Otherwise, I'm still discovering which characters and plot points in this world are worth exploring in fic. I stick mainly to the series continuity and will probably continue to do so. This was my first story to break 1600 words, and has been cross-posted like mad.
Title: Small Favors
Disclaimer: These characters are the property of Be-Papas and the brainchildren of Kunihiko Ikuhara and Chiho Saito.
Summary: In which Touga tries to seduce a new minion, Ruka considers his options, and at least one understanding is reached. Set pre-series.
Words: c. 1600
Thanks: To mllelaurel for on-the-spot beta-reading and suggestions.
“I knew that I’d find you here.”
“I’m deeply impressed.” Ruka spares the Student Council President a cursory glance, but otherwise keeps his perfectly carved face utterly expressionless and turned toward the water.
“As I am with you.” Touga seats himself at a still-discreet distance and drapes one arm over the back of the bench. “You fought well. None of our other champions have been as skilled as you, nor lasted as long. There’s no shame in losing a Duel at this point, even if it was to Saionji.”
“Is that any way to talk about the one who will revolutionize the world?” Ruka asks sarcastically. “I thought he was supposed to be a friend of yours.”
“An understandable assumption.” Touga waves a hand as if to brush away a fly... perhaps one with green hair and a permanently fixed scowl. “Which isn’t to say I’m not proud of him, just as I’m sure you would be proud to have been bested by your own prized pupil.”
“Of course I’d be pleased to see Arisugawa triumph. You shouldn’t even need to ask.”
“You know as well as I do that friendship and competition are easily confused.”
“But not so easily separated,” Ruka counters.
That was fast… but then, Touga’s seen this one respond to an opponent’s moves as quickly and naturally as breathing. He’s seen this one turn heads as he strides across the campus. He’s also seen this one make non-negotiable demands of his little protégés in the school’s fencing club, drawing each one to him and cultivating them, pushing them to do their best, pushing them to their limits. Until he Duels again, and even if he doesn’t, this one could indeed be useful.
Aloud, Touga remarks, “Under the circumstances, I’ve always found it necessary to try. But since you’re out of the running for now, I can safely offer you my congratulations.” A significant pause. “And anything else you might need from me.”
For the first time, Ruka turns slightly, and his eyes flash with something like interest. “I would call that one hell of a consolation prize.”
Was that a compliment or wasn’t it? “I wouldn’t be so quick to see it that way.”
“Is that a comment on my skill? Or on yours?”
Touga’s smile flickers back on. “Care to find out?” he asks.
“You don’t waste any time, do you?”
“Life is short.” For another long minute, Touga lifts his gaze to the twilit sky, before fixing it on the other boy once more. “Wouldn’t you agree?” Without even waiting for a reaction, “If you were going to ask how I know what’s wrong with you, save your breath. Word does get around, and someone in my position is bound to pick up on most of it sooner or later. If you were going to ask why it’s any of my business? Believe me, the well-being of my fellow students is my concern no matter what.”
“What do you want?”
“The same thing that everyone who wears one of these wants.” Touga holds up his hand. As if on cue, the rose signet glimmers in the fading light. “But each of us – myself, Saionji, Arisugawa Juri - is after our own miracle. I knew that had to include you, or you wouldn’t have been involved in the first place. I’m not stupid.”
“Then I suppose you’ve figured it out already.”
“I have by now. You want to go on chasing the girls and lording it over the fencing team, daydreaming about dashing heroics, and playing with people because you can.”
Ruka stares, half-incredulous. “You should talk.”
Touga ignores that. “You want to live. I don’t think that’s so surprising. Even an ordinary life is worth fighting for.” He edges closer. “Winning the Rose Bride was one way to gain your heart’s desire, but even if you don’t try to get her back, it’s not the only way.” The breeze has started to pick up as the sky darkened above them. Oh, there’s someone I’d like you to meet…
“He sent you.” Ruka speaks with absolute certainty.
“Clearly, you’re not stupid, either.”
“You’ve been his eyes and ears this whole time.”
“Or, at the very least, his hands and his voice,” Touga corrects him. “Some of us are more suited than others to ushering in the revolution. He’s been known to hand-pick… special representatives from the school’s elite. The socially adroit, the particularly ambitious…”
“The ones who aren’t afraid to make a few sacrifices in order to accomplish great things?” Ruka jumps in.
“Precisely. And in return, you won’t have to fight against death anymore, or sit around waiting for your remission to end. You can choose life, and it would be extraordinary. If you thought that we ran Ohtori before, you haven’t seen anything yet.” He sits back and shrugs. “Of course, you could always just stay here and brood.”
“I’m not brooding.”
“Whatever you say.” Touga places his hand on his classmate’s shoulder, anchoring him – for a few minutes – to the world of human contact and motion and sunlight, everything that could so easily be traded in for sterile hospital rooms and silence. One wrong move, and down you go...
“Everything comes with a price,” Ruka points out at last. “You still haven’t told me what I’d have to do.”
“Nothing that you don’t already enjoy, I promise. You would have to answer to End of the World in all things, and let him know about any cogs that slip from the wheel, but in the meantime, you can live exactly as you choose. With whomever you choose.” No reaction to that. “Why do you think I joined you here? I know what this place means to you. And I know what it means to her.”
That gets a response. “Leave her out of this.”
“You forged her, and you’ve watched her, and you’ve admired her passion and her skill. Don’t try to tell me that you don’t want her to be yours.”
“Maybe I just know that there are people who deserve her and people who don’t.”
Touga chuckles. “So you’ve taken it upon yourself to protect her from them, while you still can?”
“If you go near her, I’ll find a way to make you regret it.” Ruka is on his feet now, scowling. “If she doesn’t beat me to it, that is.”
“How very gallant of you. But you don’t need to worry. End of the World isn’t going to touch one pretty curl on her head. Neither am I.” Deliberate pause. “We’ll let you touch as much of her as you want, though, if you play by our rules.”
He never sees Ruka move, but doesn’t even make a noise of protest as the former champion hauls him to his feet by one arm and the front of his Student Council uniform, and slams him against the nearest stone pillar. “Now that’s more like it,” he purrs instead, because, oh, it is, hard marble against his spine, long fingers gripping his shoulder and tangled in his clothes, and all that blazing, terrifying, barely controlled power right within his grasp. He leans forward…
…and Ruka draws back, so that he’s holding Touga at arm’s length, pinning him with eyes and hands at once. “No. More. Games. These people aren’t… Juri is not a bargaining chip.” He lets go, staggering almost imperceptibly.
“I told you to save your breath.” Touga fights to get his own breath back under control, lets the waves of lust and anger crash against each other and subside before he continues. “What are you trying to prove?”
Ruka straightens, still glaring full-force. “That’s none of your concern,” he says calmly. “And maybe you should stop worrying about me, and start worrying about what your boss will say when you come home without a new minion to play with. Then again, maybe you should be glad that I’d rather die than become his latest shiny toy. What do you think would have happened to his old one then?”
“You talk like that’s your concern.”
“Perhaps not. Still, I can’t help but wonder what will happen when you find someone that you care for more than you care about a pat on the head from End of the World.” Ruka tilts his head in mock consideration. “Is it even possible?”
“Everyone who matters is already part of what we’re trying to do.” If Touga had recognized the thread of fear fighting its way to the surface of his mind, he would have enough sense not to be turned on by it. He wasn’t fazed by the anger in his classmate’s eyes, but this… pity… is something else altogether. “Maybe someday you’ll realize that there’s nothing and no one here that can’t be used as a bargaining chip. Not even our friends.”
“Yes, I understand. Sacrifices are required. Everyone can be used. Everyone is expendable. You do know that that includes you, right?”
Touga offers his best enigmatic smile. The world has cleared again, and he knows what to say, and doesn’t even wish that he didn’t know. “Of course I do.”
He turns and walks away, knowing that, at the very least, this round has ended in a draw. They may have lost someone with tremendous potential, but Saionji will be comparatively easier to keep in orbit. At least he’s somewhat predictable. And even if he fails, then it will only be a matter of time before a new and worthier champion arrives on the scene.
For now, Touga knows that choices have been made, and must be lived with. Better to return to the campus, his domain, his fate, and whatever will come with the next turn of the wheel.
He never gives Ruka the satisfaction of seeing him look back.