It doesn't just bother him. It torments him because he can't fathom why. Well, actually he has a pretty good idea why and it has nothing to do with his income, profession, behavior or status. It's none of those things that he can fix through the hard work he's so attuned to, no. Shintarou was male, preordained by destiny at a cellular level, and no amount of money, dedication, or feat was going to excuse the fact that he was not the child-bearing wife the Akashi family was looking for.

He knew he never stood a chance from the very beginning, yet here he was foolishly challenging fate in an expensive tie and a crisp, fitted button-down tucked into dark slacks. He looks good. Real good, and it isn't his ego speaking. Even Akashi wordlessly takes notice, mismatched eyes sweeping across the taller male in double-take as the redhead passes him.

He's not sure what unforgivable sin he's committed in his past life for Akashi to ask him to attend this dreadful family function each and every year. Shintarou could think of plenty of other things he would rather be doing on the eve of Christmas, such as watching the millionth showing of A Christmas Carol on TV. Looking for last minute deals on the Internet. Brushing his teeth. Basically anything.

At the Akashi residence, few speak to him as much as they gawk at him. The polite questions directed at him come clearly out of cold courtesy, and Akashi's mother asks each year without fail, and what is it that you do?

I'm a doctor.

Each time her reaction is the same. Disappointment. Disappointment, because Shintarou hasn't given her another reason to dislike him.

At the dinner table, Akashi senior looks him in the eye and asks when Shintarou intends to find a place of his own, and Seijuuro, haven't you played around enough? A cousin unhelpfully brings up some pretty girl that Akashi should meet and the urge to deck a stranger has never been stronger.

Through the entire ordeal, Akashi looks not the least bit discomforted by any of the paltry and underhanded remarks, yet neither does he attempt to put an end to them. He hardly looks at Shintarou, doesn't touch him—not even once—and Shintarou wonders why he's even here and why Akashi allows the ridicule to go unchecked. He's irritated—angry, even, but he bites his tongue and prays for the night to end.

The drive home passes without a single exchange. Shintarou doesn't know what Akashi might be thinking; he's too mentally battered to even postulate and has nothing to offer the suffocating silence, self-confidence annihilated.

Slumped over the lock in defeat, he fidgets with the keys. The door pushes open and Akashi's tugging on his tie before he can even hit the light switch, but it's all right because they know the way to the bed well. Before they're even there, hands grasping at walls, furniture and empty air, jackets have been discarded and they've both jostled halfway out of their shirts, lips anchored to one another, breaths hot and heavy against bare skin. Somewhere in the middle of this, Shintarou's glasses come knocked off of his face, but it's dark anyway, and Shintarou's thankful for this. He thinks he feels something warm sliding from his stinging eyes, but he's not sure because he's completely focused on building this rhythm as he thrusts into the body arching up against his.

It's tight. Unbearably tight, consuming him in much the same way Akashi consumes his entire being, and still, Akashi draws him in deeper and harder, strong legs wrapping around his waist, relentless. He's the one who lives with Akashi, eats with Akashi, and sleeps with Akashi. He's seen and kissed every intimate inch of skin, so why didn't it feel as if the body beneath him, writhing at his every touch, was quite his?

"Shintarou," Akashi pants sharply against his neck, damp with perspiration, and Shintarou shudders at the way those syllables drop so breathlessly from his lips, those lips that search and find him receptive, waiting and wanting.

It must've been past midnight, Shintarou nearly asleep when suddenly,"You're better than them all," A low voice murmurs below his ear, and Akashi quiets, as if this was sufficient, as if this explained away the hours of hell that he had just been made to endure. And it must've been enough, because Shintarou found the ache in his chest a little more bearable.