Title: What is Essential

Pairing: Tezuka/Fuji

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Twelve years, several scars and injuries later, a failed pro tennis career, and several cafés later, Tezuka finds what he lost along the way. TezukaFuji

Warnings: a few OCs wandering about, kissing.

Disclaimer: Konomi's, not mine.

For: The christmascacti exchange at lj. Recipient was chrysa.

A/N: had a HD crash midway through thus this was written frantically a week or so before the deadline.

The Le Petit Café is a reference to The Little Prince and the decor is reminiscent of the book.

Finally, many thank you's are in order to my wonderful beta, who is an utter Godsend. Thank you so much for helping on short notice.

"On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur, l'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux."

(It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye)

-from Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Even after all this time, Tezuka still played. Although Infrequently, as his injuries had proven to limit the scope, he can't let go of this bond, tenuous as it is. Everyone else has drifted into their own separate paths, worlds far off from his own. Doctors and lawyers and Salary men and bankers, he wouldn't know them in a crowd if he saw them. He had lost touch with everyone, save Oishi who was able to somehow keep their friendship despite both their college; Oishi always could work small wonders that way.

These days, Tezuka can only withstand a few games before the pain gets to him. Too much, and his arm feels heavy, as if his muscles are made of marble, and stone, not flesh. A grey mass of clouds has hung around for days, promising rain but offering nothing but a faint moisture to the otherwise dry city streets. Stormy weather always irritated his broken bones and torn muscles, like a knife being shoved inside, twisted, rending the scars open again.

He let out a sigh, nearly inaudible, and unconsciously moved to guard his left arm. With pain curling downwards, snaking like a creeping vine, his left hand shook, violent enough to loosen his grip on the racket, just long enough for it to drop to the ground with a resounding clatter, echoing through the empty tennis courts.

It was as he was leaving that something caught his eye: a flash of color, a momentary recognition, the two players on the next court over. The first was a tall, well-built man with loose blond hair that framed his head in curls. He had the look of a model or an actor and held the racket in a limp, unpracticed grip. Definitely not a regular player, he thought. The second, however, he recognized immediately. The slim frame hadn't changed much, with the same slight build; his hair was a bit longer, a lighter shade of honey-gold than he remembered, and fell almost to his shoulders, but it was still unmistakably Fuji Syuusuke.

From here, he could just overhear snippets from their conversation.

"When you said you wanted to get to know me, I thought you were taking me out to dinner!" the model griped.

"I always like to get a good feel of my models, after all. And what better place than the battlefield?" Fuji smiled, too sweet to be sincere, but the model caught none of this.

"Oh, is this a hobby of yours?" the model asked, a perfectly arched brow raised in curiosity.

"I used to play in high school," Fuji replied, smoothly dodging the question and implications in one move.

"Yeah, well, I've played once or twice. I guess we're about even then?"

Fuji smirked. "Perhaps, we'll see."

"Eh, there's someone there?" Alan said, finally noticing Tezuka's presence.

When Fuji turned, his expression changed, for a moment changing to shock, then returning to his familiar expression, like ripples over a pool of water that soon return to its former smoothness.

"Tezuka..."

Fuji reached his hand out, open, palm up as if to catch the rainfall.

"It looks like rain." he said.

It was as if all the years apart had been stripped away, and yet, they still seemed more akin to strangers on a train than former teammates. Any hint of closeness had evaporated, disappeared into something else, like foreign, unreachable relations between two countries, diverged by coastline and mountains, separated by seas.

"Hey, Fuji–"

"I'll be right there, Alan."

The expression Fuji showed Alan then was far from the serene mood of before. Something had changed; a storm had finally broken.

And then, Fuji destroyed him.

Each step was graceful, measured, fluid. This was the same Fuji as High School, only further matured: his returns were arced, slicing the air and flying out of reach; the wind and very air seemed to bend to his will; gravity was negligible, seeming to be pliable in Fuji's hands; he didn't settle for simply winning no, this was destruction, pure and simple. The end result was 1 to 6, only because Fuji must have tired of this game, bored with playing an unequal opponent that offered little challenge, or perhaps the years had worn down his stamina.

"You said you haven't played since high school!" Alan said.

"I have a good memory." Fuji replied.

But Alan was laughing, unhurt by the game and Fuji's uncloaking of talent.

Oblivious to what he'd just witnessed, that few people had ever even glimpsed that much, more than Tezuka himself had been able to draw out in countless matches. A grain of fury buried itself deep into his chest, and

Tezuka could feel it scraping him raw with each breath. The irritation grew as Alan leaned in, congratulating Fuji and brushing imaginary lint off his shoulder.

"Geez, you must have been the best player on your team – probably even the whole Japan league!" Alan said.

To this, Fuji turned solemn, guarded even. "No. There's a person much

stronger than I – stronger than I could ever reach or ever hope to reach... my captain ." The last part he said barely above a

whisper, so quiet that it was unlikely Alan even heard it or maybe it wasn't intended for Alan's ears at all.

"Man, whoever he is, he must be a monster. I'm glad it was you I was facing today and not him! Especially considering how gentle you were on me," Alan laughed again and winked. "Still, you're the best player I've ever gone against. Thanks, I'm honored"

"Really, most players aren't as good losers as you are."

Alan laughed. "After I hit the showers and we grab a bite to eat, we should prob'ly get started on the shoot ASAP. My agent will kill me if I leave my cell off any longer."

"Of course, I'll just be a second."

Fuji stayed behind, his back to Tezuka, and finally turned around to face him.

"It been a long time, Tezuka. Much too long," he chuckled mirthlessly. "You've probably got children by now." Fuji's smile seemed stretched too tightly as he tucked a stray lock of hair behind his ear.

Tezuka didn't answer. He wasn't sure what he would've said. or 'wasn't sure of what to say.

"We should catch up sometime. You should check out the Le Petit Café, in Kimitsu of Chiba. It serves mostly Western food. I love the coffee there. If you've talked to Inui, you'd probably know... I fo there every day. Who knows? We might cross paths again ."

"When." It sounded more a statement than a question.

"Tomorrow, after lunch?"

"Ah."

"Farewell. Until next time, Tezuka."

Ten minutes after Fuji left, Tezuka was still gathering his things. Outside, a low rumble of thunder rolled through the sky. It began to rain.


Work proved to be but a little distraction for Tezuka, despite his attempt to throw himself deeply into the daily crisis of paperwork and fainéant workers in order to dull the events of yesterday.

Six months into his rising pro career, Tezuka had suffered yet another injury. Without the torn ligaments and a fractured clavicle, he could've set the pro fields ablaze, burning his place in history as a legend. If not for the injuries, if not for the pain, if his pride and determination would have sufficed, Tezuka would have won every award imaginable.

Four months after rehabilitation, he'd entered into a business course in college. He'd rose through the ranks quickly, not staying at a low office cubic job for long. It was hinted that vice-presidency wasn't too far off for him. But this was unsurprising. Tezuka had a commanding presence and was perhaps the hardest worker they'd ever hired. Wherever it was, it seemed, Tezuka was bound for greatness.

He'd been offered one of the best offices in the building, wide and spacious with clear cut-glass windows overlooking a skyline, but he'd refused. Instead, he took a windowless office enclosed by walls, a place where there was no sky slipping in to make him remember the feeling of open courts, the feeling of being centered, where it seemed even gravity was no match. Gone were the memories of teammates he had once known and the feeling of freeness. The wind surging against his skin, the adrenaline, and those blue eyes opened before him, daring him on with each hint of the unknown.

Around midmorning, the rain tapered off, and fog wrapped the city streets in a thick gauze. The Le Petit Café was a small, quaint building.

The ordinariness of the outside belied the inner contents. As soon as Tezuka entered, he was greeted by walls adorned with stars and asteroids, some of which were even hanging from the ceiling, and a single rose pattern in the middle of the tiled floor.

Tezuka ordered a small black coffee, without embellishments of any kind, and chose a seat in the farthest right corner, his back to the wall, far from the window, with a clear view of the entrance.

A quote was printed across the napkin, You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. A sleeping fox curled underneath the text.

Approximately thirty minutes later, Fuji came in through the door. His hair clung to his face from moisture, and he shook it, like a dog, with his cheeks flushed from the cool air outside.

First, Fuji made his rounds to the counter and ordered something. He seemed on good terms with all the staff; each worker knew him and smiled, offering greetings and well wishes on his latest shoot.

Then Fuji spotted him.

"Tezuka...You came. I didn't expect you so soon," he said.

"I was thirsty," Tezuka replied, as blunt and forward as ever.

Fuji chuckled at this and closed the distance between them, pulling up a chair opposite him.

Fuji extracted a small container from under his jacket and emptied a small portion of the contents into the cup. Fuji stirred idly with his finger, finally taking it to his lips and licking it, testing the combination.

Deeming it acceptable, he took a sip of the drink.

"It's cold," he said by way of explanation of this bizarre ritual. "Everyone needs a little warmth."

"I'll admit, Tezuka, I'm curious - how has life treated you? We lost touch around the time college came about."

Tezuka blew over his coffee, cooling it, delaying the moment further, while Fuji studied him, the way only someone who had

once been intimately connected, but was now estranged can.

"I work in business," Tezuka finally said.

"Oh?" Fuji said, pressing on for more details.

Tezuka ignored this. "And you work in photography, I take it?"

"Sometimes." Fuji said, "Freelance, among other things."

They lapsed into silence again, not the comfortable, knowing silence of their younger days, but an awkward, guarded lack of words without the benefit of the between that they could always find.

"So. What's her name?" Fuji asked, breaking the carefully structured silence.

"'Her'?"

"Your girlfriend, wife, whomever?" Fuji clarified.

"I have neither." Tezuka said.

Fuji raised an eyebrow. "Surprising. No one at all?"

"None." Tezuka took another sip of coffee. "You?"

"It's a secret."

Tezuka glared, glared so much that Fuji couldn't help but laugh in response.

"Fiine, fine. That's unfair, I suppose. I'll share this secret – I have no one."

"Hnn," Tezuka replied and sipped at his black coffee. His mind drifted again to the match before, how Alan's hand had lingered on Fuji's shoulder a moment too long, how his eyes followed Fuji's every step so carefully, how

Fuji had revealed himself so fully. he had shown, for just that brief time to someone whose skill level was far below him, something that shouldn't have drawn out his strongest skill level.

Something lay between them, an injury left untreated that festered and bloomed into a bent and deformed likeness of the closeness of mind they once shared.

"Fuji.. " So many thoughts rustled in his head, circling Why did you reveal yourself to him? Why were you serious then? What are you hiding this time? When will I get to see the real you? Something inside him clenched tighter and tighter, a rope knotting inside his stomach.

"Tezuka?"

"No, it's nothing."

Fuji twisted his napkin, an unorganized origami of folds. "I have some business to attend to, unfortunately," Fuji said "Another time?"

Fuji had left his napkin, halved, unused, with the sleeping fox illuminated by a star-shaped light that hung overhead. Tezuka took it in his hands, inspected the folds. The quote which had seemed familiar to him, somehow, upon further inspection, became a pattern of a rose, similar to the one in the middle of the floor.

On the other side was a cellphone number and a short note. Call, for old time's sake?

I remember once having a captain who never let anything defeat him. Do you remember him? I always hoped I'd meet him again someday.

Two initials, F.S., circled the corner in the cursive print he knew all too well.

Finally, he refolded it, once, twice, and put it deep in his coat pocket.


I remember once having a captain who never let anything defeat him. Do you remember him? I always hoped I'd meet him again someday.

It was Fuji's way, after all. Instead of saying it outright, calling him a coward, saying that what he had turned to was a mockery of himself, the message was child-like, wistful even, but with a certain aftertaste, a thorny nettle that burrowed deep under his skin.

It was a common enough tale to give up one's aspirations, but he'd at least gotten partway to them. He hard supported Seigaku until his shoulders could no longer carry the burden, took on a pro career, while many people were stuck in unfulfilling jobs, so his life could hardly be called a tragedy.

And yet, after all these years, Fuji could still see through that so easily, pinning down motivation as easily as a butterfly to the collector's box.

As it was Fuji's habit, it became his own habit to visit Le Petit Café every day at lunch. Fuji always appeared, around noon, causally wandering into this café, ordering something different each time, though he never bothered to look at the menu, having memorized it long ago.

Slowly, he was drawing Fuji out, just as Fuji had done to him. Together, inertia never had a chance to creep in.

Fuji left early this time, after being interrupted by a ring on his cellphone and citing a meeting he couldn't afford to miss.

Tezuka stayed back a while longer, but not long. He took the side door out this time, the same route Fuji had used to make his escape, beyond the left side of the bar, down a hallway, and by chance, he'd seen the office door left ajar. Tezuka was not curious by nature, but a sense of recognition pulled him closer.

The door was open far enough for him to see the chosen decor of the office. It was a soft-toned room, pastel blues with white and a border of red at the top. The walls were covered in photos of tennis players, most of which he was familiar with, many whom he had a chance to play against during his brief, intense, rising and falling star career.

A larger print overhung the farthest wall, black and white. the shot had been precise, a body caught in a swing, frozen; it took skill to capture so much emotion and feeling, catching the desperation of the moment, making it so alive that it seemed it would stay in that netted world forever, a world of possibilities sealed into one second, lasting to

eternity.

He should know it well – it had been his game, his swing, his moment.

Behind him, there was the sound of footsteps, of a side door being opened and closed and an "Excuse me, but this is off-limits– Hey, you look just like him!"

He turned. One of the workers had apparently noticed his presence and followed him in. She was middle-aged, he guessed, with short, curly black hair. Her name tag had the character of "Hanako" written on it.

"The resemblance really is striking," she mused.

Tezuka cleared his throat.

"Boss loves the sport, and he's been following this player in particular, went to all his matches, even the internationals, and took pictures that he won't even publish." She laughed heartily, "When he had to quit due to injuries, Boss moped around for weeks, though he wouldn't admit it. I could tell how disappointed he was."

Tezuka took this news in silence. Every match? He hadn't remembered seeing Fuji in the stands, but there was no other explanation for the photograph, taken during the finals of a heated match that he'd won, 6 to 4. It had taken a comeback to reach that, a game where he'd had to use every last skill, every ounce of energy and drop of sweat to win.

"Hee, if you leave now, I won't tell boss – or maybe I should, he was looking for a new model. It seems he was having troubles with the latest one, though he always goes through them so fast.."

"No, it's alright. Thank you for understanding," Tezuka said.

Tezuka left, thoughts swirling, cosmic dust moved by equal gravity, teeming with determination to find what he had lost, to finish the unfinished once and for all.

He was getting closer with each step.


It was three days later that Tezuka broached the subject.

"We have something unfinished," he said, not embellishing it, laying out the simple truth that had been ringing inside him for so long.

"I was wondering when you'd ask," Fuji said. Taking another sip of his caramel latte, he continued. "When?"

"Now."

"The first time I played you, I won only because of an injury," Fuji said.

And the unsaid the last time, you'd won by only a breath between them.

The ride went smoothly; the silence was anticipatory, crackling with electricity, when they reached the courts, the same courts that they had met on those months ago, the clouds were much darker, heavier, as if they ached to spill down on them, promising rain again.

Fuji left, and when he returned, he had changed clothes and now wore his old jersey, which somehow, after all this time, still fit. 'fit' being a relative term, as Fuji's shirt still hung off him, burying him in folds of cloth.

"For old time's sake," Fuji said.

Tezuka took the ball in his hand, his fingers automatically finding the correct hold, the feel of soft yellow fuzz against his palm. It'd been so long. He served, back curved, hitting full power, even as pain radiated downwards, white hot, culminating at his wrists. Fuji's response was sudden, and he ran, swung, yet missed it, by mere inches. The ball fell and bounced on the pavement before him.

Love-15

But Fuji wouldn't let this slip past his grasp twice. He caught up, pushing, pressuring Tezuka like few had, with each serve, each play throwing them deeper and more entangled in the game.

1 to 0, 2 to 1, 3 to 2.

With each set Fuji kept pace, just a step behind Tezuka, ready to take the match, each counter testing the limits of his tennis. Even as pain surged through him, the adrenaline was far higher, And it almost blocked out the pain by sheer willpower.

At 5 to 4, the sky broke, grey turning to navy, then black. First a few hesitant sprinkles, and then a torrent came pouring down as thunder ripped through the clouds.

Fuji sighed. "This is the second time rain postponed an important match."

Tezuka gritted his teeth, even as the pain emanating from his shoulder. Still, he longed to continue , to continue a game that had been delayed too many times. Something within him called for victory, to at last get a chance to conquer .

"Tezuka... there's more than one way to win." And there was that look, longing, subtle, undefined, lips slightly parted– Something snapped. They were both drenched by now, Fuji's old Seigaku uniform plastered to his skin, the white fabric turned a shade of transparence, molded against muscles, and Tezuka reached out and gripped Fuji's arm, drawing him in closer, closer, breaking the distance of years and so many barriers and kissed him.

Beyond the cold was warmth, fingers caught in his hair; their lips crashing, desperate, passionate; Fuji twined around his body, arms encircled around his neck, on tip toe to reach further; Tezuka's fingers rested over Fuji's shoulder blades, splayed, almost awkward. He was used to only passion in the mental sense. Physical passion had always eluded him, but for once, it didn't matter. His mind was blank and drowning, floating in a sea of cold and desire and Fuji. Mouths meeting, his tongue against Fuji's, the warmth that shielded them from the world around them, the crashing of blood pulsing in his veins. Tezuka hadn't expected this, but he hadn't felt a rush like this since high school, since they'd flown and only been a step away from gods in the awkward, childish mindset.

He was finally seeing the true side of Fuji Syusuke.

When they broke apart, Fuji was shivering, and both of them were panting for breath. A flash of lightning lit through the black.

Fuji brushed a finger over Tezuka's cheek. On his face was an expression he'd never seen and couldn't define. Happiness? Warmth? Some combination of the two? Regardless, this feeling was unearthly and

breathtaking.

"I found you again," Fuji whispered.


I remember once having a captain who never let anything defeat him. Do you remember him?

Tezuka's superiors were alarmed when he handed in his two-week notice.

Afer all, this was their rising star , the one who could be counted on at all times. They, of course, hid it under casual concern, but he could see it, the worry, the confusion in their eyes. In truth, he owed them nothing. It came in an anticlimactic realization that he did not belong here, that this world was little more than a self-imposed prison, dislocated from every passionate thing. And now, finally, this was past.

Clearing his throat, he answered. "An old injury has begun to flare up, and lengthy rehabilitation is necessary."

Leaving his office for the last time, hearing the doors close behind him, and coming out into the sun, it felt as if years had been given back to him. With this weight removed, the light felt warmer, the wind less harsh. His cell beeped, Notifying him of an incoming text, from an all too familiar number.

So have you started living yet, Tezuka?

Annoyance and for once, even a trace of amusement... He closed the cell and pocketed it. Fuji could wait a while, for he'd give the answer next time, in person.


Two weeks later, at the same place, at the same time, following the same routine they'd kept up for months, they met again.

Fuji came in early this time, greeting the crowds. Everyone knew him here, the workers, the patrons; it seemed he couldn't go by one table without someone telling him a piece of their life story.

"The same as usual, Hanako," he said, nodding in her direction.

"Sure thing, boss," she said and leaned to say something quieter.

Considering her knowing glance to his direction, Tezuka assumed it was in reference to him.

When Fuji came his way, Tezuka noticed his expression was softer, more unguarded than usual. He liked this, and knowing Fuji, being possibly the only one to see this side of him, it was a tiny spark, a beginning that had its roots spread since the first game, the first years when they circled each other reflectively, looking for weaknesses, neither giving in.

Today, it was a truce.

"I suspected," Tezuka said and took a sip of his coffee.

Fuji smiled, low, wistful, full of memories.

"I had received some money and liked the idea," Fuji sipped his coffee. "It's been a place to return to."

"I didn't think sweets were to your preference" Tezuka remarked, on aside.

Fuji chuckled. "My idea for Cayenne Cookies didn't fly with the bakers, astonishingly. However, the Apple Surprise was my creation."

Tezuka made a mental note to not, under any circumstances, try the Apple Surprise.

"So," Fuji said "Tezuka, you're twenty-five, unattached and now, unemployed."

"Get to the point, Fuji."

"I can help in the employment aspect. Why, I hear you've wonderful credentials, and I could always use a model. There's good pay, and plenty of benefits."

Studying Fuji's face, he thought that the offer went far beyond just work, that the offer included the unsaid promise of cafés and games played and the heat beyond what he'd found, what he'd witnessed that day, the first spark, the first breath of living again.

"I'll have to think it over," Tezuka said.

"I'll be waiting for your answer," Fuji replied.

Sun filtered in through the windows, falling on a rose pattern over the middle. Red light reflected across the walls, across the stars and the painted on galaxies. This was Fuji's home, a place to return to, a place offered to him. He considered it, a dreamlike apparition and Fuji waited with the same sense of casual anticipation, the slight traces of anxiousness it seemed only he could identify.

Tezuka thought, he'd already made up his mind a long time ago.