Chapter 18

Fuji took his place beside his lover as he waited for the match against Rokkaku to begin. The last week had been intense but now it was time to focus on tennis rather than the difficult turn his personal life had taken. Having Ryoma as a lover was a handful, but with Saeki in the mix, things were bound to get more complicated. A tingle ran up his spine and the smile he wore was genuine for a brief second as he considered the challenge he faced.

Momoshiro and Kawamura took their place on the tennis court and Fuji forced himself to focus as the game began. He was as surprised as anyone else when David managed to return Momo’s Jack-Knife with his long racquet. It should have broken. Fuji’s eyes narrowed as his teammate’s abilities were defeated.

When the game stood at 5-0 against Seigaku, it was no surprise to Fuji that the freshman were commenting on the hopelessness of the situation. It seemed Ryoma was the only one who had noticed.

“They want to win with their own tennis,” Ryoma said, “or they don’t want to win at all.”

And Fuji smiled. Because Ryoma was right. While the two could have chosen to fall into the mental trap of Rokkaku’s pair, they had instead chosen to get stubborn. It seemed the game was just beginning. With the look the two leveled at the rest of the team, Fuji had to suppress a laugh.

“It suddenly got interesting,” he said. Stubbornness that strong reminded him of the freshman beside him and he slipped a hand into Ryoma’s pocket, squeezing his lover’s thigh.

Ryoma tensed before relaxing. He still wasn’t used to casual touching—he preferred to either be in pain or in the middle of sex so that he didn’t have to think about the simple caresses Fuji was so fond of bestowing on him.

Fuji smiled as he felt the tension leave his lover’s body and focused on the game in front of him. Momo and Takasahi were using mind games on the opponents and got a couple of games back before Rokkaku recovered from it. This was the reason he tolerated Momoshiro’s friendship with Ryoma, even though he didn’t particularly like the guy.

Momo was a gifted tennis player. He could see the opponent’s movements and then use their patterns of behavior to judge where they were going to send the ball next. Doing that allowed him to play mind games with them, but they weren’t long lasting. That’s what Fuji didn’t like about it. When he wanted to manipulate someone, he wanted it done permanently.

Still, there was something to be said for Momo’s ability to cause temporary confusion on the courts. It allowed Seigaku to take back a respectable number of games before the other team could get themselves together.

And then Takashi used that. A new move that Fuji was sure had taken all the strength out of his body. Even witnessing it had been astonishing. The Dash Hadokyu, as the freshman had taken to calling it, wasn’t a shot that could be returned. But, Fuji thought, it’s also not a shot that can be used often.

His suspicions of that were confirmed after the game when Takashi admitted that using the move more than once in a game would cause him to break his wrist. At least he’s not irresponsible.

With it, Taka and Momo had snared the first win. So far, the momentum was in Seigaku’s favor.

Fuji smiled. Next up, he would be playing in doubles with Eiji. It had been a while since the two of them had played a doubles match together and he’d suggested it soon after the Rokkaku match-up had been announced. After all, the two of them were supposed to be best friends and he’d been neglecting that friendship, even if it was a sham on his end.

He took his place on the court and stared across the net at Saeki. There was no doubt in his mind that the man had something devious up his sleeve. There was a reason he had chosen Saeki to be his friend so many years ago.

“Take it easy on us,” Saeki said, but his eyes were hard. He didn’t want an easy game, to win because Fuji was his lover and protective of him now.

Fuji quirked a small smile at him. If you think I’m going to let you win because we’re sharing a bed, you’ve got another thing coming.

As Fuji turned to take his place on his side of the court, he caught Ryoma’s intense expression and smiled at the freshman. Don’t worry, Ryoma. I’m not going to let anyone best me. Not yet.

The match began. Fuji heard a few comments from the sidelines about how his and Eiji’s combination looked terrible and he knew that was accurate. It did look terrible because the two of them could both cover a lot of ground. Eiji could get nearly any shot on the court, as could Fuji, but the two of them had practiced seamlessly so that they didn’t get in each other’s way and could use their own abilities to complement one another’s.

In another lifetime, Fuji would have considered being Eiji’s friend for real just for the graceful tennis that he played—even if it was showy. But Fuji wasn’t the nice man Kikumaru thought he was and that tore at him a little, the way he was forced to play at being friends. And then he caught the gleam in Saeki’s eye and his longing for normality faded.

The challenge Saeki presented was what he thrived on. And just as he thought that, Eiji was suddenly missing every ball hit his way even after a 3 game lead. Fuji’s eyes snapped open and he glared at his best friend turned lover as he tried to figure out what the hell Saeki had done to seal Kikumaru so effectively.

It took another couple of games before Eiji figured out what he could do in order to break the seal and Fuji’s eyes widened in astonishment as the redhead seemed to disappear in front of him. The motion was so unbelievably fast that he couldn’t see it and was surprised that Echizen admitted that he could as he explained to the team that Eiji had gone in the anticipated direction and then reversed direction with a quick succession of side-steps that defeated his own bad habit.

Fuji smirked as he took his spot on the other side of the court. Eiji’s momentum had confused Saeki so thoroughly that he’d lost his composure at the net. Fuji knew it wouldn’t last long, but he was enjoying that it had occurred at all. It meant that he had the upper hand in the match already, because he hadn’t lost his own. Mental fortitude was everything.

To cover for Eiji’s exhaustion, Fuji returned every shot from the other team, ignoring the comments from the spectators about the insanity of playing 2 vs 1. He didn’t care about that; he needed to cover for Eiji who had worked so hard to defeat the seal on himself that he’d lost all of his energy. It would only take 100 breaths for Eiji to regain his energy—they’d discussed it a lot during the week and agreed that if his stamina became an issue during the match that Fuji would cover for him.

Fed up with the momentum that Saeki had gained for Rokkaku by using the seal on Eiji, he prepared to use Tsubame Gaeshi. His eyes widened as he felt the ball connect to his racquet with no spin and recovered quickly when he saw that there was no roll on the other side of the court. So Saeki’s partner had a card up his sleeve.

Fuji hadn’t played against anyone who could hit a Sinker against Tsubame Gaeshi and suddenly his focus was on breaking the seal on his favorite triple counter instead of covering for Eiji, though the need to do that was still on the edge of his mind.

He took the challenge for what it was and rallied with Saeki’s partner in a small part of the court. He tried adding spin to the ball for Tsubame Gaeshi with his own racquet both horizontally and vertically, but both made his counter float so that it could be returned.

I need more spin, he thought and then glanced at the net. I wonder… And then he began to rally again, dropping the ball lower and lower until the return was forced to hit the top of the net. He smirked as he saw that his plan had worked and that spin had been added to the Sinker. That made it possible to hit Tsubame Gaeshi perfectly and he did so, confusing the Rokkaku players. When Saeki met his eyes, he smirked. It’s too soon for you to win against me.

It was a thought he normally reserved for Ryoma, but now that Saeki had entered into their lives, it was important that he knew exactly where he stood with them, on the court as well as off. And Fuji wasn’t about to let his lovers pass him up. Not yet. He might not take tennis that seriously, but he wasn’t going to let anyone take his joy away from him. Part of that joy came from watching his opponents lose and realize that they couldn’t surpass him.

So the comment Inui made from behind him about how only he could pull off such a god-like move of forcing an opponent to hit a return the way he wanted made him smile. Because even though he hid his sadism well in public, he didn’t hide his ability to manipulate players on the tennis court through the use of his intellect. There was no need for false modesty there.

Saeki’s eyes glinted. So the man had figured out the tell he had for the shots he used to force a cord ball as a return. But it was too late—the count was at 97 for Eiji’s recovery and the lob sent over the net gave him the necessary three seconds to regain his full stamina and smash the ball on the other side of the net for a win.

Fuji smiled. He hadn’t let Saeki win and he’d proven, yet again, how formidable of an opponent he was on the court. As he took his place outside the court, he squeezed Ryoma’s hand briefly. “Have fun,” he said. After all, it was his turn next.

“Che,” Ryoma said. “How am I supposed to have fun playing against a guy like that?” He nodded his head towards Aoi Kentarou, who was doing a handstand.

Fuji laughed. “Fair enough,” he said. “Win, then.”

Ryoma snorted. “Why would I lose?” Then he walked away to warm up.

Fuji shook his head. Ryoma would always be a stubborn egotistical brat. But that’s what made him fall in love with the man so he couldn’t complain. He shared a smile with Saeki across the court, who wasn’t holding a grudge against him for the loss. “This will be a fun match,” he said, mouthing the words to Saeki, who nodded in return.

Both of them wanted to see Ryoma play Aoi. Saeki because he wanted Aoi to win the first of the matches they needed to beat Seigaku, and Fuji because he felt it would be the first match that Ryoma would ever play where he could let go of all the responsibilities and obligations he felt towards tennis and have fun. And that was something worth watching.

Chapter 17     Chapter Index     Chapter 19

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