For Miyukimina 's request of "Open Promises" Fuji/Tezuka (actually, it's Tezuka/Fuji...)

started & finished: September 04, 05

And the end of all our searching shall be to return to the place where we started and know it for the first time.

-T. S. Eliot.

It wasn't love at first sight as most often portrayed in fairytales, no, it was built on indefinite amusement, catty smiles and an unfamiliar sense of completeness.

Fuji found it amusing how Tezuka's voice seemed a fraction deeper than his senpai's, how he was a little too serious, a little too talented, his gait a little too stiff.

Amusement gave way to curiosity, curiosity to fascination, fascination to captivation.

It took Tezuka longer to notice Fuji, for there was nothing blatant, nothing obvious. Fuji is the kind of person who you could know your whole life and never even begin to scratch the surface of. It took Tezuka five months to realize even that.

It was anti-climatic. One day Fuji slipped in-between other ichinen and fell into step beside Tezuka. Two years later and little has changed. The scenery, the backdrop, the costumes and their collected personalities have shifted, yet the actors remain the same.

That was the entirety of it, just a simple thing which had sprung up in spring rain, on damp courts and with fingers grasping at dreams of glory and grandiose intentions.

Like a Zen Garden, carefully tended with back arched, form bent and quiet words sprinkled sparingly, watering the connection. Leaves bursting up, growing into the feelings it represented.

Upon looking back, his first clear memory of Fuji had him half in costume, quoting Japanese folktales with the perfect pitch of dialog.

From the fourth row, Tezuka watched. Thinking that the girl (for he was in female attire, and looked the part) looked familiar somehow, yet not being able to place the time and put a name to the smiling face.

He would not know the relevance of this scene until years later.

Fuji had a talent for the stage, his acting was peerless in the way he could become the character in a way far beyond his years.

He wore dramatics like a favorite sweater, comfortably, and with a practiced ease which made it seem natural. As if becoming a princess or oni was just as common as getting dressed for school each day.

He stayed in the theater club for three months. Then left without a word of explanation. He shifted into the photography club, but found he preferred to be alone and not compare his work with others. He then took up the chess club (finding it droll, but too dry.), baseball club (he had no affinity for dirt), science club (it took x number of explosions before he was honorably discharged and asked never come near the room again in ever so polite tones)

And when he arrived at the tennis club, there were many whispers that he would fade out of this as well.

Ryuzaki-sensei, Yamato-buchou, Inui with his small notebook of scribbled facts -- none of them expected Fuji to last more than a month in Tennis, but they accepted him with open arms and well-hidden reservations.

But Fuji stayed, and even Inui's data could not predict that.

Perhaps it was just to prove them wrong.

They share one class, the study of literature, mythology, psychology and world religion all wrapped into one tightly interwoven bundle.

The teacher takes great liberty with the structure of the curriculum, saying that his class is talented and will adjust to higher learning and make the school proud. He is half right. For they are an exceptional class.

Tezuka reads myths of princesses spellbound to tell only lies, speak with only smiles and to live their lives as dolls, marionettes until they are released by magical acts which pierce them back into humans. Back from the burden of their untold perfection, the act of not being themselves, but someone – something else entirely.

The teacher dares them to explain the meaning of this story. Who does the princess represent? How would, say, a renowned psychology interpret this?

Tezuka's gaze shifts to Fuji, who says casual things through an ever-present smile. Sunlight reflects off the bridge of his nose and entwines into his tawny hair. Tezuka wonders if he doesn't see a bit of enchantment in each smile.

Fuji doesn't move, as much glide. In his second year he already has shown that he could displace the other regulars with ease had he the desire to do so.

The members have stopped taking bets as to when Fuji will leave, tire of this and move to something else. There is a general consensus that Fuji has finally found where he belongs. Or at least that Fuji enjoys proving them wrong.

When Tezuka becomes fukubuchou, no one is surprised. Inui estimated it at 79 percent that it would be Tezuka.

Yet Fuji comes after school to congratulate him. They have clipped conversation, something almost unmemorable. It isn't until later that Tezuka is struck by the fact that Fuji had placed deeper meanings in common greetings and pleasantries.

They don't share any classes in the third year.

No one is surprised when Tezuka is named as buchou, nor when he chooses Oishi as fukubuchou.

He has finally lived up to Yamato-buchou's challenge, has become the pillar, or his own interpretation of those cryptic phrases passed on to him.

Fuji is elusive. It is as if they have gone backwards, as if what little he had gained, Fuji took back and changed just to spite him. Any barriers that he had seen through were now reformed, and is now even more of a paradox.

He is reminded of mythology, and of princesses who speak unwilling perfidy from smiling lips.

Tezuka moves closer, encroaching the walls between Fuji and himself. It is not that Fuji is distant, in the literal sense, for he is social and witty, and can be just as biting when he wishes to be.

No, it is that Fuji never reveals himself, never shows any of his true potential. His smiles are unnatural, sometimes real, often forced and the line between real and fake and almost indiscernible.

Tezuka says nothing, for he is talented at turning actions into statutes, showing the way through. If there isn't a clear path, he makes one, and presses each person to that road.

Speech is just a formality, his language is action, honesty, nobility.

Fuji moves closer, if by his own desire, or a curiosity, only he knows, and he relishes keeping that detail to himself.

He knows Tezuka, or at least believes to. Sometimes he will tease, show of this knowledge which Inui could only dream of having. He places himself beside Tezuka, while making himself unreachable. Fuji has perfected the art of baiting to a fine art, yet Tezuka does not fall – He waits for the opportune moment to listen, not strike.

They become almost comfortable around each other, if not for the fact that Fuji has secrets, Tezuka knows that Fuji is hiding – and that Fuji knows that Tezuka will one day uncover him.

It is a law of nature, and one day he will allow it, but things are not interesting unless they are drawn out, until the last tune is played. He will turn it into an addiction, and then Fuji will never have to worry of abandonment, for Tezuka will be too caught up in the scent of his skin, the feel of his palms after they are near bloodied from a game which went on for what seemed like hours,

the look in his eyes which cannot be defined for it crosses too many emotions. He will then capture, and be captured by Tezuka – And he will not lose another person who he loves.

Some would think it foolish, but those who have been wounded will always fear the sword.

Tezuka pushes himself too hard and no amount of admonishing, warning, pleading will change that. It is in his nature, something far too ingrown to be moved or changed.

Fuji knows this, he holds his tongue and sharp words which would just wash off Tezuka like rain slipping off of wet pavement. Marble columns cannot be moved, Fuji thinks with a wry smile.

"Is the lesson worth the cost?" Is what he says instead. Is idealism worth the pain that will ensue

Tezuka doesn't answer, just looks over Seigaku, his kingdom, and thinks that yes, he will protect it at any cost.

There is always a way through the enchantment, a kiss, a spell – for this, it was rain. It drenched Fuji's clothes, made them cling to him like bad memories which you can never quite let go off – crushing him like a millstone around his neck.

In this case, he plays for the fun of it, moreover the amusement of pushing Ryoma to his wet-streaked hardest.

He knows that he is being watched with careful, watchful eyes, but does not grasp the meaning of what Tezuka intends. Does not realize that underneath it all, Tezuka understands.

Fuji isn't smiling now, he just answers with passive defiance. It does not take long for his reasoning to be shown, for Tezuka to corner him without an act of aggression or even rasing his voice. He succumbs because he knows who the stronger of the two of them is, because he knows Tezuka will not budge from that place, and he is very capable of standing all day in the pouring rain, and if Fuji chose to leave that spot, Tezuka would still be waiting for his answer tomorrow.

Tezuka's determination knows no bounds, and Fuji hates the way his voice shakes almost indeterminably as he begins to unravel himself before Tezuka. It is just a thread, just a minor disclosure, yet Fuji feels naked, as if his clothes are being ripped from him and there is nothing left to shield him.

It is brusque, as harsh as the rain coming down in sheets (this is not a gentle spring shower, but icy fingers which scratch with manicured nails down the spine) and Fuji feels breathless once he finally returns to the clubhouse and changes clothing, is finally away from Tezuka's penetrating gaze

The contrast of scalding water and the coldness of his skin is a new feeling. He clings to it, like the rapid beating, thundering, of his heart.

There is a certain quality to Fuji now, as if plastic was removed, and for the first time his skin saw light, his smile is shaky, almost a farce which is near transparent. There is a mixture of emotions boiling in him – anger, fear, comprehending, and the knowledge of his limits.

For the next few weeks he is biting, infusing sarcasm into even the most harmless of conversations.

As for Tezuka, for a time, he does not even look at him. For it feels as if he is being looked through, as if his skin was just a translucent covering which can be looked into at will. As if his organs, thoughts and assorted blood-vessels were nothing more than a display for nearby tourists.

There is honor, and most people do not comprehend just how much it means to others.

Tezuka lives by honor, if he is not just, then to he has failed in his duty. And what a careless thing indeed.

It is honorable to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the team, though Fuji thinks that it is not a particularly smart thing to do, as he watched the Hyoutei matches unfold with gritted teeth and useless words lodged at his throat which he cannot swallow, and cannot say.

Intuition runs in his family. There are times when he hates being right.

There is no romance in leaving. Just the lack that comes with absence, the train of thoughts that must be rearranged to fit the current state of separation.

Tezuka takes this distance like he takes all things. With silence, strength, dignity and honor.

He fills his days with work, exercises, anything to keep his mind and body occupied.

He is surprised to find one day upon returning that a phone message was left for him. He wastes no time in returning it.

"I didn't expect to hear from you"

"I knew you'd never call" Tezuka can just picture the wry smile across Fuji's lips.

Their conversation is short and casual, but it still leaves a bit of warmth across his chest.

When Tezuka returns, there is a fresh and lucid quality to Fuji's skin, as if the unmarked beneath a covering had finally been exposed. Fuji falls into step beside him, there's a difference,

and Tezuka will spend the rest of his life figuring out just how Fuji has changed.

Fuji's lips curve into a smile which Tezuka can identify, something domestic, and without malice.

But it is called a draw, for even as Fuji was revealed, Tezuka found himself falling to the taste of salt, of bruised palms after a match which seemed endless, blue eyes which cannot be read.

There are happy endings, tragic endings, and endings.

Not perfect, but not worthy of a poetic soliloquy on the stage with final words and fake daggers put into the breast of a tortured, dying man.

This tale has an ending, not tragic, not perfect, but happy in its own flawed way.

To say that "they lived happily ever after" would be a misnomer, and Tezuka has a harsh punishment for lying. Fuji would think it cliched, though amusing in a childish way.

Tezuka says that myths should be taken at face value, they have uses, but are not proper things to follow as a role model.

Fuji counters that there is a grain of truth in every myth. And he sets the Oolong tea to steep, twirling a spoon of spice in it. (Tezuka thinks that Fuji is the only person alive who would put pepper and cumin in his tea)

Tezuka nods, and admits that point. He knows Fuji keeps a mental scoreboard of their 'matches', and also knows that he is still one match point ahead.

He takes a deep drink of the tea, unhurried to continue with the daily routine and continuing this conversation.

The apartment has a familiar scent to it, clean and smelling vaguely of dry acidic earth, wood floors, ointment for muscle pain, chemicals for developing film, and fresh tatami mats.

There are two sets of shoes at the doorway. Beside them is a sepia umbrella.

It tells a better story than words can convey.