Chapter 07

Walking into his room, Fuji set his tennis bag down near the door. He turned to see Echizen hovering a bit outside the room. He frowned. “Never figured you to be the nervous type.”

Echizen scowled. “I’m not.” He walked into the room, arms folded across his chest. Looking around, he said, “You have a lot of cacti.”

“I collect them.”

“Oh.” He paused. “Why?”

Fuji shrugged. “They look cool.”

Echizen raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “They look painful.”

“Only if you handle them incorrectly.”

“Can I touch one?”

Fuji stared at Echizen, making an internal assessment. From the way Echizen’s gaze kept darting between the cacti and Fuji’s face, it was becoming more and more obvious that the reason Echizen wanted to touch one of the plants was because of the inherent risk of getting hurt. The very real possibility of that happening was such an intoxicating thought that Fuji almost said yes. But the truth was, he didn’t want anyone handling his cacti but him. “No.”


Fuji frowned. “I don’t want your blood on my plants.”

“So show me the proper way to handle them.”

“No. You can watch me with them, but you’re not allowed to touch them.”


“Do you have any hobbies outside tennis?” Fuji asked, redirecting Echizen’s attention. He didn’t want the guy focusing on the cacti. Echizen had a stubborn streak a mile wide and if he was determined to handle one of the cacti, then he’d find a way to do so. Even Fuji telling him not to wouldn’t stave him off for long. He was like a cat. Too curious for his own good.

“No. Just tennis.”

Fuji breathed a silent sigh of relief. He had Echizen’s attention again. “Then what do you do in your spare time?”

“Play tennis. Study. Play with my cat.” Echizen held up a finger each time he added something to the list. He frowned in concentration. “Yeah. That’s all.”


“What about you?”

“Aside from the cacti? Photography.”

Echizen scowled. “I hate having my picture taken.”

“I’ve noticed.” Fuji felt amused. Every time a reporter tried to take Echizen’s picture, the guy always moved at the perfect moment to keep himself out of the frame. Avoiding pictures was an art he’d all but perfected.


Fuji stretched and walked towards the door. The rest of his family weren’t going to be home anytime soon and he was getting hungry. A thought struck him then. “Don’t you need to let your dad know where you are?”

“What for?”

Fuji rolled his eyes at the stubborn tone Echizen had adopted and continued out of the room. The guy was definitely a brat. “You coming?” he asked. There was no reason to answer what had obviously been a rhetorical question.

“Where to?” Echizen asked, falling into step behind Fuji.

“The kitchen. I’m hungry.”

“Me too.”

“Too bad.” Fuji smiled to himself when he heard Echizen falter mid-stride, obviously surprised. It was rather difficult to shock the freshman, so he took pride in the fact that he’d managed to do it.

“What’s that? You invited me over but aren’t going to feed me?” Echizen asked, the usual cockiness back in his voice.

The audacity of the guy made him smile. There weren’t many people who would challenge Fuji on any decision he made…mostly because they didn’t understand how he was going to react. Normally it suited him just fine, but it was much more entertaining when someone attempted to walk the line between acceptable and unacceptable. “Mm,” he said in confirmation.

Behind him, Echizen drew in a sharp breath. “That’s cruel.”

“So is worrying your family unnecessarily.” Before he knew what was happening, Fuji felt his elbow being grabbed and he had to make a split second decision whether to turn with the pull or jerk away from it, possibly injuring himself. Without much hesitation, he turned to face Echizen, fire blazing from his eyes. People jerking him away was in no way appropriate. Echizen looked up at him, the words dying on his lips before he managed to speak. If he were a lesser person, Fuji knew the intensity of his look right then might have made him pass out. As it was, Echizen just looked a little shaky. Staring at the hand still gripping his elbow, he spoke in a low, tense tone. “Let go.”

Echizen did so immediately, closing his eyes and backing up a step. It was the first time Fuji had ever seen him physically shaken. Then again, it was the first time Fuji had ever felt anger towards him, too. “I wasn’t thinking,” Echizen said.

“That much is obvious.”

Echizen took a few deep, ragged breaths, trying to calm himself down. Fuji knew the fact he was still staring with muted anger at him probably wasn’t helping with that, but he couldn’t find it in his heart to care. He was too angry. Echizen looked up at him and held his gaze unflinchingly. Impressive. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Fuji stared at the freshman for a few more seconds before deciding he was sincere. “Mm,” he acknowledged. He turned back around and continued the short walk to the kitchen.

“Where’s the phone?” Echizen asked, voice subdued. “I’ll call my dad.”

Fuji directed him to it, feeling a bit of smug satisfaction. Echizen might be stubborn, but he still wasn’t a match for Fuji. Still, the stubbornness made things more fun. Someone who didn’t push would be boring. While Echizen was on the phone, Fuji busied himself in the kitchen. Cooking was calming. Sometime during the middle of the process, Echizen had come into the kitchen and taken a seat at the counter.

Fuji finished making the food and scooped out his portion into a bowl. He still wasn’t happy about the way Echizen had behaved earlier, so he didn’t bother dishing out Echizen’s share. He took a seat at the counter beside Echizen and began eating, ignoring the look on the freshman’s face.


Holding up a hand, Fuji narrowed his eyes in displeasure. He swallowed what he had in his mouth and said, voice tight, “Sit there and don’t speak.” He watched as disappointment and hope warred on Echizen’s face as the guy struggled to stay silent. It was apparent that Echizen wanted to lash out in anger, but somehow he held himself back. That made Fuji smile a little. He took his time eating, enjoying the food he’d made. He’d give Echizen his portion when his behavior improved. Once he was finished eating, he took his dishes to the sink and washed them leisurely, conscious of the eyes trying to bore a hole in his back.

Done with the dishes, he turned to the fridge and opened it. He pulled out a tray and took out two rolls before walking to the counter and sitting them down in front of Echizen. “Eat them.”

Echizen’s face drained of color. He knew exactly what he’d been given. “Why?” he asked, voice straining to hit a whisper.

“Punishment,” Fuji said, “for your lack of forethought.”

Closing his eyes in resignation, Echizen popped the two rolls in his mouth. He winced as the wasabi-filled sushi started to burn and he started to stand up. He needed water to wash them down. Before he could stand, Fuji’s hands had come to rest on his shoulders, gently holding him in place.

Fuji watched in delight as Echizen forced himself to stay at the table. Although he was holding Echizen in place, Fuji would let him up if he thought the freshman was truly suffering from distress. He was sadistic, not cruel. Some people forgot that there was a world of difference between the two. He watched as Echizen finished eating the rolls. For someone else, just having watched a person eat wasabi sushi might have been enough. But Fuji wanted Echizen to remember this. He kept his hands on Echizen’s shoulders, holding him in place. Eventually the guy would crack. Fuji had more than enough patience to wait for that.

One minute turned to five minutes which rapidly turned to ten. All Echizen could think about was the fire in his mouth and the need to get rid of it somehow. He wanted to move, but he didn’t want to. He was caught in between two impossible choices-the fire in his mouth or the fire in Fuji’s eyes if he didn’t manage to stay put. The fire in his mouth was starting to get incredibly difficult to ignore. “Fuji, please,” he said, barely recognizing his own voice, “I need water.”

Fuji smirked. Oh yes. This was definitely fun. He’d never imagined when Echizen had told him about being masochistic that he would actually get to indulge in some of his own sadism. It had been implied, of course, but he hadn’t really believed it. Now he did. And now that he’d had a taste of it, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop. It was intoxicating. After Echizen’s admission, Fuji moved away from him and took a seat beside him at the counter. To his surprise and delight, Echizen didn’t get up to get water, even though by all accounts it seemed he was fine to do so.

“Please,” Echizen said again, turning his head to meet Fuji’s eyes.

Fuji motioned to the pot on the stove. “Go get your food.” He ignored the plea for water completely. Water wouldn’t dull the fire of wasabi sushi, but the food he’d made would help. The noodles from the ramen would help absorb the spice.

Echizen got off the barstool and made his way to the stove. He dished the food out into a bowl and took up residence at the counter again.

“You can eat,” Fuji said, hiding his amusement when Echizen just sat there, staring at the food. It seemed the trick with the wasabi sushi had gotten through to him the way Fuji had hoped.

Echizen dug in with zest, finishing the bowl of ramen in under three minutes.

Fuji smiled. “Still need water?” he asked, his tone amused.

Echizen blinked at him before understanding flooded him. “Not anymore. Thanks.”

“Mm.” Fuji took the dishes from Echizen and washed them quietly. Afterwards, he grabbed two Fantas out of the fridge and offered one to the freshman, who downed it almost instantly upon opening it. “What did your dad say?”

“Che. That he was glad to get rid of me.”

There was no hurt in Echizen’s tone, for which Fuji was grateful. “Perhaps you should have asked him to bring you some fresh clothes.”

“No way. The last place I want that man is anywhere near here.”

The vehemence in Echizen’s tone was surprising. Why was the guy so irritated at the idea of his dad bringing him clothes? Without that happening, Fuji would have to share some of his old stuff. Which wasn’t a problem, but it still begged the question of why Echizen was so worried. “Are you ashamed of something?” he asked. He hadn’t meant to actually ask the question, but now that it was out in the open, he might as well roll with it.

“Yeah. Him!”

Fuji raised an eyebrow.

“He shows up at our matches acting like a lunatic instead of just watching like normal parents do. He won’t ever play tennis seriously and he’s always reading some sort of perverted magazine where anyone can see them.”

Fuji chuckled, amused at the rant. He hadn’t expected Echizen to be talkative-he was incredibly reserved at school. Except, of course, when he was taunting someone with his skills on the court.

“What’s so funny?” he demanded, hands on his hips.

It was so absurdly petulant that Fuji couldn’t be angry, even though the tone Echizen had used was much worse than just simply disrespectful. “You are,” he said, reaching out to ruffle Echizen’s hair.

Echizen scowled and went to fix his hair after Fuji moved his hand. “Che,” he said, falling into a sullen silence. “Speaking of tennis, do you want to play a match?”

Fuji shook his head. “We’re not playing tennis while you’re at my house.”

“What? Why?”

The petulant tone was back. He was definitely a brat. “Because,” Fuji said, focusing intently on Echizen. “You said that the only hobby you had was tennis. I want you to find something other than tennis that you enjoy.”

“Why? Just having tennis is good enough for me.”

“That’s what you think. But it’s all you’ve ever known.”

Echizen scowled, but under Fuji’s intense scrutiny, eventually relented. “Okay, fine. No tennis at your house. What are we going to do instead?”

Fuji smiled. “We have an entire weekend to figure that out.”

Chapter 6     Chapter Index     Chapter 8

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