Chapter 13

The day Seigaku was supposed to face Rikkaidai, it was raining. Fuji frowned up at the sky, disappointed. He’d been looking forward to playing, but by the way the sky was darkening, it was almost a guarantee that the match would be postponed.

And the rain had come out of nowhere. When they’d left Seigaku, the sun had been shining and the weather had seemed perfect for a match. But by the time they got to the courts, it was pouring.

“Damn it, I’m all psyched up. Why does it have to rain?” Momo whined, standing up and swinging his racquet around. Unlike the others, who were content to nurse their annoyance as they sat around the picnic tables, Momo was too physical a person to stay still.

“The sky won’t clear up even if you get mad,” Ryoma said, popping the top off of a Fanta before taking a swig.

“What was that?” Momo half-snarled, turning around to glare at Echizen.

Fuji had to swallow a laugh. He knew his lover had to be itching to play just as badly as Momo was, but he was doing a much better job of keeping his excess energy contained. At one point in time, he might have chalked it up to Ryoma wanting to keep Fuji from getting annoyed, but he knew Ryoma too well by now to give himself that much credit. Ryoma had his own form of dignity and wasn’t likely to act childishly over something he couldn’t control.

Once he realized that Ryoma had no intention of replying, Fuji smoothly interjected himself into the conversation so that an argument wouldn’t break out. “Echizen is right,” he said. “The match won’t start even if you’re annoyed.”

“I can’t calm down,” Eiji said, half-lying on the table. Almost every member of the team was doing something to try and relieve the tension caused by not knowing whether the match was going to be postponed or not.

Fuji and Ryoma were the only ones who seemed to have some semblance of calm. Fuji knew that it was just a front for Ryoma, but he wasn’t about to say that in front of his teammates. And while he was disappointed they probably wouldn’t be playing, he wouldn’t mind the opportunity to have some extra time to practice before such an important match.

“How are you doing?” someone called.

Fuji turned around with the rest of the team to see Tachibana Anna and Kamio Akira.

“What are you doing here?” Momo asked. “Did you come to cheer us on?”

“No, you idiot,” Kamio said. “We’re here to gather information on Rikkaidai. We have to pay them back for what they did to us at the semi-finals.”

“That’s why I wanted to record the match and show it to my brother,” Ann said. “But it looks like the match is going to be postponed.”

Fuji stood up. “How is he doing?” he asked. After seeing what Kirihara had put the Fudomine captain through, he wasn’t sure how long it would take for him to recover.

Ann hesitated.

“What’s wrong?” Kawamura asked, attention focused on Kaidoh.

That turned the rest of Seigaku’s attention to Kaidoh, whose eyes were focused on three members wearing the Rikkaidai uniform. Fuji recognized Kirihara immediately and his hands tightened into fists at his side before he forced them to relax. He might not like what Kirihara had done to Fudomine’s captain, but he had to admit that Kirihara had more presence than he liked.

Normally, Fuji went after people who had hurt him or his friends. Kirihara was different, because he’d gone after someone who Fuji didn’t even know. But Sora had asked that he break the Rikkaidai player in return for the favor she’d done by issuing an open-ended hands-off for Ryoma.

But that wasn’t what struck Fuji the most about Kirihara. It was the first time he’d assessed the Rikkaidai player as a potential target and for a split second, he wondered if he had the ability to break the man. Because Kirihara’s eyes were full of self-knowledge, self-hatred, and just a touch of insanity.

The first two emotions were familiar to Fuji, as he felt them every day. But that touch of insanity was what worried him. What had caused that slightly crazed, haunted look in Kirihara’s eyes? Fuji frowned. He’d need to find that out if he was going to break this man, because there was a secret buried there.

“Kirihara Akaya,” Oishi said. “He’s the one who caused Tachibana’s injury.”

“Aa,” Fuji said, pulling his attention back to the people standing in front of him. He would have time for contemplation later.

While the other two members of Rikkaidai left, Kirihara made his way towards Seigaku. “Fuji Syuusuke,” he said. “You’re Seigaku’s ace with Tezuka-san gone. I hope you’ll make our game slightly interesting.”

“What was that, you bastard?” Momo yelled, trying to force his way past Fuji, who held out an arm to hold him back. “Fuji-senpai!”

Fuji kept himself from rolling his eyes, but it was a hard battle. Didn’t Momo realize that giving into taunts like that was a sure way to lose an argument before it had even started? At least Ryoma was doing the right thing by observing, rather than trying to rush to his rescue. That was something Fuji knew he could always count on.

“I don’t know if we’ll be playing today,” Fuji said, choosing his words carefully, “but let’s have a good match.” He didn’t miss the way Kirihara’s eyes narrowed. So the rumors had been circulating and the man had caught the undercurrent of threat in his tone. Good. This was starting to look like a more enjoyable challenge by the second.

Kirihara smirked and turned his attention to Fudomine. “Are you guys here to ask Seigaku to get your revenge?”

“We still have Nationals,” Kamio said. “It won’t go the way it did last time.”

“I can’t wait,” Kirihara said. “I’ll be disappointed if you give me another screwed game.”

“Screwed game?” Ann asked, leaping forward to attack Kirihara. Kamio held her back. Fuji found that a wise move. Kirihara wasn’t the type to keep himself in check just because a girl had been the one to attack him.

“The fact that he got injured during the game is proof that it was screwed,” Kirihara said.

“You’re the one who caused him the injury!” Ann yelled. “It’s your fault that my brother’s in the hospital.”

“Hmph.” Kirihara spoke with contempt, “Now not only does Seigaku have a captain who had to retire, but so does Fudomine. Tachibana-san and Tezuka-san must have been practicing way too lightly.”

Fuji’s eyes shot open at the insult to Tezuka, but he forced himself to stay calm. Kirihara didn’t know anything about Tezuka. To get angry at him because he was good at playing word games would be falling straight into his trap. And Fuji wasn’t that easy to school.

“What did you say, you bastard!?” Momo lunged forward, but Oishi got his hands around the power player’s waist in time to keep him from touching Kirihara.

“Momo, calm down!” Oishi said, struggling with his teammate.

“Let me go!” Momo said.

“An injury during a match is a person’s own fault,” Kirihara said, causing Momo’s ire to rise. “He must not have been properly prepared.”

Oishi continued to struggle to hold Momo back. Fuji was both annoyed and touched that Momo was so willing to leap to the defense of his teammates. While it was good to have a lot of passion, it was also good to know where your limits were. And there was no way that Momo could have taken Kirihara in a fight. For that matter, Fuji wasn’t sure he could take him either, if it came down to that. Saeki might have a chance, though. He gave himself a mental shake. He didn’t have time to be thinking about Saeki right now.

“I’d like to have a real match with you,” Kirihara said, attention fixated on Fuji.

“Aa,” Fuji said. “Same here.” The two of them held eye contact, neither one willing to break it first. It had been a long time since anyone could meet Fuji’s eyes without flinching or giving in.

“But the victory will be Rikkaidai’s anyway,” Kirihara said.

“I wonder. We won’t know until we play,” Fuji said, letting the threat back into his voice. He knew what Kirihara was playing at and he wasn’t going to let the man leave without understanding that he’d walked into a viper’s nest on his own accord.

Sanada was the one who ended up breaking the staring contest between the two, as he came back to fetch Kirihara.

Fuji observed the interaction between the two, filing it away as information that could be useful later. And speaking of information—Gabriel had left him a package this morning, but he hadn’t had time to grab it before he’d headed towards Seigaku. When he got home, maybe he could find an answer to why the Rikkaidai player seemed half-crazed.

But as he walked off the court, he realized he was humming under his breath. Kirihara was worth breaking. He was strong enough to make it interesting and Fuji hadn’t realized, until he’d come face to face with a man aware of his intention to destroy him, just how much fun the games he played with people could be. And if that pleasure was edged with a hint of unease, that was okay. Because here was a chance for him to take pleasure in his work, something he hadn’t been able to do in a long, long time.

Chapter 12     Chapter Index     Chapter 14

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