Chapter 12

Chapter Twelve

Fuji hadn’t expected to run into Rokkaku before finals. Seeing Saeki so soon after their last meeting was an unanticipated pleasantry. But he didn’t miss the way Ryoma distanced himself from his friend. So the freshman was still uncomfortable. That was fine. He’d get over it soon enough.

Besides, it didn’t seem like Rokkaku’s captain was going to leave him alone. Aoi Kentarou, Rokkaku’s freshman ace and captain to boot, was a very loud person. Fuji found it difficult to keep his hands away from his ears–did the guy know how to do anything besides yell?

When Kentarou shook Ryoma’s hand with complete disregard to appropriate personal space, Fuji’s hands clenched. No one should put their hands on his lover so casually. But watching how Ryoma reacted to the attention helped calm him. Ryoma knew how possessive he could be, and generally didn’t allow any type of physical contact that would aggravate Fuji.

“Echizen-kun, let’s play a match!” There was Kentarou, being loud again. “Because of the way the matches are set up, we might not get to play each other. So how about it? Want to play a little? Just for fun.”

Fuji allowed himself a small chuckle. Even if Rokkaku’s freshman captain was a bit too hands-on for his taste, Kentarou’s outgoing personality made it easy to forgive. His easygoing nature relaxed Fuji. This guy was too naive to have designs on Ryoma.

Ryoma raised an eyebrow and shot a surreptitious glance Fuji’s way. Upon seeing it, Fuji shrugged a shoulder. He didn’t care one way or the other. If Ryoma wanted to play, that was fine. It’d give him time to talk to Saeki. But if Ryoma didn’t want to play, that was fine too. This was one decision he was okay with leaving in his lover’s hands.

“Sure,” Ryoma said.

Kentarou’s face lit up. “Our courts are close by,” he said. “C’mon guys, me and Echizen-kun are going to play.” He all but dragged Ryoma along with him.

Ryoma shot Fuji a pleading glance but Fuji shook his head and smiled. Rokkaku’s freshman was harmless. Besides, with Kentarou yelling out his excitement at Ryoma, Fuji had time to catch up with Saeki.

“Sorry about our captain,” Saeki said, falling into step beside him. “He can be a little pushy.”

A few of the other Seigaku regulars were walking near them, but Fuji doubted they could detect the unease in Saeki’s tone. It made Fuji smile. Even if Saeki had come to terms with his own sadistic urges, he still found Fuji someone worth fearing. That thought, before their reconciliation, would have distressed him. Now, it felt right.

For every two people, there was a leader and a follower. And Fuji wasn’t a follower. Neither was Saeki. But only one person could lead, and Saeki yielded that power to him. Which worked out perfectly in Fuji’s opinion. There were few people he’d ever yield to, and Saeki just wasn’t one of them.

“Saeki, this is Oishi,” Fuji said. “He’s our vice captain. He’s filling in for Tezuka.”

“Ah. Nice to meet you,” Saeki said, the unease muted but still present in his tone. “I’m Saeki, Rokkaku’s vice captain.”

“Your captain’s a freshman, right?” Oishi asked.

“Yeah,” Saeki said. “You see, when we were deciding on captains, it went like this–” he proceeded to tell them of the eeny-meeny-miny-moe technique that their coach, Oiji, had used to decide which of them would fill that position.

“Seriously?” Eiji asked. “That’s so irresponsible!”

Fuji laughed. Coming from Eiji, that statement spoke volumes.

Saeki shrugged. “We’re not the kind of team who relies on our captain for morale,” he said. “For us, it’s only a title.”

Fuji smiled. Rokkaku’s methodology hadn’t changed at all. The playground, on the other hand–he opened his eyes to take in everything that had been added to it. “This has grown since then, hasn’t it?” he asked, the question directed at Saeki.

Saeki nodded. He explained to the rest of the Seigaku regulars that Oiji had a penchant for woodworking and how that talent had turned into the playground before them. They talked for a few minutes about the proximity of the courts to the local middle school until Kentarou called out from the other side of the court that him and Echizen were ready to begin their match.

Standing beside Saeki outside the fence, Fuji focused his attention on his lover. He hoped that this impromptu match turned out to be a good thing, because with the way Ryoma had been playing lately, only a true challenge was going to allow him to progress. And Fuji wanted to see that. He wanted to see Ryoma become a strong tennis player, one that could challenge him on an even keel. One who could truly become a pro.

Saeki spoke then, his eyes never leaving the court, of Kentarou’s talent. Of his ability to tie with the Hyotei Hyakuningiri. And he mentioned that, while Kentarou wasn’t the only strong player on their team, he was the key to whether or not they would win the finals.

Fuji smiled. “So is Echizen,” he said. “He’s the one that Tezuka believed in.”

Saeki started, his eyes leaving the court to focus on Fuji. “Tezuka did?” he asked, surprise coloring his tone.

“Mm,” Fuji said, pleased at having wrong-footed Saeki. Keeping his friend off-balance was the only way to keep the upper hand. And when dealing with someone who’d learned how to manipulate others from him, it was important he keep that advantage at all times.

Saeki turned his attention back to the game, unable to offer a good response.

Fuji’s eyes snapped open as he realized what Kentarou was doing. He’s humiliating Ryoma, he thought. Anger and amusement warred inside him as he continued to watch the game. Anger, because he didn’t like anyone humiliating Ryoma. And amusement, because Ryoma didn’t like it either and it showed in the way he played.

So when the match ended and Seigaku was on the train heading home, Fuji wasn’t at all surprised when Ryoma stood up and asked to be placed in Singles 3. He didn’t bother to hide his smile; a challenger had piqued Ryoma’s interest. In regards to Ryoma’s journey towards becoming a pro, it was a huge step forward.

Chapter 11     Chapter Index     Chapter 13

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