Chapter 22

Fuji parted ways with Saeki when they arrived at the court. They might be lovers, but they were also rivals. Each of them intended to root for their own teammates.
At least Fuji he didn’t have to deal with cheering for the person one of his lovers was playing against. That amusement faded quickly. Saeki was able to compartmentalize. It wouldn’t affect him at all.

Fuji met up with Eiji and Oishi near the water fountain. “Is Echizen here yet?” he asked.

Oishi’s brow furrowed, lips pursed in annoyance. “No one has seen him.”

“The match starts in fifteen minutes,” Fuji said.

“It’s just like that brat to run off at a time like this,” Kaidoh said as he walked up, Momo and Kawamura on his heels.

“Where’s Echizen?” Momo asked, his gaze darting around the court.

“Saa.” Fuji’s mood was beginning to sour. Ryoma knew how much he hated tardiness. He didn’t appreciate this latest push against the boundaries he’d set.

Coach Ryuzaki was the next to show up. “I found him,” she said, leaning over to catch her breath. That she was winded spoke of how frantically she’d been searching the court.

“Where is he?” Fuji asked, unable to keep from clenching his hands into fists.

“He’s asleep beside Court D,” Coach Ryuzaki said. “Kentarou is there, too.”

Eiji laughed. “Nya, Ochibi got so excited he had to play with Kentarou last night.” He bounced lightly on his feet, his eyes glittering with amusement.

Fuji plastered the biggest smile he could on his face. Inside, he was raging. He’d told Ryoma to go home and focus on the match, not come out and play it beforehand. “So let’s go wake them up,” he said. “They still have to play today, even if they had an unofficial match last night.”

“Of course,” Oishi said. He lead the way over to Court D and the regulars all stopped to stare at the sight in front of them. Echizen and Kentarou were sprawled out next to one another on the grass, sleeping soundly.

Momo was the one who went to shake Echizen awake. Fuji knew better than to wake Ryoma up. With the mood he was in, there was no guarantee he’d be able to be gentle. And any rough treatment of their star freshman from their gentle tensai was sure to bring about questions Fuji didn’t want to answer.

He settled for making his expression unreadable when Ryoma looked his way. It would be hint enough to his lover that he’d done something that warranted punishment.

Ryoma’s color drained as he rushed to wash his face.

Fuji smiled grimly. We’ll see how well he plays knowing I’m upset with him. He was partly disgusted with himself for thinking that, but he pushed that disgust ruthlessly aside. Ryoma was the one who’d messed up, not him.

The match started again in earnest and Fuji’s irritation melted slowly as he watched Ryoma get emotionally invested in the game. He’d never seen Ryoma so passionate in a game before, except for the few minutes they’d played against one another.

To see Ryoma smile like that, so carefree despite the overwhelming obligation he felt to his father, was inspiring. It made Fuji itch to pick up a racquet himself and play for the sheer joy of it. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d played for the sake of the sport itself, instead of to win. All of his games lately had been to get Seigaku to the Nationals. That was the most important goal he had.

But tennis wasn’t about winning. Not really. It was something Fuji was innately good at, that he intuitively understood. But he still honed his technical skills through practice, still learned techniques that took a great deal of stamina and hard work. Talent was a gift, certainly, but it could also be a burden.

Watching Ryoma play full-out against Kentarou, neither of them willing to budge, brought that home to Fuji. Here was someone who understood what it was like to play with the pressure of innate talent. Like him, Ryoma didn’t expect his talent to be the end-all, be-all of his life. He took advantage of its existence but didn’t take it as a given.

Finding joy in the expression of the sport was a miracle in and of itself for people like them. The burden of being talented was greater than those who weren’t could ever understand. Because people had expectations you felt obligated to meet, even if they weren’t ones you held of yourself.

And that was the other reason Ryoma had attracted Fuji’s eye. Not only because of his ability to handle pain without complaint or anger, but his ability to withstand the pressure of expectations others placed on his shoulders. That was the common link between them and it made Fuji’s head spin. No wonder he’d fallen so hard for this freshman.

Ryoma was able to understand a part of him that Fuji wasn’t sure he’d even completely come to terms with. Tennis was one of his two great passions and Ryoma brought that out in him. Fuji smiled. Maybe this once, he would forgive Ryoma for his mistake.

After all, his decision to play a match against Kentarou had brought Ryoma to the path Fuji had been nudging him toward. And that path was the acceptance of his love for tennis. A passion that Fuji and the rest of the regulars at Seigaku saw on a daily basis, one that Ryoma wasn’t able to see in his own tennis before today.

Fuji smiled. Yeah, he’d let it slide for today. There were better things to do on a winning day like today than punish his lover for following his own passion for tennis.

Chapter 21     Chapter Index

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