It was the second round already in which Taiga had been left out in the end, but he couldn’t keep up with Kentaro and Fuma no matter how often he joined them.
“You can always join for a third round,” Fuma teased him as Taiga got back into his kimono.
“Oh trust me I’d love to, but to be honest I fear the noon opening hours are almost over.”
“Doesn’t Reia usually tell you when it’s closing time?” Kentaro asked as he slowly sat up, but ended up getting attacked by Fuma right away, making him giggle as the latter’s tongue found his collarbone.
“That’s what he usually does, yes. Let me just check the time, okay?”
“Take your time,” Fuma was heard muffled against the other one’s chest and Taiga left the room shaking his head. Was there even a reason to pay for him as well when he usually spent his time mostly on Kentaro anyways?
Looking out at the corridor Taiga saw how Taisuke brought Hiromitsu to the exit and the customer waved at him with a smile before he left.
“Is the noon time over?” Taiga asked as he approached his senpai.
“Yes it is, didn’t Reia tell you?”
“No he didn’t come to our room.”
“Mh weird, a while ago he already came to our room.”
Why did it worry Taiga out of a sudden? Maybe he was still busy going around the other rooms?
“Go and look for him, I will throw out Fuma.”
With a chuckle Taiga thanked him and kept walking through the corridors of the front of the house. The rooms on his way were all empty, no customer left as it seemed.
He made his way towards the rooms in the back of the corridor they usually didn’t use at noon hours when he heard a noise from somewhere at the end of the corridor. The rooms there were specially reserved for evening guests from the teahouse so no one should be in there. Halting his steps Taiga suddenly felt weirdly uncomfortable. The next time he heard the noise he was sure he hadn’t misheard. It was a whimper, not of the sad type, but of the desperate one. A sound not coming out as it should be, because someone was trying to keep the sounds hidden.
With a wave of rage already filling his body Taiga hurried down the corridor. It couldn’t be. There was no way he would have gone that far. There was no reason for it or was there…
The sounds got louder the closer he got and it took Taiga a lot of effort not to rip the door out of its frame as he slid it open. The picture in front of him was exactly what he had feared, yet it didn’t make any sense to him.
Reia turned his face away the moment he saw Taiga on which Ren let go of him after he had obviously violently tried to keep him silent. But the damage had already been done and there was no way Taiga could make up for not realizing the danger earlier. Reia was shivering all over, his sobs filling the room while Ren backed off, closing his yukata as if he had just been done with a customer.
“What? You wanted me to work, right?”
The arrogant smile on the latter’s face made Taiga freak and he stormed into the room, taking Ren by the hair and dragging him out to the corridor. This time he was at full strength and he wouldn’t let Ren push him around. Never would he let this boy do as he liked. He was obviously more of a demon than Taiga had thought.
“Let go, you are hurting me!” Ren complained on which Taiga slammed him into the wall with such a force that the boy let out a pained yelp.
“Hurting you? Boy, trust me you don’t know what pain is yet!”
Once more Taiga dragged the boy along the corridor and when Ren started struggling with all his might Taiga got violent with him for the first time and hit him quite hard on the head.
“What is going on? Taiga, what are you doing?” Reo was heard worried as he hurried down the corridor towards him.
“Explanations later, keep an eye on Reia. Please?” Taiga tried to sound as calm as possible, but Reo was fast in catching up with the situation and he hurried past them towards the room from where they could hear even louder sobs and cries now.
When they had made it to the front of the corridor Taiga dragged the boy towards the center garden where they were now visible for all the people in the front of the house.
“Taiga, what’s going on?” Taisuke yelled over to him after he had obviously made Fuma leave. Kentaro stood next to him with a confused yet alarmed expression while Taiga kept dragging the boy on the hair with Ren screaming at him furiously.
Without being able to stop him they all had to watch as Taiga threw Ren into the pond they had in the middle of the inside garden.
“Are you out of your mind?” Taisuke scolded him, not knowing of the situation.
“STAY OUT OF THIS,” Taiga yelled back at his senpai, making Taisuke’s and also Kentaro’s look turn to stunned. Never had he spoken up this impolite against his senpais.
With the next move Taiga jumped into the pond as well, pulling Ren back as the boy tried to run away from him.
“You want to know what pain is? I will show you,” Taiga hissed at the other one and pushed his head down, forcing it underwater.
“Okay, that is getting too far, we’ve to stop him!” Kentaro was heard worried next to them and Taiga saw them hurrying over to them, but then their steps stopped and Taiga turned to have a quick look at what was going on. To his surprise he found Kamenashi standing next to them and he had stopped them.
The owner’s expression didn’t seem pleased and Taiga knew he was going to get into a lot of trouble later, but he didn’t care. When their looks met Taiga turned back to Ren who had started struggling for his life after more seconds had passed. Kamenashi wouldn’t stop him and that was all he needed to know for now.
After about thirty seconds Taiga pulled the boy up and Ren let out some painful coughs while he tried to claw Taiga’s face to make him let go. The older one immediately pushed him down once more. Ren’s struggle started even fast this time, but Taiga let him underwater even longer.
“Taiga,” Kamenashi let out warningly on which he pulled Ren up once more. This time the boy had no energy left to struggle that much anymore as he tried to take some deep breaths, interrupted by his coughing.
“I tell you this once,” Taiga hissed and made the boy face him, his fingers clawing the other one’s cheekbones. “Each time you dare to disrespect any member, customer or other person in Yoshiwara, each time you dare to speak up, hurt someone or even give us a disrespectful look I will throw you back into this pond and I will add five more seconds for each time you mess up. You don’t seem to care for others and even less for yourself, so I will also stop caring for you. Let’s see if there is any kind of survival instinct in your poisoned mind.”
Ren was still too exhausted and obviously too shocked to give a clear reply to that and Taiga shoved him back into the pond, but let go of him this time. Ren swallowed some water again on the sudden move, but didn’t try to speak up against him or attack. After he had crawled back to the side of the pond Taiga moved out of it to the other side towards Kamenashi and the others.
To his surprise he found Juri next to them holding a yukata in his hands. Even Ryota and Shota were standing at the door to the back of the house, looking at everything from a safe distance. But the only thing that was important to him was that none of them seemed to judge him.
Taiga threw his kimono right next to the pond and grabbed the yukata Juri was holding out to him with a brief thank you on which Juri gave him an understanding nod.
“Please give me a few more minutes,” Taiga asked of Kamenashi as his look fell down the corridor towards the open door and the owner knew of course that this situation wasn’t solved yet.
“Take your time, but make sure to find me in my room as soon as everything calmed down. I will make sure that Tatsuya or Shintaro will always have an eye on Ren from now on.”
Taiga thanked the owner and apologized quickly to his senpais for his impolite behavior before he went down the corridor, not even spending Ren any more attention.
Arriving back at the room he found Reo holding Reia in his arms. The boy was still crying and his body was shaking nonstop.
“Thank you Reo,” Taiga whispered as he dropped on his knees next to them on which Reia’s cries suddenly seemed to get even louder and he clawed his hands into the other one’s sleeves.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry,” Reo said soothingly as he carefully pushed Reia a bit to the back. What didn’t surprise Taiga was when the boy didn’t turn towards him, but curled up against the wall instead.
Reo gave him a sad look on his behavior, but Taiga shook his head and whispered another thank you towards the younger one. Reo got up and shut the door to give them some private time to talk.
For a while longer Taiga remained silent, looking at the boy in front of him. Reia’s working clothes were torn, the room had been turned into a mess and there were even claw marks on the tatami floor. The blood on the floor didn’t come from that though and it hurt Taiga even more. How had they not realized what was going on? How much had the boy fought and tried to stop Ren without them noticing?
It was almost inaudible between Reia’s ongoing sobs and Taiga’s heart felt like it had been stabbed.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry….”
He kept going on and on until Taiga couldn’t take it anymore and he moved closer and pulled Reia against his chest. The boy’s cries turned louder again on that action, but Taiga wouldn’t let him go.
“Don’t say that ever again. This is not your fault! Don’t apologize!”
Reia tried to get away from Taiga, but the older one just tightened his grip and when the boy realized he wouldn’t get away he turned around, hiding his face against Taiga’s chest instead.
“I feel so embarrassed…” he whispered and it brought tears into Taiga’s eyes this time.
“I should be the one saying that! I should also be the one apologizing. I didn’t realize that you were in danger. I am the one who messed up and I am so sorry for being at fault for you having to go through such a painful experience.”
Reia grabbed Taiga’s arms with a tight grip as he shook his head, but there was no need to keep arguing. They were both hurt, both disappointed.
“I made him angry,” Reia said in a shaking voice after a few minutes in silence in which he slowly got in control of his emotions. “I challenged him and now I’ve to deal with the consequences.”
Taiga didn’t need to ask somehow he knew already that something like this had been going on. Yet Reia needed to get it off his chest so he let him keep talking.
“I was the one who broke the vase the other day. I cut myself on the arm. I wanted to show him that he was worthless, that no one would believe him even if he told you I was a liar.”
It had worked. Taiga couldn’t deny that he easily saw Ren as the bad one and Reia as the victim, but challenging the boy like that had indeed made Reia the victim in the end.
Taiga couldn’t scold him. There was no way he would tell him that he was wrong, at least not now.
“I should have spent more attention to you. I should have taken better care of you.”
It was a weird chuckle swallowed by another sob coming from Reia on Taiga’s words. “You are there for me all the time and yet I was jealous of him getting so much attention from you. It’s just...I…”
Here they were back at the topic. Each time Reia was about to speak about it he crawled back into his shell, but somehow Taiga knew he wouldn’t do so this time.
Reia took another shaking breath before he dared to speak again and Taiga felt how he teared up once more knowing already what he would say. “I wanted it to be you. I always wanted to ask, yet I felt way too embarrassed about it. You were the one who made it possible for me to be an assistant instead of one of the boys, you also have Juri at your side...there was no way I would ruin your happiness.”
This time Taiga was the one to start crying as he pulled Reia even closer and placed a kiss on his hair. “Idiot, you should have asked. I was waiting for you to ask all this time.”
There was no surprise on Reia’s face hearing that, after all he had definitely been aware of how easily Taiga could read his expression each time Taiga undressed in front of him or put makeup on.
“I am sorry….”
And they were back at apologizing, but what else was left to say? Taiga pulled the boy even closer in his embrace as Reia closed his hands around his body. Those wounds would need a long time to heal for both of them. Important was that they were aware of what the other one was feeling and that they kept talking things through from now on to make sure that something like this would never occur ever again.
Even though the preparations for the upcoming Yoshiwara Matsuri were going as planned the atmosphere in the house was unbearable dark. There was no way they were allowed to take off because of the recent happenings in the house, but the teahouses didn’t have as many guests as before through the murders, so most of the time all of them were just working inside the house, taking care of their regular customers.
“You should really take a break.”
Taiga ignored the person coming inside the kimono room after it had been already the third one bothering him. Reo had given up when Fu had come by, but Kentaro had been more persistent until Taiga almost picked a fight with him.
When the kimono he was folding together was taken out of his hands he wanted to snatch it back, but Ryosuke was faster and put it on one of the cupboards before he sat down next to Taiga on the tatami.
“I should really put a lock on that door when I work,” Taiga hissed.
“Maybe shut it in the first place?”
A short look over his shoulder showed that he had indeed left the door wide open the whole time, so it was no wonder that everyone was trying to talk him into a break.
“You don’t have to finish Reia’s work at the same speed, you know that. You are not an assistant and you have customers as well, why won’t you leave it to other assistants?”
“Like who? Ren?” Taiga shot at Ryosuke more annoyed than he wanted and the older one seemed not pleased with his aggressive behavior.
“Sorry, I know I shouldn’t behave like this. But I also can’t face Ren at the moment.”
“Better don’t or you might drown him for good this time,” Ryosuke said as he started helping Taiga folding the freshly washed kimonos.
It was a joke, of course. Yet Taiga couldn’t take it as one, because the chance that he would actually do it was there and it scared him a bit.
“Hey, don’t space out,” Ryosuke warned him as Taiga kept looking at the ground instead of folding the next kimono. When Ryosuke wanted to take it away from him Taiga tried to be faster and pulled the kimono away, but Ryosuke trapped his hands on which Taiga froze in his movements and looked up at the other one.
“Everyone in the house told me how stubborn you are and how easily you load all the problems and guilt on your shoulders. I thought they were exaggerating, but I fear they didn’t.”
Was it because Ryosuke still didn’t know him that well that he looked so worried or was he just way more patient than all the others? Because recently he got scolded more than actually worried for.
Lost in his thoughts he flinched when one of Ryosuke’s hands found the scar over his eye with a light touch and with a shiver Taiga closed his eye.
“Don’t you think you have proven yourself enough already?”
A bit hesitant Taiga moved his own hand up and took Ryosuke’s hand away. “Maybe I need to prove myself that I am not becoming like those I feared for so long.”
“You protected your kohai there is nothing wrong with that.”
“And still rage is the only emotion I can feel over the past week. I didn’t even once enter Reia’s room to ask how he is feeling.”
“And Reia didn’t come out either, so he doesn’t want to talk about it yet. Give him time,” Ryosuke soothed him with a brief smile while he took one of Taiga’s hands in both of his with a tighter grip this time. “Maybe taking a break inside the house isn’t actually what you need at the moment.”
There was a brief moment of silence before there was a small chuckle from Ryosuke on which Taiga lifted an eyebrow. “What is it?”
“Nothing, all good. Make sure to take a break when you are done here, okay?”
Without any kind of explanation Ryosuke got up and flashed Taiga another bright smile before he headed to the open doors and wanted to head towards the front of the house.
“Whoa, you scared me.”
When Taiga turned around to see what was going on he found Ryosuke looking at someone who was standing next to the door, but he had to shift a bit more to the front to be able to see who it was.
“Juri, is something the matter?” Taiga asked as he saw his boyfriend standing next to the door. Juri needed a moment to realize that he had addressed him and he looked up at Ryosuke first before he faced Taiga with a weird expression and shook his head.
“No, all good. I was just on my way to take a break.”
Before Taiga could reply anything Juri vanished up the stairs to their living quarters.
“Seems like we all need some time off,” Ryosuke said looking after Juri.
It was one sleepless night after the other and after finally falling asleep at some point Taiga didn’t want to get up at all, but he needed to, because after all he had to take care of all the errands Reia was usually in charge off. He knew the boy needed some more time, so for now he had to at least try and cover up for him. Luckily he didn’t have any reservations in any tea house until the evening either.
With a groan he turned around, hoping to find Juri’s chest to snuggle into, but his forehead hit the boy’s back, which actually surprised him, because even if he turned away at night it was usually always Juri who faced him in the morning no matter if he was asleep or not.
Carefully Taiga got up, not wanting to wake up Juri as the boy didn’t need to help him with all the duties he shouldered himself with. Getting into one of his yukata, a new one he got from Tegoshi the year before as a birthday present. It was white with a blue bamboo pattern, which had Taiga actually ask if he had somehow mixed up the colors, but it had been Juri’s idea to make the bamboo blue, because like that the yukata was as unique as the kimono he still cared for so much.
With quiet steps Taiga made his way towards the front of the house. Except for a few of the assistants no one else was awake yet, but Taiga had spotted Shintaro in front of Ren’s room. For now he didn't want to bother though. For the night they were putting a lock on his door and at day time Tatsuya or Shintaro would make sure that he was doing the work Kamenashi ordered him to do.
Getting ready to leave Taiga slid open the front door of the house, but collided with someone trying to get inside, obviously in a hurry. The boy stepped back immediately and wanted to apologize as he realized who was standing in front of him.
“Taiga…” Reia let out startled, grabbing the bag he was holding now even tighter. “What are you doing here so early in the morning?”
“Isn’t that my question?” Taiga asked calmly as he of course saw what the boy was doing. Running his errands as early as possible to not get seen and then vanish back inside his room.
“I didn’t want to cause trouble, so I-”
“Reia, you are not causing trouble,” Taiga soothed him immediately, but the boy still looked away guilty. “You don’t have to hide from any of us, but you also don’t have to get up at ridiculous times to do your duties. But thank you for getting the rice like that the heaviest thing on my list is gone.”
The teasing smile Taiga formed finally made Reia’s expression brighten up a tiny bit as well, but it was still far away from a smile. “I am sorry I bothered you with my duties over the last week. I will do them properly again from now on!”
“But at normal daytime, okay? For now get a bit more sleep.”
“But I still need to-”
“You need sleep! End of discussion! I am going to get everything else, okay?”
Taiga dared to stretch his arm out and put it on the boy’s hair as he had done it so often before and luckily Reia didn’t pull away. It was one big step into the right direction.
“Okay…” Reia said a bit hesitant before he bowed slightly. “Thank you.”
It felt somehow liberating to see Reia walking around the house once more. Just the fact that he could have a normal conversation without a breakdown was a huge recovery compared to the first two nights when they could all hear Reia cry in his room.