PG, I guess. Angst/Drama. Implied past Tezuka/Fuji, and Tezuka/Ryoma if you squint. Sort of AU-ish, where Ryoma did not come to Seigaku during JHS. This is set in high school.
Warning: If you're a Tezuka/Ryoma fan, you'll hate me. If you're a Tezuka/Fuji fan, you'll also hate me. If you're a Tezuka/Oishi fan, you'll hate me, too. If you're Atobe/Anyone fan, then you'll hate me on principle. (And if you've read "Looking-glass", you'll probably guess the plot three scenes into this one, because I'm unoriginal like that. XD)
Summary: Tezuka spends his free time with Ryoma - and only with Ryoma.
(November 28 & 29, 2006)
Purple and yellow.
The twin peaks of the colorful tent rose above the faded red and the darkening brown of the leaves, subsumed in the bluish gray that fell about the city. Festive music played on, the carousel continued to spin, but even the children's laughter sounded desperate, forced.
He had never been fond of clowns. But the red, yellow, and purple were branded in his mind along with the image of a boy, white cap and dark gold eyes. The boy's wide-eyed, serious look was so out of place next to the curled shoes and belled hat, white, grinning face and red nose and enormous red mouth. He looked away.
When he looked again, the boy was gone. The clown's painted smile (with big red mouth) unnerved him, and he left before the clown smiled at him for real.
The next spring, he was surprised to find a pair of wide, serious eyes under the brim of a white cap in the middle of the row of first-years.
The boy - Ryoma, he corrected himself - didn't talk much. And hetalked even less. When the two of them were together, the bulk of their time was spent in silence, and in playing tennis. The boy had a way of calling him "Captain" that made him feel strange, like he was trying to say a lot more with just that. Most of the times, he ignored the feeling.
Yet the one he spent most time with was Ryoma. No one said anything about that. Not even Oishi. Well, that might have more to do with that he hadn't spoken to Oishi in a while. They were close during junior high, but people grew, and sometimes grew apart. Most of his teammates respected his personal space, except Kikumaru, who had absolutely no concept of personal space whatsoever. He brushed him off every time, but that never kept Kikumaru away for long.
"Captain," Ryoma called, and he looked up, finally realizing his Regulars weren't rallying like they were supposed to; they were all crowded around someone at the court entrance.
Hyoutei uniform. Fuji Syuusuke.
Kikumaru was all but bouncing on his heels, hanging onto Fuji. The only Regular who hasn't moved from his spot was Ryoma, and himself.
"Kikumaru!" He was grimly satisfied see Kikumaru jump, startled. "Non-members aren't allowed on the grounds when practice is in session. Get back to practice."
There was an utter silence, and for a moment, he wondered - actually wondered - if his teammates would disobey him. Finally, Oishi cleared his throat, and motioned for Kikumaru to follow, who shot him an aggrieved look, but followed after a quick squeeze and whispered apology to Fuji. Inui gave him a hard look, but said nothing, returning to Court D to resume his rally with Kaidoh, and Momoshiro shuffled to Court A, waiting for Kikumaru to return.
"I'd like to talk to you, Tezuka." Fuji said quietly, but his voice carried across the court effortlessly.
He did not look back. "It's in the middle of the practice."
"I'll wait, then."
By the time he turned around to snap, "No, you can't," Fuji was already out of earshot. He was tempted to draw out the practice as long as possible, but by the third quarter of the second hour, even the Regulars were beginning to show fatigue. Finally, he dismissed the club, and could hear practically the whole club sigh in relief. It had been good hour and half since Fuji had shown up, and to his relief, Fuji was nowhere to be seen when he approached the clubhouse. For a brief moment he entertained the hopeful thought maybe Fuji had left, but Fuji quickly disabused him of such notion, stepping out of the shadow the moment he came out.
"Captain." There was that soft voice again, this time a question. He nodded, and Ryoma gave him a long look, then turned to walk away. Left alone, he waited for Fuji to speak.
"Nothing changed around here, did it?" There was a wistful note in Fuji's tone. "So, how are you?"
"Why are you here?" He had never been one to talk around. Fuji's mouth quirked wryly.
"You haven't changed, either, I see." There was no bitterness in Fuji's voice. "I just wanted to check on Eiji, see how you were all doing."
"Then you're done. Anything else?"
"Tezuka." A pause. "I wanted to see you."
"Why?" he asked bluntly, and saw a flinch go through Fuji.
"You still won't talk to me." Fuji's voice was itself almost a sigh.
"We have nothing to talk about."
"Was that all?" He waited for a few seconds, then started walking. "Good day, Fuji."
"Atobe sends regards," Fuji called after him, but he ignored it. Soon, he was at the gate, and to his surprise, Ryoma was still waiting for him.
"Captain," Ryoma replied softly. Ryoma said nothing else, and he said nothing else, either. In silence, they resumed their walk homeward. Nearly halfway to their destination, Ryoma spoke again.
He said nothing.
"Is it about him?"
He raised an eyebrow. Ryoma did not so much as bat an eyelash.
"The one who came by today. What's-his-name. Fuji."
"That's none of your business, Echizen."
To his relief, Ryoma did not pursue the point. Who did pursue the point, to his annoyance, was Atobe, who called him that evening.
"I can't believe you could be so childish." Atobe's exasperation was loud and clear over the phone. "You really haven't changed at all, Tezuka."
"Neither have you," he countered without heat. There was a short silence on the other end. "Stay out of my business, and I'll stay out of yours. Good night, Atobe."
"Ever since Fuji transferred here, it has been my business." Atobe sounded unexpectedly tired. "But I have better things to do than argue with a wall, so yes, good night, Tezuka."
A click, then dial tone.
His sleep was plagued by dreams, of gentle smiles and warm fingers. He woke up an hour before his usual time, but could not bring himself to fall asleep again, so stayed up and watched the sunrise.
He started out of his reverie. Ryoma was looking at him expectantly, and the courts were empty. Without the nets, the balls, and club members cluttering the space, he almost didn't recognize the courts.
Wordlessly he followed, on the familiar way to the tennis center.
"It's okay if I beat you, right?"
Ryoma always asked that when they played. He never answered verbally, but made it a point to answer in another way. Ryoma had never won a match since their first one. But each time, he came closer and closer.
It was satisfying. But sometimes, he wondered what would happen if Ryoma finally did win.
He put all of his weight into his next serve.
"Can I help you?"
Ueda, who manned the cash register, shifted uncomfortably when the inscrutable smile turned his way.
"Does he come here every day?"
"Who?" Ueda looked, and blinked. "Oh, you mean Tezuka-kun. Yes, he comes around every day."
"I see." A pause. "Thank you."
Without another word, the young man left, tennis bag carelessly slung over his shoulder, and Ueda stared after him for a moment, then went back to work.
"You're upset again."
"-None of my business. I know."
He closed the book, his motion deliberate and quiet. The e-mail he had received the night before had no name and no subject.
Did you find what you were looking for?
He did not need to ask who had been the sender.
Don't bother me again.
He had deleted both the message and his reply as soon as he wrote it.
Ryoma let out a short huff. "You're just being stupid."
A retort was on the tip of his tongue, but Ryoma had already walked off. Ryoma did not wait for him at the gate that day, and he spent only an hour or so at the tennis center before he finished. Before he left, he ran into Ueda in the front lobby.
"Finished already today?"
"Oh yes, I forgot to mention the other day. Someone came by and asked about you. Friend of yours?"
No one else had ever accompanied him here, not even Oishi. He frowned. "Did he say he was here to see me?"
"Well, no. Just left after asking if you came here everyday. Good-looking young man, about yea tall, smiles a lot? Hey - Tezuka-kun?"
"Thank you," he said brusquely, and left.
Did you find what you were looking for?
He pulled out his phone, and flipped it open. After a moment, he flipped it closed, and walked home.
He wasn't sure if he was relieved or not when no more mysterious messages arrived. His daily life returned to normal, and there was no more dreams haunting him in his sleep. Everything was rote and routine. A thoroughly normal week passed by, followed by another.
Ryoma's voice was tinged with definite hints of impatience. He returned the look evenly. His game had not changed in any way during the past weeks, and they had played exactly the same as before.
"This is stupid."
He stared after Ryoma as he left, but did not call after him or mentioned it when they met again the next day. Ryoma didn't wait for him that afternoon. Or the day after.
And he started dreaming about his junior high school days.
Oishi, eyes bright with unswerving faith...
Inui, the satisfied glint on his glasses...
Momoshiro and Kaidoh, screaming at each other at the top of their lungs...
Kawamura, smiling shyly while Kikumaru decimated the uneven rolls of sushi...
Sound of shutters going off...
Soft laughter and light fingertips...
Laughing, smiling, glimmering like a playful sylph.
"I thought you were going to be serious," he said to the dream-Fuji.
"Who says I'm not?" replied the dream-Fuji.
"This - it's not enough."
The dream-Fuji's eyes were hooded, his voice sweet, razor-edge of malice wrapped in honey.
"When was it ever enough for you?"
"But you didn't even try," he accused, but the dream-Fuji merely laughed at him. "You didn't try everything."
The dream-Fuji stopped laughing. "Probably not." Fuji never did make excuses for himself.
"It was a mistake, wasn't it?" he asked after a long pause.
"Maybe," the dream-Fuji said. "Maybe not. See what happens when you start asking questions?"
Neither said anything for a long moment.
"When you played Shiraishi..." The dream-Fuji turned and blinked those wide, vivid eyes at him. "...Could you have done better?"
Blue eyes bored into him. The dream-Fuji took a step back, then another. Then another.
"Maybe. Do you think I could have?"
He woke up.
Two days later, Kikumaru dragged him to the roof and locked the door behind them, mouth set in a straight line.
"You know, I never thought to ask just what the hell happened between you two. And I wish I never did, because I really, really want to punch you in the face right now."
He did not even blink, asking without words whether Kikumaru was quite finished. Kikumaru, however, was unfazed.
"Did you really tell Fuji to quit the club?"
There was no reason to deny it. "Yes."
"Why?" Before he could reply, Kikumaru cut him off. "And if you tell me it's none of my business, I'm going to kick you in the head."
The threat was not an entirely empty one. Of all his teammates, only Kikumaru and Ryoma had reflexes quick enough to get past his guard.
"It was what we agreed upon. You should ask him about that."
Kikumaru's lips tightened at the way he said "him" in reference to Fuji, but did not comment. "I did. You'd remove him from the team if he lost."
"If he became a hindrance," he corrected, and Kikumaru smiled tightly.
"Ah, so that's how it was."
It took him a moment to realize that he had been tricked. He closed his mouth, pressing his lips together in a tight line, and said nothing.
"You know, you didn't react the same way about Taka-san."
"Kawamura gave all he had while he played."
Next instance, Kikumaru had him up against the wall, hands white-knuckled in his shirt, eyes ablaze.
"Tezuka Kunimitsu, if you're suggesting that Fuji of all people wasn't doing his best for our team, I'm going to beat you within an inch of your life."
He said nothing, but easily pushed Kikumaru back, straightening his shirt. "Was that all?"
"You are a stupid, stubborn ass, Tezuka. And if I didn't know how Fuji can be, I'd kick your ass right now." Kikumaru's voice was startlingly calm.
"Not that it changes the fact you are both stupid." Kikumaru spun on his heel and walked past him, his footsteps soon fading away.
He did not follow, and stayed the period up on the roof, watching the lifeless green of the courts below.
Ryoma still did not wait for him, and he had a dream of Fuji's match against Shiraishi back in their last tournament together, third year of junior high. The match unfolded before his eyes like a well-choreographed dance, and he watched. Fuji of the present in Hyoutei uniform stood next to him. Fuji of the past was sweating, his Seigaku uniform dirty. It was one of the few times he saw Fuji less than immaculate.
Fuji had played seriously.
"Why not against me?" he asked softly.
"Why against you at all?" The voice was cool and mocking.
"You're the one who left first." His retort was cutting. Fuji's low laughter was more like a suppressed snarl.
"Are you sure it was me you wanted to keep?"
He woke up.
A blur, then both Inui and Oishi were crowded about him, and Kikumaru was holding his racquet. His left hand was in Inui's right. There was blood on his palm.
"You can't continue today," Inui was saying to him. "You should go to a doctor now. It's almost time to close up, anyway."
"The grip tape is soaked," Kikumaru reported, gingerly turning the racquet in his hand.
"How long have you been...you really didn't notice, Tezuka?" For a moment, their eyes met, then Oishi cleared his throat and looked away. By now, almost the whole club was gathered around the Regulars, hovering like a flock of nervous pigeons.
Oishi dismissed the club, and Tezuka, realizing it really was time, did not stop him. Inui raised a skeptical eyebrow at him when he said he would stop by the doctor's office on his own, but let him leave in peace, as did the rest of the Regulars.
Ryoma tagged along to his house that day, and he thought of telling him to go home, but didn't. Ryoma watched him unwrap the makeshift bandage and clean the wound, then wrap fresh bandage around the hand. Blood was crusted in the soiled bandage, dried, dirty red, like the bandage had somehow rusted.
Ryoma didn't help him. The boy watched with unblinking eyes, and when he put away the first aid kit, stepped closer and took his hand.
"Does it hurt?" Ryoma asked, tracing his palm.
"No." It didn't, really.
Thin index finger poked him on the chest. "How about here?"
He did not answer.
It did not feel warm when Ryoma hugged him, but it wasn't uncomfortable. After Ryoma left, he took out a book from his shelf and started to read.
He really should not have answered the phone that night; whatever happened, Atobe always heard about it.
"You're even bigger a fool than I thought. How did you manage to hurt yourself this time?"
"What do you care?"
"That's a good question, actually." Atobe sounded peevish. "Even I have occasional lapse of judgment. Have you been practicing all by yourself until your hand fell off?"
"No." For a moment, he was tempted to leave it at that. "Echizen makes an excellent opponent."
"The name's familiar. Have I met him before?"
"He joined this spring."
"I look forward to seeing him this season, then. Tezuka..."
"You'd better make sure you're one hundred percent by then. I don't want to hear you whine you lost to me again because of some stupid injury."
"So are you saying you only won last time because of my injury?"
There was a snort on the other end. "You wish. Good night, Tezuka."
He put down the receiver, and went to bed.
The day before the Tokyo district preliminaries, Ryoma kissed him behind the clubhouse. It was short, more of a brush of the lips than a real kiss, and over before he could really register what just happened.
"The season's starting."
Ryoma shrugged. "Life's a bitch sometimes."
And how, he wanted to say. He didn't.
"I would have wanted to play you for real, I think."
We do every day, he thought. But those were practice matches, not official ones. They hadn't play against each other during intra-school ranking matches, either.
"Do you want to play now?" The practice had been canceled for the day.
It was the first time he had ever called the boy by his given name. Ryoma's gaze was open and honest, no accusation behind it.
"I'm sorry." His fingers brushed over the boy's cheek of their own volition, a mere ghost of a touch.
"You're late today." The mild voice did not complain, but nevertheless projected a question.
"I ran into Kikumaru at the street courts today."
"Eiji?" Fuji smiled. "I didn't think you two knew each other that well."
"We don't. We did have a rather interesting conversation, however."
Fuji came to sit next to him, giving his hand a light squeeze. Atobe laced their fingers together before Fuji could pull away.
"What about?" Fuji's warm fingers curled into his palm.
"Tezuka mentioned a new member in the club. Except Kikumaru swears he's never heard of him." He let that sink in. "Is Kikumaru likely to lie about something like this?"
Fuji considered for a moment. "I can see why you'd ask. It's Tezuka, after all." He paused. "No, Eiji probably wouldn't lie to you. What was the name of this...new member?"
"Echizen, I believe. The name is familiar somehow-" Fuji's hand convulsed and stilled. "What's wrong?"
"That...can't be." Fuji's face was pale.
"New member, he said. In his school."
"Yes," Atobe confirmed, taken aback by Fuji's tone.
"Keigo. Do you remember Echizen Nanjirou? The Samurai? From about fifteen years back?"
Atobe frowned, trying to remember. "The one who quit one tournament short of world's number one."
"One and the same. He had a son, two years younger than me."
"Ryoma." Fuji nodded. "Echizen Ryoma. Samurai Nanjirou's only son. I knew him from grade school back when I lived in L.A."
"And...what happened to him?"
"Echizen Ryoma died six years ago."
"Hi. Are you a friend of Tezuka-kun's?" Ueda asked with a friendly smile. This redhead seemed even less likely to be friends with Tezuka-kun than the previous visitor, but he hadbeen watching for fifteen minutes.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that." Kikumaru pursed his lips. "Does he do this often?"
"Tezuka-kun? Yeah, everyday. Comes here by himself, practices against the wall for 'bout two hours, goes home. You know, someone else came by the other day, asked the same question? Do you guys all know each other?"
"Kind of," Kikumaru answered distractedly.
"Isn't Tezuka-kun amazing? It's like he's playing against a real opponent."
"Yeah," Kikumaru said absently.
The ball shot past Tezuka this time, and Tezuka made no move towards it. The ball snaked along the ground and struck the concrete base of the fence. It crawled up the vertical stretch of concrete, hit the chain-link fence, and fell back to the ground. The ball bounced once, twice, and was still.
Without a pause or even looking back, Tezuka took out another ball, and served.