Responsibilities
Pairing: Tezuka/Fuji (through and through!), Oshitari/Atobe
Prompt: Fantasy!AU. Sacrifice
Disclaimer: I do not own them. But they do own each other... and I don't have copyright over the book Oshitari reads here.

A/N: This was originally written for Nightshade Shrub (gj isendre in LJ) in response to her prompt above in the cactuscontinuum community. This fic was beta-read by Xx The Grey Lady xX (I love you!). Enjoy! And I'd really love some reviews. Please read and review! Questions will be entertained. :D

To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.

o)(vi)(o

The Prince of Dmelia tried to concentrate on his breakfast. But the noise from the sports fest was rising five times higher than the students' spirits, leaving the Prince squinting at his pancake. His Gift amplified the cheers, the yells, and the bustle tenfold. The noise reverberated in his head, effectively muddling his thoughts. Gripping his fork tightly, he heaved a sigh and then tried to gather his thoughts in concentration. He started chanting, muttering foreign words beneath a usual smile. But, in a minute of attempt to shun the sound, he shook his head in resignation; the sources of the noise were simply too strong and scattered. Besides, he suspected that if he did succeed in blocking the noise, he would end up in bed, drained of all energy.

"This noise makes me lose my appetite," Atobe declared in exasperation. He pushed his plate of barely touched mango crepe and turned pointedly to Oshitari.

Feeling Atobe's accusing gaze, Oshitari finally looked up from his book (Until You by Judith McNaught, the book cover said). He drawled, "I haven't lost my appetite."

Atobe glanced at Oshitari's plate and saw only crumbs of what used to be waffles. "Apparently," Atobe said coldly.

"I can't stop the noise, Keigo," Oshitari stated. He inserted a bookmark between pages one hundred twenty-four and one hundred twenty-five of Until You before shutting the book. "What would you have me do?"

"Find a quiet place." Atobe said the words as if he was telling Oshitari that, naturally, one and one made two.

Oshitari's gaze wandered around the café before finally landing on the Prince. "Suggestions, Fuji?"

Fuji smiled despite the pounding in his head. "The library is the most silent place I can think of," he said placidly.

The corners of Oshitari's lips curled up slightly, causing Atobe's brows to arch in suspicion. "Ah, yes. It's most suitable for reading too," Oshitari proclaimed. He got to his feet and, carrying his book, headed to the grey-bricked castle of Adage Academy.

Fuji walked a few paces behind, frowning as he gazed thoughtfully at Oshitari's back.

o)(i)(o

The Crown Princess of Dmelia tilted her head and smiled. Prince Syusuke had just climbed up the rungs of a ten-foot ladder and was now holding out a short arm to reach a particularly voluminous book at the top shelf of the Nature Section of the Palace Library. The Prince made a quick grab and cradled the book protectively in his arm. He paused, however, and looked at the floor below him, perhaps wondering how he could manage to climb down while keeping the book safe.

The thirteen-year old Princess put down her quill. "Hold on, Syusuke," she called as she walked away from her desk. When she reached the foot of the ladder, she said, "Drop the book and I'll catch it."

The Prince nodded with a grateful smile and cautiously let go of the book. The Princess caught the book with an "Oof!" as the Prince descended the ladder.

Princess Yumiko unceremoniously plopped down to the carpeted floor, not at all minding if her skirt was rumpled. "This is a rather heavy book, Syusuke," she remarked.

Smiling delightedly, Prince Syusuke sat cross-legged beside his sister. He took the book and propped it open before them. "Aren't the pictures great, neesan?" he asked as he flipped the pages that revealed pictures of wild animals, towering trees and bright flowers. "I'd like to take this kind of pictures too."

The Crown Princess smiled. "Why not?" she asked. Although she doubted that her brother could ever become a photographer, the Princess made a mental note to giver her brother a camera come his next birthday or, at least, come the next February twenty-eighth.

o)(vii)(o

Fuji stopped by the Zoology Section and scanned the collection for a wildlife photography book. Fuji liked reading, but he loved looking at photographs more. He never quite liked words as much as he liked photos, for, he usually thought, he had heard enough words to last him a lifetime. Pictures, on the other hand, said many things without making any noise.

Decided, Fuji took a leather-bound volume (Felines in the Wild) from a series of wildlife photography books and searched for his companions. A smile played across his lips when he found Atobe and Oshitari sitting across a familiar bespectacled boy.

"Are you ever not busy, Tezuka?" Fuji heard Atobe ask while Fuji sat on the empty wooden chair beside their fellow sixth level student, Tezuka.

Almost at once, Fuji felt comfortable; he stopped hearing the sounds from the school grounds.

"Good morning, Atobe," said Tezuka curtly, pointedly ignoring Atobe's question. He busied himself with a thick pile of paper, mechanically dipping his quill into the ink bottle and signing on the blank at the bottom right corner of each sheet.

"Atobe," Fuji said cheerily, "Tezuka is the President of the Student Council. He is never not busy."

"Why aren't you at the sports fest?" Tezuka asked, still signing the forms.

"Do you honestly think that Fuji will survive the noise?" Atobe asked airily. "And Yuushi can talk everyone into losing."

Fuji looked up. He smiled softly when he thought he caught Tezuka glance at him. But, aware of Atobe's Gift, Fuji quickly brought his gaze back to the photos.

"I meant you, Atobe," Tezuka said tonelessly. "You're allowed to play. Your Sight will do no harm to others. It merely gives you an advantage."

"Naturally," Oshitari said, without tearing his eyes away from his book, "he knows he will win all the events."

"Naturally," Atobe agreed.

Fuji couldn't help but chuckle over a picture of a tigress and her cubs.

Out of boredom, Atobe impatiently drummed his fingers on the table. But, after a few minutes, he lifted his head, as if remembering something. "I've caught someone perform a fifth level magic last night," he told Tezuka. "I'll give you the full written report later."

Tezuka nodded. "I'll make sure to give it to the Directress," he said dutifully. "Was anyone hurt?" he asked. The rule against using anything beyond third level magic outside classes was, after all, imposed to avoid injuries and, worse, deaths.

"None," Atobe replied promptly.

"I'll wait for the report then," Tezuka said. He neatly stacked the papers in front of him and rose to his feet. "Please excuse me. I have a meeting with the rest of the Council."

Tezuka was about to walk away from the table when Atobe called him.

Tezuka turned inquiringly to Atobe.

"Your room is 308, isn't it?" Atobe asked. His thin brows wrinkled together.

"Yes," Tezuka replied.

Atobe rested his head at the back of his hand and said casually, "The occupant of room 307 – Ishikawa – reported that he heard some noises at your balcony last night. At around ten-thirty, I believe."

Fuji stopped flipping the pages of his book to steal a glance at Tezuka. Tezuka, on the other hand, did not seem perturbed.

"There could have been a burglar, a spy or a stalker at your balcony last night," Atobe informed coldly. "As the Dormitory Head, I'd like to check your room later."

"I'm sure that my room is perfectly safe," Tezuka said in response. "But do as you see fit." He nodded his head and turned to leave.

As if turned on by an invisible switch, the noise began ringing in Fuji's head again.

o)(iii)(o

As it was still the first day of school, only a handful of students were in the library. However, despite the fact that there were almost a hundred free tables, the Prince chose to settle himself before a table that was already occupied by another first level student.

The other student, a boy who wore silver-rimmed glasses, looked up from his schoolwork. The boy tried to hide his surprise but evidently failed as his forehead wrinkled at the sight of the Prince.

"Tezuka," the Prince said cheerfully, "you don't mind if I sit here, do you?"

"Not at all," Tezuka replied, blinking away his surprise. He lowered his head and continued answering the first homework of the term, diligently dipping the tip of his quill in the ink and scribbling neatly on the piece of yellow paper.

"You do remember me, don't you?" asked the Prince in earnest. "I sat beside you during Charms and Enchantments. I also sat beside you in Potion-making."

Tezuka lifted his head and nodded courteously. "I remember, Your Highness."

The Prince grinned. "Just 'Fuji' would be fine," he said jovially.

"Yes, Fuji," Tezuka said obediently. Another frown formed on Tezuka's face. Fuji's friendly familiarity admittedly perplexed him; other people, children and adults, usually showed frightened discomfort around him. Didn't the Prince know - ?

"You have the Nullifying Gift, haven't you?" Fuji asked.

Tezuka couldn't see Fuji's eyes but he could tell by Fuji's wide grin that the Prince was rather excited. "Yes, I do," Tezuka replied honestly.

"Will it be all right if I stayed with you? Oshitari said that you can help me endure the noise," said Fuji cheerily. "I'm not quite used to it, you see."

Tezuka blinked. He had heard that the Prince was home-schooled until the age of twelve – when boys were old enough to enter the Adage Academy – so the Prince couldn't have known before then about the ruckus that other students made. And, Tezuka thought, perhaps the Palace had spells all over it to block or muffle noises. Deciding that he could not refuse a Prince, Tezuka nodded dutifully. He resolved that helping the Prince should be his new responsibility.

o)(viii)(o

Upon hearing a familiar tap on his balcony door, Tezuka rose from his chair and abandoned his Astrology homework. He slid the balcony door open and did not show a trace of surprise at the sight of Fuji who sat peacefully on an old branch of a willow tree.

"You heard Atobe," Tezuka started in reproof. "He's coming to check later."

Fuji beamed innocently at Tezuka. "I'm sure Ishikawa didn't hear me," he said thoughtfully. "I always come here at eight and leave at nine. Your neighbor must have heard an animal… unless," Fuji's eyes flew open and glinted dangerously, "you're keeping a secret from me."

Tezuka glared. "Fuji," he said icily.

Throwing his head back, Fuji laughed. "Don't worry. I'm sure Atobe won't spill the beans if he sees us," he said reassuringly. He smiled gently and held out an inviting hand.

Tezuka obliged. He climbed up the railings and took Fuji's hand. Then, he leapt up to join Fuji on the tree branch.

Dangling his feet playfully in the air, Fuji shifted to lean against Tezuka. "Mother called," he muttered.

Tezuka froze. His hand went cold and he unconsciously squeezed Fuji's. But he didn't say anything and let Fuji continue.

"She wants me to meet the Rodensian Princess. She's here a state visit," Fuji went. "I said 'No.'"

Tezuka stared straight ahead. His gaze pierced through rows of trees that looked like the one they were sitting on. "Fuji… you can't decline forever."

"I know," Fuji said patiently, but Tezuka did not miss the sharp edge in Fuji's voice. "You have a responsibility to your family. I have a responsibility to Dmelia – even if it's just marrying for diplomacy's sake. We can't sacrifice these responsibilities for selfish reasons," he recited the words tonelessly. When Tezuka did not answer, Fuji added, "In the future, I will be married. You will be married. You will be happy for me and I will be happy for you. Won't that be absolutely marvelous?"

Tezuka braved a glance at Fuji. Fuji was still smiling but annoyance, sadness, and regret caused his smile to quiver. Tezuka released a strained sigh.

"Did your headache persist?" Tezuka asked, hoping to change Fuji's train of thought.

Fuji nodded wearily. "I just slept it off."

"I was busy," Tezuka said in a low voice.

Fuji lifted his head to see Tezuka's face better. Tezuka's lips formed a thin line and his eyes were dark and thoughtful. Fuji smiled and shrugged, knowing that the words were the closest thing to an apology that he could get from Tezuka. "I understand. My special earmuffs are probably the busiest in the kingdom."

Tezuka turned his head and shot Fuji a sharp look.

Nudging Tezuka's arms, Fuji chuckled. "And my earmuffs are the most serious too."

o)(ii)(o

"Kunimitsu, dear," said Tezuka Ayana. She smiled patiently and tugged as she pulled a white shirt over her son. "You'll have to behave yourself when the visitors arrive."

Kunimitsu nodded obediently and Ayana's smile widened; Ayana did not know of any child who was more disciplined than her five-year old son.

Kunimitsu tilted his head to see his Mother who was now armed with a brush and battling against his hair. "Who will be visiting, Mother?" he asked politely.

"Some noblemen and ambassadors," replied Ayana gently.

Tipping his head in thought, Kunimitsu tried to remember what noblemen were. Ah! They were those rich people who lived in castles. Mother used to tell him that their names were old, older than their castles even. "Why are they visiting?" he asked curiously.

"They want to make business agreements with your Grandfather. They think he makes the finest wine there is," Ayana said cheerfully. She dropped the brush to her son's bed and inspected him. She made him turn around to be sure that there was no crease on his shirt and on his trousers. Satisfied, she asked, "Do you want to know what helps your grandfather make the best wine in the kingdom?"

Kunimitsu nodded his head.

"He has admirable senses of responsibility and determination," Ayana said proudly.

Kunimitsu's eyes widened in awe. He only knew of the five senses: sight, taste, hearing, smell and touch. He thought that his grandfather must be truly great to have two senses that most people lacked. But Kunimitsu knew that he, just like his grandfather, was a Tezuka, so he thought that he must have those senses too.

o)(ix)(o

Atobe knocked on the door embossed with '308.' He waited rather impatiently, rolling and unrolling the report he had to give Tezuka. A minute passed and yet no response came. He knocked again and when there was still no answer, he reached his hand to the doorknob and turned it. He arched a brow when the knob turned freely. He pushed the door open, smirking at the thought that Tezuka must have gotten careless to have left the door unlocked.

Stepping into the room, Atobe raised his brows again upon realizing that Tezuka wasn't in. But Tezuka's study lantern was lit, a quill was left lying on a half-filled sheet of paper and a low fire crackled in the fireplace. Deciding to come back later, Atobe made a move to leave until he caught sight of the fully opened balcony door. He did not have to squint to see Tezuka and Fuji sitting abreast each other on the willow tree.

Atobe clucked his tongue. "Tezuka, you're letting your guard down." He flicked his hand in a swift wave and the balcony door shut quietly. Making sure that he locked the door, Atobe left room 308 and headed to room 305 to see Oshitari.

Oshitari did not even bat an eyelash when Atobe casually entered the room and slid the balcony door open. He continued playing chess by himself and was wondering where to move a white knight when Atobe announced with a smirk, "I've found Tezuka's spy." Atobe jerked his head, beckoning Oshitari to the balcony.

Oshitari checked his wristwatch and made his way to Atobe. He followed Atobe's gaze. Leaning against the doorway, he said, "Ishikawa did not hear Fuji last night."

Atobe's eyes narrowed. "How do you know?" Atobe asked.

"Fuji visits at eight and leaves at nine," Oshitari informed knowingly. "Always. It's a routine that Tezuka has established."

Atobe raised his brows. "I suppose you have a good reason for not telling me?" he said coldly.

"I found out by accident so I thought Fuji should tell you himself," Oshitari said placidly. "I saw them at the school garden. Fuji was taking pictures and Tezuka was trailing along."

"Then they're not being as discreet as they're supposed to be," Atobe said in a wry tone.

"They are," Oshitari contradicted. "To other people, they would appear to be long-time companions, just that. But, of course," Oshitari paused to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose, "I have my way of knowing."

"So do the King's spies," Atobe reminded curtly.

"Yes." Oshitari nodded gravely.

"And after Fuji's refusal to marry the Marquise of Nersev, I assume that the King knows by now," Atobe said. His eyes were fixed intently on Tezuka's and Fuji's figures. "He'd likely threaten the Tezukas' business to drive Tezuka away."

"And Tezuka will not want to mar his family's honor," Oshitari marked sedately. He watched the conflicting emotions of sympathy and disapproval in Atobe's eyes.

"A pity," Atobe marked.

Oshitari nodded. He reached out, brushing a thumb against Atobe's cheeks. He could only be glad that he and Atobe were experiencing a different set of circumstances.

o)(iv)(o

Fuji cast Tezuka a furtive glance and brought his head down immediately to stare at his paper. He had already spent an hour in Tezuka's room and all he had managed to write was three sentences – not even a decent introduction for an essay on potent herbs that their Potion-making teacher wanted. He stole another glimpse of Tezuka and repressed a sigh.

"Fuji, what's wrong?" Tezuka asked in a usual placid manner. He was occupied with scrawling neatly on his paper.

"Nothing," Fuji replied quickly. He smiled. "I just can't seem to find the right words."

Tezuka's brow arched. He lifted his head to frown at Fuji. "What's wrong?" he asked again.

"Nothing."

"Fuji," Tezuka persisted.

Fuji sighed in resignation. Offering a rueful smile, he finally turned to Tezuka. "Mother wants me to play host to the Marquise of Nersev. I suppose Father wants me to marry her because that way Dmelia can establish a stronger bond with the Great Isles." He pressed his lips. "Father always says that there is no stronger ally than the Great Isles."

Tezuka crossed his arms, waiting, as Fuji looked at the floor.

"If I rejected the engagement, the ties that we have with the Great Isles might be severed," Fuji said pensively. He inclined his head and forced a smile. "But I don't want to marry her."

"Why not?" Tezuka asked. His eyes flickered toward the wall for a moment before he added, "It's part of your obligation."

Fuji studied Tezuka's face for a minute or two. But all he saw was Tezuka's calm façade. "I don't want to be a pawn for Dmelia's diplomatic advances. I just want to be a photographer. I told you that." He gazed straight at Tezuka. His eyes opened, exposing his uncertain thoughts, baring his confused emotions. He dropped his voice so that he almost whispered, "And… I have a bigger reason. Do you want to know?"

When Tezuka remained still, Fuji's smile became wistful. Fuji leaned closer to Tezuka. Slowly, he moved and cautiously pressed their lips together. He kissed softly, willing Tezuka to respond. He nipped at Tezuka's lips, coaxing and fondling, while his ears thumped with his own heartbeats.

After several seconds, however, Fuji's shoulders drooped; Tezuka was as still as a statue. Fuji was about to draw away when a firm hand clasped around his arm and pulled him closer to Tezuka. His eyes grew wide when he felt Tezuka's lips mold his so gently, so delicately. Fuji shifted closer, digging his hands in Tezuka's hair, urging Tezuka to hold him tighter. When Tezuka's tongue traced his lips, he opened his mouth and allowed their tongues to wander.

With flushed faces and heaving chests, they parted and tried to catch their breaths.

Fuji's eyes blazed with hope as he glanced expectantly at Tezuka. But Tezuka was frowning, focusing his eyes on the floor. Fuji's eyes narrowed and he slumped dismally against the backrest of his chair.

"But of course," Fuji started, forcing his voice to sound calm, "duties come first. Sacrifices have to be made for responsibilities." He gathered his things, books, paper, ink bottle and all. "Perhaps I should marry the Marquise. I heard she's really beautiful. It wouldn't hurt, would it?" Cradling his things, he rose from his seat, but he paused when Tezuka grabbed his hand. He waited patiently, holding on to Tezuka's hand.

"Fine," Tezuka said.

"Fine?" Fuji asked with a small smile. "You mean it's fine for me to marry her?"

"No," Tezuka said darkly. "Tell them you're too young to marry. Tell them that you're not yet ready." Tezuka rubbed his temples with his free hand and sighed. "At least for now."

o)(x)(o

"Tezuka," started Atobe as he took long strides across Fuji's room. He raised a piece of paper on his left hand and sent it fluttering to Tezuka. "I meant to give this last night. But," he nodded towards Fuji, "you were busy." Neither Fuji nor Tezuka missed the stress Atobe added to the last word.

Fuji sat calmly on top of his desk as Tezuka stood beside him, still looking at a batch of freshly developed pictures. Fuji smiled, saying, "Even an heir to a dukedom is supposed to knock, Atobe."

"I used to tell him that," Oshitari said, settling comfortably on a couch near the hearth. He added tragically, "It never worked."

Atobe rolled his eyes and dropped flamboyantly beside Oshitari. Giving Fuji a calculating gaze, he remarked tartly, "I thought the two of you would have been more careful."

Tezuka handed the pictures back to Fuji and sighed. Deep lines marked his forehead when he said, "We are trying our best."

"Well," Atobe almost snapped, "it isn't enough." He turned dolefully to Fuji. "We have a reason to believe that Ishikawa heard a spy the other night."

Oshitari nodded in assent. "Most of the King's spies are chosen for their Gift of Stealth. But Tezuka, in his sleep, must have nullified the spy's Gift so Ishikawa heard a noise. There's more than ninety percent likelihood that the King knows why Fuji rejected the engagement with the Marquise of Nersev – "

"And the Princess of Rodensia," Fuji muttered.

Tezuka rubbed his nose-bridge absently, and Atobe thought that Tezuka looked remarkably older than usual.

Atobe let out a low, mirthless laugh. "I will not be surprised when His Majesty shows up on your door this instant."

o)(v)(o

Hugging one of Tezuka's goose-feather pillows, Fuji propped himself up on Tezuka's bed and leaned against the headrest. He watched quietly while Tezuka worked on an assignment. Tezuka's forehead wrinkled, his lips pressed, and his eyes narrowed in concentration over a thick book.

Feeling Fuji's gaze, Tezuka asked without turning his head, "Did you finish your homework?"

"No," Fuji replied truthfully.

Fuji could make out Tezuka's disapproving frown. "I told you to finish everything before you come here," Tezuka reprimanded lightly.

"I know," Fuji said with a weak smile. "But I couldn't concentrate."

"You should have brought your work here then," Tezuka said, still poring over his book.

Fuji nodded, though he knew that Tezuka couldn't see. He held the pillow closer to his chest. "Tezuka?"

"Hn?"

"Does being responsible make you happy?"

Tezuka paused. Finally, he lifted his head to look at Fuji. "In a way, yes," he said seriously. "I feel gratified after accomplishing a task."

"Following that logic," Fuji considered, "I'll feel gratified when I've fulfilled my duties to Dmelia despite the sacrifices I would have to make."

Tezuka peered at Fuji beneath his spectacles. His grip tightened on his quill as he watched Fuji stare at his bed's white linen sheets. After a minute of silence, Tezuka said, "An opportunity always entails a cost."

"But what if the opportunity is too expensive?" Fuji asked. His smile was wan, almost fading.

"Fuji," Tezuka almost sighed, "we already talked about this."

Fuji crushed the pillow against him. "I cannot help wondering," he said flatly.

Tezuka pursed his lips so tightly it hurt. When he brought his attention back to his homework, he found that the rest of the text no longer made sense. All he could do was lean back and shut his eyes.

o)(xi)(o

"Did you see Tezuka?"

Atobe, displeased with the interruption, glared at Fuji, who stood on the doorway. Atobe shifted under Oshitari's weight and shoved Oshitari gently away. Heaving to a proper seating position on the couch, Atobe said, "Don't you know how to knock?"

"You don't," Oshitari jeered while he snatched his glasses from the coffee table an arm's length away.

"Did you see Tezuka?" asked Fuji, unfazed by the scene that he had just disrupted.

Atobe sighed. "No," he said upon seeing Fuji's fully revealed eyes. "Why?"

"We're supposed to develop some pictures today," Fuji said. His smile quirked, showing his effort to sound calm. "I checked his room but he wasn't there."

"He has a Council meeting on Saturdays," Oshitari informed. "They meet at three."

"He does," Fuji replied cursorily. "But it ends at four-thirty."

Atobe checked his watch. It indicated half-past five. His thin brows furrowed; as far as he knew, Tezuka was never tardy. He fixed his ruffled hair and rumpled shirt with a flick of his wrist before turning to Fuji. "Let's go to your room and wait," he said. He nodded to Oshitari. "Check Tezuka's room." At that, he got to his feet and led Fuji down one flight of stairs, heading to room 104.

"Aniki!"

Fuji stopped abruptly, seeing an annoyed Yuuta leaning on his door. "Yuuta, what are you doing here?" Fuji asked.

"Where on earth have you been?" Yuuta asked. He dropped his voice and said, "Open the door before I tell you." He moved sideways to allow Fuji access to the door.

Fuji nodded and stepped forward to insert a silver key into its hole. He pushed the door open and, once they were all inside, turned questioningly to his brother.

After making sure that Atobe had closed the door, Yuuta started, "I saw Toyama with the Directress at lunch."

"Toyama?" Atobe asked, raising an eyebrow. "The King's right hand?"

"Yes," Yuuta said urgently. He fixed his gaze on Fuji. "Neesan told me about you and Tezuka so I thought you should know that Toyama is here."

Fuji dropped to the edge of his bed. "He's probably talking to Tezuka right now," he said blankly. "Thanks, Yuuta."

Yuuta only nodded his head and left.

"You cannot intercept or you'll compromise Tezuka's position even more," Atobe said. He sat on the couch and watched Fuji with narrowed eyes. "Just wait."

o)(xii)(o

Waiting for an hour was, in Fuji's opinion, more than enough. He stood up from bed and told Atobe decisively, "I'm going to look for Tezuka."

Atobe raised his head from the back of his hand. He watched Fuji for a full minute, checking if Fuji was sure. Then, he waved a dismissive hand. "Fine," Atobe said. "I'll wait for – " Atobe paused when the door creaked open.

Fuji glanced to the door and saw Oshitari enter the room. "Where's Tezuka?"

"In his room," Oshitari said informatively. "He's packing, but –"

"Packing?" Fuji asked, smiling forcibly.

"Yes, but – "

Fuji did not hear the rest of Oshitari's words. Taking purposeful steps, he walked past Oshitari and headed to Tezuka's room.

He stopped by Tezuka's doorway, folded his arms across his chest and leaned sideways against the doorframe. He did not say a word outright. Instead, he watched and waited as Tezuka neatly folded clothes and stuffed them inside a trunk. "You're leaving," Fuji said in a low monotone. Though Tezuka did not turn, Fuji knew that Tezuka was aware of his presence.

"I thought you'd at least put up a fight before you completely give in to your responsibilities," Fuji said dryly. "Apparently not."

When Tezuka still did not acknowledge him, Fuji said slowly, "Have a safe trip."

Fuji turned to his heels without a word more and went back to his room where Oshitari handed him a piece of paper the moment he stepped in. "Tezuka asked me to give this to you," Oshitari said.

Atobe just smirked beside Oshitari. "That Tezuka."

"A letter is all I get," Fuji said grimly. All the same, he took the piece of paper and read the words written in Tezuka's familiar neat handwriting. No expression showed on his face when he read the short note. When he was done reading, he crumpled the paper into a tiny ball and tossed it to the fire.

o)(xiii)(o

"Is this seat taken?"

Tezuka looked up wearily at the person who entered the train compartment. The newcomer wore a plain white shirt and a pair of khaki cargo pants, a camera hung across his neck. Tezuka could not see the person's face fully for it was shadowed by the lid of a khaki Gatsby cap. But he completely recognized the newcomer's smile.

"No," Tezuka said, a smile tugging playfully at the corners of his lips.

"Do I look like a typical photographer to you?" the newcomer asked brightly, taking the empty seat across Tezuka.

Tezuka nodded his approval. "Yes, Fuji."

Fuji's smile broadened. "I burnt the note as you said. Oshitari and Atobe helped me get out of school and they promised to inform us of what's going on. You see," he fished a common-looking brown paper from the pocket of his pants and raised it so Tezuka could see. "I bought Missive Papers and gave one to Atobe. That way, we can get in touch."

"Do you think you've been followed?" Tezuka asked shortly.

"Not as far as I know," Fuji said reassuringly. "I went out of school in the guise of Oshitari's family photographer, while Atobe had one of his servants bring my luggage to the train station. Oshitari talked to the guards." He smiled knowingly.

"I see," Tezuka said curtly.

Fuji frowned slightly. He leaned forward to see Tezuka's face more clearly. And then he saw dark circles around Tezuka's eyes and tired lines around Tezuka's mouth. "Have you been followed?"

"I assume I was," Tezuka said quietly. "I got out of the train at the last station and stayed at an inn. I took the train back here at dawn this morning." He rubbed his nose-bridge in exhaustion. "But I think I led them to believe that I'm leaving for good."

"So this is your third train ride in two days?" Fuji asked in concern. He reached out to pat Tezuka's hand while the train started to chug away from the station. "Take some rest."

Tezuka nodded and turned to window. He leaned on his arm. "Fuji?" he said in a hushed, sleepy voice.

"Yes?"

"What we're doing… it's not foolproof. It just gives us two to three days ahead of the King's spies," Tezuka said slowly, watching the blur of fields that they passed.

"I know," Fuji said. "But we will not let our guard down."

Tezuka lifted his head to see Fuji's calm smile.

"How about you?" Fuji asked. He furrowed his brows thoughtfully. "Is it really okay for you that we're leaving our responsibilities behind?"

Tezuka shut his eyes for some rest. Before finally falling into slumber, he said, "We also have responsibilities to ourselves."

o)(END)(o