title: That Which Binds Us
characters/pairings: Ashiwara/OMC, Akira, Saeki
rating: Mature
warnings: BDSM sex
summary: Ashiwara gets a bit lost, but Akira finds him.
notes: i started writing this for the first round of Hikago Deathmatch, but talked myself out of using it for that before i got too far. it merged with another idea i had, and had promised to lacygrey for guessing me in blind go ages and ages and ages ago. it's taken me forever to finish this. hopefully, this will be part of a larger Ashiwara/Saeki series. hopefully.

He clamped down hard on the bit in his mouth, choking a little on his own saliva and the acrid taste of the leather. The knot to hold his wrists together was too tight, and the rope was definitely going to leave burns. He realized, belatedly, that this would be considered a Very Bad Idea. It was what he wanted, but that didn't change anything.

"Beautiful. Just beautiful."

He couldn't twist enough to see the other man, but when he tried, the ropes tightened. It was just painful enough to be enjoyable. A hand came down hard right on his rump, which sent shockwaves from the dildo stuck inside. He whimpered, really unable to do anything else.

"Are you getting anxious? You're dripping..."

A hand caressed his cock, which had been the first thing to be tied up. Ashiwara's whole body shook with need. Even if this was the worst idea he'd ever had, he didn't care. It was moving from being want to being need, he needed to be suppressed, repressed, taken, used... He looked up at the man whose name he couldn't possibly hope to remember at the moment, not that he could use it if he knew it. Knowing that Ashiwara was watching, the man licked his lips and started to undress slowly.

"This is more than I'd been expecting. You're... you're really very beautiful..."

The alcohol he'd drunk hastily at the bar was fully burned out of his system by now. He'd been trying to hit on the man at the end of the bar when this guy showed up and bought him a drink. Ashiwara was more used to being hit on than hitting on, so he let it happen. He had no idea what stupidity or inspiration caused him to ask if the guy had any interest in bondage. Maybe it was the leather cuff the guy had on instead of a watch. This was more than Ashiwara had been expecting, too, from that short exchange. The guy was a decent kisser and pretty good looking. Ashiwara would bet his entire year's salary the man was married, and probably loaded if he had a spare apartment to bring men home to, but that just simplified things. The man dropped his pants, and Ashiwara groaned at the sight of his cock. It wasn't huge or anything, but it was nice and thick and it was dripping, too.

"I'm halfway tempted to unmuzzle you so you can suck this, but I don't think either one of us wants to wait any longer."

Ashiwara didn't. The guy pulled out the dildo and tossed it aside, and then Ashiwara was being ridden like a damned whore, and it felt amazing. It was stupid, beyond stupid, to let some stranger he didn't know tie him up and gag him, and then do whatever he wanted, but despite all the wonderful knotwork, it wasn't exactly the most elaborate set up. If the man had a freakin' dungeon, Ashiwara might have turned tail, but they were on a bed, with nice satin sheets, and this... this was exactly what he wanted, needed, desperately, desperately needed.

"Damn... you're... you're almost... as tight as a virgin..."

It had been a while. It was hard to meet people. That was his normal excuse. It wasn't true, because he met new people all the time, and he'd met plenty of great people, maybe even some people he could fall in love with... But with this man's hard, thick cock pounding his ass, the ropes cutting into his body, his total inability to do anything, anything at all, except feel, and all the pulsing, fiery feelings, he didn't need to think about that. He didn't need to think, period, and that was so wonderful that he was screaming into his leather.

The man came with a grunt and a gasp, his fingers pinching the skin over Ashiwara's hip. After a second, his grip loosened, and he pulled out. Ashiwara whimpered, trying to look over his shoulder at the man, even though he knew he couldn't. He was still unable to come, the man hadn't forgotten that, right? Not only was the ring at the base of his cock so tight he felt like he might explode, but his entire cock was trussed.

A hand turned him over gently. The man looked down at Ashiwara and grinned.

"Fucking hell. That was good, but don't worry, the second time will be better." The man gently rubbed Ashiwara's cock a bit, which nearly made Ashiwara blind with need. "I'll be able to take my time more. I just need a bit to recover. In the meanwhile..." He stepped back, still grinning, and then left.


Ashiwara struggled a bit in his bonds, just to feel the rope burn him, just to feel. It wasn't long, but Ashiwara was helpless. It felt like it was forever before the man came back, with what seemed to be a glass in his hand. He set the glass down on the bedside table, and repositioned Ashiwara a bit. The man caressed the inside of Ashiwara's thigh, and then tweaked his left nipple.

"You really are beautiful. I'm actually shocked that you don't already have a partner for this sort of thing. Have you run out on your Master? Or did he abandon you? I bet there's a story there."

He leaned down and bit on Ashiwara's nipple, hard, causing Ashiwara to scream, though his voice was as bound as he was. The man then took out a piece of ice from the glass he'd brought, and massaged it over Ashiwara's nipple. Whimpering, crying, begging, Ashiwara tried to catch the man's eye. All he could see was the man's lust. His other nipple was given the same treatment, back and forth until he felt like he was going to go numb from simultaneous pain and pleasure. Then, the man took a small handful of ice and rubbed it along Ashiwara's desperate cock. He let the ice fall down on Ashiwara's balls, and then caressed them.

"I thought this was going to take longer, but just watching you... mm, just watching you... I can't wait anymore."

To prove his point, the man rubbed his half-hard cock against Ashiwara's thigh. Ashiwara was chewing his bit, now, desperate, so very desperate. The man laughed a bit, and then caressed Ashiwara's cheek. He seemed to be pondering something for a moment, and then he made up his mind. He moved to straddle Ashiwara on the bed, and he started to release the gag.

"All right. Let's do it like this. I want to hear your voice. I want to hear you scream. Suck it."

The bit was gone, but it was just a moment later that the man's cock was choking him instead. He wasn't really sensible enough to suck properly, but the man was thrusting a bit into his mouth, and he could taste it, feel it getting harder. It was amazing how much he wanted that in his ass. How much he wanted to be violated by this cock. The man pulled back until only the tip was still in Ashiwara's mouth, and Ashiwara eagerly nibbled and sucked it, wanting to please. He wanted to please this stranger so he would be fucked in return.

"Damn, you're good."

The man sounded breathless and needy, but that was nothing compared to Ashiwara's need. His mouth was now empty, he was being moved a bit. He was being thrust into, and he didn't need to be told to scream. This time, he was facing the man. This time, the man thrust with a more rhythmic, more practiced pace. This time, the man took the time to grab at Ashiwara's cock, his nipples, even his mouth.

This time, all Ashiwara could do was scream and beg.

It all became a blur. He hadn't been allowed to come that time, either, but afterward, the man cooled his chest down with ice and licked his ass clean. Ashiwara knew it was during their third go that the man finally released his cock, letting Ashiwara come, and after that, Ashiwara didn't know anything at all.

It was such a perfect, sensual death, at least of any kind of awareness.



He was aware all of his bindings had been removed. The knots in the rope were far too tight to undo them, so he felt the cool, sharp metal against his skin, but he was equally aware that he wasn't cut in the process. He wasn't aware at the time of being washed down, but he was vaguely aware of being shifted and put under the covers to sleep, and feeling clean. He was aware of time passing only when he heard the persistent sound of something that was trying to make him conscious, but he was stronger than the sound. He was aware of being kissed, of tasting the slightly bitter morning taste of another person's saliva, but that didn't wake him, either. He heard things, like water, and someone moving around, but he didn't care.

The bed dipped down next to him, and he couldn't stay asleep for this bruising kiss. It tasted like mouthwash and coffee. Blearily, he opened his eyes, and looked at the man who had just kissed him.

He smiled affectionately, and that made him look even more handsome. Oh, he'd picked a good one last night, huh? "I didn't know if you had a time you needed to be up, but I figured you really needed your rest. I pretty much went all out last night, huh?" If he was trying to apologize, it came out sounding more like a boast. "There's coffee in the kitchen, and you can help yourself to anything in the bathroom or the fridge. I'm going to leave the spare key on the counter. You can take your time, just lock up and put the key in the mailbox. I'll also leave my number on a note out there. If you feel like it, you can leave me yours." The man smiled at him again, and then they were kissing again.

Ashiwara felt like he should say something, but the man was standing up now. Ah, he was wearing a nice suit with a rather dashing tie. Ashiwara had been right, this guy was loaded.

"I thoroughly enjoyed myself last night. If we get together again, I'd like to get you know a bit better before I gag you," the man said, and it sounded like he was teasing.

Ashiwara was then alone. He even heard the door click shut. All alone.

At first, he tried to remember what his schedule was, and then he finally decided that his schedule didn't really matter since he was in a strange man's sex apartment, and he couldn't possibly stay here all morning. He was still tired and his body ached all over as he stood up, but it was a good kind of ache. All things considered, he could have gotten himself into a lot of trouble the night before, but it all seemed to work out all right. And... that man... wanted his phone number.

That would be a mistake, right?

He went into the bathroom, and was a bit shocked at his appearance in the mirror. He always looked strange when his hair was unkempt, but...

He ran his fingers down the bright red marks crisscrossing his chest. He would have to keep his tie tied tightly to hide the marks at his neck. They circled his arms, too, and his waist, and if he could tear his eyes away from how his chest looked, he was sure they'd be circling his legs, too. They didn't hurt, not unless he rubbed his fingernail over them, so he presumed they would fade quickly. His heartbeat quickened a bit as rubbed the marks between his pecs. He... he was smiling, wasn't he?



I just don't understand why you won't be give it a try. Your aunt went to considerable effort to arrange this omiai. It's not like you'd be obligated to get married! Just meet the girl. Your aunt said that she's absolutely lovely and so dignified! What sort of man of good means doesn't want a wife? You're at the perfect age to start a family, too! Oh, it would be wonderful to have some grandchildren... I'm not asking you to do anything you don't want to do! I just want you to keep an open mind. I worry about you, Hiroyuki. Who is going to take care of you as you get old? I know it's not something a young man considers, but it's all your poor mother can think about. Why can't you just do this, for me, and for your aunt?



His clothes had been neatly folded over the back of a nice leather chair. Ashiwara knew that he should absolutely not give this man his phone number. First of all, he still didn't know the man's name, but setting that aside, the man definitely had the wrong impression of him. What they did last night... Ashiwara wanted it, every last bit of it, but that wasn't the point, really. It wasn't like it was something Ashiwara always wanted. He certainly didn't want to become some wealthy man's pet or diversion.

What he wanted...

He decided not to think about that as he finished getting dressed. He was about to just walk out, but he remembered that there was coffee in the kitchen, so it seemed rude to leave without at least dumping the coffee maker. The coffee smelled unbelievable, though, so he poured himself a cup, and then ended up making himself some toast. To further his suspicions about this apartment, there were nothing but paper plates and cups, but there was some cutlery. He drank two cups of coffee, emptied the pot and washed it up. He washed the knife he used, too, and threw out his cup and plate. He wondered... what sort of woman that man's wife was, and if she knew that her husband sometimes didn't come home at night because he was picking up men. Now that he was thinking of it, Ashiwara realized that the man didn't use a condom last night, right? That was bad for both Ashiwara and the man's wife.

Ashiwara wasn't going to think about that.

He stared at the note on the counter for a few minutes before he left. He sort of hated himself, but he ended up jotting down his name and phone number. He put the man's number in his cell, but he labeled it as Locksmith.

Close enough.

He felt a last rush of shame as he put the spare key into the mailbox, but then he turned his back to the place and he decided to just forget about it. He actually didn't have a lot of time to waste thinking about stupid stuff, anyway. He had a match that afternoon, didn't he? A qualifier for the Tengen league. He really didn't have time to waste.



Last night, there was a report on the news, about the declining birth rate in Japan. It's a serious problem, Hiroyuki! I can't help but think that nice, respectable young men like you have a national duty to start a family. You can well afford it, after all! It would be a good thing for Japan for you to be a father. You'd be such a good influence on the next generation. If you just think about it from that perspective, I bet you could see things differently. You don't need to worry so much about love! Love is something that comes with time. Someone your age isn't mature enough to understand love anyway!



He went straight to the vending machines at break. Of course, he hadn't had time to make himself a lunch, so he wasn't sure what to do with himself. First of all, though, he wanted something to drink. He was damned parched.

He'd worn a shirt that was probably not actually his, because the sleeves were about a centimeter too long. He was fairly sure he remembered whose shirt it was - that salaryman he'd dated during what would have been his college days. This was something he'd left behind. Ashiwara used to wear it around his house just because it made him feel good, but then the good memories he had of him grew stale, and now it just lived in the back of his closet.

It was useful for today, though. He rubbed his wrist as the machine chugged, preparing to spit out his drink. If he rubbed hard enough, it was still a bit sore, like a lingering aftertaste of pleasure.

It was somewhat despicable, and delightful.

He picked up his tea, and stepped aside, though there didn't seem to be anyone else waiting. It was just plain tea, but it tasted good. It satisfied his need. He thought that last night should be like that. Satisfying. He'd wanted, or needed, something, and he got it, in spades. So, shouldn't he be feeling at least a bit satiated today?

"You aren't eating lunch?"

Ashiwara nearly jumped, which was ridiculous considering that Akira-kun was looking up at him with the same kind, sensitive eyes he always did. Akira-kun sure wasn't scary. Ashiwara was really off his game today, wasn't he?

"Oh, I didn't mean to startle you... Don't you usually bring a lunch?" Akira-kun asked kindly.

Ashiwara plastered on his best smile. This was ridiculous. He had to be himself. Or something like that. "Oh! Yes, I usually do... I just... overslept a bit this morning. So, how is your match going, Akira-kun?"

Shyly, Akira-kun just shrugged and looked away. "We'll see. There's still lots of time. Are you feeling well?"

"Eh?" Ashiwara smiled just a tiny bit wider.

"Y-you just look a little pale, that's all. And you never oversleep." Akira-kun looked at him... concerned?

Ashiwara flushed. "O-oh... no, I'm fine, I'm fine!" Ashiwara beamed. "You don't need to worry about me, Akira-kun!"

"Of course I'll worry about you," Akira-kun replied immediately, looking slightly perplexed. "Friends worry when friends behave oddly."

Ashiwara blinked. Well. Well... he'd long considered himself a friend of Akira-kun's, but... "Oh... am I being that odd?"

"For you, anyway," Akira-kun shrugged. "If you say you're fine..." he continued, frowning just a bit.

This was no good. He couldn't trouble Akira-kun. "I am fine!" he loudly boasted, and then he beamed. He was good at this part. He could always put on this mask of joviality. He had to be able to do that much, at least. "Sorry for making you worry, though."

"Well..." Akira-kun looked a bit embarrassed. "Mm. Would... would you like to go out for dinner, then? My parents are away again, so..."

Akira-kun was... fussing? Akira-kun sure had changed a lot since he'd started dating that Shindou. It wasn't a bad thing, but still. Ashiwara felt even more unbalanced. He was well used to taking care of other people, but. "Mm. Well, in that case, rather than go out, why don't you come to my place and I'll cook something for us both?" And he could give Akira-kun some leftovers. See? This was how it should be.

"Oh! Really?" Akira-kun looked at him with shining eyes.

"Eh?" Had Ashiwara said something strange?

"No... I've just never been to your apartment before. You're sure I won't... be in the, er, way?" he asked, hesitantly.

"Of course not!" Ashiwara laughed. In the way of what? Just what was this kid thinking? It was really funny! "Oh, but... I should get something to eat while I still can!" Ashiwara realized that time for break was running out. He wouldn't have time for much, but... "I'll see you later, then, Akira-kun!"



I feel like it can't just be that all you're interested in is go. It wasn't like that when you were younger, right, Hiroyuki? I'm... I am proud of you. You're such a fine young man. That's why I want the best for you! Love is... uncertain. I want you to have a better life than that. I know I've been nagging you a lot, but you never tell me anything personal. Any mother would worry! Your happiness is all I think about, Hiroyuki!



After their matches, they'd gotten involved in some discussions, so they left together to go straight to the store to buy ingredients, and then to Ashiwara's place. Beef was on sale, so Ashiwara was going to make some hamburger steaks. And, since it was on sale, he had the excuse to buy extra so he could give Akira-kun leftovers.

He felt like he'd gotten his feet back under him.

He let Akira-kun do as he pleased as Ashiwara got started with the cooking. Akira-kun could still be cute, with his hands folded behind his back, looking over Ashiwara's apartment curiously. He seemed to be looking for something, though. Ashiwara thought his apartment was pretty plain. Kitchen, living room, bath, bedroom... it was plenty spacious enough, even when he entertained a guest, but still a typical bachelor pad. Unfortunately, then, there wasn't much of anything for Akira-kun to look at, but their meal cooked up quickly, so.

"Just about ready here!" he cheerfully called out. He had a table for dining, but he also had the counter at the kitchen, which seemed a lot less formal. Anyway, Akira-kun came right away, so Ashiwara set out his plate right there.

"This looks really good!" Akira-kun flushed, setting himself on the counter chair. "You're really a good cook. Did you learn from your mother?"

Ashiwara got his own plate ready. Akira-kun was looking over Ashiwara's kitchen with the same intensity as he looked over the apartment as a whole. It was funny. "Mm, well. I learned some from my aunt. My mom... wasn't really the homey type. But for the most part, I just picked it up on my own, you know. My mom worked, so even as a kid, I had to cook for myself a lot."

"Oh..." Akira-kun was watching him closely, but then he just bowed and thanked Ashiwara for the food.

Ashiwara felt a little off-balance, like there was something going on in the conversation that he wasn't aware of, so he smiled brightly to cover for it. "If you'd like me teach you some stuff, I don't mind!"

"I might take you up on that," Akira-kun grinned. "It seems like mom and dad will be traveling more and more. And Hikaru's idea of cooking involves boiling water and pouring it into a cup," he sighed.

Ashiwara snickered. Hikaru, huh? It was just the two of them, so he supposed it wasn't strange that Akira-kun would slip into his less formal address, and... Akira-kun and that Shindou... well, it had been a while now, hadn't it?

If Ashiwara thought about it for any length of time... Akira-kun and that Shindou had been 'dating' for longer now than Ashiwara had ever dated anyone, hadn't they?

That was too depressing to think about...

"Do you live here alone?" Akira-kun bluntly asked.

Ashiwara blinked, and looked up at him. "Eh? Of course I do! Who did you think I lived with?" Ashiwara grinned. Akira-kun was still living in his parents' home, so it probably just didn't occur to him that a lot of people would want to move out on their own and all...

"Oh! Nothing, I just thought... well, I wondered if... you know, like maybe your boyfriend would be around, or..." Akira-kun blushed, and looked away.

Ashiwara blinked.

Akira-kun... clearly said boyfriend...

Akira-kun cleared his throat, and shoved some meat in his mouth.

Ashiwara turned bright red. He didn't remember ever saying anything to Akira-kun about being gay! Not that... well, he supposed it was a kind of secret, but...! It was just...!

Clearly nervous, Akira-kun smiled sweetly, and waved his hands in front of his face. "Er, I didn't mean anything by it! I-I don't even know if you're dating anyone, I just kind of assumed... but it's not like it matters either way... I-I just would have liked to meet him... if there was someone, not that there needed to be someone...!" he hedged nervously.

...So cute! Ashiwara shook his head, smiling. "No, no. I mean... I'm not dating anyone right now..." If he did have a live-in boyfriend, he probably wouldn't have invited Akira-kun over.

Ah... that was a bit sad, wasn't it?

"Just out of curiosity... er... not that you're wrong, but what made you think I was gay?" Ashiwara asked, blushing. He kept his eyes down but watched Akira-kun from under his bangs.

The look on Akira-kun's face plainly said everything about you, but he chose his words more carefully than that. "Oh... I know it's not something you talk about, but whenever, in the past, you mentioned the person you were dating, you were always careful not to mention their name or anything gender-specific. So I guess it was just an idea that formed over time," he shrugged.

"You're really a sharp kid," Ashiwara laughed. "Even when you were little, I couldn't keep up!"

"It's not like I ever thought there was anything bad about it," Akira-kun quickly added.

"I know that," Ashiwara smiled amenably.

"I'm obviously not uninclined like that, and all," Akira-kun continued.

"Oh, I'm not offended!" Ashiwara assured him.

Akira-kun flushed a bit and looked away. "Er... actually... for some time now... I've wanted to ask you something. Er, for some advice. You know. About... dating a guy and all." He looked physically pained by those words.

Ashiwara stood up perfectly straight. "Of course! Ask me anything!" He beamed confidently. He had plenty of experience with sex, after all. Not quite so much with relationships, but. He was older, so he still had that advantage. "And if that Shindou brat isn't treating you well, I'm pretty confident I can rough him up a little for you!" he boldly promised. Though, he'd never roughed anyone up before in his life, and anyway, that Shindou was getting taller day by day...

Akira-kun just smiled sweetly. "No, no, it's nothing like that. Things are going really well, for the most part. We're even sort of talking about moving in together, possibly. At some point. No, it's just... well. We spend a lot of time together..." Akira-kun flushed a bit, completely unable to look Ashiwara in the eye. So cute! "Um... it just... it sort of feels like... like... like maybe... Imightbemoreinterestedinsexthanheis." Akira-kun coughed, covering his face. "Er. Well. It just seems like... it doesn't always occur to him. Like. I have to initiate a lot?" he looked sidelong at Ashiwara, embarrassed.

So. Cute. Shindou was a moron! "Well..." Ashiwara chewed on some food, giving him time to think.

Akira-kun quickly filled in, "It's no big deal, really! I mean, when we do it... er... you don't need to know about that..." he blushed even redder. "I mean, everything is fine, it just feels like... well, we're both the same age, right? So we should both... want it... like, the same... right?"

Akira-kun really had the sweetest eyes. "Well, that's true, but you're also two separate people. Can't ever really have two people who want the same things the same way all the time," he shrugged. "I can... appreciate your frustration, though. I think it's pretty obvious he's crazy about you, though you two have a weird way of showing it sometimes." Ichikawa-san had even banned them from playing in the salon during business hours, their arguments had gotten to be so bad. That was just a sign of their passion, though, right?


Akira-kun looked like he knew just what Ashiwara meant, and was suitably embarrassed. "Well. That's his fault. But. Still... I-I mean, I know there's a lot that we have in common, a lot that... well, you know. Our relationship. It's. It's pretty good. But still. Sex is... important, right?"

Ashiwara stared blankly at Akira-kun. Yes, he was sure sex was very important. When he was their age... well, he'd already been extremely active for a few years. Actually. Now that he was thinking about it...

"I-I'm sorry, this is strange, right? I shouldn't even worry about this," Akira-kun sighed, digging into his food fiercely.

"Oh! No, no, it's fine, it's fine, it's just... I got started thinking, so..." Ashiwara laughed, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "I realized something. I don't think I've ever been in a relationship before that wasn't mostly about sex," he admitted. That was embarrassing, right? But, well, being with a guy... but Shindou was a guy, and Akira-kun said their relationship was great, even though he had to initiate everything.

Damn it.

"Really?" Akira-kun looked up at him with too-cute, too-innocent eyes. "You've never... been in love?"

Ashiwara was entirely dumbstruck. In love? Well...

"Maybe that's too personal," Akira-kun hedged.

How could talking about sex be ok, but not love? Ashiwara grinned. "No, no, it's not that... I don't know. I think I've been in love," he flushed, and looked away. "Er... in love... am... er... but..." He could see a face, and a gentle, teasing smile. And beautiful hands. And.


"Oh. Have you... um, have you ever... confessed?" Akira-kun asked shyly.

Ashiwara couldn't help smiling. Confessing? That sounded like something high school kids did. Though, he'd known him since high school. And. Ashiwara just shook his head. "Ah, no... it's... it's not like that." Akira-kun was watching him closely. Too closely. Ashiwara flushed, and stirred his food around his plate. "He's straight, anyway. So," he shrugged.

Akira-kun continued, though, to just watch him. "Are... are you sure?"

The way he said that... Ashiwara looked up at him, alarmed. It sounded like... but it was just his imagination... Akira-kun couldn't know who Ashiwara was in love with, right?

Akira-kun looked back down at his plate quickly. "Well! I didn't really mean anything specific. I mean, I don't know. I suppose I could ask Hikaru, they're in study group together. I just think that... well. The way he acts around you... maybe he's not so straight."

Ashiwara was going to fall out of his chair. His heart was hammering in his chest. This... this was horrifying!! "Wait! Who are you talking about? What... what makes you think...?"

Akira-kun smiled cutely at him, though, like it was all no big deal. "Oh, come on. We've been friends forever. Is it that strange that I would notice something like that?"

A whole rush of mixed emotions hammered into Ashiwara all at once. He felt something akin to gratitude to Akira-kun for being so open. But, he was also thinking something else.

He had to be a lot more careful of how he acted around Saeki, it seemed.

"Oh... erm... no, I... ah... well, anyway..." Ashiwara laughed nervously. "I mean, it's no big deal. With. For me. It's not. Anyway! I think you should just talk to Shindou-kun. You know. Be blunt. It's easy to talk about sex stuff like if you're in the bath together or something." Akira-kun's face turned bright red, which was terribly cute. "Ah! Well, since it's the two of you, bring it up sometime when you're playing together. At home! Just... let him know how you feel. It's best to get things like that out in the open. That way, you don't have to sit around thinking about it so much." Ashiwara smiled brightly.

Akira-kun grinned back at him, his eyes twinkling. "Well, ok, that sounds like good advice... mostly... but then. You should talk to Saeki-san, too, right?" He popped his last bit of hamburger steak in his mouth.

What a cute brat.



Hiroyuki, you're such a good child. You've really done well for yourself, and you've overcome so much. I feel like I wasn't much help to you as a mother. I don't want to nag you. I just want you to be happy. You know that, right, Hiroyuki? I just want your happiness.



Ashiwara sat down opposite Saeki, and plopped the box of pastel macaroons between them. He smiled cheerfully. "You like these, right?"

Saeki looked up at him, a bit nervous. "Why must they always be so... colorful?" he sighed, but he still reached out and took a pale green one.

Grinning, Ashiwara shrugged. "My mom gave me a whole huge box of them. So, I thought I would share. How is your match going?"

Saeki paled a bit. "Morishita-sensei is going to yell at me again... how about you?"

Rolling his eyes, Ashiwara picked up a bright pink cookie. "Ogata-kun is going to have a field day. Doesn't look like either of us will be raising our rank today."

"That damned Shindou is going to go up, though. He's had a pretty light schedule this past month," Saeki groused.

"Akira-kun will still be two ranks ahead, though," Ashiwara quickly rejoined.

"That can't last forever. ...They're both going to make nine dan before us, aren't they?" Saeki sighed, taking another cookie.

"Please don't say such depressing things," Ashiwara laughed. "Even if it is an unavoidable truth..." he sighed.

Ashiwara's phone started to ring. He looked at the display. Locksmith, it said. Ashiwara hit Ignore.

"You don't need to take that?" Saeki asked.

"It's a blocked number. Probably a telemarketer or something," Ashiwara shrugged.

Saeki nodded. "We're playing against each other next week," he reminded Ashiwara.

As if Ashiwara wasn't fully aware! He smiled and summed up his courage. "Wanna get together this weekend? To play, I mean." Not like he could mean anything else. Akira-kun was wrong, and Saeki was straight. Most likely.

But, he probably also wouldn't want to spend his free time with Ashiwara. He was looking at Ashiwara like he had tentacles wiggling out of his ears. Ashiwara was about to take it back or laugh it off when Saeki finally shrugged, and said, "Sure, let's. Should be fun."

And he smiled at Ashiwara.