title: the Vows we Break
fandom: Hikaru no Go
characters/pairings: Shindou Masao/OMC(s), Shindou Mitsuko, Hikaru/Akira, Touya Akiko & Kouyo
rating: Mature
warnings: sex, cheating, stabbing
summary: Shindou Masao has a midlife crisis, which may or may not have something to do with his son.
notes: written for the hikago big bang. this is essentially original!fic, given that it primarily revolves around a character than never appears in the manga or the anime. for anyone willing to take a chance and read it anyway, i deeply appreciate it. i've written Shindou Masao as gay before, so that idea has somewhat been in my head for a while. this fic could be seen as a sequel to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, though it would be the most absurd sequel ever, since that fic was 357 words, and this one is over 55,000.

August



Last night had been Jun's deadline, so today, they were just lounging. When he'd first arrived, Jun was still sleepy, and he said he was sore all over, so Masao had given him a full-body massage. That led to them jerking each other off. While Jun showered, Masao made dinner. Which he fed Jun, because Jun was being cute and childish.

They washed the dishes together, because during the deadline crunch, they had piled up. Jun now had an assistant to help him, so there were two sets of everything. They splashed each other a bit while cleaning, and Jun nearly made Masao drop a mug because of tickling. Afterward, they cuddled up on the couch, though Jun was just randomly flipping through channels. Masao pretended to be annoyed, but he didn't really care. He combed Jun's hair and enjoyed the smell of his shampoo.

"Would you like to go on a date with me?"

Masao blinked. "A date? Like, dinner and a movie?" He smiled. That actually sounded really nice.

"Well, I wouldn't mind," Jun laughed. "But that's not what I meant, really. It's not really a... date date, it's just. A friend of mine from college... not that kind of friend, just to let you know, but a friend from college, not like your definition, but a friend from college is having a gallery show. I was invited to the opening night. It's a really tiny, out of the way gallery, but... I'm not going to know that many people there, so I thought... might be good to go with someone. Just so you know, it's really... out the way and all, and my friend kinda appeals to a specific audience so it's really unlikely you'd run into anyone you know..." Jun turned a bit to look at Masao, so Masao could see how hopeful he looked.

He smiled, and kissed Jun's nose sloppily. "Don't even worry about that. It's completely fine. When is this show?"

"It's on the 28th?" Jun grinned. He looked happy. Really, really happy.

Masao's heart sank. "The... the 28th... of this month?"

"You've already got plans?" Jun sighed. Disappointed.

Masao's mind was scrambling, but... There was only one opening night of a show. And. Only one...

"Don't suppose it's something that you can move?" Jun asked. But, from his tone...

"I'm really, really sorry," Masao said, sounding... he knew it, he sounded more sorry than he should, but.

"What's up? ...You might as well just tell me, I'm already thinking it, you know," he said, trying to sound light and casual, but.

But.

Masao closed his eyes. "Ah. The, uh, the 28th. Is. That's my... anniversary," he tried to say the last word softly, but there was no getting around it.

Jun started to laugh darkly, and he pushed off of Masao's chest, sitting up. "Of course it is. How many years has it been? Or, I guess I should say... will it be?"

Masao didn't want to answer, but he had no choice. "This... this will be our... twentieth. It's our twentieth anniversary."

Jun covered his face, but he was still laughing. Masao felt like just melting in the couch and dying. He should die. "Twenty years. That's a huge milestone. A lot of couples don't make it that long. Twenty whole years... of pretending to be something you're not. You should be so proud."

Masao started to sit up, reaching out to Jun, but Jun avoided his hand. Masao took a deep breath, but it was like the air wouldn't come into him. At least, it felt that way. "Jun, I..."

"You know... that... that wasn't... I don't want to sound bitter. I don't want to say hurtful things. This is just sex, right? We always knew this wasn't permanent. I just." Jun shook his head and looked away.

"You have every right to be bitter. I'm sorry, I wish I could go with you..." Masao started.

"And what will you do? To celebrate this... important day. Will you have a party? All your friends and neighbors, drinking and laughing together?" Jun asked. He couldn't look at Masao.

Masao kept shaking his head, but. This was still happening. "We... we'll just. You know. Go out to dinner."

"Will you dance with her? Do you dance with her? Are there still places to go to dance?" he asked, his body trembling a bit.

"I... I really don't know anything about that," Masao answered. "We danced... at the wedding. I think that was it."

Jun took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and tipped his head back. Masao knew it was coming, but...

"We have to end this." It wasn't the first time Jun had said it, but this time, his tone was entirely different. "The longer this goes on... the more we just end up hurting ourselves. So. Even though... it's too late now... we have to end this."

Jun sounded like he was going to cry. Masao wanted to take him in his arms, comfort him. He was the cause of Jun's pain. "I'm so sorry. I never wanted to hurt you. I swear, I..."

"It is what it is," Jun said coldly. He looked at Masao with wet, steely eyes. "You should go."

Masao's heart broke. He nodded slowly, slipping away to stand up. "I know. I..." His voice broke. He didn't have the right. He wasn't allowed to be the one in pain. He was the cheater, the bastard. He was the one who hurt Jun. He shuffled over to the genkan, sitting down to put on his shoes. This was real. He wanted to escape, to make this not be happening. It was inevitable, but that didn't matter at all.

This was painful.

Jun stood up, too, and Masao knew that Jun was behind him. He had never taken so long in all his life to put on his shoes.

"If... if at any time... in all these months... you had ever said anything about wanting to leave her... but I knew all along, otherwise..." Jun sounded awful. Masao had done that to him.

"Would you ask me to?" Masao asked quietly.

"I can't. I'm too afraid. I don't know what you'd say. Or maybe I do know. It's just not something I want to know. I know... I know you feel guilty. And I can't compete with that. Twenty years of accumulated guilt. What you feel for me... doesn't match up," Jun spat out.

"I love you." Masao had to say it. Even if it was too late. It was, too. But.

"Not enough. Not enough to fight off the twenty years of guilt," Jun sighed. "I can't even say that you're wrong. Maybe you should stay with her. Maybe that's... for the best. I don't think so, though."

Masao put his face in his hands. He wanted more than anything for... for what? For Jun's friend's show to be on the 27th? So they could postpone this even more? It was just...

Too painful.

He stood up slowly, and got his jacket. He couldn't look at Jun. He felt like he was going to cry, and he was sure he had no right to force his tears on Jun. "I wish... I wish that it was enough. I wish that... I wish a lot of things. I wish that I was a better man for you. I wish that I'd allowed you to make me a better man. I... I just wish that I'd been able to be the one. To make you happy."

His hand was shaking as he grabbed a hold of the door handle. For the last time? He'd never spend another night in this apartment? Never again to laugh with Jun over the dishes, or lounge on the couch, watching strange anime with him? Never watch him with his sketchbook?

Never?

He turned the handle slowly. He wasn't so much waiting for Jun to say something, but he just couldn't make himself go any faster. He'd never hurt so much in all his life. This was a huge mistake. He should... he should turn around now and...

What? Promise to leave Mitsuko?

He started to open the door. He needed to say... goodbye, but he couldn't. There was no way he could bring himself to say that word. He never would, even if this was goodbye.

He'd taken only one step outside when Jun called out, "Masao!"

He turned, and got an armful of Jun. They were kissing, passionately, deeply... for the last time. If this really was the last time, Masao wasn't going to let go easily. He clung to Jun, giving him his everything. He didn't care if they were outside, and could be seen. This was going to be his last time here, so. Jun still had to live here, with his neighbors, but. This was it, so...

He could ignore everything. Even the sound of something being dropped, something heavy. Sounded like something broke, possibly. And.

"Shindou, those were my di-"

"Dad!?"

Masao froze. The kiss ended like that, but he was too afraid to turn. No, this was... it was impossible. Tokyo was a huge city, and... Right here, right now, just when this was ending, it just...

"Whatthehellareyoudoingwiththatguy?!"

"Oh, shit," Jun exhaled.

Masao turned, just slightly. Just enough to see his son, looking... well... like he'd just caught his father with another man. And. There were two other young men, behind him, carrying boxes. One of HIkaru's friends was moving into the empty apartment next to Jun's?

What the fuck were the odds?!

"DAD! Let go of that guy!" Hikaru hysterically demanded. Suddenly too aware, of everything, Masao let go, and jumped back. Jun... looked terrified. And apologetic. And.

"What the hell is going on here?! Why were you making out with that guy?!"

"For the love of... keep your voice down, son!" Masao begged, looking around. But no, Mitsuko, his father, and his third grade teacher were not also in attendance.

The taller of Hikaru's friends grabbed the shorter one by the neck. "C'mon, let's go inside..."

"I wanna watch!" the shorter once complained, but they went inside, anyway. They forgot the box that Hikaru had dropped.

"Who is this guy?" Hikaru demanded.

"Masao, I'm so sorry," Jun whispered.

"Masa- What the hell is going on? Have you been screwing this guy? Are you having an affair!?"

"Please keep your voice down," Masao sighed. He looked at Jun. This was the most spectacular break-up ever, huh? He smiled tightly for Jun, and said quietly. "It's ok, go back inside. I'm... I'm sorry."

Jun nodded wordlessly, and looked apologetically at Hikaru. But then he went inside.

Before Hikaru could start shouting again, Masao turned to his son. "Why don't we go someplace we can... we can talk? And please... let's not make any more of a scene, ok?"

Hikaru looked furious, but he nodded.





He'd never before contemplated just how much food Hikaru could shove into his mouth at a time. He'd never had to contemplate such a thing. They'd gone to a family-style restaurant that was near Jun's apartment, and Masao had ordered coffee, and Hikaru had ordered half the menu. Which he was doing an admirable job fitting into his mouth all at once. Hamburger, pork cutlet, fried rice... it was all going in together.

It was horrifying, but Masao couldn't stop watching. He also couldn't stomach his coffee, and the too-bright lights of the restaurant were giving him a headache, and his son knew he was a cheating liar, and he'd never see Jun again.

"Try to remember to breathe, son," Masao murmured under his breath. Unfortunately, that just caused Hikaru to pause in his food shovage to glare at him.

This was going to be hard to top as the worst day of his life.

Finally, Hikaru swallowed everything without funneling more in, took a long gulp of his drink, slammed the glass down, and stared at his father.

"Well?"

Masao swallowed hard, his stomach flipping. "I'm sorry. I'm truly... it's... it's over, so..."

Hikaru narrowed his eyes. "Who the hell was that guy? Why were you with him? How long has this been going on?"

Rubbing his forehead, Masao tried to make the world stop spinning by closing his eyes, but that just seemed to make the vertigo worse. "He's... like I said, it's over, so it's... it's not important..." He was the person Masao treasured more than just about anyone else, the person he loved and desired. But it was over. "I think you can probably guess the reason. It's.. it's been a few... well, several months now..."

"Months?" Hikaru paled. If anything, he looked even angrier. "Does mom know?"

"Why would your mother know?" Masao sighed.

"It affects her!" Hikaru looked outraged. On his mother's behalf.

He was a good man.

"I mean, like... diseases, and stuff like that... just... her husband is... is doing these things! She's definitely affected!" Hikaru was flustered.

But, right. "It's... not possible for me to have passed any diseases onto her," he sighed. He hoped Hikaru wouldn't pry into the reason why. "And like I said, it's over now."

"Now. Because I found out?"

"No," Masao shook his head. Sadness washed over him, and nearly choked him. It would do no good to cry now. Tears would be meaningless, at any time. He just had to shoulder on. "No, he... he's not normally the type to be involved with a married man. It just caught up with us." He couldn't look Hikaru in the eye. His high-minded son...

"Are you gay?" Hikaru's voice was piercing, and shame washed over Masao. He looked around nervously.

"Son, please keep your voice down," he begged. There weren't many patrons, and there wasn't anyone directly next to them, so probably it was ok...

"Are you ashamed of being gay?" Hikaru asked, this time with extra edge to his voice.

Masao was going to reply, but he looked into his son's eyes, and he recognized the feeling there. He never wanted his son to feel that way. "It's not like that. I'm not ashamed of..." but he couldn't bring himself to say it out loud. To his own flesh and blood. "I'm ashamed of being a liar and a fraud. I'm ashamed of what... what I put your mother through. And what I'm putting you through now.

"I don't think there's anything shameful about homosexuality. And I'm especially not ashamed of you, or Akira-kun. You should know that." He wasn't reproaching Hikaru, though he probably took it that way. It was more just a truth he needed to express.

He could never be ashamed of his own son.

Hikaru took a deep breath and sat back, looking away. "If you're gay, then why did you ever get married in the first place?"

"Son..." Masao sighed, and rubbed his eyes. "It's not like... for me, growing up... I..." He took a deep breath, realizing that Hikaru was close to his grandfather. This was a conversation littered with landmines. "It was different, when I was your age, than it is now. Or, different for me than it is for you. There was never any chance that I could... I could never have... brought... brought someone home..." He shook his head. He didn't know what to say. The truth was the truth, right?

He was a coward, and a habitual liar. He could make pretty excuses, and say his father and the world forced him to become the way he was, but Hikaru was never forced to be anything he wasn't. His son was a better man that he was. It made him proud to know that, and ashamed to know that his son knew the reverse.

"So... this has been going on... all the time? You, cheating on mom?" Hikaru asked, sounding petulant. Upset.

Masao looked him in the eye. "This is the first time, I swear. I mean. This... I've... there have been times, extremely isolated occurances when I've... slipped, but this is the first relationship I've ever..." The first time in his life he'd ever fallen in love. And it was over.

"Isolated occurances? What does that mean? How many times since you got married?" Hikaru pressed.

Masao felt cornered. In the face of his son's directness, he had no choice. "It's... three times... or... no, I guess four..." Five, if he counted the two times with Kinjou-kun separately, but five sounded much worse than four.

Damn it.

Hikaru looked upset. He just stared at Masao for a while, until the waitress came back to their table. She cheerfully asked if they needed anything while clearing all of Hikaru's plates. Masao was about to say that they were fine, when Hikaru spit out an order for three separate desserts.

Once she left, Masao shook his head. "I can't believe you're still eating."

"Something wrong with that?" Hikaru shot back.

"N-no..." Masao replied, startled.

Hikaru narrowed his eyes. "Do you even care about our family?"

Masao felt cut in half. "No, I... of course I do, I love you, so much. And your mother. I mean. She's. There's no woman I admire more than her, honestly, I..."

"You don't love her," Hikaru half asked and half stated, with all the pain of a child whose mother has been wronged.

Masao couldn't speak for a moment. He looked down at his coffee. "If you mean... I'm not in love with her... no... I'm not capable of..." he trailed off. He was making excuses.

"You have to tell her."

Masao covered his face with his hands. Of course, to Hikaru, it was that simple. Mitsuko deserved the truth, no matter how uselessly it would hurt her. "No, son, look..."

"If you don't tell her, I will," Hikaru bluntly stated.

"No..." Masao weakly protested.

The waitress came back with Hikaru's desserts. Masao smiled at her, defeated.

Hikaru started to stab at his food, but rather than shoveling it into his mouth, he just looked like he wanted to kill it.

"I can't tell her, son," Masao pled his case. "It will only hurt her. Like I said, that... that relationship is over, so."

"So, no harm done?" Hikaru glared at his father. "But you don't love her."

"No, it's not like that, it's..." Masao began.

"She's married to a gay man. Shit." Hikaru picked up a huge spoonful of ice cream and swallowed it down.

Masao wanted to cry. "Just... just let me handle it, ok? It's really... between the two of us. I... I never wanted to hurt your mother. It's true, I can't... I don't love her like a husband should love his wife, but I. I provide for her, and I... it's my duty to protect her."

"You've been sleeping with another man. That's not protecting her from anything."

There was no answer to that. Hikaru huffed after a moment, and went back to shoveling food into his mouth angrily. Masao watched, having lost all confidence and all strength. His son knew everything, so naturally he hated him. He felt sick.

He was never going to see Jun again.

"I'm glad it wasn't Kitano-san."

Masao blinked. "What?"

"You know. You were with that guy in college." Hikaru thoughtfully took in another spoonful.

"What? What are you... you... knew?" Masao stuttered.

Hikaru almost laughed. Almost. "Well. I never really thought about it before. And when I thought about... well. I would then stop thinking about it. But you guys shared an apartment, right? So that was like... like..."

Masao shook his head. This was surreal. "No, that was just... we were just kids. It was never like... never like you and Akira-kun."

"But it's like that with that guy back there?" Hikaru had to press.

Masao hurt. "It... was. Like I said... before, and again... it's over." He wasn't sitting up straight. He should be. A man should always sit up straight.

Hikaru was watching him. "You... had a tough time? With grandpa and grandma?"

Masao shook his head, but he was only thinking about Hikaru's relationship with his grandparents. "It's not... you don't need to worry that... You're their grandchild. The rules are different." He smiled sadly at Hikaru. "I was never the son your grandfather wanted. Your grandmother... just wanted me to be... you know, happy, to fit in. They wanted me to get married, be... normal. They introduced me to your mother. That's all. It's not. It doesn't affect how they feel about you."

"Grandpa's met Akira. They played go together."

"Well, there you go." Masao chuckled bitterly. "Maybe if I'd learned go, he wouldn't have hated me so much." Hikaru's eyes widened, and Masao shook his head and waved his hands. "Oh, no... that was... I was overstating it..."

"Is that how you felt? That your parents hated you for being gay?" Hikaru asked, a sense of sad wonder in his voice.

"N-no... well... It's..." It wasn't a feeling. It was a fact. At least, his father hated him. Masao just sighed.

"Were you... were you upset when I brought Akira home? Like... I don't know..." Hikaru floundered, trying to figure out what he wanted to say.

Masao cut him off. "I felt such extreme pride and happiness that day. Not only because you'd found someone you loved enough to introduce him to your family, but because you were strong and confident enough to do so. I wish... I wish I could go back in time, and change my ways. If I hadn't... worked such long hours... I know that I didn't have much influence over you. The fact that you've become such a remarkable young man isn't really anything that I can take personal pride in, but. I wish that I could be the sort of man who was worthy of being your father. Then, what happened tonight... would never have happened."

Hikaru looked shaken. And embarrassed. Well, that was understandable, even though Masao had only told the truth. Hikaru got up suddenly, shaking his head. "I should... get back to Isumi-san. My friend. Who was moving in next door to your... Look, dad. You have to talk to mom."

Masao smiled at him. "Such an honest boy. You really are a testament to your mother. When did you get to have such a strong sense of justice?"

Hikaru flushed, and looked away. "That wasn't... well. Anyway." He took a deep breath and walked away.

Masao watched him go, his chest feeling tight.

The waitress came up and smiled shyly. "Looks like he ate half the kitchen and then stuck you with the bill."

Masao smiled at her like he'd smile at any of the women in the secretarial pool. "Oh, well. He's my son. He's allowed."

"Is everything ok? You haven't even touched your coffee?" she asked, concerned.

Masao shook his head, trying to think clearly. "Oh, no, it's... it's fine... we..." Why was he talking about this with her? "I guess we've had a bit of a falling out. I've become a huge disappointment to him."

She looked at him sympathetically. "...Sons have a hard time on the day they realize their fathers are just men. He'll get over it."

"I hope so," Masao murmured.

She put the bill down. "Don't worry, he will. After all, he's just a man, too."





It had been over a week since he'd last seen Jun. He thought, a million times, about sending him a text to apologize for the scene at his apartment, or explain... something... but days passed, and it became too late. The 28th came, and Arakawa-san chased him out of work so he could get home early and dress for dinner, shoving flowers and chocolates into his arms. As he drove home, he glanced at them, wondering if Arakawa-san knew Mitsuko's favorite flowers, and how sad it was that he had nothing to do with making the dinner reservation or buying the gift.

Mitsuko deserved better.

He took a shower and got dressed, wearing his finest suit. He'd never worn this for Jun, because it wasn't the kind of suit he wore to the office. Jun would have loved it, though. He got lost in thought, caressing the fabric at his sleeve, thinking about Jun, until Mitsuko jarred him.

She had a new dress, very pretty, nice silhouette, and new shoes. They had a higher heel than she normally wore. Her hair had been done, too. He pulled on her waist just as she was getting into the car and kissed her cheek, telling her she looked beautiful.

The surprise on her face made him feel guilty.

They had a window seat saved in a restaurant so high up in the sky, if the night was clear they could have seen Mt. Fuji. A sommelier came to suggest wine, and Masao insisted that Mitsuko have at least a glass. He ordered appetizer, soup, dinner, and dessert for them both. The meal took a long time, each course being brought out with flair, and enough time between courses for them not to feel bloated. They capped it all off with an espresso. As always, it was easy to chat with Mitsuko, because she told him stories about Hikaru, and the Fujisaki girl, who was apparently doing well in college but her mother worried since she insisted on getting an apartment and she was quite serious about her boyfriend.

It was all so cozy and familial.

The valet brought their car at the end of the night, and Masao gallantly helped Mitsuko into her seat. It was drizzling when they left the restaurant, but by the time he was pulling into their street, it was raining quite steadily, and once he pulled into their driveway, the heavens appeared to open to dump torrents of water on them.

He looked up at the sky, turning the car off. Sighing, he smiled at his wife. "Of course this would happen just as we're about to get out of the car. Why don't we wait a minute, see if it lets up?"

"It can't last," Mitsuko agreed, smiling. She pulled her shrug around her shoulders more firmly. "I actually like the sound. Isn't it pretty?"

"You've always had a great skill at finding the good in any situation," Masao grinned.

She took a deep breath, and shrugged. "Well, I've been very lucky. If something truly bad had ever happens, I'd be able to see it."

Masao chuckled a bit. "If that's the case, then I'm happy. I certainly don't want anything truly bad to happen to you. But it surprises me to hear you describe yourself in such a way."

"You know what surprises me?" she asked with a devilish grin. "That you've never asked me for a divorce."

The rain pounded down on the car, streaming over the glass. Masao's heart pounded, and then he closed his eyes, and let his head fall down onto the steering wheel.

"Oh... god. Hikaru... has talked to you," he sighed.

Mitsuko laughed a bit. "He was so serious! At one point, I thought he might start crying. I wondered how I could console him."

"Oh... I'm sorry. Mitsuko, I'm so sorry. I'm just... I'm so sorry," he sighed, shaking his head, pressing his forehead against the wheel. He couldn't look at her. It seemed like the torrent outside was trying to drown out all the excess. All he could hear was her voice and his own heart beating hard.

"Stop it," she shushed him. "I've been thinking about it, and I realized that... if I'd heard such news... a year ago... or even nine months ago, I would have felt very differently. I was trying to pinpoint exactly what was the difference... I can think of a few things, really. But most of all... well, let's be honest, dear. It's not like I didn't already know."

Masao groaned, and that clearly amused Mitsuko.

She continued on in good cheer. "I think back to Hikaru bringing Akira-kun home to meet us. And how... straight his back was, and how clear his voice was. At the time, I really didn't know how to react. The mother in me wanted to argue with him, or... I don't really know. But before I said a word, I looked at you. Your eyes were just shining with pride, and you greeted Akira-kun as if... as if he were some girl that Hikaru had fallen for. And I realized then. How hard it had been for you."

He sighed, and turned so he could look at his wife.

She gave him a sympathetic smile. "I know better than probably anyone, really, how hard it's been. I remember... more than twenty years ago now," she chuckled. "My aunt asking me to meet a young man who was her best friend's son. Oh, and Mitsuko, he's just a splendid young man, and so handsome! He's in danger of going down the wrong path in life, so he just needs a good woman to keep him moving straight ahead. That's what I was told. I was expecting someone with a mohawk or at least purple hair."

That at least made him smile, for a moment.

"I really didn't have any idea what my aunt meant, not until our wedding. Your friend, Kitano-san, kept glaring daggers at me. If looks could kill, I would died right there at our reception. I felt so triumphant when I smiled at him as we went up to the wedding suite. But that didn't go very well, did it?" she laughed.

He groaned and closed his eye again, rubbing his forehead into the wheel.

"Most of the women's magazines I read advised young wives how to cope with their husband's sex drive. I actually thought at the time that I was a bit lucky that I didn't have to cope with that! But the day we got pregnant, the relief on your face was pretty apparent. I know you would have been happy with a daughter, but when we found out we were having a son, I could tell. You were so grateful that your obligation was finished."

"But, you wanted more children," he sighed, regretful. He would have liked to have had a bigger family, too, if there had been another way to achieve that.

"No, I mean, I would have been happy to have more, but that wasn't it." He looked at her, quizzically, from behind his hand on the wheel. "You don't remember, do you? Hikaru was... oh, wasn't he about two or three? And that damned Kitano-san... he bought that ridiculous boat. And every chance he got, he was dragging you out to the marina to work on it, or take it out sailing."

"Wait a second..." Masao lifted his head just a bit. "There was never anything... I mean, after we were married, I never... with Natsuo... that was in the past!" Hikaru had mentioned him, too! So strange...

"I know. Or, well, I hoped that I knew," she smiled at him. "But I also knew that if he could have stolen you from me, he would have, in a heartbeat."

"He was married!" Masao complained.

"So were you!" she winked. "It wouldn't have stopped him. I thought, if he tries to convince you that you had fulfilled your duty to me and to your parents, and it was time for you to do as you pleased, well... I'd be left behind as a single mother. I was scared, Masao. And... you were so happy when Hikaru was a baby. Rushing home every day to feed him and play with him and give him his bath. You'd read him stories going to bed. You were such a good father. I mistakenly thought at the time that if you had another baby to fawn over, I could tie you down better. Instead... you just started to work eighty hours a week."

"Oh, Mitsuko... I would never have left you a single parent," he sighed.

"I know now. I feel foolish admitting it to you. But you know what? We're not those scared kids anymore. Our son is grown, and he has a good, well-paying career he's actually quite good at. He's living with the person he loves. He's an adult. And we're not so old that we need to be put on the shelf. We can still be happy, Masao. There's no reason why we shouldn't be happy," she pled with him.

He shook his head. "No, that's not... I never wanted... wait." He sat up, running what she just said through his head again. He looked at her, astonished. "You've... you've met someone!"

She blushed, and looked away. "I haven't broken any vows!" she complained.

"But you have met someone!" He didn't know why the idea sounded so strange. Mitsuko was a lovely, caring, good woman. Why shouldn't she meet someone who would appreciate and love her? He wracked his brain, and the answer seemed so obvious, he felt like a fool. "That florist!" he sighed.

Mitsuko's face was adorably bright red. "His name is Hara-san... and it's not really like..."

"I'm so relieved!" he laughed, leaning back. He looked up through the moon roof and smiled. "I've never been a good husband to you, not even for a moment. As you so painfully reminisced... But you've always been a perfect wife. So generous and so kind... I've always just wanted to do right by you as much as I could, but I've... I've been such a failure, this year particularly. But. You should be loved. You should be appreciated and adored! I'm so happy for you." He turned to look at her, beaming. "So? Tell me all about him?"

"So you can steal him from me?" she pouted.

He groaned, and covered his face again, causing her to burst out laughing.

She took a deep breath, and looked out the window. "He's... he's a bit older than us. He's fifty-six. But still quite spry, and... well, attractive. Very elegant. I've always liked an elegant man," she teased him. "He's very gentle. And a great conversationalist. At first, I just thought he was so kind to be willing to chat and listen, but... things just sort of continued. He's a widower, and his three children are all grown." She shrugged, and smiled at Masao.

"You're in love. That's fantastic," he smiled right back.

"From what I understand, so are you," she raised an eyebrow at him.

He reached out to caress her cheek. She covered his hand, smiling beatifically at him. "No, that's... that's already over. But I'm. I'm so glad... that we got this all... all, well, out. I won't stand in your way, and I'll make sure you're always taken care of, Mitsuko."

"I know," she sighed, rubbing his hand. "Masao... be happy, too."






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