Chapter 08

Fuji yawned and stretched, sitting up in bed. He’d slept well so he was in a fairly decent mood. Looking around, he was a bit surprised to find Echizen in the center of the room, sitting with his hands under his legs. “Morning,” he said.

“Morning.”

“What are you doing?”

Echizen flushed and turned his head away. “Keeping myself away from your cacti.”

Concern rushed through Fuji at those words. Did that mean that he had already been messing with the cacti? He took a quick glance around the room, frowning when he saw the cactus on his desk turned a little to the side. “Did you touch them?” he asked, keeping his voice level. He didn’t think Echizen would lie to him, but it was important he find out. He watched as Echizen’s shoulders hunched, making it seem like he was trying to force himself into a ball in order to become as small a target as possible. Seeing that made Fuji frown a little-even if Echizen had touched one of his cacti, he wasn’t going to fly into some sort of manic rage. There was a story there, but he would have to wait to find out what it was.

“I turned the one on your dresser a bit, but I didn’t touch the plant itself. Just the pot.”

“Hm.” Fuji stood and walked over to the cacti in question. He reached down to turn the pot back the way he’d had it facing before and snagged his palm on one of the needles. “Ah,” he said, staring down at the plant with a frown. “There’s blood on it.” He’d all but forgotten about Echizen in the face of the irritation he felt at himself. He knew how to handle his cacti without getting hurt, but he’d acted without thought.

“I didn’t touch it, Fuji, I swear,” Echizen said.

That was the first time Fuji had ever heard Echizen sound scared and it tore at him. He hadn’t done anything to warrant being feared. He turned to look at the freshman, who was as pale as a sheet and rocking in place. The plants could wait. Getting Echizen calmed down enough so that he didn’t go into shock was much more important. He walked over to Echizen and took a seat in front of him, a bit surprised when Echizen flinched a way.

Echizen looked up at Fuji, desperate to be believed. He hadn’t touched the cacti. He’d seen how much Fuji cared for the plants last night. He’d only moved the pot a little because his curiosity got the better of him-it was why he’d sat down in the middle of the room, pinning his hands to the ground. He had no real desire to go against Fuji’s wishes, but a part of him wondered what would happen. Right now, that was less important than being believed. Because he hadn’t touched the plant. “I swear, Fuji, I didn’t touch it.”

Fuji reached out and grabbed Echizen’s hands, pulling them to his lap to rub soothing circles on the back of them. “I know, Echizen. Shh, it’s okay. I believe you.” He met Echizen’s eyes with his own, doing his best to reflect everything he was feeling. And none of what he was feeling was anger. He was just concerned. Echizen never flipped out like this. The freshman was close to hyperventilating. Something had happened to the guy-something bad.

Forcing himself to breathe, Echizen’s trembling finally stopped as he managed to calm himself. Fuji wasn’t angry at him. And he had believed him about the cacti. So then why had he made the remark about the blood? That had been the thing that set him off-maybe he had grazed himself on the plant when he’d moved the pot. But that would mean he had touched the cacti, even if only accidentally, but he’d been incredibly careful not to do so. “What about the blood on it?” he asked. He needed to know.

Fuji smiled at him sheepishly and held up his own hand, displaying the cut on the side of his palm. “It’s mine.”

With that said, Echizen completely relaxed. There was no danger here, no tricks. Relief coursed through him. “I thought you knew how to handle them,” he said.

Fuji grinned as the Echizen he knew made a reappearance. The scared, distraught man he’d been reassuring was so markedly different from the bratty one he knew that it had really brought home to him how much he still didn’t know about him. It also made him realize that his protective nature was kicking in-he didn’t want anyone to be able to harm Echizen. “I do. Most of the time.”

“Just not today?”

“Apparently not.”

“Hm. So even you make mistakes sometimes.”

For that, Fuji flicked Echizen’s leg hard enough to sting. He was such a brat. The freshman grinned at him without repentance. Fuji’s mind turned over what had just happened. Something bad had happened to Echizen and he was going to have to ask what it was. He didn’t want there to be another episode like this, with Echizen so scared he could barely breathe. “What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why did you freak out on me?” Fuji asked, keeping his voice low and soothing. He’d heard the slight edge of panic in Echizen’s voice and he didn’t want to cause the guy to flip out on him again.

“Che. No reason.”

Fuji frowned. Usually he didn’t press when someone didn’t want to talk about their past, but this was too important to ignore. “I know there’s a reason. I wouldn’t ask you to tell me, but I don’t want something like this to happen again. I don’t enjoy seeing you terrified.”

“I…alright. Just…give me a moment.”

“Take all the time you need.”

When Echizen started talking about, his voice was low but it carried well. “I learned that it was different to be masochistic a couple years ago when I was in America. There was a guy, Rick Matthews, who introduced me to the idea of sadism.” He paused for a long moment, gathering the strength he needed to tell this story. “I didn’t understand then that there’s a difference between sadism and cruelty.”

“Most people don’t,” Fuji said. It was a very common misconception that sadist meant cruel and the word got used in ways it shouldn’t have been used. Enjoying watching others get hurt as well as hurting someone wasn’t the same thing as watching others being harmed and enjoying that. The first was entertaining and fun…but harming someone was beyond sadistic-it was just cruel. There was never any fun there.

“Rick and I dated for about a year. At first, everything was fine. But as time went on, he became more demanding and less forgiving of mistakes.” Echizen drew his knees up to his chest. “He had a scarf that belonged to his mom-she’d passed away some time before-and I was forbidden to touch it. He kept it in his closet on a hanger.” He took a couple moments to calm himself before he continued. Telling anyone this story was incredibly difficult, but it was even more difficult because he was telling it to Fuji…the one person he’d liked since Rick. It made it hard. But he knew it needed to be told…he’d just hoped to have a little more time before telling it.

Fuji sat in utter stillness, focused intently on Echizen. He would step in if his distress got too bad and he started hyperventilating. That was the last thing Fuji wanted to cause. But Echizen’s over-reaction to his words about the cactus was concerning. He didn’t want the freshman to be afraid of him, especially when he’d done nothing to warrant that fear.

“I went over to his house after school one day and the scarf had fallen off the hanger. I knew that he didn’t want it to get dirty, but he’d also told me not to touch it. I decided to put it back on the hanger. It seemed better to get in trouble for moving it than to let it get dirty. When he got to the room and saw that I’d touched it, he went ballistic.”

Fuji had to look away to hide how angry those words made him. Something had happened alright and he was none too pleased about it. He felt his hands begin to clench into fists before forcing them to relax. Showing his anger right now would only serve to frighten Echizen and that was the last thing he wanted to do.

Seeing that Fuji wasn’t condemning him, Echizen breathed a silent sigh of relief. That had been one of his biggest concerns. “I won’t go into details but he put me in the hospital. He’s the biggest reason we came back to Japan.”

“What did you tell your family?” Fuji asked, focusing on something besides how much he wanted to hurt the person who had hurt Echizen. That person was an entire continent away-dwelling on that wouldn’t be wise.

“The truth. They know about me being masochistic and exactly what happened between me and Rick.”

“And your dad is okay with you being over here?” Fuji asked, feeling more concerned than ever. If Echizen’s family was aware of everything, then that meant they would be aware of the fact Fuji himself was sadistic. After Echizen had been put in the hospital, Fuji just didn’t understand how it was okay with his dad for Echizen to be over here.

“Why wouldn’t he be?”

“Because the last guy you were with put you in the hospital, I’d imagine.”

Echizen had the decency to at least look a bit embarrassed. “You’re not like Rick.”

“No, I’m not. But I am sadistic and that has to worry him.”

“I don’t care.”

Fuji scowled. Sometimes Echizen was too much of a brat for his own good. It was stupid to purposefully worry his family after something so severe had happened to him. He stood and grabbed his cell phone off the desk, dropping it into Echizen’s lap. “Invite him to dinner.”

“I don’t want him here.”

Fuji dropped into a low crouch, bringing his face within an inch of Echizen’s and focused his eyes intently on the other’s. “You may not care, but I am not going to allow your father to think I’m another Rick waiting to happen. You will call him and invite him to dinner or you will go home instead. Those are your only options.” That said, he stepped back out of Echizen’s personal space.

Echizen stared down at the phone in his hands, weighing the options he’d been given. He really didn’t want his father anywhere near Fuji because he knew his dad was concerned. He glanced back up at Fuji, but his face was unreadable. The decision really was up to him. With a small sigh, he dialed the number to his house.

“Hello?” Nanako answered.

“Put dad on.”

“One second.”

A moment later, his dad’s voice came through the phone. “Ryoma?”

“Dad. Fuji asked me to invite you to dinner tonight.”

“What time?”

Echizen looked to Fuji and relayed the question. “Around seven.”

Fuji listened in amused silence as Echizen relayed directions to his house to his father. He was relieved Echizen had chosen to do ask he’d asked. Fuji was enjoying the time they were spending together and he hadn’t wanted to see it end so abruptly. Somewhere between last night and this morning, he’d realized that he wanted to be more than just friends with Echizen, even if it meant putting up with habits he might find obnoxious.

After Echizen’s phone call was over with, the two of them spent the time before dinner playing card and board games. Echizen wasn’t very good at any of them, but it had been fun to teach him since he was such a fast learner. He’d never be a professional shogi player, that was for sure, but he had the potential to be at least a decent player. Fuji glanced at the clock after their last game and saw that it was time for him to start making food. His mother and sister had left earlier that afternoon, saying they were going to go spend the rest of the weekend with a cousin. To Fuji, it had been obvious that the two of them just wanted to let him have time alone with his friend, but he was grateful for their consideration. “I better get started on dinner,” he said.

Echizen looked up from where he was sitting, pieces from at least a dozen different games scattered around him. “Che. I’ll clean this up by myself,” he said, annoyance clear in his tone.

Fuji laughed a little. “I’m sure you can handle it.” He left the room then, the little annoyed mutterings Echizen was making as he started cleaning the room serving as a great source of entertainment. It would be easy for someone who didn’t appreciate Echizen to get mad at that type of attitude, but Fuji just found it endearing. The guy would grumble under his breath, but he’d do what he’d been asked to do. And that was all that mattered.

So involved in cooking, Fuji didn’t notice the doorbell ring. What clued him in was Echizen running full force down the stairs to the door. It was such an odd sight that Fuji almost forgot to stir. “Echizen,” he called sharply. “Don’t run in the house.”

Echizen turned to him, face flushed. “Sorry. The bell’s been ringing for the last five minutes.”

“Well let him in. My hands are a bit occupied.” With that, he turned back to his cooking, doing his best to calm his own nerves. He hadn’t said anything to Echizen, but meeting the guy’s father was a nerve-wracking idea. It meant one more person seeing the truth of his sadism-a truth he kept carefully concealed. And to top that off, Echizen’s father had watched his son hospitalized by someone who shared his same…no, he would not think that. He couldn’t think that. He was not Rick and he was not like him. He didn’t harm people like that. It wasn’t in his nature. Taking a deep, silent breath, he set the table and put the food out. That done, he washed and dried his hands and made his way out to the foyer.

“I’m Fuji Syuusuke. I’m glad you could come.” He held out his hand, waiting for the other to shake it.

Echizen’s father looked at him a long moment, cool and assessing, before he clasped his hand in a firm handshake. “Echizen Nanjiroh. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Fuji led the way into the kitchen and everyone took a seat at the table. They dished out their own portions of food before he decided to speak again. He had needed the time it took walking to the kitchen to calm his nerves. “I hope you’ve only heard good things.”

“Most of them have been good.”

“Mm.”

Echizen looked from Fuji to his father, trying to think of a way to break the awkward tension that had arisen between them. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders. He’d just be himself. The two of them could fight if they wanted to. “Che,” he said, disgusted. “Stop acting like I’m glass.”

That startled Fuji into a laugh. He was being rather ridiculous.

Nanjiroh spoke up then, his eyes intent on his son. “It is hard to do that when the last person you were with put you in the hospital.”

“Fuji’s not like Rick.”

“Isn’t he?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Stop being a brat, Ryoma. I know that the reason you liked Rick was because he liked hurting you. I was fine with that until it went too far and you know it. So you liking Fuji has to be for some of the same reason.”

Echizen scowled at his father across the table before he dropped his eyes in acknowledgment. He couldn’t lie about that.

The argument between Echizen and his father helped soothe Fuji’s nerves. Ironic, that the more tension there was between other people, the less nervous he himself felt. Still, he didn’t want to be responsible for a rift between the two of them. So he steeled his resolve and spoke up, focusing Echizen’s father’s attention on himself. “He is interested in me because I’m a sadist, yes.”

Echizen scowled at Fuji while his dad blanched at the frank admission. “I didn’t want to tell him that.”

Fuji shrugged. “It’s not your prerogative to decide what your dad knows and what he doesn’t.” He turned to Echizen’s father. “As I was saying, it’s true that I’m a sadist.”

Echizen started to speak, but Fuji silenced him with a look. This conversation was between him and Echizen’s dad.

Nanjiroh frowned at him. “Knowing that, how can I trust you with Ryoma?”

“I am still sitting here,” Echizen interjected.

Fuji stood and, with one fluid motion took the plate from Echizen and walked towards the trash with it. He’d already warned the freshman once.

Echizen watched with growing horror as Fuji made his way towards the trash. Understanding dawned on him. “Wait, Fuji, I wasn’t finished with that.”

“Mm. I wasn’t finished with my conversation.” He began to scrape part of the food into the trash bin. Just enough to make a point. Echizen was sure to cave any moment now.

“I’m sorry,” Echizen said, “I’ll be quiet.”

Fuji turned to him with an assessing gaze, fork still poised on the plate. Satisfied with what he saw in Echizen’s eyes, he returned the plate (which was now a bit less than half full) and reclaimed his own seat at the table. The very act of doing something to enforce his control got rid of the last vestiges of his concerns about dealing with Echizen’s dad. Having such a relationship with someone was more than worth the hassle of dealing with their parents.

Nanjiroh looked both shaken and amused. “I thought for a minute you were going to hit him,” he said, quietly addressing Fuji.

“The thought never crossed my mind.”

“But you said you were a sadist.”

“I am.”

“Excuse me if I’m still confused.”

Fuji spent a few minutes eating, trying to think of a good way to explain it. He watched Echizen eat his own food in a sullen silence-he was pouting. That made Fuji grin a little. The guy’s bratty behavior knew no bounds. Instead of going straight into an explanation, he turned to Echizen. “Would you like to speak?” he asked.

Echizen gave him a curt nod.

“Then explain to your dad why I don’t use to pain to punish you.”

“Che.” Echizen paused. “Do I have to?”

The petulance in his tone made Fuji chuckle a little. “I have more wasabi sushi if you don’t want to.”

Echizen blanched, then turned to his father. “I like being hurt. If he hits me, it’s not punishment, and thus not effective.”

Nanjiroh frowned. “I still don’t get it.”

Fuji put his fork down and turned to stare directly at the man. “You’re worried that I’ll do what Rick did and your son will end up in the hospital.”

“Yes.”
“There’s a huge difference between me and that person.” The very idea of being compared to Rick was sickening.

“What’s that?”

“I care for him.”

“Rick said the same.”

“Mm.” Fuji digested that in silence, trying to think of a way to convince the guy he wasn’t going to harm Echizen. Turning to the freshman, he asked, “How long did you and Rick date?”

Echizen glanced up in surprise. He swallowed his food before answering. “About a year.”

“How long were you dating before the sadism and masochism became part of it?”

Echizen flushed. “Six months.”

“How did it come up?” Fuji asked, trying to figure out what exactly had happened to cause Rick to find it necessary to hurt Echizen to the point he ended up in the hospital. He couldn’t ask Rick-he wouldn’t if he saw him. Actually, if he ever saw the guy, he’d probably hospitalize him. He was pissed that someone had hurt Echizen so badly.

Echizen’s gaze darted between Fuji and his father. He really didn’t want to discuss this in front of his dad. The look in Fuji’s eye told him he didn’t have much of a choice. “We were wrestling one day and he ended up grabbing my arm hard enough to bruise it. It was the first time he realized he liked causing pain. Things just sorta progressed from there.”

“When he hurt you, did he make sure you wore clothes that covered the marks he put on you?”

“Yes.” Echizen flushed. That wasn’t something he liked to talk about. When Rick had done that, it had made him feel dirty, like he was supposed to be ashamed of the fact he liked being hurt. He still hadn’t quite recovered from that, though he hid it well.

Nanjiroh frowned. “Classic sign of someone being abusive. I already knew that.”

Fuji shook his head. “That’s not it. I mean, yes, Rick did become abusive, but if I understand right, he required Echizen to cover the marks before it had gotten that bad.” At Echizen’s nod, he continued, “He did it because he was ashamed.”

Nanjiroh smiled vindictively. “Good. After what he did to Ryoma, he better be.”

Shaking his head in frustration, Fuji sighed. “That’s not what I mean. He wanted Echizen to wear heavy clothes to conceal the marks because he was ashamed that he enjoyed putting them there. He couldn’t stand to see what he’d done because he couldn’t accept being sadistic.”

Dawning slowly flared in Nanjiroh’s eyes. He’d never looked at the situation quite like that before.

“Do you understand now?” Fuji asked, hoping desperately that the answer was yes. It was getting harder and harder to think of a way to make Echizen’s father understand.

“Che. He’s too thick-headed,” Echizen said. He’d finished eating, so there was no risk of his food being taken away from him. Besides, the tension between the two of them was grating on his nerves. He’d risk wasabi sushi if it meant less difficult conversation.

“Oy! You’re more thick-headed than I am!” Nanjiroh said.

“Maybe. But at least I don’t read smut where everyone can see it.”

“What? I don’t read-

“Then what are those magazines Nanako says she’s always catching you with?”

“They’re tennis-

“Tennis magazines don’t have pictures of scantily dressed girls-

“You wanna bet?”

“Against a perverted wanna-be monk?”

“Wanna-be? That’s it, get your racquet.”

Echizen grew quiet. He pushed himself away from the table and washed his dishes in silence.

“Ryoma?” Nanjiroh asked, concerned. His son never stopped mid-snark.

Echizen turned to his dad with a weak smile. He wanted to play tennis but Fuji had said it wasn’t allowed while he was at his house. He felt torn.

Fuji saw the conflict Echizen was feeling through the tense set of his shoulders. He knew he’d set a hard rule for the freshman. All that remained to see was what Echizen chose to do.

“I can’t,” Echizen said softly.

“Hmm? What’s this? Running away-

“It’s my rule. No tennis at my house,” Fuji said, cutting in smoothly. No one was going to taunt Echizen for this, not even his father.

“Oh? And what would you do if he played anyway?”

Fuji frowned. “You don’t seem to believe I won’t harm your son.”

“Well, you did say you were a sadist.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose, praying for patience. “I am. But unlike Rick, I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t express it openly because it would make it difficult for other people to work with me, but I don’t feel like I’m doing something inherently wrong when I do something sadistic.”

“I’m not convinced.”

The last of Fuji’s patience fled. He was fed up with this. He could think of only one thing to do to make Nanjiroh understand and it would probably piss the man off. Not to mention he would prefer to do it without the man around. But needs must, so he put aside his concern and strode over to the sink. He grabbed Echizen around the waist and flipped them both so that were both facing Nanjiroh, who was halfway out of his chair. Echizen let out a small yelp at being grabbed, but didn’t struggle as he was turned or attempt to break free of the hold, for which Fuji found himself feeling absurdly grateful.

Fuji tightened the arm he held around Echizen’s waist and leaned down to murmur in the freshman’s ear. “Take your shirt off.”

Echizen quirked an eyebrow at him, grinning. “That’s going to be hard with you holding me.”

Fuji grinned back and loosened his hold enough for Echizen to maneuver comfortably.

“Just a question,” the freshman asked, “but why am I getting half naked in front of my father?”

“I’m proving a point.”

“Che.”

Fuji tightened his grip again once Echizen had followed his directions and looked straight at Nanjiroh, who was still poised halfway out of the chair, looking like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to sit back down or leap to his son’s defense. “You don’t trust me,” Fuji said, addressing the man.

“No, I don’t.”

“I’m going to show you the difference between me and Rick.”

Nanjiroh paled as understanding flared in his eyes. “Does that mean-

“Yes. I am about to cause him pain.” At those words, he felt Echizen stiffen and then relax in his arms. It made Fuji wish that they could do this in private, without the interfering eyes of Echizen’s father. He pushed that aside. Showing the man that he really wasn’t going to endanger Echizen was more important than the sanctity of privacy.

“But why?” Nanjiroh asked, voice hoarse. “He’s not done anything wrong.”

Fuji smiled. “I know. This isn’t punishment.”

“Then what is it?”

“Che. The old man’s forgotten I enjoy being hurt.”

Fuji flicked Echizen’s ear in warning. “Behave.” He turned to Nanjiroh. “He’s right, though. This is a reward.”

“Reward? But you’re going to-

“Just watch. If he seems to be in life threatening danger, feel free to intervene.”

Nanjiroh scowled.

Fuji turned his attention to the person in his arms. “Tell me if you need me to stop.”

“Kay.”

With a small grin, Fuji brought both hands to rest underneath Echizen’s ribcage. In one fluid motion, he raked both sets of nails down Echizen’s chest, leaving a score of dark red marks behind. He immediately settled his arms around Echizen’s waist as the freshman yelped. It had been fast and sudden and Fuji eyed the marks he’d made with an inner glow of satisfaction. Echizen was breathing hard in his arms. The freshman opened his mouth to speak, but the attempt was interrupted by his father.

“That’s enough, Fuji. I can’t stand here and watch you torture Ryoma.”

Echizen lifted his head off Fuji’s chest and held his father’s gaze. “He’s not torturing me. I liked that.”

Nanjiroh frowned. “I don’t-

“You don’t believe me, right? What will take for you to see that I enjoy being hurt?”

“Him doing whatever he wants to you certainly won’t convince me.”

“What if I ask him to hurt me? Would you believe it then?”

“If you ask him? I would have to accept that-

“Then watch.” Echizen turned to Fuji and made eye contact. “Would you hurt me some more, Fuji? Scratch me again the same way as before?”

Fuji watched Nanjiroh struggle to come to terms with hearing his son asking to be hurt before he turned to the freshman in his arms. “If I scratch you along the same marks I just made, I might break the skin.”

“I don’t care.”

Tapping Echizen’s nose with a finger and said, “If I break skin, the cuts could get infected.”

“Che. It’s worth it.”

“No, it’s not.”

Echizen pouted at him.

Fuji laughed. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t hurt you more. Step forward some.”

Echizen did so, crossing his arms defiantly as he glared at his father, daring him silently to make some sort of comment.

Despite himself, Nanjiroh chuckled a little. Ryoma was such a brat.

Fuji ignored the exchange between the two of them and focused on what he himself was doing. The first set of marks had been quick and he hadn’t had much of a chance to really enjoy inflicting them. This time, he was going to take it slow. Brow furrowed in concentration, he buried his nails in the flesh of Echizen’s shoulders and began to dig them down his back at an excruciatingly slow pace, knowing he was leaving fire in his wake. When he started, Echizen lost whatever defiance he had and his arms fell to his sides, his hands clenching in and out of fists. When Fuji got about a third of the way down his back, Echizen spoke up.

“F-Fuji, it hurts.”

Fuji grinned. Of course it did. “I know it does. Do you want me to stop?”

“N-no.”

His grin widened and he continued his journey down Echizen’s back, relishing the control the guy was giving him. Causing the pain was fun, but it wasn’t nearly as intoxicating as the fact Echizen was letting him hurt him. The two of them were so caught up in each other that they almost forgot about Nanjiroh. That was remedied when the man ‘ahem ‘ed to get their attention.

It startled Fuji so much that he dug in a bit deeper than he should have and Echizen yelped. Fuji swore as he watched blood blossom from the last spots he’d had his fingernails. “Ahhh. I broke the skin. We need to clean these before they get infected.”

Echizen turned to stare at him in silence. “Where’s the alcohol?” he asked finally.

Fuji blinked at him. “I’ll get it. You sit at the counter.”

“But I can clean them myself.”

“Not well enough to make sure they’re not infected. Now sit.” Fuji pushed him gently towards a stool and retrieved what he needed to clean the cuts, mentally berating himself for his clumsiness.

Nanjiroh spoke while Fuji was patching Ryoma up. “I believe you.”

“Believe what, exactly?”

“That you’re not like Rick.”

“What clued you in?” Fuji found himself genuinely curious. He’d punished and rewarded Echizen under his father’s scrutiny and he wasn’t sure which of the two had made an impact. But he’d had to do something. He wouldn’t have been able to live with the knowledge that Echizen’s dad thought him to be like the man who’d put his son in the hospital.

“The…how you didn’t do what Ryoma asked out of concern for him. And..this,” he gestured towards Fuji, who was still bandaging the cuts. “I didn’t expect you to be worried if you went too far.”

Fuji said nothing for a long moment. “Enjoying pain doesn’t make me a monster.”

“Are you always going to be this concerned?”

“When I hurt him for our mutual pleasure, I intend to take all necessary precautions.”

“And if he tells you to stop?”

“Then I’ll stop. It’s a consensual arrangement, after all.”

“Hey. I hate to interrupt your bonding time here, but does that mean you’re saying yes?” Echizen asked, turning his head to meet Fuji’s gaze.

Fuji smiled. He never had answered Echizen when he’d asked about dating. He leaned forward at an awkward angle and claimed Echizen’s lips with his own. “Yes,” he said.

From behind them, Nanjiroh made retching sounds.

“Oh, grow up, Dad,” Echizen said, smiling shyly at Fuji.

Nanjiroh stepped up beside them and Fuji turned to look at him. “For what’s it worth, I’ll give the two of you my blessing. But if you hurt him-

“Dad, go home already. You’re being annoying.”

“Like you’re one to talk.” Nanjiroh looked at Fuji. “On second thought, you can keep him. He’s too bratty for me.”

Fuji grinned. “He is a brat.”

“Che. Sitting right here,” Echizen said, waving a hand between them.

Fuji snagged it with his own hand and held it still. “But he’s my brat.”

Echizen shivered under the look Fuji was giving him, the promise in his eyes taking his breath away.

Chapter 7     Chapter Index     Chapter 9

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