Genre: Romance, m-preg, au
Disclaimer: I do not own Arashi, only these words.
Summary: Jun is given in an arranged marriage to Lord Sakurai Sho. Against the odds, love blossoms.
A/N: I never meant for this to happen but this has now turned into my first chaptered fic. I have no idea where this is going or where it will end but you are welcome to come along for the ride.
Previously: Ch 1, Ch 2, Ch 3, Ch 4, Ch 5, Ch 6, Ch 7, Ch 8, Ch 9
The room was airless and smelt of sweat and other, much fouler, things.
The figure on the bed moved restlessly and mumbled incoherently, sweat pouring from his body soaking through the bed linens and into the mattress below.
Toma paused in the doorway, pressing his hand over his nose as his face paled.
Masaki, on the other hand, bustled past, heading over to the far side of the room where he drew back the curtain and flung open the window, permitting the cold fresh air to enter and begin to cleanse the fetid atmosphere.
He placed his bag down and turned to the grey-faced man lying prone upon the bed, who was oblivious to their presence, "Worry no longer Sho; I am here now."
"Jun, I do not think it necessary to make such elaborate arrangements for my wedding," Nino complained half-heartedly over an early breakfast. He was not trying particularly hard to dissuade Jun though, since their bickering over cake flavours seemed to be providing the perfect distraction.
They were both struggling to sleep and maintain a semblance of normalcy, consumed as they were by worry for their respective partners. It had been four days since Masaki and Toma set off to meet with Sho, with no sign that their return was imminent.
Jun disappeared down to the kitchens with a sheaf of notes and sketches in hand. After his departure, Nino heaved a sigh of relief and headed towards Masaki's cottage to check on the batch of salve he had left to cool on the previous night.
So wrapped up in his work was he, Nino only realized that several hours had passed and that it was time for luncheon when he heard Masaki's mantle clock chiming the hour.
Nino expected Jun to be waiting impatiently in the dining room for him; no matter how worried he was, his friend was still eating heartily, as at the moment his baby seemed to be particularly demanding.
The table was deserted though, and the platters of food, untouched.
It was not just Jun who was being compelled by his unborn child to eat regularly, his own stomach rumbled at the sight and scent of the food. He was slightly alarmed at the recent expansion of his waist, but it did nothing to lessen his hunger, so without waiting, he sat down and began to load up his plate.
Unfortunately, before Nino could begin to partake of his food, one of the youngest kitchen maids edged nervously into the room, without first knocking. She was looking unusually flustered and worried as she spoke, “Please sir, Cook sent me to fetch you. The young master is still in the kitchen. He has baked so many cakes today, and looks completely spent, but he refuses to rest. It is as if he is possessed."
When Nino entered the kitchen Jun was sitting at the large wooden table, frenziedly stirring a bowl of cake batter with a wooden spoon. Jun did not pause in his actions or even glance at Nino as he walked across the room and sat opposite him.
“Jun, you can stop now; there are more than enough cakes to choose from,” Nino said gently.
Jun continued to ignore Nino, even as he increased the tempo of his stirring.
“Jun, did you not hear me? I fear that this is not healthy for you, or the baby.”
“I cannot stop, Nino,” Jun said, looking at Nino wildly. His eyes were full of unspoken fear, as he faltered, slowing down his hand, but not stopping completely. “Do you not understand? If I stop, then I shall have to think, and the last thing I wish to do at the moment is think.” As he said this, his hand movement became uncoordinated, as if he was too tired to move it for much longer.
Nino, seeing this, stood behind Jun, reaching down to grasp Jun’s hand and the spoon, finally halting the frantic actions.
“No,” Nino replied firmly, as he pried the spoon from Jun’s stiff fingers and pushed both it and the bowl away from Jun’s reach.
Jun slumped into his seat, resting his head on the table, whispering, “I have never been so afraid and I do not know how to overcome my fears.”
Nino for once was unable to find the words to console Jun, so he wrapped his hands around Jun's shoulders and hugged him instead.
"What if the unthinkable has happened?" Jun said quietly.
"Do you really feel that it might have? Did you not tell me that you could sense Sho trying to communicate with you?"
"I still do, but the feeling is muted, almost as if he has given up; but perhaps it is rather I who have given up," Jun said, almost as if he was conversing with himself, rather than Nino.
"Do not be so hard upon yourself; you have been so very brave whilst Sho has been absent. You just need to gather your courage and hold strong for a short time longer. I am sure that we will have word soon."
Jun took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, "You have always been the voice of reason when I become over emotional. I know that I am selfish, but please reassure me that when you are wed, you will remain my best friend."
Nino turned Jun around sideways upon the chair so he could look directly into his eyes as he said in a bewildered voice, "How could you ever think that I might desert you? I love Masaki with all my heart and soul, but I love you too, and nothing will ever change that."
Nino's eyes were welling with tears, and by this stage Jun was close to breaking down also.
Blinking hard, to supress his tears, Jun laughed shakily and said, "We are in very great danger of becoming maudlin, something which will never do."
Nino was about to respond, when his stomach answered for him, growling in complaint at missing out on luncheon. As if echoing Nino, Jun's stomach rumbled a few seconds later.
"It seems as if our babies are trying to tell us something," Nino laughed.
"I agree wholeheartedly. They appear to have more wisdom in their tiny bodies than their overly emotional parents," Jun grinned and ran his hand over his belly in a soothing motion, "Might I suggest cake?" he said as he gestured to the workbench behind them which was groaning under the weight of a veritable sea of baked goods.
It was almost nightfall when a lone horseman rode at speed up the snow dusted drive.
Toma dismounted and handed his horse over to a groom, but then hesitated to enter the house, as if wishing to delay his meeting with the occupants for as long as possible.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, Toma asked to speak with Nino privately. The last thing he wished was to make the same mistake as on his previous visit to the Manor. In his mind he still held a vision of Jun's stricken face when he had collapsed into his arms, and to once again be the instigator of such distress was unthinkable.
Nino was in the guest room that he was presently sharing with Masaki, resting before dinner, when he was disturbed by a knock upon the door. It was not only Jun who was tiring easily and requiring to rest more frequently. Nino had not expected to feel this way so early in his pregnancy; he had always considered himself to be much stronger than Jun, whose health had always been delicate. When they were small, Jun had been bedridden quite often with various childhood illnesses that seemed to pass Nino by. It was then that Nino had decided that his role was to be that of protector towards his younger master.
Jun had led a very isolated existence, without brothers or sisters for company. Because of Jun’s fragility his mother had forbidden him from playing with the village children also, so until Nino joined their household Jun had played many a lonely game with only his favourite stuffed toy for company, since a pet had also been forbidden to him.
Jun’s father had been disappointed in his only son, despising his kind nature and his fragility. If he was to be blessed with only one child he had wished for him to be robust, sturdy and capable of protecting their domain upon his own passing.
It was not as if Jun made no attempts whilst he was growing up to find favour with his father, but each time his overtures would be rebuffed. Nino still had a clear vision of Jun on the training ground begging to be allowed to participate. He was twelve years of age and still very small, with a thin frame that emphasised the size of his eyes. Jun’s father had handed him a sword that was almost as long as Jun’s body, which was far too heavy for his spindly arms to handle. The weight of the weapon had pulled Jun from his feet, causing him to land in an undignified heap in the dirt. Jun’s father had joined in with the raucous laughter of his men at the sight. By sheer willpower Jun had managed to contain his tears of shame and embarrassment until he was safely returned to his bedchamber and far from the mocking laughter that echoed across the training area as he fled in disgrace.
Jun had only found favour within his father’s eyes when it was confirmed that he was a Carrier. If his own son did not possess the qualities he deemed necessary, then he would be able to ensure that he was bound to a man who did meet his expectations.
Although Nino had tried to be encouraging when Jun’s arranged marriage was pronounced, he had feared greatly for his friend. Nino had begun his own sexual adventures whilst he was still but fifteen years of age. Hasty fumbling in dark corners with other servants between fulfilling their respective duties had been most pleasurable. Once he turned sixteen he was taken for the first time, by one of the gardener’s assistants. He had continued to freely enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, fully confident that there could be no issue from his couplings with other males, and indeed there had not been, until he joined with Masaki.
When Nino became aware of the nature of the man that Jun was destined for he had been able to relax his guard slightly, but he would never forget his vow to protect Jun from harm, no matter what the cost to himself.
When Nino was informed that Sir Ikuta Toma was awaiting his attendance in the drawing room, his heart made a stuttering leap. He knew that the news that Toma wished to impart would be at best, upsetting, and at worst, devastating.
"Sir Toma, it pleases me that you have acquired some sense and have chosen not to terrify Jun upon this visit," Nino said coldly, unable to keep the dislike from his voice.
"Nino, there is nothing you can say that I have not already told myself. I deeply regret my impetuous actions upon my last visit," Toma replied humbly.
"I hope you come bearing news of Lord Sakurai? I do not think that Jun can withstand the strain of not knowing how his husband fares for much longer."
"Masaki will arrive here tomorrow, and Sho will accompany him, but Sho is unfortunately more unwell than we initially anticipated. His weakness is the reason for our delayed travel."
"I do not understand. You informed us that he was but lightly wounded," Nino said, casting a suspicious glare in Toma's direction.
"Unfortunately his wounds became severely infected. Perhaps the King's Healers did not clean them sufficiently before stitching them closed. Masaki was compelled to reopen the wounds and clean out the infected matter before restitching them," Toma replied, his face blanching as he recalled the state Sho was in when they first discovered him. A wave of nausea caused a cold sweat to break out on his body as he remembered the horror of assisting Masaki with the grisly task.
Nino suddenly felt as if the room had become too overheated and too enclosed to enable him to breathe easily. He sat down upon the settee, before his knees gave way, “He will recover though?”
“Masaki is confident that it shall be so. Sho is very weak and still wracked with fever, but it Masaki believes that Jun’s comforting presence and the familiar surroundings of home shall encourage him to accomplish a much faster recovery.”
“If that is so, then I am greatly relieved, but how do we pass the news to Jun whilst causing the least amount of harm to him and his unborn child?” Nino said, rubbing his forehead worriedly.
Toma looked at him imploringly, “I know that I am filled with cowardice, but I beg of you to take this task from my hands.”
“I am certain that I will be able to deliver the news in a much gentler way than ever you could,” Nino said as he stood and made to leave the room. “On Jun’s behalf I shall arrange for a servant to show you to one of the guest rooms in the east wing so that you may refresh yourself after your journey. I do not think that Jun will wish to dine downstairs this evening so I shall also arrange for your dinner to be served to you in your room later after you bathe,” Nino said, whilst attempting to maintain a neutral expression, to disguise his dislike of the man before him.
“I am completely in your debt,” Toma replied with a deep bow.
“Yes,” was Nino’s only response as he swept from the room.
When Nino hesitantly entered Jun's bedchamber it was dark enough to make it hard for him to discern Jun's form clearly.
Jun was seated in the chair in front of the window which offered a perfectly clear view of anyone who might enter the Manor. He was holding himself stiffly upright in the chair, as if by holding himself so still, he could contain his emotions.
Nino's heart sank at the sight; there was no possibility of Jun missing Sir Ikuta's recent hasty arrival.
Before Nino could arrange his thoughts into some semblance of order, Jun spoke from the gloom, in a hollow voice, "Does my husband still live?"
"Do not attempt to humour me, Nino; I must know."
"He lives, but..."
"Then nothing else matters," Jun said as he slumped down in the chair, as if the effort of holding himself upright had exhausted him. "How does he fare? Do not prevaricate, just tell me the truth of my husband's condition," Jun said, suddenly sounding much older.
"He arrives tomorrow under Masaki's most attentive care. He required treatment in addition to that which he previously received at the hands of the King's healers, but he will mend. He is weak and suffering with a fever from the infection in his wounds but Masaki is convinced that once he is returned to your arms his health is sure to improve," Nino replied, trying to portray things in the best possible light.
"Thank you for being completely truthful, although I still believe that you have softened the news to make it more palatable for me," Jun replied. "So what preparations are needed before his arrival?"
"I shall go to the cottage and collect supplies so that Masaki shall have them to hand immediately," Nino replied.
"Whilst you do that, I shall go to the kitchens and request Cook to prepare a nourishing broth, as I am sure my husband will be unable to eat anything with more substance," Jun said as he carefully rose from the chair. "I should also speak with Toma and thank him for bringing us the news, and make sure that the accommodation suits him. Since I know you well, I expect that you will have arranged to ensure his welcome upon my behalf."
Nino felt a slight twinge of guilt at his feelings of dislike towards Toma, but it was not enough to overcome his mistrust of the soldier.
Jun walked to the door as if he was an uncoordinated marionette, his arms and legs moving in a jerky unsynchronised fashion.
Nino, frightened by the by the blank expression on Jun’s face reached out as if to touch him as he walked by, “Jun…”
Jun flinched away from Nino’s hand, “Nino, I…cannot…please…if you are kind to me I shall break and I do not think that I shall ever be whole again. I cannot hear your words of sympathy, and if you touch me I will shatter. Once Sho is returned to me, and after I am sure that he is safe, I will need you, but not before then. Please understand.”
Nino thought he could feel his own heart breaking as he silently stood back and allowed Jun to pass. He found himself holding his hand protectively over his belly as he contemplated how he would feel if he was in the same position as Jun. If his beloved Masaki was in danger he did not think that he would be able show as much strength. He knew in that moment that Jun’s father had always been wrong about his son’s weaknesses. Nino could not think of a single person that he had ever known who was stronger than the fragile looking young man who had just walked through the door.
Toma was wearing only a robe tied loosely around his waist after enjoying his first proper bath in four days. As he sat heavily slumped upon the edge of his bed his thoughts were with Jun and how he might react to Nino delivering his news. His shame at his inability to face his best friend’s husband was compounded by the feelings of desire for Jun that were still lurking deeply hidden within his heart.
So wrapped up in his thoughts was he, when a knock upon his door came he almost fell from the bed onto the floor. Still preoccupied with his thoughts and under the impression that it was a servant bearing his dinner; he opened the door and thrust out his hands to take the tray.
Instead of the cold metal of a tray his hands met with warm flesh through soft clothing. Startled, Toma looked up into a pair of enormously confused and shocked brown eyes.
To Toma’s horror he looked down to see that his hands were firmly pressed against Jun’s belly.
Instantly snatching his hands back, as his cheeks blazed as is if they were afire, Toma began to apologise profusely, “I...I am so, so sorry. I was not concentrating…my mind was elsewhere.”
Jun managed to raise a very weak smile as he replied, “Do not fear Sir Toma, I do not take offence. My own mind is neither at its clearest nor its most alert at the present moment. We all share the same fears for my beloved husband’s welfare, I am sure.”
Toma, whose heart was still racing from the fleeting contact, could only manage to utter an agreeing hum in response to Jun’s words.
“I apologise if my hospitality is somewhat lacking, but I am sure that you will understand my preoccupation,” Jun said vaguely. “I hope that Sho will not be disappointed in my lack of courtesy,” he added worriedly and so quietly that Toma could hardly hear.
“Please, I implore you to not waste your strength worrying over my welfare. I am perfectly comfortable here and I could not be more grateful for your hospitality under difficult circumstances. I am merely a rough soldier and I am convinced that Sho would probably consider my surrounds to be far above what is due to me.”
Jun swayed slightly as the physical and emotional exhaustion of the day overtook him. He did not know whether he had the strength to complete the journey back to his own bedchamber. “Sir Toma, I hesitate to impose upon your good nature, but could you possibly escort me to my bedchamber? Nino will be most displeased for I seem to have exceeded the limit of my endurance but I am loathe to rely upon his assistance. He cares more for my wellbeing than his own, and I am concerned that sometimes he forgets that he is with child also."
"Perhaps I should carry you?" Toma asked, the words spilling from his mouth unbidden.
"That will not be necessary, but perhaps I could lean upon you as I walk?"
Toma placed his right arm behind Jun's back, and took Jun's left hand into his own, supporting most of Jun's weight with his own body as they made their way slowly towards Jun's bedchamber.
Jun was still in such a emotionally detached state that he did not even seem to feel Toma's arm wrapping tightly around his body.
Toma, on the other hand found himself breathing in Jun's sweet scent and admiring his handsome profile as they walked. He was concerned about the dark circles under Jun's eyes and the fact that the younger man seemed to be struggling to hold himself upright.
Even though he understood that his feelings were both inappropriate and foolish, Toma could not prevent himself from falling even deeper for Jun with every passing moment.
When they reached Jun and Sho's suite of rooms, Toma assisted Jun to lay on the bed and covered him with a light quilt. He would seek Nino out and request that he ensured that Jun was eventually changed into night clothing and put to bed properly.
Jun was already drifting into sleep, overwhelmed by the stresses of the day, but he could have sworn that calloused fingers brushed the hair back from his face before a soft kiss was pressed to his forehead as the quilt was tucked under his chin; but perhaps he was already dreaming.
Upon his return from Masaki's cottage, Nino was feeling utterly spent and longed for his bed, but he decided to check with Jun one last time before retiring for the evening. He anticipated little sleep for any of them upon Sho's arrival.
The last thing he either anticipated or wished to see was Sir Toma exiting Jun's bedchamber, and closing the door quietly behind him.
"Sir Toma? Were the guest quarters not to your liking?" Nino asked, before adding suspiciously, "Did you wish to speak with Jun?"
"I thank you for your concern, but my room is most satisfactory. I was merely escorting Jun back to his bed." Toma replied. "He most kindly came to greet me, but he was overcome with excessive fatigue and requested that I escort him safely to his room."
"That was most kind of you, but I shall care for him henceforth. Please feel free to return to your own room. I fear we shall all have a long and tiring day ahead of us tomorrow."
Toma felt himself to be dismissed, taken aback by Nino's imperious tone.
"I shall do as you bid. I just ask that you make Jun more comfortable, I am afraid that my skills in that area are sorely lacking," Toma agreed, as he bent into a shallow bow.
Nino stood and watched Toma depart, making fully sure that he was gone, before he turned and went to see to Jun's needs.
Jun stirred as Nino lit a lamp and prepared sleeping garments for him to change into.
"I am sorry to wake you, but you will sleep more comfortably if you are properly attired," Nino said, as he assisted Jun to sit.
"I dreamt that someone soothed me to sleep, and kissed me. Do you think that perhaps Sho is sending me these feelings of comfort?" Jun asked muzzily, hovering in a state that was somewhere between sleep and waking.
"I am convinced that it was he," Nino replied gently, even as a terrible suspicion of what had actually occurred began to form in the back of his mind.
Masaki's body rocked gently as the wagon moved at a steady pace along the road. The horses seemed not to be bothered overmuch by the snow that lay all around.
Masaki usually savoured this time of year, but his concerns for his patient outweighed all else, and he barely noticed the crisp beauty of their surroundings.
Sho's condition had improved markedly since Masaki had begun his attendance, but he was still in the grip of a high fever, which seemed most reluctant to release its hold over his weakened body.
Sho moaned Jun's name as he moved restlessly. He constantly drifted on the edge of consciousness, but never fully awakened. Masaki was not even sure that Sho knew that he was there, although he seemed to respond favorably to the sound of his voice.
Upon noticing Sho's distress Masaki replaced the damp cloth that was serving to cool Sho's forehead and said, "Calm yourself, my friend. You will soon be once more reunited with the other half of your heart."
Nino awoke with a start, upset with himself for sleeping so late. It had been his intention rise early and attend to Jun, but bright sunlight was already filling the room. The curtains were wide open; upon retiring he had been too exhausted to do aught but collapse into bed and immediately sleep.
As Nino made to stand, he was overwhelmed by a wave of dizziness. It was only then that he remembered that neither he or Jun had partaken of an evening meal on the previous night.
As he made a second attempt to stand, the room revolved around alarmingly. Just as he was about to fall, a pair of hands gripped his arms and steered him safely over to the armchair next to the bed.
"Jun?" Nino croaked.
"Nino, why are you already awake? You should gather as much sleep as you may, whilst you are able. I know that when Masaki returns you will work beside him until you are utterly spent," Jun chided gently.
"But you are awake and already afoot," Nino protested. "Perhaps you should follow your own advice instead of lecturing me."
"I could sleep no longer, and I hardly dare admit it but the thought of breakfasting with Toma holds little appeal," Jun replied with an involuntary shiver.
"Has anything untoward occurred betwixt you?" Nino asked sharply.
"He has been nothing but completely courteous towards me," Jun said, before adding, almost as if speaking to himself, "But I sometimes feel as if he is observing me too keenly."
Considering the present circimstances, Nino decided it wisest to not press the matter any further as he made his wobbly way to Jun's bedchamber to join him for breakfast.
Although it was probably too cold for Jun to be outside, he had been pacing worriedly in front of the house for the past half hour.
Toma had ridden out before breakfast to see if he could ascertain whether the wagon transporting Sho was within reach. Upon his return, he had done his best to reassure Sho's fretting husband that he and Masaki would arrive some time after luncheon.
Immediately upon inelegantly gulping down his food with undue haste, Jun had commenced his anxious wait.
His persistence finally paid off when the wagon appeared in the distance heading towards the Manor up the long drive.
Jun clutched at Nino's hand for support as the wagon drew to a halt. Sho and Masaki's horses were tethered behind, moving restlessly as they recognized familiar surrounds.
As a tired looking Masaki emerged from the back of the wagon, he barely acknowledged Jun or Nino's presence as he gestured for Toma to come forth and assist him.
Jun took a hesitant step backwards as Masaki and Toma lifted Sho betwixt them and carried him into the house.
Jun and Nino were both deeply shocked by Sho's haggard appearance. He had obviously lost a great deal of weight and seemed insensible to his surroundings.
After Masaki and Toma disappeared into the house Jun hesitated to follow.
"I fear that I am not strong enough for what must be done. What if I fail him?" Jun asked hesitantly.
"He loves you more than his own life. All he would ask is that you are at his side, come what may," Nino replied firmly as he squeezed Jun's hand reassuringly before gently propelling him through the entranceway.
Sho had been carefully bathed and his dressings changed before he was tucked carefully into his own bed.
Masaki had wished for him to be placed in one of the plainer guestrooms for ease of care, but Jun had vehemently insisted upon Sho being in familiar surroundings. If he woke, surely he would feel more at ease if he was in his own bedchamber, filled with his own personal belongings.
Toma was seeing to the despatch of a message to King Ohno to advise him of Sho's safe return, whilst Nino and Masaki were in consultation over Sho's treatment and snatching a few quiet moments alone together.
This meant that Jun was momentarily alone with his husband for the first time since his return.
As Jun held Sho's limp hand within his own he bent over and placed a loving kiss upon his husband's dry and cracked lips.
"Welcome home, my beloved," Jun said softly.
There was an almost imperceptible squeeze of his fingers in response, so feather-light that it might have been imagined, but to Jun at that moment it was the most precious feeling in the world.