Chapter 10

Fuji walked down the hallway after his last class of the day, looking forward to seeing Ryoma at practice. Passing by the health room, he stopped as the familiar sound of the freshman’s voice carried into the hall. Curious, he peeked inside, careful not to alert anyone to his presence. What he saw made his blood run cold.

Ryoma was sitting in front of Coach Ryuzaki, allowing her to bandage a myriad of scrapes on his face.

“Tell me who did this, Ryoma. Stop lying and saying you fell,” the coach said.

“I fell,” Ryoma insisted.

The anger thrumming in his ears made it impossible for Fuji to hear the rest of the conversation. A bit numb, he moved to lean against the wall. Ryoma wouldn’t tell the coach the truth, but would he lie to him about it? Fuji hoped not.

After what seemed like an eternity, Ryoma came out of the room, but he was so caught up in his own thoughts he didn’t notice Fuji’s presence. Fuji caught up to him swiftly and grabbed his wrist. The freshman jumped at the unexpected contact and turned to scowl at the person who had initiated it, but it died on his lips as he noticed Fuji. “Syuusuke.”

Satisfied that Ryoma wasn’t going to flee from him, Fuji placed two fingers underneath the freshman’s chin and carefully inspected his face. Eyes darkening with rage, he asked, doing his best to keep a level tone and not quite managing it, “Who did this?”

Ryoma shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, trying to decide what to say. He knew Fuji wouldn’t take “I fell” as an answer and he didn’t want to insult his boyfriend’s intelligence by attempting to use it. But Fuji had that look in his eye-the same one he’d had when he’d played against Mizuki. Ryoma swallowed nervously.

Fuji watched as Ryoma danced between the urge to tell him and the urge to protect whoever his attacker had been. He kept himself from tightening his grip at that thought, but just barely. Ryoma shouldn’t feel the need to protect anyone who had hurt him-they deserved what was coming to them.

“Ok. I’ll explain. Just-not here,” Ryoma said, glancing back over his shoulder at the health room.

Understanding flickered through Fuji’s eyes and he grabbed Ryoma’s hand, pulling him into the first empty classroom he found, which just happened to be the science lab. It never crossed his mind to worry about what anyone who’d seen them holding hands might have thought. That sort of worry seemed a million miles removed when he considered the problem of someone thinking it was okay to harm Ryoma. That was beyond unforgivable.

Fuji closed the door and leaned against it, closing his eyes to regain his composure. He would not fall apart over this. Right now, he needed to be strong. There was no telling what kind of thoughts were going through Ryoma’s head, not after the experience with Rick. Not for the first time, Fuji found himself wishing Rick wasn’t an entire continent away. He would kill to have a chance to inflect the type of damage on the guy that he’d enacted on Ryoma. Right, not the best time to think about that. Someone else a lot closer to home thought he could get away with hurting his boyfriend. That was more important than someone thousands of miles away.

Ryoma stood in the empty classroom, hands tucked deep in his pockets as he stared at Fuji, trying to figure out the best way to start. He didn’t want to worry him or make him any angrier, but there was no way he could prevent those. The story automatically necessitated that type of behavior from his incredibly protective and slightly possessive boyfriend. He didn’t mind those traits-in fact, they were endearing-but it did make these types of incidents harder to explain.

Finally composed, Fuji said, “Tell me what happened.” He needed to know.

“A punk from Yamabuki decided to serve rocks at me.”

Fuji’s eyes flashed. “He served rocks at you?” Tennis racquets were not made to aid people in causing harm. It was an insult to the very nature of the sport.

“Mm.”

“Why did he do that?”

“He didn’t give a reason. I assume because he thought it was fun.”

“Give me his name.” Fuji had enough. He was going to settle this.

Ryoma hesitated. He’d seen the look in Fuji’s eyes. “I’ll tell you if you promise not to hurt him.”

Fuji’s eyes snapped open as anger surged through him. He balled his hands into fists and turned to face the door, burying his forehead in the cool wood as he attempted to calm down. Getting mad at Ryoma was not going to help anything. “How can I promise that after what he did to you?” Cool hands slid tentatively around his waist. Fuji turned and enveloped the freshman in a hug,squeezing him to his chest as tightly as he could without hurting him. Having him so near was comforting; it helped him relax.

“Syuusuke, I don’t want you to hurt him.”

“Why not?” It sounded petulant, even to him, but he couldn’t find the will to care.

Ryoma drew back, meeting his eyes solemnly. “Because this is a battle I need to fight myself.”

“And how are you going to do that?”

“By giving him what he wants. I’ll play a match with him.”

“That’s just letting him win.”

Ryoma smirked. “I intend to pay him back in full for this.” He pointed to his face. Looking at Fuji, his expression softened. “He’s not the kind of person who would back off if you went after him, Syuusuke, or I’d gladly step aside and let you handle it. If I don’t face him head-on, he’ll keep coming after me, no matter what you do to him.”

Fuji wasn’t so sure about that, but kept those thoughts to himself. Ryoma didn’t need to know exactly how vicious he could be when provoked. He pulled Ryoma closer to him. “Ok, I’ll let you deal with it.” Those words cost him a lot. Having to trust someone besides himself was going to be incredibly difficult to get used to.

“Thank y-

“I have two conditions.”

Ryoma looked at him expectantly.

“One, you tell me his name.” He waited.

After a moment of hesitation, Ryoma nodded. “Akutsu Jin.”

“Two, if for some ungodly reason you don’t win the match against him, I get involved.”

Ryoma scowled. “I’ll win.”

Dropping his shoulders in defeat, Ryoma sighed. “Okay. But I’ll win.”

Fuji smiled and captured Ryoma’s lips with his own. When he pulled back, the freshman’s skin was flushed and his breathing a bit ragged. “I know,” Fuji said. He gently disentangled himself from Echizen’s arms and left the room, leaving the stunned freshman behind.

During practice, Fuji was careful not to mention the incident to anyone. Ryoma had asked him not to interfere, and stirring up anger amongst the other regulars wasn’t the best way to go about it. Part of him longed to get involved anyway, but he always kept to his word, even when it was incredibly painful to do so. And he’d seen the look in Ryoma’s eyes. He really did need to fight this battle himself.

Preoccupied with his thoughts while running laps, the sound of people gasping for air brought his focus back to the present and he looked back at where Inui was standing with his stopwatch. The other regulars stopped beside him and they all started at Inui.

“This,” he said, holding up a glass of liquid that he poured onto the ground so that everyone could see the red viscosity of it, “is a new drink that I call Penal Tea. Anyone who doesn’t finish a lap in under a minute has to drink it.”

At that, the entire team took off running. All of them had firsthand experience with the nasty concoctions Inui came up with. Fuji ran with them, wondering idly why everyone was so determined to avoid the drink. All of drinks Inui had made in the past were incredibly tasty, so this one was sure to be the same.

They rounded the corner to begin the thirtieth and final lap when Inui held up a pitcher of the thick drink. “The last person to finish has to drink this.”

“A pitcher? No way!” Eiji cried, increasing his speed.

Fuji glanced at Echizen who was running beside him. “This is a bad situation to be in,” he said, smiling a little. He knew how much Ryoma hated Inui’s drinks.

Ryoma smirked at him, saying nothing. He ran a bit ahead and grabbed Taka’s racquet, handing it to the senior it belonged to, who took it in a bit of a daze. In a few moments, that changed and Takashi rushed ahead of everyone with a cry of “Burning!”

Fuji smiled as he upped his pace to catch up to everyone else. Trust Ryoma to find a way to renew everyone’s vigor on the last lap by bringing Taka’s fiery personality out to play. Because of that and Ryoma’s well timed, “Mada Made Dane,” everyone crossed the finish line at the same time.

A large percentage of the team collapsed when they did so. Breathing hard, Oishi spoke up. “Inui, stop with the drink attacks already.”

Inui pushed up his glasses and looked down at them. “Since there was no winner or loser, we can all share this.”

“Drink it yourself!” the team chorused.

Fuji was the only one who didn’t chime in and he took Inui up on the offer. Tasting the tea, he drank it with relish. He didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It was good! Then again, he didn’t understand why people didn’t like wasabi sushi either. He shrugged. Some mysteries in life just weren’t for him to figure out.

Chapter 9     Chapter Index     Chapter 11

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