Title: The Imperial Palace Chapter 14.

Setting: Strip Club AU.

Rating: The line between T and M.

Reason: It's Yukimura's Super Birthday Blowout Update! :D

Pairing: NONE BECAUSE EVERYTHING IS BROKEN AND AWFUL.

Warnings: Uncreative content, possible OOC-ness, angstangstangst, more angst, Yukimura can you not, Fuji meddles everywhere, etc.

Disclaimer: Tenipuri is not Knis's. Because I said so.

~o~o~o~


Yukimura woke up early yet again, groaning when he saw the time on his clock.

This was very unlike him. He was used to falling asleep immediately after coming home from work and then sleeping until noon at the very least. Now, he was always tossing and turning and finding it impossible to fall asleep easily. His mind kept on circling him with thoughts, pushing him back to reality. He was very tired but sleep just kept avoiding him.

Yukimura lay in bed for a long time even after he had woken up, staring blankly at his ceiling as the sun rose, illuminating his apartment with light.

Predictably, his thoughts once again fell upon a certain individual. Sanada had been showing up regularly at the Imperial Palace again. Every night before leaving, Sanada would come up to Yukimura to tell him that he would be coming again the next day, almost as if to reassure the bluenette. Sanada always spoke with that same loving, infuriating smile that Yukimura loved to hate.

Yukimura shoved his arm over his eyes, groaning exasperatingly. He'd thought of many solutions to the Sanada Problem, everything from banning Sanada from the club to getting a new guy. At least that would show Sanada that he'd moved on… Yet, Yukimura couldn't bring himself to do any of those things. The thought of seeing Sanada's heartbroken face once again made Yukimura's chest ache terribly.

Damn it, that man just didn't give up.

Realizing that he wouldn't be falling back asleep anytime soon, Yukimura rose from his bed and decided to start his day taking a shower instead of lying in bed thinking about the Sanada Problem.

Yet, even as he was standing under the warm spray of the shower, his brain seemed to be fully against him. The raven-haired man was constantly on Yukimura's mind and he could do nothing to control it. He would remember it all; everything from their first meeting to their first date, up to that last night together. It made him feel both warm and numb at the same time. His hands glided down his wet skin, almost in an unconscious gesture, down to the collection of dark curls between his legs. He fitted his fingers around his member and closed his eyes, letting the slow careful strokes draw him out. It had been a while - since that night with Sanada, he realized - that he'd sought release. He hadn't even done it alone in a long time; maybe that was why he was nearly his limit so quickly. It wasn't too long before he cried out what sounded like a guttural cry of Sanada's name as he let go of the coiling tension.

The water washed away his mess but Yukimura felt disgust. He was disgusted at himself for still harbouring such desires for the man he was supposed to want gone. It had never been this hard before. He had felt sad in the past when he had broken it off with previous lovers, but his sadness would hardly last more than a few days at most before he no longer thought of them. That was nothing like the deep lingering desire he was feeling now. No matter how much he told himself to let it go, move on, stop thinking about him, you'll just end up with a broken heart, he'll grow sick of you, and you'll end up all alone again, Yukimura just couldn't do it.

He washed himself in a hurry, deciding right then and there that he would occupy every minute of the day with various chores and activities, everything from painting on his new canvas to scrubbing the kitchen counters until they shined just so that he wouldn't have to deal with his inner conflict regarding the problem that was Sanada.

Yukimura did exactly that for the rest of the day. He immersed himself in a variety of tasks, anything that would keep him occupied. Yet although he was busy, he couldn't hide the fact that he was looking forward to work tonight. As much as Yukimura didn't want to admit it, he was always relieved when Sanada diligently appeared at the club every night. Sanada would always enter and take his usual seat at the usual table in the corner. Yukimura would often feel annoyed and call Sanada a fool for continuing to chase after a lost cause, but yet Yukimura would always miss Sanada once he was gone.

The rest of the day was long and boring, to the point where Yukimura began to wonder if evening would ever come. Yukimura ended up leaving for work half an hour early and was fully dressed and ready to go by the time all the other dancers showed up in the dressing rooms. After a long day, the night started and the Imperial Palace finally, finally, opened its doors.

Fuji took to the stage the minute the club opened. It was an effective method Atobe insisted on doing in order to get the attention of the first few clients of the night. It worked magnificently as most clients stayed to watch one, two and even three dances, all the while buying drinks. Fuji really was a genius at his job, always effectively catching everyone's attention with his provocative dance numbers. Most clients returned only for Fuji, and really, who could blame them?

Yukimura leaned back to watch the show as well. Customers were very few this early in the night and it granted Yukimura the only moment of relaxation he had all day. Fuji...

Fuji had been a problem as well, but now Yukimura regretted having been so hard on the smaller dancer. Fuji had only recently stopped trying to convince him to get back together with Sanada, but that was only because they had stopped talking altogether. As much as Yukimura was glad that Fuji stopped meddling in his private affairs, he also missed giggling and snickering with Fuji as they worked. Working was not the same without Fuji around to talk with.

All thoughts of Fuji were suddenly thrown out the window when he entered the club. Yukimura met Sanada's eyes for a brief second but it was enough for Sanada to nod and smile in greeting. Yukimura looked away, pretending to have not seen Sanada even as the wave of relief washed over him. He could practically feel Sanada's stare looking over his whole body. Today all the dancers were wearing new ensembles. Logically, the clothes were tennis outfits, but everything was shorter to the point of showing off midriff and more than a lot of leg. Most of the dancers thought the new clothes had something to do with the very gossiped-about story that Atobe was currently dating the tennis world champion. Of course, no one actually dared say that out loud, least of all around their boss.

Even when turned around, Yukimura could feel the usual prickling sensation that came with Sanada watching over him from behind. Yukimura supposed he should be flattered that Sanada was staring at him when Fuji was somehow displaying an impressive mixture of acrobatics and sexy all at the same time on stage. Yukimura looked around for a distraction and found it in the form of a customer; a man, late-twenties, eyeing him suggestively and standing close to the bar. Yukimura smiled sweetly and went.

This man Yukimura ended up dancing with was obviously desperate for contact as he groped Yukimura painfully hard and humped against him like he was starved for touch. Yukimura moved in his usual sensual fashion against the man's hard rhythm and let his eyes wander. He saw Atobe, chatting with Oshitari as usual. The other dancers, Shiraishi, Niou, Shishido, Zaizen, Mukahi, and of course Fuji, were all equally occupied with groups or individual clients. What caught his eye was actually what was behind the bar counter. Tezuka was there as usual, working hard and fast, but this time he was talking quite a bit to a young man who stood next to him behind the counter. The young man wore the same uniform as Tezuka and was also making drinks as Tezuka occasionally whispered to him, apparently advising him on how to make a certain drink properly. The new guy was fast and appeared to have bartended before, but he was nowhere near Tezuka's level.

That's right... Yukimura did hear that Tezuka would be departing soon. Yukimura didn't know him well but he still felt like he was going to miss Tezuka. Yukimura still remembered the fun he and Fuji had had back when Fuji used to flirt with Tezuka regularly. Yukimura wondered how Fuji felt about the fact that Tezuka was leaving. He hadn't actually asked Fuji about it since they were no longer speaking, but Yukimura assumed Fuji wasn't too happy about it.

The song was ending and Yukimura moved to dislodge himself from the customer's vice grip the moment the final note ended. The customer was panting and looked like he wanted more. "How about another dance?" he asked, licking his lips and staring at Yukimura like he was a delicious piece of meat.

Yukimura smiled amiably. "Only if you can pay for it," he replied. Apparently the customer couldn't afford it because he paid for the one dance and left while grumbling. Yukimura went on to the next client unfazed.

It was the usual pattern for the rest of the busy Friday night; Yukimura danced and Sanada sat back and stared. The only difference this time was that Sanada was staying for much longer than usual. It was strange because Sanada usually left at peak hour, anywhere between midnight to one. Unless… perhaps Sanada wanted to tell him something after work? Yukimura gulped, suddenly not sure if he should be nervous or not for the end of his shift. Surely Sanada wouldn't stick around just to ask for a dance again… right?

He was tired. Yukimura was tired of all this. He was tired of not sleeping, tired of feeling like a broken thing and tired of constantly having to distract himself just so he wouldn't be stuck thinking about Sanada all day. It was conflicting. He felt anxious when Sanada wasn't there, yet he felt even worse when Sanada was present. The night dragged on and Yukimura became increasingly anxious because Sanada was still there and didn't appear ready to leave anytime soon. Sanada's gaze prickled the back of Yukimura's neck, more and more as the time left until closing time dwindled from two hours, to one hour and then to half an hour.

There were only twenty minutes left until closing time when Yukimura finally took a deep breath and decided to confront Sanada.

"We're closing soon, Sanada," Yukimura said, standing a few steps away from Sanada's table. "You should go."

"I know," said Sanada. "But I brought something and I want to give it to you before I go."

Yukimura watched as Sanada reached under the table for a big wrapped package that he hadn't noticed before.

"Sanada…" Yukimura said warningly.

"You don't have to keep it if you don't want it," said Sanada, delicately setting the present upright on the table. "But I know you'll like it. Be careful not to tilt it though; it's fragile."

Suspicion and curiosity nagged at Yukimura as he looked doubtedly at Sanada. He hesitated for a moment but his curiosity soon got the best of him. There was no harm in at least opening the gift, right? And Sanada did say he didn't have to keep it...

He reached for it, feeling that the package was nothing but air under the wrapping paper except around the bottom. Yukimura already had a good idea of what it was, as the shape was indication enough.

"Flowers," said Yukimura confidently. He felt the outline of the flowerpot before completely ripping the paper off. His breath caught.

"Do you like it?" said Sanada.

Damn him to hell, thought Yukimura. "You got me orchids," said the bluenette, looking at the beautifully curved stem with the pink and white flowers. God, they were beautiful. Even the flowerpot was gorgeous, light green with swirling patterns. Yukimura looked dazed.

"You said they were your favourite," said Sanada.

"Yeah…" Yukimura did remember having said it offhandedly that final night they had been together, but he hadn't expected Sanada to actually go out and buy it.

That idiotic, adorable fool, thought Yukimura. He knew he shouldn't accept the gift but his hands just wouldn't let go of the flowerpot...

No, no he couldn't take it! It would give Sanada false hope, it was wrong, said the rational part of Yukimura's mind.

But, the orchids, said the unhelpful side of Yukimura's mind. Really, Yukimura had already known the answer the minute he had unwrapped the gift.

"Thank you Sanada," Yukimura whispered, unable to keep his eyes off the flowers. "They're lovely."

Sanada sighed in relief. "I'm glad you like them," he replied. "When I saw them, I immediately thought of you. Only, you are far more beautiful."

Yukimura's fingers brushed the light pink petals and he knew his cheeks were turning the same colour because of Sanada's stupid cheesy lines. It was suddenly very hard to breathe. He felt his hair being pushed back behind his ear and Sanada standing close.

"You look tired," said Sanada, still close, way too close. "Have you been working too hard? You should take care of yourself."

Yukimura didn't even have the strength to snap back, no strength to pull away or even look at him. What would be the point? Sanada wasn't going to give up no matter what.

"Sleep has been avoiding me lately," Yukimura admitted.

"Ah… that's not good," said Sanada although he was smiling.

"Why are you smiling?" asked Yukimura. He couldn't help but feel like he was being mocked for some reason.

"You're finally talking to me instead of yelling," said Sanada. "And… you're not avoiding me. I'm glad."

Yukimura's fists clenched tight along his sides. "Idiot. No matter what I do, you won't leave me alone."

"That's right. I won't leave you alone. I don't plan on giving up on you." Sanada's warm hands took one of Yukimura's fists. Yukimura could feel his own hand trembling between Sanada's bigger palms. "I don't like seeing you like this, Yukimura," said Sanada. "Please take care of yourself."

The bluenette gritted his teeth. He had to stop himself from shouting back that this was all Sanada's fault in the first place. He pulled his fist back and took the flowerpot.

"Thank you for the flowers," he said, stiff and emotionless. He didn't think he could handle another second of this. His legs carried him across the dance floor and all the way backstage without a glance back. His dressing room was messy but devoid of people. He pushed magazines off the coffee table to make room for his new orchids and then fell back on the clothes-covered couch.

The pain was there again, hitting him harder than before. Yukimura curled up, pressing his head against his knees. It hurt so bad, like his chest had been stabbed with an invisible knife, making him feel like he was about to shatter into a million pieces. He shouldn't be here... he had to go back because the night wasn't over for another dozen minutes and Atobe would notice he had gone... but Yukimura was frozen and unable to move. His throat constricted as an unbearable sadness pressed down on him. Through his blurry vision he could see the orchids, beautiful and silently staring at his pain.

This was why he hated getting involved in deeper, emotional relationships. There was always pain and hurt. Everything had been better before Sanada had come along, back when it was pure physical contact. If Sanada had followed his instructions, there would have been no doubt, no unclear signals or mixed feelings. There would have only been the single common goal of seeking pleasure, no further thinking needed.

But Sanada had stepped out of bounds.

With Sanada there was uncertainty and hesitation. Sanada had showered Yukimura with attention, lavished him with sweet words and gifts, taken him out to restaurants, and stayed up for him and cooked when he asked and stroked his cheek, calling him beautiful and amazing and god as much as Yukimura would beg Sanada to stop, to make the fuzzy feelings of warmth go away, Yukimura missed it. He missed it so much. He was so cold, so alone now, all empty.

Shiraishi and Fuji found Yukimura curled up on the couch just as the first tears slid down his cheeks.

"Yukimura!" Shiraishi and Fuji both cried out at the same time and ran to Yukimura's side. Yukimura wiped his eyes with his hand, sniffling and cursing himself for not being able to hide his sadness better. He hadn't cried over Sanada yet, he hadn't allowed himself to break down that far, but now it was bursting out of him, so strong after having swelled inside him for so long. Crying felt foreign to him. He sat up on the couch and saw himself in the mirror with his red eyes and the tears sliding down his cheeks and it was just so strange to see.

"No, I-I'm okay," Yukimura told his two co-workers, meeting their concerned gazes. Yukimura cracked a sad smile, his voice sounding just as broken. "It's just… getting harder." He didn't have to explain it anymore than that. Both Shiraishi and Fuji understood right away.

Shiraishi rubbed Yukimura's back and somehow it was actually soothing him a bit. Or perhaps it was the sudden burst of tears that had washed some of the pain away.

"It does get better you know," said Shiraishi.

Fuji just gave him a hard look, staring in silence and then without another word he left the room, slamming the door behind him.

Fuji must be angry. Yukimura didn't blame him, not after how mad he had gotten at Fuji the other days. Yukimura felt like he was doing everything wrong lately and he just wished he could go back in time to before he had even met Sanada. He wanted everything to go back to how it was before. He just wanted this pain to go away.

"Would you like to go out for some tea?" asked Shiraishi. "It'll make you feel better."

Yukimura shook his head. "No, t-that's okay. Thank you." He hadn't left his house for anything save for work and groceries lately. Perhaps because he had been afraid of breaking down in front of others, just like he was doing now. As much as a real night out would do him good, Yukimura just didn't feel up to it.

With the help of Shiraishi, Yukimura stood up and dried his tears, thanking Shiraishi for the tissues. He changed out the skimpy tennis wear and put back on his comfortable sweatpants and shirt. Although the tears had stopped, he still felt fragile, like anything could cause him to shatter apart at any moment again. Yukimura had never felt so powerless in his life. He purposely avoided looking at the orchids on the table.

He had finished changing just as he heard footsteps outside the door. Fuji must be back, thought Yukimura, hearing the door open.

"Fuji!" cried out Shiraishi, as if appalled. Yukimura didn't understand the reason for the outburst until he looked over at the doorway.

"Shiraishi, come with me," said Fuji.

Yukimura felt sick, his heart sinking into his stomach. Behind Fuji stood Sanada, towering much taller than the small dancer. Shiraishi looked back and forth between Yukimura's frozen expression and Fuji's determined one. Yukimura wanted to open his mouth and beg Shiraishi to stay but nothing came out, even when he saw Shiraishi inching towards the door.

Fuji must really hate him to be doing this.

Sanada, looking slightly confused, was ushered in the room. Fuji took Shiraishi and left, leaving Yukimura alone with the last person he wanted to see at the moment. A tense silent filled the room, extending out for what felt like several minutes before Sanada cleared his throat.

"Your friend… said you were feeling down," said Sanada.

Yukimura stared at the floor. "It's fine. I'm better now."

Sanada didn't move. "Are you sure?" he asked, not sounding convinced.

Sanada had probably noticed Yukimura's puffy red eyes even if Yukimura tried hard to hide them. He was crumbling. The cracks were starting to appear, beginning to shatter his carefully constructed composure.

"I'm sure." Yukimura's voice sounded fake even to his own ears. "You can leave. I'll tell Fuji to stop troubling you."

"Yukimura." Oh god no, not that tone. Sanada stepped closer. Yukimura crouched back. "Yukimura," Sanada repeated, "look at me and say you are fine."

Yukimura could see Sanada's feet getting closer, his eyes still determinedly looking down because he knew he would lose it if he looked up. He knew his self-control would shatter to nothing if he did as Sanada said.

"Yukimura, please talk to me," pleaded Sanada, standing right there, standing so close that one more step would bring them together. A single tear slid down Yukimura's cheek and dripped on the floor.

Yukimura wasn't sure if Sanada took the step forward or if it was him who leaned in closer but suddenly his cheek was resting against that warm chest, arms surrounding him in a protective sort of embrace. Yukimura hiccupped, burying his face into Sanada's shirt, smelling that unique musky scent that came from the taller man. Yukimura hadn't realized how much he had missed that smell until now. His tears rained down freely, soaking Sanada's shirt. Yukimura's trembling hands found purchase on the material. This foolish man… Sanada was the source of this pain, he was the reason this was so very painful, and yet Yukimura couldn't move away. Somehow he felt like the pain would double if he pushed Sanada away.

A large hand roamed up and down his back in a slow, comforting gesture. Sanada appeared to be at a loss as to what to do.

This was hard, way too hard for him. "Why must you do this to me?" whispered Yukimura. He got no reply. Sanada simply held him tighter to the point that it soon felt like Sanada was the only thing still keeping him up. Yukimura closed his eyes, feeling utterly exhausted. His head was pounding painfully.

As he stood there, supported by the person he wasn't supposed to want here, all Yukimura could think was of how weak and pathetic he was before his body was wracked in a series of choked sobs.


~o~o~o~


"I think that was a bit out of line, Fuji," said Shiraishi, leaning back against the stage. "Yukimura keeps on telling you not to meddle. He might be angry now."

"Then let him be angry," replied Fuji. "It was necessary." He was positive Yukimura would eventually come to thank him over time.

"If you say so…"

Fuji shivered, holding his glass of water close and drinking to rehydrate himself after a long night of dancing. His skimpy clothes weren't much protection from the chills. The club was ringing with silence and so much colder without the crowd of warmth bodies jumping on the dance floor. The janitors were mopping the floor, picking up loose pieces of trash and washing the tables. Besides them, only Tezuka and another young man were still there, both standing behind the bar. They were talking. Actually, Fuji had seen them talking earlier that night too as the young man helped out behind the counter.

Was Atobe hiring a new bartender? It would make sense. There had been more clients than before lately and although Zaizen helped out at the bar when he could, Tezuka had been putting in a lot of hours. Fuji remembered Tezuka saying just the other day something about how busy he was going to get now with an internship and research papers for school. Tezuka had probably asked for a few less hours.

Shiraishi caught him looking. "Ah, that's the new guy," said Shiraishi. "I haven't heard him talk yet. Maybe he's as shy as Tezuka-san."

"Ah," said Fuji, smiling. "I'm sure he'll do fine. But I don't think he'll be as good as Tezuka."

"Me neither," said Shiraishi laughing. Tezuka was extraordinarily fast and hardly anyone could keep up with him. "It's a shame Tezuka-san is leaving. We'll all miss him I think."

Fuji stared blankly at Shiraishi for a few seconds. "What?" he asked.

"What what?"

"What was that you just said about Tezuka?" Fuji's eyes were wide.

"I'm just… I heard he was leaving in a few days," Shiraishi said carefully. "I thought you knew. The new guy is going to be replacing him."

Fuji dropped his glass, shattering it into a million pieces.


~o~o~o~