Chapter 15

Fuji found himself feeling a bit distracted during the first few matches on Monday. He managed a few comments here and there but his mind was focused on the upcoming match between Ryoma and Akutsu. Over the last few days he’d done the research he needed to go after Akutsu. It hadn’t been easy but he’d done it. This was the first person he’d researched who would respond better to direct confrontation rather than the more subtle manipulation Fuji was fond of; he didn’t particularly care to get his hands dirty.

Fuji watched Akutsu, trying to make his observation as inconspicuous as possible. When the other slipped away, he would seize the opportunity. The doubles one match ended and Momo took the court against Sengoku. Fuji caught a movement out of the corner of his eye; Akutsu had moved to leave. Carefully, Fuji extracted himself from his teammates and followed, stopping at the end of a building Akutsu would have to pass to return to the match. The Yamabuki thug had stopped to get a soda, as yet unaware of Fuji’s presence. That suited him just fine.

Akutsu began walking towards him, still oblivious.

Fuji stepped deliberately into Akutsu’s path, causing him to nearly stumble as he halted. He expected Akutsu to say something snide but no words came. Confused, his eyes snapped open and he studied the person in front of him. Akutsu stood a couple feet away radiating reluctant respect. That was curious; Fuji hadn’t done anything to him yet. He had never even spoken to him before.

“Fuji.”

“Akutsu.”

“What do you want?” The question came out mild, rather than demanding.

Fuji tilted his head to the side as he considered the best way to phrase what he wanted to say. “Mm. That’s a difficult question, you see, because I want you to never have hurt Echizen.”

Akutsu blinked. “What does that freshman have to do with anything?”

“He belongs to me.”

“Belongs? What the hell are you talking about?”

“I’ll spell it out for you. He’s my lover.”

Akutsu stared at Fuji silently for a long moment as if weighing the truth of what he’d been told. “I didn’t know,” he said, his tone wary.

“Would it have made a difference if you had?”

Akutsu met his eyes, and there was real fear reflected there, fear Fuji hadn’t expected to see. “Yeah, it would. I’d never have touched him if I’d known.”

Fuji took a step forward and Akutsu almost fell over himself to step out of his reach, despite Akutsu’s larger and heavier build. “You could easily take me in a fight, but you’re afraid of me. Why?”

Akutsu’s hands clenched into fists and he was taking deep breaths to calm himself. Fuji kept his distance. “Because I’ve seen what you do to the people who cross you.”

“Oh? Do tell.”

Akutsu swallowed, giving a jerky nod. “Tora Nyoami. I watched her transform from a competent woman into a pathetic weakling. When I asked her what happened when she was still halfway lucid, all she would say was your name.”

“Good to know she understood that.” Tora had led Yuuta on for two years before his brother had found out that she’d been cheating on him with his best friend. Needless to say, Fuji hadn’t taken kindly to that treatment of his brother.

Akutsu flinched. “She’s not the only one I’ve known whose fallen victim to you,” he said quietly.

Fuji smiled. It wasn’t pleasant. “And now you’ve stumbled along that path.”

“Do you know what they call you, Fuji?”

He tilted his head. He didn’t know he had a nickname. “No idea.”

“The Bleeder. They say you take their worst nightmares and use them to bleed out every emotion until only fear remains.” Akutsu looked away.

“Pretty accurate. I like it.”

Akutsu gritted his teeth. “I swear, I didn’t know Echizen was yours.”

Fuji stared at the man in front of him. He’d never come across someone who already knew to be afraid of him. It was odd, but pleasant. And he was telling the truth; he really hadn’t known. “You still hurt him.”

At that, Akutsu’s shoulders slumped. “I know… I’m sorry.”

“I do believe you’re the first person to ever admit he was wrong,” Fuji mused. The hope in Akutsu’s eyes at that was slightly painful to look at. Still, what he’d planned seemed a bit unreasonable to do to someone who’d accepted fault.

“Fuji, please.” Akutsu’s voice was soft, and it wavered a bit. “I don’t want to end up like Nyoami.”

“I never thought I’d hear you beg, Akutsu. Everyone seems to think you’re unbreakable.”

“No one’s unbreakable. Not when it’s you.”

Fuji smiled. “Flattery? I’m shocked.”

“It’s not flattery when it’s true. Please, Fuji.”

“You don’t want me to break you but you hurt someone close to me. Do you see my dilemma?”

Akutsu looked away. “Yeah,” he said, so low that Fuji had to strain to hear him.

“Well here’s what we’ll do. You love tennis despite how much you pretend to hate it. It would hurt you not to play it.”

Akutsu gave a sharp nod of acknowledgment.

“After the match with Echizen, no matter who wins, you’ll announce your resignation from the sport. And if I ever find out that you’ve picked up a racquet again for any reason,” Fuji said, stepping in so close he was nearly standing on Akutsu’s toes. “I’ll forget I ever had this conversation. Do we have an understanding?”

Akutsu nodded. “Yeah. But you’re really going to let me go? No more tennis and it’s over?”

Fuji smiled. “Yes.”

“Why?”

“You apologized, you begged for mercy, but mostly because I feel like it. After all, I can break you anytime I choose.”

Akutsu paled. “No tennis and you’ll leave me alone?”

Fuji nodded. “I give you my word. Of course, that’s with the understanding that if you ever hurt anyone close to me again this compromise is null and void.”

“Of course.” Akutsu drew a deep breath and composed himself, careful not to brush against Fuji as he walked past him back towards the courts.

Fuji watched him go, blue eyes thoughtful. He’d let someone go; he’d never done that before. Then again, no one had ever bothered to ask. Oh well. He hoped it didn’t come back to bite him. If it did, he’d just bite back harder. He shrugged, rejoining his own teammates. He’d worry about that when the time came; if it ever did.

Back at the courts, Momoshiro was finishing up his match with Sengoku. He won despite having a bad cramp in his foot. Fuji hid his amusement; only Momoshiro would play better injured than not. He turned to Ryoma. “Do your best, Echizen,” he said. Ryoma inclined his head in acknowledgment so minutely that Fuji almost missed it. He watched the freshman take to the courts, Akutsu taking his own place on the other side.

The two tennis players stood across from the net from each other, staring. Akutsu swung his racquet down, stopping an inch away from Echizen’s face. Fuji frowned at the provocation but Akutsu hadn’t broken his word yet. “I’ll play with you like I promised,” Akutsu said, glowering at Echizen.

“Whatever.” Ryoma was unfazed.

Fuji tried not to laugh. Why had he been worried? Ryoma was more than capable of taking care of himself. The game had barely started and Echizen was already approaching the net, apparently something Takashi had warned him not to do if the loud protest coming from the power player was any indication, and hit a drop volley, taunting Akutsu. Fuji shook his head. Echizen really didn’t know which opponents not to provoke. But it was okay; he’d already made sure Akutsu wouldn’t get violent again. Akutsu hit the ball back across the net and Ryoma smashed it straight into Akutsu’s face. Fuji stifled a laugh; he hadn’t expected that.

“Oops, sorry, but you shouldn’t take tennis so lightly,” Ryoma said. Akutsu started laughing. Ryoma ignored it and said, “Even though that’s not much, it’s for Kachiro. Why are you still on the ground? I still haven’t paid you back for Kawamura’s share. And just for the heck of it, Arai’s share too.”

Akutsu picked himself up off the ground, staring intensely at the freshman. “You can’t escape anymore, brat.”

“Same to you,” Echizen said.

Fuji rolled his eyes behind closed lids. Trust Ryoma to allow himself to be caught in a duel to prove how much tougher he was than someone else; he seemed to thrive on aggression. That was fine with Fuji: it meant the matches he got to watch were more exciting. Still, it was good that aggression only came out to play on the courts. He preferred the softer side of Ryoma that no one else got to see.

Akutsu fell into an odd stance and, as they started playing again, he returned every ball Echizen sent his way, scoring points against the freshman by adjusting his shot to go in the opposite direction a split second after Ryoma moved. “You won’t be able to get another point from me,” Akutsu said.

“I don’t know where the best place to return is,” Inui said from beside Fuji. “But there’s always someone better.” He looked at Tezuka as he said that.

“It’s completely different from Tezuka’s tennis,” Fuji said.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Tezuka replied stiffly.

“Ah.” Fuji turned his attention back to the game. He had to admit to being slightly impressed by how well Akutsu returned Echizen’s shots. Soon the game hit 2-0 in Akutsu’s favor.

“That guy…he changes course after Echizen moves,” Momo murmured.

Fuji rolled his eyes.

“Is that possible to do?” Oishi asked.

“If so, it’ll be too late to move after Akutsu hits,” Inui said.

“It’s humiliating since Echizen runs towards the opposite direction,” Fuji said. The fact that Ryoma was being humiliated was starting to irritate him. But it was probably pissing Echizen off, knowing how easily the freshman got irritated. He idly considered going against what he’d told Akutsu but shook the thought away; he’d wait and see if Akutsu kept his side of the bargain.

“Is that all you’ve got brat?” Akutsu taunted. “It’s no use, I’m going to attack now.” He hit a return, adjusting the angle at the last second to make it go to the left when Echizen had been expecting it to go right. “Other way, brat.”

“He overpowers Inui’s data tennis,” Fuji remarked.

“I told you brat, I won’t let you get one point,” Akutsu said.

“Inui, the chance percentage of Echizen winning…” Fuji trailed off as he watched Echizen lob the ball shallowly, forcing Akutsu to come up to the next.

“Running away?” Echizen taunted.

“You’ve got guts, brat,” Akutsu said, hitting the ball directly toward Ryoma’s face.

Fuji started to stand, certain that Ryoma had been hit, then sat back down as he saw the ball hit Akutsu’s side of the court as Ryoma hit the ground. Seriously, Ryoma was too rash.

“Hey, brat, how long are you going to pretend to sleep there?” Akutsu asked.

Echizen grinned, holding up a finger as he looked at Akutsu. “Ne, didn’t you say you weren’t going to let me get one point?” He stood up, facing Akutsu. “L-i-a-r. Made Made Dane.”

Fuji shook his head. This match was insane. Ryoma was fighting Akutsu. He was using tennis, sure, but he was fighting.

“Isn’t this great?” Akutsu asked, hitting a return.

Echizen ran up to the net.

“Right. Attacking when the ball just bounces up is the only way to counter Akutsu.” Inui said. “Return is the only chance to attack.”

“So Echizen has mastered it already? That’s Yuuta’s-” He cut off when he realized that Ryoma had indeed mastered the super rising shot.

Akutsu returned it. “Trying to get an ace from me? Don’t make me laugh.”

Echizen let out a yell of frustration as Akutsu once again changed the direction of the ball. His irritation skyrocketed and he forced himself into a directional change without using a step. Fuji’s eyes snapped open in surprise. No step? That certainly was unexpected. He felt anticipation rise in him; what would it be to play tennis against this Echizen?

“You will be a good stepping stone,” Echizen said, starting his own counterattack. Using his no-step directional change, he quickly evened the score.

When the game hit 4-3, Akutsu’s tempo changed, making it hard for Echizen to keep up. Fuji watched the game, curious about how the match would end. It would be a close call. But finally, Ryoma started to pull ahead.

“Hey, if you had practiced karate like a man, you wouldn’t be losing to a brat like me,” Echizen taunted.

“Shut up!” Akutsu snarled.

It was match point for Ryoma.

“I didn’t know you had it in you,” Akutsu said.

“Must be our skill difference,” Echizen said.

“Brat!”

“I just remembered. I still owe you something. This is for Kawamura.” He hit a strong return towards Akutsu. “This is for Arai.” He hit another return. “I’m not finished. I got hit by rocks too.” Echizen set up for Drive A, the move he’d used earlier to bash Akutsu in the face.

“I can counter it after last time,” Akutsu said, moving back.

Echizen smirked at him and hit a drop shot, scoring the final point to win the game.

Akutsu strode over to the net where Echizen was standing and grabbed him by the collar. Fuji was afraid for a moment that Ryoma was going to get it this time. The other Seigaku regulars seemed to think so as well.

Echizen said, quite clearly, “I win. You did good though.”

Akutsu laughed and let go of Ryoma.

Fuji breathed a sigh of relief, joining his teammates in congratulating Echizen for winning the match. He overheard a passerby muttering something about Akutsu quitting tennis and grinned to himself. This day couldn’t get any better.

Chapter 14     Chapter Index     Chapter 16

Style: Companion Drabble

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: