Title: Like Blood
Pairings: TezuRyo vs. FujiRyo
Genre: Major angst, romance
Rating: R… bordering on NC-17.. oO
Word Count: 9,909
Somewhat future!fic, and not for kiddies. I can never leave out Atobe, after all. I love him too damn much to exclude him D And when I say TezuRyo VERSUS FujiRyo, I mean it.
Unlike 'Awaiting Reprobation' (if you've read it), the flashbacks aren't in chronological order. But you'll figure out the significance of the flashbacks if you relate them to the paragraph prior or next to the flashbacks,
"Here I love you and the horizon hides you in vain.
I love you still among these cold things.
Sometimes my kisses go on those heavy vessels
that cross the sea towards no arrival.
I see myself forgotten like those old anchors."
"Here I Love You" by Pablo Neruda
The apartment was empty when Fuji returned. The clock had not yet moved passed the number 8, yet the shared humble abode was eerily quiet like it had not been lived in by anyone for years, or like all the occupants were fast asleep if not gone. Fuji should have known, should have expected something like this. Yet he could not help but feel a trail of sadness circling his body and soul at finding the light all switched off and no one to greet him after a tiring day of college and extra-curricular activities.
He was used to eating dinner on his own since he moved out. His housemate woke up after Fuji left for class and did not return until late at night when ordinary souls were lost in slumberland. The fridge had little food left, leaving only a large carton of milk, two cans of grape-flavoured Ponta Fuji bought the other day and three cans of beer. Fuji considered grocery shopping, but it might be pointless since none of them really used the kitchen if not to store drinks in the lonely fridge, or make use of the coffeemaker and the sink there.
It was hours later when Fuji heard the clinking sound of keys and door opening, and something like two persons arguing over nonsensical things he could not grasp. He knew the voices well enough. Sighing, he sauntered out of his bedroom and switched on the light in the living room where his housemate was being thrown onto a long settee there by a grumbling man.
"Atobe," Fuji called out, his voice hushed and tone unreadable. "Was he out drinking again?"
The grumbling Atobe Keigo turned to glare at him with an indignant huff. "What do you think, huh? Of course he was! Just look at him, Fuji."
Fuji looked over at the figure on the settee – Ryoma, whose face was flushed red and appeared to be picking at the innocent cushion while wearing a drunken glare. He almost looked miserable if not for the angry eyes and the pout on lips, Fuji thought. He thanked Atobe for bringing Ryoma back and watched as the other man sauntered off to the exit.
"And kindly remind your boyfriend that he has a press conference to attend this Thursday morning. I would remind him myself, of course, but another helping hand wouldn't hurt."
And then Atobe was gone, leaving Fuji alone to tend to the drunken young man. He tried to get Ryoma to stand but he ended up on the sofa with Ryoma sprawled on top of him. He barely had time to react when Ryoma grinded their hips together and nipped on Fuji's exposed collarbone. Adept fingers slipped into his shirt to toy at his sensitive flesh, one hand caressing his belly in sensuous circular motion while the other worked on bringing his nipples to life. What followed was a blur of entangled limbs and sweat and moans; in which order exactly, Fuji could not remember.
Ryoma looked up from his drink, amused at what he just heard from his smiling senior. He never thought Fuji, of all people, would ever think of him in that way. "Did you say lovers, Fuji-senpai?"
The smile worn by the medical student of Toudai – Tokyo University widened."I believe I did."
The younger man closed his eyes, stirring his fruit juice absent-mindedly with the long straw. His former senior cum schoolmate had just asked him to become his lover when the man knew well how his thought about the subject was. He shrugged, looking back up to look at Fuji with an almost mocking smirk.
". . . Too bad I don't believe in love, then."
"But you can start by calling me 'Syuusuke'."
Fuji lay awake after a round of passionate sex, watching Ryoma's spent body curled into fetal position as he slept. The young man looked troubled even in sleep, brow creasing and lips curved slightly downward into a pout. Fuji's hand trembled as he caressed the other man's face, pushing back the stray hair that shielded Ryoma's beautiful face from him. His eyes were open in the darkness and he swept his vision over Ryoma's body. The smell of sex lingered still in the air, reminded him of how Ryoma writhed under him in wanton abandon, asking for more. As much as Fuji wanted to believe he was making love to Ryoma, he knew the latter would laugh it off and insisted that it was only sex and nothing else.
When the young professional tennis player was not away on world-class tournaments or exhibition matches, he would be out somewhere until late at night, looking utterly debauched and reeking heavily of alcohol and somebody else's perfume. In his drunken state, he would take Fuji down with him – seducing and taunting, knowing his lover would give in.
But when Ryoma came, it was always someone else's name the younger man cried.
"Congratulations on your victory."
Ryoma turned around to see Fuji smiling broadly as he leaned against the door to the kitchen. He frowned at what he called a 'pointless intrusion'. Sometimes, he forgot Fuji lived in the same apartment as he was. "You already told me that over the phone two days ago."
Fuji chuckled at his boyfriend's nonchalant remark. "Saa… Being able to tell you in person is more meaningful, don't you think?"
The sat facing each other at the kitchen table, waiting for the coffee to be ready. Ryoma's eyes were sharp to notice his boyfriend fidgeting slightly under the table. When he asked Fuji what seemed to be the problem, the latter hesitated to speak until a few minutes of silence went by unheeded. Ryoma rolled his eyes and stood up to fill his mug with the freshly brewed coffee at the signal the coffeemaker produced.
"Tezuka sent his regards."
Ryoma's fingers visibly tightened around the handle.
"He said your match was a fantastic one."
To Fuji's surprise, Ryoma burst into a fit of laughter for a good few minutes. He passed his still full cup of coffee to Fuji while trying to hold back his laughter. He reached for his jacket perched on the counter and strolled out of the kitchen, leaving the shocked Fuji confused and perplexed.
Before slamming the front door shut behind him, Ryoma looked over his shoulder with a smirk. "You should tell your college mate to stop lying sometimes."
Fuji stared at his blurry reflection in the mug, not surprised to see his own eyes wide open.
When Ryoma woke up the morning after, Fuji was already off. He had no desire to get out of bed, and absolutely no desire to go anywhere else as well. He just wanted to sink into the bed and sleep the day away. He considered calling Momoshiro for a long chat over nothing in particular like the good old days but changed his plan as he remembered how they were not exactly as close as before anymore. He lazily reached for his cellphone on the nightstand and flipped it open to reveal two unread messages. The first one was from Atobe. The manager cum sponsor typed his message in bold, capital letters, much to Ryoma's amusement. The older man threatened to kill him if he went out drinking the night before his press conference.
Stupid conference, stupid Monkey King, he thought. All the publicity he got was getting him annoyed. He could not go out without some kind of disguise anymore. Even buying stuff from the nearest convenient shop was made complicated by his popularity, and it was rapidly growing day by day. Most of the time, he let Atobe answered most of the questions on his behalf. The other man basked in the limelight all the time. Ryoma wondered why he did not venture into the same profession although he already knew it was probably because of Atobe's family.
The second message caused him to sit right up in abrupt. The message was clear, simple and just the right length – from Oishi. It was an invitation to attend a reunion party of sorts held at a bar in town. He wondered if Fuji already knew about it but refused to tell him. Then again, he was not always around when the man came home. Maybe Fuji wanted him to find out by himself. For a few minutes, Ryoma did nothing but stare at the message until the backlight went out, leaving him staring at nothing but a dark screen.
The thought of going to the reunion party made him feel like puking all of a sudden.
The only empty seat in the cafeteria was next to someone Fuji would rather not see or talk to at the moment. He was tempted to return the tray of food he just purchased until said someone caught him looking at said empty seat. He had no choice but to sit next to the person if he wanted to finish his lunch.
"Fuji," the other man greeted curtly with a small nod of the head.
"Tezuka," Fuji's reply was just as curt.
The food tasted stale in his mouth, Fuji thought. He just wanted to finish eating as soon as possible so he would be able to leave. A part of him was glad that none of them said anything as they dug into their respective meals. When Tezuka asked him whether or not he received Oishi's invitation to a reunion party, Fuji almost choked on his juice. He replied with a short yes, and both of them fell back into silence.
"Do you think he'd come?"
Fuji froze; he was only proud of himself when the cutlery was still firm in his hold. He did not expect Tezuka to ask him the question. He opened his eyes and tilted his head to look at Tezuka, who was picking at whatever was left of his food. He appeared troubled, and he was still unable to say Ryoma's name. Fuji wanted to kick the fuck out of Tezuka and then leave him bleeding on the floor. Instead, he closed his eyes and smiled his trademark mischievous smile.
"He'd come along if I do, and if he doesn't have anything scheduled. We are, after all, lovers."
Fuji felt a surge of triumph when Tezuka's grip around his chopstick visibly tightened at the emphasis on the word 'lovers'. Yet, when Tezuka left the table to return his empty food tray, Fuji's tongue felt burnt from the words he said. He had done it again – lying about how great his and Ryoma's relationship was when the truth was the other way around.
Lover of someone who did not love him… Who was he kidding?
Fuji sat watching the replay of Ryoma's exhibition match against Federer on the sofa next to his boyfriend in the living room. Ryoma had a deep frown marring his face; he seemed lost in his own world. Fuji watched as the Ryoma in the tape swung a shot his opponent could not return. With every point gained by his self in the tape, Ryoma's frown deepened. Just when it was Federer's turn to serve, he switched the TV off.
"Not strong enough…"
Fuji tilted his head, confused. "Pardon?" Was Ryoma saying Federer was not good enough? Or was he talking about himself?
Instead of answering, Ryoma shook his head. "It's nothing."
Fuji was surprised to find the light on when he came home that evening. He found Ryoma in the kitchen, treating himself to a piece of pizza. He pushed the hot pouch towards Fuji when the man sat at the opposite side of the table. The latter smiled, thanking the other for it.
"I received a message from Oishi-senpai," Ryoma stated disinterestedly. "About the reunion party."
Fuji should have sensed this when Ryoma had that distant look in his eyes. "Saa… Are you going then?" He wanted to say 'with me' but the words just would not come out.
Ryoma took a sip of his drink and looked straight at his boyfriend's face. "Are you going, Syuusuke?"
"I guess. Eiji would strangle me if I don't."
"Hmm… Chances are he'd strangle me too. And Momochan-senpai would surely kick my ass if I miss another party."
Fuji's eyes snapped open at that. "Does that mean that you'd…"
"Yeah, I'll go."
The older man supposed he should be happy for that. Somehow, something felt unusually, terribly off in his mind. It was like a warning of something dreadful to come in the near future.
Something that involved one Tezuka Kunimitsu.
Atobe sighed as the drunken Ryoma stubbornly refused to pick his head off of his lap. The young man looked so comfortable lying there. Atobe was about to kick Ryoma off one more time when he heard a choked sob from Ryoma which only meant one thing.
Ryoma was crying.
He let the young man cry, wincing occasionally at Ryoma's indecipherable nonsense. He did not need to ask the reason of the man's sudden burst of tears. Atobe pitied the boy sometimes. Even drunk, he was not able to forget his misery.
The press conference went relatively well in Atobe's opinion. Ryoma had been cooperative for once, saving him the trouble of having to answer most of the questions directed their way. Contrary to popular belief, Atobe Keigo did not like attending press conferences. He hated Ryoma's indifferent mask to questions regarding his personal matter. Although the young man chose not to answer most of the questions pertaining to his private life, Atobe could sense Ryoma's stress at being on the receiving end of questions like: (a) Are you seeing a special someone at the moment, Mr. Echizen?, (b) Is it true that they say you have no interest in woman?, and (c) Rumours has it that you are always out drinking and drunk. Is it true, Mr. Echizen?
Atobe was proud when Ryoma brushed off all of the questions with ease, but he was not happy when Ryoma appeared completely distressed after everything was over. Sighing, he went over to sit next to the man who decided to stare out of the window into nothingness. Even when he cleared his throat to get Ryoma's attention, he got no reaction but a simple annoyed grunt.
"Are you having problems with Fuji?"
That got Ryoma's attention. He frowned at his manager at the ridiculous notion, answering with a firm 'no'. Atobe raised an eyebrow, challenging him to speak his mind but all Ryoma did was scooted a little bit away from him and let his body fall onto the sofa, resting his head on Atobe's lap. The manager was not at all surprised at the gesture; it only made him wonder if he had pampered the young man too much.
"How do you feel when you had to choose to give up on tennis?"
It was not a hard question, but answering it was definitely not easy. Atobe leaned back against the sofa, hand pulling absent-mindedly at Ryoma's lock of hair. The first thing he told Ryoma was his feeling of anger and retaliation, which eventually turned into frustration and bitter acceptance. He did not hide the fact that he would have to stop doing all other businesses and focus on being the CEO of his family's company when he was 30; Ryoma would have to put up with having someone else as his manager, then. But Atobe promised he would always be his sponsor.
"You're strong," Ryoma commented. "I want to be stronger too."
The last part was almost inaudible that Atobe had to strain his ears to catch the words. Smirking, he ruffled Ryoma's hair, earning an irritated squeak from the man. He retrieved his PDA phone and read Ryoma's schedule, reminding him for the umpteenth time that Ryoma should concentrate on completing the ATP Tour. He has already qualified for the Masters Series, for God's sake, and he was more than qualified to be World's # 1 if he just threw more commitment into his career. Ryoma was amused that he was scheduled to leave for Spain just a few days after the reunion party, which reminded him that he had not yet told Atobe about it.
The manager was both amused and shocked when Ryoma mentioned the reunion. His only disappointment was to not be able to see Ryoma's expression when he spoke. Ryoma had not been to Seigaku reunion for two years. He wondered if Ryoma was really serious about going. Ryoma sat up and stared out much like he did before Atobe interrupted his train of thoughts.
All Ryoma said was "I need to stop running away." And then there was silence once again.
Atobe sighed. He wondered if Ryoma realized how miserable he sounded.
Ryoma was lounging at the balcony of his hotel room when a pair of strong hands circled his waist from behind. He sighed happily and leaned back against the warmth, rejoicing in the pleasant closeness. His fatigue seemed to lessen in the loving arms of his lover, who smiled against his temple. It was a beautiful night with stardust littered along the midnight horizon. The arms around him tightened, and he was only happy to burrow further into the intimate tenderness.
"Congratulations for making it to the finals," the deep baritone he adored so dearly whispered against his ears as lips descended to kiss his forehead slowly.
Ryoma turned within the embrace, pulling the taller man down into a soft loving kiss. He loved the feel of silky brown hair through his fingers. He had long since used to the feel of semi-cold metal of the man's spectacles pressing into his skin, only moving to remove it to deepen the kiss they shared. Echizen Ryoma, 19, a highly promising tennis player making his way to the top, happy with the man he loved.
He could not wish for more.
Their relationship was based on pure love Ryoma himself never thought he was capable of. The gentle touches, stolen kisses, adoring embrace and passionate lovemaking – Ryoma loved everything about his relationship with the other man.
Ryoma stole another kiss and murmured against the man's lips, "I can't wait for the day I see you on the other side of the court."
The man raised an amused eyebrow. "But you always see me standing across the court."
"Being a part of the audience doesn't count, buchou."
When the man laughed at the title 'buchou', Ryoma thought he could never be happier.
The medical text glared at him in sheer annoyance as Tezuka stared at it without reading or understanding the context. Nothing he did seemed right. He broke more than one test tube in the lab a few days ago during a simple chemistry experiment, burnt his fingers while trying to cook dinner and missed the morning bus to Toudai. In other words, he was a total wreck. Fuji definitely did not help his case. It was bad enough to see the other man during club activities, sitting next to him during lunch made matters worse. Whenever he tried to be kind and ask him how he was doing, all Fuji seemed to talk about was how happy he was with his lover.
Tezuka felt another headache approaching. It was no secret that Fuji had been dating Ryoma for over a year. The former seemed happy enough to brag about how pleasant his love life was when he saw Tezuka walking pass him in a hallway or in the cafeteria. If Fuji was happy, Tezuka supposed Ryoma was too. He should be glad for both of them, but he found himself distressed and agitated instead. When he slept at night, all he dreamt of were heartaches, goodbyes and broken dreams. He was not surprised to wake up with the ghost of tears on his face sometimes.
And everytime he heard Fuji talking with somebody else about Ryoma, he was reminded of what he left behind – of what he let slip out of his grip.
He opened the drawer and retrieved a well-kept photograph in a plain frame. The two figures in the photo were each holding a tennis racket and a lime-green ball as they smiled for the camera. Tezuka ran his hand over the smooth texture of the paper, reminiscing a time of shared happiness and promises for the future. The plain frame had their names written on it, as a proof of their relationship. Tezuka swallowed a lump in his throat at the names that were starting to fade with time.
He closed his eyes and hoped the names 'Kunimitsu & Ryoma' would still be there when he looked at the photo the next time.
"You could die of SDC if you drink that much," Fuji warned as he watched Ryoma put away the empty cans of beer in the kitchen. Ryoma merely raised an eyebrow, amused, looking back at him with a look that clearly said 'like I care about that SD-whatever'. The young man had taken to consuming alcohol after breaking up with Tezuka, much to Fuji's dismay. Seeing Ryoma drink so much triggered his conscious as a medical student, and he was worried for Ryoma's health. Once in a while, he would drop by to visit the younger man if the man was around in Japan. He wondered what had Atobe been doing by letting Ryoma develop such bad habit. Still, it was unlikely for Ryoma to listen to Atobe when it had nothing to do with his tennis schedule.
"It's just beer. It's not like I'm gulping down XO every few minutes."
"Beer, XO, Gin, Vodka, even wine - they accumulate in your body as toxin just the same."
He was answered with a huff and a snort. Ryoma clearly did not care, as long as he could still play tennis. He only drank when there weren't any major tournaments around the corner, so he saw no harm in getting himself pissed. When drinking alone became too boring, he would go out and get himself drunk in some bars. He could not even begin to count the times he woke up in somebody else's bed smelling heavily of sex and alcohol. Atobe was getting utterly pissed off by his lack of discipline but Ryoma could not care less.
"Are you even listening to me, Ryoma?"
"I swear I'd move into your apartment if I can. That way, I can make sure that your fridge isn't reserved exclusively for alcohol."
"Suit yourself, then."
Fuji opened his eyes, surprised. "Excuse me?"
"No one's stopping you from moving in."
Ryoma threw away the last can of beer into the thrash can and pull Fuji down to look straight into his bright blue eyes. "You were the one who said we're lovers, weren't you?"
The bar was different from Ryoma's favourite bar. The atmosphere was a lot more formal inside. Ryoma should have expected Oishi to choose such a sophisticated place for a party. It was not really a party, if Ryoma had any say regarding the matter. It was more like a meeting. Ryoma found himself sandwiched between an overly enthusiastic Eiji and Momo, facing a suspicious looking Inui and a nonchalant Kaidoh. Tezuka sat next to Oishi. Fuji sat next to Taka-san; he made sure his seat was as far away as possible from Tezuka, and Ryoma was only glad that Momo shielded Tezuka almost completely from his view. Conversation was awkward before Eiji started telling them about his 'adventure' as a college student.
Ryoma noticed Tezuka staring at him when everyone was focusing on Eiji and his zealous gesture in sync with his storytelling. Their eyes met for a moment before both looked away. Fuji tried to act like he saw nothing, but it was hard when he had his attention on Ryoma and Tezuka. He wanted to drag Ryoma out of the bar and go home; the latter was starting to look uneasy.
They were still listening to Eiji's story when a friendly hand touched Ryoma's tense shoulder. The young man looked over his shoulder to find an acquaintance from the International Tennis Federation smiling warmly down at him.
Ryoma stood up to face the man, causing the group to fall into silence. "Fancy meeting you in Japan, Mr. Ferrero," he greeted in English, taking the man's extended hand in a handshake.
Ferrero laughed, amused at how formal Ryoma was acting. "Well, fancy meeting you here too, Mr. Echizen. I'm meeting a friend of mine and I saw you sitting here. Thought I'd say hello."
Ryoma only shrugged, not knowing what to say.
The man said hello to the ex-regulars who simply greeted him 'hello' back. "Well, I won't bother you any longer. See you next week in Spain?"
Ryoma nodded and sat back down soon after Ferrero excused himself. Eiji's tale was forgotten as they started asking Ryoma about the tall man who had just interrupted them. Ryoma introduced him as Valentino Ferrero to his friends, a relative of former World #1 tennis pro Juan Carlos Ferrero. And then everything they talked about suddenly centered on Ryoma's career and tennis in general. Tezuka's eyes never left Ryoma as he told them of the world of tennis professionals. Ryoma wanted to hit something, or to just tell Tezuka to fucking stop staring at him.
When their fingers accidentally brushed against each other as they reached for another glass of drink, Ryoma's fingers recoiled much like he had touched something scorching hot, knocking over a few still full glasses. He watched as Tezuka's eyes widened at his horrified expression. Ryoma could not help it. The reaction was instinctive. Even though he told Atobe he needed to stop running away, he was not yet strong enough after all.
Ignoring his friends call for him to come back, Ryoma stormed out of the bar without any explanations.
Why was he not strong enough yet?
Fuji was not surprised when Atobe called that night. He was dead worried when Ryoma did not come home after leaving the party abruptly. He was glad when Atobe called to inform him that his lover was safe and sound at the former Hyotei captain's mansion. His first reaction after receiving Atobe's call was to inform Oishi so the latter could stop worrying over Ryoma's sudden flight and his current whereabouts.
When he arrived at Atobe's mansion, Ryoma was alone in the breathtaking garden, picking absent-mindedly at the roses planted there in favour of Atobe. One way or another, when Fuji called out his name, the man was surprised at Ryoma telling him not to come near him. They stood in still silence for a long uncomfortable moment until Ryoma decided to cut through the thick atmosphere.
"I was a bastard all this time, wasn't I?"
Fuji did not expect that from Ryoma.
"All these years, I acted like a bastard towards you. You knew how I feel, yet you stayed. You overlooked my infidelity and put up with my awful habits. It's not that I never tried. I tried. I tried to love you. I tried to forget him."
"I know," Fuji balled his shaking fingers into fists. He knew what Ryoma was going to tell him.
"I tried to forget him. I tried to be strong. But I can't. I'm just not strong enough."
"It's time to stop pretending, Syuusuke. It's time to end this."
Fuji's heart broke. Somewhere in his heart, he had always known that there was no happy ending for both of them. If relationship based on mutual love like Ryoma had with Tezuka could break, what did a pretentious relationship Fuji had with Ryoma have to survive the tide? When tears fell from his eyes, Ryoma wiped it away, saying he was sorry for everything. He apologized for not ending their relationship sooner before it hurt Fuji this much.
The older man shook his head. Ryoma was not the only one at fault. He was the one who asked Ryoma to be his lover in the first place, the one who forced himself into Ryoma's life.
Fuji choked on his silent tears, leaning into Ryoma's warm palm against his cheek. "Would you come back to our house, then? Just for tonight, one last time. That's all I ask of you."
Fuji thanked Yumiko for the hot chocolate. He felt a lot better after telling his older sister about his dilemma, guising his problem by saying that it was his college friend's problem. Somehow, he knew Yumiko knew something even if he did not say it out loud. His sister always knew when either he or Yuuta was troubled by something.
"So, this friend of yours could not love anyone other than his ex-lover, and his ex-lover was also thinking of your friend although they are no longer in a relationship?"
"Aa, that's the situation. This friend of mine is currently in a relationship with someone else, but it is so obvious that he doesn't love that person."
Yumiko's eyes saddened upon hearing the situation described by his younger brother. Yumiko was no fool. She knew Fuji was talking about himself but she decided to play along with his little game. Maybe her brother felt easier this way. Still, what she was going to tell him would no doubt hurt him if he was 'that person' in the situation he just told her.
"When two persons formerly in a relationship broke up, it is only normal for them to be able to love someone else after a period of time. But if they find themselves still loving each other even when apart, then they had only been fooling themselves. They are meant to be together; it's only sad that they have not yet realized it yet. This friend of yours… will never be able to love his new lover if he is still in love with his ex and his ex with him. The red thread that binds them together exists still. That is why they still love each other although they may claim otherwise."
Fuji bit his lips. Yumiko's words cut through him like the sharpest knife on Earth, stabbing his heart with harsh reality of life.
"Syuusuke… Maybe it's best for this friend of yours to end his relationship with the new person before both of them are hurt worse than they already are."
"Even if that new person loves him so much?"
"They're just not meant to be."
Packing his stuff into large suitcases was not something Ryoma liked to do. He never liked being on the move for long either. Atobe was the one who insisted Ryoma to bring along a large number of clothes so he was able to maintain his image. 'A tennis player needs to have a fashion sense too,' Atobe once told him. Ryoma scoffed and told his manager he was not like most of the WTA players who dressed to kill during major tournaments. He shuddered as he remembered the last Toray Pan Pacific Open he had had the misfortune to attend, where the media focused more on the players' sportswear and outfit on and off courts instead of the actual tournament. Shrugging the thoughts aside, Ryoma continued packing and this time, it was even harder to pack his stuff because he was packing practically everything.
He did not meet Fuji's eyes when the man came home later in the evening. The older man's eyes were full of sorrow as he swept them over all the suitcases lined up at the door. Ryoma could not bring himself to move an inch when Fuji pulled him into an embrace, as if silently begging him to reconsider his decision. It was only unfortunate for Fuji that Ryoma was adamant on not changing his mind. Ryoma could finally stop being unfair to both of them and Fuji could finally stop living under the pretense that they were in a relationship based on mutual love. He loved Fuji, but it was not the kind of love he once had when he was with Tezuka. It was more like a friendship or family love. He just did not love Fuji like that.
He let Fuji hold him until the man calmed down. He told him that he had paid for the apartment in full and transferred the ownership completely to the other man. Even if Fuji decided to sell of the apartment, he would not stop him. It was his farewell gift for the man, a bitter combination of both apology and gratitude for looking after him for so long. He wanted to at least leave something for Fuji; Ryoma did not want to just walk away like Tezuka had done to him two years ago. He knew how it felt to be left without an explanation. Even if he did not love Fuji like the man wanted him to, he did not wish for Fuji to go through what he experienced.
He hoped that Fuji would one day understand that his leaving was to save both of them from suffering the pain of unrequited love – Fuji for Ryoma and Ryoma for Tezuka. They had only been together for less than a couple of years, without promises for the future or anything. Fuji could still find someone else, could still heal the pain and open his heart to love again. He was not tied to anything, unlike Ryoma whose pain of having his shared promises broken never seemed to make any effort to leave.
As Ryoma closed the door behind him, he hoped the spikes in hell were sharp enough to greet him when he died.
He drove to Atobe's house but stopped halfway at the thought of having to explain everything to the grumpy man. Ryoma decided a few glasses of alcohol would do him good. He drove the other way around to his favourite bar, favourited mainly because no one recognized him there.
Ryoma did not expect to find Tezuka at the bar. He resisted the sudden urge to bolt, let himself fall unceremoniously into the seat next to the older man and ordered a whole bottle of Vodka. Screw a few glasses. Seeing Tezuka there caused something to snap in his head. He was aware of Tezuka's scandalized stare on him, but he ignored it like it was nothing. He could do what the fuck he wanted, Ryoma thought. Tezuka was just like anyone else, just a customer trying to get pissed like him. Ryoma did not give a flying fuck as to what Tezuka was thinking as he gulped down the content of the bottle, rejoicing in the pleasant aftertaste of the strong alcohol burning down his throat.
Tezuka was only on his second glass when Ryoma showed up. He was shocked into speechlessness at the state Ryoma was in. The younger man's hair was in disarray and his eyes were dull to the point of resembling the eyes of the dead. Ryoma's eyes flared for a second when their eyes met, but that was that. When he gulped down his drink, Tezuka found himself completely ignored. It was like they were two strangers sitting next to each other, not speaking or acknowledging one another. For a moment, he summoned his still sane mind to recall if he had ever seen Ryoma in such state, but he could not seem to find it in his memory.
When Ryoma started hiccoughing and called the bartender for another bottle (insisting on a full bottle and not a glass), he was surprised to find Tezuka's hand on his own, trying to stop him from drinking further. The man said something about being drunk and driving. Ryoma rolled his eyes and shoved the offending hand away. He did not need Tezuka to tell him what to do, dammit! He just wanted to forget everything. He wanted to forget Tezuka. He wanted to forget Fuji. He wanted to forget Atobe. Heck, he even wanted to forget whom he was if for just a few moments.
"What the hell happened to you?" Tezuka snatched the second bottle away, looking at Ryoma with a reprimanding glare. He was rewarded with an almost identical glare, only fiercer, on Ryoma's face.
"What the hell do you think?"
When Fuji found Ryoma that night, the latter was soaked to his skin, holding a wilted red rose in his right hand. Blood seeped out where the thorns pricked his skin. He was glad that despite the small wound, Ryoma seemed alright. He had been worried when Oishi told him of what happened between Ryoma and Tezuka. Fuji was instantly reminded of the sparkle in Ryoma's eyes when the younger man told him he was waiting for the day Tezuka turned pro so they could reach the pinnacle of tennis together. And Tezuka just had to go and ruin it.
No one was at home when he went to the Echizens, and it was raining outside. Fuji drove around, looking for Ryoma. The rain had come to a stop when he reached the gate of his old school – Seigaku Middle School. Ryoma was staring longingly at the court, lost in the memory of the past where dreams were created and happiness was shared. He pried the rose out of Ryoma's grip and watched as the younger man's blood mingled with the remaining rainwater Ryoma was soaked in, watched the drops of blood hit the ground with a resounding splatter.
Fuji held Ryoma as he cried.
As Tezuka dragged him out of the bar, Ryoma was still struggling, protesting, yelling that he did not want to go home. Tezuka tried to reason with the drunken man, glad that he himself was only half drunk and was still capable of thinking. He was about to call Fuji when Ryoma snatched his phone away and glared – a glare which said 'don't you dare'. The stumbled into a dark alleyway where Ryoma hit his chest numerous times, telling Tezuka he hated the man so fucking much. His concealed emotion flowed freely in his drunken state; his heartache laid bare for Tezuka to listen. When tears of desperation rolled down Ryoma's flushed cheeks, Tezuka almost panicked. He did the only thing he could to silent the man.
He kissed him.
Ryoma's sobs were muffled by the kiss, and he clutched desperately at Tezuka's shirt. It could be the alcohol, or it could be his long suppressed desire for the younger man that prompted Tezuka to deepen the kiss, eager to taste Ryoma after so long. The bitter taste of smoke and alcohol was still strong in his mouth, but Tezuka thought he had never tasted something as sweet. He was reminded of how much he missed the sweetness of grape-flavoured Ponta in Ryoma's kiss, and the smile of happiness against his lips.
God, how he missed Ryoma! So fucking much.
When Ryoma sobbed 'Kunimitsu' against his lips, Tezuka crushed their bodies together and pulled Ryoma into a bruising kiss that told an endless story of desire, desperation, frustration, longing… and sadness.
No matter how long Fuji waited, Ryoma did not come home that night. He looked forlornly at the empty apartment; it was just as dark and silent like the void in his heart. He wondered if this was how Ryoma felt when Tezuka walked out of his life; Ryoma's pain could be worse than the chaos Fuji was having inside. While both of them never made promises to each other, he knew it was not the same with Ryoma and Tezuka. They were the perfect couple who understood every part of each other without having to say anything. Admired by many and envied by the rest – that was how their relationship was described.
Ryoma made it clear that he would not be able to bring himself to love Fuji, not when his heart was filled with the ghost of Tezuka Kunimitsu. Ryoma was not capable of loving him – there was no space left for anyone but Tezuka in his heart. As much as Fuji wanted to believe that Ryoma would eventually move on and open his heart for him, he knew it was just a wishful thinking on his part.
Tezuka was like blood flowing through Ryoma's vein, circulating and regenerating for as long as his heart beat. He was too much like blood that the only way for Ryoma to forget him was to bleed him out.
But then Ryoma would die.
Fuji never felt such desire to cry.
The door to Tezuka's bedroom slammed shut with a loud bang. Walking backwards towards the bed, Tezuka let himself fall, dragging Ryoma down, sprawled all over his body.
Ryoma shut him up with a kiss, fumbling with Tezuka's zipper, tugging at it none too gently. The older man moaned into the kiss, feeling the heaven-like cavern that was Ryoma's oh-so-hot-and-sweet mouth, tongues sliding and entangling each other in a battle for dominance. When Ryoma thought he had won, he was suddenly flipped onto his back. He smirked, knowing that he had somehow won. He let Tezuka worship his body, arching into the man's touch, flushed at the friction of their heated skin grazing one another. Tezuka bit on Ryoma's shoulder blade as the latter reached in between their bodies for his throbbing cock, pulling and teasing and caressing him to his full length.
He thrust into Ryoma's hand as he continued his assault on the latter's skin. Slightly calloused fingers circled the tip of his weeping cock, putting enough pressure to draw a loud moan from the usually composed man. It was then that Ryoma, panting and sweating and unprepared, nipped at his earlobe and groaned 'fuck me!' into his ears. Tezuka hesitated; Ryoma was not prepared. The few seconds he took to summon his hazy brain to think gave Ryoma the opportunity to flip them over. He lowered himself onto Tezuka's cock, surprising the older man. He moaned at the fullness, flinching a second at the pain but showed no intention of stopping while Tezuka suppressed a loud groan at the tightness around him. All he could think of was Ryoma's name and how Ryoma was always so tight, so delicious, so sensuous, and so very fuckable.
Both of them were two far gone by the time Ryoma started bouncing up and down fervently, seeking release they both craved for. Tezuka thrust up into the slick hole just as fervently, pumping Ryoma's weeping cock in time with their rhythm. He was only happy to comply when Ryoma begged for him to fuck him 'harder' and 'deeper'. Ryoma was the first to come, muffling his euphoric scream by biting his poor lips. Tezuka grabbed him for a deep and somewhat sloppy yet ardent kiss and flipped them over again, and turned Ryoma over on his knees.
Ryoma moaned aloud when Tezuka thrust all the way into him, gripping the bedpost when the latter pulled back almost completely out before thrusting all the way in again, chanting Ryoma's name over and over. He missed this. Tezuka missed all this. He missed making love to Ryoma. He missed the way Ryoma's ass would swallow him to the hilt, and loved watching his cock slid in and out of Ryoma in a rhythmic pattern. With every 'fuck me harder, Kunimitsu' from Ryoma's lips, Tezuka's thrust increased in tempo. He stroke Ryoma's cock to fullness, pumping it just as fervently. Ryoma came with a scream, and Tezuka groaned at the tightness around his cock. Tezuka cried out Ryoma's name when he came, shooting his hot come inside his lover who moaned in pleasure at the feel of the warm gush of semen hitting his walls.
When Tezuka drew him closer for another passionate kiss, Ryoma cried.
The drunken man continued to hit Tezuka relentlessly while sobbing into his chest. "I hate you! I hate you, Tezuka Kunimitsu! I hate you so fucking much. But why does it fucking hurt when I say I hate you?"
Morning came, and Tezuka woke to find himself alone in his bedroom. There was no trace of Ryoma in the room. There was a piece of paper on his nightstand, held in place by a half-empty glass. He did not bother to put on his spectacles when he snatched the piece of paper, sending the glass flying and hitting wall and shattered. The paper was almost empty, save for the hastily scribbled 'I'm sorry' in the middle of it. Tezuka leapt out of bed to get dressed as quickly as he could but he stumbled back down onto the hard floor as soon as he reached the closet.
The hangover was starting to call for his attention.
Tezuka summoned his strength. He could not afford to wait. He had to find Ryoma – he had to talk to him. There were just so many things he wanted to tell the other man. Just when he managed to put on a decent pair of shirt and trousers, the doorbell sprung to life, followed by loud banging on the door by impatient hands.
When he opened the door, he was immediately thrown backwards by a powerful blow, followed by a pair of hands closing around his neck, intent on choking him.
Blue eyes… Brown hair… Fuji!
"Tezuka, you bastard!"
He had always known of Fuji's remarkable strength despite his delicate build, but he never thought he would be on the receiving end of the man's strength in something other than tennis. Even his little brother who accompanied him could not do anything to pry Fuji's fingers around Tezuka's neck which was trying to squeeze the latter's life out of his body. Tezuka had only managed to loosen the hold a little when Fuji released him and grabbed a handful of his clothes, slamming him against the wall.
"Why is it always you? Why can't he just forget you?"
It was hard to dodge Fuji's hard blow when you were trapped between him and the uncooperative wall; all Tezuka could do was endure the pain. He was thankful to the stronger pain in his heart so he could handle Fuji's wrath.
"Why does he love only you? Why doesn't he see me?"
Fuji spilled everything – everything that he had ever wanted to say out like. Until a few days ago, Tezuka never knew how much hatred the former good friend of his bore towards him. He never knew how much he had made Ryoma suffer, never bothered to ask what Ryoma's dream was, never bothered to look back, assuming the younger man was better off without him. He never stopped thinking about his ex-lover, but never thought if Ryoma was thinking of him too. He never thought that by hurting Ryoma, many others were hurt along the way. His former teammates, Atobe, Ryoma's parents, himself – they were all hurt by his shallow judgment.
"Why does he have to hurt himself over and over because of you?"
Ryoma hit Tezuka's chest desperately, pouring his frustration out on the man who haunted his sleep and lingered in his wake. "No one bothered to ask me what I want, not even you! All you guys did was assumed and made assumptions about me! All you said then was that I'd be better off without you. Fuck you, Tezuka! How do you think I felt then? How do you think I feel now?"
Suddenly Fuji's strikes did not seem to be enough to hurt him. The pain in Tezuka's chest intensified, heart beating faster like it was trying to jump out of his chest. He found it hard for him to breathe. Every breath he took tore at the inner walls of his heart, his mind, his soul – he almost choked at the sudden searing pain. What did Fuji mean by Ryoma hurting himself over and over?
"What happened to him?" Tezuka stuttered when the intensity of Fuji's wrath subsided.
It was not Fuji who answered. Tezuka looked over at the doorway to see Atobe leaning casually against the wall. He looked utterly pissed off, even more pissed of than Fuji. "As much as I want to beat the two of you to pulp right here right now, I don't think I would like to deal with the idiot's wrath."
Tezuka sucked in a sharp intake of breath. He thought his heart stopped the moment he heard Atobe said 'cardiac arrest'. "Is he…"
Atobe glared hard at both Tezuka and Fuji. "What? You're asking if he's okay? Of course he's not okay! Who the hell are you kidding? He came to my house looking like hell at 5 in the morning and broke down, saying something about you and you. I left him in the guest room alone for barely an hour and he finished the whole alcohol supply in the room! The idiot almost died this morning because of that. His heart fucking stopped! He was damn lucky that the cardiac resuscitation was successful or he would have been a wandering soul now."
The bespectacled man released the breath he was holding. He was so afraid that Atobe would say something about Sudden Cardiac Death and Ryoma in the same sentence. Fuji let go of him and let himself fall onto the sofa while Tezuka slid down the wall to sit on the floor, still staring at Atobe. Fuji asked Yuuta to tell Yumiko of his whereabouts. His younger brother hesitated for a while before nodding his head and walked out of the scene.
Atobe continued his speech once Yuuta was completely out of his sight. "Since he wouldn't blame any of you once he recovers, allow me to say this in advance. Thanks to you guys, he's going to miss his flight to Spain and the Madrid Masters. Looks like he will have to say goodbye to this year's ATP Race like last year too."
"And until he wakes up, I forbid both of you to be in close proximity of my family hospital, especially you, Tezuka. You too, Fuji, don't even try to go against my words. While he's recuperating after he wakes up, that is if he ever does, you won't be able to see him unless I say you can."
With a final angry huff, Atobe spun on his heels and left Tezuka's apartment to return to Atobe Tokyo Private Hospital. He hoped Fuji and Tezuka listened to his advice to stay away from Ryoma until he gave them permission to approach the man or there would be hell to pay.
When Atobe left, Fuji told him everything from two years ago. He told Tezuka how Ryoma never got over the man, that he was incapable of loving another. He told Tezuka about Ryoma and alcohol and how he it fell into habit because Ryoma wanted to forget everything. He told Tezuka of his and Ryoma's one-sided relationship. He admitted that all the time he claimed that they were happy was only meant to hurt Tezuka because he knew the man was still constantly thinking about Ryoma too. He told Tezuka everything the man did not know about Ryoma after he walked away.
Fuji told Tezuka how he envied him when he seemed to always have Ryoma's attention when they were still at school. He envied Tezuka who could make Ryoma smile off courts. Even when he was with Ryoma, he still had to envy Tezuka. He told Tezuka how Ryoma had given up trying to forget him; he told him that they had gone their separate ways the night Ryoma bolted from the party – and it was all because he realized he could never forget the other man when he saw him again.
"Stop this, Tezuka," Fuji rasped, hiding his face in his palms. "Stop this craziness before it's too late."
Go back to where it started. Mend it, for you cannot erase it. Make everything alright again. It was all written in his eyes when he turned to look at Tezuka. When he saw droplets of tears fell silently from Tezuka's closed eyes, he burst into tears. He knew Tezuka finally understood.
When Ryoma woke up from his semi-comatose state, three days had passed. He was met with Atobe's long lecture about him being suicidal and ruining his career. The angry manager swore to never let Ryoma go near any type of alcohol ever again, not even the harmless white wine or the lightest beer. Until Ryoma behaved himself, Atobe would make sure the man followed the diet he had his doctor prescribed for Ryoma for the rest of his life.
Ryoma was not thinking of killing himself when he drank. He only wanted to forget everything. He was too far gone to realize that he had taken too much, only feeling the impact when he found himself having trouble breathing. When Ryoma asked his manager if he was worried, Atobe only replied with a glare before pulling him into a brotherly hug.
"Never scare me like that again," Atobe said.
Ryoma smiled. He told Atobe everything that happened in the past few days before the incident. Thankfully, his brain could still function normally after the arrest. He remembered most part of what happened between him, Fuji and Tezuka. Atobe listened to him with a knowing smirk, as if he already knew everything.
"If Tezuka were to ask you for another chance, what would you say?"
The younger man looked at his manager as if he had grown another head, but he was not aware of the sudden flicker of hope that crept into his eyes. Atobe noticed it, though. He stood up straight to retrieve something from his leather-bound planner resting next to Ryoma's pillow, something that looked like a plain, blue envelope.
Ryoma blinked stupidly when Atobe handed the envelope to him. The man refused to say anything about it; the only thing he told him was to read whatever that was inside. Glancing suspiciously at Atobe from the corner of his eyes, Ryoma tore the blue envelope with care and unfolded the paper inside. Written in clear, admirable handwriting was a letter addressed to him. He gasped. He could never not recognize the handwriting.
I am never good with words, and I know you know that too. There is nothing I can say that could possibly take away the pain you suffered. I want you to know that everything that has gone wrong in our life was because of me. You're never at fault. It was my selfish decision and shallow judgment that caused our life to be torn apart like this.
I never forget the promise we made. You were more than patient enough to wait until I finish college to join you on the courts of the professionals. I was the impatient one in our relationship. My only desire was to see you take over the world with your outstanding skills. I wanted you to be the best. My pessimism had blinded me with the impression that you were not doing your best because you were waiting for me.
I didn't want to be the one who distracts you from your goal of becoming World's # 1, so I did the only think I could think of. I left. I broke the pillars we worked so hard to build, hoping that with me gone, you could fully concentrate on your career.
But I was wrong, was I not?
It took me two years to realize that instead of ridding you of your distraction, our broken relationship became a larger distraction to you. You retained your titles in the tournaments you took part in, but the enthusiasms were absent, lost somewhere no one could reach. You became inconsistent in your performances, showing up for this tournament and missing from the next only to take part in another one later.
When Fuji told me you were lovers, I tried to be happy for you. I thought you had finally moved on. I thought I could move on too. But as hard as I tried, I could never forget you –I could never forget what we once had. I could not deny the love I still have for you.
Seeing you at the reunion reduced me to a miserable wreck. I may look indifferent on the outside, but I am still just a man inside. I am only human. When you fled at the smallest brush of our hands, I wanted to run after you. That was when I truly realized that you still have feelings for me despite how happy Fuji said the two of you were.
Of course I didn't know he had been lying then.
That night we met at the bar, I was trying to clear my mind. I didn't expect you there. And when you started drinking and looking like it's your daily routine, something snapped inside me. I couldn't stand seeing you so miserable. I searched my memory, but couldn't recall you ever touching even a single glass of wine. I almost could not breathe when I figured your need for alcohol was because of me.
The love we shared that night was heaven for me. After two years, I finally admitted that it was hopeless for me to try to forget you. Having you in my arms after so long made me realize how wrong I was for leaving you. I missed your gentle touches and loving kisses. I missed your smiles, and I missed the laughter you reserved for our time alone together. I missed you.
Even now, I miss you.
The morning after, I almost panicked when I found you gone. I made up my mind. I wanted to beg for your forgiveness and beg you for another chance. I want to fulfill the promise I made to you. I want to fulfill our promise to reach the top of the world together.
I love you.
If you have any feelings of love left for me, I hope you'll find in your heart a tiny space for me to occupy. I know I am asking too much from you, but I beg you for another chance to rebuild the pillars I so foolishly destroyed.
Ryoma folded the paper and put it back into the envelope. Atobe was no longer in the room. He figured the man left when he was caught up with the letter. He looked over at his tennis bag leaning casually next to a TV cabinet in front of him. Atobe had left it there as a good luck charm. He closed his eyes and thought long and hard until a strong resolution dawned upon him.
He held the letter to his chest and reached for his cellphone. He reminded himself to thank his manager for putting the device within his reach. Taking a deep breath, Ryoma flipped the phone over and typed a message.
It was not long until the door to his room swung open to reveal a panting Tezuka Kunimitsu.
Ryoma smirked. "I still hate you, you know."
Tezuka's countered the smirk with a smile. "Aa."
Still displayed on the screen of Tezuka's cellphone held firmly in his hand was the last message it received:
Forgive me for the abrupt end. I might revise this when I finish the other fics I'm working at.
IN CASE YOU DON'T KNOW…Juan Carlos Ferrero: Full name is Juan Carlos Ferrero Donat, Spanish, born in 1980. He's the former World #1 tennis professional. He performs best on clay courts, and has a poor Wimbledon record despite his number one title. Learn more about him at juanquidotnet :) Roger Federer: Are you sure you don't know? Anyways, he's the current World #1, 25 years old, already collected 9 Grand Slam titles (and slowly inching towards Sampras' 14), also the goodwill ambassador of UNICEF (God, someone buy me a Feder-bear!!) ATP: Association of Tennis Professionals. The organization in charge of general welfare of tennis professionals. ATP Tour: Seven categories of tennis tournaments in one calendar year: Tennis Masters Cup, Tennis Masters Series Tournaments, International Series Gold Tournaments, International Series Tournament, Challenger Tournaments, Challenger Tournaments, Satellite Series Circuits and Futures Tournaments. ATP Race: The ATP defines the ATP Race as "an easy-to-understand, simple-to-follow annual race from season start to season end. Every player starts at zero at the beginning of the year and the player who accumulates the most points by season's end is the World Number 1" and claims that the Race "is the mathematical method of ranking male professional tennis players on a calendar-year basis." (From Wikipedia) WTA: Women Tennis Association Toray Pan Pacific Open: A women's (tennis) event held in Tokyo. Grand Slam: A tennis player is said to achieve Grand Slam if he wins in all 4 Grand Slam events in one calendar year: Australian Open, French Open (Roland Garros), Wimbledon and U.S Open in January, May-June, June-July and August-September respectively. So far, only Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 & 1969) achieved "Grand Slam" Cardiac Arrest: The abrupt stop of normal circulation of the blood due to failure of the heart to contract effectively during systole. Also known as 'circulatory arrest'. Sudden Cardiac Death (SDC): A situation in which cardiac arrest leads to death. Death is usually sudden and swift.