[edit: something went wrong with my formatting and all the horizontal lines that should separate the scenes disappeared when I first uploaded this fic. It's now corrected, sorry about that!]
Warning: shounen-ai (Fuji/?, Tezuka/Fuji)
My first Prince of Tennis fic. The 10.5 fanbook says that Fuji carries a copy of "The Little Prince" in his bag, so I worked that into a story.
If you have a minute after reading this, please leave a review to let me know what you think of this story. Thanks!
Tezuka Kunimitsu never believed in instinct. Instinct was merely the result of skill and experience, allowing a person to arrive at a conclusion without the intermediate thinking stages.
He believed in hard work, perseverance and talent, but not genius. Genius was understanding the key to something and making it much easier than it was to others. He would just call it a bigger talent that stretched over the whole of a person's life instead of just one particular aspect.
Along came Fuji Syusuke, a boy termed the genius, the prodigy, who could be good at anything he wanted to do. The coach said he played tennis by instinct.
Did Fuji change Tezuka's beliefs? Absolutely not.
He changed Tezuka completely.
A blue gel pen, held loosely in a left hand, tapped the worn surface of the desk rhythmically.
Tezuka didn't belong in the 3-6 classroom, but this was the room he usually used after-school to do the tennis club's paperwork, if it was unoccupied. Its west-facing windows gave the best view to the sunset, but apart from that, Tezuka couldn't say why he liked this room in particular. If he was forced to word it, he would say there was something about this room, a comfortable, home-like scent, that drew him to it.
Maybe if anyone really did ask, Tezuka thought, he would blame the cherry blossom tree just outside the windows. Whoever got to sit here by the windows during spring were the luckiest people. Watching the fall of the flowers, pink petals dancing towards the ground, he almost forgot the task on hand.
The coach and the captain gave him three names: Ooishi, Inui, Fuji. As the current vice-captain and next year's captain, Tezuka needed to choose one of them to take up his post. It was only two weeks before Spring Break, after which he would be in his final year in Seigaku. There wasn't much time left to decide.
Tezuka knew Ooishi wouldn't be interested in the post. Ooishi was there to play tennis, to enter the National Tournament. Everything else was just mere details. He would accept the job if Tezuka asked, but if he didn't have the passion, Tezuka didn't want to burden him.
Inui had a strong sense of responsibility, paid good attention to detail, and would accept the offer, but the concept of letting Inui put his hands on all of the tennis club members' profiles didn't come across as pleasant to Tezuka. He didn't think it would result in anything bad, but... no. Nothing personal, but no.
As for Fuji... Tezuka's mind drew a blank.
He found Fuji in the library and asked if he had a minute to discuss something.
They went to a nearby noodle restaurant, as Fuji said nobody would be home to cook him dinner that night, and asked if Tezuka minded having an early dinner with him. There Tezuka learned his first Fuji-Fact: he could eat very, very spicy food. He watched him pour chili powder into this noodles, and slurped happily away. He had a way of slurping noodles that was, inconceivably, quite elegant.
Tezuka offered the vice-captain position to Fuji. He watched Fuji's reactions carefully. The boy set his drink down and looked into Tezuka's eyes for a moment. Fuji had frighteningly - why he came up with such a description Tezuka didn't know - blue eyes, eyes that were narrowed to slits and hidden behind long bangs, as if he didn't want anyone to notice them. He turned to look out the window next to him, his gaze unfocused, as if deep in thought.
"Thank you, but no."
Tezuka wasn't surprised. Although the boys' tennis club was one of the best clubs in school, reputation-wise, and Fuji was termed the tennis genius by his seniors, he didn't appear to be swayed or bothered by these things, or anything at all - except where his younger brother was concerned, Tezuka added mentally, recalling Fuji Yuuta's brief stay in Seigaku. Fuji was someone who preferred to stay in the background and observe everything, until he knew the timing was absolutely right, before he dealt his blow. At least that was what Tezuka thought when he watched Fuji play tennis.
"Can I ask why?"
The smile found its way back to Fuji's lips. "Personal reasons." He said, picking up his chopsticks again.
Tezuka immediately retreated. "Sorry, I shouldn't inquire."
"It's okay. But why me?"
Fuji smiled with amusement when Tezuka struggled to come up with an answer. "Ryuzaki-sensei's recommendation? It's either Ooishi or me." He suggested, leaving the rest unsaid. It was a known fact that Tezuka and Ooishi were good friends. If Ooishi wanted the post, Tezuka would have offered it to him. Fuji was a second choice, a backup Tezuka was forced to choose.
Tezuka almost couldn't look at Fuji as he nodded. Fuji saw through everything. "Sorry, this is very insulting."
"No, not at all." Fuji answered as if he meant it.
Wait, was Fuji turning him down because he knew all that?
"Tezuka," The boy wiggled his fingers at him. "Personal reasons, nothing else."
Tezuka had the feeling that he was being looked right through. That feeling lasted for a long, long time. In fact, it never went away.
It had been the right thing to do, to let Echizen Ryouma participate in the first ranking match, at the start of the academic year. Something stirred in Tezuka as he watched the small boy play against Kaidou, one of the current regulars. Small though he was in stature, he showed style and experience, and enough arrogance to get him by amongst the senpais who looked down on him. He brought a good tension to the normally relaxed regulars, a catalyst that would definitely help them on their way towards the National Tournament.
"All the super players in the past have some sort of charisma, and this charisma draws people to them, hm, Captain Tezuka?"
Fuji's smile had a sly edge to it, just like Ryuzaki-sensei's, moments ago. Tezuka slipped his hands into the pockets of his jacket so that he wouldn't fidget.
"Echizen reminds me of somebody." Fuji mused as he and Tezuka went towards the tennis courts. "In my freshman year, there was this kid just like Echizen. Very good at tennis, absolutely loved challenges, got picked on by his senpais and lived through it all just because he was very arrogant. He was the only other freshman I know that got to be a regular. Oh, and that boy's a southpaw. Reminds you of anyone?"
Tezuka knew better than to give any reaction.
"Charisma, that boy had. And now everyone looks up to him. You know, our captain." The shorter boy turned to him and gave him a disarming smile.
Fuji-Fact no.2: Fuji enjoyed teasing the hell out of Tezuka. It was as if he was borned to do it. Only a few days ago, Fuji came to Tezuka's classroom after school had ended so that they could go to tennis practice together. The teacher had left, the students were packing up their bags, and Tezuka was still in his seat, copying down the last bits of notes from the board.
"Tezuka, hurry up, we've got a date remember?"
The lead in Tezuka's pencil broke. Everyone in the classroom gasped. He gave Fuji a glare of death, which had no effect whatsoever on the boy, clicked his pencil a few times, and continued his copying. Only a strict upbringing prevented him from cursing out loud and throwing his books at Fuji.
Well, Fuji's innocent look too, but Tezuka wasn't going to admit to that.
Something told Tezuka no amount of explanation from him could ever get him out of this, so he wasn't going to bother. His honour was finally saved when Kikumaru hopped in, telling him to hurry up and get to tennis practice with them.
Back in their second year, nothing of that sort could have happened. Fuji was just another face on the tennis courts, one Tezuka remembered only because he was the vice-captain, and Fuji was the next best player in the team who could beat his senpais. Tezuka never knew the true skills Fuji had; he had a vague suspicion that the boy always held himself back when he played, because there was a sort of contained fierceness in his strokes. He didn't doubt that he would still win if Fuji went all-out, but how much of a fight could Fuji put up if he did, Tezuka just couldn't tell. He knew very little about Fuji. He couldn't even remember if Fuji was there in his freshman year. Outside of the tennis courts, they only ever nodded at each other at the school corridors, or said "hi" if they met at the lunch queues. His impression of Fuji was someone mysterious, secretive, and very polite.
Then all of a sudden, after offering Fuji the vice-captain position, the boy came to find him often in his classroom, and even during the Spring Break, he called him out to watch tennis matches together. Within the two-week Spring Break they had followed an entire mini-tournament, watching every match, everyday. Occasionally Kikumaru joined them, and Ooishi too, but most of the time it was just the two of them, meeting up to watch a match, and then eating lunch together. Sometimes they played a bit of tennis, but no matter how much Tezuka pushed, Fuji never even tried to win a game.
Tezuka's impression of Fuji didn't change. He was still mysterious, secretive, and very polite. And liked to make fun of him. Also occasionally sarcastic - he could be insulting someone with such a smile on his face the person wouldn't know it until he thought about it afterwards. He was dangerous and manipulative if he wanted to be. The type of person one should never cross with. But somehow Tezuka knew he would never need to worry about that. If Tezuka minded him, he wouldn't have accepted any of Fuji's invitations, and the boy wouldn't have become one of his closest friends in such a short period of time. There was a quality in Fuji's personality that made him formidable, and Tezuka liked him for that.
The only thing he worried about from Fuji now was his infinite teasing. But trying to stop Fuji was a lost clause - ever since that time, Tezuka's classmate had developed a habit of announcing "Tezuka! Your date's here!" whenever Fuji came to find him. It made him want to smash his face into his desk. But smashing his classmates' - no, smashing Fuji's face first, if possible, would be a good idea.
Tezuka believed he had to resolve to putting up with that side of Fuji until they graduate at the end of this year.
"Nothing. You were just zoning out." Fuji shrugged a little. They entered the club room.
"Hoi hoi! Here comes the captain and his date!" Kikumaru happily announced. Fuji smiled serenely. Tezuka clenched his fists.
Now, how many laps around the courts...
The envelope was white and pink, with writing on it that read "To Tezuka Kunimitsu-sama". The girl - whose name Tezuka didn't know - bowed her head low, too afraid to meet Tezuka's eyes, and her hands trembled as she held out the letter. She had a friend behind her for moral support.
"Please, please read this. Even if it's just one look..."
Tezuka used his best, gentlest voice to give his well-practiced reply. Experience told him if he sounded too cold, there would be tears and that was the last thing he wanted. "I'm sorry, I don't have the time to consider these things now."
He heard a snicker. Out of the corners of his eyes, he found Ooishi, Momoshirou, Fuji and Inui nearby, all covering their mouths or biting their lips. Momoshirou's snickering was loud enough to be heard, for those who knew what to listen for. He was the one who knew about the confession - he overheard the girl talking with her friend - and dragged everyone along to watch.
"But... but Tezuka-san, please take this letter anyway..." The girl's voice quivered.
Tezuka's face paled. She was going to cry.
"I think we ought to help Tezuka now." Fuji mused, tapping his lips with a finger.
"But I want to see what he's going to do, Fuji-senpai." Momoshirou said.
"They aren't doing this for our entertainment." Ooishi said guiltily. The situation was way too funny, seeing the helpless expression on their captain's face, but making fun out of the girl's misery was a terrible thing to do.
"But still - "
Inui flicked through his notebook. "Unless an unpredictable event has changed the captain's mental state significantly, the chance of this girl being accepted is 0.00%. But the rate of confessions Tezuka receives has declined. Last year he received 0.50 confessions a week. This year it's only 0.43 a week so far."
Fuji was surprised. "You've been keeping count, Inui?"
"It's all good data. Good data."
Tezuka sincerely hoped the girl and her friend didn't hear any of that. Momoshirou was so going to get it. As a second year student he should not be hanging around the seniors' areas. Tezuka knew he wouldn't even need to exploit his powers as a captain to dish out punishments as private revenge.
But right now... Tezuka just wanted to be gone before the girl start to cry.
As if answering his prayers to be saved, Fuji finally walked over. "Here you are! Come on, you're late." He grabbed Tezuka by his arm, and dragged him away.
The five left school together.
Tezuka breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Fuji."
"No need. I was just getting jealous." Fuji's smile was genuine. Genuinely false.
"Heh, Fuji-senpai, you don't get as many love letters as Tezuka-senpai?"
Fuji chuckled, and shook his head.
They split up at the bus stop, Inui jogging home, Momoshirou and Ooishi walking, and Fuji, Tezuka taking the bus.
They sat together, Tezuka at the window, Fuji at the aisle, and the bus bumped slowly amongst Tokyo's traffic.
"Hey, Tezuka," Fuji was smiling. "If we weren't there, what would you have done?"
"With Numata-san, I mean."
"The girl who was giving you the letter."
"Oh, is that her name?"
Fuji chuckled softly, and asked something else.
"Do you have a girl you like?"
"I won't tell you even if I have." Tezuka took a look around the bus, found it empty besides himself and Fuji, then turned to his friend, lifting an eyebrow. "You'd make such a scene out of it, just to see me suffer."
Fuji looked disappointed in his friend's reply. "I won't go that far, Tezuka."
"Fine." The taller boy sighed. "No I don't. Now your turn."
Fuji leaned forward in his seat. He cracked a smile and bowed his head, shading his eyes under long bangs. It was a good, long while before he replied.
"This is really embarrassing. I shouldn't have asked you."
"Ah." Tezuka's eyebrows rose in curiosity.
Fuji's usual smile slowly faded from his lips. "It's like fancying the pretty sensei in elementary school. You know the feeling."
Tezuka nodded. Who didn't know? Every boy went through that stage. It was exciting, and wrong, and hopeful, yet you knew it was never going to happen. It was just never going to happen.
With Fuji leaning forward in his seat, Tezuka could just see the corner of Fuji's lips, still upturned and smiling.
"It's funny to see you look so concerned, Tezuka!"
Suddenly Fuji was grinning up at him and nudging an elbow into his side. Tezuka stopped himself from growling at the boy, opting to just glared at him instead. Fuji laughed and nudged him a little more, then they settled back into silence, enjoying the feel of warmth from the setting sun coming in through the bus window. It was several minutes before Fuji spoke again.
"I keep telling myself to wait until the time's right, but I don't think there'll be a right time."
"I don't think anyone can turn you down, Fuji." Tezuka spoke from his heart. Fuji was too nice a boy, and popular with the girls. Although he was rather strange and secretive, since several months ago Tezuka had realised how enjoyable Fuji's company was, and he was sure no one would say otherwise. "Honest."
"... Thanks. That's very nice of you to say. Especially from you."
Tezuka didn't need to be told why. Taking after his father, he wasn't someone who liked to let other people know about his thoughts or feelings. People who didn't know him well said he was cold; people who did said he held back too much.
"Just go ahead. What is there to lose?"
"Friendship. He's my friend."
Tezuka's mouth hung open.
Fuji-Fact no.3: He...
"I'll go sit somewhere else." Fuji suddenly said, with a polite smile, his voice not betraying even a trace of his thoughts or feelings. He picked up his bag and took a seat on the other side of the bus.
Tezuka watched him move, and something screamed inside of him. His friend just entrusted to him a very, very important secret. He was shocked and frightened all at once. That was wrong. That was disgusting and sick. Boys never... whatever. You just don't.
But Fuji had always been a strange boy. Strange, dangerous, yet very kind-hearted. He told Tezuka a secret and expected himself to be shunned for it. He even went to sit somewhere else to save Tezuka the trouble. Sneaking a look at Fuji and seeing him still smiling at no one in particular, Tezuka knew Fuji was only smiling for his sake, to save him the embarrassment, giving him room to turn and leave without feeling guilty about it.
But he had hopes in Tezuka. He took a gamble and told him.
It was wrong and disgusting and sick. But Fuji was suffering exactly because it was wrong and disgusting and sick. Nobody chooses to suffer like that; Fuji didn't have a choice as to who he liked. But he could choose if he was going to tell anyone about it... and he chose Tezuka.
Now Tezuka asked himself what he wanted to do with the choice Fuji gave him.
He bit his lower lip, took a deep breath, and went to sit beside Fuji.
"Nobody knows?" Tezuka asked, sliding his bag under his seat. "I won't tell anyone."
Fuji's blue eyes glimmered.
"Ne, Fujiko-chan, can I go to your place again? I want to look at your photos again! Can I can I?"
"Of course, Eiji."
"Kikumaru-senpai, you go to Fuji-senpai's house often?"
"Once in a while. Hey Fuji, can o-chibi come too? It'll be fun!"
Tezuka gritted his teeth. He wasn't sure why half of the regulars suddenly decided to all come to this classroom and huddle around him, but all he wanted was some peace and quiet so that he could finalise the club's budget.
"Fuji-senpai, what are you reading?"
"The Little Prince. It's a French children's book, but this is an English copy."
"That's a very famous book."
"It is... oh, Echizen, I heard your English is very good, can you tell me what this - "
Tezuka finally put his pen down and looked around him, frowning. He asked them to either be quiet or go somewhere else.
Kikumaru, sitting on top of the desk next to Tezuka, gripped the sides of his desk and leaned forward, grinning. "Nya Tezuka, but this is my classroom. This is my desk."
Tezuka tried to come up with another reason to make them leave, but failed.
"So Fuji, when can I go to your place?"
"Anytime you want. How about tonight? My family's going away for two weeks, you can be as noisy as you want."
"Hoi hoi! How about you guys, Tezuka, o-chibi?"
Echizen, from where he perched on a desk, lifted a hand in reply. "Ii-su."
Tezuka looked up from his paperwork, glancing from Fuji, to Kikumaru, then finally Fuji again.
"Come, Tezuka, it'll be fun."
Fuji liked cacti and watching TV on the floor and reading children's books. He had a shelf dedicated to these books, along with analytical texts on meanings behind fairy tales and how they evolved from originally gruesome stories to what they are today. And he had the most gorgeous snowscape framed and hanging on his bedroom wall. It was a picture he took during a family skiing trip. He said he still had the negative and he would get it developed for Tezuka if he wanted one.
Fuji liked photography. He called it just "taking pictures" because he never thought about colours or lighting or composition. He just clicked the button whenever, at whatever.
Kikumaru crouched on the floor, stared at the low bookcase, and pulled out a thick album in random, passing it to Fuji. Fuji sat on the floor with his friends around him, flipped open the album and began to tell his stories. He knew when and where exactly each picture was taken, and remembered the stories behind them: His and Yuuta's first snowboarding adventure; the marketplace near his grandparents' home that sold the most delicious candies; the time he got burned and had to go to the hospital...
"You even took pictures of that, Fuji-senpai." Echizen laid down, elbows on the carpeted floor, chin in his palms.
"It is a stage in my life. I had to have a bit of skin craft, and missed seven months of school."
"But... where exactly did you get burned?" The boy looked up and down Fuji, asking the question Tezuka also wanted to ask. Neither of them could see any scars on Fuji at all.
Fuji smiled, and traced a circle the size of his palm on his left inner thigh. "Here. Yuuta tripped and poured something boiling on me whilst I was sitting down."
Kikumaru's eyes went wide. "Two more inches further up and..."
Fuji nodded. "Would've been cooked."
All of the boys' faces went several shades paler.
"That was very painful." Fuji continued on, "But there was this doctor..."
Tezuka understood why Kikumaru liked coming to Fuji's place. Fuji enjoyed showing them photographs as if showing them the treasures of his life, fingertips gently touching the matt surfaces, pointing here and there at the small details; and they enjoyed listening to Fuji's soft voice describing each event. Be it happy or painful, Fuji shared it with them.
He had lost count as he went along, but this was another Fuji-Fact to Tezuka: the boy was not so secretive afterall.
They finished one album.
"Next one! Next one!"
"Echizen, you can choose one this time. The bottom row of that shelf."
Fuji passed the finished album to the youngest boy, who crawled along the floor and slotted it back onto the shelf. He squinted to read the labels on the spine of each album on the shelf, trying to choose the next one to give to Fuji.
"Fuji, how many albums do you have?" Tezuka wondered.
"About twenty. Why? You're bored?" Fuji smiled as Tezuka shook his head. "I had my first camera during elementary school. I have about a thousand photos now."
Echizen had found an album, an old, chocolate-brown one with leather covers that had no labels on it. He pulled it out. "Senpai, is this one okay?"
Fuji looked over. "Ah! Not that one!"
Echizen, like his friends, were surprised by Fuji's reactions. "Er okay..." He said, turning to put that album away. But curiosity took him and he opened it, just enough for him to peek at its contents, and he froze.
The boy looked at his friends, slammed the album shut, and his shoulders started to shake. Within seconds his face was beet red and he began to laugh, unable to hold it back any longer. He laughed so hard his large eyes were wet.
"Nyan? What's inside, o-chibi?"
Kikumaru ran to Echizen, but Fuji was faster, and he snatched the brown album from the boy's hands. With a smile and a promise that he would show it to them one day, Fuji put that album away, in a drawer in his nightstand.
"Echizen, this is a secret between the two of us, at least for now." Fuji winked at the youngest boy. "Don't let anyone know."
"Sure, senpai." Echizen fought down the last bit of laughter, and grinned. Evilly, Tezuka would add.
After some complaints from Kikumaru, they settled down with the next album.
One more album and a snack break later, Tezuka just listened to Fuji, Kikumaru and Echizen chatter the night away until they were too tired to talk.
"Senpai, can I use your bed?" Echizen asked, already crawling into the covers and yawning. He was asleep even before Fuji nodded. Kikumaru borrowed pajamas from Fuji, and slept on the floor with spare pillows and blankets Fuji took out from nowhere.
Fuji dug around his closet and gave Tezuka a large t-shirt, since his pajamas would be too small for the taller boy. Tezuka accepted the offer, changing into the t-shirt in the room - it wasn't as if Fuji hadn't seen anything before, when they changed clothes in the club room - folded his own shirt and put it away. He placed his glasses on the nightstand. Fuji smiled at him.
"You really aren't bothered at all about what I told you that time on the bus, are you."
Tezuka didn't answer. The truth was he was conscious about it, but it didn't bother him, not after the first few days. He was more bothered by the fact that there were things that could be so completely out of one's control even though it was such a private matter that involved no one else. He was bothered by the fact that Fuji told him, showed so much trust in him. He was bothered by the fact that he felt Fuji's suffering that time in the bus and Fuji had been smiling all along.
"What did you think I'd do?" Tezuka asked.
Kikumaru mumbled something in his sleep, turned over and settled himself beside Fuji, his arms hugging Fuji's leg as if it was a soft toy.
"I don't know." Fuji shrugged, smiling down at his friend's sleeping face.
There was something in that smile that made Tezuka wonder if it was Kikumaru...
"What if I say it's you? What would you have said?"
It was Tezuka's turn to shrug. Because "if" meant "if" and nothing else, and life was not some TV soap drama every Wednesday 8pm, Tezuka wasn't frightened by the question. What he worried about was his own answer, because he didn't have one. But if Fuji had really wanted an answer, he wouldn't have asked Tezuka. Fuji asked him because he wanted someone who would just listen and not judge. Fuji asked him because it wasn't him. It was probably Kikumaru, or somebody outside Seigaku, not him.
"I think I'll tell him, Tezuka." Fuji said, watching Tezuka lean against the side of the bed and tilting his head back into the mattress, pulling blankets around himself. "I want to at least have tried my best and failed, rather than not trying at all. Like you always say..."
"Whatever you do, do it with no regrets."
When Tezuka fell asleep, he dreamt of cherry blossoms, and the 3-6 classroom.
When Tezuka woke, he found himself in the same bed as Echizen, the younger boy small enough that it didn't feel cramped in the bed. How exactly he ended up there Tezuka didn't know, but either Fuji had carried him up - unlikely considering their relative body sizes - or he had woken him up at some point and nudged him into the bed when he was too sleepy to fight, which seemed like something Fuji would do.
He found the bathroom and made himself decent, then headed back into the bedroom. Fuji was asleep on the floor with Kikumaru, the book he had been reading yesterday when they were in the classroom next to his pillow.
Tezuka picked up the book. "Fuji Syusuke 6-2" was written inside the cover, with childish handwriting, so the book must be something from the elementary school days. The state of its spine and its weathered pages told Tezuka it was much loved book, read and re-read many times.
He sat down on the floor, and began to read.
Kikumaru was the next to wake up. Tezuka's hand was on the nightstand drawer before the boy reached it.
"But, Tezukaaaa!" Kikumaru rubbed his eyes. "Don't you want to know?"
Tezuka shook his head. He wasn't that curious.
Kikumaru's voice was loud enough to wake Echizen, who grunted and opened one eye to survey the situation.
"I think Fuji-senpai will really be upset if you look at those photos." He mumbled.
Kikumaru pulled a face. "Says the one who peeked and laughed!"
"Yeah but..." Echizen yawned, settling into the bed again. "I don't think Fuji-senpai wants you guys to see it."
"What do you mean, o-chibi?"
Echizen had fallen asleep again. Kikumaru growled and pounced onto the bed, beating Echizen with a pillow. The scene reminded Tezuka of animal documentary shows on TV. He sat a bit further away, next to Fuji, to avoid being caught in the chaos, and blocked a flying pillow that would have hit his sleeping friend.
Soon Fuji woke too, wondering what all the noise was about. He was startled to see Tezuka sitting beside him, reading, and then it seemed that sense came back to him, and he remembered his friends had slept over.
"That's a good book isn't it."
"A bit too difficult for children." Tezuka fended off another projectile. "Is there a translated version?"
Fuji had scrawled translations for every word he didn't understand all over the book.
"There was, but it was recalled after a translation rights lawsuit." Fuji explained, sitting up. "Saeki's family works in the publishing business, and even they couldn't find me a copy."
Tezuka glanced at Fuji, putting down the book. "Saeki?"
"Saeki. You don't remember him?" Fuji chuckled at Tezuka's puzzled expression. "As expected. You're as bad as I am at names and faces."
There was a Saeki he was supposed to know. Tezuka didn't like that. He didn't like how Fuji seemed to know more about him that he knew himself.
Fuji was thoughtful for a moment.
"I'll show you that photo album when you remember about Saeki." He whispered. "And I'll do what I said I'll do, last night."
"... Why does it depend on me?"
"You can say I'm leaving it to fate." Fuji fixed his eyes on the taller boy. "And when I don't have control of the decision, it stops me from chickening out in the end. Now think, Tezuka."
Tezuka couldn't think of anything but how blue Fuji's eyes were.
"Five laps around the courts!"
"It's all your fault nyan, Fujiko..."
For those who knew Tezuka well, they would say the captain had been acting strangely. Since the start of the week, he had been sending members running around the courts if they stopped for more than one minute to chatter, and Kikumaru and Fuji were usually the victims.
Ooishi asked Tezuka about it once, and Tezuka said the regulars should be setting good examples to the rest of the club instead of slacking off, especially when the Regional Tournament was just around the corner. With that as the reason, Ooishi could say nothing in their defense. But that was not to say the captain didn't look particularly irritated for the last few days.
Tezuka couldn't say why he felt so irritated. He just didn't like the way Kikumaru and Fuji talked as if he wasn't there. It was disrespectful, and sometimes he felt Fuji was doing it deliberately to tick him off.
On his fourth lap around the courts, Fuji smiled at his captain as he ran by. Tezuka refused to show that he noticed that smile.
Who was Saeki? Was it this Saeki or Kikumaru that Fuji liked? Why did Fuji make his personal life depend on Tezuka's memory span? What would Fuji do if Tezuka never recall who this person was?
Kikumaru and Fuji came back into the courts after their laps. "Captain."
"Go back to practice."
Kikumaru ran off, not wanting to experience any more of Tezuka's wrath.
"Sorry, Tezuka." Fuji said.
"Don't do it again." Tezuka kept his voice firm.
"It's my fault, not Eiji's." Fuji wasn't smiling anymore. "If it's bothering you, then forget what I said the other day. I don't want to upset anyone."
"You're saying that I'm picking on you."
"No. I'm saying I don't want to upset you or Eiji."
"It's not upsetting me." Tezuka turned. "I don't want to discuss this here. Go back to practice."
Just as he walked away, he heard Fuji whisper behind him.
"I'm selfish and insufferable, and you're too nice, Tezuka."
Gusts of wind lifted cream coloured curtains. It was cold in the classroom, but Tezuka enjoyed the fresh air, the same way he enjoyed watching the orange-yellow rays of the sunset lighting up the cherry blossom tree, rimming each pink petal with gold. It gave him peace of mind, something he knew he needed right now.
He knew he shouldn't feel so restless, but he was, ever since the weekend. He knew the reason for his restlessness, but he wasn't ready for it yet.
For now, Tezuka was comfortable just sitting here, not thinking about the mysterious photo album, or who it was that Fuji liked, or why he dreamt of this place in Fuji's bed, or how, after making him run around the courts, Fuji could still say he was being too nice. He emptied his mind and watched pink petals rain down gently in the wind, some of them coming into the classroom, scattering around the desk.
"I have to lock up, Tezuka."
Tezuka almost jumped out of his seat, seeing Fuji standing in the doorway. He closed the window and cleared up.
"This is a nice place."
"I know. I sit there everyday."
Tezuka cocked his head to one side. He didn't understand.
"That's my seat. I sit next to Eiji." Fuji's eyes were warm as he smiled.
Tezuka left the classroom thinking of the dream of cherry blossoms he had in Fuji's bed.
Tezuka stopped at the school gates. A boy with silver-grey hair walked towards him. He was dressed in simple sweater and jeans, and had large, dark blue eyes, and a friendly, open smile.
"Tezuka! It's been a long time!"
The face was familiar, so was the voice, but who was he?
The boy's eyes glinted in amusement. "So it's true. Fuji told me you can't remember me."
Something clicked in Tezuka's mind.
"You're Saeki... Kojirou."
The boy's face told Tezuka he got the right name. He wasn't sure how he recalled the name, but it was there, somewhere in his mind. He knew this boy, but he couldn't remember where they met.
Saeki was delighted that at least his name was remembered - he was the type who showed everything on his face. He said he had come to meet with Fuji upon the boy's request, and asked if Tezuka would join them. Tezuka declined the offer. It could be a date, and he wasn't comfortable that he couldn't remember anything about this boy except for his name and his open personality, and that he was very smart, observant and careful.
He seemed like the right sort of person for Fuji, a good match and balance.
Maybe things would work out for Fuji.
But Tezuka didn't want it to.
When he got home, Tezuka read The Little Prince from cover to cover. It was Fuji's book. He took it during the weekend without Fuji knowing. He didn't know why he did it, but he knew Fuji wouldn't let him borrow it - there were too many things, not just vocabulary translations, written in the book.
Tezuka remembered who Saeki was. But that didn't matter anymore.
He knew what it really was that Fuji wanted him to remember. The most important Fuji-Fact.
He ran to Fuji's house.
Fuji had just got home and was taking off his shoes when his doorbell rang.
Tezuka ran so hard he was panting. Fuji was shocked to see him, but he invited Tezuka in without questions, and led him into his room.
Tezuka breathed deeply, catching his breath. He refused the offer of a chair, choosing to stand. He held out the book he stole from Fuji's bedroom.
"I took this. Sorry."
Fuji's eyebrows furrowed. He took the book from Tezuka's hand, and sat down on the bed, fingering the worn cover. "You shouldn't do that." He muttered under his breath.
He opened the last page of the book, where the story told how the Little Prince had disappeared from Earth, going back to his own planet, lost to the pilot who wanted to never forget him. Under the last paragraph, his own handwriting, much more recent than the childish ones throughout the book, read:
I won't ever lose you. I won't ever forget you.
You'll always be my prince.
"You read the whole thing?" He asked, putting the book down.
Tezuka answered the question with one of his own.
"Did you tell him?"
"Eh?" Fuji's lips parted. He stared at his friend, completely puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Who is it that you like? Saeki? Kikumaru? It's not either of them is it?"
Fuji's expression changed from confused to surprised.
"Why do you ask, Tezuka?"
Tezuka wasn't going to answer any questions right now, until his own ones were answered.
"Why did you turn me down on being the vice-captain?"
Wordlessly the shorter boy pulled open the drawer in his nightstand, and took out the chocolate-brown photo album. He couldn't smile when he handed it to Tezuka, as if the album was his answer. Tezuka held it in his hands for a moment, feeling the soft, brown leather cover, then he opened it, knowing what was inside.
"Because you've forgotten about me already." Suddenly Fuji was smiling again, but it was a smile that didn't even reach his eyes. "I thought it was best not to linger on it. But in the end I couldn't help sticking to you, even though I had stayed quiet for two years."
Familiar faces in the photographs smiled and grinned at Tezuka, and as he turned the pages of the album, there were pictures of himself, Saeki, and Fuji, years ago, when they went to the same elementary school. They played tennis together sometimes, when they were little, but they spent more time picking up balls than hitting them.
"Are there pictures of the play?" Tezuka whispered.
Fuji took the album from Tezuka, flipped several pages, and gave it to him again.
"You haven't forgotten."
Tezuka shook his head. "I just didn't make the connection."
There were many, many pictures of him standing on a stage, acting the role of the prince in the school play. That was when Fuji told him that he was always like a prince to him, outfit or no, because he was good-looking, smart and kind, because he was a natural leader. Fuji told him he liked him a lot. Tezuka replied with thank you, that he liked Fuji too, because Fuji had a special strength inside him and he was hard working, never relying on talent or genius. They were children and they spoke in children's language, with children's honesty.
Tezuka remembered Saeki's snickering on the side during that exchange, but he didn't understand the reason for that, until now.
"I think... what that book says is true. Words we spoke as children were the most honest words." He glanced at the copy of The Little Prince.
"Fuji, what do you say to a game?"
There were tennis courts surrounded by cherry blossom trees somewhere mid-way between their homes, which they sometimes used, together with Saeki, when they were little. It had been a popular place until new courts opened not too far away, and now these older courts were almost deserted. But it meant they could play without any distractions. The net was a little loose, but it was nothing that they didn't know how to fix, and after they cleared the litter from the court, it was a perfectly playable field.
Tezuka borrowed one of Fuji's rackets, and he bounced the ball a few times, hitting it to the high fence until he got the feel of it. He wasn't wearing exactly the right gear, but that wasn't important.
"Fuji." He said, his voice firm, clear, determined. "Let's play with no regrets."
On the other side of the court, Fuji bent forward, knees slightly bent and legs apart, ready to receive the serve. A predatory smile graced his lips.
"Let them come."
This was what Tezuka liked about tennis. This was, to him, what tennis was all about. Physical and mental exertion. Pushing his own limits. Running and hitting until he felt his knees were going to buckle and his lungs were going to collapse and his heart was going to explode. Heating up and sweating, and then pouring water over his head and wondering if it was just the water or if there were tears in his eyes.
Neither of them used their special techniques, but that was fine. For the first time since Tezuka met him on the courts, Fuji played with everything he had, yelling each time he returned a particularly heavy shot, delivering balls across the court with pinpoint accuracy, the balls landing not inside the line but on the line. It was as if a monster had awaken inside Fuji, and Tezuka marvelled on how such a small frame, with narrow shoulders and slender limbs, could harbour such power.
Purely based on skills, they were almost at equal levels, but Tezuka had better strength and stamina, so neither of them was surprised when he won the game with 6-3.
They walked to the net.
"Good game." That may not be the best game Tezuka had ever played, but it was definitely the most satisfying one.
"You..." Fuji's grin was wide as he pulled at his own shirt collar, fanning himself. He was so out of breath he could hardly speak. "You play... like a prince."
"You play as... as if you're on battle... as if you own the court... and all the other reasons... I gave you before..."
"Right..." Tezuka didn't bother analysing what Fuji said. He put his racket down and lay on the hard, cold clay, too exhausted to even stand up. Fuji followed suit, on the other side of the net.
"This is... a very unprincely thing... to do... Tezuka..." He chuckled, wiping the sweat from his brows.
Tezuka brushed his hair away from his eyes, and snorted. They both knew he didn't care.
"I feel really good..." Fuji said. "Now that I've tried my best... it's not quite a confession, but all the same. No regrets. Thank you, Tezuka."
Tezuka felt as though he could hear his own heartbeat and the rush of blood in his veins, and he knew it wasn't only caused by the exercise just now.
"Hm?" Fuji turned his head just enough to see Tezuka across the net.
"I like you." Tezuka ignored the gasp from the other boy. He would say it before Fuji was stolen by Saeki, or Kikumaru, or anyone else, right under his nose. "I did then, and I do now."
Fuji gave no reaction, as if he didn't hear a single word.
"Will you go out with me?" Tezuka asked.
Fuji was still as a statue for a minute. A strong gust of wind blew, swaying the branches of the cherry blossom trees around the courts. Petals rained down on them like a pink snow storm, scattering on the court, on their bodies, on their hair.
Tezuka fixed his gaze on Fuji. His breathing was just coming under control, but he found he couldn't breathe again, looking into Fuji's blue eyes. It felt as if Fuji was looking right through him again.
"Date me. Will you date me?"
Fuji was silent. He stared at Tezuka, and his hand snaked under the net, touching the other boy's.
Tezuka took Fuji's hand into his own, and in return received the brightest, most unreserved smile.
"Yes, my prince. Yes."