Chapter 02

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.

“Evening, onee-san.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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 1     Chapter Index     Chapter 3

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