The Best Laid...
Prologue: Admiring Eyes
by Sameshima Shuzumi
1349 wc ~ PG ~ various
Sap, angst, and shades of Shakespeare. This is my baby; I'll be surprised if you can guess the ending before the midpoint. Leave out your assumptions, and enjoy.

Disclaimer: The Troopers and the tiger don't belong to me, and there's a lemon in this lemonade... I promise!

One pair of admiring eyes gazed steadily at the fluid power of each swing melting into the next. Twin katanas struck the long no-datchi with a flash of sparks, blinding in the afternoon splendor. The giant sword swung high. Its wielder switched from two hands to one as though the blade were light as air. Sun caught in his hair, rocking the viewer back like delicate waves splitting sunlight at the seaís bottom.

Shin remembered to breathe.

Ryo brought his blades up in a desperate guard and caught the no-datchi just in time. Heíd really pay for it if his concentration lagged any more than it already had. Seijiís unnerving stare wasnít helping. Through the falls of blond hair, one brilliant lavender eye bore deep into his, almost as effective as any sword cut.

Whatís going on with him? Canít he let up while weíre training? A few meters away, White Blaze gave a low growl as he sensed Ryoís frustration. Even the tiger knows heís not playing fair.

Seiji slashed suddenly, forcing Ryo to jump back two paces. A thin, cruel smile lit his pale features.

Half annoyed and half exhilarated, Ryo leaped towards him, putting Seiji on the defensive with the sheer ferocity of his attack.

Seijiís smile widened.

Another set of eyes admired the scene from above.

Ryoís really giviní it to him. But look at that move! Heís practically dancing around Rekka. Anticipating every attack.

He gripped the balcony railing with sweaty palms. It was a little far, but his eyesight was uncommonly keen. He licked his lips as a flying kick transmuted into a downward blow. Even through the sub-armor he was familiar with every muscle at work. Pectorals, deltoids, and biceps putting weight into the swing. Trapezius and sternomastoid snapping to the side to dodge, flinging gold into the sun... he was itchy to explore that flexing gastrocnemius, the defined sartorius, maybe even feel the soft skin over the gluteus maximus...

But most of all, Touma fervently wished to look deep into those light-filled eyes and take him down.

The weapons clanged dully and for a moment Ryo thought their mystical blades had been blunted. Seijiís sword locked against his katanas. Ryo flexed, gritting his teeth, pushing Seiji back. A few inches away from him, a crystal eye glittered mischievously. Ryo ignored the look. Suddenly weight shifted, Ryo braced to push forward-- and was knocked off his feet.

Seiji had kicked Ryoís ankle out from under him. He was down.

Furious, Ryo looked up at his friend. What had happened to Date Seijiís cool sensei act, the by-the-book fighting that never cut corners or cheated? It was the same quiet intensity, sure, but that move had been downright underhanded!

Seiji leaned on his sword, barely winded, regarding him. No, examining every inch of his body, making his skin crawl. Ryo took a calming breath and wiped the sweat from his brow. Granted, in the time theyíd fought and trained together Seiji had gradually loosened up, abandoning some of the strictness of his grandfatherís dojo. Just as Ryo had gained more discipline and smoothed his explosive fighting style.

They withdrew their sub-armors. Seiji offered him a hand, in the process stealing a caress which Ryo also ignored. That was the other thing. Over the summer, away from clan and dojo, Seiji had grown socially bolder. Now he partied as hard as Touma, drink only sharpening his already disarming ways. Once uneasy around crowds and gawkers, he now capitalized on his flirting, picking up one or two dates on some Shinjuku shopping trips.

Nasti had said it, hadnít she, the night before her summer trip to France, cheeks coloring prettily from remembrance... "Ryo, believe me, when Seiji knows what he wants, heís never been shy about getting it. Itís just that he wants so many more things now."

Ryo jumped, startled, as a towel was draped over his sweaty back.

"Not bad, Ryo," Seiji whispered, voice breezing over the small hairs of his ear.

The swordsman stepped away before Ryo could react. Or before the two pairs of eyes could catch the action. Seiji smirked, aware of who was watching.

Shin let out a sigh. Without thinking, he also let loose a telepathic murmur.

/He is so--/


He jerked up.

Touma fell out of his chair. Not caring if the others had seen him, he scanned the landscape... there! At the bottom of the hill...

The mop of auburn hair tossed defiantly.



/Why you--!/

/--little brat./

/Fish face!/

/You donít stand a chance./

Touma gritted. /Watch me!/

Let the games begin.

"This is wonderful, Shin," said Seiji, deftly lifting a piece of fish paste with his chopsticks. "Just like my mother used to make."

Touma grumbled into his napkin. It is what your mother used to make... damn Shin for being on good terms with all our parents! He threatened to impale a blossom-shaped daikon slice, earning a glower from Shin. He didnít bother to hide his smirk. At least heíd arrived in time to avert a call to his mother. He loved her dearly, but she could be a fount of embarrassing information.

Blackmail, thereís an idea. Iím sure his sister knows something... nah, surely nothing that would shock Seiji. And itís too bad he installed that security system over his fish tanks.

Ryo and Touma had finished eating, which gave Shin the perfect excuse to clear away the table. Itís like he gets off on cleaning. As usual, Shin filled a couple of extra bowls for Shuu, who smiled gratefully before digging in. And an extra bowl for Seiji, whose perfect lips smiled gratefully...

Touma gritted his teeth. Tonight. Iíll seduce him tonight at the rave. Iíve got the home advantage, after all, heís my best friend and he sleeps in my room. And how many times had he watched Seijiís perfect pale form in the bed next to his, the vulnerability he never allowed anyone to see so apparent in sleep? As the nights warmed up, the blond had begun to go to bed in the nude. Damn it, Touma! Youíve got to stop chickening out--

"Are we still on for tonight, Shin?" Seiji called into the kitchen.

"If youíre up for it. The waterfallís a little far, but this is the last night those cereus are blooming. Although--" Shin returned with a stack of plastic containers, "itís getting dark fast."

Small smile. "I can take care of that."

In his shock, Touma actually stabbed the daikon with his chopstick. He hastily picked it off and ate it before Seiji could catch the faux pas. íKuso! Why didnít I see this coming?! It was Shinís hare-brained idea to drag us up to that waterfall. All of us except Seiji who was visiting his sister. And even if I were free tonight, it was so cloudy I canít use the stars to find it... Each of those flowers bloom one night out of the year! How long has he been planning this?

Shin was humming as he put the leftovers into the containers.

Ryo began, "Yeah, the flowers were really gorgeous last night," before Toumaís furious glance cut him off.

/Ryo, how could you?!/

/Hey, man, I didnít know. We canít back out on Shuu, heís meeting Marekoís friends for the first time./

/Over a dinner reservation that Shin made!/

/Donít look at me. Iím not getting involved with this. Besides, Seijiís still going to meet us later at the rave. And weíll get back to the house before they do./ Ryo stood, letting that last thought sink in. /Just tell him already, okay? Itís bad enough you and Shin are going at it./

Shin had the markers and tape out, and was labeling the containers of food. Disgustingly neat. Touma could never understand it. With himself and Shuu in the house, most leftovers didnít last twenty-four hours.

"Arenít you supposed to be going somewhere, Touma?" Shin inquired sweetly, not looking up.

"Go jump in a frying pan," Touma snapped.

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