Learning to Fall
by Suteishichic

They didn't become friends or even best friends until their junior year of Junior High. Before then both Oishi Shuuichirou and Kikumaru Eiji went to school and played as members of Seigaku's tennis club. They were acquaintances, well they knew of each other, but it was still a long time before they were nearly permanently partnered, and known as the Golden Pair.

Actually it was exuberant Eiji who decided to become fast friends with steadfast Oishi. This happened about half a heartbeat after his newest good friend Fuji Syusuke subtly suggested it, seemingly out of the blue.

Fuji arrived at their school a couple of months earlier. Eiji attached himself to Fuji within a minute of Fuji's arrival. He decided to become friends with the smiling newcomer immediately, thrilled, once he learned that Fuji was new, in his class, and also would be on the tennis team. He decided to be good friends with Fuji the moment he discovered that Fuji smiled nearly all the time. He decided to become very good friends with Fuji when he found that Fuji laughed at all of his jokes.

One morning, some time later, Eiji and his new good friend Fuji were walking to school together and talking. Fuji happened to mention casually to Eiji just how fascinating and deep he thought Oishi was. Fuji said Oishi was someone who was really worth getting to know.

Eiji really had not noticed Oishi before. Well, he had noticed him, he just tried not to. He didn't think very often or much about him. Oishi was well-liked, quiet, and serious. He was usually around the stoic, deadpan, team Vice-captain Tezuka Kunimitsu. Tezuka seemed to be the one person on the planet Eiji could never charm into smiling or coax a laugh from. Ever. And he had tried his heart out. Eiji was not used to not being liked. He was unfamiliar with being disliked even more.

Instead, Tezuka often was curt with Eiji, abrupt, and he seemed to dislike Eiji intensely. The only time Tezuka ever seemed to speak to Eiji was when he was making Eiji run laps for making everyone else laugh. It was a near daily occurrence. Eiji figured that if making people run laps gave Tezuka pleasure then Eiji must have made him a very happy guy. Until Fuji came to Seigaku, Eiji worked his hardest to make Tezuka if not like him, then at least stop hating him. He played his hardest, he ran the often assigned extra punishment laps hard, never showed he was upset, and he tried every way he knew to win him over. Or to at least thaw his cold hard heart.

Nothing worked. Eiji tried to play it off like no big deal. He had tons of friends and was popular but still, it bothered him. The first day Fuji came, the very first, Fuji told Eiji as they walked home after practice to just let go. That it was Tezuka's loss, not Eiji's. That Fuji had seen Eiji's struggle when no one else had made him feel better. It made Eiji feel a million times better. He tried to follow Fuji's advice.

Nearly every day, Oishi was usually standing near his friend Tezuka watching this go on. So, Eiji, then did not think much about Oishi either. Instead, guided by Fuji, his friend, Eiji turned his considerable attentions and affections elsewhere. He stopped worrying about winning over Tezuka and Tezuka's friend Oishi.

However, if Fuji said someone was fascinating and deep and worth getting to know....then it must be completely true. Even if that person was Tezuka's friend and Eiji decided to get to the bottom of the mystery of Oishi as soon as possible. Despite the fact that they had rarely ever even talked before.

Oishi for his part had noticed Kikumaru before. It was very hard not to. He was usually surrounded by a crowd of laughing friends and admirers who hung on his every word, waiting for him to entertain them. Kikumaru seemed to (very loudly) get along with and be adored by everyone. Usually it also seemed the more Kikumaru was liked and admired the more carried away and outrageous he became.

Oishi had grown up in a very quiet, traditional family. His father was stern and industrious, his mother was quiet and placid, his sisters studious and pleasant. Oishi, the oldest child, was an honor student, involved with the tennis club, and class president. He was everyone's favorite big brother. He loved his parents and they loved him, but attention was not something he felt he was supposed to seek. Affection was not something he felt comfortable demonstrating openly or freely. He had not grown up with lavished with either affection or attention so both were foreign to him. He enjoyed laughing, sure, but he was not the guy who made the jokes, carried the tune, or ever stole the show. It just was not familiar to him. He was just fine with that and with who he was.

Once in a while, though, seeing Kikumaru give so freely a hug or a kiss hello to someone, bellowing "Hoi! Good morning! I am SO glad to see you!" Oishi found himself watching and often wondering what that must be like. Oishi knew his good friend, the team Vice-captain Tezuka did not really dislike Kikumaru Eiji, he thought he had potential to be a good tennis player actually. However, Tezuka seriously did not like most of Kikumaru's noise or his antics. Tezuka knew a class clown type of character was occasionally good for team morale but did not intend to become associated with being anywhere near the source of the hilarity.

After Fuji came to Seigaku though, things seemed to be changing. With Fuji there, calm, gentle Fuji being so close to Kikumaru, Tezuka seemed somehow a bit more tolerant. A bit less gruff. A bit more accepting, of many things, even Kikumaru.

It surprised Oishi that Kikumaru and Fuji became such close friends so soon after Fuji arrived. While Fuji was always smiling, it was the smile of someone who was serious, centered, and comfortable within himself. He was soft spoken, brilliant, calm, and elegantly gentle. Oishi often watched amazed as Fuji, the tensai, the prodigy, the genius, allowed Kikumaru to tease him and make him laugh at himself. Oishi often wondered how Fuji put up with childish exuberance and boundless enthusiasm of Kikumaru. Yet, Fuji seemed to dote on him. It looked like he actually enjoyed Kikumaru's often near hyperactive theatrics. It really surprised Oishi as few things ever did, up until then.

It also surprised Oishi when he noticed by watching a little more, that Kikumaru was actually a very good friend to the tensai. Kikumaru instinctively toned and calmed himself down around Fuji. It was as if he turned himself down to match Fuji's frequency and intensity. Not that Kikumaru was still not the outrageous clown--he was. However the clown he was for Fuji was an attentive, affectionate, good friend first. Oishi found this fascinating.

One day before afternoon practice in the tennis club dressing room, Oishi was musing over all this while watching Kikumaru entertain a crowd of club members. Kikumaru had them all laughing over a popular horror teen movie that everyone except Oishi seemed to know well. Jokes and gore weren't Oishi's thing.

Out of nowhere Fuji silently and suddenly appeared at Oishi's side. Fuji's gentle voice was a cool purr as he said softly, "Ne, Oishi, I must say, sometimes, I just love to watch him work." The calm tensai smiled at his teammate as if he and Oishi had been standing there talking. Or as if he had read Oishi's thoughts while he watched Kikumaru.

"Work?" Oishi was both startled and confused. Kikumaru was punctuating his story with wild waves and gestures. Everyone watching him was waiting for the finish of the story, their eyes alight. Everyone was poised to laugh at the inevitable hilarious conclusion.

Fuji explained still smiling and watching Kikumaru, "Nn. He is really amazing. Just before you arrived, that freshman in the bandanna, and the other one in the yellow shirt were just about to fight with each other. Eiji diffused the situation within a few moments by just making everyone laugh." Oishi felt his mouth drop open and turned to look at Fuji who gestured with a slight tilt of his head for Oishi to look back at Kikumaru.

Just as Oishi turned, Kikumaru did the last bit of his story, punctuated with a standing back flip flying through the air that purposefully landed him on his butt instead of his feet. He grabbed his throat as if dying and spasmed comically. Everyone laughed uproariously, applauded, and wandered out to start practice, still laughing. Any fight or thoughts of a fight were completely forgotten. Oishi even glanced at the two freshmen Fuji pointed out to him. They did avoid looking at each other, but each of them had smiles on their faces as they walked out.

"Hoi! Fu-ji! Oi-shi! Kikumaru sang at them and put his arms around both their backs. "Hoi! Did you like my story? Wasn't it funny! Let's go! Practice! Yah-hoi!" and he lead them outside into the sunshine with his arms still around them. He turned them all sideways so they could fit through the narrow door. Fuji was still smiling and Oishi was still stunned.

Oishi watched Kikumaru throughout practice that day very closely. Kikumaru played his heart out. He was constantly encouraging others with either jokes when they were down or whining to make them laugh when everyone was exhausted. Always making people smile, feel good, and work harder. He was totally enthusiastic the entire time. His energy seemed boundless. His laughter contagious. His smile infectious. Inevitably when his antics won everyone that day 10 extra laps from Tezuka, it was almost as if everyone enjoyed their "punishment" for his "crimes". The entire team was happier and felt closer together in the end.

When practice was over Kikumaru walked up to Oishi like it was the most natural thing in the world. As if they were already friends. "Hoi, Oishi, can you help me with something I need to work on for a few minutes?" He was sweating from the hard practice as Oishi was. His head was cocked to the side and he was smiling.

"Work on? What is it Kikumaru?"

"Pleeeease? Play a little with me!?" He was loud, and several people turned to look at them.

"A....ano, would you like me to find Fuji for you?"

"Nya, NYA! Fuji-senpai would beat me. Please? I have an idea that I need to try. Just a few minutes. Please?"

So they played. Oishi never could say no to him.

That was the first time Oishi ever saw Kikumaru do some serious acrobatics. What he wanted to work on for some odd reason was hitting the ball while facing the complete other direction at the net. Most of the time he wanted to hit it backwards between his legs while sailing through the air. Oishi then understood that Fuji really did not play that kind of tennis to allow those types of hits. Once Oishi figured out what Kikumaru was trying to do, even though Oishi had no idea why, he was able to hit the ball just so Kikumaru got down the best angles to return it down. A few minutes turned into over an hour before Oishi realized.

At one point during their playing, Oishi thought he saw a smiling Fuji watching them, but when he looked back, the tensai was no where to be found.

They went to shower and get changed and Oishi was again shocked. This time at the scrapes and bruises all over Kikumaru. Oishi gasped, "What happened? Did you get in a fight? Let me get the med kit! Do you want me to take you to the hospital?"

"Hah? NYA! A fight!?" Kikumaru laughed, "You SAW what happened. Acrobatics. Its nothing. It happens all the time. Don't you get bruises, blisters, and sores too?" Kikumaru was looking at Oishi like Oishi was the one who was crazy. But Oishi also noticed that the outrageous, outlandish guy was--embarrassed? Kikumaru--embarrassed? "Nya! Its nothing. It happens all the time. I know how to fall!" He shrugged smiling. "Fuji-senpai says 'Do not consider painful what is good for you.' " The battered looking guy said it in a near perfect imitation of the velvet voiced tensai and then smiled.

Euripides, huh? Oishi had to smile, "Well, let me at least put a bandage on the scrape on your arm? Its bleeding. Okay?"

In the end Kikumaru let him dress that and a few other bleeding scrapes, albeit with many protests about the pain the disinfectant caused, the agony the bandages caused him, and even more about the torture of having to sit still.

Kikumaru ended up talking Oishi into going for ice cream with him after. Even though Oishi did not love sweets and had a thousand things to do for school the next day, he found himself saying yes. Kikumaru must have found his impressions of their teachers and Tezuka made Oishi laugh so he kept at it until Oishi's sides ached. After they had ice cream, somehow, Oishi ended up walking Kikumaru all the way to his home. Oishi was just listening to him talk about this and that, laughing with him, and the next thing Oishi knew, they were all the way to Kikumaru's house before he even realized it. Kikumaru hugged Oishi suddenly, surprising him again, and then thanked him for his help. Before going inside he yelled a cheerful "Bye! See you tomorrow!" over his shoulder.

Oishi got home late, after dark, and went to bed hours later than normal because he was so behind. He found though, that sleep did not come easy. He kept thinking about Eiji Kikumaru, his laughter, his scrapes, and his warmth. He was glad he made a new friend.

This pattern went on for a couple of weeks. Suddenly Eiji Kikumaru was Eiji his friend. It meant that for once IN the circle of people laughing around Kikumaru, Oishi was now usually there. Oishi was always amazed at how it would just sort of, happen. Kikumaru would see Oishi, start to talk to him, and usually make him laugh. The next thing Oishi knew a crowd was there around them laughing too.

It was kind of nice.

The Friday of that week the team was getting ready for their next tournament. Practice, everyone knew, would be harder than normal. Saturday practice was going to be very tough too, but at least there was no practice on Sunday.

They walked out of the dressing room together and Oishi was about to ask Kikumaru which way he was headed when his cell phone rang.

In addition to Eiji, the other thing Oishi discovered in junior high was girls. Or rather, the girls discovered him. He had dated several girls, all right, a lot of girls, and he enjoyed some of dating but not all of it. Actually, if he had to sum it up what he liked about dating it was, the kissing.

For a guy who was not openly affectionate, Oishi found he adored kissing. The closeness, the panting, the petting, the soft sighs, the bodies entwined, the moist lips pressing, the teasing, the touching, the tongues sliding against each other....

Yes, he really enjoyed the kissing. But for some reason though, something about quiet serious Oishi attracted nice, sweet, seemingly respectable girls who after only a couple of dates were ready to go way past kissing. A couple of dates and they were telling him they loved him. A couple of dates and they wanted him to be their boyfriend. Occasionally, Oishi, up to a point, complied, with both the boyfriend part and the way past kissing also.

A few dates more though and it seemed the girls went crazy. They wanted to see him all the time. They wanted all his time, his attention, his affection, his love, and a few already had been pushing to go all the way. They would say after only a few dates they wanted to have sex with him because they loved him. Oishi was surprised, time after time again as he found a girl he really barely only knew, telling him she loved him. She barely knew him. How could she say she loved him?

Oishi found it best to break the dating off with the girl at that point. Better she have a little hurt then, than a lot of hurt later. Still, he got frequent love notes, phone calls, invitations, and more from girls he had dated, kissed, or fooled around with once or twice who would not let go. It baffled him.

On his phone was a new girl he met the weekend before while out at a favorite pet store. She seemed nice and very pretty. She was around his age and went to another school. They had talked on the phone a few times when she had called him. To be honest, he couldn't even remember her face. Just that she was pretty, had shoulder length brown hair, and called him often.

She wanted to know if he wanted to meet up and see a movie on Sunday? For a date? And did he have a cute friend for her friend?

So Oishi looked at Eiji, told her he would see, and call her back.

"Eiji, that was this girl I met asking me to go see a movie Sunday. On a date. Do you want to go?"

"Nya! You're going on a date with a girl! Why would I go too!? Fuji-senpai says two's company and three's a crowd." The horrified look on Eiji's face made Oishi laugh. So did the fact that ever since Fuji had made regulars, nearly immediately after arriving at Seigaku, Eiji seemed obsessed with now only calling and referring to his friend as senpai 24/7 no matter how much the tensai laughingly protested.

"No, Eiji," Oishi laughed, "she has a friend who needs a date too. It would be a double date. It'll be fun." And with Eiji there it would be. Everyone loved Eiji. In fact that would be even better because Oishi really could not remember much about this girl but with Eiji and another girl there it would be fine.

"I don't know......" Eiji said it small and oddly. "I..I....."

"Are you already dating someone, Eiji?" Oishi was not sure. Most of the time he had spent with Eiji they were either laughing or playing tennis. When they did talk they talked about school or tennis. Not really girls.

"Nya!" Then he whispered, "I've never been on a date before Oishi!"

Oishi was surprised. He knew many girls went to watch tennis practice just to watch Eiji. He knew of two girls who had asked Oishi to slip notes to Eiji, professing their love and adoration to him before he and Eiji were even friends, when they were just in tennis together. He realized Eiji was waiting for him to say something and the silence was dragging on. "Oh, Eiji, I'm just surprised, I mean, I know quite a few girls have crushes on you...."

"Nya! A date isn't the SAME as someone giving you a note or calling you!"

Well, that was true. Then Oishi smiled. "It'll be fun. I'll be there and be sure you're fine." For some reason now Oishi really wanted Eiji to go. Eiji stood there as if trying to decide. His head was cocked to one side, and one eye closed in thought.

"Hoi. Well.....," and Oishi knew Eiji was gearing up to talk him into something. Eiji loved to bargain and an offer was about to be made. "Maybe you can have dinner and come sleep over my house tonight? You can tell me what to wear and what to do? Then if I need to get something to wear we can go after practice tomorrow. You can help me! That'll be fun!"

Why not? They could go to practice together on Saturday morning. Oishi's family was out of town for the weekend at his grandparents. They frequently were since his grandmother had been sick for a long time. Oishi stayed behind due to tennis and schoolwork. He usually spent weekends when not at practice by himself. He had already done his homework anticipating Saturdays practice. There was really no reason for him not to go.

"Well, if it would be all right with your parents.....?"

"YAAAY!" Eiji threw himself around Oishi in a huge hug.

"Eiji, I'll need to stop by my house first. I have to leave a message for my parents and get some things........"

"HOI! LET'S GO!" Oishi did not have the heart to tell Eiji that he didn't mean for Eiji to accompany him home. Oishi smiled and shrugged. He caught up to Eiji enthusiastically leading only knowing the general direction Oishi lived in. Oishi called the girl back along the way and told her Sunday would be great for them.

When they arrived at Oishi's, he lead Eiji into his house and carefully, silently, removed his shoes, placing them neatly in their place. Eiji followed him and they went up to Oishi's room. The house was, as always, still, clean, and quiet.

Oishi led Eiji up the stairs, into his room, and flipped on the light. He was so startled he almost fell over when he heard Eiji suddenly squeal very loudly in sheer delight. The auburn haired guy dashed across the room in his characteristic lightening flash speed over to Oishi's fish tank. Eiji had moved so fast, even the fish did not even have time to scuttle away at the disturbance. He froze in front of them.

"Oishi.....they're SO beautiful!" Eiji breathed in a whisper.

"Thank you." Oishi was a little charmed. Few ever saw his fish and no one had ever reacted like....that.

Oishi set about getting some clothes and putting things into his bag. He went into the bathroom to get the rest of the things he would need. He was going to show Eiji what he would most likely wear on the date but when he came back he saw his friend still frozen and staring. Eiji's huge smile was reflected in the tank's glass.

Oishi could not help but smile at him, "Would you like to feed them before we go?"

Suddenly Eiji was all action again. "Really? Hoi! What do I do? Show me." Oishi carefully pinched out a tiny bit of food and showed Eiji how.

"Eiji I'm going to run downstairs, real quick, to leave a message for my parents. Will you be all right here?" Eiji without looking at him nodded while still transfixed on the now fish eating. Oishi paused at the door, "Oh, and don't give them any more food, okay?"

Eiji, still smiling, turned to him, "How did you know I was thinking about doing that?"

"Because I know you." Oishi smiled back.

"Oishi," Eiji turned his full focus on him, "you're a really good teacher."

"Thank you." Oishi smiled a little more, "I'll be right back and we can go." Oishi ran downstairs making more noise in his house than he could remember. He made sure his parents had not left any food sitting warming for him, left them a brief message just in case they wondered where he was, and then raced back upstairs. He was worried and knew that if he was gone an instant too long his poor finicky fish would be overfed by Eiji meaning well.

Had Oishi looked into a mirror he would have found himself smiling as he ran by.

Oishi barely survived dinner at Eiji's home that first time. It seemed to Oishi to be a loud raucous battle more than a meal. The goal seemed to be to eat, talk, and laugh as much as possible with as many people as possible. It was nearly the complete opposite of Oishi's family, but once he got used to the noise level he had to admit, it was pretty fun for organized chaos. Eiji's laid back parents and sisters were totally charmed by handsome, shy, well mannered Oishi. They all mothered him to make sure he got enough to eat and asked him questions about himself, school, tennis, and his family.

The girls all giggled whenever Oishi blushed. Even Eiji's Mother.

Finally, Eiji could no longer stand not being the center of attention any more. "Hoi! We have to go to my room now to study! Right, Oishi?"

Oishi was not very good at lying. "Ano....yes, Eiji. Thank you very much for dinner and for letting me spend the night........" Oishi was still thanking them as Eiji grabbed his wrist and dragged him up the stairs. Eiji showed Oishi some things in his room and they talked about everything and nothing for a bit. Eiji showed Oishi his clothes and together they picked out a plain but nice outfit for Eiji to wear on their double date.

Soon it was time for bed as they had to get up early for practice. However, there was a little problem. Oishi refused to let Eiji give him his bed to sleep on and said he would take the floor. Eiji insisted that they both sleep on the bed or he would sleep on the floor with Oishi. Oishi, feeling tired, finally gave in to both of them sleeping on the bed together. It was a bit tight but more comfortable than the floor. They lay down to sleep, settling in. Oishi lay on his back next to the wall and Eiji lay on his side facing away from Oishi.

Eiji was still trying to argue why his way was best even after he had won. "Its not like its weird or anything Oishi, I mean, you are my best friend."

"Best friend?" Oishi had to ask, "But I thought Fuji is your best friend?"

Yawning and stating it like a known fact to an idiot, "Nya Oishi, Fuji-senpai says I'm his best friend, but I say you're my best friend."

"You say this to Fuji?"

Eiji sat up and looked over at Oishi who saw him by his alarm clock's glow, looking concerned, "Yes. Shouldn't I have? You are my best friend, right? Am I your best friend?"

Oishi thought about it. He would have said a month ago that Tezuka was his best or closest friend but it wasn't like he could ever talk or laugh with Tezuka the way he could with Eiji. He guessed Eiji was right. "Yes Eiji, you're my best friend." He had caught Eiji's earlier yawn and it came out while he said it.

"Yah-hoi!" Eiji spun around in bed, flopping himself down so he laid on his side now facing Oishi on the same pillow. Oishi was worried that Eiji was not sleepy at all, but when he looked over he saw his eyes were closed. Eiji must have felt him looking at him because he said only, "Shhh. Sleep."

Oishi woke up a couple of times during the night a bit uncomfortable in a strange place. Eiji turned and moved a lot in his sleep. Oishi found Eiji hogged the bed space, the pillows, and the blankets. The room lightened as dawn crawled closer, and Oishi saw that Eiji also looked like a little boy when he slept. He could easily imagine him, adorable, at five years old, laughing and causing trouble. A few times Oishi woke up and found Eiji was laying with his head on Oishi's shoulder and his arm or leg or both limbs tossed over Oishi. He slept in the oddest, most twisted up positions. Oishi could not imagine how the strange contortions were possibly comfortable. Oishi finally fell asleep just before dawn with his new best friend's arm and leg tossed over him. His last thought was wondering how anyone, ever, could sleep like that.

When Oishi woke up the next time, Eiji was gone and the morning sun was shining into the room. Eiji's alarm clock started blaring and Oishi shot up trying to figure out how to quickly silence it. He hit snooze somehow but still could not find the off. Eiji came running into the room five seconds later all dressed and ready. He spoke quietly, for Eiji, in a loud whisper and he was frowning,"Nya! I missed getting here before the alarm went off!" He grinned, "Hoi Oishi! Get up and get dressed! I'm going to make breakfast!" He smiled, took the alarm clock out of Oishi's hands, flipped a button, set it down, and dashed out of the room.

10 seconds later he popped back in, "Oishi, go! What's wrong?" Oishi thought for sure it would have been him pushing and prodding Eiji to get up, especially after the contortions the guy slept in the night before. Eiji was full of surprises though.

"You get up early everyday and try to beat your alarm clock?" Oishi heard how tired he was in his voice.

"Hoi! Its lucky! Now go before one of my sisters gets in there!"

Oishi could not let it go, "Why? Why do you try to beat the alarm getting up and ready?"

Eiji looked at him quizzically and said as if he was daft, "Because its lucky!" Then he turned and was gone.

Oishi showered, got dressed, and was downstairs, he would have sworn only fifteen minutes later. No one else was up yet, and the table was full of food. Eiji apparently had made a huge breakfast for both of them. Oishi blinked several times, convinced he was still dreaming. "Eiji, you made all this?"

"Hoi! Now eat!"

"Eiji, you know how to cook? Like this?"

"Hoi, " Eiji said laughing with a mouth full of food, "there is a lot you don't know about your best friend." He gave Oishi a wink and a "V" with his fingers and kept eating.

Oishi was amazed. But while starting to eat he thought about it, he could never remember Eiji being late. Ever. And he had to get all his energy from somewhere, right?

Oishi finished eating while Eiji quickly took care of the plates.

They went out the door and to practice.

Practice was grueling. Just when everyone thought it was over several people were picked to play against each other. Oishi was picked by chance to play against Eiji.

They had been practicing for a several weeks on their own and they slipped into a familiar rhythm like they did when alone. Eiji started doing his amazing acrobatics, even more than normal at school, the kind he did when it was just the two of them. Eiji must have sensed they had a crowd watching including a few regulars. Oishi was also holding his own. He had learned many of Eiji's weaknesses and discovered that because of the weeks spent pinpointing specific shots and lobs at Eiji so he could practice, Oishi had become much more accurate without even realizing it until then. He could not begin to compete with some of Eiji's more outrageous backwards shots, but when the score was tied Oishi hit a high lob right on the line. It was so high not even Eiji could leap that far. Eiji was still at the net with no hope to catch it, but was thrilled with the shot and told Oishi so. Thus the moon volley was born.

It turned into a good match with a lot of people watching, but Oishi noticed how frustrated Eiji was getting with not being able to return a few of Oishi's more precise shots. Oishi decided to let his friend win the last point and win spectacularly by delivering a combo they had practiced on. Eiji was able to return two of Oishi's shots by turning in midair returning one and then the second before his feet hit the ground. Everyone was in awe. Eiji seemed high on the attention. Oishi was happy.

Tezuka wasn't. He knew Oishi had let Eiji win although Oishi was convinced no one else would know. He was as furious as Tezuka ever showed anyone he got. Oishi only knew he was angry from knowing him so well. Tezuka approached him as Oishi walked off the court and said quietly, "Oishi, how is Kikumaru supposed to improve if you let him win?"

"Tezuka, you saw in such a short time how much he's improved. I've been working with him. He does better when his confidence is higher. I could have probably beat him today but in a month's time who knows?" Oishi shrugged, it wasn't an excuse, it was the truth.

Tezuka considered this. He only replied, "You've improved as well. Keep working with Kikumaru and both of you continue improving."

"Thank you, Tezuka. I will."

Oishi felt his ears burning and thought he had gotten out of danger when a soft, cool voice like a bracing breeze startled him, "Ne, Oishi, why did you let Eiji win? It was a good game until then."

Oishi jumped. "Fuji-senpai...I.....I didn't see you there. I didn't. Kikumaru beat me fairly." Oishi knew he was a terrible liar.

"Ah." The tensai sized him up, "You've improved Oishi. You should work on that high lob to get it down every time. Its a nice move."

High praise indeed. "Oh? Thank you, Fuji-senpai."

Oishi was exhausted. He did not think he could take one more person asking him...."Oishi?"

Eiji. And he knew it too. And he looked upset. "Oishi, nya. Why did you let me win?"

"Eiji. I...I'm sorry. I only wanted you to show everyone how much you've worked on and learned the last few weeks. I...I'm sorry."

"Nya. Do you...." he sounded upset and then he sounded angry, "do you think you can beat me?" His eyes flashed dangerously.

"I...I don't know. But...Eiji...I like practicing with you and....I promise I will never do it again." Oishi couldn't look at him. He was looking at the ground when he felt a finger flick with a pop right in between his eyes.

"Hoi! So serious! Nya! Okay, Oishi I'll let you take me to get something to eat to make up for it." Then Eiji smiled, any trace of anger instantly gone.

Oishi followed him into the dressing room and he wondered idly as they headed to the showers if he had just been had.

On to Chapter 2!!