Title: The Imperial Palace Chapter 15.

Setting: Strip Club AU.

Rating: T

Reason: Because I love all my beautiful readers and reviewers ;3; *smooches everyone*

Pairing: ALPHA PAIR (*cue the victory music*)

Warnings: Uncreative content, possible OOC-ness, Yukimura being an idiot, Sanada being an idiot, Yukimura realizing how much of an idiot he really is, etc.

Disclaimer: I choose not to own Prince of Tennis.

~o~o~o~


Yukimura wasn't quite sure how he was going to face Sanada today. It was going to be awkward to say the least. This time he actually meant it when he said he didn't want Sanada here tonight. It was a logical reaction after what had happened the night before.

Yukimura internally cringed when he recalled the breakdown he had yesterday. He had cried, long and hard, until he felt like he could no longer produce tears. It had never happened to him before. He was not the type to break down and cry, especially not over some boy. For god's sake, he wasn't some naïve teenager in high school!

The crying had cleansed away a lot of the built up sadness inside him, but just because it had made him feel better didn't mean that it wasn't also embarrassing as hell. Especially since the person he had broken down on was Sanada, the very person he had been crying about. Sanada had been even worse. Sanada had simply stood there and let Yukimura soak his shirt with tears. Sanada hadn't said a word, maybe because he hadn't known what to say at the time. All Sanada had done was occasionally give him a little pat on the back.

That was why Yukimura was taking a very long time to get dressed that night, all the while feverishly praying that Sanada wouldn't show up. Unfortunately, Yukimura still worked in a strip club and there was only so much time he could take to put on two articles of clothing, both of which hardly covered him at all. Yukimura could've sworn the shorts and shirt had gotten even shorter since yesterday.

What was perhaps even worse was the constant worried looks Shiraishi kept on shooting at him.

"I'm fine, Shiraishi," Yukimura finally said when he couldn't take another one of the stares. "Don't look so worried."

"Ah, sorry," said Shiraishi. "I was just wondering… if I did the right thing by leaving you alone with Sanada-san yesterday?"

Even Yukimura didn't know the answer to that.

"It's hard to say…" said Yukimura hesitantly. "But it's not your fault." And even if it was technically Fuji's fault for bringing Sanada to him yesterday, Yukimura didn't feel angry at Fuji either. That might just be because he missed his good friend and the laughs they used to have together.

Shiraishi looked like he was burning to ask exactly what had happened in the dressing room after he had followed Fuji out.

Yukimura decided to sate Shiraishi's curiosity before any uncomfortable questions came his way.

"Nothing happened," said Yukimura honestly. "He just stood there… and I cried." He hated to admit it – it made him feel terribly weak – but Shiraishi was a good friend and would never mock him for it.

"Sanada-san really cares about you."

The bluenette sighed. Oh, that he knew too well. His eyes found the orchids he had left on the dressing room table yesterday. "I know, Shiraishi," said Yukimura. That caring side of Sanada was exactly what had scared him away.

"Do you care for him too?" Shiraishi asked.

Yukimura closed his eyes. "More than I want to."

The door to their dressing room suddenly slammed open. An irritated-looking Mukahi stood there, hand on the door.

"Hey, the club opened half and hour ago and boss is asking if you two are planning on getting fired today," snapped Mukahi. "If not, then I suggest you get your asses over there."

He left just as suddenly as he had appeared. Shiraishi and Yukimura scrambled quickly to catch up to him, just now realizing how late they were after having been caught up in conversation. Yukimura was hardly peeved seeing as how he had been stalling when putting on his clothes earlier. However, now he could feel nothing but nerves in his gut.

Saturday night was no doubt the busiest. Even early in the night, people were storming in and the dance floor was already full. Yukimura separated from Shiraishi, both of them going off in opposite directions. Yukimura avoided eye contact as he made his way through the crowd; luckily no rude clients grabbed him to demand a dance. He got just close enough to see the area with the tables. Yukimura quickly scanned the tables one by one. His heart sank when he reached the last one.

Sanada was there, sitting alone at the table.

Cursing his luck, Yukimura sank back before he could be spotted and made his way to the complete opposite corner. He was being childish and a coward but he absolutely did not want to confront Sanada today, nor did he have the time, seeing as how busy the place was. His mixed emotions was something he wanted to push aside for this one night. It was now his goal to ignore the raven-haired man for the rest of his shift.

His plan more or less succeeded. Yukimura ended up being so busy that he barely had the time to keep an eye out for Sanada, much less think about him. There were so many people that he couldn't even see Sanada's table through the thick crowd. Sanada would have a hard time finding Yukimura even if he decided to go looking for the bluenette.

Yukimura hardly had a minute's break between clients before he was shoved over to another, asked for a dance again and again. He ended up sandwiched between two men more than once, asked to take his shirt off by a group of giggling women and nearly kissed by a drunk man. The fast beat of the music was the only thing in Yukimura's mind. This was what he wanted: to work and dance and forget his worries, to do his job well and feel his pockets filling with tips, to just laugh with groups of people he didn't even know and not have to think further than that.

But then it ended, all too soon for Yukimura's liking. He was still drunk off the music and atmosphere when the club began to empty out. The time had flown by and Yukimura could hardly believe it was already closing time. He was still exhilarated, but the music's volume was dying down. Soon the club was silent, all save for the sounds of people scrambling out and the ringing in his ears.

"Man, I made a fortune today!" Yukimura heard Shishido tell Mukahi. All the strippers were bare-chested with a light sheen of sweat, appearing exhausted but happy with tonight's turnout. Atobe too retreated back to his upstairs office with a satisfied look in his eyes and no complaints on his lips.

Yukimura was breathing heavily, still a little dazed that it was over so fast. He felt more energized than he had in a long time. There was no other word for it: tonight had been fun.

But when Shiraishi approached him, his expression alone set off alarm bells, wiping the smile off Yukimura's face.

"What's wrong Shiraishi?" asked Yukimura. "Didn't you have a good night?"

"No, it's not that," said Shiraishi. He cocked he head to the side, indicating to something behind him. "I think he wants to talk to you, Yukimura."

Yukimura was about to ask who when he saw him and remembered. It all came crashing back on him like an avalanche, filling his entire body with dread.

Sanada was still seated. The very fact that Sanada was still there could only mean that he wanted to tell Yukimura something. This was not going to end up.

For a second Yukimura considered running away and sneaking out the back door to avoid any confrontation, but Yukimura swiftly scratched that plan off. He had been cowardly enough today. No matter how much he didn't want to, he knew dodging interaction was not going to help anything. It was better to get it over with and, no matter how awkward it was going to be, soon things would be back to normal. Really, Sanada wouldn't be the type to make fun of him over his breakdown yesterday... Sanada probably just wanted to know if he was feeling better.

"Okay, I'll go then," said Yukimura, looking a bit pale at the thought.

"Do you want me to go with you?" asked Shiraishi.

"No, that's fine." Yukimura was not going to hold Shiraishi's hand for this. He was a grown man and could handle it himself… probably.

Still, even as Yukimura made his way to Sanada's table, Yukimura was reassured to see Shiraishi standing by the stage, like a guardian waiting to intervene in case Yukimura showed signs of distress.

Sanada saw him approach, but his expression was unreadable. Yukimura wondered what Sanada was thinking and what he would say.

"We're closed, Sanada," said Yukimura, standing along the edge of the table. He said it in the same regular tone he had been using for several weeks now to address Sanada. No hello, no friendly little quips asking how he was. Act normal.

"I know," replied Sanada. His face changed, from hard and unreadable to a rather melancholic expression. He suddenly looked as gloomy as he had the few days after Yukimura had broken things off with him. The thought of it brought a familiar ache to Yukimura's chest.

"Do you need me to show you where the exit is?" said Yukimura.

"No, I just…" Sanada looked hurt, as if what he was trying to say was physically paining him. "I came to say goodbye."

Yukimura paused. "Okay. Good night to you too."

"No, I-I mean…" Sanada swallowed thickly, his eyes focussed on a dirty spot on the table. "I'm not coming back. This is the last time you'll see me."

The words took a while for Yukimura to fully understand. It was as if all the air was being pushed out of Yukimura. He could feel nothing but numb disbelief, his mouth unable to form words.

"I'm sorry for what I've done," continued Sanada. "I-I know I was being stubborn. I was an idiot for continuing to pursue you after you told me not to countless times. I guess I was just in denial… I thought there was still a chance that we could…" He stopped to shake his head. "After yesterday, I realized that this couldn't continue."

No, thought Yukimura. It wasn't Sanada who was at fault. If was him who needed to apologize to Sanada. This was all wrong.

"I could continue coming here every night, but I realize that it won't change your mind," said Sanada. Finally his head rose to meet Yukimura's eyes. "Yukimura, I do love you. You may think it's silly but that will not change. But... I don't want you to be in pain because of me. I don't want you to cry anymore because of me."

Sanada stood up, inhaling deeply. "I hope you will start to smile again when I'm gone," he said. "I am very happy that I met you, Yukimura, even if it's not meant to be. So take care of yourself and… I suppose this is goodbye."

Yukimura felt like he should say something as Sanada passed him and headed towards the door. Yukimura stood frozen, staring at Sanada's retreating back. This wasn't right… Sanada was not supposed to give up. Sanada was supposed to tell him he would be back tomorrow all the while reciting some cheesy lines about how Yukimura was as pretty as a flower, and then Yukimura would snap at him but still sigh in relief when Sanada would diligently reappear the next day.

Only now Sanada was leaving and he wasn't coming back. Sanada turned the corner and suddenly he was gone.

Yukimura kept on looking at the corner, waiting for Sanada to come back and say that it was all a joke. But Sanada didn't come back and the longer Yukimura stared, the more uneasy he felt. A deep emptiness settled in his chest.

"Yukimura, what happened?"

It was Shiraishi, probably here to ask why Yukimura was standing there staring at a corner for so long. Yukimura blinked.

"He said he's leaving for good," said Yukimura. Saying it out loud made it all the more real. It wasn't a joke, Yukimura realized. Sanada had left. "He said he's not coming back." His voice was emotionless. How was he even supposed to feel about this?

"Isn't that what you wanted?" Shiraishi asked.

Yes… It was what he thought he had wanted. Finally Sanada was going to leave him alone after all those weeks of wishing he would do just that. But actually… this wasn't how he thought he'd feel when it happened. Maybe it wasn't what he wanted. No… this wasn't what he had imagined. This wasn't what he wanted at all.

Yukimura was shaking his head. "No. It's not…"

Shiraishi showed him a long, relieved smile. "Then what are you waiting for?" he said and gave him a little push forward.

His legs moved like they were on automatic, around the corner and out the door. It was cold outside, or maybe it was just because he was barely wearing anything. He was looking around frantically, left and right, for that broad back and black cap only to panic when he didn't find it. He ran down the sidewalk in the direction of Sanada's apartment all the while ignoring the strange stares and cat calls he was getting from other pedestrians.

No, Sanada couldn't have gone… Yukimura had to see him, had to tell him…

He didn't exactly know what it was he had to tell Sanada; all he knew was that he had to find him. He didn't want it to end like this. He didn't want this to end at all. Sanada, that stupid, adorable, caring idiot… All the crying Yukimura had done yesterday was only supposed to have been embarrassing, it wasn't supposed to have pushed Sanada away. Sanada wasn't supposed to leave that easily!

Yukimura found him, walking up ahead and hunched like he was carrying a heavy weight. Yukimura pushed his legs even faster, shouting "Sanada!" as loud as his burning lungs allowed him.

Sanada swerved around at the sound of his name, turning around just as Yukimura ran straight into him. Such a tackle would have easily knocked a weaker person off their feet but Sanada held steady, catching the bluenette against his chest.

"Y-Yukimura?" Sanada said disbelievingly. "What are you doin-"

Without warning, Yukimura crashed their lips together in a bruising kiss, completely cutting off any words or thoughts either of them had. For that moment, Yukimura completely forgot that he was making a scene, kissing the man he had broken up with in the middle of the street all while being half-naked to boot. He poured every feeling he had into the kiss; gentle as a way of apology and then passionate for his desire to get him to come back and stay. Sanada's lips were just as hot and soft as Yukimura remembered them and he sighed relief into Sanada's mouth, realizing now just how much he had missed this taste.

Sanada appeared plainly baffled, his own mouth frozen in shock at first and then moving hesitantly, confused about what to make of this. His eyes were dazed and searching as Yukimura pulled back, silently questioning him.

Yukimura answered with a small apologetic smile. Don't go. I'm sorry. Please stay.

He shivered as the cool air made itself known once more. Before either of them could say anything, Sanada was taking off his own jacket, wrapping it around Yukimura. The bluenette was thankful. He hadn't thought about putting his shirt back on and changing into something more appropriate before rushing after Sanada. He had acted so impulsively.

He held the jacket close to him, letting the heat sink into him, breathing in the scent of Sanada that lingered on the piece of clothing. "Thank you," said Yukimura.

Sanada nodded, hints of blush on his cheeks. His eyes never left Yukimura, as if afraid the bluenette would just up and vanish the moment he turned around.

"You should go get changed… before you catch a cold," said Sanada.

"Okay," nodded Yukimura. He extended out his hand. "Come with me?"

Sanada took his hand and Yukimura was certain he had never seen someone so happy.


~o~o~o~


After Yukimura had changed back into his regular clothes, he and Sanada went to a 24 hour coffee lounge. Besides an old man and a college-age student with a laptop, the place was relatively empty and quiet.

They got themselves a table around the back, neither of them saying anything until a bored-looking woman in a grey apron came to take their order.

"A coffee for me," Yukimura told the waitress. He looked over at Sanada. "And you?"

"Ah, nothing for me thanks," said Sanada.

"I insist, Sanada," said Yukimura. "It's my treat today."

Either Sanada did not want to take the risk of angering Yukimura or maybe it was because he was actually thirsty, but Sanada ordered tea a second later. They handed the menus to the lady and once again were left alone in silence.

Yukimura was the one who broke the ice, knowing he'd have to say it sooner or later.

"I owe you an apology, Sanada," said Yukimura. "But even I don't think an apology will be enough, so I understand if you are angry at me."

"You don't owe me any apolo-"

"Yes, I do," interrupted Yukimura. He sighed, looking down at his hands on the table. "I was selfish and mean to you and you did nothing to deserve it. You've been nothing but kind to me and all I did was get angry and leave without explanation." The guilt was there, and the fear too. Even if his fear was irrational, Yukimura was suddenly afraid that Sanada wouldn't forgive him and simply leave him there. The worst was that Yukimura knew he deserved exactly that. "So, I'm sorry for everything and I hope you can forgive me."

Sanada's hand reached out under Yukimura's chin, lifting the dancer's head up. Sanada's eyes were smouldering.

"I can never be angry at you," said Sanada and pressed his hand on top of Yukimura's.

Relief poured through Yukimura, making him feel content just from the sensation of Sanada's hand covering his. It was warm and comfortable, but so alienating and uneasy. This was exactly the type of thing Yukimura was used to running away from.

The coffee and tea came quickly and Yukimura was a little disappointed when Sanada let go of his hand to drink from his steaming cup. Yukimura did the same to his coffee, pouring milk and sugar and then letting the warm, soothing drink relax him. The warmth was very much like what Yukimura had felt earlier when Sanada had wrapped his jacket around him. Yukimura almost wished he hadn't brought his own jacket so that he'd have an excuse to keep Sanada's.

"Did you bring me here just to apologize?" asked Sanada, sounding just a bit hopeful.

Ah, and there it was. The part Yukimura had been afraid to get to.

Yukimura took his time taking a long sip of coffee. "Sanada, I… I do miss you," Yukimura admitted hesitantly, "but I don't usually do this sort of thing... I can't guarantee anything." I can't guarantee you won't get hurt again.

"It's… I think I understand," said Sanada. "I'm not very experienced either so… you can always tell me if I'm doing something wrong. It's okay to be uncertain. I feel a little lost sometimes too." He cleared his throat, his hands jittering around his cup. "I want to be with you. But at the same time I want you to be happy."

Happiness… that was something Yukimura hadn't felt in a while. Yukimura knew which direction this conversation was taking and as much as he wanted to take that step, to go ahead and let himself be cared for and loved by Sanada, it was still a scary thought. But at the same time, the thought of Sanada leaving felt like a very dim and empty path to take.

"W-What I'm trying to say is…" Sanada paused, scratching the back of his head and appearing just a little shy. "D-Do you think you can give me the chance to make you happy?"

God, that face was so horribly endearing. Yukimura's felt like kissing him again.

"What did you have in mind?" asked Yukimura.

"Anything you are comfortable with," said Sanada, encouraged by Yukimura's lack of rejection. How Sanada could still want Yukimura after seeing the bluenette at his worst was something Yukimura didn't understand. Sanada was so sincere, desperately wanting to get closer, yet also afraid Yukimura would run away if he got too close. It made Yukimura's heart swell.

"Tomorrow's my day off. I'm free for supper?" Yukimura voiced it as a question but the way Sanada instantly lit up showed that it hadn't been necessary.

"I-I'd love to!" exclaimed Sanada a bit too loud. The few patrons in the restaurant turned to stare.

Yukimura couldn't help but laugh. He had been worried over nothing. Sanada wasn't angry and wasn't leaving. Sanada was still the same eager puppy as before. Sanada appeared embarrassed for a second but then Yukimura leaned over the table and kissed him and this time Sanada was happy to kiss him back.

For now, Yukimura was happy to push his worries away and be glad that Sanada was staying.


~o~o~o~