Sometimes during the lunch hour, Fuji and Eiji took over one of the empty classrooms in order to plot something that would keep them amused throughout the rest of the day. “Just games, don’t worry about it,” said Eiji with a laugh, whenever anyone asked, and would then give them one of his killer hugs that caused people to have difficulty staying on their feet. Fuji would just smile and ask, “Do you really want to know?” which made most people realize that no, they really didn’t. It was very charitable, Fuji and Eiji agreed, for Fuji to ask before telling.
“Fuuuji, I can’t do that,” said Eiji, giggling from where he was sprawled over a pair of desks, his head dangling upside-down and practically in Fuji’s lap. “Maybe to Ochibi or Momo, but…”
“We’ll work up to anyone difficult, you’ll see,” said Fuji, smiling and ruffling Eiji’s hair. Eiji squeaked indignantly and sat up, finger-combing his hair back into its proper position. “How about Ryuzaki-sensei first?”
Eiji bounced up, his hair flying out of place again, more mussed than Fuji could possibly have made it. He grinned. “Let’s go!”
“Now let’s see, I should update Tezuka’s with his progress report,” said Ryuzaki-sensei to herself, searching through the filing cabinets full of student files.
“Good afternoon, Sumire-chan,” said Fuji breezily as he passed by her.
Ryuzaki sighed, knowing that she’d never cure him of that habit of addressing her so informally. He’d come by in order to do just that, too; students certainly didn’t need to pass through the office in order to get to any of their classes. “Fuji,” she said, nodding to him. “Be on time for practice today, even if Inui’s got you tasting that foul juice of his again.”
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” said Fuji. “But I’ll make sure to be on time.”
“All right, good.” She turned back to the student files, meaning to find Fuji’s in order to add a note to it telling the school nurse that if he turned up with a case of food poisoning, the nurse ought to find Inui and ask him for an antidote.
“Good afternoon, Sumire-chan!” Eiji chirped brightly from behind Fuji, waving to her.
“Oh, Kikumaru. Make sure Fuji doesn’t-” Ryuzaki stopped and stared at him, but he’d already gone on by. Eiji didn’t look back, but Fuji did, and tipped her a wink and a smile. Ryuzaki narrowed her eyes. “That Fuji…”
Bad enough that he called her ‘Sumire-chan,’ but did he have to encourage the rest of the team to do the same? She shook her head and returned to the files, where she finally found Fuji’s in the T section, where it had been placed for no apparent reason.
Ryoma was on his way to tennis practice when they accosted him, Fuji on his left and Eiji on his right. “Fancy meeting you here, Echizen-kun,” said Fuji.
“We go to the same school and we’re on the same team, Fuji-senpai,” said Ryoma, not looking at either one of them but continuing to look straight ahead. “It’s not exactly a coincidence. Now go away.” He repressed a yawn. Karupin had been up half the night, batting at whatever in the house was guaranteed to make the most noise. The cat had figured out at about three in the morning that Nanjiroh made the most noise when his toes were batted and bitten, and Ryoma hadn’t gotten much sleep at all.
“Nya, that’s not very nice, Ryoma-chan,” Eiji admonished him. “We’re going to the same place anyway, let’s walk together!”
Ryoma blinked and gave Eiji a sideways look.
“It’s always a good thing to have a friend’s company at school, Ryoma-chan,” said Fuji. “And two is even better, don’t you think?”
“Oh,” said Ryoma. “This is another one of your stupid things.”
They exchanged a wicked glance over his head. “The things you say sometimes,” said Fuji. “We have no idea what you’re talking about.”
But Ryoma already knew that he was right, and that it was another one of the stupid things they did occasionally, just to stir everyone up. He knew, therefore, that he could safely ignore it.
“Ne, Horio-sama. May I borrow some of your grip tape?”
“Eh?” Horio tilted his head to the side. Katsuo and Kachiro stared at Fuji like he’d just grown another set of arms. “Fuji-senpai, what did you say?”
Fuji put his hands together and bowed. “Horio-sama, I would very much appreciate it if you’d let me borrow some of your grip tape, if you don’t mind.”
The full import of Fuji’s words hit Horio just then, and he puffed up his chest like a seabird trying to attract a mate. “Of course you can, Fuji-kun!” he announced. Katsuo gasped. “You can borrow my grip tape anytime!” He rummaged in his tennis bag and handed over the grip tape with the air of an emperor bestowing a great favor upon one of his courtiers.
“Thank you so much, Horio-sama,” said Fuji, and bowed again.
Oishi watched the entire display with an expression of befuddlement and perplexion. “What is Fuji doing?”
“Nothing, Syu-kun,” said Eiji cheerfully, and gave Oishi a peck on the cheek, which didn’t answer Oishi’s question but did cause him to forget about Fuji entirely.
When Tezuka arrived at the locker room with Inui and Kawamura behind him, the place was in a state of semi-chaos. Kaidoh was white with anger or shock at being called ‘Kaoru-chan.’ Momo would have been laughing at him, but he was puzzled as to why Fuji and Eiji had started calling him by his given name instead of Momo-chan, which was cuter anyway. Oishi was sitting on a bench trying to figure out why Eiji had started calling him Syu-kun, Horio was bragging that he had earned the respect of Seigaku’s tensai, Katsuo and Kachiro were exchanging looks, and Ryoma was pointedly ignoring everyone. None of them had changed into their tennis uniforms yet, except for Fuji, Eiji, and Ryoma.
“Ninety-eight percent chance that this is Fuji and Kikumaru’s responsibility,” Inui murmured, and walked over to comfort Kaidoh.
“Fuji, Kikumaru,” said Tezuka sternly. “What are you doing?”
“We’re not doing anything, Kunimitsu-kun,” said Fuji. “Why do you ask?”
Everyone was dead silent, watching to see whether Tezuka would react, and whether Fuji would shortly become a pile of ashes on the floor of the locker room. This seemed likely to most of them, as Tezuka was the highest authority they knew, and anyone who treated him so lightly was bound to be smited by the powers that be, or by the Tezuka Zone, whichever came first.
Eiji was behind Fuji, doing his best to suppress his giggles and the instinctive feeling of horror that came over him upon hearing their captain addressed so informally. He leaned in and whispered in Fuji’s ear, “Fuji, maybe he likes the sound of ‘Kuni-chan’ better.”
“Oh! I’m sorry, Tezuka. Would you rather be called Kuni-chan?” Fuji inquired.
Tezuka regarded them in a way that would have been called impassive by an outside observer, but to someone who knew him better, could be seen as an internal conflict between shock, outrage, and an attempt to maintain outward appearances. Naturally, Tezuka managed that maintaining of outward appearances better than most people would have. He didn’t speak immediately, probably because he couldn’t.
“Buchou,” said Ryoma, who’d gotten ready and was heading outside. “This is one of their things.” He grimaced.
“Yes. Thank you, Echizen.” Tezuka nodded; again, the gratitude in that nod was only apparent to someone who knew him well. “Fuji. Kikumaru.”
“What, you’re not going to call me Shu-chan?”
Now that Tezuka knew this was one of their things, however, he felt free to pay no attention to the ridiculous things they said. “Thirty laps, both of you. And no more nicknames.”
“Yes, Kuni-chan,” they chorused, and made their escape before he could assign them any more laps. The whole team breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“Does this mean no one will call me Horio-sama anymore?” Horio wailed unhappily, finally understanding what was going on.
No one bothered answering him.