This would not do. No, this would not do at all. For the better part of two years, Fuji Syusuke had been willing to watch quietly as any affection Tezuka might have had for him took a back seat to tennis. The quiet tensai had done everything in his power to get some sort of confession out of the stubborn buchou, but all his endeavors went flat. He sent flowers. He sent Valentine racquet stringing certificates. He even went so far as to corner the idiot and kiss him -- nothing worked. For his efforts, Fuji was made to run laps, and, with every lap, Fuji became more and more determined.
Now was a desperate time. Echizen Ryoma was monopolizing Tezuka’s time. The cocky little rat trained with the stoic leader, and Tezuka’s eyes were always watching Echizen, making sure he was living up to his role as pillar of Seigaku. Well screw the Pillar of Seigaku, Fuji was getting a date by the end of the month or there would be hell to pay. Normally, he would scheme on his own, but this called for drastic measures-- underhanded measures.
Fuji Syusuke enlisted the aid of Inui Sadaharu .
“There is a 99 percent chance that Tezuka will eat lunch in Ryuzaki-sensei’s office, 85 percent that he’ll eat a tuna sandwich.” Inui read notes from his book while Fuji smiled at the girls that passed them in the hall. “If you catch him before he heads to the office, there is a 65 percent chance he will redirect his lunch to a location you specify. Your chances raise to 84 percent if said location is shady, 95 percent if you offer him something other than tuna for lunch.”
“Thank you Inui, I will heed your advice and report back to you after History.” Fuji offered a small salute and walked toward his next class while reviewing the contents of the bento he’d packed that morning. There was plenty for two to share and no tuna fish. Things were looking up. He sat through English and Kikumaru’s exuberance, then high tailed it to wait for Tezuka in front of the tennis office.
“Fuji.” Tezuka nodded at him and moved to open the door.
“Ne, Tezuka, Yumiko made me a very large lunch today. Would you mind helping me finish it? I wouldn’t want her efforts to go to waste.” Fuji held up a bento wrapped in teddy bear cloth. “Perhaps we could go out by the sakura trees. There’s no blossoms this time of year, but the shade is wonderful, ne?”
Tezuka paused, looking at the bento with suspicion before nodding. “Fine.” He motioned for Fuji to lead.
“How is Echizen’s training going? Do you think he can beat me yet?” Fuji doubted the little twerp could ever beat him, but Inui said that a conversation about Tezuka’s current project would be 76 percent more effective in engaging Tezuka’s interest.
“Iie. You’ve improved since our scrimmage against Fudomine. I doubt he’ll be able to catch you.”
Fuji smiled at this. “I thought as much, but I always defer to your opinion on such things.” Showing respect would up his final odds by 3 percent. The likelihood of Tezuka agreeing to go on a date was now 62 percent.
The smiling but currently nervous tensai lead Tezuka to the small sakura grove, glad that Inui had had the foresight to direct him to the unused portion of the grove. Today there was an 89 percent chance that Kikumaru and Oishi would have a lunchtime spat and Kikumaru would run to the grove to cry. It would be difficult to get closer to Tezuka if Kikumaru was nearby, wailing like a fire siren. Fuji might have been concerned about his best friend, but Inui revealed a 100 percent chance that the Golden Pair would make up within half an hour of fighting.
“Was there something you needed, Fuji?” Tezuka quietly ate a bit of rice from the offered bento, his own lunch bag sitting, untouched beside him.
“Iie, I just didn’t want to eat alone today.” His final chances rose 2 percent if he sounded honest yet vulnerable.
Tezuka nodded and continued to eat, pulling out a literature text to study. “Your backhand has improved,” he said casually, eyes still on the text, chopsticks still rooting around the carrots in the vegetable medley he was eating. Fuji knew that Tezuka was adverse to carrots, but opted to keep them in the meal because a) he liked carrots and could finish what Tezuka didn’t and b) the vegetables would look staged if he removed the carrots.
“Thank you. I have been doing some extra practice down at the street tennis courts. The competition isn’t tough, but if I limit myself to only backhand returns, things even out nicely.” Fuji smiled brightly and leaned down, pointing his chopsticks at the neglected carrots. “You should eat the carrots, they’re good for your eyesight.”
“They’re disgusting.” Tezuka continued to eat around the carrots, only twitching slightly in surprise when Fuji began removing them from the bento tray.
“They’re good for you,” Fuji insisted, raising one up to his own mouth. Curling his tongue under the carrot cube, he slid it into his mouth and smiled. “When my eyesight is better than yours, you’ll wish you’d eaten your carrots.”
“No, I won’t.” A small smile was forming on Tezuka’s lips, and his chest was shaking slightly.
“Ne Tezuka, don’t laugh at me!” Fuji pouted, crossing his arms over his chest. He was about to up his odds by another 5 percent when an ear splitting wail cut him off. Kikumaru. “Gomen, I have to go check on Eiji. Please finish for me.” Fuji dashed further into the bushes where a distraught Kikumaru was collapsed on the ground, sobbing.
Later that day, before practice, Kikumaru tapped Fuji on the shoulder. “Gomen Fujiko-chan, I didn’t mean to ruin your lunch with Tezuka-buchou.”
“Don’t worry Eiji, you didn’t ruin it. I’m a little hungry though, so I’ll give you the honor of treating me to dinner after practice.” Fuji’s trademark smile was in place, revealing none of his actual irritation. Inui had apologized for his miscalculation- he hadn’t calculated appropriately for the decibel level of Kikumaru’s wail- but Fuji was still upset.
Kikumaru’s face fell. “Gomen, gomen. Ochibi and Momo took all my money yesterday. They are so cruel to their senpai.”
Not one to kick a puppy when it was already wounded, Fuji waved the matter off and pointed Kikumaru toward Oishi, who was still looking very contrite after their twenty minute breakup this afternoon. Sighing, Fuji picked up his racket and headed out of the clubhouse.
“Fuji.” Tezuka’s voice cut through the clatter of balls hitting the ground. Fuji trotted over to the bespectacled boy and smiled his usual, vacant smile.
“Hai buchou?” Fuji hadn’t been presented with an opportunity to create a new plan with Inui yet. It was best if he stuck to the “stay respectful” plan until further notice.
“You did not eat lunch today. Be careful while practicing.”
“I will, thank you.” Fuji bowed quickly and turned to go.
“Hai buchou?” Fuji’s grip on his racket tightened. He was uncertain whether Tezuka’s warning was born of concern or duty, but it awakened a dizzy, undulating feeling at the bottom of his stomach. The lack of lunch didn’t help much, either.
“If you would like, I will treat you to dinner after practice as compensation for your kindness at lunch.” Tezuka said it like he was commenting on Fuji’s backhand again, more of a statement of fact than a request. That was something that Fuji adored about Tezuka, he always sounded confident.
“I would like that, thank you.” Another bow and Fuji was off in search of Taka-san. The tensai felt so powerful, not even a Burning Serve could foil him today.
After practice, Fuji dawdled in the locker room, waiting for Tezuka to finish planning the next practice with Inui and Oishi. Inui had a new juice he wanted to try and Oishi was trying to convince Tezuka that Inui’s juice was going to make the team sick and unfit to participate in the upcoming training event. A long hiss from the locker room doorway silenced the argument.
“Inui-senpai.” Kaidoh stood just inside the locker room, dressed in his white running shorts and black tank top.
Inui’s back straightened and he adjusted his glasses. “Coming Kaidoh.” Inui turned to Oishi. “I will bring the new juice to practice. I assure you it is perfectly safe. Kaidoh tested it for me yesterday.”
Tezuka’s right eyebrow arched a few millimeters above the frame of his glasses then sunk back down quickly. Inui caught it, though, and was blushing. Fuji would never understand how the two semi-rivals could communicate for minutes on end without ever speaking a word. Finally, Tezuka relented. “We will decide tomorrow.” He nodded and Inui headed out the door with Kaidoh by his side.
“They’re so cute.” Fuji smiled and moved toward Tezuka and Oishi. “If Inui has his way, they’ll be playing doubles any day now.”
“We could use another strong doubles team,” Oishi mused, walking around and collecting discarded towels. “We’ll have to keep an eye on how things develop. If they do form a doubles team, Eiji and I can work with them to get them in form for the Hyotei match.”
“I’m sure Inui will have everything taken care of by then.” Fuji helped Tezuka and Oishi cleanup and soon they were ready to leave. “Where’s Eiji? You aren’t fighting again, are you?”
Oishi’s eyes went wide, as they always did when Fuji revealed that he knew something he shouldn’t. “N-no, he had a dentist appointment. He wanted to make sure he wasn’t late so he left right after practice.”
“Ah, that’s good.” A silence spread in the room and Fuji wondered when Oishi would finally get uncomfortable and go. There wasn’t anything left to clean and Tezuka still had a few more bits of scheduling to run through. Fuji tried not to be too blatant as he glanced from Oishi to the door and back.
“I-I’ve got to be going. Eiji’s going to call me when he gets back from the dentist. We’re working on a new formation.” The fukubuchou grabbed his bag and walked out, a touch quicker than necessary, but Fuji certainly wasn’t going to fault him for it.
“Is there anything I can help you with, buchou?” Fuji walked over to the small desk Tezuka was working at.
“I’ll be done in a minute. Please check to make sure the showers are all properly shut off.” Tezuka didn’t look up from his papers, his pen never ceased its scratching of names and drills.
“Hai. I’ll make sure the third one on the left is tight.” The shower control was loose and, if it wasn’t shut off properly, the school wasted a lot of water over night and the tennis club had to take it out of their budget. Fuji walked through the still steamy cavern of showerheads and, making sure not to slip, checked them to be sure they were off. Momo’d left his drizzling a bit, as usual.
When Fuji returned, Tezuka was waiting. “Let’s go.”
The ramen shop they went to didn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it was cozy, clean, and blessedly uncrowded. “This is nice, Tezuka. How did you find it?” Fuji tried to eat his ramen sexily, but had to resort to slurping or his noodles would get cold.
“My father took me here last year after I was named captain. I have not had occasion to come back.” Tezuka was looking at his ramen the way he looked at an incoming tennis ball, all determination and focus. When he, too, slurped, Fuji couldn’t hide his laugh. “What?”
“Gomen Tezuka, I just never imagined you slurping your noodles is all.”
Tezuka blinked once, slowly, then looked down at his ramen. “How else are you supposed to eat them?”
“I figured you’d find a better way, I guess.” Fuji knew if he looked up, Tezuka would be staring at him with that adorably confused yet stern expression he had. It was a look that made Fuji open his eyes, just to take it all in.
“If you don’t eat, your food will get cold.”
There was a pause and Tezuka sighed into it. “Practice is over, you do not need to call me buchou.”
Fuji’s gaze shot up from his ramen and, eyes open, he stared at Tezuka. Tezuka was still looking at his ramen with tennis-focus. “Hai Tezuka.” Fuji couldn’t eat, not when such a momentous event had just transpired. Tezuka had invited Fuji one step closer into his golden zone of trust.
“Syusuke, you can drop that too.” Tezuka still wasn’t looking up, just stirring his ramen with his chopsticks.
“Hai…Kunimitsu.” Fuji bit his lip so he wouldn’t giggle with joy. He’d said Tezuka’s given name several times, all in the safety of his own house, when no one was home to hear the joy the syllables rolling off his tongue gave him. “Ne Te-Kunimitsu, we’re friends, ne?”
Tezuka looked up then, a centimeter of eyebrow showing over his glasses. “I suppose. Why?”
“Would you like to go to a movie on Saturday, after practice?” Fuji sounded calm and didn’t run in fear when Tezuka froze and just- stared. “There is a film I want to see, but it’s a documentary and I can’t convince anyone to go with me. Would you like to go?”
“If practice permits.”
Fuji covered his smile by shoveling ramen into his mouth. Was that a blush on Tezuka’s cheeks? No, it was probably the lighting. A quick glance up showed Tezuka to be quickly eating his ramen, too. Once they were done, Fuji took the bowls to the counter and thanked the old woman who acted as chef and waitress. “I hope to be coming back soon,” he told her, his eyes flickering to the doorway. Fuji gave the old lady one of his best smiles and moved to join Tezuka outside. “Ah, it’s dark. One-chan will be home by now.”
Tezuka adjusted his tennis bag and began walking. “We should hurry.”
“Kunimitsu, your house is the other way.” Fuji walked next to Tezuka, just a little closer than he had earlier.
“I should apologize to your sister for keeping you so late. Next time I will be more conscientious.” Tezuka still didn’t look at him, but there was a warmth radiating from the buchou that Fuji’s keen senses picked up on. He moved an inch closer.
“Ne Kunimitsu, can I pick the restaurant next time?”
Tezuka stopped mid-stride and looked down at Fuji, eyes soft but jaw firmly set. “No.” Then, just for a moment, Tezuka smiled. It was the most beautiful rejection Fuji had ever witnessed.