Chapter 03

“Where have you been?” Saeki asked, pushing himself off the wall of Fuji’s house that he’d been leaning against.

Fuji nearly jumped out of his skin. With everything that had been going on, he’d forgotten that he’d invited Saeki over. “Busy,” he said, unlocking the door to his house.

“Doing what?” Saeki asked, following Fuji and Ryoma inside. “I thought you said you’d be back at three.”

“Aa,” Fuji said. “I had some unexpected business to take care of.” He wasn’t in the mood for an interrogation, but Saeki deserved answers. Especially if he’d been waiting outside for two hours.

Saeki raised an eyebrow. “Underground business?”

“Aa.”

Ryoma digested the exchange in silence, his lips tightening into a frown. “Saeki knows?”

Fuji sighed. “It’s not a big deal, Ryoma. We grew up together.” He really couldn’t handle the bratty behavior right now. He wanted to take a hot shower and relax. Going into that part of town took everything he had.

“It is a big deal,” Ryoma said. His eyes narrowed as he planted his hands on his hips. “I’m your lover, Syuusuke. And I’m still in the dark, pretty much, when it comes to your underground dealings. And don’t even try to bring up today to invalidate that. You know I’m right.”

“Hai,” Fuji said. “Saeki knows because we grew up together. I didn’t know how dangerous it was to share information when I was a child. I understand the dangers now. That means I want to protect you from them.” What would have come across at any other time in a tone that suggested arguing would lead to punishment came out instead in a tone that bespoke of how tired he was. Playing power games with people he couldn’t win against was discouraging at best.

“That-

Saeki clamped a hand over Ryoma’s mouth. “Leave it alone, Ryoma.” He nodded towards Fuji. “Can’t you tell he’s exhausted?”

Ryoma scowled, but did what he was told and took in Fuji’s appearance. His shoulders slumped when he realized that Saeki was right. He reached up and gently dislodged Saeki’s hand. “Gomen nasai,” Ryoma murmured.

Fuji sighed. “It’s an important concern, Ryoma. We’ll discuss it later. Right now, I need to take a shower and figure out what I’m going to do about Sora.”

Saeki’s eyes widened. “Sora?” he asked, unable to mask his surprise.

“Aa. She called in my debt,” Fuji said. “I had to take Ryoma to Tayumi’s.”

Saeki frowned. “No wonder you look like hell. What did he make you do?”

“I had to take forty-five lashes with Syuusuke’s belt,” Ryoma said, tone smug. “I’d say it was a good day.”

“You had to beat him in front of Tayumi?” Saeki asked, ignoring Ryoma’s tone. It seemed like their younger lover didn’t really understand the mental agony Syuusuke was suffering because of that.

“Aa,” Fuji said. “If I could have sent Ryoma to you, I would have. But he’s too curious for his own good; he would have followed me anyway.”

“That’s a habit that needs to be broken if we’re going to be dealing with Sora for any length of time,” Saeki said. “She’s not known for her kindness.”

“No, she’s not.”

“Che,” Ryoma said, plopping down on the couch. “You guys are over-reacting.”

Fuji’s shoulders tensed. “Deal with this, Saeki,” he said, tone hard. “I’m going to take a shower. When I get back, I expect Ryoma to understand the danger that we are all in.”

“Hai, Syuusuke-san,” Saeki said. It had been awhile since he’d seen Syuusuke reach the limits of his patience. The tensai disappeared upstairs, leaving Saeki to deal with Ryoma. “Did you enjoy it?” he asked.

“Enjoy what?” Ryoma asked, wary. He hadn’t missed Fuji’s short temper; he knew he needed to tread carefully, but he was distraught. Why hadn’t his lover trusted him with the same information that Saeki already knew? That was only part of it, though. He hadn’t been left alone for Saeki to discipline yet, but he knew that when Fuji had told Saeki to “deal with it,” some form of discipline would be involved.

“Did you like that Syu was forced into a situation where he had no choice but to beat you? That his power was stripped away from him?”

“What?” Ryoma asked, dumbfounded. “He’s hurt me in front of people before.” Why the hell was Saeki making a big deal out of this?

“Yeah,” Saeki said, “but he choose that. He didn’t have a choice here.”

“Sure he did,” Ryoma said. “He could hurt me or…” he trailed off, suddenly feeling guilty.

“Or what?” Saeki prompted. He wasn’t going to let Ryoma run away from the truth, no matter how ugly .
Ryoma shook his head, silent, as tears started to form in his eyes.

Saeki planted himself in front of Ryoma, leaning close to his lover. “Or what?” he asked, tone hard.

Ryoma’s shoulders shook. But he replied, because he didn’t want to risk the ire he saw building in Saeki’s eyes. “Or he could have let me die,” he said, the words coming out a whisper.

“What kind of choice is that?” Saeki asked. “To have to hurt your lover for someone else or let them die?”

“It isn’t one,” Ryoma said, the answer coming to his tongue more easily this time. Saeki held a dominant presence unlike Fuji’s; it made him want to obey quickly, because the man was a much firmer disciplinarian than Fuji. He’d proven that with the shock collar. Ryoma fingered his neck, suddenly missing the presence of the collar. When he was wearing that, at least, he understood where the lines lay that he shouldn’t cross.

“That’s right,” Saeki said. “There’s no choice. And Syuusuke is an emotional mess right now because he was forced to hurt you. And he enjoyed it. Because his sadism runs deeper than it should, in some respects. You know that. So what made you think it was a good idea to bring up another complex emotional problem when he’s still wrapping his head around the fact that he liked hurting you when he was forced to?”

Ryoma shrank back on the couch. He hadn’t given it any thought at all. He’d seen that Fuji was torn up after they’d gotten out of the alleys, but he’d thought that the man would bounce back. He was Fuji—resilient and unbreakable. “But-”

“No,” Saeki said, laying a finger on Ryoma’s lips. “Don’t speak. I know you’re upset because I know more about the underground than you do. But that’s a fact of life; we spent the first ten years of our life being best friends. He isn’t trying to hide it from you; he’s trying to protect you from the dangers.”

“I can handle it,” Ryoma said, but his voice shook.

“I don’t know if you can,” Saeki said. “Sora is an assassin. That means she kills people, Ryoma. There’s no joke there. And the only way Syuusuke can keep us safe is to give up his power for her use. He has to let himself be used. Consider the implications of that.”

“I don’t want to,” Ryoma whispered. “It makes me sick to think about it.”

“I know. It isn’t a position either one of us want Syuusuke to be in. But he put himself in this position to protect you, Ryoma. Think about that before you start accusing him of keeping you in the dark for selfish reasons.”

“Gomen nasai,” Ryoma said. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“No,” Saeki agreed, “you weren’t.”

Ryoma took the silent rebuke for what it was and slid off the couch into a kneel at Saeki’s feet. “What would you have me do, Saeki-san?” he asked, barely managing to choke out the words in a whisper.

“I’m not going to punish you for your feelings” Saeki said, taking the seat that Ryoma had abdicated. “I was asked to make you aware of the situation. I think that has been accomplished.”

Fuji came back downstairs and smiled at the sight that greeted him. Ryoma was curled at Saeki’s feet while Saeki played idly with the freshman’s hair. And if the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes, the others didn’t call him on it.

Chapter 2     Chapter Index     Chapter 4

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