Shin collapsed on his bed for the second time that day. He was exhausted. He fumbled for the electric fan; Shuu had followed his directions and kept the windows clear, but in the process all the afternoon heat had been trapped in their room.
Unbidden, his mind ran through the list: laundry, dishes, cook dinner, scrub the downstairs bathroom, skewer Touma with a meat thermometer...
"All right, maybe not that last bit." Shin sighed. He should have just stayed in bed, reading, but all the books he wanted were in Touma's room. "I am so tired. And itís all his fault! Yesterday we both had a chance with Seiji and he completely blew it!"
Well, not exactly. Seijiís just playing hard-to-get.
Shin rolled out of bed and landed on the floor. "Laundry. Better start it before dinner."
He searched each boysí room for their respective laundry niches. Of course, Seiji actually had a drawer for his dirty clothes. Shin tried to clear his head of the scent as he picked out the shirts theyíd used at the rave.
Loaded down with a weekís worth of clothes, he stumbled down the stairs... and ran into Seiji.
"Gomen," he stuttered. "I didnít see you."
Seiji was in a button-down shirt which wasnít quite buttoned down. "I dusted downstairs."
"Oh. You didnít have to--"
"Nonsense. You looked like you needed some help."
Shin blushed, watching him go up the stairs. He was so flustered that he didnít quite notice that Seiji hadnít helped him with the laundry.
Touma sneaked into the house just as Shin went down to the basement. "Iím gonna take a shower, Shuu, if anybody needs me."
"Thatís nice. You stink."
Touma smirked. He grabbed a light blue towel from the linen closet by mistake. Then he took it on purpose.
In the downstairs bathroom he cranked up the hot water. Splashing his face, he shook his hair out. No more mud. No more sweat. No more Seiji.
"Just me and steaming hot water."
In the basement, Shin heard the water race through the pipes. Its familiar harmonics had stopped bothering him a long time ago. It was an odd time for anyone to be taking a shower. He'd seen Ryo and Seiji enter Ryo's room earlier. Casually he felt along the armor bond for Shuu. His friend was watching TV downstairs. That left...
Very softly he smiled.
As unobtrusively as possible, he summoned Suiko's powers.
Nasti's mansion was old, but it had been remodeled to support six or seven occupants. Even with the washer running, hot water pressure was no problem.
Immediately everyone's armor links snapped open, only to find Touma scrambling out of the shower of ice cold water. "... fuckin' goddamn hell!!!" thundered all the way to the basement. Through the bond, Shuu was snickering despite himself. Ryo was shaking his head. Seiji sneered in amusement at the sight of the archer bouncing from foot to foot, trying to warm up his arms and legs and his retreating balls.
Shin doubled over in laughter. That was the best yet! Now Touma was blue all over. Then he realized he'd be easily cornered in the basement, and quickly darted up the stairs to his room.
Touma's teeth chattered as he pulled on his clothes. His body hadn't even felt the first few seconds of shock, the water was that frigid. Much as he'd wanted to tear out of the bathroom with only a towel, he was too damn cold to do so.
That, and the hairs on the back of his neck were rising. His armor was resonating. Tenku sent him an extra twinge, a snappy 'pay-attention' which usually signaled long range enemies. Finally he placed the sensation.
/Seiji, you ass./
The swordsman didn't even apologize for eavesdropping. /Yes, and that's exactly what you want, right?/
Touma gritted his teeth. And he'd all but agreed to a truce. He'd been tired of the whole thing and ready to quit. Too bad Ryo hadn't secured the same agreement from his opponent. He was gonna kill Shin. The bastard had embarrassed the hell out of him all day and every time Seiji noticed. Right back to square one. As though the rave had never existed and he was just a cheap cigarette to be lit once and thrown away forever.
It would have all worked out if not for Shin. He was older, more cultured, more courteous, kinder, stronger, more experienced... better. And now he wanted to shove it in Touma's face. If his chances were slim before, they were down to nil now.
Touma rifled through the drawers and found the hair dryer. He was still freezing, which was just fine because the anger and humiliation was turning into something cold and hard. He needed better circulation for proper vengeance.
Out the door. Up the stairs. Down the hall. He didn't slow his stride when he and Tenku powered through the locked door. Shin whirled, startled. They'd dueled from a distance thus far, and he seemed surprised that Touma would confront him face to face.
Touma grabbed Shinís collar and slammed him against the wall. There was a sickening crack as Shin's body hit the wood.
"Listen to me, Seiji is mine! MINE!"
The archer leaned in, a sky-blue glare a bare inch from Shinís face. A whimper escaped Shinís lips. Touma grinned dangerously. "If you even touch him, Iím gonna kick your ass to the Moon!"
That was it. Shin drew himself up, about to let loose the growing knot of anger in his gut... and instead gurgled as his thigh brushed up against the warming bulge in Toumaís jeans. His eyes widened. Despite the cold shower, Toumaís pale skin was flushed, radiating heat. His lips, curled over white teeth, were moist and swollen from shouting, one inch away from his own.
Nutmeg. Shin thought, irrationally. He smells of nutmeg.
Before he knew what he was doing, Shin closed his eyes, tilted his head and dived in.
The clenched fists against his neck suddenly released his collar. Touma gasped, leaving Shin an opening for his curious tongue. His hands moved to Shinís face to push him away, but that freed Shinís arms to grab his waist.
With a strangled noise, Touma tried to disengage, but Shin nipped at his lower lip, gently pulling him back. At last Toumaís hands slipped back into his auburn hair and drew Shin deeper into the archerís now moaning mouth. Shin stroked his spine, then slipped his hand between his jeans and the small of his back. The taut stomach shivered against him. Blue hair brushed his cheeks as Touma traced a line of kisses down Shinís jaw, his breath shallow next to his ear, slowly driving him crazy---
Shinís eyes flew open. A coherent thought formed, the first one in half a minute: What am I doing?!
Reflexively he pulled his arms back and soundly punched Touma away. Touma stumbled backward, landed on the bed, doubled over in pain.
"What the hell was that?" Shin snapped, his face burning bright red.
Touma was still down, the breath knocked out of him. Shin belatedly realized that heíd hit him hard in the solar plexus. He hesitated, not knowing whether to gloat or apologize.
Finally Touma managed, "Wha--whaddaya mean---you were the one who decided to play tonsil hockey!"
"You were the one who came on to me!"
Touma screamed into the mattress. "Youíve totally lost it, Mouri Shin! They oughta lock you up---" he took a gasping breath, his features twisted in pain. "Youíll never get Seiji once he sees how nuts you are!"
Shin opened his mouth for a retort, thought better of it, then stormed out of the room, leaving Touma writhing on the bed.
On Ryoís bed, Seiji was similarly incapacitated.
"You know, itís not nice to laugh, Seiji." Ryo had resumed his push-ups after hearing Shin slam the door.
"Itís not my fault they left the window open," Seiji snickered.
Ryo stared at the floor, trying to count. "You realize Touma will be able to hear you through my open window?"
Sighing, Seiji got up and shut the window. Then he leaned against the frame and began to laugh hysterically. Ryo couldnít help but smile at Seijiís sadistic humor. After a while the tall swordsman fell silent. Ryo knew without looking up that there was a calculating look in his pale eyes. He was glad not to be the object of Seijiís latest plan--- or at least he hoped he wasnít. Ryo determinedly tried to exercise as quietly as possible and avoid calling any negative attention to himself.
Suddenly he jerked up in mid-count; Seijiís cool hand was running through his sweaty hair. He followed Ryoís motion, his thumb stroking Ryoís caramel-colored cheek, his other fingers touching the nape of his neck. Ryo managed to keep his breathing even and not to speed up his pace, even as a fingertip brushed his sensitive earlobe. He tried not to think about the bright violet eyes roving up and down his back and legs, or the sharp intake of breath above him.
Seiji pulled away abruptly. "Youíre getting better," he observed. Ryo didnít bother to deny it. If Seiji was trying to condition him to his touch, then it was working. Staring at the floor, he heard him step to the door.
There was a pause. "Youíll come around."
Ryo growled in answer, though he knew it would only amuse Seiji more. The door closed.
Finishing the set, he began to wonder about Seijiís plans.
Each of them grabbed dinner separately. The tension was thick, and they weren't about to ruin one of Shin's creations with a dinnertime battle. Ryo retreated to the living room with his bowl of rice and meat. Shuu was lounging there, eating a small sandwich, his empty bowl on the coffee table.
"Hey. I hear youíve got another date tonight with Mareko."
Shuu acknowledged Ryo by raising his soda can. He swallowed a mouthful. "Yeah, I wanted to be out of the house tonight. Donít wanna get caught in the middle of the action."
"Shin tell you about Seiji, huh?"
"What didnít he tell me! Heís really hung up on him. Iíll probably have to listen to him mope if Touma wins out." Shuu bit down on his sandwich, unhappily contemplating sleepless nights of listening Shinís one-sided diatribe.
Ryo considered a spot on the floor. Heíd talked to Nasti about this, but not Shuu. "Hey... you know when we first met? Did it... ever weird you out?"
"Well, yeah! It's more than weird, it always ticked me off--- wait a sec," Shuu turned to Ryo, his mouth full. "Whatcha mean? That they like guys?" At Ryoís shrug, Shuu laughed. "Naah. Got a dozen cousins like Ďem. Besides, itís not like we all didnít know already, huh?"
Ryo nodded. The armor-bond between them could open up the deepest part of a self for the other four to see. Wearing the Kikoutei, Ryo understood that intimate contact better than the rest. That was probably part of hi--of the problem. It was easy to blur the lines between friendship and lust. "So whatís ticking you off, Shuu?"
The big man looked around to see if they were alone. He leaned in surreptitiously. "Itís Seiji. I mean, heís a good friend and all, but he's always had this thing with people. Itís Seijiís way all the way, you know what I mean? And he's been getting worse lately. I dunno if Shin or Toumaís really thought about what that means."
"No, I donít think they have." Ryoís fists clenched convulsively, his voice rising. "I hate how he treats them! Like he could have Ďem anytime and theyíd do anything for him. It really makes me mad." He was aware that Shuu had backed off somewhat. He tried to tone down his temper.
Shuu raised his thick eyebrows. "Hey, speaking of Seiji, I couldnít help noticing... ah, heís been kind of interested in you. I mean, you canít tell much from his expression, but lately--"
"Yeah, tell me about it." Ryo lay back on the couch. "Iíve noticed." What an understatement. Even Shuu saw it. Lately Seiji gave Ryo the feeling of being... hunted.
"So, whatcha gonna do about it?"
"I dunno. Itís Seijiís move. Heís looked interested at the other guys, too." Or, so far, toyed with them, it was the same thing to Seiji.
"Ryo--" Shuu fumbled for the words. "If... well, would you?"
A faint blush rose in Ryoís cheeks. He cleared his throat. "I... I donít know." He looked down at his fists by his side. "Iíve caught him staring. When he doesn't think Iíve seen it. Kind of a lost look. The last time Iíve seen that, I was ten years old. The last time White Blaze went away into the forest. We knew we were a part of each other, but we had to be separated for a long time. To see that on Seiji, of all people -- that fear that he'll lose me? -- it scares me sometimes."
I wonder what I look like to him.
"Huh." Shuu stared down at the remains of his sandwich. "Maybe, if this thing blows over, you should consider it, Ryo."
Touma covered his face with his hands. He didn't remove them when Seiji walked in. He still ached from Shin's hit, and other things. The blond looked him over from head to toe, letting him know it. Touma shivered despite himself.
He came over and lifted one of Touma's hands. One uncovered blue eye stared at him miserably. Seiji's palm was warm, and his fingers callused yet delicate.
"Stop it," growled Touma. He'd just had to fall for the coldest cocktease on earth.
Seiji snorted. His thumb rotated over the heel of Touma's hand. "So?"
Touma groaned, both from frustration and arousal. "What the hell am I doing?"
"Did you like it?"
"Did you enjoy the kiss, Touma."
Their eyes locked. Briefly Touma thought it was all coming down to this, but Seiji's eyes were far too... clinical. "Yeah. That's not the problem."
"He's a good kisser. You can't not react to that! Purely physical reaction."
Seiji looked skeptical but he kept pressing. "Then what is the problem?"
Touma squeezed Seiji's hand. For a moment he was just his best friend, not the object of his affection. "You."
Something sparked in Seiji's eyes. As though divine inspiration had hit. The swordsman repossessed his hand and walked over to his side of the room.
Touma craned his neck to peer at him. "Ch', Seiji, why've you been spying on us? Getting your kicks out of our suffering? What the hell have you got planned?"
Seiji turned a cool lavender eye on his friend. "You'll see."
The blue-haired boy growled at him, then stalked off to the study to read something gory and violent. The calm gaze followed him out the door.
For the third time that day, Shin flung himself on the bed.
"What the hell am I doing?"
Shuu, in a white dress shirt, looked up from his work. Touma had ripped the deadbolt right through the frame. Fortunately the hinges had held, which was probably more Tenku's doing than Touma's.
"How'd it happen, anyway?"
"I kissed him first!" Shin wailed. He looked over at his friend. "Really, you don't have to do that. You'll be late for your date."
"I've a feeling you'll want to lock your door," Shuu muttered. He wiped his brow and put on his suit jacket. "There, good as new. Hey Shin."
"Be careful tonight, okay?" Shuu wasn't referring to Touma's physical threat. The emotional threat was the one not easily defended against.
Shin smiled. "Right." When he was gone, Shin sighed deeply. "What was I thinking... ?"
In his bedroom, Ryo recalled the play of Shinís lips on his. Then he thought of Seiji, their lips just brushing as the strobes swept the rave. The angel with the glitter-stained lips.
He came to a decision. "Byakuen, youíd better go sleep in the living room."
Maybe it was Ryoís imagination, but he swore the tiger almost raised an eyebrow.
As the giant cat padded out of the room, Ryo whispered, "Donít worry, boy, itíll just be for tonight."
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