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Swinging for the Fence

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Ritsu frowned against Masamune's lips, letting the lazy kiss continue under the stream of water pelting them only because he was afraid that if he attempted to move any appendages below his waist, he'd crumple onto the shower floor. "…The water's getting cold."

"Mmm, maybe you shouldn't try to impress me with your stamina next time, then." Ritsu's eyes snapped open just so he could roll them, and Masamune laughed, chuckles echoing loudly in the bathroom. "You're gonna make me late now. I hope you're happy."

Ritsu pulled back and tried to twist around, reaching for the soap dispenser to give himself a final rinse down before stepping out from the now chilly shower into the equally chilly bathroom. "No way you're pinning this on me--I wanted to sleep in, if you'll recall?" He shivered lightly when Masamune's hands went to his hips, ostensibly to help steady him--he was never going to get used to even the tamest of touches if those touches kept leading to things like this. "But someone practically threw me over his shoulder and carried me into the shower--"

Masamune's voice was low and rough just at his ear, and Ritsu could feel his body heat from where he stood nearly pressed against Ritsu. "You say this like I dragged you in here unwillingly." He reached over Ritsu and grabbed the washcloth before him, soaping it up and setting to work gently scrubbing Ritsu's back, massaging the muscles as he went. "When it's more likely I'll have to drag you out unwillingly."

Ritsu shifted around again, jutting his chest out so Masamune could attend to it, and glanced away with a soft hmph. "I'm getting pruny; I think I'll leave quite willingly--if you're done using the washcloth as a pretense to feel me up?"

Masamune let out another rough bark of laughter (as if he needed a pretense) and kissed the top of Ritsu's head--who flushed at being treated like a child. Just cause the guy was a little taller didn't mean he needed to be so patronizing. "You deserve to be late; I hope you get fired." Ritsu turned the stream of water off with an angry twist of his wrist.

"Then you can get me a job at Daddy's editing company." Masamune ran his hands over his head to squeeze off the excess water clinging to his hair and watched Ritsu practically stomp out of the stall. "Or maybe I'll marry you--then he'll be my father too and set his new son up with a cushy job. Maybe I'll be your boss."

Ritsu wasn't sure which preposterous suggestion to attack first, so instead he just flipped him off and went in search of a fresh towel. It was a bit strange how…not strange, how natural Ritsu now found it to banter like this back and forth with Masamune, to wander around his apartment like it was his own (well, to be fair, the layout didn't differ substantially), to wake up (almost) every morning and not care whose bed it was so much as who was in it with him. He hadn't had a steady girlfriend in…ever, really, and he'd never even slept the night through with Saga-sempai, so logically this whole situation should've been new and novel and nigh on frightening with the steps they were taking and yet…it wasn't really. It just felt like we should've been doing this all along. Absence did, it seem, indeed make the heart grow fonder--whether you recognized it or not.

He squawked inelegantly when a big fluffy towel, warm from hanging out in the sun, pelted him from behind, and he scrambled around to grab it before it dropped to the floor. "Thanks." Masamune had already slipped into a robe and had his mouth full of a breakfast sandwich he'd bought the night before, hastily scarfing it down and trying to make what was likely a snarky comment through it all. "Don't talk with your mouth full, geez--didn't your parents teach you that's rude?"

Masamune swallowed with visible difficulty. "Nope. They didn't have much time for me, period--and I asked what you were doing for dinner. I'll probably have something at the banquet, but there's--"

"--leftover soba in your fridge, I know." He wrapped the towel around his hips, pressing past Masamune back into the hall, headed for the bedroom. "I'm stealing a pair of your boxers just so you know."

"Pervert~" Masamune sang as he wandered after him, coming to a stop in the doorway and bracing himself against it. "Sure you don't want to come with? No one'll notice you."

Ritsu shook one leg as he struggled to pull on his pants, leaving them unbuttoned as he then yanked on his overshirt. "I think I'll pass--fascinating as it sounds spending the whole evening in a suit chatting up a bunch of strange women who draw ditzy schoolgirls for a living."

"Oh, but it's perfectly fine to leave me to do that?"

Ritsu turned and gave him a clap on the chest as he pushed past him, headed towards the genkan with the rest of his belongings tucked under his arm. "Don't flirt too much."

"Or what?" Masamune was the picture of seduction, whether he recognized it or not--slumped lazily against his doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest and head cocked to the side with one brow raised in challenge that clearly said tell me I'm yours, lay claim, be spontaneous.

And really, it was too early to argue. "…Nothing, I suppose. But the more you flirt, the later it'll be before you get home so I can blow you like I've kind of been wanting to do all morning, so…" He shrugged. "Your call." He waved his fingers behind him and sauntered towards the door, confident that today was going to be a very good day.


Ritsu's good mood carried him back to his own apartment and through his morning rituals, stuck with him like a pleasant miasma even on the crowded subway to Onodera Shuppan, and sheltered him until well into the morning, when his entire day was disrupted by the annoying jingle of his cellphone signaling an incoming call.

Ignoring the dark glances from his coworkers, he ducked his head and laughed off an apology, slipping out into the hall before he snapped open the receiver, wincing at the name of the caller that flashed across the display. "…I told you I'm not supposed to answer calls at work, Mom."

"Your family owns the company, Ritsu--I should think your supervisor could easily overlook a phone call from your mother now and then." Her tone was snippy, cold and polite and disaffected. She was obviously trying to play him for sympathy. "And you never call all that often anymore anyways--so how else am I supposed to get in touch with you? You keep the oddest hours, after all."

Ritsu rubbed at the furrow scoring the middle of his forehead where his brows knit together, trying to keep an annoyed sigh from escaping his lips. "I'm sorry. I'll try to call more often--it's just there's never anything to talk about."

"Or never anything you want to talk about with your mother, more likely." Sharp as always. She didn't press the issue further, though, and instead adopted an almost chipper tone. "But enough about that--what are you doing this evening?"

"Eh?" He tried to process his schedule in his head. "…Nothing, I suppose. Going over a draft check for an author, but nothing terribly urgent. Why?" He couldn't help the note of worry that entered his voice--if his mother was being so oblique in her request, it couldn't be anything that Ritsu would enjoy.

He could practically hear the excitement in her voice over the receiver. "Oh that's wonderful then--I'll let An-chan know you're free."

"Wait--huh?"

"An-chan--she's going to a friend's wedding this evening up at the Teito Hotel, and I don't think she should be without an escort. So who better to take her than her fiance, right?"

"I--but I'm--"

"You just told me you weren't busy--unless there's some reason you don't want to escort your fiancee to a friend's wedding?" There was a pause, and she sighed audibly. "Honestly, Ritsu. You really ought to start growing up one of these days. You're 25 years old; shouldn't you be taking things more seriously?"

"I am taking things seriously--you surely can't have missed that Usami-sensei just won the--"

"Oh--your career, that's all you ever think about! Why don't you stop worrying about material things and put a little effort into deepening your relationship with the woman who's going to make a very suitable, very loyal, very faithful wife for you in the near future? An-chan is very obviously fond of you, and I know you love her as well, so there's no reason to continue this beating about the bush and burying your nose in books all day when a perfectly lovely young lady is in need of an escort to an event this evening."

Another long pause; this was not a conversation he wanted to be having in the middle of the day over a cell phone. "I don't understand why you're still pressing me on this matter…"

"What matter?" she responded, feigning ignorance.

"This--engagement thing. Haven't we had this discussion a dozen times before?"

"…Then just who are you planning to marry?" she scoffed in disbelief. "You can't very well expect to take over this company one day without a suitable partner at your side, can you? A lovely young lady from a fine family with whom you're already very close--I can't think of anyone more perfect for you!" Ritsu swallowed, closing his eyes; of course she couldn't, because Ritsu had never been able to bring himself to be completely honest with anyone he cared for. "…Or are you saying you have someone else in mind already?!"

"Wha--I--"

"Onodera Ritsu, you listen, young man! Stop messing around with any casual flings you might have convinced yourself you had a passing fancy for and open your eyes. You're never going to find someone better than An-chan. You're taking her to this wedding tonight, and you're going to be a gentleman about it as well. I expect to hear that you've escorted her home afterwards. I'll let her know to expect you around six." And then the line died with a droning buzz.

"M--Mom? Wait!" Too late, of course; not that any amount of arguing could have diverted her. He'd riled her up, too, which had been a stupid move, and now she was just going to use it in future arguments as ammunition. Masamune seemed to have this idea that turning down the engagement was a one-off thing, over and done with in a few words. Obviously he'd never met Ritsu's mother.

He pulled the phone away to glare at it, as if the device itself were responsible for all his troubles. His options were few at the moment: call his mother back and try to argue with her (not really an option at all, to be honest), call An-chan and try to weasel out of it (she'd let him, of course, but he'd feel terrible in the end), or go through with the entire thing, grinning and bearing it and being silently grateful that Masamune was tied up for most of the evening as well so he could avoid an awkward conversation.

So, coward that he was, he of course went with the third option.

It was hardly the worst time he'd had; his mother was right about one thing, in that he did care for An-chan. He'd known her for ages, as far back as he could remember. They'd often been each other's playmates while their mothers chatted over tea or their fathers talked business, and while Ritsu had found it a bit strange that he was stuck with a girl as a playmate, she'd been pleasant company, and nicer than most of the other children his age who all seemed stuck in their own worlds, children of the elite and intent on showing it.

An-chan had never teased him for being quiet and bookish, only asked him to read to her occasionally and keep her company at stiff, formal gatherings. She was a good friend, a comfortable presence, someone he cared for, as much as he cared for any family member.

But she was not a romantic partner--of that much Ritsu was certain. He could not, no matter how he tried, bring himself to view her as someone to be touched and held and kissed, certainly none of the things he'd done with Saga-sempai in his youth, nor with Masamune now. He shuddered at the thought--definitely not. It had been awkward enough with the girls he'd dated in the past--but with someone he saw as a sister, quite possibly his closest female friend? Hardly--especially now.

Still, tonight was not about romance or engagements or anything of the sort. He was simply escorting his childhood friend to a wedding; there was nothing untoward about the entire evening.

Only…whether or not An-chan understood that fact herself was unclear.

"Aah, wasn't it beautiful, Ricchan?" she crooned softly, leaning against his shoulder with her arm looped around his, cheeks flushed with the champagne they'd indulged in at the small reception that had followed the ceremony. "I've always wanted a Western wedding myself…"

Ritsu laughed despite himself, buoyed by the alcohol in his blood. "My parents would never let me have anything but the most traditional of Shinto ceremonies."

"Ooh, we could have one of both then," she suggested, squeezing closer with a giggle. "Keep it a secret from the other's parents. We'll have robots built to stand in; no one will ever know your parents weren't there pelting us with rice while we flee the church." And even Ritsu had to laugh at the image. "…Ricchan?"

"Hm?" They sank onto a plushly cushioned bench in the front lobby, and Ritsu felt himself growing drowsy between the champagne, the late hour, and the soft muzak piping through hidden speakers around them.

Her head came to rest on his shoulder, and her fingers twined over his own where he braced himself against the chair. "Do you love me?"

And like a bucket of ice water being thrown on him, suddenly he was alert and sober and panicking. "I--what?"

She straightened up, a pout threatening to form on her lips. "…You heard me; don't pretend you didn't."

"Yeah, but--" He swallowed hard, glancing around to see if anyone had perhaps overheard them. "You can't--ask someone something like that just out of the blue, we're--"

"We're engaged; if I can't ask the person I'm supposed to marry if he loves me, then who can I ask?" A good point, but one that did nothing to make Ritsu feel less like a callous clod.

He rolled his shoulders to shrug off her grasp and stood up, pacing in a small circle before her. "You--I mean, haven't I already given you an answer about that already?" She winced, and he immediately regretted bringing up the memory of her altogether embarrassing confession in high school. He'd had eyes for none but Saga-sempai back then and had tried too hard to make light of a difficult situation. It hadn't gone over well, to say the least. Still, he'd been quite sure that he'd made himself clear. "Just…why would you ask that now?"

Her cheeks were flushed now with shame more than any alcohol she'd imbibed that evening, and she turned on the defensive. "Well--it's natural to wonder, isn't it? You rejected me back then, but you didn't turn down the engagement--"

"But--I have! You know I've told my parents that this isn't something I can do--"

"You obviously didn't try hard enough then," she groused, keeping her voice in check--unlike Ritsu--to avoid causing a scene. "You're always using language like I don't think and please don't ask me, and how can you expect someone to understand that you're serious when you're not even honest with yourself?"

"…Eh?" That was a new accusation. "I'm--what?"

She huffed, visibly flustered. "You're in love--with that person still." And for a harrowing moment, he feared that somehow, she'd realized. Found out. About Masamune, about their relationship, about how he felt--but then she continued, "The person you loved even back in middle school."

"I…" he started, unsure of where to go, but she shook her head defiantly.

"You can't deny it--I should know what it looks like when someone's in love, you know." And her whole face was burning with shame now as she clutched her purse closer, like a life-raft. "Even when you were dating other people, it never lasted all that long. At first, I thought maybe--I know it's stupid, but…I thought that maybe you were in love with me, that you just couldn't own up to it back then, but… I guess that's not the case after all…" She glanced up, the last of her hope gleaming in her eye. "Is it?"

And he cursed himself and crushed it: "…No, I'm sorry."

She just nodded silently and swallowed, hoping to steady her voice. "So then I just thought…maybe you're still hung up on that person."

Ritsu's hands clenched at his sides--she didn't know, but she really did know, paradoxically. Had he really been that transparent all these years? Or was it just that An-chan looked at him more than anyone else, tried to divine his emotions and feelings and saw what he'd never bothered hiding, never felt the urge to hide? Maybe she understood better his feelings for Masamune than the man himself; it wouldn't be all that surprising.

"I think…you may be right…"

If she was surprised by the admission, she didn't show it, simply nodding again and clutching her purse to her chest as she rose to her feet, shrugging off Ritsu's proffered hand to help steady her. "…I'd like to go home now, Ricchan."

"O--of course, sure…" He reached for her shoulders again, and this time she let him steer her straight, though whether this allowance was out of genuine need or just a desire to keep Ritsu from feeling like any more of a jerk than he already did was unclear. "I can call us a taxi, and--"

"Ritsu?" Ritsu froze at the name, shooting up straight and releasing An-chan like a live bolt of electricity had just shot through him, whirling around to find himself facing--

"Masa--mune…?" Masamune--and a small woman in glasses bundled head-to-toe in winter wear dragging a rolling suitcase behind her.

"'Masamune'?" An-chan echoed beside him, curiosity staining her voice, and she poked him in the arm for an explanation. "You're friends?"

Ritsu's mouth refused to cooperate as his gaze darted back and forth between Masamune--his expression completely unreadable but his eyes wide and confused--and the woman at his side pressing softly, Takano-san? obviously awaiting an introduction. "I…it's…"

"You must be An-chan." He was saved by a hero in a slick black suit with an equally slick smile as Masamune recovered his senses first and stepped forward, giving a small bow of greeting. "I'm Takano Masamune--Onodera-san's next-door-neighbor." He smoothly skipped over why they were on a first name basis--and if An-chan noticed this, she didn't press it. "Quite a coincidence, running into him here."

An-chan recovered her manners, forcing a polite smile and slipping closer to Ritsu. "Ah--Ricchan was escorting me to a friend's wedding. I was supposed to go with a girlfriend, but she had to cancel at the last moment." And Ritsu shot her a look--he hadn't heard that. From his mother's conversation, she'd been planning to go alone from the beginning. Why was she 'covering' for him now?

"Quite the gentleman then, I see." If he was testing to see if she'd explain that well, we're engaged! So he has a duty as future-husband to fulfill, you see! then he was going to be left waiting, for she only smiled primly and nodded.

"I thought--" Ritsu started, until he realized that all three gazes were focused on him now and this was very much not a private conversation, and he licked his lips, clearing his throat. "Ah--it's only, I thought Takano-san had mentioned a banquet this evening…?"

Here, the woman at his arm piped up, tittering softly. "He's been prowling the floor all night, if you'll believe it."

"Mutou-sensei," Masamune started, flushing nervously. "Please don't start…" He turned back to Ritsu and An-chan, performing another half-bow. "I'm an editor for Marukawa Shoten's shoujo manga division, in charge of Monthly Emerald. I mentioned to Onodera-san earlier today when we crossed paths leaving the building that I had a banquet to attend tonight." He gestured now to the woman waiting patiently beside him. "This is one of our authors, Mutou Yukina. I was escorting her out when we ran into you."

The woman--Mutou-sensei--made a lower bow, which An-chan mirrored and fired off an introduction of her own. "I'm Kohinata An. I'm--" But she froze, laughing into a cough. "A friend of Ricchan's." None but Ritsu noticed the way Masamune lifted a brow in in suspicion.

"Then it's a pleasure to meet you," Masamune added, still very obviously in gentleman-mode, and turned back to Mutou-sensei. "Sensei, shall I call you a cab?"

"Oh--no, I'll just walk to the train station. I did mention I was staying with a friend in the city, didn't I?" Without waiting for his response, she gave a short bow to Ritsu and An-chan before taking her leave. "It was a pleasure. Good evening."

Ritsu just watched her leave blankly, still reeling from the entire exchange and not entirely sure what had just transpired. Why was Masamune here, of all places? The Marukawa party was actually being held in a grand hotel like the Teito? It was possible he'd mentioned it and Ritsu had just let it flow in one ear and out the other--and even if he hadn't mentioned it, it wasn't as if that was out of the ordinary. He was hardly blaming the guy for being where he was supposed to be--but really, it couldn't have happened at a worse time.

He'd promised Masamune that he would honestly try harder to make his family understand that he had no intention of going through with such silly things like arranged marriages or taking over the company from his father. That was the sort of thing you had to be groomed for, wasn't it? Who actually passed on a company that way nowadays anyways? Why not just choose the best candidate instead of entrusting the fate of a huge publishing company to a guy who had a difficult enough time keeping his authors on deadline?

And Masamune had seemed to understand--he'd been obviously hurt by Ritsu still going along with the whole affair, but he'd understood, amazing man that he was, that Ritsu wasn't in a position just now to cut all ties with his family--which is what would likely eventually have to happen for him to finally be able to shake off the shackles of this arranged marriage his mother seemed intent on pushing upon him.

So why, with all this justification, was his stomach in knots and his heart beating at an uneven pace, jarring him and leaving him short of breath as he watched Masamune make small talk with An-chan and attempt to take his leave? He'd turned on his heel, aiming for a side door cracked open with soft chamber music filtering out into the lobby, and Ritsu's voice cracked as he called out to him, nearly tripping over his own heels as he took a few steps forward. "I--wait!" But Masamune didn't pay him any attention, and Ritsu turned a desperate plea back to An-chan. "Just--wait here for a minute, please? I'll only be a second, I have to--ask him something." He couldn't wait to read her expression or even hear her response, fearful that he'd be subject to her whining that she wanted to get home before midnight and she was just going to chat with Ritsu's mother while she waited.

Masamune was a few dozen meters ahead, well out of earshot of An-chan by now, before Ritsu caught up, grabbing him roughly by the shoulder and jerking him around to face him--annoyance had tamped down his agitation and shame at being seen out with An-chan, and he found himself more irked by Masamune's reaction to the entire affair than eager to explain himself. "Dammit--stop and listen to me!"

Masamune's cheeks were flushed when Ritsu finally forced him around, and he jerked his hand back, releasing Masamune from his grip, and couldn't help the meek apology that tumbled from his lips, as if he were responsible for it all. "I mean--just, I was calling for you..."

Straightening his coat, Masamune sniffed. "I know, but--I've really got to get back to the banquet." His eyes flicked over Ritsu's head, back towards the front lobby where An-chan was likely growing bored. "And you've got to escort An-chan home."

Ritsu's fingers twitched at his sides, and he clenched them in fists to keep himself from reaching up and curling them desperately over Masamune's biceps, stroking down his chest, resting at his hips. "I didn't--it was a sudden request, is all. My mother called me this afternoon and forced it on me--and I had no idea you were going to be here or I'd definitely have declined it--"

"If you could've done that--then why didn't you?" And while the question was challenging, Masamune's face was soft and his smile laced with pity rather than disappointment. Like he knew Ritsu neither could have nor would have done any such thing. Like he understood perfectly well and wasn't angry in the least.

Fuck that. Ritsu swallowed, eyes on the floor. "...Why aren't you angry?"

There was a pregnant pause, the only sound in the hallway the trickling of a fountain nearby and the soft music and droning murmurs of the banquet-goers in the next hall over. "...Do you want me to be angry?"

Of course not, Ritsu knew he was meant to snap back, but...he kind of did want Masamune to be angry. To rail against Ritsu once again for slinking back to his family and ducking his head and doing his 'family duty.' If Ritsu couldn't be angry about this all, then at least Masamune could do it for him--wasn't that one of the reasons he loved the guy? That he'd stubbornly clung on for ten years and rather than dumping Ritsu once he realized the truth again, that Ritsu had all but tricked him into sleeping with him--he'd instead just held on that much tighter?

He wanted Masamune to snap, to rail against the whole institution of arranged marriages, to accuse Ritsu of being a spineless little rich kid still clinging to his mother's skirts and desperate for his father's approval--because Masamune was always honest with him that way.

"I want..." He licked his lips, and his fingers twitched again. He could smell Masamune's cologne this close, some dark, woodsy something or other an author had given him months back in appreciation for selling 50,000 copies of her latest volume. He leaned in further, unconsciously almost, and let his gaze trail over the stiff lapels of Masamune's jacket, the crisp white collar of his shirt, the smooth silk tie snug at his neck. Masamune visibly swallowed when their gazes met, and Ritsu was struck for the first time in a long while with that uneasy sensation of not knowing what Masamune was thinking, worry lacing through him that anything he did right now would be the wrong thing, that Masamune would rebuff him or that they'd be stuck waiting in this limbo for ages. "Just...Masamune, I want..."

He craned his neck upwards, tilting his head to the side and letting his jaw drop open just enough to tempt Masamune down, to close the distance and please to stop Ritsu from feeling this way. He just needed a touch, the one kiss would be fine--then he'd be good and escort An-chan home and watch Masamune shuffle off to schmooze the night away with high-profile authors who'd probably make passes at him but which he'd turn down for professional reasons. He didn't care about any of that at this point, though--he just needed reassurance, that he wasn't the only one who felt like this, scared that Masamune was going to grow weary of all this tip-toeing around and waiting and hoping. Scared he'd eventually realize Ritsu wasn't--had never been--worth so much grief.

And then, for one blessed moment, he thought he might get it--as Masamune's will seemed to melt and he let his head dip down and cock just to the side to slide their lips together just so, but before their lips touched, he jerked back, releasing a soft ah of realization, and stepped backwards, gaze focused beyond Ritsu.

Ritsu blinked to clear away the haze of anticipation, and twisted around, glancing over his shoulder--and of course, there was An-chan, waiting in the wings patiently with her purse clutched tightly before her and a flush staining her cheeks as she kept her gaze averted. "An-chan..."

"I promised I'd be home by midnight, Ricchan," she explained evenly, her voice soft and quavering, and Ritsu couldn't tell if she was just too embarrassed at being caught spying to speak her mind or if she was only holding herself in check out of concern for making a scene in as lavish a location as they presently occupied.

He offered a last, guilty glance to Masamune, who returned a small nod and quickly turned on his heel, headed back through the large, oaken doors into the ballroom. Swallowing, he stalked over to where An-chan had been tucked behind a thin pillar--and wondered how long she'd been watching them, if she'd followed Ritsu immediately or if she'd just come upon them at precisely the wrong time.

Swallowing guiltily, Ritsu searched for the words to apologize, not entirely sure what to apologize for in the first place. "An-chan, I didn't..."

She held up a hand though--and he could see it quivering with nerves. "You don't...have to explain. At least, I don't think so." When Ritsu obediently complied, she followed up with a soft laugh. "...Wow, I guess that answers that question..."

"Eh?"

"Just--if it had really been something else, you definitely would've gotten all worked up trying to explain yourself anyways..." And she was right; it was only that he'd gotten tired of explaining himself and just once, even to An-chan, he wanted to be completely honest with someone about Masamune. "I don't know if I'm relieved or not..."

"...Why would you be relieved?"

"Because--" She forced a smile. "I don't have to worry about you, I guess?" When Ritsu's expression only showed his deepening confusion, she continued. "I used to think--that even if you didn't love me that way, if we were married--then maybe I could take care of you still. Because you were never going to let yourself be with anyone else--so maybe if I could be by your side always, then at least I would know that you were with someone who cared about you. So I wouldn't have to worry."

"An-chan..."

She rubbed at her cheek. "So...it's him?" Ritsu opened his mouth to respond, but no sound came out, just a confused huff as his brows knit, and she shook her head in amused disappointment with herself. "No, of course it's him."

Ritsu's frown deepened, and he took a shuffling step closer, placing his hands on either shoulder and giving her a little shake to pull her attention. "...I didn't mean to hurt you. You know that."

"Of course I know, Ricchan." She brought one hand up and patted his cheek. "So I don't blame you even if it does." And she pulled away, headed back towards the front lobby. "I can get a taxi myself--you should..." But her voice broke before she could finish the suggestion, and she just waved him off when he moved to follow her. "I'll tell your mother to thank you again for taking me to the wedding and escorting me home." Covering for him. Again. Just like Masamune had to cover for him. Everyone was always out to protect him--and it just wound up making him feel like a kept man.

"I do love you, An-chan," he called to her departing form, despite knowing deep down that would only hurt her more.

She paused, shoulders shaking softly in what Ritsu at first feared was weeping but realized with great relief were light chuckles. "You shouldn't run after women in the lobby of strange hotels declaring your love, Ricchan. Masamune-san will get jealous."


Few were the nights that Ritsu spent alone at home these days. He and Masamune had made a silent agreement to make it home as early as possible whenever they could find the time--and more often than not they simply shared companionable silence on one or the other's couch doing draft checks or finalizing proposals for authors' events or book signings rather than going out for drinks with colleagues and coworkers. If Masamune had a late meeting, Ritsu found time for dinner with Saeki-san, or if Ritsu had to attend an awards ceremony for Usami-sensei or Sumi-sensei, then Masamune took Yokozawa-san up on one of his many offers for after-work drinks. They had a pleasant give and take in this way that left neither one of them sitting alone at home wondering where the other was and what he was doing.

So it was...strange for Ritsu. Sitting here, alone in his apartment, knowing that Masamune's apartment next door was cold and dark and empty, unsure of when he'd be home at all since the events earlier that evening. He'd wanted to follow after him--to crash the banquet and shake down every poor server and glitzed up mangaka until he discerned the location of Monthly Emerald's editor-in-chief--but propriety, in the end, had stayed his hand, and after being sure that An-chan really did make it to a taxi safely (despite her protests), he'd hailed one of his own and trudged home to wait. What he'd say when Masamune finally arrived, he hadn't quite decided yet--but regardless of that he still wanted the man home. Even if they just sat in silence on opposite ends of the couch, it would be enough.

He jolted into alertrness when he heard the muffled sound of a door slamming--1201 was home.

...Why hadn't he knocked on Ritsu's door? Even just to let him know he was home? Hastily fishing out his cellphone from his bag, Ritsu confirmed that there were no missed calls or text messages. Then--maybe he was just putting down his things and would be coming to check in on Ritsu shortly? Was it entirely as ridiculous as it felt that he was worrying about niggling little things like this?

Tossing the cellphone onto the couch, Ritsu stood up, hands fisted at his sides in determination. He was going to man-up and face Masamune properly and talk this out--he just couldn't sleep otherwise. And even if in the end he wound up in his own bed, alone, at least he'd be closing his eyes to a world where this awkward miasma wasn't hanging over the both of them.

He took a deep breath, shivering in the hallway, and rapped three times in rapid succession on Masamune's door. With no response for a good minute, he raised his hand and tried again, putting a bit more effort into the knocks, and wondered in the back of his mind guiltily if the guy hadn't just gone straight to bed--he'd been up fairly early and probably had just wanted to come home and collapse and face Ritsu in the morning. He was just contemplating giving up and shuffling back into his own stuffy apartment, though, when he heard the lock give way and the door opened a hair. "What?"

Ritsu frowned at the 'greeting'. "I--just realized you were home. Did I wake you?"

Masamune let the door open a bit wider, and Ritsu noticed that his eyes were drooping with fatigue despite his response of, "No. Did you need something?"

Need something? Yes--he needed to talk more about what had happened that evening, dammit. Why was the guy being so passive-aggressive about this whole thing? "I..." he started pathetically, and though he recalled that he'd wanted Masamune to be upset, this wasn't exactly the response he'd been hoping for. "...Can I come in?"

Masamune looked like he was seriously considering this for a moment, and Ritsu's heart clenched in his chest at the realization that fuck the guy really was pissed, so much so that he didn't even want to see Ritsu right now, and why had he even considered for an instant that he'd be okay with this when he clearly wasn't? But then he sighed softly and propped the door open fully so that Ritsu could duck through. "Come on."

Ritsu complied, quickly padding into the living room in socked feet--he hadn't even thought to put on slippers on leaving his apartment. It was still chilly, though he could hear the heater running on a low setting in the den. Masamune's bag was settled against the arm of the couch, and his suit jacket had been haphazardly draped across the back. "If you're here to talk about what happened earlier--" a voice started just behind his ear, "--you really don't have to."

Jumping in surprise, Ritsu nearly toppled over when he twisted around and pressed his back against the wall to skitter away. "I--what?"

Masamune braced a hand against the wall just over his shoulder, looming over him and staring down with a blank expression. "At the hotel. With An-chan. I already told you I understand."

Which was bullshit--because how could he understand when Ritsu himself wasn't even entirely sure he understood? "...Even so, I still wanted to apologize..."

Masamune pulled back, blinking a few times in confusion. "...Why? For what?"

"For--going through with it. For escorting her to the wedding just because my mother--" But Masamune had already brushed past him and settled onto the couch, leaning backwards and resting his eyes. "...Don't ask questions you already know the answer to."

"I didn't. I really didn't know what you were apologizing for."

Ritsu slowly sank onto the cushions beside him, expression annoyed. "Now you're playing dumb. This isn't funny--I'm being serious, trying to apologize here--"

"Do I look like I'm laughing?"

"No, but--you don't look like you want to have a conversation either."

Masamune's eyes shot open, and he slumped forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Because I don't. I told you, you really don't have to explain what happened earlier."

"But--I want to--"

"Well I don't!" he snapped with more viciousness than Ritsu had been expecting, and he quickly slapped a hand over his mouth as if surprised at himself. "I--don't want to hear you...apologize. You don't have to."

Ritsu's breathing was coming faster now, adrenaline fueled by the promise of an argument. "I do though--I mean, I promised you I would try to distance myself from her, from the whole engagement thing, and then..." He trailed off when it became apparent Masamune wasn't listening anymore, as he sat there shaking his head at Ritsu's every word. "Why won't you listen to me? How am I supposed to make you forgive me when--"

"Because--I'm the one who's supposed to be apologizing," he ground out in the end, hands fisting in the thin material of his slacks. "I should be..." He swallowed. "Just...I--for a moment tonight, I... When I saw you with her, I thought... damn, they really look good together." He laughed dryly at himself. "I mean--I knew that it was...you know, you and her, but you still--looked good, I guess. And I..." A shrug. "...I wanted to ruin it." When Ritsu didn't stop him, he continued, barreling forward with his confession. "I saw--something that looked good and beautiful and it made angry inside, and just--I wanted to ruin it. I wanted her to see me take you from her right then so that she'd know she couldn't have you. And when you were going to kiss me in the hallway, I...saw her."

"...What?"

"I saw her, I knew she was there. And I stopped you from doing it in the end, sure, but for just a moment I...wanted to let you do it." And that was it. That was what Masamune hated. He didn't want to show anyone his ugly side--the human side that wasn't all slick smiles and snarky retorts but that loved fiercely and wanted to possess and sought to break all those things he found too perfect into some semblance of normalcy that he could identify with. "She just wanted to be with the person she loved, and I wanted to hurt her for it. I'm an asshole, right?" He snorted at himself, as if there could be any argument.

Ritsu swallowed, shifting to sit in seiza on the couch. If he was an asshole for wanting to do that sort of thing and still managing to hold himself back...what did it make Ritsu, who hurt An-chan even when he didn't want to? "...You know, I told her. That I couldn't be with her, couldn't marry her--because there's someone else I've always loved." A partial lie--An-chan had called it herself, only making Ritsu realize and accept it. "I don't think it makes you an asshole--it just makes you human. Like everyone else." A derisive snort; Masamune hated being patronized. "Fine--then I'm an asshole too." He shuffled over on the couch to lean against Masamune, all but pouting. "Seriously, it's normal to feel that way."

"Normal doesn't make it nice."

"Who says you have to be nice? Be an asshole--I like you that way." He could feel Masamune trying to twist and stare down at him, to see if he was being patronized again. "She figured it out anyways. That we're together."

"I'd be more surprised if she hadn't."

"You should've let me kiss you, then."

"Yeah..." A shrug. "You can do it now, if you want." Ritsu jerked back, blinking, and Masamune chuckled nervously at the reaction. "Or--not."

But Ritsu had already licked his lips and lifted up onto his knees, steadying his hands on Masamune's shoulders to bend down and press their lips together, slowly and softly, moistening the dry, chapped skin. He opened his mouth to run his tongue along the seam of Masamune's lips, which opened obediently beneath him, and guided Masamune down onto his back, ignoring the groan of his muscles from what was now a rather awkward position. Masamune lifted up onto his elbows to easy the strain, cradling one hand at the back of Ritsu's head to deepen the kiss. Ritsu grunted his appreciation for the gesture, taking in deep breaths while the free hand not holding him up worked its way down Masamune's chest, popping the buttons on his workshirt one by one before pausing to tease just at the hem of his pants, tugging insistently on the fabric.

"One track mind," Masamune grunted roughly, smiling through the kiss and thoroughly enjoying being put through his paces.

"Told you," Ritsu reminded, freeing the top button and pulling on the zip agonizingly slowly. "Been wanting to do this since this morning."

"We should do it at the same time," Masamune suggested with a broken groan, one hand reaching south, but Ritsu grabbed his wrist firmly and pushed it away.

"Not--this time. I'll embarrass myself. Just let me do this first?" And he knew he must have looked as genuinely earnest and nervous as he felt, for Masamune clammed right up and just nodded stiffly, settling back to watch in awe while Ritsu tugged down his briefs and freed his half-hard cock from its confines, letting his still-chilly fingers skitter from base to tip and back a few times to coax it into a fuller erection. He shifted back further on the couch until his shoulders rested squarely just at Masamune's thighs, his back arched forward elegantly as he settled between Masamune's legs.

Giving his palm a perfunctory lick, he kept it busy at the base of Masamune's shaft, sliding up and down a track of a few centimeters in a tight ring made by his fingers, and pressed a light kiss to the tip, letting his tongue dart out to quickly lave a trail of saliva around the crown before pulling back in. Masamune shivered beneath him, thrusting up just enough to remind Ritsu that there was a very turned-on man attached to the cock he was playing with and not to be too cruel.

Remembering earlier in the evening, how he'd had to hold himself back from even touching Masamune, how difficult it had been, nigh on torture, Ritsu quickly lost all resolve to be slow and sensuous as he'd originally intended, and leaned forward to take the whole head in his mouth, pursing his lips and sucking lightly while he ran his tongue along the underside. Masamune was hardly huge, but with little to no experience in such activities and limitations to the human body to consider, Ritsu was despairing that blowjobs were not nearly as easy to give as Masamune made them out to be.

Still, he did his level best--letting Masamune thrust up in short spurts when he couldn't hold himself back any longer while Ritsu continued to take him in as deeply as he could, occasionally pulling back entirely to run his tongue up and down the shaft and pay special attention to the head. He'd renewed his efforts when he tasted the first salty bitterness heralding Masamune's arousal, working up more saliva to smooth the way and sucking with all his might, trying to make his mouth mimic the tight heat he was sure Masamune would have rather been thrusting into. But this way--he could be entirely in charge of Masamune's pleasure, and just now--that was exactly what he wanted. To be the one making him happy for once, instead of responsible for so much pain and disappointment and sadness and--

"Ritsu... It's too good, I'm close..."

He settled back onto his knees to use both hands to work the base, occasionally fingering his balls where they hung heavy with unspilled seed, twitching in response to his attentions, and continued swirling his tongue at the crown and top, pursing his lips to suck hard, taking in the whole crown and the first few centimeters that he could comfortably fit in an effort to let Masamune spill himself as pleasurably as possible. "F--fuck, Ritsu, you're--" He braced himself, sucking hard and long--and moments later felt ribbons of creamy liquid lancing inside his mouth, spilling down the back of his throat and urging him to swallow or choke himself. The swallowing reflex continued to coax more of the liquid free, until Masamune had to pull himself away, pressing Ritsu backwards so that his red, limp cock could breathe, still twitching against his thigh in the throes of his orgasm.

Ritsu coughed a few times, licking his now-chapped lips and swallowing the last of the bitter semen with a wince. "I definitely couldn't have finished that if you'd been doing it to me at the same time."

Masamune flopped onto his back, covering his eyes with one arm, and laughed breathily. "That's the idea. Try to make each other come undone first."

"You'd definitely win, though. Then I'd be in your position and unable to move a muscle let alone finish you off."

"Mmm, guess I'd have to find another way to get off, then. If only there were some way where I could just flip you over and fuck you til I came..."

Ritsu flushed despite himself--Masamune liked to be crude in bed (liked to be crude most anywhere, really), and while Ritsu found the idea hotter than he wanted to admit, he still wasn't used to being around someone so utterly uninterested in dressing up what he wanted to do during sex. Given that his own unattended cock had twitched in anticipation at the word fuck when used as a verb and in clear conjunction with himself, however, it was hard to deny that he wanted to hear more on the subject. "I'm sure we could find some way to accommodate your needs, sir."

Masamune let his arm fall away, struggling to push himself upright and wrapping an arm firmly around Ritsu's neck to draw him close, kissing him deeply and swiping a tongue around the inside of his mouth, as if searching for some last remnants of his own climax. "...It's kinda scary, you know?"

"Wh-what is?"

"How much I love you. The things it makes me want to do, the kind of person it makes me become when I'm scared for you--losing you, or you getting tired of me."

"That's not going to happen--"

"Keep telling me that? Forever?" And he looked so earnest and genuine in his pleading, despite the almost childish air to the request, that Ritsu couldn't help the warmth bubbling in his chest, and leaned forward to wrap both arms around him, squeezing tightly.

Forever was a long time, but: "Sure. For as long as you keep being an asshole."