title: Games People Play
fandom: Prince of Tennis
characters/pairings: Fuji/Tezuka, Fuji/Atobe, then Fuji/Tezuka again, Oishi/Eiji, Yumiko, Yuuta/OFC, some Yuuta/Mizuki, Inui, Taka, Yuushi/Gakuto, Saeki/Ann, Yukimura/Sanada, Momoshiro, Kaidou, Echizen
rating: M
warnings: me pretending to know things about actual tennis, vicious flirting, sex (many kinds), one rough non-con scene, emotional pain
summary: Misunderstanding, hurt emotions, pain, sex, love... all tools in the game.
notes: takes place post-series, much post series... there is Atobe/Fuji. And Fuji/Tezuka. ultimately, and initially, fuji/tezzie, but there will be a great deal of fuji/atobe in the meanwhile.

He didn't like this grip tape; it was the gel kind, too soft. He could put the overgrip on it, but then it would be too thick. He wound the tape around the handle of his racquet slowly, a quarter turn at a time.

London in August was usually a bit warm, but it was downright hot now. There was no air conditioning in their apartment, so they had all the windows wide open. He sat on the edge of the bed, facing the window, the sounds from the street echoing down the alley, like he was out there and not inside.

He never liked this bedroom, and had even suggested they pass on the apartment because of it. It was too small, and too green. There was something about it... just no good way to arrange the furniture. He'd never slept in here before. In fact, he'd never slept in a different bed than Tezuka unless they were in different places, not for years.

Not that he thought he would really sleep tonight. He should, of course, but should was a complicated word. By the time the match began tomorrow, he would be running on pure adrenaline, anyway. Two in the afternoon... it seemed so long. He wished he could just... be on the grass already. Start the match already. Better yet, end the match already...

He twisted his racquet one-quarter turn.

There was some strategy in what he was doing. Despite the heat, the bed seemed cold without someone to share it with; still, it would affect Tezuka more to be alone than it would him. Tezuka was not overly communicative, even about the most important things, and so it was easy to undermine his confidence in their relationship. A night alone would leave him wondering if things were all right between them. If he left before Tezuka woke up, and didn't see him until the match, it might leave Tezuka off-guard for the first few games. Of course, the first time Tezuka met his gaze, he would see the truth.

Another quarter turn.

It was a kind of strategy against Tezuka, but more than that, he needed to clear his head. In all the important matches of his life, he had looked deep inside himself and found a fire within to keep himself going, to keep himself in the game. Since he had turned pro, he had worked hard to keep his goals in mind all the time. Grand Slam. Top five. Wimbledon. Tomorrow afternoon, either he or Tezuka would become the number one men's singles tennis player in the world, the first person from Japan to do so. Either he or Tezuka would be the champion of Wimbledon. He smiled wryly.

Another quarter turn.

It didn't matter to him which one of them won. That was the problem. There was no fire in this match. He'd played Tezuka more than he had played any other player in the world, but he'd never wanted to win, and tomorrow would be no different. Either way, he would meet his goals.

Another quarter turn.

Nostalgia crept up to him like a kitten. His rivals from his youth were magnified through the lens of memory to epic proportions, as if, back in the day, they had all been super men, with magical powers, battling heroically in magnificent and historic matches. He remembered stepping onto the court with righteous fury over his injured teammates, or friends. His smile turned sad.

Another quarter turn.

There was no chance that he could hate his opponent tomorrow. Tezuka was the noblest player he had ever known. No fire of vengeance, no desire to achieve, no hope of wanting to prove himself superior...

It was going to be a disaster.

If Tezuka was off-balance for the first few games, he might be able to take a match. Once they got playing for real, he could hold his own, but... After rising through the ranks of Wimbledon to get to the finals, he was going to lose completely to Tezuka. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't mind at all, but the world would be watching.

Another quarter turn.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. If Echizen hadn't stupidly injured himself on a dirt bike the day before Wimbledon, they would have been in the same bracket, and he would have lost to Echizen in the semi-finals. It would have been acceptable, and he definitely would have made his former kohai earn it, but then it would have been Tezuka and Echizen in the final, and he could have watched on the sidelines and cheered quietly for Tezuka. Unfortunately, Echizen had to scratch out, and now his hopes of being the first number one player from Japan would go to Tezuka.

Another quarter turn, and he was at the top of the racquet. He pulled at the tape, unwinding it, and started over.

The pro tennis world was a bit lonely, really. So few of the giants of their youth had survived to this point... Really, only himself, Tezuka, and Echizen. Sanada had ripped the tendons in his elbow in high school, and he had never been the same. Yukimura gave up tennis and skipped college, modeling part time to finance his writing. Kirihara had broken his kneecap while training in California. Atobe had been in a car accident three months after getting on the pro circuit, and had been unable to play the same afterward. Jirou started as a pro, but was never able to distinguish himself, and went back to Japan to teach. Hiyoshi had hit a slump in high school, and given up tennis for judo. Aoi had strained his elbow, and while he was working to recover, become interested in medicine. Sengoku continued to play as an amateur through college, and then he went into law.

He smiled down at his racquet. He would laugh if he weren't alone. The press had taken to Tezuka. Apparently, he had the sort of good looks that appealed to westerners, which he could hardly blame them for, but it put Tezuka under the microscope. He was in People magazine's 50 hottest people issue that year. The picture they took of him could very well have been pornographic - Tezuka in an all white tennis outfit, under a waterfall. They had asked him to not wear underwear to prevent "bunching." It was a good picture... He had been there during the photo shoot, and had arranged to get copies of all the negatives. Tezuka was quite stoic about all of his "marketing" obligations, treating each interview and photo shoot as a task that needed to be done. He had even hired an American publicist, to make things "run more smoothly," he had said.

He didn't like Tezuka's publicist, and he didn't like spending so much time away from home. He missed being with his family, though he couldn't explain that to Tezuka. He disliked the way the westerners said and spelled his name. He disliked the strange, greasy food they were surrounded by so often. He disliked how familiar strangers were to them. He even had grown to dislike the tedium of the matches.

He pulled the grip tape off completely, and closed his eyes.

One day at a time, one match at a time, one game at a time, one point at a time. That was the path he had chosen. One point at a time...

He had to think strategically. He had to find some way to motivate himself beyond the simple desire to win. He had to find a way to reach his inner wells of strength. Thing was, he could beat Tezuka, at least in theory. His best game was better than Tezuka's best; he knew this intellectually. Tezuka poured himself into every swing of his racquet. It was glorious to watch. He needed more, however.

He rummaged through his tennis bag, and found the unopened package of grip tape. He didn't like this brand, either. They had discontinued his favorite brand two years ago. Inui had tried to explain to him that the technology had improved, so his favorite was now considered to be obsolete, but the idea was ludicrous. Technology had no part in tennis, and he would never understand why a tennis racquet should be cushy. Inui said that his grip was light, and that he had a natural manner of holding his racquet that reduced the strain on his wrist. He thought his manager might have spent too much time on the data.

He started over again, moving the racquet one-quarter turn at a time again.

There would be no fire. And he would lose. He could accept these things as givens. But he didn't want it to be an easy match for Tezuka. It didn't matter if he loved the man; Wimbledon should not be an easy win. He was capable of doing very well. He knew it.

He just needed a reason.

A wry smile played across his face. He spent more and more time in the pros looking for a reason. It wasn't like the tennis of his youth. He could remember when training was fun. Now, the most interesting part of his "job" was watching the photographers doing their jobs during Tezuka's photo shoots. Half the time, he was sure he could do it better. If he was known for anything off the courts, it was that he was a "bit of a photog," as that American mag had said.

He sighed, and stilled his hands. He was winding this too tightly. He would need to start over.

He wondered sometimes if he was jealous of Tezuka's popularity. He wondered if maybe he would be happier if he were more of a fan favorite. But it wasn't worth his effort, really, and there was a certain satisfaction in trouncing the crowd pleaser. There was already a lot of press about their match tomorrow. About Japan moving into center stage in the tennis world with this unprecedented match. About "two great friends" meeting on the lawn. The fans would be cheering for and swooning over Tezuka. Not that he didn't have fans as well, but he wasn't one of the 50 hottest People.

Still, there would be no satisfaction in trouncing the crowd pleaser tomorrow, because he was Tezuka's biggest fan.

He went to the window, and looked up to the sky. There were no stars visible here. The moon was blocked out by the building across the alley. He smiled. The only thing above him now was the bleakness.

He tossed his racquet in his bag. Inui didn't know why he kept the thing. He never used that old racquet anymore, anyway. He had never really used it, actually, but it was the first racquet he had bought on his own, and there was something comfortable about the grip. But technology, once again, had rendered the racquet useless. He pulled out his wristwatch, and frowned. It was the day, finally, but only by a few hours. He was lost in a space of timelessness where he was both surprised by how early it was still, and surprised that it wasn't later. He pulled his cell phone out, and zipped up the bag, messing up the bed on his way out the door.

He was quiet, and he didn't dial until he was out of the building. The night air was still and muggy, and moving through it felt good. The streets in the summer seemed softer, and he had quite a bounce to his step, now that he was in motion. Of course, his manager picked up the phone on the first ring.

"Fuji. You're later than I expected you."

"You never could get good data on me, could you?" There was honest affection in his tone, as there was in Inui's. They had known each too long, probably, but it was good to have someone close to you that understood you when you spoke your own language.

"Already on the move, I gather? Shall I pick you up, or do you want to walk?"

"I'm fine walking. Inui, any chance you can pick me up some film on your way there?"

"I already got it in anticipation of your need. See you in twenty, then, and be careful."

He hardly needed to be told that; after all, he'd been living with Tezuka for nearly five years now. The perils of a lack of care were firmly rooted into his consciousness.

They stayed at the public court until about noon. Inui had connections in every major city where tennis was played, so all Fuji had to do was sit back and watch it all happen. They shared a light bento on their way to Wimbledon. Fuji tried to get Inui to share some of his wasabi sushi, but his manager wasn't biting. He obediently drank the juice Inui gave him only after he got a complete list of ingredients, as always. They warmed up together, and Fuji took a shower in his private dressing room before dressing for the day. Inui had his racquets prepared, and his preferred water ready and waiting. The only thing to do was to go out to the lawn.

Oddly, he was rather anxious to see Tezuka again. He leaned against the wall in the tunnel leading out to the court. So much for strategy; he would give it all away as soon as he could. He never stood a chance against Tezuka.

Inui tugged at his elbow, and held out a phone for him. He took it, a bit surprised. Normally, Inui discouraged outside contact up to an hour before a match. "Hello?"


Fuji smiled instantly. "Yuuta. What are you doing calling?"

"Your manager and I decided it would be a good idea. Do me a favor, all right?"

"Of course. Anything." His brother's voice was like cooling balm to him. He wished Yuuta and Yumiko, and even his parents, could be here now. Yumiko would have been if she weren't pregnant, and Yuuta stopped going to his pro matches after he got thrown out of the Australian Open for arguing.

"Don't embarrass yourself too much out there. I don't want everyone at home talking about how my brother takes it up the ass from the Wimbledon champ."

"I'll try, Yuuta, but you know, it's not really such a bad thing."

"I don't need to know the details of your sex life, Aniki."

"Mm, you did bring it up, not me..."

"Kick ass, aniki."

The affection in Yuuta's voice threw him off his normal teasing. "Thanks."

Inui tapped his elbow again, and took the phone back. "It's time."

Fuji smiled, and headed for the lawn.

It wasn't clear to him when he understood. There was just a sense that he hadn't understood before, but he did now. The sun was bright and high, even this late in the afternoon. The crowds were loud, but to his ears, they were very far away. The fresh smell of grass was always the best part of Wimbledon, and for some reason, it was even stronger today.

He was sweating, the kind of good sweat that made him feel cleaner, stronger. Tezuka was sweating, too, and it was damned sexy. He couldn't place the exact moment when he figured it out, but he knew now.

They passed each other as they changed courts. He smiled as he spoke, his gentle voice a mere whisper in the wind. "Tezuka?"

Tezuka paused, and really looked at him. He smiled, because there was nothing quite like being looked at by Tezuka. "Yes?"

"We'll have to celebrate tonight. Let's stay in... champagne and chocolate, maybe?"

Tezuka's soft smile was for him and him alone, and if he hadn't known before, he hoped he would have figured it out now. "Sounds good."

He took his position at the baseline, and prepared to serve.

Tennis had never been more fun.

Prologue • Part OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart SevenPart EightEpilogue