More AUs, because my mind has too many weird ideas and they don't get developed into fics as fast as I write them. I'll finish my AUs when I'm done with the Insanity series….a question to fanfic writers out there: is it just me, or do people usually write snippets of particular scenes of plot bunnies and later try to weave them all in? I never manage to finish fic from start to finish, which is why they never get completed in time. Urgh.

I'll finish all these…someday. Have faith.


1.

"His diagnosis?"

Ryoma rolls his eyes and gives out a huff. "I'm right here," he says archly. He digs harder into the soft pillows.

The asshole ignores him and makes an impatient gesture to one of the nurses, signaling his medication chart. When it's handed to him, he skims over the charts and raises an eyebrow.

"Well, well," he says mildly, with a faint hint of snobbery, "I see that we've been busy. Snorting cocaine and injection? It's not the States, Echizen-kun."

"You have nice eyes," Ryoma observes with a slight leer, "Do you mind me licking them?"

The man just gives him a deadpanned look and Ryoma's smirk grows wider.

"Don't bother playing coy," he says, sitting down next to Ryoma, "Kasuke may have been fled off by your charms—" here the man grimaces slightly, so that Ryoma would catch it as an insult, "—but I assure you, I have experience in the likes of you."

"Fascinating," Ryoma drawls, "What are the likes of me?"

"Cocky arrogant shitheads," he says pleasantly, and Ryoma narrows his eyes, "and I believe we haven't been introduced. I'm Atobe Keigo. You may call me Doctor Atobe."

"Doctor Keigo," Ryoma retaliates, and mock-frowns, "Americans like first based pleasantries. More chummy."

"Chummy," Atobe repeats dryly, "I'm sure we'll get along marvelously. If you'll give me the small stack of weed hidden below your bedsheets. This is a rehabilitation center, you understand."

Ryoma immediately scowls, sitting up. Atobe meets his eyes evenly.

"Don't have them," he tries sweetly, but Atobe tsks, suddenly leaning forward. Ryoma blinks at the sudden intrusion of personal space.

"Your pupils are blown," Atobe murmurs softly, sharing the same breathing space; his words ghost over warm puffs of air to his jaw, "And your hands are twitching. Yes?" He leans back again and gives out a little smirk. "Don't underestimate me, Ryoma. It's very unbecoming on someone who chased away three of our best counselors."

With that, he plucks out the small zipbag from the two layers of bedcovers and waves it mockingly in front of him. Ryoma lets of a small breath and glares at him.

"I find you horrible already," he says testily. It doesn't faze Atobe as he gives out a small chuckle.

"Play nice," he drawls, matching Ryoma's earlier casual bantering tone, "And…who knows? Maybe I'll let you lick my eyeballs as you so eagerly offered."

2.

The roses are about to wilt. It is not the season for roses, yet he had insisted on a fresh bunch each week. He doesn't know why he bothers; it doesn't add light to the gloomy dank room, devoid of all the luxuries he had known in another lifetime.

Someone is at the door. The guards are hushing the person, yet he hears more voices echoing around the stoned arched hallway behind the closed door. He doesn't react to the noises, idly flipping towards pages of manuscripts, all yellow and faded and worn. His fingers flip through one pile and the next. He doesn't bother to read them, only the signature at the bottom where he sees the ink had long ago faded to a blurry streak of the quill.

Keigo Atobe

Holy Roman Emperor

King of Austrias, England, Ireland, Naples, Sicily, Milan, and the Low Countries

Lord of Netherlands and Duke of Burgundy

He taps the signature wonderingly. Ironic, that these were one of the things he was allowed to carry in the confines of this room. Such jokes, that he had once held power over half the Western world. He had power. So much power.

The door opens. He allows his eyes to look up.

"Your Holiness," he says, and he looks into the eyes of the person he last expected to see here. He had not wanted to see him, not when he was stripped of everything he had been defined by and the person had not.

The person who entered the room glances about, his face distorted, his hands calm. His white robes slither gracefully against the wooden floor, bare of soft, lush carpets that would insulate the heat in coming winters. The person does not seem to care of any of this though. He gaze fleets about until it finally lands on him.

"Don't call me that," he says. The voice is pained, cold, pleading, flat.

"Pope Echizen," he says then, just to indulge the boy. Man-boy, he should say.

Those eyes flash, and he looks back on the times when he had goaded those eyes to burn. With hatred, lust, need, ambition. It was a bad habit of theirs, his need to goad this boy, and the boy to stand and resist. He doesn't care to relish in such small triumphs, but his mouth quirks involuntarily.

"Keigo," the boy says stonily, and his smirk falls. Not his titles, just a name bare. It sounds strange on those lips. He remembers scorns of echoes. Your Majesty, the boy would have taunted back once, Your utmost respectful Majesty.

"Why are you here?" he says coldly; their game is up; it holds no place for them anymore.

The boy looks at him. It is not with pity; he is glad, for now he won't have to tear out those gold eyes out. But it is with something else that floods him, and he looks away.

"His Royal Highness has ordered your execution date," the boy said steadily, "It is to be held in London."

He laughs harshly. "So now they can kill a king?"

"A heretic," the boy replies easily enough, and when their eyes meet, he likes to imagine the golden orbs are dancing at a sick joke. "Like you once tried to do to me."

He didn't count on the boy to remember that. Is he a boy any longer? He would be thirty soon, he realizes with a start, but all he sees is the twelve-year old ambassador marching into the greatest court in the world and declaring the place a sham.

The memory provokes unintended emotions, and he speaks the name. "Ryoma."

This time those eyes shake, and he could see it, but the boy's face is blank. He smoothens his robes. "The executioner's sword is being designed in France," he continues, "You will not be burnt at the stake."

"Why are you telling me this?" he asks, just as flatly, "It is a mere courtier's job, not for someone who controls the heavenly gates."

The boy glances at the manuscripts in his hands. His hands are shaking now and the papers are fumbled. He curses inwardly. Foolish notions. He should have them burned.

"If you do not know," the boy says softly, "Then you are more of a fool than I thought."

He would have reacted once. He would have angrily marched over to the boy and slammed him down. He would have ordered soldiers to march into Rome to invade the holy city and make the Pope captive to his will. He would have taken the Papal Throne and made the boy stripped of everything save for his gracious mercy. Once.

Now all he does is laugh, a dry stilling laugh. It doesn't evoke more fury, just a light amusement. He should have done this more often. It would have saved his treasury more gold. Yet the boy does not laugh at him. His mouth is still flat, but there is now a spark of anger.

"You act as if I am a fool myself," the boy says.

He shrugs and stops laughing. "You are one," he says candidly, and adds, "Will you hear my last confession? Even if I have been branded a heretic?"

The boy scowls. It's almost endearing and funny. "You mock," he says testily.

"And you dance about the topic, dear Pope," he says coolly.

Outside, he hears guards moving restlessly about. Soon they will enter and he will see the boy no more.

The boy senses this, and moves closer to him. The light is dim, and his shadow looms over the wall across from them.

"I will not thank you," he begins with an ice coldness he himself had taught the boy, "for what you have done."

"I did not expect it," he replies.

"I will never forgive you for this," the boy hisses now, his eyes painfully close and wide, as he comes closer and closer.

He laughs again. "My dear Pope," he mocks lightly, "I do not want forgiveness."

The boy draws in a sharp breath. He holds those eyes.

When the boy next speaks, it is finally the broken, confused voice he is used to hearing. "Why?"

"You never knew politics," he says, after a pause, "And so I played the game for you."

"It was my will," the boy whispers harshly.

He does not look away. "And my ambitions."

The boy's face is readable now; his face is hurt and still. He rises up from his chair and lets the manuscripts flutter to the floor. He is still taller than the boy. They stand a foot apart.

"Ryoma," he says again, and his voice is distant. He brushes a finger against the boy's cheek. The boy does not back away.

"Do you think…?" the boy begins, but he does not know how to end it. He ends it for both of them.

"Yes," he says, and kisses the boy lightly. A brief flutter of the lips and soon gone.

The boy takes an intake of a breath and laughs helplessly. He leans up to brush their lips again. It's even lighter than the first.

"Dearest Majesty," he murmurs softly, "We might have ruled the world."

And with a swish of his robes, the boy is soon gone, and he is left with nothing. He raises his fingers to his lips.

He wishes to treasure the silhouette fading away and to recount the memories of the boy's holy robes, which once had been a Cardinal's red, and even earlier, the robes of red and gold of the far away Eastern kingdoms. He tries to envision the boy's defiance even as his own empire disowned him and branded him a traitor, the boy's sneer as the holy city around him burned to ashes. But all he stirs up is the picture of his own coronation, him kneeling in front of the boy as the boy poured water and blessed him. The boy's words, a slow murmur for his ears only as the crowd around them cheered and roared their approval: When you have reached as high as you have, Your Highness, someday you shall fall just as low. It was a cruel prophecy, but it was also a promise, that the boy would fall with him, as they both have risen together.

Alas, it was not to be.

3.

The world is quiet.

His mornings begin with Albert gently waking him up. "Young master," the family butler says, shaking him as he tries to snuggle deeper into the soft sheets, "Young master. It's time to wake up."

He would give out an incoherent grumble, a sigh, and then he would be up. He doesn't want father to see him like this. He shifts and sits up, his fine brown hair disheveled, his eyes blinking.

His father comes in a few minutes later, already in full suit, striding in full force. He always wondered where he got his hair from—his father's hair wasn't the thick brown he had on his own scalp; his father's was a silvery brown, naturally flicked. Today it is slicked back.

"Charles," his father says, nodding to him. "You're up." He reaches out to pat his head, perhaps even smiling at him, but the moment is soon gone and his father talks to Albert instead. "Charles has tennis this afternoon," he says softly, almost as if Charles is not present in the room, "He needs to be picked up by six."

Albert nods and bows. Charles tries to think of something to say, anything, before his father leaves and meets up later for breakfast. Then he remembers.

"Father," he blurts out suddenly, "I've been made captain."

His father turns to him, startled, but he soon recovers. "Congratulations," his father says with another one of his little smiles, "But of course, I already expected that."

He reaches out to ruffle Charles's hair again and leaves.


Breakfast scares Charles.

It's the only time of the day when he sees the stranger sitting across from him, next to his father's side. Charles remembers the stranger for as long as he has lived with his father. The stranger's presence is eerie and ghostlike; Charles almost expects the man to be transparent. The strange man only shows up at breakfast—Charles is thankful for schools and a large mansion; it gives him the delusion that the stranger is not there.

Hazel eyes study him lazily as he eats his buttered toast. The stranger doesn't touch anything that's on the table; all the fruits, honey-glazed pancakes, the freshly baked bread. Charles forces himself to chew and swallow his food, and he looks up. Those eyes haven't left him; he suppresses a grimace and scowls.

"I wish," he says as aloofly as he could, "You wouldn't look at me like that."

The stranger is unfazed, thin lips curving up a smirk. The stranger averts his eyes and doesn't speak. He never does.

His father joins them a minute later, his laptop with him. Today must be an important meeting, Charles notes, because father never brings work to the table, not unless it was something crucial. Someday he had to inherit the responsibility that came with it, and his little body stiffens at such a huge burden, but not without a thrill of excitement as well.

"Sleep well?" His father says to him, as if they haven't met just minutes ago. The father ignores the stranger sitting next to him, but the stranger doesn't seem to care, or even notice. Those eyes are now focused on the setting knife thoughtfully.

"Yes," Charles replies, trying not to look back at the stranger, who is now reaching out to grab the knife.

"That's good—stop." His father's tone goes from mild to a cold one in an instant, his eyes barely flickering over to the stranger before addressing Charles again. "I assigned a new Greek tutor for you, it's time you read the classics."

The stranger bares his teeth at Charles, as if they're sharing a private joke, and Charles finds it eerie how it's so beastlike.

4.

The first time Keigo meets the boy, he is in London, eight and unbearable to his nannies.

"I shall go and practice," he announces, trying out the Old English accents of unknown times; to him it sounds grand, but all his mum does is cluck her tongue, "Keigo dear, don't be so tacky", and off he goes, grabbing his tennis bag and out into his three courts out in his backyard. Most little boys in Japan wouldn't have such large estates, but those blond hair pale skin blue eye boys from Eton took all this for granted, and their tennis was good, too good, and it was them Keigo is competing with, not some skimpy Asians from an ocean away. He drags his too large tennis bag and snaps at the butler to leave him be, "I'm fine, I wish to be alone," he says haughtily, and ignores the way Gerald is hiding a smile behind his bow, and off he goes, giddy and determined.

Ball after ball he serves, throws, and it's not the right spin he wants in the ball, nor is it powerful enough. Soon he is panting and frustrated, heaving and cursing. He glares at the balls scattered around him, wishes for a fleeting, annoying moment he could have chosen fencing.

"Your grip is off."

He spins around. A lanky boy is leaning against the fence, his hands stuffed inside his jeans, his black hair gleaming in the sunlight. Keigo narrows his eyes. "Who are you?" he demands. He's not scared, not yet, but the main gate and his house has a good distance, and strangers can't get access to the more private yards of the family's lands. The boy (older boy? A man, maybe?) seems to be Japanese, but on closer look he sees that those eyes are gold, or at least a very light shade of hazel. There are no Asians in this part of country. He bites his lips; for some strange reason he doesn't go off running to Gerald or his mum.

The other boy cocks his head and stares down at Keigo, his eyes confused for a second, then seems to understand something. "Ah," he says, and the way he says it is not British. "I see." He comes over to the court and squats down (Keigo makes a face at that, he hates being reminded he's short) matching his eye level. "How old are you again?"

What a weird question. Keigo refrains from scowling, but he does give the other boy a very flat look, clearly indicating that he didn't answer the first question yet. The other boy seems to get this, strangely, then laughs a little. "I'm Ryoma," he says, "Did we meet before?"

"I hope not," Keigo replies bitingly, "Since it wouldn't do me good to associate myself with the likes of you."

"Not so cute then," the Ryoma boy mutters, rolling his eyes. "And you still sound like some crappy Victorian Darcy. Stop that."

Another strange comment. Keigo is sure that he never met this Ryoma, and yet he's treating Keigo as if they're old associates. He frowns. "Are you trespassing on my grounds?" he asks pointedly.

Ryoma blinks. "I don't think it's your grounds yet," he points out, "Family estates, yeah?" The more Keigo hears him, he's sure that Ryoma is from America, with his smooth, brisk tone, a cold chill to each period. Ryoma curls his lips as Keigo glares at him. "You still haven't told me your age, little boy."

"I'm not a boy," he snaps (even though he is, he's more a man than this plebian Japanese), "And why does that concern you? It's not even a good conversation starter."

"It's not," Ryoma acknowledges, smirking, "But I don't want to start a conversation with you. I was watching you play tennis."

Keigo still glares at him. "If I tell you my age," he says finally, "Would you play a set with me? Only if you're good." Gerald always lets him win, and he's already analyzed Kabaji to make him a serious opponent. Maybe this Ryoma would prove to be a better loser.

"I am good." Ryoma flicks his forehead lightly (Keigo balks at that) and looks amused. "I could play you with my bad hand and still beat you in a love game."

"Adults have such a way with grand words," Keigo bites scathingly, and waves his hand, "I'm Keigo (he gives Ryoma a look to imply that's what you should ask first, not some child's age) and eight."

"Eight." Ryoma suddenly has a brief look flickering on his eyes, something that Keigo almost misses. "No wonder. You're so young."

"And your manners are degrading," Keigo says back, and hands him a ball. "I'll let you serve."


Ryoma wins, 6-0.

Keigo narrows his eyes, panting and exhausted. Ryoma hasn't sweated at all.

"I'm good, right?" The infuriating smirk is back and he even gives a mock bow. Keigo grits his teeth and stand up, wincing as he looks at his knees. His right knee is scraped but he doesn't cry.

"You'd know," he bites out instead with a sniff, and studies the other boy more carefully. Ryoma is approaching the net, his racket loose in his right hand (a left-player, how quaint). When he comes closer, he frowns. "You're bleeding," he states.

"Obvious," Keigo dismisses, not wincing as he marches over to the net. Ryoma is still frowning a little. "You're not my nurse, so I suggest you let it be," he says, and sticks out a small hand. "It was a good match, I suppose." He can't help it if his voice sounds stiff; he's bitter, some stranger who intrudes in his house beats him and now will probably dash off before he could call his guards. At least he could show some manners.

Ryoma gives him a strange look and doesn't shake his hand. "I could teach you tennis," he says instead, the look replaced by a smirk, "If you get yourself cleaned up."

Keigo narrows his eyes. "Are you a tennis tutor father sent me?" he asks.

Ryoma snorts. "Not your father, no. Just…" his smirk falters. "An interested party."

That sounds suspicious, an interested party, but Keigo wants his tennis to work, and this Ryoma seems to be good, really good. So he nods briefly, refraining from running inside the house to holler at the maids for a fresh change of clothes. "Fine. Wait here," he commands, and dashes off, ignoring the laughter that follows in his wake.

But when Keigo reappears, the stranger is gone.

5.

"Don't look like that," Ryoma says dismissively, when Keigo makes a face at South Africa, Sudan, Algeria, just about half of the African continent, "It was bound to happen."

"Who was in charge of the 19th century?" Keigo mutters, trying to undo some of the damage. The smell of rotting flesh drifts over by the northern wind; it smells of rubber and ashes.

Ryoma stops him, Keigo's pale hands that reach out to save. His ashen hands contrast with Keigo's and Ryoma observes how flecks of soot fall down to the clouds.

He meets Keigo's eyes. "Don't," he says, "You'll be demoting me."

Keigo hesitates, but it's not really a choice, as he cradles those sunken hands and kisses his palm. "The perils of mingling with the devil," he murmurs, and Ryoma retaliates with a laugh.

"You'll make me good someday," he sneers, and steps closer.

He fails to mention that when Britain made her empire it was Keigo who offered India to her and that was the start of everything.


"Freedom and liberty," Ryoma murmured, closing his eyes. Kunimitsu watched from afar, his eyes blank and writing in fury strokes, "Such a bloody price, isn't it? Have you wondered?"

Brown eyes implored him, and soon the probing was gone. "Being a scribe is a price," Kunimitsu reminded him, and opened the gates of Bastille.

+)

"You don't seem very good," Keigo remarks loftily to Ryoma twirling his racket on one hand, "I mean, our captain, he's got some height, but you…" he lets his remark trail off purposefully with a smirk, scanning Ryoma dismissively. "Japan's Nationals mustn't really be that much of a deal, hm?" he drawls.

Ryoma frowns. It's not the height remark that gets to him, but the way Keigo had coolly sneered off his purposeful disdain before he even seen Ryoma play. He shrugs, opting to ignore the younger boy and continues to watch Kunimitsu.

"You're not answering me," Keigo huffs, persistent cocky brat he is, leaning against the fence and still studying Ryoma, "I really don't see how you ever became second-in-command."

"It's not a war zone, you know," Ryoma says before he can stop himself, "It's a title."

From the corner of his eyes, he sees Keigo smirk, a very deliberate curl of his lips. "Everything's a warzone, Echizen," he says snidely, and Ryoma notes how he uses his surname instead of the more respectable senpai. Not that he cares about that either, but those little perks are adding up. "Maybe you'll think it more in terms of strategy when I beat you."

Ryoma shoots an annoyed glance at Keigo who stares back unperturbed. "Are you asking for a match?" he asks bluntly.

Keigo tsks. "You make it sound so plebian," he comments, disdain smearing all over his words.

"You make it sound like a poorly written script from Hamlet," Ryoma says back, his voice as flat as it would get, "What is it you British use for this situation? Oh yes—bugger off."

Keigo rolls his eyes at that and sneaks a glance at the match Kunimitsu was playing. "Our captain's good," he says grudgingly, "So I'll say I need a few weeks more to beat him. But you—"and he turns his attention to Ryoma, with his amusement and sneer rolled into one, "You I can beat."

"Scary," Ryoma deadpans.

Keigo laughs a little, and Ryoma's startled how it sounds terse. "Careful, senpai," he says, rolling off the offending respect off his tongue, "You don't know how good I am."

"You don't know how bad you are," Ryoma replies, walking off, "Pity I'll ruin it for you."


URGH, at least the last one is one of Insanity fics that I'm working on, so there might be hope for me yet. I don't know what's with me and AUs. I feel that while canon timeline does work for me (although high school setting, more or less) it's fun to shove these two in any setting and let them snark the hell out of each other while angsting. It's not a very healthy imagination, I agree.

And on the other, I apologize for my obsession with Keigo's British backgrounds. Blame it on me and my fangirling of posh British boys who are obnoxious—I have a unfinished fic somewhere that's completely dedicated to Ryoma poking fun at Keigo's British accent, I'm not even kidding….