Title: Tall Tales and Territoriality
Mizuki, Yuuta, and their teammates
Fuji Yuuta might just be the most baffling creature Mizuki Hajime has ever known.
High school fic, focusing on Yuuta's assorted weirdnesses and Mizuki's deep-seated denial complex. The concept of St. Christopher borrowed from branchandroot. 5513 words, PG, and fluffy.

Tall Tales and Territoriality

When he looked back on it, Hajime could trace the beginning of it to the afternoon he came upon Yuuta speaking with one of the girls in his class. She was looking up at him from beneath her lashes, and if Yuuta had even realized that the silly creature was flirting with him, he gave no sign of it. "Oh, the scar?" Yuuta rubbed the back of his neck and grinned. "Yeah, I got it doing something really stupid. See, when I was little, there was this girl who lived next door, and she had this cat. She just loved it to death, you know? Anyway, one day it got outside, and did that thing cats do and climbed the first tree it saw. So Sakura-chan saw that and just went crazy that her poor cat was stuck up that tree, and I decided I'd be the hero and go save it."

Yuuta's classmate was hanging on to his every word, eyes shining. "What happened?"

Yuuta's answering shrug was elaborate. "I fell out of the tree after Fluffy clawed the hell out of me. Damn cat came down once she got hungry, and Sakura-chan wouldn't talk to me for a month."

"How awful, when you were only trying to help." She was looking deeply sympathetic. "Did it hurt very much?"

"Naw, only my pride."

Hajime revised his opinion about whether Yuuta knew the girl was flirting with him, since he was clearly flirting back. In any case, Yuuta would have to continue it later. "Yuuta-kun," he said, crisp, "may I borrow you for a moment? We need to discuss your training."

"Sure thing. Later, Konishi-chan." Yuuta grinned at her, amiable, and ambled over to where Hajime was waiting for him. "What can I do for you?"

"I want to make some adjustments to your weight-lifting schedule," Hajime told him, as he filed Yuuta into the category of guys who liked to do stupid things to impress girls. "Do you have a few minutes?"

"For you, Mizuki-san?" Yuuta grinned at him. "Always."

It wasn't until the afternoon when they were all draped across St. Christopher's tennis courts after another unforgiving practice that Hajime realized that something was going on. He was absently following the drift of conversation as he recovered his breath, when Yanagisawa said, "Hey, Yuuta, I've been wondering. Where'd you get that scar?"

"Huh? Oh, this." When Hajime looked, Yuuta's fingers were drifting up to his temple to rub it. "Got it when I was little. We were playing Tokugawa versus Meiji and I got conked a good one." He grinned, reminiscent. "Got blood everywhere. Aniki was convinced he'd actually gone and killed me and went off into hysterics."

Hajime frowned, but before he could say anything, Kaneda raised himself up on his elbows and said, accusing, "That's not what you told me."

"No, really, hysterics," Yuuta said, with an emphatic nod. "It's the truth."

Kaneda made a face. "Yuuta, you told me you got it when your sister first got her license and crashed her car. Your brother wasn't even in the story."

"Huh." Yuuta's smile was bland; for a moment, he looked very like his brother. "I can't imagine what I was thinking."

"I'm thinking that maybe you got dropped on your head as a kid," Kaneda offered, shaking his head. "Car crashes. Honestly."

"What's this?" Nomura asked, as he and Kisarazu returned from the clubhouse with the cooler of water bottles they'd gone to fetch.

"Yuuta's telling us how he got scarred up," Yanagisawa said.

They dropped the cooler onto the ground with a thump, and Nomura cocked his head to the side. "Yeah? How'd it happen?"

"Raptor attack," Yuuta said, every line of his face gone solemn as the grave. "Came out of nowhere. I used to have a little brother of my own, but they got him. I barely got out of there alive." They all stared at him, until he blinked. "What?"

Kaneda wadded up his towel and threw it at him. "You are so full of shit."

"What? It's totally the truth!" Yuuta proclaimed, as he peeled Kaneda's towel off his face. "Vicious things, raptors. Kaasan cried over poor Taro for months."

"This from the guy who just told us it was his brother who had the hysterics," Yanagisawa said, for Kisarazu and Nomura's sakes.

"Aniki have hysterics? What are you, crazy?" Yuuta shook his head, slow and sad. "Maybe you should get out of the sun, senpai."

"...yeah," Yanagisawa said. "Hey, throw me one of those bottles." Kisarazu obliged him. Yanagisawa uncapped it, and then emptied ceremoniously over Yuuta's head.

Yuuta sputtered and flailed at him with Kaneda's towel, and the scuffle expanded outward from there, until it had folded in most of the rest of the team.

Mizuki just shook his head and sighed. Some days he despaired of his teammates.

It had become a game by the end of the month. "Hey, Yuuta," someone would yell, jogging past with a crate of balls, "how'd you get that scar?"

"Ninjas," Yuuta would call back. "One of Tousan's business rivals sent them. Neesan fought them off with her army of attack squirrels." He would carry on, defending his story against all disbelievers, until someone else asked him how it had really happened. Then he'd switch stories without missing a beat. "Wanted to be Kenshin when I grew up. Carved myself up with a butter knife. Kaasan didn't stop laughing for weeks."

"What about the corporate ninjas and the attack squirrels?" someone might ask.

"Attack squirrels?" Yuuta had a very mobile face; he did an excellent job of conveying what a ridiculous idea that was, just by the dance that his eyebrows did, up-down-up. "Holy shit, what are you on? Can I have some, too?"

Hajime was relatively certain that Yuuta wasn't a pathological liar. He was unfailingly transparent about everything else, from his tennis goals to his crush on Kawakami-senpai (who was in her third year and universally agreed to be out of everyone's league, let alone a first-year's; she was very kind, but tended to treat Yuuta rather like an over-eager puppy, the oblivious bitch). But he kept making up stories about how he'd gotten the scar, for no reason that Hajime could discern.

It was starting to drive Hajime just a little bit crazy.

There were four rough categories to Yuuta's tall tales. There were the ones Hajime decided were plausible enough that he could have accepted them as the truth, had he not known better. Yuuta told those mostly to his casual acquaintances, as far as Hajime could tell--the people in his classes and the girls with whom he was not currently flirting. The plausible stories were tame: crashing a bicycle, taking a tumble off a playground fixture, a fistfight. Usually they starred Yuuta, and other people were incidental characters.

Then there were the possible-but-unlikely stories, the ones that Yuuta told the girls he was flirting with or the guys he was hanging out with. They were the things that could have happened, like rescuing kittens to impress a girl or taking an ill-advised dare to rescue a ball from the yard where the neighborhood's vicious dog lived. Yuuta always starred in those stories, too, as the unfortunate hero. Other people did, too, applaud or jeer, or (particularly in Fuji Shuusuke's case, which Hajime found particularly delightful) to panic over the wounded hero.

Hajime didn't realize it immediately, but Yuuta saved the third and fourth categories for the tennis team only. Those were the ones that were wildly unlikely or patently impossible. They came in pairs; Yuuta would make one claim that was exceedingly ridiculous, and then, when someone called bullshit, followed it up with something even more outrageous. Claims of car thefts and disastrous joy rides were topped by tales of alien abduction and rescue by space pirates. In those categories, crazy things just happened to Yuuta, and the daring rescues usually came at the hands of his sister, who was variously a criminal mastermind, and/or a tactical genius. (Fuji Shuusuke still nearly always had hysterics, and never commanded his own armies of radioactive chipmunks; Hajime suspected that Yuuta enjoyed that part of his game as much as anything else.)

And Yuuta never repeated himself. (The day Hajime realized that not only had he created a taxonomy of Yuuta's stories, but was actively logging each one he heard, he'd had to fix himself a cup of tea and have a long talk with himself about intellectual pursuits and priorities. He didn't stop.) Yuuta had an apparently limitless, if febrile, imagination, fueled by what Hajime suspected was a steady diet of schlocky manga.

There was definitely a rhyme to Yuuta's apparent madness. Hajime simply couldn't find the reason, no matter how hard he tried.

"...so anyway, there I was, holding onto this horse for dear life, absolutely clueless, and the horse knows it, right?"

Hajime looked around the corner to check; Yuuta was talking to Kawakami-senpai, god. His eyes were wide and earnest, and his gestures were sweeping as he recounted... oh, for pity's sake, not another scar story. Kawakami-senpai was giggling behind her hand, and broke into full laughter as Yuuta described getting knocked off his horse and coming to with a mouthful of leaves and a headache the size of a mountain. "You're lucky you weren't killed," she said, between giggles.

"Yeah, I know. Haven't been able to look a salad in the face since, either," Yuuta said, undisguised adoration clearly dripping from every word.

The stupid girl didn't even notice. Stupid, stupid girl. "I can only imagine," she laughed.

"No one understands my trauma," Yuuta said, sounding woeful.

"I'm sure," Kawakami-senpai said, infinitely kind, and Hajime decided that it was time to intervene. When he stepped around the corner, she looked up and smiled, and picked up her books. "Thank you for the story, Yuuta-kun," she said as she stood. "It was delightful."

"You're welcome," he said, brightening up. "Tell Fuchizaki-san I said hi."

"I will."

Hajime glared at Kawakami-senpai as she went past, but the stupid woman just smiled at him, oblivious.

Yuuta seemed just as pleased to see him as he'd been to tell Kawakami-senpai improbably stories about runaway horses. "Mizuki-san! I thought you were busy this afternoon."

Hajime opened his mouth to say that he'd just been passing through on the way to the library. Instead, he asked, "Why not tell her the stories that make you look good instead of silly?"

Yuuta didn't seem to think the question was odd, even if Hajime was cursing himself for asking it. "Dunno. Figure she's got enough people trying to impress her already. People who can make her laugh, though... harder to find those."

"She's out of your league," Hajime said, mouth still moving without his consent, horrifying him with his own bluntness. "You're not even her type."

"Yeah, so? You have to aim high, Mizuki-san." Yuuta's smile hadn't even budged. "I like talking to Kawakami-san. She's nice." He stretched and laced his hands behind his head, and carried on. "Besides, I'm pretty sure she and Fuchizaki-san have a thing. You ever seen how Fuchizaki-san looks at the people who get close to Kawakami-san?"

Hajime blinked. "She--does?" Actually, Yuuta raised a good point; Fuchizaki-senpai had a death glare, and wasn't afraid to use it. What an amazing thing.

Pleasantly haunted as he was by the specter of Kawakami-senpai and Fuchizaki-senpai together, he almost missed the matter-of-fact way Yuuta added, "Yep. It's a lot like the way you look when anyone looks at me."

"The way I what?"

Yuuta was remarkably calm for someone who had clearly just lost his mind. "You go all glinty," he said, utterly serene. "And then you get extra pissy. It's probably a good thing you can't kill anyone with the powers of your mind."

He was going to have to revise his hypothesis; Yuuta was clearly insane, and the outrageous lies about his scar had been the early manifestation of that. Perhaps whatever had given him the scar had rattled his brain around inside his skull. "What on earth are you talking about?" Hajime demanded, when he could finally manage more than a few indignant sounds. "I do no such thing! Furthermore, I have no occasion to do any such thing! I'm your manager, not your--your--" The word boyfriend caught in his throat.

"Yeah, so?" Yuuta grinned at him. "You sure you're not just biding your time?"

"Absolutely not!" Hajime huffed. "In the future, I'd thank you not to make such assumptions, Yuuta-kun."

Yuuta looked at him. After a moment, he said, "All right. I won't anymore." Something had changed in his smile; it no longer looked as companionable as it had just moments ago.

Suddenly he looked very like his brother.

"I appreciate that," Hajime told him, feeling obscurely disappointed. He shook the feeling off, and said, brisk, "I was just on my way to the weight room. Would you like to come with me? I've been thinking it's time to increase your regimen."

"It may be," Yuuta said, perfectly polite, "but I'm afraid I need to get down to the library. There's a report I need to finish before tomorrow."

"Never mind, then," Hajime said. "We'll do it later."

"Of course," Yuuta said, and walked away.

Hajime shook his head. At least Yuuta had been rational about being set straight... but then, he was wonderfully rational, most of the time. Hajime could not for the life of him imagine what had set him off on this bizarre track in the first place.

"Hey, Yuuta," Kaneda called over the net, "Where'd you get your scar?"

Akazawa paused in what he was saying about the upcoming tournaments, apparently so he could listen to what Yuuta would say. Hajime turned, too, to see what Yuuta would come up with today.

"Huh?" Yuuta said, setting himself to serve. "What are you talking about?"

Kaneda stared, and let Yuuta's serve flash past him. "Your scar. Um. Where did you get it?"

Yuuta reached up and touched it, briefly. "Oh. That. Dunno. Probably rough-housing with Aniki." He dug another tennis ball out of his pocket and prepared to serve again.

Yanagisawa was the first to break the sudden silence across the courts. "No, really, where'd you get the scar?"

Yuuta looked at Yanagisawa, and if Hajime hadn't known better, he would have sworn Yuuta looked annoyed by the question. "Fuck, senpai, I don't know. The scar emporium, where everybody gets their scars." He set himself and served again, and slowly they all resumed what they'd been doing.

Akazawa whistled under his breath. "Wonder what's gotten into him," he said, and glanced at Hajime.

"Don't look at me," Hajime said. "I'm sure I don't know."

Akazawa's expression turned thoughtful, and Hajime did his best to keep his own bland. "Pity," Akazawa said, at last. "If anyone would know, it'd be you."

"I'm not his keeper."

"...no," Akazawa said, too slowly for Hajime's taste. "Of course not."

Hajime eyed him, not quite sure he liked Akazawa's tone, but let it pass. It was true, after all. He wasn't.

The game of prompting Yuuta for scar stories tapered off after a few more abortive attempts at getting a story ended with Yuuta shrugging, or worse, snapping a reply.

Yuuta must have gotten tired of the game, Hajime decided, and put the data he'd collected on the patterns of his tall tales aside as irrelevant now. There weren't any other reasons Yuuta would have stopped; he was a fairly rational creature, all tales of samurai chipmunks notwithstanding.

Hajime kept telling himself that, until the day he went looking for Yuuta to talk about his training, and found him with one of his female classmates.

Hajime fought to keep his expression neutral at the way Yuuta's arm was curled around her waist, and at the way she was nuzzling his shoulder. This was why it was clearly ridiculous for Yuuta to have been talking liked they'd been together. Yuuta was manifestly not interested. "I beg your pardon," Hajime said, when Yuuta noticed him standing there. "I was wanting to talk over your training schedule. I think I know a way you can--"

"Sorry, senpai," Yuuta said, and that was new. Yuuta had never interrupted him before. Not when there was tennis at stake. "I'm kind of busy right now."

"Yes, I--ah--see that. Later, perhaps." Hajime backed away, and left them to it. He wasn't quite out of earshot before the little tramp said something, and Yuuta laughed.

Hajime clenched his fists. Perhaps there should be a rule about dating--if it affected one's dedication to tennis, it oughtn't be allowed--Yuuta had never been one to ignore his advice about tennis before now--

Hajime stopped short. Yuuta had been sensible about tennis, right up until--

"You have got to be kidding me," Hajime said out loud, and then gave himself a good shake for even thinking such a thing.

Now who was being irrational? To think that Yuuta's endless enthusiasm for training had actually been an endless enthusiasm for--for--no, it was too ridiculous for words. Yuuta was simply--busy--just now. Hajime would have to catch up with him later.

Yuuta didn't seem to want to be caught up with, not outside club hours. What was more, he seemed to have stopped his extra training.

That was what finally drove Hajime to seek help; a Yuuta who wasn't tennis- and training-crazy was clearly a Yuuta who was ill. "I'm worried about Yuuta," he told Akazawa at their weekly meeting, after several days' worth of Yuuta's polite dismissals and outright avoidance of him.

"How so?" Akazawa said. If Hajime hadn't known better, he would have said the man looked relieved. Perhaps he'd noticed Yuuta's peculiar behavior too, and hadn't quite known how to bring it up.

"He's slacking on his training."

"Is he?" Akazawa's tone was--it sounded like he was trying to be neutral. "He's working as hard as anyone else is during club."

"Yes, well, of course he is." Hajime couldn't help sounding impatient. "That's not the point."

"Ah, of course it isn't." There was no reason for Akazawa to look amused at him; this was serious.

"Indeed not." Hajime narrowed his eyes at Akazawa, until the faint smile fell off his face. "It's his other training, the things he does outside of club. He's stopped, and he won't speak to me about it."

"It's extra training," Akazawa said, dry as dust. "It's not required. That's what 'extra' means, see? If Yuuta has decided he has better things to spend his time on, what am I supposed to do about it?"

"But it's Yuuta. Since when does he care about anything that doesn't have to do with tennis?" Hajime demanded.

Akazawa just looked at him for a long moment. "I suppose that depends," he said. "How long ago was it that the two of you argued?"

"We didn't argue," Hajime said, firmly. Akazawa waited until, grudgingly, he added, "I just corrected a certain misapprehension of his. There was no argument. He took it quite sensibly."

Akazawa looked pained. "I know I'm going to regret asking this, but what kind of misapprehension, exactly?"

Hajime busied himself with setting his papers in order, straightening the edges and corners precisely. "That's really rather personal."

"Oh, hell," Akazawa said, half under his breath. "Mizuki, what did you do?"

"Nothing! Nothing at all!" Hajime frowned at his paperwork. "I just... he had some kind of false impression about the nature of our relationship. He seemed to think that my interest in him was... personal... or possessive, perhaps."

"You mean it's not?" When Hajime's head jerked up at the incredulity in Akazawa's tone, Akazawa was staring at him with an expression that said he was trying hard to hold something back. "You're joking, right?"

"I certainly am not!" Hajime's cheeks felt warm. "My interest in Yuuta is purely professional."

Akazawa didn't look persuaded. "Uh-huh. That's why you take such an active interest in his life."

"Precisely," Hajime said, willing the heat to stop pricking his cheeks. "He has a great deal of potential. I would hate to see that wasted."

"That would be a pity," Akazawa agreed. "It would be a shame if he wasted any of that on frivolous things. It's not like he has the right to a social life or anything."

"Exactly--wait, no. Of course he deserves a social life," Hajime said, hurriedly, as Akazawa looked very amused. "Just as long as it doesn't interfere with his tennis."

"Ah, and that's why you have a reputation for interrupting Yuuta any time he gets close to a girl," Akazawa murmured, with a wise nod. "I see now. It's purely professional."

"I--what? I have a reputation for what?" Hajime demanded. "You're joking, right?"

"I think the word Yanagisawa uses is 'cockblocking'," Akazawa added, slow and thoughtful. "I'm not sure I agree; I think it only counts as cockblocking if Yuuta minds you doing it. Since he's let you up till not too long ago, I think it's just you being territorial."

Which was worse, that they had all gone insane, or that their collective insanity was focused on his personal life? Hajime stared at Akazawa, horrified. "You've got to be joking," he said, willing it to be true. "Yuuta's not--he's always with girls."

"He's a likeable guy, when he's not being obnoxious." Akazawa shrugged. "And some girls like a challenge."

"I think he's dating a girl now," Hajime said, flailing for some scrap of evidence that would make it not be true, and would provide a life preserver of sanity for Akazawa to take hold of. "That doesn't seem like much of a challenge to me."

Akazawa ignored the sanity preserver, and looked like he was getting a headache, to boot. "Well, no, once he made it clear he was on the market, it wouldn't have taken very long. Look, what do you want me to do, make a rule that tennis players can't date?" Hajime tried not to let the flinch show. "I'd have a mutiny on my hands inside a week, you know that. If you and Yuuta have a problem, you're going to have to work it out with him." He stopped, and added, "I'd start by apologizing, if I were you."

"For what?" Hajime asked, because that was the simplest response.

"For letting him spend so long thinking you might be interested in more than just his tennis, perhaps," Akazawa said, and looked at the clock. "I have to go; I'm meeting Kaneda for dinner. Lock up in here when you're done?"

"Of course," Hajime said, through his astonishment, too stunned to begin fitting this new data into what he knew about his world.

After a while, he had to put his head between his knees and just breathe as he attempted to recover his equanimity, especially once he'd realized that he'd spent more time arguing that Yuuta couldn't possibly be attracted to him than he had correcting Akazawa's assumption that he was attracted to Yuuta.

With this sudden horrible new consciousness pressing down on him, he found it difficult to even look at Yuuta the next day. It was a wonder the whole team didn't stare at him every time he twitched, but then again, apparently they'd all been talking about it forever. That thought made Hajime want to retreat to his dorm room and never leave again.

Yuuta, as far as Hajime could tell from the discreet glances he managed to steal, seemed to be more of his usual self--a trifle out of sorts, perhaps, but in generally good form. He and Kisarazu and Yanagisawa spent most of practice engaged in a three-way debate about a new arcade that had just opened, and the relative merits of its games. Their wrangling went on, and on, until Kaneda, exasperated, told them to shut up and go try the place already.

The three of them spent the rest of practice arguing over when to go.


"Can't, test."

"Tomorrow, then."

"No, I have a test."

"Friday," Akazawa said, rolling his eyes. "Because no one studies for tests on Friday."

"Can't," Yuuta said. "Got a date."

Hajime knocked the crate of balls he'd been filling over. That was surely the reason why half the club had suddenly turned to stare at him. He ignored them, and after a moment, Yanagisawa ventured, "Saturday?"

No one had any problems with Saturday, so that's what they settled on, and then, mercifully, Akazawa finally ended practice.

Hajime bent over the mess of balls he'd scattered, picking them up quietly as the rest of the club headed for the clubhouse.

"What some help?" Kaneda crouched and began helping gather the balls up without waiting for Hajime's answer.

"I have it under control," Hajime told him anyway. Tennis balls were easy. They made sense.

"Doesn't mean you don't need help," Kaneda said, scooping up a couple of balls and lobbing them into the basket.

Hajime sighed, and did his best to be gracious. "Thanks."

"No problem."

They worked silently on corralling the stray balls after that. When Hajime had tossed the last of them into the basket, Kaneda straightened up. "Her name's Mariko," he said, apropos of absolutely nothing, insofar as Hajime could tell. "I don't think Yuuta is all that serious about her."

Hajime very nearly dropped the crate and sent the balls flying again. "That doesn't really seem to be any of my business," he said, once he trusted himself to speak.

Kaneda gave him a steady look. "It ought to be, senpai."

"But it isn't." And furthermore, Hajime could not believe they were having this conversation. "I already established as much for him." Possibly in the most idiotic, blundering fashion ever, but nonetheless, it had been established. "What he does has no bearing on me."

Kaneda snorted. "Oh, please." He shook his head. "Everything Yuuta's done for years has related directly to you. That doesn't change, even when you're being an idiot."

Really, he'd liked Kaneda much better when he'd been diffident and not prone to announcing his opinions.

"Enough," Hajime said. "Thank you for your advice. I shall be sure to take it under consideration. Now, if you'll excuse me."

"Right, senpai," Kaneda sighed.

Hajime hefted the crate of tennis balls up and turned away, but apparently Kaneda wasn't quite done yet. "Hey," he said, "when was the last time Yuuta wasn't willing to give someone a second chance?"

"Enough," Hajime gritted out, and went to put the balls away.

Honestly, didn't Kaneda think he'd already made Yuuta give enough second chances?

The next day was easier, and Wednesday was almost normal. Thursday, halfway through practice, Akazawa frowned at Yuuta after their practice match, and said, "Have you been slacking off? Your tennis is rough today."

Yuuta puffed up the way he did any time his tennis was impugned. "I won," he pointed out, indignantly.

"Yeah, but it felt kludgy." Akazawa frowned as Yuuta puffed up even more. "Stay after and talk to Mizuki. The two of you can figure out what to do about your training."

And that was when Hajime realized he was being set up, despite the fact that Akazawa was all frowns and business at the moment.

Akazawa, damn his interfering eyes, refused to let Hajime corner him for the rest of practice by calling for another match, him and Kaneda in doubles against Yanagisawa and Kisarazu, and ignored all of Yuuta's protests that he had studying to do.

They were, Hajime concluded, stuck with each other. At least for a little bit. He'd simply have to do his best to be professional.

When Yuuta trudged over to him after practice, his mouth was turned down in a sulky twist that was altogether reminiscent of their days in junior high. He doled out monosyllabic answers to all of Hajime's questions resentfully, until, finally, exasperated with him, Hajime asked, "Are you even doing any extra training?"

Yuuta looked at him. "No," he said, tone flat.

"But--Yuuta-kun--your tennis," Hajime said, too aghast to say anything more, or to care that he was floundering. "What about your tennis?"

"I don't care," Yuuta said, and looked away. "Are we done yet?"

"You... don't..." Hajime's palms stung where his fingernails were digging into them; he had to consciously force his fists to unclench themselves. "I... know you're angry with me... and you don't want to work with me any more... but it's not worth throwing your tennis away for." Nothing was, not when Yuuta had worked so hard and for so long. Hajime himself certainly wasn't.

It was the wrong thing to say. Yuuta's scowl grew more pronounced. "Maybe I'm tired of tennis being the only thing I do," he said. "Maybe I like hanging out with people who care about more than just tennis."

When Hajime opened his mouth, what came out was, "I hadn't realized I was allowed to care about more than just tennis," which was entirely not what he'd meant to say. His mouth kept going, without his permission. "When every time I turned around, you were flirting with another girl, how would I have known?"

"Maybe by the fact that I dropped anything I was doing any time you so much as looked in my direction?" Yuuta snapped.

"Maybe I thought that was because you're tennis crazy!" Hajime retorted. "And because every girl with half a brain at this school knows she'd be damn lucky to get you, and so do half the boys. Why should I be special?"

"Because you're Mizuki-san," Yuuta said, and he was much too young to sound so old and tired. "I thought you might have figured that out by now."

"No," Hajime told him, looking away. "I--never let myself hope for that much. Not from you."

He heard Yuuta draw a breath, the way he always did when his temper had broken and he was starting to calm down again. "So we're both idiots, is that what you're saying?"

"I have never once made the mistake of thinking you were an idiot," Hajime said, still not looking at him.

"Now you're just trying to flatter me."

Hajime looked back at him quickly, ready to deny he was doing any such thing, and saw that Yuuta was almost smiling at him, and was looking hesitant about it. "I'd hope that's also a mistake I've never made," Hajime said, carefully. "Although I have made plenty of mistakes."

"Yeah, well, you're not the only one." Yuuta blew out another breath, cheeks puffing out. "Look. Um. Could we... I don't know. Try this all again? This time without the stupid assumptions?"

"I would like that, very much." Hajime took a breath, deeply conscious of the way his hands were twisting together, nervously. How to start?" "You're... you were right. I do get--territorial--about you. Especially when you speak to girls. And even though I really, technically, have no right to."

"Yeah?" Yuuta's smile was fleeting and shy. "I thought you did know you could be territorial, if you wanted to be. I just... figured you were biding your time."

"What would I want to bide my time for?" Hajime asked.

"Couldn't actually figure that part out myself," Yuuta admitted. "I just figured you must've had your reasons. I never thought it might be because you hadn't realized that I like talking with people, but I like you." He stopped short, going pink and cutting his eyes away from Hajime's. "Thought that was pretty obvious, anyway."

"Maybe to everybody else in the world," Hajime said, breathless with surprise and wonder. "Not me. That's not... not anything I thought I should hope for." He looked down. "Though I wanted to. Very much." Enough so that he'd persuaded himself that he didn't.

Yuuta sighed. "Yeah, okay. We're both idiots, all right."

"Clearly," Hajime agreed, and looked up to find that Yuuta was smiling at him, tentatively.

"We're done with that now, right?" Yuuta asked.

"I certainly hope so." He couldn't stop the smile that spread across his face when Yuuta grinned at him.

"Right," Yuuta said, nodding, "so do I." He stopped, and looked hesitant. "Want to go grab something to eat while we talk about my training?"

"Yes," Hajime said, "That sounds good." And reassuringly normal, after the past few weeks... or so he thought, right up until the moment when Yuuta slipped a hand into his. But... it felt good. Comfortable, even, and after a moment, he squeezed Yuuta's fingers.

Yuuta's answering grin was like the sun coming up.

"I just have a question for you," Hajime said to him, later. "It's been bothering me."

"Mm?" Yuuta looked up from his milkshake. "What?"

"How did you get that scar?" Hajime asked.

Yuuta blinked, and then burst into laughter. And even though he didn't answer, Hajime didn't mind. He had time, and he was patient. He'd get the answer out of Yuuta eventually.

- end -

Comments, as always, are welcome!