Chapter 08

After Saeki and Ryoma finished eating, they headed towards the pool hall. “How long has it been since you’ve played?” Saeki asked.

Ryoma shrugged. “A few months. Pool is more Syuusuke’s game than mine.”

Saeki chuckled. “Yeah, Syu always did like pool. I think it’s the one on one competition.” He needed to find a way to connect with Ryoma on an emotional level, because right now all the two of them had was the physical connection established by Syuusuke.

“Maybe,” Ryoma said. “Syuusuke’s hard to read.”

“Yeah,” Saeki said. “He is. So what got you interested in him in the first place?”

Ryoma flushed and ducked his head. They passed a convenience store and he slipped some change into the vending machine on the corner. He popped open the Fanta and took two large gulps before he found the courage to speak. “I wasn’t attracted to him by anything normal,” he said. He was unbalanced around Saeki, because he didn’t know anything about him.

“I wouldn’t expect normal to attract you,” Saeki said. “Considering Syuusuke is the furthest thing from normal that I can imagine.”

“Hai,” Ryoma said. He gestured to the park they were passing. “Would you mind if we skipped the pool hall, Saeki-san?” He flushed as he added the honorific. Around Syuusuke, he was obligated to obey Saeki because he’d agreed to it. But on a personal level, Saeki had yet to earn his submission. Still, better to start off right.

Saeki glanced sidelong at the freshman walking beside him, his Fanta gripped so tightly in his hand that his knuckles were turning white. “Sure. We can skip the pool hall. You going to answer my question?” he asked, keeping his tone mild. He didn’t like the amount of hesitation Ryoma was showing him, but he was patient. And he also understood that the reason for Ryoma’s hesitation was fear of the unknown.

“Hai,” Ryoma said. They walked to a picnic table and sat on opposite sides. “I don’t think Syuusuke even knows when I first started watching him.”

Saeki was silent, waiting for Ryoma to work up the courage to tell him the rest.

“I watched him play a few matches against our opponents, but I never saw him get serious. It made me curious, so I started watching him when I could. His actions and his words never added up.”

Saeki grimaced. He remembered how he’d found out about Syuusuke’s sadism. Ryoma’s story was oddly reminiscent of that. “How so?” he asked.

Ryoma chugged the rest of his Fanta and set the can on the table. “He’s always smiling. I thought it was a weird quirk, at first. But then I started paying attention to the rest of his body. The little tells he has when he’s angry or sad. Or even genuinely happy.” Ryoma looked down at the table in front of him. “Everything he doesn’t show on his face shows in the way he holds his hands.”

Saeki nodded. It wasn’t easy to spot Syuusuke’s miniscue tells, but once you learned to read them, it was much easier to stay on his good side. “And that’s what attracted you?” he asked.

Ryoma flushed. “Physically, yes. I used to imagine how his hands would feel—” He broke off, embarrassed, and cleared his throat. “Yes,” he said. “Once I realized that I could read his tells through how he moved his hands, I realized I liked him. But Saeki, I’ve been a sexual masochist for a long time. I knew it wouldn’t work if he didn’t have sadistic tendencies.”

Saeki chuckled. “And his fake smile fools everyone into thinking that he isn’t sadistic at all.”

“Hai. But then I watched him play that match against Mizuki.”

Saeki’s eyebrows creased in puzzlement. “I haven’t heard about that match.”

Ryoma grimaced. “Mizuki taught Syu’s brother a dangerous tennis skill. And he told Syuusuke to his face that winning a match was more important to him than Yuuta.”

Saeki flinched. Messing around with anyone Syuusuke cared about was unhealthy. “What did he do?” he asked.

Ryoma smirked. “He let Mizuki lead by 5 games then turned it around and won by 7.”

Saeki laughed. “That sounds like Syuusuke. So that’s when you knew for sure?”

Ryoma nodded. “Yeah. He noticed me then, too. That I was watching.”

“And?”

Ryoma grinned. “And here we are.”

Saeki smiled back. “Yeah,” he said. “So. Anything you want to ask me?”

Ryoma raised an eyebrow. “I have a hundred questions, Saeki-san. But most of them won’t get answers, since Syuusuke is determined to keep me in the dark about his past.”

Saeki pursed his lips. “He’s not trying to hurt you.”

“I know,” Ryoma said. “But I can make my own decisions about what I need to be protected from.”

“That may be true. But Syuusuke likes to protect the people he cares about. What’s so bad about letting him?”

“Because it’s a lie,” Ryoma said. “There’s something about his past Syuusuke is afraid to tell me because he’s afraid I’ll run from him.”

Saeki blinked and took a closer look at the man in front of him. While he’d seen Ryoma’s amazing tennis skills and his ability to submit flawlessly when he chose, it was the first time he’d gotten a glance into the man’s psyche. “Why do you want to know so badly you can’t wait until he’s ready to tell you?”

Ryoma flushed, but answered. “Because if he’s afraid of me running, I need to know sooner rather than later. If there’s even a chance that it will make me leave him, I need to know that now. Because if he waits until he’s sure it won’t hurt me, then it will kill him if it does.”

Saeki digested that for a long time, watching as Ryoma fiddled with his empty soda can. “If I tell you,” he said. “Syuusuke will never forgive me.”

Ryoma tilted his head and stared at him thoughtfully. “But you’d tell me, wouldn’t you?”

Saeki took a deep breath and nodded. “I would. If you asked me.”

“Why?” Ryoma asked. “You want to be with Syuusuke, too. And if you did that, if you told me, he’d shut you out of his life. Why would you risk that?”

Saeki grimaced. “That’s a hard question.”

“Che. You haven’t asked me any easy ones.”

Saeki chuckled. “Fair enough.” He took a deep breath and rested his palms on the table in front of him. “You’re right. I do want to be with Syuusuke. I want to be with you, too.” He realized in that moment how much he meant that. This man was seeing into him in ways no one else ever had. Making him admit to truths he didn’t want to acknowledge.

“So why?”

“Because,” Saeki said. “You make him happy. Even without me, the two of you would be happy together. I’m just an add-on, a part you don’t need. Maybe three of us makes it more fun, but I’m not necessary or integral to your happiness or his. So I’d tell you, if you asked.”

Ryoma rolled his eyes. “Saeki, no offense, but you’re an idiot.”

Saeki raised an eyebrow. “And how would I not take offense to that?” He kept his tone light, to show he was teasing, but inside his emotions were raging. What was Ryoma going to ask of him?

Ryoma placed a hand on top of Saeki’s. “We’re still figuring this out,” he said, voice soft. “But neither I nor Syuusuke find you dispensable. The three of us is still novel. We’re all still getting used to it. But never doubt, for one second, that you don’t have a place with us.”

Saeki swallowed hard and nodded once. “Okay,” he said. “Okay.”

Ryoma slid around the table and sat down beside Saeki, who automatically slid an arm around the man’s waist. Ryoma leaned his head back against Saeki’s chest and sat with him, watching the wind sway the leaves in the trees. Though he hadn’t figured out exactly where Saeki fit in, he believed with surety that there was a place for him with them.

Chapter 7     Chapter Index     Chapter 9

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