TITLE: Still Hurting
FANDOM: Prince of Tennis
PAIRING: Atobe Keigo/Akutagawa Jirou
SUMMARY: When Jirou begins to doubt their relationship, it takes one command to remind him that there is no other place he could ever feel as safe as in Atobe’s waiting embrace. (3400+ words)
NOTES: This was written for thesundaywriter via the hyouteiexchange.
"Atobe, I think we need to talk."
The sound of shuffling papers met his ears in reply. He’d already expected as much. With a sigh, the blonde propped himself up on both arms to regard his roommate in quiet resolution. The seconds ticked by, their invisible fingers tapping anxiously on stiff shoulders. His gaze hardened, the mattress sank (though perhaps that was simply his imagination).
“Stop that. I’m trying to work.” The aforementioned shoulders straightened themselves up again as if in defiance to the stress they were obviously beginning to feel. It had been hours after all since Atobe had had a proper rest. He bit his lip.
“I really think we need to talk.” He repeated, his voice firm. And for even more stressing, he added with a gesture of his hand, “I’m serious, Atobe.”
Finally, the brunette turned around to face him, brows drawn together in the middle of a perfectly symmetrical face, mouth strained in a thin line. And for a moment, Jirou’s heart began to waver. How could he ever go through with this?
No, he mentally shook his head, it has to be done. It just had to be done; if not for himself, then for the man seated in front of him—the man he would do absolutely anything for.
“I’m waiting.” Hearing the impatient drawl, the blonde promptly fixed his eyes on a point a little to the right of his roommate’s head, nodded in a nervous attempt to calm himself, felt his breath catch, and then… looked away.
“What is it, Jirou? You’re acting strange, and I don’t really think I have the time for this now.” It was a dismissal. No, not yet. His eyes jumped back to Atobe’s retreating form, which looked just about ready to immerse itself in work once more. No, please, not yet.
“Atobe!” He heaved himself up, and scrambled right over to the side of the brunette’s desk. Again, a questioning gaze met his.
“I… I think that we should… we should… Maybe we should…”
He unconsciously muttered the rest, too soft to hear, as the former Hyoutei buchou stood up, a hand slowly reaching for him. It took a moment for Jirou to realize that Atobe was ruffling his hair, albeit with gruff affection. It only proved to make things harder.
“I’m really… trying to tell you something,” he managed out.
“I know,” he heard a heartbeat later.
That very small smile did funny things to him; it gave him courage yet frightened him just the same. He liked to believe that Atobe knew of its effects on him. He liked to believe it was all apart of some ploy to get him to submit (which he really didn’t mind doing most of the time), but it was actually and truly far from that. Sometimes, oh sometimes, Jirou got a kick out of knowing that Atobe smiled for him and expected nothing in return.
It made him weaker than he already was, made him long for something he couldn’t quite understand, made him waver in decisions whenever these decisions had something to do with them both, made him crazed beyond his mind. And he was past the point of no return. He knew he was crazed—insane. Which was why he needed to get this out. He needed to say his piece. He needed--
“Atobe, I think we should give each other some space.”
“Most of the time I don’t even think you notice.” Gakuto was contemplating his situation jokingly as if disbelievingly; his drink paused next to his mouth. “Are you sure you weren’t half-asleep?”
“I wouldn’t say something like that if I were half-asleep.” His glum response earned him a troubled look from Ootori, while Shishido settled with a blank stare directed to his coffee cup, a mask to his true feelings on the matter.
“And then what? You ran out without seeing how he reacted?” Even if it was unprejudiced, he felt that Oshitari’s tone was condemning. To this he nodded slowly, shoving his untouched slice of strawberry shortcake away. The whole presentation just looked too... cheery. He couldn't take it. Automatically, however, Ootori reached for the plate and ushered it back in front of him, quietly willing him to have at least a bite.
“It’s hard to believe Atobe-sama just let you go like that. I’d have expected him to run after you.” Taki was swirling his straw around like it was some magician’s stick. The rest of his beverage stood forgotten at the center of the table.
“Never mind that; don’t you think hiding out at Kabaji’s place is, I dunno, being too obvious?” Gakuto pointed out. “I think we all know that that’s where Atobe would look for you first.”
“If he is looking,” Taki added without meaning to. At once, Gakuto and Ootori looked up and sent glares in his direction. The latter then turned to Jirou, patting his hand reassuringly.
“I’m sure he’s looking for you, which is why I also think you should go back home, Jirou-san.”
“What do you mean ‘go back home’? Jirou was right to storm off. If you ask me, he’s perfectly justified for giving the jerk a hard time,” Gakuto smirked, fiddling with a few strands of his auburn hair, not at all sorry that he was talking about the same man he had always seemed to look up to. “Let him worry some more then give him a short phone call to show him you're unaffected by it. And make sure you don’t tell him where you are.” He finished triumphantly.
“You say this with experience, I presume,” Oshitari mused aloud on purpose, closing his eyes and already picturing the redhead’s reaction.
“As if you haven’t dated your fair share of idiots,” Gakuto threw back, looking towards Jirou again. “Anyway, I’m telling you I’m right and you’ll thank me for the advice later.”
The blonde could only nod.
“You're still up?” Eyes so dark—so knowledgeable and unquestioning, so mysterious stared back at him, the frown already evident, though Jirou didn't need to see the other man's lips tug downwards. Kabaji simply nodded and set the newspaper he'd been reading aside, standing up to welcome him back.
And like a child visiting the guidance office, the blonde was drawn to him. He needed for him to listen—needed anyone to listen! And he knew the large, silent man would oblige. He always did. Yet somehow, that terrified Jirou more than it comforted him. He decided to immediately cast the thought away.
“I think that in a lot of ways, I've been wrong. From the beginning, I'd already begun to lose hope. And I pushed every responsibility on him, even though I knew he was hurting inside.” His breath caught, “I mean, he’s done so much for me and yet I... A sadistic part of me just wanted him to suffer. And now...” His voice broke, the last bit of his realization a frightened rasp. In his peripheral view (for he had chosen to look straight ahead and not directly at Kabaji), he noted that the man had taken his seat again and was nodding.
He wasn't doing this so that Jirou could know that he was right in taking the blame, but so that the troubled man would feel that, contrary to his belief, he wasn't alone. And Kabaji was more than willing to listen. He only hoped that the blonde would understand what he could not seem to convey very well.
“I'm sorry. I think that I need to lie down, maybe rest for a while.” With an effort, Jirou heaved his body up and dragged it to the guest bedroom of Kabaji's apartment. What he sorely desired at that moment was sleep; he hadn't been able to do very much of it for the past how-many nights.
As his head hit the pillows, however, he couldn't help the silent, desperate cry for a man he could not see.
Please, come and find me soon. I can't, I just can't do this alone anymore.
“What have you been doing all this time?” The brunette's head shot up; exhaustion, fear (although he wouldn't have liked to admit so), irritation, but most of all, anger present on his recently shaven face.
The night that Jirou had closed the door to their apartment and never returned was the same night his mind had finally chosen to shut down. He'd been distraught, worried beyond reason (for somewhere in him he’d known), and yet completely, insanely serene.
On one hand, he knew that his heart was beating rapidly, telling him to run out and search for his companion else it would be too late. Yet just as one muscle twitched and as the urge to move began to fill his mind, something else—something foreign had told him to stop. And he did. He had stopped, taken a deep breath, looked down at his messy papers, and then laughed.
He had laughed that night for no reason, yet was not overcome with any sort of insanity. And why would Atobe Keigo be driven to insanity anyway? It was utterly unheard of.
The following morning, he had gotten up and out of bed, felt that twinge of regret and frustration (though that was to be expected), then went over to his phone to make the necessary calls. It was after dialing the sixth phone number that he had started to slowly and surely panic. Jirou had not gone to any of their former teammates including Yuushi, and had evidently not gone to Marui Bunta's place either on the very off-chance. Kuwahara had made that perfectly clear.
The guilt was gnawing at him again, imploring him that he should have gone off that night. But reason won over it. As calmly as he could, he had dialed Yuushi's number a second time and left a message on his answering machine, informing him with an underlying threat that he knew some news would get to the bespectacled man sooner or later and that he had better inform him when it did.
Needless to say, no news ever reached him. Hours had turned into days and before long, it had been almost a week since he’d last heard from Jirou. He’d left his papers neglected on his desk, left the clothes in the hamper—the blonde was the one who usually folded them back up to be placed in the cabinets, left the bed sheets cluttered on the floor, and had evidently forgotten to shave. Until about twenty minutes ago.
That was when his door had suddenly blown open, a menacing glare emerging from the outside.
“Hiyoshi,” he nodded stiffly, instinctively reaching for the blue towel hanging next to the sink. He felt alarmingly vulnerable at that moment, and Atobe only ever allowed one person to see him during such instances. Thinking of said person only made matters worse.
His kouhai was still standing by the doorway some meters away, hands balled into tight fists as if he were about to punch him. If he noticed Atobe’s discomfort, he wasn’t showing it and probably didn’t want to extend any mercy either way. The former Hyoutei buchou couldn’t, for the life of him, understand why.
“What brings you here?” He asked finally, his voice slicing through the stifling silence.
“What do you think?” Hiyoshi shot back, taking two steps forward then pausing as if remembering his manners. He looked away then muttered, “I’m coming in.”
“By all means, please do.” The sarcastic drawl earned him another glare. There were about three seconds of silence again before the Enbu tennis master sighed in defeat.
“Why have you not gone to see Jirou-senpai?”
For a second, Atobe thought that he had heard wrong. He looked to the younger man in confusion.
“You do know where he is, don’t you?” Hiyoshi tried again; this time, smirking ever so slightly.
“… Enlighten me,” he replied with very much self-control. He would have loved to play mind games, but now wasn’t the time.
“Wait, you really don’t know? Seriously?” Hiyoshi was taken aback, looking at him incredulously before his smirk evolved into something short of a laugh. “Okay, give me some time to absorb all this. You don’t know where Jirou-senpai is, haven’t got a clue.”
Atobe would have snapped back in reply, had Hiyoshi not suddenly become quite serious and finished his conclusion with a pound of his fist against the bathroom wall.
“… Or have you not tried searching hard enough?”
His kouhai’s eyes mentally backed him into an invisible corner. And because Atobe absolutely loathed it when he felt even remotely powerless, he decided that that was the last straw.
“Hiyoshi,” he started, his voice still—chilly; making the younger man straighten himself for he could feel the change in the air. The ice emperor meant business and if he weren’t careful, he’d get chewed up then spat out. He knew that now.
He readily awaited “the order”, already predicting it. And then it came.
“You will tell me where Jirou is.”
“Kaba-chan, I can’t find your flour. Where do you keep it?” Jirou was too busy rifling through the shelves to notice that someone had already walked into the kitchen, and it apparently wasn’t the large, silent man he would have expected to see.
“Kabaji told me to tell you that it is in the cupboard next to the refrigerator.” The familiar voice caught his attention like a splash of cold water, and the blonde whirled around to face him.
“A-Atobe!” A canned good fell into an open drawer with a loud bang. Yet the brunette’s eyes did not falter. They were directed right at him, murky, unreadable. Jirou visibly shivered without meaning to. He slid away from the counter and moved towards the breakfast table, trying to calm himself down by arranging the ingredients he’d already found when he decided to try baking a cake that morning.
The silence he’d hoped for did not last long enough.
“Why didn’t you come home?” His hand paused, the sugar container inches away from the table’s surface. Finally, he set it down and turned to face the man he had longed to see ever since he’d run away.
“I thought that I was being a bother.”
By the doorway, Atobe was trying to keep himself from making any unnecessary movement. It was bad enough that he very much desired to stride right over and take the frightened blonde in his arms, maybe dive down for a punishing kiss because, God only knew, Jirou deserved it. A part of him reasoned out, however, that it was not the time for that. And as much as he knew that Jirou would let him do as he pleased (for he’d always had that influence on him), he also knew that that was then not giving the other man much of a choice.
He braced himself with as much control as possible, inwardly fighting a battle of self-preservation, pressing himself against the doorframe, telling himself that he should do absolutely nothing… until he heard what his lover had had to say for himself.
Cursing beneath his breath, Atobe heaved himself up and found himself right beside the blonde within milliseconds; Jirou’s honeyed eyes searching his in confusion.
He didn’t need anything else for an invitation.
“Atobe?” The inquiry was lost as their lips met, Atobe’s mouth sliding against his own. His arms drew upwards, cascading along the brunette’s back, then grasping onto his shoulders as if his life depended on it. And in a way, it did.
Atobe’s arms encircled the blonde by the waist, his feet guiding them back towards the counter where he unceremoniously lifted the shorter man and sat him atop its cool surface. He broke the kiss, heard himself growl hungrily and couldn’t keep his hands from running underneath Jirou’s shirt.
Hyoutei’s Sleeping Beauty wasn’t fairing any better. He gasped, his own hands continuing their journey, traveling up Atobe’s chest, heart pounding, the urgency too much to bear. He held the brunette by his cheeks, cradling them, looking into his beautifully sinful eyes, mouthing words he could not understand. The days, nights—they’d gone on far too long.
Jirou knew that he was being unreasonable. All he ever did was want, taking things from Atobe just because he knew he could. He’d always taken advantage of him, twirled the man around his little finger.
When they’d graduated from high school, he’d pleaded with his buchou to stay with him and not leave for any other country, sacrifice his life for him. And the ice emperor had done just that to everyone’s surprise. When his father threatened to throw him out on the streets, to disown him, Jirou had stubbornly reasoned out that they might as well begin a new life together; that all they ever needed was each other.
But that was a lie.
The truth was, Atobe didn’t need him. Atobe had been fine, had lead a perfectly fine life, until Jirou chose to drag him down. He’d poisoned his lover’s mind with promises of forever, that nothing else could compare—knowing well-enough that happy endings like that only ever happened in fairytales. But Atobe had continued to trust him, to put his faith in him regardless.
The brunette’s eyes stared back down into his own, an intense want filling them, an expectation bringing them together and snatching them apart at the same time. Jirou’s heart began to break then, cracks forming before the pieces fell to the ground in a broken puzzle; one that could never be pieced back together. His lips quivered, urging him to say it. Just say it. Be done with it. You’ll both be happier this way.
He mouthed his goodbye, fingers caressing Atobe’s cheek so very softly, afraid he himself would shatter if he made the wrong move. He wanted one last kiss, needed that last touch, that connection. As he drew closer, however, Atobe beat him to it.
The brunette’s lips slanted across his own, urging him to open. And Jirou couldn’t refuse. He met Atobe’s tongue with his own, flitting back then forward, tasting him, enduring the pain. He could have gone on longer, had the taller man not chosen to break it, holding him firmly by the shoulders.
Jirou got ready to hop off the counter and make a quick run for it, keeping his eyes shut and turning to his side. I just can’t. I can’t do it. He needed to get away as fast as he could. He needed to run and not look back. He needed to--
Time seemed to stop, no sound, no movement. And then Jirou blinked, once, twice, stared, long and hard.
“I am not going to repeat myself.”
True to his word, Atobe pulled away and started fixing his shirt. His face remained blank, safe for the slight twinkle in his glowing eyes. Jirou was the only one who could ever tell.
“The only one who knows what really happened is Kabaji,” Gakuto grinned, pointing to the quiet man sipping his tea in the corner. Four pairs of eyes followed, looking to the man in question curiously.
“Well, that’s our luck for you,” Taki sighed finally, munching on a Pocky stick, “Kabaji would never squeal on them; he’d never betray Atobe-sama,”
“Don’t be so sure,” Oshitari smirked, taking his own stick to chew on. “Apparently, Kabaji wasn’t the one who informed Atobe of Jirou’s whereabouts. When he’d call, Kabaji said that he would just stare at the receiver until Atobe put down the phone, answering just as well in single syllables.”
“And Atobe-san didn’t doubt him at all?” Ootori mused, feeling Shishido’s fingers entwining with his own. “I don’t know which of them surprises me more.”
“Wait, so who did tell Atobe where Jirou was?” Gakuto questioned, staring down at each of their faces. His gaze came to a halt after a while, pinpointing the only member of the team who was busy looking out the window.
“Hiyoshi?” And although they had broken out into a chorus, their kouhai couldn’t seem to hear them.