A/N: Strange things happen when I have Writer's Block.
Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis.
Warnings: SO DARK IT HURTS.
-Just imagine all the terrible things and assume they're in here, okay? Okay.
Of Dragons and Men
Fuji-sensei is a pretty person. "He's so sweet," the mothers will coo to each other, answering the man's kind smiles with their own coy ones. He is popular with the kids for more benign reasons: he's creative, he's compassionate, he's nice.
Six-year-old Ryoma thinks no differently from his peers upon his initial interactions with his kindergarten teacher. Fuji-sensei dotes on the new addition to his classroom, always sure to compliment the young boy's drawings upon their completion and breaking up fights when one of the other kids makes fun of Ryoma's American accent.
Fuji-sensei always waits for Ryoma's dad - his stupid father is always late - to pick him up and spends the time introducing Ryoma to the new plants in their classroom. He makes Ryoma a crown of paper daisies one night and Ryoma smiles appropriately for the first time since moving to Japan.
"Fuji-sensei is good with his hands," Momo-chan notes aloud sadly, hands twisted in the fabric of his sweater. A crown of dead leaves and white chrysanthemums dig into his flesh.
Ryoma says nothing but takes the daisies and plucks them of every single false petal.
Fuji-sensei has pinned Ryoma's calligraphy assignment up on the board with the proud message of having the nicest one of the lot. Ryoma does not smile but he's smug all throughout the day, ignoring Satoshi-kun's complaints and fending off the attentions of Kentarou-kun.
During their playtime he takes his paints and practices alone in the corner, attempting the formal kanji of Fuji-sensei's name. If it's pretty enough he can give it to his teacher as a present.
Kaoru-chan watches silently, a snake plush clutched to his chest. He heaves a dry hiss and blood dribbles out.
Ryoma smears red paint across Fuji-sensei's name and crumples his artwork up.
Ryoma is counting the number of kittens in his picture book with due diligence, expression concentrated. He is the only one finished by the time Fuji-sensei asks for the answer and receives a pat to the head and warm smile for his effort.
His father is late again to pick him up so Fuji-sensei sets Ryoma in his lap and they read together, counting kittens and ducklings and bees, narrating the adventures of knights and pirates. Fuji-sensei huffs a laugh when Ryoma announces he'd rather be a dragon because they're bigger and stronger than knights, even though Fuji-sensei points out knights get the princess in the end. Ryoma's disgusted scowl makes obvious what the boy thinks of that.
Sadaharu-kun adjusts his glasses, fingers trailing from square rims to scrape against the bruises around his throat. "Dragons aren't real," he says plaintively, no inflection, words as colorless as his skin. "It's all just make-believe."
Ryoma picks out a book on automobiles next.
His katakana is sharp, nothing but harsh, foreign angles that spell out his given name. He is printing it over and over again for practice, a page scrawled over with 'Ryoma Ryoma Ryoma' in stark black against white. Sakuno-chan has interspersed her own work with flowers and hearts, smiling at him shyly when he glances over.
Satoshi-kun gets jealous and start boasting about having two years of writing experience but it just dissolves into flustered mutters when Fuji-sensei moves closer to check over their table.
He compliments Sakuno-chan's flowers and Satoshi-kun's neat (but short) work. When smiling eyes turn on Ryoma's page, the man chuckles and ruffles the boy's hair.
"No pictures, Ryoma-chan?" Fuji-sensei asks kindly.
Ryoma shrugs and picks up a red-colored pencil, jotting down a mangled image resembling a cat with happy blue eyes.
Eiji-kun laughs from over his shoulder, one hand on Ryoma's paper and obscuring most of the words. Amidst the endless litany of 'Ryoma Ryoma Ryoma', between his index and middle finger, is 'Eiji'.
"Needs more red, nya," Eiji-kun giggles.
Ryoma comes in from playtime smudged with dirt and with leaves in his hair. Fuji-sensei clucks but takes it with good-humor, toweling off what he can as Saeki-sensei watches over the rest of the kids stomping inside.
"And what happened outside, Ryoma-chan?" Fuji-sensei asks, applying ointment to a scrape. Ryoma sits quietly and patiently, tiny face pinched to fight back tears.
"Nothing," Ryoma bites out. His voice wavers.
Fuji-sensei kisses his scrape and hands him a lollipop. "You're very tough, ne, Ryoma-chan?" he asks genially, carding fingers through the boy's hair.
Takashi-kun watches on sadly, one brown eye swollen shut and blood blooming across his chest.
"I wish you'd cry," he says with wet, rattled breath.
Ryoma starts to bawl.
Ryoma eyes the cereal box balefully, upset that once again his favorite brand is out of reach. The grocery mart is only mildly populated this early in the day and the aisle he's in is empty save for himself and the breakfast foods.
Ryoma turns, golden eyes guarded despite - or because of - the pout on his lips. Fuji-sensei looks from him to the cereal, amused.
"Where are your parents, Ryoma-chan?" Fuji-sensei asks, reaching for the cereal box and handing it to the boy.
Ryoma takes it with a mutter of gratitude, suddenly bashful. He holds the brightly-colored box like a shield in front of his chest, glancing up into Fuji-sensei's pretty blue eyes to the army of hot cereal brands behind him.
"She shouldn't have gone so far," Syuuichirou-kun points out nervously, hands twisting together. His eyes look up and down the aisle as if trying to will Ryoma's mother to appear. He's soaked from head to toe, dripping onto the pristine tile flooring. "It's dangerous when you're out of sight!"
Ryoma doesn't react as the water reaches his feet, smelling like summer and rot.
His neighborhood is quiet but peaceful one early Sunday morning. Ryoma has begged Ryoga to take him to the park today but the older boy only waves him off irritably, yelling into his headset at an invisible friend as he plays his newest video game. Ryoma gives up when more blood is splattered onto the screen.
He remembers the way to the park anyway; it is only a few blocks from his house and no matter how much his mother coos, he's a big boy now. He can walk to the park by himself.
Ryoma doesn't made it to the park, though. Only two blocks from his house has him bumping into a smiling face and gentle hands.
"Ryoma-chan? Where are you going, all alone?" Fuji-sensei asks, equal parts curious and concerned.
Ryoma stares up at him evenly, "The park."
"Saa..." Fuji-sensei glances around. No one. "Do you want a ride?"
Fuji-sensei motions to his car. Ryoma wants to say 'no' but the man is already pushing him towards the car, opening the door and helping him inside. There is a booster seat in the back but it doesn't look anything like the one in his parents' car and the straps are almost suffocatingly tight when Fuji has buckled them into place. The man flips the child-lock on and smiles at Ryoma reassuringly, closing the door.
"You shouldn't have let your guard down," Kunimitsu-kun whispers to him, leaned against the smaller boy's side. His left arm is twisted and spilling blood onto the interior.
Ryoma says nothing. Fuji-sensei starts the car and begins to drive; past the park, the daycare, the grocery mart and the houses. Through a tunnel, an underpass, past offices and apartments and people that could help.
Ryoma watches Fuji-sensei's expression in the mirror. The teacher is maintaining his smile but it is different from the one that greets him every day in school. Ryoma can't - won't, Eiji-kun cackles - place why.
"These straps are too tight."
It's what Ryoma wants to say but it comes out of Momo-chan's lips. The boy kicks the back of the driver's seat petulantly, flower crown wilting.
"Where are we going?"
Kaoru-chan is tense and hissing, tugging off his bandana and eyeing the window.
"I don't recognize any of this."
Sadaharu-kun is looking out the window. A green notebook slides out of his sweaty hands and falls to the floor.
"I want my mommy!"
Eiji-kun is sniffling, tears pooling in the corners of his wide blue eyes. He uses one hand to wipe them away.
"I want to go home now."
Takashi-kun is ducking his head and refusing to make eye contact. He is pale and looks sick, hands working at the buckles tying him down futilely.
"Why did you bring me here?"
Syuuichirou-kun has his eyebrows creased together in an apparent sign of worry, panic having long settled in.
"I don't want to die."
Kunimitsu-kun sits still and proper, eyes looking unwaveringly ahead.
The car comes to a stop as the sky is blazing into the orange of a sunset in spring. Fuji-sensei reclines languidly in his seat with a heavy sigh, blue eyes half open to watch the sky burn.
Ryoma tugs at the straps. He follows them down and to the side with a keen touch, trying to find where the man has fastened them into place. It is a pointless and fruitless gesture. Momo-chan peers down from the hood of the car through the window with a wide grin, tapping on the glass playfully.
"Isn't the sky lovely?" Fuji-sensei asks.
Ryoma doesn't reply.
"I hate sunsets," Takashi-kun confides quietly.
Eiji-kun claps his hands giddily. The tattered flesh of his chest heaves and organs smash together with a wet slap. "I think it's pretty, nya!"
When at last the sun has set, Fuji-sensei gets out and comes around to Ryoma's side. Unstrapping the boy, he pulls him out with ease and carries him forward. They are in the forests Ryoma would sometimes go with his family, only this dirt path is unfamiliar and laced in shadows.
The padding of a quiet stampede follows them, Kunimitsu-kun easily keeping step with the teacher.
"Remember the story about the knight?" Fuji-sensei asks. "This is going to be like that. Only I want to be the dragon this time."
Ryoma knows he should kick, claw, bite; anything so that this man would let him go. But he has followed Fuji-sensei's directions for almost a whole year, was used to kind words and gentle hands, was eager to play. The rule of authority is one that restrains his instincts, familiarity and past experiences shaping his inaction.
Kaoru-kun nearly stumbles and spits blood onto the dirt.
"So I'm the knight?" Ryoma asks.
Fuji-sensei laughs. "You're the princess," the teacher teases cheerfully.
Syuuichirou-kun chokes back a sob, "Being his princess is the worst!"
"Some princesses don't get knights," Eiji-kun nods, facing the advancing pair while walking backwards. Ryoma can see his heart through the mess of his chest but can't tell if it's beating. "Sometimes they only get eaten by dragons."
Ryoma curls into Fuji-sensei's chest, heartbeat rapid. There is ash in his mouth.
"I don't like dragons," he whispers into his teacher's ear.
Fuji-sensei smiles, "I do."
Ryoma runs brittle fingers through Fuji-sensei's soft chestnut hair, pausing briefly when the man rolls over in his sleep. Leaning over his bedside, the child watches with wide eyes before choking out a cough of ash and smoke. Kunimitsu-kun reaches forward to brush some debris off Fuji-sensei's bedcovers silently, blood dripping from his mangled appendage to stain white sheets.
"Should we play a game?" Sadaharu-kun asks the room at large, voice uneven as he pulls bruised organs into use. Takashi-kun and Syuuichirou-kun perk up at the prospect, Kaoru-chan hissing in assent next to the bespectacled boy.
Eiji-kun winds one arm around Ryoma's shoulders, soot and burnt flesh dusting to the floor. "Ochibi-chan should choose because he's the youngest!" he declares.
Momo-chan is grinning from his rumpled position on the floorboards. "That's only fair, it really is!"
Ryoma tries to remember a time before his flesh was charred black as no one acknowledges the trail of ashes he leaves with every step. He rakes small hands across burnt cheeks and feels dead skin break off, replaced soon after by the fresh, soft skin he favors.
"Hide-and-seek?" Ryoma offers, soft lips pulling into a smirk. There are several cries of joy in answer. The edges of his pink skin began to sizzle and burn, unheeded.
Fuji sits bolt upright, flicking on his lamp with cool blue eyes assessing his apartment. Empty and clean, as it always is. He waits a heartbeat, two heartbeats, three - nothing unusual. Taking in a shaky breath, he rests his face against his drawn-up knees and tries to block out the silence.
One soft hand and one as grating as dead leaves cups his cheeks, a small voice murmuring into his ear that smells of firewood, secrets, and longing.
"Mada mada dane, sensei. You're It."
A/N: It was either Tezuka or Fuji, but Fuji "won" because Fuji.
-Basic Gist: Fuji is a serial killer of children, the rest of the Seigaku regulars are his victims, Ryoma can see ghosts but still ends up joining them. Now they just haunt Fuji, who doesn't actually hear or see them with any real clarity but does get general impressions at times.
Anyway, kindly drop a review.