Notes: Sae's chapter.


II. Supplant

You can barely remember the time when the Fuji family didn't live two doors down from your house, which isn't surprising, since they moved in when you were four. You don't really remember much about the first time they introduced Shuusuke to you--when you try, it's like trying to remember a dream, snatches of images that are fuzzy around the edges and don't mean anything, although they feel like they should. The memory of Yuuta turning old enough to tag along with you and Shuusuke is only a little clearer. Even though you know that they haven't always been a part of your life, you think of the two of them as constants.

That's why you were astonished when they announced that they were moving, in the fall of your sixth-grade year.

Shuusuke seemed pretty calm about the whole thing, even though you knew he couldn't possibly be that unruffled, but Yuuta--Yuuta looked as devastated as you felt. These were your friends. They weren't allowed to leave.

But they did.

You watched them go, the car pulling out into the street after the moving van, and driving away. Shuusuke looked back once, and waved, and then settled into his seat, looking forward.

You could see Yuuta's face, pressed against the window and looking back, until the car turned the corner and disappeared from sight.

You think that he probably looked back, all the way to Tokyo.

Both of them sent emails--frequent emails. Shuusuke talked about Seigaku, and tennis, and classes, and the friends he was making in Tokyo, and you tried not to be jealous when the flow of his emails slowed to a trickle.

Yuuta's emails didn't slow at all, and showed up with the regularity of clockwork, talking about home--not Tokyo, but Chiba, asking you about the news, what was happening with your mutual friends and how you liked it at Rokkaku. When he talked about Tokyo--if he talked about Tokyo--it was about how much he hated it, and how much he hated Shinno. You did what you could to cheer him up, but there's only so much a letter can do, and you wished, more than once, that he could just come back home where he belonged.

And you wished for that so hard that you weren't surprised the afternoon you heard scuffling at your window, and turned around just in time to see Yuuta hauling himself over the windowsill, and announcing that he was going to stay with you for a while. You just took it as a sign that some friendly kami had overheard what you'd been wishing for, and decided to lend a hand.

You knew that you shouldn't, but when he begged you not to tell, you didn't, and you kept him hidden for two whole days--stressful days, yes, but fun, too, filled with whispered secrets and plans after dark, and it was almost worth being grounded for months after Yumiko-nee came and took him back home again just because you'd liked having him around so much.

That was when you realized that, despite the fact that he was in Tokyo now and you'd thought it was Shuusuke anyway, Yuuta was your best friend.

You didn't hear much from him for the next few months, because he was every bit as grounded as you were. When they finally let him back on the computer, his emails changed. He'd stopped complaining about his school--still Shinno, when you'd hoped they'd at least get him to a different school, maybe one where it wasn't the school sport to pick on the new kid--and he stopped being wistfully hopeful about coming to Rokkaku Chuu for junior high. You checked with Shuusuke, in a reply to one of his rare emails, and found out that Rokkaku had already received the parental veto, which you thought was stupid.

And when you wrangled permission to go visit Shuusuke and Yuuta for a weekend, you saw that it wasn't just Yuuta's emails that had changed.

He'd always been cranky, but now the scowl he wore seemed to be permanent--and you weren't sure where his new independent streak had come from, although you had a few guesses. Strangest of all the changes, though, was the way he snapped and growled at Shuusuke--Yuuta, who'd always looked up to his big brother with starry eyes.

It was weird, and you were worried, right up until you startled him into laughing, and you saw that he was still the same underneath the perma-scowl, and by the time the weekend was over, you'd figured out how to mediate between the two of them so that they were getting along, almost like old times.

When you heard he was going to Seigaku, you weren't surprised, and you hoped it'd be better than Shinno.

When you learned that he hadn't joined Seigaku's tennis club, you were.

When he told you that he was playing at a tennis school, that made you feel better--right up until he told you that his goal was to defeat Shuusuke. You didn't like the way he said defeat.

To defeat Aniki? you asked him, a little baffled. You never wanted to do that before. Just beating Shuusuke was something else entirely.

Things changed, he told you, cryptic.

But he wouldn't elaborate, not even when you asked, and that left you to worry, which you never used to do.

You heard about Mizuki Hajime for the first time when Kisarazu Atsushi announced that he was giving up his spot on Rokkaku's team, and transferring to a new school--St. Rudolph, which you'd never actually heard of, but was doing really well for a school that wasn't quite five years old yet. Atsushi transferred, and you found yourself telling Ryou that it wasn't any reflection on him that Atsushi had decided to leave Rokkaku--brothers were forever, you told him, and it wasn't like Atsushi was rejecting him.

Funny, that you found yourself giving Shuusuke the exact same speech just a few weeks later, although it wasn't without a little guilt, because damn. You weren't sure that it this wasn't Yuuta's way of rejecting Shuusuke.

You thought it was a little weird, that you heard the news from Shuusuke first--but he called, just a little panicky, and Yuuta's email came a couple of days later, cheerful (for him) and excited, and totally glossing over the storm that his decision had caused at home.

And there was a lot of enthusiasm for "Mizuki-san".

That was when you started to be seriously curious about Mizuki.

The tenor of Yuuta's emails definitely changed with the new semester, and they were full of comments about his training and his new school, about life in the dorms and interspersed with plenty of Mizuki-senpai-said-this and Mizuki-senpai-suggested-that. Maybe it wasn't as bad as when Shuusuke's emails had slowed to a trickle, but it felt worse, so you took another weekend trip to Tokyo, just to check things out.

St. Rudolph had all the advantages of being a new school, and you made appropriate noises as Yuuta showed you around. You passed a few minutes with Atsushi, who seemed to be doing very well for himself, although you weren't too sure about the new hairstyle, and finally--finally--you got to meet the fabled Mizuki.

It wasn't exactly hate at first sight.

You were disposed to try to like Mizuki, if only because Yuuta had a lot of respect for him, but there was also the fact that Mizuki had poached one of your teammates to deal with, and the fact that the look on Yuuta's face when he looked at Mizuki didn't really match what you saw looking back from Mizuki's eyes.

And you didn't like the way Mizuki's eyes floated over you, making no attempt to disguise the fact that he was assessing you, cataloging you, and then filing away, or maybe just dismissing, what he'd found.

And there was the fact that you were pretty damn jealous.

When you boarded the train home, you found yourself wishing, once again, that Yuuta had just been able to come to Rokkaku.

When the year changed, Ojii made you vice-captain of the team, which brought a fair number of new responsibilities with it and kept you busy, although not too busy to get out to Tokyo pretty regularly to see Yuuta and Shuusuke; for some reason, neither of them made as many trips out to Chiba to visit you.

Sometimes you wondered if you were trying too hard to hold on to something that wasn't there anymore, but as long as showing up made Yuuta break out in a rare grin, and you and Shuusuke still found things to talk about, you knew you'd keep going back.

The thing about being vice-captain, though, was that it put you in a place to speak up when St. Rudolph's coach contacted Ojii about setting up a practice match. Ojii, insofar as it was possible to tell, wasn't inclined to accept the invitation--maybe he didn't like losing one of his players, either--but you wanted to get the measure of St. Rudolph.

More precisely, you wanted to get the measure of how Yuuta fit in with his team, and your vote was enough to sway Ojii into accepting the match.

The verdict, as you stared across the net at Yuuta, who'd just beat you pretty thoroughly, was that maybe Yuuta fit in with his team a little too well.

And Mizuki's smile, glittering and insincere as he congratulated Yuuta on his win, held too much triumph in it when he glanced at you.

I've won, it said. He's mine.

But you'd known that since Yuuta had stopped talking about Chiba, and started talking about St. Rudolph.