Aishuu Offers:

Dross

mbsilvana@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Konomi-sensei, manga-ka!

Notes: Inspired by the comments I received on "Pyrite" but not set in the same universe. Also written as a counterpoint for "Last Dance." Pairing... well, O/K and probably some T/F. Het implied as well for some characters. Feedback is a good thing.

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"Not all those that wander are lost."

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Ten years was a long time, but not so long that connections could be completely broken. Friendship forged in the heat of youth and under trial were meant to last a lifetime, after all.

Or so it should have been, in an ideal world. But the world didn't work like that.

Ten years was a long time, Oishi knew, and memories faded with time. Things that once seemed of vital importance became insignificant, and once important people faded into the past, never quite forgotten, but rarely brought to the forefront of his mind. Every now and then, when taking notes, he'd think of Inui, while sushi always made him think of Kawamura and wonder how his business was, and cameras invariably reminded him of Fuji, but those associations were few and far between. Tennis, of course, made him think of Tezuka and Eiji both, but he had lost contact with them less than a year after leaving.

Broken bonds, lost to the passage of time.

They had graduated from Seishun Gakuen together, he, Tezuka, Fuji, Eiji, Kawamura and Inui. Together they had made promises to stay in touch with each other and their important underclassmen as well, but the frequent phone calls and occassional meetings of those first few months at college had died down to a trickle, and eventually stopped altogether as new friends and college pressure had arisen.

Kawamura had been the first he had lost contact with, then Fuji... and one day he realized he hadn't called Tezuka in six months. A few weeks later, as he sat down to dinner with some friends, he remembered that he had forgotten to send Eiji a birthday card — and then realized he didn't have his current mailing address, so he couldn't, even if he wanted to.

Life had happened.

Surprisingly, it was Inui who he still maintained a tentative tie to, Inui who he had known only casually who never forgot a birthday and who managed to attend his graduation. Many would have thought that he, as Seigaku's "mother" would have been the one to keep the ties alive, but they seemed to live more in Inui's notebook.

On the first of every month, as regular as the sunrise, Inui would drop him an e-mail, updating him on everything that was going on in his life. Every now and then he'd mention a tantalizing tidbit about someone else, such as Kaidoh's graduation, or Echizen moving back to the States, which led him to believe that their data collector was still collecting data.

He asked Inui about that, about eight years down the road, right before he entered his internship at one of Tokyo's largest hospitals.

"Data collection is never finished," Inui had informed him, "until you reach a conclusion."

"And you still haven't?" Oishi had shot back in a one-line reply.

"Conclusions for people are only reached when they die."

Chilling, but with a certain practicality that showed that Inui hadn't changed that much.

Oishi had been tempted to ask Inui about the others, because if Inui was keeping suck a close eye on him, he was positive he was in touch with Tezuka and Kaidoh, and most likely everyone else. But Oishi wasn't that great at answering, as his medical studies took up an ungodly amount of time, and many of Inui's e-mails were received with a quick "Hi, I'm doing well," or sometimes lost as he put it off and forgot until the next month.

It was amazing Inui continued, really.

His last round of rotations had finished when Inui's e-mail arrived, congratulating him. "I'll take you out for a drink during our reunion. I should be in town then."

Oishi blinked, then remembered the card he had received in the mail about three months before, asking for reservations. He had totally forgotten about it.

"I didn't make reservations, but I'll see you when you're up here," he agreed.

"I made them for you since I knew you probably forgot," was Inui's next e-mail, sent thirty minutes later. "I'm on the committee."

Oishi knew he should have been offended by Inui's high-handedness, but he was a bit too amused. It was convienent, of course, that the reunion was falling right before he took a permenent post in his family's hospital, and he knew Inui had understood what his life was like well enough to understand that.

"I'll be there."

"So will everyone else. It should be interesting," came Inui's reply, and Oishi imagined Inui's glasses sparkling, and a low, wicked laugh that meant the data collector was about to add more precious information to his collection.

***

The day of the event, he dressed neatly, in a black sport jacket and slacks, setting it off with a grey turtleneck. He had heard many horror stories from his med school classmates who had recently attended their ten year reunions, and was going with decidedly mixed feelings.

"There will be people there who seem like they haven't gone anywhere, and are trapped in the past," said his close friend, Sanji. "Usually people like the captain of the football club, or the prettiest girl in school. Then they'll be the people who've become salarymen or other mundane jobs - they're not as bad, but a lot of them seemed to have lost a lot of their personality."

Oishi tried to think of what had happened to his classmates, and Eiji's face came to mind. He had never been able to imagine a future for his partner, and since he knew Eiji hadn't gone pro, he wondered what had become of him. Had he fallen between the cracks? "What kind of person becomes that?"

"Usually the class clown, or the ones who just weren't smart enough to make it in college. I think it's almost more painful than seeing the student body president become a mid-level banker, you know?" Sanji said.

He tried to imagine Tezuka as a banker, and sadly the picture fit. But Tezuka would rise, because of the way he was. Before he was forty, he'd be in charge of whatever he was doing.

"What about the people who succeed?" Oishi asked.

Sanji had smiled a bit, obviously happy with himself. "Look in the mirror. They're the ones who don't look back. I'm not going to anymore reunions, because there's nothing there for me - you'll find the same. Your life isn't about Seigaku anymore."

The words had been cold, but Oishi was afraid they held the truth.

He didn't want to make a big deal out of his career, but he knew many would. Being a doctor was a prestigious career, but when people found out that he was also the heir to the hospital... well, those who hadn't done so well might be jealous.

The reunion was in a large hotel close enough to the school that alumni could go take a quick walk on their old stomping grounds in they wanted. Oishi arrived promptly, glancing around for a familiar face. However, most people seemed to be arriving and going immediately in, which meant he needed to do the same.

Wandering over the the registration table, he waited in line for a few minutes before making it to the front.

"There's still a few rooms left," he was told by the woman he vaguely remembered being in the class next to his. "Are you staying all three days?"

"I might be in and out," Oishi replied. "I live in Tokyo."

"You can pickup the reunion program on your way out, " She stared at him, and his name tag which she cheerfully hung around his neck for him - his name, laminated with the fact that he had been class representative. "It'll be easier if you stay, Oishi-san. I think... weren't you on the tennis team?"

"Vice captain," Oishi answered, words which he hadn't spoken in years.

She shivered a bit. "I think Inui-san is around here waiting for you. He mentioned something about trying to get the old team together."

"Have you seen any of them yet?"

"I don't really remember all of them, but I know Tezuka-san is here. Wasn't he the captain?"

"Yes." Oishi smiled at her, and thanked her.

As he walked off, he overheard her turn to the other woman who was working registration. "Did you know he's a doctor now? And look at that butt! I wonder if he's playing tennis to keep in shape?"

He had learned to control his blushes long ago, but that comment had his face flaming as he ducked for the safety of the large ballroom.

There were so many people inside - their class had over 500 students in it, and while some of the faces look baguely familiar, like a half-remember dream, he didn't see anyone. All around him people milled, some wearing nervous expressions, but most seemed to be eager to renew old acquaintences.

"Oishi?" a voice asked from his side, and he turned to see Fuji smiling at him.

Fuji was still short, his mind noted immediately, but there was no mistaken him. He was styling his hair differently, brushing the long bangs out of his eyes, and time had finally added a more adult look to his face so there would be no mistaking him for a girl anymore, but that smile was still the same.

"Fuji!" he said, and walked over to the smaller man. They clapped each other on the back warmly, and Fuji laughed lightly.

"You look so much older," he said.

"Do I?" Oishi asked. "It's only been... ten years?"

"Those ten years mean a lot, don't they?" Fuji asked, and the tilt to his head meant he was thinking. Oishi recognized the posture. "Have you seen anyone else yet?"

"I just got here."

"Me too. I was hoping to see Eiji — I thought..." he trailed off, shaking his head. "I haven't seen him in six months, you know."

Oishi didn't. "I lost touch with everyone except Inui."

"Even Tezuka?" Fuji asked, sounding surprised. "You were so close."

"My med studies ate my life," Oishi said, though he knew it was a weak excuse. Had he really made a better efort, he should have been able to stay in contact.

"I know what you mean," Fuji said.

"You?" Oishi asked curiously. He couldn't see Fuji as a doctor, but then Fuji had always been unpredictable.

"Psychiatry. I took my boards a month ago," he said happily. "I think it's going to be fun."

Fuji would think that. "Counseling?" Oishi asked with a bit of tredipition. The idea of Fuji licensed to mess around with people's heads made a shudder run down his spine. Sure, people change, but Oishi was convinced Fuji couldn't change THAT much.

"Of course. Why else would I have bothered to get my doctorate?"

"Where are you working?"

"I've got a bunch of resumes out, and I'll see what happens," Fuji replied easily enough. "Right now I'm taken a couple of months to just travel before I get locked down in a full-time job. My brother gave me a nice camera for my graduation, so I've been taking a lot of pictures."

That was right, Oishi remembered.  Fuji had always liked photography, hadn't he?

"Have some time for an old friend?" a voice said to their side, and they turned to see Kawamura.

Oishi blinked a few times, but it was Kawamura. He'd put on a lot of muscle, and was wearing a beard, but like Fuji, his eyes were readily recognizable.

"Taka-san!" Fuji had said gleefully, turning to see his friend. Kawamura had always been closer to Fuji than Oishi, especially since he stopped playing tennis in high school.

So much of his high school life had revolved around tennis. It was strange to think that he only played at a club on weekends, with a few friends. He was still better than they all were, but he'd definitely lost the edge that daily training had brought.

Kawamura wasn't at all hesitant, coming forward and grabbing Fuji's hand to pull him into a back-thumping embrace. Fuji laughed, and Oishi could see the genuine smile of pleasure on his face.

"Fujiko, it's been too long! You should have visited!"

Fuji pulled back, a bit embarassed. "Yes, well..." He exchanged glances with Oishi.

Kawamura saw the look, and his grin was one of forgiveness. "I know, ten years of university keeps you occupied. You should still come over, though. Ichirou is wondering about his Syuusuke-ojisan."

"Ichirou?" Oishi echoed, getting a feeling in his stomach.

"My oldest!" Kawamura said, and there was no mistaking the pride in his voice. "I have two, and a third on the way," he said. "My wife was feeling a bit to sick to come, but if you stop by the restaurant later, you can meet her."

Oishi hadn't even known Kawamura was married. From the way he was talking, it was obvious he had followed his father into the family business. Kawamura seemed a bit less shy, and the wallet of photos he shoved into Oishi's hands showed a happy young family.

He hadn't considered the possibility that some of his friends might be married. He still saw them as 18, young and ready for the world, instead of the 28 they now were, seasoned by 10 years of real life.

Fuji clucked over  the pictures obliging with Oishi. "You're lucky, Taka-san."

"Yes, I am. How about you? Anyone special?" Kawamura asked.

Fuji shook his head. "They come and go. Oishi?"

"No time with school and rotations. Maybe I'll have some time now."

"Doctors never have time," another voice said, and Oishi took a moment to recognize Inui. Changes were apparent in him, moreso than any other.

He was dressed well, in grey slacks and a blazer that looked like it could have come from Oishi's own closet, but the black silk shirt he was wearing was a touch too extravagent for Oishi. He was still taller than Oishi, over six feet, but it was the glasses that Oishi missed. Around five years ago, Inui had decided that undergoing laser eye surgery would be a worthwhile investment, and he had. Oishi thought it quite strange to see an Inui whose brown eyes were discernable.

"Inui!" Kawamura said happily. "Are you back from the States for a while?"

"I took a week or so. I've got a computer, so I can still check on my investments," he said. He glanced at Oishi, and without the glasses, Oishi was readily able to detect the hint of amusement there. "Doctors aren't the only one married to their jobs," he said. Inui did something with the stock market, Oishi knew, but he had never been quite clear on what. He was doing well for himself, though, and it involved a lot of numbers and calculations.

"It's good to see you," Oishi said. "Thanks for keeping in touch – I know I probably didn't deserve it."

"You're better than Tezuka," Inui murmured. "One line replies, if he bothered to reply at all."

Fuji laughed softly. "It's nice to know that some things don't change. Do you know if he came?"

"Our former student body president was cornered by certain members of the committee and reminded of his responsibilities to make an appearences," Inui said, and this time Oishi was sure he saw Inui's glasses glittering.

"I'm sure he was happy about that," Fuji said. He twisted his head, looking around. "Where is he?"

"I saw him talking to Kikumaru," Inui said. "They were over in the corner."

"And why aren't you with them?" Fuji asked curiously as they wordlessly began to follow the data collector.

"Because I wanted to get you. If I hadn't, the meeting would have been delayed for over an hour as you all exchanged pleasantries," Inui said. "Kikumaru and Tezuka aren't likely to leave where they are."

Oishi was a bit surprised. He remembered the last party, with Eiji bouncing around and having a nearly impossible time restraining him. Perhaps people did change, if Eiji wasn't social anymore, but he had a hard time imagining him any other way.

"It will be good to see them again," Fuji said. "Tezuka stopped answering my e-mails after I signed him up for that mailing list a couple of years ago."

Oishi was a bit afraid of what mailing list Fuji was refering to, because chances were it wasn't innocous. "What did you sign him up for, Fuji?" he asked a bit warily.

"It was a group for young professionals to meet other young professionals," Fuji said with a smile. "I thought his social life could use a bit of help, since he's not very… outgoing."

Oishi took a moment to process that. "You signed Tezuka up for a DATING LIST?"

Kawamura stared at Fuji as well before bursting out laughing. "You must have a death wish, Fujiko!"

Fuji gave them his best "who, me?" look, and suddenly they were all laughing, and it was like no time had passed.

They wove through the crowd, responding to the occassional hello's and greetings from people who recognized them. They had been popular, and Oishi heard whispers as people explained to their significant others that they were the famed tennis team which had been so good, or as others turned to comment that time hadn't hurt them at all.

Oishi found it embarassing.

Finally they found their way to a dimly lit corner which had apparently been staked out earlier by Tezuka and Kikumaru. The lights were dim, but there was no mistaking that head of red hair or Tezuka's confident posture.

END PART ONE