A full week had passed before Kikumaru, Momoshiro and Echizen stopped looking at him like he had grown three heads. Tezuka had begun to think that the only way he was going to get them to behave normally again, was to make them run laps until their legs were ready to fall off.
For once, neither he nor Fuji were going to each other's house. He had a test the day after the next, and Fuji didn't want to risk distracting him, even though the chance of Tezuka failing anything was close to that of Fuji failing anything. And that was nil.
The clubroom was deserted now, everyone long since gone. Only Tezuka and Fuji were left. They were packing up their things, before Tezuka locked up the clubroom for the day. He was all packed, and was waiting for Fuji to finish folding his jersey. The tensai smoothed most of the wrinkles from his folded clothes, and carefully placed them in his tennis bag. When said bag was zipped shut, Fuji stood up.
"Study hard, ne, 'Mitsu?" Fuji whispered into his ear. "I'll be thinking of you." He picked up his tennis bag from the floor and swung it onto his shoulder. "Especially tonight," he breathed, hot breath tickling Tezuka's ear. "When I touch myself before I sleep."
Tezuka turned sharply to glare at Fuji, even as he went rock hard from the thought and Fuji's words spoken in that husky drawl. "I thought the reason for you not coming over was to make sure you don't distract me?"
"Oh," Fuji demurred. "Was I distracting you?"
Tezuka sighed. "Go home, Fuji." He gave the mischievously-smiling tensai a gentle nudge towards the door.
"Mou," Fuji complained with a sexy pout. "No goodbye kiss?"
"You'll be the death of me, I swear." He leaned forward and planted a tender kiss on Fuji's lips. It was chaste and sweet, and before Fuji had any time to deepen the kiss into something a bit less innocent, Tezuka pulled away. "I'll see you in school tomorrow."
"Alright, then." It caught Fuji by surprise when Tezuka calmly took the tensai's hand and enveloped it in his slightly bigger one. Tezuka walked out the door, Fuji beside him, and dug in his pocket for the clubroom key.
Fuji held up his free hand and jingled the missing keys. "Looking for something, 'Mitsu?"
"The smart ones are always the felons," Tezuka muttered, and grabbed the keys from Fuji. "Stop picking my pockets."
"Why? It's so much fun?"
Tezuka slipped the key back into his pocket, although not very sure if that location was safe to keep things anymore. He didn't let go of Fuji's hand, but steered the tensai towards the school gates. Fuji was happy to leave it that way. It wasn't often that Tezuka showed outwards signs of affection. He decided to slip Tezuka's house keys back into his pocket, since his buchou was being such a sweet boyfriend.
They met up at the fast food restaurant again, as had become their habit. If they had been girls, it would simply have been called a gossip outing. But, as things were, they were not girls. They were Kikumaru, Echizen, and Momo.
"I still get nightmares," Momoshiro muttered as he unwrapped a cheeseburger.
"Daigoro keeps them at bay." Kikumaru snagged Ryoma's cup of soft drink and took a deep swallow. "Actually, Fuji's been looking really happy—happier than I've ever seen him."
"Good. Now can we please stop talking about this?" Ryoma asked. "I'd rather not remember that day."
Kikumaru glared at him. "If I recall correctly, Ochibi, you at least were spared the audio and visual aspects of that day."
Ryoma averted his golden gaze. "This is all Inui-senpai's fault." He grabbed his drink back from Kikumaru and scowled at his cup.
"I wonder what he did with the photos."
"Hmph ookh mphodos?" Momoshiro said, mouth full of half-chewed burger.
Kikumaru looked at him quizzically. "Hoi?" He rolled his eyes. "Don't talk with your mouth full, nya, Momo. You might choke." His eyes widened. "I really am turning into Oishi!" He said with horror.
Ryoma snickered. "Momo-senpai said, 'he took photos?' Kikumaru-senpai, did he really take photos?"
Kikumaru sighed with great feeling. What that great feeling was, even he didn't know for sure. I might have been utter fear, foreboding, or simple regret of folly. "He took photos. I do not need to know what he captured—in fact, I might probably go blind if I saw any of them, nya!"
"But the question, senpai-tachi," Ryoma said solemnly. "Is what is he going to do with those photos?"
Tezuka had one textbook on his lap, and another recommended text on his desk. His notebook was opened out before him, as he copied important segments from textbook to notebook. His phone rang, but he didn't hear it. It was only when he felt his finger beginning to cramp that he decided he needed a break. He marked his place in the books and stacked them up neatly on his desk. And then his cell phone rang again.
Tezuka glanced at the screen. Apparently, Fuji had called four times already. The current call was his fifth attempt. He pressed the 'answer call' button and held the phone to his ear.
"What is it, Fuji?"
"What kind of greeting is that? Mou, Tezuka, what is the point of having a cell phone if you don't even answer it?"
Tezuka reached beneath the bridge of his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose wearily. "I'm talking to you now, aren't I?" He glanced at his watch, amazed when he saw the time, that he was still up. "It's late."
"Yes, it is, so what are you still doing up?"
"How am I supposed to answer that?" Tezuka sat on the edge of his bed and rolled his shoulders in an attempt to ease the tension from them. When that didn't work very well, he simply flopped back and stared at his ceiling.
"You work too hard, sometimes, 'Mitsu," Fuji murmured, concerned. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. A bit stiff, maybe, from copying down notes, but nothing that will kill me." He removed his glasses and covered his face his one hand. He hadn't known how exhausted he really was until Fuji had called him.
"You sound utterly worn out, 'Mitsu. Have you eaten?"
"I think so." He shut his eyes and listened to the soothing sound of Fuji's voice. He stopped listening to the words, hearing only the soft, gentle melody of it.
"Tezuka? 'Mitsu? Kunimitsu!"
He heard Fuji sigh on the other end. "I said that it's unlikely that you'll get anything below an 'A' for your test and to go to sleep."
"I'd rather get full marks than merely an 'A', thank you." He sat up—a little too quickly, and felt rather ill for a moment—and then tried to unbutton his shirt with one hand. Failing which, he said, "Fuji, could you hold on a moment?"
"It's not very easy to remove a shirt with one hand when your fingers are no longer cooperating with your brain."
Over on his end, Fuji blinked. "And why are you taking off your shirt, 'Mitsu?"
"Because I'm still in my uniform."
Well that was a definite surprise. "Tezuka, you've been home for how long, already, and you're still in your uniform? Are you sure you've eaten?" Fuji was very worried when all he heard on the other end was silence. "Tezuka, are you there?"
There was a faint rustling, for which Fuji was glad. It meant that Tezuka was still conscious. It was infuriatingly worrying the way Tezuka pushed himself. After a while, he heard Tezuka on the phone again.
"Tezuka Kunimitsu, if you ever do that to me again, I promise-"
"What did I do?" Tezuka asked, his voice languid.
"Kami-sama, I thought you had fainted from hunger or exhaustion or something." There was a pause. "I really thought something had happened to you," he said softly. "Sometimes you push yourself too hard. You don't know when to stop, and you end up getting hurt."
"I was only changing out of my uniform, Syuusuke."
"You need someone to take care of you."
"Are you applying?" Tezuka dragged the blanket over his body and snuggled deeper into the warmth. He yawned deeply.
Fuji smiled gently. "Maybe I am."
"Tell me a story."
There was silence on the other end as Fuji absorbed what he had just heard. "Pardon?"
"Tell me a story, Syuusuke. Surely you know a few."
Fuji chuckled. A very sleepy Tezuka was proving to be very loveable. "Of course I do. Yuuta sometimes had nightmares, and I told him a few so that he could go to sleep again."
"Hm, tell me one." Fuji thought, absently, that Tezuka sounded fresh from a bout of sex; sleepy, sexy, a little confused, and very, very accommodating.
"Alright then," Fuji murmured. "All comfy in your bed, 'Mitsu?"
"Any more and I'd be asleep already."
"Now, now, patience." Fuji switched off his room lights and crawled beneath his own blankets. He cradled the phone against he ear as he lay back onto his pillow. "Long ago, when magical creatures still roamed the land, there was a very handsome young prince called Yukishiro. His parents had died years ago, and he was under the care of his evil stepmother."
"Your story doesn't sound very right, Fuji."
"Are you telling this story or me?"
"Very well. As I was saying, the bishounen prince Yukishiro was under the supposed care of his evil stepmother, the queen. Now his stepmother was actually quite a beautiful woman, but she was growing old, and naturally, she wasn't looking any better, as the years passed. Now Yukishiro was still a teenager and was growing more and more handsome with each year. And his stepmother also grew increasingly jealous.
"His stepmother was in possession of an enchanted mirror. The mirror was able to reply truthfully to any question posed to it. And every day, Yukishiro's stepmother asked the same question. One fateful day, she asked that question, and she had just developed a pimple that very morning. The mirror, unable to lie, said, 'Fair of face, though you might be, Yukishiro is the fairest that my eyes can see.' Upon hearing this, the queen was enraged, and livid with jealousy. As if it wasn't enough that she had to see herself growing uglier as Yukishiro grew more handsome. Now he had actually managed to overtake her in the looks department. She bellowed for her henchmen, and told them to drag Yukishiro to the forest and kill him."
"Mm, kind of petty, Fuji."
"That's why she's called an evil stepmother, 'Mitsu. What good is an evil stepmother who's good?" Fuji chuckled when all Tezuka said was a slurred 'hn'. He shifted a bit, fluffing his pillow, and then settled back in his comfy nest.
"But back to my story. The henchmen, while loyal to the queen, loved the gentle prince very much, for he was always nice to them. So while they did spirit him away to the forest, once deep within the cover of the trees, they freed him and told him never to return to the castle, since it was the queen herself who wanted him dead. He agreed, not out of fear of the queen, but rather because his return would mean the failure of the henchmen to have done their duty, and he didn't want them getting in trouble, especially after they had gone out of their way to keep him safe.
"Now, Yukishiro had always enjoyed a relatively plush life, mainly because the dead king's money had been put into various trust funds that the stepmother was unable to lay her hands on. But that didn't mean that he didn't know how to rough it. He searched high and low for a cavern or some sort, or a hole that he could use as shelter for the coming night. He couldn't find any. But just as he had given up hope, he stumbled across a small clearing, in which sat a pleasant cottage.
"He peeked through one of the windows. The cottage was dark, and with the fading light, he couldn't really make out if there were any people inside, but he decided to take his chances anyway. So Yukishiro performed the first B & E attempt of his life-" He paused when he heard a faint snickering from Tezuka's end. "Got a problem with my story, Kunimitsu?"
"Uh, no." But he snickered again. But hearing his laughter—even if it wasn't quite laughter—was good enough for Fuji, and he continued his story.
"Anyway, Yukishiro broke into the dark cottage and found that it was empty. He lit the oil lamps inside and found that it was a total mess. Deciding that since he was going to impose on whoever lived here, he might as well help with the chores, so he picked the dirty clothes off the floor and put them into the ignored basket labelled 'Laundry'. The sink was full of unwashed pots, pans, bowls, dishes, and cutlery. Yukishiro wondered just how the people living there could possible cook anything if all the kitchen utensils were unwashed."
"Take-out," Tezuka mumbled.
Fuji sighed. "Tezuka, what kind of fairy tale has take-out food?"
"The same kind that has kings and princes with trust funds."
"Well, there isn't any take-out for them. 'Mitsu, how am I supposed to tell my story if you keep interrupting?"
"Well, if you'd actually stick to conventional-"
Fuji grinned. "But you know how unconventional I am, 'Mitsu. Saa, where was I in my story?"
"The improbability of the inhabitants being able to cook with all the cooking and eating implements in the sink, unwashed," Tezuka mumbled.
"Ah, yes. So since he knew that he would get hungry eventually, he also began washing the dirty dishes. It took him a very long time, and by the time he was done, Yukishiro was really tired. He found almost a dozen beds in the second floor of the cottage, and decided to take a nap in one of them."
"Is this a parody of Snow White or Goldilocks?" Tezuka asked, sleepy, but too curious to actually fall asleep.
"Tezuka, this isn't called a bedtime story for nothing. It's supposed to put you to sleep, not keep you up."
"Well, how am I supposed to sleep when I keep wondering which fairy tale you've bastardized."
Fuji rolled his eyes. "What if I told you that I'm just making it up as I go along?"
"And are you?"
"Honestly, 'Mitsu, I have no idea if I should just hang up right now or not." Fuji lay back against his pillows sulking in the dark. "After all, what's the point of me staying on if you won't even let me continue my story in peace?"
"To amuse me?"
"You want to be amused?" Fuji gave an incredulous laugh. "Amazing, Tezuka, I learn new things every day."
"Go on, I promise I'll interrupt less."
"Alright then. So anyway, Yukishiro fell asleep in one of the beds, and he was woken up by a loud screech. Thinking that it was a burglar, he grabbed the nearest available thing and ran downstairs. The lights, however, were on, and having just woken up, the bright lights blinded him momentarily, and he dropped what he was holding—which turned out to be a wooden frame with a cloth-bound handle and strings laced across its face."
"You could just say that it was a tennis racket, Syuusuke."
"Tennis rackets aren't supposed to exist in fairy tales, like take-out meals."
"Then why'd you put it in?"
"Because I play tennis, 'Mitsu." Fuji shrugged, not caring that Tezuka certainly couldn't seem him. "Back to the story, Yukishiro dropped the racket, and when he was finally able to see once more, he found himself looking at eight rather surprised people. One of them, for some reason, was crying. 'My juices…all poured down the drain… My poor, poor juices…' But the others looked pretty relieved at that, so Yukishiro didn't bother to feel too bad about it. Apparently the contents of some of the pots had been wanted after all.
"The one who was crying had thick glasses and spiky black hair that resembled a strange fruit found only in the mystical land known as Asia. The one who was trying to comfort the crying one, despite the fact that it was definitely relief on his face, wore an oddly-patterned headscarf and made strange hissing noises. Another had light brown hair, and he had picked up the racket that Yukishiro had dropped. But upon picking up that racket, he suddenly became loud and brash, and very, very aggressive. It took the combined efforts of another black-and-spiky-haired person, a redhead with a small bandage on his cheek, and someone whose head rather resembled and egg, to pry the racket out of his hands. And once that racket had been removed, he was placid once more.
"There were only two others, and both were calmly taking in all the action—one with amusement, the other with exasperation. The amused one had some sort of white head covering with the letter 'R' on it. He was happily watching all that was going on, occasionally taking a sip from a canteen engraved with the word 'Ponta'. Chaos ensued until the remaining one shouted 'Ten laps around the cottage, now!' The others reluctantly left the cottage, muttering and grumbling and generally blaming each other for the punishment.
"That left Yukishiro alone with that lone man. He had hair between blonde and brown, and wore glasses. His face, stern and solemn, showed no change whatsoever whether he was watching the others make a fool of themselves, dealing out punishment, or facing down an intruder. Yukishiro decided that he was one of the coolest people he'd ever met—not that he'd met many people outside the castle.
"And then the stern-faced man spoke. 'Who are you, and what are you doing I'm this cottage?' For a moment, Yukishiro didn't know what to say. After all, he couldn't very well say 'I'm a prince who has escaped from death thanks to the loyal henchmen of my evil and murderous stepmother who turned out not to be so loyal after all and I broke into this cottage because I need shelter for the night and you should let me stay because I cleared up this pig-sty of a house until I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in one of your beds.' Instead, he shrugged and said, 'My name's Yukishiro, and I'm lost.'
"The lone man only said 'hn' and they waited for his friends to return from their ten laps around the house. When everybody was back inside, and settled down, the stern one who was obviously their leader of some sort, stood up and said, 'This is Yukishiro. He's lost and needs a place to stay for the night. It would seem that he's the one who cleared up the mess all of you left in the house, and threw away Inui's juice.' At the mention of the fate of the juice, the one who had previously been crying began crying anew. The others simply cheered and praised their god for divine intervention."
Fuji realised that Tezuka hadn't interrupted him for quite awhile now, and he wondered if his boyfriend had finally fallen asleep. "Tezuka? 'Mitsu?" Ah, so he had. Fuji smiled tenderly. "After several days, Yukishiro managed to integrate himself into that household, and they lived happily ever after in that forest, except on days when Inui had new juices to test out. And then Yukishiro's evil stepmother died, and Yukishiro was able to go back home, and he brought his new friends along to the castle, where they all lived the rest of their lives in affluent comfort and peace. The end."
Fuji waited for a moment, just to check if Tezuka was really asleep. When he heard nothing, he murmured, "Oyasumi, 'Mitsu," and hung up. He fell asleep with a faint smile on his face, and dreamt of a fair prince and a stoic bespectacled woodsman.
Tezuka woke up the next morning refreshed and in an amazingly chipper mood, despite how late he'd slept the night before. Last night… He gave a small, brief laugh. Fuji's story had bordered in absurd. He vaguely recalled having heard Fuji describe Inui, as well as Kaidoh. Anything beyond that, he couldn't recall. Or he'd fallen asleep sometime around then.
He dressed and packed his bag for school, having forgotten to do so last night, and went down for breakfast. His mother met him at the foot of the stairs with a curious smile on her face.
"Why, Kunimitsu, you look very happy this morning. Did you have a nice sleep?"
Tezuka blushed ever so faintly. "Yes, I had a restful night."
"Ah, that's nice to hear. I was afraid you'd be stressed out over that test of yours tomorrow," she replied, laying out the family's breakfast.
"I'll be okay," he assured her. "It's only a test. I've studied for it, so it should be no problem."
His mother chuckled and set his meal before him. "I know you'll do well, you always do. I just worry when you stress yourself out needlessly, like last night." She patted his shoulder. "If you ever have a problem or something that troubles you, Kunimitsu, you can always talk to me about, okay?"
"Hai, kaa-san." He finished his breakfast, and in an uncharacteristic display of affection, gave his mother a very brief peck on the cheek before leaving the house.
With a rather tearful smile, she touched her cheek. It had to be that Fuji boy. She hadn't seen her Kunimitsu in such a good mood since he first found tennis. She wondered when Kunimitsu would bring that lovely boy home for dinner. She'd make him just about anything for dinner, for putting that lightness in her little boy's step. And for that little kiss.
The clubroom was bustling with activity by the time Tezuka reached it. He was usually early, but had been detained by a teacher who had needed some help bringing books and assignments back to the staff lounge. Most of the club members knew the routine warm ups and left to begin without having to be told. Those who didn't were dragged off by their friends. Their buchou looked to be in a fairly pleasant mood, but there was no need to actually test it out. Soon, only Fuji, Inui and himself were left in the clubroom.
"I have a new juice to test out today," Inui said, taking a thermos out of his locker. "Want to try some?" He asked them.
Tezuka looked at the thermos, and then thought about the time he'd accidentally drunk from Inui's bottle. He shook his head. "I'll pass," he muttered, suppressing a shudder of disgust.
"I think I'll try some," Fuji replied with his trademark smile. "What's it called?"
"Inui's Super Great Burning Juice. I got the idea from Kawamura, since this juice is designed to increase strength and maximise swinging power. It's also supposed to make you feel more energetic." Inui uncapped the thermos and poured out a small cupful. He handed the cup to Fuji, who took it without question.
"How apt," he said, and showed it to Tezuka. "It's such a beautiful shade of vermillion, don't you think?"
Tezuka eyed the dubious contents warily, not bothering to point out to Fuji the fact that it seemed to be boiling over without the help of a heat source. He took a closer look and saw that the fiery orange was swirled with hints of chrome yellow and cherry red. It was a thing to be feared. "Uh, if you think so," he muttered.
Fuji took a sip, a bit more cautious now, due to the Aozu incident, but finished off the rest when nothing happened after a second, post-consumption. "It's nice. What's inside?" Tezuka thought briefly that he didn't want to know, but since Inui began rattling out the ingredients, he had no choice but to find out.
Lime, carrots—that's not too bad. Wait a minute. Bay leaves? Who puts bay leaves into juice? Red bell peppers? Lentil powder? Curry powder! Dried chilli! There's mustard in this! Kami-sama, there's wasabi as well? No wonder Fuji likes it. He grabbed his racket from where it was leaning against the wall. Inui was just taking out one of his prized data notebooks when Fuji accidentally jostled him. He fumbled, eventually catching the notebook, but a plain white envelope fell out, and several photographs spilled out from it.
Ever-helpful, Fuji apologized and bent down to retrieve the photos and envelope. Inui realised belatedly exactly what was inside that envelope and tried to stop Fuji, but the tensai had already picked one up. Inui froze and immediately glanced at the clubroom door. It was closed. Opening it to flee would take approximately 0.36 seconds. Running to the door would first take at least 2 .19 seconds. Considering that both Tezuka and Fuji were in the room, he calculated his chances of escape.
He came up with 0.469 percent.
Inui heard the sweetness in Fuji's voice and knew that he was beyond dead. Deciding that a chance, no matter how slim, was still a chance, he raced for the door. But Fuji was already there, the tensai having figured out that Inui would take his chances no matter how small they were. He glanced at the photograph in his hand, then back at Inui.
"Did you take this?"
Inui looked back at the lockers and found Tezuka scooping up the rest of the fallen photographs. He saw his buchou stiffen and turn red, then flip through the photos—both the ones that had fallen out and the ones that had remained within the envelope.
He turned back to Fuji. He saw those smiling eyes slowly open to reveal ominous azure blue. That smile—before cheerful and accommodating—was now menacing and full of dark promise.
What else could he say? If he lied, Fuji would know. He sighed. "Yes."
"Inui, explain yourself." Tezuka's voice was vibrating with barely suppressed fury, and Inui knew that he'd be lucky to escape with only a thousand laps. If he escaped at all.
But then an angel threw open the door with an energetic smile, and a strip of bandage on his cheek. "Inui, we're waiting for-"
Eiji barely had enough time to notice the photos in Fuji and Tezuka's hands, before Inui barrelled out of the clubroom. He saw the dark look on Tezuka's face and the sadistic promise in Fuji's eyes and knew. He wisely chose the cowardly option and ran for his life. Thanks to his Seal Step, he just managed to make it to the tennis court before he heard the thunderous bellow.
"EVERYBODY RUN ONE HUNDRED LAPS NOW!"