Chapter 01

Fuji leaned against his locker, watching students pass by. The Kantou Regionals were drawing close. He itched to hold a racquet, to practice until his arms felt too heavy to hold up. He shook it off; he always felt this way before an important match. Now he had other things to worry about.

One of them was walking his way. “Hey, Tony,” Fuji said.

“Hi, Syuusuke.”

“You headed to class?”

Tony scowled at him. He hated being in high school and Fuji knew it. The guy was just rubbing his face in it. “Yes,” he said reluctantly, responding only because Fuji had opened an eye and raised his eyebrow.

Fuji smiled. “Staying out of trouble?”

Tony drew in a sharp breath at the remainder of why he was here in the first place. “Yes, Fuji,” he said.

“Good. Seen Echizen around?” Fuji started walking towards his class, unsurprised when Tony fell into step beside him.

“He’s still on the tennis court.”

Fuji glanced down at his watch. Amusement flickered through him. “Class starts in five minutes. He’s not going to have time to shower.”

“You know better than I do that Echizen doesn’t really care about that kind of thing,” Tony said.

“True enough. I’ll see you later,” Fuji said. He entered his classroom and left Tony fuming in the hallway. Baiting him never got old.

School dragged. Fuji found himself wondering if Ryoma had managed to get to his first class on time. With the Kantou Regionals so close, it was no surprise that he was spending more time on the courts. But Ryoma was smart. Fuji knew he’d pass his classes even if he was distracted with tennis.

The bell for lunch rang. Fuji retrieved his lunch out of his locker and made his way up to the roof, where Ryoma was waiting for him, bouncing a ball on his racquet as he ate a sandwich with his other hand.

Fuji slid down into his customary seat beside him and started eating. “You make it to class on time?”

Ryoma quirked an eyebrow at him. “Barely,” he said.

“What kept you on the courts so long?” He left unvoiced the displeasure he felt. Ryoma knew the rules by now. Class was important. To miss it…well, there was no need to go into that.

“I lost track of the time,” Ryoma said, ducking his head.

“Mm. Excited about Regionals?”

Ryoma nodded.

Fuji placed his hand on top of Echizen’s, digging nails into the soft flesh of his palm. “You don’t need a reminder of the rules, do you?”

“No, Syuusuke,” he said, breath hitching. “It won’t happen again.”

“Good.” Fuji dug his nails in deeper, keenly aware of how hard he had to push before he would break skin. “How are your grades again?”

Ryoma swallowed. “All A’s.”

“Hmm.” Fuji moved his hand up Echizen’s arm, pulling his nails lightly along it as he dug them in. “You plan to keep them that way, I’m sure.”

“Of course,” Ryoma said, quirking a grin at Fuji. “A’s are easy.”

Fuji snorted. Trust Echizen to get cocky over his grades. He let his hand fall away, amused at the small noise of protest Ryoma made. “Anything interesting happen today?”

“Interesting?” Echizen raised an eyebrow. “Hmm. Kachirou said something about playing a match against Arai after school.”

“Kachirou?”

Echizen nodded.

“He can’t beat him.”

“I know,” Echizen said. “I told him that.”

“And?”

“He said something about the regulars not being worried about Tezuka’s health. I don’t know.” Echizen shrugged. “I don’t think he gets it yet.”

Fuji smiled. He was worried about Tezuka. The entire team was. But Kachirou was young; he didn’t know the rest of the team the way he and Echizen did. “We’ll see at the match then.”

“I told him I wasn’t going,” Echizen pointed out.

“Too bad.”

“Che.”

The bell rang. Fuji stood and helped Echizen to his feet. “I’ll see you after school,” he said, holding the door open for Echizen to go through first.

Echizen glared at him. Fuji’s eyes snapped open and he glared back, causing Ryoma to drop his eyes. “Yes, Syuusuke,” he said.

Fuji threw an arm around Ryoma’s waist, forcing him to stop moving forward. Ryoma looked up at him, eyebrow raised. Fuji smiled and lowered his mouth, claiming a kiss. “I love you, brat. Now behave.”

Ryoma smiled, his entire face softening as Fuji released him. “Love you too, Syu. See you later.” And with that, he was gone.

Fuji shook his head, staring after his boyfriend. He hummed as he walked to his class, wondering how the match between Kachirou and Arai later that afternoon was going to turn out.

Fuji stood behind the fence, concentrating on the match between Arai and the freshman. The gap in their skill level was obvious, but he was mildly impressed with Kachirou’s tenacity.

His lips quirked as that thought brought Ryoma to mind. His lover was standing in the cool shade under a tree far enough away from the courts that Kachirou couldn’t see him. Despite the protest earlier, Fuji’d known Ryoma would never willingly disobey him. Though Ryoma would never admit it, he was starved for approval.

In the short time they’d been together, Fuji had learned a lot about his lover. Like how he’d started tennis because his dad got him into it, but how he’d never really enjoyed it the way everyone else did. For him, it was almost an obligation to carry on the legacy his father had left him.

A twinge of sympathy pinched him. Fuji knew all about expectations and living up to them. But he’d never been forced onto a path he didn’t want to take. His father had given him choices and he’d made his own decision. The downside was that his father expected him to follow the path he’d chosen flawlessly.

But Ryoma… Fuji sighed, trying to force his attention back to the match. Kachirou was losing–that wasn’t surprising–but the weights around Arai’s ankles were starting to seriously affect the junior’s stamina. This match, due to a misunderstanding from Kachirou, was going to result in an injury if Arai tried to play with those weights much longer. Fuji frowned. He didn’t want his teammate to get hurt.

He glanced at Oishi, who’s face was drawn as he watched the two play. The worry he’d been feeling fled. Fuji knew that Oishi was responsible. He wasn’t going to allow Arai to injure himself during practice. Secure in that knowledge, he allowed his thoughts to turn back to Ryoma.

Ryoma was complex. On one hand, Fuji knew that Ryoma resented tennis because it felt like an obligation. On the other hand, he’d seen a few rare glimpses of Ryoma truly enjoying a match. Ryoma had the potential to be a professional tennis player, but lacked the enthusiasm.

It was well-known that Ryoma would challenge anyone to a match. Matches he usually won. But those matches were always fought for someone else’s sake rather than for the sheer joy of playing against a challenging opponent. The only reason Ryoma even sought out tough opponents was because of his father’s expectation he become a pro before he was twenty. Ryoma, as far as Fuji knew, had never played a match so intense all it left room for in his mind was the ball.

Fuji sighed. Oishi did well in Tezuka’s place, but he wasn’t the kind of player the captain was. Tezuka could pull Ryoma out of his tennis coma and make him truly appreciate the sport for what it was. A pang of guilt hit him and he shifted uncomfortably as he was forced to admit to himself that he could probably do it as well. He was just leery of trusting Ryoma with the complete truth about his tennis.

For him, tennis was an escape. While he played, Fuji didn’t have to worry about his family, his sadism, or the underground path he’d chosen to walk. All he had to do was hit a ball and let the rhythm of the volley between him and his opponent drown out all the mental noise of his everyday life.

And his play style–he guarded that religiously. Not even Inui could get accurate data on him and Inui was the best data player Fuji knew. It was just…there was so much of his tennis that he kept to himself. Even considering showing it to Ryoma made his stomach churn. He glanced at his lover, who was talking to Kachirou presumably about the match he’d lost to Arai. Fuji waited until Kachirou left before he walked over to Ryoma.

“I came,” Ryoma drawled.

Fuji dipped his head in acknowledgment. “I never doubted you would.”

Ryoma glanced at the court longingly, then back at Fuji and ducked his head. “Regionals are soon,” he said softly.

Fuji suppressed a smile. Ryoma’s method of asking but not directly, of submitting without appearing to do so was one of his most endearing traits. Fuji glanced down at his watch. 4:05. He frowned. “Two hours,” he said. “Call me when you get home.”

Ryoma’s head lifted at that and he smiled, giving a quick, sharp nod of consent. Being allowed extra practice was a demonstration of how much trust Fuji placed in him. Two hours gave him one and an half for practice and another thirty minutes to get home. It wasn’t nearly enough in his mind, but he knew better than to press Fuji after last time. He winced, remembering how practice before their last big match had eaten up so much of his time.

Fuji watched as thoughts flickered through Ryoma’s mind. He knew his lover was thinking about the math class he’d dropped a letter in before their last match and the reason it had happened. Fuji leaned down and kissed Ryoma, cupping his lover’s chin with one hand as he leaned back and said, very softly, “If you start slacking on your coursework, I’ll restrict you to morning practice.” He left unspoken how Ryoma would be punished. Leaving that to his lover’s imagination was much more effective.

Ryoma shivered at the promise in the words and lowered his eyes. Disappointing Fuji was far worse than missing a little extra practice. “School comes first,” he said, letting Fuji know he’d gotten the message loud and clear.

Fuji smiled down at him. “Yes,” he said. “Now go practice. I’ll expect your call.”

Chapter Index     Chapter 2

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