Chapter 15

Saeki made his way to the court without incident. He had intended to confront Ryoma upon arriving, since the freshman usually practiced alone. But he’d caught sight of someone he didn’t recognize and slowed to a stop just shy of the courts. He watched the stranger engage Ryoma in an intense match with a clinical eye from the side of the building he was leaning against, just out of sight of the two men.

He frowned. Something about the guy playing Ryoma didn’t sit right in his stomach. Had he seen him before? What was Ryoma doing going to a stranger for help, anyway? Weren’t him and Syuusuke good enough? Saeki’s hands clenched into fists at his side and he forced himself to take a couple of deep, calming breaths. Like Syuusuke, he didn’t believe in getting angry where he could be seen by others.

While Syuusuke believed that the angry person who lost their cool also lost their control of the situation, Saeki felt that anger distorted the truth of any situation. Before he leapt to any conclusions, he needed to know what was going on. As soon as Ryoma was finished dueling on the court—and that’s what it was, because the game those two were playing was nothing short of a fight—Saeki would confront him and figure out what to do from there.

The unfamiliar person (though there was a tickling presence in the back of Saeki’s mind whispering to him that heshould recognize him) lost the game when Ryoma hit a Drive B to him and ended the match. Ryoma didn’t shake hands with the guy, but he did give him a nod of acknowledgement, which wasn’t something the freshman did often. The action only served to increase Saeki’s curiosity.

And then Ryoma had packed up his tennis racquets and was headed his way. Saeki pushed himself off the wall and planted himself in his lover’s path. “Well,” he said. “Care to tell me what that was all about?”

Ryoma stumbled to a halt in front of him, eyes flashing wide with shock. “Saeki! What are you doing here?”

Saeki narrowed his eyes, enjoying the way Ryoma’s face flushed.

“Gomen. Saeki-sama, why are you here?” Ryoma asked, correcting himself before Saeki could reprimand him.

“Syuusuke asked me to check on you. He was worried.”

Ryoma, inexplicably, paled. “Kuso,” he said. “Saeki-sama, please don’t tell him that you saw me out here playing against Akutsu.”

The name of the unfamiliar player slotted into place in Saeki’s mind and he folded his arms across his chest as he stared at Ryoma. “And why wouldn’t I tell him, Ryoma? After what he did—”

Ryoma didn’t hesitate. He dropped to his knees, head touching the ground. “Please, Saeki-sama. Fuji will kill him if he finds out.”

“Get up,” Saeki said, gratified that Ryoma obeyed instantly. He didn’t want anyone to chance upon them and see such a public exchange of their dynamic. But it was too late. Akutsu was already walking towards them.

Saeki grabbed Ryoma and placed himself firmly in-between his lover and Akutsu. “What do you want?” he asked, not bothering to moderate his voice. He would hurt Akutsu if he tried to lay a finger on Ryoma.

Akutsu shifted his stance, wary and ready for a fight. “Echizen, is he bullying you?” he asked, keeping his attention focused on Saeki even as he ignored the question.

“No,” Ryoma said. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.” He wanted to scream at the teen to run as far away as possible, but he could tell from the tense set of Akutsu’s body that he had no intention of running away.

Akutsu’s full attention snapped to Saeki. “Why are you manhandling him?” he asked, referring to the bruising grip Saeki had on Ryoma’s arm. “Don’t you know-

A new voice cut into the conversation. “Aa, there you are. Saeki, when I asked you to check on Ryoma, I didn’t expect it to take you two hours.”

Saeki winced. With that tone in his voice, Syuuuske was capable of murder. He let Ryoma go and turned to face Fuji, completely ignoring the potential threat behind him. Compared to Fuji when he was using that flat, monotone voice, Akutsu was nothing more than an annoying fly.

“Fuji-sama,” Saeki said, inclining his head and lowering his eyes. “I’m sorry I made you wait.” At this point, he was trying to say whatever he could to keep Fuji from treating him like a threat. Their relationship was new enough, in his mind, that Fuji might decide he was an obstacle.

Ryoma, for his part, had walked straight to Fuji and planted himself in front of him. “Leave Akutsu alone,” he said.

Saeki winced. Ryoma really didn’t have the best sense of timing.

Fuji’s eyes narrowed. “Why?” he asked, pushing past Ryoma—who didn’t resist, thank god-to stand directly in front of Akutsu. “Didn’t I tell you that the next time you picked up a racquet, whatever the reason, that I would break you?”

Akutsu flinched. “You did,” he said.

Fuji leaned in so close his lips were almost touching Akutsu’s ear. “So why did you pick one up?”

Akutsu jerked backwards, uncomfortable with the sudden closeness, but stopped himself from stepping away. To submit to Fuji so easily would be like giving the man permission to tear him apart. Instead, he forced himself to meet those deadly calm blue eyes that were focused intently on him. He swallowed hard and spoke. “I watched Echizen play Sanada and lose. Echizen made me understand what tennis was supposed to be and I didn’t like seeing him lost in the fear he felt after losing to Sanada.”

Fuji held his gaze for a long time and Akutsu managed to maintain eye contact for about thirty more seconds before it became too much for him. When that happened, Fuji’s attention snapped to Saeki. “And you just let them play?” he asked, his tone more level than it had been when he’d approached them.

Saeki raised an eyebrow. “I’ve never met Akutsu before today. How was I supposed to know that was who Ryoma was playing against? Besides, Akutsu’s methods might be a little rough around the edges, but they worked.”

Fuji’s eyes narrowed. “Rough around the edges?” he asked, tone regaining that hardness.

Saeki snorted. “Not like that. The two of them just played an intense match. There was no violence.” A thought occurred to him. “When did you get here, anyway?”

Fuji smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. Saeki shuddered. “Right around the time Ryoma was begging you not to tell me,” Fuji said. He turned to the freshman. “I suggest you explain yourself right now.”

Ryoma gave a small nod and started to talk, but Fuji silenced him with a look. “If you were comfortable enough to beg Saeki for a favor, you can explain yourself from there.” He pointed at the ground.

Looking uncomfortable, but highly aware of how bad an idea it was to do anything to make Fuji any angrier than he already was, Ryoma knelt in front of Fuji.

“Now,” Fuji said. “Tell me why I shouldn’t destroy him. And I suggest you make the reason a good one, because if I, for one second, feel like you begged Saeki to keep a secret from me without good cause, you will find out what it’s like to be punished for keeping secrets from me.”

Ryoma shuddered. That had been delivered in monotone, which meant Fuji was suppressing the true extent of his anger. So he took a moment to compose himself and then he started to speak. “I played Sanada in an unofficial match and lost badly. That’s why I wasn’t able to play well during practice and why I seemed so out of it the rest of the day. I came to the courts to ease my mind and Akutsu ended up coming to the courts to tell me that he’d seen the match. He challenged me and managed to make me see that losing a match isn’t the end of the world and helped restore my confidence in my own ability to play the game.”

Fuji stared down at him for a few minutes, then walked over to Akutsu. He gave a sharp nod and said, “You took a huge risk by going against my orders.” Akutsu visibly swallowed. Fuji continued, “But you did it in order to help Ryoma. I don’t think you’re stupid enough to think that going against my orders in order to help the people I care for would get you into my good graces. So what drove you to disobey me, when you know perfectly well what I’m capable of?”

Akutsu flinched, but answered, “I respect Ryoma. I am fully prepared to accept the consequences of my actions, as I promised you I would never pick up a racquet again. But I couldn’t watch him fall apart, even if I have to pay for that.”

“Saeki. What do you think?” Fuji asked, suddenly focusing his attention on the silver-haired teen.

Saeki shrugged. “He had good intentions. Ryoma’s sorted out his confusion. I’d say that Akutsu’s current actions cancel out his previous ones and he should be given a blank slate.”

Fuji arched an eyebrow. “You’re not going to beg, like Ryu-chan?” he asked, teasing him.

Saeki rolled his eyes. “Why would I beg you to spare someone, Syu? You’re the only one who decides who you break.”

Akutsu cleared his throat, drawing Fuji’s attention. “I’m sorry, but who is this guy? I thought he was bullying Echizen, but the way you speak to each other…

Fuji smiled. “Saeki Kojiro. He’s our other lover.” His attention snapped back to Saeki. “Did he touch you?” he asked, tone dropping.

“No,” Saeki said, half-snorting. He waved a hand dismissively towards Akutsu. “We both know that he wouldn’t be able to take me in a fight. His only confrontation with me was verbal and it concerned Ryoma’s safety.”

Akutsu paled as Fuji focused on him again. “Two lovers?” he asked. “God help anyone who crosses you three.”

Fuji smirked. “You have the right idea.” He nodded to himself, coming to an abrupt decision. “Okay, this is what I’m going to do,” he said, causing Akutsu to snap to attention. “Since you helped Ryoma out at great personal risk to yourself, I’m going to lift the ban. You can play tennis again without worry I will come after you. In return, you’re going to stay out of my way and keep your hands off my lovers.”

Fuji closed the distance between them and leaned in close, to whisper in his ear. “If you don’t abide by these terms, I will hunt you down and break every bone in your hands. Do we understand each other?”

Saeki frowned as he watched Fuji trespass into Akutsu’s personal space. Fuji only ever got that close to someone who wasn’t sharing a bed if he was threatening them. Saeki shook his head. He was glad he wasn’t in Akutsu’s place right now. He chanced a look at Ryoma, who was kneeling with his hands clenched into fists. He felt a small amount of pity for his lover, but really, Ryoma should know better by now.

Fuji turned back to the two of them and smiled, his mask back in place. “Ryoma-chan, get up. I let him off the hook.”

Ryoma stood and slid his right hand into Fuji’s and his left into Saeki. “Thank you, Syuusuke,” he said, smiling. “Let’s go home.”

Saeki shared a look with Syuusuke over Ryoma’s head. They were going to have to discuss sharing Syu’s past with their younger lover and they were going to have to do it soon.

Chapter 14     Chapter Index     Chapter 16

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  1. Chains of Choice Chapter 15 | Luana Araceli

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