Code Name: Mononoke

Title: Code Name: Mononoke
Length: 8,500 words
Pairing: Sakurai Sho/Ayase Haruka
Rating: PG-13 (mentions of violence)
Genre: Bodyguard AU, Romance, Angst, Comedy
Summary: Arashi are Princess Haruka's bodyguards. Sho struggles to remain professional.
Notes: This was orginally written for this year's je_whiteday exchange based on a prompt by astrangerenters


“This is Golden Eagle to Red Squirrel. Requesting status update on Mononoke.”

Sho hated the jobs where Nino got to choose the code names. He adjusted his earpiece, “Red Squirrel to Golden Eagle. Mononoke is ten feet away from my current location. Looking at hats. Which you can see if you turn around and look through the window.”

“Update received. And of course I can’t turn around and look through the window, I’m scanning the street for potential threats.”

“What kind of hats?”

“Golden Eagle to Green Dragon, reminder to use codenames during radio communication.”

“Green Dragon to Red Squirrel, what kind of hats?”

Sho squinted, “It kind of looks like…a bicycle helmet? With…uh…pink fur?”

Jun gave a soft hiss of disapproval. Sho knew that this had to be torture for the man standing next to him. He’d been almost glaring at the princess since they’d entered the shop. Now, Jun looked ready to snatch the helmet right out of her hands.

The princess turned towards them, fastening the snap under her chin at the same time; the sound made Sho jump. Even after three months, he still wasn’t used to the way her highness would address them all so suddenly. And the way she looked them in the eyes so directly. In general, their clients ignored them, and it was their job to be invisible. But she always looked straight at them.

Sho found it unnerving.

“Matsumoto-san, will you help me pick out a hat?”

Sho would have protested—they were there to protect her, not to shop—but Jun was already at her side, his expression pleased as he led her toward a display. If anyone was going to shop with her, Sho thought, it should be Ohno—it was his turn for undercover duty, and he was supposed to accompany her in plainclothes while the rest of the team maintained the perimeter. Instead, Ohno was sitting half-asleep on the shop’s bench, yawning so violently that his whole body shuddered.

“Red Squirrel to Blue Fish, reminder that undercover duty is not an excuse to sleep on the job.”

“Golden Eagle to Red Squirrel, leave him alone. He’s deep undercover.”

Sho snorted. It was at times like these—when Ohno was half-asleep, and Jun was lost in contemplating hats, and outside Nino had probably pulled out his DS, and Aiba was probably watching him play his DS—that Sho wondered how they’d achieved the reputation as the best security team in Japan.

It was true that their record was flawless—spectacular, even. They’d had clients survive assassination attempts; Nino and Jun had the scars where they’d removed the bullets to prove it. Their reputation had grown until they were even fending off job offers from the yakuza.

Sho was on the team, and he couldn’t explain how it had all worked out—he could easily recall about a hundred moments in their career when someone should have ended up dead. And outside those moments when they were actually saving someone’s life, the four idiots that he worked with were probably the most gentle guys he’d ever met. And, for the most part, really terrible bodyguards—thinking over the last three months still made Sho fume.

It had all been highly against protocol. Obviously, the bodyguards of the princess should not play video games with her highness. They should not let her paint their nails, and they should not take her out fishing and then fall asleep in the boat. And they definitely should not try to run her off the path during an impromptu bicycle race.

In his heart, Sho knew why the others were acting like that; it was because they liked the princess, and they felt sorry for her. After all, today was the first time that she’d been allowed outside the palace grounds in over three months. And then, they’d all decided that Mononoke would be their last job. They’d survived in the business longer than most, and they’d all agreed that they shouldn’t tempt fate any further. It was their last job, and it was (barring the occasional bicycle race) an easy job. They were relaxing.

Only Sho seemed to realize just how dangerous that attitude could be. He stared at the princess; she was modeling a black silk hat for Jun, tipping the brim down low so that it covered one eye—her right eye. His mind went back to three months ago when they’d received the call from the palace; they’d contacted them the morning after the princess had been attacked. She’d been speaking at a charity event when a man had rushed onto the stage with a razor blade. He'd heard that the blade had missed her right eye by less than a centimeter. As it was, a scar ran down the length of her right cheek. Afterwards, everyone had been fired, and the royal family had decided that the princess needed not one but five personal bodyguards.

As her new security team, they’d had to study the footage of the attack in detail. Sho still shuddered whenever he thought about it. The man had been crazy—there hadn’t even been a motive for the attack. Evidence, Sho reflected, that danger could be lurking anywhere.

“BLUE FISH,” he shouted, causing Ohno, Jun, and the princess to jump and Aiba and Nino to cry out in pain over the line, “Wake up. Purple Finch, put down the shoes and re-check the exits.”

*

In spite of Sho’s disapproving stares, Jun still left the shop with several bags full of clothing for himself. The princess bought the hat he’d picked out for her, and—much to Jun’s chagrin—the pink helmet (Sho thought it was kind of cute). Then, to Nino’s delight, her highness said that she wanted to go to the game store (Sho hated not having a schedule. Everything would be safer if she would have just agreed to follow a schedule).

That she wanted to go to a game store didn’t strike Sho as odd—he’d seen her playing games before, usually with Nino. It was when she demanded to be taken to an art supply store that Sho started to get suspicious—he’d seen her drawing (instead of properly writing) in the day planner that he’d given her, and her drawings were almost as bad as his. And she hardly looked at anything in the store. Instead, she spent an hour asking the very nervous employee questions about paintbrushes while Ohno wandered around happily.

When she said that she wanted to eat Chinese food for dinner and Aiba cheered, Sho’s suspicions were confirmed. The thought made him uncomfortable—why would the princess use her one precious day of freedom to go to their favorite places?

Of course, going to so many different places took a long time—areas had to be cleared and secured, employees examined (Sho couldn’t stop muttering about the benefits of a schedule even though everyone was ignoring him). So it was already late when they finished eating, and Sho automatically turned the car in the direction of the palace.

“Wait!” her highness cried. Jun was sitting in the passenger seat; Ohno and Nino flanked the princess on either side in the middle row while Aiba sat in the back. “There’s one more place I want to go. A bookstore.”

Sho had to suppress a groan—okay, so he wasn’t as close to her as the others (he, at least, maintained some semblance of professionalism around her), but was that really what she thought of him? That he was a boring nerd who could only have fun at a bookstore? (The worst part was that Sho really did like bookstores).

“Your highness, it’s very late. You’ll be expected back at the palace.”

“But the bookstore I want to go to is small,” she returned, as if that explained everything. Ohno burst out laughing while Sho struggled to think of a respectful response.

“So it won’t take very long,” she explained, in a tone that suggested that her reasoning should have been obvious. Sho glanced at her in the rearview mirror, startled when their eyes met. She’d opened her eyes wide, pleading with him. She was dangerous, Sho thought.

He sighed, “Very well, your highness.”

*

Once they were in the bookstore, the princess elbowed Ohno aside and ordered Sho to follow her. “Your highness, Ohno-san is your companion today…I need to watch the entrance and…”

But she was already walking away, and—since no one else would move to follow her, all of them suddenly looking around in any direction but at him—Sho was forced to stalk after her.

She stopped at the travel section. “Sakurai-san, what’s the best travel guide to Italy?”

Sho didn’t realize how long he’d been talking until, when he looked over at her, he saw that she was crouched on the floor with her arms around her legs, resting her head on top of her knees.

Sho lowered himself awkwardly—standing above her felt faintly treasonous. “Your highness, I’m so sorry. I must have been boring you.”

She shook her head, fixing him with what Sho thought of as her “blank look,” “No, it’s interesting. I can listen better this way.”

Sho couldn’t tell if she was being serious, or if she was making fun of him. He could never tell if she was being serious or making fun of him. Her gaze was always so clear and direct, but it was also unreadable—at least to him. He’d seen her eyes light up when she laughed, and her face full of expression when she was talking to the others, but she was never like that around him.

It was frustrating—he still didn’t know what to think of her. At first, he’d mainly been shocked—shocked to discover that the beautiful, intelligent, elegant woman that he’d seen on television (“Japan’s Grace Kelly”) loved tearing around the palace grounds on her bicycle, and that she shouted through karaoke songs until she lost her voice, and that she crushed the can after drinking a beer, and that she could spend hours crafting (frankly disturbing-looking) creatures out of yarn. She really was as beautiful as she appeared on television (almost eerily so, he thought sometimes—this close, she looked too pretty to be real), and he knew that she really was intelligent, but she couldn’t have been more different from the princess he had been expecting.

He wasn’t able to stop himself from asking, “Your highness, how did you know that I like travel books?”

She didn’t seem surprised by the question. In fact, she smiled a little, her expression warming, “I’ve seen you reading them. You usually have one in your bag.”

Sho felt oddly touched; they all usually made fun of his bags. “Your highness, you didn’t need to waste your day out on us. We have our own days off. All we want is for you to enjoy yourself.”

She turned her head away, humming softly. “It was fun. But, actually, today was a trick. I wanted you all to go someplace that you liked because I have a favor to ask you.” She looked up at him, her eyes impossibly big, “There is one place that I really want to go. But I don’t think that you’ll like it.”

*

It was because of her eyes, Sho decided. He never would have believed that someone could look so guileless while freely admitting to having been emotionally manipulating him all day, but somehow the princess managed it.

It was because of her eyes that Sho now found himself in a gay bar in Nichome, watching the princess dance between Ohno and Nino. While they’d guarded the van, she’d changed into jeans and a long white t-shirt that fell to her knees. She wore an enormous pair of white-framed sunglasses, and she’d proudly snapped on her new helmet as she’d stepped out of the van (“See,” she’d said to Sho, knocking her hand against the side of the helmet, “No one will recognize me, and I can’t get hurt!”).

Sho couldn’t believe that this, apparently, was the princess’s dream. (“How did you find this place?” Aiba had asked, clearly impressed. “The internet,” she’d replied). Sho had to admit that it wasn’t the complete disaster that he’d been expecting—the club was so dark that there was almost no chance that she would be recognized, and Ohno and Nino could keep a close eye on her. It was a nightmare, however, trying to keep her in his sightline. Just now, for example, a new crowd of dancers had blocked her from view.

“Red Squirrel to Golden Eagle, bring Mononoke to your three o’clock.”

“Roger that.”

It was also difficult to talk over his earpiece in the middle of the bar; he was definitely getting strange looks while he mumbled to himself. At least the weirdness was discouraging some of the guys coming over to talk to him (it was flattering, but it was difficult to explain that he’d come to a Shinjuku gay bar just to drink by himself; he wondered how Jun and Aiba were dealing with it. Ohno and Nino were clearly dealing with it by grinding all over each other in the middle of the dance floor).

He felt himself relax when he saw Nino move through a break in the crowd, bringing Ohno and the princess along with him and back into his sightline. “Red Squirrel to Golden Eagle, thanks.”

Sho tried to keep his face neutral as he watched the princess dance. From how badly she had wanted to go to a club, he’d sort of been expecting something impressive. Instead, she seemed to be doing a very energetic version of radio exercises; at least her swinging arms were keeping other dancers away from her.

“What’s wrong with you?”

Sho started; he hadn’t noticed Jun sidling up beside him at the bar. That was happening to him a lot, lately—being startled. Maybe he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Or maybe he was starting to relax, too. “What do you mean?”

“You have this, like, creepy smile on your face. You look like a pervert.”

Sho hadn’t known that he was smiling. “Just trying to look innocuous,” he mumbled.

Jun followed his line of sight to where the princess was being twirled by Ohno and then dipped almost to the floor by Nino. He turned back to stare at Sho, suspicion flashing into his eyes. Sho remembered why they were the best security team in Japan—it was because they could read each other’s minds.

“Sho…” Jun started.

“What do you think?” Sho interrupted. “Ten more minutes?”

They both looked at the dance floor. The princess had seized Ohno’s and Nino’s hands, and she was laughing breathlessly while the three of them jumped up and down together.

“Twenty,” he conceded, really wishing that he could have a drink.

*

By the end of the night, her highness’s feet were so sore from dancing that she was limping as they walked to the car; Sho had asked her to wait while he pulled the car up, but she’d refused, saying that she wanted some fresh air. Sho thought about offering her his arm, but she looked so happy that he felt strange about moving any closer to her, as though he might accidently ruin her mood. Of course, when Aiba saw her limping, he ran up and kneeled down in front of her, offering to let her climb onto his back. The princess accepted happily.

“So what did you think your highness? Was it everything you imagined?” Aiba inquired cheerfully as he carried her.

She gave a double thumbs-up over his shoulders. “It was the best. Better than I imagined. That was the first time I was ever in a club.”

Sho groaned internally; he was definitely going to get fired over this.

“Really? But you were such a good dancer! I thought you were a regular.”

Sho snorted; the princess laughed. “And it was the first time I ever saw so many men kissing,” she murmured.

He was definitely getting fired. He should probably just hand in his resignation as soon as they arrived at the palace. Or maybe get down on his knees and beg for mercy. Corrupting the princess—could you be executed for that? Well, probably not executed. Maybe imprisoned.

Of course, Aiba only laughed. “Your highness, if you want to see men kissing, you can always just ask Ohchan and Nino for a demonstration.”

She craned her head back to stare at the rest of the group. “Really?” she gasped.

“Yes,” said Ohno while Nino ran up to hit Aiba across the head. “Idiot,” he growled while Aiba tried to dodge him; the princess gave a little scream when Aiba ducked.

“Sho, Nino’s attacking the princess!” Aiba squealed.

“Let’s just…calm down, everyone. Her highness is probably tired.”

Everyone laughed. “Okay, mom,” Nino agreed.

*

It was when they were almost to the gates of the palace that, glancing at her in the rearview mirror, Sho saw that the princess was crying. She’d taken off her sunglasses and her helmet, and her dark hair was matted down across half her face. She was slumped in her seat, staring out the window, and tears were streaming silently down her cheeks. Nino had his DS out, and Ohno was dozing. Sho was the only one had noticed.

Their eyes met in the mirror, sending what felt like a current of electricity down his spine. The princess smiled and wiped her hand across her face. He would have asked her what was wrong, but something in her eyes stopped him. He focused his gaze on the road ahead.

After they’d reached the palace and confirmed their arrival with the rest of security, Sho offered to walk her back to her room, ignoring the surprised looks he received from the rest of the team. She only nodded in response.

“Your highness, are you all right?” he almost whispered as they walked down the hall together. They had to speak quietly, nodding and bowing as they passed palace staff.

“Yes, I’m fine. I was crying because I was happy,” she replied softly. “I promise that I won’t ask you to do something like that again. I just wanted to try it, once. Thank you, Sakurai-san. For agreeing. And I was happy because I was with all of you. You’re all like…brothers…to me.” Her voice was a little shaky; she sounded like she was going to start crying again.

Sho didn’t know what to say. They’d reached the door of her bedroom. “Your highness…I’m…”

She was staring directly into his eyes again.

“…happy that you enjoyed yourself,” he finished lamely.

She blinked. “Goodnight, Sakurai-san.”

He bowed deeply, “Goodnight, your highness.”

*

Later that night, Sho woke in a cold sweat. He got up and poured himself a drink. He must be going crazy, he thought. He couldn’t believe that he’d taken her to that club. Anything could have happened. And when he’d walked her to her room…when she’d looked at him…he’d almost thought…

Brothers, was what she had said. She thought of them all as her brothers.

He threw himself down onto the bed, thrashing around in the tangled covers. He was lucky, he thought. Lucky that nothing had happened, lucky that he hadn’t done anything stupid. Starting tomorrow, he was putting a stop to this. She was his job. Nothing more.

She never could be anything more.

*

Two weeks later, he was back outside her bedroom door.

It was his turn to take the night watch. There’d been some threats made against the royal family, and now the palace wanted one of her personal guards within reach of the princess at all times. Security staff patrolled the hallway at night, but the palace had asked the princess’s guards to take over the job themselves. As much as he hated to admit it, Sho didn’t think that the threats seemed particularly serious—more like online pranks than actual threats—and none of them had targeted the princess. But he was more than happy to work a night shift; it was certainly easier than guarding her during the day when she had access to a bicycle. He sat in a chair across from her door and re-read his favorite travel guide to Italy, pausing every fifteen minutes to stand and re-assess the area. It was something he’d trained himself to do—he didn’t even need a watch to feel when another fifteen minutes had passed by.

It was during his fourth re-assessment that he heard it: a soft cry coming from the direction of the princess’s room. At first, he thought that he’d imagined it, the sound was so faint. He pressed his ear against the door; there was another cry. It made him shudder—it sounded almost like an animal in pain. He knocked sharply on the door, but there was no response. He knocked again, then withdrew his gun and entered the room.

He put his gun away quickly—there was no one in the room but the princess, and she seemed to be crying.

“Your highness,” he said loudly, but the crying continued. He switched on the lamp beside her bed.

His breath caught when he saw her—she was pale, and sweaty, her eyes screwed shut as her arms thrashed at her sides. Her face was wet with tears, and she was whimpering in her sleep.

“Your highness,” he called loudly.

She cried out, and her hand came up to the right side of her face, her nails scratching at her cheek. Panicked, he sat on the bed, grabbing her hand away and holding it against the bed. “Your highness, please,” he begged, “Please, wake up. You’re having a nightmare,” he shouted.

His grip on her hand seemed to startle her. Slowly, she opened her eyes, looking around in confusion before she finally seemed to see him. She cried out and sat up quickly; he released her hand as though it burned him. She stared at him, open-mouthed, her eyes still glassy.

He tried to make her realize that she was awake, “Your highness, it’s me, Sakurai-san. I came into your room because I heard you having a nightmare. It’s Tuesday night in the palace, and now you’re awake, and everything is fine, nothing has happened to you, you’re fine…”

To his astonishment, she suddenly threw her arms around him and pressed her face into his shoulder, sobbing so hard that he thought she was going to be sick. He patted her back awkwardly, “There…there…your highness…things…okay…”

He was sorry that he had been the one to discover her like this; it would have been better for her if it had been Aiba or Jun. Even Nino would probably have known what to say to comfort her. They wouldn’t have just sat there, mumbling like an idiot.

She stopped crying as suddenly as she had started, pulling away from him so quickly that it left him dazed. She sat back against the headboard with her knees drawn up and her hands covering her face.

“Sakurai-san,” she finally said in a very small voice.

“Yes, your highness?”

“I really, really, really want…” she took a shaky breath, lowering her hands a little so that he could see her watery eyes, “…a beer. I really want a beer.”

It was unexpected, but he recovered quickly. At least, it was something that he could do. “I’ll call for one right away, your highness.”

He went out to the hall to call the kitchen. While he waited, he had time to realize just how fast his heart was beating. His mind wouldn’t stop replaying the scene; her crying had been heart-rending. He didn’t want to think that she had been dreaming about it, but the way she’d been scratching at her face…he’d never heard her say anything about “the incident,” as everyone in the palace called it (when they referred to it at all, which was rarely). She never seemed bothered by her scar, and she never seemed afraid of anything. But now that he thought about it, wouldn’t it be stranger for her not to be affected by it? Was a princess allowed to see a therapist? Had she ever spoken to anyone about what had happened to her? How often did she dream about it?

His mind was still racing when he accepted the beer from a confused-looking servant, and his heart started racing faster when he heard her call “Come in!” after he knocked on the door.

When he walked into the room, she was crouched in front of the television, putting a DVD into the player. Part of her bedroom was a sitting area with a couch and television. The floor was littered with her game controllers; he had to step over them carefully as he brought her the beer.

“Thank you,” she said quietly, standing to accept it from him. She was wearing a robe and had tied her hair back, and it looked like she had washed her face. She was wearing a pair of round glasses that he’d never seen before. It felt like the air was being squeezed out of his lungs when he looked at her.

She opened the beer and took a long drink, sighing with satisfaction when she’d finished. “Thank you, Sakurai-san.”

He couldn’t believe how calm she was. He, on the other hand, jumped when the DVD menu started playing. She walked over to the couch and sat down, playing with the remote and not looking at him as she began speaking quickly, “Sakurai-san, I don’t think I can fall asleep until I finish this beer. Would you mind sitting with me while I watch a movie?” She finally looked at him, and the expression in her eyes—for once, he felt like he could read her perfectly. She was desperate for him to stay. “I always fall asleep when I watch this movie. I always fall asleep after the good parts, and I miss the bad part at the end.”

He had no idea what she was talking about, but he walked over and sat down on the other side of the couch. “Of course, your highness. I’ll stay until you fall asleep.”

She smiled. “I’ll fall asleep really soon,” she promised. “After they fall into the water, I always fall asleep.”

He looked at the movie title as she pressed play—Roman Holiday. An English movie. He’d heard of it but never seen it. It was set in Rome—he thought of the guidebook he’d abandoned in the hallway. After a few minutes, he realized that the movie was about a princess. He smiled a little, glancing over at her. She was sipping her beer and staring at the screen intently.

After finishing her beer, she crushed the can before setting it down and curling up on her side of the couch. After a while, he got interested in the movie and forgot to keep looking at her out of the corner of his eye. But after the actor (he didn’t know his name) and Audrey Hepburn fell into the water and swam to the shore and kissed, he remembered her promise. He looked over at her—she really was asleep. She was breathing so deeply that her nose whistled a little when she exhaled.

He’d been planning to leave as soon as she fell asleep, but he decided to wait until the movie ended. While she slept, her body slowly uncurled itself. He stopped breathing when one of her feet came to rest above his knee. He stretched his arm out along the back of the couch so that he wouldn’t accidently touch it.

Once the movie ended, Sho stood carefully, trying not to disturb her but also not to touch her foot. He turned off the movie then hovered near the couch, hating the way that he was dithering around. He could bring her a blanket, but it would be just as easy to carry her to the bed.

“Right,” he whispered, “Don’t think about it, just do it.” He lifted her up and carried her to the bed, straightening out the covers and pulling a blanket on top of her. Carefully, he took off her glasses; she moved a little and he froze, but then she relaxed again. He placed the glasses carefully on the nightstand and switched off the lamp before he could start staring at her.

“Okay,” he told himself as he left the room, shutting the door softly behind him, “Okay, it’s done now. It’s done.”

*

Except that it kept happening.

The second time, it seemed justified because he’d heard her crying in her sleep again (then again, he’d been hyper-alert from the moment he’d arrived, and he’d pressed his ear against the door immediately after he thought he'd heard a sound).

The third time, he didn’t hear anything, but halfway through the night, she’d opened the door with a tear-stained face and asked if he wouldn’t mind coming in. How could he refuse her highness when she was so distressed?

The fourth time, she didn’t have a nightmare at all—she opened the door a few minutes after he arrived and asked him if he could come in.

The fifth time, he’d run out of excuses.

It was the same every time—they sat on opposite ends of the couch and watched Roman Holiday until she fell asleep. Sometimes she fell asleep quickly, after just a few scenes, but she always fell asleep before the actors kissed. After she fell asleep, Sho would turn off the movie and carry her to bed, removing her glasses and setting them on the nightstand.

He wondered if the rest of the team was doing the same when they had the night watch—were they watching Roman Holiday with her every night, too? Did they know about her nightmares? If they did, surely they would have said something by now. Then again, he hadn’t said anything, and not just because he didn’t want them to know what he was doing. If they didn’t know, then maybe it would be wrong to tell them—maybe it wasn’t his secret to tell.

He broke down after a month. He decided to ask Aiba since he was the least likely to question him or give him a hard time about it. He cornered him one day when they were watching the princess play croquet with Ohno and Nino on one of the palace lawns.

“Nightmares?” Aiba repeated, looking horrified. “I didn’t…say anything like that when I was drunk, did I?”

Sho felt an odd sinking sensation inside him. “No, you never mentioned it. But I…heard Mononoke having a nightmare.”

Aiba nodded, looking worried and almost whispering as he continued, “I did, too, once, last week when I was doing night watch. Actually, I heard her scream—I thought I was going to have a heart attack—I went into her room with my gun out. She was having a nightmare—after I woke her up, she said that it was okay, that she’d been having them since she was a kid. She said that she was embarrassed and asked me not to tell anyone about it.”

“And that’s…all?”

Aiba looked at him curiously. “Yes, that’s all. Why? Is Mononoke okay?”

Sho looked over at her. She seemed to be fighting with Ohno over the position of a wicket; the two of them really did act like siblings. “Yes, I was just…concerned. It seemed so intense. For a dream.”

Aiba kept staring at him.

*

Sho was aware that it would only be a matter of time before they all knew. Jun, of course, was the one who guessed first. He confronted him only a few days after the sixth time they’d watched Roman Holiday together.

“Sho, why are you staring at Mononoke like that?”

“Because I’m her bodyguard.”

“You’re not staring at her like a bodyguard. You’re staring at her like…” Jun paused, obviously searching for the right words, “…a creepy stalker.”

“Isn’t it the same thing?”

“No,” Jun replied firmly, “it’s not. You know that it’s not. Sho, if you have feelings…”

“I don’t want to have this conversation with you right now, Jun.”

“You need to have this conversation with me right now. If you…”

“Jun, do you really think that I would ever let anything happen to her?”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. What I’m saying is that…”

“Golden Eagle to Red Squirrel, reminder that Mononoke’s dance lesson starts in ten minutes.”

“We’ll talk about it later. In private,” he muttered, almost running across the lawn to escape Jun’s fury.

*

That night, things were different. When he walked into her room, the table in front of the couch was covered with papers, all filled with her handwriting. He tried not to read them, but she noticed him looking at them after she’d pressed play and curled up on her side of the couch.

“It’s the speech for the UN conference on women’s rights,” she explained. She glanced over at him, smiling widely, “They’re going to let me out for it.”

“I know,” he said, unable to resist smiling himself. It was the first public event that she would be attending since “the incident.” They’d been planning the day for over two months. “I didn’t know that you wrote your own speeches.”

She looked away, as though embarrassed, “Parts of them. They usually take out most of the things I write, but I can speak better if I at least write a first draft—the words feel more like they belong to me.”

He nodded, thinking of how beautifully she spoke when giving a speech. It was strange—she spoke so little when she was around him. He wanted to ask her what they took out of her speeches. Instead, he watched as Audrey Hepburn met Gregory Peck (he’d looked up information about the movie—he knew everything about it now. But when he tried to tell her trivia about it, she usually shushed him).

Later, after Audrey Hepburn had cut her hair, the princess suddenly spoke again, still watching the screen, “I’m not having those dreams as much as I used to.”

Sho was surprised by the feeling of warmth that spread through his chest, “I’m glad, your highness.”

“And I…convinced my mother to let me see someone. A doctor.” She turned to face him, sitting up straight. “So, I’m okay, Sakurai-san. I’m not crazy,” she said slowly, her expression serious, “You don’t have to worry about me so much.”

Sho swallowed, but his voice still sounded rough when he spoke, “I know that you’re okay. But thank you for telling me that.”

They looked at each other for a moment, and then they both turned back to the screen.

*

Sho woke up to the familiar sound of the film’s ending music. He started awake, disoriented. He couldn’t believe that he had fallen asleep. He had never fallen asleep on the job before. Feeling slightly panicked, he automatically looked over to check on the princess. She was crying.

“Your highness…” he choked out, wondering what the hell had happened while he had been asleep.

“I didn’t fall asleep,” she mumbled, rubbing at her eyes before a fresh wave of tears seemed to overtake her. “I saw the ending. I hate the ending!” she sobbed.

“Your highness,” he repeated helplessly.

She wiped her arm across her face and sat up, sniffling as she reached for the remote. “I hate the ending,” she repeated morosely as she turned off the movie.

Throwing the remote to the side, she stood up and started walking toward the TV. Sho reached out and took her hand. She froze, but she didn’t look back at him. He stood up, and she turned around. When he saw her eyes—wide, full of confusion—he dropped her hand and stepped back, the couch hitting the backs of his legs.

“Your highness, I…” the words seemed to die in his throat. How could he even begin to apologize?

“Sakurai-san,” she said softly, tears still trembling in her eyes. Then she pushed him back down onto the couch, straddled his lap and started kissing him.

She was kissing him softly, uncertainly, just pressing her lips lightly against his—he brought a hand to the back of her head and kissed her harder. His face was soon wet with her tears and what might have been her snot, but Sho had never felt better. Her body was so warm against his, and she smelled like soap. Her arms came up around his shoulders, and he stroked the soft skin on the underside of her arm. It felt so good that he shivered. “Haruka,” he said, surprising himself—he’d never called her that before, not even in his head.

She moaned when he said her name. He brought his hands up to hold her face, wanting to pull her even closer to him if it were possible. It was when his thumb felt the thin ridge of her scar as he caressed her cheek that he realized what he was he doing.

He broke the kiss, panting. It seemed like an eternity before he could speak, his chest rising and falling painfully. He realized that he was still holding her face; he dropped his hands. She stared at him. He could feel that she was shaking a little.

“Your highness…” he gasped out, trying but failing to keep his voice even, “I…I can’t…it’s...wrong…”

He regretted the words the moment he said them. Her eyes, that had been so full of confusion and—he thought—desire, instantly turned blank. She didn’t look sad, or angry; instead, it seemed as though she wasn’t even in the room with him.

She stood up carefully, turning away from him. When he saw her back, he wondered—if he stood up, and took her hand again—would she forgive him?

But he stayed where he was. “Goodnight, Sakurai-san,” she said quietly, and there was a note of dismissal in her voice that he’d never heard there before.

He fled the room. Like a coward, he thought.

*

Sho didn’t sleep that night. The only thing that could have relaxed him, he finally concluded, was a good round of self-flagellation. Maybe if he called Jun and told him what he’d done, he would come over and beat the shit out of him. That would make him feel better. But no—he knew that he could never tell anyone what had happened. The princess would be mortified.

He left his room at sunrise to go for a run, hoping that it would clear his head. Instead, his thoughts seemed to acquire a new insistence with every footfall. He should resign—this morning, if possible. But then everyone would want to know what had happened. It didn’t matter—he should still resign. But it was only a week until the conference—he’d already written the schedule. He couldn’t leave now—but he should leave now, before anything else happened. Wouldn’t it be torture for her to see him. It would be torture for him.

He stopped in front of a small pond, his favorite part of the palace grounds. He could see a heron standing on the opposite shore; he watched it until it flew away.

He would have to leave. But not yet—he would wait until after the conference. Logically, he knew that there was no reason to delay—if he was going to leave, he might as well leave now. But in his heart—he couldn’t trust her to anyone else. At least, not for her first time speaking in public again. Not even to the best security team in Japan.

*

Sho asked Ohno to take over his night shifts; he said that he felt like he was getting sick. Ohno surprised him by actually looking concerned. “Are you okay, Sho-kun?” he asked with a frown, looking him over. “You look kind of…bad,” he concluded. Sho knew that he looked like he’d been run over.

He looked away, “It feels like a cold. I need a few good nights of sleep.”

“Mononoke will be disappointed.”

Sho’s head whipped back around, “What do you mean?”

Ohno looked startled, “The two of you…” he began slowly, “…when it’s your turn, you watch movies together, right? She said that you help her when she can’t sleep.”

Sho had no idea what to make of the fact that the princess had told Ohno about watching movies with him. Whatever it meant—if it meant anything at all—was beyond him.

“Just…take care of her,” he finally replied. “Sometimes she has nightmares. If you hear her crying, you should wake her up. And get her a beer.”

*

That week, the princess didn’t treat him any differently than she usually did; she looked at him blankly most of the time. He tried not to speak to her unless he had absolutely had to, and with four other bodyguards around her, he didn’t have to very often. In any case, she spent most of the week indoors, meeting with officials in the palace or practicing her speech in her room. Some days, he caught only glimpses of her as she moved between rooms.

So when he was finally standing in the wings of the stage, watching her deliver her speech, he felt almost as if he were seeing her again after a long separation. He tried to enjoy the way that she delivered the speech, her voice gentle yet authoritative. After all, it was the first and the last time that he’d ever be able to watch her like this in public. But this wasn’t what he’d miss, he realized—what he’d miss was being able to see her curled up on the couch, drinking a beer. The way she impersonated a rabbit to make Jun laugh. The way she shouted when the pedals on her bike were moving so fast that she could stop pedaling and glide down the hill that led to the pond.

She concluded the speech to enthusiastic applause. As Sho watched her bow and shake the hands of the conference organizers on stage, his mind flashed back to the end of Roman Holiday, when the princess shook hands with the reporters before saying goodbye to Gregory Peck. A feeling of panic seized him—this really was the end, then. And he couldn’t even hate the ending of the movie the way she did—what point was there in hating the inevitable? A princess would always be a princess. There was nothing either of them could do to change that.

“Purple Finch to Red Squirrel, Mononoke exiting stage right shortly.”

Jun’s voice jolted him out of his thoughts; Sho realized that he’d stopped looking at the princess, or at anything at all—he’d been staring blankly at the floor. He glanced at the princess, then around the room, his panic increasing when he saw a figure in the audience moving towards the stage. It was a man, and he was reaching for something in his coat pocket.

Sho forgot to say the code word. He forgot to alert the rest of the team to the possible threat. He just ran out onto the stage, desperate to place himself between the man and the princess.

Instead, he tripped over a microphone cord and slammed his head against a corner of the podium.

*

Sho woke up in a hospital room. His head was pounding, and the light pouring in from the windows dazzled his eyes.

When he finally recovered his vision, he thought that he was dreaming. The first thing he saw was the princess, sitting cross-legged in a chair next to the bed. She was still in the pink silk dress that she’d worn to the event, but she’d taken down her hair and removed her shoes. He was surprised to see that she was reading his travel guide—she must have taken it out of his bag. She looked absorbed in the text, but also—happy. Her eyes were bright.

“Your highness.” His voice was faint—he coughed, trying to recover it. She looked up at him, smiling cheerfully.

“What’s happened? Where is everyone? Are you all right?”

She nodded in response to each of his questions. “Everything’s fine, Sakurai-san. Everyone is outside, I asked them to wait.” She seemed unsure all of a sudden, “Should I…call them in…?” she asked, moving as though to stand up.

“No,” he said, surprising them both with the strength of his voice. “No,” he repeated more gently, “please,” he swallowed, “just tell me what happened. I…want to hear it from you.”

She sank back down into the chair. “Sakurai-san, you tripped and hit your head on the podium. You blacked out, so we brought you to the hospital. The doctor said that you’re fine, but that you have a concussion. Aiba had to carry you off the stage,” she concluded, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth.

Sho decided that he’d contemplate that humiliating piece of information later. “No, I mean…the man…the man coming towards the stage…”

She looked apologetic, “I’m sorry, Sakurai-san. He…he was taking a camera out of his jacket. He was trying to get closer to the stage to take a picture.”

Sho closed his eyes. He couldn’t stop a bitter laugh from escaping him. “Your highness, please don’t apologize for the fact that you weren’t being attacked.”

When he opened his eyes, she looked thoughtful. Slowly, she reached out and took his hand. She squeezed it lightly, staring at it. “Thank you. Not just for today. For everything. You…always help me. A lot." She swallowed, "The most,” she finished softly. When she drew her hand back, he reached out and caught it in his own.

“Your highness, I’m resigning as your bodyguard,” he said as he intertwined their fingers.

“What?” she cried, looking panicked—the expression on her face made his heart contract.

He forced himself to meet her eyes, “I’m resigning before I’m fired. And I should be fired—today, it was nothing, but if he had been about to attack you,” his breath caught at he thought of it, “I would have put you in danger. I didn’t follow protocol. I just…”

He swallowed before continuing, then smiled at the way she’d tipped her head to the side while staring at him, “I just lost my mind. A bodyguard…more than watching the person they’re guarding, they have to watch the environment around that person. But for weeks, now, I’ve only been looking at you. I…like you too much,” he finished, wishing he could express himself better.

Sho had been stabbed once before, but even that couldn’t compare to the pain of those few seconds when she stared back at him blankly.

Then her face lit up, “I like you, too, Sakurai-san. I like you, so much. I always have,” she said, her eyes shining.

A small part of his mind was saying that this didn’t change anything. She was still a princess, and he was a (now disgraced and unemployed) bodyguard. But Sho found that, for some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Especially when she asked if she could lie down next to him. If anyone finds us, I’ll blame it on the pain medication, he thought vaguely as she lay her head down on his chest and he wrapped his arms around her, breathing in her scent. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so safe.

He was drifting off when she spoke again, “Sakurai-san, there’s one more thing. Someone filmed you tripping on the stage, and they put it on the internet. It’s the number one trending topic on twitter right now. It was on the news earlier, too.”

Sho laughed, too happy to really process what she telling him. It didn’t really matter, anyway—he’d always known that Mononoke would be his last job.

*

Six months later

Dating a princess, Sho had discovered, was challenging, but not as impossible as Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck had led him to believe.

There had been a lot of kneeling in front of various members of the royal family involved. There had been bribery attempts and background checks. There’d been a period of three months when they’d only been able to communicate through notes delivered from Sho to the princess by Aiba. But, finally, the royal family seemed to have come around to the idea. He supposed it helped that he’d found a new, more respectable job in journalism (though he had, unfortunately, most likely been given the job based on his recent national fame as the royal bodyguard who’d concussed himself on stage).

But the biggest challenge, Sho was certain, had to be dating in front of an audience of your four best friends. He was keenly aware of that challenge now as he sat beside Haruka, holding her hand while they waited for the plane to take off for their trip to Italy. Ohno and Jun were sitting in the row in front of them, and Aiba and Nino were snickering in the row behind them. Someone—almost certainly Nino—was throwing peanuts at him.

The princess unfastened her seatbelt and kneeled on top of her seat. Sho tried to pull her back down, but she ignored him. “Security team, assemble,” she ordered. Aiba and Nino stopped talking while Jun woke up Ohno and directed his attention to the princess.

“Since we are leaving the country, we should all think of this as the start of a brand new mission. I’ve decided that my bodyguards need a new set of code names. Which I will be assigning.” There were some protests—mainly from Nino—that the princess calmly ignored. “You,” she said, pointing at Jun, “are Mama. And Ohchan is Papa.”

Nino and Aiba were laughing hysterically. “You’re Baby,” she said, pointing at Aiba, who immediately gave a cry of displeasure. “And you…” she glared at Nino, “you’re Nana,” she concluded with a triumphant smile.

Nino made what sounded like a choking noise. Sho couldn’t stop laughing as he pulled the princess back down beside him. “I love you,” he said before kissing her. He could feel her smiling while they kissed. He pulled back to look at her, “And what’s my code name, Mononoke?”

She stared at him. Her gaze was still so direct, but it was no longer unreadable to him; he could see her excitement to be travelling, her nervousness about flying, her affection for all of them, and—the realization made his heart beat faster—how happy she was to be next to him. Somehow, he’d learned to understand her.

“Um….” she hummed for a while, peering at him closely, “Maybe…Chesuto-san?”

Sho groaned. Of course, sometimes she still managed to surprise him.
THIS IS JUST. HOW IS IT SO CUTE? HOW? IT'S ADORABLE I CAN'T. ヽ(゚Д゚)ノ

This bodyguard! AU is going to give me a heart attack one day, with Arashi all in black suit and yes! yes yes yessssssss all the YES in the world... for those code names XDDDDD oh Nino ILUUUUU <3

Keep up the good work, you are amazing, author-san ;-;
Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed reading :D LOL I wish there was more Arashi bodyguard fic...especially ones where they are cooler than in this one xD
This is so cute! And the code name XDD
I like the fact that you portrait them fit with their personality ^^
Thank You SO much for sharing!
awww.. this is so cute and lovely <3

thanks a lot for this, aothor-san :)

Ooh, this is great. I love the universe, I love the plot, and I love the way you describe each character here.


Thanks for sharing ^^


-pz-

Loved it! Lucky her got to have Arashi as bodyguards...sigh what I would give to live in an alternate universe to have them protect and care for me as well. Definitely adding this to my lj memories :)
Thanks for reading! My dream is to have Aiba around to give me piggyback rides when I get tired ^^
Aww! That sounds adorable! If that happened to me I would instantly have feelings for him *blush*

Edited at 2015-05-07 04:12 pm (UTC)
LOL omg yes smart but gullible!Sho is probably my favorite kind of Sho *^^* I think he would fall easily for someone like Haruka ^^ Thank you so much for reading and your lovely, lovely comment, so glad you enjoyed it!!! <3