Fukurada Natsuki was just as much of a tennis freak as Tezuka, and that was really saying something. She the perfect match for Tezuka; smart but not a genius, pretty but not gorgeous, responsible but not boring.
Fuji was a genius, he was beautiful, he was utterly chaotic. He wasn't right for Tezuka, not logically, and anyway, he was a he, and Tezuka was probably straight.
So when Eiji decided that Tezuka might loosen up if he dated someone, Fuji suggested Fukurada Natsuki, and ignored the pang of hurt when everybody agreed on it.
Their meeting was staged, a joint effort between all the regulars.
"The target is approaching, Fujiko, nya," whispered Eiji into his walkie-talkie. "Make your move in 3, 2, 1..."
Fuji stepped out of his classroom just as Tezuka walked past. "Oh, Tezuka," he said in mock surprise. "Good afternoon."
Tezuka narrowed his eyes; Fuji was planning something. "Good afternoon, Fuji," he said suspiciously. "What are you planning?"
Fuji's smile widened. "Oh, nothing, Tezuka, nothing for you to worry about. I was going to buy some food for lunch. Come with me?"
Tezuka considered it. Probably better for Tezuka to follow him; that way, he could make sure that Fuji didn't do anything too horrible. "Alright," he said, and together they walked towards the food stall.
Inui was following the two like a hawk. He was chosen for this task because he was particularly good at stalking. No one on the team could ever sense him tailing them, the sole exception being the more psychically sensitive second-year, Kayaki.
"ETA 5.2 minutes," Inui said into his walkie-talkie, ducking behind a completely confused Arai to hide from Tezuka. "Be ready."
"Ano, Inui-sempai," Arai began, turning around– but Inui was already gone. Watching the third year hide behind various students as he tailed Tezuka, Arai shook his head and chalked it up to Inui's endless weirdness.
Kaidoh waited for Inui's signal ("ETA 1.5 minutes, Kaidoh, go."), then bumped (harder than really necessary) into Momoshiro as he chattered to Echizen.
"Oi, Mamushi, what the hell?" Momoshiro exploded in Kaidoh's face. He pushed Kaidoh back to the optimum position, and Kaidoh growled back, "It was an accident, bastard! Let it go!"
"Why should I?"
Kawamura came up to them. "Maa, you two, don't fight..."
He was completely ignored as the two continued to argue.
"You want to fight?"
"Kawamura-sempai," said Echizen, handing Kawamura his racket.
"Ah, thank you – HORA HORA! BREAK IT UP, YOU TWO!"
Kawamura forcefully barged between the quarrelling second-years – and banged straight into Fukurada Natsuki.
They were approaching the bread stall when Tezuka heard Kawamura shouting, "HORA HORA! BREAK IT UP, YOU TWO!"
Then there was a shriek, and by instinct Tezuka caught the girl who fell right into his arms.
"What's going on here?" he demanded in his buchou-voice, still holding the girl in his arms. "All of you, fifty extra laps during practice!"
"Yes, buchou," the four chorused, and Fuji, behind Tezuka chuckled. "In the six years I've known you, Tezuka, I've never seen you hold a girl so close."
Tezuka, who had turned his head to face Fuji (and vaguely registered that Fuji was holding the racket Kawamura was previously in possession of), blinked and immediately snapped back to the girl in his arms. He let go quickly and stepped away. "Are you alright? I'm sorry for my teammates' foolishness."
The girl smiled at him. "I'm fine, thank you. Thanks for catching me, Tezuka-kun."
Tezuka half-bowed. "It was no trouble..."
"Fukurada Natsuki," she supplied helpfully, bowing. "Nice to meet you."
The name rang a bell in Tezuka's mind, but he couldn't put a finger on it.
"She's a regular on the girl's team," Fuji supplied, as if he sensed Tezuka's confusion. "Their vice-captain, I believe."
"Yes. I have great respect for you, Tezuka-kun. Fuji-kun, too," Natsuki added, bowing past Tezuka at Fuji.
Fuji inclined his head at the compliment, and Tezuka nodded. "Thank you. I've seen you play, Fukurada-san," he said as if just remembering.
The regulars prayed that Tezuka would say something nice.
"Your special moves are flawed."
Fukurada raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"Yes. Your style is to surprise your opponents with your moves, which is why you continue to develop new ones all the time. However, you lack any sense of adaptability. Your shots are easily broken by a rising shot, which will mess up your sense of timing."
"As always, buchou only talks this much when it's about tennis," muttered Momoshiro to Echizen.
"Hmm," said Natsuki ponderingly. "Good to know. Let's play a match, Tezuka-kun. Would you allow the girls to join you for a little practice match today?"
Tezuka was about to refuse, but Oishi stepped in quickly. "Of course, Fukurada-san," he said, a warm smile on his face. "We'd love to play you."
Tezuka didn't say anything, though both Oishi and Fuji knew he was irritated at Oishi stepping in like that.
Natsuki grinned. "Alright. See you guys on the courts!"
"Looking forward to it, Fukurada-san," said Oishi, bowing. Fukurada threw a flirty wink at Tezuka, then left.
Tezuka was thrown by the wink; it was clear to see that there was surprise and actual interest on his face. Fuji hadn't seen that expression in years, and never had Tezuka displayed outright emotion since the day his arm had been injured by that (goddamn bastard) idiot jealous of Tezuka's talent.
It was beautiful, to see Tezuka so unguarded.
Fuji smiled wider, even though his heart was breaking on the inside.
Tezuka defeated Natsuki 6-3. Fuji's own opponent had been interesting; she was quite unpredictable, much like Fuji himself. Fuji decided to show her where she was weak, and slowly broke her shots, hitting difficult-to-reach lobs, especially since she was a net player.
Fuji didn't bother using any of his Counters; then she would have been too easy to beat, and Fuji wanted to distract himself from reality, to keep the burning jealousy at bay for just a little while longer while his muscles and brain focused on tennis.
The match ended 6-4, and Tezuka, who had been long done, gave him a long stare that Fuji interpreted as 'Why didn't you go all out?'
Fuji, as usual, just smiled it off and gave no answer. He knew that this would inevitably lead to Tezuka interrogating him again, but really, he had no answer that would satisfy Tezuka.
Tezuka started towards Fuji, no doubt to lecture him, but Natsuki stepped into his path and distracted him with something or other.
Fuji didn't know if he should laugh or cry.
Tezuka and Natsuki became friends, then close friends, then more than friends, then official boyfriend and girlfriend.
When Fuji heard, he congratulated them with his usual smile, and Tezuka, distracted with his embarrassment and new girlfriend, didn't notice the pain that seeped into the smile.
Tezuka began to spend his time with Natsuki. The only exception was tennis club, which of course always came first. Tezuka had never been really interested in girls before; they seemed like distractions from tennis, really, what with the way they kept screaming while he was playing.
Natsuki wasn't like that, though. She was cool, collected, smart. Soon, Tezuka learnt how to read her.
When she was insulted, she'd smile coldly and tilt her head just slightly, and her green eyes would pierce through your soul.
When she was embarrassed, she licked her lips and looked away with a small smile on her face.
When she was angry, her lips pursed and her narrow-eyed glare was terrifying.
And when she was happy, truly happy, she'd smile at Tezuka in that certain way and she'd kiss him, and Tezuka would realize over and over that this was why people always got into a fuss over love.
Tezuka began to spend his time with Natsuki. The only exception was tennis club, which of course always came first.
Fuji really wanted to hate Natsuki, really, and in a way he did, but it really wasn't her fault they'd gotten together. She was nice, though, and Fuji genuinely did like her as a friend, but the fact remained that she was dating Tezuka.
Did she know?
Did she know that when Tezuka was embarrassed, he'd duck his head just like that?
Did she know that when Tezuka was annoyed, that little vein in his temple and his eyebrow twitched in almost perfect unison?
Did she know that Tezuka didn't like rainy days?
Did she know that if Tezuka was sad, he'd watch a movie, usually an action flick, with a cup of unacha?
Fuji smiled, even though he was alone in his room with nothing but his cacti to lie to, because he would cry if he didn't.
Tezuka was no easier on the team than usual, so the original goal was not accomplished. "But Tezuka seems so much happier now," commented Oishi, smiling. "He used to be so sullen."
"Aa," said Eiji, glancing sideways at Fuji. Fuji just smiled, because Eiji was very perceptive, and Fuji was his closest friend after Oishi. "Yes," said Fuji. "Natsuki-san is good for him, I think."
"Hoi, you're coming with me, Fuji!" Eiji took Fuji by the wrist immediately and dragged him away into the empty clubroom.
"Nya, Fujiko, are you okay?" he asked worriedly. "I know... I know you like him."
Fuji smiled. "Yes, and since he's happy, I'm happy."
"Don't. Don't pretend with me," said Eiji lowly. "I know you're hurting, Fujiko, nya, but please stop lying to me and to yourself. Let yourself feel something for once, nya?"
Fuji's smile didn't waver. "I can't," he said quietly, "because if I stop smiling, I'm going to cry, and I refuse to do so anywhere within Tezuka's vicinity."
Eiji hugged Fuji tightly. "Come over after tennis," Eiji said softly. "Please."
Fuji hugged back and nodded.
Three months passed, and it seemed like Tezuka and Natsuki were the perfect couple. Tezuka helped her realize her full potential as a tennis player, and Natsuki made Tezuka less socially awkward. It was a good arrangement, and Tezuka, the human rock, was actually feeling something for a girl. It was a shock to most of the school, students and faculty alike.
It didn't bother Tezuka. He was happy; he had a girlfriend, his tennis team was shaping up pretty well and he was, once again, at the top of the class, tied only with Fuji, who seemed to have dived into his schoolwork and tennis lately. Tezuka was happy about that, too; usually Fuji never tried, and that pissed Tezuka off.
It seemed, in that instant, that life was perfect.
Then one day, when they were playing in a street tennis court, Tezuka just got tired of playing at half-power. It had never bothered him before, but for the past three weeks or so, he'd gotten impatient. He felt like it wasn't enough to play against Natsuki. There was no excitement in knowing without a doubt that he'd beat her if he were to show his full power, and he couldn't help but wish she were better.
Tezuka wasn't sure what he wanted from her; they both knew that this was the best she would ever do. Playing against her held no thrill, and if playing against her lost its thrill, what about everything else? Tennis was a big part of Tezuka's life; if she wasn't good enough to hold her own against Tezuka, there was no way they were going to work in the long run.
Watching her on the other side of the court, panting and sweating and ready to give up, Tezuka realized that Natsuki was not someone he wanted to be with anymore.
"Kunimitsu?" she called, straightening and tilting her head. "Kunimitsu, what's wrong?"
Somebody who would always need him to be light and gentle and make him hold back... that wasn't what he wanted.
Tezuka shook his head. "It's nothing," he called back. "I'm... tired. Let's stop."
Natsuki smiled. "Alright. Thank you."
Tezuka didn't feel the little warmth in his chest at the sight, and immediately knew that this relationship would not last.
It was 7, and Fuji was about to tuck into dinner when Tezuka showed up on his doorstep.
"Fuji," he said, looking a bit at a loss, "play a match with me."
"Tezuka, it's time for dinner," Fuji reminded him gently.
"We can eat after," promised Tezuka. "Please."
He looked so lost and confused and so adorable, Fuji didn't want to reject him, but...
"Oh, Tezuka-kun," said Fuji Yoshiko, smiling exactly the way Fuji did. "Were you supposed to come over for dinner? Syuusuke didn't mention it to me, but I'm sure there's enough food to go around..."
"Ah, no, Fuji-san, I'd like to borrow your son for the evening," he said, bowing respectfully. "If you'd allow it?"
Yoshiko smiled mysteriously and gently nudged Fuji forward. "Go on, Syuusuke," she said knowingly. "As long as you have him back by midnight, Tezuka-kun!"
"I will, Fuji-san."
Fuji rolled his eyes. Tezuka was so serious. A lesser man might have been embarrassed that his best friend's mother thought he was taking her son out on a date.
Fuji glanced at Tezuka's face worriedly. Something was off with him, but Fuji didn't know what. He didn't like it; usually Tezuka was easy to read. Maybe something had happened with –Fuji's heart clenched– Natsuki?
"What's wrong, Tezuka?" Fuji asked once they had escaped the house.
Tezuka shook his head. "It's nothing."
"No, it's not," said Fuji immediately, looking straight ahead in an angry glare. "Don't lie to me, Tezuka. I know it's something big. You know I wouldn't ask unless it was something big."
Tezuka was silent for a few moments, pondering the difference in what Fuji and Natsuki had each said when he'd dismissed their worries. Natsuki had accepted his lie despite how obviously he wasn't fine; Fuji had not, knowing that it was a big realization for Tezuka.
"I'm sorry," he said finally. For lying to you, he meant, but I can't tell you right now.
Fuji heard it loud and clear, nodded and changed the subject.
The match was exhilarating. Fuji wasn't holding back, and he was aiming for all of Tezuka's weak points, constantly reminding Tezuka that he still had to work hard.
Tezuka, in turn, broke Fuji's Triple Counters and their extensions one by one, forcing Fuji to improve on those points and keep developing new moves.
It was a great match, nothing like the one Tezuka had played with Natsuki. This was a whole new level; while Natsuki was good at tennis, she didn't adapt to change well, always surprised when Tezuka hit an unexpected shot. Fuji, however, never let the surprise break his stride; Tezuka only knew he was surprised by the way his eyes widened.
When it was over, three sets later (6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (56-58) in Tezuka's favor), they slumped on the bench on Tezuka's side of the court, panting to catch their breath.
"Good game," Fuji gasped out, his face up towards the night sky. "It was close, ne?"
"Aa," panted Tezuka. "Your new Counters took a while to break, Fuji."
"As did your Zone," replied Fuji. "I think your smashes have gotten faster, Tezuka."
"Or your Higuma Otoshi got slower," murmured Tezuka to himself, but Fuji heard anyway and laughed. "Maybe. I haven't played anyone at your level for a while, only Eiji and Momo, sometimes," Fuji continued, turning to smile at Tezuka with his eyes still open, and Tezuka knew it was a real smile, "and nobody makes for as thrilling a match as Tezuka."
Warmth spread in Tezuka's chest at the sight of his genuine smile, and Tezuka was stunned at the implication. Did he... like Fuji?
"Ne, Tezuka, I'm starving. Let's go get dinner."
Tezuka snapped out of his daze. There was time for musings later; right now it was time for food.
Tezuka's stomach grumbled loudly at the thought, and Fuji, after a few moments of wide-eyed shock, burst into laughter. "Ah, who knew?" he said between chuckles. "Tezuka is human after all."
Tezuka ducked his head in embarrassment. Yeah, it was definitely time for food.
The next day, during their free last period, Tezuka met Natsuki on the rooftop as usual.
"Natsuki," said Tezuka, slightly nervous. "We have to talk."
Natsuki smiled bitterly, and Tezuka knew that she knew. "We're... breaking up, huh, Kunimitsu?"
Tezuka wanted to look away uncomfortably, but made himself look her in the eye. She deserved as much. "Aa. I'm... sorry."
Natsuki sighed, and her smile turned wistful. "I knew it was only a matter of time," she said, looking up at the bright blue, cloudless sky. "I knew that it would never last. I knew I wasn't good enough for you."
"It's not that," said Tezuka. "You're perfect– just for someone else, not me."
"You're so sweet, Kunimitsu," said Natsuki. "Good luck... with Fuji-kun."
Tezuka was only partly surprised; Natsuki had always been one of the few people who could see right through Tezuka, who knew him better than he knew himself. "Thank you," he said simply. "You can slap me if you want."
Natsuki grinned evilly and Tezuka regretted his words.
"Yes, Tezu...ka...?" Fuji raised his eyebrows at the red handprint on Tezuka's face. "Did you and Natsuki get into a fight?"
"We broke up," admitted Tezuka.
"What? Why? You two were so good together," said Fuji sympathetically, actually meaning what he said. Natsuki hadn't been that bad a person.
"She isn't the one for me," said Tezuka simply. Fuji tilted his head, an amused smile playing on his lips. "Ne, Tezuka, I never thought you would believe in 'the one'."
Fuji grinned and took Tezuka's elbow. "Come," Fuji said, leading Tezuka down the street. "I'll treat you to some ice cream."
"Where... are we going?" Tezuka asked hesitantly, as if afraid Fuji would take him to a weird ice cream shop that sold flavors like wasabi and spicy jellyfish and ginger.
"Se-cr-et," said Fuji with a mischievous grin, because while he was going to take Tezuka to a normal ice cream joint, it was always fun to mess with him.
When they showed up for tennis practice an hour late, Kikumaru accused them of having gone on a date.
"Well," said Fuji, glancing sideways at Tezuka. "Tezuka is single now, but I don't think–"
"It was a date," said Tezuka firmly. The glance he gave Fuji was searing, bold, as if challenging Fuji to deny it. His way of a confession. "Kikumaru, ten laps for prying into personal affairs. Echizen, fifty for being even later than Fuji and I. Fuji, you and I will run twenty laps."
"Nya! Ten whole laps for 'prying into personal affairs'? But Fujiko is my best friend, I have a right to know!"
"Che. Mada mada dane."
Fuji, his bright blue eyes open and vulnerable, looked adorably shocked and disbeliving, yet there was a hint of happiness, and Tezuka fought down a smile, instead starting his own laps. Fuji started after him after a moment and they kept pace easily. "Ne, Tezuka," Fuji said softly. "Did you mean it?"
Tezuka glanced at Fuji and let the corner of his mouth twitch up just a little. "Of course."
Fuji beamed and took Tezuka's hand in his. Tezuka smiled back when his heart fluttered at the sight of it, and after the initial shock of seeing their (stoic, stern, so-scary-he-could-make-you-pee-your-pants) buchou smile, catcalls and applause broke out.
They didn't even get laps because Tezuka was too distracted by Fuji.
The whole club agreed, at that moment, that Fuji-sempai was the perfect match for Tezuka-buchou.
DISCLAIMER: I have a plan to ambush Konomi Takeshi and steal his identity, but I have to find a way to get around that annoying gender problem first...
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