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The apartment is small, a single room with a bath, a closet, and a fold-out couch. Dan’s lived in the apartment since the tail end of his second year in high school. Akutsu broke his pelvis in a motorcycle accident and Dan moved in to help him and never left. Dan’s parents are reluctantly okay with the arrangement, mostly because it was futile to try to get Dan to change his mind. Akutsu stopped trying to kick him out after a few months and, after their first kiss, Dan was there to stay.

Dan doesn’t think anything about the fact that he lives with Akutsu. He doesn’t invite people over often because there are bigger places to gather. It’s not a secret that he and Akutsu are together; Dan’s friends from high school liked to tease him because of it. There was no formal announcement, however, and Dan only answers if asked.

University is different than high school in size and coursework, but otherwise it’s a lot the same. By the time lunch is over on his first day, Dan knows where the cool kids hang out, who cheated on their entrance exams, and which girls would go all the way. Dan’s fast friends with the “runts” of the Physical Education Department, one of whom is a tennis player, while the bigger jocks stick together. As a third year in another department, Akutsu’s timetable is different than Dan’s, but Akutsu doesn’t eat lunch anyway.

The tennis club holds try-outs the Monday of the second week of school. It’s cold outside and Dan’s bouncing on his toes to keep warm. He sees Akutsu come out of the club room near the courts and is about to call out when the second year near him points at Akutsu and leans in to say, “Watch out for the Demon, shorty. Don’t get in his way. He eats first years like you for breakfast.”

Dan is bemused. He knows for a fact that Akutsu has a bowl of cereal and coffee for breakfast, but doesn’t speak up. People are still afraid of Akutsu like Dan has never been. Akutsu says the lack of fear is because Dan is an idiot. Dan says it’s because Akutsu loves him. “See, you’re an idiot,” Akutsu always responds, but then he gets overly grumpy and smokes half a pack of cigarettes, and Dan knows the truth.

The upperclassmen watch as those trying out are pitted against one another. Dan is just getting warmed up when his strings break and his second racket isn’t in such good condition from his game with Akutsu on the street courts two Sundays ago. He can tell by Akutsu’s frown that he’s not doing well, but he soldiers on until Buchou calls time and the upperclassmen leave to select the new teammates.

Dan makes the team – barely. Akutsu growls that he had to use his bid when he’d planned not to play favorites like that and Dan isn’t happy about it either. Dan vows to become the best player on the team to make up for it.

He doesn’t have much of a chance to prove himself as the tennis season gets underway. He’s relegated to picking up balls, passing out towels, and practicing his swings. He keeps a positive attitude; the other first years have similar duties and it gives him the opportunity to collect data on the upperclassmen. Akutsu’s tennis he knows backwards and forwards and is still impressed by it. Akutsu had started playing again as rehabilitation from his injury (“It’s less annoying than going to PT.”) and joined the university team so he’d have more people than Dan as opponents. That he kept playing after it was no longer necessary isn’t talked about.

The first university match ends in defeat for the team, as does the second, and Akutsu doesn’t have a chance to play in either competition. Dan ignores Akutsu’s peevishness at home afterwards, burying himself in his homework and little chores to keep occupied, until even he’s had enough and tells Akutsu, “Then switch to singles three instead and at least one of us will get to play.”

Akutsu shuts up after that and is in a much better mood when club meets the following day. The maniacal gleam in his eyes frightens the other first years, many of the second years, and a few of the upperclassmen. Dan is relieved, and then he gets excited when Akutsu singles him out for a match. His rackets are restrung and he and Akutsu haven’t played since classes and club began.

The green headband Dan still wears is wrapped around his wrist; it’s too worn and stretched out to stay on his head any longer. He pulls his hair back in a tie to keep it out of his face and sheds his warm up jacket. He gets some worried looks from his teammates that he doesn’t understand and runs onto the court where Akutsu is waiting for him.

Akutsu serves, Dan returns it, and they fall into the familiar rhythm of the game. Dan knows Akutsu’s weaknesses and isn’t afraid to test the limits of his own skills. Akutsu’s elbow is skinned and Dan’s knees are bruised when it’s time to change courts. Dan notices that they have an audience – the entire team is lined against the fence watching them. He gives Akutsu a questioning look, which Akutsu returns with a shark-toothed grin.

Dan gets it, then, and he serves an ace to show Akutsu he doesn’t appreciate being used to further Akutsu’s goals. Akutsu throws his head back and laughs. It’s a great sound, and Dan knows he probably won’t make it to the shower when they get home.

Akutsu wins six games to four, and they meet at the net. “You’re getting better,” Akutsu says.

“But not good enough, desu,” Dan replies, and he knows it’s the truth.

Akutsu lightly bops the top of Dan’s head with his racket and he smiles genuinely in that rare, crooked way. “Someday, you will be.”

Dan can’t wait to get home.

The rest of the team has other plans, though, and Dan is bombarded with cries of “How did you?”s, and “Way to go!”s, and “Akutsu-senpai is scary when he laughs.” Dan admits that he’s known Akutsu since middle school (though he barely remembers to say “Akutsu-senpai” instead of “Jin” to show respect; it’s been a while since Dan has been in a situation that calls for it) and that they’ve played against each other before. The awe and respect he gets from his teammates is embarrassing and he demurs by pointing out how everyone is such a good player and how much of an honor it is to be on the team, desu. He finally escapes and meets Akutsu at the train station after changing. Akutsu is wearing the smug look of someone who’d gotten his way and Dan is right that he doesn’t make it to the shower.

Dan finds out that he’s playing singles three when Buchou announces the lineup for the next match a week later. He’s extremely happy, even with Akutsu’s deviousness, and he makes plans to celebrate with the other first years after club. Akutsu declines Dan’s invitation to join because he has to work and it’s not like he would’ve come anyway.

Dan celebrates a little too much and has to be escorted home. Dan sings that he’s glad the apartment is clean for guests as Tenoji unlocks the door. Akutsu is home from work as it’s late, and he gets out of bed when Dan stumbles inside with his friend. “I’m home!”

Akutsu is wearing only blue boxers and a scowl as he takes Dan from Tenoji. “I’ve got him. Get lost.”

Dan leans into Akutsu and giggles at the expression on Tenoji’s face. “Bye, desu!”

The apartment is small and Dan doesn’t invite people over often, so he understands the furor the next day about his living with Akutsu. Akutsu’s response is “You got a problem with it?” while Dan simply smiles and shrugs and says, “Why wouldn’t I? I love him, too.”



End


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