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~ A Prince of Tennis Fanfiction ~

mbsilvana@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Konomi Takeshi, manga-ka.

Note: O/K and T/F. This is the first of three, perhaps (To be called AGame, Set, Match") if I decide to write the other two - if not, it stands on its own. The O/K fic I've been promising for months... it got divided and developed a strong T/F subplot... darn Fuji.

Second Note: This was began WAY before Chapter 203 came out, so it's an AU now.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Kikumaru Eiji suddenly showed up to the tennis club right after the team had been knocked out at the Prefectural levels, declaring he wanted to join, Oishi Syuichirou had been a bit skeptical.

Summer training camp had just past, and all players were finally eligible for the infamous inter‑ranking matches. It was on the first day that Kikumaru showed up, dragging a friend along. Oishi couldn't remember what the other boy's name was, but he certainly recognized Kikumaru.

It would have been impossible not to know Kikumaru Eiji. Everyone in school did.

The red head was one of the most popular boys of their year, cheerful and energetic, and utterly irrepressible. He bounced around the school like a puppy, and within a week of starting, everyone was able to recognize him. He elicited smiles and constant offers of friendship, which he took in stride, but he also had the attention span of a gnat.

Oishi wasn't that surprised to see Kikumaru show up. The boy was notorious for switching clubs, and the tennis club was certainly the schools' pride and joy. Many people joined, hoping for a bit of reflected glory, only to drop out after finding out how hard the practices were.

He gave him three days.

Yamato‑buchou merely gave the two most recent prospective members the lecture about how it would be a week before they would touch a racquet, and they could have fun chasing balls. He wore a pleasant smile on his face, but Oishi was wagering that the captain was going to run them ragged. Well, he wasn't going to worry about it. He had a game to play.

***

He ended his first ranking match 3‑2, which was a pretty strong showing for a first year. He had the misfortune of being in C‑block against a second year regular who was going to be captain next year, and Tezuka Kunimitsu.

Tezuka was the one who won their block.


No one was surprised ‑ the team was hoping to advance to nationals next year, and Tezuka was going to be their ace. The game he played against Tezuka had been the most challenging. He had rarely played against his friend, and he suddenly was made aware of why everyone was so afraid of him.

It was like someone had drawn the wool from his eyes, and he saw Tezuka for what he was. Halfway through the game, he realized that he would never, no matter how much he trained, beat him. Tezuka had natural talent and practiced, but even more, he had the ability to completely control the game. Oishi played tennis; to Tezuka, it was a vocation.

Oishi completely fell apart after that, and lost the game 6‑0.

As he dried the sweat from his brow, a hand popped into his view, holding out a water bottle. "You're really good," a chipper voice told him. Blinking, he looked up, and saw Kikumaru. The other boy was dressed in the white and green gym outfit the school provided, while Oishi had been rewarded with a track suit from the tennis club after the summer training. "Take it," Kikumaru insisted, shaking the bottle insistently. "I bet you're dehydrated."

"Thanks," he said. The water was cool against his throat, and he guzzled it greedily before studying his benefactor. He had never been this close to the other boy, and was surprised to see the Kikumaru's eyes were a deep purple.

"I mean it, I mean, about you being good," Kikumaru said. "You're the best first year out there."

"I didn't beat Tezuka," Oishi replied a bit stiffly. He wondered exactly what Kikumaru was up to.

"He's a first year? I thought... sheesh, that guy is scary!"

Oishi frowned. He didn't always understand Tezuka, but he was the person Oishi respected most. He hated hearing people insult him. "Tezuka works hard to get as skilled as he is," Oishi said, defending his friend.

Kikumaru looked at him and started to laugh. "No, no... I mean his face! Does he ever smile?" Kikumaru pulled his lips into a wide grin, using his index fingers to make the comical face. "You should teach him!"

He was at an utter lost for words. Of course, it had crossed his mind that Tezuka wasn't that expressive, but the ridiculous suggestion made him burst out laughing.

Kikumaru grinned back at him. "That's better! You were looking really grim. I‑"

"Kikumaru‑kun! Go pick up the balls on B‑court!" Yamato‑buchou yelled.

Kikumaru gave him a guilty look. "I think he's annoyed. Bye!" he said, waving a hand over his shoulder as he darted away to his assigned task.

Oishi opened his mouth to thank Kikumaru again, but the boy had already scurried out of hearing range.


And that was the first time he ever spoke to Kikumaru Eiji.

****

Kikumaru had lasted a week, which was usually the "make or break" time. Oishi was surprised, but somehow the club seemed to have added life with Kikumaru bouncing around, chattering irreverently at the senpai, and always towing his friend, Fuji Syuusuke, in his wake. Though it was hard to think of Fuji being a follower - he wasn't following Kikumaru so much as... being amused by his antics constantly.

He was a strange one.

Fuji Syuusuke had joined with Kikumaru, and was something of an enigma. Oishi couldn't ever remember seeing him without a smile on his face. It creeped him out, just a bit. If Tezuka didn't smile enough, then Fuji smiled too much. Oishi didn't like it, especially with the way Fuji's eyes seemed to be almost perpetually closed as he wore that seemingly innocent look - but the alternative was worse. He could only ever remember seeing Fuji's eyes open once, and that had scared him even more.

It had been during a game when Tezuka had playing, of course. When Tezuka played, everyone stopped whatever they were doing to watch. His smooth movements drew the eye, and the others recognized that he was truly something exceptional. Oishi had only played against him a handful of times, but each time he became more and more aware of how far he had to go - and Tezuka was advancing out of his reach before he could do so.

Tezuka had been playing against a second‑year regular, Kuroi, in a practice match. The first game went to Tezuka, as did the second. Kuroi was fighting hard to keep his serve when Oishi heard Kikumaru's voice.

"Ne, come ON, Fuji!" he said. "We'll miss the match!"

Glancing over, he saw the vibrant boy dragging his more laid‑back friend behind him. Fuji wore his ever‑present smile, and was tolerantly ignoring the way his hyperactive friend was tugging on his arm. "Quiet, Eiji," Fuji advised when he noticed Oishi looking at them. "It's rude to be so loud."

Kikumaru blushed brightly, before coming to stand next to Oishi. "How's it going?" he asked. 

"Tezuka is winning."

"Of course he is - he's amazing!" Kikumaru said, scowling as though Oishi had just told him the sky was blue. "But by how much?"

"He's taken the first two games, and this one is currently 40‑30, his favor," Oishi said, watching as the volley continued. It was a drawn-out game, with each player showcasing amazing endurance. Oishi wondered if they would both last the next three games at this cruel pace.


"Fuji missed watching your game against him. I told him you were really good and Tezuka was unbelievable... I hope we can see you play again soon," Kikumaru said wistfully. He leaned forward and pressed his face against the fence, gripping it between his fingers.

It was strange to think Kikumaru was the same age as he was. There was such innocence about him. "We'll play soon," Oishi said. "You're allowed on the court next week."

"Really? That's great!!" Kikumaru said, bouncing up and down. "You hear that, Fu‑ woahhhh..." Kikumaru stopped mid‑word, and Oishi managed to pry his eyes away from Tezuka's game to see what had caught Kikumaru's attention.

Instead of standing there with the mild expression Oishi had been expecting, Fuji wore a look of intense interest - and his eyes were wide open. They were a stunning cerulean blue, a color that seemed almost unnatural.

And they were watching Tezuka in a fashion that recalled a cat with a mouse in its sight.

Oishi stared in a bit of fear. He hadn't considered thinking on what Fuji was like, but seeing him watch Tezuka made him.... worried.  He took a deep breath, and then laughed internally a bit at his whimsy. Tezuka was way, way ahead of any player his age. There was no way a new player who had just joined the club would be any cause for concern.

The trio watched as Tezuka took the game, and then had his turn to serve. He tossed the ball into the air, and their eyes were drawn to it as it went to Kuroi, who returned it.

"He's not playing seriously," Fuji murmured.

"Hmmm," Oishi murmured. Tezuka already had three games, but Kuroi had scored in all of them. The volley that was going back and forth, each of the players resembling a wall. Nothing was going through.                                                                                 

"He should have finished this match in ten minutes," Fuji said. "He's too kind."

Kind wasn't a word Oishi would have used to describe Tezuka. Considerate, would have been more accurate. "There's few people that will make Tezuka go all out," Oishi answered finally.

Fuji just continued to watch as Tezuka won the next two matches, bringing the game count to 5‑0. Suddenly his smile changed in an almost imperceptible way. "Ah, I see," he said. He put his hands in his shorts pockets and slouched down, seeming to be satisfied.

"What?" Kikumaru asked. He grabbed Fuji's sleeve and tugged. "What is it?"

"He's teaching," Fuji replied, nodding to the court. "Everything Kuroi does, Tezuka raises the level just a bit... and occasionally lets him score as a reward. Tezuka's interesting."

Oishi watched the final game play through, and he had to admit the likely truth of what Fuji had said. Tezuka was playing at a level just above Kuroi's... challenging the older player to go beyond his limits.


He had never noticed. Was Tezuka already taken his responsibility as the Pillar of Seigaku this seriously? Oishi had assumed it was a future thing, something to be done when the third years were gone and he became a senpai...

But Tezuka wasn't the type to wait.

"Game and set, won by Tezuka!" the referee called.

The entire club released a breath, but Oishi turned his eyes to Fuji, whose eyelids had drifted down.  His expression had returned to the mild, slightly-amused smile, but Oishi knew that there was more to the first year than that.

Fuji had recognized Tezuka's real skills - and something told Oishi that underneath the rather mild manner, a lion was waiting to spring.

*****

The next week, Kikumaru and Fuji joined the rest of the first years at stroke practices. Oishi found the practices boring, but recognized their use. It was amusing, though, how enthused Kikumaru was about it.

The boy bounced onto the court, holding a racquet which looked like it had been used, but also maintained well - a good sign. First years that came with new equipment almost always had no clue about the game.

Kikumaru rushed over to him, and Oishi blinked in surprise. "I can't wait!" he said enthusiastically. "It's going to be so much fun!"

Oishi remembered the thrill the first time his senpai had allowed him on the court and gave Kikumaru an indulgent smile. "It's a lot of work," he warned.

"I know how to work!" Kikumaru protested.

"I'm sure you do," Oishi said in placating way.

The freshmen began with one hundred strokes, and Oishi glanced at Kikumaru out of the corner of his eye.  He was holding his racquet well, which pleased Oishi. It seemed like Oishi's suspicions were right, and Kikumaru knew at least the fundamentals.

Which made him wonder - why had Kikumaru waited to join the club?

"Everyone, twenty laps!" the captain's voice said, cutting through Oishi's wondering. He blinked, wondering what had inspired Yamato‑buchou to suddenly declare they were to run. Yamato only gave extra laps as punishment, so something must have gone wrong somewhere.


The entire team groaned, and put their racquets aside. Oishi looked for Tezuka, who had been practicing with the other regulars. Unsurprisingly, Tezuka was at the front of pack, setting a brisk pace. He wore no expression, but Oishi noticed how he was carefully avoiding the others.

Ah, I see, Oishi realized. It was more tension from the upperclassman directed at the shining star among them. He felt a surge of sympathy for Tezuka, wondering how lonely it had to be for him.

But we're going to Nationals, Oishi told himself firmly. Tezuka will lead us there.

"Why's everyone mad at Tezuka?" a voice said from behind him. Oishi blinked, looking over. He hadn't realized it, but the other had fallen into step beside him, maintaining his rhythm easily.

"Because he's too good, and he made it onto the team over the senpai," Oishi answered honestly.

"Che. Are they crazy?" Kikumaru looked offended on Tezuka's behalf.

He felt himself smile. "I sometimes think they are. Tezuka's getting better every day. Can you imagine how good he'll be in a year?"

"He'll be... the strongest player our age," Kikumaru said after a moment, and his face paled a bit, despite his exertions.  "As long as I don't have to play him in a ranking match, I think it's good!"

Oishi smiled. He felt much the same himself. Tezuka was amazing, and watching him was a privilege, but running into him at a ranking match was... not desirable. If Oishi had been in a different block, he felt he might have actually made the regulars this time around.

"He looks... lonely," Kikumaru said. "Are you his only friend?"

Oishi was surprised. He had never thought of Tezuka being particularly lonely - they had each other. "He's my best friend, and we don't hang around many people. They're scared of him, and Tezuka doesn't do hanging out very well," he admitted. It was hard to image going over to Tezuka's house to play video games, or agreeing to watch a movie somewhere. Tezuka just wasn't into what most kids their age liked.

Kikumaru considered that for a moment before speaking again. "Would you like to get an ice cream?" he asked as they rounded the corner. "After practice?"

Oishi blinked, feeling a bit startled by the offer and unsure how to handle it. "Um... shouldn't you ask Fuji?"

"I'm asking you. I thought that if you only hung around Tezuka, you might be lonely," Kikumaru said.

Oishi had never considered himself particularly lonely, but he knew there were many Sundays when he just sat at home, since he had no one to do anything with, since he couldn't spend all his time with Tezuka. Oishi's inherent shyness made it difficult to make friends, and he would be an idiot to reject Kikumaru's offer.

"I'd like that," Oishi said.


As soon as they changed back into their school uniforms, Kikumaru shouldered his tennis bag. "I really, really like Bobson's Ice Cream," he said. His grin was suggestive as he nodded south. "I know it's a bit of a walk, but I figure the exercise keeps from adding the weight."

Oishi smiled shyly and agreed. It was odd to be concerned about weight, but tennis players had to keep in top condition.

Kikumaru was all over the street, and Oishi's head spun as his eyes tried to anticipate where the other boy would be - and almost always be wrong. Kikumaru would be gazing into a store window, helping an old lady, petting a stranger's dog... anything. He seemed to be constantly in motion. All the while, he kept up an active monologue, not seeming to require that much input from Oishi.

"Look! Isn't that the neatest flag? I haven't seen one like it, well, yes I have, but the colors weren't quite as bright... It reminds me a bit of my sister's eyes, though people say our eyes are the same color... people always tell me that my eyes are really unusual, but I'm not sure if  they're insulting me. I actually have really, really good eyesight, so I don't really pay them that much attention..."

Trying to follow Kikumaru's train of thought was easily as confusing as following his physical incarnation. Oishi was used to dealing with the quiet, introverted Tezuka, but Kikumaru was a whole new experience.

It was fascinating.

They arrived there much sooner than Oishi would have anticipated, simply because Kikumaru moved in amazing spurts, sometimes nearly running. He attracted scowls from more sedate pedestrians, but seemed oblivious to it.

"What kind of ice cream are you getting?" he asked breathlessly as they got in line.

"Red bean," Oishi said.

Kikumaru made a face. "That's not even sweet. Ice cream is supposed to be sweet!"

Oishi wasn't fond of overly sweet foods. "I like it," he said defensively.

The other boy was quiet for a second as he perused the long list. "I'm getting chocolate," he pronounced. "Ice cream should be chocolate."

Oishi watched in amusement as Kikumaru went up to the clerk as rattled off five flavors, all of them containing various amounts of chocolate. The girl smiled at him before turning to scoop out a large cone with five perfectly shaped scoops.

"Are you really going to eat all that?" Oishi asked with a bit of trepidation.

"Every single bite," Kikumaru returned with relish, biting into it before wincing a bit. "That's cold!"


Oishi couldn't contain another laugh. "It's ice cream," he said.

"I know! But... it's one of those things I don't really thing about. I just remember how sweet it is, and I forget about the cold, and my teeth are sensitive, so..."

Oishi took a large bite of his own (much smaller) cone to keep from laughing to hard. The way Kikumaru was babbling was just hysterical. It was like there was nothing between brain and mouth that censored his thoughts. "Why did you join the tennis team?" he asked, finally finding the chance.

"Because I like tennis?" Kikumaru asked, blinking at him curiously. "Isn't that why people usually join it?"

Oishi knew he had phrased himself poorly. "I mean, you belonged to a lot of clubs..."

Kikumaru looked a bit embarrassed. "I played tennis a lot when I was younger, so I wanted to try something different. I think I went through... volleyball, basketball, swimming, mystery club, photography, flower arranging..."

"Flower arranging?" Oishi echoed. The idea of Kikumaru learning such a delicate art almost set him off again.

"For one day. The girls were a bit too happy to have me there..." Kikumaru replied. "Anyway, I ended up in photography club with Fuji finally, and one day we got to talking about tennis and we decided to join. He's really good, Oishi-kun," Kikumaru said. "I played him once, and he had me running all over the court."

"You said you played..." Oishi asked. "When did you start?"

"I can't remember. We had a tennis court close to our house. My mother would kick me out of the house and tell me to go burn off some energy, and that's where I'd go."

Oishi felt sympathy for Kikumaru's mother, imagining how hyperactive he had been as a child. "Did you meet Fuji there?"

ANo, no... I didn't meet him till this year," Kikumaru said. "Though I know he won some tournaments."

Oishi raised an eyebrow. "He's pretty good, then. I wonder why he and Tezuka didn't know each other?"

"Nyah?" Kikumaru said curiously.

"If they were both playing on the tournament circle..."

"That's easy. Fuji just moved here from Chiba two months ago. He entered late." Kikumaru reached his cone after polishing off the five scoops.


"Oh..." Oishi said. That would explain why Fuji hadn't entered tennis club when it started. "I wonder why he went to photography club...."

"He takes really good pictures. Like, professional."

"Of what?"

"Everything. And when you see the picture... it's like you've never seen it before. It's that... something special you hear about when you hear about professional photographers. Fuji's that good."

Oishi finally finished his cone, and was a bit surprised that Kikumaru was just about done as well. "That was good. Should we get going, Kikumaru-kun?"

"Hoiiii..." Kikumaru said, springing to his feet. "Practice is early tomorrow. We should go home, get a good night's sleep. Let's GO!" He grabbed Oishi's hand and tugged him along in his wake, starting another steady stream of babbling that had Oishi nearly convulsed in laughter.