Chapter 16

Practice was the same as usual though Echizen still hadn’t shown up. It was normal for the freshman to be a little late so Fuji wasn’t really worried. He hit the ball that had been served to him, his focus faltering a little as he noticed an observer that wasn’t part of the tennis club. Mild curiosity ran through him, but it wasn’t enough to distract him from practice.

The newcomer stepped onto the court, only to be stopped by Oishi. “Can I help you?”

“I’m Rikkaidai’s junior number one ace, Kirihara Akaya.”

“Kirihara Akaya. Part of Rikkaidai, the school that won all its matches at the prefectures in an hour. Kantou’s number one team,” Inui said, mumbling under his breath.

“Why are you here?” Oishi asked.

“I came to do a little spying.”

Fuji, along with everyone else on the court, stopped and stared at Kirihara. For a moment, it felt like he was looking at Mizuki, the two were so similar. Upon closer inspection, he saw that Kirihara was a little taller and held himself with a confidence Mizuki just didn’t have.

Kirihara didn’t seem to notice the tense atmosphere and walked over to Tezuka. “So you’re Tezuka, the one my seniors have been talking about. Care for a match?”

“Those who aren’t part of the tennis club should leave,” Tezuka said, unconcerned.

Fuji was annoyed. Kirihara said he was there to spy but from what he’d seen, it looked more like he was there for Tezuka. It seemed like more and more people were crawling out of the woodwork to challenge their captain.

Kirihara eventually stopped trying to goad Tezuka into playing. That he’d tried at all was both exasperating and amusing. No one could move Tezuka once he’d made a decision; it was the main reason Fuji had never been tempted to turn him into a target. Too much work.

Fuji blinked and the next thing he knew, everyone was lying on the ground. Kirihara’s attempt to return the tennis ball Arai had thrown at him for disrespecting Tezuka had ended in disaster for the entire team The ball hit one of the freshmen in the face, causing him to stumble and drop the crate he’d been holding. Tennis balls rolled across the court, causing Eiji to lose his balance and hit a ball towards Kaidoh, who was drinking a cup of coffee. The ball hit him in the back of the head and his drink ended up in his face. Disgusted, Fuji joined the rest for the thirty laps Tezuka ordered. Kirihara had risen in his mind from minor annoyance to potential victim.

After practice Fuji went straight home. He was looking forward to some time alone. As he approached the door to his house, his cell phone rang, making him jump a little in surprise. Pulling it out of his pocket, he frowned at the number across the caller id. It wasn’t one he recognized. He flipped it open. “Hello?”

“Fuji. It’s Tony.”

That explained everything. He switched to English. “Ah. I wondered when I’d be hearing from you.” Tony was his American contact, the one he’d set on Rick’s trial. He’d met Tony six years ago at one of his dad’s business parties during one of the few times he’d been in America. Tony had been neck deep in a really bad situation and Fuji had been bored enough to help him out of it.

“I have two.”

“That’s better than I hoped.”

“Water and dogs.”

Fuji hummed in his throat. “Which one will be easier?”

“Easier or cheaper?”

Fuji laughed. “You know money’s not an issue.” He moved away from the door towards the flower garden behind the house.

“Point. Dogs would be easier, but water may take less time.”

“Time isn’t an issue. In fact, the longer it takes, the better.”

“Dogs it is then,” Tony said.

“Your plan?”

Tony paused. “What would you do?”

“Mm. I asked first.”

Tony laughed. “Okay, okay. I’ll use three dogs, changing them out randomly. I’ll set up near his house and wait for the times he’s coming and going. When he’s not inside the house, I’ll have the dogs chase him down.”

“But not injure him.”

“Not for a few months.”

“Your dogs must be well-trained.”

“Of course.”

“And when he is injured?”

“I’ll withdraw for a few months until he feels safe. Then I’ll start the process all over again. Is that what you had in mind?”

Fuji smiled. “It’s a flawless plan, Tony. Don’t get caught.”

Tony snorted. “Give me more credit than that.”

“I don’t want to bail you out of jail again.”

Tony went quiet at the implied threat. “Jesus, Fuji. That was almost five years ago.”

“I know.” It was the reason Tony was willing to do his dirty work. The money Fuji provided was just a bonus.

“What did this guy do to you anyway?”

Fuji frowned. “It’s not like you to ask.”

“He seems fragile, that’s all.”

“He’s not. He beat an ex-lover so badly he ended up in the hospital.”

Tony let out a low whistle. “You’d never know from looking at him.”

“Appearances can be deceiving.” Fuji reached down to pick some weeds that had sprouted up between the azaleas.

“You don’t have to tell me that. You’re a perfect example.”

“Mm. How much will you need?”

“How long do you want this project to last?”

“Until he is too terrified to come outside.”

“Jesus, Fuji.”

“His ex-lover is my current one.” Fuji walked around the garden slowly, stopping to pull more weeds as he found them.

“No wonder you want him broken.”

“Mm. Did you know I picked up a nickname?”

Tony laughed. “You’ve had a nickname.”

“Ah. I guess people don’t like saying it to my face.”

“Fuji, anyone who knows you as the bleeder has more sense than to come up and say it to your face. I doubt they want to become your next target.”

“I suppose. Now, how much?” Fuji stood, stretching, as he completed the circuit. His sister would be grateful that she wouldn’t have to do as much weeding when she got home.

“Total? Probably about twenty grand. This should only take a couple years.”

“I’ll have it wired.”

“Thanks.” The phone clicked off.

Fuji walked into his house, humming a little. Sometimes being wealthy came in handy. He retired to his room knowing that somewhere in America Tony was setting into motion the plan to turn Rick’s fear of canines into his worst nightmare. Fuji would sleep soundly tonight.

Fuji was silent as he watched the match between Inui and Momo conclude. It was the second day of the inner-school ranking matches. Seeing the play between those two… Fuji didn’t have words for it.

Horio and his little gang were suddenly beside him. “Huh? It didn’t start yet?” Horio asked, apparently confused by Inui and Momo standing directly across from each other at the net.

“No. It just ended,” Fuji said.

“Huh?” The freshmen said in unison.

“Momo lost,” Kachiro said “Maybe he hasn’t recovered from that sprain,” Kachiro said.

“No,” Fuji said. “Momo was in good shape against Inui.”

“Then how?” Horio asked.

“Maybe Momo was defeated by Inui’s awesome play,” Fuji said. “In the weeks leading up to Regionals, helping us gather data on our opponents wasn’t the only thing he was doing.”

“That means he was collecting our data too,” Kaidoh said from beside Eiji.

Fuji found himself feeling slightly impressed. He knew Inui was smart but he’d never regarded him as devious before. But taking time to gather information on them while helping them train… well, that was almost something he could see himself doing. Minus the data part of it, of course. For the first time, Fuji wondered if maybe Inui was wearing his own type of mask the way Fuji wore his smile. It was worth considering.

The next ranking match he watched was Oishi and Echizen. The freshman won at 6-3. Now the only match left to watch was the most important one. Tezuka and Inui. After watching Inui and Momo the upcoming match between him and Tezuka was even more intriguing.

The match between Tezuka and Inui started and the game became tied at 1-1. All the data collection Inui had been doing seemed to be working wonders for him. Tezuka hit a drop shot and Fuji sighed inwardly as Inui started detailing the percent chance for Tezuka to make his shots. That habit really was obnoxious. It could potentially be useful against someone who lacked confidence in their skills, but to use it against someone of Tezuka’s caliber was a waste of effort.

“You didn’t just improve your data analysis,” Tezuka said.

Inui pushed his glasses back into place. “I just wanted to come out on top once.”

“He’s come to the top already,” Fuji said.

“It’s been awhile since I saw a serious Inui,” Eiji said from beside him.

“He practiced at least two times as much as the menu he made for us,” Kaidoh said.

“Kaidoh,” Inui called. “It’s two point two five times to be exact.”

The match continued and they were tied again at 3-3. Fuji listened to the speculation that Tezuka could lose. He grinned, knowing that no one would see the difference. Tezuka wasn’t serious yet. Fuji was curious if Inui was going to force him to be serious though. It would be the first time someone other than himself or Echizen had seen what Tezuka was truly capable of firsthand.

The game hit 4-3 with Inui leading. Tezuka hit another drop shot which Inui returned. “He really has seen through everything,” Fuji said, amused

“Yeah,” Eiji agreed.

“This is like-”

“The best of data tennis, eh?” Eiji said, interrupting Fuji.

“With this it’s break point,” Taka said.

“Deuce,” the referee called.

“Oh, this time it’s Tezuka’s point,” Fuji said. He looked at where the ball had hit and Tezuka was serious.

“Now Inui. The game isn’t over yet. Let’s continue,” Tezuka said.

Fuji and Ryoma exchanged glances, thinking the same thing. Tezuka was going to show everyone on the team just what it meant to be captain. Watching the game, Fuji saw the moment Tezuka decided to use that.

“Here it comes,” Echizen said.

Fuji spoke to the freshmen, his eyes open as he prepared to watch the next shot. “It’ll be good if you watch closely,” he said. “This is Tezuka’s trump card at its full strength. You won’t see it so easily.”

Tezuka lowered his arm and hit a drop shot that fell onto Inui’s side of the net and didn’t bounce, rolling under the net back towards Tezuka. All of the non-regulars stared at the court in stunned silence.

Fuji grinned. The zero shiki drop shot was always fun to watch. “This is Seigaku’s captain, Tezuka Kunimitsu,” he said. The freshman around him were still in awe. Echizen looked at him and he smiled back. No words were necessary.

On his way home, Fuji found himself thinking about everything he’d seen. Inui was much more than he seemed to be. He gathered data to a point it seemed like an unhealthy obsession but by doing so he always knew his opponent’s weakness. Granted, it was only in tennis but if Inui started using it for more than that, he could easily be formidable. The thought didn’t bother Fuji. It actually made him slightly hopeful. If there was anyone else around him also shared his passion for finding weakness and exploiting it, it would be Inui. And if Ryoma could accept his sadism as his lover, then surely someone else could accept it as his friend.

Chapter 15     Chapter Index     Chapter 17

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