Lunch Money

by Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/8265.html)

“What are you doing?” Keitaro was already calling, as he broke into a jog across the parking lot, his furrowed brow sharpening into a full-fledged scowl. “Stop that! Let him go!”

At the sound of an adult’s voice the boys broke apart, milling away from the one at the center of the cluster in an effort to look casual. It was Nakamura, he saw, and supposed he should have known; the small boy had a purpled black eye, a trickle of blood running from his lip, and a dazed expression, and was groping vaguely for the pair of glasses lying on the asphalt not far from his hand. Keitaro strode into the semi-circle of teenagers and scooped them up, handing them to Nakamura and helping him to his feet.

“Are you all right, Nakamura-san?” he asked in his kindest possible voice, and Nakamura jerked his head in something like a nod. He muttered, nothing understandable, but Keitaro was at least hopeful that he had heard a ‘yes’ and a ‘sensei’ in there, and he satisfied himself that the boy was dusted off and had his backpack straight again before letting him go. As soon as he did, Nakamura broke into a sprint for the far end of the parking lot, with the kind of eerie speed unique to boys used to ending up with black eyes behind their glasses. Keitaro watched him go for a second, then rounded on the rest of the group. “And you — ” They shifted, hands in pockets, sullen, not meeting his eyes. He went through names in his head. “I never want to see that kind of behavior on school property again, or anywhere else, for that matter. If I do it’ll mean a call to your parents. Do you understand me?” He waited until at least a couple of them lost their nerve and nodded, and nodded himself, pushing his own glasses up on his nose. “Right. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Now go on. School was finished hours ago.”

They trickled away, rangy and resentful youths, the ridiculous but popular jackets they wore over their uniforms making slishing noises as they brushed against themselves. Keitaro stood watching to make sure, his car keys still curled in one of the fists he had on his hips, and then one of them glanced back over his shoulder — and Keitaro’s breath stuttered and died in his throat. In the orange late-afternoon light he saw only a sliver of the boy’s face — a mean, inscrutable eye, a curling lip, an ear protruding from the sheaf of hair that fell over it from his baseball cap — and the familiarity of it, much deeper and more powerful than simple recognition of one of his students, made his heart squeeze and surge with adrenaline. Asano! he thought, incoherently, staring back at the boy who was staring back at him, his pulse thudding.

Then he closed his eyes, breaking the gaze, and took a deep breath. He could almost laugh at himself. No, not Asano — or rather, yes, Asano, but not Asano Yoshifumi, who was probably even at this moment preparing for his terrible dead-end night shift at a plant that made kitchen tools and small appliances for people like Keitaro to use. Asano Ryuusuke, rather, from Class B, whose grades in chemistry were consistently terrible and who smoked cigarettes behind the school after lunch, and who had, for a moment, borne a striking resemblance to his father. That was all. It was enough, but it was all.

He opened his eyes, and found Asano the younger still looking at him. Keitaro was about to turn away and go to his car when the boy turned his head a little further back, sneered, and flipped an obscene gesture in his direction.

Matsumoto Keitaro was thirty-seven, well-educated, from a good family, and a highly respectable person in general. He had been teaching chemistry to high school students at his current place of employment for nearly nine years, been invited to speak at a local conference on the future of science education, and had published articles in several international journals. He was unmarried, but the female students (and more than a few of the female teachers) at the high school giggled and whispered behind their hands about how cute he was, with his dark-rimmed glasses, tidy hair, and slightly prim good looks, the way he was always without his suit jacket and with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows when he’d been leading a lab. He was slim and his doctor was always telling him to eat more iron, but he was in quite good health, and had so far avoided any signs of incipient middle age, apart from a tiny scattering of wrinkles in the corners of his eyes when he smiled. Mostly, though, the heavens seemed to smile on Matsumoto Keitaro, and most anyone would agree that he was a man with only more good things to look forward to in his life. With such a future still ahead of him, he was not a man anyone would have expected to have been troubled by things from his past.

“Hey faggot!”

Not nerd, not loser, never anything else, anything lesser or kinder. Just faggot and faggot and faggot. Since he had been eleven years old, it had been faggot, before he had had anything more than the dimmest idea of what the word even meant. It was his other name, the one he could only hope his parents didn’t know.

“Why would you do that?” Keitaro yelled. He knew where it would lead but he couldn’t contain himself; the anger burst up from his chest and right out of his mouth. With his hands shaking he struggled to sweep up the remains of his prize-winning science project, a set of artificial flavorings he had reproduced from mixing chemicals to match those in common gums and candies. The rack of test tubes Asano had jostled out of his arms lay smashed in a pool of goo now, and he was surprised to find himself furious. “What’s the point of doing that? What did I ever do to you?”

For a moment Asano’s face, peering down at him, looked as surprised as he felt. Then his mouth curled in a sneer, an expression that would startle Keitaro when it appeared on his son’s face, twenty-one years from now. The same sneer it had been the first time, all the way back in junior high, when a much smaller and younger (but still bigger than Keitaro) Asano had first stepped on Keitaro’s lunch and dared him with his heavy hooded eyes to do something about it. “I don’t need a point, Matsumoto,” he said, and his idiotic friends, standing circled all around where Keitaro had crouched over his project, brayed laughter. “I just don’t like your face.”

Rage slammed up into Keitaro’s throat again, purpling his cheeks, keeping him from breathing. He never fought back, it only made things worse when you fought back, but even as he crouched down, frozen, hot tears of anger pushed at his eyes. He had been so proud over winning the competition, so happy, looking forward to coming home and showing them all to his mother now that it was over and he wasn’t afraid of contaminating the mixture, and he had come around the block and this had sprung out from nowhere and knocked it all out of his hands, like some warty monster in a folktale. Except not nearly warty enough for his taste.

Hands reached for him, scuffing by the sleeve of his shirt, and he broke for a hole in the circle of legs without thinking, hoping blindly to maybe crash into Asano on the way and knock the bigger boy on his ass. He wasn’t quite fast enough, though; they all caught him, shouting, and dragged him back up roughly by his shoulders and the back of his shirt, weathering his kicks and struggling. Then he was face-to-face, or rather face-to-collarbones with Asano, who was smirking. He grabbed Keitaro’s face in his hand, smooshing his cheeks together to more approving laughter, and leaned in close enough Keitaro could taste the cigarettes on his breath. Keitaro closed his eyes and swallowed.

“Hold him tight,” Asano told his cronies, and let go of Keitaro’s face. “I’m gonna teach this little fag about talking back to people.”

They did, and Keitaro limped home with bruises to match the cuts on his hands from the broken glass, not feeling like he had any kind of bright future to look forward to, not much educated on the subject of manners but at sixteen already terribly wise to the fact that sometimes life is cruel without any reason at all, smashes everything and never explains; that sometimes it just doesn’t like your face, and try as you might, there’s nothing you can do about that.

Asano Ryuusuke did look a great deal like his father; he had the same heavy-lidded, somehow unreadable eyes, the same curling sneering corners to his lips, probably even the same hair, although most of his father’s had gone by now and his own was bleached a streaky pale brown. He was a good-looking boy generally, marred only by a sullen poutiness that hung thick on his mouth and jaw. He wore a baseball cap backwards at almost all times, mashing his hair into a coppery fringe around his head, and regularly had to be told by a teacher to remove it at the start of classes. He sat as far back in his chair as he could, and stared insolently, toyed with his fingernails, stared out the window, made crude jokes when asked to answer questions. He was always surrounded by a gang of boys who smelled like cigarettes, who spoke little and thought less, but never evidenced any signs of real friendship with any of them. In fact he gave the strong impression of being a loner.

His mother had died years ago, and he lived alone with his father, and presumably just alone in the evenings, when his father was working. The elder Asano came to parent-teacher meetings from time to time to discuss Ryuusuke’s atrocious grades, sat like a balding overweight lump in a too-small school chair and spoke in noncommittal grunts, and offered no sign that he remembered Keitaro at all.

But it wasn’t fair.

His grip on his cock was a stranglehold, the strokes so hard and fast they even hurt through the palmful of lotion. He clamped his teeth into his lower lip and behind his closed eyes Asano had yanked his shorts down in the middle of P.E., a favorite game to try especially when the girls were out for their class too, and a successful one more times than Keitaro would have liked. Except here it was happening again behind his eyes, Asano gripping him from behind with one of his wiry strong arms and keeping his hands pinned uselessly to his sides. Faggot, Asano was hissing in his ear, and his breath smelled like cigarettes, like sourness, even like beer, like all the elements that made up the kind of boy who just didn’t like your face, and his free hand yanked Keitaro’s briefs down to free his damning erection. Everyone look at the faggot. You like that, faggot? And his hand would grip hard enough to hurt, sure, not slick with anything, not even sweat, because no Asano could ever be induced to sweat by anything any Matsumoto did. Jerking and squeezing him, as hard and fast as he was now, his shorts around his ankles, his arms trapped. The coach and class and everyone standing around staring, knowing, understanding that all Asano’s senseless hatred was deserved. Watching. Looking at the faggot.

Fag. Faggot. Fag.

He came explosively into his hand — his own hand, making a whining dying sound in the back of his throat, cords standing out in his neck with the effort of his body. His back arched up off the bed so hard he was nearly sitting up. He only missed ejaculating on his shirt by virtue of the foresight of having unbuttoned it beforehand, so that the near-spray of milky fluid pattered on his skinny, bruised stomach instead.

Keitaro lay still for a moment, breathing, then set about cleaning himself up and buttoning up his shirt again. He felt sick inside. He lay back down on his bed, curling up on his side, and closed his eyes, and stayed that way until he heard his mother calling him for dinner, and realized he hadn’t even begun his homework.

But it was really getting past the point in Ryuusuke’s life where he could afford terrible grades and insolent behavior — not if he wanted to end up any differently from his father, at least, or have a chance at any university. His chemistry mid-term appeared to have been filled out at random, and much as he might not care for the boy personally, Keitaro couldn’t bear to watch one of his students throw away his future; what kind of a teacher would he be if he let a personal history keep him from doing his job? He gave the examination the grade it deserved, and scrawled SEE ME AFTER SCHOOL across the top in red ink before handing it back.

Even so, he was almost surprised when, as he was marking lab reports at the end of the day with the afternoon light slanting in the windows, Asano Ryuusuke came into his classroom, dropped his marked exam paper on Keitaro’s deks, and sprawled without a word into one of the empty seats.

He recovered himself quickly, though, set down his pen and folded his hands. “Asano-san — ”

“Why’d you flunk me on that test?” Asano interrupted before he could even get started. He had stuffed both his hands in the pockets of his coat and looked more truculent than ever. “My dad’s gonna kill me. He said if I fail one more test he’s gonna throw me out of the house.”

“I gave you the grade your work deserved, Asano-san,” Keitaro said, a little more sharply than he’d begun. “If you wanted to achieve a passing grade you should have thought ahead and put more effort into your studies.”

Asano’s eyes narrowed. “You didn’t have to flunk me. Nobody else flunked that test and Sato’s even dumber than me. You graded me lower cause you don’t like me.”

That took Keitaro somewhat aback, to say the least. He struggled for a moment before even coming up with anything to say. “I don’t like you or dislike you any more than any of your fellow students. It’s the quality of your work I’m grading, not you.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“Asano-san. I will not tolerate your speaking to me like that. I think you had better — ”

“It’s because my dad used to beat you up,” Asano said, unexpectedly, raising his voice over Keitaro’s. “He told me.”

For a moment there was nothing at all Keitaro could say. He stared across the table at Asano, his mouth slack, his hands limp. And surely he was a grown man, a teacher in an after-hours classroom with a failing student, possessed of all the power in this situation, and there was no rabbit-run pulse of adrenaline in his ears. “…What?

“My dad used to beat you up,” Asano repeated. “So you give me crappy grades to get back at him. I get it.”

Keitaro swallowed, fighting a suddenly dry throat. “That isn’t true at — ”

But was it? The thought was sudden and white-hot enough to make him interrupt himself mid-sentence, falter and fall quiet. Was it, maybe without his even knowing? Certainly he had thought of the resemblance between the two Asanos enough times, and made dour cynical noises to himself in the back of his mind when he caught Ryuusuke and his cronies pounding on smaller, weaker students. Was it true? Was he lying even now?

“That isn’t true at all,” he said, making himself finish it this time. His voice sounded dry and husky. Asano snorted sour laughter and looked away, one side of his mouth curling in that genetic sneer. It made Keitaro feel like screaming. “And … we are not here for you to cast aspersions on my teaching methods. I’ve been worried about your work on the midterm,” groping, grasping for solider ground, “and if there’s anything I can do to encourage you, or help you to prepare for tests in the future — ”

“That class is bullshit anyway,” Asano said to the window, and rage rammed into Keitaro’s throat like a poker, another old friend coming back after so many years.

Will you stop interrupting me!” he snapped — almost shouted — and Asano glanced back at him again. And he was frozen by the smile he saw, uncoiling on the boy’s lips.

“Does it make you feel like a big man?” Keitaro could swear his voice had gone a little lower, as though he thought he were saying something dirty. Something suggestive. God, maybe he did. “Bossing a bunch of kids around? Is that what does it for you? That why you’re a teacher and stuff? Cause you’re pretty crappy at it otherwise.”

For a moment there was nothing Keitaro could say, nothing he could do. He felt like he was swimming in gelatin, his lungs compressed in his chest, his mouth stuffed with cotton. His head felt like it would burst open, blow itself wide like a volcano and all the rage, all the pounding pulse and beating red behind his eyes, come spilling out. He was a man. An adult. All that — all that senseless, horrible, sordid time was behind him now. He would not be bullied — not in his own school, his own classroom. He was above it. Whatever this stupid, obnoxious boy might think or say, he was above all of that now.

“Get out,” he said at last, in a closed, papery voice.

Incredibly, Asano laughed. “Or what?”

He was on his feet without knowing how, clinging to the desk to keep his hands still, shaking with rage or with a nameless fear he couldn’t admit to. “Get out of this classroom!” And now he was shouting, now all the control he had been even hoping to hold on to was gone. “Fail your goddamn exams, see if I care! I hope that ape does throw you out of the house, and good riddance to both of you! Get out!

And Asano was standing too, and they were facing each other down from several feet apart, Keitaro’s desk in between them, stormclouds between them too that were mounting up with thunder. Except… Asano didn’t really look all that angry, did he? Sullen, yes, and his eyes were still beyond interpretation, but somewhere in his face there seemed to be buried an unnatural calm. A comfort in the situation that Keitaro didn’t have and would never learn. He couldn’t stand there facing it, couldn’t stay looking into it. It made him afraid when he so desperately wanted to be enraged.

He walked around his desk, breaking the moment and calling whatever bluff Asano might be playing all in one swift, jerky movement. With his back turned to his student he began to sweep up the papers and push them into his briefcase, including Asano’s with its bright red failing grade slashed through the middle. It was over now, he told himself, willing himself to feel relief. The boy would realize his defeat, realize who was the adult here, and slink away. He would ask that Asano — that Ryuusuke — be dropped from his class, if necessary. And that would be that. His hands were clean.

And then he felt hot breath on the back of his neck.

He had gone to a nearby and relatively prestigious university, and Asano had been expelled — for putting a boy in the hospital, fortunately not Keitaro. Some younger boy, maybe even in junior high. He couldn’t remember. Asano had gotten the job at the plant, and he had been there ever since. Neither of them had ever moved away, but they never really spoke again, at least not until Asano’s son had grown old enough to go to high school and get into trouble. They had never really known each other to begin with.

It happened too fast for him to react, which was always the way those things happened. Hands grabbed his arms and yanked them painfully hard behind him, and a knee slammed into the backs of his knees, buckling them and making him fall forward over the desk. Then Ryuusuke was pulling him up, pulling him close, and the way he hissed in Keitaro’s ear gave names to far too many of his fears all at once.

“My dad told me about you,” he repeated, pulling Keitaro’s arm back so hard he thought he could hear his own elbow creaking. “Told me all about you. He said you’re a faggot. Is that right?”

He couldn’t speak. Couldn’t breathe.

“Huh? Speak up, faggot.” He gave Keitaro a little shake, shoving him into the desk, rattling it on its legs. From what felt like very far away, some part of him that was not occupied with not believing this was happening realized that he needed to try to pull free, but the pain in his arm when he struggled turned murderous. He fell limp against Asano, trying to cry out but not making any noise. “Yeah, I think you are. You don’t have a girlfriend and it’s not cause they don’t like you. I bet you like some cock. Bet you’d love one in your ass right now. Right, faggot?”

Under his coat Asano’s chest was hard, warm. His arms were wiry and strong.

“Faggot,” Asano breathed, and now he was smiling. Keitaro could hear it in his voice. An open smile, breath coming through it heavy and hard. His hand — his free hand — stole down Keitaro’s chest, grabbed his necktie and choked him with it, wandered down again and yanked on his belt. “Bet he’s right. Faggot.

And his hand, closing tight, closing warm, over the front of Keitaro’s slacks.

He needed to call for help. Even just scream. The door was standing open, there had to be a janitor, or another teacher, even a student straying back in from sports practice. He had to do it. He couldn’t do it. How would this look, if someone saw them? If someone so much as passed by the classroom windows…

Asano didn’t care, and why should he? His hand yanked back the placket of Keitaro’s pants so the button pulled free (and so hard Keitaro prayed dimly for the button not to pull off), jerked apart the zipper with a harsh hiss, and then forced its way between his body and the back of Keitaro’s pants to pull them and his briefs down by their rear waistbands. They sagged down to his thighs and then slowly slid into a puddle around his ankles. He faced his own desk, Asano’s graded paper, the blackboard on which he’d written polymer maps only a few short hours ago, with his naked cock jutting up from between his shirttails. Asano’s hand clamped around it like a warm vise. Keitaro made a glottal, fainting sound, his hips stuttering. His thighs struck the desk with another low rumble.

“Faggot faggot faggot,” Asano hissed, and it was impossible to tell if his voice was heavy with an ecstasy of hatred or with excitement. He jerked back his hand and did something behind Keitaro’s back, snapping and zipping sounds, and then reached around Keitaro to his desk, to where there was a pump bottle of hand lotion stationed near the edge. Pumped an enormous glob into his hand, then withdrew it. Wet sounds. Keitaro’s eyes had closed somehow, and his breathing sounded very loud in his own ears. Then Asano’s hips pushed forward, and something hot and stony-hard and slick was pushed rude and shocking between the cheeks of Keitaro’s ass, then into it, inside it, furrowing into him and driving the passage inside him open and pushing from his mouth a sound like the cawing of a sick bird, one broken note for all the pain and shock and glory.

Asano’s hand clamped on his cock again. It hurt. It was perfect. He ground his hips into it, and Asano slammed his hips into him. It felt like it would break him.

“You like it, faggot?” Asano spat in his ear. Settling and adjusting himself. “That what you want? Want it up your ass like that?” He paused to pant for a few seconds, letting his cock slip and squeeze back out by a few inches and then slamming it in again. The desk banged and rattled where Keitaro’s thighs crashed into it. “Yeah, you like it. You think… nn … about all the guys in your class, fucking you in the ass? Rubbing their dicks in your face?”

No, just you, he tried to say, but only an airless whistle came out.

Asano slammed him into the desk one more time, and then just bent him over it, finding a sudden rhythm so fast it was dizzying. Another shivery, weak, old man sound squeezed out of Keitaro’s throat, and then somehow snowballed in strength until it was an actual moan, and when it did Asano groaned back — into his ear, like a lover. He had braced his hands against his desk to hold himself up at some point, and only that made him finally notice that Asano had let them go. When had that happened?

“Yeah, that’s right, fff…ahh. Faggot.” Not in his ear now, but somewhere above him; riding over him, commanding him, a god of the sky. “Faggot. Yeah. Shit.” He made a whispered sound as if of surprise, and the rhythm of his hips turned jackhammering, so hard it quickly overcame the lotion and began to burn again. “Ah…”

And something built up in Keitaro’s throat, something driving up from his chest and up into his head and stopping his breath, but it wasn’t anger this time. Something like a freight train, a scream that wanted to be free, and like a train it started as a tinny, distant whistle and build slowly into a whining, then droning, then drilling howl that would surely bring the whole school down around them, would bring anyone and anyone left running, any second now, all crowding around the door and up to the windows with open mouths, just as before and always, running, running up to look at the faggot.

He came slamming and crashing into his desk, his hands clamping on it, his cheek rammed into the blotter, spilling over Asano’s strangling hand and onto a few pens and a notepad that would be unsalvageable later. He had a dim awareness of Asano bucking inside him as he did, of the boy’s voice crying out, of an obscene splash of hot wetness into the middle of him, and then he was aware of nothing for a few blank white seconds, gone in the rush that emptied him and shriveled him to nothing inside Asano’s grip.

Asano hovered there for several long moments, long enough for Keitaro to recover himself enough to notice, and then backed away, pulling out a little too fast and making Keitaro clench himself reflexively in his wake. He did not stir when Asano abandoned him, but stayed sprawled across his desk, his pants down around his ankles, surely the most distinctly fucked-looking man in the entire prefecture. He could hear the boy breathing, and arranging his own clothes.

“Fuck you,” Asano said. His voice was still a little breathy, and his breath panting. “If you fail me on that test, I’ll tell everyone you kept me after school to fuck me.”

He hesitated a moment after that, or perhaps he was waiting for Keitaro to respond. If so, he was disappointed. At last he left, without saying anything else; the rustling of his clothes marked his passage into the hall, and then faded, and vanished.

Very slowly, Keitaro stood up. He bent down and pulled up his pants, and fastened his clothing again, wincing at the feeling of new bruises on his thighs. He walked back around his desk — limped, more like; lotion and semen squished horribly inside him, inside the back of his underwear, leaking out — and lowered himself into his chair as carefully as possible, wincing again at all the ways it felt awful to do it. He paused again there, for a very long time, and then reached across the desk at an arthritic snail’s pace, snagging Asano’s mid-term and pulling it to him. He looked at it for a long time.

At last he picked up his red pen again (fortunately not one of the ones drizzled with his semen), thought for a moment longer… and then, where he had written a 51 earlier, completed the lower left loop on the five, and straightened out its top hook. 61. A passing grade, if not by much.

Then he put down the pen, put his head in his hands, and closed his eyes.

In university there had been a breathless, silent groping session in the front seat of a friend’s car, but it had never really gone anywhere memorable; moreover, the next day the other young man had not spoken to him and had ceased to be a friend thereafter, and that was hard, and stuck in his mind much more than did the memory of the clumsy hands that had shoved down his pants. A few drunken kisses and mediocre handjobs with near-strangers had soured him on things more permanently, and the very idea of dating another man remained completely foreign to his nature. As a young teacher he thought sometimes of going into the city and going to clubs, but in the end set the idea firmly aside as a bad one. He was a professional, an educator, and he should behave with the appropriate responsibility and decorum. And yes, there was always the fear of being found out.

They had all been gentle, if clumsy, friendly, warm and soft, other science students on their way to bright futures. Most of those encounters he had found so boring, so tedious, so much less worthwhile than simply masturbating, that he had wondered — half-hoped — if he hadn’t been too hasty in his judgement. If he hadn’t made some sort of mistake.

But he had never married. He had a cat and an internet connection, and as far as he was concerned that had always been enough.

Anything you let a student get away with once, one of his professors of education in college had told him, he’s bound to try again.

His classes with the junior Class B were sudden torture. He could feel sweat roll down his forehead and stain the armpits of his rolled-sleeved dress shirts all the time he was talking, and it made his fingers slip on the chalk when he wrote on the blackboard. The more he tried not to look at Asano the more his eyes wanted to land there. And for his part, Asano was no longer distracted, sullen and looking off into space; now his eyes bored into Keitaro all through the class, never moving, never seeming to blink. Faced with this constant scrutiny he found himself longing for Asano’s previous inattention. He could feel it even in his back when he turned away, like a hot and constant hand laid on his spine.

He relearned how to dodge. How to peer around the corners of hallways before walking into them. How to make sure a room was secure before relaxing in it. To lock the door and leave at a different time and by a different entrance every day, so as not to be caught. Bully tactics. He’d been quite good at it, in his day; it made him want to laugh and feel ill at the same time to realize that it seemed his day had come again.

Still, he made miscalculations. Going to retrieve his coat from the closet at the end of one day he found himself pulled inside, thrown down face-first on a heap of scarves and jackets, and then, later, burying his mouth in wool to keep from crying out when he came. Another afternoon, as he washed down the blackboard in preparation for making his escape, a warm lean figure crept up behind him in silence, only alerting him to its presence when an arm snaked around his waist. The hand that curled around his cock was as warm and firm as ever, and he never even looked around until its owner had finished and slipped away. And always, if he tried to say something, to protest, the threat: do it, or I’ll tell what you’ve been doing. But any scientist could see such a system couldn’t sustain itself. He hung in giddy silence and waited for the axe to fall.

But it didn’t. And in time, the waiting became the worst thing of all.

“You like it in public, don’t you?” Asano’s voice murmured in his ear one afternoon, when he had thought he was safe, that he had the classroom to himself. He had no idea where Asano hid himself in there. He jumped and then froze, trying to collect himself but unable to relax his muscles enough to do it. “Wherever somebody could see. That’s how it is, right?”

Keitaro made himself unlock, at least enough to keep packing papers into his briefcase. He would go. He wouldn’t even do this the honor of paying attention to it. If he went fast enough he could get to his car before Asano could try anything. How had he been reduced to this?

Asano laughed, a nasty dark snicker, and rested a warm hand on his back, making him stiffen again; a literal replacement for the figurative one of his gaze. “You want them to know? Is that it? Deep down…”

Keitaro shuffled papers into his briefcase faster, closed it with shaking fingers. He pulled away and Asano followed him, treading in his footsteps, staying on his back with an animal’s aggression.

“Aw, where you going?” His voice raising as Keitaro kept walking. “Where you going, faggot?” And then he was around in front of Keitaro — god, but he was fast. Why didn’t he play any sports, anyway? But boys like him never did. “Get back here. I’m not finished with you.”

“Excuse me, Asano-san.” Keitaro’s voice was like wind blowing through papers; it made him wince inside to hear it. Asano’s sneer, the one so much like his father’s, bloomed across his face like an ugly flower.

“No,” he said; and then, firmly, horribly: “Strip.”

In his mind he heard himself refusing; and the voice in which he did it sounded strong and brave. In his mind he saw himself pushing past Asano, heading for the door, holding his head high. And he could do it, couldn’t he? A grown man, above this, beyond this. Everything he tried to tell himself every time. Except he wasn’t, because his mouth was locked up as though he were a mouse that had heard a hawk overhead, and his knees were too weak to hold him steady. Some part of him, it seemed, had never grown up: a nasty joke on the rest.

He tried anyway. He tried to start walking, to hold his breath and pass by Asano to the classroom door, and then the boy’s hand fisted in his suit jacket and shoved him back so hard he stumbled. His briefcase fell out of his hand and clattered on the floor. Asano shoved him again, while he was off balance, and this time he staggered back into the classroom wall, his back striking the bank of windows that looked out over the parking lot. Then the boy was on him, spinning him around and shoving him up against the window again chest-first, so that he had to jerk his head back to avoid smashing his cheek into the glass. His breath fogged a small opaque circle in front of his mouth.

“Now, strip,” Asano repeated, growling into his ear. “Unless you want the principal to know, too.”

He didn’t even know if he could break away, come to that. Asano was only a teenager but almost Keitaro’s height, and heavier. And between him and the door.

The parking lot was empty right now. That was something, at least. One or two cars lingered, and perhaps faculty members would be going to them to drive home eventually, or perhaps someone would happen to walk by on that side of the street, but who could predict these things?

His breath came quick and shallow through his parted lips, and still staring out into the sunny lot, almost not thinking about it, he undid his suit jacket and pulled it off his shoulders. Asano yanked it away once he had removed it, threw it somewhere that he didn’t look around to see. Maybe just on the floor. His numb hands worked at the knot of his tie until they fumbled it apart, and then pulled it from his shirt collar; Asano took that too. He undid the buttons of his shirt with shaking fingers. He took it off himself, and handed it to Asano this time. He thought Asano was laying things across the back of one of the chairs behind them.

A car appeared out on the road beyond the parking lot, obeying the slow speed limit around the school. Keitaro drew in a breath — actually gasped out loud, and wavered on his feet as he hesitated. Asano’s hand, warm and sly, snaked around his waist.

“Don’t stop,” Asano said in his ear, a command and a warning, and he swallowed.

The car passed by without pausing. From outside the daylight was still strong on the glass, and even someone who was looking would see little more than shadows under his own reflection… but as it got darker, he knew how sharply the light inside the classroom would pick out his figure; how he would stand out as though in a spotlight against the evening.

He slipped his undershirt over his head, disheveling his hair and his glasses in the process, and then dithered, spent longer than he needed to untying and taking off his dress shoes and his thin dark socks. He was at least as aware of Asano behind him, watching him, as he was of the window in front. Finally Asano snapped, “Hurry up,” and he closed his eyes and undid his trousers, stepping out of each leg and then laying them over one arm; he shucked down his briefs and stepped out of them as well, aware of the way his pale buttocks must look in the fluorescent lights as he bent over, aware of the cool air on his naked body and the way his throbbing, stony erection bobbed and wobbled when he moved. Asano took the last of his clothes and put them aside, and by instinct Keitaro covered his groin with his hands. He was still wearing his wristwatch. Then Asano’s hands reached around him, grabbed both his hands and hauled them behind him, tying his wrists together there with his necktie, leaving him fully exposed, helpless, hopeless. His cock twitched, and clear fluid beaded at its tip. He felt like he would faint.

“Yeah,” Asano breathed, and his chin touched Keitaro’s shoulder as Asano leaned over to survey his work. “This is more like it, huh, sensei?”

He wanted to keep his eyes closed, wanted not to look, but it was impossible. They wrenched themselves open and stared out the window. Still empty. But it was getting darker.

“Maybe I should just leave you like this all night,” Asano said, as if he had plucked the thought out of Keitaro’s mind. Keitaro’s cock jumped again, almost painfully, and a soft creaking sound escaped his lips. “I think you’d like that, huh?” Asano slipped a hand around his hip and ran his fingertip along the base of Keitaro’s shaft, from the very tip of his foreskin all the way down to nestle against his balls. The touch was featherlight and the most torturous sensation of Keitaro’s life. His mouth locked open, a cry with no sound, and at once he wished both for Asano to do it again and to die rather than have to bear another round. Asano laughed in his ear, but put his hand back on Keitaro’s hip, just out of range of anything useful. “Yeah, you would. Man. Bet you’d like it if I did this in the middle of school. In the middle of the cafeteria, stripped you down and jerked you off. Let everyone see — ”

Please!

It jerked out from between his clenched teeth, out of his clamped throat, against his will, before he could stop it. It cut off everything Asano was saying like a knife. He hadn’t been aware that he had a sound like that in him; a grunting cry of pure animal desperation. At the time, though, he was barely even aware of it. All he could see was white behind his eyes.

Asano seemed taken aback, but recovered himself after a moment, laughing again into Keitaro’s ear. “Please what?” he hissed. “Touch your cock? Jerk you off? Make you come naked in front of the window where anybody could see you? Naked and begging for it? Is that it?”

Yes — ” The sound was barely recognizable as his voice. His breath was hissing through his teeth, puffing like a train. “Yes, yes, do it, please, yes —

When Asano’s vice-grip hand clamped around his cock he buried his mouth in his own shoulder and screamed. It only halfway muffled the sound but he didn’t care, he screamed and screamed, emptying his lungs and ripping his throat. He came in a jet, it was painful, fluid striking the window and spattering on the pane. He thrust himself into Asano’s squeezing jerking hand as if seizing, falling into the boy’s chest and trusting Asano to hold him up, shaking and thrusting and coming and coming and coming.

He whited out for quite some time. When he came aware of himself again he was lying limp and heavy in Asano’s arms, cradled to his chest, panting. Asano’s face was pressed into the side of his throat and the boy was hissing shushing sounds into the skin, comforting sounds even, and his breath sounded almost as harsh and labored as Keitaro’s had. Keitaro could feel something pressing very hard into his naked rear through the fabric of Asano’s uniform pants. At last Asano drew his head back up, gathering himself, it seemed.

“Well, that was easy,” Asano breathed. His voice was thick and heavy. “Guess now you better do something for me.”

His hands dumb and clumsy and tied, Keitaro tried to reach behind him to press against Asano’s erection, but the boy wouldn’t let him, instead shoving him forward into the window again. The sounds of clothing rustling behind Keitaro made his cock start twitching again — and it hadn’t even quite softened all the way; he’d never even seen something like that. He spread apart and braced his legs in eager anticipation, no longer caring about the window except for how much it heightened his excitement, and Asano’s moan was full of surprise and hunger.

He came again not long after Asano did, the boy’s hand rough and rude on his cock (and he was going to be sore when he could care again), and pressed up against the window like he was more droplets pattered onto the small stain on the glass. He washed it off before leaving that night, but he could swear that he was never able to get it off completely; that some thin, milky film remained clinging to the window, a small spot that his eyes kept trying to flicker to in his classes, more so the more he tried to keep them away.

To his surprise, Asano lingered while he dressed, and when Keitaro at last looked like something resembling a human being again, the boy said hesitantly from the doorway, “Hey, on Monday… could you maybe explain all that cell bonding shit to me again? It’s just… I don’t really think I get that polyvaent or covalent thing, or whatever it is.”

Keitaro paused, momentarily struck dumb. Finally, he managed a nod. “All right,” he said, and his voice sounded dry and hoarse from screaming into his shoulder. “Stop by after school, and we’ll review.”

And Asano — Ryuusuke — opened his mouth again, looking like he was thinking of saying something else… and then just nodded, flicked his hand in a tiny wave, and was gone.

There was a traffic light at the corner between school grounds and the neighboring row of houses, and it turned red just before Keitaro reached it. He rolled to a smooth stop at the line, and a moment later the car door opened, and Asano slid into the passenger seat as though Keitaro had stopped specifically for him. He shut the door behind him, and settled into his seat. Keitaro stared at him.

“What are you doing?” he found the wherewithal to ask, finally. Asano didn’t look at him, for once; he was staring out the windshield.

“Take me someplace,” he said. Commanded. Keitaro stared at him for a moment longer. Then, helpless, he laughed, although it came out sounding more like a noise he’d make when he’d stubbed his toe.

“Where did you have in mind?”

Asano shrugged, and Keitaro was gratified to see that at least the boy looked mildly uncomfortable. “Don’t care,” he muttered. “I just don’t want to go home til my dad’s gone to work.” And that caught Keitaro’s attention instantly, even if nothing else had; it was perhaps the most personal thing he’d ever heard the boy say. “Your place?”

Keitaro opened his mouth, the protest — the sane, sensible, adult protest — already fully formed and ready to roll off his tongue. Then, abruptly, he closed it again, and turned back to the road. The light was green. He drove through it.

His apartment wasn’t much to speak of, two rooms with screens between them, a kitchen stuck to one, a bathroom stuck to the other, but Asano seemed impressed. He took off his shoes in the genkan and then wandered around looking at things as though he were planning on renting the place himself, then made his way back to Keitaro’s couch and flopped down. He looked like he belonged there, or at least like he thought he did. Keitaro eyed him there, then slipped into the bedroom to set down his briefcase and change his clothes. It might be best to try to ignore him.

Instinct won out, however. “Would you like anything?” he asked as he returned to the main room. Asano hadn’t moved, but he glanced up at Keitaro with an unusually genial expression.

“You got any beer?” he asked hopefully. Keitaro smiled, or smirked.

“You’re too young.” Asano snorted and turned his head back where it had been. Keitaro took the opportunity to come and sit in the chair opposite him. “…Is there some reason you’re trying to avoid your father?”

Asano — Ryuusuke — shrugged again. He had folded his hands behind his head, and absently pulled his hat off with one of them, scratching at his matted-down hair. “He doesn’t want to see me. I don’t want to see him.” He cast Keitaro an ugly, cynical look. “Why would you care?”

Keitaro faltered, and rubbed the nape of his neck. “I’m only curious.” He stood up again, smoothing his jeans absently with his hands. “I’m… going to make myself some tea. Are you sure you wouldn’t like some?”

“Yeah.” He didn’t even have time to do more than turn toward the kitchen, though, before Ryuusuke said suddenly, “Can I stay here tonight?”

Again there was nothing he could say for what seemed like a very long time. And in point of fact, most of that time he was appalled to find himself spending in seriously considering that as an option; thinking about just saying yes, of moving over in his bed tonight and the boy’s warm, wiry body pressing into him between his own cool sheets…

The boy’s body, though; that was the problem. His sixteen-year-old body. He shouldn’t even have Ryuusuke in his home.

Finally he made himself swallow, and that seemed to make his throat able to move again. “Asano-san,” he began, and then stopped himself, and started again in a tone both gentle and pointed. “Ryuusuke… you know I can’t — ”

Ryuusuke cut him off with a brusque shrug, looking down at the hat in his lap. “Whatever,” he said. “I don’t care.”

Then he didn’t say anything. Keitaro found himself hovering, knowing he’d said he was going and there was no reason to stay here, watching Ryuusuke, but somehow feeling he needed to. A dog barked somewhere outside the building. Soon it was going to get too cold for the neighbors to let it run around loose.

Finally Ryuusuke glanced up at Keitaro, and there was an uneven, unsteady grin on his mouth that didn’t make it to his eyes. “Let me take your car, then,” he said. “I’ll run off and go live on an island, or something. Catch fish and crabs and shit and walk around on the beaches.”

This time Keitaro didn’t even have to struggle to find something to say; he found himself not taken aback in the slightest. Suddenly he was beginning to think he understood.

He smiled, halfheartedly, and then he went into the kitchen and made tea, and brought back two mugs anyway, sitting back where he had been. Ryuusuke accepted his without saying anything, exchanging it for his baseball cap in his hands; the latter he left on the back of the couch.

“I didn’t like school much when I was your age, either,” Keitaro said at last. Ryuusuke looked up at him, eyebrows raised.

“You?” Keitaro nodded, smiling faintly. “I’d have thought you’d be one of those guys who never want to leave.”

Keitaro ducked his head, and then sipped his tea on the same gesture. “I liked science,” he admitted. “But mostly I liked doing projects outside of school more than going to class. I didn’t learn at the same speed as everyone else, and I was usually either bored or panicked.”

Ryuusuke stared into his tea again, and snorted under his breath. “I’m not really bored, or anything like that.” He pushed at the hair flopping on his forehead. “I just… hate it. All the teachers, and all the kids, too. I know they hate me.”

“I’m not sure that’s true,” Keitaro said, frowning, sitting forward with his elbows on his knees. He was reasonably certain it was, though. Asano the discipline problem; Asano the loner. Hadn’t he thought it himself?

“It is, though.” Ryuusuke shrugged, sipped at the tea, gave it a skeptical look and lowered it again. “It’s like this one time… I wrote this essay for History. I like History okay. And it was pretty cool, it was all about Hiroshima, and stuff, and I actually… you know. Got into it.” He paused, looking into the cup. “I got a C. The teacher said it was sloppy, or something, I guess some of it was. So I got pissed off, and I put it up on the internet. One of those websites, where you can download whole papers?” He gave Keitaro another one of those dry, caustic, conspiratorial looks. One that Keitaro thought said the boy knew he was already wondering how much of this he should believe. “Some kid used it, and I’d put up my email, and he wrote to me to thank me. He goes to some really good private school in Tokyo. He got a B plus.”

He seemed to be waiting for Keitaro to say something — some expression of shock or dismay or disbelief — but Keitaro said nothing, and finally Ryuusuke shrugged. “So whatever. It doesn’t matter what I do, so I don’t bother doing anything. You know?”

And he did. That was the problem. He really, honestly did.

“Because no matter where you go, as soon as you show up,” Keitaro said, after a moment, “it’s like everyone decides they just don’t like your face.”

Ryuusuke lifted his head and looked at him, long and hard, his eyes more inscrutable than ever. They sat and watched each other for a long time.

Then Ryuusuke sighed, and set down his tea on the floor beside the couch, stretching out his arms and yawning. “Whatever.” His voice cracked a little at the start, where the yawn interrupted it. “I don’t care anyway.”

“I wish you would,” Keitaro said quietly. He even surprised himself a little. “I know you’re not stupid. You could really make a better life for yourself if you’d only try.”

But the look that Ryuusuke gave him at that made him have to look away again.

After a long pause, Ryuusuke shifted on the couch, making him look back up. “So did my dad really used to beat you up all the time?”

“Oh yes,” Keitaro said, aiming for dry and coming out more bitter, and sipped the last of his tea to hold back any further comment. Ryuusuke snorted again.

“Yeah. My dad’s a real asshole.” He paused, and somewhere in the pause turned awkward. “I, uh… you know. …Sorry.”

“So am I,” Keitaro said, and did not elaborate, and again they both fell silent.

“And I guess you really are gay, huh.” Ryuusuke said it with a tiny, curling smile, and Keitaro chose not to dignify it with a response. There was a pause, and then Ryuusuke tilted his head in Keitaro’s direction with a look that was almost sympathetic. “You know… it’s cool. I know a bunch of guys who’re into that, and they’re all right.” He didn’t include himself in that category, Keitaro noticed; but then, why would he?

Keitaro shrugged, trying to keep his expression mild — and finding it less difficult than he might have thought. “I suppose we all have things about ourselves that we struggle with,” he said. Something in his voice seemed to tell Ryuusuke not to pursue the subject, but the silence that followed didn’t feel tense.

Ryuusuke’s tea had gotten cold in the interim, and Keitaro finally scooped up the cup and carried it into the kitchen with his own. He rinsed them out and returned with a dishtowel, drying his hands on it as he spoke. “I’ll drive you home whenever you’re ready, although we could get something to eat first.” He hesitated. “I really am sorry you can’t stay, Ryuusuke.” He tried to put something behind it of how genuinely he meant it — how very much he would have liked things to be another way — but couldn’t tell if Ryuusuke understood. The boy only rolled his shoulders in another of his almost-angry shrugs.

“It was a dumb idea anyway.” There was another beat of silence, and then Ryuusuke leaned his head back and said, “I’m not really that hungry. You want to give me a blowjob?”

Keitaro stood in the middle of the room, with the dishtowel clutched in his hands, and looked at him.

Later, kneeling on the floor, his head buried in the opening of Ryuusuke’s pants, the boy’s hand fisted up in his tidy hair and harsh breathing ringing in his ears, the smell in the short dark skim of hair around Ryuusuke’s cock sharp and male and alkaline, he had time to reflect on how easy all of this was. How easy it would be to simply forget that it could stop.

The next test paper Ryuusuke certainly did not fill out at random, and one of his essay question answers was actually quite remarkable; clear, precise, and thorough. Keitaro found himself very pleased to hand it back with a 90 circled at the top, and even more pleased by how pleased Ryuusuke was to receive it.

“So I guess that’s the end of that,” Ryuusuke said that afternoon, sitting in his insolent way on Keitaro’s desk as Keitaro cleaned up the blackboard, and not bothering to explain what he meant by that. “What’s next, sensei? Should I start beating you up for your lunch money?”

Keitaro half-smiled as he turned from the board, dusting off his hands. “Or I could just buy you lunch,” he pointed out, reasonably.

And as a tiny smile grew on Ryuusuke’s sneering lips, he wondered how he could have thought those eyes were unreadable at all.

“Yeah,” Ryuusuke said, after a long, long moment. “I guess you could.”

Coming back to the desk, Keitaro made a shooing gesture to make him stand up off the desk, which Ryuusuke first ignored and then finally gave in to with a great rolling of eyes. “We’ll discuss it when you graduate,” he said, and had to smirk a little himself at Ryuusuke’s startled, affronted scowl. “Now get out of here, would you? I think I don’t like your face.”

On his way out Ryuusuke flipped him off again, but Keitaro pretended not to notice.

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