1. for casually
2. for shocolate
3. for matchynishi
4. for karorumetallium
5. for takewing
6. for pixxers
7. for bookshop
There were things that Yuushi and Gakuto did together that most people didn't even do alone. That was okay by Gakuto. If Yuushi had insisted that they put tea-cosies on their heads and dance down the school corridors singing Gackt, that would have been okay by him too. (Still, it was a good thing that the dignified, cultured and viciously sarcastic Yuushi would never deign to participate in an activity so hopelessly juvenile.)
One of the things they did was climb into Shishido's bed the night before Atobe's latest party of the year. Atobe had so many parties of the year one could be forgiven for thinking he lived in about forty-five dimensions, but neither Gakuto nor Yuushi were complaining. Shishido, on the other hand, complained vociferously about their presence in his suite. Gakuto couldn't understand it. As he pointed out to Yuushi, Shishido was such a shrimp he barely took up more than a quarter of his king-size bed. There was plenty of room for them -- and Choutarou too, had he not been fast asleep down the hall.
"Okay, that's it!" shouted Shishido. "Get out, Gakuto!"
"What, you're letting Yuushi stay and not me?" Gakuto pouted, digging his chin into the shoulder of his power-blue pyjamas in a way that Yuushi assured him was criminally facetious.
"Both of you," Shishido qualified. "You have your own rooms, and I'm tired."
"I bet you don't say that to Chou-tarou," sang Gakuto. He could see Yuushi smirking out of the corner of his eye, which only spurred him on. Gakuto committed his greatest atrocities and most glaring faux-pas only when Yuushi was around to see -- and appreciate -- them.
Shishido went a ripe shade of puce and lunged at Gakuto. Gakuto dodged easily, but tangled his foot in the comforter and went sprawling off the side of the bed, thus putting him in the prefect position for a thorough pummelling.
"Yuushi!" whined Gakuto, aiming a kick at Shishido's crotch that left him cross-eyed. "He's messing up my hair."
"To be fair, you provoked him, petal." Yuushi sounded amused. Shishido made a disgusted face at the nickname, obviously not possessing the wit to realise that Yuushi only used it for that precise reason.
"Are you going to get out or not?" demanded Shishido.
"Not," decided Gakuto emphatically. He crawled up the bed, treading on Shishido's hand, and cuddled into the pillow beside Yuushi. "These pillows are ever so much snugglier than mine. I think I'll take them with me when I go."
"You can have them all if you go now." Shishido's face lit up like a fool's, which in fact he was.
"Good idea. I'll take them, and go later." Gakuto beamed up into Yuushi's face. Shishido was a mere irritant, a sideshow to the three-ring circus that was Gakuto's incessant attempts to impress, shock or otherwise retain the attention of one Oshitari Yuushi. Yuushi smiled benevolently and stroked Gakuto's hair.
"Urg." Shishido flopped back on the bed, the image of hopelessness. "While you're here, are you going to let us in on the dirty details about your girlfriend, Yuushi?"
"Girlfriend?" squealed Gakuto. "When did this happen?"
"Yesterday. Calm down, sweetheart, I was going to tell you."
"Of course you were," said Gakuto, mollified. He rolled over and pinned Yuushi to the bed. "C'mon, Yuushi, I want details too."
Shishido perked up. "Did you make out?"
"Oh, yes." Yuushi ran a pointed tongue over his lips, not making any move to detach Gakuto. Gakuto took this as tacit permission to bounce up and down a little.
"What's it like, Yuushi?" Gakuto was agog. They'd all had crushes, but none of them had got past first base (except, as Gakuto often liked to point out, in the case of Atobe and his mirror). Shishido had his head propped up in his hand, no longer looking remotely tired.
"It's nice." Yuushi paused. "And wet. D'you want to see?"
"Sure!" Gakuto felt a sudden heat rush through his body. He liked it. "Now?"
"Mm-hmm." Yuushi reached up a hand to pull Gakuto's face closer. Too late, Shishido squawked his protest, but all Gakuto could see was Yuushi's mischievous expression and the mouth that was coming up to meet him.
Nice and wet were adequate descriptions of what Yuushi did to him then, but that was a bit like saying an elephant had four feet and was grey -- it didn't even come close to the reality. Yuushi's hands dropped to Gakuto's back to press him flat against Yuushi's chest, and Gakuto turned his head so that he could open his mouth wider, and all the time Shishido was moaning about his eyes and extreme trauma.
Things started to get interesting then, as Gakuto felt the tingling warmth in his skin coalesce into full-blown heat and the kiss deepened further, making choice parts of Yuushi rub up against him. His pyjama pants felt constricting and he had a wild urge to rip off all his clothes, and all of Yuushi's clothes, and lie down there right in front of Shishido and touch Yuushi all over. From the harsh sound of Yuushi's breathing, Gakuto guessed he was thinking pretty much the same thing.
Fortunately for Shishido's future therapy bills, Choutarou chose that moment to knock on the door. "Shishido-san?" came the muffled voice. "I heard noises ... are you okay?"
"I'm fine," called Shishido, at the same time walloping Gakuto on the head with a shoe.
He yelped and broke away from Yuushi, but not for nothing did he have lightening-quick reflexes. "Come right on in, Choutarou," he said sweetly.
The door opened slowly and Choutarou stuck a rumpled silver head through. "Hey, Shishido-san ... and Oshitari-san and Mukahi-san." He smiled uncertainly, and for a moment Gakuto understood why Shishido got all flustered and speechless when someone made suggestive comments about his doubles partner.
"You look flushed, Mukahi-san. Are you running a fever?"
"Close enough." Gakuto smirked. He nestled into the crook of Oshitari's arm and threw his leg conveniently over his lap. "Sit down, Choutarou. There's plenty of room ... and if not, you could just sit on Shishido's lap."
Usually Gakuto would enjoy Shishido's incoherent anger and Choutarou's half-hopeful confusion to the utmost, but just at the moment he had more pressing issues. One of them was pressing right into his thigh.
"What d'you think, Yuushi?" he whispered into Yuushi's ear, taking the opportunity to nibble it along the way. "No more girls?"
Yuushi's face fell, and for a moment Gakuto was almost scared. Then Yuushi added, "Oh, but wait until you see the Hallowe'en costumes I got for us ..."
Momo had known Ryoma for three whole years and, in all that time, he'd never realised that Ryoma had a hot girl-cousin called Nanako. It was just typical of Ryoma to keep such choice information to himself.
"So you're studying economics, huh, Nanako-chan?" Momo was loitering in the kitchen with Nanako, who was preparing supper. Oyakodon, Momo could see. Not his favourite food in the world, but he was sure anything that came from Nanako's beautiful hands would taste delicious. He debated telling her so.
"That's right, Momo-chan." Nanako smiled. She hadn't needed any coercion to call him by his nickname, which Momo took as a good sign. Then again, Momo was an optimistic sort of person; if Nanako had picked up a handful of rice and smushed it into his hair he'd have been able to construe something positive from it.
"I'm thinking of studying economics too," said Momo. In fact he'd never considered it before in his life and, moreover, wasn't even entirely sure what it was. "Is is really hard?"
"Not really. If you like mathematics and business studies you'll be fine." Nanako smiled again. She did it a lot, with the same frequency other people blinked. Momo was hard pressed to grin back. Mathematics was his absolute worst subject, as Kaidoh never failed to remind him after exam results were posted. But why was he thinking about Mamushi when a stunning girl was making food right in front of him?
"-- Ryoma-kun has been waiting for you, so perhaps you'd better go up," Nanako was saying. "I think he's a little nervous about taking on the captaincy of the team, although of course he'd never say so. He's come down to check if you'd arrived every hour since nine."
"But we arranged two o'clock," said Momo, surprised. "I even sent him a text about it last night, in case he wanted to change, and he never said anything. He didn't reply at all."
"Well." Nanako seemed to think an important point had been made. "You'll be staying to dinner, I hope? I'm making extra oyakodon."
"Sure. I love eating." As soon as he'd said it Momo realised it wasn't the most suave trait to possess, but Nanako was nodding.
"Ryoma mentioned that. I'll bring you up some snacks and drinks in the meantime, though. Ryoma says you need to be fed on the hour."
Ryoma would say that, Momo reflected morosely as he trudged up the stairs. No 'Momo-chan is such a great senpai' or 'Momo-chan is so popular with the girls' or 'Momo-chan is really handsome' (although it would be a bit strange if Ryoma were saying that, come to think of it). Just that Momo needed to be fed, like an animal in the zoo. How disgustingly uncool.
He knocked on Ryoma's bedroom door, which now had a huge picture of Pete Sampras on it. Pete was posing rather provocatively with a tennis racquet, his polo shirt slung over one shoulder like a cape. It was at times like these Momo had cause to reflect that there was such a thing as being too obsessed with tennis.
Momo was startled by the expression on Ryoma's face when he came in. It was almost ... hopeful. Cadavers had more mobile faces than Ryoma for the most part, so his expressions were easy to read on the rare occasions that he used them. The fact that Ryoma nearly fell over his desk chair when he stood up was strange too -- he usually had better reflexes than that.
"Did you bring the old timetables?" were the first words out of Ryoma's mouth. Momo was far too long in the tooth to expect a polite greeting or even an acknowledgement; on the contrary, he was already rummaging in his bookbag. He didn't wait for thanks either, which was a good thing because he didn't get them.
Instead he plumped down on Ryoma's bed and lay back. Ryoma was shuffling through the papers with a small frown. Momo realised with a jolt that Ryoma had grown up a bit over the summer. His hair was longer, and his face had more planes and angles than curves. Perhaps if Momo had seen him every day, like he had in school, the changes wouldn't have been so abrupt and disconcerting.
"Sit here, Ryoma," he urged. Ryoma was sitting straight on his deskchair once more, like a prim teacher. What had happened to the Ryoma who'd loll around on the bed with him, eating Pocky and teasing Karupin?
With bad grace, Ryoma crossed the small space and sat down beside Momo. At that moment the door opened to reveal Nanako, carrying a tray and wearing a smile. Inspired, Momo tucked his hands behind his head -- he knew well the action revealed a nice slice of well-toned abs.
"You're such hard workers," she complimented them. "If you need anything else, I'll be in the study. All right, Ryoma-kun?"
"Huh," said Ryoma, in his best 'I am the posterboy for surly grumpy hormone-ridden fourteen-year-olds the world over' voice. As soon as Nanako left, he turned on Momo. "Che, Momo-chan, what was that about? Why didn't you just strip down to your boxers and be done with it?"
Momo tried to laugh it off, but he could feel his face going red. Trust Ryoma to pick up on his feelings and mock them to scorn. "I wear briefs."
"Whatever," snarled Ryoma. He rifled through the pages so violently that half of them tore. He threw them on the floor then, like a toddler having the mother of all temper-tantrums.
"What's up your nose?" demanded Momo. Ryoma crossed his arms over his chest and turned away. Momo wasn't about to drop it. He tugged on Ryoma's arm. "Seriously, why are you in such a bad mood? You can tell me."
Ryoma just shook his head and stiffened his posture further. He looked just like Momo's sister when she'd been denied her own way. And everyone knew what big brothers did to sulky little sisters ...
"Momo-chan!" Ryoma flailed, but Momo was good at this. He ducked Ryoma's arms, going right for the sensitive spots in his armpits and under his chin. "Momo-chan, stop --" Ryoma began to laugh, at first against his will and then with helpless little-boy giggles.
"This is what sulky-pusses get." Momo made his voice pretend-stern even as his deft fingers were scraping across Ryoma's -- very soft -- belly. "The tickling punishment! What you really need is an older brother to do this to you all the time."
By this point Ryoma was lying limp, still gasping under Momo's touches. "What do I need a big brother for, when I've got you?"
"Good point," conceded Momo. He chucked Ryoma under the chin. "And you know I will be here for you when you need it. You don't need to be checking the clock or anything."
"Che, Nanako!" groaned Ryoma, flushing. Momo sniggered to see it.
"So, do you think she'd give me her number?"
For a moment Ryoma's eyes darkened. Then -- "Your turn, Momo-chan-senpai!"
"Uh, Ryoma? You're not supposed to use your tongue ..."
If he wasn't so desperately afraid of failing his French test, Yuuta would never have asked Syuusuke for help. Syuusuke looked only too delighted to tender his aid, which made it worse. An enthusiastic Syuusuke was a better meter for impending disaster than an exploding Richter scale.
Syuusuke was surprisingly efficient, ushering Yuuta into his bedroom and explaining that he'd start using French words that Yuuta could translate into Japanese. Apparently this was how Syuusuke had studied when he was a junior and he'd come out with an A at the end of the semester. Yuuta would have been happy with a C minus, but he wasn't about to provoke one of Syuusuke's Looks if he could help it.
"Are you ready?" asked Syuusuke.
"Sure." In truth Yuuta felt more nervous than he generally did when faced with a five-page exam paper. The feeling was compounded by the fact that he was sitting on Syuusuke's bed, which was high enough from the ground to make Yuuta's legs dangle off the edge. He felt all of four years old. Except that when he was four years old, he and Syuusuke used to hang out underneath the bed, swapping secrets with baseball cards and trying not to choke to death on dust bunnies.
Syuusuke gazed around the room, apparently for inspiration. "L'odinateur."
Yuuta scrunched up his brow, but this was an easy one. "Computer!" he said triumphantly.
"Avec la pornographie homosexuelle," murmured Syuusuke, all of his teeth bared. Other people would have called this expression of Syuusuke's smiling. Yuuta was neither so stupid nor so naive. "All right. How about ... le minet?"
"I don't know," admitted Yuuta, after a minute. "Perhaps I should lend you my vocab list to test me from?"
"That won't be necessary. Try this one, then; it means almost the same thing. Un joli garçon." Syuusuke stared right at Yuuta as he said the words.
"Boy," replied Yuuta straightaway. "Er ... nice boy?
"Close." Syuusuke spun in his desk chair so that he ended up almost knee-to-knee with Yuuta. "Une allumeuse."
"That sounds like ... bird? A lark?"
"That's une alouette. Close, but not quite."
"Ah." Annoyed, Yuuta forgot to ask what the other word meant. "Maybe you should try some verbs now."
"Good idea," said Syuusuke, in a tone mostly used for singing Hallelujahs in the Bible Belt. "Okay. What does se faire une branlette mean?"
"Faire ... that means to do. And se faire is reflexive, so ... to do ..."
"Something you do every day," said Syuusuke encouragingly.
Yuuta thought about this. It wasn't washing, because that would be se laver, which he knew. Se lever, se coucher -- it wasn't getting up or going to bed, and it wasn't se promener, so Syuusuke wasn't talking about walking to school or anything. In fact, although he couldn't remember the entire list of reflexive verbs he was supposed to learn, he didn't recognise se faire une branlette at all.
"To make sushi?" he attempted, thinking that une branlette was obviously something very odd indeed.
"But you don't make sushi every day, Yuuta. Think harder."
But Yuuta had to confess himself stumped. "Making fun of Yanagisawa?"
"Now you're just being silly," reproved Syuusuke, but his mouth was twitching. "Never mind. How about baiser?"
"Huh? To lie down, maybe?"
"It's involved, certainly." Syuusuke's face was totally blank, but Yuuta hadn't been Syuusuke's brother for sixteen years for nothing. He knew perfectly well when he was being made fun of. "Se faire des mamours?"
"To make ... Syuusuke, you're being hard on purpose," complained Yuuta.
"Of course I am," said Syuusuke, with odd emphasis. "It's all for you ... your own good, I mean."
"Huh." Yuuta doubted that the sensei was going to put all these strange words on the test when she'd never even mentioned them in class. "Keep going, I might actually get one right."
"Isn't that English? It sounds familiar ... to touch?"
"There's a lot of cross-over between English and French, and all the European languages. You're right, by the way."
"I am? Excellent." Yuuta beamed at his brother, only to have the smile fall from his face when he realised how close Syuusuke was. "Syuusuke baka, get out of my face --"
"Je veux que te viens dans ma bouche," whispered Syuusuke, right into Yuuta's ear. His breath tickled and made the tiny hairs stand up all the way down Yuuta's neck. "Je veux te faire l'amour avec toi. Je veux te faire le cri perçant."
"What? I don't understand ... you want ... you want a mouth? Love?" Yuuta's train of thought was abruptly cut off when Syuusuke slid even closer. "Syuusuke, stop! Don't -- don't put your hand there!"
"Pourquoi?" Syuusuke licked his ear.
"Why? Because -- oh no you don't. Leave my zipper alone!"
"Mais Yuu-chan est regard affamé. Il pleure."
"What -- crying? It is not!" retorted Yuuta hotly, before he realised that his brother had managed to get his trousers down to his ankles while he was busy trying to translate.
"Oui, il est," replied Syuusuke, with no little measure of satisfaction. "Now -- pay attention. The lesson isn't over yet. Watch. My hand is ma main. Your cock is ta bitte. The verb to stroke is caresser. Do you understand?"
Yuuta said something. It might have been 'oh' or it might have been a wordless moan, but in Syuusuke's world it passed for assent. He was just about to ask what the French was for 'callous incest' when Syuusuke spoke again.
"Now, listen carefully. Tailler une pipe à quelqu'un is ... mmph ... the French for ..."
"Blow-job!" screamed Yuuta.
"Ver' goo'," mumbled Syuusuke. He paused long enough for Yuuta to want to kill him and to say, "While I'm down here, you figure out what je veux que te viens dans ma bouche means ..."
Yuuta was a fast learner. It took him five and a half seconds.
In the end, despite Syuusuke's best efforts (he came trois fois that night alone), Yuuta a échoué son examen. Atrocement.
It always happened when he ate sardines.
A light rain was falling outside. Tezuka could hear it skittering on the roof tiles, but he was focused on the body that was slowly being revealed under the flickering candlelight. An inch here, an inch there, all illuminated by lapping tongues of gold. If he didn't think Ryoma entirely beautiful anyway, this display would be sufficient to change his mind.
As it was, he was merely going crazy with lust.
He knelt beside the bed as Ryoma gingerly lay down across the coverlet, his chest rising and falling as rapidly as Tezuka's heartbeat. Ryoma's torso was so boyishly slim that Tezuka could see his heart thumping, right there under his left nipple. He covered it with his palm, his thumb sliding over the hardening nub. Ryoma gasped.
"Buchou," he whispered, in a voice that was half plea, half fear and nothing at all like his usual bored monotone. This was what Tezuka loved best: rousing Ryoma's hidden desires. It was only fitting, because Ryoma did the exact same thing for him.
Tezuka roughly pushed back Ryoma's fringe, revealing his huge and thickly-lashed eyes. They were almost black with desire. Tezuka kissed him the way he'd been dreaming about all day, the way that had started to earn him demerits and poor grades on his homework. Ryoma responded wantonly, his arms coming up around Tezuka's neck and pulling him down.
However, when Tezuka began to rub Ryoma's belly -- for all the world as if he were a little cat -- Ryoma flinched and inched back, pressing his nose into Tezuka's cheek and mumbling "Please ... no ..."
It was a useless thing to say to Tezuka Kunimitsu, a boy who didn't understand the meaning of the word 'no.' He stopped kissing Ryoma and admired his handiwork for a while instead, running his fingers along Ryoma's stubble-dashed chin and swollen lips. Ryoma made to catch at his wrist but stopped himself. When he did that Tezuka knew he wanted to move on -- or rather, down -- but his pride wouldn't let him admit it.
It was a good thing that Tezuka could read Ryoma's pride as well as he could his every other emotion.
Ryoma was laying with his thighs squeezed tightly together, his cotton briefs clinging to the curve of his hipbones. Tezuka had to pry them apart, with Ryoma crying in protest at every new sliver of flesh so exposed. Tezuka resolutely ignored him, brushing his thumbs in small circles that made Ryoma relax even as his hands pawed half-heartedly at Tezuka's shoulders.
By the time Ryoma's legs were sprawled wide on Tezuka's pinstripe duvet, there was the sweetest bulge in the cloth between his legs. Tezuka nuzzled his face into it, savouring the tangy smell and the slight dampness that painted his cheek. Ryoma made a noise of shame -- or maybe it was guilty pleasure. Certainly there were no more protests or pushes as Tezuka rolled down the cloth and kissed the flushed head that sprang up to meet him.
Tezuka felt a perverse sense of vindication as Ryoma struggled to spread his legs wider, now, but was hampered by the material tangled around his knees. Far from aiding him in his distress, Tezuka planted his hands on Ryoma's hips and held them flat as he swallowed as much of Ryoma's slender cock as he could. Ryoma's body jolted off the bed and Tezuka nearly choked, but he didn't soften his hold. Ryoma began to tremble violently when he was denied the chance to fuck Tezuka's mouth, as he was so used to doing. Tezuka slipped one hand down to tug at Ryoma's balls and Ryoma screamed.
Tezuka sat back and Ryoma stared at him with betrayed, glittering eyes. "Buchou?" he croaked.
"A moment," replied Tezuka. He tried to sound stern, but Ryoma looked so completely delicious that he didn't quite make it. Besides, he was sure that his stoic expression was marred by the spit and precome running down his chin.
He pulled Ryoma's briefs the rest of the way off, slowly lifting each foot to do so. Ryoma sighed with relief and dared to grin at Tezuka as he lolled around on the bed. All his inhibitions were dissolved; his own hand was even creeping towards his slicked cock. Although Tezuka loved to watch Ryoma touching himself, tonight it was all about his agenda.
"Lie back and bend your knees," commanded Tezuka. "I'm going to fuck you now."
"Aa," murmured Ryoma. He hooked his hands behind his knees and pulled them to his chest, wriggling a little bit to get comfortable.
"That's it, beautiful," said Tezuka, distracted by the tiny hole that lay between Ryoma's cheeks. Why it fascinated him so he couldn't explain; it wasn't a particularly attractive part of Ryoma's anatomy, especially when compared to his eyes or the graceful arc of his body as it jumped for the ball. And if someone had said to Tezuka a year ago that he would not only be willing to stick his tongue in someone's arsehole, but would be actually longing to do so, he would have assigned them a quantum number of laps. But there it was.
Tezuka squeezed the warm globes of Ryoma's arse and they both sighed. Tezuka leaned down ...
... and was woken by the shrill sound of his phone alarm.
"Damn it!" Tezuka was moved to remark, as he stared down at the stiff and crumpled sheets and his sixth pair of utterly ruined boxers this month alone. It was the bloody sardines again.
The friction of his trousers on his tender cock caused Tezuka to be more than usually strict at practice that day. He thought Fuji sent him a funny look when he gave Horio twenty laps for breathing too loudly, but then again Fuji was entirely composed of funny looks not qualified.
He'd forgotten that there was a Regulars party in Taka-san's sushi parlour, where they still went for old times' sake. The prospect did not please him greatly, but as the newly appointed buchou of the high school team it would have been churlish to cry off.
Fuji, who was still chummy with Taka-san despite their disparate interests, insisted on giving their orders for them. Once Momo and Eiji had ascertained -- at the tops of their voices -- that there was to be no wasabi involved in any way, they assented. Everyone else followed suit; even Tezuka was interested to see if Fuji's legendary intuition could stretch to this unlikely avenue of skill.
Tezuka ended up sitting beside Ryoma, tucked away in a corner table. Ryoma was yawning every few seconds. Tezuka gathered from his monosyllabic responses to Momo's shouts that his father had got drunk and woken him up several times during the night. A large spot was swelling on the tip of Ryoma's nose. His school shirt was inside out and his hair lank and almost sticky-looking. Tezuka felt weak.
"Buchou, you don't mind if I --" began Ryoma, and had his head tucked between Tezuka's chin and shoulder before he'd even finished speaking.
Fuji brought over their orders last. "Experimental recipe just for you two!" he said cheerfully, apparently incognizant of Ryoma's snuffling snores.
"What is it?" asked Tezuka, with righteous apprehension.
Fuji smiled brilliantly and opened his eyes wide, in the way that always made Tezuka privately think Fuji was an alien with psychic powers. Then Ryoma sighed in his sleep and curled his fingers into the cuff of Tezuka's shirt. He barely heard Fuji's reply, and didn't notice the cooling plates of food for quite some time.
When he finally got around to investigating them, he found two vertiginous piles of rice ... covered with sardines.
Yuuta started out on the exercise bike with his maths book propped up on the stats dial. He ended up curled into the angle of the window and the floor, staring out into the night. In the interim he'd vacillated between lifting weights, doing three and a half quadratic equations that all ended up equalling seventeen x, and thinking longingly of his lovely warm bed in the dorm across the courtyard.
Now it was raining. To be more precise, it was bucketing down. The clouds roiled like Yuuta's stomach after Syuusuke slipped wasabi into his sushi. They were the colour of his eyes, too, apparently. Mizuki had compared them to storm clouds in one of his more poetic moods. Yuuta hadn't been all that flattered. Who wanted to be compared to inclement weather? Still, Mizuki didn't care if he were flattered or not -- for Mizuki, it was all about what Mizuki thought. If Yuuta had been complimented by something he said then it was good, but not the point.
For some reason, Yuuta wanted it to be the point.
The maths book flopped loosely in Yuuta's lap as he leaned his head against the cold glass and stared out. It was far less comfortable than an onlooker to the pose might have thought. Yuuta's eyeballs felt like they were being squashed flat and the cold seeped into his cheek like a small virus. Still, he was pretending to study and if he moved that pretence would be well and truly broken.
"There you are, Yuuta-kun."
Mizuki's slightly whiny voice stabbed into the silence. Yuuta knew it was no use pretending he hadn't heard Mizuki. The idea of someone ignoring him was more than Mizuki could comprehend, which was why Syuusuke's attitude towards him was a source of constant ire. Yuuta used the seconds it took for Mizuki to cross the room -- checking his reflection in every shiny surface -- to rearrange his book. He hoped he looked like he'd actually been reading it, instead of studiously ignoring it for the last half hour.
"What on earth are you doing sitting on the floor?" Mizuki made it sound like Yuuta had been meditating in a yurt. "Isn't there dust down there?"
"I guess." Reluctantly, Yuuta stood up and brushed down the back of his tracksuit pants. He didn't think anything came off, although Mizuki's eyes narrowed at the movement. "Are you going to use the gym too, Mizuki-kun?"
"It's nearly midnight, Yuuta. Of course I'm not, it would be very detrimental to my metabolism. Being awake at this hour is bad enough."
"Then why are you still up?" asked Yuuta.
He doubted Mizuki had been studying too. Mizuki was one of the rare and supremely irritating people who could read a text the night before an exam and regurgitate it perfectly, without any need for revision in the meantime. Yuuta, who was obliged through his less than perfect memory to slog through interminable amounts of work each night, felt very dull and plodding beside him. Then again, everything about Mizuki made him feel like that. Mizuki was so little and slight, his face and hands and even his hair was delicate. He had the build of a ballerina.
Not that Yuuta knew anything about ballerinas. Syuusuke just had this obsession when they were six, and of course Yumiko took some lessons, and it meant that Yuuta had access to a whole range of similes he mightn't have had otherwise.
He felt that Mizuki was looking at him in a pitying way. "I came looking for you, of course. You'd stay up all night if someone didn't fetch you and send you to bed."
Yuuta had to admit that this was true. Of late, his team-mates had taken to coming by his room and waking him up when he felt into a stupor over his schoolbooks. He hadn't realised that this was a concerted effort, however. It was a typical Mizuki move. Only Yuuta would have missed that he was behind it.
"Thank you," he said, and this time the look he got from Mizuki was definitely an odd one.
Mizuki came to stand beside him at the window. It was a French louvre, reaching all the way to the ground. Yuuta could see a vague impression of himself, wavering as it was cut by the raindrops. Slightly too tall for his body, standing awkwardly no matter what he did, book falling out of his hands. And Mizuki beside him, almost a head smaller now, a slightly speculative air hovering around him like a halo.
"It's going to be quite a storm," observed Mizuki. "I was terrified of thunder when I was a child. My sisters used to tell me it was the footsteps of a giant coming to eat me."
Yuuta loved the way Mizuki talked about his childhood as if it were a far-off and slightly foreign country, instead of a scant few years ago. It made him feel so grown-up. He never had anything to say himself, as unfortunately it felt like his childhood would never detach itself from his now-hood. Syuusuke still made hot chocolate during storms; the tradition hadn't suddenly ended because they were 'adults.' Often, Yuuta wished for some stricter lines between boys and men. It all seemed to blur into one confusing mess, where brothers were enemies were still brothers, and an admiration for your manager could be both an annoyance and the first thing you thought about when you woke up.
"It's getting ... wetter," he said awkwardly, after a bit. Certainly the ground was very soggy. He was dreading having to cross in the rain. He hated getting wet only slightly less than your average cat.
"Don't worry, it'll let up soon," Mizuki assured him. Mizuki was so self-assured that Yuuta almost believed he could bend the weather to his will. And sure enough, within seconds the downpour had lightened to mere sprinkling.
Mizuki stood contemplating the view as Yuuta began to fidget. He wanted to leave and get to bed, and was feeling terribly guilty about messing up Mizuki's metabolism. Yet Mizuki himself didn't look inclined to move in the slightest.
"Are you staying for the weekend?" he asked eventually.
"Yeah," replied Yuuta. "I want to do some extra weights work. We don't have any of that stuff at home."
"I was wondering --" Mizuki hesitated. "No, it's nothing."
"Please go on," said Yuuta, intrigued. Mizuki hesitating was more of a rarity than hen's teeth.
"I was wondering if you wanted to go for something to eat," mumbled Mizuki.
"Well, sure. I plan on eating most every day." Yuuta shrugged. "Is this for a new training menu?"
"No, it's because I like you," blurted Mizuki, then looked horrified. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean --"
"Oh, right," said Yuuta, before he realised Mizuki hadn't finished speaking. "Cool."
"You like me too?" Mizuki's finger was twirling a lock of hair so fast Yuuta could smell the friction burn.
Yuuta would have thought that was obvious to anyone with eyes. After all, it was why Syuusuke hated Mizuki. Yuuta assumed Mizuki, being so perceptive and all, had realised long ago.
It was his turn to shrug.
"Of course," he said, because some things stood saying even if they were real and constant as the air you breathed. With a few jerks -- because he was taller and his book got in the way -- he leaned in and kissed Mizuki on the mouth: once, a quick swipe. And then, because it wasn't a huge earth-shattering event and Mizuki's best subject was maths, he added, "Can I copy your quadratic equations?"
Already Syuusuke could hear them outside, braying like a pack of bloodthirsty hounds. He forced a smile on to his lips. After years of practice, it wasn't exactly difficult, but all the same he could feel it drooping. This last tournament had taken it out of him -- not just the game itself, which was no longer the pure pleasure it used to be, but the endless round of public appearances, press conferences and interviews. There was nothing like pretending to be sweetness and light for twenty cameras in quick succession to put Syuusuke in a homicidal mood.
His heart sank further as he recognised the hard-faced reporters in the first row. They were all English-speakers from London newspapers. Syuusuke had got top marks in English when he was in school, but he might as well have excelled in ancient Sanskrit for all the good it did him. Their Cockney accents were indecipherable. The only thing worse was the New Yorkers, and -- yes, there they were, jostling for space behind the English sports journalists.
"Are you ready, Fuji-san?" called one of his PA's assistants. He nodded, averting his eyes from her longing gaze. Some things never changed.
The noise hit him like a solid wall when he stepped out from behind the comfort of the huge glass doors. "Mr Fuji --" he loathed that appellation; couldn't they make the effort to learn even one Japanese honorific? "-- Mr Fuji, what does it feel like to be World Champion for the fifth time running? Mr Fuji, are the rumours about your retirement true? Mr Fuji, are you getting married?"
"They sound just like my mother," muttered Syuusuke under his breath. Louder, he said in careful English, "I feel great. The rumours are untrue. I am not getting married soon."
It wasn't enough to satisfy them. It was never enough. He sighed as another barrage of questions was fired at him, each more ludicrous than the last. He did his best to answer them politely. He was so absorbed in his task that he didn't notice the excited shouts of 'Fuji-kun!' until the shouter was practically cutting himself in half on the crowd barrier.
"Fuji-kun!" breathed the man, although technically it should have been impossible for him to speak with his lungs squashed like that. He was being unmercifully prodded by the people he'd shoved aside to get there, but he didn't appear to care. His wide brown gaze was fixed on Syuusuke like he was the secret Kit-Kat in a chocoholic's drying-out centre.
A faint wisp of memory brushed Syuusuke's brain. "Akutagawa-kun?"
Jiroh -- for it was he -- let out a deafening squeal. "Fuji-kun remembers me!"
"Fuji-san, we have to go now." Syuusuke's PA materialised at his elbow. "Wrap it up, guys! Last questions!"
Syuusuke didn't hear those questions; his eyes were fixed on Jiroh's mouth, which was forming the shape of 'Want to get something to eat, Fuji-kun?'
"Yes," said Syuusuke, smiling properly for the first time.
He held out a hand to Jiroh, who used it to leap over the barrier with the same agility he'd had when he was fourteen. Syuusuke turned to his PA. "I'm going out for a meal with my friend. Please don't disturb me until tomorrow morning."
The PA -- who was used to complete compliance from Syuusuke on all things -- gaped in surprise. Before he had time to respond, Syuusuke swept Jiroh into the waiting limo and ordered the driver to go.
"It's so amazing to see you again, Fuji-kun." Jiroh paid no attention to the trappings of the limo, to the mini-bar or the darling little light fixtures. Then again, he was an old friend of Atobe Keigo; this car probably looked second-rate to him. Instead, Jiroh was gazing at Syuusuke with all the hero-worship of a teenage heart shining out of his eyes.
"Same here," replied Syuusuke, even though he didn't think anything could match Jiroh's unfettered delight. "What have you been up to since middle school, Akutagawa-kun?"
"Oh, call me Jiroh. Everyone does." Jiroh waved a dismissive hand. "Well, I got into Tokyo University with Atobe and Oshitari, so that was fun. They even woke me up so I could get to lectures on time and everything. I work as a freelance journalist now."
"Ah." Syuusuke's enthusiasm dried up. "So you were hoping for an exclusive interview, I take it?"
"What? No!" Jiroh laughed. It was a pretty sound, much like Jiroh himself. Syuusuke scolded his stomach for getting all fluttery -- a crush on a journalist, oh the horror! -- but it didn't listen. "I'm a current affairs reporter, not a sports reporter. I wouldn't be much good anyway -- the only sport I know anything about is tennis. And billiards, of course."
"Hmm." Syuusuke wasn't entirely convinced. Freelance journalists were entitled to sell their work to any newspaper division, including sports. He resolved to be circumspect, despite the butterflies.
"I watched your game today," Jiroh went on. "It was so cool, Fuji-kun. Even better than your triple counters. Are you this good at everything?"
Syuusuke thought of his string of failed relationships, and the way his whole life revolved around billiards tournaments and nothing else. He shook his head. "No, I'm not."
Jiroh flopped back against his seat, his eyelids sinking a little. "I won't go to sleep ... Fuji-kun, promise you'll wake me up if I do? I don't want to miss a minute of this."
Instead of answering, Jiroh yawned and put a hand up to touch Syuusuke's face. "Because I'm a really big fan, Fuji-kun," said Jiroh softly.
Syuusuke knew he should remove Jiroh's hand, say something vague but cold about not sleeping with fans (even though he did). But the feel of Jiroh's hand on his face was electric, as was the hope that awoke in Jiroh's face when Syuusuke stayed quite still. In the space of three blocks, Jiroh arched up a little -- or maybe Syuusuke bent down a little -- and Jiroh's lips were brushing the corner of Syuusuke's mouth, dry as his hands were damp. Syuusuke felt something catch in his throat. He thought it might be his breath, but he didn't wait to find out. He turned to capture Jiroh's mouth, but Jiroh's head had already fallen back.
"Wow," he said, his eyes shut tight. "I kissed Fuji-kun! That was so awesome."
Syuusuke wanted to point out that it needn't be past tense, but it was too late. Jiroh was asleep.
Stifling a laugh, he tucked a few stray chestnut curls behind Jiroh's ear. He tapped on the partition to get the driver's attention and directed him to the nearest hotel -- not the one his PA had booked for him.
"And please pass this message on," said Syuusuke. "I'm just going inside with Akutagawa-kun. We may be some time."
Another crash made Tezuka shudder, although how he could distinguish this one noise from all the others reverberating around him he couldn't have said. Ryoma was as methodical and successful at blowing up enemy asteroids as he was at anything else, with the end result that Tezuka was jumping like an epileptic on the verge of a fit.
"Are you nearly done?" he asked, when Ryoma died yet again in a blaze of trumpets and pixelated messages of condolences.
"Nearly," replied Ryoma. His hands hadn't moved a fraction of an inch from the controls of the machine. "I want to beat the top score on the machine."
"Oh." Tezuka was stumped. Such an ambition was utterly foreign to him. "Why?"
Ryoma stared at him, the incomprehension in his eyes reflected Tezuka's own. "Because. That's what you do. Whoever played this before was stupid and mada mada dane."
"Very well." Tezuka fiddled with the side of his glasses -- legitimately, since he was sure one of the screws was loose. "I will fetch myself a drink, then. Would you like anything?"
"Yes," said Ryoma, and turned back to the machine. He didn't say what he wanted, leaving Tezuka both impressed at Ryoma's faith in him and annoyed by it.
Tezuka wound his way back to the snack bar. When he wasn't standing beside Ryoma -- feeling as uncomfortable as a gazelle in a lion's living room -- he could quite effectively block out the sounds of a hundred other freaks killing imaginary monsters on a twelve by six screen. It was amazing how much quieter and softer life was when Ryoma wasn't around. Like a feather bed. Or a coffin.
Coming back with a Ponta in one hand and a Calpis soda in the other, Tezuka got lost. He was almost certain he'd taken a wrong turning between the Killing The Slimy Green Alien Monsters row and the Slaughtering The One-Handed Mutant Monsters avenue. In any case, he ended up in the Dance Dance Revolution section, which was filled with people who looked even more crazed than those with their hands glued to fake guns did.
It was no surprise to see that Fuji Syuusuke was one of their number.
He didn't startle when Tezuka came up behind him and said hello, but then again Fuji could quite possibly have seen him coming. Tezuka had been paying too much -- incorrect, as it happened -- attention to the gaming hall's landmarks to notice the exact features of the people who hung out there. He'd learned the hard way that it was a bad idea to make eye contact. He hadn't seen so many reddened corneas since the last time Rikkai's Kirihara broke a nail.
"What are you doing here?" asked Tezuka. Sometimes Fuji gave you a straight answer, both to confuse you and to offer hope for the future. Tezuka didn't hold out much, though. Only yesterday he'd asked Fuji what the date was, to put on his homework, and Fuji had told him right out. It had even been the right date. He wasn't due another honest reply for at least a month.
Fuji just smiled and inclined his head towards the nearest DDR platform. His brother was leaping about as if his life depended on it. Knowing Fuji, that might very well be the case.
Tezuka stood beside Fuji and watched for a while. Yuuta's hair was all of two centimetres long, but he was expending such energy that it was swimming in sweat. Tezuka debated asking Fuji why his brother was so desperate to conquer the dancing mat. On a little further consideration, and taking in the way Fuji's hands gripped the railing every time Yuuta almost missed a step, Tezuka decided he didn't want to know.
Ryoma appeared to be finished when Tezuka returned to his side. The little screen was blinking a number that looked like a lottery winner's bank account. Ryoma wasn't wearing his cap today and the hallucinogenic lights of the arcade made his hair appear almost green. As usual, Tezuka tried to dismiss the squeeze of his stomach when he saw Ryoma standing there, irritably scratching his neck. As usual, he failed.
"Where'd you go?" asked Ryoma, taking the can of Ponta without so much as a thank-you.
"I took a wrong turning. I met Fuji."
"At the DDR." Ryoma managed to nod, swallow and talk at the same time. "Was he with his brother? They challenge each other every weekend."
Tezuka cocked his head, and yet again decided he didn't want to know. Fuji didn't compete unless there was something in it for him ... and Tezuka really didn't care to go down that particular mental route. He had a feeling there would be mutant monsters at the end of it.
"You coming?" Ryoma drained his Ponta -- Tezuka hadn't even cracked the tab on his own soda -- and reached out for Tezuka. His hand was cold and clammy from the can and hours of gripping gaming controls while Tezuka stood sentry. He didn't notice the stir his forward behaviour caused even among the obsessed patrons of the arcade, but Ryoma had an uncanny ability to block out things he considered unimportant. Tezuka wished he had the knack. Still, he didn't let go of Ryoma's hand.
Outside the arcade, Ryoma kissed him. No one had told him that fifteen-year-olds were not supposed to be able to kiss like that -- with all those whorish wriggles and clutching of Tezuka's chest to balance him as he stood on his toes. As usual, Ryoma was utterly unaware of the effect he had on Tezuka, who was left weak-kneed in the face of Ryoma's bog-standard grumpiness. If kissing did anything to him on the scale it did to Tezuka, Ryoma didn't show it. Tezuka, on the other hand, was seventeen and horny and wanted to fuck Ryoma into the ground.
"Next weekend," said Tezuka, feeling the need for unsolicited revenge, "I choose the date."
"Okay," said Ryoma companionably, and actually smiled. It wasn't until he got Ryoma's text message, hours later, that Tezuka realised he'd been tricked into admitting that they were dating.
Still, it was worth it for the look on Ryoma's face when he saw the fishing rod.