Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Konomi Takeshi, various publishers including but not limited to Shueisha and TV Tokyo. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Chapter Five: In Love
Unless you enter the tiger's den, you cannot take the cubs
Arriving at the Atobe residence twenty-five minutes later, Fuji was greeted by a sight of two-year-old Jun running towards his father. The boy was as lively as a toddler could get and supported by his awkward, chubby legs, he dashed to meet them. A middle-aged woman was keeping a careful distance behind him. At the last second, Jun's legs gave away and he stumbled forward.
Fuji let out a gasp of shock and reacted quickly ahead of the others. With one instinctive scoop he had Atobe Jun in his arms. Luckily for the child, he didn't have to meet the floor face first; instead he was safely cocooned, dangling from the stranger's arms.
"Aa…." Fuji began, the shock had yet to ebb away. "Thank god." He sighed and hoisted the child into a protective hug.
"Jun-sama!" cried the woman, now rushing to Fuji's side. The companion smiled politely at the distressed woman and he slightly bowed. The toddler cooed.
Atobe Keigo, who was holding his breath the entire time, released it with a bark. "Haven't I told you not to let Jun wander around the house like that?"
The woman shrunk in fear. "I'm sorry, Keigo-sama! He was running just fine and I thought that he would be okay, but—"
"Saa," Fuji interrupted.
Exasperated, Atobe turned around to face the companion, who was still hugging his son. "Yes?"
"Aa, it's wet."
"I beg your pardon?"
"He's wet. I think he just…." Fuji didn't finish. He had Jun by an arm length and some liquid dripped to the floor. The companion's front shirt was moist and he grimaced at the damage. Jun was on the verge of tears.
Atobe senior took his guest to the nearest bathroom. "At this point," he had told the companion, "just changing clothes won't wash away the stench." He let Fuji borrow a house yukata, until the companion's own clothes had been washed and dried. The nanny had whisked away Jun from Fuji and proceeded to give the toddler a bath of his own.
Inside the spacious ofuro, Fuji wondered if what just had transpired could be considered a good omen. Being humbled by the great Atobe name, in the most unexpected way. Fuji washed and lathered some soap on his body, taking his time, sometimes chuckling when he remembered the look of pure terror in Atobe Keigo's face. He rinsed, but decided against soaking in the deep, wooden tub, though as tempting as it was. It would impolite to keep his host waiting, Fuji decided with regret.
But he hasn't apologized, Fuji thought absent-mindedly. Oh, well.
After drying himself, he moved to the adjacent room, wrapped in towel. Fuji donned the light-blue yukata and adjusted it to cover his torso modestly. It was slightly too big for him, and Fuji had some difficulties of making it look presentable.
He was in the middle of wrapping the obi around the hip when a voice startled him. "Are you done?"
Fuji turned around and saw his client leaning lazily against the door frame.
"How long have you been watching?"
"Long enough to know that you're having some trouble with that yukata." Atobe approached the shorter man with a grin on his face. "Do you mind?"
Fuji smiled, he knew what was coming, and raised his arms. "No, go ahead."
Slowly, Atobe placed his hands on Fuji's waist and turned him so that the companion's back was now facing him. He unwrapped the obi, and the migoro came loose. Fuji shivered lightly, as the air touched his damp, naked skin. From behind, Atobe's gentle fingers took the right migoro and pulled it around Fuji's body, followed shortly by the left flap, over the right one. Fuji felt Atobe's arms on his sides, working expertly.
"Hold this for me," he told the companion. His warm breath tickled Fuji's nape and the companion fought the urge to blush. Fuji obeyed, putting his hand on top of the left migoro while Atobe, with one deft motion, wrapped the obi around Fuji's hip and tied one knot at the center, in the back.
"We're done," Atobe said, but his hands lingered on Fuji's hip.
"Thank me later," Atobe said huskily. He pressed a kiss behind Fuji's ear and left without any other words. The instant he was gone, Fuji felt a strange chill on his back, as if some part of him was gone.
A good husband is healthy and absent
"So…," one voice trailed on.
"Yes?" the other replied, while his hands were busy handling an active little boy perched comfortably on his lap. The said boy had a distinct shade of black hair similar to the older man's. Not only that, his large, round, dark eyes were exact copies of his father's. Both made a striking, handsome picture in Fuji's eyes.
"I didn't expect you to be a father," he said. They were sitting inside a traditional room, on the tatami floor, cushions forgotten. Lunch was being prepared at the next room, and while waiting Atobe decided that he would play with his son. The breeze that came through the opened shoji felt nice and Fuji got a view of the engawa and the house's beautiful garden.
"That surely surprised many," Atobe answered, "though being the only male heir of the family I don't see why it should come as a shock."
"Of course," Fuji said, though his brain was thinking busily at the moment. Arranged marriage? Most likely, considering that if what happened yesterday was any indication of his preference…or he could be swinging both ways.
"Though I could use another son or two," Atobe said lightly. The boy on his lap was now trying to crawl his way out. A large hand dragged him back gently.
"And what's holding you back, Atobe-sama?" the companion asked. He might get the answer to his question earlier than he'd expected.
"His mother died," the client answered without even changing his tone. His son was stubbornly continuing his struggle for freedom. A tickle on his belly was all it took for him to go down, defeated, in a midst of babyish laughter and giggles.
Fuji didn't know how he should respond to Atobe's statement. He just stared at the man and his son, who were now engaged in a playful tickling game, though it was hardly a match at all. There was supposed to be a third person in that picture. A woman, Fuji thought, Atobe's wife should be there to complete the perfect family picture. But the sight in front of him seemed very natural, like it had always been like that, and Fuji doubted that it could get more right than that.
"I'm sorry," he offered politely, "it must've been hard for you, Atobe-sama."
"Not really, I have a lot of people here to help me with Jun." Another gentle tickle onto the chest, followed by another baby chortle from his son.
Is he being intentionally stubborn? Atobe knows that's not what I meant.
"Oh, your wife—"
"Was a nice girl, but she's not exactly what I had in mind," the client supplied smoothly. "Azusa was too delicate for her own good. She gave everything she had for Jun."
Fuji said quickly, "I didn't meant to pry, please don't—"
"Aren't you curious?" Atobe cut him short.
A pause. Fuji thought that Atobe was being uncharacteristically blunt. He's humoring me. Was I that obvious?
"Azusa died during childbirth. I don't feel like remarrying, and I already have an heir." Atobe said it like he was citing some tiresome facts. Heartless, the word came to Fuji's mind.
"Is that enough?" Atobe asked.
Fuji thought that the last question sounded like a warning. "I was rude, Atobe-sama. My apologies."
Atobe Keigo waved an impatient hand. "I got used to it. When you're well-known like me, everybody has a question to ask."
This time he had let his son crawl over to Fuji's lap. Without thinking the companion reached out and hoisted the little boy up to stand on his left thigh. He needed some distractions from the uneasy atmosphere that suddenly filled the room. Closer, Jun smelled nice and clean, even after his little 'incident'.
Forcing himself to smile at the boy, Fuji said, "You're not going to wet yourself on me again, are you?"
Jun burped in response.
The boy's little fingers were now exploring Fuji's face and hair with unfeigned interest. Maybe it was his first time meeting a stranger. Fuji opened his eyes a bit to let the boy see them, and he got the result he wanted. The boy's face lit up and he let out a happy shriek.
Fuji reflexively brought the boy closer, only to feel the softness of the toddler's flesh against his own. A surge of warm feelings burst inside him. Life. It was life that he felt climbing on his lap and tugging strands of his hair. It was life that smelled like baby powder, baby oil, and baby soap. It was life that stared back at him wide eyed, as if pleading, Look closer.
The boy kept on looking at the companion. Time had stopped between them and nothing else mattered at that moment. There were only him, the boy, and his father. Fuji's gaze darted back and forward between the two Atobe.
Do you see that there's more than what you thought?
Yes, oh yes. Fuji saw it in those young, child eyes. He could not read it in the father's eyes, but the son hadn't learned how to conceal his heart yet. The child knew his father better than anyone.
The companion didn't realize that his smile had faltered considerably when he took Jun and held him close. Atobe Keigo, on the other hand, saw it crumble. It gave away for the softest expression on Fuji's face that Atobe had ever seen. Real, unguarded Fuji.
And he was not smiling.
"So, I suppose I'm here to meet this little Atobe prince?" Fuji said after a while, his smile back on place.
"Ore-sama!" the boy wailed. His father only smirked approvingly.
"Maa, your son is very much like you," the companion responded to the sudden outburst.
"I surely hope so, only an Atobe can raise another Atobe."
"Cocky, aren't you?" Fuji teased.
Atobe smirked. "No, confident."
"Misguided is more likely," Fuji said thoughtfully.
"I'm just being honest."
"Insufferable," the companion huffed.
"And you're stubborn," the client retorted without pausing.
"I'd rather call it persistent."
"One must know his limit," Atobe replied.
A big, victorious grin appeared on Atobe's handsome face and he said with satisfaction, "There's nothing off-limit to ore-sama."
Throughout the exchange of words, little Atobe Jun looked at both adults with questions in his eyes. He had never seen his father play with another big person like that, with each word said it seemed that his father's smile lifted up a bit. Of course Jun was looking at his father with adoring, clouded eyes, so it's understandable that he missed the look of hunger in Atobe Keigo's eyes.
"Spoiled," this time it came from the stranger with pretty eyes who was still hugging him. Jun liked being hugged and he didn't mind this new person at all. Especially when this big person was affectionately patting his thigh with soft, steady fingers, lulling the toddler into a dreamy state. Jun let out a yawn.
His father sighed and took the boy from Fuji.
"I promised you lunch, didn't I?"
The companion smiled. "Yes, you did."
Lunch was surprisingly simple. Fuji had expected something much more luxurious than a bowl of rice sprinkled with sesame seeds, grilled salmon, pickled daikon and ume, rolled omelet, and seaweeds. He thought that it looked curiously similar to a child's bento before seeing that Jun's smaller meal was served in a very cute bento.
Atobe, noticing the companion's sudden interest on his son's lunch, provided the answer to Fuji's unspoken question. "He wants to eat like a big boy."
"Oh." A warm smile appeared on Fuji's face. "But he is a big boy already."
"Don't let him hear you. We'll never hear the end of it," Atobe muttered.
They ate their meals in respectful silence, with the occasional instructions from Atobe to his son. Jun had not been able to handle the chopsticks correctly, but he was exempted from further struggle when his nanny gave him a plastic fork. When the adults had finished their meals, Jun was still chewing the same thing for the last ten minutes.
"Junnichiro, swallow it. Your teeth will get rotten if you keep food inside your mouth like that," Atobe said.
Jun pouted, but he obeyed in the end.
After lunch, Atobe sneaked a fruit drop into Fuji's palm when the nanny was busy taking care of the plates. He sucked one himself, keeping it under his tongue, and got another one out for his son.
Keeping the fruit drop between his thumb and index finger, Atobe senior let Jun happily taste the sweet. "He's too small to have one by himself, but Jun loves the melon taste."
Fuji thought that the way Atobe indulged his son was truly endearing. He too remembered eating fruit drops when he had been a kid. Call it a coincidence, but it was exactly the same brand he had known.
"I used to eat these after school," Fuji began, feeling nostalgic. "Of course, Yuuta was also—"
All of a sudden Fuji's hands flew to his mouth. A look of undisguised shock was apparent on his face, and his opened eyes betrayed his own confusion. He kept his hands where they were, covering his mouth.
"Fuji?" Atobe called.
"I-I'm… Excuse me." Without finishing his sentence, Fuji fled the room. He ignored Atobe's calling after him. Nauseated, Fuji searched for a toilet in the large house. He remembered the bathroom he had used before and headed there.
I said his name, I said Yuuta's name. Oh, god.
He reached the toilet just in time, and heaved all of his lunch out.
Fuji had washed his mouth and face thoroughly when Atobe came to see him. Without saying anything, Atobe came closer and rubbed Fuji's back in a slow, deliberate motion. The companion's sagged shoulder trembled and his grip on the sink tightened.
"Don't." Fuji waved Atobe's hand off. "I don't want you to see me like this."
"Kanou-san, my cook, was upset. She thinks that you're sick because of the food," Atobe said lightly.
"Nonsense," Fuji snorted.
"That's what I told her. Ore-sama can only eat the best food, so there's nothing wrong with her cooking, ne?"
Fuji chuckled. "You're trying to make me feel better."
"Look at me, Fuji," Atobe said.
The companion flinched; he still could not accept Atobe's calling him so intimately. Wiping his mouth, he turned around and looked at his client in the eyes. One strong hand brought him closer to the taller man, and to Fuji's dismay, he noticed that his full height only reached Atobe's chin.
Still rubbing Fuji's back with one hand, Atobe's other hand encircled the waist. Impulsively Fuji held onto Atobe's shirt. They stayed like that for some time—their bodies barely touching, leaving an impenetrable, empty space in between—not saying anything, just breathing. Inhaling and exhaling, listening to the merging rhythm of their hearts, being aware of each other's touch, knowing that they were hindered only by the fabrics of their clothes.
Fuji knew that he read the client correctly. Atobe wanted him, and it didn't take a genius to figure out that the seemingly innocent rubbing motion was meant to be more. What Fuji didn't expect was his own reaction to Atobe's moves. He wasn't a stranger to lust, being what he was, but there was an inexplicable urgency that he had never experienced before.
Atobe had been very patient, considering that he had not made any sexual proposition to Fuji. He kissed Fuji twice, but he had never gone further than that. Every touch he had made burnt Fuji's skin, every touch withdrawn left a void. Usually, his clients would not wait two days when they wanted something. They came and went as they pleased, giving him large tips when they were satisfied with themselves.
But Atobe was different.
He took his time, controlling his own desire, for a purpose Fuji didn't know. He even brought Fuji to his home, to meet and have lunch with his son. Atobe wanted him, but he hesitated. Why?
Deep down, Fuji might have known the answer to his own question. Nevertheless, tracing the buttons on Atobe's shirt, Fuji whispered another question, "What do you want?"
Atobe took his time answering. "I don't know."
"Why did you come to me?"
"To see you."
"Because he told you to—"
"No. Not because of him."
"Maybe," Atobe paused, "maybe I did, yesterday. But I came today for my own reasons."
Fuji placed his palm on Atobe's chest. "What do you ask of me?"
The hand that enclosed around Fuji's waist pulled the companion closer, so that their bodies were pressed against each other.
"Allow me this," Atobe whispered, barely audible. Fuji realized that the client wasn't asking his permission. Atobe was talking to someone else. Someone long gone. Fuji ached inside, because he knew.
And he pleaded too.
To be continued
Ofuro: Traditional Japanese bath.
-Yukata: A single-layer cotton kimono, worn usually as a loungewear or nightwear or during summer.
-Obi: Sash for kimono or yukata.
-Migoro: The flaps (main parts) of yukata.
-Shoji: Sliding screen door.
-Engawa: Porch in the traditional Japanese house.
-Daikon and ume: Radish and plum.
I thank Hikari noYami, yoshikochan, no name, Yukirei, La Folle, WoLfePaWs, Dana a.k.a Setsuna Muraki, RoYale, and violet angel007 for their thoughtful and uplifting reviews. I can't ask for more, really.
I apologize for the long delay in the update. Other obligations (and other plotbunnies) demanded priority.
I was thinking, maybe R is a better rating than PG-13, considering the way the story progresses. What say you?
Concrits always have a special place in my heart. Hint. Hint. Ah, sod subtlety off. If you think something needs improvement, let me know. Thanks.