This is what happens when you want to capture a feeling but you have no plot: basically weird angst that doesn't make sense at all. I promise that my next fic will have a plausible plot, but for now….well.
In the letters that we never send
Act 1. Morning
London is raining; it will be a grey Christmas.
Ryoma stirs a cup of coffee absentmindedly as he waits for Keigo to wake up. The view of the city from the penthouse is misty, the dew of the morning not yet blown away by wind.
His hand shakes momentarily before it stills; it's too early yet to be rebelling. Ryoma quells it with his mind.
There is no sign of the other man stirring in the other room as Ryoma turns the stove on while browsing through the weather. It will be a nice day out by the end of the week; perhaps he could take a stroll around Hyde Park, or venture out alone to Charing Cross and slouch inside a Nero café and watch people scurry pass.
His birthday passes by unnoticed.
"Tesco's having a Christmas cake sale," is what Ryoma greets Keigo with as Keigo finally emerges from his bedroom, his eyes glazed and hair mussed.
Keigo rolls his eyes, implicitly implying what exactly he thought of that comment. He walks past Ryoma without a touch, his hand curled around the kettle with half-filled water. He opens a cabinet to retrieve a tea box, specifically ordered tealeaves to suit his majesty's taste buds.
Ryoma cradles his mug closer. His coffee is still warm.
The water is soon boiled and Keigo pours it. He's still not talking, and as Ryoma was never the one to initiate small talk, their kitchen remains silent.
Stories below, people hurry past with their insignificant worries and traumas. He is but one of them.
"I'll be late tonight," Keigo throws to his back, as he leaves. His right shoe is smudged with dirt; Keigo glances down at it once, his eyebrows furrowed. His mouth is curved in a slight frown, debating whether it was wise to dirty his hands for the sake of his shoes. Ryoma solves the dilemma by wiping it away for him, crouching down with ease.
"Thank you." Keigo blinks once, narrowing his eyes. He's suspicious of the sudden courtesy, but Ryoma doesn't jibe or taunt. He stands impassively. "You aren't coming down with something, are you?" A hand seems to reach out for him, but it hesitates, momentarily, and it soon falls. A pity. Keigo's hands are always warm in the morning.
"There's been an awful cold circulating the office." He waits for a reply, but Ryoma remains still, his gaze fixated on the horizon beyond Keigo.
An awkward silence stretches out. Keigo's eyes narrow again, momentarily, this time in annoyance. "Well," Keigo says, after it is clear that Ryoma would not reply, "Turn the heater up, if it gets chilly. I've phoned Gerard to bring in some dinner and champagne—"
"I already have plans," Ryoma says, before Keigo lists all the material things he thinks he could compensate for everything and embarrass the both of them.
Keigo stops his words and frowns. "Plans?"
"Christmas plans," Ryoma says, and does not care to elaborate more. He turns away and blows his cold coffee, not waiting for a reply.
Act. 2 Turner
Artists are seldom made; they are born.
Is what William Blake had once proclaimed and what his father had quoted and laughed when Keigo wished to become an artist after seeing Turner's Hannibal in Tate Britain.
"'Tis a sublime painting," his father had said, "but you must be one in a thousand geniuses, Keigo, to produce such art."
He was a boy of ten, an age when his dreams were grandiose as they were his. He scrunched his face and picked at his carrots when dinner came, sliding them away from his roast beef discreetly (his mother hid a smile).
"A sublime painting could be persisted with practice though, could it not?" he said, not knowing the meaning of sublime but incorporating it with formal words and hoping it would pass. His father's smile told him it did not.
"Sublime is a feeling, my dear Keigo," his father said, amusement lacing his words, "It evokes a feeling of awe and fear simultaneously, and even that definition is hard to express the overwhelming feeling you would feel."
"That is what I wish for people to feel!" Keigo declared, triumphant. It sounded easy, this sublime business. He already had the power to cower his peers to his whims.
"But not through art, Keigo." His father leaned over to touch his hand once, gently, and drew back. "Through your name and legacy, yes. But not with another whim children play."
"William," his mother interjected, her voice sharp. Her mouth was no longer smiling. "For shame, he's only ten."
"I am already ten, mother," Keigo couldn't help but correct.
His father laughed and squeezed his mother's hand, and their dinner resumed in silence.
Act 3. Midday
The mirror glares at him, the harsh fluorescent light shadowed by his form.
He browses through a shirt, a tie, a blouse.
He wonders why a blouse would come out of a flat that two men live in, but the curiosity is brief. He shrugs it off and goes to find some presentable pants.
His phone beeps. A text message. He looks the screen as he doffs his cotton robe and pants.
Eight tonight. Just in case you forgot.
Translation: You were late the last time we met, and time is precious, boy.
Ryoma rolls his eyes and does not reply, his attention more focused on his attire for tonight. He selects a white shirt and picks it up. He drops it on the first try, the hanger clattering onto the wooden floor. Ryoma scowls and tries again.
The phone rings at twelve on the dot.
He picks it up with an automated ease, "Yes hello," he speaks into the phone, his fake British accent passing off to satisfy even Gerard into submission, "No, I won't need lunch, yes, it's true I don't want the champagne bottle—" and the dialogue is smooth and informal as Ryoma walks in and out of the rooms aimlessly. "Yes, thank you." He echoes, the words reminiscent of yesterday, the day before, weeks ago.
"Master Keigo asks of your wellbeing lately."
That gives Ryoma pause, but that pause is covered with a deliberate sigh and a snort of dismissal. "He has enough to worry about," Ryoma says and dismisses their butler with thanks as he hangs up.
Act 4. Wir haben alles vergessen.
When they were younger than they are now, Keigo believed that his world was complete.
The formula of life is a funny thing: it is simple, his father had always whispered, follow the path I designed for you, and you shall see the pinnacles of mankind. Keigo closed his eyes and imagined his name, inscribed in the stars and believed, and those words became true as he walked down the legacy his forefathers had built, in both England and Japan. He faithfully chose Tokyo over London in his adolescence yet he went to Oxford as a young man, and he graduated still as a young man, and here he was, at the top of his own world. Later heirs ask how it is done.
In Japan, he imagines telling his nephews and nieces (for he could never have a child of his own now) of how he met a disgraceful boy by the name of Echizen Ryoma (and he imagines briefly, the scowl that would pass Ryoma's face at the unflattering mention) who trampled all the rules and traditions of his elders (and here Ryoma would interject, 'Your uncle Keigo is forgetting to mention his own faults of grandeur and idiocy'), and the tale would conclude with a wise conclusion to follow the path has been designated for them, and he would resolutely not meet Ryoma's eyes as he says this.
His memories flick back and roll to Turner. Fear and awe is a foreign emotion for Keigo; he does not allow it.
Later in their suites in Ginza, Ryoma would turn, his eyes glittering, whisper, "That's not the way how I remember it, monkey king," laugh. He would be drunk on wine and greed, and Keigo would step closer, his own eyes alight with mirth, and they would stumble down on their bed. Heat defines them. Without it they are nothing but a wilted phantom.
Act 5. Teatime
Keigo stops by at three, and he wears a slight frown. Ryoma does not look up from his laptop, scrolling down his mail.
"The Turner gallery is closed for renovation," Keigo says, when Ryoma does not pry. He heads over to the cabinet for his tea, opening their fridge. He pauses. "We're out of milk."
"Pity," Ryoma says, vague in his answer. His tie hangs loose around his shoulders.
Keigo makes his tea without the milk silently, his frown consistent as he takes his own cup towards the table. He sits across Ryoma and waits for the tea to cool. Ryoma does not acknowledge him but Keigo sees the tie hung like a noose.
"It's Christmas," he says, disbelief smeared in his words, "What plans could you possibly have?"
They go back to their morning talk easily, as if Keigo had never left. Ryoma is surprised Keigo even remembers. "I have a social life, monkey king," he says flatly, his eyes resolutely on the screen, "I'm not the one cooped in an office all day."
"It's Christmas," Keigo repeats, and there's a small edge in such a festive word. "Your poor taste of social life can wait."
"You said you'd be late," Ryoma points out instead. His hand rise, gesture: your tea's getting cold. Keigo does not notice.
"I'll be back till eleven," Keigo says.
"And I'll be back at ten." His lips curve up involuntarily; it's always good fun, irking Keigo to the point of scowling. He looks up, and there it is: an aggressive curve of the lips, a narrowing of the eyes. "Fits like a charm."
Keigo presses his lips tightly, a rebuttal caught deep in his throat. He takes his tea and takes a sip instead.
Then he stops. Ryoma senses the hesitation, the pause—it's Keigo's eureka moment, a trail of thought that he had previously missed.
"It's Christmas," Keigo says slowly, and he feels those grey eyes (dotted with blue and turmoil and storm) bore into him. "It was your birthday."
Ryoma shrugs, his eyes centered on his screen, but the corner of his eyes are alert in Keigo's movements. A hand falters. Fingers drum on the table.
"You should have said," Keigo finally says, and for a second Ryoma feels genuine disgust in such a trite comment.
He shrugs again. "It didn't matter," he says, which is true. He types in an email while his Skype icon bounces soundlessly on his screen.
I would appreciate a small acknowledge that you received my text.
A smile creeps out of his face before he can stop it.
He doesn't elaborate more and the messages do not come. Keigo is still staring. It irritates him.
"What?" he snaps. He closes his laptop and proceeds to carry it to his bedroom. "Why are you here anyway? I thought one of your secretaries planned a charity meeting or something." His raised eyebrow: so shoo, go away so I can saunter around in place without your wallowing presence.
"A fundraiser," Keigo corrects, but the modification lies flat in his tongue. "Is that why you were waiting up for me last night?"
Ryoma halts in his steps and turns around. "I wasn't waiting for you," he says slowly, a deliberate attempt to articulate his message, "I was watching some old games."
Keigo's lips quirk and fall without humor. "You hate to sleep on the sofa."
"It was the finals," Ryoma quips back, frowning, "I lost track of time."
A pause and a knowing look that Ryoma hates.
"I'm sorry," is what Keigo says next sincerely and what he wished least to hear.
Ryoma scowls and grips his laptop tighter. "I said it didn't matter, and it doesn't," he says, turning away. "God, stop being an awful sap."
Save that for your secretary, he presses against in the curb of his tongue.
Act 5. Requiem pour un fou
Their first kiss was his first rebellion.
"My father told me to stay away from brats like you." Words he fed into the boy's mouth, laughing as Ryoma tugged his locks and drew him closer.
"My old man told me to hide from perverts like you," Ryoma smirked back, his eyes glinting, "Look where it both got us."
Keigo kissed him again to shut him up, and that was their second kiss.
It was July, he would later recall, the sweltering heat of Tokyo with the anticipation of his last nationals that led him to a narrow alleyway with a rival rookie who had come back from a country his English father disdained.
"He talks with a common tongue," his father sniffed, when he saw Ryoma play against him, "Did you not play him back in junior high, Keigo?"
Keigo tilted his head in affirmation, his blank face not betraying his inner turmoil.
The fact was, Echizen had been a household name in Japan in his father's generation, and the current Echizen Ryoma was not a stranger to what luxuries wealth could buy. He had merely raised an eyebrow at the finer cuisines Keigo had displayed in front of him and shrugged off the opulent interior of the Atobe mansion, his attention wandering to Keigo's dog. The days and weeks that followed did not confirm what they had, nor did they trouble themselves to confirm it.
Keigo was used to girls causally laughing while furtively sneaking glances around them, estimating the wealth and grandeur of the Atobe family. The few girls from Hyotei he took out had merely talked of their future enterprise and the legacy they would soon build. Ryoma had sat in silence, the dim lights radiating his young face, his lips a small smirk as if they alone shared a secret joke. No words came as Keigo traced a finger alongside the boy's inner wrist lightly, throughout the entrée dishes and dinner, and when dessert came, Ryoma tilted his head and lightly kicked Keigo's ankle. The smirk grew bigger.
It was a night that Keigo remembered well, the little vignettes that rolled around his mind as a film might: a cold November night, when he had already submitted his university applications and waited for the inevitable results. Before dinner, he had asked Ryoma if he was going to go pro. The boy had shrugged, tugging off his scarf and stealing a glance at him, "Are you asking me to run away with you in Oxford?" His hazel eyes back then were tinted with mischief; everything he said was said in barbs and riddles. Keigo had rolled his eyes and retorted the amount it would cost to sustain them both. Ryoma had only laughed and gave his scarf at the butler carelessly.
It was only after dessert and more kisses under the drapes of Keigo bed that he traced the words in the boy's ear, "Will you, though?"
It was not a question that he could form the complete words to, nor did he expect the boy to understand what those words meant. Ryoma opened his eyes at the sudden absence of warmth and pleasure and frowned. "Will I what?" he said, and so Keigo shook his head and trailed his lips downwards.
He does not understand, even now, why that scene shines amongst the blurred memories he harbors of their relationship.
Act 6. Hiatus
He is alone in the flat again, the calm before a storm, the tranquility before a massacre. His mouth tastes of the morbid scene he himself devises inside him, as he tightens his tie and wets his hair.
Four hours to go.
This time his phone rings, breaking the silence and starting him out of his trance. He blinks, and shakes his head, glaring at the phone. He does not pick it up, out of spite like a sulking child.
Perhaps Seiichi is right: he is still a boy craving the warm limelight that would rest on his shoulders.
He walks to the kitchen to take his pills. They are stored at the back of the cabinet alongside tea boxes Ryoma never drink. He makes a small face as he counts the pills carefully, the water boiling his second cup of coffee of the day.
It's a mundane life, one that he would have hated in his youth.
A text beeps an hour later, this time from Keigo: I reserved the lounge at the National Gallery tonight. Wear something nice for a change.
Ryoma raises an eyebrow. It was a subtle attempt of another apology, or perhaps it was an excuse of a romantic to satisfy an artisan's desire.
Another text soon comes with succession: I canceled my meeting for tonight. Be ready at eight.
Was he expected to go down on his knees? With Keigo he never really knew; one night (amongst many nights) in a fit of drunken haziness, Ryoma remembers sneering that he would never worship Keigo's ego. Keigo had laughed, his mockery evident as he kissed Ryoma's wrist, murmuring, "I do love a challenge." Their eyes had been of pure fervor and heat, a shared smirk, a single joke.
Ryoma does not reply to the text, but he does leave a card on the dining table for Keigo to find easily. On it is the restaurant he was to meet Seiichi.
Act 7. Wenn ich lieben will
Did they ever love?
That is a question that Keigo likes to circle about when he becomes morose, or perhaps even a tad dramatic. He would ponder this question and tastes the words on his tongue as he would turn his head sideways, away from the full moonlight and into the darkness that led to Ryoma's room where he slept. His own bedroom would be faintly lit, beckoning him to slumber. He would take another sip of black tea and refrain.
Love was a tricky emotion. They had collided as separate teams who both wanted victory over romance; even during their final days before nationals, they had not spoken to each other about the kiss, the incident less desirable than the act to play ball. Only after they both lost and Rikkai gained the high school circuit win did Ryoma come out of his sulk and headed over to Atobe, who had been leaning against the wall with a cup of cheap beer, a moody sight amidst a rowdy party.
"You look cheerful," Ryoma remarked upon seeing him. He nudged a drunken Momoshiro out of the way and pushed himself against the wall. Atobe did not acknowledge him, choosing to make a face as he drank a careful sip of the awful beer.
"Are you going to ignore me all night?" Ryoma said, a beginning of a scowl forming on his face. (And here, Keigo would smile involuntarily, at how young and childish Ryoma still was, no matter how great his tennis skills might have been. The memory is a fond one; he often lords it over Ryoma as he is able.)
"If you were anything but mediocre company, I wouldn't," Keigo replied snidely, not looking at the boy, "But seeing how indeed, yes, your company isn't very enticing, I'll pass."
Ryoma raised an eyebrow at this, his fingers fiddling. The movement is a distracting and a sore sight for his eyes; Keigo frowns and grabs those offending thumbs. "Don't do that," he snaps. He was prepared to fling the boy's hand out of the way, but the crucial moment passed as he held those hands a minute too long.
Around them, noise was blaring and high school boys were becoming shrill as Keigo looked down at their now clasped hands. Ryoma tilted his head and looked up, his eyes twinkling. His lips curved into a smirk. "Heeeh," he drawled, "If you wanted to hold my hand, you could've asked, monkey king."
Keigo scowled darkly instead of blushing. He threw Ryoma's hand harder than necessary and plastered himself to the wall again. "If you're quite done," he said coolly, "You should look after Momoshiro over there. He's acting like a great buffoon."
Ryoma snorted. "He always acts like an idiot." He stayed there, his hands still with his smirk intact. "Are you going to sulk all night? I don't remember you being this petty when Seigaku won in middle school."
Keigo sniffed, opting to swirl the beer cup around his hand rather than to taste the foul beer again. "You're wrong on both accounts," he said tersely, "One, I am not sulking. Two, while I may accept Tezuka's win over mine, Yukimura is hardly fit for a victor's cloth."
"So you are sulking," Ryoma observed, his voice full of laughter.
Trust the boy to miss the point. Keigo rolled his eyes. "I am not," he said, and stopped. "What are you doing here?" he asked diverting the topic, "You were never the social butterfly, Echizen."
Ryoma shrugged, his smirk slipping as he turned away. "Kikumaru-senpai dragged me here," he said dismissively.
Now it was Keigo's turn to smirk. "Oh?" he said, gleaning his tone to cordial intentions, "From what I recall, you've become most adept at avoiding unwanted attention."
"Yeah, well, he was insistent," Ryoma muttered. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and gave Keigo an annoyed look. "Besides, you've been avoiding me ever since semi-finals."
"I wasn't avoiding you," Keigo corrected, "I was in no need of you. I beat you, if you care to remember."
"Bra-vo," Ryoma mocked, his eyes narrowing, "Took you three years."
Keigo chose not to answer that, his shoulders tensing. They were approaching the topic that he was dreading to tread.
When Keigo remained silent, Ryoma waited another beat, then shook his head. "You're even more of an asshole than I thought," he said, and turned away, "Fine. Whatever, Atobe."
Before Keigo could have found an adequate rebuttal, Ryoma slithered between the crowd and disappeared. Keigo was left blinking at the eyes of Niou and Kirihara.
Keigo scowled and dumped his cup on the floor. "Horrid brat," he muttered under his breath and followed Ryoma's footsteps.
Here Keigo would pause in his memory lane. His tea would have gone cold as his memories. They are no longer the smooth reel of film rolling in his mind: they are fractured and worn from the many times Keigo turned them over in his head. He does not know why Ryoma sought him out that night and he never thought to ask. Does he contribute those feelings to sentiment?
"Echizen!" He found the boy out on the streets. Inside, the party was still roaring and the hooting laughter spilled over out of the windows in into the desolate sidewalks. "Don't be such a child."
It was the first thing that came to his mind; it was also the wrong thing to say. Ryoma faltered in his footsteps, his face away from Keigo's approaching form. He turned around calmly and bit out, "I wasn't the one sulking right in the middle of a party. You can't call me a child."
"Running out like this is what children do," he pointed out, "And for the love of god, Echizen, did you really expect me to follow your trail of thoughts if you suddenly come up to me like that?"
Ryoma stared at him, his lips pressed together tightly. He raised his chin haughtily. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he said.
Keigo sighed. "No, of course you don't," he muttered, "Must everything start with tennis for you?"
Ryoma's eyes flashed a brief emotion—hurt—before they molded over to indifference again. He shrugged. "It's what I do best," he said flatly, "You said so yourself."
"And again, you prove yourself to be a child when you believe everything I say," Keigo said impatiently, "It's not our match you want to talk about, it's about the—"
"It's," Ryoma interrupted, and looked frustrated. "It's. It's not important. Whatever. I was being stupid, like you said."
"I said childish," Keigo said dryly. Ryoma glared at him. Keigo ignored it in favor of propelling his next statement: "And obviously, it was important for you to come to a party we both know you detest. Don't play coy."
Ryoma scowled at that and waked towards Keigo in quick strides. Their distance was but a foot apart now. "Oh fine," he snapped, "Well done, monkey king. You're right. It's a big deal to me."
"Is that it?" he finally said, after a significant pause. "That's disappointing. I would have thought a kiss with me would have meant more than a big deal."
"Did you expect it to be life-changing?" Ryoma sneered, "Rosy daisies? Maybe that I would swoon?"
Keigo looked away, catching his smile before it appeared on his mouth. "Don't be daft."
"Oh, so now you're calling me stupid. Charming."
"I would have thought," Keigo said, "that you would confess your undying love to me."
He expected Ryoma's face to change with horror, and he was not wrong when the boy's face morphed into a strange mix between shock and embarrassment.
"How disappointing," he remarked, when Ryoma would not speak, his mouth agape slightly, "It would have been amusing, to say the least."
"I," Ryoma started, and shook his head. "You're an asshole."
"You already said that," Keigo said. He shrugged. "Well, now that nationals is over and we both lost to Rikkai, I think it would be safe to say that I wouldn't be averse to confessing my own undying love."
"To me?" Ryoma looked either disgusted or pleased, Keigo couldn't tell.
"Perhaps undying love is misleading," Keigo mused, "A dalliance would be more fitting."
"How flattering." But Ryoma's mouth was twitching now. Keigo took that as a sign to step forward and close the remaining distance between them.
If they were to both remember this night, Ryoma would have been sprawled on the sofa, his fingers busy with a tennis ball, tossing it up and down in the air. "Why did everything have to be talking with you?" he would wonder, and here he would give Keigo an annoyed look. "If you wanted to kiss me instead of talk, it would have saved us all the hassle."
Keigo would curb his own temptation to dump his drink (Italian wine, not some third-rated beer, thank you very much) on the boy's head and take a sip it instead. "There's no fun in that," he said, "Besides, I like it when you fight for me."
Ryoma would throw a pillow at him, and Keigo would scoff at how instinctive Ryoma acted. He would quietly finish his glass, and stride towards the sofa, and lean for another kiss.
"You're so easy to rile up," he would laugh, and Ryoma would sulk while kissing him back.
But it nowadays, it would only be Keigo, illuminated by the moonlight, drunk with nothing but a hollow gap in his throat. It does not fill up with the copious cups of tea.
He would wonder, when was the last time I saw him smirk?
For the life of him, he cannot remember.
Act 8. Evening
He leaves the flat, with Gerard at his heels in the lobby.
"Keigo-sama specifically requested that you stay in the building, Echizen-sama," Gerard says, disapproval pronounced in his every accent, "He said to escort you out at precisely seven."
Ryoma fiddles with his tie. It's crooked; he should have checked the mirror before he went out. No matter, Seiichi would fix it for him, with that irritating laugh, honestly, Echizen, you can't even wear a decent tie.
On second thought, he thinks it'll be best to slap away the predicted hand and slip away to the restaurant's restroom at the earliest convenience.
"I'm not a domesticated pet," he says irritably, ignoring Gerard's rapid steps alongside his, "Besides, he told me he had a meeting today. I can't change my set of plans on his whims."
"He cancelled it for you," Gerard says. He looks visibly agitated. Ryoma imagines the call Gerard would rant to Keigo, his fluttering voice that was better suited to be in a Victorian drama. The brief scene that he imagines is enough to curb the flare of irritation of Gerard's intentional jab.
He cancelled it for you, so be grateful for the things his lordship bestows.
"I am much obliged," he mutters, and proceeds to yank open the exit doors. He ignores the final call of his name and winces. His hands are shaking faintly from the rough action of the doors; he glares at them, as if to will them to stop. He walks down to the Tube and waits for the train to come. The stale air of the subway is less suffocating than the penthouse. He takes a breath and shuts off his phone.
The National Gallery looms at him as he gets off Charing Cross. His glance is but brief; he wonders whether the gallery is even open today. Hordes of crowds mill about him, their faces buried under scarfs and coats, eyes downcast as the wind blows. It is already pitch dark and the streetlamps light up the sidewalks Ryoma crosses.
An inconspicuous building is stashed on his way to Regent Street. On the outside it looks cozy and homey, a delusion once one enters and is overwhelmed by the shimmering chandeliers and sharply dressed waiters. Ryoma's face is frozen with the chill to make a face as he enters through the heavy doors, and all at once the noise outside ceases. A waiter steps to greet him.
"Do you have a reservation?" he inquires.
Ryoma tilts his head, thinks. Would there be a reservation? Just as he is about to guess, a voice chimes from behind.
"On time for once, are we? Yes, reservation for two, Seiichi."
The waiter brings them the menu while couples chat around them. Their silence is not something unusual; Ryoma ignores the man in front of him to skim at the dinner courses. None of them are heavy, but nor are they to Ryoma's liking. He reluctantly selects a salmon plate. When he puts down his menu, he sees Seiichi observing him, amused.
"Does Atobe know you're here?" Seiichi asks. His fingers are long in the flickering candlelight of their table, and they barely rest on Ryoma's own.
"Do you know what you're going to order?" he asks, ignoring the question and replacing it with a cordial one. Seiichi's eyes shine at him. Blue eyes do not go well with the candlelight; they look like blue fire.
"Ribs," Seiichi says, and his smile is insistent. "It's Christmas today. Had dear Keigo planted anything up his sleeve?"
Ryoma frowns at that, but he doesn't kick Seiichi's leg under the table. "No," he says shortly, and his eyes signal the waiter over.
"And what will you have today, gentlemen?"
"The salmon for me, the rib plates for him," Ryoma says. Seiichi sits there, smiling beatifically at him. It is a smile before a bomb.
"Very good sir." The waiter fills their glasses with water. There is a slight pause, and the waiter adjusts his earpiece smoothly. "Ah, gentlemen, there seems to be another person joining this table tonight. Was this a reservation for three?"
"There's always room for one more," Seiichi says cheerfully. He does not ask who the person is or how the person would know of tonight's plans. Ryoma tilts his head in affirmation.
A moment later, the waiter brings forth Keigo and a chair. Keigo's face is dead as the piece of wood he will soon sit on.
Act 9. La vie en rose
His life was not bleak before he met Ryoma. He would not gloss that over.
Yet in his last year of high school, that was precisely what he was thinking, rearranging his past and childhood into something meaningless to usher in the era of Echizen Ryoma. The girls he had dated once or twice, either out of obligation or out of boredom he now scoffed at, and he held the high esteem for a boy who was alike him in many ways.
He was a devoted and vocal narcissist; he doubted if anyone was not one, and concluded it was only natural he would feel attached to the boy. He was so different from Tezuka that Keigo sometimes wondered what Tezuka ever saw in him that provoked interest, but, he soon thought, Tezuka must have used the tools he could have obtained. This thought would give out a pensive childishness in him, a petty possessiveness, promoting him to ask Ryoma, "Why have you never considered applying to Hyotei?"
Ryoma would never admit it, but he was a complete snob at heart. He valued talent and scorned others who did not have what he had, and attributed the failure of others to their weakness. Such traits were commonplace at Hyotei.
(Momoshiro would later protest, Echizen had the heart of Tezuka, the courage to lead, and that this heart was shown in the years of Echizen as captain. Keigo would stay silent and know that the entire reason Seigaku would have won was because Ryoma aced the Singles and left his team to be.)
Ryoma would shrug, careless in his answer, "I don't want to call you captain." The matter for him was resolved.
It was too simple an answer to satisfy him, but that was all he would get.
Keigo returned to Tokyo when Ryoma was finishing his third year at Waseda University, his head full of English scorn and manners.
"A true English gentlemen," his father praised him, eyes solemn and approving, "We shall soon find a young fiancée for you yet."
He caught his mother's eyes across the table; she looked away, a sad smile on her face.
"I thought you would go pro," was the first thing that Keigo would say to Ryoma.
"And I thought you would be married," Ryoma threw back, his smile lazy. He had the ease of a young man now, with no gawky limbs and scowls. His eyes shone and Keigo wanted to kiss them. "Why aren't you?"
"I had my studies to keep me busy." Keigo chose his words carefully back then, a fine craft he perfected, saying words that people wanted to hear. Ryoma had shaken his head and smirked.
They were in a hotel room overlooking the city. They were still clothed, sitting a foot apart. Ryoma kicked his legs and his foot brushed over Keigo's knees. "You always knew how to lie."
Keigo looked away to hide his own smirk. "And you knew all my lies, is that what you're telling me?"
"Yeah." Ryoma stood up, his eyes still shining. He didn't move from his spot. "Maybe I should be your personal psychiatrist."
"Please." Keigo rolled his eyes and his hand rose up in reflex. "You'll drive me even more insane. Do sit down, I don't like craning my head up."
Ryoma laughed at that; he took the hand Keigo offered him. He went over to Keigo's side; his legs parted and he straddled him.
They did not kiss but looked at one another for the longest time.
At first, Keigo did not get his answer to his first question. Or is it hidden in many of his memories? Did he purposefully erase the part because he knew what was coming?
The illness did not conceive to Keigo at first.
"Your hand is shaking," he had observed one morning, while Ryoma was pouring coffee into is mug. "Are you that nervous living with me?"
Ryoma did not roll his eyes or smirk at the jest; he had scowled and slammed the kettle against the counter. "Just jitters," he muttered, and his mug was abandoned, half-spilled. He swept past Keigo and into the living room.
The first time Keigo did notice was in bed.
"You're hardly a virgin to be shaking so badly—" Keigo started, as the boy's arm shook when they closed around his torso. "Ryoma?"
"I—" Ryoma gritted his teeth, shook his head. "It's nothing. Ignore it."
"I can't." Keigo shifted, his arm grasping the boy's hand. The hand shook harder. "Ryoma?"
"Christ," Ryoma snapped, and pushed Keigo aside. "I need to go to the bathroom."
He flung out the bed and into the bathroom. The door slammed behind him; he stayed there until dawn.
The next morning, Ryoma pushed him a cup of tea in the kitchen, his eyes daring Keigo to talk of last night. Keigo did not take the bait.
If he had back then, would they still be in the state they are now?
If he stayed adrift, perhaps the boy would step closer.
Perhaps if he became nonchalant, the boy would burst.
Because that was what he did, wasn't it? Bait the boy until he came running.
Sometimes Keigo cannot differentiate the boy he had left behind and the man Ryoma grew into.
Act 10. Moonlight
"Isn't this marvelous?" Seiichi laughs as if he's having a pleasant joke between old friends, as if Keigo and Seiichi had ever been anything but malicious. "What a grand surprise. Do sit down, Atobe."
Keigo's eyes rest on Ryoma. His face is still pale in the candlelight, and Ryoma forces himself to feel a small pang of pity for him as he draws out the newly acquired chair with one hand. "Sit down, Keigo," he echoes, and he's glad that his voice is emotionless as Seiichi's is gleeful. Seiichi smiles at him in return, his glance brief before it rests on Keigo again.
Keigo looks at him aghast, but he obeys and slowly walks towards them, his steps measured and precise as he reaches the small space between him and their table. He pulls out the chair further and sits, and their hands do not brush as he does so.
"Would you care to order anything?" Seiichi continues, his voice light. His smile is frozen in place as his eyes challenge Keigo—no, both of them—to burst out the absurdity of the situation in front of them. He's baiting me, Ryoma thinks, and the thought is sudden as his response: "Keigo likes the salmon they serve here."
Seiichi looks at him, a small annoyance hinting beneath the smiling mask, but Ryoma glares right back and takes a sip of water. Seiichi sighs and shrugs at Keigo—what can you do with children?—and inquires a confirmation. "Is that true? Personally, I find their lamb to be exquisite. Should I summon the waiter again?"
Keigo's fingers lie flat on the tablecloth as his eyes no longer look at Ryoma; if Ryoma looks closely, he can detect a small shaking of those fingers. Yet Keigo's voice is a clean monotone as he replies, "Personally, Yukimura, I find your tastes to be revolting at this stage."
Seiichi chuckles. He is delighted now; he wanted this, Ryoma knows, at some point in their twisted affair, Seiichi wanted to be found out and display his brilliant act of showmanship. Because Seiichi, Ryoma wants to spit, you're just as an attention whore as I am. But he refrains, swallowing the vile with another sip of water.
"That's a shame," Siichi remarks, his thin eyelashes fluttering once, a pretense of innocence. "I prided on our identical tastes in amorous adventures."
"Seiichi," Ryoma interjects sharply, but Seiichi chooses this time to clasp a hand over Ryoma's own: be quiet, Echizen. Elegant fingers run across his knuckles lightly. Keigo sees this; his eyes flicker to the scene once.
Seiichi sees this and tilts his head. "This must be quite a surprise. Although, you must understand Echizen's own reasons for keeping this a secret, yes?" Seiichi's laughter is dangerous as it is fake; the tinkle shakes Ryoma.
Keigo does not answer for a moment, and when he does, it is accompanied with a terrible twitch of his own lips. "There are few things that could surprise me," he murmurs, and his eyes rest on Ryoma's neck so that Seiichi would believe Keigo was looking at Ryoma, "He told me he made plans today. Who would he make plans for Christmas, hm?"
"Clever you," Seiichi says. His hands clasp and devour Ryoma's own. "You don't sound very agitated."
Keigo shrugs. "I must have made a terrible partner," he says as his salmon came.
It's completely unlike Keigo, to say such humbling words, even in the face of irony.
Ryoma does not touch his hands as a message of comfort. He stares straight ahead.
Act 11. Midnight
They do not speak during the car ride back, nor when they walk into the elevator and go up to their penthouse. The stillness is like gravity as it presses down upon them; they stand a foot apart, two strangers who stumbled upon an unfavorable place.
Ryoma follows Keigo's footsteps as Keigo walks towards their balcony in a trance. His hand rests on the window latch, as if about to open the door and let the cold air in, but in the end his hand only closes into a fist as he slowly turns to face him. The moonlight aged him; his grey eyes are ghost-like as they pierce him. His mouth whispers,
"I never slept with Lauren."
Lauren? Ryoma thinks, and he understands. Yes, the secretary. She has a name now, the abstract figure that had been a flimsy board of justification for his own misdeeds. He tilts his head and replies coolly, "And I never slept with Seiichi."
And that was true, and it made them even. (It would, if only Ryoma erases the way Seiichi had held his wrists gently against the wall and crowded into his space, whispering sins and laughing insanity into his ear. Had Keigo done the same thing: innocent flaunting with hungry eyes and lies against sinful lips?)
Keigo's lips are pressed tightly together, and Ryoma knows the rebuttal that Keigo is suppressing: that's not the problem, it was never the problem, damn you, don't play fucking smart with me.
But he will, because didn't he always? Ryoma lets out a small twisted smile at his own jibe. He looks away to hide the smirk but Keigo sees it (like he eventually sees everything) and his lips are white as he glares.
The glare doesn't faze him as he says, "And if I had, you'd never find out, would you?" Keigo doesn't speak for another minute. "No," he finally says, "I supposed I wouldn't. Well done, you. I suppose you think you're awfully clever."
"And I suppose you find yourself awfully boring, saying common lines like that," Ryoma says, and stops. He suppresses a tired sigh. "I really never cared. If you ever slept with her or not."
"Because you just don't care, do you?" This time it's Keigo's turn to smile, and his smile is jarred. His eyes are blazing in cold simmering fire. "Do tell, what you give a care about nowadays. If you would just talk, instead of moping around the flat all day for the past year without a single productive word out of your bratty little mouth—"
"I did not—"Ryoma starts, but Keigo snarls and in fast strides, he abandons the balcony edge in favor of standing in front of him, thin fingers gripping his jaw tightly.
"Shut up," he hisses, "Don't feed me lies about how you didn't do this or didn't do that instead of some other morbid scheme you fed upon yourself. Do you even know why you got a whiff of Lauren? You must have thought yourself a novelty, thinking that I would be stupid enough to ever leave traces of some other woman around our flat. Clever, clever you. Has it never occurred in that thick brain of yours that whatever you might have thought of I would have thought of first?"
Words are stuck in his throat. Protests bubble in his mouth and he could spit it out, form an array of hatred and scorn to throw back. But his body is motionless; his jaw hurts, from where Keigo's grip hardens with every word.
"You think tonight was such a spectacle, showing your boyfriend off, thinking that I would be taken back with an old face? It's a nice touch, you know, Yukimura Seiichi. I should have asked him tonight what he thought of your hands. Does he even know the sorry state you're in, how pathetic your life has become—"
Ryoma raises his left hand and punches him.
Keigo staggers away, clutching his mouth. Blood flows from his covered hand, but his eyes are subdued now, away from Ryoma. Ryoma lets out a breath that he did not realize he had been holding.
It's the first time that Keigo brought up his current state. Ryoma sees his hands now: they are shaking madly. He tries to stop them by pressing them together until they cease into mere tremors. Keigo wipes away the blood and his mouth sags. His eyes go to his trembling hands.
"Have you taken your medicine today?" Keigo asks, after a long pause. His voice is back to the quiet whisper that he had started this conversation on. Ryoma ignores him and wills his hands to still so he can ball them up into steady fists.
"He knows," he finally answers, an answer to a question he was more interested in answering, "I think that was what appealed to him."
Keigo doesn't reply to that, wiping the corner of his mouth silently as his eyes transformed to a permanent tiredness that had built up over the past year.
Ryoma opens his mouth to start, but a lump catches his words. He swallows and tries again. "You never ask," he says, "So I can't just…." He looks away, grits his teeth.
There was a time when it used to be easier. La vie en rose, Keigo had once mocked their adolescence, his lips kissing the flat of Ryoma's hand. He had laughed, followed. The autumn that Keigo was to part and head to England, he had looked at him seriously, his voice betraying his jest, "Would you come with me, if I asked you to?" and there was no way to digress the meaning behind those words. They were rivals before they ever were fragile lovers, and so Ryoma had rolled his eyes and hit away the hand held out to him. His heart had raced less than it had when he had lost to the older boy just when the summer heat was approaching.
They had raced through Japan, nationals at their heels. They had conquered so much with a measly yellow ball and a ragged net between them.
"Did you want me to know about Lauren, then?" he asks next. He rubs his steady hand. he wants a cup of coffee to sip, sipping away his weariness with it.
"Yes." Keigo pauses; he is searching for the right words. There are no right words now; Ryoma folds his arms and wills Keigo to try.
"When you first came here with me," Keigo begins, and here he looks away and rubs his hands together, "When you first came here. You didn't tell me about your state and I thought you would play in England at the next Wimbledon. That was the entire reason that I thought you came. I gave you a place to stay and you moved in and—" Keigo pauses, but moves on, "and that's when I thought I loved you. It was never in Japan. Even you know that."
Keigo has never spoke those words, hesitant springtime words. They carve a hollow hole in his heart.
"When we were in Japan, I was barely twenty, and when we met you…you seemed different, yes, but different wasn't enough for me to convince me that it wasn't just my adrenaline racing when I'm with you. So I asked you to come with me again with a purpose. I didn't think you'd agree, but you did, and I was convinced that it was your ambitions. I was content with that."
"But I didn't," Ryoma cuts in, and his voice is tight strung, on edge.
"No," Keigo agrees quietly, "You didn't."
"Why the fuck," Ryoma starts, and sucks in a breath. He gives out a rasping laugh. "Why would I want to come with you to play in a fucking tennis match? Did you honestly think that the only reason I came here to this fucking shithole was to—" he shakes his head. "What are you, my sugar daddy? That I would grab the hand of the first man who'd offer me food and board while I make it big like my old man?"
"You're twisting my words," Keigo says tiredly.
"Yeah, well, I'm fucking good at doing that, aren't I," Ryoma snaps. The anger that has been piling at him since dinner, the anger and irritation he felt at Seiichi, he all fires at Keigo. "So tell me your holy version. Guide my fucked up hand to the point where we're now, like how Miss fucking Lauren comes into all this. I just—" Ryoma stops and moves his hands to his face. He rubs them against his eyes furiously.
"I didn't, Ryoma," Keigo says, and his voice sounds nearer. Ryoma presses his hands against his eye harder. He wants to poke them out.
"I don't care," Ryoma spits, and he means it. He wishes he means it.
There are days when Keigo would drag him out to see a painting of Turner. He is not an art lover, not he, but Keigo insists on educating him about one of his most favorite artists. Typical Keigo. He would drag his own wilted hand around Tate Britain, his eyes roaming while Ryoma would hide a yawn behind him.
"You've seen this all before," Ryoma would grumble, and yank his hand out. By this time Keigo wouldn't notice.
"It's different every time," Keigo would reply. He would pause, add, "I see you every day, don't I?" and for that Ryoma would form no words.
There is a painting that Ryoma does not forget. Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps. It is a grandiose snowstorm trapped in the face of history alongside a hero. That Ryoma doesn't give a crap about. What he notices is the way Keigo's eyes move, devouring the canvas, blinking back the details and imprinting them on his mind forever.
This painting Ryoma knows, because it is the look that Keigo had once given him.
These days, he does not know; his eyes are always averted away from Keigo.
"I can't play," Ryoma says now, and he has never said those words. They taste dry. "I can never play. So that's not why I came here."
Keigo is silent. "No," he agrees after a moment, "It's not."
They stand at parallels.
Sometime in the night, they go to their respective bedrooms and morning comes. Ryoma gets up first: it is seven and grey. He boils the kettle, looks for the coffee. He fumbles with his phone and deletes Seiichi's number. It doesn't matter; he has it remembered, and his mind will imprint it until it is naturally forgotten of abandon. Whether it would end like that is up to him.
Keigo walks in. His hair is mussed and his lips are tight. He nods once and searches for his own tea bags. He pauses, his tealeaves sprinkling the brim of his cup. His hand is hesitant as it rises up, landing softly at the crown of Ryoma's head.
"Hi," he says softly.
Ryoma does not take his eyes away from the kettle. The kettle starts to boil water; Keigo's hand is still there, too light to mistake it as nonexistent.
"Hi," Ryoma answers, just as quietly.
Outside, the clouds merge, and rain begins to fall.
It seems that I always punch Keigo whether he's the good guy or the bad guy (ambiguous in this case). If I might add in a spoiler, my next fic also has Keigo being punched; twice, actually. I do love him, it's just better to describe him being punched….well, that logic doesn't make sense. Call it my writer's cliché.
I'm sorry for not getting back for the reviews and whatnot. Real life has been busy and horrible last semester, but this semester's looking up and I'm back on track! I'll be sure to reply soon to everyone, and post all the snippets I've been writing and rewriting over the past six months!