Chapter 06

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.

“Echizen Ryoma.”

“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 5     Chapter Index     Chapter 7

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