
Izumi flushed. Is that what she had signed? She had never really looked at the wording of it. She was mildly surprised that he hadn't written in an agreement to wear whatever he ordered, but then, that would've left him without an excuse to steal her other clothes... not that he needed one. "Wh-what do you mean 'was'?"
He smirked. "Now, now... is that any way to address your honored master?"
"Oh, drop dead!"
He set the paper down on his desk and gazed up at the ceiling. "You know, I haven't even looked at this since I put it away in the wall safe here." He jerked a thumb behind himself and scratched the back of his neck with his other hand. "Honestly, I'm almost as surprised as you are at how arrogant it sounds."
"You're wrong." He looked at her in surprise. "I'm not surprised about that. Not at all. So is that why you called me here – to taunt me one last time with that horrid contract?"
"No," he said, grinning. "I called you here to renegotiate that contract."
Her heart dropped into her stomach, and she felt queasy. This was it – the limit break he'd been building up. "So you've found some other way to keep me trapped here." Of course. Of course he would wait until she was just about to get away forever. How could she have ever expected to go free? Her shoulders slumped, and her head was suddenly too heavy to hold up. She was numb through and through. She wanted to lie down – no, to fade out of existence, even if only for a while, and come back when she was able to deal with this horrible news. Right now, it was all she could do not to shut down completely.
"What? No!" he cried, his grin vanishing. She felt a faint surge of hope running through her, but experience had taught her better than to give in to it. She was a fish dancing on his hook, and he would keep her struggling as long as possible, even if it meant dipping her back in the water for a while. Better just to go limp and hope the lack of oxygen smothered her quickly, without hurting too much. She felt his finger under her chin, lifting her head up, and didn't even have the energy to slap it away. When she saw him leaning across the desk, though, he looked... earnest? She didn't want to believe it; no doubt it was just one more trick to keep her wriggling, but at the same time it looked more real than anything else she had seen on his face. More real, even, than...
No. There's nothing more real about him than his perversions. There's nothing more to him than those.
She had to believe that. It was the only way to avoid falling into the trap of hope that he had so cruelly laid before her. She could feel Yoshitaka's finger pressing into her chin, as her head suddenly felt even heavier than it had a moment ago.
"Izumi... I said I want to negotiate."
"Right. What's that mean? I get to choose between this skirt and no skirt?" She laughed weakly. "Or maybe you've finally decided to drop all pretense and have me work naked, unless you count chains and a collar. Would that be obvious enough for you?" She turned away from him and leaned back in her chair, uncrossing her legs and spreading them as wide as they would go. "Would that make me accessible enough for you... Master?"
Before he knew what he was doing, Yoshitaka rushed to her side and knelt down. Her eyes were dull and dead; all light had left them, and the color had drained out of her cheeks. He was terrified as he tried to imagine what had done this to her, and he felt sick as he realized that he knew damn well that it wasn't what... but who. "Hey, Izumi, snap out of it!" he shouted, shaking her shoulders. "This isn't like you!" Her eyes moved in his direction. Well, that was something, at any rate, and he rushed on before she could check out again. "When I say 'negotiate,' I mean you'll be getting some things you want, too."
"What could you possibly have that I would want more than a chance to get the hell away from you?" Yoshitaka sighed with relief. Her voice was still terrifyingly lifeless, but at least the question itself showed some of her spirit.
"Well, for starters, there's the forgiveness of your debt. The instant you renew your contract, the whole remaining balance will be immediately wiped out. Any wages you earn from that point on will be yours to do with as you choose."
She sat up and looked directly at him, the color returning to her face. "That still leaves me with about a dozen reasons not to stay here."
"I'm not finished," he said, rising to a half-crouch so he could be eye-level with her. "You haven't seen much of me the last two weeks, have you?"
She hadn't really thought about it, but he was right: she hadn't seen much of him. That gave her a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Usually, when he vanished, it was because he was plotting something perverted – and the worst of it was when he pretended to be nice, like he was doing now. If the past was any indication, he was just waiting for the right moment to crush her hopes even more completely.
"No... I haven't," she said, deciding to be cautious.
"That's because I've spent that time getting rid of my secret videos of you. The whole collection."
"N-no way..." she whispered. Could it be true? She shook her head. Of course not!
"Surprised?" he asked with a rueful grin. "I guess I can't blame you."
"But... but you're Yoshitaka!" She grabbed his collar and leaned in his face. "The lolicon uniform fetishist who secretly tapes girls and plays hentai games! What are you doing, giving up a central part of your identity?"
"Isn't it obvious?" he said, keeping his eyes on hers. "With the elimination of your debt just around the corner, I'm trying to hold on to my precious maids." His grin gave way to a serious expression. "Believe it or not, I'm not an idiot. I realize that if I can't force you to stay, all I can do is convince you. If that means making certain sacrifices, so be it."
She released his collar, leaned back, and recrossed her legs. He stood up and resumed sitting across from her. He could see the wheels turning in her head; any moment now, she would think of...
"The cameras." He nodded; she hadn't disappointed him. "Thanks to those hidden cameras, you can restock that collection any time you want."
"I guess you haven't noticed that, either. But then, that's kind of the point." At her puzzled expression, he continued. "I've spent the better part of last year removing those cameras. The only ones left now are the ones in the hallways and at the entrances, and every one of them is in a legitimate security position." He grinned again. "Of course, with outfits like those, even those cameras could give exciting footage, but you have my word that I will not be using security footage for perverted reasons."
Izumi looked stunned, then angry. "That's another thing, these damn outfits! It doesn't matter what else you say, if we have to keep wearing things like this, there's no way I'm staying here one second longer than I have to!"
Yoshitaka closed his eyes and smiled to himself. "Ah, now that's one demand I'm not going to grant." He stood up and started walking toward the wardrobe, and Izumi got even angrier. Seeing him approach that thing reminded her of the time two months ago when he made her move it here from a guest room on the second floor. As usual, he hadn't given her a reason, and she knew damn well she hadn't done anything to piss him off. Just another pointless task to satisfy his cruelty.
"Of course you aren't, you damn pervert. After all, they're not maids unless you can see their–"
"I'm not going to grant it," he said, opening the door of the wardrobe, "because I already have."
Izumi was stunned into silence, and slowly approached the wardrobe. Hanging there was a maid's outfit that was not fetishized in the least. It had an ankle-length skirt, a neckline that actually came up to her neck, flat-heeled shoes, nylons with no seams up the back, sleeves that went to the wrist, ordinary white gloves, and a choice of either hairnet or cap. Even the apron was clearly designed for functionality rather than titillation. She reached around the outfit, and found that it would cover her whole back. "Yoshitaka..."
"I used a stain-resistant cotton-poly blend, so it should serve you well." She rubbed the sleeve between her fingers; it felt every bit as smooth and comfortable as it looked. She looked at Yoshitaka, and there was no trace of maliciousness or treachery in his gentle smile.
"You... you made this?"
He grinned crookedly. "Well, I wanted something that would fit you nicely."
In spite of herself, Izumi grinned back. So this outfit would cling to her bust, hips, and ass like a second skin. That was fine; it would still be an immeasurable improvement over her current outfit. "Well, if you hadn't made it at least a little deviant, I would've worried that you'd been replaced by a pod person or something."
"No danger of that," he laughed, before his expression turned serious again. "I also have outfits like these for Mitsuki-chan and Anna-chan. Of course, I will also lengthen the skirts on your school uniforms."
Izumi released her hold on the new uniform and stepped back. She desperately wanted to believe that this change of heart was genuine, but the image of a fish struggling on a hook stopped her. She stared at Yoshitaka with an unreadable expression.
"This is some kind of trick," she said, only half-questioning. "You've got backup cameras, and you've hidden your tape collection somewhere on the grounds, or something. As for this outfit... well, maybe you've made it out of something that can turn transparent at the touch of a button."
"What?" He was stunned. "Why the hell would I do something like that?" She raised an eyebrow at him, and he grinned. "Okay, I've thought about it... but the cost was prohibitive, even for me."
She grinned back, but only for a moment. "Seriously, though... let's say I believe you. Why are you doing this?"
He sat down again, and gestured for her to return to her chair. She did so, keeping one eye on him the whole time. This was way too good to be true. "If you go, Anna-chan goes, and with Mitsuki-chan the only one left, there's no way I'm keeping Pochi here – no matter who she is, one maid is not worth that. Besides, she's not much fun if she's the only one around." He looked away from her, and his voice became very quiet. "Don't you get it, Izumi? If you go... I'll be alone again."
"Idiot!" she cried. "That's what you deserve!"
"I know that!" He jumped up and slammed his fists on the desk, and Izumi was shocked to see tears in his eyes. "You think I don't know that? Ever since my parents died, I've gone out of my way to alienate everyone around me. The people at school know me as a first-class pervert, and even if I did a complete turn-around right now, it's way too late to change their minds. But honestly, at this point, I'm not sure I could change. I've been cultivating my perverted image for so long, I'm not sure where it ends and where I begin." He slumped back into his chair, his head and shoulders drooping, and sat silently for a long time. Finally, he looked up at Izumi, who had never seen that kind of despair on his face. It almost frightened her to see someone as tenacious as him feeling defeated. "This is the part where I get what I want: a second chance... no, a last chance. You're my last chance, Izumi. My last hope of convincing someone that I'm worth knowing."
Izumi blushed deeply. "I-Idiot... don't say things like that so carelessly!" She took a deep breath and calmed herself. She still didn't quite believe what she was hearing, but she'd never seen him act like this, and if there were even the faintest possibility that he was being sincere, it sure as hell wasn't the time for her to fly off the handle. "Look, if you really want to make a fresh start, why not find someone new? Then you won't have four years' baggage to make up for."
"But that's the point," he said, sounding like he didn't really believe he could convince her at all, but was trying anyway because he couldn't see any other route. "You know as well as I do that the debt was a fiction – as minors, there was no way we could enter into a legally binding contract. You could've left any time within the last four years... but you didn't. You're the only one who never gave up on me – the only one I could never make gave up on me – even though you've seen me at my absolute worst. Every perversion, every fetish, every bit of filth covering my soul – you've seen it all." He smiled sadly. "It's strange... even though I was the one with the hidden cameras, you were the one who saw me from every angle." The smile evaporated, and the broken look that replaced it broke Izumi's heart. "I don't know if I could stand to show that much of myself to anyone else. I think... I think it would kill me. Or worse, it would show me that there's nothing there to kill."
Izumi had thought she was stunned before. She couldn't have been more wrong; at that moment, it would've been impossible for her to speak if her life depended on it. Who the hell was this guy, and what had he done with Yoshitaka? It was Izumi's turn to grab his shoulders and shake him.
"What do you mean, 'nothing there to kill'? Aren't you Yoshitaka, the young man of rumor who inherited his parents' fortune and created for himself, in the springtime of youth, a private world of pleasure in a huge mansion where three young maids fulfilled his dreams by waiting on him hand and foot?" She slapped his face, and he stared up at her in a daze. "Well, this is that mansion, and I'm one of those maids, so where the hell is that Yoshitaka?" He looked down, and life returned to his eyes. Izumi suddenly realized that her position and her uniform combined to give him a perfect view of her cleavage. She reared back and punched him across the face, knocking him out of his chair, and she grinned down at him. "There you are."
"Here I am," he said through clenched teeth, rubbing his sore jaw. Nevertheless, he managed to return her grin, and the sheer hunger of it made Izumi wonder if she had perhaps stepped over the line. "I think I've had enough negotiating for one night," he continued, rising to his feet. "You'd better run, maid... because if I catch you, I'm going to punish you."
No, Izumi thought, she hadn't stepped over the line. She'd run full-tilt over it without even looking. But she certainly kept her eyes open now, as she barreled down the seemingly endless hallway toward the stairs. If she could just keep a few seconds ahead of Yoshitaka, she should be able to lock her bedroom door behind her and be safe. There... the stairway was just ahead, to her left. She turned and took the stairs two at a time, not even holding onto the railing. She teetered for a moment at the bottom, almost overcorrecting as she readjusted to flat ground, but all the practice she'd had running from Pochi, Anna, and Yoshitaka himself served her well.
She heard her perverted employer on the stairs, and, barely even taking time to orient herself, sprinted for her bedroom. The door was just ahead of her... and suddenly it was just behind her, as she went skidding past it on the freshly-waxed floor. She nearly lost her balance as she reached the next carpet, but managed to right herself and turn around... just in time for Yoshitaka to crash into her and send her sprawling to the ground. He pushed himself up on his hands and cried out.
"Izumi! Are you all right?" She groaned and opened her eyes, focusing on him. Good; she didn't have any head trauma.
"Yeah... sore as hell, but I'm okay." She gazed up at him, he gazed down at her, and suddenly she found it very difficult to look anywhere but into his eyes. Blushing deeply, she finally broke from his gaze and looked down, which just made things worse when she realized that one of his legs was planted between her thighs. Yoshitaka followed her eyes, then looked up at her face and grinned wolfishly.
"It's not quite the punishment I had in mind, but it'll do," he said. The door opened, and they both turned their heads to see Mitsuki standing there in her pajamas. Though her eyes were sleepy, she was smiling brightly.
"Onee-chan, are you and Master having fun?" Izumi blushed again and pushed Yoshitaka off of her. He grunted as he fell flat on his ass, but she ignored him completely as she stood up and straightened her outfit.
"As if! That pervert suddenly got it in his head to chase me. Can you believe it?"
Mitsuki giggled. "Sounds like a great contest!"
Izumi rolled her eyes. "Come on. It's been a long day, and I need some sleep." Mitsuki nodded and reentered the room, leaving the door open for her sister. As Izumi put her hand on the doorknob, Yoshitaka spoke up.
"Izumi..." She turned to find him standing with his back to her. "Think about what I said. We'll talk more about it tomorrow."
She didn't answer as she entered the room and closed the door behind her. She stood there listening as Yoshitaka's footsteps faded away.
As an afterthought, she locked the door.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this story, I would also recommend my ongoing Bleach tale, "The Things Reflected in My Eyes," focusing on Ulquiorra and Orihime. Though the settings, the characters, and the plots are quite different in many ways, they share the central theme of a male lead who starts out nasty or even monstrous, and who is eventually humanized through his interactions with the female lead. A reverse Pygmalion, perhaps?