Chapter 03

Fuji walked out of the locker rooms, content with how the day had progressed. Echizen was exactly the type of talent Seigaku could really use right now, especially since it was the last year for the seniors to have a shot at going to Nationals. And Fuji definitely didn’t want to miss his chance. Nationals was sure to be entertaining, both because of the exceptional players and tennis skills that would be displayed and because of the off-chance to watch people get hurt. Tennis being a one-on-one sport meant he got to see people in pain on a level that just wasn’t as satisfying in contact sports. Those people were expecting to get hurt. Tennis players didn’t expect to get injured, they just prepared for it. Some of them not very well. Still, it wasn’t something Fuji went around broadcasting. His secret pleasure was no one’s business but his own.

And while he enjoyed watching dangerous matches-as long as his friends and family weren’t the victims-he himself would never allow himself to indulge in violent tennis. One misstep and the world he’d built for himself at Seigaku would come crumbling down. He was perfectly content with his life and his place in his school, so he had no intention of doing anything that could potentially expose his sadistic nature to his teammates aside from a joking comment here and there. Of course, at such times he was always being perfectly serious, but they didn’t take him that way. That’s what made it fun for him. They had no clue just how cruel he could be. And he didn’t intend that they ever find out.

Because of his need for secrecy, it had taken him a bit of time to discover which style of tennis suited him the best. Some of them had been immediately out of the question. Power tennis, for example, was a definite out. On top of the fact that it was much too violent to hide behind, there was the fact that he just didn’t have the build for it. His skinny arms wouldn’t be able to take the strain of such heavy hitting and he had no desire to injure himself beyond recovery.

His second option had been the type of acrobatic play Eiji engaged in. The redhead always had fun when he played and was so energetic it was almost exhausting to watch. Fuji had decided pretty quickly to pass on that, though. It took enough energy just maintaining his social persona. God forbid he try to add a fake persona to his tennis playing. Not to mention he’d look ridiculous if he jumped around the way Eiji did and Fuji just didn’t do ridiculous.

He’d explored data tennis for awhile after he’d discovered one of Inui’s tennis notebooks and snuck a peek inside. Such a playing style was intriguing to watch in action, but it was incredibly boring to actually gather all the data and run all the simulations. He still didn’t know how Inui kept himself sane. It would drive him mad just from sheer boredom.

Somewhere along the way, Fuji had stopped trying to adapt to the types of tennis that everyone else was playing and just let his own tennis come to him naturally. That was how his counter tennis style had developed and his triple counters were nearly unbeatable. The only person who’d he’d ever lost a game to was Tezuka and he intended to keep it that way for as long as he could. He didn’t begrudge losing a match when it happened, but winning was just more fun. And Fuji played tennis because it was fun.

He sighed as he walked along the sidewalk towards his house, keeping his public mask on. There was no telling who he might run into and he didn’t want to risk exposing himself in a public place. It sometimes felt like his face was frozen in the smile he forced, but it was a necessary burden. He’d learned a long time ago to appear to have his eyes closed but to truly have them open a couple of millimeters to see his surroundings. Ever since the incident with Saeki, he’d been very conscious of the intimidating effect his gaze could have. Other people could say that words were powerful all they wanted to. Fuji knew better. His eyes were dangerous. They glowed with the blue fire of his true personality and very few people could withstand that heat.

Such thoughts immediately turned his mind to Echizen and, in turn, to Saeki. He’d watched Echizen’s match with Inui and found himself becoming interested in becoming friends with the freshman. Friends on a level he hadn’t been with anyone except Saeki. And that had been back in grade school. And even then, when the closest bonds of friendship were formed between peers, Fuji hadn’t been able to hold onto the only person who had mattered to him. He’d scared him off. And he’d hurt him. It was something he’d regret for the rest of his life. Remembering it was painful.

He had been about ten years old when he’d discovered his urge to make the people around him hurt. He didn’t know where it had come from or why he enjoyed it, all he knew was that he did. Somehow he’d also known that it wasn’t appropriate to indulge that appetite through tennis, but he couldn’t explain that either. It just seemed such cruelty would taint the sport. And the people Fuji saw play that way did taint the sport, along with their own ability to assess a game properly.

One day while Fuji was in class with Saeki, a girl beside him passed a note to a girl behind him. He didn’t think much of it at the time since the girls were giggling and generally being ridiculous the way girls always were. But he’d seen Saeki’s name pass by on a slip of one of those papers and felt his curiosity skyrocket. Why were they writing notes about Saeki? Could they be spreading rumors about him? The idea made Fuji want to strangle someone. Saeki was the nicest guy in the school, as well as one of the brightest. But even at ten, he’d learned better than to jump to conclusions. He ran a few other ideas through his head. They could be talking about his tennis skills or the story he’d told for show and tell (Saeki always told a story. He was a natural born storyteller). Or maybe one of them-or both-wanted to date Saeki. Fuji frowned at the idea. From what he’d seen, a guy would have to be crazy to date a girl. They were insipid and stupid or they were just plain crazy. Neither seemed very appealing.

Fuji tried to put the note out of his mind, but he couldn’t concentrate on the lesson. Their secretive, furtive glances in Saeki’s direction just enhanced his irritation further. Class ended and he caught the two of them slipping their respective notes into their desks and smiled wickedly to himself. He would be able to find out! Taking his time, he acted as if he’d lost an important paper somewhere in his desk so that it wouldn’t look suspicious if he was the last one out of the classroom. When everyone else had left, he slid the two notes easily out of the two desks without appearing to be doing anything other than walking. Sleight of hand was easy when tennis was the sport of choice.

Saeki was waiting for him at the door, like usual. Fuji smirked at him and held the notes up before him, chuckling when Saeki’s eyes grew big. “Where did you get those?” he asked.

“Amaya and Hisoka were passing them in class. I just nicked them.”

“What’d you do that for? Girls notes are boring.” Saeki was complaining. Of course he was. He found girls just as irritating as Fuji did.

“Because I saw your name on one of them,” Fuji said, blinking back surprise when Saeki ripped them out of his hand. The guy’s face went red. “What?” He was concerned now. Saeki never got flustered. “What is it?”

Saeki thrust the notes back at Fuji. “Girls are dumb,” he said, and stalked off down the hallway.

Fuji frowned at his friend’s back and read the notes himself. What he read made him so angry he almost saw red. The two had been discussing Saeki, all right. They’d been talking about how the guy was so egotistical that it would do him good to be taken down a peg or two. Hisoka had proposed that Amaya ask him on a date and then stand Saeki up if he actually showed up. The two girls planned to break Saeki’s heart. Fuji felt his anger curl in his chest as a fist, his blood pounding in his ears like a drum. The two of them would pay. He’d make sure of that.

Fuji found Saeki on the school roof, the place his friend always went when he was truly upset. “I can’t believe they want to hurt you like that.”

Saeki laughed; a bittersweet sound that tore at Fuji. “Maybe they’re right, Syuusuke. Perhaps I am too egotistical.”

Fuji snorted. “You don’t have an arrogant bone in your body.”

“But I’m popular. Maybe they resent me for that.”

“Then they’re dumb. I say we strike before they do.”

Saeki tilted his head, considering. “What do you want to do?”

And Fuji told him in excruciating detail exactly what plan he wanted to set into motion. It had taken him all of three seconds to think of on the way to the roof and it would definitely keep the girls away from Saeki. To him, it seemed the best thing to do would be to act like they never knew anything about it. Fuji would put the notes back in the desks and no one would be the wiser. And when Saeki was approached, he’d accept the date but then postpone it continuously until the girl got fed up and confronted him about it. Nothing irritated a girl more than a well laid plan going wrong. And when Saeki finally did make time for the date, she would have forgotten all about the setup and genuinely want to go. So Saeki would have to continue to string her along until he got her to agree to have sex with him and after that happened, he’d have to cast her aside with some crude remark about used goods.

Fuji thought it was the most perfect idea in the world. It was vindictive, cruel, and wonderful. Because the girl would learn to never try and manipulate the people around her out of popularity envy. Saeki had other thoughts and shared them just as viciously as Fuji had shared his plan. Apparently, Saeki didn’t think the same way he did. Not at all. Doing such a cruel thing to another human being would make him less than human. And after the vicious berating, Fuji didn’t feel one iota of guilt about his plan. Not one. It was a good plan.

“Syuusuke, is this really how you see the world? Through a lens of carefully concealed cruelty?”

That startled Fuji. He had never considered himself a particularly cruel person and said so at once. It was only natural that someone who planned to mess with someone else’s emotions get what was coming to them. How Saeki didn’t see that, he would never understand.

Saeki looked at him with sorrow. To this day, Fuji hated that the most about what happened that day on the roof. Anger, annoyance, disgust…all of those, he could handle. But instead the guy handed him pity. Which he didn’t need. And all of a sudden his world exploded in red because his anger became a force of his own. It consumed him, drowned him, and the next thing he knew he was dimly aware that he was beating Saeki bloody. Fuji didn’t remember what had stopped him… a teacher or a student may have intervened; that part was never really clear. All he remembered was that at the end of that beating, Saeki was looking at him with revulsion and fear. And he’d reveled in it. He’d loved the feeling of it. Being in control.

Of course, when he’d calmed down later, he’d hated himself for being so weak that he couldn’t even resist his own anger. He hadn’t wanted to beat up his best friend. He never wanted to lay a hand on someone who didn’t deserve it ever again. So he’d withdrawn from the school that had bound him and Saeki together and crafted a new image of himself. So the idea that he could be interested in having another friend scared Fuji the way nothing else could. He didn’t want to hurt anyone close to him ever again. Not like that. But that day would inevitably come. He knew that the way he knew how to breathe. His sadism was just too much to ask someone else to accept.

Chapter 2     Chapter Index     Chapter 4

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