Chapter 1: Chapter One
Fuji leaned against his locker, watching students pass by. The Kantou Regionals were drawing close. He itched to hold a racquet, to practice until his arms felt too heavy to hold up. He shook it off; he always felt this way before an important match. Now he had other things to worry about.
One of them was walking his way. "Hey, Tony," Fuji said.
"You headed to class?"
Tony scowled at him. He hated being in high school and Fuji knew it. The guy was just rubbing his face in it. "Yes," he said reluctantly, responding only because Fuji had opened an eye and raised his eyebrow.
Fuji smiled. "Staying out of trouble?"
Tony drew in a sharp breath at the remainder of why he was here in the first place. "Yes, Fuji," he said.
"Good. Seen Echizen around?" Fuji started walking towards his class, unsurprised when Tony fell into step beside him.
"He's still on the tennis court."
Fuji glanced down at his watch. Amusement flickered through him. "Class starts in five minutes. He's not going to have time to shower."
"You know better than I do that Echizen doesn't really care about that kind of thing," Tony said.
"True enough. I'll see you later," Fuji said. He entered his classroom and left Tony fuming in the hallway. Baiting him never got old.
School dragged. Fuji found himself wondering if Ryoma had managed to get to his first class on time. With the Kantou Regionals so close, it was no surprise that he was spending more time on the courts. But Ryoma was smart. Fuji knew he'd pass his classes even if he was distracted with tennis.
The bell for lunch rang. Fuji retrieved his lunch out of his locker and made his way up to the roof, where Ryoma was waiting for him, bouncing a ball on his racquet as he ate a sandwich with his other hand.
Fuji slid down into his customary seat beside him and started eating. "You make it to class on time?"
Ryoma quirked an eyebrow at him. "Barely," he said.
"What kept you on the courts so long?" He left unvoiced the displeasure he felt. Ryoma knew the rules by now. Class was important. To miss it...well, there was no need to go into that.
"I lost track of the time," Ryoma said, ducking his head.
"Mm. Excited about Regionals?"
Fuji placed his hand on top of Echizen's, digging nails into the soft flesh of his palm. "You don't need a reminder of the rules, do you?"
"No, Syuusuke," he said, breath hitching. "It won't happen again."
"Good." Fuji dug his nails in deeper, keenly aware of how hard he had to push before he would break skin. "How are your grades again?"
Ryoma swallowed. "All A's."
"Hmm." Fuji moved his hand up Echizen's arm, pulling his nails lightly along it as he dug them in. "You plan to keep them that way, I'm sure."
"Of course," Ryoma said, quirking a grin at Fuji. "A's are easy."
Fuji snorted. Trust Echizen to get cocky over his grades. He let his hand fall away, amused at the small noise of protest Ryoma made. "Anything interesting happen today?"
"Interesting?" Echizen raised an eyebrow. "Hmm. Kachirou said something about playing a match against Arai after school."
"He can't beat him."
"I know," Echizen said. "I told him that."
"He said something about the regulars not being worried about Tezuka's health. I don't know." Echizen shrugged. "I don't think he gets it yet."
Fuji smiled. He was worried about Tezuka. The entire team was. But Kachirou was young; he didn't know the rest of the team the way he and Echizen did. "We'll see at the match then."
"I told him I wasn't going," Echizen pointed out.
The bell rang. Fuji stood and helped Echizen to his feet. "I'll see you after school," he said, holding the door open for Echizen to go through first.
Echizen glared at him. Fuji's eyes snapped open and he glared back, causing Ryoma to drop his eyes. "Yes, Syuusuke," he said.
Fuji threw an arm around Ryoma's waist, forcing him to stop moving forward. Ryoma looked up at him, eyebrow raised. Fuji smiled and lowered his mouth, claiming a kiss. "I love you, brat. Now behave."
Ryoma smiled, his entire face softening as Fuji released him. "Love you too, Syu. See you later." And with that, he was gone.
Fuji shook his head, staring after his boyfriend. He hummed as he walked to his class, wondering how the match between Kachirou and Arai later that afternoon was going to turn out.
Fuji stood behind the fence, concentrating on the match between Arai and the freshman. The gap in their skill level was obvious, but he was mildly impressed with Kachirou's tenacity.
His lips quirked as that thought brought Ryoma to mind. His lover was standing in the cool shade under a tree far enough away from the courts that Kachirou couldn't see him. Despite the protest earlier, Fuji'd known Ryoma would never willingly disobey him. Though Ryoma would never admit it, he was starved for approval.
In the short time they'd been together, Fuji had learned a lot about his lover. Like how he'd started tennis because his dad got him into it, but how he'd never really enjoyed it the way everyone else did. For him, it was almost an obligation to carry on the legacy his father had left him.
A twinge of sympathy pinched him. Fuji knew all about expectations and living up to them. But he'd never been forced onto a path he didn't want to take. His father had given him choices and he'd made his own decision. The downside was that his father expected him to follow the path he'd chosen flawlessly.
But Ryoma... Fuji sighed, trying to force his attention back to the match. Kachirou was losing--that wasn't surprising--but the weights around Arai's ankles were starting to seriously affect the junior's stamina. This match, due to a misunderstanding from Kachirou, was going to result in an injury if Arai tried to play with those weights much longer. Fuji frowned. He didn't want his teammate to get hurt.
He glanced at Oishi, who's face was drawn as he watched the two play. The worry he'd been feeling fled. Fuji knew that Oishi was responsible. He wasn't going to allow Arai to injure himself during practice. Secure in that knowledge, he allowed his thoughts to turn back to Ryoma.
Ryoma was complex. On one hand, Fuji knew that Ryoma resented tennis because it felt like an obligation. On the other hand, he'd seen a few rare glimpses of Ryoma truly enjoying a match. Ryoma had the potential to be a professional tennis player, but lacked the enthusiasm.
It was well-known that Ryoma would challenge anyone to a match. Matches he usually won. But those matches were always fought for someone else's sake rather than for the sheer joy of playing against a challenging opponent. The only reason Ryoma even sought out tough opponents was because of his father's expectation he become a pro before he was twenty. Ryoma, as far as Fuji knew, had never played a match so intense all it left room for in his mind was the ball.
Fuji sighed. Oishi did well in Tezuka's place, but he wasn't the kind of player the captain was. Tezuka could pull Ryoma out of his tennis coma and make him truly appreciate the sport for what it was. A pang of guilt hit him and he shifted uncomfortably as he was forced to admit to himself that he could probably do it as well. He was just leery of trusting Ryoma with the complete truth about his tennis.
For him, tennis was an escape. While he played, Fuji didn't have to worry about his family, his sadism, or the underground path he'd chosen to walk. All he had to do was hit a ball and let the rhythm of the volley between him and his opponent drown out all the mental noise of his everyday life.
And his play style--he guarded that religiously. Not even Inui could get accurate data on him and Inui was the best data player Fuji knew. It was just...there was so much of his tennis that he kept to himself. Even considering showing it to Ryoma made his stomach churn. He glanced at his lover, who was talking to Kachirou presumably about the match he'd lost to Arai. Fuji waited until Kachirou left before he walked over to Ryoma.
"I came," Ryoma drawled.
Fuji dipped his head in acknowledgment. "I never doubted you would."
Ryoma glanced at the court longingly, then back at Fuji and ducked his head. "Regionals are soon," he said softly.
Fuji suppressed a smile. Ryoma's method of asking but not directly, of submitting without appearing to do so was one of his most endearing traits. Fuji glanced down at his watch. 4:05. He frowned. "Two hours," he said. "Call me when you get home."
Ryoma's head lifted at that and he smiled, giving a quick, sharp nod of consent. Being allowed extra practice was a demonstration of how much trust Fuji placed in him. Two hours gave him one and an half for practice and another thirty minutes to get home. It wasn't nearly enough in his mind, but he knew better than to press Fuji after last time. He winced, remembering how practice before their last big match had eaten up so much of his time.
Fuji watched as thoughts flickered through Ryoma's mind. He knew his lover was thinking about the math class he'd dropped a letter in before their last match and the reason it had happened. Fuji leaned down and kissed Ryoma, cupping his lover's chin with one hand as he leaned back and said, very softly, "If you start slacking on your coursework, I'll restrict you to morning practice." He left unspoken how Ryoma would be punished. Leaving that to his lover's imagination was much more effective.
Ryoma shivered at the promise in the words and lowered his eyes. Disappointing Fuji was far worse than missing a little extra practice. "School comes first," he said, letting Fuji know he'd gotten the message loud and clear.
Fuji smiled down at him. "Yes," he said. "Now go practice. I'll expect your call."
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Fuji hung up the phone with Ryoma and eyed the cacti on his dresser. They needed trimmed. He grabbed his shears and got to work, humming. Ryoma had gotten home well within the two hour limit he'd set. Fuji had nothing to complain about.
And yet...Fuji frowned as one cacti refused to be properly shaped. Ryoma seemed enthusiastic about practice. Out of everyone at Seigaku, he was the one who always seemed the most motivated before a match. Fuji couldn't find fault with his enthusiasm. What bothered him was where that motivation came from.
Ryoma played tennis for his father. He'd never truly appreciated tennis for what it was and that was upsetting. He deserved more than that.
Fuji set down the shears, sinking down on the bed as he thought. He wanted Ryoma to experience tennis the way he did. And he knew the perfect way to show Ryoma a side of tennis he hadn't seen. But was it right for him to make such an important decision for him? Yes, Ryoma was his submissive lover and a masochist to boot, but did that give him the right to dictate everything in his life?
Fuji sighed. He'd never imagined relationships could be this complicated. He stared at the phone beside his bed, debating with himself. Should he call his sister? Or was this something he needed to figure out himself? Yumiko was the only one in his family who knew and understood exactly what kind of relationship he shared with Ryoma. Though remembering how she'd found that out was still embarrassing.
He stood and paced, his gaze locked on the phone. Calling her meant admitting he needed help, that he couldn't figure it out on his own. To admit that would dent his pride. He frowned. His pride could take a blow. Ryoma didn't deserve to suffer for the sake of his ego. Decision made, he picked up the phone and dialed her number from memory.
"Hello?" She answered on the second ring.
"Syuusuke? Is something wrong?"
Fuji winced. It figured she'd hear his distress and call him on it. "It's Ryoma," he said. Getting into a battle of wits with Yumiko was best avoided--she had a wickedly sharp tongue.
"Did something happen?"
"No," Fuji said, shaking his head before he realized she couldn't see him. "It's not that."
"What's going on?"
"I'm concerned about the resentment he holds towards tennis," Fuji said, getting straight to the point. Yumiko was a busy person--that she'd answered at all was testament to how strong the Fuji's family bonds were.
"Oh." She paused. "Why are you concerned, exactly?"
Fuji grimaced. "Because he can't pull out of tennis. His father expects him to go pro before he's twenty and Ryoma doesn't want to disappoint him."
"Oh," Yumiko said. "If that's all it is, find a way to get rid of the resentment he feels."
Fuji raised an eyebrow. "If that's all it is?" he asked, voice soft.
Yumiko laughed nervously. "I was expecting you to say something selfish."
"Like what?" Fuji's tone was cool, but his eyes had snapped open as soon as he'd understood what Yumiko was implying.
"Like you finding a way to keep him in tennis against his will for your own enjoyment." There was no trace of nervousness in Yumiko's voice. She was serious.
Fuji scowled. "I'm a sadist, onee-san, not a bastard."
"You know as well as I do how thin the line runs between the two."
Fuji couldn't argue that. "I called to make sure I wasn't crossing it."
Yumiko laughed. "You're not, Syuusuke. Just make sure you talk to him about it before making the decision for him. He deserves to be involved."
Fuji smiled, his expression falling back into its normal mask. "Thanks, onee-san. I'll do that." He waited until she hung up and readied himself for bed. Even if asking his sister for help was one of his least favorite things to do, at least it had helped him formulate a plan of action. Tomorrow, he'd confront Ryoma with the truth.
Fuji woke the next morning, his usual confidence restored. He texted Ryoma and told the freshman to meet him thirty minutes before morning practice. Fuji got ready and headed out to meet his lover.
Ryoma was already waiting when Fuji arrived. He tugged his hat down in a light tip. "Morning, Syu," he said.
Fuji leaned down and claimed a kiss, amused when Ryoma inevitably fought him for dominance before subsiding under his assault. "Morning, Ryoma," he said.
Ryoma tilted his head back, studying Fuji. After a moment, he spoke, unable to keep the whine out of his voice. "Why did you want to meet before practice? I could've slept another thirty--
Fuji grasped Ryoma's chin firmly with one hand, fingers digging hard into soft flesh as the action called for silence. "Since when," he said, voice low, "do I need a reason to expect obedience from you?"
Ryoma swallowed and tried to pull away, but when Fuji's grip tightened in warning, he stilled. The intensity of his lover's gaze made him squirm. He didn't want that cool, assessing glare focused on him so early in the morning.
Fuji raised an eyebrow. He tapped Ryoma's chin with one finger, promising punishment if he didn't get an answer.
"You don't need a reason," Ryoma said, subdued.
"You sure?" Fuji asked, displeasure infusing his words.
"Yes, Fuji," Ryoma said, lowering his eyes. It'd been awhile since he'd seen Fuji exude his dominance like this.
Fuji studied Ryoma's face for a moment, then gave a light nod and stepped back, relinquishing his hold on his lover's chin.
Ryoma took a step back himself before lowering himself to his knees. The displeasure in Fuji's voice...the very idea that he'd potentially invited Fuji's disappointment through behavior he'd known was unacceptable made his blood run cold. He didn't care if the entire school saw him on his knees--staying in Fuji's good graces was more important.
A thrill of satisfaction hummed through him when Ryoma fell to his knees. "Better," Fuji said. "Now get up. We have something to discuss."
Ryoma rose to his feet, keeping his eyes downcast. He wasn't about to risk Fuji's ire when he was in this mood.
Fuji slid his hand into Ryoma's, pulling him to a bench near the side of the school. He sat and pointed at the ground, pleased when Ryoma didn't argue with him and slid into a kneel in front of him.
"Yes or no answers only," Fuji said. "Anything else and you'll be enjoying a pain-free week. Understand?"
"Yes," Ryoma said, swallowing hard at the thought of going through a week without Fuji's sadism to get him by. He counted on the pain his lover inflicted to keep him stable. Without it...he shuddered. He didn't even want to imagine.
"Do you like tennis?" Fuji asked.
Ryoma blanched. How did he answer that? "Yes," was an outright lie, but he didn't hate it either, so "No," wouldn't fly. Not when Fuji's highest expectation of him was complete honesty. "Yes. No," he said finally. How else was he supposed to answer?
Fuji's eyes snapped open and he frowned at Ryoma. "Yes OR no. Not both. Would you like to try again?"
Ryoma swallowed hard and ducked his head. Whatever Fuji had in mind, he wasn't making it easy for him. "Yes," he said. Even rhetorical questions weren't safe to ignore.
"Do you like tennis?" Fuji repeated, watching his lover closely.
Ryoma squirmed, trying to figure out a way to say "I don't know," without breaking the rules. He sighed and held his hands up in surrender, shrugging. He wouldn't lie, not even if doing so might save him from punishment.
Fuji nodded. "If you don't know, shrugging is permissible."
Ryoma let out a small sigh of relief. He hadn't thought Fuji would discipline him for being honest, but he didn't have much experience with Fuji exerting his full dominance. It usually wasn't necessary.
"Do you feel obligated to play tennis?" Fuji asked, drawing Ryoma's attention back to the task at han.
"Yes," Ryoma said, relieved. At least that question had been one he could answer!
"Do you want to play tennis without feeling obligated?"
Ryoma shrugged. Tennis was all he'd ever known. The pressure his father put on him to play was an integral part of it. To have the obligation he felt towards tennis ripped away from him...he didn't know if he would feel lost or relieved.
"Do you want to know what playing tennis feels like when you don't feel obligated to play?"
"Have you ever invested yourself in a match to the point all that mattered was returning the ball and scoring the next point?"
Ryoma considered. He'd played some good matches with the people on his team and he practiced regularly with his dad. And he'd only lost to two people--Tezuka and his father. But they'd both been so far ahead of him at the time he'd played them that the matches with them hadn't felt like matches. With the skills he'd gained since joining Seigaku, Ryoma thought maybe he could beat Tezuka in an even match. But with the captain's arm injured, finding that out wasn't currently an option.
Fuji was patient as he waited for Ryoma to come to an answer in his own time. He'd chosen to have the discussion like this so Ryoma would feel shaken up and forced to honesty. He'd taken away his lover's surefootedness so he could find out what he needed to do to help Ryoma discover true tennis.
"No," Ryoma said finally. He'd never invested himself fully in a match. There was always a nagging voice in the back of his mind telling him how much of a disappointment he'd be if he lost to whatever opponent he was facing. Taunting his opponents was a habit born from a desire to escape that voice. Not that it ever worked.
"Would you like to play a match that intense?" Fuji asked.
Ryoma looked up, meeting Fuji's eyes. "Yes," he said, the desire for it burning strong in his stomach.
Fuji's lips curled up. "Ok," he said. He glanced down at his watch. "We better get to practice."
Ryoma stared at him, gobsmacked. What did he mean, ok? "Syuusuke, wait up!" he called, realizing belatedly that his lover was strides ahead of him.
Fuji smiled to himself. He knew exactly what he needed to do.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Fuji waited after practice for Tezuka. He'd sent Ryoma home ahead of him, surprised but pleased when the freshman didn't argue. Exerting his dominance earlier had made an impression. He made a mental note to exert it more often.
Tezuka came out of the locker room and, after a brief, assessing look, fell into step beside him. "What's up, Syuusuke?"
Fuji left his smile plastered on. "When are you leaving for Germany?"
Tezuka's breath hitched. It was close to imperceptible, but Fuji was an expert when it came to reading non-verbal cues. To his credit, Tezuka didn't ask how Fuji knew about the trip. "Sunday night," he said.
It was Thursday. Fuji frowned mentally. He had to get Tezuka on the same page before the weekend. "So soon?" he asked. "Didn't you want to watch the match against Jyousei Shounan?"
Tezuka gave a sharp nod. "I did," he said. "But it's a first class rehabilitation center. If I don't go now, there won't be another opening for four months."
"And you plan to be back in time for nationals."
The captain said nothing, but his silence spoke volumes. He was a stubborn man who would go to any length to keep his career on track. He'd been set on becoming a pro since he was old enough to hold a racquet.
"There's no guarantee we'll win," Fuji said. He had to plant doubt in order to get the result he wanted.
Tezuka frowned. "I'm confident the team will function fine without me," he said. But Fuji heard an element of doubt in his voice.
"I'm glad you're so certain," he said.
"You and Echizen are more than capable of playing in my stead."
He raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps," Fuji said. "But I wouldn't bet on Echizen. He's been lacking motivation lately."
Tezuka tilted his head, considering. "I don't see it," he said.
"Have you ever seen him truly excited during a match?" Fuji asked. He knew that with the way Ryoma practiced, anyone would be hard-pressed to think him lacking in motivation. But he knew the side of Ryoma no one else got to see. Just like Ryoma knew him.
"No," Tezuka said.
Fuji smiled. "That is why," he said. He turned onto his street, leaving Tezuka to work out the problem on his own. After three years, Fuji knew the best way to get the captain to do what he wanted was to point out the problem and let him discover the solution.
Fuji was confident that during tomorrow's practice, Tezuka would challenge Ryoma to a match. And the captain would never suspect him of planting the idea. Considering how difficult Tezuka was to manipulate, Fuji was in a good mood when he walked through his front door.
He knew the match between Tezuka and Ryoma wouldn't address the real problem. Tezuka was too much like Ryoma's father in that he expected Ryoma to play perfect tennis. The pressure wouldn't allow Ryoma to truly enjoy the match. But a game between the two of them would buy Fuji enough time to find the perfect candidate to wake the sleeping tiger that lay dormant in his lover.
Fuji wasn't surprised at afternoon practice the next day when Tezuka looked at him and asked to do some light hitting. He smiled, pleased that he'd gotten through to the captain in time, and picked up his racquet.
Tezuka had told everyone during the morning practice that he was leaving for Germany in a few days. People were still talking about it; the Regulars knew it was a necessary trip but some of the freshmen were concerned that with the captain gone, their chance to win Nationals was dying.
Fuji couldn't be bothered to correct their assumptions. Sometimes feeling defeated and desperate made a person play better; it all depended on mindset. Some people played great under pressure--you just had to look at Ryoma to see that. And others crumbled under it. He spared a glance at Momo at that thought. Just remembering the way he'd handled losing his Regular spot irritated him. The important thing was he'd come back.
Tezuka lobbed a ball and Fuji returned it cleanly. It had been awhile since he'd seen the captain play with his right hand, but he knew that he'd been practicing in private. Tezuka was the kind of man who wouldn't let having one arm out of commission handicap him if he could help it. Being ambidextrous on the courts was a serious advantage that no one in their right mind would pass up if they had the talent for it.
Practice ended and Fuji swallowed as he lined up with the others, hoping he wasn't wrong about Tezuka. He didn't think he was, but there was never any guarantee with Kunimitsu. Sometimes he went in a direction Fuji never would have foreseen.
"Echizen," Tezuka said. "Get on the courts."
"Hmm?" Ryoma tugged his hat out of his eyes and raised an eyebrow at the captain.
"We're going to play a one set match."
"Tezuka, are you sure that's a good idea?" Oishi asked.
Ryoma ignored Oishi in favor of staring at the captain. It took him all of three seconds to decide. "Okay," he said, before turning and walking onto the courts. It took all of his willpower not to look at Fuji as he did so. Is that what Fuji had meant yesterday?
Fuji smiled at the thoughts flickering across his lover's face. As much as Ryoma tried to hide his feelings, Fuji could read him like a book. It made their relationship surprisingly stable.
Tezuka ignored Oishi's comment as well, switching his racquet to his right hand as he walked onto the court behind Ryoma. Fuji knew this match was going to be intense; he'd stumbled across one of Tezuka's private practices earlier in the week. He smirked. Ryoma was certainly in for a surprise.
"Do you have any experience with your right hand?" Ryoma asked.
"Yes," Tezuka said. He looked back. "Oishi, referee this match."
Oishi frowned but came forward, taking a seat in the referee's tower. He raised a hand and called, "One set match. Echizen to serve."
Ryoma stared across the court at Tezuka, torn. He wanted to play with his all, but the captain was injured and he didn't know if Tezuka could handle playing right-handed. He titled his head to the side, surreptiously catching Syuusuke's eye. His lover would let him know. At the slight nod Syuusuke gave him, Ryoma relaxed. Being able to count on Syuusuke's uncanny ability to read his thoughts made life much easier. "I'm not going to go easy on you," he said.
Tezuka said nothing, settling into a stance that meant he was ready to return whatever Echizen threw his way.
Ryoma threw off his concern and focused on the court in front of him. This was the last time he was going to be able to play Tezuka before the captain left for Germany. There was no telling how long the man would be in rehabilitation and Ryoma couldn't find it in him to deny himself or Tezuka a real match before that happened. Taking one last deep breath, he threw the ball into the air and hit his trademark twist serve into his opponent's net.
"15-love," Oishi called.
Ryoma hit another twist, surprised when Tezuka managed to hit the ball even though it bounced harmlessly off his racquet. The man hadn't lied when he'd said he had experience playing right-handed.
In a flash, Ryoma kept his service game. He caught a few whispers behind him, but tried to block them out. The other Seigaku club members could think of him as a villain all they wanted, but he wasn't fooled by how Tezuka was playing. The man was up to something; his entire body screamed it.
"I don't think this game is that simple," he heard Fuji say in response to one of the comments. Hearing his lover's voice helped him relax. He knew Syuusuke would see through the match, the way he saw through everything else. If there was one thing he could always count on, it was his lover's uncanny ability to find the truth beneath the surface.
Fuji watched, his concentration intensely focused on the game as Tezuka and Ryoma traded volley after volley. He saw what was coming before anyone else and managed not to show his surprise when Tezuka settled into using his signature zone technique right-handed. While he'd been expecting an amazing match, seeing that the captain had improved his tennis so much that he could play right-handed just as well as he did left-handed was still startling.
The match lasted for hours. Fuji was nearly as caught up in the match as Ryoma and Tezuka were. His lover had managed to find a weakness in the zone; an impressive feat. Still, having to use his right hand, which he had next to no control over, was clever but risky. So risky it was going to cost him the game, but he had a feeling Ryoma already knew that.
The freshman would rather break someone else's perfect technique than win a game. That was both endearing and exasperating. But Fuji couldn't blame him. If he was out there playing the captain, he'd want to break that perfect zone too, just to prove it could be done. He had a feeling Tezuka knew the weaknesses in his technique; he wasn't the type of person to believe he was unbeatable. But he was the type of person to do his utmost to guard against it.
The game ended with a score of 6-4, Tezuka winning as Fuji'd known he would from the moment he began using the zone technique. Still, the match had been amazing. At the very least, it had shown Ryoma that he wasn't as far behind Tezuka as he'd thought. Fuji smiled. That knowledge should be enough to tide him over until after the Jyousei Shounan match. He'd bought himself some time.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
Fuji hoped Ryoma's opponent was decent. He'd gotten tired of watching matches that made a mockery of the sport. The sonic twins, the leaping duo, the pretender...it was ridiculous. If this was coordination tennis, then he wanted nothing to do with it.
He frowned as Shinjyou took the court. The height difference between him and Ryoma was staggering. And, he acknowledged, that would make it look like another circus match. But hopefully the guy had enough skill to offer Ryoma a decent challenge.
The first love game gave him pause. Shinjyou's weak play wasn't consistent with someone who played singles. It had to be a decoy. Then Shinjyou dropped a second game and he began having doubts. Doubts that disappeared as soon as Ryoma missed his first return. There was something hidden...his concentration deepened as he watched. Ah! That was it. Shinjyou's form never changed.
Fuji smiled. This match was going to be enjoyable. While the other Seigaku members seemed confused by Ryoma's insistence on using the twist serve, Fuji saw it for what it was and when his lover broke through the mirage, he smirked. It seemed Shinjyou, while not the perfect opponent for Ryoma, would at least offer some enjoyment.
His eyes flew open when Shinjyou hit the first Deep Impulse serve that knocked Ryoma's racquet out of his hand and left an abrasion on the right side of his face. Astonishment warred with anger. Shinjyou was good. Better than the mirage trick had indicated. But he'd hurt Ryoma.
Fuji frowned. He was torn. Part of him relished watching this, because he knew it wouldn't scar Ryoma psychologically the way it would other players. Especially since Ryoma enjoyed pain. Those little abrasions meant nothing to the freshmen, though Shinjyou wouldn't know that. But on the other hand, someone else was hurting Ryoma. And that didn't set well with him.
He couldn't go after this guy, though, not like he'd done with Akutsu. Because Shinjyou wasn't hurting Ryoma to hurt him specifically--it was just the style of tennis he played. Because it wasn't personal on his end, it wouldn't be right to turn it into something more than what it was.
That dilemma would have to wait for later. Right now, he was watching Ryoma return Deep Impulse for the first time. He realized before the others that returning that deadly shot just made the abrasions worse. It was a good strategy. It would be easy to lose your nerve in front of a shot like that one, easy to lose the will to play. The only problem with that strategy was that Ryoma was the one on the receiving end.
Ryoma was stubborn and he hated to lose. The better his opponent played, the better he played. And if his opponent was going to use tennis to injure him, then he was going to find a way to counter that tennis.
Fuji's eyes widened as he watched Ryoma settle into a stuttered step. "He's using counter-tennis," he said. That amazed him. He didn't know his lover knew any counter-tennis, but he was using the stuttered step like it was second nature. He smiled to himself. Why had he ever been worried about this game?
Near the end, the game turned into an endurance match. Ryoma was supporting his left wrist by returning Shinjyou's power shots with the support of his right hand and he was using Shinjyou's power against him. His wrist would be able to take more strain than Shinjyou's would and when Ryoma's last return of the game broke through his opponent's racquet, Fuji wasn't surprised.
It had been a match worth watching, although he was slightly disappointed he hadn't gotten to play himself. But the person in Singles 1 rarely got to play if the rest of the team did what they were supposed to, and it meant they'd made it to the best 4. Now they just had to make it the rest of the way.
He took Ryoma home with him after the team had been treated to all-you-can-eat sushi. He was quiet as he took the tennis equipment and stowed it in the hallway closet. Ryoma had gone on ahead of him to wait in his room, which was what he usually did when he was at Fuji's house.
"That was a good match," Fuji said, taking a seat beside Ryoma on the bed.
"It was okay," Ryoma said. "I prefer tennis matches where I don't get injured."
Fuji smiled, running a hand over one of the abrasions on Ryoma's arm. "I don't like seeing other people's marks on you."
Ryoma met Fuji's eyes and swallowed. "I know," he whispered.
"You're lucky this happened during a match," Fuji said.
Ryoma arched an eyebrow. "Like I'd let anyone but you hurt me otherwise," he said, voice coming out in a drawl.
"Good," Fuji said. "Now take off your shirt and brace yourself against the door."
Ryoma shivered and dropped his eyes as he obeyed. He knew how much it bothered Fuji to see another man's marks on his body, even if they'd been caused by tennis. He admitted to himself that he hated those marks himself. The only pain he wanted to feel was the pain Fuji inflicted on him.
Fuji got off the bed and took a belt out of his closet. He'd removed the buckle end weeks ago when he'd discovered the pleasure of leaving marks on his lover's back. It calmed him to know that Ryoma bore marks of his ownership wherever he went and they'd faded before the match today. He hadn't renewed the marks before the match because he didn't want his lover to play an important match with them.
That had been a mistake. If Ryoma had gone to that match with his marks already on his back, then the small abrasions Shinjyou had left on his skin wouldn't seem like such a big deal. But, Fuji reflected, he couldn't have known that the Jyousei Shounan player was going to cause his lover pain. If he'd known, there was no way he'd have let Ryoma on the court without a solid reminder of who owned him.
Fuji snapped the belt through the air a couple times. Even though he was familiar with it, he always tested it before he laid it against Ryoma's back. He would never risk harming his lover. Not after what he'd been through with Rick.
"Syuusuke," Ryoma said, breathless with anticipation. He wanted that belt burning fire across his back. He needed it.
Fuji chuckled. "Hush," he said.
Ryoma whimpered, but bit his lip to keep himself quiet. Hearing the sound of the belt in the air made him want its caress that much more. But he'd learned if he begged too much, that Fuji would drag it out and make him wait. Another form of torture they both enjoyed, but he didn't want to go through that today. Not when another man's marks had been burnt into his skin.
Fuji's breath caught at the sight of Ryoma making every effort not to beg him. He loved listening to Ryoma ask for pain and then denying it, but he didn't want to do that. He waited a minute to see if Ryoma was going to say anything further and breathed silently in relief when he realized his lover needed this as much as he did.
Fuji took his spot behind Ryoma. "Count them," he said. "I'm giving you thirty." The number wasn't arbitrary. He'd counted the abrasions on Ryoma's skin as he'd gotten them. There were twenty-three total.
"Yes, Syuusuke," Ryoma said. That and the count was all he was allowed. He struggled to follow the rules-he wanted to beg, but he stopped himself.
Fuji watched Ryoma's inner struggle until he calmed himself and then he snapped the belt across Ryoma's back, reveling in the line of fire it left across his lover's back. Ryoma hissed, but didn't cry out. They hadn't reached that point yet.
"One," Ryoma said, almost too late as the second hit landed. "Two."
"Count faster," Fuji said, laying another stroke.
By fifteen, Ryoma was whimpering, arching back into every blow as much as he could while still keeping his hands on the wall. He knew not to move them. He didn't want to invite punishment.
By twenty-five, he was sobbing and it was all Fuji could do not to throw down the belt and ravage him. But he'd promised thirty. So thirty was what Ryoma would get. He hit thirty and threw the belt on the bed, stepping up behind Ryoma and grinding against him with his chest and stomach pressed tightly against the welts on his lover's back.
Ryoma mewled at the contact, incoherent with need.
Fuji left him against the wall just long enough to grab a condom and lube. He slipped the condom on and pulled Ryoma's pants and boxers down, letting them pool around his ankles as he lubed his fingers, scissoring them inside Ryoma to properly prepare him. He found Ryoma's prostrate and stroked it, causing his lover to cry out.
Ryoma ground back against Fuji and forward against the wall, desperate for relief.
Fuji snaked an arm around his waist and held him still, denying him the friction with the wall. "You'll come with me or not at all," he whispered.
Ryoma shuddered, but didn't protest. That he was being given a chance to orgasm at all was rare. Fuji liked to keep him in a constant state of denial. It had been over a week since the last time he'd come. And if he failed in this-if he came too early or too late--he knew he wouldn't get another chance for a long time. And there would be punishment on top of it. So he took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down even as Fuji slid inside him.
Fuji was relentless as he drove inside Ryoma, holding his lover still so he couldn't get any friction. He held himself tightly against the welts on his lover's back, angling his hips for deeper thrusts. When he was close, he bit down on Ryoma's shoulder and reached down, stroking his lover in time with his own rhythm. He came a few seconds later, Ryoma's seed coating his hand.
Fuji leaned them both against the wall, getting his breath back before he withdrew and got rid of the condom. Ryoma didn't move from the wall. Fuji smiled. Ryoma's obedience sometimes amazed him. "Let's go take a shower," he said.
Ryoma shot him a suggestive look over his shoulder and Fuji laughed. Tonight was going to be fun.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
Fuji stood in the club room, watching Ryoma practice as he waited for Coach Ryuzaki. The freshman was working up a light sweat, hitting the tennis ball against the wall from one hand to the other. He knew his lover had been working on improving the control of his right hand after losing the match with Tezuka. He smiled. The determination Ryoma had that bordered on stubbornness was one of the things that had drawn Fuji to him.
"Fuji," Coach Ryuzaki said from the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
Fuji turned around to face her, his mask back in place. "I was hoping to find out the results of the Rokkaku-Torkaku match."
Ryuzaki arched an eyebrow. "It's unlike you to show an interest in things like this."
Fuji's response was to keep his smile focused on her. He wasn't about to show her the anxiety he felt. Rokkaku was the school Saeki went to. If they'd won their match and ended up being Seigaku's next opponent...he didn't know what he was going to do. He hadn't spoken to Saeki in seven years. The idea of facing him again made him queasy.
She walked over to her desk and pulled a piece of paper out from under the magazines that littered the top of it. Looking down at the paper, she tried to gauge Fuji's expression before she told him who'd won, then gave it up for a lost cause. Try as she might, she'd never been able to read the tensai. "Rokkaku won," she said.
"I see. Thank you," Fuji said. "I'll be going now."
Ryuzaki stared after him as he left the room. She'd never understand him.
Fuji was numb as he walked down to the tennis courts. He leaned against the fence behind Ryoma and watched, his mind turned to what he was going to do the next time he saw Saeki. If the first time he saw Saeki again after that was before a match, it would throw off his game. He'd spend the entire game obsessing over Saeki's presence because the guy had been his best friend for ten years.
He had to go see him. He knew Saeki still lived in the same house, because he considered going over there to apologize at least once a year. The guilt over the past ate at him constantly. It was the only thing in his life he'd ever done that he regretted. Even interrogating Jason hadn't made him remorseful.
But the thing that had always stopped him in the past threatened to stop him now. Once he got to Saeki's, what would he say? More importantly, how could he guarantee that no harm would befall either one of them?
A sudden thought struck him. Tony. He knew the assassin was afraid of him, but the man also hated his guts. If he gave Tony the opportunity to hurt him, there was no doubt in Fuji's mind that the man would be all for it. He nodded to himself. That would work. He checked his watch. 5:15. Saeki would be home by now.
Fuji lifted himself off the fence. "Don't practice much longer," he said. "I'll call you when I get home."
Ryoma caught the ball with his left hand and turned to face him. "You're not going home now?"
Fuji shook his head. "I have something to take care of."
Ryoma looked like he was about to insist on knowing what it was, then thought better of it. "Che," he said. "Another hour here okay?"
Fuji considered it for a minute. Ryoma had been good all week. "Yeah," he said. "But don't make it a habit."
"Thanks, Syu. I won't." Ryoma turned back to the wall, his attention focused once more on practice.
Fuji smiled as he made his way to the school gates. The knowledge that Ryoma would have listened to him even if he'd said no helped drive away some of the anxiety he felt. He knew the calm wouldn't last long, but hopefully it would be enough to get him to Saeki's door.
At the gates, Fuji stopped and waved Tony over to him. Ever since he'd started attending Seigaku, Tony waited for him after school. He took his job as Fuji's bodyguard seriously, but Fuji knew that was only because he wanted to get out of Japan as soon as possible. No one liked being close to the Hayashi's, but Tony hated it more than most. Him and Sora didn't get along, and him and Sayuri...Fuji shuddered. Sora's aunt was a nightmare.
Tony frowned. "You look worried."
Fuji arched an eyebrow. "Since when can you read my expressions?"
"Since Ryoma started teaching me how to do it."
That shocked a laugh out of Fuji. "I'll have to get him to stop giving away my secrets. It's no fun if you can figure me out."
"What are you worried about?" Tony asked, refusing to rise to the bait.
Fuji sighed. "Do you remember the reason I was in America?"
Tony's brow furrowed. "Vaguely. Something about beating someone up? But honestly, Fuji, that seems pale in comparison to what happened in America."
"Yeah," Fuji said, opening his eyes as he looked at Tony. "But the person I beat up here was my best friend. I had no control over myself and I almost killed him. With Jason, on the other hand, I was in complete control."
Tony shuddered. "I don't ever want to think about you being out of control."
Fuji smiled grimly. "I have to see him now."
Tony stepped in front of him, halting his progress. His brown eyes, normally dull, sharpened as he searched Fuji's face. "You're scared," he whispered, awed. "I've never seen you afraid before."
Fuji's eyes narrowed. "I'd suggest you get out of my way."
Tony didn't budge. Fuji's usually sharp tone had dulled. "What is it?" he asked. "Why does confronting this Saeki guy have you so on edge?"
Fuji closed his eyes. He'd known this would happen, but for it to happen so soon. He sighed and stepped around Tony, the assassin falling into step beside him. "Because," he said, "Saeki was my best friend for ten years. I put him in the hospital over a stupid fight and haven't spoken to him since. It's the only thing in my life I regret doing."
Tony was tempted to say something mean, but he didn't have the courage to provoke Fuji. Especially not after the sadist had told him something so personal. "Why am I coming along?" he asked.
"Because I'm afraid I'll get violent with him again and if that happens, I need someone with me I can count on to stop me."
Tony blinked, then blanched. "If I interfere, you'll do something to make me regret it. It's how you work."
"No," Fuji said softly. "Not this time. I swear it."
Tony thought about it a long time. "Okay," he said. "I'll come with you. But if you break your oath to me, I'll go to Sayuri myself."
Fuji winced. Sayuri was the head assassin for a reason. Tony didn't like her--in fact, he was terrified of her--but she was the one responsible for all other assassins. If he broke a promise to Tony and he went to Sayuri, Fuji wouldn't live to regret it. "Okay," Fuji said. "We're almost there."
Once they got there, Fuji's nerves came back full force and he stared at the door for a solid ten minutes. What if Saeki refused to see him? He swallowed. Coming this far just to be turned away...it was unthinkable.
"If you're going to do this," Tony said, interrupting his brooding,"stop thinking about it and go knock already."
Fuji gave him a weak smile and walked up the three steps to the front door. Taking a deep breath, he let his fist fall against the door three times in rapid succession. Before he could knock a fourth time, the door opened. Saeki stood behind it. "Fuji?" he asked. "What are you doing here?"
There was no fear in Saeki's voice. Relief washed over him. "Can we come in, Saeki?" Fuji asked. "I have a lot to say."
Saeki looked from him to Tony, frowning. "Okay," he said. "But we'll have to go to my room. My parents have guests over."
Fuji nodded and followed him inside, Tony on his heels. He'd passed the first hurdle-he'd gotten through the door. Now he had to find a way to talk to Saeki about the past, something he'd been avoiding for seven years.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
Fuji shifted uncomfortably on the chair he'd claimed. He'd gotten in the door, but how was he supposed to bring up such a painful memory?
Saeki sat on the edge of his bed, gaze drifting back and forth between Fuji to Tony, who stood in the doorway. "I don't believe we've been properly introduced," he said.
Fuji winced. If he was failing at social niceties, he was more upset than he realized. He needed to get himself together. "Sorry," he said. "Saeki Kojirou, this is Tony Summers. Tony, this is Saeki."
Saeki gave a slight nod of acknowledgment which Tony echoed. He tilted his head back as he considered the assassin. "You're not in high school," he stated.
Tony raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment.
A spike of amusement ran through Fuji. Saeki had always been observant; it seemed that talent had been developed further. "He's not important."
Saeki turned a skeptical eye to Fuji. "Judging by how uncomfortable you are right now, I'd say he's very important. It's not like you to be nervous."
Fuji flushed. Saeki had a point. If he didn't get his emotions under control, and soon, he was likely to lose his temper. It was the reason he'd brought Tony with him, but if he could keep his cool without help, the conversation between him and Saeki would be more productive. "Excuse me a moment." He stood and made his way to the bathroom.
Once there, he splashed cold water on his face, leaning against the sink as he stared into the mirror. Get a hold of yourself, Syuusuke. What would Ryoma think if he saw how you're acting right now? Shame ran through him. He wasn't doing himself justice. For someone nicknamed the Bleeder to be falling apart over a conversation...it was beyond pathetic.
Fuji squared his shoulders and gave himself one last, long look in the mirror and nodded sharply. He was Fuji Syuusuke. He could do this. Confidence restored, he returned to the bedroom and reclaimed his seat. "Saeki," he said, "I'm pleased to see your eyes are still as sharp as ever."
Saeki inclined his head, accepting the compliment. "Your bodyguard can wait outside," he said. "As you said, we have a lot to discuss."
Fuji arched an eyebrow, looking Saeki over for the first time since he'd entered the house. Originally, he'd been too ashamed to look his old friend in the eye, so he'd kept his head down. Now, though, he looked his fill. And the man in front of him...all the worry he'd had that the conversation would turn violent fled him. Saeki exuded a quiet confidence he hadn't possessed seven years ago. This was not someone Fuji could take in a fight.
"Tony, you're dismissed," Fuji said, knowing the assassin wouldn't go far. Tony shrugged and left. Fuji was sure that when he finished talking with Saeki, the man would be waiting for him outside. After the incident with Rick, the man wasn't about to risk displeasing him.
Once Tony was gone, Saeki turned his full attention to Fuji. "I know why you're here," he said. "So drop the act."
Fuji smiled and opened his eyes. There was no point in hiding from Saeki. Before the incident seven years ago, he'd held nothing back. To disappear behind his mask now, during such a serious conversation, would be beyond disrespectful.
Saeki held his gaze for a full minute before he averted his eyes. "I didn't think I'd ever see your piercing gaze again," he said. "I've missed our staring contests."
"You never won," Fuji said, smirking.
That pulled a laugh from Saeki. "No," he said. "Your eyes have thunder in them. Mine don't even come close to that."
"I wasn't sure you wanted to see me again, after what happened," Fuji said. There was no reason to tiptoe around the reason he was here. If Saeki was anything like he remembered, the guy wouldn't appreciate any attempt to put him at ease.
Saeki looked down. "About that," he said. "I never got a chance to apologize to you."
"Apologize to me?" Fuji was stunned. What on earth could Saeki possibly have to apologize about? He'd put the guy in the hospital, had broken his ribs, his wrist and elbow, and Saeki wanted to apologize to him? "For what?"
"I overreacted," Saeki said.
Fuji raised an eyebrow. "I put you in the hospital with so many broken ribs your parents threatened to press charges against me, but you think you overreacted?" Who was the person sitting in front of him? Did Saeki have some sort of self-destructive streak? But no, the confidence his old friend carried was proof against that.
Saeki smiled grimly. "I overreacted," he repeated, his tone firm. "I'm not saying what you did was right, Fuji. Not at all. But your actions were justified."
"Justified?" Fuji asked. Was he in a different dimension or something? This was completely unreal. "How is it justifiable to do what I did to you?"
Saeki shook his head. "Maybe not justified, then," he said. "But I understand the reasons behind it. You remember what caused it."
"Yes," Fuji said, even though it had been rhetorical. "From what I remember, my plan was too cruel for you. I snapped because I couldn't abide being pitied."
Raising an eyebrow, Saeki said, "Couldn't? From what I understand, you're pretty much the same person you were back then."
"If you believed that, you wouldn't have let me walk through these doors." Fuji chose not to be insulted. Saeki was goading him, trying to judge how he'd react. But he wasn't going to walk that path. Anger was not his master.
Saeki shrugged. "True. But-" he hesitated, casting his eyes downward. "I didn't pity you."
Fuji blinked. Had he heard him correctly? "Excuse me?"
"I didn't pity you," Saeki said, gaze still focused on the floor. "Your plan scared me. But not because of how cruel it was."
"Then what scared you?"
"Because it showed me a side of myself I wasn't ready to see," Saeki said. That admission hung between them, stretching out the silence.
"A side of yourself?" Fuji asked, the first to recover. He could tell Saeki was waiting to be judged, but he couldn't do that to his old friend. He couldn't find it in him to break someone he'd been close to.
"Yeah," Saeki said, voice soft. "I lashed out at you. So when I ended up in the hospital, I thought I was getting what I deserved."
Fuji blinked. "Why?" he asked, exasperated. None of this made sense. He had come here expecting to apologize, to maybe find some closure...but he'd never imagined the turn this conversation seemed to be taking.
"Because I wanted to carry out your plan, Syuusuke. I wanted to do it so bad I could taste it," Saeki said, shoulders hunching with shame at the admission. "I wasn't ready to see that side of myself. The darkness inside."
Something clicked in Fuji's mind. He'd spent the last few minutes feeling like he was in an alternate universe, but now it all made sense. Saeki hadn't been raised in a family like his, where sadistic children were all but expected. Where violence was cultivated. Of course he'd been terrified when he'd realized his penchant for cruelty. "Oh," Fuji said.
"Oh?" Saeki looked up, catching Fuji's eye. The vehement response he'd been getting ready to unleash died at the intense understanding reflected in Fuji's eyes. "Oh."
Fuji smiled. "It took me a long time to get over what I did to you. My parents sent me to America after it happened." At Saeki's puzzled look, he explained, "They didn't want to risk having me charged for assault. You know how they are."
Saeki nodded. He'd known about Fuji's black market connections for nine years. "It helped you," he said.
"Yes," Fuji said. "I lived with the Hayashi family for two years. They taught me how to control my darkness." He looked away. "But everyone has limits, Sae. I found mine the hard way."
"How?" Saeki asked, eager.
Fuji shook his head. "I don't really want to talk about it." At the crestfallen look on his old friend's face, he caved. "Oh, alright. I guess I owe you that much. But before I tell you anything else, are we okay now? I mean, if I understand correctly, you don't hold a grudge against me or anything?"
Saeki shook his head. "No, Syu. We're good. I'd hoped you would come by sooner."
"I thought about it," Fuji said. "Every year, at least once, I considered coming over here and apologizing to you. Even if you think it was justified, I shouldn't have hit you."
"We all make mistakes. It happened seven years ago. I'm willing to let it go if you're willing to teach me how to handle the darkness inside me."
"Yeah," Fuji said. "I can do that." And he could. Hope blossomed in his chest. Perhaps he and Saeki could form a stronger friendship than the one they'd shared when they were young. One that wouldn't crumble under a simple misunderstanding. "You asked me what I did to find my limits?"
Saeki nodded. "But you don't have to tell me right now. Just when you're ready."
"Nah, it's fine. I think it's better I tell you now," Fuji said. He took a deep breath, then let it out. Talking to Saeki about this was going to be difficult, but it needed to be done. "When I was in America, I got caught up in something and ended up helping track down a slave dealer." When Saeki showed no signs of interrupting, he continued, "I tortured someone, Sae. I was trained to do it and I took him to the edge of death and enjoyed it."
Saeki's face was impartial as he listened. He could tell that this was difficult for Fuji. And since Saeki had started to accept that he wasn't a nice person himself, it was easier to listen to Fuji recount the torture he'd inflicted without judging him. "And how did you discover your limits through this?"
Fuji closed his eyes, composing himself. "Because," he said, eyes snapping open. "I enjoyed it so much I wanted to find someone else to torture. After that, I told Hayashi Sayuri how much pleasure I'd derived from it. She had to torture me, Sae, in order to get my craving for torture under control. And then she took me to a specialist who taught me how to keep that desire at arm's length."
"So that's why I've been hearing stories about you," Saeki said. "You turned your desire to physically torture people into manipulation games. I've heard you break the people who threaten those close to you."
"Yeah," Fuji said, calming. Saeki hadn't run away screaming or directed any pity or disgust his way. If Saeki could handle this aspect of him, something he hadn't even told Ryoma, then maybe the two of them could be friends again. "Breaking people who hurt people I love is one of the two outlets I have."
"What's the other?" Saeki asked, curious.
"The freshman tennis player at your school? What does he have to do with--" Saeki broke off. "Don't tell me you..." He couldn't finish.
Realizing what image Saeki's mind had produced, Fuji burst out laughing. It was absurd. "No," he said. "Nothing like that. He's a sexual masochist. He approached me for a date a few months ago. We've been dating ever since."
Saeki blinked. "Masochist?" he asked. "What is that?"
Fuji grinned. He'd had a similar reaction the first time Ryoma told him he enjoyed being hurt, so he spent the next couple hours explaining to Saeki what a masochist was and what their relationship entailed. By the end of the conversation, Fuji was exhausted and excused himself, promising to call when he got a chance. Having re-established a connection with Saeki, he wasn't about to risk breaking it.
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
Fuji was in a good mood when he got home. He hadn't expected Saeki to forgive him and the turn the conversation had taken, while unexpected, had been a welcome one. He was surprised he hadn't seen the darkness in Saeki before. He frowned. That didn't feel right. If he hadn't suspected Sae had some of his own dark desires, he doubted he'd ever have suggested the plan to get back at those girls.
He stored his equipment and went up to his room, acknowledging the call from the kitchen that dinner was ready with a return yell of his own. It was rare for his family to be together for a meal, so he was going to give Ryoma a quick call and then go downstairs. It seemed like an eternity had passed since he'd last seen his parents.
Fuji dialed Ryoma's number from memory, surprised when Nanjirou answered the phone. "May I speak with Ryoma?" he asked.
"Who is this?" Nanjirou asked.
Fuji blinked. Was this really the first time he'd spoken to Ryoma's father over the phone? "It's Fuji," he said. "Can you give him the phone?"
"One sec." Without covering the mouthpiece, he yelled "Ryoma! Phone!"
Fuji flinched away from the phone. Damn, but Echizen's father could scream. He heard Ryoma's answering yell from upstairs before he heard another click and Ryoma came on the line. "Syuusuke?" Another click told him Nanjirou had hung up.
"Hey, Ryoma," he said. "Did I interrupt anything?"
"No. I just got out of the shower. It's why Dad answered. Sorry, by the way."
"For what?" Fuji raised an eyebrow; as far as he knew Ryoma hadn't done anything he needed to apologize for.
"Dad screaming in your ear. He forgets to cover the phone every time."
Fuji chuckled. "It's fine. My ears have already recovered."
"So where did you go?"
Fuji was silent. Could he tell Ryoma? He wanted to; the desire to trust his lover the way Ryoma trusted him burned in him. But telling him everything that had happened with Saeki...he wasn't sure he was ready to get into that yet. Maybe not ever. "To a friend's," he said. That, at least, was true.
"Oh," Ryoma said. "I thought Eiji was going to see a movie with Oishi after school."
Fuji winced. He'd forgotten about Eiji recently. He really needed to spend more time with him before their surface friendship fell apart. That was one image he needed to maintain. But lately he'd been so caught up in Ryoma, his social persona had taken a backseat. Now that their relationship was firmly established, he could give some of his attention back to that. "I didn't see Eiji," he said.
"Inui, then?" Ryoma asked. "I thought he was going to watch a practice match to gather data."
"No," Fuji said. "I went to Saeki's."
Ryoma was silent. "Who is Saeki?" he asked, voice small.
Guilt ate at him. He didn't want to lie to Ryoma, but he couldn't tell him everything about Saeki. It was too much. "He's an old friend," he said. "We were just catching up."
"Oh," Ryoma said. "You've never mentioned him before."
It was hard to ignore the accusation in Ryoma's voice, but Fuji did his best to pretend it wasn't there. He hadn't done anything wrong. "He's part of the team we're playing next. I wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings." And hey, that was at least part of the truth. Fuji had wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings, just not about tennis. Hopefully, it would be enough to get Ryoma's mind off it.
"You could have told me," Ryoma said.
Fuji pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to find patience. He couldn't tell Ryoma to stop acting like a brat, even though that's what he was doing, because he had a right to know where Fuji went and who he was hanging out with. "I'm sorry, Ryu," he said, tone soft. "I didn't think it was important."
"I have to go," Ryoma said. "Dad's calling me for dinner."
"Okay," Fuji said, trying to ignore the queasy feeling in his stomach. Ryoma had successfully skirted around accepting his apology. He wasn't sure what that meant for them. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Love you, Syu. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Love you too," Fuji said, hanging up the phone when the dial tone sounded. He hadn't done anything wrong. He'd just gone to see a friend. But he still felt like he was betraying Ryoma, somehow, and that didn't sit well with him. He was going to have to figure it out later, though, because his own parents were calling him down for dinner.
Fuji couldn't remember the last time he'd seen his father. It felt like years, but in reality was probably only a couple months. The man stayed busy in America and didn't get to come back home often. When he was home, Fuji usually missed him due to tennis practice. If he stayed for dinner, it meant he'd be there for the weekend.
"Syuusuke," his father said, pulling his attention across the table. "I hear you've taken a lover?"
Fuji nearly choked on his food. He knew both Yuuta and his sister knew, but hadn't realized they'd told his father. But he shouldn't have been surprised. They were a close family. And his phone call to Yumiko had probably worried her enough to go to their father about it. "Yes, sir," he said.
"Tell me about him."
Fuji blinked. He'd never taken a lover before, but he'd been present for the conversation between Yumiko and his father when she'd been in relationships. If he wasn't careful, he'd find himself in a trap. Despite their close ties, navigating a conversation with his father was difficult. After all, Fuji'd learned everything he knew about emotional manipulation from the man.
"He's one of the regulars at Seigaku," Fuji said. "And he's a masochist." There. He'd cut right to the point. Doing that meant it would be more difficult for his father to manipulate him. Not impossible, of course, because the man was a genius, but it was the best defense he had.
"A masochist?" His father raised an eyebrow, fork poised halfway between the plate and his mouth. He thought for a moment. "Doesn't that make it more difficult for you to control yourself?"
Fuji flushed. His father was one of the few people who knew about America and what he'd gone through there in order to get his thirst for physical torture under control. "No," he said. "It helps me keep control."
"I find that difficult to believe."
"I went to Saeki's earlier," Fuji said, changing the subject. He didn't want to discuss his need for torture with his father.
Yumiko gasped; Yuuta and his mother stared at him in horror. Fuji's father tilted his head in consideration. "And?" he asked. "You don't seem to be injured."
Fuji smiled. "It went better than I expected." At the expectant looks on his family's faces, he continued, "Saeki apologized to me."
"What?" Yumiko asked, voice shrill. She got herself back under control. "Why?"
He shrugged. "Saeki said that the reason he lashed out at me back then was because he couldn't handle his own darkness. That I showed him something inside himself he wasn't ready to face."
"I assume that's changed in the last seven years," Fuji's father said.
"Yes," Fuji said. "We agreed to put the past behind us and start over."
"The two of you were always good friends. I'm glad that you've re-established that connection."
Fuji inclined his head towards his father. As dinner conversations went, this one wasn't going too badly. Still, he was relieved when his dad turned his attention to Yumiko. He'd barely managed to avoid an interrogation about Ryoma; he didn't want to get into the details of that relationship with his father.
After dinner, he went to his room and tried to sleep. But all he could think about, as he tossed fitfully throughout the night, was the edge of hurt he'd heard in Ryoma's voice.
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
Fuji was tense during the afternoon practice the next day. It'd been a long time since he'd felt like he'd done something wrong and it wasn't sitting well with him. Going to see Saeki yesterday...that wasn't wrong, was it? After all, Sae was a friend. He knew that was true, but it seemed like Ryoma disagreed, but the freshman wasn't saying anything.
The others hadn't noticed it, of course. Since Ryoma spoke rarely, when he was silent it went unobserved by anyone but him. Well, and maybe Inui. Fuji sighed and hit the ball back towards Eiji, who'd agreed to be his practice partner. He hated pulling Eiji away from Oishi, but he needed to start rebuilding their friendship. Not that it had fallen apart, exactly. He'd just been neglecting him because of Ryoma.
He did his best to keep Eiji's attention off of the fact he was upset--even though the redhead was obnoxiously energetic, he did have good eyes. He was difficult to fool, and getting close to him in the first place had been a battle Fuji never wanted to fight again. Despite his outgoing personality, Eiji kept his own problems to himself. In fact, there'd only been a few times in the past couple years that Fuji had seen the acrobatic player lose his cool. And it always had to do with Oishi.
Fuji smiled. The two of them made a great doubles team. They rarely argued and were so in-sync with one another it sometimes made him miss doubles himself. He and Saeki had been a great team too. He shook his head. That had been a long time ago. It wasn't good for him to get caught up in the past, not when he had problems of his own to deal with right now.
He glanced over at Ryoma, who'd chosen to pair up with Momo. That was normal and the two of them were playing as hard as usual, but Fuji didn't miss the tense set of his lover's shoulders. Something about his visit with Saeki yesterday had really bothered him. But Ryoma hadn't said anything about it and Fuji was hesitant to bring it up. He didn't want to make the situation worse, especially when he didn't understand what the situation was.
It made him anxious, not knowing what was going on. Usually, his observation skills kept him out of trouble. But being in a relationship was a new thing for him and he hadn't seen many couples. The few men his sister had dated didn't count, since none of them stuck around for long. Besides, Ryoma wasn't a girl. A relationship between a girl and a guy was completely different than the relationship they shared.
Fuji walked home after practice by himself. He'd wanted to ask Ryoma to come over for the weekend, but something in him had held him back. Part of it was that his father was home--there was no telling what kind of games he'd play if he got to met Ryoma. But Fuji knew that wasn't the real reason. No. For the first time in his life, he was scared.
At home, he stored his equipment and went to his room. He laid on the bed, staring at the ceiling trying to figure out what he was supposed to do. Ideas rolled around in his head, but none of them seemed to be the right answer. Should he have taken Ryoma with him? He flinched at the idea. Saeki had been his first real victim. Fuji didn't want Ryoma to see how dark he really was. He didn't want to scare him off.
He sighed and turned onto his side. Ryoma hadn't really freaked out when he'd learned about Jason, but that was a completely different story. Jason had been involved in illegal slave trading--even pacifists would have trouble finding fault with what Fuji had done. He'd been violent, which they'd hate, but he'd saved at least a dozen lives because of it. That alone was enough to warrant forgiveness.
But Saeki...that was different. Sae had been his best friend for years. And he'd had no real reason to hit him, but he'd done it anyway, because he couldn't abide the horror he'd seen in his friend's eyes. Of course, he knew now that the horror had been directed at Saeki himself, rather than at him, but that didn't make what he'd done any better. In a way, it made it worse. Because he'd misjudged the situation, misread the intent, and created a problem where there wasn't one.
And now Ryoma was acting cold towards him. No one else would catch on, but Fuji picked up all the nuances of his lover's body language. Ryoma had refused to meet his gaze since they'd hung up the phone and his answers were curt and just shy of being disrespectful, so Fuji couldn't call him on it. And Ryoma had kept his back turned to him during practice and hadn't said more than a handful of words at lunch. And that conversation had been stilted.
Fuji buried his head in his hands. He had no idea how to fix the mess he'd created. And still, in his mind, he'd done nothing wrong. He didn't understand what Ryoma was thinking. He sighed. Maybe he should go to Ryoma's house and talk to him about it. Laying here wallowing wasn't going to help anything.
Fuji started. It'd been a long time since his father had called out to him like that. The last time....he swallowed hard at the memory. The last time had been the day his father had sent him to America to live with the Hayashis so that he could learn to control himself. He rolled off the bed and made his way downstairs to his father's study, which was where the shout had come from.
The door was slightly ajar. That was good. It meant he wasn't in trouble. Before the trip to America, it had been shut. He'd had to wait outside for five minutes until his father unlocked the door. The waiting had been worse than the punishment. He hadn't gotten trouble for the fight with Saeki, either. No, the trouble he'd caused was reputation-related. Dragging the family name down with him over a schoolyard squabble--shame burned in him as he recalled that lecture. It was the reason he worked so hard on maintaining his public persona.
"You called?" Fuji asked, pushing the door open and walking in. It wouldn't do to show the trepidation he felt, though his father probably knew already. If there was one man he couldn't fool, it was dad.
"Yes," he said. "Close the door. Take a seat."
Fuji turned and shut the door before taking a seat on the opposite side of his father's desk. The man pushed his computer to the side and stared at his son for a long time. "Tell me about Ryoma Echizen."
Hadn't they already had this conversation at dinner the other night? "I told you, he's a regular on our tennis team and a masochist."
"Yes," his father said. "Now tell me why he can hold your interest."
He should have expected he wouldn't get off the hook so easily. When his dad wanted an answer, his tenacity was impressive. "Ok," Fuji said, sighing. There was no point in trying to play manipulation games against his father. He would never win. "He had my attention the first day he walked onto our field. He has presence. I wouldn't say he's charismatic, because he makes people want to challenge him instead of gather around him. But he has a certain appeal."
"You mean, when you first met him, you wanted to break him."
Fuji winced at the harsh words coming from his father. They weren't inaccurate, but it sucked that he could be read so easily. "Yes," he admitted. "But that changed."
"I'd hope so," his father drawled. "Considering you're dating him now."
Fuji flushed. "After one of my matches, he came up to me and told me he was interested in me because he could tell I liked hurting people."
His father raised an eyebrow. "I find that difficult to believe."
"So did I."
"But then he told me he enjoyed being hurt and that he wanted to date me."
"And you just agreed?" his father asked, staring at him.
"No," Fuji said. "I told him I couldn't be in a normal relationship and he...do I have to tell you this? It's kind of embarassing." Fuji looked down. He hated admitting his weaknesses, but to have to tell his father, of all people, was worse. He had no desire to tell his dad that he needed his lover to obey him in order to keep his self-control.
"You're telling me that you're in a relationship with him because he wants to be hurt and you hurt him and he lets you?" The disbelief in his dad's voice was unmistakable.
"Yes," Fuji said. "He enjoys pain. There's no force involved."
His father gave a slow nod. "I'll have to see this for myself. I can't take your word on something like this, considering everything that happened in America."
Fuji flushed, but didn't object. His dad knew about the torture Sayuri had inflicted on him--in fact, he was the one who'd given her permission to do it. But he couldn't hate his father--if he hadn't gone through that, he was sure he would have become the monster he'd feared.
"Ask him to dinner tomorrow night. I'd like to meet him," his father said. He brought his gaze even with Fuji's. "And I need to make sure you're telling me the truth."
Fuji ducked his head. "Yes, sir," he said, taking the dismissal for what it was. Now on top of having to sort out the mess his visit with Saeki yesterday had caused, he had to introduce Ryoma to his father. His hands clenched as he made his way back to his room. Before he brought Ryoma over here, he had to sort out why his lover was upset. The thought of introducing an upset Ryoma to his father made his stomach roll over. If he couldn't get this sorted out...he shuddered. Things would not be good.
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
After breakfast, Fuji dialed Ryoma's number.
"Hello?" Echizen's father answered.
"Good morning, Echizen-san. Might I speak with Ryoma?" Fuji asked, twining the cord around his hand.
"One second." The phone clicked against the hardwood table. A minute later, Echizen's father was back on the line. "He said he didn't want to speak to you."
Fuji's eyes snapped open. His hand stilled. "Excuse me?"
"He doesn't want to speak to you."
"Echizen-san," he said, "please tell Ryoma I'm coming over." Ryoma had never refused to speak to him. It scared him. No, it infuriated him.
"That's not a good idea."
Fuji forced his mask back in place. "Saa," he said.
"You're coming anyway, aren't you?"
Fuji noted the resignation in Echizen-san's tone. He tilted his head, considering how to avoid disgracing himself in Echizen-san's eyes. "You know the type of relationship we have."
"Yes, though I don't understand it."
"Tell him to come to the phone," Fuji said.
"He's already said-"
"-that he didn't want to speak to me. I know." Fuji knew that the meeting with Saeki the other day had strained their relationship. But it didn't warrant this. Not when he hadn't done anything wrong. He forced his shoulders out of their tense set. He needed to be calm to deal with Ryoma.
The phone clicked as Echizen-san relayed the message to his son.
Fuji curled his fingers around the cord, splaying them as he let it run through them. He stared at the clock in his room, watching it change from 10:32 to 10:33 to 10:34 before someone picked the receiver up.
"Hello," Ryoma said, voice flat.
"When I call you," Fuji said, "I expect an answer."
"Do you understand?"
Fuji nodded. He could play this game. "You will answer me when I ask a question. Consider that a rule. Understood?"
"Yes," Ryoma said, tone bitter.
He pushed down the anxiety that threatened to overwhelm him. He couldn't afford to question Ryoma's feelings for him right now. "Why didn't you come to the phone?" he asked.
Ryoma's breath hitched. "I," he started.
"I," Ryoma said. "I thought-"
When Ryoma spoke again, he was close to inaudible. "That you were keeping secrets from me."
Fuji's gut clenched. He was keeping secrets. Vital ones. But that wasn't what Ryoma meant. He was talking specifically about Saeki. "You mean because I didn't tell you about Sae?"
"Sae?" The jealousy in Ryoma's voice was unmistakable.
"It's an old nickname," Fuji said, ignoring it. There was no reason for Ryoma to be jealous of Saeki.
"Ryu-chan, Saeki is a friend. Nothing more."
"Then why didn't you tell me about him before?" Ryoma burst out. It seemed he'd gotten over the shyness that had held him back before.
His toes curled. Should he tell him? At least part of it? Hadn't that been one of his first lessons-to tell part of the truth to avoid telling all of it? He gripped the receiver so hard his knuckles turned white. "I have," Fuji said.
"Che. I'd remember."
"I've mentioned him," Fuji said. "Just not by name."
Ryoma was silent.
"Do you remember me talking about the person I hurt when I was a kid?"
"Vaguely. That person was your best friend, right?" The pieces fell together. "No. Saeki?"
"Yes," Fuji said. "Saeki."
"So you have-"
"Wait!" Ryoma interrupted.
"You went to visit him!"
Fuji held the phone away from his ear. Echizen's father wasn't the only one that could scream. When he was sure his lover wouldn't deafen him, he brought the receiver closer. "Yes," he said.
Fuji blinked. "I told you. He's from Rokkaku. They're our next opponent."
"I wouldn't have gone if it wasn't necessary."
"Necessary?" Disdain dripped from Ryoma's voice.
"Yes," Fuji said. "We parted on bad terms. I've regretted that for years."
Fuji smiled. Whatever issue Ryoma'd had seemed to have resolved itself. "We reconciled," he said.
"You said you beat him up. He's not a masochist, is he?"
Fuji snorted. "No," he said, shaking his head at the smidgen of jealousy he'd heard in Ryoma's voice. "That's why we reconciled."
"We talked about the fight. Turns out it was a misunderstanding," Fuji said. Relief rushed through him. Ryoma had been jealous of Saeki. He was glad that was all it was. The few secrets he held from his lover he wasn't ready to divulge.
"Yeah. He's a sadist," Fuji said.
Fuji fell silent.
"What? No warning to stay away from him?" Ryoma joked.
"No," Fuji said. "I'd like the two of you to be friends."
The disbelief in Ryoma's voice was palpable. "You're telling your masochistic lover it's okay to be friends with another sadist."
"Yes," Fuji said. His eyes snapped open. "I'm not worried about you being friends with Saeki. I'm more than a match for him." And that was the truth. During the visit, he'd been assessing his old friend even as Saeki had assessed him. It was why Saeki had lowered his gaze first, even if he'd used a clever twist to maneuver out of admitting it.
"Oh," Fuji said, "before I forget-my dad's in town. He asked me to invite you to dinner tonight."
Ryoma swallowed. "What time?"
"Ok," Ryoma said. "Do I need to do anything?"
Fuji chuckled. "No," he said. "Just be yourself." He hung up the phone, humming. Now that he'd worked out the problem with Ryoma, dinner would resolve itself.
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
Fuji sat across from Ryoma at dinner, watching the freshman pick at the food on his plate. His father had left to check on the progress of a deal and had gotten held up. Fuji glanced at the wall clock. 15 past 8. Over an hour had passed since he'd sat down with his family and Ryoma for the dinner his father had planned.
At least his father had called ahead so they didn't have to wait for him to eat. That he had was promising--it meant he really did just want to meet Ryoma. It had been a relief. Fuji'd suspected the worst. He'd told Ryoma to be himself, but that made him anxious. If Ryoma mouthed off to his father the way he did to everyone else...Fuji winced. That would play right into his father's hands. And once that happened, there'd be no escape from it.
Fuji finished the stew in front of him, irritated his father was late but relieved he didn't have to face him over food. Instead, the conversation would take place in the parlor. He smiled. That gave him time. Telling Ryoma to be himself on the phone earlier had been a mistake. He didn't want to risk his lover mouthing off to his dad. Not when their relationship was under scrutiny.
He stood and put his dishes in the sink, motioning for Ryoma to do the same. Fuji led the way into the parlor and sat, pushing Ryoma's shoulders down gently. The freshman got the hint and flushed as he knelt in front of Fuji, hands clasped behind him. His lover's submission drove the last vestiges of anxiety from him and his body went slack as the tension left.
The last few days had been difficult on Fuji and he hadn't had time to process everything. Seeing Saeki again had been nerve-wracking, but the easy forgiveness he'd handed out was unsettling. While Fuji understood everything his old friend had said and could see how it could be the truth, the situation seemed too smooth. If the situation were reversed and Saeki had come to see him, Fuji would suspect an ulterior motive because of their past. But Saeki wasn't him. He shook his head.
Thinking of Saeki inevitably led to thoughts about Ryoma's recent behavior. He'd never considered his lover the jealous type, but that changed quickly. That Ryoma was possessive over him warmed him even as it annoyed him. Jealousy was one thing--Ryoma's refusal to answer the phone earlier was outright brat behavior. Fuji frowned. He'd have to take care of that later. If Ryoma started to think he could get away with acting like that, he'd use it to his advantage.
Fuji smiled. Though sometimes the relationship with Ryoma frustrated him because of his lover's bratty behavior, it kept him invested. There was never a dull moment with the freshman. Everything Ryoma did, he did with his whole being. So even though the situation with Saeki had been a minor misunderstanding, he'd still thrown all his weight behind his convictions.
Fuji ran a hand through Ryoma's air, relishing the soft feel of it beneath his fingers as he thought. His dad wouldn't show for at least another thirty minutes. Watching Ryoma struggle to stay on his knees, knowing the floor was digging painfully into his skin, was the best entertainment he'd had all day. And it was a good start to the punishment Ryoma had brought on himself.
"Saa, you'll be on your knees a long time tonight, Ryu-chan," Fuji said
Ryoma tilted his head back, meeting Fuji's eyes as he looked through his bangs. "Won't it make your father uncomfortable?" He didn't argue; after his disobedience earlier, he wasn't inclined to make things worse for himself.
"No," Fuji said. "Being in the black market has made him immune to what others conceive as awkward."
"Oh," Ryoma said, letting his head fall forward so that his gaze was focused on the floor. His tone dropped to a whisper. "I'm sorry, Syuusuke."
Fuji raised an eyebrow. Ryoma didn't sincerely apologize often. He didn't misjudge situations often either. Fuji understood how Ryoma had gotten the impression he had of Saeki. Fuji didn't plan to hold it against him. He smiled. "You're forgiven, Ryu-chan," he said, almost as quietly as Ryoma.
Ryoma's shoulders dropped the tenseness they'd held. He hadn't been sure Fuji would let that go. "Thank you."
"Saa. You not coming to the phone," Fuji said, interrupted by the sound of his father's car pulling into the driveway. "We'll discuss the rest of your punishment later."
Ryoma angled his body so he could face Fuji directly. "The rest?" he asked. Where was the beginning?
Fuji smiled. "You don't really think I'm making you kneel in front of my father for my own amusement, do you?" he asked. He didn't bother to hide his sadistic smile as realization washed over Ryoma's face.
"Syuusuke, you--" Ryoma clapped a hand over his mouth, keeping the expletive from escaping. He flushed.
"It's good to see you know how to be respectful, Ryu-chan. I'd hate to have to wash your mouth out with soap."
The implied again wasn't lost on Ryoma. He ducked his head and nodded to show he'd gotten the message. He'd learned the hard way that punishment was one area where Fuji didn't hold himself back. Fuji never hit him for punishment, but the tensai didn't have to. His punishments were creative enough.
Fuji's father walked in a few minutes later, raising an eyebrow at the sight of Ryoma kneeling in the floor but made no indication that it bothered him. He sat in the chair opposite Fuji. "Sorry I'm late, Syuusuke."
"Saa. Not to worry, Father. We haven't been waiting long." Fuji was tense. He didn't want his father to know how nervous this meeting actually made him.
His father looked straight at his lover. "You're Echizen Ryoma?"
Fuji nudged him, letting Ryoma know it was okay for him to answer. The nudge hadn't been the kindest; he wanted his lover to be respectful.
"How long have you been dating my son?" he asked.
Fuji tried not to blanch. His father wasn't going to play by the book. Such direct questions...it was unsettling. And to have them directed at Ryoma...his grip tightened on the arm of his chair. He was not going to let his dad get to him. Not today. Not when it was important he show his father that Ryoma wasn't a health risk.
"Che, how long has it been? A few months. It was right after the match against St. Rudolph."
Fuji smiled. He didn't know the exact date they'd started dating either; neither one of them were the kind of people that kept up with those types of details.
Fuji's father sighed. "I don't really have time to be polite tonight. There's a problem with one of my contractors in America and I have to leave on the red eye flight tonight in order to get back in time to deal with it. So I'm just going to come out and say what I need to, despite how rude it's going to make me seem."
Fuji blinked. A problem in America? He wanted to ask, but he didn't want his father to know that Ryoma knew about their underground dealings. Telling Ryoma had been his own decision; telling his father would only invite criticism. And perhaps forced separation. His father was more paranoid than him when it came to making sure everything was running smoothly. Someone he hadn't planned on having knowledge of his work...it would disrupt everything.
"Che," Ryoma said. "I'm not polite according to most Japanese people myself. I grew up in America. I'm used to hearing things straight up. It weirds me out to try and tiptoe around issues."
Fuji's father chuckled. "I like him," he said, meeting Syuusuke's eyes before addressing Ryoma specifically. "You know that he's a sadist."
"Yes," Ryoma said. "I'm a masochist. We work well together."
"He's told you about the incident with Saeki?"
Ryoma shrugged, ducking his head to hide the flush as he remembered the false accusation he'd leveled at his boyfriend. "I know he beat him up when they were younger."
"Yeah. What about America. Did he tell you about that?"
"You mean about Jason? The guy he tortured?" Ryoma snorted. "Wasn't he a slave dealer? I don't see why you're concerned about that."
Fuji's fingers tightened on the edge of his chair. Please, dear god, don't let him tell Ryoma how badly that day affected me.
"Hmm." His father's eyes came up to meet Syuusuke's once more. His gaze stated clearly that he knew his son was hiding information from his lover. "You're not worried he's going to go too far with you?"
"Che," Ryoma said. "I know what too far looks like."
Fuji's father raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Syuusuke broke in. "His ex put him in the hospital. He's the person I hired Tony to go after."
"I see." His father checked the clock on the wall. "It's getting late. I have to get going. But I'm glad I got to meet you Echizen. It seems like you know how to take care of yourself. You don't seem like the kind of person who'd stay with someone abusive."
"I'm not," Ryoma said.
After his dad left, Fuji allowed himself to relax. "That went better than I expected it to," he said.
Ryoma grinned up at him. "You can thank me later."
Fuji chuckled and rolled his eyes. "Cheeky brat. You still have a punishment coming."
"I know," Ryoma said. "But teasing you is always worth it."
Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven
Fuji stood in front of Ryoma, who was still on his knees in front of him. "Are you sure," he said calmly, "that teasing me is what you should be doing right now?"
Ryoma tensed. His gaze locked on the ground in front of him. "No, Syuusuke," he said. After the events of the last few days, he knew he had punishment coming.
Fuji hid his smile. The freshmen hadn't broken any major rules, but his lover took everything seriously. It was comforting to know that Ryoma found disappointing him so devastating. That knowledge eased his anger and allowed him to think rationally about the punishments he dealt out. "Go upstairs and wait for me," he said.
Ryoma started to get to his feet, but Fuji pushed him firmly back down to his knees. The freshman got the message and crawled towards the stairs.
When Fuji made it to the bedroom, he found Ryoma kneeling naked in the center of the room. The sight took his breath away. His lover, so willingly vulnerable to his whim, sent a thrill of pleasure down his spine.
Fuji went to his dresser and removed a pack of clothespins. He opened the pack and held it at eye level so Ryoma could see what he had. "We're going to play, Ryu-chan," he said. "I'm going to put these on you. I expect you to show me that you have the self-discipline not to knock them off."
Ryoma swallowed before he spoke. "Is this-"
"No," Fuji said, anticipating the question. "This is play. Not punishment. We'll deal with that transgression later."
Ryoma frowned. "But-"
Fuji held a finger against Ryoma's lips. "Watching you match wits with my father turned me on, Ryu-chan. I feel like playing. Don't ruin it."
Ryoma ducked his head. "As you wish, Syu."
Fuji smiled. Ryoma was adorable when he submitted. "Hold your arms out," he said. As Ryoma obeyed, Fuji began placing clothespins along the undersides of his lover's arm, relishing every pained gasp Ryoma made when the pins settled into place.
When he finished lining Ryoma's arms, each one sported eleven pins each. "Clasp your hands behind your back," Fuji said, "but don't knock any of them off."
Ryoma's eyes widened. He moved his arms slowly--agonizingly so--until he could do what Fuji had asked. The pins pulled and pinched against his skin as he moved and he panted with the effort it took to obey.
Fuji swallowed at the sight before him. Watching Ryoma submit, watching him sit there and just take whatever Fuji chose to dish out--it was almost too much. Fuji shuddered and took a few calming breaths. He was nowhere near done.
Once Ryoma was settled with his arms clasped behind him, Fuji pulled out more clothespins. He planned to decorate his lover's entire body with the pins. Once that was done--he hid a smirk. The pain Ryoma was feeling now was nothing compared to what he was planning.
Fuji rolled the nubs of Ryoma's nipples between his fingers, twisting them as hard as he could. The pain made the freshman jump, but when he did that, the pins on his arms pinched him and Ryoma panted with the effort of holding back his pain noises.
Watching Ryoma struggle against the pain enticed Fuji to do it again. So he twisted harder--so hard Ryoma had no choice but to arc up into the pain. No choice but to move and cause himself more pain. Fuji's eyes lit up as he repeated the motion, not stopping the cruel onslaught until perspiration had broken out on Ryoma's forehead.
He smiled. Now that he'd gotten Ryoma's attention, adding more clothespins to the sensitive areas of his body seemed a good way to keep it. He clipped six pins around the outside of each of Ryoma's nipples and one on each nub. Once the nub pins were in place, he flicked them both as hard as he could, moving in for a heated kiss to mute his lover's scream.
When he pulled back from the kiss, there were tears at the corners of Ryoma's eyes. Satisfaction thrilled through him. "We're not done yet," he said. He reached down and grabbed Ryoma's balls firmly between his hands. "Kneel up."
Ryoma shuddered as he obeyed, causing himself more pain as he moved. "Please, Syu," he begged. He wasn't even sure if he was begging for more or for it to stop. The sensations Fuji were inducing in his body were intense.
Fuji chuckled. "Soon, Ryu-chan," he said. Once Ryoma was in an extended kneel, Fuji placed three clothespins on each one of his lover's balls. All six placements forced a yip of pain from the freshman. Once he was done, he knelt back on his heels and took in the man kneeling before him.
Ryoma quivered before him, but made no move to dislodge any of the pins Fuji had placed on his body. The trust Ryoma placed in him flooded him with arousal. Seeing his lover spread out before him, enduring the pain Fuji had inflicted simply for the sake of pleasing his lover--desire burned through him.
Fuji undressed, the need to be in Ryoma winning out over the desire to watch Ryoma's agony unfold before him. But Fuji'd planned ahead for this; the clothes pins would stay on while he fucked Ryoma. He didn't have to sacrifice seeing Ryoma writhe in agony in order to lose himself in the pleasure of sex.
"Place your hands on the floor and bend over," Fuji said.
Ryoma shook as he obeyed, moving slowly so that he didn't dislodge any of the pins. He didn't want to invite punishment during play, especially not during such agonizingly sweet pain play.
Fuji prepared Ryoma quickly, but thoroughly, before sheathing himself inside his lover. He groaned at the tight feel of Ryoma's muscles clenching around his cock and had to take a minute to calm himself down so he didn't come too soon. "Ryu-chan," he said, voice taking on a sweet timbre that sounded wrong on him.
Ryoma tensed under him. That tone couldn't mean anything good. "Yes, Syuusuke?" he asked, trying to prepare himself for what was coming.
"You know how we were talking about your punishment for disrespecting me earlier?" Fuji asked, tone still sickly sweet.
Ryoma swallowed. "Yes?"
Fuji leaned down so that his lips were beside Ryoma's ear. "You can't come from this," he said, delivering the words in a deadly whisper. "Understand?"
Ryoma's arms threatened to give out. This was the most intense pain play they'd ever done! And he wasn't allowed to come from it? He closed his eyes against the despair that threatened to consume him. "Yes, Syuusuke," he managed.
The first thrust snapped Ryoma's eyes wide open. Fuji wasn't being gentle. The pace he set was a brutal, fast pace that threatened to dislodge every clothespin on Ryoma's body during every thrust. The pain was phenomenal.
Ryoma whimpered. He'd been hoping that he could go passive during this part so that he didn't have to worry about controlling himself, but Fuji wasn't going to allow him that. Of course he wasn't. Fuji was too much of a sadist for that. Being denied an orgasm from pain this intense was the worst punishment Ryoma'd ever received. He whimpered again. Knowing he deserved the punishment made it that much more difficult to accept.
Fuji thrust a final time and spilled himself in his lover. Spent, he pulled out and went into the bathroom to clean himself off and left Ryoma in the floor, clothespins still forcing pained whimpers. He returned to Ryoma. Without any warning, he began unclipping the pins from his lover's skin, relishing the yips his lover made when the pins came off the more sensitive areas.
After Fuji removed the clothespins from Ryoma's balls, he took Ryoma's hard cock in hand. "I'm proud of you," he said. And he was. Since Ryoma found pain sexually stimulating, that he'd been able to keep from orgasming spoke to the strong sense of loyalty he had towards Fuji.
Ryoma smiled weakly. It had been the hardest thing he'd ever done. His body ached from the denial and it was only knowing that Fuji would deliver an even harsher punishment for disobedience that kept him from reaching down and jerking himself off.
Fuji watched as the thought of self-satisfaction crossed Ryoma's mind. "If you can keep your hands off of this," he said, squeezing his lover's cock and forcing a gasp out of him, "for the next two days, I'll introduce you to electric play. And I'll let you come as many times as you want."
Ryoma's eyes went wide. Electric play? The idea enticed him. And if all it took to earn a session was keeping his hands off his cock for two days--he smiled. It was times like this that showed him how deep Fuji's feelings for him truly ran. "Okay," he said. "You're on."
I'm currently looking for someone to turn Forbidden Desires and Learning Curve (once it's finished) into podcasts. If you might be interested in doing this, please send me a message on this site or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the tagline FD Podcast.
Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve
Fuji hadn’t expected to run into Rokkaku before finals. Seeing Saeki so soon after their last meeting was an unanticipated pleasantry. But he didn’t miss the way Ryoma distanced himself from his friend. So the freshman was still uncomfortable. That was fine. He’d get over it soon enough.
Besides, it didn’t seem like Rokkaku’s captain was going to leave him alone. Aoi Kentarou, Rokkaku’s freshman ace and captain to boot, was a very loud person. Fuji found it difficult to keep his hands away from his ears--did the guy know how to do anything besides yell?
When Kentarou shook Ryoma’s hand with complete disregard to appropriate personal space, Fuji’s hands clenched. No one should put their hands on his lover so casually. But watching how Ryoma reacted to the attention helped calm him. Ryoma knew how possessive he could be, and generally didn’t allow any type of physical contact that would aggravate Fuji.
“Echizen-kun, let’s play a match!” There was Kentarou, being loud again. “Because of the way the matches are set up, we might not get to play each other. So how about it? Want to play a little? Just for fun.”
Fuji allowed himself a small chuckle. Even if Rokkaku’s freshman captain was a bit too hands-on for his taste, Kentarou’s outgoing personality made it easy to forgive. His easygoing nature relaxed Fuji. This guy was too naive to have designs on Ryoma.
Ryoma raised an eyebrow and shot a surreptitious glance Fuji’s way. Upon seeing it, Fuji shrugged a shoulder. He didn’t care one way or the other. If Ryoma wanted to play, that was fine. It’d give him time to talk to Saeki. But if Ryoma didn’t want to play, that was fine too. This was one decision he was okay with leaving in his lover’s hands.
“Sure,” Ryoma said.
Kentarou’s face lit up. “Our courts are close by,” he said. “C’mon guys, me and Echizen-kun are going to play.” He all but dragged Ryoma along with him.
Ryoma shot Fuji a pleading glance but Fuji shook his head and smiled. Rokkaku’s freshman was harmless. Besides, with Kentarou yelling out his excitement at Ryoma, Fuji had time to catch up with Saeki.
“Sorry about our captain,” Saeki said, falling into step beside him. “He can be a little pushy.”
A few of the other Seigaku regulars were walking near them, but Fuji doubted they could detect the unease in Saeki’s tone. It made Fuji smile. Even if Saeki had come to terms with his own sadistic urges, he still found Fuji someone worth fearing. That thought, before their reconciliation, would have distressed him. Now, it felt right.
For every two people, there was a leader and a follower. And Fuji wasn’t a follower. Neither was Saeki. But only one person could lead, and Saeki yielded that power to him. Which worked out perfectly in Fuji’s opinion. There were few people he’d ever yield to, and Saeki just wasn’t one of them.
“Saeki, this is Oishi,” Fuji said. “He’s our vice captain. He’s filling in for Tezuka.”
“Ah. Nice to meet you,” Saeki said, the unease muted but still present in his tone. “I’m Saeki, Rokkaku’s vice captain.”
“Your captain’s a freshman, right?” Oishi asked.
“Yeah,” Saeki said. “You see, when we were deciding on captains, it went like this--” he proceeded to tell them of the eeny-meeny-miny-moe technique that their coach, Oiji, had used to decide which of them would fill that position.
“Seriously?” Eiji asked. “That’s so irresponsible!”
Fuji laughed. Coming from Eiji, that statement spoke volumes.
Saeki shrugged. “We’re not the kind of team who relies on our captain for morale,” he said. “For us, it’s only a title.”
Fuji smiled. Rokkaku’s methodology hadn’t changed at all. The playground, on the other hand--he opened his eyes to take in everything that had been added to it. “This has grown since then, hasn’t it?” he asked, the question directed at Saeki.
Saeki nodded. He explained to the rest of the Seigaku regulars that Oiji had a penchant for woodworking and how that talent had turned into the playground before them. They talked for a few minutes about the proximity of the courts to the local middle school until Kentarou called out from the other side of the court that him and Echizen were ready to begin their match.
Standing beside Saeki outside the fence, Fuji focused his attention on his lover. He hoped that this impromptu match turned out to be a good thing, because with the way Ryoma had been playing lately, only a true challenge was going to allow him to progress. And Fuji wanted to see that. He wanted to see Ryoma become a strong tennis player, one that could challenge him on an even keel. One who could truly become a pro.
Saeki spoke then, his eyes never leaving the court, of Kentarou’s talent. Of his ability to tie with the Hyotei Hyakuningiri. And he mentioned that, while Kentarou wasn’t the only strong player on their team, he was the key to whether or not they would win the finals.
Fuji smiled. “So is Echizen,” he said. “He’s the one that Tezuka believed in.”
Saeki started, his eyes leaving the court to focus on Fuji. “Tezuka did?” he asked, surprise coloring his tone.
“Mm,” Fuji said, pleased at having wrong-footed Saeki. Keeping his friend off-balance was the only way to keep the upper hand. And when dealing with someone who’d learned how to manipulate others from him, it was important he keep that advantage at all times.
Saeki turned his attention back to the game, unable to offer a good response.
Fuji’s eyes snapped open as he realized what Kentarou was doing. He’s humiliating Ryoma, he thought. Anger and amusement warred inside him as he continued to watch the game. Anger, because he didn’t like anyone humiliating Ryoma. And amusement, because Ryoma didn’t like it either and it showed in the way he played.
So when the match ended and Seigaku was on the train heading home, Fuji wasn’t at all surprised when Ryoma stood up and asked to be placed in Singles 3. He didn’t bother to hide his smile; a challenger had piqued Ryoma’s interest. In regards to Ryoma’s journey towards becoming a pro, it was a huge step forward.
I'm currently looking for a Beta-Reader, as well as someone to turn Forbidden Desires into a podcast. If you're interested in either, leave a comment or send me a message! Don't by shy, I don't bite...hard ;-)
Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen
"We're going to Saeki's for dinner," Fuji said, running a hand through Ryoma's hair. The two of them were sitting against the headboard of his bed, the freshman nestled comfortably in Fuji's lap.
Ryoma tilted his head to look at him, his face inscrutable. He stared at Fuji for a solid minute before he spoke. "Why?" he asked, voice soft.
Fuji frowned. He'd thought he'd laid Ryoma's fears to rest about Saeki. "Because he's my friend," he said. "And I'd like him to be yours."
The obstinate set of Ryoma's arms told him how likely the freshman found that. "Che," he said.
"And," Fuji said, tone low, "he invited us during the practice match you had with Kentarou. Since I accepted the invitation, we're not turning him down. I refuse to be rude to a friend."
Ryoma scowled. "You don't seem to have that problem when it comes to me," he said.
Ryoma's weight shifted as he turned to face Fuji, settling on his knees in front of the tensai. "Don't play dumb with me, Syuusuke. You've been hiding things from me since we got together."
Fuji couldn't meet his eyes. "I didn't want to worry you," he said.
Ryoma poked him in the ribs, forcing Fuji's eyes to snap open. "I'm more than capable of handling your past," he said, punctuating each word with a sharp jab to the tensai's ribs.
Fuji scowled and captured the offending finger. "I'm not worried about whether or not you can handle it," he said, then hesitated. I'm worried I'm going to chase you away. He didn't want to say that to Ryoma. Didn't want Ryoma to know about the monster that lurked inside him, just waiting for the right moment to come bursting out.
"Then what are you worried about?" Ryoma asked, brown eyes searching his.
Fuji shrugged, unable to put his thoughts into words. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. And he was. He burned to tell Ryoma the truth about his past; longed to trust someone so much he didn't flinch about revealing the darkest parts of himself. But the truth was he didn't have that kind of strength. Not when his own family had rejected the monster inside him. Not after his father had agreed to have him tortured.
Ryoma returned to his original spot between Fuji's legs and slumped against his lover's chest. "Maybe someday you'll trust me enough to tell me," he said, mirroring Fuji's thoughts. "But, Syu, I'm not going to wait forever. It hurts too much."
Fuji swallowed against the tears that threatened to fall. He wasn't going to cry in front of Ryoma. He wasn't. "I know," he said, burying his head in Ryoma's hair. "And I'm trying, I really am."
Ryoma snaked a hand up and pulled Fuji down into a hug. "I know," he said. "But I really wish you could learn a little faster."
Fuji smiled. "Me, too," he said, meaning it. He wanted to share his past with Ryoma--wanted it so badly he could taste it. But he didn't know where to start or how to start. So he did the only thing he could and focused on right now. It was all he had. "We're going to Saeki's for dinner."
Ryoma snorted. "Fine," he said. "But don't expect me to be nice."
Fuji's eyes took on a dangerous glint. "Oh, but Ryu-chan, you will be nice. I guarantee it."
"Che," Ryoma said. "I don't see how--
Fuji reached down and ran his fingers along Ryoma's ribs, startling a yelp out of the freshman. He pressed down more firmly, tickling Ryoma until he was shaking with laughter. Watching his lover flop around on the bed made him smile; it made their recent conversation seem like a distant echo. "You were saying?" he asked.
Ryoma panted, trying to find his breath. "I said," he started, "you can't make me be nice."
Fuji grinned. "Oh, but you see, there's something I've been dying to try out all week."
Ryoma tensed beneath him. "Wh-"
"It's in the box on the shelf in my closet. Why don't you bring it to me?" Fuji's eyes shone with mischief. "I have a feeling you'll do whatever I want once you see what it is."
Ryoma swallowed hard, eyes searching Fuji's to judge how bratty he could be and get away with it. This, it seemed, wasn't something to press Fuji on, so Ryoma got off the bed and went to the closet. He returned with the box in his hands and held it out to Fuji.
"You didn't peek?" Fuji teased.
Ryoma raised an eyebrow. "With you watching my every move?" he drawled.
Fuji laughed. He took the box from Ryoma and opened it to reveal a collar with a remote control. Ryoma's sharp intake of breath delighted him. "So you know what this is, then," he said.
"Shock collar," Ryoma said, eyes wide as he took in the contents of the box.
"Mmm," Fuji agreed. "Kneel down."
Ryoma's eyes never left the collar as he did as he was told, his arms trembling at his side as Fuji snapped the collar in place.
Fuji noted the trembling and smiled. It wasn't often he managed to take Ryoma by surprise, but he had promised some form of electric play the other day. "So," he said. "What was it you were saying about being nice at Saeki's?" he asked.
Ryoma swallowed, his fingers going up to trace the collar. "I'll behave," he whispered.
Fuji gave him a smug smile. "I need to test the settings of the collar," he said. "I need to figure out which level will work to correct any bad behavior."
"Okay," Ryoma said, but couldn't help adding, "I thought you said the other day that we would play with electricity."
Fuji kept his eyes locked on his lover's until Ryoma flushed and dropped his gaze to the floor. "If you behave tonight, I'll show you how this-" he slipped a finger under the shock collar and tugged until Ryoma was standing in front of him-"can be used for pleasure."
Ryoma nodded, uncharacteristically silent.
Fuji smiled. If he'd known the threat of a shock collar would work so beautifully on his lover, he might have used one for behavior modification before now. But then he remembered how hard it had been to obtain and shook his head.
No, this was something best used for situations where Ryoma was likely to misbehave, rather than everyday correction. After all, it would send the wrong message if he used it all the time--that he didn't trust his lover. And that was as far from the truth as it was possible to get.
"Okay," Fuji said. "I want you to recite the national anthem while I try out these settings."
Ryoma stared at him. "The national anthem?" he asked. "Seriously?"
Fuji raised an eyebrow. "Do I look like I'm joking?"
Ryoma shook his head. "No, Syuusuke," he said.
"Say it once so I know you know the words."
"Kimigayo wa chiyo ni yachiyo ni sazareishi no iwao to narite koke no musu made."
Fuji nodded his approval, then took the remote control out of the box. He'd fitted the batteries the day before, so he knew the collar was working. He flicked the volume setting to one and the delivery setting to 'shock.' "Again," he said.
"Kimigayo wa chiyo ni ya--" Ryoma's rhythm faltered as the shock startled him, but he quickly regained his equilibrium. "Yachiyo ni sazareishi no iwao to narite koke no musu made."
Fuji frowned. He wanted a setting that made Ryoma stumble over his words and forget what he was saying. If he could keep his place during the national anthem--something nearly everyone had trouble remembering--then the shock wasn't strong enough. He turned the volume to two.
"Kimigayo wa chiyo ni yachiyo ni saz--" Ryoma's hands clenched. The shock had been more intense than the last one, but not so bad he couldn't keep his place. "sazareishi no iwao to narite koke no musu made."
Hmm. So two wasn't strong enough either. Fuji considered using three, then decided against it. If one and two weren't strong enough, it was a safe bet three wouldn't be strong enough either. So, instead, he turned the volume up to four. "Again," he said.
Ryoma scowled at him. "Kimigayo wa chiyo ni yachiyo ni sazareishi no iwao to na--" Ryoma shook as his body rode out the afterwaves of the shock. That had hurt! Where was he again? Oh. Right. "Iwao to narite koke no musu made."
Fuji tilted his head as he considered the freshman in front of him. Four had obviously hurt; he'd seen that from the way Ryoma shook as the jolt was delivered. But it hadn't been painful enough to deter him from finishing the anthem. The freshman's pure stubbornness exasperated him even as it sent a thrill racing through him. Ryoma was the only one who would be paying the price for his stubbornness.
He considered the remote in his hand. This shock collar had been special made for use on humans and had been incredibly hard to find, as well as expensive. There were ten different voltage levels and, so far, Ryoma had resisted the first four. Well then, if Ryoma was going to be this stubborn, he'd increase the volume by two each time until he found a level the freshman couldn't fight against. Nodding to himself, he flicked the volume up to six. "Again," he said.
"Can't I recite something else?" Ryoma asked, petulant, with his arms folded across his chest. "The national anthem is so monotonous."
Fuji narrowed his eyes. "Again," he repeated.
Ryoma sighed. "Kimigayo wa chiyo ni yachi-" he broke off and let out a small yelp at the pain of the shock he received, shaking as he attempted to finish the recitation. "sazareishi no iwao to narite koke no musu made."
Hmm. So six made him leave out a couple words. That still wasn't good enough for Fuji. He was intrigued. He hoped eight was strong enough, but at the same time, he hoped it wasn't. "Again," he said, turning the volume to eight.
Ryoma's voice shook as he obeyed. "Kimigayo wa chiyo ni yachiyo ni sazarei--" Ryoma yelped and fell to his knees in front of Syuusuke. "Please, no more." Tears were forming in the corner of his eyes.
Fuji's face was impassive as he considered the freshman before him. "Finish the recitation," he said.
Ryoma bowed his head, his hands clenched tightly as he spoke, his entire body trembling. "no musu made."
Fuji smiled and gathered the freshman in his arms. "You did well, Ryu-chan," he said, planting a kiss on his lover's forehead. "I'm proud of you."
Ryoma snuggled into Fuji's arms and rested his head on the tensai's shoulder. "What setting did that?" he asked.
"Eight. Out of ten possible volumes," Fuji said.
Ryoma's eyes widened. "I thought you were increasing it by one every time!"
Fuji shrugged. "I was at first. Seems you're a more hardcore masochist than either one of us realized."
"Che," Ryoma said, using the crook of Fuji's elbow to hide his eyes.
Fuji smiled. "At least I know you'll be on your best behavior tonight," he said.
Ryoma snorted. "You don't need this-" he tugged at the collar. "To guarantee that."
"I know," Fuji said. And he did. Ryoma wasn't often willfully disobedient. "The collar is insurance."
The freshman rolled his eyes.
"Plus," Fuji added, leaning in to whisper in his lover's ear. "It's fun."
Translation of Japanese National Anthem:
May the reign of the Emperor
continue for a thousand, nay, eight thousand generations
and for the eternity that it takes
for small pebbles to grow into a great rock
and become covered with moss.
AN: As far as I'm aware, there is no shock collar made for use on human beings. The one in this chapter is 100% fictional. While some people do use dog shock collars for bdsm play, those aren't safe for use on humans anywhere above the waist and should only be used by people who understand the effect electricity has on the human body.
Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen
Saeki greeted them at the door. He stepped outside, pulling the door shut behind him. At Fuji's questioning look, he shrugged apologetically. "My parents aren't comfortable with having you in the house," he said. "We'll have to go out for dinner."
Fuji nodded and didn't ask why he'd been permitted access on the day they'd reconciled. He knew the answer. If Saeki's parents hadn't been preoccupied with their own guests, one of them would have answered the door. If that had happened, Fuji would have never been granted entry into their home.
And that was fine. That was normal. After the damage Fuji had inflicted on their son, it was common sense that they'd want Fuji to keep his distance from Saeki.
Ryoma cleared his throat. "As touching as this reunion is, it may be in our best interest to move it off Saeki-san's doorstep."
The before his parents see you was implied.
Fuji took his hand off the control. While Ryoma's tone had been snarky, he'd done the right thing by adding the honorific to Saeki's name. The polite thing. The small grin the freshman was trying to hide under his hat gave him away.
Fuji shook with silent laughter. So that's how Ryoma was going to play this. He was going to skirt the edges of rudeness, using his verbal wit to keep from crossing the line. It was a clear challenge; one Fuji had no trouble accepting.
If Ryoma was feeling mischievous enough to challenge him so playfully, then the freshman wasn't as upset at the prospect of dining with Saeki as he'd pretended to be. "He's right," Fuji said. "The last thing I want is your parents to see me."
"Yeah," Saeki said, and the three of them moved away from his house. "Since we're not eating in, where do the two of you feel like going?"
"Anywhere is fine with me," Fuji said, focusing his gaze on Ryoma. "I'm not a picky eater."
Ryoma snorted. "Syu, the fact I dislike wasabi like a normal person, doesn't make me a picky eater."
"You don't like wasabi?" Saeki asked.
"No," Ryoma said. "Too hot."
"Which makes it an effective punishment," Fuji put in smoothly.
Ryoma frowned at him. "You told him."
"You didn't tell me you told him." Somehow, despite how distraught the fact made him, Ryoma was managing to keep a civil tone.
But Fuji wasn't fooled. "Does it matter?" he asked, then added, almost carelessly. "Inui knows."
"That's Inui," Ryoma hissed. "He's my friend-
"Saeki is mine," Fuji said, opening his eyes as he turned to his lover. "Or are you saying I don't have the right to tell my friends about us without your permission?"
Ryoma swallowed hard at Fuji's tone, then shook his head, mute.
"Ryu-chan," Fuji said.
"It's rude not to answer a question someone's asked you."
"I'm sorry," Ryoma said quickly. He had no desire to earn the use of the collar so soon. "And no, you don't have to ask me first."
Fuji breathed a sigh of relief as he released the button on the control. He hadn't wanted to discipline Ryoma this early in the evening, and was grateful it hadn't come to that.
Saeki raised an eyebrow. "I feel like I'm missing something."
"Che." Ryoma took a step away from them so that he was standing in front of Saeki, forcing the Rokkaku player to a halt. He pulled the collar up so that Saeki could see it.
Saeki's eyes widened. "Is that a-
"Shock collar, yes," Fuji said.
"I didn't think those were safe to use on people," Saeki said.
Fuji shrugged. "Normal ones aren't. But I had this one custom made. As far as I know, it's the only one of its kind."
"Hmm." Saeki eyed the collar, taking a step towards Ryoma. HE glanced at Fuji. "May I?" he asked.
Fuji tilted his head, considering. Ryoma probably wouldn't like it, but he'd get over it. With the way he'd just acted, letting Saeki get a closer look at the collar might just help drive to Ryoma that he wasn't the one in charge of their relationship. "Go ahead," he said, before addressing Ryoma. "Hands behind you and stand up straight so he can get a proper look."
Ryoma shot him a mutinous glare but took the position as he'd been instructed. Fuji has to fight not to laugh.
Saeki closed the distance between them and slipped a finger under the collar. He leaned in close as he shifted it around, turning it a full rotation against Ryoma's neck. "This is a lot thinner than I expected."
"Aa," Fuji said. "The guy who made it for me used the thinnest and safest conductive material he could find. It wasn't cheap."
Ryoma was managing, somehow, to stay still as someone who wasn't his lover was invading his personal space. "How much did it cost?" he asked.
"Saa," Fuji said. "That's not important."
Saeki finished his examination and stepped away from Roma. "Could I afford it?" he asked.
Fuji raised an eyebrow. "Why? Is there someone you want to use one on?"
Saeki shrugged. "Not right now," he said. "But I'd like to have one for the future, when there is someone."
"Che," Ryoma said. "You just want to see how it works."
Fuji bit back a laugh. "Ryoma," he scolded, "that was rude."
"What?" Ryoma asked, feigning innocence. "It's the truth."
Fuji cast an assessing look at Saeki. "Is it?" he asked, keeping his voice level. He knew his friend was a sadist, like himself, but he wasn't sure he was comfortable with this development. If it was anyone besides Saeki, Fuji would've already taken them to the ground for even daring to think about his lover in pain.
But Saeki had been his best friend and they were rapidly regaining that ground. It was one friendship Fuji wasn't prepared to lose. And Ryoma knew that; it's why the freshman was goading him. He wanted to force the two of them into a fight. He scowled mentally as he waited for Saeki to answer the question.
Saeki shrugged. "I mean, I'm interested in how it works, of course, but I'd never ask you to demonstrate it for me. I'm not that selfish." He left off the or that stupid, but Fuji got the message.
"Ryu-chan," Fuji said, focusing his attention solely on his lover. "You should know better than to provoke me."
Ryoma tugged his cap down, unrepentant. "Che."
Fuji frowned. "Didn't you tell me before we left that I wouldn't have to use the collar on you to ensure proper behavior?"
"Yes," Ryoma said, "I did."
"And yet, here you are, acting like a spoiled brat." Fuji fingered the control in his pocket. "You thought by telling me about Saeki's interest in the collar that I'd hesitate to use it in front of him."
Ryoma flushed. "It was worth a try," he muttered.
And it was such an Echizen thing to do that Fuji couldn't contain his laughter. He pulled the remote out of his pocket. "So, Saeki," he said. "You want to see how it works, right?"
Saeki's eyes flickered between the two of them. "Syuusuke," he said, a twinge of unease in his tone, "please don't drag me into the middle of this."
"Sorry," Fuji said, eyes snapping open. "You have Ryoma to thank for that." He turned to the freshman. "Kneel down," he said, tone hard.
Ryoma didn't even blink as he fell to his knees. When Fuji used that tone, he knew he was in trouble.
"Sae-kun," Fuji said, "here." He passed the controller to Saeki. "You're free to experiment with it. Just don't turn it past eight."
Fuji watched his lover tremble and squatted down in front of the freshman. He slid two fingers under Ryoma's chin, and lifted it until his eyes were level with his lover's. "Maybe next time you'll think about the consequences before you try to manipulate me."
Ryoma jerked back or he tried to-Fuji's grip held him fast. "You're going to let someone else hurt me," he said as he stilled. "Why?"
Fuji leaned in close, brushing his lips against Ryoma's ear. "Because you're mine," he said. He reached down to run a hand along the bulge in his lover's pants. "And because your body betrays you. You like the idea of me letting someone else hurt you."
Ryoma blushed crimson. "It doesn't bother you?" he asked quietly.
Fuji tilted his head. "It should," he said, "but for some reason, when it's Saeki, it just feels right." And that should have bothered him, but Fuji refused to lie to himself. The truth was that he found the idea of someone else he trusted causing his lover pain under his supervision an exciting one.
"I don't even like him!" Ryoma found the willpower to protest something.
Fuji chuckled. "You're so cute when you're in denial," he said. And then he found his mind turning to when Ryoma had first approached him. It had taken the freshman a long time to come up to him, but when he had, he'd been very straightforward. Fuji wondered how long Ryoma had been interested in him before he'd managed to find the courage.
He spared a sidelong glance at Saeki, who was frowning at the control in his hand. Occasionally, his gaze flicked to Fuji, like he wasn't sure it was actually okay for him to flip the power on.
"Ryu-chan," Fuji said.
"When you were upset with me the other day...it wasn't jealousy, was it?" he asked.
Ryoma blinked at him. "Syuusuke," he said, drawling the tensai's name. "Are you an idiot?"
Fuji frowned. "Saa, respect, Ryoma."
"Sorry, but really. You thought I was jealous of him?" The look Ryoma gave him was filled with incredulity.
"Aa," Fuji said. Had he misinterpreted the situation? Granted, the conversation had taken place over the phone, but he could've sworn Ryoma had been jealous.
"Che. I wasn't jealous of him," Ryoma said, locking his eyes with Fuji's. "I've never considered you capable of cheating."
"Saa," Fuji said, stunned. "Wait, then why were you so upset?"
"Because I thought you were keeping more secrets from me," Ryoma said. "I'm tired of being kept in the dark all the time, Syu."
"So I wasn't jealous at all. You just jumped to a conclusion by yourself," Ryoma said, unable to keep the consternation out of his voice.
Fuji smiled tightly. "Watch your tone, Ryu-chan," he said. "I may not have the remote to this-" He tugged on the collar- "anymore, but I'm sure I can think of some way to punish you."
Ryoma blanched. "Sorry."
"So, you're not jealous of Saeki," Fuji said, turning the revelation over in his head. It opened up a world of possibilities.
Ryoma snorted. "Not at all."
Fuji smiled, stretching as he stood. He walked over to Saeki and casually draped himself over his friends' shoulders. "Sae-kun," he said. "Are you just going to look it or do you plan to use it sometime today?"
Saeki didn't shake Fuji off. Like Ryoma, he knew better than to turn a happy Fuji into an irate one. "You're sure you're okay with this?" he asked. He did not want to make Fuji mad.
"I'm sure," Fuji said, serious.
"Ok," Saeki said, dropping it. Questioning Fuji was about as bad as shaking him off. "What did you do to test it on him?"
"I had him recite the national anthem," Fuji replied.
Saeki arched an eyebrow. "You really are a sadist," he said.
Fuji smiled. "Aa."
"Okay," Saeki said, turning towards Ryoma. "You're okay with this, too?"
Ryoma lifted his eyes from where he'd had them focused on the ground to meet Saeki's gaze. His lips quirked into a grin. "Made made dane."
To ward off potential flamers/haters of this development in the story, when I began writing Learning Curve, it was with the intention of developing a Fuji/Ryoma/Saeki triangle. Out of all the possible characters in PoT, I feel that these three have the best chance of forming a successful ménage á trois. And they're hot. :P
Chapter 15: Chapter Fifteen
"I'm not sure about this," Saeki said, his gaze flicking from the control in his hand, then to Ryoma. "It's kind of sudden."
Fuji pulled back from where he was laying across Saeki's shoulder so he could meet his friend's eyes. "I'm not making this offer lightly," he said.
Saeki's hand tightened on the control in his hand, his eyes locked on Fuji. "Your offers," he said, "tend to come with conditions."
He had a point, but Fuji didn't take the bait. He walked over to Ryoma and slid his arm around his lover's waist, pulling the freshman close. Ryoma leaned into his touch, his eyes fluttering closed as he allowed himself to enjoy the attention.
The next time Saeki spoke, his tone was near a hiss. "What are you asking from me?"
Fuji hid a smirk in Ryoma's hair. Manipulating Saeki was almost too easy; it was obvious the guy was sex-starved. Which, in retrospect, was weird. Even when they were younger, Saeki had always had avid fans. Fuji wondered if something had happened to make that change, then had to hide a wince. He'd happened.
Ryoma straightened his shoulders and took a step forward, out of Fuji's hold. "We're asking you to make a choice," he said.
Saeki's gaze flicked between them. "A choice?" he asked, fingers turning white from the grip he had on the edge of the control.
"Yes," Fuji said, putting himself back into the conversation. "Do you want to be with us and have the opportunity to use things like that-" he gestured to the control- "or do you want to wait and hope you find the "right" person?"
Saeki swallowed and looked down at the control in his hand. "I don't know," he said softly. "How am I supposed to trust that there's no catch to this?"
"The only catch," Fuji said, "is that I'm in charge." And that wasn't a catch; they all knew it. Saeki could easily best Fuji in a fight, but wouldn't ever directly challenge him again. Not with the shame he felt towards their past. And Ryoma-well, he already knew his place. But with Saeki...to say something like this out loud to him, rather than letting it lie as a nonverbal understanding between them-that was the risk here.
Saeki held Fuji's gaze for as long as he could, before dropping his eyes. The tight grip he had on the control loosened and color began returning to his hands. "I can accept that," he said, his tone low.
"Are you saying yes?" Fuji asked, hiding his smile. He'd already won; he'd won before the conversation even started. But Saeki hadn't known that; he had yet to put his defeat in words.
"I'm saying yes," Saeki said, raising his head. He flinched lightly at the smile on Fuji's face, but didn't comment. If he was angry, there was no indication. And that was fine. That was Saeki. He didn't express his emotions easily, and never when he knew it wasn't going to do him any good.
"Okay," Fuji said, changing the subject. "If you're not going to use that control, give it back to me."
Saeki's gaze settled on Ryoma, but when he spoke, he was addressing Fuji. "I'd like to use it, but I don't know the rules he's supposed to follow. I won't use it without provocation."
And that, right there, was Saeki all over. Fuji smiled. "Ryu-chan," he said.
"Why don't you tell Sae-kun how this works?"
Ryoma swallowed, but nodded, then walked to Saeki. He grabbed Saeki's hand, placing it against the collar on his throat. "This is used for discipline," he said, voice quiet. "I follow only two rules: to obey Syuusuke and to be respectful of him. Since you accepted his offer to join us, I am giving you the same rights over me as I have given to him."
Saeki's breathing hitched as he studied the freshman. "What does that include?" he asked.
Ryoma flushed, but managed not to drawl the next time he spoke. Being disrespectful now would not only earn him a severe punishment, but would also make it more difficult for Saeki to find his place in their new arrangement. "You tell me what to do," he said, "and have the right to punish me if I disobey."
"It's that simple?" Saeki said.
Fuji spoke up. "I am also sharing his body with you, Sae-kun, in case you misunderstood my offer."
Saeki raised an eyebrow at Ryoma. "Is that true?"
Ryoma flushed again, but nodded.
"And you're okay with him just sharing you on a whim?" There was no judgment in Saeki's voice, but there wouldn't be-not with his ability to hide his emotions.
"Hai," Ryoma said. "But it isn't on a whim. If it were anyone but you, he would kill them."
Saeki's eyes widened as his gaze flew to Fuji. "Is that true?" he asked.
Fuji held Saeki's gaze as he gave a slow, sharp nod. "You are the only person who I can watch with Ryoma without wanting to hurt them for daring to touch what belongs to me."
Saeki swallowed hard.
"And Sae-kun?" Fuji's voice held an edge.
"I will be that protective over you, too."
Saeki nodded in acknowledgment, refocusing on the freshman in front of him, who still held Sae's hand to the collar. "You'll do anything I tell you?" he asked.
"Anything within reason," Ryoma said. "You have a responsibility to keep me safe from harm."
Saeki's eyes narrowed. "That you have to tell me that must mean someone abused you in the past."
Ryoma flinched. How had Saeki seen through him so clearly? He averted his eyes and nodded once.
Saeki lifted Ryoma's chin, forcing the freshman to meet his eyes. "I won't," he said, putting every ounce of feeling he could behind it. "But I am not a nice man."
Ryoma's lips quirked. "If I wanted nice," he said. "I wouldn't be with Syu."
Saeki chuckled. "No, I don't suppose you would." That said, he moved his hand back down to the collar around Ryoma's throat. "Syu-kun, do you have any preference on how this is used? Because I have an idea."
Ryoma's eyes widened at the glint in Saeki's eyes and he fought against the urge to step backward. Fuji came up behind him and wrapped him in a hug. "Mm, the collar? Don't go past eight, but you can use it however you'd like."
"Why eight?" Saeki asked.
"It's the most he can handle," Fuji said. "I tried different levels, but eight is the only one that brings him to his knees." Ryoma trembled in his arms and Fuji knew he was scared, but excited, about how Saeki would use the collar on him.
"What did the different levels do?"
"Well, 1 and 2 are useless. They don't even make him stutter. Four makes him pause. Six disorients him very slightly, and eight drops him to the ground."
"You didn't test the other settings?"
Ryoma shook with silent laughter. "He felt they were too weak," he said.
"Because they are." Fuji pressed hard against Ryoma's ribcage. "Aren't they?"
Ryoma winced at the tightness of his lover's grip. Trying to draw a breath with Fuji hurting him was difficult. "Yes, Syuusuke," he gasped, relief stark on his face when the pressure let up.
"Is he always so disrespectful?" Saeki asked.
Fuji smirked. "Sa, it's Ryu-chan. Of course he is."
"Hey! I'm right-" Ryoma fell silent as two sets of eyes turned his way. He ducked his head. "Gomen."
Fuji chuckled. Sharing power over Ryoma with Saeki was going to be interesting. Saeki's sense of respect and courtesy was much stronger than Fuji's own. Because of that, Fuji had a feeling that his friend's method of discipline would work better on Ryoma than his own, since his own discipline consisted of waiting until Ryoma took things too far before administering it. Saeki wasn't that kind of person.
"You said four shocks him, but doesn't disorient him?" Saeki asked.
"And eight punishes?"
Saeki nodded and tucked the control in his pocket. "Then I know how I want to use it. But we should find a restaurant soon."
"Do you have anything in mind?" Fuji asked.
Saeki shook his head. "Somewhere private would be preferable."
"I know a place," Fuji said. "It's traditional food. That ok with everyone?" At the two nods he received, he turned and began walking, smiling when he felt the other two settle into a pace behind him. "How do you plan to use it?"
"Often," Saeki said. Both of them turned when they heard Ryoma's footsteps falter. "Something wrong?"
Ryoma shook his head and resumed his pace. "It just took me by surprise," he said.
"Okay," Saeki said. "When I use this, it'll be on four because of how often I'll need to use it. You're disrespectful and I don't like it."
"I'm disrespectful?" Ryoma asked, shock coloring his tone.
"Yes," Fuji said, not missing a beat. "You are."
"How?" Ryoma asked. "I thought I did pretty good." The disappointment in his voice was hard to miss.
Saeki noticed it and his face softened.
Fuji spoke up. "Don't go soft on him because he's down on himself. Ryoma knows that we're here to help him improve in areas he can't see he needs improvement in. If you go soft on him, you're doing him a disservice."
Saeki frowned at Fuji's back, disquieted by the tensai's ability to always know what he was thinking. "Ok," he said, before turning back to Ryoma. "You often drop the honorifics in your speech and you are quick to interrupt others' conversation. Every time you do either tonight, I will use the collar."
Ryoma ducked his head, saying nothing.
Saeki continued. "If I feel there are other things you are doing that are disrespectful, I will tell you and add that to the list of rules you need to follow to properly demonstrate respect. Do you understand?"
Ryoma nodded. "Hai, Saeki-san."
Saeki smiled, reaching out to give Ryoma a quick hug. "Any questions?"
"I have one," Fuji said.
"How many times are you going to give him the 4 shock for the same transgression before increasing the level?"
Saeki shrugged, despite knowing Fuji couldn't see it. "Three times at that level, then three at six, and if that doesn't get the message across, I'll hold it at 8 for ten seconds."
Ryoma blanched, but didn't lose his footing. Enduring one second at eight had been bad enough; he didn't want to imagine ten.
"Sounds reasonable," Fuji said. "But I'm adding another rule."
Ryoma tensed. If Fuji was adding a rule, things were going to get difficult.
"What rule is that?" Saeki asked.
"For the duration of the night," Fuji said. "He's not allowed to make eye contact with either of us."
Saeki gasped. "That rule is almost a guarantee he'll fail."
Ryoma smirked, keeping his eyes focused on the ground. "It is why he set the rule, Saeki-san."
Saeki's attention turned back to Ryoma. "What do you mean?"
"I told you before, didn't I?" Ryoma said. "Syuusuke-san is not a nice man."
Chapter 16: Chapter Sixteen
Once the three of them were alone in a private room, Fuji snapped his fingers and pointed at the floor. He didn't often require Ryoma to play the role of a full submissive, but this was a special occasion. They had invited a third person to share their life and that warranted following proper protocol.
Ryoma was thinking along the same lines because he sank to his knees without protest or hesitation, which caused Fuji to raise an eyebrow. He knew that his lover treated situations involving power dynamics with the respect they deserved--at least, when Fuji was there to watch him--but this was the first time he'd ever seen Ryoma sink to his knees without some sort of token protestation.
Fuji's eyes flicked to the collar around his lover's neck, then to Saeki. If it wasn't the collar making Ryoma behave, then it was the way Saeki had highlighted the way he planned to use it. If he planned to use it. Fuji still wasn't a hundred percent sure that Saeki would use it.
Saeki...it was hard to know where to start. The man was his best friend--or used to be. But he wasn't the same person that Fuji had known as a kid. He'd acquired an air of quiet confidence, similar in ways to the confidence Fuji himself exuded, but less reactive. Saeki's temperament was more even now than Fuji's, and that was likely to remain the same. Fuji had an explosive temper; Saeki had always been slow to anger.
Luckily, Fuji no longer found gratification in expressing his anger physically. He preferred the long-term approach; tearing people apart was much more effective. Saeki, on the other hand, wasn't the kind to break someone apart out of anger. He was more likely to break someone down and build them back up stronger than they had been before.
Fuji shook his head; this could wait. Right now, he had to get used to the idea of Saeki as a lover. Because he hadn't made the offer in jest; Saeki's sleek, powerful build topped by his gorgeous silver hair was close to irresistible. The only thing that had been staying his hand was the idea that Ryoma would object. And if he had, Fuji would have resisted the temptation. Ryoma's feelings mattered to him more than he was comfortable admitting, even to himself.
"Saeki, do you understand what you've agreed to by accepting our proposal?" Fuji asked, treating his friend-turned-lover with an open-eyed assessment.
Saeki returned the look with one of his own. "Yes," he said, "I do."
"Then explain it to me," Fuji said.
Saeki swallowed against a retort, took a deep breath, and nodded. "Okay. You're in charge of both of us"- he included Ryoma in a broad sweep of his hand- "and I'm in charge of Ryoma. I'm assuming if you tell him to do something and I tell him to do the opposite, that your words are the ones that matter."
Fuji gave a slow nod. "But," he said. "That doesn't mean Ryoma can get away with playing with us." He eyed his kneeling lover. "But make no mistake, Sae, he will try to play us."
Ryoma tugged his hat down to cover his smirk. "Che," he muttered. Then he jumped, his hand going to his throat.
Fuji smiled to himself. Looked like Saeki had the courage to use the collar after all.
Saeki turned toward Ryoma and sank into crouch, lifting the freshman's chin. Ryoma kept his eyes lowered, so that he didn't meet Saeki's gaze, but it wasn't an easy thing to do. Saeki's tight grip on his chin made it even more difficult. "I can tell that neither one of you thought I'd be willing to use this--" he flicked the collar lightly with his other hand-"so readily. I hope you understand now that I don't say things I don't intend to carry through with."
Ryoma swallowed hard. "Hai, Saeki-san. Gomen nasai."
Saeki held Ryoma in that awkward, vulnerable position for a few more seconds before giving a light nod. "That was your first warning. Don't interrupt again."
Ryoma ducked his head. "Hai, Saeki-san."
Fuji chuckled. He hadn't expected Saeki to use it so easily, but it eased a huge burden off his shoulders. Having a second disciplinarian for Ryoma was one of the best things Saeki was bringing to the relationship. Frankly, Ryoma was too much for any one man to handle.
Saeki whirled around and placed himself boldly in Fuji's personal space, forcing the tensai to take a step backward, a scowl coming over his face. "Back off," he said, the words terse.
Saeki took a deep breath, not backing off, before speaking. "You may be in charge here, Syu-kun, but you don't have the right to toy with me. I know you too well. And you gave me the remote to that collar expecting me to fail when it came time for me to push the button. So what's the deal, Syu? Am I just another tool for you to use?"
Fuji blinked. That was the most he'd heard Saeki say in a long time. He stepped back and placed a hand on Saeki's arm, admitting--in his own way--that Saeki had won the argument. "You're not a tool. But this conversation needs to wait. Look," he said, motioning with his head towards Ryoma, who was trembling.
Saeki closed his eyes, taking another deep breath, and nodded. "I'm sorry, Ryu-chan. I didn't mean to upset you."
Ryoma bobbed his head, acknowledging the apology. He didn't like it when the people he cared for fought with one another. It reminded him too much of how he'd grown up. There was a reason his mother and father lived in different countries.
Fuji cleared his throat, drawing both his lovers' attention. Ryoma's eyes focused on Fuji's feet--he clearly remembered the rule Fuji had set. It made Fuji smile. "The one thing we didn't talk about, but which I'm sure you understood," Fuji said, 'is that punishment and discipline are part of this relationship."
"I understand that," Saeki said, brow furrowing. He couldn't figure out where the conversation was going.
"Well," Fuji said. "When you agreed to listen to me, you also agreed to take punishment from me when I deem it appropriate."
Saeki froze, his eyes going wide. His already pale skin begin to go pale. "I did?" he asked, voice a terse whisper.
"You did," Fuji said firmly.
"I...what kind of punishment are we talking about?" Saeki asked. "I'm not good with pain."
Fuji laughed. "Punishment isn't supposed to be something you're good with," he said. "I don't punish Ryoma with pain very often because he's such a hardcore masochist. I think a good spanking or a few belt lashes would do wonders for you as punishment, since you don't enjoy pain at all."
"Che," Ryoma said. "We didn't discuss the kind of punishments that work well on me." His hand flew to his throat again as the collar buzzed.
"That was twice," Saeki said. "The next time won't be a warning."
Ryoma blanched and ducked his head. "Gomen nasai."
"So," Saeki went on, acting like nothing unusual had happened. "Is there no other option besides physical punishment?"
Fuji shook his head. "Not for you. It will be the most effective."
Saeki nodded. "Okay," he said. "I accept."
"Good," Fuji said, "since you're due for one."
Saeki swallowed hard. "For arguing with you," he whispered, hands clenching into fists by his sides.
"No," Fuji corrected, "For disobeying me so that you could argue with me. I distinctly remember telling you to back off."
"Oh," Saeki said, flushing. "So I'm not in trouble for arguing?"
Fuji laughed. "No. I'm not interested in breaking you, Sae-kun. I'm interested in being with you. I don't break toys I intend to play with."
"So I am a toy," Saeki said, quirking a grin.
"So is Ryoma," Fuji said. "Ask him if he cares."
Ryoma tilted his head and grinned. "Toys have good lives when they belong to Syuusuke-san, Saeki-san. I suggest you give it a try."
Saeki's gaze flickered between the two of them before he let a slow grin cross his face too. "Ah hell," he said. "Why not?"
Chapter 17: Chapter Seventeen
Fuji studied the man across from him. Even though seven years had passed since the two of them had been close, the distance between them now seemed minuscule. From watching Saeki’s brief interaction with Ryoma, Fuji could tell little had changed. He hid a wince, remembering the accusation Saeki had made about being a tool.
While Saeki’s involvement would make things much easier, that wasn’t why Fuji had offered him the choice to join them.
Truthfully, when Saeki had told him about the darkness inside and his need to control it, Fuji had become ensnared by the desire to teach him. Part of him worried he didn’t have the right, since there was still a part of his own darkness he was running from, but he shoved that ruthlessly aside. Right now, there was something more important he needed to address.
“Saeki, do you have any questions about any of this? Or does it all seem pretty straightforward?”
Saeki paused, his fork half the way to his mouth, as he considered the question. He’d never been the type to answer hastily, no matter how simple the question seemed. And with Fuji, questions tended to be loaded. “I don’t have any questions,” he said, “but I do have one concern.”
“What concern would that be?” Fuji asked.
“While I understand the necessity of punishment,” Saeki said, raising his eyes to meet Fuji’s open eyes, “I can’t agree to being punished physically at your hand. I’m afraid it will trigger bad memories.”
Fuji closed his eyes, masking the hurt those words caused him. While physical punishment would work best on his friend, since Saeki wasn’t a masochist like Ryoma, he understood where Saeki was coming from. With that terrible incident lying as an obstacle between them, inflicting physical pain of any sort on Saeki was a bad idea. “I’ll agree to that,” Fuji said, “granted you understand that non-physical punishment tends to be more mentally taxing than physical.”
Saeki gave a slow, thoughtful nod. “I think I’ll be okay with that,” he said.
Fuji reached down, absently running a hand through Ryoma’s hair, pleasantly surprised when Ryoma arched into the caress. Ryoma still had difficulty accepting any affection that wasn’t accompanied with pain, so Fuji relished the few occasions it happened. He hoped that sometime in the future, he’d be able to lavish that sort of affection on his lover without causing Ryoma to flinch.
Considering Rick had been the cause—his hand tightened involuntarily in Ryoma’s hair. A soft hiss of pain alerted him to what he’d done and Fuji relaxed his grip. He felt the urge to apologize and squashed it. Ryoma wouldn’t want that from him.
The question of the hour, however, was what would Saeki find in Saeki? The freshman had agreed to form the ménage a trois, but for what reason? Fuji hadn’t lied earlier when he’d said that Ryoma found Saeki attractive—that had been obvious. But finding someone attractive wasn’t synonymous with wanting to jump into a complicated relationship with them. What had piqued Ryoma’s interest so much that he’d agreed as readily as he had to Saeki being a part of their dynamic?
Fuji could understand what he and Saeki got out of the arrangement. For Fuji, it was a chance to help someone else ease the ache of the rage caused by the monster that lived inside. He knew firsthand how difficult that rage was to control and how despicable it made one feel. Living with the despair of never being a better person ate at him daily, and he’d grown up learning that it was okay to be sadistic. He couldn’t begin to imagine how much worse it was for Saeki, whose family considered the grey area of morality the dark side of ethics.
And aside from teaching someone else to keep his darkness at bay, Fuji got his friend back. He hadn’t lied when he’d told Ryoma that there’d never been anything more than friendship between him and Saeki growing up, but he’d omitted the fact he’d had a crush. It was why he’d taken Saeki’s rejection of his plan so badly, because he hadn’t understood at that age what it was he’d felt or why he’d felt it—all he’d known was that his best friend was rejecting him and it sucked. He winced. Now was not the time to be thinking of that.
The other two were watching him watch them, as was per usual. Ryoma watched him to judge his mood and Saeki watched him because that’s what Saeki did—he watched people. And Saeki wouldn’t have joined this ménage a trois arrangement without a couple of solid reasons. Fuji suspected that the main reason he’d agreed was because it was the best way for him to learn to control his darkness. And that the second was that Ryoma would be a consenting participant, allowing him to release some of the rage inside.
Fuji wasn’t proud to admit it, but at the beginning of their relationship, Ryoma had been a means to an end. Because for Fuji, the need to hurt someone just built up inside him until it was impossible to ignore. And that was when he exercised his manipulation games by acting the part of the Bleeder, finding a victim and depriving them of their ability to continue living with any confidence in themselves.
Unexpectedly, Fuji had fallen in love with Ryoma. It’d come over him suddenly, but he’d embraced it because it eased the need he had to hurt his lover. He still enjoyed causing Ryoma pain, but once he’d realized his feelings for the freshman, that joy had been tempered with the need to also cause him pleasure. Once combined, he’d discovered, nothing else compared to it. Causing pain for pain’s own sake was satisfactory, certainly, but it couldn’t hold a candle to causing pleasure with the pain. And that, Fuji realized, was what he hoped to teach Saeki.
Maybe in showing Saeki that aspect of the dynamic he and Ryoma shared, his friend would be able to come to terms with his darkness. But that still didn’t answer what Ryoma got out of their arrangement. There’d be two people to hurt him, instead of one, but didn’t that also mean there’d be two to punish him? Fuji gritted his teeth—he didn’t want to think about this, but wasn’t it true? On some level, wasn’t Ryoma an outlet for all his selfish desires?
“Syuusuke,” Ryoma said beside him, startling him out of the beginning of his brood, “you’re thinking too hard.”
“And you,” Saeki said, “forgot the honorific again. How many times is that, Syu-san?”
“Three I believe.” Fuji forced the negative thoughts away. Ryoma enjoyed pain; why was he concerning himself about his own issues right now?
“What did I say before, about how I was using this?” Saeki asked, pointing at the control that lay near his hand on the table.
Fuji didn’t answer—the question hadn’t been directed at him.
Ryoma shivered. “Three on four, three on six, then one on eight for ten seconds if I failed to follow the rules, Saeki-san,” he said, voice near a whisper.
“Hm.” Saeki turned to Fuji. “Do you think three on two different levels is really acceptable, or is it too much leeway?”
Fuji placed a hand on Ryoma’s shoulder. “It’s far too much leeway,” he said. “If I were doing what you were, it would be one on four, one on six, and the third on eight for ten seconds. But it wouldn’t be fair to Ryoma right now if you took it to eight since that isn’t what you told him earlier.”
Saeki nodded. “Then we’ll change it after this one,” he said, activating the control and switching it to four. The jolt ended quickly. “The next time you forget the honorific, there will be no warning and it will jump to eight. Am I understood?”
Fuji felt Ryoma tense under his hand and his amusement skyrocketed. Trust his lover to take Saeki’s words as a challenge.
“Yes,” Ryoma said, folding his arms defiantly—though he was still careful not to meet Saeki’s gaze. That was the one rule Fuji had inflicted and he did not want to make Fuji mad tonight.
Saeki raised an eyebrow. “Well, then,” he said, and flicked the control to eight, pausing before he hit the on switch. He addressed Fuji. “He still doesn’t believe I’m as willing as you are to discipline him.”
“Oh?” Fuji said. “I rather think he’s expecting it.”
Saeki snorted in disbelief and pressed the on switch.
Ryoma clenched his fists against his knees, trembling with the pain and he gritted his teeth. Three seconds into the punishment, he was ready to scream, but he couldn’t because Fuji had foreseen that need. Fuji held his head in a vice-grip, one hand clasped tightly over Ryoma’s mouth so the freshman couldn’t scream, the other holding Ryoma’s wrists together so painfully there was sure to be a bruise later.
The ten seconds the control was held at eight felt like ten minutes, and when Fuji finally released him and the pain stopped, Ryoma collapsed boneless on the ground. Tears were pooled in the corners of his eyes where he’d just barely managed not to cry.
It took him two minutes to recover, and Ryoma was fully aware that two sets of eyes were watching him. Once he had his breath back, he crawled over to Saeki’s side of the table and prostrated himself before his new disciplinarian. “Gomen nasai, Saeki-san. I won’t test you again.”
Saeki reached down a hand and tangled it in Ryoma’s hair, forcing the freshman’s head back. Ryoma cast his gaze wide, frantically searching for a way not to meet the silver-haired senior’s piercing gaze. “Meet my eyes,” he said, “just this once, you won’t be punished for it.”
Ryoma cast his gaze at Fuji instead, focusing on Syuusuke’s ear, waiting for a decision. Fuji gave a slow nod. This once, he mouthed.
Ryoma slumped in relief and allowed his eyes to meet Saeki’s. The urge to say something bratty was strong, but tempered by the recent pain he’d endured. He didn’t want to go through another ten seconds of the collar on a level eight setting. Even thinking about that pain set his teeth on edge. It was just past the point where pain was pleasurable for him.
Saeki searched his eyes for a long moment before he nodded and released his grip on Ryoma’s hair. “Okay,” he said. “You’re forgiven.”
“Thank you, Saeki-san,” Ryoma said, kneeling beside him. On this side of the table, it was much easier to watch Fuji’s mood swings.
Fuji watched, amusement sparking as Ryoma decided that keeping an eye on his mood was easier from Saeki’s side of the table. Ryoma would be able to watch his face and judge from the expressions on it, but Fuji didn’t want him to have that advantage. Not tonight. He pointed at the floor beside him and raised an eyebrow, foregoing giving a command. Ryoma pouted, but obeyed, as Fuji had known he would.
Somehow, the three of them made it through dinner without any further incident. Ryoma managed to follow all of the rules set to him. Afterwards, Fuji extended an offer for Saeki to join them for the night, but Saeki declined.
“Another time,” he said. “I don’t want to intrude on plans the two of you made before I was involved in this. Besides, all this is a bit overwhelming. I need some time to process it before we go further.”
Fuji smiled, grateful. “Okay,” he said, “but I’ll expect you to join us soon.” He paused, before adding, “After all, I still have a punishment to mete out.”
Saeki grinned, the flush in his cheeks belying his apparent ease with the conversation. “Aa,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll think of something creative.”
Ryoma groaned from beside them. “You have no idea, Saeki-san. No idea at all.”
Saeki laughed and waved at them as he departed from the restaurant, walking in the opposite direction.
“So,” Fuji said, turning to his lover, “time to go home.” He hooked a finger under Ryoma’s collar. “Time I showed you how much fun this thing can be.”
Ryoma’s eyes darkened with anticipation as he slipped his hand into Fuji’s. “Aa,” he said quietly. “Let’s go home.”
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
Fuji took his place beside his lover as he waited for the match against Rokkaku to begin. The last week had been intense but now it was time to focus on tennis rather than the difficult turn his personal life had taken. Having Ryoma as a lover was a handful, but with Saeki in the mix, things were bound to get more complicated. A tingle ran up his spine and the smile he wore was genuine for a brief second as he considered the challenge he faced.
Momoshiro and Kawamura took their place on the tennis court and Fuji forced himself to focus as the game began. He was as surprised as anyone else when David managed to return Momo’s Jack-Knife with his long racquet. It should have broken. Fuji’s eyes narrowed as his teammate’s abilities were defeated.
When the game stood at 5-0 against Seigaku, it was no surprise to Fuji that the freshman were commenting on the hopelessness of the situation. It seemed Ryoma was the only one who had noticed.
“They want to win with their own tennis,” Ryoma said, “or they don’t want to win at all.”
And Fuji smiled. Because Ryoma was right. While the two could have chosen to fall into the mental trap of Rokkaku’s pair, they had instead chosen to get stubborn. It seemed the game was just beginning. With the look the two leveled at the rest of the team, Fuji had to suppress a laugh.
“It suddenly got interesting,” he said. Stubbornness that strong reminded him of the freshman beside him and he slipped a hand into Ryoma’s pocket, squeezing his lover’s thigh.
Ryoma tensed before relaxing. He still wasn’t used to casual touching—he preferred to either be in pain or in the middle of sex so that he didn’t have to think about the simple caresses Fuji was so fond of bestowing on him.
Fuji smiled as he felt the tension leave his lover’s body and focused on the game in front of him. Momo and Takasahi were using mind games on the opponents and got a couple of games back before Rokkaku recovered from it. This was the reason he tolerated Momoshiro’s friendship with Ryoma, even though he didn’t particularly like the guy.
Momo was a gifted tennis player. He could see the opponent’s movements and then use their patterns of behavior to judge where they were going to send the ball next. Doing that allowed him to play mind games with them, but they weren’t long lasting. That’s what Fuji didn’t like about it. When he wanted to manipulate someone, he wanted it done permanently.
Still, there was something to be said for Momo’s ability to cause temporary confusion on the courts. It allowed Seigaku to take back a respectable number of games before the other team could get themselves together.
And then Takashi used that. A new move that Fuji was sure had taken all the strength out of his body. Even witnessing it had been astonishing. The Dash Hadokyu, as the freshman had taken to calling it, wasn’t a shot that could be returned. But, Fuji thought, it’s also not a shot that can be used often.
His suspicions of that were confirmed after the game when Takashi admitted that using the move more than once in a game would cause him to break his wrist. At least he’s not irresponsible.
With it, Taka and Momo had snared the first win. So far, the momentum was in Seigaku’s favor.
Fuji smiled. Next up, he would be playing in doubles with Eiji. It had been a while since the two of them had played a doubles match together and he’d suggested it soon after the Rokkaku match-up had been announced. After all, the two of them were supposed to be best friends and he’d been neglecting that friendship, even if it was a sham on his end.
He took his place on the court and stared across the net at Saeki. There was no doubt in his mind that the man had something devious up his sleeve. There was a reason he had chosen Saeki to be his friend so many years ago.
“Take it easy on us,” Saeki said, but his eyes were hard. He didn’t want an easy game, to win because Fuji was his lover and protective of him now.
Fuji quirked a small smile at him. If you think I’m going to let you win because we’re sharing a bed, you’ve got another thing coming.
As Fuji turned to take his place on his side of the court, he caught Ryoma’s intense expression and smiled at the freshman. Don’t worry, Ryoma. I’m not going to let anyone best me. Not yet.
The match began. Fuji heard a few comments from the sidelines about how his and Eiji’s combination looked terrible and he knew that was accurate. It did look terrible because the two of them could both cover a lot of ground. Eiji could get nearly any shot on the court, as could Fuji, but the two of them had practiced seamlessly so that they didn’t get in each other’s way and could use their own abilities to complement one another’s.
In another lifetime, Fuji would have considered being Eiji’s friend for real just for the graceful tennis that he played—even if it was showy. But Fuji wasn’t the nice man Kikumaru thought he was and that tore at him a little, the way he was forced to play at being friends. And then he caught the gleam in Saeki’s eye and his longing for normality faded.
The challenge Saeki presented was what he thrived on. And just as he thought that, Eiji was suddenly missing every ball hit his way even after a 3 game lead. Fuji’s eyes snapped open and he glared at his best friend turned lover as he tried to figure out what the hell Saeki had done to seal Kikumaru so effectively.
It took another couple of games before Eiji figured out what he could do in order to break the seal and Fuji’s eyes widened in astonishment as the redhead seemed to disappear in front of him. The motion was so unbelievably fast that he couldn’t see it and was surprised that Echizen admitted that he could as he explained to the team that Eiji had gone in the anticipated direction and then reversed direction with a quick succession of side-steps that defeated his own bad habit.
Fuji smirked as he took his spot on the other side of the court. Eiji’s momentum had confused Saeki so thoroughly that he’d lost his composure at the net. Fuji knew it wouldn’t last long, but he was enjoying that it had occurred at all. It meant that he had the upper hand in the match already, because he hadn’t lost his own. Mental fortitude was everything.
To cover for Eiji’s exhaustion, Fuji returned every shot from the other team, ignoring the comments from the spectators about the insanity of playing 2 vs 1. He didn’t care about that; he needed to cover for Eiji who had worked so hard to defeat the seal on himself that he’d lost all of his energy. It would only take 100 breaths for Eiji to regain his energy—they’d discussed it a lot during the week and agreed that if his stamina became an issue during the match that Fuji would cover for him.
Fed up with the momentum that Saeki had gained for Rokkaku by using the seal on Eiji, he prepared to use Tsubame Gaeshi. His eyes widened as he felt the ball connect to his racquet with no spin and recovered quickly when he saw that there was no roll on the other side of the court. So Saeki’s partner had a card up his sleeve.
Fuji hadn’t played against anyone who could hit a Sinker against Tsubame Gaeshi and suddenly his focus was on breaking the seal on his favorite triple counter instead of covering for Eiji, though the need to do that was still on the edge of his mind.
He took the challenge for what it was and rallied with Saeki’s partner in a small part of the court. He tried adding spin to the ball for Tsubame Gaeshi with his own racquet both horizontally and vertically, but both made his counter float so that it could be returned.
I need more spin, he thought and then glanced at the net. I wonder… And then he began to rally again, dropping the ball lower and lower until the return was forced to hit the top of the net. He smirked as he saw that his plan had worked and that spin had been added to the Sinker. That made it possible to hit Tsubame Gaeshi perfectly and he did so, confusing the Rokkaku players. When Saeki met his eyes, he smirked. It’s too soon for you to win against me.
It was a thought he normally reserved for Ryoma, but now that Saeki had entered into their lives, it was important that he knew exactly where he stood with them, on the court as well as off. And Fuji wasn’t about to let his lovers pass him up. Not yet. He might not take tennis that seriously, but he wasn’t going to let anyone take his joy away from him. Part of that joy came from watching his opponents lose and realize that they couldn’t surpass him.
So the comment Inui made from behind him about how only he could pull off such a god-like move of forcing an opponent to hit a return the way he wanted made him smile. Because even though he hid his sadism well in public, he didn’t hide his ability to manipulate players on the tennis court through the use of his intellect. There was no need for false modesty there.
Saeki’s eyes glinted. So the man had figured out the tell he had for the shots he used to force a cord ball as a return. But it was too late—the count was at 97 for Eiji’s recovery and the lob sent over the net gave him the necessary three seconds to regain his full stamina and smash the ball on the other side of the net for a win.
Fuji smiled. He hadn’t let Saeki win and he’d proven, yet again, how formidable of an opponent he was on the court. As he took his place outside the court, he squeezed Ryoma’s hand briefly. “Have fun,” he said. After all, it was his turn next.
“Che,” Ryoma said. “How am I supposed to have fun playing against a guy like that?” He nodded his head towards Aoi Kentarou, who was doing a handstand.
Fuji laughed. “Fair enough,” he said. “Win, then.”
Ryoma snorted. “Why would I lose?” Then he walked away to warm up.
Fuji shook his head. Ryoma would always be a stubborn egotistical brat. But that’s what made him fall in love with the man so he couldn’t complain. He shared a smile with Saeki across the court, who wasn’t holding a grudge against him for the loss. “This will be a fun match,” he said, mouthing the words to Saeki, who nodded in return.
Both of them wanted to see Ryoma play Aoi. Saeki because he wanted Aoi to win the first of the matches they needed to beat Seigaku, and Fuji because he felt it would be the first match that Ryoma would ever play where he could let go of all the responsibilities and obligations he felt towards tennis and have fun. And that was something worth watching.
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
Sure, there was pressure here but if Ryoma lost this match, there were still two more singles games for Seigaku to play. So the pressure wasn’t there. Not really. No, the pressure here would be only the strain Ryoma put on himself. He hated disappointing anyone, even if he did come off as a brat the majority of the time. Fuji grinned. He loved having such insight into Ryoma’s psyche.
The memory of Ryoma worrying about Fuji keeping his past a too tightly guarded secret surfaced. Fuji grimaced. There was so much pain in his past he didn’t want to expose Ryoma to. And wouldn’t, unless it was vital to keeping Ryoma safe. No, the past would stay buried for as long as he could keep it that way.
He chanced a look across the court and met Saeki’s eyes. Some of his past could be shared, even cherished. Saeki could understand the horrors he’d faced, as he was a sadist himself. But Sae was dealing with his own demons. Namely, coming to terms with his own darkness. Fuji would teach him the best he could, but whether he was consumed by his need or learned to harness it was up to Sae. It was his strength of character that would decide the path he chose.
Saeki inclined his head in both acknowledgment and respect. Others wouldn’t notice, but the angle of the inclination was a few centimeters lower than the casual nod. So it seemed Sae was taking their arrangement seriously.
Fuji smirked to himself. He had been afraid that having two lovers to contend with would be difficult even for him, but maybe it was the challenge he needed to keep his own dark demons at bay. There were days he woke up and itched to hurt someone the way he’d hurt Jason—those were the days he kept Ryoma close at hand, to remind him of the love he felt for another human being. Love that stayed his hand, lest he get too lost in his own dark need.
He brought his attention back to the tennis match and frowned. While he understood that Kentarou was hitting the ball to the same place every time in order to frustrate his lover and get Ryoma to play seriously, Fuji had to quell the instincts that were screaming at him to go over to the Rokkaku captain and break him in half for aggravating his lover. His protective instincts were getting stronger every day, harder to control.
This wasn’t good. He’d gone too long without breaking anyone mentally. He hadn’t had a good reason. If he didn’t find a victim soon, someone close to him would end up paying the price. And he didn’t want to be that man.
He’d have to talk to his friends later, figure out what stranger was hanging around and causing problems. Maybe he could find some relief that way. At least it would calm the rage inside him. The last man he’d broken had been the guy who’d taught Yuuta that horrible technique. And that hadn’t taken much. He needed a challenge.
Fuji shook his head. Now was not the time to be thinking about that. Right now, it was all about Ryoma. About his need to play a game where he could learn whether he loved or hated tennis. And the match with Kentarou might prove to be that game.
He focused on the match in front of him, surprised to see a smile on Ryoma’s face. Normally the only expression the freshman wore during a game was one of intense concentration. Kentarou was awakening something inside Ryoma and Fuji smiled. It seemed his instincts had steered him right in regard to this match.
Hours passed and the match was postponed until the following day. That the two of them could play such a long game without collapsing was impressive. Fuji knew that Ryoma had amazing stamina, but to see it firsthand sent a shiver down his spine.
Fuji stood with the other regulars as Ryoma packed his bags.
“It’s a shame they called the game,” Momo said.
“Mm,” Fuji said, agreeing. “Ryoma was getting a nice, excited condition.” Which, in turn, had gotten Fuji to an excited condition of his own. He wanted to take Ryoma home, but doubted that would be the best thing for his lover. Ryoma needed to stay tense in order to keep the momentum from the match going.
The other regulars trickled away until only Fuji and Ryoma were left on the court.
“Syuusuke, can I come over tonight?” Ryoma asked.
Fuji pulled Ryoma into a tight hug and planted a kiss on the top of his head. “As much as I want you to,” he said, “you can’t. I don’t want you to relax.”
Ryoma swallowed. “But if I promise to—
Fuji placed a finger over his lips, silencing the freshman. “This isn’t up for debate. You’ll go home tonight. Besides, the only thing in your head right now is the match you just played. You can’t tell me you’re not frustrated to have it end like this.”
“Of course I’m frustrated,” Ryoma said. “It’s why I want to come over. I want to put it out of my mind.”
“And that’s exactly what I don’t want,” Fuji said. “You need to be ready to resume the match tomorrow and you can’t do that if you’re relaxed. In fact, I’ll be surprised if you sleep much at all tonight. So go home and do something to keep you alert.”
“You don’t want me to sleep?” Ryoma asked. “But I’ll not be able to—
Fuji shushed him again. “By all means, sleep. But be ready for a long game tomorrow. I won’t accept anything less than your best performance in anything, you know that.”
Ryoma blushed and ducked his head as best he could, held in Fuji’s tight grasp. “I know, Syuusuke. I just want to be with you.” He grimaced as Fuji’s arms tightened in warning. “I’m not complaining, Syu. I’ll go home. I just wanted you to know.”
Fuji smiled and leaned down as Ryoma turned in his arms, tilting his head up for the searing kiss Fuji engaged him in. When the tensai pulled back, Ryoma was panting, eyes glazed over. “I love you, Ryoma. Now go home.” He loosened his arms, letting the freshman pull out of his grasp.
“I love you too, Syuusuke,” Ryoma said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Fuji nodded and headed towards his own house after Ryoma had disappeared into the darkness. His need to be protective was kicking into overdrive and it took all of his willpower not to walk his lover home. Ryoma was safe in town. He’d walked to and from school by himself in America, which was a much more dangerous country than Japan was. Fuji really needed to get a hold on himself.
As he started his walk, he was barely startled when Saeki slid into step beside him. “Sae, your house is in the opposite direction.”
“I know,” Saeki said. “I wanted to speak with you.”
Fuji stayed silent, waiting for Saeki to continue.
“I want to know what we’re doing,” he said. “I mean, Ryoma explained how everything works with him and me. But Syu, what about you and me. How do we work? I don’t understand that.”
“It’s easy enough,” Fuji said. “You do what I tell you to when I tell you to do it. If you don’t, I punish you.”
Saeki missed a step, recovered, and said, “I understood that part of it, Syuusuke. I mean, are we sexual with each other too or is that reserved for Ryoma? I just… I don’t get it.”
Fuji frowned. He thought he’d made everything clear the other day. Apparently, he hadn’t. “We’re lovers, Saeki. All of us.”
“Oh. Does that mean me and you—
“Will have sex, yeah. I thought you understood that when you agreed to our arrangement.”
“I thought that was what was implied, but I wanted to double check. I just. I don’t want to get anything wrong with you, Syu. Not after…”
Fuji sighed. “Don’t worry so much about the past, Sae. You let it go, didn’t you? So you can safely assume I’ve let it go as well. I’ll be careful with you because I know there are still fears there, but I’m not going to break you and you can’t break me. Just be yourself.”
Silence stretched between them.
“Do you want to be alone tonight, Syuusuke?”
“No, but I sent Ryoma home.”
Saeki coughed. “I, um. I was sorta hoping you might want to spend time with me. If that’s alright with you.”
Fuji grinned. “I’d forgotten how uncertain you were about stuff like this, Sae. But yes, I’d like the company. Do you need to let anyone know where you are?”
Saeki raised an eyebrow, accented by the light of the streetlamp. “Syu, if I tell my parents I’m spending time with you, they’ll kill me.”
“Won’t they be expecting you home?”
Saeki grinned. “Nope. I told them I was staying over at a friend’s. They trust me enough not to ask which friend.”
Fuji cracked an eye open and smiled at his friend-turned-lover. “Well then,” he said. “Let’s go to my house.”
Saeki slipped an arm around Fuji’s waist, careful not to move too fast so that the tensai didn’t see the motion as too aggressive. In turn, Fuji draped an arm over Saeki’s shoulder. It seemed he could relieve some of his own tension tonight. Having two lovers definitely had its benefits.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
Saeki raised an eyebrow and shrugged a shoulder. The smile he gave was empty and remorseless. "I need to understand this," he said. He gestured between them. "You tried. Ryoma tried. I can't wrap my head around it."
Fuji tapped a foot. "What is so difficult about it?"
Saeki gave a slight finch; he noted the impatient tick. But he wasn't going to be intimidated. That wasn't who he was anymore. "The way I understand it," he said, ignoring the question, "is this. You tell Ryoma what to do and when to do it. You hurt him for your mutual pleasure. Somewhere along the way, the two of you fell in love."
Fuji folded his arms and leaned against the doorway. "Go on," he said with his eyes closed and his lips drawn tight. He didn't like being evaded.
Saeki shivered. He knew what that look meant. If he didn't get to the point soon…But no, this was important! He wouldn't allow Fuji to intimidate him like this. "Ok," he said. "Your relationship is perfect. Why invite me into it? I'm virtually a stranger to Ryoma. And to you, for that matter. It's been seven years since we were close friends."
Fuji opened his eyes and stood up as consternation furrowed his brow. "I thought you wanted this, too," he said.
"No," Saeki said. "I mean, yes, I do want it. But that's not the problem. Why me, Syuusuke? Where do I fit in? I'm nobody. I mean nothing to either one of you."
"Sae, you're as important to me as Ryoma. I look at you and see what I almost destroyed. You are the person who kept me going through the dark, even when you weren't around. It was your name I called when they tortured me," Fuji said, unable to meet Saeki's eyes as his own filled with tears. "You were the one I counted on to keep me strong."
Saeki reacted to that revelation by striding across the room and gathering Fuji in his arms. "I never knew," he said, talking into Fuji's shoulder.
Fuji swallowed and wiped his eyes as he leaned into the hug. "I never told anyone," he said. "I couldn't. Everyone expects me to be strong all the time. Back then, you were my strength. I saw a chance to reclaim that strength and couldn't resist."
"What about Ryoma?"
"He doesn't know about the torture," Fuji said. "I can't tell him. I can never tell him."
"You'll have to eventually."
"Why?" Fuji asked. He was so tired of acting strong all the time. Even monsters need support sometimes. And Saeki had never betrayed him. That had been a misunderstanding. Before all that, Fuji had shared everything with Saeki because Sae had always known the best thing to do. They'd been best friends once.
"Because you'll lose him if you don't," Saeki said, ever the voice of reason.
"But not today."
"No," Sae agreed. "Not today."
Fuji found the strength to pull himself out of Saeki's arms. The man had made a good point and Fuji's momentary weakness wasn't a reason to ignore it. The two of them had spent seven years apart. There was a lot of catching up to do, but more importantly, there were boundaries to establish. "You agreed to follow my rules," Fuji said. "Why?"
Saeki smiled. "Because I wanted what you were offering and because I followed you for so long when we were younger." He sighed. "I was willing to pay whatever price you wanted to be with you. I spent seven years obsessing over what I'd do when I saw you again. Needless to say, feelings developed."
Fuji nodded, resolve strengthened. "Okay," he said. "I know why you agreed and you know why I asked you. Anymore questions?"
"Yes," Saeki said. "But they are ones I have to figure out the answers to myself."
Fuji raised an eyebrow. "You're talking about how you're going to get close to Ryoma, aren't you?"
Saeki flushed and ducked his head. "That obvious?"
Smiling, Fuji said, "No. I just know you. And I'm sure you'll figure it out."
"I'm sure I will."
"You know I'm not going to sleep with you tonight," Fuji said. "It isn't fair to Ryoma for us to enjoy ourselves while he's at home stressing over his big game tomorrow."
Saeki gaped. "I wasn't expecting-
"I know. I'm being forthright."
"Yeah, I got that memo. Also, that so wasn't what I had in mind when I asked to spend the night."
"Oh? I had it in mind."
"But I don't want to hurt Ryoma like that. I want my first time with you to be his first time with you, too. Once we're comfortable with that, it won't seem like a big deal to do things with either one of you without the other of you."
"Uh-huh. Syu, I just wanted to spend time with my friend. I'm not quite prepared for the rest of it yet. Still haven't gotten my mind wrapped around it."
Fuji shrugged. "For when you get it figured out, you know where I stand."
"Now, you know Ryoma will win tomorrow, right? There's no way Kentarou is going to beat him."
"I wouldn't be so sure."
The two of them argued about the match until they fell asleep, neither one of them willing to concede the point to the other. Fuji remembered thinking, as he fell asleep, how nice it was to have someone around who wasn't afraid to argue with him. And also, how annoying.
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
The alarm's blare woke him. Fuji stretched and yawned, then turned his attention to Saeki who was still asleep on the floor. They'd briefly discussed sharing the bed, but Fuji had nixed that idea. He wasn't ready to be that casual with Saeki. Not yet.
After all, he had Ryoma to think of. And Ryoma would be hurt if he learned that Fuji had turned him away and embraced Saeki in his stead. No, that this had been a simple sleepover was best. There would be no inappropriate guilty thoughts because there was nothing to feel guilty about.
Fuji rested his chin on his elbow as he considered the silver-haired man sleeping in the floor. Saeki had changed a lot, but he'd retained his essence. He was strong. That strength alleviated the majority of Fuji's fears about teaching him to harness his sadism.
He frowned. Their relationship had always been complicated. Saeki was easily his equal when it came to scheming. It was a given that he'd learn fast, too. The only reason Fuji had ever managed to stay a step ahead of Saeki in the past was because of his own tendency towards ruthlessness.
Though he hated to admit it, even to himself, his ruthless streak was morphing into something softer. There was no doubt that he would deal brutally with anyone who threatened his lovers, family, and friends. But his closeness with Ryoma was changing him. Fuji wasn't sure he liked it.
There were times he found himself biting off a scathing remark to keep the peace so that Ryoma wasn't adversely affected. He'd never put someone else's emotional security before his own before. So far, it hadn't been a problem. But what would happen when his need to break someone got so overwhelming that he couldn't contain it?
No. He couldn't let it get to that point. He needed to find someone to break intentionally before his own darkness overwhelmed him. The only way to keep it from consuming him was to give into the need before it became a compulsion.
Fuji frowned. There was a little under an hour before Ryoma's match with Kentarou and he was sitting here brooding. Right now, he needed to be more focused on what was best for Ryoma and less focused on his own demons. "Saeki," he said, "wake up."
Saeki groaned and rolled over, clearly intent on staying asleep.
Rolling his eyes, Fuji leaned down and poked him in the ribs, causing Sae to give a small yelp as he came awake.
"What the hell was that for?" Saeki asked, glaring.
Saeki flinched, not awake enough to hide the affect Fuji's bad temper had on him. He looked at the floor, suppressing the urge to apologize. With a few minor exceptions, he didn't believe in apologizing. In his experience, they just made things worse.
"We have under an hour to eat breakfast and get to the court. Or would you prefer I let you sleep through Ryoma's match?"
Saeki swallowed at the calm in Fuji's voice. That never bode well. Instead of replying, he stood and folded the sheet he'd used. He rolled the mat up and leaned it against the wall. As he dressed, he was keenly aware of Fuji's sharp gaze on his back.
Fuji digested Saeki's silence. He was used to Ryoma's quick apologies, but Saeki's personality was distinctly different. Fuji noticed the tense set of his friend's back; he knew he'd misspoken. That was why he'd fallen silent. It was his way of acknowledging a mistake.
When Saeki was done getting ready, he turned to face Fuji. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, preparing himself for the blow to his pride. Once he was ready, he opened his eyes and met Fuji's gaze. Holding eye contact, he dropped to his knees. He didn't bother to hide the wince as his knees connected with the wooden floor.
Fuji stared. There'd been no words exchanged but this gesture from Saeki spoke volumes. The man was serious about following him, about submitting. Fuji swallowed; winning Saeki's submission was different than winning Ryoma's. Ryoma was a natural submissive; Saeki was not. While Saeki had tried to convey that he was choosing to submit to Fuji last night, the gesture he'd undertaken now really drove it home.
Fuji gathered his wits and nodded at Saeki. He couldn't afford to fall apart like he almost had last night. That momentary weakness could cause him a world of trouble if he was going to be dominant over these two men. "I expect a respectful tone from you at all times, Sae. I'm not above making you write lines if you can't keep that clear."
Saeki's shoulders quivered as he attempted to keep his contempt for that idea hidden.
"Am I understood?" Fuji asked.
"Hai, Fuji-sama," Sae answered, his tenor strong and clear. He knew what he was getting into and he planned to do the best he could to live up to the expectations Fuji and Ryoma had of him.
"Okay," Fuji said. "Then let's go eat breakfast. I'd like to get to the match before it starts so I hope cereal is okay with you."
Saeki's eyes lit up with anticipation. "It's fine. I'm looking forward to the match as much as you are."
Fuji smirked. "Eager to see Ryoma crush Kentarou?"
The two of them made their way downstairs, lightly joking with each other about the upcoming match. Saeki was careful not to get too glib and Fuji noted how well his friend-turned-lover avoided becoming disrespectful. It would be interesting to see if he could get Saeki to cross that line. A new game to play. How nice.
He smirked to himself as they began their walk toward the courts. At least now he'd have something to occupy his thoughts that wasn't worry about his growing desire to tear someone apart.
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
At least Fuji he didn't have to deal with cheering for the person one of his lovers was playing against. That amusement faded quickly. Saeki was able to compartmentalize. It wouldn't affect him at all.
Fuji met up with Eiji and Oishi near the water fountain. "Is Echizen here yet?" he asked.
Oishi's brow furrowed, lips pursed in annoyance. "No one has seen him."
"The match starts in fifteen minutes," Fuji said.
"It's just like that brat to run off at a time like this," Kaidoh said as he walked up, Momo and Kawamura on his heels.
"Where's Echizen?" Momo asked, his gaze darting around the court.
"Saa." Fuji's mood was beginning to sour. Ryoma knew how much he hated tardiness. He didn't appreciate this latest push against the boundaries he'd set.
Coach Ryuzaki was the next to show up. "I found him," she said, leaning over to catch her breath. That she was winded spoke of how frantically she'd been searching the court.
"Where is he?" Fuji asked, unable to keep from clenching his hands into fists.
"He's asleep beside Court D," Coach Ryuzaki said. "Kentarou is there, too."
Eiji laughed. "Nya, Ochibi got so excited he had to play with Kentarou last night." He bounced lightly on his feet, his eyes glittering with amusement.
Fuji plastered the biggest smile he could on his face. Inside, he was raging. He'd told Ryoma to go home and focus on the match, not come out and play it beforehand. "So let's go wake them up," he said. "They still have to play today, even if they had an unofficial match last night."
"Of course," Oishi said. He lead the way over to Court D and the regulars all stopped to stare at the sight in front of them. Echizen and Kentarou were sprawled out next to one another on the grass, sleeping soundly.
Momo was the one who went to shake Echizen awake. Fuji knew better than to wake Ryoma up. With the mood he was in, there was no guarantee he'd be able to be gentle. And any rough treatment of their star freshman from their gentle tensai was sure to bring about questions Fuji didn't want to answer.
He settled for making his expression unreadable when Ryoma looked his way. It would be hint enough to his lover that he'd done something that warranted punishment.
Ryoma's color drained as he rushed to wash his face.
Fuji smiled grimly. We'll see how well he plays knowing I'm upset with him. He was partly disgusted with himself for thinking that, but he pushed that disgust ruthlessly aside. Ryoma was the one who'd messed up, not him.
The match started again in earnest and Fuji's irritation melted slowly as he watched Ryoma get emotionally invested in the game. He'd never seen Ryoma so passionate in a game before, except for the few minutes they'd played against one another.
To see Ryoma smile like that, so carefree despite the overwhelming obligation he felt to his father, was inspiring. It made Fuji itch to pick up a racquet himself and play for the sheer joy of it. He couldn't remember the last time he'd played for the sake of the sport itself, instead of to win. All of his games lately had been to get Seigaku to the Nationals. That was the most important goal he had.
But tennis wasn't about winning. Not really. It was something Fuji was innately good at, that he intuitively understood. But he still honed his technical skills through practice, still learned techniques that took a great deal of stamina and hard work. Talent was a gift, certainly, but it could also be a burden.
Watching Ryoma play full-out against Kentarou, neither of them willing to budge, brought that home to Fuji. Here was someone who understood what it was like to play with the pressure of innate talent. Like him, Ryoma didn't expect his talent to be the end-all, be-all of his life. He took advantage of its existence but didn't take it as a given.
Finding joy in the expression of the sport was a miracle in and of itself for people like them. The burden of being talented was greater than those who weren't could ever understand. Because people had expectations you felt obligated to meet, even if they weren't ones you held of yourself.
And that was the other reason Ryoma had attracted Fuji's eye. Not only because of his ability to handle pain without complaint or anger, but his ability to withstand the pressure of expectations others placed on his shoulders. That was the common link between them and it made Fuji's head spin. No wonder he'd fallen so hard for this freshman.
Ryoma was able to understand a part of him that Fuji wasn't sure he'd even completely come to terms with. Tennis was one of his two great passions and Ryoma brought that out in him. Fuji smiled. Maybe this once, he would forgive Ryoma for his mistake.
After all, his decision to play a match against Kentarou had brought Ryoma to the path Fuji had been nudging him toward. And that path was the acceptance of his love for tennis. A passion that Fuji and the rest of the regulars at Seigaku saw on a daily basis, one that Ryoma wasn't able to see in his own tennis before today.
Fuji smiled. Yeah, he'd let it slide for today. There were better things to do on a winning day like today than punish his lover for following his own passion for tennis.
This arc of the Discovery Series is complete. The next arc, The Chain of Choice, will deal with Fuji's growing need to break someone and how it causes the lines between his personal and professional life to blur. Fuji will struggle with his own dark desire to become the monster he was in the past and Saeki will become a more prominent character as the relationship between the three of them grows stronger.