From the Cup of the Worthless

by Cynus

Chapter 3

No matter how many times Nobuyuki adjusted his hair in the mirror, it never seemed to fall where he wanted it. He hadn't been this nervous in a long time, but Masahiro had given him a task, and he would not disappoint his oyabun. One did not survive the Yakuza for long if they did not obey the orders of their leaders.

He kept thinking back to the phone call with Viktor, hoping he hadn't made a mistake in how he'd acted. He'd decided to act desperate, knowing Viktor was a person who cared about others. Viktor's dream of joining the police force told Nobuyuki that much at least. With any luck, Viktor would be drawn to his neediness and be even more inclined to befriend Nobuyuki as before. Today he would have a chance to learn if it had worked, and Masahiro would expect a full report once the day was done. If he fared well, he'd be able to avoid being beaten for another day, but if he did not . . .

Nobuyuki didn't want to think of the alternative. There was only one choice, and it was success. Even if he had to entice Viktor with sex, he would. He'd offered free blowjobs in exchange for information before, and even the most conservative teenage boys had raging hormones which demanded attention. It sometimes wasn't enough for them to break whatever moral code held them bound, but Nobuyuki had had more success than failure with that tactic.

But there was something at the end of their conversation the night before which made Nobuyuki believe it might not work with Viktor. Just before Nobuyuki had ended the conversation, Viktor had moaned, loudly and sensually as if he'd just orgasmed. Nobuyuki knew the sounds of sex better than most his age, having spent his tween years in one of Masahiro's brothels in Kyoto, before Masahiro had discovered his other talents and adopted him into the Inagawa-kai family. He was nearly certain Viktor had been having sex while they talked, which meant he likely had a girlfriend. A girlfriend would complicate matters more than simplify them, and Nobuyuki would be forced to adjust his plans accordingly.

He stiffened reflexively at the sound of a knock at the door, and without letting the tension fade, he walked toward the door and unlocked it, pulling it open to see Masahiro standing on the other side. Masahiro gave him a onceover before looking back to meet Nobuyuki's eyes.

"Please, Father, come inside," Nobuyuki said, pulling the door open wide and gesturing into his personal suite. He bowed his head as Masahiro entered, walking slowly with his hands behind his back, left hand gripping his right wrist. Nobuyuki closed the door after Masahiro was inside and then followed him toward the small seating area where Nobuyuki intended to entertain guests should he ever have any to invite to his rooms.

His suite was not nearly as extravagant as Masahiro's, but it was better than any other living conditions he'd ever been in. The suite was larger than the entire floor plan of his childhood home in Tokyo, and the walls were made of fine wood, with a soft carpet of deep blue. The couch which rested against one wall was a burgundy so dark it was almost black, and was made of silken velvet with throw pillows to match. It faced the small Shinto altar against the opposite wall, toward which Nobuyuki cast a quick glance as Masahiro approached the couch.

Nobuyuki offered a short prayer to Hachiman, whose scroll dominated the center of the wall above the altar, between the scroll of Amaterasu on the right and the one dedicated to the current Emperor of Japan on the left. He wasn't devout in his devotion to the Shinto deities, but he did make time for them on occasion. In the face of his current difficulties, Nobuyuki needed as much help as he could get.

"I wanted to see you off to school this morning," Masahiro said, approaching the couch as if he intended to take a seat. However, he then turned instead and walked along the wall until he reached a painting of three koi swimming in a pond. He kept his eyes on the painting as he continued to speak in a calm manner. "I wanted to reinforce the importance of today. This isn't the first time I've given you the responsibility of representing the interests of the Inagawa-kai, but it is the first time I've let you take the lead."

Nobuyuki turned his full attention to Masahiro. "What do you mean, Father?"

Masahiro faced Nobuyuki at last, his expression one of amusement where Nobuyuki had been expecting stern professionalism. "I'm not going to give you orders on how to proceed here, Nobuyuki. You will be able to determine your own course of action. It will be completely up to you to find a way to turn Viktor into our informant."

"I understand, Father," Nobuyuki replied, bowing his head. "I will not fail."

"See that you don't," Masahiro said with a touch of formality, though his expression remained amused. "The responsibility is all yours, and the punishment will be all yours. I cannot and will not spare Daisuke's hand should you come back to me empty-handed."

Nobuyuki kept his head bowed as he replied, "Yes, Father. I understand. I will not fail."

"So you've said," Masahiro said, laughing.

Nobuyuki looked up in surprise. He hadn't expected Masahiro to smile in such a formal situation, and laughter seemed completely out of place, but Masahiro's eyes were sparkling and his face was glowing. He was relaxed and completely at ease as he met Nobuyuki's eyes.

"You're wondering why I'm in such a good mood?" Masahiro asked. Nobuyuki nodded and Masahiro continued. "I'm remembering the first time I ever took you into my confidence. You were working in the brothel, cleaning the rooms after the women were done or running for supplies which the prostitutes often requested in the middle of sex. I'd never seen a boy so eager to please his employers that he was willing to walk into a room where an ugly whore was having sex with an even uglier man only to give them extra lubricant."

Nobuyuki shuddered at the memory and replied, "Yes, I certainly remember. I was worried you would fire me if I didn't do the best I could. There weren't many jobs available to an eleven-year-old."

"True, the Yakuza are among the few who would have taken you in. You could have become a beggar, but you chose to work instead. It's quite admirable, though it wasn't what drew me to you, Nobuyuki. I don't believe I've ever told you why I chose to pick you out of all the brothel boys for the task I required."

Nobuyuki shook his head emphatically. "No. I never questioned it. It was enough you were giving me a chance to prove myself to you. I didn't want to risk that opportunity by asking too many questions."

Masahiro's grin said it all. He was pleased by Nobuyuki's response. "But yet you still wondered."

Nobuyuki nodded once. "Yes."

"There was something I witnessed in you, which was unusual for a Japanese boy. It's unusual for a Korean as well, mind you, but I'd seen less traces of it in Japan in recent years," Masahiro replied. He crossed the distance between them and placed a hand under Nobuyuki's chin, lifting it so they were looking eye to eye. "Every time you completed a demeaning task they put you to, there was a look in your eye when your superiors were no longer looking. You were defiant in your soul, even if you were loyal in action. You proved to me there was fire inside of you; a will to succeed at whatever you put your mind to, and you had your eyes set high."

Masahiro let his grip on Nobuyuki's chin drop, and he turned away again. "As soon as I realized one of my prostitutes was selling information to the government, I knew I had to send you to investigate. You were not Inagawa-kai, yet, and you had the ability to move about unseen. With your eyes set on the top, I was sure you wouldn't fail."

"And I did not," Nobuyuki said. "I uncovered the entire scandal, and you were able to remove Toshiko from the brothel within a day of giving me the task."

Masahiro nodded. "Indeed. And then I invited you to the shrine for Sakazuki. When we shared sake, I remember the look of awe in your eyes; you'd finally managed to escape the brothel work and become a member of my family. Then when you looked at me, there was no trace of the defiance, only loyalty. It was not the same when you looked at Kiyoshi Sato, my second in command at the time. When you looked at him, the defiance was back. Your perception of how the world worked hadn't changed, only your personal position in it had. Your eyes were set on even greater heights."

Nobuyuki couldn't help but grin, glad Masahiro had given him the chance to prove himself rather than assuming the young boy had nothing to offer. "I wanted to serve you, Oyabun. No one else mattered."

"You wanted to be at the top, and you know it." Masahiro snorted, rounding on Nobuyuki again. "But you would never betray me, that was the loyalty I saw, and so you were ready to settle on second in command. Which is why you exposed Kiyoshi for the traitor he was. You wanted to prove to me you deserved that position."

"You see through me all too well, Father," Nobuyuki replied, bowing his head.

"And I know what you want now," Masahiro confirmed. "I know you wish to lead in my stead once I leave this world. It's all right to have such an aspiration, my son, and it is well within your ability to achieve it."

Nobuyuki's pulse began to race as he heard the promise in Masahiro's voice. There was a sharpness to Masahiro's tone now, as if the difference between Nobuyuki achieving that goal or not rested on the razor's edge of Masahiro's next words. He kept his head bowed and listened carefully, waiting to hear what he needed to do in order to gain his heart's desire.

"Give me the means to control Vladivostok, and you will have what you wish, Nobuyuki," Masahiro said, calmly but firmly. "Start with Viktor, and continue to maneuver as I know only you can do. Give me the means to own this city, and it will be yours when I pass on."

Nobuyuki looked up at last, meeting Masahiro's dangerous eyes. They continued to sparkle, but now they burned with intensity at the same time, telling Nobuyuki the implications of the charge even before Masahiro went on to say, "Fail, and you will know pain beyond anything you have suffered before. I will continue to reward you as you please me, and I will continue to punish you until you break as you fail. It is up to you to determine which fate you will suffer. Go now, Nobuyuki. Make your father proud."

The day was not going well. Masahiro's words had been echoing in his mind all day, and only seemed to grow in intensity and volume by the minute. The two classes before lunch were ones he didn't share with Viktor, but Nobuyuki had expected to at least see him in the halls at some point. There weren't enough people in the school for them to avoid each other entirely, unless that was exactly what Viktor was intending.

He began to worry if he'd gone too far in his attempt at seeming desperate, and had scared Viktor away. If that were the case, giving Viktor a call would only make matters worse. He was flying blind, and until he had a chance to speak with Viktor he wouldn't know what to do next. It was lunchtime now, and there was no way for them to miss each other in the cafeteria unless it was intentional.

But after waiting for several minutes at the edge of the cafeteria for Viktor to arrive, Nobuyuki began to fear the worst. Just as his anxiety seemed about to overwhelm him, Viktor rounded the corner and entered through the main set of double doors which opened into the room. Nobuyuki took a deep, calming breath to get his nerves in check before approaching Viktor.

Viktor was dragging his feet and staring at the floor in front of him, lost in his own head. He didn't notice Nobuyuki's approach, or even where he was walking, and was about to bump into someone when Nobuyuki called out to him. "Viktor! It's about time I ran into you. I looked for you near your locker, but you weren't there."

"Yeah," Viktor said nervously, running his fingers through his hair as he avoided Nobuyuki's eyes. He didn't want Nobuyuki to see the shame in his gaze. "I don't use it very often." When Nobuyuki didn't immediately respond, Viktor felt he had to keep talking to cover up any chance of an awkward silence, and so he pursued the topic. "I'm honestly surprised the lockers are so big. With nearly everything on our laptops, you'd think we wouldn't need the space. I guess some people are just pack rats, huh?"

Nobuyuki shrugged. "I suppose so." He put his hand on Viktor's shoulder and changed the subject. "So, ready for lunch? We're going to eat together today, right?"

"If you still want to," Viktor said, shifting uncomfortably so Nobuyuki's hand slid off his shoulder. He finally looked up and met Nobuyuki's eyes, smiling weakly. "Look, I'm sorry we didn't hang out yesterday. I hope you'll forgive me."

Nobuyuki gave a broad grin, trying to avoid the pang of worry he felt at Viktor's actions. "Yeah, I'm over it," He said enthusiastically. "We'll have other days. Let's just get some lunch and talk then."

"Sure. Sounds good," Viktor said, his smile widening for a moment before it disappeared in the sudden wave of panic which crossed his features. "I have to warn you about something, though. My brother, Vladimir—"

Nobuyuki felt a hand on his shoulder as an unfamiliar voice said behind him, "You called, brother?"

"—has a knack for making people feel incredibly uncomfortable," Viktor finished, sighing.

Nobuyuki smiled as he turned toward Vladimir, noting the difference in physical appearance between the two boys. Assuming they were full brothers, one must take after either parent, as they couldn't be more different. Vladimir was still attractive in his own way, although not as much to Nobuyuki's tastes as Viktor was.

"You're Vladimir?" Nobuyuki asked, sticking his hand out to the boy. There was a faint smell of cigarettes emanating from the tall Russian, but it had been masked by an even thicker cologne which reeked almost to the point of being unbearable.

"Yep," Vladimir said, ignoring Nobuyuki's hand, and smiling dangerously at him. His eyes were hostile, and Nobuyuki sensed a challenge in them, even though Vladimir's tone remained pleasant as he continued. "Viktor says I smell bad. Probably the cigarettes, but who cares? It's not like I'm trying to score with any of these preppy rich girls. Can you imagine how annoying that sort of relationship would be?"

Nobuyuki met Vladimir's gaze with equal intensity, and matched his smile as well. "Haven't you been around rich people your whole life? Surely you must like some of them."

"Just Viktor," Vladimir replied smoothly, keeping his eyes locked on Nobuyuki's. "You've got a shot, only because he likes you. I can't guarantee how long that shot will last, though."

"Well, at least you're giving me that much," Nobuyuki said, sticking his hand out more forcefully for Vladimir to shake. "I'm Nobu, by the way."

Vladimir glanced down at Nobuyuki's hand for a moment, and after a brief hesitation he took it and gripped it firmly, shaking it twice before letting go. After which his eyes narrowed and grew cold as he said, "Vlad or Vladi. I catch you calling me Vladimir and your chance is gone, got it? I try to avoid remembering my full name."

"I trust that you're not as patriotic as your brother, then," Nobuyuki replied.

Vladimir shrugged. "Depends on your perspective, I guess. Different people have different ways of respecting their country, and their communities." His fake smile faltered a moment before he added, "I bet you know all about that though, don't you?"

Vladimir smirked as Nobuyuki's eyes widened in surprise. The way Vladimir was speaking, it was as if he somehow knew Nobuyuki was a member of the Yakuza, which implied he was a member of the underworld himself. The implications of that revelation were too many to count, and Nobuyuki didn't know how to process them all. He tried to regain control of his senses and cover up his astonishment, but the damage was already done. He'd lost his grip on the situation. "I may," Nobuyuki said at last, smiling weakly. "We'll have to talk about it sometime. I'd love to hear more about your views."

"Sure," Vladimir said, shrugging as if it didn't matter at all, but then he continued more politely, "I'd love to hear yours as well." He then took a step away and finally turned to regard his brother. "I'll meet you both at the table. I have to pee."

Viktor rolled his eyes and said, "Yeah, whatever Vladi. I know you're just planning to smoke."

Vladimir turned around, gripping his cheeks with a scandalized expression on his face. "Not so loud, Viko! Are you trying to get me in detention with you? We both know that isn't what you want."

Viktor cringed at the thought. "See you in a moment, Vladi." He shook his head as Vladimir turned on his heel and disappeared from the cafeteria. His expression was one of ultimate resignation, and Nobuyuki could empathize. Vladimir was going to be a problem.

"Well, he's quite the character, isn't he?" Nobuyuki asked after Vladimir was out of the cafeteria.

"You could say that." Viktor sighed. "I think that's putting it quite mildly, honestly. What did you really think of him?"

Nobuyuki chuckled dryly and replied, "I don't think I know him well enough to answer that yet. How about we work on your English paper instead. Did you get it finished?"

"Yeah, after we ended our conversation last night, I figured it out and managed to finish it," Viktor said with a smile. "I'd still like you to look it over though, if you could."

Nobuyuki smiled warmly, glad Viktor seemed to be overcoming whatever had risen between them. He nodded toward the lunch line and said, "Come on, let's find somewhere to sit and I'll take a look."

Vladimir returned halfway through the lunch hour, but wherever he'd gone it had apparently done a number on his attitude. He was far more amiable than he'd been before, and treated Nobuyuki with politeness and respect. There was a look in his eye, however, which never seemed to go away. He was suspicious of Nobuyuki at every moment, and it only served to reinforce the idea in Nobuyuki's mind that Vladimir knew far more than he was letting on.

But he quieted when Nobuyuki continued to help Viktor with his homework, and simply let them work. Viktor seemed surprised by this, and constantly glanced at his older brother with questioning eyes, as if he was expecting Vladimir to jump in with a sarcastic comment every now and then, but Vladimir kept himself composed, and mostly kept his mouth shut.

It wasn't until the bell rang, signifying the end of the lunch hour, that Vladimir finally said something cryptic again. As Nobuyuki stood and started to gather his things, Vladimir looked up at him and said, "I know you're new here. Do you know where you're going?"

"Yeah, I do. A few months is long enough to learn a new school," Nobuyuki replied, shrugging.

"Who said I was talking about the school?" Vladimir asked, his smile slipping toward becoming a sneer. "Anyway, I'll see you at home, Viktor."

"Aren't you coming to gym today?" Viktor asked with a puzzled expression.

"Yes, but I'm joining some of the others for basketball, and I know you hate the sport," Vladimir replied, grinning at his brother before reaching out to tousle his hair. Viktor batted his hand away and Vladimir laughed heartily. "Take care of yourself and watch your back. This one is dangerous, I can tell."

Even though Vladimir said it as a jest, Nobuyuki couldn't help but stiffen when Vladimir glanced his way for a moment, the same look of distrust in his eyes as before. Nobuyuki began to relax the instant Vladimir looked away from him and diverted his attention toward leaving the cafeteria.

Once he was gone, Viktor broke the silence between them. "So, Nobu . . ." he began uncertainly. "You've now spent an entire lunch hour with my brother, and for some reason you didn't leave. I'm impressed."

"Yeah, he seems like he can be a handful," Nobuyuki replied, exhaling slowly. "But, I think I can deal. If that's the worst I have to put up with in order to finally have a friend in this school, I can do it." He turned to Viktor and grinned. "Wouldn't you rather have someone here to divert his attention off of you, anyway? I bet he can easily get on your nerves."

Viktor nodded with enthusiasm. "You have no idea."

Nobuyuki laughed and the two boys gathered their things. Their next class was gym, which they had together even though they'd never spoken to each other in the class. It was one of the better classes in Nobuyuki's opinion, as the teacher allowed the students to pursue their own physical activities, as long as they actually were doing something physical. Nobuyuki had received permission to use a small open area behind the bleachers to practice his Hapkido, the art in which Masahiro had trained him personally.

As such, he'd kept away from most of the other students in his class during their free time and hadn't interacted with many of them at all. He wanted to keep his fighting skills sharp, not only to defend himself on the streets, but also inside of the Yakuza, knowing some of his fellow members would take advantage of him if he didn't keep his guard up.

Masahiro had suggested a Korean martial art, because the Japanese which made up the bulk of the organization would be expecting a Japanese member to use a Japanese art in combat. Using a Korean art would unbalance them, if only for a moment, and give Nobuyuki a temporary advantage. It was the same reason Masahiro had obscured his Korean heritage by taking a Japanese name and acting entirely Japanese. There was no reason for others to know he was a Korean unless it was to Masahiro's advantage. Nobuyuki followed Masahiro's example in everything he did; he had learned a great deal from his mentor.

One of the most important lessons he'd learned was the need to obtain information, and sometimes that meant asking difficult questions. As he walked with Viktor toward the gymnasium, he thought about how he would approach the conversation he needed to have with his new friend. They reached the gymnasium before he'd had a chance to figure it out, and he was scratching his head in frustration as he held the door to the boy's locker room open for Viktor to enter.

They found lockers near each other and opened them with their student codes. The academy was as modern as a school could be, and as such the lockers were digitally locked and wired to the school's computer system. Each one had a keypad, and when the locker was empty it could be opened by any student by inputting their personal student code. As soon as the locker was shut again, only the same student code could unlock it. Once the locker was opened again, the system reset so that anyone could use the same locker in the future. It bypassed the need for either assigned lockers or the need to carry a lock everywhere, and Nobuyuki was happy to have the new system rather than the outdated one he'd used at school in Kyoto.

Viktor seemed nervous as they opened their lockers and put their satchels inside, after taking their gym clothes out of the satchels. He hesitated as he started to undo his shirt, watching Nobuyuki carefully. Nobuyuki wondered what was going on but decided to proceed normally. He lifted his shirt over his head and shoved it into his locker, revealing his muscular torso.

But his muscles were hardly the defining characteristic of Nobuyuki's skin, and he knew there would be a lot of questions from Viktor in the future. Nobuyuki's stomach, chest, and back had a number of nasty scars from knife fights he'd been involved in through his youth spent in the Yakuza, but these, too, were merely a distraction from the impressive tattoos which covered nearly every inch of his skin.

Tattoos were of great importance inside Yakuza organizations, and the Inagawa-kai were no different. Even though he was young, Nobuyuki had gone through the painful process to prove to the others in his organization that he was as strong as they were. Between Nobuyuki's shoulder blades was the daimon of the Inagawa-kai, and the same image repeated in the center of his chest. The rest of the tattoo spiraled out from the circle which surrounded the tattoo; beautifully colored koi circled the daimon on both the back and the front, with large herons decorating his arms from his wrists to his shoulders and poised as if to snatch the fish out of the water. Nobuyuki slid into the long-sleeved tee-shirt he normally wore during gym and covered the upper tattoos, but then undid the clasp of his pants and stepped out of them, revealing even more ink on his lower body. The background of water continued, but Nobuyuki's legs were decorated not with herons and fish, but with large intricate serpentine dragons of white and gold, which encircled each leg, the tails beginning just above Nobuyuki's ankles and the heads disappearing under the cuff of his boxers.

Viktor gasped in surprise, and Nobuyuki turned toward him with a raised eyebrow. Although he knew Viktor was going to be caught off guard by the tattoos which Nobuyuki kept carefully concealed beneath his clothes, he wanted to make sure to give the impression they were completely normal. The tattoos weren't a showpiece toward outsiders, they were only meant to indicate his status within the Yakuza. Others' reactions were largely unimportant to Nobuyuki.

And so he proceeded to undress, sliding out of his boxers to reveal the rest of the design to Viktor. The two dragons' heads came into view, open mouthed at the top of his groin and angled slightly toward his penis as they faced each other, as if they were prepared to defend Nobuyuki's own serpent from each other. Viktor coughed nervously and looked away, which caused Nobuyuki to grin despite himself. He shook his head in amusement before slipping into the briefs he normally wore for gym, and then into the track pants which completely obscured the tattoos from sight.

"Are you going to get dressed?" Nobuyuki asked, trying to push his grin away as Viktor looked back up at him. "I think you can see why I normally dress in the bathroom. Not a lot of people would understand why I have the tattoos I do. They're part of a Japanese tradition that goes back hundreds of years, and it was necessary for me to get them when I did, even though I only completed the last one shortly before we moved here."

"They're impressive," Viktor said with a touch of awe. "Didn't that hurt like crazy to get those done? All over your body . . . I still remember when Vladimir got his tattoo—"

"Your brother has a tattoo?" Nobuyuki interrupted, hoping the surprised outburst would gain him more information.

"Yeah, a tiger underneath his right arm," Viktor replied, nodding. "I'm told he cried like a baby when they put the needle to him. My brother is a pretty tough guy, so I can't imagine what going through all that would have felt like for you."

"It was actually all done by hand, as well," Nobuyuki said, remembering the old woman who did most of the work, painstakingly bent over him with a sharp, ink-infused needle. "It took many long hours, and there was definitely a lot of pain, but they're a part of me now, and I'd feel naked without them."

Viktor whistled in amazement. "Wow, how could you possibly afford . . . I just realized how stupid a question that is. Your father opened the largest casino in Vladivostok, a foreign city to him, and staffed it completely with people from his own country. Of course he's rich enough to pay for such a design. Was this something he requested?"

Nobuyuki shook his head and replied, "No, but it's something he supported. He was the one who paid for it all. Now, before we get too crazy and the gym teacher wonders where we've been, perhaps you should get dressed."

Viktor nodded and started to change. Nobuyuki turned partially away and finished putting his things in his locker, though he kept one eye on Viktor, unable to keep himself from looking at the boy who'd captured his interest. Viktor was in shape, though his muscles were not nearly as sculpted as Nobuyuki's. His skin was pale, common for Russians who were used to dealing with the harshest of winters. Viktor's blonde hair and blue eyes marked his family as being descended from the European Russian stock, even though Vladivostok was about as far as one could get from Europe and still remain on Russian soil. The combination of Viktor's golden hair and light complexion made him almost shine in the lights overhead. Nobuyuki's lips pursed in amusement as he thought of how Viktor could be the Tennin to his own inner Oni.

When Viktor was finished dressing they walked together toward the gymnasium. They both were silent until they stepped through the door and found a small crowd of students engaged in various activities on the gymnasium floor. Vladimir was playing basketball in the distance with a small group of boys, and a volleyball net had been erected on the other side of the gymnasium. The other open patch of floor was filled with a number of students using jump ropes or engaged in other individual fitness activities such as pushups and crunches.

"So, what do you want to do today? Don't you normally go behind the bleachers and practice some martial art?" Viktor asked, staring at the students in front of him, a look of profound disinterest on his face.

Nobuyuki smiled, knowing he'd just caught Viktor in a white lie. "I thought you said yesterday you didn't know we had any classes together."

Viktor turned to Nobuyuki with wide eyes, and upon seeing Nobuyuki's grin he blushed and looked away. "All right, so maybe I did know you were in here, and I'm shyer than I let on. I don't exactly make friends easily, either."

"Well, at least you're in good company, then," Nobuyuki replied, laughing.

Viktor blushed an even deeper shade of crimson but then Nobuyuki's laughter became infectious and he joined in for a moment. Once they'd both regained control of themselves, Viktor poised his question again, though with one small adjustment, "So, what do you want to do? If it were up to me, I'd have you teach me some of that martial art. I've always wanted to learn one."

Nobuyuki's eyes flashed with sudden hope that this might not be so bad after all, and he gestured toward the bleachers at the side of the gym, and the small opening which led to the space behind them. "I'd be happy to," he said, grinning. "It's better than spending time out here, and besides, I have something I need to talk to you about which would be better done in private."

Viktor let Nobuyuki's last words hang in the air. He wasn't sure what to think of Nobuyuki saying he had something private to discuss. Could it be that he'd heard what had happened during their call the night before, and wanted to know what had made Viktor moan?

He shook those thoughts away as he followed Nobuyuki back behind the bleachers. The space was only twenty meters long, and less than four meters wide, but it was enough for the two boys to move around comfortably. More importantly, it was secluded away from the others, which meant Vladimir wouldn't be intruding on them any time soon.

The private setting made him nervous for other reasons, however. As Nobuyuki retrieved a wrestling mat from against the wall and laid it out on the floor, Viktor's mind kept reaching for the image of Nobuyuki's naked body, covered with a full body suit of tattoos. It seemed so strange to find such extensive ink on a boy his own age, but at the same time it added to the mystery of Nobuyuki. Mystery had always been enticing to Viktor, and he was so drawn to Nobuyuki now that he was in danger of having a repeat of the night before if the throbbing in his gym shorts was any indication.

"Okay, so the first thing you need to know is how to stretch properly," Nobuyuki began, drawing Viktor's thoughts back to the present. He hadn't realized Nobuyuki had stopped walking, or even that he'd turned toward him, and he chastised himself for not paying attention.

"Teach me, sensei," Viktor said, bowing and hoping it would be taken as respectful rather than offensive. He wasn't sure of the proper protocol in this situation, but the last thing he wanted to do was offend Nobuyuki. Thankfully when he straightened again he found Nobuyuki smiling at him rather than frowning, and thus the most intense workout of Viktor's life began with Nobuyuki's evil grin.

After learning to stretch in ways Viktor had never thought possible, Nobuyuki set him through the basics of Hapkido. He taught fast, and he pushed Viktor hard, explaining and then demonstrating on Viktor how each of the basic maneuvers fed into the greater techniques, combining together to form an intricate series of actions which made one dangerous in combat.

Viktor was dropped to the mat over and over again, and each successive time he climbed to his feet he was a little more sore than the time before, but he kept going. Simply feeling Nobuyuki's hand on his arm as he pulled him to his feet was reason enough to keep going, but he was having fun otherwise. He was sweating more than he'd ever sweat before, but he loved every drop which slid down his skin. It was a sign that he'd worked hard during the time they'd spent together.

Before he knew it, the period had flown by, and Nobuyuki told him it was time to stop and rest a moment before the bell rang. Viktor was almost disappointed it had gone by so quickly, but as soon as his body began to relax he realized just how tired the workout had made him. He staggered toward the back of the bleachers and leaned against them, catching his breath.

"You did great today, Viktor," Nobuyuki said, coming to stand beside him at the bleachers. Viktor glanced up at him, envious of how calm and collected Nobuyuki was after their workout. Nobuyuki had a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead, which was nothing compared to the sweat which soaked Viktor from head to toe.

Viktor sighed and replied, "Thanks, Nobu. That was a lot of fun. I look forward to continuing in a couple days. But there's something bugging me; what did you say you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Oh that?" Nobuyuki asked, biting his lip. "Um, Viktor . . . I couldn't help but notice something yesterday when we were talking and . . ."

Viktor's heart began to race even quicker than it had during their workout. He knew what Nobuyuki was going to say, and he could almost sense his entire world come crashing down. This friendship, as quickly as it had begun, was about to end.

"Do you have a girlfriend?" Nobuyuki asked. "It sounded like there was someone there with you."

Viktor answered without thinking, caught completely off guard. "No, I definitely don't."

Nobuyuki's eyes lit up, but the nervousness didn't seem to go away at all. "Well, that's actually good news for me," he said, chuckling to hide his fear.

The words did little to calm Viktor's own rising anxiety, and he stammered, "W-what d-do you m-mean?"

Nobuyuki sighed and then took a step toward Viktor. He put his hands on Viktor's shoulders and pushed him up against the back of the bleachers, his eyes filled with sudden confidence. "Viktor, you have to know something about me," he said quietly, and with only the barest hint of uncertainty. "I'm attracted to you, Viktor, and I don't just want friendship from you." He started leaning forward, his lips inches away from Viktor's. Viktor couldn't move; he was entranced by Nobuyuki's voice, and the touch of Nobuyuki's hands on his shoulders. His whole body began to tremble with anticipation as Nobuyuki's lips approached his own. "I'm going to kiss you now and—"

"Viko! Where are you, Viko?"

Vladimir's voice could be heard from around the bend of the bleachers. Viktor reacted viscerally, pushing Nobuyuki away from him as fear of Vladimir discovering them in that situation took all other thoughts from him. Nobuyuki staggered away from the force of the shove, and he nearly lost his balance. Viktor didn't care, he was just glad Nobuyuki was nowhere near him when Vladimir rounded the corner and found them together.

"Viko, there you are," Vladimir said with an exasperated expression. "I've been looking everywhere for you. Come on, the bell's about to ring."

"Yeah, I was just about to head back," Viktor said, meeting Vladimir's eyes and ignoring Nobuyuki entirely. As long as Vladimir was present, Viktor couldn't face Nobuyuki again. The last thing he needed was Vladimir to know how close he'd come to giving into sin, or how close Nobuyuki had come to stealing his heart forever with one simple kiss.

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