July 21st, U.C. 0051, 9:25 AM
“Ohayou gozaimasu, goshujin-sama,” Chikako and Aina greeted Akira as he entered his study. Both meido did their best to sound cheerful, though neither felt particularly happy to see him. For Aina, this was the first occasion she had to face him since coming to the conclusion that he was not a good person. She knew that the goshujin were oppressive, but she had believed that Akira was a good person at heart. After all, he had saved her, saved her parents, and had been a mentor to her. Yes, he had a sizable army of meido, but for as long as Aina had known him, their missions had always been for the common good, or at least for self-defense. Looking back on them, however, she realized that the common good had only aligned with Akira’s interests, and that may not be the case in the future.
Chikako, however, had never held such naive misconceptions. From the day he bought her, she knew what a cruel man Akira was, and she had tied her fortunes to his willingly, completely investing herself in him. That didn’t mean, however, that she always liked the results of that decision.
“Ohayou, futari tomo,” Akira returned the greeting. “What’s on the schedule for today?”
“Not much,” answered Chikako. “You have a meeting with Saburo-sama at jyuu-san-ji, and Isao-kyouju will be joining you for ocha this evening.”
“Ii.” Akira responded almost dismissively. “I’m going to run a personal errand in a few minutes, but before that, we have something important to discuss.”
“If you say so, goshujin-sama,” Chikako said. It was a sarcastic statement, and her tone was even more dismissive than Akira’s. She obviously didn’t want to have this discussion.
Aina remained silent.
“I know Karin was your tomodachi,” Akira continued, “but I did what had to be done. Chikako, I know you understand that, and Aina, I hope this was a valuable lesson to you.”
“It was,” Aina replied, doing her best impression of the emotionless gynoids.
“For the record, I’m sorry I put you in a situation like that without any warning, but I had to make sure the lesson left an impression on you. No matter what, I don’t want you following in Karin’s footsteps.”
“That said, I empathize. Really, I do. I caught stomach flu once, and it was a nasty experience. Wanting to celebrate is only natural, but as mature as you are, I still think you’re a bit young to go out drinking. Next time, come to me, OK? I’d be happy to offer you a glass of wine.”
“Domo arigatou gozaimasu, goshujin-sama,” Aina said with a bow. She did her best to hide her surprise. It was easy to surmise that the stomach flu had been a lie concocted by Chikako to cover for Aina’s behavior, but she had expected Chikako to report everything to Akira. Was this some kind of ruse, or did he really not know about her and Fumiko?
“Oh, one more thing,” Akira continued. “I know that I’m usually oblivious to the interpersonal dynamics of my staff, but even I can tell that this event has caused a rift between you. It’s not just me, it’s the gossip of the morning amongst your inferiors. As the top ni parlor meido in my employ, it’s important that you at least appear to get along. So I’m ordering you to resolve your issues. I don’t care what it takes, even if you have to go all out and beat each other to a bloody pulp. I’m even relieving you of duty for the next nana days to give you time to work through it.”
“If I may, goshujin-sama,” Chikako cut in. “we can’t afford that. We’re too short-staffed. I can remain on duty. I won’t let a personal matter interfere with my work.”
“Iie, this is not a request. This is a meiri. I have no doubt you could perform your duties exceptionally, but you would ignore your personal life. You always do, and don’t think I haven’t noticed. This is a gift from me to you. I am willing to forgo my parlor staff for the next week for you, so don’t waste my generosity.”
Chikako couldn’t argue with that. Not only was it an order disguised as a gift, meaning she was obliged to treat it like one, but he was right. It was because she had ignored her private life so much that Karin had grown distant, and that she had been unaware that Karin was blackmailing Akira.
“Arigatou gozaimasu,” Chikako thanked him. “I’m touched. I won’t let it go to waste. Demo, even so, we’ll need to have a minimum parlor staff to deal with visitors. If I may suggest, we could promote—”
“Already ahead of you,” Akira assured her. “I’ve issued two promotions just a few minutes ago. Jin-chan…” A smile began to curl at the corner of Chikako’s lips at the mention of Jin’s name “… has been promoted to kitchen staff, and Tsukasa-kun has been promoted to parlor.”
Chikako’s smile vanished instantly. She had been campaigning for years to get Jin on parlor staff. A promotion to the kitchen didn’t necessarily preclude that, but it made it much less likely. Akira was sending a clear message that he didn’t want her serving in the parlor. Further, Tsukasa had been promoted to parlor without consulting Chikako first. Akira was really putting her in her place. Normally, she would have protested, at least obliquely, but in the aftermath of Karin’s death, it seemed unimportant.
August 6th, U.C. 0051
For the first time in their careers, neither Chikako nor Aina participated in Penance Day.
November 2nd, U.C. 0051, 9:00 PM
Despite Akira’s order, things still remained tense between Aina and Chikako. They had tried to patch things up at every opportunity. Chikako knew that, as the senpai, she was supposed to be the bigger person, and Aina did appreciate that Chikako had covered for her, not only to Akira, but to most of the staff. However, neither were able to overcome their feelings. Chikako still blamed Aina, in part, for Karin’s death, and Aina blamed Chikako, in part, for forcing her to kill Noa and Kumi. On multiple occasions, Sena had tried to remind them that Akira was ultimately responsible for issuing those orders, but neither felt comfortable using that as an excuse for their own actions, so they couldn’t excuse each other’s actions either.
They remained professionally courteous, however, and to most casual observers, their troubles appeared behind them. The more astute noticed that they went to great lengths to minimize their interactions with one another. They no longer practiced together during Naomi’s advanced classes. Chikako took Karin’s place and practiced with Diaho, while Aina practiced with Naomi. They largely kept to different hallways when walking between rooms, and they even bathed at different times, so as to not run into each other in the public bath.
Despite all of that, they still wanted to make amends, it was just that neither of them could see a path to reconciliation. It wasn’t just for their own sakes that they wanted to patch things up. Tsukasa was having difficulties adjusting to her role as a parlor meido. She wasn’t good at it, and because of that, most of the other meido were gossiping behind her back, saying that she didn’t deserve the position. But there was no reason she couldn’t become a competent parlor meido. She made a lot of mistakes, but they were all minor issues. If Chikako and Aina could work together, their training efforts would probably be a lot more effective.
With that on her mind, Aina returned to her room after her bath. She stopped short upon opening the door, however. Tsukasa was in the room, sitting on the end of Aina’s bed, hugging her knees to her chest.
“Please close the door,” Tsukasa quickly pleaded. “I don’t want anyone else to know I’m here.”
Unsure of what was going on, Aina stepped into the room, closing the door behind her.
“Aina-senpai, can I ask a favor?” Tsukasa mumbled.
“Can I crash here for a few nights? Even just tonight. I don’t want anyone to know where I am.”
“Sure, I’m OK with that,” Aina told her reassuringly, “as long as you’re not trying to desert.” She could tell Tsukasa was upset about something, but wanting to disappear from the rest of the household was an unusual request, and a dangerous one.
“I’m not. I—At least, I don’t think I will.”
“Sounds serious,” Aina frowned. “Want to talk about it?” Tsukasa shook her head, and Aina’s frown deepened. “Would you like to talk to Jin-chan then? I can get her to–”
“Iie!” Tsukasa yelled. “I don’t want to see her most of all.” She hugged her knees tighter, tucking her chin under them.
Aina sat down on the bed next to Tsukasa and placed one arm around the girl. She had never seen Tsukasa acting so weak. It was almost as if Tsukasa was a different person, a vulnerable person. She had caught a glimpse of Tsukasa’s feminine side during the festival months prior, but even that Tsukasa had exuded strength. The Tsukasa next to her was a complete stranger.
“OK, I won’t tell her where you are. You can stay here for as long as you need. Just don’t do anything rash, OK?”
Tsukasa leaned towards Aina and buried her head in Aina’s shoulder. From her sniffles, Aina could tell that Tsukasa was crying. She held Tsukasa for long minutes, not saying anything. She couldn’t help but wonder if Tsukasa would have clung so tightly to her if she knew she was a lesbian. It wasn’t that Aina found anything about this situation arousing, but she worried that the other girls would always be on guard around her if they knew. Then again, Tsukasa had seen her go off alone with Fumiko at the festival, so maybe she had her suspicions.
“Senpai, you’re the only one I can turn to. What should I do?” Tsukasa finally managed, sitting back up.
“Nani happened? Another mistake? Did you insult goshujin-sama’s guest?”
“Iie, I…” Tsukasa shook her head. “Worse than that. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I won’t force you to, but I can’t help you if I don’t know what happened.”
“Promise you won’t hate me?” Tsukasa asked biting her lower lip.
“Promise,” Aina said soothingly, sticking out a pinky.
“It’s really bad,” Tsukasa warned her.
“I’ve kept our yakusoku so far.”
After a moment of hesitation, Tsukasa reached out and weakly curled her pinky around Aina’s. Then, she began to speak.
“I was serving goshujin-sama ocha in his study. He didn’t have much work tonight, so we were chatting a bit. I… Anou… I started flirting with him.” Tsukasa paused to see what effect this revelation would have on Aina, but Aina remained stone-faced despite a knot beginning to form in the pit of her stomach. “It wasn’t the first time. We’ve been flirting for about a month now.”
“Just flirting?” Aina asked. She knew she should just let Tsukasa tell her story, but she was curious about the feminine Tsukasa that she hardly knew.
“Just flirting, mostly. Sometimes one of us would accidentally bump into the other, and we’d let our hands linger a little longer than necessary. Soshite… I couple times I sat on his lap and fed him teacakes.”
Aina didn’t like where this story was going. This was not appropriate behavior between employer and employee, and with Tsukasa so upset, Aina feared she knew how this story ended, and it was making her angry. She could understand Tsukasa’s behavior. They were similar ages, and both becoming aware of, and experimenting with, their own sexualities. Akira and Diaho were the only two men in the house, and Diaho’s personality was a bit skeevy. But Akira knew better than to allow something like that to go on, much less encourage it.
“The other night, I even licked some jam off the corner of his mouth,” Tsukasa continued, her lips curling into a sad smile. “So tonight, I expected he might try to push things a little further, but I never suspected he’d push me down onto the sofa.”
“Kuso,” Aina swore under her breath. She grabbed Tsukasa’s shoulders and turned her so that they were face to face. “Did he rape you?” She braced herself for the reply.
“Iie! It’s not like that!” Shock spread across Tsukasa’s face at the accusation. As if it were infectious, Aina mirrored the expression. “I mean, it wouldn’t have been rape, you know? I wanted him, senpai, I just didn’t expect him to make a move so quickly. Gomen if this is weird for you. He’s kind of like your otousan, ne? You probably don’t want to hear about him getting it on with your tomodachi.”
“Iie, that’s fine, but, just, if he didn’t do anything to you, nani’s the problem?”
“That is the problem,” Tsukasa clarified. “He pushed me down, and it scared me at first, but I thought I was ready. We started making out, and I could feel him pressing against my leg. You get my meaning?” Aina nodded. “He reached up and grabbed my panties and then… And then…” Tsukasa looked down at the floor in embarrassment. “He went limp. And then I… ran out of the room in embarrassment and found myself here.”
Aina breathed a sigh of relief, but then caught herself when she saw the pained expression on Tsukasa’s face. Of course, she realized that it had been a blow to Tsukasa’s self-confidence and pride, but it was much better than the alternative. Part of her was surprised that Akira had been the aggressor, but she wasn’t as shocked as she would have been just three months ago.
“That’s it?” Aina asked.
“Don’t give me that, this is a big deal!” Tsukasa countered. “I’m a failure as a meido.”
“Nani? Iie, you’re not. Look, his reaction has nothing to do with you personally. He knows it’s wrong to lay his hands on the staff. His reason just caught up with him, that’s all.”
“Nani are you talking about? There’s nothing wrong with a goshujin and his meido doing ecchi things. Next to onii-imouto love, the love between goshujin and meido is the purest form of koi there is.”
“Iie, that’s just an exaggeration. A joudan.”
“Joudan ja nai yo! Maybe you’ve never had to care because you already had his ai, but this is what the rest of us strive for. I know the rest of them are already gossiping about how much I suck as a parlor meido. If this gets out, my life is over. They’ll never let me live it down.”
“That’s not true. Maybe a few of the girls believe that, but most of them don’t look at goshujin-sama that way.”
“That’s the worst part. They don’t look at goshujin-sama that way. They all just want to get with him to climb a few rungs on the ladder. I’m the only one who really has feelings for him. The rest of them just want to get their claws into him.”
“I’ve never heard anyone say that they want to get with goshujin-sama.”
“Because they’ve never said it to you. You’re one of the elite. You have his favor, and you’re strong. For the rest of us, this is the only way we can approach your level.”
“Wakatta, wakatta. I believe you.” Aina wasn’t sure if she really believed Tsukasa, but she wanted to calm her down. “You can stay here for now, and I won’t tell anyone where you are. In the meantime, we can think about how to handle this together. I’ve got your back. I’ll even talk to goshujin-sama for you if you want.”
“Arigatou,” Tsukasa said quietly.
“One question though. You said he grabbed your underwear. How did he get under your uniform?”
“I was wearing my service uniform.”
“I’m sure you never got one, but come on, even you have to know what they are. You can’t be that sheltered.”
“Hontou, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Tsukasa grabbed the hem of her dress to pull it back, revealing black thighhighs and lace underwear.
“I bought the panties myself,” Tsukasa boasted. “That’s why I took it extra hard when he backed off.”
But Aina wasn’t looking at the panties. Her eyes were focused on the thighhighs. They were the same design that Mari was wearing in the photograph she had sent Aina. A service uniform. She had never known. Had Mari been forced to “service” the prime minister? Was this going on in all the great households? The whole concept made her sick, but the revelation that she had been getting special treatment all these years was almost worse. She knew she had Akira’s favor, and that she was stronger than most, but she hadn’t thought she was getting special privileges because of it. Facing that reality was tough, but it caused a lot of things to make sense in hindsight, and it reminded Aina of a recent exchange with Naomi.
“Go to Jigoku.”
“Amusing. Just where do you think I’ve been these last fifty years, Mme Aina?”