i don't know why this fandom has caught my attention again...
just to clear things up:
this was intended to be fujiryo but started drifting towards atoryo or even tezuryo. any thoughts?
also, ryoma is a third year in middle school, making tezuka/fuji/eiji/etc. sophomores in high school. ryoma is captain of the middle school team.
Out of all the people in the world, Fuji only associates with one type. Everyone else is not worth his time.
He doesn't need "gifted" people like himself. Fuji often says that he performs well in school because his brain is wired that way. He can fill out tests and do homework with minimal effort.
But other "smart" people are not the same. Fuji watches them. They're often stuck in a pattern: eat, sleep, and study, study, study. Predictability is not one of Fuji's favorite things.
He likes people who are spontaneous, unpredictable, different. The sort of people who have confidence to do what they want, or the ambition to go after it. Fuji finds a lot of these people on the tennis courts. He likes them for their cunning, and their ability to keep him on his toes.
No one is better at this than Echizen Ryoma. It used to be Tezuka - strong, silent Tezuka, who never let anyone know what he was thinking. But Ryoma is on a whole different level. He broadcasts his thoughts loud and clear, evident in the cocky line of his shoulders, the slight swagger in his step. Sometimes he even verbalizes it - mada mada dane, senpai. But somehow, the attitude is never tired or old. Never. Because Echizen Ryoma actually has what it takes to back it up.
From the moment Ryoma entered the courts, Fuji set out to make the freshmen his next project. Project became friend, friend became something more. Fuji hadn't acted on it, not at first. There was something too innocent about him, something that slowly disappeared as the boy finished middle school. Fuji was in his second year of high school, still content to watch and wait.
Two weeks before summer break, the very very beginnings of something happened. Fuji was in the middle of another tedious warm up. Their vice captain in high school was a pale, sniffling senior named Kuroda. Kuroda seemed to be afraid of his own shadow, bugs, twisting his ankle, fire, and the captain, Yamada Taiki.
No one really blamed him for this final shortcoming. Yamada was something of an enigma. The teachers thought him polite and charming, but he showed a different side to his classmates. Practices were run using a combination of manipulation and threats, leaving the team to stumble along to victory. Yamada's ambition rarely stretched farther than words, but there was no doubt he was in a position of power.
But the power came from fear rather than respect, and it was a precarious balance.
It was something of a relief that Yamada stopped showing up to practice in April. Some said it was family trouble, some said he had been suspended. Either way, it was Kuroda's job to fill in as captain. And it wasn't working.
Kuroda liked to have the team warm up every muscle of their body before attempting any "strenuous" activity. If anyone seemed to be perspiring too heavily, Kuroda would immediately stop and have them take a drink. Fuji sighed as Eiji was scolded yet again for a spontaneous cartwheel.
"I did warm up, nya!" Eiji protested.
"What about your wrists? I definitely did not see you do the exercises."
"What are you - "
"Eiji," Fuji said quietly. The red-haired boy caught himself and quickly picked his racket.
"Sorry, Kuroda-fukubuchou. I wasn't trying to cause trouble."
For eight months, the regulars had managed to put up with Yamada, annoying upper classmen and unbearable heat waves. They had gotten to the final stretch, and it wouldn't do for any of them to snap now. They were going to lead the team next year, after all, and there would be Ryoma, too.
"Kuroda-fukubuchou, my stomach hurts," Fuji said suddenly.
Kuroda turned to stare fearfully at the boy. He hated germs with an absolute passion, and there was no reason why the tensai would lie. Or would he?
"I'm sick too," Eiji cut in suddenly, stopping mid-bounce.
A pandemic! He had to isolate them before it spread to the rest of the team!
"Who have you had close contact with?" Kuroda barked.
"Oh...well, Tezuka and I shared a waterbottle this morning...ah, let's see. Taka and I had lunch in close proximity, and then I know I sneezed all over Momoshiro in the hallway."
"Oishi and I kissed this morning," Eiji added excitedly.
"Saa," Fuji said, wondering if it was true. "And Momoshiro sneezed on Kaidoh, too."
"Plus the water bottle that Tezuka and Fuji shared came from Inui."
"Thank you for being so thorough," Kuroda said gravely. Eiji sniggered, but quickly turned it into a cough.
"We'll be getting our medicine," Fuji said serenely, leading Eiji to the gates.
Kuroda looked nervously towards the far court. "Hey! You six! Dismissed!" He frantically flapped his hands at the ex-regulars, and they confusedly filed out of the courts.
All of them could tell Fuji was up to something, but they had also learned discretion. No one said a word until they rounded the corner.
"Fuji, what the - "
"Did you see his face when - "
"We really just walked out - "
"Well?" Tezuka said. Everyone fell silent, still mindful of their buchou. Tezuka had been uncomfortable with this at first, considering he was no longer their captain, but he soon learned to accept it.
"It seems I caught a cold," Fuji said, humming absently. He started automatically in the direction of the middle school. Tezuka fell into step beside him.
"And then you told Kuroda this so-called cold is contagious?"
Fuji frowned, putting on his best shocked expression. "Why, Kunimitsu! I would never!"
"A dirty trick, to be sure," Tezuka said, but he was trying not to smile. It had been such a long time since they had played to their full potential.
"I could beat you with my hands behind my back, you stupid mameshi!"
And Kaidoh and Momo obviously needed to blow off some steam. They tore off in the direction of the courts, the rest of the team on their heels.
It was a bit illogicial, maybe, but what better challenge was there than the middle school courts?
The "challenge" was currently breaking two of Tezuka's rules. He was sitting down, for one. He was also asleep.
Although, to be fair, Tezuka had never actually made a no-sleeping on the courts rule. He had thought it pretty obvious.
Eiji snatched the cap off the boy's head and tugged a strand of black-green hair. "Nya, Ochibi, you make a bad captain."
"They don't need my help," Ryoma snapped, turning away.
Fuji could see the statement was true. The middle schoolers were practicing their backhands, though the back two courts seemed to be doing volleys. They were not complaining or slacking off, but every so often one of them cast a curious glance towards their captain. For Ryoma to have such a hold over them, even when he was asleep, was impressive.
Eiji frowned and started bouncing a tennis ball a few inches away from Ryoma's head. Ryoma sighed and rolled over again to his other side, reaching behind him to grab the ball as he did so. At least his reflexes were still sharp. "You're not acting like yourself, ochibi," Eiji said. Ryoma lashed out with the tennis ball, narrowly missing Eiji's head. "Just fuck off, Eiji."
Even Tezuka looked shocked at that.
"Echizen!" Oishi said, the first to recover his voice. "Isn't that a little..."
"Oh, excuse me. Fuck off, Eiji-senpai."
The intensity was surprising. Ryoma was usually mellow in between games. Bored, at times. Apart from his usual cockiness, he had never been intentionally rude to his upperclassmen. With Eiji, it had never been more than slight annoyance at his nickname.
"Apologize," Tezuka said.
With that, Ryoma was up on his feet. He still moved smoothly and quickly, but instead of his usual attitude there was something more sinister. The sunlight threw his features into sharp relief; instead of a smirk, his eyes were dark and accusing. The other regulars shifted uncomfortably or looked away, and Fuji stared back at the boy and wondered who it was. Tezuka closed his eyes in what seemed like an apology.
"Not good enough," Ryoma snapped. He spun on his heel and walked away, leaving behind eight completely shocked ex-regulars.
Fuji soon realized that his teammates were all staring at him. He looked at Tezuka questioningly, but Tezuka only shuddered and looked away.
"What did he say?" Momoshiro demanded. "You know English, right, Fuji-senpai?"
"Saa...I didn't realize..." Fuji said slowly. "Not good enough...he said 'mada mada dane.'"
Eiji now looked close to tears. "I don't know what happened!"
"Bad day?" Oishi suggested, but no one believed it. They all watched as Ryoma rounded the last corner, presumably headed in the direction of the school gates. One of the seniors - Fuji thought his name was Horio - quickly jogged over.
"Did he tell you anything?" he asked eagerly.
"What do you mean?" Tezuka said sharply. He had been thrown off-balance by Ryoma's behavior, and it showed.
Horio preened under Tezuka's gaze, and Fuji remembered why he had disliked the boy. "He's been acting that way for awhile. I thought...well, I thought it was girl trouble or something."
"Probability: very unlikely," Inui said. There was a pause, as everyone waited for him to elaborate on this statement.
"Data is inconclusive," Inui said apologetically.
"Just say you don't know!" Kaidoh hissed.
A tense silence hung in air, broken by Horio obnoxiously clearing his throat.
"If you need any further information, you can always turn to me, senpai-tachi!"
Tezuka glared at him, and the effect was not immune to the boy. Horio hastily said his goodbyes and left.
"We do need more information," Inui said firmly. "I will set up a schedule of observation, which if planned carefully will not interfere with prac - "
"No," Tezuka cut in. "I will take care of this."
After running distractedly through a set drills, the regulars departed the street courts and headed home. Fuji allowed Momo and Kaidoh to run ahead, leaving him and Tezuka alone to further pick apart the problem of Ryoma's behavior.
"Saa...Tezuka. What are you thinking?"
Tezuka frowned and shifted uncomfortably. "As his former captain, it is my duty to see that Echizen resolves his personal problems in a timely manner. If need be I will step in and offer assistance."
Fuji pouted. "Don't say it like that. As his friend, you want to help him, yes?"
A pause. "Of course. But...I'm not sure I know this Echizen."
"I thought you played tennis together on the weekends?"
Tezuka shook his head, looking even more uncomfortable. "I've been so busy with finals...I haven't met up with him since three weeks ago. He seemed fine then."
"Maybe...maybe it's just as Oishi said. He's having a bad day."
"No," Fuji said, eyes showing surprising intensity. "Echizen is quiet, yes. But he has never been so cold before - not to Eiji, not to anyone. And that stupid freshman said his behavior is reoccurring."
"So suddenly?" Tezuka mused. "I just...I'm not sure what to do."
Fuji hesitated. It was rare for Tezuka to show uncertainty, even rarer for Fuji himself to feel so...so helpless. But there did not appear to be an easy solution.
"We will confront him at practice tomorrow. Just the two of us, yes?"
Tezuka agreed, and the two tennis players went their separate ways.
Dark hair, a tendency to snap his fingers when irritated, and a hell of an attitude problem...both Fuji and Tezuka were floored to see Atobe Keigo in Seigaku territory. The middle school courts, no less. The Hyotei player was currently tailing Ryoma as he readied the court for practice.
"...who heard from Inui himself," the boy was saying. "So what is it?"
"Che," Ryoma said, busying himself with the nets. "Like I would tell you, Atobe-senpai."
"Atobe-senpai?" the Hyotei player cried. "Is this to rile me up or an attempt to make me lose interest?""Go away.""Ore-sama will not," Atobe said firmly. He turned away and sighed dramatically, then caught sight of two more Seigaku students.
"Tezuka, Fuji," he greeted. "Skipping pratice?"
Ryoma cast a quick glance in their direction before turning back to the nets. He seemed uncaring, but Fuji did not miss the new tension in his posture.
"Our pratice starts in seven minutes," Ryoma said. "Please don't interfere." His voice was flat and expressionless, and he did not meet anyone's eyes before heading to the clubhouse.
"Atobe," Tezuka said coolly. He would have liked to go after Ryoma, and could tell Fuji wanted to do the same, but there was the Hyotei player to deal with.
"Saa...what causes the great Atobe-sama to desert his team?" Fuji said, making his displeasure clear. Atobe was a talented player, and underneath the attitude he a fiercely loyal and strong captain. But he was not Seigaku, and he had no business with Ryoma.
Atobe did not bother to respond to Fuji's jibe. "Ore-sama has heard from a number of sources that Seigaku is in trouble."
"With Kuroda acting as captain we have no expectations of Nationals," Tezuka said stoically.
"I am speaking of the middle school, of course."
"You do not attend Seigaku nor are you in middle school," Fuji said harshly. It was frustrating him that he could not pin down the boy's put a hand on Fuji's shoulder.
"Forgive us," he said mildly. "But we don't see how your presence helps."
"Echizen is an important rival. I would like him to remain as such," Atobe said arrogantly. Fuji relaxed somewhat, sensing that Atobe had genuine respect for Ryoma.
At that moment they were interrupted by an awkward-looking third-year that Fuji thought seemed slightly familiar.
"Aa...gomen-chai, senpai-tachi. But...I am not sure buchou is too pleased to see you..."
Fuji started at the use of the term "buchou", then turned to glance back towards the clubhouse. Echizen was leaning against the fence, a bored expression on his face as he watched his team line up. Eerily perceptive, he caught Fuji's gaze and returned it twice as intense. Their little staring contest was broken as a first-year nervously engaged his captain in conversation.
"Ha!" Atobe sneered. "Just for his insolence, I should stay for the rest of practice." He nonetheless started in the direction of the gates.
It was probably a good idea to leave, although they hadn't accomplished their original purpose. They were attracting a lot of attention. A lot of people recognized Tezuka and Fuji as former regulars and were whispering excitedly...former captain and nationals and secret love triangles.
Fuji didn't particularly want to know.
On the other hand, Atobe was being stared at for a combination of his swagger and his uniform. He had the Hyotei crest clearly embroidered on his shirt, but clearly didn't care he was in rival territory. There was a good chance that he was recognized for other reasons; Atobe had made a name for himself in both middle and high school tennis.
Echizen nodded every so slightly as they left the courts, but did not leave his warm up drills.
"Saa...Atobe...he must like you more than he lets on," Fuji said serenely. "I would have thought there would be blood spilled by now."
Tezuka resisted to urge to bury his head in his hands. Sometimes, he swore the tensai riled people up on purpose at the worst possible times just for his own amusement.
He was surprised to hear Atobe laugh.
"Ore-sama is a fine opponent," Atobe said primly.
"You mean you are just as arrogant as him," Fuji mused. "Interesting how he looks up to you."
Atobe took the twisted compliment in stride, apparently somewhat versed in the curious ways of Fuji Syuuske.
"He also looks up to you," Atobe said, a note of warning in his voice. "But if Seigaku cannot handle him, Hyotei or Rikkaidai are more than capable."
Tezuka made a sound that could only be described as a snort. "Only you would make an offer of help seem like an insult."
Atobe shrugged. "Sanada and I have similar views."
They had reached the school gates, and Atobe veered left. "As much as I'd like to discuss things further, my team will be wondering where I am."
"Don't get raped," Fuji said cheerfully. He was quite pleased to see a shocked expression appear on Atobe's face, but then his tone became serious. "And don't do anything...stupid." As in: don't ever, ever make Ryoma upset in anyway or I will hunt you down and kill you.
Atobe managed - just barely - not to shudder. He nodded, then turned his attention to the slightly-less intimidating Seigaku player.
"Tezuka. Next year...you will be captain."
"Is that so?"
"Of course," Atobe said, smirking. "And Hyotei will kick your ass in the finals."
yaarrrghh...something fucked with my spacing. sorry if a few words or indents are missing.