Loaded Soul

Author's Notes: Thrill Pair. Let's take a shot at it, shall we? First of all, I want to thank everyone who reviewed or even simply read my first PoT story, Crumbling. I think it was your support that helped me complete the story. Anyway, in this thrill story, Fuji may seem like the bad guy or antagonist at times, but I swear, it's only for the sake of the plot. And it is thrill pair, so he's not actually bad or anything. By the way, the prologue is a bit jumpy and confusing and pretty over exaggerated but bear with me.

Side Notes: This will be 10 chapters (including the Prologue) with a fair amount of word length (hopefully).

Warning: Around Fuji, Ryoma will probably be OOC. However, with everyone else, he will be as in character as I can make him. Fuji just has an effect on him, I suppose



Ryoma's hand froze above his locker combination. His throat went tight. That voice – as sharp as the blade of a knife, as malicious as the hiss of a snake – he knew that voice. It was the one that made his stomach twist into knots every time he heard it. It was the voice he had come to dread over the past few weeks, the one he had carefully avoided ever since the realization.

"Echizen, are you alright?" Now, the voice sounded concerned.

Ryoma wanted to bang his head against his locker. He couldn't turn around, lest Fuji see his flushed face and shaken eyes. The preteen took a deep breath. He fumbled to get his combination – once, twice, thrice – before he finally managed to throw the locker open. Ignore him, Ryoma sweated as he gathered his math textbook into his arms. He'll go away if you do.

"You know, grumbling to yourself is a sign of insanity."

Had he been mumbling outloud? Ryoma squeaked under his breath, then clapped a hand over his mouth. Had he just squeaked? The twelve-year old took a deep breath. His knees trembled underneath him. Focus. He needed to focus. Reorganize his thoughts. With a long a gulp of air, Ryoma straightened up, plastered on a bored expression, and turned around.

"Fuji-senpai?" he said nonchalantly.

Fuji stood calmly in front of his locker. Ryoma gulped as his eyes roamed over the prodigy's smooth skin and slender body, the tight muscles showing throu – Stop. Just stop. That's right. He needed to control his emotions, or this stupid problem would never go away.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Fuji said. "You seem tense."

Ryoma hugged his textbook to his chest. "Fine, senpai. Anyway, I have to go to class now."

The boy made a desperate getaway towards his classroom, but Fuji clamped a hand firmly on his shoulder. Ryoma's heart dropped to his gut, and it took every ounce of his willpower to not faint at the touch.

"Yes?" he asked casually. "What do you want?"

Fuji smiled. "Ryuuzaki-sensei wanted me to tell you that we're going to have the intra-school ranking tournament at practice today."

For a lovely split second, Ryoma's breathing rate went back to normal. He raised an eyebrow at the new information. "A ranking tournament? A little last minute, isn't it?"

"I don't know all the details," Fuji said innocently. Ryoma bet his tennis skills that Fuji knew all the details by heart. "but it's not about who gets to be a regular. Something else."

This was even more of a surprise. Ryoma shrugged – he couldn't care less though. He would just beat everyone like he always did. "Okay."

Fuji nodded, and let go of Ryoma's shoulder. Immediately, the boy felt cold. He closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath – He's going. He's going. Thank god he's going. Ryoma relaxed his shoulders and tense back. Finally, he could go to his math class in peace. It was first period, so he was already late, but he was late every day so it didn't really make a difference. As Ryoma opened his eyes and took a step forward, a chilling voice made his knees buckle.

"Oh, Echizen?"

Why hasn't he left yet? Ryoma's heart banged like a hammer. He was supposed to be long gone!

Ryoma slowly looked over his shoulder, hands shaking under the weight of his textbook.

Fuji shot him a serene smile, a few metres away. "You look very cute in your uniform."

The heart in Ryoma's chest completely exploded and Ryoma had to hold onto the wall to steady himself. What? His throat went dry, and he opened his mouth to respond but Fuji had already disappeared behind the corner. What? What? Ryoma internally freaked out. Control completely dissolving, Ryoma hurried past his classroom and into the boy's bathroom.

He needed some time to recollect himself. And maybe pass out.

After Ryoma washed his face and slumped against the wall for a long moment, he managed to feel a bit better. It was always like this around Fuji – a jumping feeling in his chest, butterflies squirming in his stomach. He hated it so much; to be out of control. He had always been capable in successfully hiding his emotions when necessary, so this new weakness was foreign to him.

"Stupid Fuji-senpai," Ryoma muttered. He clung onto his textbook like it was a lifeline.

Ever since the realization – the one that had occurred a few weeks ago and resulted in ruining his life – Ryoma had been unable to keep Fuji off his mind. It's because you like-like him, Ryoma. Face the horrible truth. Ryoma felt sick again. He had a crush, dear lord – and not just any crush, but one on a boy. Hold on – not just on any boy, but on a manipulative bastard that liked to mess with your feelings.

Ryoma smiled bitterly.

Lucky me.

At least he had the entire day Fuji-less. He was glad that Fuji was a senior. That meant they didn't have any classes together, and so Ryoma could concentrate in class. Not that he really did anything but sleep and look out the window, but still. He couldn't afford to fail. And with Fuji, Ryoma had no doubt he could. Why Fuji? Why not- why not Ryuuzaki-san or someone? A girl, or at least someone not as freaking weird as Fuji.

Ryoma took a deep breath. He reminded himself of something that always managed to calm him down:

Remember, just get through the day and then you'll be safe at home and locked up in your room.

Unfortunately, his stomach sunk as he realized something: The Ranking Tournament.

Damn. With my luck, I'll probably play against Fuji-senpai and lose because I'm too busy drooling.

In fact, Ryoma did not end up playing Fuji. He played against Momoshiro, who he beat. After the break, his final match was against Kikumaru Eiji. It was odd, since in this ranking tournament, only the regulars participated instead of the entire tennis club. Also, instead of four blocks there were only two. Ryoma vaguely wondered what it was for, but he didn't really care all that match.

"Ch', it's way too hot," Ryoma tipped his head back. He took a long gulp of water from his bottle. Around him, the freshman trio chattered excitedly, Horio blabbering with his mouth full.

"You know, Horio, it'd be nice if you slowed down and chewed for a moment," Kachiro mumbled half-heartedly, tray pulled against his chest.

Ryoma rolled his eyes and turned around to lie on the grass. Automatically, his eyes closed for comfort. So hot…I'd rather be at home with the air-conditioning…and I can't even get a decent match lately…to bad buchou's in Germany…

"Horio, please stop talking with your mouth full," Katsuo begged. "Fuji-senpai is coming over here too. It'd just be rude if you spoke to him while you ate."

Boom! Like an explosion, Ryoma's heart started to beat erratically. A loud thump rung in his ears. He opened one eye and peered down the pathaway where, indeed, Fuji was walking. Right towards them. Crap. With hasty movements, Ryoma rolled onto his stomach and closed his eyes. Maybe if he pretended to sleep, Fuji would walk by without stopping. After all, Ryoma was sure that Fuji didn't really care to speak with the other freshman.

Please, please, for the sake of my sanity, just walk by.

Ryoma's prayers melted to oblivion when the freshman trio greeted the prodigy by chorusing his name.

"Hi Fuji-senpai!"

There was a moment of silence in which Ryoma guessed Fuji smiled creepily.

"Hello. Is Echizen asleep?"

Ryoma inwardly groaned.

Horio jumped right in to answer. "Ha? Well, he wasn't asleep just a moment ago, so I bet he's not really asleep yet! Hey, Echizen, Fuji-senpai wants to talk to you!"

Ryoma screwed his eyes shut and cursed. With a deep breath, he pushed himself up with his wrists and turned around to shoot Fuji a lazy stare. It took all his sheer willpower not to blush and faint, and he wondered if this crush thing was getting worse instead of better. Seriously though, this is stupid. Nobody I know gets this panicky around the person they like. It's Fuji's fault. It's his effect.

Fuji smiled at the twelve-year old. "Your next game is against Eiji, hm?"

Ryoma didn't bother to answer. He didn't think he could have even if he'd tried. Go away, he silently pleaded. Please?

The boy's eyes widened in shock when Fuji did the complete opposite. Instead of disappearing like he should have, Fuji settled onto the grass beside Ryoma. For a moment, Ryoma felt his entire throat clog up and his brain go fuzzy. He fought to keep the blush off his face as Fuji's knee touched his own. What's happening? He never sits beside me like this! Unless…he knows

"Echizen, are you sure you're alright?" Fuji said softly. His voice was gentle with deceit.

Ryoma nodded dumbly. "Fine, senpai."

"You don't look fine," Fuji replied, tone amused.

"I am," Ryoma swallowed hard. "Don't you have a game or something?"

Fuji's eyes sparkled with even more amusement. "Hm? It's break, Echizen. I don't know what you're talking about."

Ryoma's face flushed. He looked away. "Whatever."

There was silence. The other freshman seemed to have inched away as if they knew that Ryoma and Fuji should be left alone. Ryoma really didn't want to be left alone with Fuji, but he could see his so-called friends scampering away to another spot. The boy's stomach sunk and he stilled himself.

Suddenly, there was some shuffling and Fuji moved a few inches away from Ryoma.

The boy's chest relaxed. Phew, that's more comfortable.

"So, are you ready for your game?" Fuji asked. "Have you sharpened your twist serve?"

Ryoma blinked, and the tenseness left his shoulders. He saw Fuji's smile widen from the corner of his eyes. "Uh, yeah. It's good, now. Better than before."

"One day," Fuji started, eyes opening. There was a flash of electric blue and Ryoma felt like he was going to die of body overheating. Luckily, the prodigy quickly closed them again and produced his regular smile. "I'll show you how to do one of the triple counters."

Ryoma scoffed, "You don't need to."

Fuji's smile remained strong. "But aren't you curious to learn?"

For a moment, Ryoma wanted to nod. If curious to learn meant spending time alone with the prodigy, then he would be more than glad. He liked Fuji and he did want to talk with him and stuff, but it was just so hard because every time the prodigy came near, Ryoma felt like his heart would explode and his knees would give out on him. If only I could interact with Fuji without falling apart…

Ryoma cleared his throat. "Okay. Maybe."

Fuji didn't answer. Then, he lowered his voice and spoke: "Echizen, there's something off about you."

The boy tugged at his collar from the heat and gulped. "Off?" he asked, and winced when his voice cracked in uncertainty. "There's nothing off, Fuji-senpai."

Blue eyes were open again. In a heartbeat, Ryoma's face went red.

"Don't lie to me," Fuji's voice was just above a whisper. The ice in his eyes went fuzzy in Ryoma's vision. There was a long minute of soundless silence. Ryoma shivered but he couldn't manage to tear his gaze away from Fuji's clear eyes. Then, as if nothing had happened, Fuji suddenly shut his eyes and smiled, albeit painstakingly.

"Sorry for scaring you," the prodigy apologized softly. "I just wanted to make sure you're okay. You seem nervous around me lately."

"Oh…" Ryoma stared at the ground. He rubbed his forearms. He felt cold all over. "Oh."

Fuji's smile wavered. "Am I that scary?"

Ryoma blinked, than coughed. He pretended to look annoyed. "Who's scared?" he challenged.

There was something about Fuji's smile that was different. Instead of its usual eerie peacefulness, it looked almost sad. Ryoma wanted to ask if everything was okay, but his voice was stuck in his throat and his heart was pumping like a full-power water hose. He hadn't exactly been scared of Fuji, just a bit taken aback – nobody's eyes had ever captured him like that before.

"I'm sorry," Fuji said again. "for scaring you."

"I wasn't scared," Ryoma mumbled. He pulled his cap down over his head.

Fuji kept his gaze drawn on him. "Well, perhaps I'm overthinking it then. It's just – I've-" the senior stopped speaking. "Nevermind. I shall be going. The final matches will be starting soon."

Ryoma frowned as Fuji stood up and brushed himself off. Any trace of insecurity or despondency had disappeared, and now Fuji looked like normal Fuji again. The tennis genius lifted his fingers in a little goodbye before he started to walk away again. Ryoma watched his back as he walked, and waited as his heart and breathing rate started to return to normal.

Fuji had been about to say something, Ryoma was sure of it. I don't get it. That was so weird. We don't even talk that much and he got so serious towards me.

"Hey, Echizen!" Horio called, running towards him.

Ryoma kept his gaze fixated on Fuji's figure as the older boy slithered behind the tennis court fence. He shook his head – he couldn't focus on Fuji right now. He had a match to win.

Heat rolled off of Ryoma's neck as he skidded against the ground. Playing against Kikumaru was tough. They were both playing rather evenly right now, tied with two games, but Ryoma found it difficult to keep up with Kikumaru's constant acrobatic moves. He wasn't really at a disadvantage, but Kikumaru was a good player, and Ryoma was having problems concentrating.

Fuji, why are you such a mystery?

Ryoma grimaced as he sent a lob too high.

Head in the game, Ryoma, head in the game.

Failing to return Kikumaru's Kikumaru beam, Ryoma stumbled against the ground once again. He groaned as his elbows scraped the pavement. He just couldn't focus, and his opponent was a regular, so he couldn't even take it easy. He didn't understand what was wrong with his mind. He'd wanted the challenge, and now he couldn't even play up to it.

"Ochibi," Kikumaru frowned. "Are you alright?"

Ryoma nodded and stood up. He shook out his arms and gripped his racket tightly in his hands. From the corner of his eyes, he saw Fuji standing there watching with a few of the other regulars. He must have finished his match against Oishi already. No doubt, Fuji won.


Huh? Ryoma looked up to see the ball on his side of the court, lying carelessly. He gritted his teeth.

Damn you, Fuji.

Kikumaru's frown deepened. "Geez Ochibi, get in the game already! I wanna play a real match, and I know you're like ten times better than this!"

Ryoma didn't say anything. He straightened up and positioned himself on the service box, knees bent in preparation. This time, at Kikumaru's serve, Ryoma launched his racket out and hit it hard. The ball whizzed over the net in a flash, then clattered against the fence.


Return ace. The preteen smirked and shook the hair out of his face. I can do this. Just gotta keep my mind off of Fuji. Fuji-senpai…the boy couldn't help but tilt his head towards the fence again. Fuji had a brilliant smile on his face and Ryoma's heart fluttered. He couldn't stop the tiny part of him that wanted to impress Fuji, and he hated himself for that. He shouldn't want to impress Fuji.

The match continued neck to neck. Kikumaru was in full-out mode, eyes ablaze with focus, acrobatic moves swinging left and right before the observers could even blink. Ryoma drifted between concentrating and being distracted, but managed to hold up his own pretty well. Unfortunately, the heat was excruciating and eventually tied at 6-6, both of them were breathing heavily.

"Change court!"

Ryoma dragged his body to the other side of the court. Gah, stupid heat. As he walked past the fence that accompanied the regulars, he stopped for a moment. Momoshiro had an eyebrow raised with confusion, Oishi looked stumped, and Ryoma was sure Tezuka would have disapproved if he was here.

"Echizen," Oishi asked. "Is everything alright? Even though you're keeping tied with Eiji, you seem…"

"Fine," Ryoma inserted quickly. He wiped a sweaty palm against his forehead, and turned his head slightly. Standing beside Momoshiro, Fuji had a tense smile on his face. The prodigy's pale fingers clutched the fence.

"You're not focusing at all," Fuji said, voice low. Although his tone was almost startling, Ryoma could hear the worry in his voice.

Tch, I act like I'm about to pass out every time he's near me and now I'm playing horrible tennis…no wonder he's concerned…hn, imagine if he knew all of this was his fault…

"I'm tied," Ryoma finally muttered. He swiftly got to his position on the other side of the court. His eyes closed tightly. For a moment, he let the nerves release from his body. He tried to push out all the thoughts on Fuji, and his self-consciousness of trying to impress the prodigy. It's only making me play worse… Ryoma screwed his eyes shut even tighter. Then, in another split second, they flashed open, holding a spark so fierce it could light up a flame.

Kikumaru grinned in satisfaction.

And Ryoma, finally concentrating, missed Fuji's exceptional smile from behind the fence.

"Game set and match! Echizen wins!"

There was mild clapping from the freshman. Ryoma sighed in relief. Perspiration dripped off his hair and his legs burned from the hard-core match. He barely managed to get to the net to shake hands with his senpai without collapsing from exhaustion. Kikumaru, although panting, had a bright smile on his face.

He shook Ryoma's hand vigorously. "Yay, thank you Ochibi! You finally played like yourself near the end!"

Ryoma nodded with a smirk. "Mada mada dane, Kikumaru-senpai."

The red-head pouted in turn. "Mada mada you!"

Ryoma nodded once again. He turned around and strode over to the bench where his tennis bag lay haphazardly. That was a tough game, tougher than it should have been. Ryoma grabbed his water bottle and took a long swig. The summer sun continuously beat down on him. Stupid heat, stupid Fuji.

"Yo, Echizen, good game!" Momoshiro hollered from behind the fence. "Near the end, anyway!"

Ryoma didn't say anything in response. He grabbed the cold-soaked towel and pressed it against his sweaty face. He felt the spirit during the last game slowly vanish as tiredness and confusion settled back in. It had been a nice break, that last game. His entire mind had been focused on tennis and not a single thought of Fuji had roamed in.

The boy glanced over to where Fuji was. The prodigy looked much more relaxed than before, and was chatting normally with Kawamura. Ryoma vaguely wondered if he'd imagined the sad smile Fuji had showed during break.

Suddenly, as if he had realized Ryoma was staring at him, Fuji turned his head and met his gaze. Ryoma flinched in surprise and his cheeks coloured. Get a hold of yourself! He whipped his head back towards his tennis bag and hastily stuffed his rackets inside. His hands trembled. How does he do it? How can he make me feel like this?

When Ryoma was sure it had been enough time, he glanced back at the fence. Fuji's smile had completely disappeared.

"Hmm, I wonder why Ryuuzaki-sensei called you and Fuji-senpai to her office, huh?" Horio smacked gum around in his mouth. He folded his arms behind his head and leaned against the lockers. "Huh, Echizen? I wonder, with my two years of tennis experience, if you're going to be in trouble or something."

"If he was going to be in trouble, then why was Fuji-senpai called to the office too?" Kachiro pointed out.

"And how does having two years of tennis experience have anything to do with it?" Katsou added slyly.

Horio sputtered indignantly, "I- I – don't question me like that! Geez!"

Ryoma closed his eyes and tried to block out the annoying chatter of his friends. Honestly, they sounded like a bunch of mosquitos buzzing irritatingly in his ears. He always tried to drown out their voices, but it was hard today because a certain someone's name kept popping up in the conversation. His stomach twisted.

After the odd ranking tournament, Coach Ryuuzaki had called Ryoma and Fuji to meet her in her office the following day during lunch. Ryoma had been horrified upon hearing the news – why a meeting with Fuji? What the hell? Does she know I'm in love with him or something? She's probably going to try get us together! Or worse, she's going to tell me I have no chance!

"Ah, Echizen."

"Fuji-senpai!" the freshman trio beamed happily.

Ryoma's eyes shot open, and he found himself face to face with a smiling Fuji. His heart started to do its usual thump, thump, thump, routine. Damn it, how does he always catch me off guard like that?

Ryoma stuffed a hand in his pocket and nodded. He tried to sound casual. "Hey, Fuji-senpai,"

"It's almost lunch. Want to walk with me to Ryuuzaki-sensei's office?"

The twelve-year old blinked, then awkwardly shifted his feet. His gaze averted back to the ground. "Okay," he said quietly. His voice came out delicate, almost a whisper, and Ryoma swallowed hard.

"Okay," he said a bit louder, but his throat still felt dry. "Let's go."

Fuji nodded once, and they silently began to walk down the hallway. Amidst the chaos of students rushing back and forth, Ryoma could only focus on Fuji's longer strides next to him. His heart still wheeled in circles, but he noticed that he wasn't fretting as badly as he usually did. He actually managed to look normal and confident.

"Are you okay?" Fuji asked again. A sliver of concern seeped through.

Or, well, he thought he had managed to look normal.

Ryoma clenched the straps of his school bag tightly with his fingers. "I'm fine," he said, and this time, he looked up bravely, "Why do you keep asking me that?"

Fuji's smile hardened. His voice was indifferent when he spoke. "To make sure you're okay, because you act so different around me lately."

Ryoma's eyes swept over with confusion once again. How does he do it? One moment, his voice is gentle and soft, and the next moment, it's cold and hard and makes chills go down your spine. The smaller boy kept his eyes on the ground as they shuffled wordlessly the rest of the way to the office. Once they were in front of the door that led inside, Ryoma tried to hustle in as quickly as he could.

Unfortunately for him, Fuji had other ideas. He stood in front of the door with his arms crossed over his chest. Soft hair framed his pale face. "Wait,"

Ryoma stopped, and clenched his fingers even tighter. His muscles coiled. "Yes?"

Fuji's gaze lingered on Ryoma's flushed face and wide golden eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered again. And before Ryoma could say a word, Fuji quickly opened the door and walked inside. Ryoma stood frozen, head dizzy and shivers running over his body.

"I'm sorry," Fuji's voice echoed in his mind.

Ryoma blinked in apprehension.

For what Fuji-senpai, for what?

Moments later, Fuji and Ryoma were seated on identical chairs across from Ryuuzaki sensei's desk. Her window was open, and bright sunlight filtered in through the window and shined on the dust of the furnitiure. Ryuuzaki-sensei turned in her swivel chair.

"So, I don't know if you're aware," Ryuuzaki-sensei jumped right in, "but from the ranking tournament held, you both were the top in both blocks."

"We were?" Ryoma said, mildly surprised. He hadn't really realized it.

"Yes, you were. Now, you must be wondering why I held such a ranking tournament out of nowhere, one that only included the regulars and consisted of simply two blocks instead of four."

"Actually, I didn't wonder," the preteen said arrogantly.

Ryuuzaki-sensei glared at him and he smirked and leaned back against his chair. He quite enjoyed getting on other people's nerves – the only people who seemed invincible to his provocations were Fuji and Tezuka. And Tezuka was halfway across the world, so right now only Fuji could keep calm.

Ryoma sneaked a peek at the tensai. There was, once again, no sign of what had happened outside the door. I just don't get it. Why would he be sorry? He didn't do anything to me.

"Anyway, there was a specific reason why I held the ranking tournament," Ryuuzaki-sensei unfolded a package in her hands and scanned over it. "I don't know if you're aware, but every year, in America, they hold the All-World tennis tournament for middle schools. Invitations are given out to the most exceptional tennis schools around the world."

"I've heard of it," Fuji spoke up.

Ryoma nodded. "I lived in America before, so it sounds familiar."

Ryuuzaki-sensei smiled, her eyes crinkling. "So, anyway, for the first time, our school was invited to participate. However, because it's an All-World tournament, we can't send the entire team. They said there can only be allowed a maximum of two players."

"Oh," Fuji's eyes flashed open in realization.

Ryoma blinked innocently, still not getting it.

"So, I held the ranking tournament to see what two participants would get to go to America to compete. Originally, I suspected it would be Tezuka and then you two would battle for the second spot, but since Tezuka is gone, you both are the second strongest from our regulars."

"Yeah, I know…" Ryoma bit his lip. "But…"

"So," Ryuuzaki-sensei beamed, "That's why, two weeks from now, I'm sending both of you to America to compete."

Ryoma nearly fell off his chair, but managed to keep his balance. His brain went foggy. It was supposed to be a good thing. It was supposed to be an excellent thing. He would get to compete with several high-level tennis players. But none of that mattered anymore.

Ryuuzaki-sensei's words transformed and twisted in his mind. You get to go to America two weeks from now, with Fuji-senpai, alone, probably living in a hotel together, competing together, going on the plane together…both of us, alone, together, just me and him.

Ryoma gulped hard.

How am I supposed to manage to act normal?

He glanced beside him. He had expected Fuji to be overjoyed. The prodigy seemed like the type of person who would enjoy going to America like this and competing in such a popular tournament. Ryoma was shocked at what he saw.

Fuji stood there silently, his gaze on the window outside. There wasn't a trace of a smile on his lips.

And for the first time, a horrifying thought crept into Ryoma's mind. What if- what if he doesn't like me? What if hates me or something? Maybe that's why he looks so upset at the prospect of spending time with me alone. And maybe that's why he said sorry, because he knew he hated me and I would be sad about that!

Ryuuzaki-sensei broke the silence with a joyful voice. "Well, you're free to go."

Fuji bowed slightly before silently disappearing out of the office. Wordlessly, Ryoma followed, and his heart ached deep in his chest.

There we go! I actually don't know how I feel about this story…I feel like I'm doing something wrong. Like, I don't know. It's odd. Maybe it's the way Ryoma gets around Fuji…too out of character? And Fuji…well, I don't know…I'm just confused at how I wrote this. Anyway, I'm still going to complete it though! Anyway, reviews are always appreciated!

By: Meadow Wood