Discliamer: I do not own Prince of Tennis, nor am I profiting from it any way. This fiction was written purely for enjoyment.
Warning: This fiction contains shonen-ai and yaoi. If you don't know what that term means, you probably don't want to read this fic. If you do know what it means and are offended by it, please don't read, and please don't flame me for something you were warned about.
Author's Note: I wasn't originally going to post this on FFnet, since it was mostly just a challenge I did for a friend. It's not my best work (hot weather triumphs against perfectionism again), but it's a fun little five-chapter affair, and hopefully some people will enjoy it. I'm dumping it here all at once. I'm not really looking for feedback, since it's sort of old (and entirely an excuse to write a tezryo Witchhunt AU fic), so there's no obligation to review.
Prince of Warlocks
Tezuka lived a quiet life of few words on the mountain. He occasionally wandered into the village in the valley for supplies, but his presence there was always fleeting and few of the locals even knew he existed – and those that did merely thought him a traveller from a nearby province who passed through the area a couple of times a year. He did nothing to dissuade them of such notions. As such, he very rarely received visitors at his secluded cottage, halfway up the tallest mountain ringing the valley.
Thus it was quite a surprise when, one fine autumn afternoon, he became aware of a foreign presence in his garden.
He briefly considered just ignoring it, but a stranger stumbling across his home was such an unusual occurrence that he found himself heading to the door to investigate. It was always possible that they were in trouble or lost, and it would be cruel of him to do nothing in that case. Upon reaching the doorway into the garden, he stood there for a long moment, observing the stranger who had dared to disturb his peaceful repose. The intruder was probably only a scant few years younger him, dressed in brown pants with a faded green shirt that helped him blend in with his surroundings, and a heavy cloak fastened around his neck with a strip of leather. Traveller's clothing. He obviously wasn't local – Tezuka would have remembered seeing someone with such shiny green-black hair in the village. Possibly someone lost after all.
At first he hadn't thought the stranger had noticed him, but when he cleared his throat to gain the visitor's attention, there was no surprise in the hazel eyes that swivelled to meet him. His breath caught in his throat, and for a minute he almost forgot to speak. "Can I help you?"
The youth merely cocked his head at him contemplatively for a moment, seeming to size him up. "Not sure yet. Was just admiring your garden. It's doing rather well."
It was a curious response. Tezuka stepped out of the cottage, heading over to the patch of herbs the stranger was standing next to. "It appears to be, but it's been a struggle to keep it going this season. The winter is coming faster than usual, and I've lost a few plants to early frost. With enough care, however…" Tezuka frowned, slightly disconcerted. He wasn't usually so loose with his words. It was obviously too long since his last visitor.
The stranger just nodded, looking thoughtful. After a beat, he offered, "The crops in the village have not been doing so well."
"It's a matter of scale. It is easy to rescue a few plants in a small herb garden. Entire fields are a different matter." Idle conversation was unfamiliar these days. He might as well indulge while the opportunity was available.
"Hn. Do you think the frost is unnatural?"
"It certainly seems earlier than normal, but I am not one to argue with the weather. The seasons on the mountain pass a little differently to the village, anyway."
Another long pause. Then… "Some people are saying it is the work of a witch."
Tezuka tensed, slightly, but did not show it. "A witch?"
The stranger shrugged, explaining lazily, "Early frosts destroying crops are not the only problems the villagers have been experiencing. The town hall was struck by lightning and burned down in a fire in a recent storm. Several chickens have gone missing from their coops. A young girl was killed in a rock fall at the base of this mountain. But I'm sure you've already heard about that."
"I had seen the smoke from the town hall after the storm, yes, but I had not heard about the girl. That is quite tragic."
The traveller waved a dismissive hand. "You know how it is. Alone, they're all just freak accidents. The chickens probably eaten by a fox, the town hall hit in a stroke of bad luck. But all of them together… the townspeople believe it's a witch."
A sudden smirk graced his visitor's face. "What's your name?"
"It is rude to ask someone's name without first introducing yourself."
The stranger shifted from foot to foot for a moment, before relenting. "Ryoma. I'm a Hunter who was sent here to track the witch down."
"Pleased to meet you, Ryoma. My name is Tezuka Kunimitsu."
"Tezuka, huh? I won't waste much more of your time. Have you seen any suspicious people up here on the mountain?"
"Suspicious how? You are the most suspicious person I have seen for some time," he pointed out.
Ryoma did not seem to take offence. "Heh, true. It doesn't have to be much. Just if you've seen anyone at all."
"I am afraid that I haven't. Though I shall certainly keep a better awareness of my surroundings now that you've brought the possibility to my attention."
"Hmm, looks like I'm stuck looking the old-fashioned way then. Well, thanks for your time - Tezuka, right?" He merely nodded his assent, and gave a polite farewell as the Hunter went on his way.
It was a troubling development, but he was quite certain that with the clues he had, the Hunter would find nothing. It truly appeared to be no more than a series of unfortunate coincidences. There were no witches in the area that had been causing mischief. Of that, he was certain.
The next day, however, while working on his garden, he spied the Hunter walking nearby. Bidden by a sudden, inexplicable urge, he called out a greeting.
The Hunter started, and looked his way, then broke into a slight grin and headed over. "Tezuka. Hard at work, I see." It was difficult to tell whether his tone was mocking or serious.
"And you as well," he observed, setting aside his gardening tools. He was already wondering what on earth had possessed him to call out to a Hunter who he was better off ignoring. It was a little lonely, he supposed, and no matter the risk involved, it was nice speaking with someone else every now and again. There was also a small matter of curiosity over how one so young became a Hunter, but Tezuka was far too polite to ask outright. To do so would be an insult to whatever skills he might possess.
A careless shrug. "Still getting the lay of the land." Tree leaves rustled several yards behind them, and startled, the Hunter whirled. Tezuka calmly watched as a hunting knife sailed with deadly precision through the air and struck a pheasant that had just taken flight. Skills indeed.
Ryoma blinked, then scowled. "Just a common pheasant."
"You'll be eating well tonight, at least," Tezuka remarked. The Hunter jogged over to retrieve his knife and bird. Where had he drawn the blade from? It had happened so quickly he hadn't had the chance to see.
"Che. As though those people need more spoiling," came the muttered comment under his breath. He wiped the blade clean. "If nothing else, it was good target practice."
Tezuka raised a solitary eyebrow. "You need practice? You threw it that accurately with your right hand."
He was rewarded with a contemplative tilt of the head and a smirk. "Hnnn. You're pretty good." He glanced at the gardening tools in the other man's hands. "Ha. I see. You're left-handed too." Ryoma seemed pleased by the discovery.
Tezuka didn't acknowledge the comment with anything more than a nod. The Hunter unexpectedly lobbed him the bird. "Here, you can have this."
He caught the pheasant. It was a tad young and lean, but still a fine bird. "Are you certain?"
"It'll go to waste, otherwise. And if I start bringing dead animals back, one of those girls will probably try to marry me." The last part was spoken in a disgusted mumble. Tezuka didn't doubt that the traveller had acquired the attention of the young ladies in town. He was shorter and slimmer than the average farm hand, but he was certainly easy on the eyes, and his profession automatically made him exotic and interesting. Likely many other young men in the town would be frustrated that he gained the adoration of the women so easily, and apparently cared not a whit for it.
"Thank you," Tezuka said politely, but Ryoma just waved him off and headed on his way.
The next morning, he was in the garden again when the Hunter strolled by. This time, it was Ryoma who called out a brief greeting.
"How was the pheasant?" 'Greeting' might have been stretching it. The traveller was apparently sorely lacking in manners.
"It shall be several meals worth of meat. You've saved me a trip down into the village."
"Ah, so you're afraid of the banshees, too?" The question was asked in an innocent tone, but Tezuka caught the joke for what it was.
"You shouldn't speak so poorly of the town's girls. Their hearts are in the right place," he scolded lightly.
Ryoma rolled his eyes. "Sure." The sarcasm in the tone was obvious, but he didn't say anything more. Perhaps he did have some manners after all, but just rarely chose to exercise them.
"You're working again today?"
"Che. I'm heading further up to the peak of the mountain. This one's the tallest in the area, so if there's a witch, she'll probably be around here."
"There's no snow on the peak, yet, but the path can still be treacherous. Don't be careless."
"It's no problem," came the cocky reply, but Tezuka hesitated. It had to be a sense of responsibility that drove the next words from his mouth.
"Still, I would feel better if you checked in on your way back down," he implored. "Hunting witches is dangerous, isn't it? Especially on unstable mountain paths."
For a second, he thought Ryoma was going to refuse, which in itself was strange, but after a moment the Hunter just shrugged, obviously not caring either way. "Sure, I guess."
Tezuka nodded in acknowledgement of the response, and the Hunter was on his way.
Sure enough, several hours later as twilight began to kick in, a knock came on his door. "Tezuka?"
He opened it to the sight of the traveller with leaves sticking from his hair and smudges of dirt on the knees of his pants, but otherwise Ryoma was intact. "Ryoma. Did any find any witches?"
A scowl. "No. But then, I don't have a lot of information to go on."
"Hn. Sounds difficult." The leaves in the Hunter's hair were bothering him. Impulsively, Tezuka reached out and plucked the largest one from his head, then blushed reflexively at the unintended intimacy of the gesture. Ryoma, for his part, just blinked at the leaf between Tezuka's fingers, then ran a hand through his hair, picking out the rest of them himself.
"Did I get them all?"
"Ah, missed one." He reached out and delicately removed the last leaf, tossing it aside, then caught the Hunter's eyes. They were seemingly bottomless pools, and Tezuka felt that he might get lost in their hazel depths for hours.
Giving himself a brief shake, idly wondering what had come over him, he noted how dark it had become. "I'm glad that your trip to the peak ended safely, though unsuccessfully. I suppose you'll want to be getting back to wherever you're staying in town. It's getting dark."
"Ah, right. See you around." With only a single backwards glance, the Hunter trotted back down the path.
Tezuka didn't see the traveller the next day, but the day after he spied Ryoma heading up the mountain once more. Later that afternoon, a knock sounded at his door, and the Hunter was there again, apparently having recalled his promise to check in.
"Still no luck?" he asked.
Ryoma just shrugged. "Guess I'll have to do some more asking around." The idea seemed to aggravate him some.
"Climbing the mountains must be tiring. Would you like to come in for some tea?" What on earth was he doing? He'd spoken the words without thinking again.
The Hunter hesitated, then nodded shortly. "That would be… nice." The hesitation made Tezuka pause, but he led Ryoma into his humble dwelling, and gestured for him to take a seat while he headed into the small kitchen to prepare some tea.
He returned a minute later with two steaming cups, seeing his guest look about the cottage in an appreciative manner. "Nice place you have here."
Tezuka raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "It isn't much…" His cottage was purely functional. It was small, lacking any decoration, and the only notable features were the stone fireplace and the bookshelves that were barely visible through the door to the bedroom.
"It's simple," Ryoma stated firmly. "And cozy. I like it."
It was strange, but Tezuka was oddly pleased by the declaration. It was a pleasant change from the badgering he normally received about doing up the place, and even after so few exchanges, it was clearly obvious that the Hunter was not one to hand out compliments needlessly, nor lie out of politeness. His frank manner was strangely refreshing.
It was still ridiculously foolish to be inviting strange travellers, particularly Hunters, into his house, though. But Tezuka wasn't at all worried. He could afford to indulge his curiosity for a change.
"There's a lot of books," his guest commented mildly, looking about in interest, then picking up one from the pile next to the table and examining it. He flicked a few pages in. "Latin?"
"I translate them for supplementary income," Tezuka explained. It was a good job that required little interaction with people – or almost none at all, when you considered that Inui usually acted as his go-between, who he then in turn provided with herbs for the service. It was a slightly complicated yet rather convenient arrangement.
"Hn. People actually pay for translations of ancient books about…" He paused, squinting at the binding, "Roman Architecture?"
"You can read it?" he asked.
"Obviously not as well as you can," came the sullen reply. Strangely, the Hunter seemed a little peeved by the notion, though given his personality Tezuka had the suspicion that he just didn't like someone being better at something than him. Still, there was a glint of respect in those hazel eyes as the book was carefully replaced. "Though I didn't think it was a useful skill."
"The wealthy still outnumber the scholars in these parts."
"Why do you live up here in the mountains, anyway?" Ryoma asked suddenly. "Why not in the village, with everyone else?"
"I dislike crowded places," Tezuka replied simply. "And I like the peace and quiet. And the fresh air." The Hunter just nodded as though he understood.
They sat in comfortable silence for a few more minutes, before Tezuka finally asked, "So, where are you staying in the village?"
"The Church is providing room and board," was the careless reply. "They were the ones who called me here, after all."
"Ah yes, to chase the witch. What made you decide to become a professional Witch Hunter, anyway?" It was the most roundabout way he could think of to ask how someone so young became a Hunter. The profession was, after all, mostly inhabited by grizzled middle-aged men who blamed their misfortunes or the loss of a loved one on evil magics, unable to cope with the reality that their god had not helped them.
A shrug, and an evasive gaze. "Always have been." Clearly it wasn't a pleasant story. They fell into silence once again. Tezuka was finding himself enjoying the quiet companionship. His colleagues, whenever they did drop around, usually felt the need to fill the silence with unnecessary words. And if they weren't talking, Tezuka didn't need to concentrate so hard, either, and could instead merely enjoy watching his guest. Looking at Ryoma was a strangely enjoyable pastime. It was probably the eyes. They were captivating and easy to get lost in, and the Hunter didn't shy away from his gaze at all, meeting it in just as steady a manner.
Eventually, they finished their tea, and Ryoma stood. "I'd better get going. Thanks for the tea."
"Anytime. Good luck with your searching."
A grunt of farewell, and the Hunter disappeared back down into the valley.
He invited Ryoma in for tea again the next day, and they spoke briefly about a few mundane, impersonal matters, but spent most of the time in companionable silence. The Hunter was investigating again in the city the day after, but returned at the next sundown for another visit. Tezuka knew he probably should stop inviting Ryoma in, but it was a pleasant, if temporary, arrangement. Tezuka so rarely received visitors, and this one did not grate on his nerves as most people did, even if his manners were at times frankly appalling. The only thing that confused him more than his own poor judgement in the matter was the reason why on earth the traveller kept dropping by his hut. Had he underestimated the youth? Granted, the clues were useless, but he seemed so sure of his skills…
It was some surprise that the next knock on his door was not Ryoma, but an old friend instead.
"Fuji," he greeted, opening the door wide to let the slight man in, privately grimacing at the flowing black robes his companion seemed to favour. How obvious could he be? "What are you doing here? Would you like some tea?"
"Thanks Tezuka, but I'm not staying long. I just thought I should stop by and warn you that there are Hunters in the area."
His guilt must have shown on his face, as Fuji laid a worried hand on his arm. "They've already been here?"
He didn't respond, but his friend was quick on the uptake. Cold blue eyes swept the cottage, taking in all the details, before pausing on the two teacups on the table. "You invited him in for tea?"
Tezuka looked away.
After a beat, Fuji commented, "Well, it's nice to see you taking an interest in something, I suppose. You do spend far too much time alone up here. Someone had to strike your interest eventually. Even if your choice was rather inconvenient."
There were veiled suggestions in his friend's comments, but Tezuka was, if anything, a master at ignoring Fuji's insinuations. "There's no danger."
"Of course. I'm sure you know what you're doing." His friend sounded amused. "I'm rather curious to see this mysterious Hunter now, but I'm in a bit of a rush today."
"Your brother?" It was the only thing that could ever put the affable Fuji into a hurry.
"I can hardly let Mizuki do all the teaching, can I?"
"Thanks for dropping by," he merely replied deferentially, not wanting to get on to that topic again.
"Oh, Tezuka, you never change." With a calm smile and a jaunty wave, his friend all but glided from the cottage.
Ryoma came by again for tea that evening, visibly excited.
"You had some luck?" Tezuka asked.
"I saw a very strange bird," came the smug reply. "There's not many witches that can fly. No wonder she's been so tricky to track down on foot. I'll have to camp at the peak and keep watch."
Tezuka wasn't certain whether to curse or thank Fuji. After days of frustration, Ryoma finally had some sort of proof of a witch being in the area. Even though it made things riskier for him, it did mean that the Hunter was likely to linger for at least another couple of weeks. He found that he was starting to look forward to having tea in the afternoons with the traveller, and had been privately dreading the day when the Hunter would have to move on.
Fuji's allusions had struck close to home, though, and forced him to admit something that he'd been denying to himself from the beginning – he did have some… physical attraction to the other man. It had been years since Tezuka had last felt any sort of desire for another person, so it had taken him some time to recognise the feeling for what it was. But it was there, and it was growing. It made conversations mildly dangerous, as he was in something of a quandary, given their unique situation.
He could content himself with just drinking in the sight of his visitor and having harmless exchanges over tea until he could find some solution to the problem, though. Remembering the conversation at hand, he belatedly returned to awareness in time to hear Ryoma ask, "…you see anything? It was rather close to here…"
"No, I'm afraid I've spent most of the day indoors," he replied. "Sorry I can't be of any help."
"Che. Your hospitality has been enough," Ryoma replied, leaning back in his chair. "Those idiots back at the Church would have me looking for this damn witch twenty-four hours a day if they could help it. This is the only peace and quiet I get."
Tezuka tried to look disapproving, but doubted it was convincing. It was probably one of the few times he could ever actually approve of laziness in someone's profession.
He was a warlock, after all. He didn't particularly want to be hunted just because the village had a bad run of luck.