A/N: So, the final chapter. And I do believe my first non-angsty Thrill.
Ryoma stepped out of the locker room, willing himself to think of something other than Fuji-sempai and Buchou. But the universe wasn't having it, since the first thing he saw when outside was the two of them. Fuji had an arm around Tezuka's shoulder and Tezuka's arm was around Fuji's waist and they were heading for the school building. They looked like a couple.
"The fuck…?" Ryoma muttered darkly, glaring at their backs. It wasn't that long ago when Fuji-sempai had told him he wasn't dating Tezuka. Thinking back on the time, Ryoma thought he might have heard some regret in Fuji-sempai's voice. So maybe Fuji-sempai really did want to date Buchou and had now gotten what he wanted.
Ryoma looked back at the locker room from where he'd just left and played the scene he'd had with Fuji-sempai all over again in his mind. Maybe it had been an attempt on Fuji-sempai's part to make Buchou jealous? If so, it seemed to have worked. Buchou had seemed furious when he'd dragged Fuji out of the locker room.
"It's not like it has anything to do with me…" Ryoma muttered and headed home. He had his own problems to deal with and if he started wondering about Fuji's life, he suspected he'd go insane. Fuji-sempai was a little weird. Actually little didn't cover it. Fuji-sempai was really weird.
And so was Sakuno. Everyone in Ryoma's life was weird, he admitted, but those two had made his life more complicated with their weirdness.
Ryoma and Sakuno had played tennis together, watched tennis matches on TV together, went shopping for tennis equipment and Ryoma had been having the time of his life. He hadn't known it could be this fun to have a girlfriend. If he'd had, he would've asked her out sooner.
Then one day Sakuno had shocked her by saying, "We never do anything else but play tennis, talk about anything but tennis. Can't we do something else, like go cycling?" Ryoma thought Sakuno knew him! Ryoma was tennis! What could be more fun than tennis?
"Sure, let's go cycling," Ryoma had agreed.
Sakuno brought lunch on their trip, Ryoma his tennis bag. It had been a great day. They found an empty tennis court, played some tennis and ate the lunch Sakuno brought with her and watched the sunset while holding hands.
"Ryoma-kun," Sakuno had whispered and Ryoma had turned to look at her, liking the way the last rays of sun coloured her face with red gold. Sakuno had smiled and looked at him as if waiting for something. Sighing, she had leaned closer and Ryoma asked,
"You think we still have time for another game before we have to head home?"
"Uh?" Sakuno's smile had turned crooked and she'd pulled away. "Why not?" She'd answered and pulled her hand free from Ryoma's grasp. Ryoma remembered feeling like he'd lost something then, but it hadn't been clear what until they'd stopped before Sakuno's home and she'd spoken again, sounding more mature than ever before. "Ryoma-kun… I think we should be friends, don't you?"
Friends, Ryoma remembered thinking, wasn't the same as being a girlfriend and boyfriend. "Friends, huh?" Ryoma had asked.
"Close friends, Ryoma-kun, but… friends." She'd smiled in the same way she had smiled earlier when they were watching the sunset and Ryoma remembered thinking again how mature she looked. Like she'd grown up faster than him in the last minutes.
He'd watched her lead her bike away, feeling numb, wondering why he wasn't more heartbroken. He should've been, after just breaking up with his girlfriend. Ryoma knew from everyone else that he should have been moping in his room, listening to sad music and rereading Sakuno's messages on his phone and watch mournfully at all the pictures they'd taken together. But he didn't see the point since he was seeing Sakuno at school tomorrow like every other day and they would still play tennis and watch matches together. They were still friends, after all.
Ryoma stopped in his tracks and blinked. He finally understood why Sakuno thought they shouldn't be together. It was because Ryoma wasn't heartbroken and he should've been.
When he got home, Ryoma didn't bother searching for his family members to inform them he was home and just headed straight for his bedroom. He sat down by his desk and took out his school books. A yellow piece of paper with little pink hearts drawn on to it was lodged between the pages of his math book, marking his place. Sakuno had given it to her and somehow Ryoma wasn't willing to part with it. Even after what he'd realized on his way home, he still wanted to keep it.
Ryoma sighed and placed his math book aside. His mind was too chaotic now, for him to focus on it.
His history books went on the same pile, as well as English and every subject he took out of his school-bag.
Finally he gave up on homework and went downstairs. Hearing noise from the kitchen he poked his head in there. His mother was sitting by the kitchen table with his cousin. "Oh, Ryoma, you're home already," his mother smiled at him, still dressed in her suit, her briefcase on the table. "Your cousin will be staying with us for a while since her apartment is being painted."
"Fine," Ryoma answered and sat next to Nanako.
"It'll be just like when you were a kid, Ryoma-san," Nanako smiled at him.
"He's still a kid, Nanako," Rinko smiled and Ryoma frowned at his mother, making her laugh. "You'll still be a kid to me when you have children and a mortgage, Ryoma."
"Che," Ryoma huffed and fled the kitchen to the living room. It was no better there; his dad was lounging in front of the TV, watching women's mud wrestling. "Does mom know you're watching that crap?" Ryoma asked just as the other woman on the screen threw the other one over her shoulder, making his dad jump.
"Keep your voice down, kid!" His dad ordered him.
"Che, she won't hear. She's talking with Nanako in the kitchen," Ryoma told his dad, not sure why he was suddenly feeling so generous towards him.
Nanjiroh blinked at him, said, "Thanks kid," frowned and returned to watching his show.
Ryoma stood there a few seconds, went back to the kitchen and sat beside his cousin again. "What's wrong, Ryoma?" his mom asked when Ryoma didn't say anything.
"I don't have anything to do," Ryoma answered.
"Why don't you go watch something on TV?" Rinko asked.
"Dad's watching mud wrestling," Ryoma answered and went back upstairs to his room.
"No, womaaan! Give me back that remote!" Ryoma heard his father yell just before he closed his door. He smirked, feeling much better.
"Aren't Thursday's great!" Katsuo beamed at them when the teacher released them from their last class.
"What's with him?" Ryoma asked Kachirou.
"Tomoka promised to go on a date with him this Thursday," Horio answered instead. "You think Sakuno'd go out with me now that she dumped you, Echizen?"
Ryoma turned and glared at Horio. He didn't say a word, just glared.
"Well, do you?" Horio asked again.
"Ah, Horio-kun, maybe you shouldn't…" Kachirou placed his hand on Horio's shoulder, hoping he'd get the hint and shut up before Ryoma blew up.
"I love Thursdays!" Katsuo yelled again and salvaged the situation by throwing his arm around Ryoma's shoulders and dragging him with him towards the tennis club.
"Shit, that was close," Kachirou muttered.
"What?" Horio asked.
Ryoma was officially hating practice now.
It started nice enough. The girls passed by their court and Sakuno waved at him. Ryoma hesitantly waved back, still a little unsure about how to treat her. As just another friend? Or maybe he should just ignore her for the next few years they'd be going to the same school.
"She really is cute, isn't she?" Horio asked him. "How could you mess it up so bad that she dumped you, anyway? She's had a crush on you like forever!"
Just when Ryoma was ready to kill Horio, Kikumaru came and jumped on him. "O'chibi, you look so gloomy!"
"Kikumaru, Echizen! Stop playing around! This is practice, not a playground!" Tezuka yelled at them.
"Don't be so harsh on them, Tezuka," Fuji smiled at Tezuka.
"Tezuka, we need to discuss the line-up for the regional matches," Inui appeared at Tezuka's shoulder.
"That's not for a while yet, Inui," Tezuka told him and was about to turn back to Fuji.
"But this is important, Tezuka. I have some more data gathered on the team we'll be facing," Inui took hold of Tezuka's arm and directed him away from Fuji.
Kikumaru dragged Ryoma with him to Fuji, who was chuckling to himself. "Hoi Fuji, Inui stole your boyfriend! And you're just chuckling!" Kikumaru shouted. "Aren't you jealous?" he whispered.
Fuji blinked at Kikumaru. "Oh, I didn't tell you, did I? I'm not dating Tezuka."
"Why not?" Kikumaru asked. "You're perfect for each other! Now Oishi and I don't have anyone to go on a double date with!" he whined.
"Eiji!" Oishi yelled. "We haven't told everyone we're dating," he hushed and glanced around, face red. He was a little confused when no one seemed shocked by the announcement.
"Don't worry about it, Oishi-sempai. Everyone already knows you're dating," Ryoma told him.
"They… they do?" Oishi asked.
"Yeah. I've known ever since I first came here," Ryoma told him.
"But… We didn't start dating until a few weeks ago," Oishi stammered.
Ryoma didn't know what to say to that, and neither did anyone else, so they just stood there, the four of them, with an uncomfortable silence surrounding them.
"I'm gonna go run some laps now," Ryoma said, when it got too much for him. After he left, Kikumaru and Oishi turned to look at Fuji, who, after attempting to keep his smile alive and failing, said,
"I think I'll join him," and ran after Ryoma, soon reaching the boy.
"They've only been together for two weeks," Ryoma said when Fuji reached him. "I was sure they were a couple when you finished junior-high."
"Eiji and Oishi, they… Have always been attached to each other, but it took them a long time to realize that what they had was much more than friendship. It's not that unusual," Fuji told him.
"Yes it is," Ryoma disagreed. "They've liked each other for years, but you're telling me they didn't get it until a few weeks ago? That's just…" Ryoma tried to think of a word that would sum it up, but finally settled on just shrugging and saying, "Stupid."
Fuji felt a sting at Ryoma's choice of word and faltered in his steps. "You… really think it's stupid?" he asked, voice wavering.
"What else?" Ryoma shrugged again.
"So I'm stupid," Fuji said.
"What?" Ryoma asked; turning around to look at him, jogging with his back turned.
"Nothing," Fuji smiled.
"No, you said something."
"It was nothing, really. Maybe you should turn around Ryoma-kun," Fuji warned him.
"I'm not turning until you answer me," Ryoma frowned.
Next thing he knew, he was eating dirt. He'd forgotten the tree branch they ran past every day. It hung low and everyone on the team had to crouch so they didn't hit their head on it when they were running laps. It was easy to spot and no one had ever bothered with removing it, since no one had ever hit their head on it. Then again, before Ryoma, no one had ever tried running laps backwards.
"I did warn you, Ryoma-kun," Ryoma heard Fuji say through the sharp pain in his head. He groaned and tried to get up, but was pressed back down by a gentle pressure on his chest. "Stay down," Fuji said. "Tezuka's already called the coach; he'll come and see you soon."
"What is it with you and Buchou?" Ryoma grumbled, even though every word he spoke made his head hurt even worse. "You dating him after all?"
"And if I am?" Fuji asked.
Ryoma turned to glare at Fuji from under the brim of his cap.
"I'm not." Fuji finally said. "I'm not dating Tezuka. I'm not dating anyone."
"I didn't ask if you were single. All I wanted to know is if you were dating Buchou or not," Ryoma mumbled, making Fuji chuckle.
"Are you free tonight?" Fuji asked.
"Che," Ryoma scoffed and turned his head away. Fuji took it to mean 'yes'.
"What's wrong with you kid? Is Karupin sick again?" His father asked when Ryoma spent all evening walking from upstairs to downstairs, from inside the house, to the outside. Ever since he got home the boy had been on edge and it was starting to grate on Nanjiroh's nerves.
"Nothing. He's fine," Ryoma said and got up from the couch where he'd been able to sit still for a whole minute and went to the hall, opened the door and stared at the gate. He stared at it until his mother came and closed the door.
"It's getting chilly, Ryoma. Come into the kitchen, I'll make us some tea and you can tell me all about it," Rinko smiled at her son and directed him towards the kitchen. Nanjiroh opened his mouth to say something, but a sharp look from Rinko shut his mouth.
When Ryoma was finally sitting patiently beside the kitchen table, a steaming cup of tea before him, Rinko asked, "Now tell me, what is it? Is it about Sakuno? Are you worried you made the wrong choice?"
Ryoma frowned. "No, it's not about Sakuno. Besides, it's not like she asked me what I wanted when she dumped me," he grumbled.
"Then what is the matter? You are making everyone in this house restless with your behaviour," Rinko said.
Ryoma sighed, not sure how to explain it to his mother, since he really didn't understand it himself. It's not like Fuji had even said he was coming, he'd just asked if Ryoma was free. Of course the question did imply that he wanted to know if Ryoma was free because he wanted to do something with Ryoma. Even so, it was no reason for Ryoma to feel so anxious. It was ridiculous. Just because his sempai might come around to see if he wanted to do something Ryoma was feeling just as nervous as he'd felt when he'd waited Sakuno to tell him if she wanted to go out on a date.
Which was just ridiculous, really. He didn't want anything like that with Fuji-sempai, and was sure neither did Fuji-sempai. It wasn't like this was a date or anything. It wasn't. That is, it wasn't a date, if Fuji-sempai would even show up, and that wasn't all that certain. He could have just been asking if Ryoma was free just because he wanted to know, and nothing more. Fuji-sempai was weird like that.
"There's someone here to see you, Ryoma-san!" Nanako yelled from the hall and Ryoma jumped up from his seat, his stomach in a knot and his heart beating rapidly.
"Hello Ryoma-kun," Sakuno smiled at him from the kitchen doorway, and Ryoma felt something akin to disappointment. "I thought you might like to play some tennis," she said and Ryoma noticed the tennis bag she was carrying.
Ryoma had thought he'd have a more competent tennis partner tonight, but it was getting late and if Fuji-sempai was going to show up, he'd have shown up already. "Sure," he shrugged. There really wasn't anything better to do.
Fuji had never been to Ryoma's house, and the only reason he knew where the boy lived was because of Momo.
One day, when Fuji was in the middle of his second year and Momo in his first, they had gone to Momo's house with Eiji. Fuji had already forgotten the reason why the three of them were going to Momo's house, but he had not forgotten what had happened when they passed a house with a temple on its grounds.
Momo had stopped and smiled at the house. "Echizen lives here," he'd told them. "I still sometimes stop in the mornings and wait for him on my way to school. Kind of stupid, ha?" He'd laughed and scratched the back of his head the way he did when he was feeling self conscious. Eiji had laughed at Momo, but Fuji had only smiled and said nothing, since he saw nothing stupid about it. Fuji had wished he'd known where Ryoma had lived, so he could have come here and done the same. He remembered wishing he'd known more about the boy who had such a deep impact in all their lives.
It amazed him now that he had not then understood what he now knew. That his affection for Ryoma was deeper than any he had felt for anyone, even for Yuuta. But like any other human, Fuji had not seen it, until he nearly lost it.
Shaking his head Fuji banished the depressing thoughts and focused on the present. A smile, a genuine smile rouse on his face and with every step he took towards Ryoma's home, his smile only grew brighter. Today might be the day that everything would change for him and Ryoma. It could be the beginning of everything he had wished for. Maybe then he wouldn't even have to ask if Ryoma was free, because his nights would always be free for Fuji.
Fuji's smile slipped away from his face when he turned the corner and saw Ryoma leave his house with Sakuno. "That little slut!" Fuji shouted out loud and immediately smacked his hand over his mouth. He couldn't understand how such words could come out of his mouth, and especially not when they concerned Ryuzaki Sakuno, a girl he knew to be a sweet and shy, who thought of nothing but the best of everyone.
That still didn't change the fact that Sakuno had taken Ryoma away when it was meant to be Fuji's time with him. And why was Ryoma going with her? He knew Fuji was coming.
Maybe Fuji had read everything wrong, what he had thought was attraction from Ryoma was just Fuji reflecting his own feelings on to the boy, seeing what he wanted to see when in reality there was nothing.
But even Tezuka had seen it, warned him not to hurt Ryoma. How could they both have been wrong?
Fuji sighed, his eyes following the pair. He very nearly followed them, like an obsessed stalker.
"Ryoma-kun," Sakuno called out to the boy walking a few steps a head of her, but got no reaction. "Ryoma-kun. Ryoma-kun!" Sakuno finally yelled and grabbed the boy's arm.
"What?" Ryoma asked, frowning.
"Is… everything alright? You're not angry with me, are you?" Sakuno stammered and lowered her head.
Ryoma let out a breath he hadn't noticed he'd been holding and shook his head. "Maybe," he muttered. "No, not really. It's not your fault I didn't know any better," Ryoma kept his voice low. It wasn't easy to tell Sakuno something like that.
He looked up when he felt a soft touch on his cheek. Sakuno was smiling brightly at him. "I'm happy you're not angry with me, Ryoma-kun. I still want to be your friend."
"Me too," Ryoma said.
When Ryoma turned away again Sakuno let her smile slip. It hurt, being mature.
Ryoma ended up spending the whole night with Sakuno. When they were finished playing tennis they went to buy some ice cream and waited in a nearby park until Sakuno's mother came to pick her up.
By the time he was home, the sun was already disappearing behind the horizon and the shadows near his house had grown long. He didn't see the figure standing next to their gate and his heart jumped to his throat when a hand drew him to the darkness that the wall surrounding their house had created on the sidewalk.
The stranger was taller than him, the grip on Ryoma's arm, though strong, wasn't threatening and Ryoma soon felt his fear vanish, even when no words had been spoken and he could not be sure who the stranger gripping his arm was.
"You were with Ryuzaki," the soft voice of his sempai spoke.
"Yeah. So what?" Ryoma scowled and pried his arm from Fuji's hold. "You weren't gonna show up."
"But I did," Fuji answered and his hand released Ryoma's arm.
"I didn't know that. Why did you, anyway?"
"Come?" Fuji asked.
"Came late?" Ryoma added to the question, not realising how much it meant to Fuji with the addition of just that one word.
"I'm sorry I'm late," Fuji whispered. "I should've come sooner, realized much sooner. I'm sorry."
"Just don't do it again," Ryoma told him, and tried to get by him. "Fuji-sempai…" Ryoma whispered, a little worried when Fuji didn't let him pass.
"I promise I won't," Fuji said and shocked Ryoma by pushing him against the wall and pressing the boy between his body and the cold stone of the wall.
"Fuji-sempai…" Ryoma said again, but stopped, when he had nothing to say, so they just stood there, the cold stone behind Ryoma's back, Fuji pressed against him, the light of the sun slowly disappearing. Not until the streetlamps lit up did Ryoma finally move and even then, only to look at Fuji.
Fuji was only looking at him. There was no smile, no expression on his face, no emotion that Ryoma could recognize in his eyes. It should have scared him, Ryoma thought. Most of the rumours that went around in their club, the ones that weren't about the Golden Pair's 'special friendship' and about Tezuka-buchou being a robot were about Fuji's eyes and how you'd be turned to stone if he looked at you with his eyes open.
What Ryoma felt wasn't fear. What he felt wasn't anything he could have described. The closest thing he could think of to describe it was like the calm before the storm. The tension between them created a knot in his stomach and he itched with the want of making something happen, wanted something to happen.
"You make me feel weird, Fuji-sempai," Ryoma finally spoke and pushed against Fuji's chest, not really surprised when the other boy didn't move.
"Weird isn't bad, though, is it Ryoma-kun?" Fuji asked and raised a hand to the boy's cheek, smiling when Ryoma's face pressed against his palm.
"Yeah," Ryoma said, smiled and coiled his fingers around Fuji's wrist firmly. "Weird's alright."