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** Some time has passed since the last chapter. The time frame being now a few months later. :)**

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

You’ve been in the States a whole year this month!” 

    “Mm. Time does fly doesn’t it?”

    “I miss you.”

    “You sure you don’t miss the free sake?”

    “Please. Japan is so empty without you Hiroto-kun.”  He chuckled. It had been quite a while since he had talked to Tobu and it was conversation that he so badly needed. 

    “So… how is she?”



    “Ah…she’s…she’s fine.”

    “I don’t know where you stand with Kiko but I’d be on my knees kissing the ground Rae walked on for forgiveness.” 

    “Trust me, I am trying.” 




    “I…I really hurt her.” A thoughtful silence came and then, 

    “Yes. You did. I can’t imagine how she has felt all these years.” He was quiet so he continued, 

    “Hiroto…you know you would’ve been happy with her. Even if you never saw Japan again at least you would have had her. You were both so young then…You would have made it work… you had time to make it work! I don’t doubt it would have been a struggle… but wouldn’t it have been worth it to be with the woman you loved?” He gripped the phone, his eyes growing teary. 

    “You would have been free Hiroto-kun! Free from your parents and free from everything that would have held you down! In America, you could have started over… started fresh with her.” 

    “I know..I know that.”

    “You guys have gone back to square one. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe this is the chance you will get to know her all over and discover new things.”     


    “How is Mom?” He lifted his hand to wipe the small tear drops that had rested on his eyelashes. 

    “Getting better I hear. No doubt she is giving the nurses and doctors hell though.” Tobu snickered. 

    “Yeah let her get all healed up. I can’t wait to see her face when you bring Rae-chan back here all wifed up. My life will be made.”

    “You’re an idiot.”

    “No. You are.” They shared a laugh. 

    “I better go Hiro-kun.”


    “Yeah. Wouldn’t want to keep the busy businessman from his subjects.”

    “Nakamura Tobu is quite the jokester hm?” He laughed, biting his lip. 

    “Well if you insist Tobu…I’ll talk to you soon hm?”


    “See you.”

    “See you later.” 



    “Is anyone sitting here?” She looked up to find Hiroto standing in front of her, a small box in his hands. 


    “May I sit?”

    “I don’t care.” He pulled out a chair and sat down, placing his box on the table. She ate some more as she looked at it briefly. She recognized it…a bento. She hadn’t seen one in so long.  Her tongue was fixed to ask him what goodies he had inside but she just cleared her throat and pressed it against the roof of her mouth. He popped open the box and picked up his hashi. Whispering a soft ‘itadakimasu’ he began to eat. It was silent and the lack of noise was starting to make her uncomfortable but she pinched her toes together inside of her shoes and kept eating. A knock at the door made her pause. 

    “Hey! Mind if I join y’all?” Shelley. She let out a breath and smiled. 

    “Come on in girl.” Thank God. Shelly beamed and sat down next to her. Grabbing her paper bag, she paused as she watched Hiroto eat. 

    “Um… what is that box thing he’s eating?” He lifted his eyes and upon meeting Shelley’s, a blush broke out on her skin. She looked flustered. An effect only he could have on members of the opposite sex. She rolled her eyes and continued to watch them. 

    “It’s called a bento.” 

    “B-Bento?” Shelley stuttered in a reply. He grinned. 

    “Yes. It is a lunch that we have in Japan. It’s quite the normal. Like here you have…well…paper bags?” She nodded. 

    “Yeah. We tend to put our lunches in anything really…I guess we have containers too shaped like that! B-but it’s not as pretty looking as yours. Right Rae?” She turned to look at her. She shrugged and continued to chew her fruit. Shelley cleared her throat and began to eat. 

    “Mr. Iwase?” She asked after a small bite. 


    “I don’t know if Rae told you but…this is employee break room only…I didn’t want to tell you while you were eating.” His hashi paused. 

    “Ah is it?”


    “Where are the others located?”

    “Uh…well Affinity does not have a place for guests to eat their lunch. Most of the execs that visit go out to lunch.” He slowly placed his hashi on the table and sat back. 

    “I see. Well I appreciate you for telling me.” He covered his lunch with the lid. 

    “That doesn’t mean you have to go.” Shelley spoke up, looking at her for backup. She sighed. 

    “You’re already here Mr. Iwase. You might as well stay.” His gaze was intense and his lips smiled. 

    “All right. I appreciate it.” And so soon they all were eating again. Even though it had been forever since she had eaten in the same space with Hiroto, it was actually kinda nice.The tiniest bit nice. She was grateful for Shelley, it made it less awkward. Shelley sighed next to her and crunched up her paper bag. 

    “I think it’s time for us to get back to work now Mr. Iwase.” He nodded with a small polite smile and wrapped up his empty bento. 

    “Thank you for letting me eat with you two. It was a pleasure.” 

    “No problem!” Shelley said with a smile. But his eyes had drifted to her and she swallowed. 

    “Have a good day.” She said quietly, slowly lifting her eyes to his. 

    “You as well.” He got up and left them sitting in the room. It had grown quiet again before she heard Shelley twist in her seat to face her. 

    “Okay, spill it.” She said, a smile on her face. Blinking, she stared blankly back at her. 

    “Uh… spill what?” 

    “Is there something going on between you and Iwase?” She felt her cheeks grow warm and clutched her fists together. 

    “No! Why would you say that?” Be cool Rae. Be cool.

    “Did you see the way he was looking at you?” She shrugged and got up to throw her container in the trash. 

    “What are you talking about? That man could give two squats about me.” She knew better. But see, Shelley didn’t need to know that. 

    “Girl, stop while you’re ahead. The man was looking at you like he was…dare I say it… in love with you!” She snort but gripped her container tightly. 

    “Shells, you trippin.” Shelley clucked her tongue and got up. 

    “I saw it. Maybe you ain’t feelin him. But he damn sure is feeling you. Big time.” Sighing deeply, she let the container fall from her hands and turned around to look at her, a small scowl on her face. 

    “So what? He better stay in his lane.” Shelley sighed. 

    “I don’t mean to be nosey Rae but.…everyone in the office is talkin about you two. That day you went missing… you were with him weren’t you?”  For the first time, Shelley was actually getting on her nerves. Pursing her lips, she replied in a cool tone, 

    “I don’t know why you wanna know about my being around Mr. Iwase so much but your diggin for info ain’t workin. Leave it alone.” The expression on Shelley’s face grew stiff with hurt. 

    “Rae..I’m…I didn’t mean anything by it…”

    “Please Shells. Stop asking questions okay? There is nothing between that man and I.” She gave a apologetic smile and returned to her cubicle. 


    “Mr. Iwase?” 


    “Your fiancee is here.” He paused, the conversation he had been having with an executive in France interrupted. 

    “If I may, could I call you back Mr. DuPonce?”

    “It is no problem Hiro. Call me when you are available.”

    “Thank you.”

    “Good day.”

    “Good day to you as well Mr. DuPonce.” He hung up the phone and sighed. 

    “She’s here you said?”

    “Yes Mr. Iwase. Should I escort her in?” A headache that had disappeared for a while suddenly came rushing back. He pinched the bridge of his nose.

    “Please.” He stood up and gripped his desk and soon the last shred of peace left him as Kiko entered. She bowed to his assistant and waited until the door was closed. 

    “Hi Hiro…” He took a deep breath. 

    “Hello.” She looked around. 

    “It has been a while hasn’t it?” He hadn’t taken his eyes off of her yet and replied, his tone neutral, 


    “You’ve stopped calling. I was worried.” She said softly, finally meeting his eyes. 

    “I have been busy.”

    “I see.” Her eyes dropped and she licked her lips. 

    “Have you been with her? Is she the one who has been taking up all of your time?” His fingers were starting to tingle with how hard he gripped the wood of his desk. 

    “Yes I have been with her.” There was no reason to lie to her. If she asked, he would tell her. 

    “Your busyness has no doubt been…pleasurable then at least.” Whatever it was she assumed, he wasn’t going to correct her. 

    “Have you thought about what we discussed during our last conversation?” The change in subject made her jump. She blinked, hurt welling up in her eyes in the form of tears. 

    “How can you just change the subject like that? Is it so easy for you?” 


    “No… I have endured this time apart from you and every moment it has hurt me. Please do not forget…whatever you think you have with this woman… she is not your fiancee.” He licked his lips and finally let go of the desk. 

    “Kiko listen to me. If you cannot understand then I cannot explain it to you. There is nothing I can offer to you.”

    “You told me about what our families did… and the pact they made. While my feelings on this matter are still unclear… what I do know is that… my feelings for you will never go away Hiro.”  

    “That may be. But one thing remains and that is my distrust of you.” She gripped the straps to her purse tightly and brought her eyes to his, watery and unclear. 

    “I’ve apologized to you.”

    “This is not enough.”

    “What more must I do?” She cried, one by one tears falling down her cheeks. 

    “Give me time. Apart from you.”

    “While you spend it with that woman?”

    “Whether you like it or not, I will rebuild the relationship I have with that woman. She is the one who truly deserves the Iwase name. She will be my wife.” 


    “There is nothing you can do to change my mind.” 

    “Please think it through…more. Please.” She replied in English before bowing. Sniffling, she briskly walked out of his office. The headache intensified and he sat down with a groan. He had to figure out a way to get her to see his point of view. Whatever circumstances that had occured between them, he honestly did not want to hurt her. If things had been different… he could have called her ‘imouto’ fondly. What he wanted to do now more than ever was make right not just the damage done between Rae and himself but Kiko. He felt responsible for his family’s actions. It was simply a thing no one but Japanese could understand. And being so, he wanted to make it all right. To do this however… he had to begin the process. Pressing his forehead against the cool surface of the desk, he slowly exhaled. It was time…and truth be told… he was a bit scared. But it was something he couldn’t and wouldn’t run away from anymore. If he didn’t have Rae beside him… it still was something he had to do. 

    “Right then.” He whispered and pushed back his chair. He opened the small side drawer and pulled out the same documents he had been going over the entire time he had been here. He would do this. He could do this… 


    “Rae?” She looked up to find her younger sister Erica standing in front of her. 


    “What were you saying?” 

    “I was sayin somethin?” Erica looked at her like she was crazy. 

    “Uh… yeah?” She licked her lips and glanced down at her hands which laid on the kitchen table. She must have zoned out.

    “Sorry honey, I must have spaced out. What was the last thing I was saying?” Erica sighed and grabbed some greens and ran them under warm water. 

    “You were talking about a break.” A break? 


    “Yeah.” She gripped her hands together and smiled to herself. A break. She needed one so very badly. 

    “What brought this on all of a sudden Rae? Why you wanna leave so soon?” She watched as her sister began to shred the greens. 

    “I just need time away from the office.” 

    “Then come home! Rest up here.” She bit her lips. 

    “I don’t think that would be a good idea. I was thinking maybe more alone…and away from everyone…” Away from you. Erica snort. 

    “You ain’t making any sense. I don’t get it.” It’s not for you to get. 

    “I’m thinking Seattle. For a couple of weeks.”


    “Yeah.” Erica stirred the greens in the pot, the smell of the ham hock making her mouth water.     

    “It rains there all the time I hear. You sure that’s the best place for you to go?” She flared her nostrils. 

    “I’m sure Erica. You don’t have to agree with me.” Erica stopped stirring and turned to face her. 

    “I don’t mean to sound unsupportive Rae…I just don’t know where this sudden urge to leave came from! You talkin about leavin your job and all of us…to go do Lord knows what by yourself in another city!” She got up and gently slid a braid behind Erica’s ear. 

    “It’s my decision sweetheart. It may not make sense to you… but I have to do this okay? Just tell me you’ll be here when I get back.” Erica pouted, sighing. 

    “You make it sound like I’m going to abandon you or somethin…” Smiling, she pressed a kiss to her forehead and went to grab her purse. 

    “Keep cookin kiddo! It smells delish!” She winked at Erica before closing the door behind her. 


    “Moshi Moshi?” 



    “Ebere please. And yes. It’s me.” Fingers gripped the phone tightly, the language once familiar now bitter with disuse. 

    “What’s wrong?” His voice was a bit surprised and she couldn’t blame him. It had been so long since they had conversed in Japanese. Hers was more than rusty. 

    “I’m calling because I want to see you.” There was a silence on the other end for a while. One minute, two minute, three minute, almost four…


    “Ah, yes! Yes, I’m here.” He replied quickly. She took a breath and brought her mouth closer to the receiver. 

    “Are you available?” 

    “Ah…I have an appointment in the morning. I was just about to head to bed.” She bit her bottom lip. 

    “I see. Sorry for interrupting. I’ll just see you later then-”

    “Wait. W-where are you?” She inhaled slowly. 

    “I’m currently at home.” Again, there was quite a long pause in between his next reply, 

    “You want me to come to your home?” She pulled the phone away from her ear, muted the sound and pressed it against her lap. Her breathing was growing heavy and tears were making her vision misty. What was she doing? 

    “Ebere? Hello?” She lowered her head and took a shaky breath. She had to try. She had decided that she was not going to run away from this painful process of healing. It hurt her, cut deep to the bone. But…on top of everything that had happened to her… she deserved to be free. And happy. Picking up the phone, she sniffed and unmuted herself. 

    “Yes.” Her voice was soft and full of tears. 


    “I…I want you to come over. Just for a little while. We need to talk.” He grew quiet for a while before, 

    “Okay. Whatever you’d like.” She nodded, holding the phone tightly. 

    “I’ll… I’ll text you my a-address.” 


    “Okay…” She left it at that and hung up. She text him her address and placed the phone on the couch. Going into the bathroom, she washed her face. Looking at herself in the mirror, she  paused. Before anything else… before loving him… she had first been his friend. She could do this right? It scared the hell out of her to be honest. A big part of her wanted to be angry and spiteful still. But then… would that make her no better than her mother? She eyed the smooth skin on her face and neck and sighed. She was far from it… far from perfect. The scars that still existed on her stomach testified to that. But with time they too had faded… even a little. Even they had gotten a chance to heal. The scars that ran deep on the inside had never been touched. All these years she had just bandaged them and kept going, not stopping to properly treat them. 

    “All the people who haven’t loved me…have they made me not want to love myself?” She asked herself quietly, looking down at her bare stomach. That would not do. That was not who she was. And she refused to continue to mistreat herself. Clearing her throat, she wiped some tears that had fallen and pulled her hair up into a ponytail. A knock at the door made her hands pause. Breathe. It’ll be alright. Putting on a shirt, she clasped her shaky hands together and went in the direction of the door. 


    He stood outside, hands sweaty. Gripping them on his pants, he tried to calm his breathing. His thoughts raced and jumbled together and at the moment he couldn’t think straight. He heard the lock to her door slide back and slowly the door opened. Her face appeared and it seemed the very breath had been taken from his lungs. She gripped the door and brought her gaze to his chest. 

    “I shouldn’t have called you so late. I’m sorry about that.” Her voice was low and quiet. 

    “It’s no problem. I don’t mind at all.”

    “Um… do you… um…” He pried his hands off of his pant legs and cleared his throat. 

    “May I come in?” He asked, careful to keep his voice gentle and soothing.

    “Oh… y-yeah. Sure.” She opened the door enough for him to enter. Here goes nothing… He slowly stepped into her house and was shocked to find how small of a space it was. He looked around, eyes trying to take in everything at once. 

    “It’s small I know. I don’t really prefer to be flashy.” She explained closing the door behind him. 

    “Ah…I don’t mean to criticize…” He said, hands held up in defense. She shook her head and came closer. 

    “No offense taken Hiroto. You’re fine.”  He stood near her table, a small quaint piece of furniture that didn’t take up too much space and looked just right for her. 

    “You can take your shoes off.” She said softly, walking past him into the kitchen. He jumped a little, fists drawing tight. 

    “I’m sorry. I hope I haven’t tracked in any dirt.” Was he growing so Westernized so quickly? 

    “It’s fine.” She said again, opening her cupboard. He leaned down and slowly slipped his shoes off before placing them by her door. Somehow, it felt strange. Intrusive. But there was also a sense of belonging. 

    “I don’t have much for you if you’re hungry…” She spoke over her shoulder as she poured a beverage into two stemless glasses. 

    “Ebere…” She stopped pouring and grew still. He watched her, memories flooding his mind like a film reel. 

    “What?” He sucked in a breath, his lips suddenly dry. 

    “Why am I here?” She didn’t reply as she resumed pouring and soon set the glasses down on the table in front of him. 

    “Sweetheart…” He tried. Nothing. She wasn’t saying anything. She was stiff and wasn’t looking at him. 

    “Ebere say some-”

    “I have an announcement to make…” Slowly, she brought her eyes up to his. He stood quietly, waiting on her next word.     

    “I have decided something. And…I…I wanted to tell you… what it is.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. 

    “It’s been a year now…since we’ve met each other again. I thought it would be much longer. The time has seemed to grow long and short at the same time. And I…well I…”

    “Take your time…” He said softly, though his ears were eager for what she had to say. She puffed out some air and looked up at him, her eyes a bit stronger. 

    “I am going to start my healing process. From everything that has happened to me. I grew overwhelmed at first thinking about how much of time needed and how long it would take to do it. But I am going to split it into parts. I am going to deal with my parents too. Everything. But first… I wanted to start with you.” He couldn’t describe the feeling that spread into his chest. He couldn’t open his mouth just yet so she continued. 

    “I can’t tell you how long it will take before I fully forgive you Hiroto. But, I’ve grown tired of trying to hate you. It exhausts me. I’ve done it for 10 years. And now I just want it to stop. I don’t have it in me to do it anymore. I decided that it would make me too much like my mother. Truth be told…I miss having you as a friend. So we can start there first. Friendship.” 

    “Yes of course!” He blurted out, his cheeks growing warm. She picked up her glass and took a sip. 

    “I have so many more things I have to let out of me. Things pertaining to you…”

    “Let them out. I want you to.” She placed her glass down on the table. 

    “First thing’s first: Delete my address from your phone. I don’t want anyone knowing where I live. If it gets out, I will kick your ass.” His throat grew dry and he nodded. 

    “No problem. Thank you for sharing it with me.” She looked into his eyes. 

    “Second thing: Even though you’re the biggest jerk to walk this planet…I want to… I want to thank you for being there for me… through what’s happened these past few months…” He visibly relaxed and smiled softly. 

    “I’ll continue to be here for you as long as you allow me to Ebere.” She rolled her eyes and grabbed her glass. 

    “You sound thirsty. Go ahead and drink.” He gently reached for the glass and the taste of the beverage made him sigh. It was so refreshing. 

    “It’s chilled green tea with lemon and honey.” She spoke up, the tiniest trace of a smirk on her lips. He smiled back. 

    “Ah.. I see. Thank you.” 

    “No problem.” The silence was still uncomfortable between them but it had grown less tense… less hostile. He finished the tea and put the glass back on the table. 

    “Ebere…I should be going.” She took one last sip from her cup and licked her lips. 

    “Yeah. Come on.” They walked towards the door slowly…almost as if they wanted to make the time last a little bit longer. 



    “I’m going on a trip.” 

    “A trip?” 

    “To Seattle.” He glanced at her. 

    “Seattle?”  She had started to gnaw at her lips. 

    “I wanted to let you know.” He smiled. 

    “I appreciate you for telling me. How long will you be away?”

    “Truthfully…I don’t know.” One step…two steps…

    “I see.” He felt his heart melt as those beautiful eyes looked up at him. 

    “I am going to ask Rossi for an extended leave of absence.” He nodded as they came to stand in front of her door, the time ending too soon. 

    “I think you should.” 


    “Mmhm.” He slid his fingers into his pockets and sighed. Turning from her, he put on his shoes. He heard her voice speak behind him. 


    “Yes sweetheart?”     

    “Before you leave…there’s something else I want to do real quick.” Standing up at his full height, he turned to face her. Hands slid back into those pockets, his fingers gripping the material tight. 

    “What is it?” 

    “Remember when I said I have a lot left to let out from what you did?” He licked his lips. 

    “Mmhm.” She came up to him and reached up to entangle her fingers in his hair, drawing every last wisp of breath he had. He couldn’t move as she leaned up to stand on her tip toes and her fingers brought him closer to her. 

    “I won’t do this again…until we’re ready for it. But…right now I have to know something…” Her breath was warm and sweet on his lips. His heart began to beat faster. 

    “What’s that?” He asked, his voice soft. She didn’t reply but instead, pressed her lips against his. Stiff at first, slowly… gently their lips molded to each others and his eyes fluttered closed. Her lips sent sparks through his body and the sweet taste of her once again flooded his system. The reunion ended swiftly as she pulled away from him, her breath labored only slightly. 

    “Does she kiss better than me?” She asked as the tips of her fingers massaged his scalp. He took a shaky breath. 

    “No…not by far.” She sighed and pressed her lips against the corner of his mouth.     

    “Good.” Her fingers grew still and slowly they slid down to press flat against his jacket. 

    “Did it feel like our first kiss?” She asked, her voice having grown whispery. He felt as though the ground was spinning and gently grabbed her wrists. 


    “No?” She asked, looking at him. The pain that looked back at him stabbed him like a sharp dagger straight to the heart. 

    “It wasn’t the same feeling.” She pouted to his response, honestly looking confused as to how. 

    “This one time… allow me…” He whispered, silently praying he held it together. 

    “Go ahead.” He reached out and cupped her face in his hands, the smooth skin melting into his palm. 

    “The first time we kissed it was different. We weren’t apart from each other. And nothing had happened yet. It communicated nervousness and love.” 

    “And now?” 

    “Desperation. Despair and sadness.” She blinked, her throat growing tight. 

    “I agree that we should not do this again Rae… not… not so soon. But I will give you the answer to the question you asked me one more time.” He brought her lips to his one last time and this time… he let a little bit of his heart come through. Perhaps it was a bit too much because he felt wetness touch his hands. Tears. This was the only chance he was going to have so damn it he would take it. In their time apart, her mind had been consumed with thoughts of Kiko and convinced herself that she was better. But she was wrong. His thoughts had been only on her… only the feel and press of her  alone satisfied him. He slowly…painstakingly began to deepen the kiss…. not too much… but just enough. Cries had risen in her throat but the sounds of yearning within spoke to him louder than the sorrow. His breath had run out and he forced himself to pull away from her. 

    “Let me tell you something. You were and will continue to be… the only one whose lips will bring me to my knees.” He whispered, his breath heavy. She bit her lip, trying to quiet the sobs that had escaped from her. 

    “I’m…sorry… that I put you in a position where you ever had to doubt what you meant to me Rae. Hopefully now… it’s loud and clear…” He brushed the tears away with his thumbs. 

    “Thank you for inviting me over. It means so much to me that you did.” As he pulled his hands away from her face, she opened her eyes and looked at the ground. She swallowed hard and opened the door without a word. 

    “Good night Hiroto…” He smiled gently. 

    “Good night beautiful.” He felt so many things as he went to get in his car. Pain. Love. Overwhelming love. Patience. Desire. Respect. But the last thing he treasured most. Hope. There was hope for him. For her. And for them. That was all he needed. Now, he too would begin his journey of healing. He hoped that when they next met again… they would be ready… ready for a fresh beginning. Together.

Chapter End Notes:

A/N: Woo. This chapter was raw! So emotive! These two are now getting ready to transition to their own respective journeys! They are going to be separated for a few chapters to work on themselves individually! :) I think this chapter speaks VOLUMES to just how much Hiroto loves Rae. And such a contrast to the male interaction Rae has had since she was a child. Every man she came in contact with took and took and took from her. Didn't ask if it was okay. Robbed her. Of her spirit. Joy. Identity. And then there's Hiroto who is not perfect by any means. He knows he f--ed up and is willin to do what he can to mend the broken bridges... but all the while... still being the supportive pillar Rae needs right now. These two are going to be a POWER COUPLE when they come back together y'all. I call this time apart "preparation" for them both! Healing and everything else they need alone in order to be together! <3 I'm excited! Rae's chapter is currently being written :) I've written a lot lately lol. It feels amazing since I hadn't done so in such a long time haha. I am going to be heading back to school Friday and I start work again on Sunday. :) So, I hope this keeps y'all for a little while. I hope you enjoy this chapter! I'll see you soon my loves! 

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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.