Title: Awaiting Reprobation (aka Before Summer Ends)
Rating: R
Pairings: TezuRyo, mentions of SaeFuji and OshiAto
Genre: ANGST (angst, angst and more angst!), Fluff, Romance, Mystery
Warning
: Rated for references to sexual activities and non-graphic sex scenes. Contains blood too. Also rated for Beware of Half-psychotic + Obsessive-possessive + Romantic!Tezuka, Vengeful!Fuji, Brotherly + Secretive!Atobe, Tezuka's father, and… Ryoma.
A/N: Tezuka (and all the other third years) are 30. That makes Ryoma 28. This story is set 15-16 years in the future, with references to the past and flashbacks.

Could you ever live with the knowledge that you couldn't do anything to stop your loved one from leaving? Could you bear it while knowing it was your fault? And what if everything you think is true isn't really the truth at all?

o- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -o
"The endlessly steaming down
preparation of the summer touched my hair
On the tracks of my dreams that have passed me by
What is it that I want, I think to myself."

- Tezuka Kunimitsu: Soushi Umukutou -
o- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -o

Tezuka dreamt.

He dreamt of broken glasses, disarrangement of clothes and cracked walls.

He dreamt of tears and blood.

Tezuka woke.

How many times had he wished for someone to tell him that he had only been dreaming all these years? How many times had he woken up with tears streaming down his face and hollow feelings in his heart? For five years, he had been living in nightmares. He, a professional tennis player, was actually scared of touching a tennis racket early in the morning. It brought too many memories, too much pain and too much tears. He remembered the dream, but he could never remember the feeling he had in them. It was as if he was numb to everything. In his sleep, he was always surrounded by accusing eyes, sorrowful wailings and harsh reprimands.

Why had he let himself be haunted by nightmares?

'Because you deserve it,' his conscience would always answer, though he wondered why it sounded a lot like Fuji.

'Murderer,' said Fuji's voice in his head again. 'You killed him.'

Tezuka all but ran to the bathroom to splash his face with cold water. Five years… Five years of being haunted by nightmares and counting. At this time of the year, like years before, the nightmare was especially worse than normal. At this time of the year, Tezuka swore he saw things when he closed his eyes. He saw Oishi and Eiji looking away from him, he saw Kaidoh glaring at him like he was a prey, saw Inui without his pen and notebook, Momoshiro crying and yelling to the sky, and he saw Fuji glaring and yelling at him while being restrained by one Saeki Koujirou. He saw Atobe throwing dark looks at him.

Most of all, he saw a pained face that silently screamed 'Why?'

Tezuka's breath hitched; he banged his fists on the counter.

'Ryoma…'

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

What was he thinking, trying to assure himself that he only cared about the boy like a captain should? He should have known that it was hard to lie to oneself - should have known better than anyone else. He should have realised it sooner. It would have saved them both the trouble of going around each other in endless circles. They had wasted enough time.

Maybe it was the wait, or maybe it was just the passion that drove him to push Ryoma up against the wall and all but ravished his lips in violent fervour. Tezuka knew it had nothing to do with hormones and adolescence. He was far too mature for that – they were far too mature to blame it all on hormones. It was all like he'd fantasized: soft, wet, hot, fiery, passionate. He thought he had died and gone to heaven when he felt small hands curled around his chest and soft lips kissing him back just as violently.

Tezuka couldn't keep his hands off of him, no matter how loud the alarm in his head sounded. He was playing a dangerous game, one that his father never told him off and one that his family would never approve of. When Ryoma flicked the first button of his uniform off, however, all rational thoughts fled. All he could see was Ryoma, felt his breath hot against the nape of his neck and his hands playing with the buttons as if they were teasing him.

"Buchou," Ryoma murmured against his lips, hands never leaving the buttons. Tezuka pressed himself harder, closing whatever distance still existed between them. It wasn't hard to get Ryoma's shirt off. He was only wearing the jersey, so it was much easier to handle than the restricting school uniform. He didn't want to hear the term coming from Ryoma's lips, not now.

"Say my name," Tezuka rasped, voice hoarse and husky while softly biting the boy's earlobe. He couldn't get enough of him. Three years was a long enough wait. He moved lower as to gain access to the delicate nape, intentionally sucking with enough pressure to leave a mark. "Say my name, Ryoma."

He'd made the right decision to lock the door. Everyone had gone home, but Tezuka felt safer that way. This moment was special, this was their moment. It was the moment that they both had been waiting for, something they had been denying themselves. Here, in each other's arms, it felt more than right. Tezuka felt he'd found paradise on Earth and wondered if Ryoma felt the same. He got his answer when Ryoma moaned in his name at the brink of ecstasy much later in their shared pleasure.

Taking Ryoma was like winning a Grand Slam. The pace was hurried and urgent, but loving in a way. His moans were like the cheer of millions spectators in the crowd, urging him forward, pushing him higher with each step he took. The pleasure was so intense, so overwhelming that later when they lay in each other's arms in a tangle of limbs and clothes, Tezuka was not surprised to find tears in his eyes. Ryoma kissed the tears away. Such small gesture, but it meant the world to Tezuka. Even when Ryoma playfully said "Buchou is a wimp", Tezuka knew it was just the way Ryoma was. Tezuka understood completely.

It was love at its truest form.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

He had cancelled all of his practice matches, training and interviews for the day. Even if he didn't, he wouldn't have the heart to do his best. Although 6 am was far too early for him to be awake, he just couldn't bring himself to sleep. It would be the same; he would be bombarded with memories and visions he wished had never happened. Everytime he closed his eyes, he would see their faces – accusing, berating, hating, glaring, reprimanding, cursing…

It was at this moment of the day that Tezuka would find the bedroom too wide to be occupied by only one man. Maybe that was the reason why he was looking at the open wardrobe in silent reverie. There were a few shirts one size smaller than his hanging in there, looking fresh and new while the truth was otherwise. For a moment, Tezuka thought he saw someone jumping out of the bed in a hurry, throwing the closet open to blindly put on a random shirt without even caring how he might have looked in it. The fabric felt rough to his touch.

He wished it was the owner he was touching.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Extended matches after practice was a common thing for them. Both wanted to prolong their time together for as long as possible. The tennis was superb, and so were the stolen kisses in between matches. Tezuka felt himself drawn further and further away from the surface. He was rapidly drowning in Ryoma's sensation. Even his father was getting worried at the amount of time they spent together.

"It isn't healthy for two guys to spend that much time together," his father once said.

Tezuka didn't say anything to contradict his father, nor did he say anything to confirm his father's suspicion. 'Think about Ryoma,' he thought. 'Think of Ryoma.'

He was getting too dependent that he himself was scared.

"What's wrong?" The younger boy asked, wrapping his arms around the captain's neck from behind. Tezuka's play was a bit off that day and it wasn't a good thing at all. If something ever bothered Tezuka, it must have been really bad for it to show so clearly upon his face. The silence was not the slightest bit comfortable like before. It hung between them, dripping with distress and invisible knives. Sighing, Tezuka turned around so he was facing Ryoma and pulled him into his embrace, tenderly placing a small kiss on his forehead as the boy settled comfortably in his arms.

"My father suspects something," he stated dryly, failing miserably from hiding his worry from showing. His honey-sweet deep tenor shook; it was only a very small change but Ryoma could easily detect the difference all the same. He tightened his hold on Tezuka and rested his head against the latter's chest.

"Are you afraid of being found out?"

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

He closed the wardrobe, fully dressed to face the new day. A fresh bouquet of white roses and lilies he bought last night lay on the nightstand. It bore no cards or greetings. Just a fresh arrangement of flowers tied by silver ribbons.

Silver had been Ryoma's favourite colour.

He took the flowers with him, grabbed his car key from under it and headed for the door. No one was going to interfere. No nagging manager. No demanding parents. This time this year, he was going to be the first to be there. He would get there before Fuji, before Oishi – before everyone. He was tired of running away.

Indeed, no one else was there. The cemetery was silent as it should be. Even the sky was unusually dark for 7.30am. Maybe it would rain soon. 'All the better, then,' he thought. 'At least the rain would wash away my tears when they do come.' He didn't have to wonder about his self-restraint, his endurance. He felt his eyes sting the moment he saw the grave marker. It resembled a large monument, built especially for a special someone. 'Echizen Ryoma' was carved beautifully at the beginning of the epitaph. Call him cruel, or selfish; Tezuka wished it was someone else's name written on it.

'Ah,' the reprimanding voice interrupted once again, 'but you're the one who put the name there.'

He tried his best to ignore the voice, though it echoed incessantly against the walls of his mind. The white flowers looked ugly there, he thought. It shouldn't be lying on the ground dampened by morning dews. It should have been in the warm arms of someone beautiful - someone alive. He wanted to see the light of amusement dancing in beautiful golden eyes as he gave him the flowers.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

"Why do you like white flowers, anyway?"

"Because it's the closest thing to silver available."

They looked at each other in silence for a few seconds and burst into rare laughter.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Tezuka didn't know how long exactly he'd been standing there, He only realised he'd been there for more than a couple of hours when he heard footsteps approaching from behind.

The rain had not yet bid hello, though.

"If it isn't the murderer himself," the voice he used to hear all the time sounded so much clearer this time. "Nice to see you looking all flustered and miserable. Finally facing reality, I see."

He didn't have to turn around to see who it was.

"Fuji."

Fuji had not expected to find Tezuka there regardless of what his sister predicted. 'You'll see an old acquaintance today,' she had said. The old team never saw Tezuka there since the past five years. For Fuji, it was a good thing. He would have strangled the man had he been there with his nonchalant expression and so-called smooth conduct.

They said nothing more. Tezuka had nothing to say to Fuji and vice versa. He just wanted to be left alone where he can cry his heart out. He heard more footsteps coming their way and knew that such thought was hopeless. The rest of the old team was there. Surprisingly, Atobe was also there with his companion Oshitari.

This was it.

He was facing his nightmare, only it was reality this time around.

More bouquet of flowers joined the white ones Tezuka put there. None of them was white, though. They didn't know. They hadn't known. He felt a sense of pride washing over him for being the one who held Ryoma's little secrets. A strong pang of guilt and regret were also there, though. There was no way he could forget the metallic scent of blood, and the mixture of the red substance and tears.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Tezuka didn't expect his father to go that far. Seeing Ryoma tumbling down onto the cold hard floor, cheek bruised, made his blood boil. The only thing preventing Tezuka from giving the same treatment to the much older man was the knowledge that he was his father. He pulled Ryoma up and gathered the smaller young man into his arms. He was not facing his father; he didn't want to face his father. His father was yelling and screaming from behind, but he tuned him out. In the end, he simply looked over his shoulder, eyes colder than they had ever been.

"I expected more from you, Ojiisan," he spat. "How can you decide what's best for me and what's not if you can never tell when I'm happy and when I'm not?"

Ryoma wanted to say something, but Tezuka shushed him. He would handle everything. They were old enough to make their own decision. 19 was certainly old enough an age to decide the path you wanted your life to follow.

Tezuka moved out of the house the next day. He was a little bit surprised when Ryoma told him he wanted to move in with him a few days after.

"What about your parents?"

Ryoma only smiled. "They understand."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

It was okay.

He could do this.

Making sure his eyes were dry, he turned around. It felt weird to see the old team again without Ryoma by his side. The atmosphere was tense. He could almost hear his heartbeat in the daunting silence that stood like an invisible barrier between them.

"Tezuka, it's been a while," Oishi stammered a little. "How have you been doing?"

Oishi wasn't looking at Tezuka.

"I've been fine, I suppose."

"Too bad, then. I had wished you haven't been so," Fuji drawled dangerously. "You have no idea how sick I feel every time they announce you've achieve yet another Grand Slam."

Tezuka balled his hands into fists. He was not as strong as he'd hoped he was. It hurt. No matter how much he tried to ignore his feelings, the pain just kept coming. One of his former best friends was now his enemy. He was the one who hated Tezuka the most, and he had every reason to hate him.

Maybe he should come back later. There was no peace here. He didn't want to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere of the place he held holy; he didn't want to disrupt the peace of the one he loved currently resting six feet under. He took one last glance of the epitaph before walking away. He had only taken a few metres when Atobe called out for him.

"Learned your lesson yet, Tezuka?"

'I have.' But he wasn't going to admit it in front of Atobe. Not for the time being, at least. He kept his pace and didn't look back.

'I'll come back later, Ryoma.'

But he didn't.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

"You're too slow, buchou. Don't let your guard down!"

"Stop making fun of me already. That pun is way too old now."

The lavender field looked majestically ethereal, emanating soft, violet glow in the sunshine. Ryoma missed Japan but he wasn't going to let go of the opportunity to explore the countryside of the country foreign to him. French Open had just concluded. Both of them could do with some rest and a little sightseeing. France was wonderful. Ryoma never had the chance to explore the country. They rented a three-bedroom cottage in a middle of a lavender garden. There was a path from the back patio leading to a huge tree and a small stream overlooking a manor. Tezuka sat leaning against the trunk while Ryoma gazed dreamily at the manor. It was nowhere near as big as the château they saw a few days back, but it was wonderful.

Taking evening walks across the blue and violet plateaux of Provence would be wonderful, but nothing beat the quiet evening they spent together under the tree by the stream. Ryoma would always have his head on Tezuka's lap and Tezuka would read his book aloud while playing with Ryoma's hair. Here, there were no tennis players climbing their ways to the top of the highest peak imaginable. There were no screaming crowd and busybody reporters. There were just two men deeply in love with each other: Tezuka Kunimitsu and Echizen Ryoma.

"We should buy that place someday."

Tezuka raised an eyebrow, turning the page of the English novel he brought. "Should we, now?"

The younger of the two frowned and huffed, flopping down to rest his head on his lover's lap. Like an automated response, Tezuka's hand moved to lightly caress the black tresses he had come to love as much as he loved the owner.

Ryoma pouted. "There's no need to be sarcastic. I'm just saying that it would be nice."

"Hmm…Maybe we should. On weekends, we'll wake up late and have breakfasts in bed. And then we can take little walks around the place and pick lavender, sage, parsley and rosemary along the way. When night comes, we'll sit under this tree just like this, counting stars."

Ryoma raised his eyebrows in amusement. Tezuka sounded like he was reading the lines from a book, but Ryoma knew otherwise. Deep inside, he was beyond touched; but he wasn't Echizen Ryoma if he didn't tease Tezuka about it.

"Will there be kids?" he playfully asked, muffling his chuckle.

Tezuka was already smiling by this moment. "There would be little Kunimitsus and Ryomas around to tire us, and for us to teach them all we know about tennis."

Ryoma snorted. "Ha ha…And then I would be counting wrinkles after wrinkles surfacing on your face."

Tezuka pondered on that statement before breaking into a wider smile, a smile that only Ryoma had the privilege to witness. "I wouldn't mind that."

"Hm?" Ryoma had not expected that. He thought Tezuka would say something along the line of 'I'm not yet that old' or another.

The bespectacled brunette brushed Ryoma's hair backwards and leaned down to place a chaste kiss on his forehead. "Because that means I would be growing old with you."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

French Open had come and gone. Summer was approaching once again and Wimbledon would begin in a few weeks. Tezuka had a lot of free time at hand to rest and prepare for the next championship. It was really not surprising when he won yet another championship cup, and his winning speech had been like all of his previous speeches. Everything was dedicated to Ryoma, the one who should have won the title if he had been blessed with the warmth of life.

He returned to Japan soon after the prize-giving ceremony.

Again, he wasn't surprised to find his mailbox flooded with fan mails congratulating him, wishing for him to respond to their letters. Return addresses were written two sizes larger than normal handwriting, but Tezuka couldn't care less. It was not possible for him to reply to all of them. He should hand them over to his manager and let him do the job for him. When he was putting the stacks of mails and cards into a box, a small postcard fell onto the floor.

It was way different from the rest. There was no return address, and everything was type-written. Didn't fans usually provide return addresses in hope of their idols writing back to them? The postcard was clean and simple, coming all the way from France.

It bore the picture of a lavender field.

Tezuka dropped everything he was holding. He stared at the postcard as if it had released some sort of poisonous gas. The picture was of a view of Provence, that Alpes de Haute Provence he visited seven years ago with Ryoma. Was someone trying to play a joke on him? The only ones who knew of the places they visited in the past were Fuji and Atobe. The latter used to be his sponsor after all. Was this a new kind of torture they were implementing on him? Was isolating him not enough?

He kept the postcard anyway - for proof.

The long flight from France to Japan was tiring. Tezuka did not get any sleep at all. Maybe he should get some sleep. He could start practicing for Wimbledon the day after tomorrow. He'd deal with the nightmare if they did come. Tezuka wondered if there was something wrong with his eyes, but the kitchen looked like someone had been using it. His favourite mug was not in its usual place, and there were a few bottles of milk in the fridge. There had not been any milk in the kitchen for more than five years. Tezuka did not drink milk. On top of that, there were leftovers of the food he did not remember cooking or ordering.

They were all Ryoma's favourites.

Tezuka stumbled backwards, surprised. Was he hallucinating? There was no way Ryoma could be here. There was no way this was reality. No one had the key to the house but him. No one, not even his manager. He didn't think Atobe or Fuji would stoop this low to make fun of him either. His mind was wild with guesses and thoughts when he heard the sound of the front door clicking shut. His lips promptly curved into a triumphant smirk. There was no way the culprit would be able to escape this time around.

"Are you home, Kunimitsu?"

Tezuka blinked. The voice was more than familiar; it was the voice he had terribly missed for the past few years. It was the voice whose scream haunted his sleep but memories of its sweetness gave strength to his wake. His eyes were glued to the door, and his feet were half-shaking by the time the figure found him in the kitchen.

Dear God…

Oh. My. Dear. Kami. Sama…

"Ryo… ma?" To say that he was taken aback was the biggest understatement of his life. He was practically at the point of freaking out and on the verge of collapsing. His mind must be playing tricks again like all the time before. There was no way the man standing right in front of him was Ryoma. There was no way it was his Ryoma. The 'Ryoma' in question frowned at his reaction and stepped closer into the kitchen.

Tezuka's feet finally accepted his command, and stepped a couple of steps backward. He had trouble breathing. Rephrase that. No, he didn't want to breathe. He wanted someone to drown him in this world of false reality so he could wake up in the real one as soon as possible. This was worse than torture. This was the purest form of mental abuse, the worst kind of fear he never wish to experience.

He backed away from Ryoma, watching the frown on Ryoma's face deepened. He kept backing away until he felt the solidness of the kitchen counter under his shaking hands. When Ryoma moved forward, his leg failed him. He wanted to scream 'You're not real! You're dead. I killed you' but nothing came out. He didn't even realise that he had tears running down his face, only realising when Ryoma kissed his tears away.

Tezuka was confused. This man couldn't be Ryoma, but he felt like Ryoma. The gentle touch on his face felt the same, and he even smelled the same. This Ryoma was asking him what was wrong with him, but Tezuka couldn't move. A part of his brain was telling him that he was dreaming and he ought to wake up. Another part, however, was asking for him to accept this questionable reality. He body wrecked with silent sobs when Ryoma pulled him into his arms.

Dreams, nightmares, reality… He didn't know anymore.

The arms around him felt too real to be a dream. Everything was Ryoma: the shine of his hair, his breathtaking golden eyes, the feel of his lips, the touch of his hands, the warmth of his embrace, to contours of his face, the scent of lavender on his body, the faint scent of musk on his shirt – everything. Tezuka was drowning in that scent. He didn't know how they ended up in the bedroom but he couldn't find the strength to resist when Ryoma kissed him with mouth open. The slide of his tongue against Tezuka was the same as before, and Tezuka felt like crying all the more. He'd missed all these. He'd missed holding Ryoma in his arms. Even in his sleep, Ryoma was taken away from him when he tried to reach for him.

Ryoma's touch was like fire on his skin, bringing his senses back to life after so long. He had been lost within the dark shadows of his sorrows and nightmares, restless from his heartache and my pain, causing him to suffer from insomnia on more than one occasion for too long. When Ryoma kissed Tezuka and rolled onto his back, Tezuka followed, unwilling to break the kiss even for the purpose of undressing himself faster. Tentative hands reached for the band of his trousers, and he let Ryoma slide it off of him. He didn't remember undressing the younger man but before he knew, a very naked Ryoma was writhing on top of him, sending pulse after pulse of pleasured sensation through his body.

He wanted more of Ryoma.

He rolled his lover onto his back and leaned down to thoroughly ravish his lips in another open-mouthed kiss, tongue tasting each other almost desperately. Ryoma threw his head back; his body arching into Tezuka's embrace as he felt something slick breached his entrance. Tezuka was taking his time preparing his lover. Ryoma bit Tezuka's collarbone to muffle a scream as the latter found the pleasure spot within him. When Ryoma begged him to end this slow pleasurable torture, he blindly complied. Their voices mingled together in sensible moans of sheer bliss and throaty whispers. Tezuka's vocabulary had been reduced to nothing but Ryoma's name.

He felt like floating in the air, like he had been lifted off the ground. Hours later when they collapsed against each other, lazily tasting each others mouth while still gasping for breath, Tezuka refused to let go. He felt Ryoma smile against his skin as he wiped the worst of the mess with his forgotten shirt. They simply lay there afterwards with millions of questions swimming in Tezuka's head. He wanted to know where Ryoma had been all this time. He wanted to know if he was the one who had been dreaming all along, trapped in a nightmare. For the moment,he wrapped his arms around Ryoma, rubbing his back as he played with his dark unruly locks with gentle, soothing carresses. Tezuka let both of them be lulled into a peaceful state by the calming melody of the night and their soft breathing. Neither of them said anything for the next hour.

"Welcome home, Kunimitsu," Ryoma nuzzled his cheek affectionately, breaking the long silence.

Tezuka tightened his hold on the younger man. "They told me you were dead," he said after finding back his lost voice.

Ryoma smiled sadly, sitting up to look at him. He softly caressed Tezuka's face and the latter leaned into the touch like an obedient child. "I'm not dead," he said in the end.

"Then…"

"I can't be dead, because this is your dream."

Tezuka woke up screaming Ryoma's name to an empty room. He was shaking all over when he realised that he was very much alone on the bed. The spot next to him didn't look like someone had slept in on it. He scrambled to his feet and ran for the kitchen. His favourite mug was in its usual place. The fridge was empty for he had not restocked it for quite a long time. Closing the fridge, he leaned against it and let his body slide until he found himself sitting on the cold hard floor.

A dream…

His tired mind conjured him a dream…

Of course…

Tezuka laughed out loud. Gradually, the laughter dissipated into sorrowful sobs that wrecked his hunched body. He should have known that it was just a dream…

'I can't be dead, because this is your dream.'

Of course…

Ryoma had always been alive in his dreams or before Tezuka saw himself killing him, at least.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Morning sun was wonderful, Ryoma concluded. He had been awake for the past 30 minutes, simply gazing at the ethereal burst of sunlight through the compilations of cloud on the sky. It was one of the rare mornings where Ryoma would wake up before Tezuka. Placing a soft kiss on the sleeping man's forehead, he merrily trotted to the kitchen to prepare breakfast for both of them. Living with Tezuka for three years had its perks. He learnt how to prepare the best Japanese and Western meals in which Tezuka was surprisingly very good at. Back then when they were still in school, he never thought that his stoic buchou was the cooking type. The idea of Tezuka cooking in red and blue Seigaku-style ruffled apron made him chuckle.

Okay, that was a horrible mental image.

It was unfortunate that there was nothing much in the kitchen. They really needed to go for grocery shopping later. Ryoma decided that he could make do with bread, eggs and honey. Soft-boiled eggs with honey and bread were not too bad. He could squeeze the oranges for some fresh juice too. By the time he was done with breakfast, Tezuka was still sleeping. He balanced two trays on his hands and returned to the bedroom.

"Mitsu, wake up. It's morning.

Tezuka stirred but stayed asleep. Ryoma tried shaking the man several times but the results came out the same. Annoyed, he climbed on top of Tezuka, hoping that the pressure would bring the man out of his dreamworld. That was before another idea invaded his mind. Ryoma had memorised every part of his lover; he knew where Tezuka was most ticklish and which part was most sensitive even to the gentlest of touch. He nipped at the man's earlobe, rasping out 'Ku – ni – mi – tsu' in a low, husky tone of seduction.

His free hands roamed Tezuka's body, tracing every muscle with feather-light caresses. He was careful to let his hand linger a bit longer than necessary on the sleeping man's chest before journeying south to lightly trace a pattern on his abdomen. He felt the body gave a light shudder, and smirked. Tezuka tilted his head slightly when Ryoma kisses the nape of his neck. Ryoma's hand came up again to trace the contours of Tezuka's face as he bit the skin, sucking with enough pressure to bruise. When he sat up to admire his handiwork, Tezuka's eyes were open.

Ryoma's eyes laughed with mirth. "Good morning, Kunimitsu."

"I can't believe you got up before I did."

"I'm 'boy wonder', remember?"

Tezuka sighed. He pulled Ryoma down and let his head rest against his chest, hugging the younger man from behind. "It's just nine in the morning." He pressed his face into Ryoma's hair, savouring the faint scent of lavender and relishing in the softness of the dark tresses. He loved the silky feel of Ryoma's hair tickling his face. It gave him a personal comfort knowing that he was the only one close enough to taste the wonders of him. "I had hoped to get up before you do." The 'because then I can just sit and look at your calm sleeping face' hung in the air.

Ryoma relaxed against the warmth of his lover, sighing contentedly. It felt wonderful to be held in Tezuka's arms. The latter's touch carried a healthy amount of assurance he needed. He closed his fingers around Tezuka's hands on his abdomen, squeezing lightly. The silence was relaxing as they let their love be shown to each other through the barest touch of hands and toes.

"Ryoma…"

"Hmm?"

"I've been thinking."

The younger male rolled his eyes even though he knew his lover wouldn't see it. "Aren't you always?"

"This is different."

"Oh, how so?"

". . ."

Tezuka turned the man in his arms around so they were facing each other. His eyes were determined, though Ryoma thought he saw a little bit of hope and fear in those soulful golden orbs.

"Marry me."

Ryoma's eyes went wide with shock. He wasn't sure if he'd heard it right. He wanted to ask if his partner was joking but the look in his eyes said he was completely serious. His voice wouldn't come out. He was rendered speechless when Tezuka repeated the words for the second time. When his voice failed him again, he showered Tezuka with kisses instead.

"I... I don't know what to say."

His happiness had taken away his words.

"Just say yes."

The breakfast was left untouched.

"Kunimitsu?"

"Hmm?"

"I'll never forget this place. This is absolutely the happiest moment of my life."

Tezuka smiled against his lover's skin. "It's mine too."

"I love you, Kunimitsu."

"I love you too."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Du…. Du…. Du….

It was getting to be extremely ridiculous. It was Tezuka fifth day of being back in Japan after French Open. During the short time span, he had received two more postcards similar to the one he got on his first day back. Worst still, someone was prank-calling him at night. Whenever he answered the call, he would be greeted with silence. Similar phone calls came every night and Tezuka was getting tired of it.

He disconnected the phone line after the fourth ring and grabbed his cellphone. His assumption might not be correct but that man was the only one Tezuka knew could go to an extreme to see him suffer. His sister was in France, after all. He might have asked for her help.

"Good evening. This is Fuji Syuusuke speaking. May I help you?"

"Fuji."

Tezuka could tell that Fuji was shocked. "Tezuka. What the hell do you want?"

"Quit feigning innocence, Fuji. I know it's you who's been pulling all these pranks on me."

"Excuse me!"

"What do you hope to achieve with those postcards of lavender fields from France? You have to do more to see me crumble, Fuji. And stop prank-calling me at night before I tell the police."

He didn't let Fuji say anything. The man would only defend himself if he had kept the conversation longer.

Maybe he should change his phone number…

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Atobe Keigo sat back on his chair, unbuttoning his constricting business suit for more comfort. The air-conditioner didn't seem to cool him down. The burden of work was starting to get to him and it was doing nothing to help his lousy mood. He was tired of getting comments from people that he should have gone pro in tennis. It wasn't that he didn't want to. When he was still in high school, he was given an ultimatum by his father: leave tennis or leave Oshitari Yuushi. He'd chosen the first one on impulse and never regretted his decision since.

Someone knocked at the door.

Atobe scowled. It was time for his break. His P.A would be dead if she dared coming in to remind him of another task he should complete. "Come in."

"Hello, Keigo. I see you're not in a good mood."

The young managing director rolled his eyes at the comment. "Hello to you too, Syuusuke. What brings you here? I believe I've been taking my pills according to schedule."

Fuji's eyebrow shot up at that. His ever-ever present smile did not waver at all. "True, but you missed your last week's therapy. And I was dropping by to give Koujirou his lunch." His voice dripped dangerously of fake honey, causing Atobe to flinch inwardly.

Fuji had been his therapist for eight years and Atobe had been the smiling man's very first patient as soon as he graduated from medical university as a certified psychologist. Oshitari also graduated from the very same university as a certified surgeon, thus bringing an end to his family's generation of dentists. Fuji's other half, Saeki Koujirou, worked for Atobe Holding as the chief of the marketing department. The world was really a small place.

High school days witnessed a lot of changes in everybody. Familiarities had made rivalry an enjoyable experience. While members from Seigaku and Rokkaku seemed to have been very close since junior high, Hyotei joined the merry circle in high school. Atobe was especially attached to Ryoma, regarding the much smaller boy as his little brother. Fuji even said that they shared the same amount of pride, though Atobe's vanity was not something Ryoma was glad to be measured with. In fact, Fuji and Atobe were the ones who helped to push Ryoma and Tezuka into each other's direction. 'Ore-sama is tired of this stupid sexual tension between you and Tezuka. Go trap him in a nice, secluded room and screw each raw other already!'

None of them expected the kind of future they would be living in…

"Guess who called last night," Fuji broke the silence.

"I'm not a psychic, Syuusuke."

A chuckle. "You're really no fun like this. Next time, don't miss your therapy. Anyway, Tezuka called me last night."

That caught Atobe's interest. He didn't expect Tezuka to contact Fuji. He didn't expect Tezuka to contact any of his friends either, much less Atobe himself. Something must have happened if he was willing to push aside the animosity between them. "What did he want?"

Fuji shrugged. "He's crazy, I tell you. He told me to stop whatever joke I was playing on him, one involving numerous anonymous postcards sent to his house and another about prank calls at night. Why in the world would I waste my time on all those things?"

"Anonymous postcards and prank calls at night?"

"Postcards of lavender fields, from France. Do you know anything about that, Keigo?"

Atobe paused, looking thoughtful before telling Fuji he knew nothing about it. The former tensai then proceeded to give his friend a ten-minute lecture on stress management before taking his leave, but not before giving Atobe another doubting glance. The thoughtful look returned to Atobe's face as soon as Fuji closed the door behind him. So someone had been sending Tezuka anonymous postcards and making prank calls at night. Once, Atobe had found the idea tempted but he never did execute the plan because Oshitari commented it was childish. He didn't think Fuji was lying either. Stalking people like that was so not Fuji's style.

But the only ones who had known of the meaning behind fields of lavender to Tezuka were Fuji and himself.

Unless…

He reached for the intercom to contact his personal assistant. "Yukiko, ask them to get the private jet ready for take-off bound to France tomorrow morning. I have an urgent business there."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Being back in Japan was nice. Ryoma's mother baked them a large chocolate moist cake on the first day of their arrival. Nanjiroh shocked Tezuka with a brief 10-second bear hug for 'almost beating his idiot son in front of the world again so he won't look so smug'. The old crowd was there too. Atobe faked his tears, with his trademark 'our baby boy has grown again' comment that earned a kick from Ryoma. Fuji caused Tezuka to almost choke on his tea when he asked if they've been using protection while on the go. Tezuka felt sorry for Fuji's patients in the hospital. The young doctor could probably still smile when he talked about death.

Momoshiro had arrived late for the get-together party that evening because of a commotion caused by his students. Who would have thought that Momo could be a well-liked high school teacher with girls fawning all over him? Momo's decision to be a teacher had been more surprising than the time they found out about him and Kaidoh (in which Ryoma had only yawned and said "About bloody damn time"). Inui followed suit with Yanagi Renji. Eiji was sceptical of letting them into the house without being checked for 'dangerous' concoctions and 'ambiguous' gadgets. Oishi laughed and apologized. It seemed that Eiji was still traumatized over last year's 'Sadaharu-Renji Special Rainbow Remix Combo Juice'. Trust the two scientists to come up with something as weird as that…Saeki and Oshitari didn't talk much. They were simply enjoying the friendly atmosphere while reminiscing the past.

The party was at its peak when Tezuka stood up and asked for silence. Momo had playfully called out "Yes, buchou", causing everyone to snort simultaneously at the memory of those days when Tezuka would assign laps to members of the tennis club. Ryoma swore he heard Atobe smugly whispered 'I'm sure I was a better buchou' to Oshitari, but he didn't say anything.

"I would like to thank everyone for coming to this small party. It is a pleasure to have everyone like the old days. Here, tonight, I would like to take this opportunity to announce my engagement to Echizen Ryoma."

The crowd went into silence for a full minute before Momo and Eiji started screaming with joy, tackling Ryoma into a headlock like the old times, only it was harder to administer since Ryoma had grown a lot taller than before. Atobe patted Tezuka on the back, congratulating him. Tezuka was amused when the man said, "Damn. Yuushi is going to be all romantic and corner me about this whole engagement-bonding business tonight." Oishi congratulated the couple earnestly before turning to gaze longingly at the currently bouncing Eiji. Ryoma knew it was a matter of time before everyone would make the same decision to officially settle down.

Tezuka was still the pillar, after all. Motivating people seemed to be his permanent job.

Nanjiroh gave Tezuka another bone-breaking 10-second hug for 'making his son a better man' and told him that they had his full blessing. Rinko, on the other hand, gathered Ryoma into her arms and cried tears of joy for them.

It was definitely good to be back in Japan.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

To be resolved in Part 2-2