Standard Disclaimer: all the wonderful characters of Tenipuri belong to Konomi Takeshi respectively. I own only the plot and a number of foreign characters which you won't find in any Tenipuri episode/chapter. The rhyme below was taken from the song Don't Wanna Lose You by Gloria Estefan.
Setting: Mostly Paris. Early summer right after Rolland-Garros Tournament.
Hugs and thankies go to my proofreader unemoineau, and to tora macaw for reviewing ALL my fics.
"I'll open my heart and show you inside
My love has no pride
I feel with you I've got nothing to hide
It's all up to you, to tell me to go
'Cause it won't be me to walk away
When you're all that I know"
Chapitre Un: The Meeting
"Alright, so everything's set. You can stay at the hotel for as long as you like. If you feel like visiting other places or countries, just do. Send the bills to the office and they'll take care of them. Do you have all your travel documents with you?"
"Good. Now, about the address you gave me, Shinomori-san already had someone check it out and tomorrow, a cab is ready at 10 AM to take you there as you requested."
"Thank you, Manager."
"We're leaving now, Kunimitsu. Take care, and have fun."
Tezuka watched silently as his manager walked out of the hotel, followed by the rest of the crew, to the awaiting bus outside the lobby. Now that the French Open was over, it was time to fly back to Tokyo. Games, set and match, Tezuka Kunimitsu: 6 games to 3. The result had again secured his position in the world's Top Ten ranks, which finely added to the long list of his stunning winning records.
It had been seven years since Tezuka had entered the ring of pro tennis players. To be, and stay the best; his goal was set the moment his skinny little hands gripped the racket on the first day of tennis practise in his elementary school. His goal didn't falter even when a major blow almost tore apart his future, which happened when he was elected the captain of Seigaku Junior High School Boys Tennis Club. He managed to recover, and brought his team to win the Nationals.
Since then, he had done whatever it took in order to pursue his newly upgraded ambition: to be the world's best player, despite leaving his family and friends in Japan to study at the best tennis school in Europe. And now, at the age of twenty-five, he could already taste the sweetness of his dream, just a few steps away.
Tezuka stepped out of the elevator door and walked across the richly maroon carpeted floor, fishing out a cardkey from his jacket pocket as he stopped in front of the door to his suite. Lightly tossing the plastic material onto a table once he was inside, the bespectacled man shrugged off the black denim jacket and hung it neatly in a small cupboard at the foyer. The soft tune of Bach greeted him as he walked past the living room, where he had left the stereo switched on, and plopped himself down the sofa in front of a large bed.
Sighing, the man closed his eyes and relaxed. Now that the first thing on his To Do list had been crossed-out – which was to climb up to a higher rank through the Rolland-Garros tournament, it was time to move on to the second one: to win back a treasure. Glancing at a piece of paper consisting of roman letters that lay on the small wooden cabinet next to the sofa, he took it into his hand, almost to the point of cradling, re-reading it for the hundredth time.
Little did people know that other than tennis, Tezuka had another mission to carry out upon his arrival in France. The one that strangely enough, had absolutely nothing to do with the said sport. It was a personal mission he had been preparing for in the past three months, since he last met Echizen Ryouma in a tournament in Japan. As expected, his ex junior in Seigaku had also become one of Japan's most promising players; despite the fact that he was now representing the US where he had been a resident for the past four years. Still as impudent and taunting as ever, the descendent of the legendary Tennis Samurai had managed to continuously wreak-havoc in the world with his unpredictable shots, earning both fear and admiration from other tennis pros.
They spent one nice afternoon in a coffee shop, exchanging news, mostly of sports. It was then that Echizen mentioned Fuji Shuusuke, the once famous genius of Seigaku Junior High, Tezuka's second shadow in the boys tennis club. Echizen met him in a tournament in the US while Fuji was doing coverage for a sports magazine. Having gone A.W.O.L ever since he graduated, the blue-eyed man was now a professional photographer and lived in Paris.
Ten years ago, the whole Fuji family moved to the US to live with the patriarch, whose work was stationed in New York. It was quite shocking news for his ex-teammates, especially since Fuji had said nothing before. Not to Tezuka, not even to Kikumaru Eiji, whom everyone considered as Fuji's closest friend. Although they had exchanged e-mails for the first five months, Fuji never told Eiji his contact address. To the red head's whining for not being able to send him back a birthday card, Fuji only provided a smiley icon and wrote that his birthday didn't come that year, which was true enough, since the tensai was born on the missing date, February 29. Months turned to years, and the smiling boy finally succeeded in retreating into the shadow. No one knew where he lived or what he was doing, except for the fact that some of his photographic works had been included in the annual gallery exhibitions in Tokyo for almost three years.
"Neh Buchou, are you planning to wait forever?"
Tezuka glanced at his ex-junior. "Echizen, I'm no longer your captain. And what are you talking about?"
"Fuji-senpai. When are you gonna tell him you like him?" Echizen shot again. Though he seemed indifferent, his large, sharp golden eyes hardly missed the slightest change in Tezuka's face. "It's been too long, you know."
Eyeing the younger player, Tezuka wondered if he really was that easy to read all along. But there was no point in covering up then, and he supposed to side with the truth wouldn't hurt.
"How is he?" the stoic faced man asked back, not bothering to answer the previous questions.
"He looks fine, still smiling like a madman and all. I think he's broken already too many hearts by now, just like you did," Echizen smirked at the faint crease showing between Tezuka's eyebrows. "Don't you miss him?"
Tezuka was about to open his mouth to strike back when Echizen delivered his last blow smoothly. "You'd better find him, Buchou, or he'll slip away for good."
Having practically lost the game in a blink of an eye left Tezuka astounded. The man absently stared at his half empty fruit punch before ending it with a sigh.
"I need help." There was a hint of defeat when he finally spoke. A rare one really, since it came from once the strongest captain of Seigaku.
Echizen smiled the typical smug smile he always wore in front of his defeated opponents. "You can start from here: Vogue."
After taking enough portions of deep contemplation, Tezuka came up with the conclusion that the idea of not knowing whether or not Fuji still harboured the same feelings for him – however small they remained – was nowhere near good for his sanity. However, having always been detached from the world other than tennis, it took quite some time before he was finally able to find the correlation between Fuji and the word 'Vogue'. It turned out that Fuji was indeed living in Paris and currently was a photographer for a fashion magazine. And so with the upcoming French Open next summer, Tezuka prayed that not only would he gain a major leap to his career, but also win a chance to meet his long-lost object of affection. For Tezuka was ready to make up for everything he had lost, and thus get the answer he had always wanted.
Glancing up from the book he was reading, Tezuka idly stared at the street. A herd of people was marching past the coffee shop at where he was sitting, with one leading at the front, supposedly from the Pompidou Centre's direction. It was especially on warm, sunny days like this that tourists especially flooded the modern exhibition center. The uniquely designed building was named after the former French president, Georges Pompidou. It houses the French national gallery of modern art and industrial designs. Though famous it was, Tezuka didn't recall having visited the said tourism destination more than once, for he was more into old relics like Versailles or Notre-Dame. So the fact that this area had been Fuji's hiding place for the past five years had never occurred in his mind.
Looking at his surroundings, Tezuka could somehow understand why Fuji chose to live here. Beautiful old buildings standing side-by-side with the freshness of contemporary artworks, this place breathed out the harmony of the classical and modern arts. It was a perfect combination of two contradictions. The meeting point of opposite poles, something that suited Fuji's character very well.
Sipping a cup of tea under one of the green tents about 20 meters away from Fuji's apartment building, Tezuka wondered what the tensai had been doing. Ten years was a long time. Though Echizen had said that Fuji looked the same, only several years older, Tezuka believed that there must be at least something different about him.
The bespectacled man was about to retreat back to his John Grisham novel when his eyes suddenly caught the sight of a man that looked Japanese carrying a rose bouquet entering a patisserie next to the coffee shop. Fuji…!?
From the brief glimpse, this man was fairly tall, quite different from the boy he knew; yet there was no mistaking for the honey brown hair and the faint smile. Staring at the patisserie's glass door, Tezuka's mind was trying its best to recover from the massive shock and started working. Now what was that again he would do once they met?
Moments later, the patisserie's glass door was opened with a faint tinkle. A Caucasian man clad in beige suit appeared. Tezuka's shoulders sagged a little, unconsciously released a breath he was holding. Then the glass door was opened again, this time revealing a man in dark casual outfit holding a large cream-colored sack full of bread. He was listening to his cell phone and walking fast. Tezuka's heart leapt. It was Fuji. But just as the man got to the road, an old lady rushed out from the patisserie.
"Shuusuke!" she called. Though heavily accented and weird sounding, it seemed that the old lady was used to addressing Fuji by his first name.
Turning around, Fuji walked back to her. "Anneanne, Quel est le problème?"
A bittersweet tingle coursed through Tezuka's chest. That same gentle, melodious voice, now deeper due to the growing of his vocal cords, was so unmistakably Fuji's. From what Tezuka's limited French told him, it seemed like the old lady called Ann- something insisted on giving Fuji another sack of fresh bread in exchange of the red roses the tensai gave her as a belated birthday present.
"Anneanne, there's no one at home now. I can't finish all these bread alone," Fuji hesitated; one hand, which was free from the cell phone, was then occupied with the same large sack of bread.
"Mon cher Shuusuke, you've lost weigh because of too much working, so you must eat all my delicious pastries. They give you good nutrition! See?" the old lady gestured at her large limbs, which were holding Fuji's arms.
Leaning over, Fuji's narrowed, inspecting eyes glinted with humor. "Anneanne, are you on some kind of secret mission to make all my dates go away?"
"Yes, so that I can keep you to myself," folding her arms in front of her chest, the old lady nodded, pretending to be serious.
"Anneanne, you know my feelings for you never change."
"I know that, dear. That's why you must eat properly. A skinny boy isn't fit for my hugs."
Chuckling, Fuji shook his head in defeat.
The warm display of emotions, though close it was to Tezuka's eyes and ears, seemed out of his reach, making the bespectacled man felt like he was watching a foreign movie.
Fuji's smile grew soft and loving. He leaned over to give the old lady a light peck on her cheek. "Merci, Anneanne. You're the best."
The old lady smiled back, her wrinkled palms now holding Fuji's pale cheeks.
"You know how much I love you, child. And thank you again for the beautiful roses. They meant so much for this old woman."
Fuji's smile broke into a wide grin. "Aw, you're not old. Just one year wiser… and sexier," he added while winking playfully, making the old lady laughed in delight.
After bidding their goodbyes, Fuji continued his way towards the direction of what Tezuka assumed was his apartment, which was away from the coffee shop where he was sitting. Tezuka stood up hurriedly and walked off to catch the man.
Halting, Fuji's eyebrows quirked a bit, not sure if he was hearing things. But then the man turned around, only to reveal a pair of cerulean blue eyes wide open at the sight of Tezuka Kunimitsu, the ex-captain of Seigaku Boys Tennis Club, standing a few meters before him.
Having never tried this hard before to ignore the wild drums in his heart and stay composed, Tezuka walked forward, eyes never leaving the raw shock displayed on Fuji's face. The smile had disappeared. Just before he was about to violate Fuji's personal space, the dark haired man halted and nodded.
Blinking, the tensai was clearly still not sure if he was seeing a real human and not a hologram. But then the smile came back, melting away the tension that was forming in the air.
"Ohisashiburi… Tezuka," and warm it was the voice that greeted him back, making the bespectacled man unconsciously smile in return.
"So, how long have you been in that coffee shop?" Fuji asked as both men walked the hallway on the fourth floor of the apartment building.
"Not bad, got to almost finish this," Tezuka showed him the novel. Fuji chuckled.
"That old lady you saw just now, she owns the patisserie. The best in town, in my opinion. She moved from Istanbul to Paris during the World War II, and has been capturing the hearts of many artists since then," Fuji explained.
"Seems to me you're the one who captured her heart."
"Saa, you know me and my charms. Can't help it when they worked too well," Fuji grinned, gesturing at two large sacks of assorted bread in his arms.
Then they stopped in front of a door.
"Here we are. Ah, sorry, would you mind?" Fuji said gesturing at the sack of bread in his right arm.
"Aa." As Tezuka took both sacks into his arms, his skin came in contact with Fuji's in the process. It felt warm.
"Thanks." Fuji fished out a cardkey from his jacket pocket. He slid the card into its place until a click was heard. Pushing the door open, Fuji moved aside to give access to his guest, his hands already full with the sacks.
"Hai, douzou. Welcome to my humble nest."
Tezuka stepped inside, taking in the scene in one sweeping glance. The short passage at the entrance led to the center of the apartment, which had the kitchen on the left, the living room on the right, and two doors were spotted at the far end. The walls were painted in cream color and the floor was of warm wooden pattern. High windows were graced with dark blue curtains neatly tucked at the sides, letting the sunlight go through the white lace curtains and give the apartment a glow.
As Fuji walked to the kitchen to fuss over the drinks, Tezuka found himself looking at a large, deep blue sofa near the windows. Its color stood out nicely in the living room. Glancing on the far wall behind the sofa, photo frames of various sizes in black listings were hung in an artistic way, where a simple wooden dining table with two chairs lied under. They were all black and white, consisting of scenery, people, animals, and still objects, and clearly had something of advanced photography techniques in them. Judging from the choices of furniture, colors and artworks, Tezuka immediately recognized that Fuji was a minimalist. And there was a thing with the way he decorated the rooms that made the apartment look larger and comfy.
"By the way, congratulations for the Grand Slam. You were really great at beating that fifth rank player."
Turning around, Tezuka found Fuji setting down a bamboo tray consisting of two earthenware cups, a teapot and a plate of assorted bread onto a table in front of a TV set. He dragged a chair from the dining table and sat facing the backrest as Tezuka landed on the blue sofa.
"Thanks. You watched it." It was meant as a statement, not a question.
Fuji chuckled low. Same old Tezuka. "Yes, at Rolland-Garros. What? You think I'd waste a chance of witnessing the birth of a legend?"
Tezuka looked at him. "Why didn't you look for me?"
"Well, I know how busy you are, being a famous tennis pro and all. Besides, I know how important this tournament is to you, and that you needed full concentration on it."
"But you know I'm never too busy to see any of my ex-teammates."
Fuji just continued to smile at that.
"So, you met Echizen," he changed the topic.
"How is he?"
"That's good to hear. How come he wasn't in the tournament?"
"He's after Wimbledon."
"Ah, I see."
Propping his chin on one hand on the top of the backrest, Fuji tilted his head. "Funny though, I don't recall ever giving Echizen my home address."
"He didn't know."
Fuji narrowed his eyes. "Then how did you find me?"
Tezuka looked at him. "Is it that important?"
For a moment Fuji stayed still, looking like he was contemplating. "Maa, I guess not, now that you're here. Anyway, successful attempt on catching me off guard put aside," Fuji's eyes shone brightly as his smile broke free, "It's good to see you again, Tezuka."
There was a twinkle in his eyes when Tezuka replied, "It's good to see you again, Fuji."
Indeed, Tezuka was glad that he could finally meet the tensai. Ten years did bring changes to him. The fourteen-year-old Fuji that everyone knew had been petite and rather fragile looking, but the twenty-four-year-old Fuji who was now sitting in front of him had grown much taller and stronger. During his growth Tezuka had also gained more height, but looking at the slight difference when they stood side by side in the elevator, he suspected that Fuji probably lost only ten centimeters at most. When the tensai was taking off his dark brown corduroy jacket at the entrance, Tezuka could trace the toned-ups under the light shirt Fuji was wearing. Those honey brown strands and bangs were now shorter and looked fashionable. All the boyish traces on Fuji's face had gone, replaced by elegant angular features; from the exotic shape of high cheekbones, the faint line that sort of divided the tip of his nose and down the teasing pale pink lips, to the sexy faint crook of his chin.
Fuji had turned into a gorgeous man.
"So tell me, what's been happening in your side of the world?" Fuji asked, pouring more tea onto Tezuka's cup.
"Where do you want to begin?"
Grinning, Fuji said, "Seigaku."
Tezuka cleared his throat. "Well, you remember Kawamura. He's now married with two children, a boy and a girl."
Blue eyes widened at the news. "Taka-san??"
"Yes, he's opening another sushi shop in Yokohama. Said his cousin's taking care of that shop but the whole management thing is in his hand. He still makes wasabizushi, and waits for you to clean up the stacks in the counter," Tezuka explained.
Fuji shook his head, looking bewildered. "Taka-san is married? That's great, and it's good to know the sushi shop's advancing… I miss his wasabizushi."
"When was the last time you visited Kawamura?"
Thinking, Fuji shook his head. "I don't remember… six, seven years ago?"
"Then you should meet him. Kawamura will be happy to see you. We all do," Tezuka said.
"Yeah, it's been a long time…" For a brief moment, Fuji's smile turned soft at the reminiscence of their happy days in Seigaku. But soon the cheerful smile was back in its place as he chirped, "And what about the others?"
The old friends talk continued.
Tezuka told Fuji that Ooishi had taken the same path as his father, which was to become a surgeon. After all, the raven-haired guy had been prepared to inherit the hospital his father was running. As for Kikumaru, he ran a pet shop in the suburb of Tokyo. Fuji grinned at that. It sounded very much like Eiji. He remembered having difficulties in latching the red head's face off the local pet shop window one time when a new cute brown bunny was displayed. Inui was now an asset to a leading food company in Japan. He was also the copyright holder of a new brand of supplemental drink. Fuji once heard from Yuuta that Momoshiro made a debut as a sports presenter on TV. Fourteen months on going, his fan club page had now reached over 5000 hits. But nothing beat the shock at the fact that Kaidoh was now running his life as a farmer in Shimane Prefecture. The mamushi quit tennis upon entering the university. He was married and now expecting a baby.
Nostalgia remained thick in the air when both men realized that the sun had set, which meant it was time to part. Tezuka went back to the hotel feeling as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. The meeting went better than he had expected. Though he was aware of the many facets Fuji had, Tezuka knew that the tensai was glad to see him too. They made a promise to hang out together tomorrow evening. The bespectacled man felt like he should thank the deities for the second chance to meet Fuji, and prayed from now on that they would side with him until the mission was accomplished.
To be continued.
Anneanne: grandma (Turkish)
Quel est le problème: what's the problem
Mon cher: my dear
Ohisashiburi: translated freely as 'long time no see' (formal)
Hai, douzou: Please (come in)
Wasabizushi: sushi made of green super spicy dry mustard-like
Mamushi: translated freely as 'viper'
Yaah, seems like my post-winter vacation finally bore itself fruits. My very first trip to Paris, which lasted for only four days so God knows if I've mistaken this or that place. Or things. But one thing for sure, Paris has great places for kissing scenes. Hell yeah.
Any comment/constructive criticism is very much welcomed.
Thanks for reading!