© July 2004 AlseGold
Disclaimer: Um. Er, the manga/anime versions of Tenisu no Oujisama are in no way related to this little piece, and the converse holds equally true. I am amongst the innumerable fans deeply grateful to Konomi-sama for having created such a remarkable manga, and I am also very grateful to the fanboys and fangirls on the animation team for PoT, because without them, there wouldn't be all these extremely strong hints. I mean, after episode 123, there's absolutely no way of denying it. shakes head It has to be the work of fanpeople.
Author's Rambles: I decided to waddle into PoT fandom because I wanted more InuKai and MomoRyo, and fondly imagined myself trying to contribute there. Unfortunately, whilst trying to scrawl out what looked like the extremely humble beginnings of a massive epic for InuKai and MomoRyo, I wrote a single sentence in the second paragraph of that brave attempt... and got hit, full in the face, by the OishiEiji muse. So I decided to write a pretty little one-shot piece around that sentence. I felt that 1593 words would be just nice. See, even had the number floating in my head. But then, what is an Oishi story without Tezuka? And you can't just explain their relationship with a couple of paragraphs. I knew I was in trouble when I hit my ninth page. Thanks to Tezuka's appearance... we have an 8, 000 word piece.
There will be a second part to this. I haven't started writing it, but portions of this story were deliberately left with gaping holes, because they were better told by another person. So, yes, there should be a second part. My sister has promised to do many bad things to me if I don't write a sequel. Oo I mean, she seriously threatened me.
Finally, this is meant to be part of something I call the Five Senses Arc, and there's supposed to be an InuKai, a MomoRyo, a TezFuj, and a Kawamura piece. I've even got the rough storylines for them all, and it's not too shabby... if only I could have enough time to write them all.
Dedication: To my favourite and only little sister, who shares my fangirling for PoT, and who adores Oishi.
Title: Eyes Wide Open
Spoilers: Uh... right up to episode number 128. I mean, for cripes' sake, it is set when Oishi is in college.
Warning: Fangirl Japanese.
Pairing: Oishi/Eiji. The rest is up to your imagination.
You can't dream with your eyes wide open.
That was what Oishi Syuichiroh had always understood.
But in his memory, he had been extremely wide awake then, every nerve and every hair tingling on end, knuckles bone-white with tension, almost falling over the rail that was the only obstacle between him and the court… He could not have been asleep.
It had happened a long time ago... and for someone as young as Oishi, a handful of years is forever when it spans the time between adolescence and adulthood, and covers changes that mould your world into shapes you never thought your life would come to embrace.
Once, Oishi Syuichiroh had been part of the famous tennis team that had led Seishun Gakuen Junior High to the National title after a twelve-year drought. The road to Zenkoku had been reminiscent of the proverbial road to Rome—it had not been built in one day. Oh, there had been the glory of sweeping the district, prefectural and regional championships en route to the National finals—but there had also been bizarre training sessions in the mountains, gallons of unknown Penal Teas most of the tennis team had consumed with rebelling stomachs and much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and then there had been the most astonishing luck they had had. Seigaku had been a school positively bursting with tennis talent in Oishi's time, yes, but genius and hard work isn't always enough—they had to have luck, and the right combination, and admittedly, the almost maniacal levels of grit and courage on the part of all their players to carry them through.
"We'll take Seigaku all the way to the Nationals!"
In their first week at Seigaku, a boy named Tezuka Kunimitsu had said those words to Oishi Syuichiroh, voice ringing with a fierce determination and ambition Oishi had never seen in any of the boys and girls his age. They were only junior high freshmen then, twelve years old verging on thirteen, but Tezuka was already clearly possessed of that formidable strength of will and foresight that marked him not so much as a mature schoolboy, but rather as a leader amongst them, and Oishi, to his credit, had recognized it immediately. Tezuka's words had been said in a time when Seigaku, once the most famous of schools on the national tennis circuit, had failed to make it beyond the prefectural championships and into the regionals for a good five years in a row, and its reputation were on the wane. Yet people such as Tezuka Kunimitsu still came to Seigaku, and he was but the latest in a line of Seigaku tennis players to dream of Zenkoku—and to fire others towards that same dream.
That day, Tezuka's words woke something in Oishi, lighting a sudden yearning for glory and breathing into life a drive that would sometimes prove even more dogged than Tezuka's own indomitable will. Those words did more than simply wake Oishi—they formed the anvil upon which was forged an enduring bond between him and Tezuka, who had said "We will take Seigaku to the Nationals", not "I will take Seigaku to the Nationals". This was not to be Tezuka's dream alone, but one which he would share with Oishi.
Sure enough, three years later, Tezuka became buchou, and Oishi took the next spot as Tezuka's indispensable second-in-command. Oishi was the perfect vice-captain to Tezuka, and the converse rang equally true, for they had come up together through the years, through the ranks, one boy who had the courage to dream, and another who was fearless enough to follow. How often could one find such a combination? Once in a lifetime, Ryuzaki-sensei would say, if she was ever asked—and she would be asked this question, every year after that year. Once in ten years, if you are fortunate, you come across a tennis god like Echizen Nanjirou, or someone like Tezuka Kunimitsu, who surpassed even Echizen Nanjirou himself, or a boy like Echizen Ryoma, who was most definitely his father's son where tennis was concerned—but once in a lifetime you find a buchou and fukubuchou like that, two people perfectly matched, working together for a dream, each one's presence strengthening the other such that their combined efforts exploded into brilliance that far exceeded their potentials.
Indeed, Tezuka and Oishi had been the original Golden Pair.
But Seigaku slammed its way into the Nationals the very year that Oishi was a freshman, and the year after that as well. So the goalposts had to be moved, for Seigaku had made it back to the Nationals. There remained only one greater mountain to climb— victory in the National Championships!
Thus a new dream had emerged by the end of their second year at Seigaku…
…and with it, a new Golden Pair came into being.
Kikumaru Eiji, who had always played singles and was becoming just as well-known for his deep red hair and incredibly cute hairstyle, as for his surprising agility and eye-catching, crowd-pleasing acrobatic style, had had to be literally punished into playing doubles permanently with Oishi. Halfway through their second year at Seigaku, he and Oishi had been a makeshift doubles pair in the last sixteen and last eight of the Kantou tournament, after Oishi's usual doubles partner, a third-year senior, had suffered from food poisoning. Inexperienced and written off early as minnows, they had stunned their considerably stronger and more battle-worn opponents in love sets in both matches they had played. Clearly, therefore, Seigaku had struck a gold mine in the doubles, but Kikumaru Eiji had different ideas.
"But—but I don't want to play doubles forever! Must I really?"
Fuji Syuusuke—Eiji's best friend in Seigaku, and who had on Saturday created a frantic stir as a last-minute replacement during the last eight of the Kantou tournament, playing and winning the third singles for Seigaku in place of another food-poisoned regular—had laughed in soft amusement upon hearing that pronouncement. "Eiji…that's our next fukubuchou you're talking about."
Eiji had stared with betrayed and piteous eyes at his best friend. "…but…" he all but wailed. "…but, Fuuuujiiii…"
Oishi had hurriedly intervened. "Ah, it's all right," he said peaceably. "It's true that Eiji's good at singles and really, Fuji, Tezuka is our fukubuchou and–"
"Oishi will be the next fukubuchou."
The clear, deep voice belonged to Tezuka—then only a second-year but already their vice-captain—and he was regarding Eiji with about as much affection as if the redheaded boy had been a teacher who had made a stupid mistake when writing out the solution to a sum on the board.
"Tezuka—" began Oishi in some surprise, but Tezuka's frown only deepened, and Oishi fell silent.
"Oishi-Kikumaru pair against Momoshiro-Kaidoh pair," Tezuka ordered. "Now."
It was obviously not going to be Tezuka's day, for another little explosion had taken place.
"What?" shouted one spiky-headed then-first-year in utter horror, forgetting just who had issued that order. "I don't want to play with him! I want to play singles!"
The other, also a first-year, with a deep yellow bandana tied around his head, had hissed furiously. "Sthhhhhh…you think you're good enough?..."
"What did you say, mamushi?!"
Eiji had ignored his squabbling kouhai-tachi. "I don't want to play doubles—" he began, raising his voice to a dangerous whine. Perhaps he had been emboldened by the courage of his juniors in voicing their defiance and the absence of the team captain, who had been confined to home, still suffering the bad after-effects of the mysterious bout of mass food poisoning that had struck down all the third-year regulars over the last few days. "I know Oishi and I won our matches at Kantou, but—"
"Our goal is Zenkoku and I will not forgive those who forget it!"
Tezuka's glasses had flashed dangerously, and thirty laps around the courts later, coupled with a dose of Inui Sadaharu's new experimental juice, Eiji, Momoshiro and Kaidoh had given in… not that they could have done anything else, flat on their backs, stomachs plodding laboriously through the Eighteen Courts of Hell.
And then Tezuka ordered the resumption of the match, as soon as they had recovered sufficiently to sit up (incidentally causing them to flop back and to seek the comfort of the tennis court against their spines once more).
Oishi understood then that it was simply Tezuka's way of saying that he would not brook anyone questioning his authority or interrupting the flow of practices, or standing in the way of Zenkoku... and maybe, just maybe, Tezuka was defending him a little. But Eiji did have a point. The acrobatic player was good at singles and he had been competing for a singles slot all along —
"Tezuka." Oishi had stepped forward. "Let me play against Eiji, one on one."
Tezuka had said nothing, but he regarded Oishi seriously, waiting to hear what his closest friend had to say.
Oishi had taken a deep breath. "If he wins, I will find another partner. If I win, we'll play doubles." Oishi had then turned to Eiji, bending down a little, one hand held out to the boy sprawled out on his back. "Eiji, what do you say?"
Big, dark blue eyes tilted up at the corners like a cat's had looked right back into Oishi's, fearless and determined, and just the slightest bit sulky. And the thought crossed Oishi's mind that whatever was said about Kikumaru Eiji, there was no doubt whatsoever that he was absolutely adorable. And Oishi knew he had been right, when Eiji reached up the very next moment, and caught Oishi's hand in his, springing to his feet with a merry little laugh, and dragging a completely taken aback Oishi across to the nearest court.
Just like that, the new Golden Pair had been born. Eiji had lost to Oishi, but Seigaku gained a formidable doubles pair in return, and in any case, it had no lack of good singles players. And the next year, Seigaku would sweep all titles in its path as it marched to the Nationals and reached the final, playing for the title.
Oishi was fourteen years old then, almost fifteen, when he and Tezuka took their team on that long, hard-fought, Penal-Tea-strewn road to the biggest one of them all—Zenkoku.
It had been a hot, sunny day in the front stands of the biggest stadium Oishi had ever seen, and he had a white headband securely tied round his head, with kanji black and bold marked in unsteady black permanent marker—"Seigaku Victory!" – and he was watching the final match of the Nationals. He had won his match, he and Eiji, together, the well-named Golden Pair all the way, dropping just one match during the Nationals. Now it simply boiled down to Tezuka—and Yukimura Seiichi from Rikkaidai. They were well-matched, these two captains, and Oishi watched avidly, nearly omitting to breathe, for this was the moment. Rikkaidai was even more powerful than it had been the last time they had met, and now they were strengthened almost tenfold (according to Inui's data) by the miraculous return of their captain. But Seigaku was no minnow—they were still the underdogs, since Rikkaidai had ruled the courts for the last three years, and had sailed through the rounds with much ease. Seigaku, on the other hand, had had to come back from two losses down to fight off Kansai opponents in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. But Seishun Gakuen's captain had also returned... and Seigaku's past opponents would have told you that Seigaku's strength could not be gauged by looking at a mere piece of paper. So what if Seigaku had not won the Nationals in twelve years, and had not even made it to Kantou for a five-year stretch not too long ago? On paper, Hyoutei had looked stronger—but 'twas Seigaku that had worn them down; on paper, Rokkaku looked the winner, third seed at Kantou and all—but Seigaku had proved the better; on paper, Rikkaidai was invulnerable—but Seigaku had snatched the Kantou crown from right under their noses.
And when Tezuka's racquet struck the ball with a good, solid Tezuka-ish-thud, hitting that familiar, infamous sweet(-u) spot(-u), Oishi knew without being told, heard it without seeing it, that the ball was in, somehow, some way— and that Seigaku would dethrone Rikkaidai for the second time that year.
And the ball flew, swift and golden in its curved dash across the court, a mere wink of yellow at the crowds as Tezuka's racquet connected with it, and—
"Game and match, Seigaku's Tezuka, seven games to six!"
The thundering of his heart in his ears, the deafening silence of the overwhelmed crowd before they broke into screams and roars loud enough to have reached planets several galaxies away, the loud sounds of celebration from the Seigaku section of the crowd, Momoshiro doing a crazy war-dance with unhappy Echizen as a most unwilling participant, Kaidoh with his face hidden in Inui's shoulder, Taka-san still baying "VICTORY!" and wielding the Seigaku flag like a weapon of old, an astonished Fuji getting bear-hugged by his younger brother...
Oishi Syuichiroh would always remember all that, and the way his knees had buckled with the onslaught of emotion as he viewed the fruits of three years of backbreaking work, the final achievement of a dream he and Tezuka—and all of them—had fought for, at a cost both unimaginable and immeasurable.
But all that would pale beside another kind of emotion and another memory he brought home from that day.
—Because for the first time, amidst the hullabaloo and mad rejoicings around them, Kikumaru Eiji hurled himself into Oishi Syuuichiro's arms, clinging to the then-fukubuchou for a sweet, brief instant in time, and pressed a soft kiss to Oishi's cheek for the few seconds he was there, and Oishi thought his heart might have stopped, and he was frozen speechless. Did Eiji just...?
But the next moment, Eiji was gone, and involved in a joyous pile-up with a hollering Momoshiro and a struggling Echizen, and Oishi was left staring at him, dazed and disbelieving. And through his bewilderment, Oishi felt a touch on his arm, and it was Fuji, smiling at him, and smiling past him, at—
—Tezuka bowing to the referee, and he straightened his back, turning towards Oishi, and Oishi remembered who he was supposed to be with as Tezuka laughed, his entire face relaxed and filled with joy, looking straight at him, left arm raised high in triumph, and Oishi hesitated briefly, for the kiss had confused him, and he felt strange, as if there was something he should know, something else he should be thinking about—
—Tezuka had called his name, and Oishi understood; this was their moment together and Tezuka was waiting for him to share it. He found himself nodding back, smiling, and then he leapt over the railing and down to the courts, promising himself that he would think about the memory of a faint, unexpected kiss afterwards... and moments later, he and Tezuka were clasping hands tightly, their laughter echoing in free abandon, for they were twelve years old again, and small schoolboys relishing the realisation of the dream they had chased for so long...
Later, Oishi would wonder how something so important could have slipped his mind. But he came to see that it was something that hadn't been too difficult to dismiss it from his mind, for Eiji was by nature someone who was fond of demonstrating his affection physically, and it was not uncommon to find him happily occupied and talking to someone with an arm easily slung around that person's shoulders, or bear-hugging someone else—that was Eiji all over, an anomaly in a generation of demure, soft-spoken, reserved young schoolboys. And Oishi could reason easily that Eiji had been caught up in the euphoria of the moment—hadn't they all? Witness Kaidoh crying into Inui's shoulder, Momoshiro piggy-backing unhappy Echizen in a victory dance, Tezuka laughing loud and long... amidst all that, what Eiji had done was just... just a little gesture... or maybe just a sort of vague dream...
But it was hard to believe that one could dream with eyes wide open.
Years had passed since then, and although Tezuka and Oishi had gone on together to Seigaku Senior High and won one more National title together in their third year there, with the same team that had taken the junior high title for Seigaku three years before, Eiji had never kissed Oishi again.
They were, as always, the Golden Pair, even in high school, and predictably enough, they went on to play for Seigaku's high school tennis team, and became even closer outside of tennis. Tezuka stayed on and went on with them to Seigaku High, much to everyone's surprise, for there had been rumours that he would be leaving for America or Germany after junior high to pursue the goal of turning pro. But Tezuka had his own ideas and Oishi knew that it wasn't time for Tezuka to leave yet, although he couldn't have said why. It had always been a part of Tezuka's and Oishi's relationship to stand by each other without question, and to understand and respect each other's choices even when they couldn't tell how or why they understood.
By comparison, Tezuka's relationship with Fuji was somewhat different. Oishi had realised early on that Fuji and Tezuka had an undeniable bond that was rooted in their strange ability to connect with each other on a deep, intensely personal level that left out just about everyone else. Oishi didn't understand how, and he wasn't about to ask, but Fuji Syuusuke was aware of Tezuka Kunimitsu in a way that Oishi, who bore the much-coveted title of being Tezuka's closest friend, could not do for Tezuka. In short, Fuji saw Tezuka as a human being... not that Oishi was altogether sure that Tezuka was so terribly pleased to be regarded as such, but on the whole, it did mean that there was someone else out there, apart from Tezuka himself, who truly did know what it felt like to be Tezuka Kunimitsu. All that Oishi grasped without rancour, and responded to this new angle in Tezuka's life by extending an equal hand of friendship to Fuji.
Tezuka's friendship with Oishi did not change, but the friendship between Oishi and Eiji altered noticeably. They were closer than ever, for Fuji's friendship with Tezuka meant that Eiji, by default, spent even more time with Oishi. Eiji was someone who should have been out of place in Oishi's quiet, orderly life, yet he alone fitted into it in a way no one else could. Oishi was a grave, serious young person, and it was no surprise to find that someone such as Tezuka counted amongst his closest friends. Indeed, before Oishi had gone to Seigaku, his close friends were the quiet, serious sort, very much like him. It explained, perhaps, why Oishi and Tezuka had found a friend in each other so very quickly at the beginning.
Eiji, to state it obviously, was very different from the usual sort of people Oishi tended to gravitate towards. Bright-eyed, with a winsome grin, an appetite for stirring up small bits of mischief, and an arsenal of little mannerisms that Oishi could only describe as kitten-adorable, Eiji appealed to everyone. There were things which in other folks would have consigned said folks to strait-jacketed status in institutions, such as convincing Kaidoh Kaoru to pretend to be Echizen Ryoma. Agreed, Oishi had only heard it from Eiji's own animated re-telling of the tale, but it was evidently something that only Eiji could have pulled off. It was Eiji who breathed subtle changes into Oishi's personality, inspiring enough courage on Oishi's part to sometimes share with the others the shy enthusiasm Oishi actually had for many things. Of course, sometimes those attempts fell extremely flat, such as the time when Oishi had happily suggested that they should climb a nearby mountain—and Eiji's initial response had been completely opposite to what Oishi had fondly imagined it would be. He couldn't always read Eiji, and the converse was true, but over the years, they had learned that they were differently-cut pieces of jigsaw that fitted perfectly together. They had certain places only the two of them knew about, and they celebrated victories with their team-mates, but unconsciously shared their most private sorrows only with each other. Oishi, who was not given to talking much about himself, frequently talked to Eiji about his family, especially his adored imouto-chan. And in return Eiji shared with Oishi things he couldn't tell his family or even his best friend—"...'cause there are some things you reallyreallyreally can't tell Fuji... 'cause even though you feel like you can tell him, you should just reallyreallyreally not..." That was what Eiji had said once in Oishi's private ear, wagging one finger wildly, and Oishi asked to know no more, since that seemed the safest route. Tennis, and a deep understanding of each other acquired through spending time together, had given them a friendship that was their rock to fall back upon at every turn.
So it was that the years passed, and Oishi had neither time nor need to think more of the possible meanings of a stolen kiss, for he and Eiji were the Golden Pair, and honestly, there was nothing more to be said about it... and so Oishi persisted in this state of mind until he reached his final year in Seishun Gakuen High School.
History repeated itself that year, and Seigaku faced Rikkaidai once again in the final of the National tennis school championships, in an identical rematch of another final they had played three years ago, right down to the players on both teams. On Seigaku's side, the usual suspects were lined up: Tezuka Kunimitsu, Oishi Syuuchirou, Fuji Syuusuke, Inui Sadaharu, Kikumaru Eiji, Kawamura Takashi—who had to be persuaded by his own father and his fellow team-mates to give tennis a few more years—and, of course, Momoshiro Takeshi and Kaidoh Kaoru, who had two years before eclipsed all expectations and made history by (successfully!) becoming Seishun Gakuen Junior High's first-ever co-captains. And bringing up Seigaku's rear, still about half a head below the others, still with little white cap in tow, was Seigaku's freshman player, Echizen Ryoma. Indeed, it seemed that the old days were back... and sometimes Oishi could hardly contain his joy, for everything seemed so right, to be there, with his closest and dearest friends.
The final had to be played over three days.
They were in high school now, and the school championships demanded a best-of-three-sets for every match... unless, of course, one side had already won two sets in a row. Their mistake, of course, was in not making allowances for the fact that the two most determined high school tennis teams in the country were playing in the finals. It was a best-of-five-matches scenario again, and all five matches had to be played regardless of the scoreline. When the Momoshiro-Kaidoh versus Marui-Jackal match crossed the one-hour mark at the end of the first set, the referee had to call a break, and everyone watching knew that they were in for the long haul. And what a long haul it was! Second doubles took five hours fourteen minutes long; when first doubles entered the fourth hour, the referee called a halt and postponed play to the next day, as the stadium had not been booked for the night. Inui recorded three matches during the final that broke the world records for the longest match ever played.
But Oishi found himself beyond thinking of world records then. Watching first Echizen's, then Fuji's, then Tezuka's matches, Oishi was drawn back to another moment in time. Three years before, in that same stadium, when Seigaku had won, Kikumaru Eiji had pressed a faint, warm kiss to Oishi's left cheek. At least Oishi thought so. He remembered thinking that it could have been a false memory, a dream mistaken as a memory of that instant in time. But he was standing there now, in that same stadium, caught up in the tension and excitement all over again, and he remembered that other time with a sharp clarity that startled him. As he mechanically noted the incredible, scientifically-impossible shots taking place, Oishi wondered if Seigaku would win, and with rising hope, if Eiji would kiss him again, wondering why he had to remember that moment all over again, wondering if he had dreamt it all those years ago, and feeling quite sure that he hadn't,and—
—and Seigaku won.
Oishi had caught his breath, and he had involuntarily turned his head to look at Eiji—
— who simply bestowed a wide grin and two fingers in a V-shaped victory sign.
Somehow, Oishi hadn't expected merely a grin. He stared at Eiji, who did not seem to have noticed his confusion, and who was now bent half-double with gleeful laughter as Momoshiro chased a now-smarter Echizen around in an attempt to try to piggyback the freshman in a repeat of their celebrations years ago. The smile that eventually crept on to Oishi's lips was a little tremulous, even though his eyes were still bright and warm, but somewhere, some part inside him that he hadn't been aware of shrivelled quietly. Oishi silently turned back to watch Tezuka and this time, he saw that Tezuka's gaze was on them both, and it was Fuji who laid one hand on Oishi's shoulder and gently propelled him forward as they went to meet Tezuka together.
Things had changed.
Oishi went home late that night after another celebratory session at Kawamura's. Eiji had noticed his mood and asked not once, but six times, whether Oishi was all right, and had even tried to force-feed him in fun Taka-san's newest sushi recipes. But it did nothing to allay the fact that Oishi felt as if all the strings that had held him to earth were being snapped in brutal succession, one by one.
He used to know his place in the world.
In junior high and senior high, things were simple. He was an excellent student, class representative and vice-captain of the tennis team. He looked out for the team's and club's welfare, and he enjoyed doing so. Nothing more was asked of him, but he did his best, and tried to do more whenever he could. But those years would be a thing of the past soon, and the future was murkier than he had ever imagined. He was now on the brink of the transition between senior high and varsity level and it was a severe one; the discipline you choose in university by convention affects your career choice. Oishi had been worried by that, particularly as he did not feel extremely drawn to one profession or another, but neither did he want to take on a discipline that would be so general as to consign him to a mere salaryman position once he graduated. What did he want to do, and where did he want to go? Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Keio, Seigaku... Where could he go?
He had also known that this was a moment when he would possibly lose the friends of his heart, his Seigaku team-mates. Kawamura was finally going to sushi school, Inui would no doubt head for Todai, Fuji with him perhaps, Momoshiro and Kaidoh had another year to go... And Tezuka... Tezuka was leaving, of course, even if he had not yet said so... and perhaps next year, Echizen would go as well. Oishi, who had thrived being with them, and who set great store in keeping them united, had accepted that without complaint. They were, after all, growing up, and each had his path to choose. He did not want to lose them... yet lose them he must.
All that Oishi had expected, but not this... not this. When every string had snapped, the one he had clung on to should not have followed with the others.
Oishi had never seen the need to have high school romance. His fellow students giggled over crushes, made Valentine's Day chocolates and White Day gifts, and got together, broke up, made up, fell out again... but amidst all this, Oishi Syuichirou remained untouched. Tennis and his studies occupied his time, and as it appeared that the rest of the Seigaku regulars were apparently as immune to Cupid's charms as he was, Oishi had never thought of his complete lack of dates and sweethearts as something out of the ordinary. He had homework, tennis... and Eiji.
How deep, Oishi wondered helplessly, did his feelings run? And it was with a feeling akin to horror that he realised that the first question he had asked of himself was not What do I feel? but How deep do my feelings run? Clearly, something deep inside him had acknowledged and accepted that where Kikumaru Eiji was concerned, close friendship did not adequately describe how Oishi Syuichiroh felt. One fleeting instant, one tender touch, and Oishi's eyes had been opened to another world altogether. One kiss to move him, one moment to confirm it—and three years to finally understand everything, and to figure out exactly why the old memory of a faint kiss on his cheek had touched him so deeply—and by the time he had realised the depth and import of it, Kikumaru Eiji's place in his heart had already been firmly cemented.
Or had it? Oishi was just seventeen, going on eighteen. How would he be able to tell if this was mere infatuation, which was not an uncommon thing amongst people of the same gender, particularly if they spent nearly every waking moment together, or if it was truly something more? Where did the line lie between a best friend with whom you could spend every day of the rest of your life, and that special someone with whom you could spend every day of the rest of your life? How special was this feeling for Eiji? –Special enough to make him wonder why the other boy hadn't kissed him again... and it was there that Oishi saw the answer.
You don't dream of your best friend kissing you.
Eiji... was special in that way.
Sometimes you don't expect it until you're already neck-deep and can't extricate yourself. Little by little, a friend becomes slowly more important to you, in word and deed and gesture and circumstance, and you meander along with those blinkers on, until one day something slams you in the face with the force of tsunami, and you're left staggering, because your friend is no longer just your friend, but someone else. Your world's no longer what it is, and that string you were holding on to has snapped, and you're left with nothing to hang on to.
It was all too much to take in, and yet Oishi was unable to have the luxury of dwelling long on it, for the other changes he had anticipated were already on the horizon, and he had to brace himself for impacts that were far more immediate.
Tezuka was leaving.
The Nationals had been his final achievement for himself and for Seigaku, and it was time for him to go. He remained Seigaku's top student, and the school bent its rules for him, granting him the requisite high school graduation certificate before the school year was over. It was a courageous move; Tezuka had consigned his entire future into the hands of tennis. As expected, he flew to America to train full-time as part of his plans to break into the international tennis circuit. Echizen Ryoma would follow his former buchou nearly a year later, bursting on to the international youth tennis circuit exactly one day to the year before Tezuka debuted there... and Momoshiro would say with a wry grin that it was Echizen all the way—whatever someone else did, he could and would do better. Tezuka's departure hit Oishi badly; they had been practically best friends and allies for six long years, and Oishi had been Tezuka's right hand all along. This time, the hole it left in Oishi's world seemed destined never to be healed, for Tezuka had made no plans to return. It seemed that they would never get the chance to play tennis together again.
Tezuka's departure left Fuji, Eiji and Oishi behind, together with Inui—for Kawamura's future would be in sushi, and he had already extended his life in tennis by three extra years. Kawamura had done all he could in tennis—it was time for him to take his road to his future.
Seigaku, truly, had been torn asunder.
But those who stayed behind found themselves fighting to stay together, for Tezuka's departure left them somewhat loth to simply cast aside those years of iron-clad camaraderie. Fuji, Inui, Oishi and Eiji went on to the same university, not Seigaku University, but Keio University. That decision had not been reached without much wringing of hands, and certainly not without a string of coincidences and much luck. And the Seigaku tennis team of that batch had always been rich in both.
Fuji had admitted seriously considering going to universities abroad, such as America, but his reason for staying behind had puzzled the others: "It's much easier here." Easier to what, he didn't say, but Inui had looked at him with arched eyebrow, and then scribbled something in his notebook. There had been some initial hesitation on Inui's part as well, for he had been sorely tempted to try for Todai (Tokyo University). Tokyo University was undoubtedly Japan's best and most prestigious university, and offered the most accomplished science faculty in Japan, as well as one of the top three science faculties in all of Asia. But Todai had a reputation for being a little too elitist and snobbish, and also too conformist; and Inui had never fitted well into any of those categories. That left Keio, which was not only prestigious, but was also one of the few universities who could challenge Todai when it came to science and medicine. Of course, Fuji had no objections to Keio. Eiji, meanwhile, had absolutely no idea where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do. Seigaku University would have done just fine for him, but Eiji said that Keio was more fun since it was much bigger, and he'd get to meet more people, and it would be mean to have everyone go but not him, and it wasn't as if he was so stupid that he couldn't get into Keio... right, Oishi? And Oishi, who would have been happy to stay at Seigaku if Eiji had wanted to stay, had been glad to be given a chance to try for Keio, since one's university pedigree commanded both the amount of respect as well as the number of open doors in Japan, particularly where employment was concerned.
They had almost literally squeezed blood from stone in order to get through entrance examinations. Keio was Japan's most prestigious private university, frequently spoken of in the same breath as Tokyo Daigaku, and Oishi remembered insane study sessions made of the stuff of horror films, where they gathered at his home and crammed for entrance examinations with one another rather than going to the cram schools. Some of their teachers had considered that move pure suicide, and certainly some of their parents had objected initially, but the test results proved the boys right. How could it be otherwise, when Inui's Special Super-Memory Super-Power Remix Inui Juice Deluxe struck fear into the hearts of one and all, and even Fuji was spurred to avoid that tiny shot glass of Akazu which Inui always kindly set aside for him? It was then that the bond between the Golden Pair had strengthened, for Eiji had studied terribly hard, and had cried many, many times, because he couldn't get a concept right, and worried himself to near-breakdowns over it. It was in Oishi's arms that he cried, and it was Oishi's gentle promises that they would always be the Golden Pair, and that no silly exam would ever get between them, that had kept Eiji sane, and they both knew it. It was easy then to believe in those words, to believe that nothing could drive them apart, even though Eiji might never feel as Oishi did towards him.
But Keio... Keio was a different matter.
When they had first arrived at Keio University, things had been somewhat awkward, because the majority of Keio students had come directly from the various Keio Affiliated high schools and had known each other for several years, and the four from Seigaku felt as if they were unwelcome interlopers. To make things worse, their dorm rooms and dorm-mates had been assigned by the university, and it took Inui's and Fuji's combined ingenuity to wangle new arrangements through a complicated swap scheme so that they ended up sharing dorm rooms with each other, right next door to one another. That took a few days, but by then, things had altered for the better, as some of these students remembered them from past tennis tournaments, despite the fact that Keio had never figured largely in school matches. Besides, tennis was beginning to be the sport of the moment in Japan, jostling with long-time favourite baseball and another upcoming sport, basketball, for limelight and sheer numbers of fans. The rising interest in tennis had been secured by the emergence of a new generation of Japanese players who were being touted as the new young stars on the international youth tennis circuit, just as Tiger Woods had been fêted well before he turned pro. Amongst these players were a good number who could call themselves alumni of Seishun Gakuen, and Inui, Fuji, Oishi and Eiji found social doors gracefully collapsing like dominoes before them when details of their educational pedigree leaked out.
Perhaps that was when it had begun.
It went without saying that the hardest part of the university student's life was actually getting into said university. After that, a degree from the university was usually guaranteed... what class of degree was another question, of course, and in the majority of the faculties, this was not a sticking point. It was difficult to get extremely high honours, but similarly, it was also very difficult to actually fail unless one tried hard to! For Oishi and Eiji, however, this was where the difference stood out, for they had very different outlooks. Oishi was thinking of going to medical school, and he had his eye on becoming a paediatrician should he ever choose to specialise. To even qualify for applying to medical school, however, he needed a good showing grades-wise, and he was working very hard. It wasn't exactly a decision cast in stone, but it was something he was leaning heavily towards, and this was the reason he had enrolled in the undergraduate science courses. Eiji, on the other hand, was revelling in university life, and had discovered the night life, and karaoke bars, and less harmless exploits such as getting stone drunk.
But it was enough to make Eiji sick for many days after that, for his body had extremely low tolerance for alcohol although they hadn't found that out until then. So it was Oishi who stayed away from his precious classes for four days to nurse the boy and it was Oishi who lost his temper with Fuji because it was Fuji who had gone with Eiji to the party held by the foreign exchange students, and it was there that Eiji had gotten his mild case of alcohol poisoning.
All the signs were there, and looking back, Oishi wondered if he could have changed anything, but although he gamely tried to attend all the functions Eiji was happy to accept invitations to (and it seemed that there was always something going on every hour), it was inevitable that his temper grew increasingly on edge, and he struggled to balance studies, ambition and Eiji. It wasn't true that Oishi didn't like all the activities—he quite enjoyed some of them, and he did like some people, and had a few very good friends outside of his Seigaku circle, and he certainly had no complaints with the tennis club—but it was wearing him out.
Leave him alone, said others.
But Oishi couldn't leave Eiji alone—he had tried that just once, and Eiji had gotten alcohol poisoning as a result. Besides, Eiji's siblings had converged upon him before they left for Keio, all extracting promises from Oishi to look after the beloved baby of their family. Finally, Oishi had an unspoken dread that leaving Eiji alone would lead to their drifting apart, and it was that thought which he could not bear, and which drove him to attempt desperately to balance everything. The obvious solution would have been to talk to Eiji about it... but Oishi was certain that Eiji wouldn't see it in quite the same light. There were some things that he and Eiji could not see eye to eye on, for Eiji was happy-go-lucky by nature, whereas Oishi tended to take things more seriously. Oishi still had memories of a time when he and Eiji had reacted very differently to the issue of Momoshiro Takeshi's absence from the club, and they had had a very public tiff which had nearly split the Golden Pair apart... and indeed, did tear them apart for a whole day. And Oishi's strain at this time was so weighty that he admitted to himself that instead of talking to Eiji, he might just start yelling at Eiji instead, which would add to the problem rather than solving it!
Oishi didn't know if he was being too weak-willed or anything like that, but where Eiji was concerned, he caved in. So he hung on, and held his peace, and hoped, and he thought he could keep his place in Eiji's heart, as long as Eiji didn't stop telling him things...
...and then Eiji started casually dating.
Sometimes Oishi wanted to kick himself for being so very stupid. Of course Eiji would like someone else; it wasn't as if Oishi had a monopoly on him. And Eiji was adorable, and it would have been ridiculous for others not to desire to approach him. And then Eiji had insisted on dragging him along for an endless amount of double dates and group dates, and Oishi found himself going along meekly, and feeling extremely uncomfortable.
Oishi himself was rather popular with the females, who opined that he would make the best husband, and viewed him as an extremely marriageable catch. Girls agreed he was extremely shy and very sweet...and very manly, and he definitely couldn't be gay, they agreed with giggles, because he was just the right mix of nice and manly. Now if he had been too manly, they would have been suspicious, and if he had been too sweet, they would also have smelt something fishy... but as it was, they fell over themselves trying to 'hook' him. Oishi, if they had asked him, would have denied that he was gay. It was quite simple—he wasn't, as a general rule, attracted to guys. They were just... guys. And honestly, he wouldn't have been able to judge how good-looking they were unless they were extraordinarily beautiful for human beings, and even then, he tended to regard them with a sort of mild perplexity, as if wondering where they had inherited such good looks from. As for the truly beautiful males he had known before, such as Tezuka, Fuji, Yukimura, Kajimoto and many more, he had never thought of them as beautiful. They were just Tezuka, Fuji, etc. to him.
Kikumaru Eiji had been the sole exception.
But that would no longer matter.
Oishi's fingers clutched tightly at the cushion nearest him, and the sole light in the room came from the table lamp, throwing his face into the shadows, and hiding the wide, blank look of ever-deepening anguish in his eyes, and softening the line of the mouth and neck muscles, taut with strain.
"She...she proposed to me." Eiji looked dazed, and he was smiling shyly as he ducked his head, cheeks red with embarrassment and delight. "I've never been proposed to before..."
The wonder in his voice drove another lance of pain through Oishi, who had already seen this coming, but hadn't known that it would be the girl proposing. Eiji's girlfriends lasted anything from one day to a few months, and Oishi had met any number of them over the last three years or so. They seemed to hail from all walks of life, from quiet female schoolmates to the frank, more open female foreign exchange students, who found Eiji "Ooooooooh, soooooooo cuuuuuuuute!", but this one, Hashimoto Kyoko, had lasted nine or ten months, almost a year. Oishi wondered bleakly if there was something significant in that number.
"She's amazing, Oishi..." breathed Eiji almost dreamily.
What could Oishi do, but nod briefly? She is. He had met her before, and she was just as chirpy as Eiji, and they shared a similar sense of humour as well as similar interests, spending many happy hours in pursuit of J-rock/J-pop memorabilia, and she could even play a decent game of tennis for a girl. She was definitely good and kind, and Oishi had been grateful to her for halting Eiji's too-frequent visits to the parties and karaoke bars... Kyoko-san had shared his burden, in a manner of speaking, and together, they had slowly extricated Eiji from the fringes of the Keio party set, something Oishi considered an important milestone in light of the Waseda scandal not long ago.
Eiji was twiddling his fingers in his lap, looking extremely embarrassed. "Nya, I really like her, Oishi... I mean, you know what, she... she was the only one of the girls who wasn't like, trying to... nya, I don't know how I can say this!!!" He hid his face in his hands.
"Wasn't trying to...?" queried Oishi encouragingly, as his fingers began inflicting crescent-shaped ruptures into the cushion.
Eiji mumbled something. "...sex..."
There was a faint tearing sound as Oishi's fingers ripped right through the cushion which Momoshiro, for reasons best known to himself, had presented him with as a "housewarming" present when they had first moved into the Keio dorms three years ago.
Eiji jerked his head up at the sound and met Oishi's blanched, stricken face. "O-oishii!" he cried. "I mean, she was the only one who never tried to make me have sex with her or anything like that!"
"..t-the others...." whispered Oishi, feeling his mouth tremble, and the rest of him begin to shake. "...d-did you...."
Eiji shook his head madly, red hair whacking his face from side to side. "No!" He looked away again. "That's why I really didn't like any of the others. She's really the best of them all. I—we did talk before...about marriage... not marrying each other, I mean... I never thought of proposing to her..." He blushed and then laughed. "It was so funny, Oishi!" He peeked up at Oishi, and Oishi managed a faint smile. "I mean, it was weird...in a good kind of way, and she even got down on one knee, and when she gave me the little box, I thought... I thought it was just a special chocolate inside or something!"
Eiji's eyes were bright and laughing as they looked up at him, and Oishi could only smile softly at him in return. For Oishi, love would always be a beautiful youth with funny, deep red hair, big, dark-blue eyes tilted at the corners, an irrepressible, fun-loving nature, and a sunshine-filled smile. His partner, his other half...
"...and?" Oishi probed gently, still smiling warmly, but his eyes, if Eiji had cared to look closely, told a very different story.
Eiji's smile faded and he stuck his lower lip out thoughtfully, eyes fixed on his toes. "I asked her to give me some time to think... I said I'd let her know soon, maybe in a week... but..."
Still Oishi waited. Outside he felt a terrible calm; within, the bitter, churning waters of the storm raged, and his fingers itched to destroy something more than a mere cushion.
"She's the best of all of them," Eiji said finally, his voice quiet. "And I was thinking... if I ever married... it'd have to be someone like her."
The ghost of an old kiss brushed against Oishi's cheek as he listened in silence to Eiji's words, and he lifted one hand to his cheek, as if to hold it to him. But he could not hold it any more than he could wake from this. It had been eight years since Kikumaru Eiji had walked into Oishi Syuichiroh's life for good on a warm day in Kantou, six years since a simple kiss on a cheek had first stirred the depths of a serious, quiet young boy's heart, and three years since that same young boy had found himself hoping to feel that same kiss again. The young boy had grown into a youth, and matured slowly into a young man, still waiting and hoping.
Some people say that you cannot dream with your eyes wide open, but that's not true. You walk on in life, and sometimes you come to a stop, and you pause, and you look back, and say to yourself that you should have seen all the signs, the neon lights, all that jazz... all there, right in front of you, and there you have it. You've been dreaming with your eyes wide open, thinking that you were in one state of mind, when really, you were living in another reality altogether. There's no magic formula to stop you from dreaming like that, and what happens after that sometimes falls out of our hands completely; some of us are lucky, and some aren't so blessed, and Oishi Syuichiroh has learned this hard lesson in the twenty-first summer of his life.