Disclaimer: PoT doesn't belong to me. Make no profit from this.
Lost in Time
The truth was Tezuka never expected to return home. He had thought he would have no need to go back to his hometown. Seven years ago, he had made the decision to start a new life away from his family, his friends, and his past. He had been accepted into a good university in a far away town, and then he didn't hesitate to grasp the opportunity to have a fresh start. Tezuka had received few objections then. Everyone trusted his judgment and believed he shouldn't miss such an opportunity. That was many years ago, when he was an optimistic young man seeking success almost blindly. But now here he was, a mere salary man struggling to make ends meet as he desperately built his independence.
The same optimism that drove him to take his tennis teams to the national level was still present, of course, but it had dampened slightly. Tezuka was now more aware of how harsh reality could be now that he was far from his comfort zone. He had a more realistic view now, understanding how sometimes hard work and persistence alone would not get him anywhere. The thoughts of returning when the pressure threatened to choke the life out of him crossed his mind briefly several times, but he shoved them away. He had made the decision to get his independence, he wouldn't take it back. Tezuka knew it would get better somehow. A man must remain faithful to the decisions he had made, his grandfather had said.
Tezuka looked out of the window of the train. Briefly, he entertained the unrealistic thought of leaving all his problems behind, along with the passing scenery. But what would running away give him other than more problems? For all he knew, only grief waited for him in his destination, not a big difference from the desperation he occasionally felt when he was in a place he now called 'home'.
"Ne, Tezuka, isn't the view wonderful?"
Tezuka looked away from the book he was reading to the smiling face of his companion. He glanced at the scenery he had seen several times before and felt only a brief sense of wonderment. "You said you've been there before." He stated calmly, referring to the time Fuji told him about his trip to the mountain.
"I have." Fuji conceded, turning back to admire the view. "But this time it's different."
"How so?" Tezuka asked, already returning to his book.
"This time I'm with you."
The words were spoken softly, but genuinely. It drew Tezuka's attention immediately and he stared at Fuji, searching for something to prove Fuji was joking, or that he had heard wrong. But Fuji's solemn expression as he looked away from Tezuka's searching gaze told Tezuka he had indeed heard right. He bowed his head slightly, looking for something to say but Fuji, knowing as he always was, immediately broke the tension that started to weight him down.
"Look we're here! Let's go, Tezuka!"
The memory, buried for so long, returned. Tezuka always tried to overlook the pained look Fuji gave him as he led him off the train station later. It wasn't just him; Fuji had silently asked him to. The friendship they had was too precious to be ruined by such a careless comment, so they decided to pretend it never happened. But it had happened. No amount of lies could change the fact. Words spoken could not be taken back, especially those spoken with sincere feeling, his grandfather had told him.
Tezuka closed his eyes and clenched his hands into fists. Inside the black suit he wore, his body trembled.
Ayana welcomed him with a brief smile, but didn't hug him. She proved herself to be a Tezuka as she maintained her calm composure in the given situation. Tezuka couldn't imagine her conflicting feelings upon seeing her only son, whom she hadn't seen for seven years, at his father in law's funeral. Somehow, though, she managed to filter him out and focus on the ceremony.
Kuniharu, on the other hand, seemed a little emotional. He managed to flash his son a quick smile, but could barely keep it up as the monk's soft incantation droned on and tears started to well up in his bloodshot eyes. Clearly, he was terribly shaken by the sudden loss of his father. Tezuka couldn't say he didn't feel the same, but could do no more than bow slightly to convey that to the grieving man.
Tezuka remained stoic through the ceremony. His grandfather had taught him strength and kindness. Tezuka knew that despite Kunikazu's seeming aloofness, he cared so much for his family and friends. He would never wish to see them upset by his loss. What he should do was to celebrate his life. He should remember the lessons he had taught, his legacy because in it, Kunikazu would remain forever, in the memories of those who loved him. It was what one did before the time came that really matters, for that would remain for eternity, unchanged by time.
"Fuji, what are you doing here?" Tezuka asked frowning at the boy sitting on his bed with a smile on his face.
"Good evening, Tezuka." Fuji greeted him. "I came for a sleepover."
Tezuka glanced at the open window where Fuji must've entered his room. "You could've told me earlier." He admonished his friend.
But Fuji shrugged, not quite caring. "It's a spur of the moment thing. May I?"
Tezuka sighed and nodded, knowing he had little choice. He couldn't possibly send Fuji home so late into the night anyway. So, he took out a futon and laid it on the floor next to his bed, preparing for the impromptu sleepover. Fuji was one of the few who had ever slept over in his house and perhaps the most frequent one. Still, the brunette would usually tell him in advance and certainly not climb into his room during the night like this. Though Tezuka did admit to several occasions where Fuji, on a whim, had visited him in the night by entering through the window. Those past times, though Fuji had said little, Tezuka knew something had happened. Sometimes, he was troubled by schoolwork, other times he was anxious of the upcoming match, another time he had an argument with Yuuta. Tezuka wondered what the cause was this time. Fuji seemed to be on better terms with Yuuta lately, they had no matches coming up now that they almost graduated, and they certainly had no pile of assignments waiting as they did just several weeks ago.
"Sorry, I came so suddenly." Fuji apologized after Tezuka turned off the light and settled into his bed. He seemed to chuckle slightly at Tezuka's confirming grunt, but Tezuka could barely see him through the darkness without the aid of his glasses. Fuji remained silent for a moment but then spoke up again when Tezuka thought he had fallen asleep. "This is the last night we could be like this."
Tezuka frowned at the bluish shadow of his teammate. "You are welcome to come anytime."
Tezuka couldn't see it but he was certain that Fuji's answering smile was a sad one. "Of course."
Tezuka searched the crowd and found many familiar faces, but not the one he want to see. For the first time, the pain of the loss truly dawned on him.
His room was exactly how he had left it. Tezuka was torn between being comforted or saddened by the familiarity of it. It was unlike the room he now called his own. That place was devoid of emotion, empty, a portrayal of his attempt to start anew. But the past could not be changed or ignored. Tezuka lived every day, haunted by the realization. He lay down on the bed but despite his exhaustion, he couldn't sleep just yet, so he treated himself to mental recollection of events that had taken place in the room, in the house, in his origin.
The memories were bittersweet; the fond ones would never return and the bad ones had forever gone. Some he would as far as to regret, but it had shaped him into the person he was today. Sardonically, a part of him wondered if that would be all the more reason to regret but he chased the thought away. He was what he was and he didn't regret that.
The rain was pouring down, but they took a moment to stop. Tezuka couldn't help but notice Fuji had grown a little taller since the last time they met. The brunette, though seemed to be pale from the low temperature, had a bright warm smile on his face as he took in Tezuka's familiar face. Tezuka welt warmth seep into his body and a smile threatened to form on his face, but he fought it.
"Hi! How are you?" Fuji asked, sounding pleased despite the fact that he was soaked.
"I'm well. How are you?"
"Wet." Fuji replied cheekily, with a light laugh. "I didn't expect to see you again after our graduation."
Tezuka wanted to point out Fuji had stopped visiting him after they graduated from Seigaku, but held his tongue. He himself didn't make any effort to visit the brunette. Their few conversations since they went to high school were done through emails where they would keep each other updated on the news of their friends, but not of themselves. Tezuka thought it was better they remained impersonal. There was something about being close to Fuji that made him feel vulnerable and exposed. He hated it, feared it, and yet at the same time, he yearned for it… It's so tiring to be strong all the time. With Fuji he could relax, he could be himself, he didn't have to pretend, he could be everything he told himself not to be.
"How's your school?"
"It's fine. I'm sorry, but I..."
"Of course. I'm sorry." Fuji cut him off, knowing what Tezuka was going to say. "Keep in touch, ne."
Tezuka nodded, bid him good bye, and left. It was the last time they saw each other in person.
He rolled around in his bed. The bed was smaller, he realized now, and the air was fresher than his cramped apartment. The decorations he once adored and his friends commented to seem mature looked childish now. They were, after all, mementos of his teenage exploration. Now he was all grown up, already settled down, no longer searching… or was he still searching? Tezuka pulled the blanket tighter around his body and succumbed to sleep.
Tezuka woke up in the middle of the night, roused by a sudden chill. He opened his bleary eyes and automatically reached out for his glasses to seek the source of the cold. What he discovered nearly sent him to accompany his grandfather. He frowned, letting his heart beat slow before greeting the source of the disturbance in his sleep.
"Fuji, what are you doing here?" He asked the young man sitting on the edge of the bed.
Fuji smiled at him and Tezuka soon became aware of the changes in him. The lines of his face had sharpened now, though there were still remains of the naturally soft contour of his profile. Tezuka couldn't tell if he had grown taller, but could see that beneath the thin white shirt he was wearing, Fuji's body was still as lithe yet as powerful as it always been. Fuji had changed little since they last met and Tezuka's reaction to the sight of him didn't change either. "Good evening, Tezuka. It's been a long while." Fuji greeted him, his voice slightly deeper than Tezuka remembered, but a little breathy. "I've been waiting for you."
Tezuka sat up and glanced at the clock. "It's midnight, Fuji." He said with a deeper frown, annoyed by the sudden intrusion.
"I couldn't come today, though I really wished to see you. I'm sorry for your loss." Fuji said quietly with a bow.
"Aa." Tezuka replied, his sleepiness almost completely gone now. The mention of his loss brought pain back to his chest, but seeing Fuji and having him near somehow eased the pain a little. Fuji always had that effect on him. With him, Tezuka felt he could share everything, even if he didn't do so consciously. Fuji had always been there for him, ready to lighten any burden he might have, ready to make him just a little happier.
"I thought you wouldn't return. I'm glad that you did, though I hoped the circumstances that called for you were different." He stopped to chuckle lightly, the familiar sound brought tingles to Tezuka's body. "You don't change at all since the last time we met, what, eight, nine years ago?"
"What kind of change did you expect?" Tezuka asked scowling slightly.
Fuji shrugged. "I don't know. But you look almost exactly like before, except for your face. You seem even more mature. You have more lines on your face."
Tezuka wasn't sure if he had just been teased about looking older, but Fuji was always like that. He cleared his throat indignantly, bringing another chuckle to Fuji. "Life isn't always kind."
Fuji's smile seemed to drop a little. He nodded quietly. "How's your new life over there?"
"It has been busy. I haven't had the chance to come home until today." Tezuka replied, not wanting to reveal too much about his life. There was little to tell anyway, for he now lived a mundane life shared by many. Also, he didn't want to get too personal with Fuji. He knew that was what the other wanted but he couldn't do it. He couldn't let himself do it. Not anymore than he already did.
"You went away for so long." Fuji said so softly Tezuka nearly couldn't hear him. He paused to look straight at Tezuka. Was it just his imagination or did Fuji's eyes seem bluer than usual? "Was it because of me?"
"You stopped contacting me after we met that time during the rain. I know you emailed Oishi a couple of times after that, but you never emailed me at all. Are you avoiding me?"
"No." Tezuka denied. But it was a lie. Fuji was one of the reasons he went away. That night after they met, his heart had burnt with yearning for Fuji. The image of the brunette's smiles occupied his mind, his voice echoed in his ears endlessly. He had no name for this overwhelming feeling that sent his body, his mind, and his soul aflame. He was afraid to name it. For the first time, he acknowledged himself as a coward as he ran away from his fear. Avoid. Deny. Ignore. But it persisted, lingering in the deepest corner of his heart.
Fuji smiled, seeing through his lie easily. "You knew." He stated. "I will not apologize for it. It isn't a mistake." He stopped and met Tezuka's unflinching gaze with his unwavering eyes. "They said I should stop. But even if I could, I wouldn't."
"Why?" Tezuka finally asked softly. It was a question that had plagued his mind. Why did he feel this way? Why him? Why not?
"I wish I knew." Fuji answered, smiling softly. Fuji's smiles to him, Tezuka noticed, had always been affectionate. There was tenderness that was absent when the smile was directed to someone else. But it was there for Tezuka, because he was special. "Sometimes, there is no need for reason or logic. I just do, from the first time I saw you, I just do. I just love you."
"I…" Tezuka began, searching for something to say. But what should he say? What did he want to say? The truth? More lies? "Fuji…"
Fuji's finger on his lips was cold but soft. Tezuka watched as another affectionate, kind smile formed on Fuji's face. "Just tell me one thing, Tezuka. Just one thing. Did you ever love me?"
Tezuka stared as Fuji pulled back his finger to give him the chance to answer. Did he ever love Fuji? Was that what his longing was all about? Was that what he had always lacked? Was that why he felt complete when Fuji was near? Was that the reason behind the spark of happiness he felt just now when Fuji said that he loved him? Did he love Fuji?
And what if he did? What would that mean? Should he abandon the live he had lived until now? Should he neglect all his plans for the future for the sake of love? His career was raising and Tezuka knew that within less than a year, he would be able to gain a better position and who knew how long it would take before he would get his desired position? It could take forever or it could take a while. Fuji's love would only bind him down. No, Fuji wasn't a clingy woman, but Tezuka just knew he couldn't afford to be attached emotionally or physically. He was taught to be strong and independent. He was taught to be on his own.
Whatever light of hope had shone in Fuji's eyes was gone. He managed to retain his smile but it was sad now. His chin shook as he held back his tears. But like Tezuka –or even more than him-, Fuji was always in control of himself and his emotions. His smile widened and a hint of bitterness was added to it as he leaned back, a little away from Tezuka who had to repress the urge to pull him back. "You know, Tezuka. You're a bad liar." He stated with that painful smile, his voice cracking. "But somehow… I always fell for it."
At that moment, Tezuka wanted to pull Fuji into his embrace. The pain Fuji felt resonated through his body. His heart broke, more than when Ayana called to inform him of his grandfather's passing. He felt terribly guilty for causing such a hurtful expression on Fuji's face. He wanted to wipe away the tears, provided him comfort, bring the happy smile back to his face… but he couldn't. The lie was said and it could not be taken back.
"All right, then. I won't disturb you anymore." Fuji said, his voice clear but distant and sad. He opened the window and sat on the sill, preparing to leave. "Good bye, Tezuka."
Something about the finality of his voice made Tezuka call out for him. It chilled him to think he would never see Fuji. It frightened him, but no more than the thought of being with him. Fuji looked at him with a half-hopeful expression on his face, but he knew Tezuka. He knew Tezuka wouldn't take his word back.
"Don't let your guard down."
A tiny smile fleeted through Fuji's pale face. He nodded briefly and jumped into the night, leaving Tezuka alone in the darkness of his room.
Tezuka felt a little lethargic the next morning. Not only was he physically tired, but also he was also mentally exhausted. He had difficulty sleeping after Fuji left, and had spent hours staring into the darkness. Guilt nagged him endlessly. He couldn't stop thinking of what might be if he had told him the truth. But didn't Fuji imply that he already knew anyway? What Fuji wanted was for him to say it, but Tezuka couldn't… Because wasn't that why he left this place? Didn't he leave to run away from Fuji's feelings –the feelings he had reciprocated? He had been too afraid and he still was.
Tezuka had planned his future in advance; he knew what he wanted and how to get it. He knew that by being with Fuji he would have to abandon those plans, he would lose his anchor. He wasn't ready for Fuji's unpredictability. He wasn't meant for a spontaneous, hedonistic life, the kind of life Fuji offered him. He wasn't ready to be happy.
His friends came to give their condolences today. Tezuka had expected their arrivals and greeted them with the same stoic mask he had shown Fuji just last night. Oishi came with Eiji as usual. Inui was accompanied by his protégé, Kaido, while Momoshiro and Taka-san came alone. Echizen was absent, but Tezuka hadn't expected a busy professional tennis player to spare some time to give his condolence to a friend's relative's passing. What he didn't expect to see, however, was Fuji Yuuta. The young man came alone and though Tezuka thought it was odd, he understood that perhaps Fuji didn't wish to see him after last night.
"I'm sorry for your loss." Oishi said with a bow to represent them all. "I'm sorry, but we couldn't come yesterday."
"It's all right." He turned to Yuuta then and looked at him quietly. The young man looked nothing like his older brother. His profile was sharper and less feminine. He had strength where Fuji had grace, but they had things in common, a certain degree of attractiveness, though in different ways. Tezuka however, felt not a single stirring of interest toward him as he did to Fuji.
Yuuta bowed to him, conscious of his unexpected presence. "My condolences, Tezuka-san."
"I hadn't expected you to come." Tezuka admitted.
"I want to give my condolences personally. Aniki himself would have wanted to."
The words struck Tezuka cold. His heart skipped a beat then and he wished he had interpreted Yuuta's words wrong. "… Would have?"
Yuuta looked at him in surprise. "You didn't know? I thought they've told you already." He turned to Oishi in askance, but Tezuka's former vice-captain looked just as dumbfounded.
"I thought you knew." Taka-san said in his timid voice.
"You two were such close friends after all. So I assumed that you knew immediately." Oishi said, looking appalled by his miscalculation. "So that's why you didn't show up…"
"We thought that Yuuta-kun would have contacted you." Inui added quietly. Beside him, Momoshiro and Kaido looked at each other in silent surprise.
Yuuta shook his head. "Aniki never told us how to reach Tezuka-san. And I just assumed that you have told him."
"So you didn't know, Tezuka?" Eiji asked, softly.
Tezuka shook his head, speechless. His body was trembling now. He prayed to God that he thought wrong. That what they weren't saying wasn't what he thought it was. That he was wrong. Please, let him be wrong.
"Aniki got into a car crash about two months ago. He went into a coma for a month… He passed away just over a week ago." Yuuta explained in a soft voice that reflected the grieving shown in his eyes. "We thought… we thought he was waiting for you."
I've been waiting for you.
I just love you.
Did you ever love me?
Tezuka's legs lost their strength. He lowered his shaking body to kneel on the floor. His friends surrounded him, offering comfort, but none of them could. None of them could give him comfort like Fuji did. Like he always did… Fuji always gave him everything. Strength. Comfort. Happiness. Love… And Tezuka gave him lie…
A/N: when I said that I can't kill Fuji, I lied!! The book that inspired me was called From Me to You and though it isn't even shounen ai (the boys have girlfriends, though of course it doesn't necessarily mean anything) it has a very strong air of it. Oh, and I will not offer a happy ending because this is exactly how I want this to end. So, R&R, please. I just killed Fuji!! *wails and runs to jump off a cliff*