Fuji set his bag down on the bench next to him with a sigh and leaned back against the lockers. The locker room was empty. It didn’t feel entirely empty, however. Fuji felt almost as though there were ghosts in there with him, that he could almost hear Momo shouting at Echizen to hurry up above the noise of the rest of the regulars, or Inui muttering to himself as he catalogued the day’s data in his notebook, or Eiji poking fun of Oishi. Instead, it was surprisingly quiet, though the locker room seemed expectant somehow, like it was waiting for something. The silence before the storm.
Practice had been cancelled that day due to the rain that had steadily poured from gray-black clouds that hung low in the sky since second period. Fuji’s umbrella was propped up against the wall just inside the door, leaking a small puddle onto the dry tiles. He’d have to be careful not to slip on his way out.
Fuji reached into his bag and pulled out the sheet of paper, smoothing it down on his right thigh as he looked it over.
RIKKAI DAI ADMISSION APPLICATION
He glanced it over, section by section, to see that it had been filled out completely, then took a pen from inside his bag. He signed at the bottom. All that was needed now was for his parents to sign underneath his own signature and to have his transcripts sent from Seigaku. Luckily, Fuji’s father was home from overseas for a brief period before having to go back to Europe on business. The only problem now was that Fuji hadn’t quite decided yet. He was holding a simple white paper, but it was a paper that would completely change his life. It deserved a bit more thought.
The sound of the door swinging open caught Fuji’s attention, and he looked up from the application to find Tezuka shaking off his umbrella just outside the door before he placed it next to Fuji’s and shut the door behind him. The soles of his shoes squeaked on the tile as he made his way over to the bench, setting his own bag down and sitting so the two of them were side-by-side.
Fuji glanced down at the application, then up at Tezuka with a small smile. “You know, don’t you?” he asked, not bothering to hide the application until he had decided for sure whether or not he really was transferring. Tezuka deserved to know if anyone did, and there was no better time than the present to discuss it.
“Aa,” Tezuka replied as he looked down at the application in Fuji’s hand.
“So, who was it that told you? Sanada?” Fuji asked out of curiosity. Fuji had noticed the tightening in Sanada’s jaw whenever Tezuka’s name had come up the day that Fuji had visited the Rikkai courts. It was no wonder, really; Tezuka was the only one that had ever beaten Sanada so soundly at tennis. Well, except for Yukimura, but Sanada would have better manners than to plot revenge against his captain. Against Tezuka, Fuji wasn’t so sure.
“Yukimura,” Tezuka answered. “He wanted to know my thoughts on how to handle you.”
It was flattering, really, to be the topic of discussion between two top-notch tennis captains. And how would Yukimura handle him? Would he be able to pull things out of Fuji that Tezuka never had? That was the real question, the reason Fuji hadn’t yet gotten the signatures from his parents. What was singles two at Seigaku would only be singles three at Rikkai, unless he could beat Sanada. It was an exciting new world of discovery.
“And what did you tell him?” Fuji looked at Tezuka slyly from the corner of his eye. Tezuka simply snorted, and Fuji laughed in amusement. No one ever knew just how to handle Fuji, though he certainly would have liked to hear what Tezuka had said to Yukimura -- for his own personal insight, if for nothing else.
Fuji swung his legs back and forth a few times as he contemplated a future without Tezuka and what it might mean. “You know this isn’t about us,” he said finally, more of a statement than an actual question.
“Fuji,” Tezuka sighed, “of all the things that you are, petty is not one of them.”
Fuji nodded in acknowledgement. One could never be too sure, though, when it came to Tezuka. It was always better to be straightforward than leave things unsaid. It had been a brief conversation the day Tezuka had finally brought up the subject of the two of them and what may or may not have been happening between them. The feelings were there, of that there was no doubt, but with Tezuka being the president of the student council and also the captain of a tennis team headed for Nationals, there was hardly the time. What happened after Nationals was anyone’s guess, and they had both decided to revisit the topic again once that hurdle was crossed. Fuji wasn’t disappointed. He knew Tezuka had responsibilities, and he didn’t want to be in third place on Tezuka’s list of priorities. Therefore, Fuji could wait.
Third place. Singles three.
“You’ve changed since you played Echizen,” Tezuka said matter-of-factly.
“Have I?” Fuji asked. He supposed that was true. It was that unfinished game more than anything else that had suddenly made Fuji stretch himself a little, made him play more seriously than he had in quite some time. The feeling that he wasn’t about to let Echizen beat him yet had stayed with him, had left him feeling a bit raw and hungry. At Tezuka’s answering nod he replied, “I haven’t felt like that since…” … Right before Yuuta broke my heart, he almost said out loud. But that would be opening a door that Fuji didn’t want opened, so he shrugged instead. It hurt too much, what had happened between him and Yuuta. Perhaps moving to a new school and getting a fresh start would be good for Fuji, too.
“I suppose you won’t try to talk me out of it,” Fuji said, picking up the application to put back in his bag.
Tezuka looked at him, face impassive as ever. “Of course not. It’s your decision to make. I’ll support you either way.”
How very much like Tezuka, and Fuji expected nothing different. Perhaps it was this that suddenly caused Fuji to blurt out, “Just once, Tezuka, be selfish. Tell me what you really want. Think only of yourself and not anyone else for once in your life.”
Without batting an eye, Tezuka looked at Fuji. “I’m taking Seigaku to Nationals. I don’t know if we can win without you.”
Fuji’s mouth opened in surprise. He hadn’t really expected an answer from Tezuka, much less one this honest. Fuji felt warmth rush through him. He was needed here at Seigaku, not at Rikkai. The rest of the team was counting on him, including Tezuka, who had been dreaming of Nationals since they were first years. If Fuji were to stay at Seigaku, they would undoubtedly play Rikkai in the Kantou tournament. In the singles two spot, Fuji would most likely get to play against Sanada. That was a tempting thought. Fuji’s future stretched out in front of him like a road with an unseen destination.
Fuji smiled at Tezuka. “Well, it was never anything definite,” he said. He made a fist, crumpling up the application in his hand into a ball. He threw it into the nearest trash can, not even hitting the side as it went in. “Walk me home?”
A small amount of tension seemed to leave Tezuka’s shoulders. “Of course,” he said, and stood up to go.
The rain had stopped by the time they stepped outside, and the heavy clouds dissipated over a deep indigo sky. It was late, much later than Fuji had realized. Fuji linked arms with Tezuka and began the walk home, satisfied. He was already where he belonged.