Chapter 20

Fuji took Saeki upstairs and stored his tennis equipment in his closet. “So,” he said. “Why did you really want to spend the night?”

Saeki raised an eyebrow and shrugged a shoulder. The smile he gave was empty and remorseless. “I need to understand this,” he said. He gestured between them. “You tried. Ryoma tried. I can’t wrap my head around it.”

Fuji tapped a foot. “What is so difficult about it?”

Saeki gave a slight finch; he noted the impatient tick. But he wasn’t going to be intimidated. That wasn’t who he was anymore. “The way I understand it,” he said, ignoring the question, “is this. You tell Ryoma what to do and when to do it. You hurt him for your mutual pleasure. Somewhere along the way, the two of you fell in love.”

Fuji folded his arms and leaned against the doorway. “Go on,” he said with his eyes closed and his lips drawn tight. He didn’t like being evaded.

Saeki shivered. He knew what that look meant. If he didn’t get to the point soon…But no, this was important! He wouldn’t allow Fuji to intimidate him like this. “Ok,” he said. “Your relationship is perfect. Why invite me into it? I’m virtually a stranger to Ryoma. And to you, for that matter. It’s been seven years since we were close friends.”

Fuji opened his eyes and stood up as consternation furrowed his brow. “I thought you wanted this, too,” he said.

“No,” Saeki said. “I mean, yes, I do want it. But that’s not the problem. Why me, Syuusuke? Where do I fit in? I’m nobody. I mean nothing to either one of you.”

“Sae, you’re as important to me as Ryoma. I look at you and see what I almost destroyed. You are the person who kept me going through the dark, even when you weren’t around. It was your name I called when they tortured me,” Fuji said, unable to meet Saeki’s eyes as his own filled with tears. “You were the one I counted on to keep me strong.”

Saeki reacted to that revelation by striding across the room and gathering Fuji in his arms. “I never knew,” he said, talking into Fuji’s shoulder.

Fuji swallowed and wiped his eyes as he leaned into the hug. “I never told anyone,” he said. “I couldn’t. Everyone expects me to be strong all the time. Back then, you were my strength. I saw a chance to reclaim that strength and couldn’t resist.”

“What about Ryoma?”

“He doesn’t know about the torture,” Fuji said. “I can’t tell him. I can never tell him.”

“You’ll have to eventually.”

“Why?” Fuji asked. He was so tired of acting strong all the time. Even monsters need support sometimes. And Saeki had never betrayed him. That had been a misunderstanding. Before all that, Fuji had shared everything with Saeki because Sae had always known the best thing to do. They’d been best friends once.

“Because you’ll lose him if you don’t,” Saeki said, ever the voice of reason.

“But not today.”

“No,” Sae agreed. “Not today.”

Fuji found the strength to pull himself out of Saeki’s arms. The man had made a good point and Fuji’s momentary weakness wasn’t a reason to ignore it. The two of them had spent seven years apart. There was a lot of catching up to do, but more importantly, there were boundaries to establish. “You agreed to follow my rules,” Fuji said. “Why?”

Saeki smiled. “Because I wanted what you were offering and because I followed you for so long when we were younger.” He sighed. “I was willing to pay whatever price you wanted to be with you. I spent seven years obsessing over what I’d do when I saw you again. Needless to say, feelings developed.”

Fuji nodded, resolve strengthened. “Okay,” he said. “I know why you agreed and you know why I asked you. Anymore questions?”

“Yes,” Saeki said. “But they are ones I have to figure out the answers to myself.”

Fuji raised an eyebrow. “You’re talking about how you’re going to get close to Ryoma, aren’t you?”

Saeki flushed and ducked his head. “That obvious?”

Smiling, Fuji said, “No. I just know you. And I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

“I’m sure I will.”

“You know I’m not going to sleep with you tonight,” Fuji said. “It isn’t fair to Ryoma for us to enjoy ourselves while he’s at home stressing over his big game tomorrow.”

Saeki gaped. “I wasn’t expecting-

“I know. I’m being forthright.”

“Yeah, I got that memo. Also, that so wasn’t what I had in mind when I asked to spend the night.”

“Oh? I had it in mind.”

“Oh.”

“But I don’t want to hurt Ryoma like that. I want my first time with you to be his first time with you, too. Once we’re comfortable with that, it won’t seem like a big deal to do things with either one of you without the other of you.”

“Uh-huh. Syu, I just wanted to spend time with my friend. I’m not quite prepared for the rest of it yet. Still haven’t gotten my mind wrapped around it.”

Fuji shrugged. “For when you get it figured out, you know where I stand.”

“Right.”

“Now, you know Ryoma will win tomorrow, right? There’s no way Kentarou is going to beat him.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

The two of them argued about the match until they fell asleep, neither one of them willing to concede the point to the other. Fuji remembered thinking, as he fell asleep, how nice it was to have someone around who wasn’t afraid to argue with him. And also, how annoying.

Chapter 19     Chapter Index     Chapter 21

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