Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A/N: This was originally meant to be a ficlet for Kentra - but then, the plot completely escaped from me, and this may be many things, but a ficlet is not on that list. Random warnings for ignoring some of the last storylines of the anime, British spelling, and Niou as Rikkai vice-captain. And since a lot of people seem to like to be forewarned about ships, Fuji/Tezuka, Fuji/Yukimura, Yukimura/Sanada.
There Without a Map
In his third year of junior high, Tezuka Kunimitsu announced that he would be going to high school in Germany. There was a lot of surprise and some disappointment among a lot of people, but in retrospect, most people thought that perhaps they should have seen it coming.
This was the year that Seigaku had won Nationals, and Tezuka had proved to the world in general that at fifteen, he might just be one of the best tennis players in the country. But Seigaku had also proved to be a surprisingly well-balanced team even without him, and everyone could see the future the team had in Echizen Ryouma. So Tezuka figured Seigaku could spare him, and decided to leave in search of new challenges.
A few days after the last day of the school year, all the six former Seigaku third year regulars gathered together - partly to celebrate but mostly to say goodbye, not only to Tezuka but to everything the year had been. For once they had chosen not to gather at Kawamura sushi, where they had already held a last party far all the regulars a couple of days before. Instead, they were sitting in a booth at a café, Kawamura, Oishi and Tezuka on one side of the table; Eiji, Inui and Fuji on the other.
"It won't be the same at all next year," Eiji sighed. "Tezuka won't be here, and Taka-san is quitting too."
"I won't be that far away though," Kawamura said, looking across the table at him. "And you can still come by for sushi after your matches. I'm sure Dad won't mind. And I'll come watch your games, too."
Eiji smiled. "Yeah! That would be great! And you can make some real sushi for us!"
Fuji laughed at his friend's quick mood swings. "As opposed to the unreal sushi he made before, Eiji?"
"And we don't even know if we'll make the team next year yet," Oishi said before Eiji had time to answer. "We'll be first years. We'll probably have to spend a lot of time picking up balls again."
"No way," Eiji declared optimistically. "We're national champions. No one else in high school will be. Oishi, you'll probably be captain for real later, now that Tezuka is leaving."
Oishi looked slightly alarmed at the thought. "I think you're thinking way too far ahead there, Eiji."
"Actually, I agree. It is very likely that you will be captain in a few years," Inui said. For once the team's data man hadn't brought his usually constantly present notebook with him, and he had been rather quiet up to now, concentrating on listening to his friends and on eating the large portion of ice cream in front of him instead of gathering data.
"Yes," Tezuka unexpectedly agreed with them.
"See? If Tezuka says so, you definitely will be," Eiji said. "And Fuji, you'll be Singles One!"
Fuji, who had been stirring his tea, a slight smile on his face, looked up at his friend. "Oh, I don't know," he said lightly.
"'Course you will! You could probably beat everyone else on the team without even playing seriously. Why wouldn't you be?"
Fuji just smiled and turned his attention back to his tea, taking a sip of it. "This is getting too cold," he said mournfully and put the cup aside. "Did you know Fudoumine's Tachibana is going to go to Seigaku next year?"
Tezuka was the only one that didn't seem surprised at this. Even Inui frowned a little.
"That's right, Fudoumine doesn't have a high school, does it? I never thought of that," Kawamura said.
"I will have to take this into my calculations," Inui mumbled. "Interesting."
Tezuka didn't say anything, not until the others had left and he and Fuji were the only ones left at the table. "You are still going to take tennis seriously?" he asked, watching Fuji from behind his glasses.
Fuji was turned away from him, looking out the window. Kawamura had been the last to leave before them, and Fuji could still see him walking away outside.
"Yes," he answered. "I did decide I would."
"But not at Seigaku."
Fuji turned away from the window. He looked at Tezuka for a while, eyes wide open, before answering. "No," he finally said. "Am I really that transparent?"
Fuji smiled, then. "You know me too well, Tezuka."
"If you're going to play seriously, you'll need a challenge. There won't be enough of one at Seigaku now, even with Tachibana going there. And Echizen is still in junior high."
They gathered their things and got up from the table, leaving the café together.
"I'm going to Rikkai," Fuji said once they were out on the street. "I'm like Taka-san. I'm not going to be that far away."
"You took the entrance exams?"
"You knew that I was leaving already then?"
"I thought you might be."
Tezuka watched Fuji walking beside him for a while. "Fuji," he finally said. "I'll look forward to seeing you in the pro circuit. We'll play a real game then."
"Yes," Fuji agreed. They walked the rest of the way quietly side by side for the part of the way they had in common, and said goodbye as if it had been any other day when they separated.
Tezuka left Japan the day after that. It was a Thursday, and the plane left from the Narita Airport early in the morning. Fuji didn't go to see him off, but he woke up very early in the morning and went outside. At the exact time when Tezuka's plane was supposed to leave, he took a picture of the sky. He sent it to Tezuka's new German address, without writing anything on it without signing it.
A few weeks later he got a postcard from Germany. It was a picture of some museum or other, Fuji gathered - the text on it, which was rather long and seemed out of place on a postcard, was all in German. Tezuka's scribbles didn't tell him much either. All he had written was thank you, in very neat handwriting. It was signed, Tezuka.
The only people Fuji knew at Rikkai were those who had been regulars on the tennis team the year before, and even those he only knew fleetingly. And out of those, he discovered on his first day, the only ones that were in the same class as him were Sanada and Niou. He was watching his new classmates as the teacher introduced him, and spotted them right away, Sanada studying him with a frown on his face and Niou staring at him with a look of unguarded curiosity on his face. Apparently neither one of them had been informed that Seigaku's Fuji was going to the same school as them this year.
Fuji figured this probably meant not many other people of the former team knew either. Yukimura did - Fuji had ran into him and talked to him on one of his trips to find out more about Rikkai. But it seemed Yukimura had chosen not to give his team this particular piece of information.
The classes at Rikkai had been pretty much the same since junior high, Fuji soon found out. There was always a few people being moved here and there, and a new student joining occasionally, but most of the class had been together for a few years already. He didn't have much trouble fitting in - the fact that he knew Sanada and Niou made him especially interesting for a while, but it wasn't long before he was just another one of the regular faces in the class. Fuji had never had any trouble adjusting to new surroundings. He never did get to know any of his classmates except the ones that played tennis very well, though, but he didn't mind. He rather preferred it like that.
Ranking matches for the tennis team were held soon after the start of the school year, and Fuji was one of those who made the team. He won all his matches easily, except the one against Yanagi, who was in the same block as him. He actually had to work for his victory in that one, and the match ended 6-4. Yanagi did still end up on the team as well, though. So did Sanada and Yukimura, who were in different blocks that they both won easily.
Rikkai didn't have rules about first years on the team. Rikkai only had one rule that mattered; to have the strongest team possible. And if that happened to mean there were four first years on the team, then so be it. Winning was the most important thing at Rikkai.
Fuji spent his first few days on the Rikkai team playing doubles. He played with Yanagi, and with Sanada, and with a couple of the third years.
"You're testing me in doubles?" he asked Yukimura one day after practise, when the four first year members were the only ones left in the changing room.
Yukimura smiled at him. "You're forgetting that I'm not the captain anymore, Fuji-kun."
Sanada snorted, and Yanagi turned gave Yukimura a look. "Actually, Fuji-kun has you pretty well pegged, Seiichi. According to my calculations, it should be about three weeks until you are the de facto captain."
"If Renji's data says three weeks, I'll give you two," Sanada said.
Yukimura's smile turned into a chuckle, but he didn't answer. Instead, he turned to Fuji. "Like your new outfit?" he asked, looking at the team jacket that Fuji was wearing for the first time that day.
"Hmm? I don't really think yellow is my colour, do you?"
"It's no one's colour," Yanagi said.
Fuji had gathered there was a story behind Rikkai's sudden change of uniforms the year before, but no one would tell him what it was. When he asked, they'd simply look at him, eyes going bitter, and change the subject. So he figured it was, perhaps, best not to remind the team to much of their old red jackets, and didn't ask anymore about it.
"Yes, well..." said Yukimura, who was just putting his own jacket into his bag. "I'll try doubles with you tomorrow, Fuji," he continued, changing the subject back to its original topic.
Fuji chuckled lightly, Sanada's lips quirked upwards, and Yanagi, too, seemed amused.
Playing doubles with Yukimura was easier than playing with Sanada or Yanagi, Fuji discovered the following day. Before his decision to transfer, Fuji had only met Yukimura briefly, and had never really given the other boy much thought at all. He'd known that Yukimura was an outstanding tennis player, of course, and he'd heard a lot about his illness the previous year, but Fuji had never really thought of Yukimura in connection to himself before. But as soon as they had actually got to talking, the two of them seemed to have developed an instant silent understanding between them - a sort of mutual recognition that this could be me, if things had been only a little different - if I'd decided I was serious about tennis - if I had bothered about anything else but tennis.
But while the two of them readily recognised their similarities, they also knew where they were different. Yukimura was a leader. The rest of the team seemed to practically gravitate around him, and while he wasn't the captain in name, no one on the team would have dreamed of going against him. Still, he never seemed to have to work for the position - it was more as if his surroundings had acknowledged that here was the leader, and then rearranged themselves to accommodate to that.
In that respect, Yukimura was a lot more like Tezuka than he was like Fuji. And this bewildered Fuji, who had never had much need to be a leader, or much of a follower either, for that matter. Fuji had always preferred to go his own way, regardless of who was leading or following. It wasn't that he didn't respect authority - he did, but only as long the way the leader was taking was the one he would have chosen to go anyway.
In the same vein, he wondered about Sanada's and Yanagi's silent but still obvious support of their leader. Fuji himself had always supported Tezuka and acknowledged his authority as captain, but this was something different. Their whole function on the team seemed focused on Yukimura in a way that was unfamiliar to Fuji.
Still, though, he actually found he liked both Sanada and Yanagi as well. Sanada was blunt and straight-forward. There were no labyrinths in his mind, and so, Fuji found him at the same time both easier to understand and more difficult to comprehend. Yanagi, who he had at first believed he would not be able to keep from constantly comparing to Inui, turned out to be quite different from his former doubles partner. Yanagi was more subtle, and had a way of fading into the background and being there mainly as a quiet presence in a way that Inui never could have.
It took Yanagi a few weeks to decide Fuji was now Syuusuke, and he took the opportunity to inform Fuji of this one morning after practise. Fuji laughed, and told him the only person other than him who used his first name was his sister. Yanagi shrugged, and called him Syuusuke from then on anyway.
"Some of the others at Seigaku called me Fujiko, though," Fuji informed him, studying his reaction from under closed eyelids. "Or Fujiko-chan."
Yanagi looked at him for a while. "Which ones of them called you that, exactly?" he finally asked. Fuji chuckled, and kept that piece of data to himself.
Sanada, who had been quietly listening to the conversation so far, got up. "Class is starting. We shouldn't be late. And Fuji, don't let Niou hear you say that."
"Have you heard anything from Tezuka since he left?" Yukimura asked Fuji one day.
"He sends postcards sometimes."
"Really? What does he write?"
"Hmm? Sometimes, he writes things in German..."
"Oh, I don't know... I don't speak German."
The postcards Fuji received from Germany were usually short, in typical Tezuka fashion. They were never very personal either, but instead, short comments on how his tennis was going, and later on also occasionally notes from other parts of Germany, or even other European countries. Norway is beautiful. I watched the midnight sun. - Tezuka. I didn't get to see much of Prague because of the tournament, but it seemed very interesting. I might go back some day. - Tezuka.
Fuji had a German dictionary where he dutifully attempted to look up Tezuka's occasionally added German phrases, but he didn't tell Yukimura that.
Fuji never answered the postcards, but sometimes, he went out with his camera and took pictures of the sky at different times of the day. He wrote the time and the location on the back of the pictures and sent them to Germany, but he never signed them.
Rikkai was too far away from Tokyo for Fuji to commute on a daily basis, and Rikkai didn't offer boarding for its students, so he had a small flat that his parents paid for close to his new school. It didn't really matter to them where he spent his weeks since they were rarely at home anyway, and they felt guilty enough about this to decide they could afford spending money on a flat for him if it would help him pursue tennis seriously. He did go home almost every Sunday, but still didn't see them any less than he would have had he still been going to Seigaku. So he didn't miss them as much as he thought he perhaps should have. He missed Yumiko, though. Yuuta he had been missing for a long time already, so there was no change there.
Tezuka sent his postcards to his old address, since Fuji had never given him his new one. The photos he sent Tezuka, though, were sometimes taken here.
The flat was very small, with only the barest necessities. Fuji didn't mind much, and kept cacti on his window pane.
He usually didn't have company over, the place was entirely too small for that. But somehow, Yukimura had found his way there today. They had had some tea, and Yukimura had poked Fuji's cacti with interest, and they had laughed at acting like old retired women and considered taking up knitting as well.
They had been playing tennis earlier, and as always the conversation soon turned in this direction. Earlier, Yukimura had decided that the team needed more experience in playing on grass courts, and he had dragged Fuji along to look for one. They hadn't found one, and ended up playing on one of the street courts instead, one of the quiet, run-down places hardly anyone went to anymore.
"The next time, we should probably consider looking for a place in advance, not just wander around looking for one," Fuji suggested.
"But sometimes, looking is the interesting part"
"Well, yes. But I thought you wanted to train on grass."
"So I did. Do you miss Seigaku?" Yukimura was an expert at randomly changing subjects.
A week earlier, Fuji had played his first game against Seigaku. He had played Doubles One, together with Sanada, and they had ended up beating the two third years Seigaku has put up against them. Rikkai had won in three matches. There had been no first years in the Seigaku line up. Fuji figured Rikkai probably would have had a harder time winning if there would have been.
He had spoken to his old team-mates, though, who had still been there in the audience. Eiji had laughed at his new jacket (Fujiko-chan, yellow is really not your colour!), and Oishi had asked if he ever heard from Tezuka. He offered to give Fuji Tezuka's e-mail address instead (it's more practical, don't you think?), when Fuji said he had got a few postcards, but Fuji had just laughed and shook his head.
Tachibana had been there too, obviously itching to play as he watched a second year he could easily have beaten being completely trashed by Yukimura in Singles Two. He also laughingly informed Fuji that in the junior high circuit, Fudoumine had defeated Seigaku in the semi-finals at this year's Kantou tournament. Echizen had won his game, of course, against Fudoumine's new first year ace - a boy whose name, ironically, was Mizuki. Momoshiro had won his game as well, but Kaidoh, who was the captain this year, had been out with an injury, and so, Seigaku had been in trouble in all the other three matches. Fuji figured this had to mean there was a very pissed off Echizen out there somewhere, and that Seigaku's chance of winning Nationals again this year, which in his opinion had already been pretty high, had probably just doubled.
"Ah, I talked to Echizen the other day," Inui had informed them on hearing this. "He asked me for the recipes for some of my juices."
They had all burst out laughing at that.
Taka-san, despite not playing himself anymore, had been there as well, and afterwards Fuji had joined his old team-mates at Kawamura sushi for an impromptu At-Least-We-Didn't-Play-In-That-Embarrassing-Game-party. Yanagi had tagged along, and spent the most of the night with Inui by the counter, either comparing data or trying to gather more of it, or most likely both at the same time.
"Next time we'll be there for sure, and then we'll definitely kick your asses!" Eiji had proclaimed as they left.
So when Yukimura asked if he missed Seigaku, Fuji thought back on all that, and answered as honestly as he could. "A little," he said. But, he thought to himself, he probably missed the Seigaku of the year before more than he did the Seigaku of now.
Rikkai won Nationals, defeating Hyoutei in the finals 4-1. It was Fuji's second title, and Yukimura's, Sanada's and Yanagi's third. A week or so later, Tezuka sent Fuji a card; Congratulations on winning Nationals, it said in typically dry and direct Tezuka-fashion. After looking at the card for a while, Fuji got up and took the bus to the courts where Nationals had been held. Once there, he took out his camera and snapped a few pictures of the sky. The two people playing on the court next to where he was standing gave him some odd looks, but he simply smiled at them.
The tennis games after Nationals were few and far between, and there were no really big challenges in sight until they would be defending their title again the next school year. Yukimura, however, didn't see that as any reason for the team to slack off, and since Yukimura thought so, the rest of the club did as well and worked harder than ever.
The start of Fuji's second year at Rikkai brought with it some changes in the tennis club. Yukimura was the captain again, in name as well this time. There were no third years on the team this year and instead it consisted of the same players it had in their last year of junior high, with the addition of Fuji and the exception of Yanagi, who, to everyone's surprise, announced at the beginning of the year that he needed to concentrate more on his studies and didn't have time for tennis anymore.
"Whatever does he need to study more for?" Yukimura, who was in the same class as Yanagi, grumbled. "He's already the best student in our year."
"It's just an excuse, Captain. He's just too scared of me, you know. He knows he can't beat me anymore. And neither can you! You should be scared as well! Will you play a game with me?"
Kirihara, too, was back, having blown in not like a fresh breeze, but more like an over-excited hurricane. Yukimura smiled at him, and beat him in straight sets.
Even with Yanagi gone, though, they had no trouble winning their games. Fuji played singles, mostly, and doubles occasionally. Rikkai had the advantage of being able to play most of its players in pretty much any position, and often made use of this. Much to the delight of Akutagawa Jiroh, he played doubles with Marui in a game against Hyoutei - Marui was convinced Yukimura had thought up this combination only to see the reaction of the sleepy Hyoutei player.
Rikkai won Nationals again that summer. This time, they played Seigaku in the finals.
"Oy, it's the deserter," Eiji said cheerfully to Fuji when they met before the matches.
The Golden Pair were back in business again this year, and they ended up defeating Niou and Yagyuu in the Doubles One match. Rikkai, however, took both Doubles Two and all the singles matches. Fuji played against Inui in Singles Three, and won 6-3.
After Nationals, Fuji went to Chiba with Yumiko and Yuuta for the short time that was left of summer holidays. Their parents weren't about - their mother was working, as always, and their father was in Australia on business for an unknown length of time. Yuuta was in high school now as well, at Seigaku. St Rudolph, like Fudoumine, had no high school, so after much agonising and pondering back and forth during his last year of junior high, he had finally decided to give Seigaku another go. It seemed to Fuji that his brother wasn't doing to bad there this time, being the former St Rudolph captain, and not having to share a school with an overshadowing brother.
He was a first year, though, and so hadn't been allowed to play in ranking matches yet.
"And do you think you could talk to that Kikumaru-sempai and ask him to stop calling me Yuuta-chan?" Yuuta asked his brother, a frown on his face.
Fuji laughed. "If you like, you can tell him that you know all about the incident with the washing machine. That might help."
"The what now?"
"That's a secret. I'll tell you when you're older."
"Actually, I don't think I want to know."
In Chiba, during the days, the three of them went to the beach together, and in the evenings Fuji played tennis with Yuuta and Saeki. They didn't seem too upset at Fuji defeating them regularly and took to seeing each other as rivals instead, playing games that were won one day by Saeki, and the next by Yuuta.
Fuji and Yuuta also went to see Saeki in a kendo tournament, where they also found Yukimura and Sanada. Fuji had known Sanada practised kendo as well as tennis, but he had never known he was good enough to take part in competitions. He had always seemed too focused on tennis to have time to be that good at something else.
"He's actually done kendo for longer than he has tennis," Yukimura told them as Sanada and Saeki were duelling in front of them. Sanada ended up losing, and didn't look too happy, but he congratulated Saeki politely all the same. "You can still kick my ass from here to tomorrow in tennis, anyway," Saeki said, smiling.
They returned from Chiba only a day before school started again, and Fuji found a postcard waiting for him. This time, it was a picture of the Nijubashi Bridge, and it had been sent from Tokyo just three days earlier. Tokyo is nice this time of the year, it told him in Tezuka's handwriting. Tezuka had always had an odd, dry sense of humour, but it had always been so well-hidden that it was very hard to notice. Germany seemed to be doing wonders for this latent trait of his, Fuji decided. He put down the card in one of the bags on his bed - he hadn't had time to unpack yet - and headed for the door.
"I'm going out for a while," he told Yumiko, who was in the kitchen making some tea.
She looked up in surprise. "Already? We just got back."
"I won't be long. There's just something I have to do."
There weren't many people at Kawamura sushi at this time of the day. Taka-san was behind the counter, and he seemed to brighten when he spotted Fuji walking in.
"You missed Tezuka," Taka-san said while they were chatting over the counter. "He was visiting his family for a week, and he came by. He only left yesterday."
Fuji called Saeki as he walked home. "Do you think you could buy me a postcard from there? I need to send one to someone."
Once Saeki had sent it to him, he wrote his Kanagawa address on it. For weekdays, he wrote beneath it, and sent the card to Germany.
The first day after summer holidays, Fuji left early for school. He found an even earlier Yukimura already there, racquet in hand, and staring out at the court with an uncharacteristically absent-minded look on his face. He turned as he heard Fuji approach, smiling blandly at him.
"Tell me, Fuji," he said, not bothering with greetings or questions about holidays - it hadn't been that many days since they had seen each other anyway. "Sprechen sie Deutsch?"
"I've been thinking of learning French," Fuji said.
When morning practice started, Yukimura informed a stunned team that Sanada had decided to take a break from tennis. None of the other regulars seemed to really believe what they were hearing, and seemed convinced that Yukimura was most likely playing a joke on them.
"It's not a joke," Yukimura said shortly. "Niou, you're the new vice-captain."
There was another stunned silence.
"Captain, this is either a really bad joke, or you've gone nuts," Niou finally said.
This seemed to be the general consensus among the regulars throughout morning practise, and determined to find out what was going on, they all followed Fuji and Niou to class afterwards. They found Sanada already there, and he told them that yes, he was leaving the club, for now at least, and that he was sorry, but there was something else he had to focus on at the moment.
"I can't believe it," Marui said at afternoon practise. "Niou is vice-captain. Shouldn't it have been... I don't know, Jackal or someone? Yagyuu, maybe. No, wait, that would probably be worse than Niou," he decided, causing Yagyuu to turn to him with his eyebrows raised questioningly.
"Oh, don't you try to fool me," Marui said, noticing Yagyuu's look. "I know you're evil."
Fuji thought Niou might actually make a pretty good vice-captain. They were in the same class, and the same club, and he had seen flashes of the very sharp intellect hidden behind his carefree front. This would be quite interesting, he decided.
"Well, I for one can't believe Sanada of all people is quitting," Jackal said, a frown on his face.
"Hah! I knew it! He's scared of me too, just like Yanagi-sempai was. I wonder who'll be next? The Captain, maybe?" Kirihara turned to Yukimura.
"I thought Renji won when you played him on one of the street courts after school the other day," Yukimura said mildly, but his look said only when pigs are flying to a skating party in hell, and probably not even then.
"That was just luck," Kirihara said, unperturbed. "Or maybe Fuji will quit before the Captain," he mused, losing interest in Yukimura and turning to Fuji instead. Kirihara had never taken to calling Fuji sempai. As far as he was concerned, Fuji was still Seigaku's Fuji, rival, more than anything else.
"Hmm? I won't quit just yet, I think. I have some things I need to do before that," Fuji said lightly.
"Like lose to me?" Kirihara said, grinning and pointing his racquet at Fuji. "Play me!"
After practise that day, Yukimura dragged Fuji along to play on one of the nearby street courts, an old one that wasn't really in use anymore. They played all out, holding no punches, until they were too exhausted to even pay attention to the score anymore.
Since Nationals were over, the pace of the matches slowed down again. And just like the year before, Yukimura didn't see this as an excuse to take things easy, but pressed the team to train harder than ever. Vice-captain Niou looked pained at Yukimura's slave-driving tendencies occasionally, but to everyone's surprise he didn't disagree with the Captain about the amount of training they were doing.
Except for the hard training they did every day, Fuji and Yukimura kept playing each other after school on the old street courts a few times every week, in games similar to the one they had played on the first day of the term.
"Is Sanada doing kendo now?" Fuji asked one night after one of their games. They were lying on their backs in the grass, tired from the long match they had been playing.
"I guess so."
"How's he doing?"
"I thought the two of you were in the same class."
"Our new vice-captain is quite different from him, don't you think?"
"Ah, yes. Do you know, he actually disagrees with me sometimes," Yukimura said, smiling ironically up at the sky.
"Sanada told him he was doing well in class the other day." Sanada had been to watch their practises only a couple of times since he left the team.
"I guess he is,"
"Why else would you have made him vice-captain?"
"Yes, well," Yukimura said. He was silent for a while, and then chuckled lightly. "Anyway, have you learned any French yet, Fuji?"
Fuji sat up, and edged over to where Yukimura was lying. He lifted his right leg over the other boy's body and sat down on his stomach, straddling him. Yukimura was looking up at him with a slight smile on his face and a challenging look in his eyes, one that Fuji supposed was probably mirrored in his own. He leaned down and took Yukimura's hands in his own, pinning them down to the ground beside his head.
"Well..." he said, and leaned down to kiss him. Yukimura's lips tasted salty as they brushed against his own; they were both still sweaty after the game.
He had let go of Yukimura's right hand at some point, Fuji realised as they broke apart, and it was now in his hair instead. He suddenly felt like running his hand through Yukimura's hair as well, but the back of head was pressed to the ground, so he didn't. They let go of each other, and Fuji rolled over to lay on his back next to Yukimura again. "Je ne sais pas," he said.
Fuji came home on his unbirthday on the last of February, chewing some wasabi gum - an unbirthday present from Marui - to find a birthday card from Germany waiting for him. It wasn't one of Tezuka's usual buildings or landscapes, but a drawing of a bear wearing a silly party hat, surrounded by confetti. Yay! it told him, in many bright colours. Fuji stared at it for a long time before turning it and reading the text. Happy birthday, it said, Tezuka's handwriting as neat and precise as always. He had been right, he decided. Germany was definitely doing wonders for Tezuka's sense of humour.
The first day of Fuji's last year of high school was rainy, and he walked to school under an umbrella. Despite there not being any morning practises on the first day, he still took the time to stop by the courts - he was a bit early, as always, anyway - only to fin d Yukimura and Niou already there.
"Fuji," Yukimura said pleasantly. "Sprechen sie Deutsch? Ou parlez-vous francais?"
"Well," Fuji answered. "I'm fluent in English."
Niou looked from one to the other, and shook his head. "And they say I'm weird," he muttered.
Spring went by unusually fast that year, Fuji thought. He played tennis, studied, played tennis, went to Tokyo on Sundays, took the occasional photographs, and played some more tennis. Rikkai was, as usual, winning most their matches. Yukimura, determined to make his last year of high school tennis memorable, found ways to push the team harder than ever before - something they had all thought was impossible to do after what he had put them through the previous year. He overheard Fuji telling Marui about Inui juice one day, and immediately started pondering whether Yanagi might be willing to do his old captain a favour and whip up something similar.
"You did that on purpose, didn't you?" Marui accusingly asked Fuji once Yukimura had left in, and Fuji just smiled enigmatically in response.
Early in the summer, Fuji found a postcard of an plane, sent from Germany, waiting for him as he got home one day. He wondered idly who would buy and send a postcard of a plane, and his brain immediately provided him with the answer, apparently Tezuka.
Will you be in Tokyo this summer? it said.
Fuji went outside, waited with his camera until he spotted a plane crossing the sky above him, and took a picture of it. I wasn't that far away last summer, he wrote on it. The plane in the picture was small and far away, but you could still make it out if you looked carefully enough.
Rikkai won Nationals for the third time in a row in August. They won Doubles Two, but lost Doubles One to the Golden Pair again. Seigaku was using different tactics for the singles matches this time, and Kirihara faced Echizen in Singles Three, and lost. Fuji played Tachibana in Singles Two, and beat him 7-5 in a very close match. Kaidoh, to everyone's surprise, was playing Singles One for Seigaku. He did surprisingly well against Yukimura too, in the opinion of the Rikkai regulars, and only lost 6-3.
Just after Nationals, Tezuka came for another visit to his family. This time, Fuji was in Tokyo as well. His parents were both away again, and Yumiko couldn't get time off from her work and was only at home in the evenings.
It was at a Yay, Tezuka's here!-party - named, of course, by Eiji - at Kawamura sushi that Fuji saw Tezuka again. The whole team from their third year in junior high was there. It was odd, Fuji reflected, that a lot of the time, this was still what he thought of as the team, and he had a feeling a few of the others might do as well.
Tezuka hadn't changed much. He had always looked older than he was, and it seemed his actual age had finally started to catch up with how he looked. Most the time, he spent talking to all his old friends, in the same calm, quiet way he always had. Fuji himself hadn't talked to most of his old team-mates for a long time either, and took the opportunity to do so as well. He'd gone to see some of Seigaku's games when he'd had the chance - not only to see his friends and rivals, but because Yuuta was on the team now as well - but he hadn't had much of a chance to talk that much to any of them.
Inui informed him of the latest happenings at Seigaku - all of which he took with a grain of salt, as Inui, while usually right in his data, wasn't always quite as accurate when it came to gossip. From the tidal wave of information he was showered with Fuji picked up a few interesting tidbits. Apparently, Yuuta and Momoshiro had been playing as a doubles pair a lot lately, and were doing surprisingly well, though the fact that they both seemed to be harbouring crushes on Tachibana An seemed to have driven something of a wedge between them lately. Kaidoh's younger brother had joined the junior high tennis team, and Kaidoh himself seemed to be secretly crushing on their former coach Ryuzaki's grand-daughter. Or at least he himself thought it was secretly. The amount of blushing both of them were doing around each other was speaking volumes for it.
"How's Renji?" Inui asked once he was done with his long monologue.
"Didn't you see him at Nationals?" Fuji asked innocently. "He was there watching."
Inui didn't answer.
At some point during the evening, Fuji found himself seated opposite of Tezuka at one of the tables. Fuji offered him some of the specially-made wasabi sushi, which Tezuka politely refused.
"Do you know, Tezuka, I've been thinking of learning French," Fuji said, cocking his head to the side and watching Tezuka's reaction.
"Oh," said Tezuka, not showing much of a reaction at all. "It's an interesting language."
Fuji laughed, and took out his camera from the backpack he had brought with him. He held it up, and snapped a picture of Tezuka across the table.
Tezuka blinked a couple of times, and then silently reached to take out a camera out of his own bag, and snapped a picture of Fuji as well. Fuji's eyes widened in surprise, and Eiji, who was standing nearby and had just turned his attention to the two of them, snickered. He grabbed Momoshiro, who happened to be the person standing the closest, by the arm and leaned over conspiratorially. "Momo, are we sure that's really Tezuka and not someone just pretending to be him?" he said in an audible whisper.
Momoshiro, who had also seen the exchange, nodded seriously and answered in the same kind of audible whisper. "Maybe we should try to needle out of him where the real Tezuka's body is hidden." He couldn't quite keep a straight face, though, and they both burst out laughing.
Fuji, meanwhile, had leaned over the table and taken Tezuka's camera out of his hands and was now studying it.
"It's a pretty good camera," he remarked, raised it and took another picture of Tezuka with it before giving it back.
"Good enough for me," Tezuka replied, referring to Fuji's much more professional one.
"Well, I'm sure that's interesting and all," a voice interrupted, and they looked up to see Echizen standing by the table. "I still have to beat you at tennis, Captain. Want to play a game?"
"Perhaps some other time, Echizen. I'm on holiday," Tezuka answered, voice as dead-pan as ever.
This time, everyone turned to stare at him. Tezuka's expression didn't change, and he calmly took a sip from the cup of tea in front of him.
Tezuka and Fuji ended up walking home together, later. They walked quietly side by side at first, and Fuji's mind was working on overtime. At last, he couldn't take it anymore, and stopped. It was already dark outside, and hardly any people about.
Beside him, Tezuka stopped as well.
"What is it?"
Fuji turned to him, and answered by pushing him against the wall of the building beside the them and kissing him. Tezuka seemed startled at first, but he returned the kiss, his arms snaking around Fuji and running up his back and his neck, and through his hair.
"What was that for?" Tezuka asked as they broke apart.
Fuji shrugged slightly. "You've been catching me off guard a lot lately. I just figured it was my turn."
"You don't like surprises?"
"Oh, I do. But only if I get to surprise people once in a while myself as well."
Tezuka looked at him for a while. "Well, that shouldn't be a problem then," he finally said.
Fuji laughed, and they started walking again. He wondered whether he should take out his camera and take another picture, but decided not to.
As summer came to an end, so did club activities for the third years. Fuji, who had never needed to study that much but had always managed to get decent enough grades anyway, found himself rather bored.
"I don't see why we have to quit," Yukimura complained. "They want us to continue at the university here anyway, and we're already guaranteed a place there."
Yukimura seemed even more bored than Fuji without tennis club. He seemed to the type to get by on talent rather than studying much as well - a considerable talent, apparently, considering he was in the same class as Yanagi - and so did Niou. They still formed something of a study group with the other regulars, though, and played tennis after their meetings.
"The only way to get Yukimura to come is to promise to play tennis with him afterwards," Marui commented one afternoon, grinning.
"The only reason you come is the snacks," Jackal reminded him.
Marui blew a bubble of his gum and popped it. "Everyone has a price," he said, nodding seriously.
None of them had any real reasons to go to the school courts anymore, but they all went there occasionally anyway. Fuji wandered down there after school one day. School had finished for the day a while ago, but he had been on cleaning duty. The current team regulars were off at another one of the schools in the area playing a training match and there was no practise that day, so he expected the courts to be empty. Instead he found Yukimura there, with Sanada. They were both dressed in their school uniforms, but they were both sweating, having apparently just finished a game.
"You can still beat me, then," he heard Sanada saying.
"Seems like it," Yukimura answered.
They left the court, and sat down on the grass beside it.
"Sometimes, I wonder if I should have quit," Sanada said, sounding reluctant to admit it.
Yukimura put down his racquet and turned to Sanada, shrugged a little and grabbed his tie. He wrapped it around his hand until he was holding it just below the knot. "Yes, well," he said, running his thumb up and down the tie. "We all make choices all the time."
Yukimura was holding his the tie so that their faces weren't that far apart, and there was a challenging look on his face that Fuji recognised very well. Sanada didn't comment on what Yukimura had said, but instead looked at him for a while before closing the distance between them and gave him a hesitant kiss.
Fuji smiled to himself, and turned to leave, only to see Yanagi standing a few steps behind him. He looked at Fuji, but didn't show any signs of wanting to leave yet. So Fuji turned around again as well.
On the court, Yukimura and Sanada had pulled apart.
"I won't return to playing tennis," Sanada said.
Yukimura laughed. He was still holding Sanada's tie and gave it a small yank, pulling Sanada down for another kiss. There was nothing hesitant in his movements, but the challenging look was gone from his face.
Fuji turned to leave again, and this time Yanagi turned as well, and walked along beside him. "Did you get any good data?" Fuji asked.
Yanagi studied him silently for a moment, and then shrugged. "It's a habit."
"Considered learning any new languages lately?" Yukimura asked Fuji the next day while they were eating their lunches in the canteen.
"What do you think about Russian?"
Yukimura smiled. Yanagi, who was also there, raised his eyebrows, but didn't ask.
All the former regulars were offered opportunities to go to various universities after high school. Scouts from all over had been keeping their eyes on the Rikkai team, as usual. Everyone was frantically trying to decide what, exactly, they wanted to do. Marui pretty soon declared that he was definitely going to continue at Rikkai, if only so that meant he wouldn't have to go through the trouble of carefully going through all the other material he had. Yukimura was seriously considering America, and was often found pouring over various information sheets with English text that he had received.
When Fuji woke up unusually early one morning during his last week, he took out his phone and on a whim called Germany.
"Tezuka," he said as he heard the familiar voice answer. "Good morning."
"It's not exactly morning here," Tezuka said.
"No," Fuji agreed, checking the clock beside his bed. "It's 9:02 in the evening."
He heard some voices in the background, and there was a pause in their conversation as he heard Tezuka tell someone in German that this was important, would they mind---? Fuji smiled to himself.
"Company?" he asked as Tezuka returned to the phone.
"Some classmates. We were studying."
"Oh. Am I disturbing you?"
"I wouldn't have answered if you were."
"Of course. I finish high school soon."
Tezuka's school wouldn't finish until the end of May sometime, he knew.
"Yes." There was a pause before he continued. "What are you going to do next?"
"I don't know yet. I could do anything. Isn't it wonderful?" Fuji asked.
"Yes," Tezuka agreed.