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He had decided to go to Seishun Gakuen on a whim. He’d been passing the school with Yuuta on their way home when his younger brother saw the tennis club practicing. Fuji, knowing how much Yuuta enjoyed watching others play, had suggested that they watch for a while.

Yuuta smiled and took off towards the courts while Fuji followed at a more sedate pace. He reached the courts to find Yuuta glued to the fence. He smiled and stood beside him, watching the rally on the court.

The two players were good, he noted. He vaguely remembered hearing that Seishun had a strong team, despite being eliminated from the Nationals a few weeks ago.

Fuji allowed Yuuta to watch a few moments more before taking his younger brother’s hand and leading him away.

“They were good, weren’t they, Aniki?” Yuuta asked later that night.

Fuji smiled and nodded. “They were very good, Yuuta.”

Yuuta climbed onto the couch and put his head on Fuji’s shoulder. “Do you think I’ll ever be that good, Aniki?”

“You’ll be better,” Fuji replied.

“Aniki?” Yuuta said. “Do you think you could beat them?”

Fuji grinned. “I guess we’ll find out next year,” he answered.

An hour later, Fuji announced that he’d like to attend Seishun Gakuen. His parents nodded and assured him that they’d take care of registering him for the next school year.

Tezuka Kunimitsu, Fuji realized, was probably the strongest person in the Seigaku Tennis Club, save Captain Yamato. Of course, Tezuka was also a first year, and matches between first years were forbidden.

Instead, Fuji watched Tezuka play the upperclassmen and beat them. He, himself, had matches with the older boys in the club, but none of them needed to be taken seriously. He played at half-strength, taking care not to stand out.

Fuji could count on one hand the number of times he and Tezuka had spoken, and each fragmented conversation echoed in his thoughts.

He stood in front of the fence and watched Tezuka play another upperclassmen. He wished that it was him on the other side of the court, not Suoh. More than that, though, he wished Tezuka would play at full strength. Fuji wanted- no, needed- to see how great the difference in skill was.

“You like watching him play,” a voice to his right said.

Fuji turned and smiled. “Is it wrong to want to watch a strong player?” he asked. “Besides, you’re always watching Oishi-kun.”

Kikumaru Eiji stuck out his tongue. “Oishi-kun and I are going to be doubles partners,” he confided. “I need to watch him to study his movement.” Kikumaru paused. “Well, at least that’s what the book said. Truth be told, his play is boring unless he’s doing a Moon Volley.”

A whistle blew, signaling the end of practice. Fuji started picking up balls and Kikumaru joined him. “Oishi-kun is merely cautious,” Fuji said after a while. “He’s more of a tactician. I think he’d be a good doubles partner for you, Kikumaru-kun.”

“I told you, Fuji-kun. Call me Eiji. Ei. Ji,” the red head whined. “Besides, he’s really good, but with me, we’ll look and be awesome!” Kikumaru grinned and threw up a tennis ball.

Fuji smiled at his friend’s enthusiasm. “Eiji-kun, would you like to get ice-cream after we’re done?”

“Really?” Kikumaru exclaimed. When Fuji nodded, the redhead began to bounce on the balls of his fee. “That’s the first time you’ve asked me to do something with you,” Kikumaru replied.

Fuji began to fidget and started to quickly pick up balls. “If you’re busy, it’s okay. We can do it another time.”

Kikumaru smirked. “Of course I’ll go,” he retorted. “It’s ice-cream with Fuji-kun!” He leapt forward and hugged the brunette. “Come on,” he said after pulling away. “We have to hurry.”

They finished the task quickly and Kikumaru began to drag Fuji toward the clubroom. They showered and dressed real fast, Kikumaru bouncing impatiently beside him.

Fuji had just walked out when Tezuka appeared. He nodded at the other boy. “Tezuka-kun.”

“Fuji-kun,” Tezuka replied shortly, inclining his head in greeting.

He was about to make conversation when he heard Kikumaru call for him. He smiled at Tezuka. “Kikumaru-kun is waiting,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Tezuka-kun.”

Tezuka nodded in acknowledgement and entered the clubroom. Fuji watched him disappear through the door before remembering that Kikumaru was waiting for him.

Fuji lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Kikumaru would be over later to study, and Fuji needed to think things over before he saw the redhead again.

Being around Kikumaru made him feel different. He had realized just a few days ago that his smiles were more genuine when his friend was around. Seeing the other boy with something other than a smile on his face made him want to hurt whoever had taken Kikumaru’s smile away.

He wondered what exactly he felt towards his friend. Fuji sighed. “Eiji,” he whispered. “What exactly are you to me?”

The room offered only silence.

A knock on his door brought him out of this musings. “Yes,” he called.

The door opened and Yumiko stepped in. “There’s someone on the phone for you, Syuusuke,” she informed him. “I believe he said his name was Tezuka-kun.”

Fuji sat up. “Tezuka-kun?” He jumped off his bed and hurried downstairs to the phone.

“Hello?” Fuji spoke into the phone, doing his best not to let his breathlessness carry into the receiver.

There was static for a few seconds before a voice responded. “Fuji-kun?” it said hesitantly.

“Yes,” he answered.

“It’s Tezuka,” the voice continued. “I was just calling to find out how you were feeling. Captain Yamato said that you felt ill.”

Fuji smiled even though he knew Tezuka couldn’t see it. “I’m feeling much better, thank you,” he reassured the other boy.

“Oh. Good,” Tezuka replied awkwardly. “I guess I’ll see you at morning practice, then. Have a good evening.”

"Wait!” Fuji said before the other boy could hang up.

There was a pause before Tezuka spoke. “Yes?”

Fuji took a deep breath. He wanted to be friends with Tezuka. Friends, and, maybe, rivals. “Would you like to do something Sunday?”

Silence answered him, and for the briefest moment, Fuji thought Tezuka had hung up. Finally, Tezuka replied. “I would like that very much,” he said. “But won’t you be doing something with Kikumaru-kun?”

Fuji laughed softly. Despite Kikumaru’s best attempts, Tezuka refused to address him as ‘Eiji.’ “No,” he answered. “Eiji is going to practice with Oishi-kun. He’s determined to be made a Regular by the start of second year.”

He heard Tezuka chuckle over the phone, and something in Fuji’s stomach fluttered. “Oishi is very determined. He does not wish to let Kikumaru-kun down,” Tezuka informed him.

“Ah,” Fuji murmured. “I’m sure they’ll both do well. Eiji, of course, doesn’t believe me.” He paused and glanced at the clock. Kikumaru would be there in half an hour. “Well,” he continued, “I should go. I’ll se e you at practice in the morning, Tezuka-kun.”

They said their goodbyes and Fuji hung up. He made his way to the kitchen, nodding at Yuuta who sat at the table, munching on cookies with a glass of milk.

“Oi! Aniki!” Yuuta exclaimed when his brother entered. “Play a game with me in a little while?” he asked. “I’ve gotten much better. I can probably beat you now!”

Fuji smiled in response to Yuuta’s boasts. “After dinner, then,” he agreed. “Eiji will be here soon.”

”Really? Can I play him, too?” Yuuta begged.

“You’ll have to ask Eiji when he gets here,” he informed his brother.

He spent the next twenty minutes listening to Yuuta extol the virtues of Kikumaru’s acrobatic play.

The day he had his match against Tezuka, Kikumaru kissed him. When Fuji touched two fingers to his lips and asked why, Kikumaru shrugged and replied, “You looked like you need to be cheered up.”

Fuji stared at his friend for a moment before launching himself into Kikumaru’s arms. He held onto the other boy tightly, but he didn’t cry.

Kikumaru merely held him and remained silent.

The next day, when Fuji asked Kikumaru didn’t press for the reason Fuji was so distressed, the redhead shook his head.

“If you wanted to tell me about it,” Kikumaru stated, “you would have. You’re my friend and I like you. That’s all the reason I needed.” He grabbed Fuji’s hand. “Now, we’ll be late for practice if we don’t hurry. Captain Yamato will make us run laps.”

By the beginning of second year, Fuji, Tezuka, Kikumaru, and Oishi had become Regulars. Fuji remembered Kikumaru’s utter elation when he received his jersey. He’d given Fuji a quick kiss before running off to call Oishi.

Fuji watched Kikumaru chat animatedly on the phone with his doubles partner for a moment before his cell phone vibrated in his pocket.

He glanced at the caller ID before answering. “Hello, Tezuka,” Fuji greeted. They’d dropped the suffixes a few weeks ago, but he still felt a thrill of excitement shoot through him when he addressed his friend.

“Fuji,” Tezuka replied, and Fuji’s insides warmed. “I was wondering if you’d be willing to help me with my English assignment later this evening.”

Fuji watched in amusement as Kikumaru began to hop around. “Of course,” he replied. “After all, I believe Eiji will abandon me in favor of Oishi-kun. Again.”

He spoke loud enough for his voice to carry over to where Kikumaru chattered happily. His friend turned and pouted before returning to his conversation. Fuji laughed.

“Yes, I believe Oishi mentioned that Kikumaru-kun would be going over tonight,” Tezuka said.

Irritation spread through him, but he couldn’t pinpoint the cause. Kikumaru’s laughter rang through the afternoon air, and his irritation dissipated.

“I’ll see you at five, then?” Fuji asked.

“Five will be fine,” Tezuka agreed. “I’ll see you then.”

Fuji pressed the ‘end call’ button on his phone and smiled.

Second year, it seemed, passed quickly. Kikumaru spent more time with Oishi, but it didn’t bother Fuji. All the time Kikumaru spent with his doubles partner, Fuji was free to spend with Tezuka.

It was the middle of November when Kikumaru dragged him to the roof. The redhead had forgotten his outdoor coat, but the falling snow didn’t seem to bother him. Instead, he stared into the distance.

Fuji went to stand beside him and took one of Kikumaru’s ungloved hands with one of his gloved ones. “What’s wrong, Eiji?” Fuji prodded gently.

While he didn’t like to discuss thing when something was bothering him, he’d quickly learned that Kikumaru did. The fact that his friend had been quiet this long made warning bells sound in his head.

Kikumaru had been quiet long enough that Fuji thought he wasn’t going to answer. Finally, Kikumaru spoke.

“Oishi kissed me,” he stated.

Fuji frowned. “When?”

Kikumaru sighed. “Yesterday. We were practicing, and I ran into him, and then he kissed me,” he said in a rush.

Fuji stared blankly ahead. He wasn’t quite sure what he was feeling, but it wasn’t what he knew he should be feeling at the admission.

“I didn’t stop him,” Kikumaru whispered. “I didn’t stop him, and I’m sorry! You hate me now, and I don’t want you to hate me,” he wailed.

Fuji turned to face Kikumaru. Tears flowed freely down his cheeks and his body shook with sobs.

He enveloped the other boy in a hug. “I don’t hate you,” he whispered into Kikumaru’s ear.

“Of course you do,” Kikumaru sobbed. “I hate me.”

Fuji softly kissed Kikumaru’s temple. “I don’t hate you,” He reiterated. “People grow apart, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still friends.”

Kikumaru sobbed loudly against Fuji’s shoulder while the brunette held him tightly.

It took a while for Kikumaru to calm down, but Fuji didn’t mind. When the sobs died down to make way for sniffling, he spoke. “Eiji, do you like Oishi-kun?”

“I don’t know,” came the whispered reply. “I like to be with him, and he’s nice and smart and funny,” he continued hoarsely. “But so are you.”

Fuji contemplated Kikumaru’s answer before asking, “How does he make you feel?”

Kikumaru smiled softly despite the stray tears gliding down his cheeks. Fuji knew then that he’d lost Kikumaru, but the flood of relief at that realization seemed out of place. He thought briefly of Tezuka, but quickly pushed it back. Now was not the time to sort out his feelings; he had to help Kikumaru first.

“He makes me feel warm,” Kikumaru replied quietly. “I feel safe and know I can tell him anything.”

“You have your answer, then, Eiji,” Fuji replied softly.

Kikumaru lowered his eyes. “I don’t want to lose you, Fujiko,” he said. “I’m being selfish, but I don’t want to lose you.”

Fuji gently placed a finger under Kikumaru’s chin and forced their eyes to meet. “You won’t lose me. And if he hurts you, let me know. I’ll set him straight.” Fuji grinned.

Kikumaru smiled before grabbing Fuji and hugging him. “Thank you,” the redhead whispered.

Fuji remained silent, tightening his arms around Kikumaru and fighting back elation and tears.

Fuji watched Tezuka instruct the first years while Oishi broke up yet another fight between Momoshiro and Kaidoh.

“Penny for your thoughts, Fujiko,” Kikumaru whispered.

He turned and smiled at his best friend. “Just wondering how Echizen will do against Hyoutei,” he replied easily.

Kikumaru rolled his eyes. “So, you’ve been staring at Tezuka and thinking about Echizen?” he repeated skeptically. “Why not just admit you were thinking about Tezuka?”

Fuji opened his eyes and glanced at the boy beside him. “Lately, it seems that the two go hand-in-hand,” he stated.

Kikumaru grinned. “Fujiko’s jealous!” he crowed. Fuji glared and Kikumaru lowered his voice. “Why not just tell him you like him?”

Fuji sighed. “He’s far too tennis- and Echizen-oriented to care,” he pointed out.

“Fuji,” a sharp voice called.

He brought his attention back to Tezuka, who now stood in front of him. “Yes, Tezuka?” he asked.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Oishi staring. Kikumaru ran over to his partner and they began whispering. He drew his attention back to Tezuka, who was staring at him resolutely.

“I need to speak with you after practice,” Tezuka stated resolutely. “Can we walk home together today?”

Fuji nodded mutely. What did Tezuka have to talk to him about? He glanced back to Oishi and Kikumaru, who were whispering furiously. Kikumaru flashed him a smile and thumbs up before returning to the conversation. Decision made, he walked over to his two teammates.

“Oishi, Eiji,” he greeted cheerily. “Might I have a word with you both?”

The vice captain suddenly looked like he wanted to bolt and Kikumaru smiled warily. “Sure, Fujiko,” the redhead replied. “What do you want to talk about?”

Fuji smiled. “Do either of you know what Tezuka wishes to talk to me about?”

Kikumaru grinned. “Nope. Not a clue,” he replied. “But, while you and Captain are talking, you can talk about something, as well, Fujiko.”

He decided to ignore Kikumaru’s hinting and turned to Oishi. “Do you, Oishi?” he pressed.

Oishi looked a bit green, he noted. “No,” he replied, shaking his head furiously. “Absolutely not.” Oishi looked at his watch. “Oh! Look at the time, Eiji! We should get to the court for our practice game. Bye Fuji!” The vice captain grabbed Kikumaru’s hand and dragged him off toward Kaidoh and Inui.

Fuji watched them go. Only thirty minutes until practice ended, he thought, I can wait.

Fuji couldn’t ever recall seeing Tezuka nervous. Contrite, sad, angry, determined, yes, but nervous? Never. And yet, Tezuka stood in front of him, hands balled into fists, and looking like he wanted to run away.

“There was something you wished to discuss, Tezuka?” he prodded.

Tezuka nodded. “I’ve acquired two tickets for the movie being released on Friday. Oishi was originally supposed to go, but he had something come up.” The taller boy’s eye twitched, and Fuji guessed that the ‘something’ that had come up was preplanned. “I was wondering if you’d like to go with me.”

Fuji smiled. “Of course, Tezuka,” he replied. “It’s a date, then?”

Tezuka’s mouth curved upward slightly. “Yes,” he said. “It’s a date.”