Disclaimer: POT is not mine.

Summary: The day Fuji walked into Seigaku he had no expectations; the day he left he had the world before his feet.


World at His Feet

The first day Fuji walked into Seigaku he had walked in with his eyes closed and his smile in place, content to watch the ensuing years pass as all the previous ones had—distant, nondescript, and almost surreal in how they always seemed to be the same. He had had no expectations for the future, as all the other kids thronging around him through Seishun Gakuen's open gates did, for over the years he had come to learn that to expect was to be disappointed. If one wanted nothing—looked forward to nothing—one would never be let down for there would be nothing not to be had.

High school was just another routine part of existence that would come and go, year by year. What would follow? He wasn't sure, but something would, and that was all that mattered. Further thought was unneeded. After all, it would change nothing.

But nothing could stay the same forever, and he should have remembered that.

It had been just another day when it came time to sign up for clubs. It was hectic and noisy, and utterly normal. He had originally considered joining the photography club simply for the fact that he had gotten a new camera recently and their booth was nearby, but he had ended up joining the tennis club instead because he noticed that they had interesting looking people and in the end interesting people were the only things that could make an experience worthwhile.

x-X-x

He first picked up a racket when he was in elementary school, partly due to the fact that he had seen so many kids at the park with them and partly because Yumiko had insisted on buying him a present for his birthday despite its not really being his birthday that year and they had happened to be standing in front of the small sports store at the time. But that had only been another step in that direction because he had, though he hadn't been sure at the time, already decided that tennis could become one of the few things that truly held him—given some time.

What had drawn him was the sound really. He loved the sound of tennis balls coming in contact with the racket's tense web of strings. When it was executed just the right way the action made a clear yet round sort of 'dock'ing sound that could never be reproduced by anything else. And every time he made that sound against the strings of his racket he felt a thrill running up and down his nerves like he had accomplished something great.

He wasn't sure when it had become more.

What he did remember was that Yuuta too had been drawn to the sport, and he was more than happy to be able to share this new delight with his brother. They had played at the courts by the playground where kids from all over the neighborhood gathered, rackets in hand.

x-X-x

A few weeks into the school year and he was pleased to discover that he had chosen well after all. It didn't really matter that the fist years weren't allowed to play, though he couldn't deny hat it had been a little disappointing at the start, because he was sure that nowhere else in the school would he have found people like those who had chosen o make their home on he Seigaku courts.

It wasn't everyday he got to see people pick up runaway tennis balls while doing back flips and cartwheels or start bellowing disjointed English phrases at the mere touch of a racket handle. And those were only the obvious ones. It was a promising sign and he took it as an omen that things were going to be interesting. And so he sat back and watched—watched and waited.

The upperclassmen in the club at the time were…not all that impressive. It wasn't that they weren't somewhat skilled. It was just hat most of them were confident in the manner of the groundlessly arrogant and there were too many such people in the world for him to want to spend any time thinking about more. Besides, he mused whenever he did happen to spend a few minutes watching one of their matches, they were too predictable to be much of a challenge. He would rather spend his time perfecting how to sneak up behind the boy with nearly opaque glasses in order to catch glimpses of the contents of the notebooks he was never seen without. Something was growing in those pages and he could tell he wasn't going to want to miss it when it sprouted. And he wondered at times why everyone else seemed so bent on watching matches that meant nothing and practices that had yet to accommodate them as true participants. Did they not see what they were missing?

But perhaps, he mused as he watched one fist year face a third year over the net, he was the one who was missing something. It was an odd thought and he knew it might even have been disturbing had he not been one of the rare breed of human being who preferred surprises to stability and welcomed the unpredictable.

X

The fist year's name was Tezuka Kunimitsu. He was the only one of the first years who got to play on a regular basis. This earned him awe from the first years and mistrust from the seconds and thirds, but he played well and no one with any scrap of knowledge about tennis—not to mention most of those without—could deny that. And yet it wasn't the fact that he defeated everyone from the first years on up that made Fuji watch him more and more as the days passed. It was the look in his eyes and the fact that he could see what so many of the others had not.

Tezuka, brilliant and polite as he was, still had yet to really play. How could he, after all, when he wielded his racket only with his right hand? Then again, his right hand was all it took for the school to bend its knee.

And that, Fuji mused, meant quite a lot more in itself than anything had a right to.

Curiosity was a hard force to fight, and since fighting it had never been the road to discovery he let his own curiosity goad him into asking for a match. It was an impulsive move and afterward he often wondered why exactly the urge had surfaced in the first place—it had never been his style to rush, especially not towards the inevitable—but he never regretted it.

He wasn't there when it happened.

He had been on cleaning duties that day and by the time he got to practice everyone was running laps. He thought nothing of it, too caught up in a strange, tingling sensation he had not felt in years. It took him almost the entirety of the day's practice to realize it was excitement.

Perhaps that was why he snapped when he finally did discover what it was that had had the rest of the club subdued that day. He couldn't remember having been so…so angry in a long time. He had been angry at the idiot of a tennis player who had thought he could earn a victory in the basest of ways when he couldn't win on the court, and he was angry at Tezuka for being too in love with the sport to say something, but mostly he was angry at himself for not having noticed what should have been obvious—for letting his excitement blind him to something that was far more important than any game could ever be. Yet somewhere amidst the rage was a sense of wonder for he knew that anger was a thing only caring could breed.

Eventually he let the anger go because he knew there was nothing he could do. It was a common fact that the past was the most stubborn and unchangeable of beasts.

Instead he contented himself by entering the ranking matches. If he was going to have to wait then he would wait as close as he could so that when the time came he would know. Besides, it was getting boring just watching from the sidelines. With his fellow first years beginning to step up the show was just about to begin.

x-X-x

It was ironic, how they called him a genius because he was content not to wear himself out searching for greater things as others did. He held no delusions that such an attitude was in any way admirable—it was the hard workers who never garnered the title of genius who should really be idolized—but if they wished to look at him in awe it was none of his concern.

It wasn't until Yuuta entered Seigaku that he realized a title could mean so much. It was only a word after all but apparently to some it could be the world. A world that could not be shaken and whose overwhelming solidity could be a shadow made all the darker by its inexplicable indestructibility.

He didn't know how to explain to Yuuta that it was his willingness to work hard that was truly to be admired. Or at least he couldn't explain in a way that his brother would understand—partly because he couldn't really understand it himself at the time and partly because he knew that Yuuta was beyond listening to anything he said with unbiased thoughts. And so he said nothing.

And when Yuuta finally left he was only a little surprised that it had happened so soon—too soon. But it would always be too soon.

It wasn't right to hold on to what didn't want to be held.

Rather, he tried to focus his attention on the others. He watched as Kikumaru Eiji and Oishi Syuichiroh pulled themselves together to become one of the best doubles teams he had seen in a while. It was a relief to see people able to laugh so genuinely in front of the entire world because most people couldn't and it was nice to see that not everyone was thus bound. He watched as Inui's calculations grew gradually more and more precise until he started to scare the rest of the club. Now and then he would tell someone that the data player could read minds just to see the horrified fascination on their faces. It was amusing much like watching new members gawk at Kawamura when they first saw him pick up a racket was amusing.

The tide had washed two rather energetic new faces into the club and there was never a moment of silence since—not that there had ever been but comparisons were inevitable. Like the older members who had drawn Fuji to the club they were fascinatingly odd people. One could hit like Taka-san but couldn't ever seem to keep his mouth shut if it wasn't full, the other seemed to believe he was part reptile, and they never stopped fighting.

Tezuka, now the vice-captain of the team, started to carry a bottle of asprin tucked securely inside his tennis bag.

X

Once he had thought that watching was enough. Now he couldn't understand why he had never noticed that it was only half the world.

There were things he wanted, and none of them involved standing still with observant eyes. He wanted to play like he had never played before and he wanted to be there when they won. The victory didn't have to be his, but he had come to care for and respect his teammates and he wanted to see that overwhelming joy that achievement always lit in their eyes. If he could help bring out that light then he would. There was no need for debate. He wondered sometimes if he looked that way too but he dismissed the thought.

And with the beginning of their third year came the final piece of the team the tennis club had been waiting for in the form of Echizen Ryoma. The boy was talented, determined, and above all else was a reflection—a reminder—that they too had once been where he was now: young, eager, and entirely oblivious to most of the world outside of what had been seen.

It was like someone had poured a bucket of water over his head and Fuji found himself suddenly acutely aware of how much time had passed and how much of that time now seemed like a dream—surreal. Where had all the time gone? How could he have let himself become so engrossed in this mosaic of motion and sound as to lose track of something as momentous as the passing of time? And yet…when he turned his head and looked back at the days and weeks and months of endless activity he found that he didn't care—or perhaps he was only beginning to care.

Somewhere along the way the days had become distinct.

He had even started to dream…of cheering crowds and the thrill of knowing that one was about to go to battle with the sun beaming high and a purpose—a dream to defend. When the realization finally set in he was immersed in a sudden flash of fear, caught by that powerful, foreign emotion that he had only begun to understand was what everyone else called passion. But fear was a useless thing and he had never been a person for keeping useless things.

x-X-x

This time he was there when it happened, and he found that it was much worse to be present than to be absent. Then again, he knew he would probably believe otherwise if he had not been there.

He had been in high spirits after his own match with Akutagawa Jiroh with the knowledge that he had brought them one step closer to their goal and that Taka-san would be all right. It was amazing how quickly moods could change.

He didn't understand. There had been a time when he thought he did, but in that moment he knew that he had been deluding himself all along. Tennis was still only a game and victory a feather in a cap that would be just as fine without it. A person shouldn't place more in a game than in their own health. There would always be another match but a person had only one body. It wasn't worth it. It wasn't right to believe it was worth it.

But apparently Tezuka didn't know that. Or maybe he did, because it was hard to imagine that Tezuka wouldn't know such a simple thing, and it was just that to him it didn't matter.

He spent a long time thinking after that. He had asked himself … Why did he continue like this? Was there something he wanted? Something to gain? But he had discovered that he would throw it all away if it meant protecting those he had come to call friends. What was it exactly that he was aiming for then? Did he even have a goal?

Why was it that everyone around him seemed to have something they wanted—something they were working for—and yet, he, the nominated tensai, knew nothing at all…?

It was almost funny.

X

He had always enjoyed talking to his cacti. He had found that plants had mastered that one art that most humans had not—listening. Talking to them helped him sort out his thoughts, not to mention it had the added benefit of creeping out Yuuta whenever he came home. Not, he amended that that was a goal—it was just an entertaining side effect.

The problem was that cacti, sturdy and wise as they were, couldn't answer his questions. And the questions only increased with the passing days, bouncing around inside his skull as Tezuka left for Germany and the rest of the club sank into a tense vortex of anxiety and determination. Oishi had almost managed to attain the esteemed title of 'nervous wreck' and that meant Eiji devoted a considerable amount of time—even more than he usually did—trying to cheer him up. Accordingly, with Tezuka gone and Eiji thus occupied, his one-sided conversations increased in number.

It wasn't until the day before the team's trip to Germany when he was telling the prickly little occupants of his windowsill about Seigaku's victory over Rikkai Dai and how incredibly ecstatic the though of seeing their missing captain again was making him and everyone else on the team that he realized in a sudden moment of insight just how odd it was that he was sharing his thoughts with potted plants who probably couldn't care less as long as he watered them. He paused momentarily so that he could sink onto the edge of the bed and laugh until tears came to the corners of his eyes. That done, he continued with his spiel.

What was the point of being normal? It was much more interesting to be strange.

x-X-x

Sometime between the Departure and the Return, Fuji found that he had decided he would dedicate himself to the race for Nationals along with the rest of the team. It wasn't that he hadn't been dedicated before, but back then he had chosen to play because the others needed him. Now he wanted to play because he wanted to win just as much as they did. He wanted to know what it meant to have a goal worth falling for.

That and there was something within him that refused to let Tezuka's sacrifice—however foolish he had felt it was—go to waste. If naught else, he would show the captain that he had heard his message and that he would try to understand. Whether he could he wasn't sure yet, but Yumiko always said it was the thought that counted.

X

By the time Tezuka had returned Fuji was almost sure he had found an answer—or at least attained a semblance of peace with the fact that he would one day know. Nobody was born with all the answers but they learned with time and experience and he would be content to do the same. He wanted to tell Tezuka this because it was such an amazing thing to realize one didn't have to be all knowing but the Junior Sembatsu took up too much time and they were all distracted. So he settled for putting it into his games and hoping that his message was understood.

And yet something still didn't feel right. He had found an answer, but part of him didn't agree that it was the right answer to all of his questions. Not, he thought wryly, that it was ever easy to say what the right answer was—provided one even existed.

He took to spending long hours at the park after school where he would practice against the wall, letting the soothing, rhythmic 'dock'ing of the ball take over the world. He wasn't sure if he was trying to focus his mind or distract it. Soon it had become a routine. It was after one of these lonesome sessions that he turned around and found Tezuka sitting on one of the pak benches, watching him with something between curiosity and concern in his eyes. Fuji debated for a moment whether he should offer a space for the other to practice or just say hello. In the end he did neither. Instead he stowed his racket and tennis balls away and took a seat next to his visitor.

"Is something bothering you?"

The question startled him a little and he found himself chuckling as he shook his head. "No, or at least I don't think so. Why do you ask?"

Tezuka pondered that for a moment before answering. "You looked preoccupied."

Fuji's mirth subsided into a calm, contemplative stillness. "I was…thinking. How was Germany?"

"Fine." There was a brief pause. "Home is better."

Fuji shot him a sidelong look. For some reason he felt like laughing again. "That's good to hear."

They fell into a compatible silence. The shadows lengthened over the deserted park benches but neither made a move to get up. It was…nice, Fuji thought. He enjoyed talking with Eiji and Inui—though conversing with the latter always felt more like going into strategic warfare, Taka-san and Oishi were generally pleasant company, and there was no end of amusement to be found in the younger team members, but there was something about talking to or simply sitting in silence with Tezuka that felt different. He couldn't explain it but it left in him a sense of serenity—as though everything had become so much more clear or would become so in time and what he couldn't see or know didn't matter. It was the present that meant everything.

Tezuka had been casting glances at him every minute or so, an uncharacteristic uncertainty clear in his eyes to those who knew how to look, and Fuji wondered absentmindedly what might be on the other boy's mind. But it had been a peaceful time and thoughts were but distant things to let drift through the back of the mind and not concerned over—not now, now yet. So it was that he wasn't really surprised when, with a hesitation just as unlike him as the uncertainty, Tezuka had lifted an arm and placed it around him.

Instead, he turned his head slightly to smile up into warm, golden brown eyes before leaning in to the half-embrace.

"I'm glad you're back."

"Ah."

He laughed and it felt as though something had fallen into place.

They had sat like that for a long time, watching as the sun sank into the tops of the trees and the sky turned red and gold to salute its passing.

Life didn't change much after that. It was a little surprising, but Fuji thought that he didn't mind. This was who he was, who they were, and what more could a person ask for?

He hadn't known what to expect of the others—neither of them did—for all that he had built the world on the observation and analysis of others, even if his methods had never been solid—probably the reason Inui was always so confused about him. But when the time came Eiji had only laughed and awarded them a wide grin, and that was all that the club members seemed to feel was necessary.

X-X-x

It wasn't one of the pivotal matches of the season, nor was it the match that would toss one of them off of the team, but to Fuji it meant more than either would have. He thought that maybe, just maybe, Tezuka felt the same as well. It was the conclusion of something they had started years ago when they barely knew anything about each other and their skills had yet to be fully developed. They had both improved, and though they had by no means reached their limits it wasn't something that would allow itself to be put off any longer.

Standing on the court with the sun bright overhead he had let the excited anticipation and eager dread wash over him, savoring in their intensity. This was where it had all started and where what was would end. Something was going to change—he could feel i—and though he knew neither what nor how he would let it come. He was tired of standing still and had been for a long time.

Launching himself into the game he finally understood why the others were always struggling to reach—to surpass—their limits. It was an enthralling feeling to give every ounce of one's being to a single point of purpose—to strive for something that was uncertain. It was tantalizing and frightening all at once and that made it all the more beautiful.

When the final score was called the first thought that flashed across his mind was that it was too soon. But his body was telling him it was exhausted and it had the final say. On the other hand Tezuka looked just as tired as he did and he couldn't stop smiling at the thought that all the waiting had paid off in the end.

And he thought that losing didn't always mean losing.

x-X-x

Looking now back upon the school gates as the afternoon sun filled the skies with a warm, golden glow, he suddenly felt as though he was about to leave something very important behind. Here was the place where everything had changed—not literally, no, but in the way he found himself viewing the world.

Here was where he had learned that there were challenges out there after all—so many opportunities that marked the massive expanse of reality as an unpredictable dream rather than a dryly-stated fact. Things actually felt interesting now.

He was going to miss the long practices and the rainy days that left the club in a slouch because the courts on which they all but lived were unavailable. He would miss the terrified looks of people presented with Inui's newest concoctions and he would miss the constant bickering that meant Momo and Kaidoh were in good health. He would miss finding Echizen with his cat in his bag and Eiji cartwheeling down the halls. There were so many things he would miss that the list was endless.

He was going to miss Seigaku…

"Fuji."

Turning away from the school gates, Fuji smiled at the tall youth with the unkempt, dark brown hair standing some yards away where the sunlight twinkled off of his oval glasses.

"Yes, Tezuka?"

"You have been standing there for five minutes."

"Ah, gomen."

Nodding, Tezuka turned and started to walk away, a tall, dark form haloed by sunlight. Hurrying to catch up, Fuji fell into step beside him. Around them the world lay silent as though in an honorary salute to the two departing.

Then again, Fuji thought with a grin of anticipation, there were still so many things to do and so many places to see. He would come to miss the place where it had all begun, but what it led to was what was ultimately important.

And he would always have the people he had met there by his side, even if the place of their meetings was far behind them.

Few things can be expected in life, but that was what made the future a place so full of possibilities. The world was lying before his feet just waiting for him to move forward and he didn't want to keep it waiting.

Owari


A.N. Well, I'm not entirely happy with it, but then again there's always room for improvement. It started out as more of an experiment I've been thinking about for a while. Let's call it my contribution for Fuji's birthday. Hope some of you enjoyed it.