Chapter 11

Saeki emerged from the crowd. He stopped in front of Ryoma and held out a hand. Wordlessly, Ryoma allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.

“Let’s go,” Saeki said.

Ryoma took a deep breath. “Saeki-san, I need to buy something before we go.” His voice shook as he spoke.

Saeki’s black eyes drilled into Ryoma as he searched for any hidden nuance. Finding nothing, he gave a slight nod. “What do you need to buy?”

Ryoma swallowed. “Soap, Saeki-san,” he said, somehow managing to keep his voice from breaking.

Oh. Sudden understanding flooded Saeki. “What did you do?”

Ryoma ducked his head, flushing. “Syuusuke didn’t like my tone.”

Two minutes passed before Saeki spoke again. When he did, his voice was tight with suppressed emotion, his eyes firmly locked on Ryoma. “You disrespected him today, of all days. Why?”

Ryoma shivered at the anger Saeki was barely keeping in check and lowered his eyes in abject submission. He had one punishment waiting for him already; he didn’t want to invite another. “Because sometimes my mouth runs ahead of my brain, Saeki-sama,” he said.

Saeki frowned at the man in front of him. “That,” he said, “is an understatement. Go buy your soap.”

Ryoma nodded once and turned towards the pharmacy.

“And be quick about it!” Saeki said, voice sharp.

Ryoma jumped and quickened his pace. He hurried through the aisles until he found the soap that Fuji preferred. He got stalled in line, however, and murmured a quick apology when he came back outside and found a scowling Saeki.

“What is so special about this soap?” Saeki asked, taking the bag from Ryoma and peering inside as they started walking towards Fuji’s house.

“It’s unique,” Ryoma said. “I’m sure you’ve heard of edible soap, but this particular company decided to experiment with non-toxic chemicals until they could produce any sort of flavor you can imagine. Most of the flavors are meant to mimic delicacies and taste great, but there are a few where they went for humor.”

“I take it their sense of humor is questionable,” Saeki said, tone dry.

“Aa. They were going for practical jokes, but the tastes aren’t jokes. The flavor Fuji seems to favor is the charcoal one.”

Saeki understood instantly. “Because coal is awarded to bad children. He is sadistic enough to find amusement in that.”

“Hai.”

“Have you always been this disrespectful?” Saeki asked, tone curious. He waited for his lover to respond as they walked. But as one block turned into two blocks and then into five blocks, he realized that Ryoma had no intention of answering his question. Saeki lengthened his stride and then planted himself in front of Ryoma, forcing the freshman to come to a halt or risk running him over.

“Saeki-san, we’re going to be late,” Ryoma said, voice coming out in its typical drawl. While he wasn’t looking forward to what awaited him at Fuji’s, his temperament would never change.

“We can always make use of this soap on the way to Fuji’s if you have an objection,” Saeki said, letting his irritation bleed into his voice. He watched with satisfaction as Ryoma’s eyes began to widen in realization. “When I ask you a question, you answer it. Clear?”

“Hai, Saeki-san. Gomen nasai. I don’t remember the question,” Ryoma said, wincing as he admitted as much. Why couldn’t he keep himself together today?

“Respect,” Saeki said sharply. “Have you always lacked it?”

Ryoma shuddered at the barbed words. “No, Saeki-san. You and Syuusuke are the only ones who find me disrespectful.”

Saeki raised an eyebrow. “I find that hard to believe,” he said, resuming his place beside Ryoma so they could continue walking.

Ryoma gave a dry laugh. “Yes, well, I grew up in America. What is considered rude in Japan is considered polite over there. Direct, blunt words are favored over the subtle ones used here. Being honest is favored over being sly. So adjusting to what you and Fuji expect of me—namely, to act like someone who has lived in this country since birth—is incredibly difficult for me. Because I didn’t grow up here, I don’t have that same sensibility. I come across as rude, arrogant, and obnoxious here where in America everyone is like that.”

“Hmm,” Saeki said. “Are you trying to say that we aren’t being fair to you because you grew up in another country?”

Ryoma shuddered at the underlying menace in those words. “No, Saeki-sama. I’m sorry if my words implied that, because they weren’t meant to.”

“If that’s the case,” Saeki asked, “shouldn’t the answer to my question have been yes, Ryoma-kun?”

Ryoma flinched. He’d forgotten that Saeki could wield words on par with Fuji. “Gomen nasai, Saeki-sama. May I reword the answer to your question?”

“Hmm. I think not,” Saeki said. “I believe Syuusuke might find it interesting to know that you find our expectations to be unfair.”

His mouth going dry, Ryoma dry-swallowed a few times as he tried to find words to drive back the sudden panic he felt. “I don’t find your expectations of me to be unfair, Saeki-sama,” he whispered.

“No?” Saeki asked. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” Ryoma said. He wanted to find more words—better words—to express himself, but they wouldn’t come to his mind. He liked that his lovers held him to such high expectations. Others might find that unfair, but Ryoma liked to be pushed to his limits and both Fuji and Saeki did that. But he couldn’t figure out a way to put those thoughts into words without making it sound like he found the expectations held of him to be unfair, so he stayed silent.

“Then I’ll ask you again,” Saeki said. “Have you always been disrespectful?”

Ryoma closed his eyes against the relief that threatened to overwhelm him. He was being given a second chance. “Hai, Saeki-sama.” He choked off the words that wanted to come after that simple answer, because they weren’t respectful and considering the precarious situation he was in…well, best not to chance it.

Saeki smiled. “Good thing you’re with us, then,” he said. He hefted the bag, drawing Ryoma’s attention to the soap. “I have a feeling Fuji will agree with me when I say that we will help correct your attitude.”

Ryoma eyed the bag with distaste, but the knowledge of what awaited him kept his tone civil and allowed him to give the appropriate response. “Hai, Saeki-sama. Arigatou.” He almost felt relief when he saw Fuji’s house come into view. At least he understood Fuji and could predict him, even if it was just a little. Saeki, on the other hand, was too unpredictable. It was unnerving.

Chapter 10     Chapter Index     Chapter 12

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