Fuji watched as people walked past his line of vision, one after another.

He had tried telling himself that it was normal for people to fall in love, and then push the other party away. In fact, it was so common that the term "commitment phobia" had been coined for it. He wondered though, whether those people who suffered from it actually felt more than they thought. To him, sometimes it felt like he thought about non-commitment to the point that it became how he felt.

The bruise on his face had been difficult to conceal that morning.

Fuji tenderly ghosted his fingers across the side of his face, and found himself resisting the urge to scream.

Smile, Fuji.

"Fuji…?" Oishi touched Fuji on his shoulder lightly, looking concerned. He had begun on his food, only to realise that Fuji wasn't eating at all.

"Ah…gomen, I'm just a little tired. I must not have gotten enough rest last night."

It wasn't technically a lie. He didn't get enough rest the night before, simply because he hadn't slept at all. It was rather hard to sleep these past few days, when someone insisted that he paid attention to him and responded to his every chest-beating call. It really was kind of ridiculous, now that Fuji seriously considered it. The other man had been sweet enough in the bar at first, but had turned out to be a wannabe-Dom.

He wondered why he always had the luck to get all the assholes.

Fuji knew that the chances of him meeting the same loser he had gone out with a couple of times, were exactly the same as any other possible occurrence. Yet, he had the misfortune to bump into him at the ice bar, where the drunk man punched him in front of the rest of the store's patrons.

"Fuji! If you were tired, you shouldn't have agreed to meet me for lunch!" Oishi's expression was a mixture of concern and guilt, as if he had somehow forced Fuji to forgo sleep the night before.

Fuji smiled lightly at him, "Oishi, it's not your fault in the least. And besides, I couldn't think of a better lunch partner."


When he wasn't fretting, Oishi was warm, pleasant company to be around. Yet as the conversation lapsed into a comfortable silence as they ate, Fuji's thoughts wandered towards their captain.

Tezuka was an interesting person to consider. There were few people who could captivate his attention as fully as the young tennis captain. He was beautiful, charismatic, intelligent and athletic. Everything that was basically a prerequisite for an idol was present in him, yet his mindset remained firmly fixed in the set ways of an adult. He strived for nothing less than perfection in his dream to reach pinnacle of tennis, yet the same proud fervour remained conspicuously absent when it came to social relationships.

Fuji had considered it many times before, and even then, the best conclusion that he could come to, was that Tezuka was simply far too self-sufficient. He was good enough and proud enough to stand alone, and it simply did not bother him whether the people around him followed his lead or left him to his own devices. There was nothing wrong in being so capable, just that it often made him appear proud and aloof to everyone else who was too daunted by his presence to make friends with him.

The younger Tezuka that stood up to the seniors and had his arm broken as a result, was simply too brilliant to merely shimmer amidst the dust. In his own way, Fuji knew that he shone as well, but the fake glimmer of his star orbited the same routes everyone else took and no one had realised that he merely reflected the light of everyone else around him.

He was a genius, but one that looked to others for inspiration. He was supposed to be of a higher thinking level than everyone else around him and yet left on his own, he revolved on the same spot because he could not provoke himself towards further improvement.

It was just too clear to him that every single step taken forward, was merely another step towards the end.

What's the point?

He felt unreal and artificial from time to time around the rest, but it was also their company, genuine and loving, that had allowed him space to breathe and get away from the dark thoughts that followed him wherever he went. It was a little like running from his own shadow. He could never escape it, but running into the light offered respite from its lengthening torment over the years.


"But Oshitari is certainly good enough to be a singles player, surely?"

"Mmm…yes, but he does make an interesting pairing with Mukahi-san too."

Fuji felt his mood sinking even as he continued to chat pleasantly with Oishi over trivialities.

As a tensai, he had the ability to organise his thoughts to work on different matters at the same time. Exacting different priorities upon different thought processes, he was able to cope with a wealth of information that rushed at him from every angle. But even then, he was powerless to block out the vague memories that insisted on pressing upon his mind despite his efforts.

He still couldn't remember what had happened then, but he could not forget it. Every time he looked at the cupboard, it gave him the shivers. He remembered screaming and crying, and sobbing so hard that he felt that his heart would give out, racking gasps of breath that shook his frail body. And no one would listen to him no matter how many times he had told them.

However, after they had sedated him with their drugs, he had remained comatose, barely awake in his self-willed slumber. He couldn't remember what had happened then either, only that he was aware of the people around him and that they were upset, but he refused to open his eyes for them again.

He remembered praying that he would never wake up again.

No one wanted to tell Fuji how long he had been gone, but it must have been a long period of time. Because when he awoke, he saw the grave visage of his father and his mother was absent. After much probing about the whereabouts of their mother, his sister had finally told him that their mother had passed away, and turned aside in her effort to only appear cheerful, not noticing the disbelief that overcame him.

Had it really been that long a period of time?

Fuji couldn't remember.


Oishi's concerned visage blinked at him, touching him lightly on the shoulder. Fuji was confused momentarily. Had they not been talking about the usual matches, and the schools they were coming up against? Had he lost track somehow…?

"Oishi…?"

"Fuji…is there something bothering you?"

Oishi wasn't the vice-captain for nothing, and Fuji Syuusuke was duly impressed by how he had managed to see through his cover. Apparently he had let his guard down far enough for the other boy to catch a glimpse of the sadness that lurked behind the ocean-blue eyes.

"Iya…it's nothing. I was just thinking about the matches that we'd be having soon. That's all."

Fuji Syuusuke closed his eyes and smiled lightly at his vice-captain.

When he sought to convince others of what he said, be it a subtle insinuation within words, or outright persuasion, it rarely failed to convert anyone into a believer of his honeyed lies. The irony was mildly amusing though. Everyone drank in his lies day after day, and yet no one ever heard the only true screams that tore themselves from his throat each night.


END CHAPTER 1