Originally posted on my writing archive (linked from my profile) on February 14, 2007. Re-posted here.
Summary: If Yuuta lives in Fuji's shadow, Saeki lives in his shade.
Author's notes: Originally written for the "subrosa tennis" challenge on LJ, but I can't wait until April. Beta-ed by Tan and Shu, who patted my hands and patiently listened to me rant and pull out my hair and moan. This fic is dedicated to both of you. Thank you for your support.
May is hot enough to wear shorts and tennis shirts, but Saeki makes sure he has jeans and something else to wear in his tennis bag. There is no point in advertising that he is a sweaty tennis player with his clothes. His tennis bag will do for that, after all. They meet at the courts, in Tokyo this time. Saeki has no overnight bag, just tennis rackets, towel, clothes in the tennis bag. He is going home tonight, because tomorrow is a school day.
"Perhaps I should have visited you," Fuji says, a twinkle in his eye. "It isn't nice to ask you to travel all this way to lose, I'm sure."
"So cocky, Shuu-chan," Saeki says, and he makes a pained face. "It isn't cute at all."
"Isn't that okay?" Fuji says, and he winks. "It's not like I want you to think I'm cute, Kou-chan."
Saeki merely gives him another look of annoyance. He thinks he can almost understand why Seigaku's captain is always tense and a stick up the ass, now.
They play. Fuji is taking it far too easy, Saeki decides, and he tries a few new tricks. Fuji easily deflects most of them on the first try, and even Saeki's favorite is no match for the tensai. It can sometimes be extremely frustrating, Saeki thinks, that moves one tries hard to perfect can be so easily dealt with--a mere matter of seconds banishing weeks of effort into the dust. It is lucky for Saeki that he has long since accepted that some people are effortlessly talented, and that ability is an unequal distribution.
That, and the knowledge that Fuji cannot sing.
Still, he can feel the irritation building.
Finally, Saeki sets his jaw. The next return is a ball that zips across the ground.
Fuji doesn't even chase it. Instead they both stand and watch the little yellow sphere zip until it hits the net with a soft clinking clang. Fuji turns and raises an eyebrow across the net at Saeki. "Is that also called Tsubame Gaeshi, or do you have your own name for it?"
Saeki shrugs, grinning. "I've always wanted to try that for myself."
Fuji tilts his head a little, and gives Saeki what can only be called a too-innocent grin. "Mada mada dane."
"That's Echizen-kun's line," Saeki says before he can help it.
"Maa, I've always wanted to try it for myself."
Fuji's smile is as implacable as ever, but even at this distance Saeki can feel the jab at his creativity. Saeki knows he walked straight into that one, and he shuts up. Instead of a retort, he merely grits his teeth, gives Fuji a look, and serves as hard as he can to the opposite side of the court.
"I knew we weren't meeting here for the geeks," Saeki says as he meets Fuji in Akihabara, wearing short sleeves for June. "Such a pity. Here I was thinking we would be going to maid cafes. If anyone could talk them into pictures, you could."
Fuji is holding a bag from a camera shop Saeki knows Fuji likes, and he merely smiles and offers the bag to Saeki. Even though Saeki isn't really that well-versed in photographic equipment, he takes it anyway, and opens the small bag to reveal some black-and-white film and a new lens still in its box. It looks like the other lenses Fuji already owns, and Saeki scrutinizes the box, wondering how quickly he can spot the difference.
"Come," Fuji says, and leads the way. Saeki follows bemusedly, trying to understand the labels on Fuji's new purchase without taking it out of the bag. This is a difficult task while walking in the crowded station. He gets no further than aperture and focal length before they are boarding their carriage, and Fuji takes the bag from him to tuck away under the seat.
Mt Tsukuba has talismans, and shrines, and many single people seeking their match. Fuji has his cameras.
Saeki is just there to look at girls. And accompany Fuji, of course.
Saeki sticks his right hand in his pocket, left hand keeping the plastic bag steady. Fuji has two cameras today, and is already weighted down with his equipment, all manner of lenses and even a tripod. Someone has to carry the food. Saeki doesn't mind. Yumiko's cooking is as delicious as Yumiko is beautiful. Too bad she's Fuji's sister.
They eat their sandwiches, and Yumiko's mouth-watering bentos, packed thoughtfully in throwaway plastic bento boxes so the trip home will be lighter. Fuji takes a picture of Saeki stuffing his egg rolls into his mouth, and laughs when Saeki protests. "Yumiko will appreciate how much you enjoyed her cooking," Fuji teases with a chuckle. Saeki gives him the finger, and Fuji's smile widens.
The picnic finished, they wander the grounds, Fuji stopping whenever he pleases, Saeki content to be the bag-carrier. It's the least he can do for Yumiko's lunches.
Two good-looking young men draw female attention easily. Saeki is soon talking to two winsome beauties. Fuji wanders off unobtrusively, managing to fade from the conversation without anyone noticing he is gone. This is more a testament to Fuji's skill when he wants to be invisible, rather than to Saeki's prowess at captivating the opposite sex. Still, the conversation flows well, and Saeki almost forgets that he is here with other company.
As if to remind him, Fuji shows up twenty minutes later with flowers for the girls, a strange arrangement of leaves and twigs that in anyone else's hands would look stupid, but that in Fuji's hands merely project tasteful artistic aestheticism. They ooh and aah, and the focus of the conversation shifts to Fuji immediately. Saeki shoots Fuji an annoyed look, which merely gets that damned smile in response.
Later, once they have prayed for protection and Saeki has added a small tip for the god of matchmaking, they set off for home. They board the Tsukuba Express again, both of them not looking at the fare table as they pass through the turnstiles, Suica cards beeping across the touchpanels. Saeki gets Fuji to show him today's pictures. Some are of the mountain and are of interesting things--birds, flowers, a fallen acorn, scattered pine needles. Some are of Saeki and the girls, observed from afar.
There are a few pictures of one particular girl. She is dark-haired, dark-eyed, and her image leaps off the paper. Looking at the photograph, Saeki can almost hear her voice and her throaty chuckle, or smell the perfume she was wearing, a flowery scent that infuses his senses with thoughts of a secret chamber and inviting satin sheets. Fuji shrugs when Saeki asks why Fuji took the picture. Saeki doesn't press the issue. He has the girl's telephone number (her name is Saeko, a fact that amused them when it had come up).
Saeki doesn't offer her number to Fuji, and Fuji doesn't ask for it. After all, Fuji is not interested in the girl; merely in her mesmerizing interaction with the camera and the effect on the viewer. Saeki cannot help but tease, anyway. "Any time you want it, Shuu-chan."
Fuji smiles, a hint of amusement and challenge in his eyes. "If I called, Kou-chan, you'd never hear from her again."
Saeki laughs, and shakes his head. "That's what you think. You and your inflated tensai ego. Perhaps you're just afraid she'll be mentally comparing us." There is no animosity. Girls have minds too, and if Saeko prefers Fuji, it is not Saeki's loss but Saeko's.
Fuji shrugs, and looks out the window. "Saa."
When Fuji gets that expression on his face, Saeki knows there will be nothing more. Perhaps Fuji is thinking of someone back in Germany. Saeki leans his head against the back of the chair, and almost stretches his legs out.
"Wake me when we get there," he says, and closes his eyes.
Saeko doesn't call.
After three weeks, Saeki sends the number to Fuji. His e-mail merely says, "Think you can do better?"
A week later, he gets a reply.
"Her house is by the sea, and her dog is very cute. I don't think he liked me, though."
"Why do you even bother? You weren't even interested." Saeki's reply is sent without another moment's thought, and he turns off his cellphone angrily, stuffing it into the bottom of his schoolbag.
At lunchtime, temper cooled slightly, he fishes his cellphone out and turns it on again. Fuji's e-mail is already waiting in his inbox, just like he knew it would be.
"She wasn't right for you anyway. Now you're free to find the right one."
Saeki deletes the e-mail and regrets it for three periods. Then Aoi's classmate asks Aoi about Saeki's locker, and the world is right again.
He sends an e-mail to Fuji that same night. "I guess you're right."
The reply is swift. "Of course I am. I'm a tensai. "
Saeki snorts at that and pockets the phone.
It is July.
The morning sun is gentle, its rays a soft caress on tanned skin. It will be scorching five hours later, but right now it warms Saeki and wards off the morning chill. He walks with Fuji to the beach, a leisurely twenty-minute stroll away.
The beach is not very crowded, but it isn't deserted, either. Saeki thinks perhaps it is merely too early in the morning. Normally, Saeki would not be here this early either. Fuji is visiting from Tokyo, though, and the unfamiliar guest futon had caused Fuji to rise three hours before the rest of the human race. Any other civilised human being, Saeki thinks, would have tried to get back to sleep again. Not Fuji. Fuji had opened the window and curtains and then sat on Saeki's bed with the sun shining in until Saeki stirred and was then pulled up and out of bed.
They spread out the blanket and sit, comfortably, friends enjoying a quiet morning on the beach before the crowd descends. Morning condensation collects on their juice cans. Fuji traces the outline of the cartoon apple printed on the aluminum with a lazy finger, watching the droplets concentrate and trail and drip down slowly when they get too big. Watching him, Saeki can almost taste the sweet tang of green apple. The surface of his own can grows moist, and he shakes it a little, wiping his wet hand on his shorts.
They sip from their respective cans again, and Saeki thinks of his surfboard, neglected in his shed today because Fuji does not surf and Saeki is reluctant to do it alone. A girl and her dog jog along the beach. They splash occasionally as the ocean welcomes them, the sparkling foam merrily swirling around her ankles and the puppy's damp paws. Saeki watches them pass by. He says, "I don't understand why you refuse to surf, Fuji."
Fuji merely smiles, and takes another sip of juice, not answering the question. Saeki is used to this, and he sips, too, continuing to watch the girl's legs as she continues down the beach, the dog zig-zagging around behind her, a playful bodyguard. It is alright. Fuji will leave in a few days, and then Saeki will surf with Dabide while Bane laughs at them from the shore.
Saeki's thoughts wander, his body comfortable, top half in the shade, legs sticking out into the sun's warmth. Fuji is doing the same, but Fuji's legs are faded and white next to Saeki's tanned ones. Saeki stifles an inner chuckle at the comparison.
"Ne, Saeki," Fuji says, and Saeki turns to look at Fuji. Fuji is staring out from under the boardwalk, now. His face is upturned, but his eyes are closed as usual.
Fuji continues, wistfully. "Wouldn't it be interesting if it snowed today?"
Saeki raises an eyebrow, looking up at the sky, a pale shade of baby blue that nevertheless manages to impress itself on him. It is not the color of Fuji's eyes, but lighter. He scrutinizes the straggly, wispy, scattered clouds in this clear blue sky, and then nods.
"Yeah," Saeki says, and they sip their juice again.
More than a few hours later, Saeki wakes from his unintentional nap to find his legs partially covered with sand. He frowns and moves them. His suspicions are confirmed--he has faint tan lines in strange places, now, and Fuji smiles at him and tilts his head to the side.
They stand and pack, Saeki grumbling about Fuji's predilection for silly tricks that embarrass Saeki. He feels like a zebra, but it cannot be helped now. Mid-way, they pause at a vending machine, one with fruit juices. Fuji chooses this one because it has something he wants. Saeki shifts the rolled-up blanket from under his right arm to his left, and chuckles as Fuji presses a button for his selection.
"Fuji apple juice for a Fuji, huh?"
Fuji smiles and nods, bending to collect his selection. Saeki chuckles.
"You know, sometimes I think I almost understand you, Shuu-chan."
Fuji eyes Saeki, and then shrugs and lets it go. "Maa, after ten years, Kou-chan, I would be very disappointed if you didn't."
Saeki meets Fuji's usual expression with an imitation that has Fuji's trademark closed eyes and half-smile. This seems to amuse Fuji, who chuckles.
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