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.

Northern hemisphere was having summer in June, so London Borough was only a little bit colder than Melbourne if Tezuka were to compare the atmosphere in Wimbledon to the one during his Australian Open tournament last January. He was repeating the same cycle. Some of his opponents were the same too, but Tezuka was used to it. His manager was sternly reading his schedule to him. Not that he needed the man to remind him. He already had all of his agenda in his head, so the man could shut his trap for all he cared. His sponsors were having the time of their lives when Tezuka made his way to the centre court. The only reason they never complained was that Tezuka always managed to keep his record of straight wins to dominate the championship cup.

He thought of his sponsors, and remembered Atobe.

The man had withdrawn his sponsorship on Tezuka shortly after Ryoma's demise. He couldn't blame the guy. The impact had been strong on Atobe too, just like it had been on Fuji. He didn't speak to Tezuka for a month and when he finally opened his mouth, his words were full of venom. He wasn't surprised to find himself applying for a new manager and sponsorships. While he was under Atobe's sponsorship, he never felt like a non-living thing being put on display for the whole world to see. Atobe's sponsorship had been out of friendship and his brotherly love for Ryoma. With his new sponsors, it was all about reputation and money.

Mankind was so greedy that it scared him sometimes.

"Saa, don't be a hypocrite now, Tezuka," the voice that he thought had disappeared resounded in his head. "You yourself were more than greedy too."

He wanted to stop pretending that he was playing against Ryoma in the final round. The opponents were faceless to him. He couldn't even remember their names, no matter how famous they seemed to be. He wanted to play Ryoma; he missed the shining arcs of Ryoma's Drive B, the doubled strength in his Drive C, and the Cool Drive that he couldn't return. He wanted someone who could break through his famous Zone, someone who could tell when he would be using the Zero-shiki Drop Shot, and someone who could tactfully anticipate his serves and the course of the lime-green ball. At 30, he was considered the unbeatable.

That sounded so wrong because five years ago, the unbeatable tennis player had been someone two years younger than Tezuka.

Before he knew it, the match was already over. He was once again crowned the champion, but his heart was empty. It was a repeat all over again – the same crowd, the same prize, the same speech… His life was gradually turning into a broken record played by an old player bidding its time to crumble into irreparable piece of junk in the lonely storeroom. No one was going to celebrate his victory with him. No one would be waiting for him to come home.

The ride back to his hotel room was spent in silence. His manager had retired from his side earlier to join his family for his daughter's birthday celebration. He had invited Tezuka but the young man had politely refused the offer. He was staring out into nothingness when his cellphone came to life. Confused, he took it out of his pocket and squinted his eyes to look at the caller ID.

His father.

Summoning every bit of courage left in his tired body, he answered the phone. His father's voice was distant when he spoke and he could almost hear someone crying softly in the background. He was proper and polite when his father asked him how he was doing.

"Your grandfather has passed away."

Tezuka almost dropped the phone. His eyes went wide with horror as the realisation settled in.


"If it makes you happy, then go. I wish you all the happiness in the world."


The grandfather who gave him his blessing… was gone. It took him a few minutes before finding his voice again. "He didn't suffer, did he?"

His father sighed at the other end of the line. "Why don't you come back? We need you on the reading of the will."

He closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose in exasperation. Was everyone he cared about leaving him behind? Was this another form of punishment he had to go through?


"In two days."

"I'll be there by tomorrow night."

He was not really ready to face his father – the man who had almost driven him to the brink of insanity some six years ago. He was only doing this for his grandfather's sake.

"Kunimitsu… I…"

Was it just him or did his father sound like he was regretting something?

"Is there anything else, father?"

"… No, never mind. Just… Just come home."

The line went dead promptly after. Tezuka was still staring at the phone when the driver announced they've reached the hotel. He would have to contact his manager and ask him to cancel all of his press conferences and photo shoots for the international Sports magazine. He was going to take the first flight to Japan on the next day.

His father was keeping something from him, he knew that much. It was rare for his father to speak with so much resolve and control after practically disowning him eleven years ago.

Had it been that long?


His father stared, or rather, glared at the younger Tezuka with discontent. The famous tennis player was trying to avoid looking into his father's eyes. Instead, he was staring at the droplets of condensed water trickling down the solid contours of the glass. He had been tricked by his father wherein the latter sent a message requesting to meet him at the coffee house in downtown Tokyo. The message was signed by his grandfather. Tezuka should have known better. The eldest Tezuka was too traditional to arrange a meeting in a modern western-style coffee house. In addition, the man detested coffee with passion, preferring green tea over any other drinks.

Somehow, his father had got the news of his and Ryoma's engagement. They were bidding their time for a proper bonding ceremony by the end of the year after the tennis season ended. The news spread like wildfire and soon enough they

"Are you listening to me at all, Kunimitsu?"

He simply nodded, distrusting his voice.

"How long do you want this to continue? There's no way this thing you call 'love' would last. Both of you are males. Do you expect the world to accept you so easily? You fans might support you, but what about the entire society? Do you know how many times you mother had cried because of you?"

Tezuka bent his head lower.

"You're confusing 'love' with 'lust', Kunimitsu."

His head shot up at once at the comment though he appeared calm and collected. "I am not. I have never been confused when it comes to Ryoma. What we have between us is pure love. Our relationship was never based only on sex. I would never propose to him if it was just lust, and Ryoma would never have accepted my proposal."

His father banged his fist on the table. They were lucky to be the only ones there since it was still far from lunch break. "I will not accept this. And don't you think I'll back down on this either. I don't know how your grandfather can be so calm about this but I will never back down. You're the last Tezuka. You're supposed to keep our family line going!

"Instead, you went and ran away with that boy. Do you really think he'd stay by your side until the end? Who knows whom he is seeing when you're not around?"

Tezuka's knuckle turned white. "He would never do that to me."

"He's just as confused as you are, only that he's worse. And you let yourself be confused by him and went along for the ride. He's going to leave you one day, Kunimitsu! This kind of relationship won't last! You'll regret it one day!"

With that last sentence, his father stormed out of the coffee house, fuming with anger. Tezuka sat unmoving for a few minutes until one of the waiters asked him if he was alright. He paid for the bill before the people realised that he was the famous Tezuka Kunimitsu and started the engine of his car to head home.

The stress from his public duty, which included attending photo shooting sessions, interviews doubled with his intensive training for upcoming match were all wearing him out. His training schedule was unfortunately different from Ryoma, so they didn't get to see each other often on the tennis courts. He believed in Ryoma. He knew his lover well enough to believe that he would never betray him. Somehow, he was a bit bothered when Ryoma mentioned about his friendly matches with Atobe. The young managing director who was awarded the Young Entrepreneur Award had been contacting Ryoma a lot lately but Ryoma had said that he was only asking about their bonding ceremony. Atobe had offered to be the organizing committee along with their old friends.

Atobe's enthusiasm seemed to be a little bit too much.

"What the hell? There's nothing going on between me and Keigo! He has Yuushi-san, for God's sake!"

Tezuka blinked. Was that Ryoma in front of him? When did he get home? Had he said something to upset his lover? Ryoma looked almost like he was going to cry; the look on his face said he was distressed and furious at the same time. He couldn't say anything. He didn't remember saying anything but he had an idea as to what he might have said to set the younger man off.

"Ryoma, I…"

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'He's going to leave you one day, Kunimitsu! This kind of relationship won't last! You'll regret it one day'

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


His head hurt. He didn't need his father's voice in his head right now. He knew it wasn't true. His father didn't know anything about them. He had no right to say anything about their relationship either. He was 25; he was his own man. There was no way Ryoma would leave him. They were meant for each other. There were still many aspects of life he wished for them to explore together.

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

'Do you really think he'd stay by your side until the end? Who knows whom he is seeing when you're not around?'

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

Shut up! Shut up! Shutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutup! Ryoma loves him. Ryoma would never do that to him, so shut up!


Ryoma's eyes went wide when Tezuka suddenly fell to the floor and screamed. His face had gone completely white like he'd seen a ghost. The look of fear was clearly evident in his eyes. Tezuka's breath came in short gasp as if someone was trying to choke him. He needed to get help!

He was just about to get up when Tezuka's long fingers suddenly came around his neck. He hadn't had time to react to it when the fingers closed tightly around it, squeezing his air out of his lung.

He couldn't breathe.

"Ku.. ni.. mit..su!"

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'He's just as confused as you are, only that he's worse. And you let yourself be confused by him and went along for the ride.'

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

'Shut up! Shut up! You don't know anything!'

Tezuka was saying incoherent things that Ryoma couldn't understand. What was wrong with his Kunimitsu? The man's eyes were a few shades darker. It was as if he was looking at something behind Ryoma even though his eyes were on the younger man. Ryoma was scared. Tears stung his eyes as he flails helplessly for air, knocking over the decorative vase and the flower pot on the coffee table. With one hand trying to loosen the grip around his neck, another slapped his lover hard across the cheek.

Tezuka stumbled backwards.

He looked around. His father was not there. He was in his house, the house he shared with Ryoma, and he was safe. He wondered why his hands were shaking. When he looked up, he was taken aback at the sight of Ryoma looking at him with eyes wide. His lover was massaging his bruised neck with one hand. He looked scared, Tezuka noted. Suddenly, everything came crashing down. His shaking hands… Ryoma's bruised neck… When he moved closer to the younger man, he saw him flinch.


Oh God…OhGodGodGodGodGodGod…

What had he done?

His shaking hands reached for Ryoma. His heart clenched as Ryoma closed his eyes in fear. When Ryoma didn't resist, he pulled him into a tight embrace, placing small kisses all over his face. Tezuka murmured "I'm sorry" over and over in between kisses. He didn't know what came over him. For a moment, there was darkness. He couldn't see anything and the only thing he heard was his father's spiteful words. And then he saw himself standing in front of him, repeating the words of his father. That was when he lost it and made a move to strangle the impersonator.

He hugged Ryoma tighter with tears leaking from his eyes and repeated "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Forgive me" over and over again.

Ryoma hugged him back and said it was okay; that he was forgiven and it wasn't his fault.

…But Ryoma was crying.


His mother hugged him when he arrived home. She cried into his chest but didn't say anything else. His father acknowledged his presence with a simple nod. None of them said anything throughout the day. While Ryoma's funeral had been held in the modern style, his grandfather's strictly followed tradition. For the whole day, Tezuka found himself praying for the deceased man's soul in front of the altar holding said man's urn in his house. The sharp smell of osenko didn't bother him at all because five years ago, Tezuka had lit the same kind of incense around his house aside from the many lavender-scented candles Ryoma loved so much.

His grandfather had been fine when he met him a few months ago. True that he was old, but he was strong. The deceased man had been his idol when he was little. He was the one who taught Tezuka the meaning of strength, concentration, and determination. When Tezuka went into shock after Ryoma's demise, his grandfather had been there for him. He had supported his grandson through everything, giving strength for him to get through his friends hatred.

He was gone now too.

Tezuka didn't join his parents for dinner. He didn't feel like eating anything at all. All of a sudden, he found himself missing Nanjiroh's pointless jokes and Rinko's failed attempts at keeping her husband from hogging all the food to himself. He missed the way Karupin would jump into his lap and refused to let go of his legs. Tezuka Kunimitsu was once a very reserved young man of manners and traditional qualities. Daily meals with his family had always been quiet. His mother was the only one trying to start conversations during mealtimes, and she failed miserably. With Echizen household, everything was bright and colourful.

His father avoided bumping into him. Somehow, the man's face showed no trace of hatred or disgust he once displayed without shame towards his son. There was something close to desperation, uncertainty and remorse. His mother stayed by his side whenever possible but avoided meeting his eyes. Even during the reading of his grandfather's will, they avoided looking at him.

Tezuka didn't expect his grandfather to leave all of his belongings in his possession. He had expected his father to be the one who was named in the will. The older Tezuka accepted everything without a single question, which shocked Tezuka into speechlessness. He figured he should leave soon after the ceremony ended but his mother stopped him. His parents sat next to each other as he sat in front of them like a child waiting for his punishment for breaking the rules. Alas, his father spoke:

"Your grandfather's death… is untimely."

Tezuka shook his head. He wasn't expecting that from his father. "Aren't all death considered untimely by many too?"

'Like Ryoma's.'

His mother had started to cry softly now, much to Tezuka's dismay. His father took her hand in his, giving it a light reassuring squeeze. He looked totally different from the harsh and blunt man who had continuously condemned him without mercy. There was a tint of sadness in his eyes which he wished he understood.

"We are responsible for the events leading to your grandfather's untimely demise."

The confession had Tezuka taken aback with the look of pure terror in his eyes. His mother started to say 'sorry' over and over again as her sobs worsened. Tezuka was confused. How could they have been responsible for Tezuka Kunikazu's death?

"Your mother and I were arguing… about the secret that we have kept securely hidden for five years. Your grandfather overheard our conversation," his father narrated, stopping for a while to take a deep breath. "He was so angry, and then it happened. We couldn't do anything. He had a heart attack and the ambulance couldn't arrive fast enough. He was announced dead upon arrival. It was our fault. Maybe this is our punishment."

His mother sobbed. "We thought it was for the best. We didn't notice how wrong we were all this time until we saw you. Forgive us, Kunimitsu! Forgive us!"

".. O.. Okaa-san… Otou-san… I… I don't quite understand."

"Kunimitsu," his father looked up to meet his eyes. "Echizen… Echizen Ryoma is still alive."

Time stopped.

"You're lying."

"It's the truth, Kunimitsu."

'Nonononononoonooononononononoono… No.. NO!'

"No, you're lying. He's dead. I was there. I saw him die. I was the one who killed him! When I woke up in the hospital, everyone told me he'd died!"

"It was a lie. No one knows about it."

"We thought it was for the best. We're so sorry, Kunimitsu!"

Sorry? They were sorry? He'd spent the last five years damning himself for causing the death of the one he loved with every fibre of his heart. The first year without Ryoma was especially hard. He almost went mad with guilt and regret. He couldn't speak to anyone for almost a year, too traumatised and too scared to face reality. His sleep was almost never peaceful; his guilty conscience would always conjure up pictures after pictures of his moment of madness. For five years, he was hated by people he once held dear and people who once held him dear in their hearts. He accepted reality the second year of Ryoma's death. He had come to term with himself, telling himself over and over that it Ryoma's death had been his fault. He had vowed to never love another but Ryoma for the rest of his life. He believed that he was forever reprobated.

Everything was a lie…

They were sorry? How would that change anything? How would it erase all the pain – the ultimate damage they've caused by keeping such secret?

Tezuka wanted to scream. His mind was a whirlwind of unsorted emotions. He felt like letting himself be consumed by the dark and resign to insanity. The only thing he could think of was that Ryoma was alive. He was alive. His beloved Ryoma was still alive. He was not dead. He had never been dead. It was a lie. Ryoma was alive.

"Where is he now?"

His father shook his head. They told him everything they knew, but they didn't know where Ryoma was. Tezuka's heart beat exceptionally fast. He made a dash for his room and packed up his stuff. He couldn't stay there. He couldn't look at his parents now. It was too much for his sanity.

"Kunimitsu!" his mother cried for his name just as he started the engine of his car.

Tezuka couldn't bring himself to look at her. Not for the time being. He needed to sort out everything first, so he told her he'd be back on the 35th day of his grandfather's death for the funeral.

And that would probably be the last his parents would ever see of him.


"You need help," Fuji stated calmly, glaring daggers at Tezuka. "You really need help."

Tezuka glared back. The last thing he needed was another person to nag at him. Why did Fuji visit them, anyway?

"No, I don't. I'm perfectly fine."

Fuji would have thrown the empty porcelain teacup to the man's head if Ryoma was not in the kitchen preparing another batch of tea. It was so like Tezuka to be stubborn. "Look, your bonding ceremony is not that far from now. I know your father's been bitching at you again, and your work schedule has been minimising your time with Ryoma. You need help with your stress before the ceremony. You've been taking it out on Ryoma."

"I have not been taking it out on him."

"Then tell me about those hand-marks on his neck and his hands. You can't tell me he did it to himself."

"That was a one-time accident. It will never happen again, I swear."

"I hope to God you'll keep to your words, Kunimitsu. I'll never forgive you if you harm Ryoma in any ways."


He'd looked everywhere for the name 'Echizen' but to no avail. It was almost the same as the time he spent trying to locate Nanjiroh and Rinko. Five years ago, he had tried looking for them. Their disappearance made the reality of Ryoma's death more concrete. He gave up trying after a couple of months, convinced that there was no way the Echizens would want to see the man who took the life of their only son. Now he wished he had not given up from the start. Maybe then he would have known of the truth sooner.

He'd searched all over his house for clue. He even went to the Echizen's old house but got nothing in return. He went around looking for any clue and hint that could lead him to where Ryoma was. After a week, he went to the hospital to look for the doctor who confirmed Ryoma's death. It took a few hours of preaching before he finally admitted to making a false report. Still, the doctor refused to tell him the whole story behind Ryoma's fake death. The name Echizen even disappeared from the phone directory. In the end, Tezuka could only think of one person who had the power to control Japan. He should have asked him about it the moment he found out Ryoma was still alive.

Atobe Keigo.

The man had been surprisingly calm whenever he saw Tezuka, unlike Fuji who seemed to love torturing him with a vengeance. There was always a look challenge swirling in his cold grey eyes whenever their eyes met.

"Do you understand that you can't settle all problems on your own?" The man had once told him that before saying that he was going to withdraw his sponsorship because he had no need of a professional tennis player who couldn't control his own emotions. "The least you could have done was told Ryoma what has been bothering you but it doesn't matter anymore now. I hope you're learning from this, Tezuka. Thank you for destroying our friendship." That had been when 'Kunimitsu' reverted back into 'Tezuka'.


He didn't expect to bump into his father. The latter had looked at him with piercing, reprimanding eyes before looking away. Tezuka clutched at his head harder. He desperately needed rest. The headache was making him dizzy and bodily weak. He couldn't see properly even with his glasses on. Seeing his father definitely didn't help either. He could faintly hear the man's voice from the past in his head. Tezuka didn't realise the traffic light has switched from red to green until a car horned him harshly from behind; he was lucky the traffic officer was not around.

His head fucking hurt.

Upon reaching his house, Tezuka groaned when he saw a sleek red car parked outside. Fuji was there, again, and Tezuka really didn't need to see his cunning friend at the moment. He just wished to have Ryoma all to himself and take a rest to cool his head. He muttered a small 'tadaima' and opened the door... only to be greeted by the sight of Fuji holding Ryoma's hand.

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'Do you really think he'd stay by your side until the end? Who knows whom he is seeing when you're not around?'

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Tezuka snapped.

Fuji, he thought, had the nerve to smile. "Ah, Kunimitsu! I was just about to go back, but now that you're here, maybe we could…"

Tezuka's eyes blazed. He couldn't think, couldn't rationalise with anything. A small voice was warning him somewhere in his mind; the voice was telling him not to do anything stupid. Fuji was just visiting a friend; it was nothing.

He let the voice die.

"Get out, BOTH of you."


"Which part of GET OUT don't you understand?"

He roughly grab hold of Fuji and Ryoma's hand, and forcefully shoved them out of the door. Ryoma blocked the door before he could slam it close, looking at him in disbelief. "What the hell are you doing, Kunimitsu!"

"You can go with Fuji and continue whatever it is you would have been doing had I not come home," Tezuka spat, voice dripped dangerously of venom. He didn't even realise he was calling Fuji by his last name after so long.

"WHAT? There's nothing going on between us! Are you crazy?"

Fuji helped the smaller man pushed the door open. "Now, see here, Kunimitsu. You're not in your right mind. You.."

He didn't get to finish what he was saying. Tezuka had punched him so hard that he almost fell on the hard floor. Tezuka pulled him up just to hit him again.

"Kunimitsu, stop it! Stop it! He's only here to tell me about the preparation of our bonding ceremony! Kunimitsu!"

His head faintly registered that Ryoma was screaming but he couldn't quite make out what he was saying. The voice within him returned, pleading; it was cruelly ignored. Fuji broke free of his hold and slapped him hard across the face.

"Wake the fuck up, Tezuka!"

There. It was Tezuka all over again.

Tezuka wanted to yell back but he knew it would be pointless anyway. "If you're not getting out of the house, then fine. I'll be the one moving out!" He brushed past Ryoma, snatching his hand back where Ryoma was holding to. Ryoma followed him up the stairs, yelling at him and pleading.

"Get hold of yourself, Kunimitsu. There's no way I'm seeing Syuusuke! He's got Koujirou-san! And why the hell would I be seeing him when I have you?" He took hold of Tezuka's hand only to be pushed away.

Tezuka scoffed, not slowing his pace. "Like that would stop you from fucking each other when Koujirou and I aren't around."

Ryoma was horrified. He couldn't believe this. Last time it was Atobe, and now he was accusing Ryoma of cheating on him with Fuji? Fuji, his very own best friend who was like a brother to Ryoma! Furious at this ridiculous scene, Ryoma grab hold of Tezuka's hand again. "WE'RE NOT FUCKING EACH OTHER! Get real, Tezuka Kunimitsu! You're NOT yourself!"

Tezuka tried to break free but Ryoma's grip was too firm. He yanked his hand out of his clutch and blindly shoved the man away from him. Ryoma's back hit the railing with a loud thud as he stumbled backwards. He couldn't react. He didn't have the time to react when the wooden railing shook with the momentum of Ryoma crashing into it, and broke.

Tezuka watched with horror as Ryoma's eyes went frantic at the sudden turn of event – watched him desperately trying to reach for something to hold on to. He looked on with horror as Ryoma lost whatever balance he had left and surrendered to the force of gravity. By the time Tezuka could get his hand to move and catch the falling man, it was too late. He watched the man he loved fell onto the glass table shattered by the broken railing, heard Ryoma's horrified scream as the broken pieces tore his flesh, heard Fuji's traumatised yell…He watched blood staining the polished marble floor under his lover.

Tezuka couldn't breathe. His whole body was shaking badly. The voice he heard earlier was currently sobbing and screaming in his head. He ran down the stairs to get to Ryoma before Fuji did. He was at loss of words as he held the younger man in his arms, uncaring of the sharp broken pieces digging into his flesh. Next to the broken table was an envelope and brochures of possible venue they were going to book for their bonding ceremony.

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"Kunimitsu, stop it! Stop it! He's only here to tell me about the preparation of our bonding ceremony! Kunimitsu!"

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Dear God…

Fuji was frantically calling the hospital for the ambulance. He was almost sobbing into the phone and Tezuka could hear the word 'Keigo', 'Koujirou' and 'Oishi' and a few more names, but he didn't care. He was desperately trying to get Ryoma to open up his eyes. The boy had tried to shield his eyes from the broken glass pieces with his hands. His legs were bent so bad; Fuji reached out to have a look at the unconscious Ryoma in Tezuka's shaking arms.

The doctor shook his head in disbelief. "He's not breathing," he stammered. "He's not breathing. He's not breathing! WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST DO, TEZUKA! YOU'VE KILLED HIM! YOU'VE KILLED RYOMA!"

Tezuka couldn't say anything in return. He couldn't bring himself to look away from Ryoma, chanting, "Ryoma… Ryoma… I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Open your eyes. Open your eyes, Ryoma. Please, please, please!"

He refused to let go of the man when Atobe arrived with Saeki and Oishi. Fuji had alerted them of the incident. Atobe froze the moment he entered the house, looking at the bloodied scene in disbelief. Saeki rushed to Fuji's side. The man was practically screaming nonsense and was trying to beat Tezuka senseless.

When Ryoma was taken away, Tezuka's world went black.


The young entrepreneur was at home since it was Sunday night. The house was bathing in light, and loud music blasted through invisible amplifiers. Apparently, there was some kind of gathering there. Tezuka could see his old friends on the grounds; Fuji, Oishi, Eiji, Momoshiro, Kaidoh, Inui, Oshitari, Shishido, Ohtori, Mukahi, even Kabaji and members from other tennis teams in high school. The guard refused to let him in when he mentioned his name, so he yelled Atobe's name instead. It wasn't long before a grumbling Atobe stepped out of the crowd and saw him at the gate.


As if on cue, every head turned to the direction of the gate. No one expected to see the former captain turned famous pro there, face flushed and hair unkempt as it was. The music died, leaving the ground with utter silence.

"I don't recall inviting you to my party."

Tezuka blatantly ignored the icy remark. "You know, don't you? You know, and you didn't tell anyone. Don't you think everyone deserves to know? Or are you that much of a sadist to see us suffer?"

Atobe flinched inwardly at the accusation. "What are you talking about?"

"You know that Ryoma is still alive."

Silence – then all hell broke loose.

Fuji looked at Atobe in disbelief. Eiji fainted. Oishi dropped his parfait. Everyone else started pointing and murmuring until Atobe clapped his hands twice, demanding for silence. He took a deep breath and sighed.

"So you've found out…"

"What happened when I was sedated? Where did he go? Where is he now, Atobe?"

Atobe looked away. "He does not wish to be found, especially by you."

Tezuka was desperate. He didn't care about anything anymore. He could only think of Ryoma and meeting him again after so long. He had suffered too long - had believed himself to be a murderer too long. He was tired of the moment of silence on TV on the anniversary of Ryoma's death to honour the legend he had unknowingly become. He was tired of watching Ryoma die all over again in his sleep. He had to know.

It was the sincerity and the desperation that drove Tezuka to drop to his knees even when everyone was looking. Tezuka Kunimitsu was known to give orders. To everyone, he was the worshipped and never the worshipper. The former captain that they knew would never drop to his knees, seeking mercy from his former arch-rival. At this point, Tezuka simply didn't care anymore. His pride could go to hell for all he cared.

"Please," he pleaded. "I beg you."

Atobe's eyes returned to Tezuka's resigned form. He honestly didn't think Tezuka was willing to beg. He closed his eyes and remembered the happy moments when Ryoma was still with them. Maybe it was enough, he thought. Tezuka had suffered enough. It must have taken him a great courage and willpower to not commit suicide already. "Exactly two minutes after the doctor confirmed of his death," Atobe began, "his heart started to beat again. It was a miracle, but he slipped into comma soon after. We weren't sure he would ever wake up. I asked for his parents' permission to move him to a hospital with more advanced technology and medical facilities overseas.

"You were still unconscious at that time and no one else was told of Ryoma's condition, not even Syuusuke and Yuushi. Right before Ryoma's transfer, your parents came. Your father… He told Nanjiroh-san and Rinko-san to keep Ryoma away from you once and for all."

No one said anything.

Atobe continued, "Nanjiroh-san protested, but your father won the argument eventually. They promised to never return even if Ryoma recovered. The next day, Ryoma was announced dead. Everyone was informed that they were prohibited from attending his funeral. You only woke up the day after the actual funeral when we visited his grave to mourn his supposed death."

Tezuka swallowed. He remembered the day too well – waking up in an empty hospital room and looking around for Ryoma only to be told that the man was dead. He remembered going to the cemetery still clad in his hospital robe and was considered crazy by many.

"Did he… Did he ever wake up?"

He was afraid to know the answer, but he had to know. He needed to know everything.

Atobe smiled at that. "He did, six months after his comma."

Tezuka released the breath he didn't realise he'd been holding. Tears stung his eyes. When they fell, he let them. His voice broke when he spoke, "Where is he now?"

The fair-haired young man hesitated. He was torn between telling the miserable man, and letting everyone know. After all, the crowd was still there. Somehow, the most human part of his soul took pity on Tezuka. He didn't know if he could survive if he were to take the man's place. Fuji was giving him questioning look. He was going to have to explain everything all over again to the man. The psychologist had been most traumatised by Ryoma's death next to Tezuka. He was the witness of how it began and how tragically it ended.

"He's in the place where he was the happiest" was all Atobe said. He watched as Tezuka's expression changed from despair to confused and to that of realization as his words sunk in. He knew Tezuka would understand.

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

Tezuka choked. He was overcome with a strong wave of mixed emotion – sadness, happiness, despair, joy, relief. Even winning grand slam tournaments never brought as much joy.

"We should buy that place someday."

The place where he was the happiest…

Tezuka earnestly thanked Atobe and stood up. He knew where Ryoma was. He knew where his beloved was; it was all that mattered. Just when he attempted to make a dash back into his car, Atobe called out for him. The latter's stern eyes had returned to their sorrowful state once again. "There's another thing about him… but I'm not telling you. I don't think I have the right to tell you everything. It would be better for you to find out directly from him. All I can say is… Go see him only if you're ready, only when you think you're prepared to face anything at all."

Tezuka laughed a small, bitter laugh. "Atobe… I've been ready for five years."

"Then, by all means, go," Atobe calmly spoke, raising a hand to silence Fuji who looked like he was going to say something. "Go, before summer ends."


Tezuka woke up with a start. His shirt clung to his body because of the sweat… Wait a minute. He wasn't wearing his shirt. Tezuka looked around to find himself in a small room with nothing but two windows and a bed. The walls were white, just like the colour of the sheets. He looked at his hands and found it bandaged An IV tube was stuck to his hand, much to his horror. Despite his cool persona, Tezuka never did liked hospitals. He found the strong smell of chemicals doubled with the dreary atmosphere clouded by sorrow and death too unnerving.

Sorrow and death?

Someone, a doctor, entered the room with a friendly smile on his face. Tezuka didn't like the smile. The guy reminded him a lot of Fuji. He was asking Tezuka how he was doing but Tezuka was too busy collecting his thoughts and memories.

He almost screamed when he recalled everything.

"Ryoma… How is he?"

The poor doctor blinked stupidly at the sudden, unexpected question. Despite his job, the doctor hated to be a grief-bearer. It was even worse when he himself was a fan of the man currently sitting up on the bed, and also the fan of the man's lover. "Tezuka-san, please calm down. Echizen-san…"

"How. Is. He?"

"He's dead," said the man who had just entered the room. Tezuka tried to draw a long breath only to feel his chest constricting with invisible pain. His father walked into the room, face void of expression. He didn't seem to care that his son was looking at him incredulously like he wasn't human. His mother stood by the door, unable to bring herself to enter the room. When Tezuka didn't say anything, he repeated, "He's dead."

The 25-year-old shook his head in denial. "You're lying."

Tezuka Kuniharu said nothing. Tezuka turned to the doctor; his eyes begged for the man to contradict what his father said. To his horror, the doctor smiled sympathetically and shook his head. He turned to his mother but she avoided looking into his eyes at all. For a long moment, there was only silence between them until Tezuka decided he couldn't take the silence any longer. He jumped out of bed and stormed past the doctor, past his father and past his mother - out of the room which held the scent of dread and death.


Tezuka put all of his hopes on the line when he stepped out of the plane into the hall. Summer was coming to an end but he could still feel the heat; or maybe it was just him. He could no longer control his rapid heartbeat. His subconscious wondered if Atobe was bluffing when he told him about Ryoma, but another half of his alter-ego argued it detected the truth in the man's words. The arrival hall was cramped with people from all over the world, thus Tezuka was surprised when he saw two familiar individuals at one corner of the hall, looking in his direction and smiling at him.

He bit his lip to swallow the nervousness that was suddenly making its presence known.

Echizen Nanjiroh and Echizen Rinko were coming his way and Tezuka found himself glued to the polished floor. Even when Rinko pulled him into a motherly embrace, he couldn't react. Nanjiroh did the same while wearing a solemn look that Tezuka never saw before. His doubt disappeared. The two important people in his Ryoma's life were here… Finally grasping reality, Tezuka looked around wildly, hoping to find a familiar pair of golden eyes. He didn't care if the eyes looked at him with disgust, or with dispute; he just wanted to see the owner again. He only stopped searching when Nanjiroh told him Ryoma did not come with them to the airport. Rinko wiped the tears in her eyes and told him not to worry, that they would bring him to Ryoma.

Tezuka followed without words. He was too grateful to say anything. He wanted to ask why they were being so kind to him and how they knew he was coming but he figured it would have something to do with Atobe. That was when Rinko broke the impending silence.

"He never missed any of your matches on TV," she said. "He even keeps all newspaper and magazine clippings that have you in them."

By 'him', Tezuka knew she meant Ryoma. He didn't understand why Ryoma did such. Everyone blamed him; didn't he blame Tezuka too? Even Tezuka blame himself for causing such unthinkable incident that could have been prevented had he not been too confident with himself and refused his friends' offers of help.

They did not talk again until they reach their destination.

The cottage was still the same. He let his hand linger on the familiar furniture as he went past them. Tezuka paused briefly when he reached the door leading to the back of the cottage. He felt Rinko's encouraging hands on his shoulder. He looked over his shoulder and saw them nod. He held his breath and opened the door.

The sight of the familiar field of lavender brought tears to his eyes. The path leading to the gigantic tree he used to lean against was spread out before him, and the small stream still flowed with glee. Next to the tree were a white wooden table and two benches.

Sitting on the furthest bench facing the stream overlooking the all too familiar manor was someone Tezuka had missed since the past five years. Shiny locks of dark hair glinted in the sun, dancing to the rhythm of summer breeze. Summer was coming to an end but the sight was still as angelic as ever. Tezuka made his way past the soothing lavender trees, closer to the man sitting on the bench staring into nothingness. The man didn't even flinch when Tezuka stammered his name as he got close enough.

"Ryo – ma…"

He didn't get any reply. Moments passed but neither said anything. Ryoma didn't move an inch from where he was sitting. He was still staring ahead as if Tezuka was not there, or so the latter thought.

"I never thought I'd see you again."

Ryoma sounded more mature than the last time Tezuka heard his voice.

"They told me you were dead."

He heard Ryoma chuckle. "You were supposed to think so."

"Why?" 'Was it some kind of punishment?' He wanted to ask.

They were not looking at each other but it was somehow comforting for Tezuka that they were looking at the same view – the lonely manor in the middle of the lavender field. He waited patiently for Ryoma to answer, never moving from the spot he was standing at. He was scared to take another step, afraid that Ryoma would suddenly vanish, that he would wake up and everything would turn out to be yet another twisted dream. He didn't mind if Ryoma said he hated him now. He just wanted to know. He'd lived in hell alone for so long.

"When I was twelve," Ryoma started after a long pause between them, "the captain of my tennis club was considered cold and aloof. He didn't let anyone or anything influence his decisions. His skills were far beyond average, acknowledged by many. Strong and determined, those seemed to be his middle names. I admired him for that. For a few years I was in denial, trying to ignore the feelings I thought was inappropriate. I thought it was a mere infatuation. I was so happy to know that he felt the same way, so happy that it was more than what I originally thought it was. We made each other strong. Unfortunately, I realised it too late that I've been dragging him down emotionally. Being with me has almost broken him, and it was my fault for not being able to pinpoint it sooner. Maybe then, I could have helped."

"It wasn't your fault."

"No, it wasn't my fault. It wasn't yours either. It was ours."

Silence stretched lazily between them. Tezuka walked up to his long-lost love so he was standing next to him. He touched the younger man's shoulder and felt him stiffen under his hand before relaxing, accepting his touch. Maybe they were both at fault. While being so caught up in their love for each other, they blinded themselves from seeing their weaknesses. Ryoma was unsure of Tezuka's turmoil, and Tezuka was unsure of Ryoma's. Look where it brought them after a few years…

Ryoma's shoulder felt warm in contrast to Tezuka's cold hand. It warmed Tezuka's heart to be able to hold him again even if it was just a little. The older man sat on the grass next to the man sitting on the bench and rested his head against his thigh. He closed his eyes when Ryoma's hand came up to touch his mop of brown hair. "Will you ever forgive me?"

Ryoma chuckled. "I never did blame you. It was a pact I made with your parents."

And Ryoma told him about the amnesia he experienced after being comatose for a period of time. He told him how he could only remember the name 'Kunimitsu' but not knowing what it meant or whom it referred to. He told Tezuka how the name 'Kunimitsu' triggered a sadness so strong that he used to always cry because of it. It was only a year later that he regained his memory and was told of Tezuka Kuniharu's request which was more like an order – to stay away from his son.

"… And so I stayed away from you, hoping that you would one day get over me."

"I'll never get over you."

There was silence again. The gentle fingers playing with Tezuka's hair were comforting and loving at the same time. When Tezuka opened his eyes, a metal glint from the enormous tree caught his eyes. Leaning steadily against the trunk was a folded wheelchair. Tezuka looked at the wheel chair, and looked at Ryoma. The young man's legs were covered by a white blanket in the warmth of summer.


"There's another thing about him… but I'm not telling you. I don't think I have the right to tell you everything. It would be better for you to find out directly from him."


"Your legs…" He didn't know what to say. A fresh guilt pricked his skin like sharp, living needles seeking flesh to sink in to.

"The fall damaged my spinal cord. The doctor said it was a miracle that I'm still alive."

Before Tezuka could flail or completely break down, Ryoma caught his hands and drew him into his embrace. He let Tezuka cry in his arms. God knows the man hardly cries. Tezuka repeatedly apologised no matter what Ryoma said. He cried for Ryoma and for all that the younger man had gone through on his own. He cried for all that could have been avoided. Tezuka cried for himself, for his misery and for his previous selfishness that almost resulted in both of them losing their lives.

Ryoma waited until Tezuka's tears stopped. He didn't notice that he himself was crying until he felt Tezuka's hand on his pale cheek. Delicate fingers and gentle touches reminded them both of days spent together so long ago. Tezuka's eyes were begging for Ryoma to let him stay.

The wind whistled; Tezuka found himself extending his hand to Ryoma, repeating his sincere words from long ago.

"Marry me."

Ryoma's eyes watered. Tezuka knew he remembered the day seven years ago.

"I… I don't know what to say."

"Just say yes."


The world was in quite an uproar when Tezuka Kunimitsu did not turn up for US Open. No one got the Grand Slam that year or the years after because those deserving such title were no longer in the limelight.

In Australian Open the year after, the name 'Tezuka Kunimitsu' was once again absent from the list of participants. When asked to comment on the professional player's mysterious disappearance, his former sponsor cum friend and rival, Atobe Keigo, simply told the media that Tezuka was where he should have been years ago.

- La Fin -

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

"Now, all of the things I want to leave with you
While I count all of them...
Let's take deep, deep breaths
and tell each other our hearts

Just, all the things I want to tell to you
while I count all of them...
Let's take deep, deep breaths
and tell each other our hearts
and tell each other our feelings."

- Tezuka Kunimitsu : Shinkokyuu Dedicate to E -

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

This fic is the result of listening to one too many frustrated love songs.

Actual Sequence of the Story:
- Anniversary of Ryoma's death – February, Tezuka (30)
- French Open – between June and July
- Anonymous postcards and calls at night – July
- Fuji's visit to Atobe's office
- Atobe's visit to France
- Wimbledon – between July and August
- Death of Tezuka's grandfather – August
- Tezuka's father spilled the secret – August
- Tezuka looked for info on Ryoma – August
- Tezuka's visit to Atobe's house – near the end of August
- Finding Ryoma in Mane, Provence – end of August
- Withdrawal from US Open – September
- Tezuka's disappearance was announced – January after Australian Open concluded, Tezuka (31)

Actual Sequence of Flashbacks:
- High school – Tezuka (18), Ryoma, (16)
- Near the end of high school – Tezuka (18), Ryoma (16)
- Coming out to their parents – Tezuka (19), Ryoma (17)
- After French Open – Tezuka (24), Ryoma (22)
- Confrontation of Tezuka's father – Tezuka (25), Ryoma (23)
- Ryoma's 'death' – Tezuka (25), Ryoma (23)

"Fear not Death

for Death is man himself

The blood he soaks himself in

The corruption of the mind he rejoices in

Man lives in shadows of

his own lies and faked innocence

of lost emotions and arrogant ignorance

From the deepest pit of hell he rises

Resurrected by fears and frightened cries"
Adlina: Of Fear and Men