A/N: Haha! Think I'd die so easily, did you? Sorry for the long wait, school came back to remind me I had an academic record to keep up. Anyway, everyone, this is the (dun dun dunn) Final Chapter.
Edit: I am re-posting this chapter, as all the grammatical errors were bothering me and I could ignore it no longer. I also noticed I'm a bit (or a lot) of a comma-freak. Dear God, how does my beta put up with me? XD
Special Thanks: Asami-chann, my wonderful, wonderful beta! She comes with her own background music. Thank you, thank you, thank you Asami-chann! She should earn a trophy for putting up with my inconsistent production of chapters and my, er, "writing style." XD Also, thanks to all readers who have stuck to UD this far! To all my darling reviewers, you'll be mentioned at the bottom, and if you had any questions/comments, I've made a response.
Warnings: Vampirism, violence, BL
Pairings: Thrill, Pillar, Golden, Endurance, MomoAn
"And how can they say I never change
They're the ones that stay the same.
I'm the one now,
'Cause I'm still here.
I'm the one,
'Cause I'm still here.
I'm still here."
- "I'm Still Here" by John Rznerick
"Moshi moshi?" Fuji spoke into the phone, sidestepping a rogue chair and avoiding the living room altogether. He could hear the vague noises coming from the TV, which appeared to be the only source of light in the otherwise quiet room. Undoubtedly, Eiji had fallen asleep to recuperate faster, using Oishi's lap as a pillow; the rest of the Regulars were gathered upstairs, likely arguing over the next course of action in regards to Fuji. Just because they were all friends and immortal didn't mean they could go around stabbing each other without punishment.
"Is something wrong, Ryoma?" Caller ID had been a godsend when it came around.
Fuji had interrupted Eiji's bite before it could start Turning Ryoma but he could never rule out the possibility. If Eiji had in fact drained enough blood to start the freshman Regular into a transition then it would be imperative that he get vampiric blood as soon as possible.
The other end of the line was quiet, which normally wouldn't have perturbed Fuji - Ryoma was always quiet and not the greatest conversationalist to be had - but this silence was unnerving. It had been only a day since he had last seen his boyfriend. Predictably, Ryoma had skipped practice, which had caused another uproar in fueling the belief the Regulars were disappearing at an accelerated pace: first both Inui and Kaidoh, now also Kikumaru, Oishi, and Ryoma. Tezuka had to assign laps to the entire club near-constantly in an attempt to dissuade the growth of gossip.
"...I need to talk to you. At the park." Click.
Fuji lowered the phone, a lump of unease settling in his stomach. He hadn't felt like this in centuries, and he certainly didn't favor the emotion at all now. He couldn't be sure about how much Ryoma knew; how far Kaoru and Eiji had gone in explanations was a mystery to him. He could only stop them before they did anymore; he wouldn't let them take Ryoma away from him.
Fuji slipped on his shoes, grabbing an umbrella from the canister near the shelves; clouds had begun their descent on the skies, thick, gray and ominous. He could feel his skin prickle at the collected moisture in the air, with the faint smell of incoming rain idling around his senses. Fuji had a love for the rain. He had hated it before, loathed its very existence because without it the living things would die. Plants would wither away into dust, animals into dry carcasses, cities into deserts...everything would die without water.
Except for their kind.
It served as another reminder that they weren't like all the people they encountered in cities large and small. He had reveled in it before, a very long time ago; he was untouchable, unreachable, set so far away from others that the difference was almost palpable. Humans became nothing more than nuances - the best were idol trophies, the worst were pebbles on the ground.
A raindrop hit his cheek. Then his nose. Shoulder. Left hand. Sprinkles became a light shower and Fuji unfurled his borrowed umbrella almost subconsciously. It had rained that day on the tennis courts when he had first pit his talent against Echizen Ryoma. The first time in what had felt like eternity that had caused his blood to pump, his senses to sharpen, his heartbeat to quicken in anticipation- in excitement- in the sheer and utter thrill.
He had never meant to get so close.
When Ryoma had first appeared - bearing those damnable eyes and features - Fuji honestly wondered if it was possible for a vampire to die of a heart attack. He supposed he was different from the others; there was guilt, of course, perhaps even stronger than theirs. He had been the one to take that life, after all - to see that horrifying look in Kin's eyes as his life faded away right in front of him.
But there was hope. It was that hope that had motivated him, that had kept his eyes on that small boy that grew into the young man. He had never meant for him to become special; it was supposed to be a formal relationship: between teammates, between classmates, maybe even between friends.
Then he had played that match against the prodigal freshman, and the resulting thrill was addictive. He couldn't have let go even if he had wanted to. He became attached to the boy with golden eyes, obsessed with him. It was a torrent passion he had never felt before, even in the centuries he had lived through; nothing could compare to what it felt like to possess that beautiful, perfect creature with golden eyes and dark-green hair. A boy with a standoffish attitude and indifferent demeanor, who could hide a million different emotions yet still be the most honest person anyone could ever meet.
Echizen Ryoma became the embodiment of Fuji's passions, of his thrill, of his love, of his desperate, desperate hope.
Fuji had wanted salvation more than anything else. He had wanted absolvement of his crimes, of his sins. He wanted- needed forgiveness for the terrible things he had done. He had believed that if he watched over Echizen Ryoma as both a senpai and friend, made sure he lived a happy, full life, he could be forgiven for murdering the village boy he had never loved. One life for another, as if the value could be weighed and measured against each other.
Kin had meant nothing to him. He was a foolish boy, entirely too trusting and just desperate enough to grab any hand held out to him even if it was coated in blood. Fuji had drawn him into his web like a spider that warmly cocooned its victim before it took its life, earned his trust and his love before carelessly destroying it. It was a cruelty that even animals did not inflict on their victims; when they kill, they kill to feed. Fuji had killed Kin with no thought for survival - it had been for fun, a crime of the moment. They kept him around like a pet and when they could no longer keep him, they put him down without care. It was far worse than just taking his life at the beginning because trust had developed between the predator and prey. A trust they had broken, that they had never cared for until it was far too late to piece it back together.
Fuji had never been forthcoming with his regret. Of the others, he had been the one that spent the longest time away, barely returning to his friends, preferring to isolate himself. He had spent years abroad, letting humans do whatever they wished to him: beat him bloody, cut him to pieces, force themselves on him. Anything, anything, to make the pain stop. Repenting wasn't enough, forgiveness from his friends wasn't enough; he had to feel the hopelessness that had forced Kin to grab his murderer's false helping hand.
Fuji stepped off the sidewalk and into the damp grass of the park. It mushed under his feet, squelching unpleasantly, but he didn't take notice as he made his way over to the spot he had taken Ryoma on their second date. The path was both familiar and terrifying, for this time it wouldn't be the warmth of night that greeted him at the end and there was no warm hand held to his own.
His eyes were open as he reached the sakura tree with all its flowers shed. Ryoma stood under it, back to Fuji, soaked to the bone and utterly still. He turned his head at the sound of the senior's footsteps, face carefully set at expressionless but Fuji would never miss the red-rimmed eyes; a distinctive sign the boy had been crying. Fuji allowed his umbrella to fall from his hand, his heart almost sending him into a catharsis as his mind raced with possibilities.
"Ryoma," His voice froze after uttering the name, the question dying in his throat before it could even begin to leave it.
Ryoma stared at him for just a moment before he turned his body to face the other - but still he did not move. Syuusuke took an instinctual step forward, as if he wanted to take Ryoma in his arms, but stopped himself as the boy flinched back. That wasn't a response he had ever had where Ryoma was concerned - especially with that spark of something desperate in those golden eyes - so it had forced him still. The freshman came back to himself and his eyes evaluated the other male with indefinite precision.
"Syuusuke," Ryoma's voice was cold; a sense in the absence of warmth. "Do you know what I feel when I'm with you?"
Fuji could feel it claw up his throat, cutting off his words and forcing his limbs still, as if needles had pinned him to an invisible plate. His eyes had widened, his lips still closed as shivers ran along his skin. The fear, the anxiety - it forced him silent and pricked at his eyes as he saw what he had tried to protect, to hide, fragment into ten- a hundred- a thousand pieces.
Ryoma took a step forward, eyes on the senior as he uttered words as if from an invisible script.
"I feel a little shaky," Ryoma was closer now, an arm's length away. Fuji could feel his heart freeze and crack, crevices running along the smoothest diamond. "And my stomach acts up." A warm, tan hand reached forward, weaving through the brunette strands of hair far too softly for a person reciting the lines which damned the vampire.
"I get all hot, too, and I..." Ryoma's voice broke even as he leaned forward, eyes too moist to belong to the proud youth Fuji adored. "I notice you. A lot more than the others."
That was all Fuji could feel; soft as petals against his own, warming his iced skin and sending heat to every core of every cell in his body. All of his nerves on end, as if electricity had been jolted through his person. One hand had crept to the back of his neck to pull him forward as close as two physical bodies were allowed to be and Fuji could feel the rain hit every exposed part of his body that wasn't hidden or twisted with the body of the other boy's. It shouldn't have been possible to be this close and yet Fuji still wanted more.
His limbs, however, remained still and kept to his sides, even as he leaned into the kiss. It was sweet and bitter, hot and wet, passion overcoming reason and a whole breed of insanity by itself. It was a force that he had once taken for amusement, and then out of affection, but now- it was consuming and it bled through him like hot lava and the sharpest shards of glass.
Fuji's breath hitched but still he only deepened the kiss. This one was more desperate, a plea without words, like a starved man that had been given his first treat. Ryoma's lips were supple under his, yielding and overwhelmingly hot. It almost burned, this ferocity for which some unnamed emotion poured out from him indecipherably.
Kaidoh didn't wince, even as the soreness in his limbs screamed as he sat up in his bed. He had been lying back in bed for hours now, still too sore to move from the nest of mattress and sheets but too restless at this point to stay still. It was strange, that the only thought he had after he woke up from being practically massacred by Syuusuke was that the other boy had deepened his knowledge on physical torture. If these had been regular wounds, the soreness should have faded by this point; Syuusuke, it seemed, had been fairly upset.
There had been a flurry of panic downstairs hours previous and Sadaharu had finally come upstairs to tell him what was going on. Kikumaru seemed to be in much worse shape than he was but Syuusuke had reserved enough sense to not damage the redhead irrevocably. He knew the others were in the bedroom adjacent to the one he resided in as he could hear the argument through the walls, as well as Sadaharu's absence from his side.
The matter was delicate; the centuries for which they lived had given them access to a variety of perspectives. While Fuji had attacked two of their group, it must also be taken into account the vampire's relationship with Echizen Ryoma and Kaidoh's and Kikumaru's actions that may have interfered or endangered the relationship or the human involved. Kaidoh couldn't find it in himself to regret his actions - except maybe for the fact that he hadn't done enough - but even at this point he had to question himself. Syuusuke wouldn't have reacted the way he had if Ryoma meant as much to him as Kin did - but wasn't that an unfair assumption? The centuries of life had changed each of them and in the way that Ryoma was not Kin, Syuusuke was not the same Syuusuke of the feudal era.
Somehow, after the fact, Kaidoh felt a bit guilty. Had he not stepped in, would things not have escalated to this level? Should he have taken more time to examine things, let Ryoma and Syuusuke run their natural course? He felt he had acted too foolhardy and reckless, and now things were coming apart far too quickly that the snake-like tennis player was sure would be too hard to mend.
Had he damaged something irrevocably?
The door to the room creaked open, Kaidoh's eyes snapping to the entry, already expecting the tall, bespectacled visage of his lover.
Blue eyes stared back at him, framed by disheveled red hair.
"Eiji," Kaidoh greeted roughly, scanning the thin form up and down without a change of expression. "...You've been better."
Kikumaru choked out a laugh but the action caused him to wince in pain and hold a hand over his abdomen. Still, a damnable little smile curled his lips and he maneuvered his way over to Kaidoh's bed and flounced down onto it with a soft sigh. "Don't make me laugh, Kaoru," the redhead mock-chided. The smile on his face contrasted with the angry red lines that covered it, as well as the multitude of bandages visible under his shirt and on his arms. The wounds were healed up to almost nothing - quite remarkable given that it had only been a day - but it was enough evidence to suggest that Fuji was a force to be reckoned with. The man could be a god-damned army in and of himself, really.
Kikumaru groaned in an agitated fashion. "I feel like we really fucked up."
Kaidoh snorted. "We look really fucked up." The bandages around Kaidoh's own limbs were presented as evidence.
The voices in the adjacent room spiked up - it sounded like Oishi arguing about the difference between 'protective' and 'self-destructive' - but settled back down into the low pitch of a docile argument. Both Kikumaru and Kaidoh didn't look particularly concerned, or indeed interested, though the redhead frowned slightly. "Oishi is going to be all stressed out again! And I can't even use my body to-"
"Please, Eiji, not now," Kaidoh cut him off irritably, annoyance flashing dangerously in his eyes as Kikumaru turned to smile at the other innocently.
A silence stifled in contemplation settled between them and Kaidoh knew it was only a waiting game at this point until the redhead finally said what he wanted to say. The other boy could be reckless, Kaidoh could admit that, but he certainly wasn't stupid; it definitely wasn't just on good looks and their vice-captain that Eiji had survived for so long.
"Were we in the right?"
The question broke the tentative quiet, Kaidoh giving the other vampire a very solemn look. Kikumaru looked pensive, as if he were trying to solve some great puzzle that needed all of his attention. Blue eyes darkened almost noticeably with the emotion of something intense, forcing Kaidoh to tear his eyes away and down to the bed sheets he was wrapped in.
Were they in the right?
"I don't know," Kaidoh admitted quietly. "But I think..."
"But I think..."
Fuji had his arms wrapped around the smaller boy. He didn't want to let go and still their lips were locked together. Mouths meshed and the intimacy was at the tip of pleasurable, though the sensation of Ryoma against his pale skin continued to flare warning along every cell of his body, as if the life he had long given up was screaming for the salvation it had so obviously been denied.
Fuji's eyes were open, staring straight into the golden ones of the youth before him. It was not out of fear that he did not close them; it was out of the obsessive need to soak in every detail, coupled with the knowledge that the time was drawing to a close in which he would be able to do so.
"..that no matter what we did or did not do..."
Ryoma, for his part, did not change expression. His eyes were half-lidded yet still he persisted in the kiss. The breaks for air were brief and just enough before they were back together again. Fuji was unceasing and smooth, a constant stream of motion that wanted to be closer, go deeper.
"...the result would be the same..."
Their kiss had ended.
Fuji felt as if everything had ended in the same instance but could not bring himself to let go of the other boy. The selfish part of him-a part that had reared up and overcome him in the past, before he had buried it under layers upon layers of every infliction he dealt onto himself-did not want this to end. This was unclear, uncertain; was he scared for his life? Or was he scared of losing something he felt more important?
Fuji stilled. He had tried and persisted and cajoled Ryoma into saying his given name; the name he had kept through the centuries. It was him, simply and utterly, and it had been in the earliest days that another boy with golden eyes had called him by that name. He had wanted Ryoma to call him by it as well, to dispel the horrible connotations he had associated with it after the fact.
The single utterance was anything but warm.
"...in that the single fate given to a soul is inevitable."
Kikumaru stared at him, hands clenched in the pajama pants he had been dressed in. The redhead looked ready to refute but something kept him silent; perhaps a bitter agreement, or perhaps even an argument that had yet to be articulated. Kaidoh kept to his opinion though, and while no means anywhere near a deity, had he not lived long enough to see things crumble? To see something rise from the ashes?
Souls had to be similar, he believed. Reincarnated again and again: they followed a path that was unavoidable, a destiny set in stone; try what one might to displace it, to change course in the middle of a journey, the path was too narrow to turn around regardless of how long or brief the path extended. They didn't realize that there were no other options open - just like wandering around in the dark of a tunnel with nothing but a match to light the way; too dark to see that the only way to move was forward.
"But people change, don't they?" Kikumaru finally spoke.
Kaidoh nodded. "People also die, Eiji; that is the inevitable fate. A person dies." There was loathing underlying the reply but the face was oddly devoid of emotion. "We do not die naturally. We persist in 'living' and because of our single unchanging state, we are the personification of a crime against nature."
"Abominations," the redhead supplied evenly.
Kaidoh allowed a small, wry, self-deprecating smile to twist his lips. "But nature will, eventually, return to the status quo - to a tentative equilibrium. Abominations will be eliminated."
Fuji did not respond; just clung closer. He almost wanted to believe that if he just held on tighter, everything would go back to the way it was - Ryoma would still be ignorant, still be accepting, still be his.
Ryoma pulled away from the senior's embrace, eyes on the lithe form that hollowly let him go. Fuji's arms remained semi-outstretched before dropping limply to his sides as he regarded the other male in front of him with the sort of look that only came upon the faces of desperate men. Ryoma would not let the look deter him - he imagined what Kin's face might have looked like as he watched this same man before Ryoma turn his back.
It was strange, the things a little flower could make people do. Could make people think.
"Let's play a match," Ryoma said, voice empty.
Momo rubbed at his eyes, as if the strain of having them opened too long was starting in on him. Kawamura's level voice had cut through Oishi's argument and now the two were hammering out the finer points of past events, Inui occasionally interjecting from time to time. Tezuka was near the door, silent but ever-watchful, letting the others hash out their viewpoints, their opinions, before he would say his part and finalize the matter entirely.
Just like Buchou, Momo thought, in a moment of self-inspired idleness. Both judge and jury.
The sidewalks were filled with next to no one, the rain having warned off passers-by from leaving their shelters. The pair made their way at an almost leisurely pace; there was purpose in every step the freshman made but Fuji could only follow like a man walking to his own execution. Ryoma's hand was grasping Fuji's, neither loose nor ironclad yet the pressure was unmistakable.
Tennis courts were nearby, devoid of life in response to the sudden showers. The condition would make it difficult to play, as both boys knew, but neither cared. This wasn't really about the game - there was something else lurking underneath the surface and Fuji had to wonder if his whole world was really riding on the surface of a small green ball.
He had often envisioned his own death, though none of the scenarios dreamt up by his mind would have ever guessed death by tennis. Some had even featured Kin rising from the ashes to take his revenge, and back then when Fuji had been left alone with his thoughts and pain, a guilty sense of relief partnered with the morbidity of it all. Ryoma had not spoken a word the entire way, silent in his motivation and reason - in contrast to Fuji, who remained meek in comparison with his fumbled emotions.
Oishi was trying to remain calm and level about this - he really was - but worry and self-loathing had choked down the usual responsible nature of Seigaku's vice-captain. What he wanted to do himself, what he wanted done, what he should have done; these urges and impulses warred on inside him, often acting as both allies and opposers.
He wanted to check on Eiji, just to be sure the other was alright; he wanted to run after Fuji and rip his damn face off; he wanted to see Echizen and apologize even if the boy didn't know for what. This inner war was similar to how he had felt all those centuries ago - when he had seen his close friends and lover come out of the forest and join them at Tokage Pass.
"He didn't want to come, Syuuichirou."
Syuusuke had replied. Kunimitsu had nodded. Eiji had pouted.
Oishi stared, guilt mingling in his gut as he only half-listened to Kawamura try to rationalize Fuji's behavior. A part of him felt anger that things had turned out this way - that he had been useless to stop it, to do anything at all to somehow lessen the blow. Another part of him remembered.
Momo had looked away.
Sixteen years of friendship, coupled with three years of vampire fledgelinghood; it was impossible to not know each other inside out. Syuuichirou could have listed off all of their likes, their dislikes, their favorite weather, what game they did best in. He could clearly vision their every move, their every action and reaction to different things. He knew how Takashi liked to clean his clothes, how Kunimitsu prepared his tea, what Syuusuke's real laugh sounded like, what Sadaharu could find so interesting in everyday things, which sleeping position made it so Momo didn't snore, how Kaoru smiled, how Eiji loved. He knew them, for they were both friends and brothers.
But it turned out he didn't know them well enough.
Momo froze. Eiji flinched. Syuusuke opened his eyes.
"Why are you lying?"
Syuuichirou's voice gained a more nervous edge, green eyes flicking from face to face in the quartet before him. Taka took a step up next to him, also looking at their friends in discomfort. They weren't replying, in either an affirmation or a denial. Syuuichirou looked back at Sadaharu; he had spoken to the four last, having come up by himself as he had to "take care of a few things."
Sadaharu looked away. Kaoru stared at his lover, eyes wide as if he didn't recognize the male next to him. Syuuichirou looked back at the others.
"What did you do?"
Eiji stared at him, torn.
"What did you do?"
They had killed him.
Ryoma stood on the opposite side of the court, fingering his racket with a professional's air. Fuji stood poised on his own side, blue eyes watching the other boy. Both were thoroughly drenched in rain at this point, just like the tennis court they stood on; getting friction out of the ball was going to be hell. Fuji knew, however, that this wasn't really about the game, about who would win or lose - because this was different.
Ryoma bounced the ball, just once, before throwing it up into the air in a familiar position.
"Sadaharu, what happens if Echizen finds out?"
Momo's tired voice silenced every other one in the room instantly. All eyes swiveled to the youth slouched back in the desk chair, violet eyes almost glittering despite the obvious wear in temperament on the normally jovial boy. Oishi's mouth had practically dropped open - whether it was from where he had been stopped mid-sentence or from the horrifying scenario that would surely come to pass if Ryoma ever found out was unclear - as Inui looked up from where he had been analyzing the notes in his notebook.
The written data looked more scrawled than usual; the only physical evidence that the bespectacled youth was under any sort of emotional strain in response to the situation. Even with Kaidoh's condition, Inui had maintained a collected composure; he knew he would be of no use if he were to fall apart. He had to remain calm and analytical so that he could rationalize and formulate the best plans.
So that he could look at Kaoru and pretend that it all wasn't somehow his fault.
"I didn't kill him, Kaoru."
The statement was devoid of any inflection but the wear on the voice was obvious. Sadaharu had been met with nothing but Kaoru's silence for just under two weeks at this point and he could stand it no longer. The silence might seem almost docile when compared to Syuuichirou's tearful exclamations, or the shouting matches between Takashi and Momoshiro, but the sheer cold in Kaoru's silence was damn near fatal.
Kaoru was silent, back to the other as he stared at the small campfire before him. This was how they had travelled for the past thirteen days; two fires, eight shelters. Syuuichirou couldn't look at anyone without getting emotional and Takashi always seemed moments away from suddenly snapping into a violent rage. Momoshiro was no better, but Eiji looked guilt-ridden and depressed whenever his lover shied away from him. Kunimitsu and Syuusuke remained as stoic as Kaoru, but their's was somehow less hateful - it almost seemed like they were just riding out the storm.
"It was all burnt down."
The soft reply almost made him start but Sadaharu kept his reaction well-hidden. Not that he needed to; Kaoru still had yet to look at him.
"There was nothing left but ashes."
That's right - Kaoru had gone back. When Syuuichirou had been interrogating them, demanding them for an answer, Kaoru had raced back. Possibly, he had hoped Kin would have somehow survived.
"You didn't drink his blood-"
Syuusuke had done that.
"You didn't watch him die-"
Momoshiro and Eiji.
"Nor did you burn him to ashes."
Kunimitsu had done so, to hide the evidence. Sadaharu had said they shouldn't leave a trail.
"But you knew."
Cold and unyielding, both accusing yet emotionless. When did Kaoru learn such a frightening technique?
"You knew, and you did nothing. You might as well have just murdered him yourself, Sadaharu!"
He knew, in that moment, that Kaoru truly hated him then.
They didn't splinter off from the group until decades later. Even though Kaoru loathed them, even though Syuuichirou mourned, even though Takashi raged; the most prominent feeling had been guilt. Guilt because they had done something so horrible, guilt because they had done nothing to stop it, to prevent it; they had nothing in that world but their guilt and each other.
Strange, then, how Syuusuke was the first to depart.
The ball flew past him, spinning in spot true to its form before launching upwards at an angle that would have marked it unhittable to normal opponents. But Fuji was hardly a normal opponent - so even in his state, he was mildly surprised to see the ball whizz past his face before he could meet it with his racket. It collided with the chain-linked fence behind him, the rattling sound the only indication of the action as Fuji had not turned to watch its trek.
Across the court, golden eyes blazing and face still as expressive as ice, Ryoma stared at him.
Momo looked up at Inui thoughtfully, waiting for the response. He had always wondered, really, what would happen if Echizen ever found out about what they had done to his incarnation. Not just his response to the idea that they had actually killed Kin but his relationships to them altogether.
The thought had nagged at him; he was friends with Echizen Ryoma. But who did the others hold ties to - Ryoma or Kin?
Kin had been special to each of them, in a way that was almost as impersonal as his death was to them at the time. Even after the centuries, when Momo had divulged himself of the blinding superiority he had fooled himself into thinking he had, he could not rouse any emotion in response to Kin other than guilt and regret and maybe even pity. No warmth, no regret over the loss of a friend; just the guilt of doing something unspeakably horrible to a stranger, the regret for taking a life without regard, and pity for putting Kin in such a position.
Guilt and regret went hand-in-hand in regards to his crime, leaving pity as the only feeling left attached to the village boy. Pity, however, wasn't an emotion one shared with their friends; sympathy, perhaps, and empathy - but pity was an empty, corporate emotion.
It was different with Ryoma. Then again, everything was different where Ryoma was concerned, wasn't it?
Fuji returned the second shot with energy he didn't remember having and the short rally that followed sent tiny stabs of pain along his body. He was convinced, however, that the agony was purely psychological; he had been in perfect health before and there was no poison that harmed vampires and were immune to humans. When the short rally ended with Ryoma earning another point, Fuji willed his concentration back as Ryoma mercilessly resumed the stance of his signature serve.
The tennis ball launched over the net, met Fuji's racket, and the rally started again.
"The chances of Echizen finding out are...0.07 percent," Inui rattled off, unmoved.
Kawamura and Oishi relaxed at the numerical answer but Momo just grinned, leaning his chin down on his hand to gaze at the senior with a knowing glint in his eyes that, just sometimes, Inui could clearly picture the youth that had so easily watched Kin die.
"But hasn't Echizen always upset your data, Inui-senpai?"
It was one of the cruelest things Momo could have said.
"Momo- do you really think Echizen has any idea?" Inui inwardly winced at how gravelly his voice sounded.
"I don't know."
"You aren't making sense, Momo!" Oishi cried, looking far more perturbed by the topic than any of Kin's killers.
When the score was at 4-1, Ryoma's lead with 30 points for their fifth game, Fuji wondered how the boy would dispose of his body. The game was coming to its obvious conclusion and Ryoma was similar to an unstoppable force; was it the anger that made him so strong? Or had Fuji been blind to the boy's skill for this long?
Fuji wouldn't fight back.
The tensai wondered if the boy had a wooden stake in his tennis bag. The entire set-up was pre-meditated, as had been revealed when Ryoma pulled out his tennis bag from the park's lockers. It was possible to hide a stake in the bag; it wouldn't need to be long, just enough to pierce his heart. He would have to beg the boy to not go after the others, though, and he hoped his death would be enough to satiate Ryoma's unusual method of revenge. (He hadn't heard anything of playing a sport before one took another's life.)
Ryoma took the fifth game. Fuji smiled.
"If Echizen ever found out," Kaidoh broke into the conversation, leaning against the frame of the open doorway with far too casual a stance. "He'd probably kill us all."
Inui strode forward, a small frown evident on his lips, clearly displeased with the sight of his still-healing lover up and about. It was then that Kikumaru popped up from behind the viper-like tennis player, red lines still evident on his broadly-grinning face as he slinked into the room. He probably would have bounced, but his injuries were too new and all he could manage at the moment was a stunted shuffle.
"Kaoru! Eiji!" Oishi exclaimed, surging to his feet in distress. "You two should be resting!"
Kaidoh merely snorted but Kikumaru practically hung himself in Oishi's arms, nonplussed. "Nyaa, Oishi! We're the ones that Syuusuke hurt! I think we get a say in this too!" the redhead rebutted, pouting.
"And he was bored," Kaidoh added blandly.
Kikumaru grinned. "And I was bored," he agreed.
It had stopped raining, somewhere in the middle of their final game, but Fuji could not remember the moment. He had been too busy trying to make the shots back, as with the progress of the match, it was as if Ryoma had intensified; everything suddenly seemed harder to return, every strike making Fuji's heart jump and twist. He could almost taste the death on the tip of his tongue.
Slowly, almost mockingly, Ryoma hit a zero-shiki drop shot. Fuji watched the ball roll back to the net with finality.
6 games to 1, Echizen Ryoma the winner.
There was a still moment where they just stared at each other, Fuji waiting for Ryoma to make the first move so that he could respond accordingly. The smaller boy almost seemed to be waiting for something to happen, as if Fuji would just burst into sparks with that one loss, but nothing but the silence met the anticlimactic conclusion. Almost sluggishly, the freshman started to move; a slow trek around the tennis net to Fuji's side. The tensai watched the other boy move until they stood next to one another.
Fuji felt his racket slip from his hands, the clattering of plastic and metal hitting the court and echoing deafeningly to his ears. Ryoma gave no notice, just reached forward with one hand to slip into Fuji's pocket, slipping out the senior's cell phone casually. Golden eyes focused on the small, uniform piece of technology, fingers expertly dialing the buttons.
For one wild moment, Fuji wondered if his boyfriend was dialing the police.
Ryoma held the phone up to his ear as his eyes went back to the still form of Fuji.
"This is insane," Oishi finally exclaimed, pulling Eiji down into a chair with a vaguely admonishing look. "I don't know why we're discussing the 'if's! This is about Syuusuke and what he's done." His tone was almost steely, softened only by the troubled expression on his face. Almost as one, Eiji and Momo frowned at the man, but Kawamura made a muffled agreement while Kaidoh just looked at peace with his own reasoning.
Like the cracking of thunder, the ringing of a phone rebounded throughout the room.
All eyes turned to the source as Tezuka pulled his cellphone out, hazel eyes analyzing the caller ID with vague annoyance before melting into subtle concern. "Syuusuke," was all he gave by way of explanation, flipping it open to take the call.
The voice that greeted him made him freeze.
A second ticked boy as rationality momentarily fled the usually stoic form. Blinking away the sudden loss of thought - gaining heightened attention from every other occupant in the room - Tezuka spoke with a voice a little too gravelly for the captain's liking.
"Echizen," Tezuka replied back in acknowledgement and something flashed through everyone's eyes.
"You're with the others, aren't you?" Echizen asked, and didn't even pause to wait for an agreement as he continued. "Put me on speakerphone."
Tezuka pulled the cell away from his ear, regarding it at a loss before pushing down on the necessary button.
"You're on speakerphone," Tezuka forced out dryly, and there was a small crackle just before Echizen began to speak.
"Senpai-tachi," The tone in the freshman's voice could be considered bored. "I know what happened to Kin."
There was a collective intake of breath, Inui's notebook falling to the ground in shock. Terror swept over a majority of the faces present, as Kaidoh sank down onto the bed with a defeated look. Momo leaned forward, face calm as he listened on expectantly.
"I'm at Shinjuku-Gyo park right now, with Fuji-senpai." There was a considering pause. "I...I think I'm going to kill him."
The line clicked dead.
Then there was the dial tone, and silence.
Fuji watched with keen eyes as Ryoma shut off the phone, looking at it before stowing it away in his own pocket. Fuji remained unmoving - as if he hadn't just heard his impending murder, eyes riveted to the other as Ryoma looked back up at him with flat eyes. Fuji could not guess at what the other was thinking, too choked with his own thoughts; what would Ryoma do after he had killed him? Would the others be killed as well? Would anyone else figure out what had happened to Seigaku?
Would Ryoma cry after he killed him?
No, Fuji thought in sudden agony. No, he won't. Those uncaring eyes framed by that face didn't display any hesitation or second-thoughts, just cold determination. Was this how Kin felt, as Fuji turned his back on his dying body? How was it possible to feel so much pain all at once? The thought of dying seemed so much more hospitable in comparison, and in an abrupt loss of nerves, Fuji sank to his knees.
Calmly, Ryoma raised his tennis racket and brought it sweeping around to knock the other boy in the head.
It was a strong hit that sent Fuji sprawling to the ground, the contact having made an audible crack; if he had been a normal human, he would have suffered more than just the stars dancing in his vision. Blood poured from the small wound at his temple, the injury already healing but the crimson stain still flowing down to drip at his chin. Weakly, Fuji picked himself back up, expecting another blow - but Ryoma just stood there, his racket still poised in the air from the previous hit.
Ryoma merely watched the other boy rise up unsteadily, a complacent expression adorning his features but the look in his eyes was anything but calm. For just a moment, his fingers tightened around the handle of the racket, belying the sense that he was urged to take another swing. Violence, however, was not in Ryoma's nature; arrogance, yes, and an indifferent sort of determination - but never violence, no matter how hard he was pushed.
"I hate you right now." Ryoma lowered the racket, voice even as he spoke. "And I'll probably hate you for a long time."
The proclamation drifted to a halt but Ryoma still looked to have something to say. Fuji rose to shaky knees, a bit dizzy and swaying slightly but otherwise obedient, quiet. He regained his focus shortly but his eyesight was blurred by the hot sensation in his eyes from the tears that clouded his vision. His clothes were stuck to his body, the rain having drenched them into clinging to his skin, and his hair would drip at odd points. Still, the cold that constantly permeated his body held no reaction, unlike the freshman who was shivering from both the cold and his emotions.
"So it wasn't fair," Ryoma started, and for the first time, Fuji could hear the world shattered in that voice. "To make me love you, Syuusuke."
Love was blind, after all.
Love didn't take into account all the horrible things that had happened, or that will happen. It was an emotion of the highest ideal, something people had killed and died for, had betrayed and sworn by, had defined and made intangible. A multi-faceted emotion of the extremes, that danced on the whims of others and took the breath out of the devoted.
Ryoma could imagine forgiving them all - could envision the sight of their mutilated corpses - could picture turning his back on them and never seeing them again.
Ryoma had spent last night staring at his ceiling, ignoring the pleas of his cousin to eat something and the soft mewls of Karupin at the door. For the first time, his body had felt light - some great burden having been lifted as in the early hours of the morning, Ryoma had reached his decision. He had found it interesting, that the day's weather would hold rain - just as when the timer had surely began to tick from that first time he had met Fuji on the courts.
"I don't think I can forgive you," Ryoma noted detachedly. "But I can't stop loving you either."
The dizziness had fled, replaced by the feeling of loss grasping at straws. Fuji didn't know if he could bear to listen anymore, the forgiveness he had craved so beseechingly having been ripped from him but a feeling close to it was rising in elation. Both a loss and a triumph, a death sentence and a rebirth; Fuji had no response of his own and Ryoma had expected none.
Ryoma leaned down, not quite a crouch but close enough, so that Fuji had no choice but to look into abrasive golden eyes. The sight had taken his breath away and he stared wide-eyed into that predatorial gaze, near trembling. Warm, calloused hands grasped his face gently, tilting the angle higher for a better view. It was in that moment Fuji understood how weak and vulnerable he was, with tears sliding down his cheeks, in Ryoma's complete mercy - an ironic twist in comparison to Kin's submission into Fuji's hands.
Ryoma carried on: stronger and defiant.
"I am not going to kill anyone, Syuusuke. Not even you." Ryoma wasn't exactly sure where this decision had stemmed from. Whether it was because he was incapable of murder, of murdering Syuusuke, or just because he was - apparently - a lovesick fool; whatever the case may be, he was at peace with the decision. Not to say that perhaps he would regret it one day, or that it was laced with a thousand other doubts and insecurities, but this treacherous path had ended for Ryoma, once and for all.
"So tell me. What does Kin mean to you?"
Fuji had to force himself not to look away, those golden eyes so intent on his own sapphire pair that his gaze was nailed there. His throat, suddenly too dry, worked to come up with words that could articulate the response. What had Kin been to him?
Food, but that wasn't quite right. A source of amusement, back then, maybe; easy satisfaction. In later times, Kin had moved from whimsical fancy to the center of everything Fuji would die to change. A constant reminder of just how monstrous he really was, how twisted and grotesque a person could become with even a little power. He was the simple explanation that summed up Fuji's terrible weakness. Kin had been something, at the beginning, then everything afterwards, but now...
"Nothing," Fuji answered, his voice surprisingly smooth. "Kin means nothing to me now."
For Kin was dead. Fuji could cry and scream and beg, could try to repent, but it wouldn't be Kin's forgiveness he would be asking for. Fuji had taken that life, and that was an irrevocable crime; he would have to live with that for the rest of his life. The dead don't come back; all he had was the memory of the crime he had committed and the guilt that never left afterwards.
Ryoma made a small, low noise of understanding.
"And what do I mean to you?"
Ryoma had the brief urge to smile.
Fuji couldn't answer. It was not that he didn't know a reply; it was more towards the fact that the words that could possibly articulate his answer were not enough, seemingly insignificant and unable to present his response. What Ryoma meant to him could not be condensed and individualized, as unspecified as it was intangible. The sheer expanse of emotions, the brevity of commitments and actions; Ryoma, in essence, was consuming. To Fuji, the other held an existence unparalleled, and even now, on his knees with clothes as soaked and icy as his own skin, Fuji realized that nothing in his extended life could compare to the sheer obsession he had for the boy known as Echizen Ryoma.
Three years was all it had taken for Ryoma to become everything.
Ryoma, with more than slightly vindicated relish, released his boyfriend from his grip, a tired smirk starting to broaden on his features.
Game and set.
The freshman had to establish it, first and foremost. The fundamental difference, and ultimately, the deciding key: Kin and Ryoma were two different people. They had shared the same soul and had even come into relationships with the same people - but their similarities had to end there. There were times, of course, when a similar trait could be witnessed - a stubbornness to the point it was galling, a sort of stunted social awareness that was bred from a natural introverted persona - but these traits could be found in any similar person.
Kin had been unfortunate in both love and life, a fate too cruel dictated to one still far too young. Ryoma could not dredge up one shred of pity for him, however; perhaps because he had seen that life through those same eyes and even through Kin's darkest times - there was always that shred of hope that could only come from those who had suffered greatly.
In his last moments, Kin had envisioned sunlight - the all-encompassing warmth.
Fuji's voice was quiet, even serene. Ryoma looked down at the other; the tensai's gaze was towards the drenched court, long bangs covering shuttered sapphire eyes. The pallor of the prodigy's skin looked so pale in the muffled light but even on defeated knees, there was something strangely elegant about him. It had to be the natural elegance of a predator, for even in its final moments, a panther cut a most graceful picturesque of death.
Ryoma gazed at him for a moment longer before closing his eyes in a muddled mixture of unadulterated pain and enlightened acceptance. The cold had swept in at him from all sides, taking swipes at every inch of skin as if to remind him of his mortality. There was a light breeze, aggravating the effects, but Ryoma was hard-pressed to care even the slightest. Something had burned inside him with an intensity that blinded, but it had been appeased into a dwindling flicker now, the fury dissolving into a malignant corner of his thoughts that bore no other occupance.
Footsteps thudded in the background, loud in the after-silence; Fuji made no sign of noticing even though he surely had and Ryoma had already expected what the tide had brought in.
"I know now," Ryoma began, calm but not indifferent, consoling but strangely vindictive, endeared but unflinchingly efficient. "So from here on out, we're all going to continue on living, Syuusuke, and see how this life plays out."
Ryoma leaned back, looking up to regard the group huddled on the sidelines.
Seven pairs of unsure eyes stared back at him, uncomprehendingly.
Ryoma smirked arrogantly. "Ne, senpai-tachi?"
The floor shined in response to the luminescent light, newly waxed and hardly stepped on. The tables glistened, just as clean and smelling of citrus from the chemicals that had wiped them down, the sides lacking chairs but held firm with the soft crimson cushions; two to both sides of a five-by-three foot
table of oak. The room - with a low ceiling and dark-paneled wood - is filled with the smell of the sea and warmth of the grain, welcoming the hunger-driven as if to beckon them forward in droves.
Noticeably, the room was not stifled in silence - but in noise.
"Oishi! Oishi! Sadaharu's being scary, nyaaa!"
"Eiji, don't you want to try my new Golden Hyper-Melon juice?"
Momo backpedalled at an inhuman pace, An barely being able to dodge her frightened boyfriend as he backed himself against the wall. "Sadaharu, that isn't even gold!" Indeed, the beverage in question was an unearthly shade of green with about the consistency of jelly. To top it off, it looked as if it
was animatedly trying to escape from the mug it was contained in.
Kawamura laughed uneasily, setting another sushi platter down in front of the table that consisted of Tezuka and Atobe, the latter in the midst of an ego-driven rant about how glorious his posture was while sitting, the former with a look completely devoid of emotion. Atobe's self-absorbed conversation had driven Kaidoh from the table to take refuge with Oishi at the adjacent one, though the former vice-captain of Seigaku was absent from his seat as he pried his redheaded lover off of nearby furniture.
Kawamura, in a generous move, had invited his friends to the opening of the Osaka branch of Kawamura Sushi that he would personally be running. Subsequently, Momo had taken along An; the two were hoping for some alone time later, away from a still-enraged Kamio and the omnipresent Tachibana. Atobe, of course, had invited himself along to accompany Tezuka (for along the same purpose as Momo and An), and that Kawamura should be "eternally grateful that oresama is blessing your establishment with his glorious presence!" Which then proceeded in Kikumaru snarkily informing the diva he could take his presence and bless something else, so that it resulted in putting the two in opposing corners of the small restaurant.
"Eiji, be careful! You can't destroy things here, the place is new!"
A demure chuckle sounded from the doorway. "So if it wasn't new, he could destroy it as he saw fit?"
Kikumaru practically launched from behind the sushi bar counter, reaching the door at breakneck speed and throwing his arms around the person next to the one who had spoken. The lithe, golden-eyed figure fell to the floor with a small grunt, his lover chuckling at his predicament as he continued in.
"Ochibi is here!" the acrobat crowed, clinging to the youth with no intention of letting go (as Oishi valiantly tried to pry him off).
Echizen Ryoma, 20 years old and current holder of two Grand Slam titles, sighed as he waited for Oishi to pick the redhead off of him or, as a last resort, have Tezuka order the other male off. He had expected the slew of over-affection, as he hadn't seen any of the former Regulars in over a month, having been overseas arguing with his American manager about a Fanta ad he was supposed to be doing three days from now. Naturally, Fuji had accompanied him, claiming he could take nature pictures on the short-lived trip.
Ryoma severely doubted him. It was patently obvious his vampire lover just wanted to join the mile-high club.
Sparing a glare at the smiling vampire who was currently talking to Kawamura, Ryoma stood up and dusted himself off after Oishi managed to convince Kikumaru he wanted to eat some more sushi (at a table a noticeable distance away from both Atobe and Inui). Maneuvering over to sit beside his boyfriend, he glared over the table at Atobe, who glared back with that same snobbish air that hadn't diminished even slightly over the years.
"Brat," the former Hyoutei captain greeted arrogantly. "Still human, I see."
Ryoma smirked. "Still a Monkey King, I see."
Atobe twitched in concealed irritation.
It had been five years since Ryoma had decided to live alongside the people who he thought he was incapable of forgiving. He didn't have the strength to do so back then, and he still didn't have so now - but eventually, maybe, he would.
Fuji didn't mind, especially as Ryoma returned the hold on his hand.
A/N: I'm done with my first fanfic! To be honest, this story was shorter than what I had planned, but I probably cut out a lot of the unnecessary ruffles. Hm. I'm pretty happy about how it turned out and surprisingly, it was a happy ending. It's been deliberately left open so I'll let you readers imagine if Ryoma was eventually Turned or not - or even if he just snaps one day and kills them. XD (Don't expect a sequel, though.) Anyway, thank you everyone for reading!
Please review! I want to know what everyone thinks of the ending so that I can see if I should work more on my endings for later fics. :)
To The Reviewers:
The Phan Ghost: See, no need for you to turn on your charm! (looks away nervously from puppy eyes)
Soul Suzuya: Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope it all makes sense now. :)
Mirsama: Well...they sort of overcame it, yeah?
Tsuki the Ryuujin no Miko: Thanks!
Xelena: (looks up) Sadly, I've been influenced by Tokyo Babylon and X/1999, so no one really has to forgive anyone but they can still be in love. XD
MysteriousEyez: Ryoma does tennis to him. XD
Tuli-Susi: I'm glad I managed to remain true to the horror genre! :) You should do the ninja one, I love anything that has Seigaku as an awesome clan-thing. Love it.
BlueNaruAngel21: Hope you like the ending too. :)
Winter's Light: It has been updated, as you wished! (strikes pose)
Kokoro62: Ah, you may have been one of the few that had Chapter 10 as their fave. :) Hope you liked the ending.
nicki-gurl: Look, I even gave some spotlight to Kaidoh and Eiji! (sighs dreamily) I missed them. My beta thought it was hilarious that Eiji cursed, though... Anyway, thank you! And you better start cracking on your own story!
shebajay: Thank you!
Kira-Kimi-Moka-Chan: Thanks! :) (hands a cookie over)
Eleanor Rigby 000: Thank you! Yes, Fuji must repent! XD
fan girl 666: Thank you!
tsub4ki: I'm glad the Kin-Ryoma personality shift wasn't that much of a jump. :) Thank you very much!
Lapis Rane: I'd like to think I answered your questions in this chapter. :) If not, feel free to PM me.
wuzzgoinon: Wow, your memory is awe-inspiring. O.O Haha, but no, that pretty much was the cut-and-dry of the matter. Er...I'm sorry? But, I mean, I gave them a sort-of happy ending, right?
heidi-mayer87: Haha, Fuji is pretty selfish in this fic. XD
ObsidianEbony: Thank you! I hope you liked the ending.
Kat-Sakura: TA-DA! Updated! XD
Firey Chronicles: You quit writing. T.T Thank you for the inspiration! I'll be expecting wonderful artwork from you now. :)
cyrille: Hope this wasn't too OOC for you! My beta said Ryoma might be a bit too mushy, though I tried really hard not to make him so... XD
S2 eternal: Yay! I was hoping it was original. You can never tell with vampire stories. XP
directorchrissy: Ah...thanks! I hope the story went forward and the ending was good enough. :)
Nigellashade: You had the longest reviews, and I loved it! I'm glad you liked the story and thank you for your encouragement. I enjoyed reading your reviews very much! :)
Faya: Ohhh...I see! Thank you very much for the correction. I stopped using it inappropriately after your review. XD
primaaryet: Thank you! And wow, you were my first reviewer! (hands over platter of cookies)
ketsuekilover: Hope it was interesting to the end! :)
xXShadowedFateXx: My ego is always fed by reviews. :) Thank you very much!
knighted lioness, skyrssb, whiteinu1, AuroraxHime, bunnykim89, sympatheticassassin, liar-just-a-liar, Kinoshita Kristanite, DraGoonia, ElementalFoxGoddess, afallenheart, Lintila, Fuji 2.0: Thank you!