Title: AND HERE, WE MEET AGAIN
Characters:
Tezuka Kunimitsu, Fuji Shuusuke
Prompter: whiteashes07 (LJ)
Prompt: Having the promised match after the Nationals Tournament (manga-verse).
Word Count: ± 7100
Genre: Would you believe me if I say this is "Friendship"? :P
Rating: PG-13 for their kinda complicated thoughts and feelings for each other (that gave me quite a headache writing them)
Summary: Ten years after graduation, the regulars held a little reunion for they barely meet each other. On the very same courts they had once built their dream together, Fuji Shuusuke's mind drifted into one fateful match he had with the Tezuka Kunimitsu.
Warnings: switching POVs and…switching timelines? And read the A/N pls, it'd help.
Disclaimer: Konomi Takeshi owns PoT and its characters. And the song isn't mine either, it's Tezuka's and Fuji's feelings for each other XD
Beta: Speadee (really much thanks for taking my request in such a short notice and for beta-ing super-fast!)

A/N: I know that in the manga, Fuji's eyes are brown, but it's a bit weird for me (and for you to read too, I suppose) if I were to describe his eyes as brown, so I keep them blue. But this is manga-verse, okay? (Well, it's a fanfic after all!) xD

And I know in the last chappie, Echizen was back to the states, but let's just say he went there after the seniors graduated, so that he won't miss this ultimate match :D

Also, I inserted the lyrics of "Koko de Bokura wa Deatte Shimatta" here and there. Translation's taken from kalika1997's LJ

P.S.: Please excuse me on the during-match descriptions. I don't even play tennis, so... grins sheepishly but I've tried my best, so I hope it's good enough ;;

Oh, and please don't compare this to episode 174-176 of the anime. Since this is manga-verse, if you could please see this separately from the anime? Thank you :D


AND HERE, WE MEET AGAIN


Ten years have passed since their graduation from Seishun Middle School. The ex-regulars who led Seigaku to the national championship were currently having a reunion in the school they had studied in a decade ago. With help from Inui who is currently coaching the Seigaku tennis club, they had managed to hold a barbeque party on the very same tennis courts where they had once built their dreams.

A twenty-five-year-old Fuji Shuusuke was observing the court, and found two people not present yet. Momo said that Echizen had called earlier, saying that he would be late. Fuji smirked. Apparently, the brat was still fond of being the last to arrive.

'Too bad, though,' Fuji thought, 'the one who is supposed to assign laps has also yet to show his nose.'

/ I thought I heard your voice. When I turned around, what I see is the blue sky /

A breeze blew past him, fondling with his shoulder-length hair. The soft wind carrying the scent of spring had somehow made him feel really nostalgic. Fuji was quietly watching his ex-teammates' antics; Kawamura just brought a huge package of Sushi and everyone seemed ready to wolf it down when another breeze passed by, carrying a familiar voice that he hadn't heard in a while. He promptly spun his head, and the starry summer night sky came into view.

Feeling the wind toying with his hair, Fuji silently whispers Tezuka's name.

They had entered different high schools after graduating from Seigaku, and could barely meet after starting college. Their studies managed to eat a lot of their time, and so, only irregular phone calls and e-mails were left as their means of communication these past years.

Seeing his old teammates gathered like this sure brought back memories of those days when they were fighting together to achieve their dreams, led by the one who would always be their captain, Tezuka Kunimitsu.

Memories of their days together were now coming to his mind's eye. Both of them used to be addressed as the two strongest players in Seigaku for years, without ever really settling the question of who was the stronger between the two. Fuji had invited Tezuka for a match in their freshmen year, but the injury Tezuka had back then didn't get them anywhere.

Eventually, after two and a half years of unfulfilled promise, both of them managed to have a rematch, and the memories of that fateful day started to come into Fuji's head. Clear mental pictures were appearing in his mind's eye as if they had happened only yesterday.


--

--startFB--

--

It was their graduation day. The three years they had spent in Seishuun Middle school had ended this very day. The graduation ceremony included the farewell speeches of the memories shared between friends, partners, and even lovers, bringing tears to almost all the seniors graduating.

Fuji had stood under a sakura tree, watching as the sakura petals were carried by the wind, spreading the scent of spring. Spring was the season of a new beginning, Fuji had thought. It was the season where a new academic year began; where grade-schoolers became middle-schoolers, middle-schoolers first stepped their feet into high school life, and finally the high-schoolers found separate ways from their friends since some would be continuing their education in different subjects while others preferred to work right after graduating.

The prodigy had chuckled once he realized that his mind had been straying around.

"Fuji."

The light-haired youth quickly diverted his gaze from the sakura tree to the owner of that familiar voice standing not far to his left. With a smile, Fuji greeted his now ex-captain.

He was surprised when the stoic youth threw a tennis ball at his direction. Catching the lime-green object swiftly, Fuji threw a questioning glance at the bespectacled boy now standing right in front of him.

/ If there are still things here left to be done, perhaps this too, is one of them /

"Let's have a match," Tezuka simply stated while looking straight into the cerulean orbs now opened from the sudden invitation.

"A match," Fuji repeated, staring at the round object in his right hand before turning his gaze to the hazel orbs.

'After this tournament is over, will you have a match with me?'

That was a question the prodigy had thrown some months ago. Fuji still remembered how he felt after winning the match against Niou. The trickster had tried to imitate Tezuka, but still, he was NOT Tezuka. Even so, the match had been quite thrilling for him that inside, he had craved for a match against the real Tezuka.

'Sure, if that's what you want,' had been his captain's answer while they joined their hands in a tight grip, conveying their spirit of rivalry to each other.

The promise, however, had not been fulfilled until that day. After the Nationals, school had been waiting for them. Before they were tennis players, both of them were students in their last year of middle school. They had to study for their exams and prepare themselves for high school.

Fuji was glad the captain had remembered their promise. 'Of course,' Fuji thought, 'Tezuka Kunimitsu is always true to his words.'

The moment they spent gazing into each other's eyes felt like forever. With cerulean orbs reflecting those regal hazel eyes, the prodigy let out an open-eyed smile.

/ Even now, the two of us still have the childlike innocence from that day /

'Someday, when your arm heals completely, let's play once more.'

'Ah,' Fuji thought. That was his own statement after their first match in their first year, which ended in Tezuka's complete defeat. He had asked for a rematch that day, and Tezuka had agreed. Yet until the Nationals, Fuji had no real desire for a rematch. He had wondered during his match against Niou that maybe, both of them had been avoiding having a rematch.

As he looked beyond the rimless glasses, though, Fuji saw the same enthusiasm Tezuka had once when they were twelve. Then, the prodigy smiled as he stared back into the hazel orbs. Their eyes locked with each other, reflecting the determination and excitement… and that something else they had yet to understand.

/ It's not too late to start now /

"Let's have a good match," said Tezuka after they had finished changing into their tennis uniforms.

Fuji took a moment to study the form of the bespectacled boy in his Seigaku tennis uniform, and then looked down at his own figure in the blue and white shirt. The prodigy let out a wistful smile. This would be the last time they would wear this tennis uniform.

Stepping out of the clubhouse holding rackets, they immediately attracted the attention of their juniors gathered near the courts. Not long after, a commotion started as those juniors looked for their senpais so that they wouldn't miss the match between the two strongest tennis players in Seigaku.

By the time they faced each other on court A, the old regulars were standing on the side of the courts, while the non-regulars and interested bypassers slowly cramped themselves behind the fence

/ "Shall we get started?" /

"Rough or smooth?" asked Tezuka as he prepared to twirl his racket.

"Smooth," Fuji answered.

The racket spun and fell with a soft clatter on the ground. Tezuka knelt on one knee to check, and murmured, "smooth."

"My serve, then," Fuji smiled as he turned his body and walked towards the baseline.

Pulling out a ball from his pocket, the smiling prodigy opened his eyes, trying to hold down his excitement before it got the better of him. Measuring the distance between them, Fuji threw the lime-green object to the air, and with a loud 'thwack', the ball marking the beginning of their fateful match had flown across the net.

-oOo-

Serve after serve was delivered, with the green and white missile flying back and forth between the two rivals, accompanied by thwacking and cracking sounds. Their scores were chasing each other's, and Kawamura, who had volunteered to be the referee for this crucial match, really couldn't keep his eyes off the ball even for a second. He unconsciously gripped his diploma so hard from the tension of the match.

With neither of them planning to lose this match, they entered a ten-minute rally, making their audiences frown in anticipation.

"Nyaaaa! How long are they going to rally? This is driving me insane!" Kikumaru exclaimed as he scratched his head with both hands in frustration.

"Fssshu…." Kaidoh hissed, eyes getting a bit tired from never leaving the ball that kept zooming back and forth. That was when Inui shoved his diploma into his hand since the data-player had finally come to his senses and decided to take data instead of just watching the match.

"Ten minutes of rally… and they haven't even used their special moves yet," Inui mumbled while scribbling madly on his notebook, as if taking notes on every little move they made. "This match is going to give me precious data," he continued without looking up from his notebook.

"Oi, look!" Momo patted Echizen's back repeatedly, making the shorter boy annoyed. Even without his senpai telling him, Echizen knew their Captain had activated it.

Fuji, too, had noticed. Because no matter where he intended for the ball to land, the lime green object kept heading for Tezuka's direction, and the bespectacled boy didn't have to move from his spot.

"Nyaaa! It's Tezuka Zone!"

Fuji smirked. It seemed like Tezuka was getting serious. Chasing the ball, the smiling boy concentrated on his right hand and when he had the chance, he hit one of his counters, trying to break the Tezuka Zone.

"That form!" Momo unconsciously shouted in Echizen's ears that the younger boy wished that he presently had his hat to pull down over his ears, if possible.

"Is it Tsubame Gaaeshi?" Oishi murmured, eyes still focused on the ball.

"No," Inui cut him off. "It's the upgraded one."

Unable to pull the brim of his non-present hat, Echizen slipped his hands into his pants pocket instead, and muttered, "Houou Gaeshi… was it?"

But the round object didn't seem able to reject the force that attracted it to the stoic youth, and eventually, it bent from its track and Tezuka conveniently hit a zero-shiki drop shot that Fuji failed to return.

"Game, Tezuka! 1-0!"

Silence.

/ On that day… We ran into each other here /

Calmly walking back to the baseline, Fuji prepared himself for whatever serve Tezuka was going to give him. For a few seconds, both of them just stared into each other's eyes, despite the distance separating them across the court. Fuji remembered their first match here, and how he had been waiting in anticipation of what kind of serve a twelve-year-old Tezuka would give him.

Then, the stoic captain bounced the ball twice, tossed it in mid-air, and swung his racket. With the sound of the racket kissing the ball, Fuji's mind was back to the present, and he ran to the right side of the court to return with a cord ball, and managed to score from Tezuka.

"0-15!" Kawamura shouted.

"Fuji scored pretty quickly with a cord ball," Inui mumbled, still scribbling in his notebook.

"Fssshu… Inui-senpai, aren't you going to predict the percentage of their next move?" asked Kaidoh, since he was wondering why the data collector hadn't said anything like 'there's 68 chance of…' and was merely scribbling on his notebook instead.

"No, Kaidoh, this match is unpredictable, so I'm not going to waste my time making predictions. I'm just going to take their data while I can," he explained without taking his eyes off the match or notebook.

"Oh look, Tezuka-buchou's going to serve!" Momo yelled yet again.

"Momo-senpai, could you please be quiet?" Echizen requested, annoyed.

"Wait," Oishi frowned deeper, scrutinizing Tezuka's stance, "that serve is…"

The ball zoomed forward, and suddenly dropped just as soon as it reached the other side of the court, right in front of the net. Fuji froze in his failed attempt to return the serve.

"Nyaaa! It's zero-shiki serve!"

Standing straight, Fuji eyed the ball, then diverted his gaze to the taller youth, standing proudly on the other side of the court. He let out an open-eyed smile before walking back to the baseline.

He was thrilled. It was only the second game, but Tezuka had already used his zero-shiki serve. The ex-captain was taking him seriously.

--Since the first time Fuji had seen Tezuka on this very same court, he had a feeling that the bespectacled boy was going to give something in his stagnant life.

Fuji felt like his hand was shaking in excitement. This was it. He felt like he could… that he should play at his full strength with Tezuka.

The next serve from the captain was not another zero-shiki serve, as he probably thought Fuji would start formulating ways to counter the serve after seeing it several times in a row. But maybe, it was also because he had learned not to put too much burden on his arm.

"That's smart, Tezuka," he said as he was chasing the ball, and hit it with a lob. Out of instinct, Tezuka jumped to smash the ball, and Fuji's eyes glinted and he held his racket with both hands to counter his opponent's smash with his Kirin Otoshi.

Fuji didn't realize though, that the captain had activated his Tezuka Zone, causing the ball to be attracted towards him, and allowing him to return the ball. Unprepared for his returned counter, the prodigy failed to retrieve the ball that bounced at the far left, just a few centimeters from his baseline.

"15-15."

Another counter had been broken.

Fuji stared at his opponent with such intensity. Something was burning inside him.

Tezuka was trying to pull his real self out.

-oOo-

As time went by, the crowd of audiences watching this rare match hadn't seemed to decrease. Rather, the amount of people gathering was getting bigger. Ryuuzaki-sensei had now joined the regulars near court A to get a better view.

The score was now 3-3. Once again, they entered a seemingly never-ending rally. The ball kept whizzing back and forth between the two. Neither of them could be careless, or the other would crush him immediately.

Having beaten two of Fuji's counters, Tezuka was now challenging his opponent to break his Tezuka Zone, and Fuji more than welcomed the challenge. The now former captain wanted to know if the prodigy would be able to break one of his ultimate moves.

/ And we both realized that /

It's not that Fuji hadn't been trying, but the ball kept being attracted to the zone. However, the prodigy seemed to have realized something so suddenly that it delayed him from reaching the bouncing ball, so the score went to Tezuka yet again.

"40-30!"

Fuji merely eyed the ball and smirked. Eyelids sliding close, he smiled and said to Tezuka, "I think I can break your Tezuka Zone."

Murmurs were immediately heard from the crowd around them, wondering how he would do it. Would he use one of his counters? Or did he have another trick?

Tezuka merely looked at his opponent across the net; his stoic expression betrayed nothing like anxiety or worries.

--And since the first time Tezuka saw Fuji, even though he had thought that the lithe boy wasn't outstanding compared to his unique teammates, Tezuka knew that Fuji was nothing like his fragile and girly outlook.

"Then go ahead and try," were the only words that flowed out of the bespectacled boy's lips.

Fuji once again just smiled.


/ The door to a new world has opened /

The next ball brought them into another rally, but this one didn't last as long because Fuji planned to beat the Tezuka Zone soon enough. Once he saw a chance, he retrieved the ball with the reverse side of his racket and reversed his wrist to force another spin to the ball.

"That move!" Momo yelled, again.

"Nyaaa it's the Gate Keeper of… of… what was that again?"

"Hecatoncheires. Gate Keeper of Hecatoncheires," Inui corrected.

Tezuka's eyes widened for a second since he didn't expect Fuji to use that move against his skill. He chased the ball to the left side of his baseline, effectively breaking his Tezuka Zone. The ex-captain managed to hit the ball, but the green and white object sunk before it reached the net.

"40-40!"

Fuji let out a satisfied smile.

Tezuka eyed the ball rolling slowly on his side of court. Then he once again stared at Fuji's eyes.

--Since the first time their eyes had accidentally met, something started to flicker inside them.

Both of them spent quite a moment looking into each other's eyes, reflecting the flickering fire of their rivalry. Fuji threw yet another challenging smile, and Tezuka's lips unconsciously twitched a little upward in response.

Fuji started with a disappearing serve, but Tezuka managed to return it with a zero-shiki drop shot. The genius had predicted this shot, however, since he had dashed towards the net, and with little difficulty, dived and returned the ball to the other side of the court. Tezuka ran forward to the center and hit back the ball. Seeing the oncoming round object, Fuji held his racket with both hands as he brought his racket down in an overhead swing.

"Aaah, that…" Momo remarked loudly.

The ball had flown graciously across the net, and by the time Tezuka swung his racket, the lime green object had already bounced near his baseline.

"Kagerou Zutsumi… isn't it?" Oishi muttered.

"Game, Fuji! 4-3!"

-oOo-

"I must say Fuji's Gate Keeper of Hecatoncheires is indeed a good move to break Tezuka Zone," said Inui suddenly to the watching regulars, while the two players were now taking a short break to gulp some water and relax a bit from the match's tension.

"How so?" Kikumaru asked.

"Tezuka Zone works because Tezuka puts a specific rotation on the ball, forcing nearly all returns to be "sucked" into his hit zone. To counter this extreme spin, his opponent must put a powerful new rotation to the ball," Inui continued.

"Ah, so that Fuji's counter is…" Oishi murmured.

"Indeed. Fuji's Gate Keeper of Hecatoncheires works from the extreme underspin Fuji creates, which is strong enough to counter Tezuka's spin on the ball. But I believe Fuji has to put double effort on the previous Gate Keeper of Hecatoncheires to counter the spin Tezuka had added, and make the counter work," he explained while still scribbling in his notebook.

"They're getting stronger, aren't they?" Ryuuzaki-sensei added, and all heads turned to watch the two of them currently sharing a bottle of water a junior manager had provided.

Echizen stood there, his eyes on the two seniors he had been looking up to. Watching their match, he felt the urge to get stronger and stronger, somehow feeling that he was still 'mada mada dane…'


-oOo-

"Ne, Tezuka," Fuji called after gulping down some water, then offering the bottle to the taller youth standing beside him.

"Hn?" he responded, accepting the water bottle from Fuji and gulping down the content, dripping water into his dry throat.

"Don't you even think to use your 'Tezuka Phantom', okay? And don't use too much of yours zero-shiki drop shot and zero-shiki serve," he said, exposing his cerulean orbs with such serious look on his face. Then, his eyes softened, and he smiled wistfully and said, "I don't want to be the cause of your arm's permanent injury."

Tezuka took a moment to gaze at Fuji's eyes, then diverted his eyes to his left arm. Covering his left upper arm with his hand, he firmly replied, "I won't."

A smaller hand crept up to cover his own hand and Tezuka found Fuji staring softly at his left arm.

"This arm of yours is too precious to waste on such a match," the genius started again.

/ And here, we meet again /

"Fuji, this match is also important to me," he stated firmly, hazel eyes boring into those cerulean orbs.

Fuji smiled. "I know. But even without your 'Tezuka Phantom', I believe you are strong, ne? You're my rival after all."

Registering his friend's words to his heart, Tezuka unconsciously let out a small smile.

"Thank you."

--And as they stood on this court today, that 'something' was getting stronger and stronger by the minutes.

"Shall we continue the match, then?" Fuji asked while picking up his racket.

Copying his friend's gesture, Tezuka replied, "Let's play without regrets."

With that being said, the two rivals walked in opposite directions, only to face each other once more across the court.

-oOo-

The match continued, and grew fiercer as the game went on. Score after score they made; at one time, Tezuka was leading, and in the next few minutes, Fuji would surpass his score. Game after game went by until they had lost count, too absorbed in the heated match they had been avoiding yet longing for at the same time.

/ You probably cannot imagine what your gentleness has left for me /

As he was playing, a lot of things came to Fuji's mind. He remembered his three years spent in Seigaku; all the time he had known the taller boy. The sandy-brown-haired youth was now wondering, what was actually the meaning of Tezuka's existence to him?

Tezuka was a challenge, he had thought once. He was a challenge, not only in tennis, but also in friendship. With Kikumaru, their friendship developed just as naturally as breathing; Fuji couldn't even remember when they were not best friends. But Tezuka was different. With the stoic youth, efforts were needed to approach, before he was finally acknowledged as a 'friend'.

Once they were friends, however, he had come to know that beneath the stoic façade, Tezuka was one of the most caring people Fuji had ever known. The subtle displays of concern Tezuka threw him every now and then were slowly corroding his own smiling mask.

His train of thought was cut off when he saw his rival giving him a zero-shiki drop shot. He sprinted to the net and dived, not caring for the stinging pain his elbow suffered from the harsh contact with the ground.

The ball managed to get across the net, and Fuji scored.

--For Fuji, Tezuka was a challenge, indeed.

Tezuka was a challenge for Fuji to reach his full potential, but more than that, with the concealed kindness the dark-haired youth possessed, he was a challenge for Fuji to face his 'real-self', even outside the tennis court.

Fuji smiled as he jumped and smashed the green and white missile, only to be returned graciously by the bespectacled boy.

'Tezuka' was his goal.

/ We are searching in each other, the thing that will fill our emptiness /

As Tezuka had anticipated, this match was tough. The match he had lost to Sanada had also been really harsh, but this was different. All those times, Tezuka had played to win for the sake of Seigaku. That was also where he had gotten his strength from: his supporting teammates and everyone's expectations had been able to push him to his limit.

But this match was different. Against Fuji, he fought for himself. His strength came from his desire to pull Fuji's true self out, because he wanted to see it. He wanted to see more of what was hidden behind that smiling mask and that seemingly effortless attitude.

Hitting another ball with a loud thwack, Tezuka suddenly recalled the first time he had become friends with Fuji.

Tezuka was never one for words. When he really used words, they were usually very straightforward, causing some people had mistaken him as cocky, a reason why he hadn't made many friends at first. That was when Fuji had approached and offered him 'friendship'.

The captain had never been really capable of socializing; he was awkward in other people's presence. But somehow, Fuji—with all his nonchalant attitudes that Tezuka's straightforwardness had no effect on him—had managed to slowly become his friend, and soon, they had gotten used to each other's presence. The ever-smiling Fuji being by his side had chased away the uncomfortable feelings the others had for him, and it was before long that he had become a 'part' of the team's friendship circle.

Eventually, he and the prodigy had gotten even closer to the point of having unspoken understanding. Fuji had the things he was lacking, and vise-versa. Together, they completed each other.

Even so, Tezuka had always wondered why Fuji hadn't revealed his real self in front of him, both in tennis and in their friendship.

--For Tezuka, Fuji was a mystery.

Fuji was a mystery that had somehow entered his life, inciting the needs of other people's presence around him, filling the empty spaces within him.

Now, he was about to unravel the mystery, starting from this tennis court.

/ Now, if you desire it, I will show you the real me /

'Where is the real you?'

While Fuji was preparing to return a cord ball, the question his friend had asked quite some time ago came to his mind.

As far as the prodigy could remember, Tezuka had made it clear that he wanted to see the real Fuji Shuusuke. He wanted to see what was hidden beyond his mask and preferred nonchalant display of attitudes, inside and outside the courts.

--His real self had always been there, waiting to be found, to be pulled out.

He was the one who first approached Tezuka, and yet he still wanted to keep the barrier built around him.

Fuji smiled wistfully. That was rather unfair of him, so he would show what Tezuka had been wanting to see, starting with the display of his full strength in this match.

"The wind is blowing," he murmured, enjoying the soft breeze fondling with his hair. "Be prepared, Tezuka."

The lime green object zoomed in his direction and he returned the ball using Hakuryuu, but Tezuka was fast enough to hit the ball before it bounced, so the counter was broken. However, as the round object went back to Fuji, he once again retrieved the ball with the reverse side of his racket, twisted his wrist, and released the Gate Keeper of Hecatoncheires.

Having experienced this particular counter a few times, Tezuka had come to know that all he needed to do was to put a counter-spin on the ball just strong enough to send the ball across the net. So he did that, burdening his arm a little.

Though Tezuka finally broke this Gate Keeper of Hecatoncheries counter with a cord ball, Fuji didn't seem to be shocked. Rather, the glint in his eyes told Tezuka that this was actually Fuji's real objective. As soon as the cord ball was coming, the prodigy smashed the ball straight into the sky with a loud thwacking sound.

"No way, that is…" Momo exclaimed as he threw his gaze upwards, looking for the ball that was nowhere to be seen.

"It's Hoshi Hanabi, nyaaah!!"

Tezuka had barely adjusted his eyes skywards to search for the ball, when suddenly there was a loud thud behind him, and the white and green missile with an irregular spin then bounced to the side, almost hitting Kaidoh in the process if the said boy hadn't been fast enough to dodge.

Silence.

"Fo… 40-30!" Kawamura finally shouted once he regained his composure.

Looking at the bespectacled boy across the net, Fuji let out a smile… which, to his surprise, was returned with another smile, a challenging one.

/ I won't hide anything anymore /

Another rally was currently going on, but this one was rather different. Somehow, Fuji looked wearier by each ball he hit. Unlike his opponent, Tezuka seemed to be just fine, and every shot he returned was doubled in strength, until finally Fuji failed to return Tezuka's shot so the ex-captain scored. It wasn't long before the prodigy realized that Tezuka had activated that.

"Hyaku Ren Jitoku no Kiwami. No wonder Fuji looked exhausted. Each ball he hit was returned doubled to him," Inui commented while still scribbling

Barely hearing Inui's comment, Fuji just smiled as he was maintaining his breath. "So you've finally used that, eh, Tezuka?" he said more as a statement than a question.

Not long after, they had entered yet another rally. This time, Fuji started to catch up with Tezuka, even though each shot he hit to the ex-captain would be returned doubled.

Tezuka was thrilled, not only for the heated game, but also to see the side of Fuji he had longed to face inside a tennis court. He was happy that the prodigy had finally played him with full-strength, that he was able to make Fuji play at his full potential.

--Fuji had let him pull his real self out. Now, it was his turn to give Fuji all he had gotten.

"Seven shots," he murmured, making the prodigy's eyes widen in surprise.

"Buchou, so you're really going to use that…" Echizen mumbled, his eyes glued on the regal form standing proudly on the court.

As he felt Fuji's eyes pierced him, Tezuka just stared back, conveying the message via his eyes. Accepting the challenge, the prodigy smiled.

The rally continued as Tezuka had predicted, and so this game went to Tezuka.

"Game, Tezuka. 6-5!"

/ "Shall we get going?" /

The lime-green object kept on going back and forth. Rally after rally was done, and before Tezuka knew it, Fuji had defied his prediction.

As the ball he failed to return bounced a few times and rolled out of the baseline, Tezuka stood still and gazed at his rival's face.

"Fuji, you…"

The tensai's eyes were closed.

"This is just like Fuji's match against Niou," Oishi remarked.

"It was very effective against Niou's imitation of Saiki Kanpatsu no Kiwami. But will it work just as perfect against Tezuka's original one? This is really going to be a great data," Inui continued jotting down notes in his green notebook.

The data Inui took after that showed that Fuji's closed eyes were just effective against Tezuka's Saiki Kanpatsu no Kiwami, as Fuji had defied some more rallies after that. Feeling like there was no use for predictions if he couldn't even predict his opponent, Tezuka chose to play using only his Hyaku Ren Jitoku no Kiwami.

But Fuji was strong, and the type who could still develop even during a match. Even though all of his shots were return doubled, the tensai had a way to keep up with his stamina, using some tricks involving wrist movement and the wind.

After a fierce battle of scores and points, Fuji ended the game gracefully by countering Tezuka's smash with a successful Kirin Otoshi.

"Game, Fuji, 6-6. 12 points, tie break!!"

Uncaring to the sweat-drenched shirts or the damp hair glued to their foreheads, the two rivals stood there, looking at each other's eyes, conveying their determination to win the match.

--They were going to settle things, soon.

--

--endFB--

--


A soft pat on his shoulder jerked Fuji back to the present. He turned his head to the right and found the tall figure of his ex-captain. Looking up, his lips curled up as he saw the slight smile his old friend was giving him.

"It's been a while," Fuji said as a foreword after not meeting his friend for God knows how long.

"You were spacing out," was the taller man's reply. Fuji chuckled at that: his friend had not changed much.

"I see you're still as straightforward as I remembered," said the sandy-brown-haired man, tilting his head to one side as he threw an open-eyed smile to his ex-captain.

Tezuka gave no comment to that. Instead, he folded his arms and asked, "What were you thinking about?" in a more casual tone instead of the stern one he had always worn during their school days.

Fuji smiled at him before turning his head to Court A, where they had their fateful match ten years ago.

"Ah," Tezuka murmured knowingly.

/ Someday, the memories of the tears shed here /

"We had a good match back then, hadn't we?" the prodigy spoke again, as if to himself.

"So good that you had cried?" Tezuka teased. Yes, ten years is a long time; long enough to soften the once stoic youth's personality that he is now capable of jokes and teasing.

Fuji faked a pout. "Would you please not talk about that?" he said laughingly, betraying the pout he had bothered to make earlier.

Tezuka's lips twitched a little upward.

"And just in case you don't know, you were the one who made me shed tears," he added lightly.

The taller man unfolded his arms and put them in his pants pockets before replying, "Then, should I be proud?"

Fuji threw a side-glance to his ex-captain, and smiled softly while saying, "Yes, you should."

The bespectacled man felt a sudden change in the mood.

/ The words we exchanged here on that day /

Tezuka remembered that day, after he had won the match with a very slight difference in score: he had been startled to see tears rolling down the tensai's smiling face.

'You're crying,' were the only words that managed to flow out of his lips.

'Am I?' Fuji asked back while raising a hand to trace his own face, and looked a bit surprised himself when he felt the liquid flowing from his eyes.

Tezuka said nothing.

'Thank you, Tezuka,' Fuji said suddenly and Tezuka threw him a questioning glance. 'When I lost to Shiraishi, I felt really horrible because I knew I could've done better, but…' he paused to reach out his right hand.

Seeing the gesture, Tezuka reached out a hand to meet Fuji's, clasping their hands in a tight grip without diverting his gaze from the prodigy's face… and tears.

'Losing to you now, I have no regrets. Because I know I've done my best,' he continued while exposing his cerulean orbs, 'thank you, for pulling my 'real self' out in our match,' he added, smiling genuinely.

Tezuka didn't know if it was by instinct, but his left hand moved by itself and a finger was lifted to erase the trace of tears there.

Those tears were real. Fuji's emotion at the moment was real, unmasked by whatever façade or barrier the prodigy usually had on him. All the things he had just said were honest, true from his heart.

Unconsciously, Tezuka let out a small smile.

'I hope that smile doesn't come from seeing me cry,' Fuji said while wiping his tears. 'I don't need you to laugh at me, you know,' he added, still with a smile, but this time, accompanied by the glazing blue eyes glinting a bit dangerously.

'It's not that,' Tezuka simply stated, not bothering to hide the smile that was still plastered on his usually stoic face. 'It's just I finally got to –see- you.'

Fuji's eyes widened for a moment, but then a soft smile was making its way to the beautiful face of the fair-haired youth.

"My, Tezuka, you're zoning out. That's rare," came the teasing yet still as melodious voice to his ears, and Tezuka was back to the present.

"Sorry. I just suddenly remembered that day," he replied. A faraway look can be seen in his eyes as he gazed at court A.

"Oh…"

And once again, silence took over.

/ The thoughts and feelings we both harbored /

Oblivious to the crowd around them, the two men just stood there, next to each other. They were both gazing at the starry night sky, each drowned in his own thoughts.

Fuji was the first to steal a glance towards the other man. Then, out of the blue, a question hit his mind.

"I wonder what we are now," he voiced his thought out while gazing at the twinkling star up in the sky.

Tezuka turned his head as he raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean by that?"

Letting a breeze play with his hair, Fuji chuckled softly. "I'm sorry, it's just one of my random thoughts," he replied in a cheerful tone that seemed forced… or at least, to Tezuka's ear.

Seeing the look on his old friend's face, Fuji knew the ex-captain was inquiring him to continue.

"You see, we're no longer teammates or classmates. For the word 'rivals', we're no longer competing against each other now, right?" he started while keeping his eyes on the starry sky. "And if you were to say we're 'friends'… we barely contact each other… so I was wondering if we are now just mere acquaintances. If yes, that's a little too sad, though. Seeing we were so close back then…" he finished his words with a wistful smile plastered on his face.

Tezuka spared the smaller man a glance, then replied, "I see you still like to dwell on such random thoughts."

The tensai chuckled heartily at that. "You know, somehow, I just knew you would say that."

"Is that so?" the ex-captain replied casually.

"Yes. And it's actually kinda amazing seeing how long we haven't been in close contact. Seems like I still know you fairly well," he answered. Somehow, Fuji was relieved that his ability to read Tezuka hadn't been degrading too much.

"That would seem to be the case," the stoic man stated matter-of-factly, but the tip of his lips was twitching upwards.

"And," Fuji added, his eyes and tone of voice softening as he said, "I actually still feel comfortable being with you like this. It's almost amazing that all these years that we barely meet seems to be nothing…"

"That's because our hearts are still connected," Tezuka said in a way as if it were the most natural thing on earth.

The lithe man blinked at him.

"As you said, Fuji, we were very close back in junior high. The bond we have is really strong, and it connects our hearts even when we're apart and barely communicating. At times, we might not see it, but once we get in contact, that 'bond' is actually still there," Tezuka explained.

At this, Fuji did take a moment to scrutinize his ex-captain. After a few moments of staring, the prodigy grinned as he said, "I'm amazed, Tezuka."

The dark-haired man merely raised an eyebrow.

"Ten years ago, you wouldn't be able to say such things. Apparently, I was wrong. I don't know you that well now," he smiled.

Ten years is really a long time, it seems.

/ Even if the present is an illusion /

"We can always try to know each other better from now on," said Tezuka as he fixed the position of his glasses with a finger.

Fuji glanced at the taller man, and seeing through those hazel eyes, he smiled. "Of course. Even a strong bond needs to be taken care of or it would get rusty, ne?"

"Ah," was the older man curt reply.

For a moment, both men stared into each other's eyes, searching, conveying… finding…

--And now, that 'something' that had once flickered since the first time they met, is now starting to glow. None of them are sure of what it is yet, but as they gaze into each other's eyes, they know that whatever it is, it's probably the one that connects their hearts.

Out of instinct, both men took a side step closer to each other so that their arms were brushing, transmitting the warmth of their body to each other.

They were content just being like that, feeling the presence of each other, bathed in the memories of their times together… Then, for a moment, time seemed to stop to give them a longer taste of happiness, and both of them silently wondered if this is what 'eternity' feels.

/ On that day… We met for the first time here /

"Hoi, hoi! there are some rackets and balls here, anyone wants to play?" Kikumaru called, running from the clubhouse direction with Momo trudging behind him while holding a few rackets and a basket of tennis balls.

"I figured it would be a good chance to take data on whether you guys still in decent shape for tennis after all these years," Inui said, smiling while rummaging his bag for a video-camera.

"I see you've upgraded your data-taking method, eh?" Oishi remarked laughingly.

"C'mon, who wants to play?" Momo asked, waving a racket in one hand. Then, he turned his head to the left to find Echizen who had grown much taller to about Tezuka's height by now. "Echizen, play me?"

"Why not," he smirked, and then walked over to take up his ex-senpai's challenge.

"Who else wants to play?" Kikumaru asked; he had lost his habit of saying '-nya' every now and then.

Glancing at his side, Fuji gently tugged Tezuka's hand and asked, "Shall we play against each other? You know, for old time's sake. Though I'm not as good as I was from the lack of training."

Looking briefly at the slightly smaller hand tugging his left hand, Tezuka then gently squeezed the other's hand and replied, "One friendly game wouldn't hurt," while smiling softly.

/ And we both realized that /

Smiling back at the bespectacled man, Fuji then dragged Tezuka by the hand as he approached Kikumaru to get a couple of rackets.

"We're going to play, Eiji!"

"This is going to be interesting data," Inui remarked while walking towards court A, where the two men once known as the two strongest players in Seigaku were going to play. Kaidoh was silently trudging behind Inui.

"Then, I'll be the referee again," Kawamura raised a hand, and he received a nod and a smile of thanks in return.

They walked towards either sides of the courts, and then looked into each other's eyes, reflecting the rivalry between them that was still there somehow, waiting to be awakened.

/ The door to a new world has opened /

"Let's have a good match," Fuji said, smiling.

Returning the smile the lithe man gave him, Tezuka replied, "Sure."

--This is not a match to decide who is stronger, better than the other. This match is a reminder that they were once rivals, friends… soulmates.

And they will always be.

Fuji bounced the ball twice on the ground, then tossed it into the air. With a loud thwack, he sent the lime green object together with all the mixed, intangible feelings he held towards the older man.

Tezuka returned the ball, and both of them smiled.

Today, they stood on this very court once again, facing each other from behind the net.

/ And here, we meet again /

--

-NeverEnding-

--


A/N: err… the ending is kinda weird… ne?This fic was such a headache…their match and their thoughts on each other were a real pain! I feel really drained right now

But finally, I wrote a tenipuri fic with tennis in it XDDD

All in all, I'm quite satisfied with my work, but I would really, REALLY like to know what you think of this fic, so please, please review! bows

Anyway whiteashes07, you are one of my loyal readers, so I really hoped to satisfy you in this prompt. And I hope you had a good read, ne nervous smile