Chapter 12

“Ryoma.” Fuji unfolded himself from where he’d been leaning against the wall, waiting for his boyfriend.

Echizen fumbled a bit, but managed to catch himself enough for a graceful recovery as he gave his attention to the tensai.

It was Friday afternoon and the heat had been so unbearable that practice had been canceled. Coach Ryuzaki hadn’t wanted to risk heatstroke. “Would you care to come with me to get burgers?” Fuji asked.

Echizen stared at him. “Momo already asked.”

“Ahh. And he takes precedence,” Fuji said, striving to keep his tone civil. He did not like the idea of Momo having more of a claim than him.

Ryoma continued to stare at him, looking more and more like a deer caught in headlights.

“Go on, then, you mustn’t keep him waiting.” Fuji managed not to display his irritation when Ryoma did just that. Getting worked up over hamburgers…he took a deep breath to steady himself. He leaned down to pick up his tennis bag and straightened up, mentally preparing for the long walk home. Before he could take a step, he found his way obstructed by Ryoma. He blinked.

“Syuusuke.”

“Hmm?”

“That offer still stand?”

“Naturally.” Joy surged through him. Ryoma had chosen him, after all. The two of them began walking and Fuji found himself reaching for Ryoma’s hand without thinking. The freshman clasped his hand, obviously not worried about what anyone who saw them might say. Fuji snorted silently. Why would Ryoma care? He’d shown up at Seigaku practically screaming, Here I am! This is me! Deal with it! There wasn’t likely to be much that could unnerve him.

Fuji led the way into the burger shop, motioning Ryoma ahead of him. He’d asked him along, so he’d pay.

Ryoma scowled at him. “Fuji, I can pay for myself. You don’t have to pay for me.”

Turning disapproving eyes on Ryoma, Fuji frowned. “If I want to pay for your meal, it is my decision.”

“But Fuji-

Oh god. The whining had come out to play. Leaning down to keep the people around them from eavesdropping, Fuji repeated, “If I want to pay for your meal, it is my decision.”

Ryoma folded his arms across his chest and glared.

Fuji was not amused. Ryoma could play these tricks with other people all he wanted, but he wasn’t going to stand for it. Keeping his voice low, he said, “Order your food. I’m paying. If you insist on defying me at every turn, I will leave you here by yourself.”

Slowly-agonizingly so-Ryoma unfolded his arms, his shoulders losing some of the defiant tenseness they’d held. He searched Fuji’s eyes for some hint of compromise, but found none. Walking forward, he placed his order and moved to the side to allow Fuji to do the same.

Fuji ordered and paid for the meal, trying to figure out the reason Ryoma was acting out. Nothing readily came to mind. Oh well, if the matter arose, they’d discuss it.

Once they were seated, Ryoma dug into his food with relish. Fuji ate more slowly, preferring to savor each bite. “The match with Akutsu is on Monday,” he said.

Ryoma paused, a burger halfway to his mouth, and scowled. “I’m aware of that. I do actually keep up with game dates.”

Fuji’s eyes narrowed at the snappish tone, but he managed to keep his own polite. Nothing was going to provoke him into exposing his true nature in public. Not even Ryoma’s childish fit. “I am merely curious if you have a plan.”

“Plan?” Ryoma snorted in derision. “Why would I need a plan?”

“You said you were going to win.”

“I am.”

“But you have no plan.” Fuji’s voice was flat. Going into a tennis match unprepared was monumentally stupid. And Ryoma wasn’t stupid.

“No, Fuji, I don’t have a plan,” Ryoma all but snapped.

“It seems inadvisable.”

“Well sorry I’m not perfect like you.”

Fuji felt his smile freeze on his face and he opened his eyes, cold fury blazing in them. For once, Ryoma wasn’t able to meet his gaze.

“I didn’t mean that,” the freshman muttered sullenly.

“Yes, you did.” Somehow he was still keeping his tone civil.

“I suppose saying I’m sorry wouldn’t help.”

“Not when you don’t mean it.”

Ryoma let out a small sigh. “I’m not feeling very hungry anymore.”

Fuji glanced at the one remaining burger on Ryoma’s tray. “You would insult me further?” The question, though quiet, had thunder behind it.

Ryoma blanched. He unwrapped the second burger and ate it slowly, mechanically. He was not enjoying it. But eating it was better than refusing it-Fuji had paid for it and to leave it untouched would be incredibly ill-mannered.

Fuji watched as Ryoma forced himself to finish eating, feeling a sort of grim satisfaction that the freshman didn’t want to upset him any further. “We’re leaving. Take care of the trash.” It was to Ryoma’s credit that he did what had been asked of him without compliant. Fuji wasn’t sure if his temper would hold in public if put under any more duress.

They walked in silence, Fuji leading the way to his house. He hadn’t planned on having Ryoma stay for a second weekend in a row, since that would cut into the time Ryoma needed to spend with his family. Fuji had always believed that it was best to immerse oneself in family a day or two before a big match since family members were generally the most supportive.

Once they were at his house, Ryoma shoulder past Fuji and practically stormed up the stairs to the tensai’s room. Annoyed at the blatant disrespect, Fuji took a few minutes to calm himself. He would not go to Ryoma while he was angry. Once he was certain he could face any temper tantrum the freshman might throw, Fuji made his way to his room, grateful that the rest of his family weren’t due home for another few hours.

Ryoma was sitting on the bed, his arms crossed stubbornly over his chest. He stared at Fuji as hard as he could, trying to force the senior to drop his gaze first.

Fuji met Ryoma’s eyes steadily and calmly. He wasn’t going to be baited further. Minutes that felt like hours passed, but eventually Ryoma broke off. Normally, winning such a staring contest would elate Fuji, but today it just made him a bit sad. He didn’t want to fight with Ryoma, especially when he didn’t know why the freshman was so upset. But he had to address the complete lack of respect or Ryoma would start to think he could get away with anything. And no one was going to walk all over him, especially not the person who’d put him in charge of their relationship. “Would you care to explain your behavior?”

“No.”

“I’ll ask once more. If you don’t answer, you’ll make things worse for yourself. Now, would you care to explain your behavior?”

“I already said no!” Ryoma yelled. “Are you deaf as well as stupid now?”

Fuji’s mouth firmed into a hard line. It seemed Ryoma’s rudeness knew no bounds. “Follow me,” he said, as mildly as possible, and turned from the room. He was almost surprised when the freshman listened, considering how he’d been acting. Fuji led the way into the bathroom, opening a cabinet and grabbing what he needed. “Come in,” he said.

Ryoma was standing at the door, eying Fuji suspiciously, but he moved into the room when asked. Without warning, Fuji grabbed him around the waist and carried him with a one-armed carry to the sink. He released Ryoma and spun the freshman to face the sink before taking his right arm and threading it through both of Echizen’s, effectively pinning the freshman’s arms behind him as he moved up so closely behind him that Ryoma wasn’t able to take a step in any direction. “Fuji, what-

Fuji held a finger of his free hand up to Echizen’s lips, hiding his surprise when the act bought Ryoma’s silence. “You have been incredibly disrespectful today and refused to give me a reason as to why. On top of that, you argued when I made a decision and then whined about it. I am incredibly disappointed.”

At those words, Ryoma began trembling a little in Fuji’s arms. He hadn’t meant to get so angry or act so callously towards his boyfriend. He’d just been really stressed. He tilted his head back to meet Fuji’s eyes and had to look back down almost instantly. There was true disappointment there.

Fuji smiled sadly at the back of Ryoma’s head. He didn’t want to punish him, but he knew he had to. He wrapped his free hand around the item he’d grabbed and brought it into Ryoma’s line of sight. The freshman stiffened in his arms.

“Fuji, what are you doing?”

“This is punishment, Ryoma. Surely you didn’t expect me to overlook your attitude?”

“Well no, but this is-

“This is the method I’ve chosen. Are you going to fight me on this as well?”

A long silence fell. “No,” Ryoma said finally, voice small and subdued.

“Then open your mouth.” When Ryoma obeyed, Fuji slipped a bar of soap into the freshman’s mouth. Ryoma shuddered in his arms and tried to draw away, but Fuji held him still. “You will hold this until I say it is enough. Nod if you understand.”

Ryoma nodded once, leaning his head back to rest on Fuji’s chest. The bar of soap Fuji had selected was so wide he couldn’t avoid tasting it, no matter what he tried. And the taste of it was like nothing else. Where it sunk in, it permeated, sliding to the furthest reaches of his mouth. There was no part of his mouth the taste of soap didn’t touch. He ached to lean over the sink and spit it out, longed to scrub the taste out, but he remembered the look in Fuji’s eyes. The disappointment. He never wanted to put that look there again.

Fuji stood with Ryoma, feeling him struggle with the effort of enduring the harsh punishment. He glanced at the clock in the hallway. Only five minutes had passed but his arms were already growing tired. But he would endure this with Ryoma. He couldn’t imagine leaving the freshman to endure his first serious punishment on his own. That would be cruel.

Five minutes turned to ten which turned to twenty, all passing in an agonized slowness. When they had passed, Fuji gently dislodged the soap from the freshman’s mouth. Fuji stopped restraining him and took a step back.

Ryoma turned to him and buried his face in Fuji’s shirt. “I’m sorry, Syuusuke,” he said.

Fuji brought his hands up to draw his boyfriend into a solid hug, one hand going up to play with Ryoma’s hair. “I know. It’s okay now. You’re forgiven.”

Ryoma looked up with a shaky smile before his expression reverted back to his normal bratty one. “Now that’s over with, think I can rinse my mouth? Soap is nasty.”

Fuji laughed. “No. Get a dry cloth and use that. Water will just make it worse.”

Ryoma made a face at him and grabbed a washcloth out of the linen closet, stuffing it into his mouth and rubbing as vigorously as he could in an attempt to rid himself of the taste.

“Now would you care to tell me what set you off?” Fuji asked softly.

Ryoma paused. Turning to Fuji, he took a deep breath. “You aren’t going to like it,” he warned.

Fuji said nothing. He just waited.

Ryoma sighed. “Ok, but I warned you. Rick called me last night.”

He had been right. Fuji didn’t like it. “How did he get your number?”

“I gave it to a friend in America before I left. Rick bullied him into sharing it.”

“And what did Rick have to say?”

Swallowing, Ryoma turned away. He wasn’t sure he could repeat those words to his boyfriend, but he’d try. “That he was going to come get what belonged to him,” he said, voice a near whisper.

Rage flooded through him. Fuji gripped the counter of the sink as hard as he could, his knuckles turning white with the effort. How dare Rick call Ryoma and try to terrify him into submission? Breathing shallowly, he asked, “What did you say to him?”

Ryoma smirked. “I told him that I’d never belonged to him, never would, and that he needed to get help.”

Fuji laughed. Of course Ryoma wouldn’t be cowed by such things. “But you’re still upset.”

Ryoma met Fuji’s eyes. “He said that if I didn’t belong to him, he’d make sure I’d never belong to anyone. That he’d kill me first.”

That was it. The last straw. “Give me his address. If he thinks he can threaten you, he has a lot to learn.”

“It won’t do any good. He’s coming to Japan tomorrow on the 7′o’clock flight. He expects me to meet him at the airport.”

A slow, dark smile crept over Fuji’s face. “Then we will meet him.”

Ryoma sighed. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”

Fuji looked up then, allowing Echizen to see the full extent of his anger. The freshman swallowed hard, but held his gaze. “Ryoma, no one threatens what’s mine. It isn’t me you should worry about.”

“No,” Ryoma said softly, “I suppose it isn’t.” His expression cleared. “But if you think I’m worried about what you might do to him, you’re wrong. Rick deserves whatever he’s got coming.”

Fuji grinned. It was nice to know that his most dangerous side didn’t scare Ryoma. Intoxicating, in fact. “Stay here tonight,” he said.

Ryoma answered with a grin of his own. “I thought you’d never ask.” 

Chapter 11     Chapter Index     Chapter 13

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