Exception
By Sileny

Summary: There exist no such things as rules when discussing love and the heart. Add in Fuji who simply wants to find happiness and there is definitely, without a doubt, no room for rules.
Disclaimer: If I owned Prince of Tennis, Tezuka would be a teacher and have to teach a little Fuji his alphabet.


Fuji Syusuke sat at the restaurant table, staring quietly at the vase of white decorative flowers in the center, day lilies. His slim, pale hands nursed a cup of coffee, and he felt cozy, happy even, as he felt the warmth that penetrated through his cup. Even though it was still summer, the evenings had a faint chill to them, signifying that autumn was trying to poke its head into summer's strong hold of Tokyo.

Sitting opposite of him was a man about his own age, one by the name of Atobe Keigo. Fuji glanced at his dinner partner and his customary smile widened a bit. Atobe was an amusing person, Fuji would grant that much. He was very sophisticated and knew how to keep a conversation going, at the same time, though, he knew when it was alright to just sit back and enjoy a few minutes of silence.

Catching Fuji's smile, Atobe gave a half-smirk, half-smile over his own cup of coffee. "Does something amuse you?" he asked, the words rolling easily off of his tongue like water.

Fuji chuckled lightly. "Nothing," he said simply. "I just thought for an instant that it was a surprise that we've never met before and that Saeki only just mentioned you a few days ago. You know, Saeki Kojirou; he's a close friend of mine and as I understand it, one of your employees?" Atobe nodded consent and Fuji finished his train of thought, gentle smile upon his pretty face. "You seem like the kind of person who everyone would be talking about, Atobe-san."

Atobe's smile broadened and he looked rather pleased with the compliment. "Oh, really? That's kind of you to say, Fuji-san." At that point, the waitress came up to them, asking them politely if they wanted more coffee. Atobe declined politely, and Fuji followed suit.

"Well, Fuji-san, it was a pleasure meeting you today," Atobe said, paying the bill the waitress produced and standing up, holding out his hand. Fuji set down his finished coffee and stood as well, taking the hand and shaking it. "I quite enjoyed our dinner tonight. I'll call you sometime; perhaps we can arrange another meeting?"

Fuji smiled brightly. "I think that sounds nice. I shall look forward to it." Atobe flashed him a charming smile and escorted him out of the restaurant, saying again how it was great that they were able to meet and offering to give Fuji a ride home. Fuji declined, saying that he could drive himself but that he was touched with the offer. Exchanging a few last words, they turned and headed in opposite directions, each wrapped in their own thoughts.

Presently, though, Fuji pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to call his best friend, Kikumaru Eiji. "Eiji, guess what," he breathed into the phone, feeling elation bubble throughout him despite his efforts to stay calm.

"Hoi? What's up, Fujiko-chan?" asked Eiji from the other side of the line. Fuji and Eiji had known each other since the beginnings of college, when Fuji had been sitting in his new dorm room feeling rather lost and Eiji had stormed into the room, slamming the door in the process, and announcing loudly to the world what his name was and that he was so, so very happy to finally make it to college. From then on, the two had hit it off as best friends.

Fuji got into his car but didn't turn on the ignition, instead opting to take a moment to compose his thoughts. "Well, I asked my friend Saeki if he knew anyone who he thought I might like for a relationship," he began, and he could hear Eiji making agreeing noises. Eiji was one of those people who stood firmly behind the belief that relationships brought out the best of people, and had always been convincing Fuji to get himself that 'someone special.' Fuji had been reluctant… there were so many people out there that Fuji wondered where his would be, but had finally been moved enough to ask if anyone had any candidates.

That was where Saeki had stepped in. 'I know someone who might be to your tastes, Fuji,' he had said, the Monday prior when the two had met up for coffee at the coffee shop near Fuji's apartment. 'I can give you his number, and you guys can set up a date or something. He's quite interesting, if I do say so myself. Rather eccentric… and certainly knows how to work his employees to death.' He had laughed lightly, then, and Fuji had chuckled along, intrigued with this person that Saeki had described.

"His name is Atobe Keigo," Fuji continued on, bringing himself out of his musings to return to the present and Eiji. "He's one of the managers for the Atobe Corporations; I heard from him that his father owns the place and that he goes by strict rules that the CEO must earn the position."

"Doesn't he complain, nya?" Eiji asked, incredulous.

Fuji shook his head before reminding himself that Eiji couldn't see. "No. I actually think that he likes the challenge. But that's not the point!"

"It's not?"

If Fuji tried hard, he could stop the grin from stretching from ear to ear and thus making him look like a total idiot sitting in his car, but he was still rather happy. "No. The point is that I feel like we click. It just works, you know? I suppose it might be chemistry, or fate, or whatever… but I really think it might work out between us."

Eiji cheered for him. "So… he's going to call you back, right?"

"He said he would." Eiji whistled in admiration before wishing his friend the best of luck and safe driving back to his apartment. Thanking him, Fuji hung up the phone and stowed it safely into his pocket, starting the ignition and backing out of the parking lot.

***

Fuji's home was actually a one-room studio, a bit small if one asked for his honest opinion, but over time Fuji had grown quite attached to his small room. It had a homely feel to it… Fuji had hung framed pictures of his own works on the walls which added splashes of color to the otherwise plain and boring white walls (he hadn't been allowed to paint them, despite his efforts and arguments). He had had the kitchen cabinets refitted with new honey-colored ones and had then promptly decided to refurnish the whole room with matching furniture (his career as a renowned photographer was paying off well, he was pleased to note). His window looked out to the park next to his apartment complex, and he could see one of the parks many fountains from his reading chair and the gently meandering paths in said park. In short, he had quite a nice room that required a reasonable rent.

Humming cheerily to himself, Fuji took a shower and changed into his nightwear before plopping himself down at his desk and pulling his laptop towards him. His editor had left a message on his answering machine, begging him, in a state near tears, to please hurry and submit his photos for his latest album (his exact words were, 'I'm begging you, Fuji-san! I'm actually on my knees! So won't you please take pity on your poor, poor editor and submit those photos before the deadline, which is tomorrow at noon?!').

To say the least, it had amused Fuji to no end, and added with the current happiness he felt, he decided to do as his editor say and pity him, so he would get the photos to him before the deadline. All he could hope was that his editor wouldn't die of happiness or shock when he received it; Fuji was notorious for submitting his entries up to a week after the deadline. Of course, seeing the looks on those other editors who had clients who submitted their works on time was priceless. Every time his albums won recognition, they would look like fish, their mouths opening and closing with no sound coming out. It usually took a good ten minutes before their vocal chords could function again, to which they would protest (their favorite saying being how could the judges award recognition to an obvious slacker?) and be shot down (a favorite comeback of which was that Fuji Syusuke had perfectly captured the theme and portrayed it in the best way).

Ha! That showed them, those people who so loved their deadlines.

They should give Momoshiro-san a raise, Fuji thought to himself, the corners of his mouth lifting up in a sweet smile as he browsed through his photos that he had taken for the new album. Lullaby had been the theme, and Fuji had actually been allowed to take a trip to Paris to take pictures for it. He works so very, very hard… Of course, if Fuji wasn't so stubborn and didn't give him so many problems, his editor wouldn't need to work so hard. Fuji conveniently overlooked that fact.

Fuji finished his selection and saved the images he wanted onto a flash drive, a satisfied smile on his face. Ejecting the drive from his computer, he set it to a side, where it would be ready to be given to his editor when he headed to work the next day.

Climbing into his bed, he gave his phone a glance, reaching out and tapping it lightly. Atobe hadn't called… perhaps he was busy with work just as Fuji had been? Letting himself believe his reason, he slipped underneath his covers, turned off the lights, and curled up on his side.

Atobe would definitely call. Fuji was sure of it.

***

Fuji strode into his editor's office, a bright and sunny smile upon his face. His editor, Momoshiro Takeshi, was sitting at his desk, reading the newspaper and sipping at his mug of coffee. When Fuji fairly skipped up to him, though, he looked up, raising an eyebrow, a curious and unbelieving look in his purple eyes.

"Fuji-san," he greeted, setting down his mug and his paper and then proceeding to look hopefully up at the photographer. "Did you get my message?"

"Of course I did!" was Fuji's spirited reply, and Momoshiro breathed out a sigh of relief. Step one, cleared. However, he had no idea if Fuji was here to ask for an extension (like he usually did), or if he was here to hand in his photos (like he usually didn't do, as he normally just mailed his flash drive with his selected photos to Momoshiro after his time extension, and then left the black-haired man to hunt him down and return the device to him).

Of course, if Fuji had come today to tell him that he didn't want a time extension and that he had the photos on him at that moment, Momoshiro wasn't quite sure how he'd act, as such a thing had never before happened and Momoshiro tried not to delusion himself with the notion that it would.

A flash drive dangled in front of his nose. "I have the photos for you!" Fuji said cheerfully, and Momoshiro stared at him like he had sprouted another head.

"Come again?"

"I have the photos for you, right here and on time for the deadline," Fuji patiently repeated. "See? The flash drive is real…" Here, he poked Momoshiro in the forehead with it, and the other man was torn between standing up and demanding what had happened to his normal Fuji-san or starting to praise whichever god resided in the heavens above his head.

As it was, he mutely took the flash drive from his grinning client and inserted it into his computer, bidding Fuji to sit down as he did so. There was only one file on it, labeled 'Lullaby Selections', and Momoshiro clicked on it, hoping that it wasn't some cruel joke that Fuji had decided to play on him and that the folder would be empty.

The folder wasn't empty; Fuji hadn't played a cruel joke on him. Momoshiro scrolled through the selected photos, nodding every now and then. "Excellent. These pictures are as excellent as always, Fuji-san. You really do capture the theme amazingly," he said, transferring the entire folder onto his own computer, ejecting the flash drive and returning it to Fuji. "I'll edit them and place them. Expect the prototype of your new album in a week or so."

Fuji's smile widened. "I look forward to it, Momoshiro-san," he piped up. "Your prototypes are always so wonderful that there's nothing I need to be picky about, anyways. Keep up the good work!" Giving his editor a cheery wave, Fuji exited the office, leaving Momoshiro to ponder what exactly got into Fuji's mind.

Well, he thought with a shrug, looking through the photos once more. That's simply Fuji, I guess. Unpredictable, but top class in his field of work. One can never understand that mind of his. Giving another shake of his head, he saved the images to a backup file and picked up his paper again.

***

That day that Fuji submitted his photos to his editor, Atobe didn't call. Every time the phone rang, Fuji would pick it up hastily, something akin to hope stirring deep in his chest, only to be disappointed when it turned out that it was simply his mother, his sister, or his friend calling. Taking a deep breath, he told himself to be patient. Atobe was a CEO of a very large corporation, after all. He would probably be very busy with contracts and meetings and other things that CEO's did.

He'd call back tomorrow.

The next day, there was no call from Atobe. Fuji decided that he must have been called out to some emergency business delegation, perhaps in Osaka or someplace a considerable distance from Tokyo.

The next day, then.

But the third day heralded no call, nor did the fourth, and finally, on the fifth day since their first meeting, Fuji got fed up with waiting. Digging through the papers on his desk, he unearthed Atobe's business card and marched over to his phone. Dialing the number, he waited as it rung once, twice, thrice, and finally went to the voicemail.

"You have reached Atobe Keigo's voicemail," came into Fuji's ear. "Unfortunately, Ore-sama cannot take your call at the moment, and so Ore-sama will request that you leave a voice message. Ore-sama will get to you as soon as time allows it."

"Um… Atobe-san, it's me, Fuji Syusuke," Fuji said into the receiver. "Ah… I was simply calling since you never called back. You must be very busy, ne?" He paused for a few seconds and glanced around his room, as if it could offer him some inspiration on what to say. "In any case, since being a CEO must be very difficult and busy, I'll simply ask that you give me a call back when you get the chance. You know… chatting is nice, right? I'll talk to you later, then. Ja."

He hung up, setting the phone down in its cradle. Feeling satisfied that he had re-clarified his existence in the world, he went about on his other tasks that demanded his attention.

However, three more days passed without any word from Atobe. Fuji was lying on his bed, fiddling with the buttons on his camera, a small frown on his face. Surely he would have gotten his message?

'Ore-sama frequents a club. It's called TeniPuri, perhaps you have heard of it?'

"Of course!" Fuji said, sitting up. "Why haven't I thought of that before? If he frequents that place, then I should be able to see him, right?" Of course; it was sheer genius. Swinging himself off of the bed, he placed his camera gently back into its bag, grabbed a light jacket, slipped into his shoes, and trotted out of his apartment complex, determined expression on his face.

Fuji was going to talk to Atobe tonight even if it meant that he had to go to every place with a name that vaguely resembled 'TeniPuri'. Of that he was certain.

***

Tezuka Kunimitsu was in his office, frowning as he read through some contracts on his desk. They wanted him to expand his store and add more rooms, complete with 'special' bargirls? Ridiculous. Tezuka ran a sophisticated restaurant and bar, and frankly, he did not want to deal with cranky men who simply came to a place because they could satisfy their sexual wants there. He would not tolerate it. They could go to a love hotel for all he cared. Actually, they could do anything that they wanted in a love hotel as long as it was nowhere near Tezuka and his store called 'TeniPuri'.

That contract got fed into the paper shredder who lived next to Tezuka's desk, and the tall, bespectacled man had the satisfaction of watching the paper get shredded into a hundred tiny slivers. Ha! Take that!

He was about to tackle the next contract when the door to his office opened and one of his employees, a man by the name of Oishi Shuichiro stepped into the room. "Tezuka, there are so many costumers that you're going to have to take the bar. Are you alright with that?" Green eyes begged him to say that he was perfectly fine with it, and judging from that look, Tezuka decided that it must have been far busier than usual and agreed to the request. Sighing with relief, Oishi returned to his post and Tezuka walked out of his office into the hubbub and excitement that was TeniPuri.

Sometimes it amazed him how much a door could do to keep out the noise. His office opened directly into TeniPuri's lobby, and it was so noisy there at times that it was hard to even hear what someone was saying to one, yet alone think. And yet when Tezuka slipped into his office and shut the door, it was so quiet he could hear a pin drop.

Doors were amazing things, he decided, taking his place behind the counter at the bar and asking politely if he could get something for his customers.

A lithe man with honey-brown hair sat down at the counter a few minutes after Tezuka had started into his shift, glancing around several times before focusing his attention on his clasped hands on the tabletop. This man caught Tezuka's attention, as the customers to TeniPuri were usually regulars that Tezuka had gotten to know quite well by then. It wasn't often that a new face popped up in the crowd.

"Can I get you something?" he asked.

The man looked up at him, and Tezuka was startled to come face-to-face with a pair of startling cerulean eyes, so different from his own hazel ones. Their owner, however, closed those blue, blue eyes into a smile before Tezuka could drown in them. "I'm waiting for someone," he said pleasantly.

Tezuka raised an eyebrow. Now this wasn't something he encountered usually at TeniPuri. "Oh? Who are you and who are you waiting for?" He normally wouldn't have asked, but he figured that perhaps he could help this newcomer out with finding who he was looking for.

"Ah… he's called Atobe. Atobe Keigo. And I'm Fuji. Fuji Syusuke."

Tezuka's other eyebrow rose at this. "Atobe? He's not coming all this week, I'm afraid. He's on business." Tezuka and Atobe knew each other quite well, having attended high school together. Although they went to separate colleges afterwards, they still got in touch on many occasions for playing tennis (both of them were quite good at it) or simply talking. Granted, Tezuka didn't talk much and normally didn't like small talk, but he and Atobe had quite a bit in common, surprisingly, and so conversation came relatively easy for both.

"Oh…" Fuji looked disappointed for an instant.

"I can take a message for him, if you'd like," Tezuka offered, handing another costumer a drink when he ordered one.

"No, no, it's perfectly fine!" Fuji protested hastily, giving a faint wave of his hand. "I…" His mind worked frantically to come up with a scenario for which he could use that prompted him to come to TeniPuri. "I was going to do a photo shoot with Atobe-san. I was thinking something along the line of a relaxed theme, relaxed and fun."

Tezuka took an empty glass and money from a customer and bid him good-bye before turning his attention back to Fuji. "You want to do a photo shoot with no camera?" he asked drily, and Fuji sighed, looking deflated.

"Yeah… rather unbelievable, isn't it?" Fuji asked, laughing softly. In moments, he was telling Tezuka all about his brief history with Atobe, ending with the fact that he hadn't called in days, nearly a week. "So I thought I'd come here and see if I could catch him," he concluded, drawing circles on the countertop with a slim finger, looking like a schoolboy who had just confessed to breaking the window and knew that the consequences of doing it were not pretty.

Sighing, Tezuka gave a shake of his head, setting the glass down in the dishwasher. "Fuji-san, if someone promises to call but doesn't, he's not interested in you," he said bluntly.

Fuji looked up, a curiously intrigued expression on his angelic face. "Oh, really? One of my friends met someone who didn't call him back for a whole month, but they've been going pretty steady now." It was actually surprising, seeing his dear friend Kawamura Takashi together with Akutsu Jin, but since Akutsu hadn't done anything to hurt Taka, ever, Fuji was alright with it. On occasion, Fuji had even witnessed a softer side of Akutsu, much to his surprise. The two of them (Taka and Akutsu) had even half-adopted a kid, a boy by the name of Dan, who had attached himself to Akutsu and refused to be separated no matter what. Apparently, his family was having troubles and Dan didn't like it at his house, so Taka convinced Akutsu to keep the kid over at Kawamura's Sushi where they lived until things settled down.

That was two months ago. As far as Fuji knew, Dan was still over there, and apparently the two who were his foster parents don't quite want to return him when the time comes.

Tezuka gave another sigh, and was about to speak again when another customer caught his attention. "It's kind of busy at the moment, why don't you stay after a bit and we can talk?" he asked Fuji. Fuji nodded absentmindedly, absorbed in his own thoughts, and Tezuka turned away from him to do his job.

***

"The point of the matter is this: if someone who promises to call you doesn't call you, it means that they're not interested in you." Tezuka was sitting on one side of the counter, trying to drill the basics of relationships into Fuji's mind. He couldn't make his words any clearer, but Fuji was stubborn, painfully stubborn, as Tezuka had discovered.

Fuji tilted his head to one side as he listened to Tezuka try to teach him rule #1 for the nth time that night, stirring the coffee that Tezuka had gotten him with a spoon. "But…"

Tezuka cut him off before he could even go on with his thoughts. "Your friend, Fuji-san, is an exception. You, unfortunately, are the rule. And the rule is: if you don't get a call, you give it all up as a lost cause." He pinched the bridge of his nose, heaving yet another sigh. "If a guy is interested in someone, rest assured that he'll do anything to get to you. You'll never be able to get rid of him."

Fuji considered this for a moment. "So… what you're saying is, I'm the rule, and I shouldn't put my hopes on someone who won't call me after a week even if he's out of town."

"Ah," was Tezuka's monotonous syllable of agreement.

Fuji considered this for another few moments before his face widened into a beautiful smile. "Oh! I get it! Thank you, Tezuka!" Digging into his pocket, he pulled out some money and paid for his coffee. "Thanks so much for the coffee and the advice! Can I ask you for more advice later on?"

Tezuka had known this was coming, so before Fuji had even finished his sentence he had extended his card to him. Fuji took it with a sunny smile, handing over his own card as he did so. "Thanks again, Tezuka!" he called out as he pocketed the card and headed for home, leaving Tezuka alone behind his counter.

"'Fuji Syusuke, Photographer,'" Tezuka read off of Fuji's card. "'One should go for the thrills in life, ne?'" A tiny smile stole across Tezuka's face. "Depends on the situation, I would think," he said softly to himself, pocketing the card and locking up TeniPuri, heading for his car to go home.

Fuji, back in his apartment, pulled out Tezuka's card and studied it. "'Tezuka Kunimitsu, Manager.' That's a pretty boring title…" He chuckled lightly before reading on. "'Don't let down your guard.' Hmm… he has a nice quote, though." Still chuckling to himself, he set the card aside and climbed into bed, snuggling into his covers.

So… if Tezuka was right, Atobe was a lost cause. No problem, then! There were plenty of other fish in the sea! Fuji couldn't believe that he couldn't get even one. Satisfied, he drifted off to sleep, a small smile playing on his lips, looking for all the world like a child who was promised a play date after his nap.

***

"Saa… Niou-kun, you've gotten even better at tennis than when we were in junior high!" Fuji exclaimed, plopping himself happily on the ground, tennis racket to one side, winded and panting but happy.

His silver-haired opponent grinned at him, sitting down on the ground on the other side of the net. "Why, thank you," he purred. "Although I have to say that your skills went down a bit. You need to play more. Leave your camera idle sometimes."

Fuji cracked open one brilliant cerulean eyes. It shone with mirth, and his whole body quivered with barely suppressed giggles. "Oh… I could do that, but poor Momoshiro-san would absolutely die. I'm horrible with deadlines as it is. If I add tennis into the mix, he'll never get my photos."

"I guess you have a point," Niou said, getting his breathing under control and standing up, walking over to Fuji and extending a hand to help the honey-haired man up. Fuji took it and stood, and then followed Niou over to the side where they're bags were to retrieve water.

"How's your job coming along?" Fuji asked curiously, sipping from his water bottle, enjoying the feeling of the cool liquid as it slipped down his throat. There was nothing better than playing tennis to make one find out how simply wonderful water was, he decided.

Niou shrugged, capping his bottle after drinking his full. "It's alright, I suppose. Kind of boring… I don't get to travel as much as you, I'm afraid. Instead, I spend every day with little brats who are intent on pulling me bald!" But he laughed as he said this, so Fuji knew that despite Niou's complaining, he quite liked being an elementary school teacher. "I coach the middle school's tennis team, too. They're not as good as we were when we were their age, but they're good enough."

"Looks like you deal with kids a lot."

"Too much," Niou mumbled. "But you're really important in their eyes, it seems. I get midnight calls to my apartment sometimes when someone wants to hit for awhile. How those brats got my address, I don't know, nor do I really want to know, but it's a nice feeling, anyways."

"Really?" Fuji raised an eyebrow skeptically.

"OK, fine… it's a good feeling once you get over the crankiness of getting woken up at three in the morning," Niou consented, throwing his water bottle into his bag and swinging it over his shoulder. "Say, Fuji, are you still single?"

Fuji tucked his own bottle into his bag and slung it over his shoulder, following Niou as they exited the tennis courts and strode through the park adjacent to the courts. "Yes. Why do you ask?"

Niou grinned over his shoulder at his friend. "No reason. It's just that Yagyuu and I placed a bet on whether or not you had a girlfriend. Or boyfriend, you know, if you swing that way." Yagyuu, Fuji noted, was a friend that Niou liked to talk about a lot lately. Niou turned his attention back in front of him. "The tabloids follow you loosely; it's hard to get these pieces of juicy information."

"You were interested? I'm touched, Niou-kun," Fuji trilled mischievously, the faintest traces of hope stirring inside him. Niou had always been an impressive person in Fuji's eyes, and the two of them had had plenty of fun pulling pranks on other people when they were younger. Fuji could even remember one time where he had actively tried to get Niou's attention, using a myriad of methods; there was certainly something attractive about Niou that just drew people to him.

Niou's face flushed. "Well… think of it as the way someone follows some idol. It's like love but it's not exactly. I suppose it's more like infatuation that wears off after awhile." He coughed, suddenly looking and sounding rather flustered. "Anyways, I wanted to invite you. Here." He handed an envelope to Fuji, who opened it and read its contents quietly. "Yagyuu and I are getting married in two weeks. I hope you'll come; I've told Yagyuu lots of things about you and he's all set to meet you. He's a fan of your albums, especially your Serenity one, although he doesn't like to show it."

Niou heaved a light sigh. "It's a pity we couldn't get our hands on a copy of it. It sold out faster than we could blink. Yagyuu's had to content himself with looking at the pictures on the internet. Maybe that's why our internet bill was so high these past few months…"

Fuji folded the invitation and slipped it back into his envelope, bright smiling mask in place. "I'd be honored to come, and I have the perfect gift in mind already. Count on me being there."

A relieved smile spread across Niou's features. "That's awesome, Fuji. We'll be looking forward to seeing you, then." He offered a small wave and the two parted ways, Niou trotting off to the bus station, Fuji continuing his slow meander through the park.

And so ended Fuji's long and yet so very, very short relationship with Niou Masaharu. Mou… I suppose the relationship we had was merely one of temporary infatuation, like he said, Fuji thought.

It was kind of disappointing, in a way, but Fuji was happy for his friend. Getting married was an important stepping stone in life, his sister was fond of telling him. According to her, it was also the happiest day in one's life. If that's the case, I'd love to get married someday.

He glanced up at the sky, noticing a flock of doves fly over his head, their white feathers pretty against the light blue sky. Someday… I really would like to get married…

***

In the week that followed, Eiji, deciding that Fuji really needed to stop being single already, introduced one of his friends to Fuji, a man by the name of Oshitari Yuushi. Oshitari was nice and all, and had similar tastes to Fuji, but there just hadn't been a spark and the two had settled off with being mutual friends.

Also during that time, Fuji made several calls to Tezuka, asking for advice regarding various subjects. Tezuka sounded rather exasperated every time he answered the phone and discovered that it was Fuji calling, but he listened patiently every single time…

Like that one time Fuji was engaging in an active make-out session and then locked himself in the bathroom. Granted, it wasn't the smartest thing to do (there was, after all, only a certain amount of time one could spend in the bathroom without the other being suspicious), but he had been low on reliable places to vanish off to in order to make his phone call (one also shouldn't make a phone call to another guy in front of the guy they were currently making out with, Fuji knew that).

"Tezuka!" he hissed into the phone the moment the bespectacled man from TeniPuri picked it up. "Tezuka, I have a problem!"

He could hear the barely suppressed sigh from the other side. "By now, I've come to figure that every time you call you have a problem, Fuji," he said, and Fuji wondered whether or not he should laugh or say something to defend himself. But before he could decide on an appropriate course of action, Tezuka was speaking again:

"So, what is it this time?"

Fuji gnawed on his lower lip as he composed his reply. "Well… I met this really, really cool guy. His name is Shiraishi… and we were… doing stuff…" He was loathe to tell Tezuka exactly what this 'stuff' was, but the other man got the gist of it even without Fuji saying what it was and sighed wearily, waiting for Fuji to cough up more information. "He said he'd be gone for a few days, though, and I'm wondering what the correct answer to something like this is."

Tezuka heaved another sigh. "And where is he going?"

"Osaka, I believe."

"Forget him. He's not interested."

Fuji blinked open brilliant blue eyes, stunned. Tezuka's reply had been so fast, so sure… "How do you know?" he asked accusingly.

Tezuka sighed, once again (he swore that he was sighing a bit too much ever since he had met Fuji). "If he's interested in you, he wouldn't interrupt your… session… to announce that he was leaving, would he?" Tezuka asked. "A guy who likes you will try to spend every single moment with you, period."

Fuji pouted, even though he knew that Tezuka wouldn't be able to see it from his end of the line. "But Tezuka… if every single person I've tried isn't interested, then there isn't a person who's ever going to be interested in me. I might as well just give up now and live the rest of my life as a hermit. Maybe I can build myself a shack on Mt. Fuji or something. Do you think they let hermits live on Mt. Fuji?" He slumped against the edge of the bathtub, one hand brushing absentmindedly through his hair.

"Fuji… forget about being a hermit," Tezuka's stern voice lectured him. "I highly doubt it's that serious." Fuji's pout deepened and he slumped lower against the cold tile. "I have an acquaintance who I think you might find rather interesting. I can set up a dinner date for the three of us and you can learn what he's like."

Fuji perked up slightly from his position on the bathroom floor. "Really?" he asked. "That'd be great!"

"He doesn't usually have anything planned for Tuesday evening. I'll call you later and we can decide where to meet."

Fuji was more than happy to agree and hung up the phone in rather high spirits. Now… all he needed to do was make it through the rest of his day… somehow…

***

Tezuka strode into the restaurant feeling like a failure. He couldn't believe he had made such a trivial mistake… and he had even taken great pains to make sure that he wouldn't! Grumbling under his breath, he glanced around, searching for a petite and effeminate figure in the bustle of the restaurant with his hazel eyes.

The one he was looking for saw him a split second before Tezuka saw him and waved cheerily at him, and Tezuka walked over, noting Fuji's pleasant smile. He gave a nod as greeting.

"Hello, Tezuka!" Fuji responded brightly as Tezuka took a seat opposite of him. He glanced around curiously. "Ne… isn't there supposed to be three of us tonight?" he asked, innocently curious.

"Ah, that… I apologize, Fuji. I told him Thursday instead of Tuesday."

"Oh…" Fuji said, looking surprised for a few moments, which succeeded in making inner Tezuka feel more like a failure than ever before. However, the moment of silence passed quickly enough, and Fuji's bright smile was on his face once again. "Well, then, no problem! We've never had a dinner outing between the two of us, have we?"

"No. No, we haven't," Tezuka was inclined to agree as the waitress came up to their table with menus. The two men placed their orders and Tezuka sipped tiredly from his glass of cold water.

Fuji noticed this as he sipped from his own glass. "Has TeniPuri been busy, lately?" he asked, and Tezuka heaved a sigh. TeniPuri had been rather busy lately, and Tezuka's paper shredder had been quite busy itself eating up all of those useless contracts that Tezuka did not want to see. As it was, though, he answered Fuji's question with a nod, and when their meals were placed in front of them, Tezuka devoted all of his attention to his pasta.

"Ne, Tezuka." The bespectacled man looked up to see Fuji studying him curiously, playing with his fork in one hand, the other supporting his cheek so that his head was cocked to one side. "Somehow, you seem a lot more talkative over the phone than face-to-face."

Tezuka frowned, setting down his own fork. "Am I supposed to be talkative?" he asked.

Fuji chuckled, evidently amused. "Well… there's no rule about that, but it would have been nice to see if you were the exception."

Tezuka's frown deepened; Fuji's phrase made no logical sense. "Fuji, if there is no rule, then there is no exception," he pointed out.

Fuji smiled sheepishly. "Saa… I suppose you're right," he said, stabbing his fork into one of the unfortunate sticks of pasta on his plate and moving it to his mouth. A bit of the creamy sauce smeared at the corner of his mouth and his tongue swiped out like a cat's, small and pink, licking it off.

Tezuka found himself watching Fuji lick it away a bit too attentively for his liking, and so immediately dropped his gaze back to his plate. "Fuji, I apologize once again for telling Yukimura the wrong date. I understand that you were looking forward to meeting him."

Fuji tilted his head to one side, still smiling. Tezuka was simply so amusing sometimes… he wondered if the bespectacled man knew it himself. "It's quite alright, actually," he said cheerily. "I'm sure there'll be other opportunities to meet Yukimura-san."

"Actually, speaking of such opportunities, I've been convinced into holding a sort of gathering at my place," Tezuka said slowly, choosing his words with care. Forced was the more correct term, actually, but what Fuji didn't know wouldn't hurt him, he reasoned. "Yukimura will be there, so you'll be able to meet him if all goes well."

Here, Fuji raised an eyebrow curiously. "If all goes well?" he echoed, sounding something between skeptical and faintly bemused.

Tezuka gave a faint shrug. "Yukimura told me that he would be rather busy, so if schedule permits, he'll most definitely be there. If not, I did take the liberty of giving him your contact information. I hope you don't mind."

Fuji laughed, and Tezuka thought that it was a very good rival to the tinkling of bells. "Mind? Of course not! In fact, I quite appreciate you going out of your way doing this." For answer, he got a faint snort that was probably the closest thing he would ever get from Tezuka that resembled a laugh. But nevertheless, it pleased Fuji, and the rest of dinner passed pleasantly. They didn't talk much after that, but the silence was a comforting one, one that allowed one to think and be at peace.

"Thank you so much for dinner, Tezuka," Fuji said as Tezuka walked the photographer to his car.

"Hn," Tezuka murmured. Now that they were out of the restaurant, Tezuka was slowly reverting back to his more standard monosyllable answers. Fuji didn't mind though; it was one of those things that made Tezuka uniquely Tezuka and he quite liked it, actually. "It was a pleasure," Tezuka said as Fuji started the ignition. "So I can expect to see you on Saturday? You have my address, am I correct?"

Fuji smiled and laughed that tinkling laugh again before nodding. "Yes, you gave it to me during dinner," he assured the other man. "I look forward to it." Tezuka nodded and stepped back so that Fuji could back his car out of the parking space. Fuji gave one last wave to Tezuka before the man seemed to merge among the other cars in the parking lot, gradually becoming smaller and smaller in Fuji's rearview mirror until Fuji could no longer see him.

***

Eiji grinned as Fuji finished his recount of his dinner date with Tezuka. The lithe young man hadn't planned on telling his best friend, but as he had just learned (or perhaps he had known all along), Eiji had impressive persuasive skills. That, coupled with a good-sized plate of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and tea, finally managed to get Fuji to open up and cough up the details about his night.

"If I can put in my two-cent's worth," Eiji said, indigo eyes twinkling as he set his cup of tea down, "I'd say that Tezuka-san likes you, nya!"

Fuji smiled softly. "Oh, Eiji, you flatter me," he said, popping the last bite of warm cookie into his mouth and brushing the crumbs into a napkin. Currently, the two men were relaxing in the spacious living room of Eiji's apartment. Because Eiji shared with another man, one by the name of Oishi Shuichirou (who conveniently worked under Tezuka at TeniPuri), Eiji's living quarters were considerably larger than Fuji's own, and when the two couldn't go out to hang around they opted to take up space in Eiji's living room. Oishi had long since gotten used to it, and if he ever got early notice of these such events, he would bake a plate of cookies (Eiji had a particular liking to cookies, especially the ones that Oishi baked). The couch that they sat on was basically drowned in soft cushions, and the two liked to snuggle into them as they chatted and munched cookies to their little hearts' desires.

Eiji raised his eyebrows and tilted his head cutely to one side. "Flatter?" he asked curiously, "How so, Fujiko?"

"Well…" Fuji licked a bit of melted chocolate off of his finger as he contemplated how to best answer Eiji's question. "Actually, I'm not exactly sure myself," he finally admitted sheepishly. "However, Tezuka strikes me as the kind of person who doesn't spend his time chasing after silly notions like falling in love. He's much too serious for that."

Eiji stuck out his tongue. "Oh, phooey," he said, and Fuji simply had to chuckle. Sometimes, Fuji used Eiji as a subject for his photographs because he loved the way Eiji was so childish and carefree, but the photos never turned out the way he wanted them to. After a while, he had simply resigned himself to the fact that what he loved best about Eiji, whether it be the way those indigo eyes twinkled, the way those hands made animated gestures as he spoke, or the way his body bounced excitedly around when he was happy, couldn't be captured in something as simple as a photograph, no matter how hard he tried. "But you don't know that exactly, Fujiko! There could always be a chance."

Fuji listened to Eiji and found himself slowly nodding to what his friend was saying. It seemed logical. After all, he didn't know Tezuka well enough to know if he was the kind of person who shunned relationships.

"Besides," Eiji was continuing on, munching on a cookie and snuggling deeper into the cushions as he did so, "what if this Yukimura person didn't exist?"

"I beg your pardon?"

Eiji swallowed his cookie and tried to dump as many crumbs as he could into his mouth. "Tezuka said that he wanted you to meet this Yukimura, right?" Fuji nodded; Eiji knew that was true. "He tells you that you, he, and Yukimura will meet up for a dinner date, but when that day comes, only he is there. He offers you an excuse saying that he told Yukimura the wrong date. Now he's telling you that he's holding a party at his house and that you should go because Yukimura is there." As Eiji spoke, he was warming up rather quickly to his idea, which Fuji could see by the way Eiji's hands were beginning to do happy gestures. "Can't you see? This is his method of monopolizing your time and telling you that he likes you."

When Eiji said that, Fuji had simply smiled, chuckling lightly, but when he was back in his own studio (they had ended their meeting shortly afterwards, since Oishi had invited Eiji to a date and Fuji didn't want his friend to miss such an important event) and in his bed, under his warm comforters, he couldn't help but mull over what Eiji had said. Supposing it was true… what would he do…?

Well… I could always ask Tezuka, he thought, staring up into the darkness at his ceiling. If there was one thing he knew about Tezuka, it was that the man was honest, brutally so. Fuji would definitely not be strung along in some cruel game if he directly asked Tezuka. Yes… I think I'll ask Tezuka this Saturday, he decided, and curled up into a little ball on his side, slowly allowing himself to drift into the realms of Morpheus.

***

The first thing Fuji thought about when he was let into Tezuka's humble abode was how someone could cram so many people into such a seemingly small place. Really, it amazed him. Feeling slightly intimidated by the amount of people there were, Fuji inched his way over to the snack table and busied himself with monopolizing the pretzels. In a matter of seconds, he had found himself a corner and was munching happily on the crunchy, salty treat.

"Hmm… Tezuka never told me that he was acquaintances with the famous photographer Fuji Syusuke."

Hearing a voice that was clearly addressed to him from the way his name was mentioned, Fuji looked up to find its source, stuffing the last pretzel into his mouth and sucking the salt off of it before chewing and swallowing. "And you are…?" he asked politely, realizing that he had no idea who this person was (or most of the other people, too, on that note).

The man pushed his thick, square-framed glasses up his nose, and Fuji had to crane his head to look at him. This man certainly was tall, that was given. Briefly, Fuji wondered why he couldn't have been taller. After high school had ended, he had barely grown even by a few centimeters. "My apologies for not introducing myself properly," the man said. "My name is Inui Sadaharu."

The name clicked in Fuji's mind. "Oh! You're that reporter from Monthly Pro Tennis, aren't you?" he asked, having read a few of the articles on the junior high tennis teams.

Inui gave a half shrug. "Yes, I work there. I also create health drinks; surely you've heard of Inui Juice?"

Here, Fuji nodded. "Yes, I have. They're quite good, if I should say so myself." The two of them chatted for a while before a man wearing a bandana on his head came up to Inui, and Inui excused himself. Fuji nodded cheerily and promptly re-stationed himself at the snack table, in front of the plate of pretzels.

Those pretzels probably wished that he had never come to this party.

"Are you Fuji Syusuke-san?"

Once again, Fuji looked up when another voice addressed him. This time, as opposed to the voice of Inui, it was softer, a bit more effeminate like Fuji's own voice. It had a gentle, warm lilt to it and Fuji liked it immediately. "Yes, that would be me," he said, grabbing one last pretzel and straightening up, turning to face the man who was addressing him.

His smiling eyes were met with blue-violet ones and there was a hand extended for a handshake. "Oh, good," said the owner of those eyes as Fuji shook his hand while popping the last pretzel into his mouth. "I was beginning to think that I'd never be able to meet you. I'm Yukimura Seiichi. It's a pleasure to meet you at last." He smiled and Fuji chuckled.

"So you do exist," he murmured before he could stop himself.

Yukimura looked surprised for a brief moment before realization dawned in his eyes. His lips quirked into an amused smile as he helped himself to some pretzels, nibbling on them thoughtfully as he composed his answer. "So it seems," he said, swallowing his snack and grinning mischievously at Fuji. "I think I shall blame Tezuka for the assumption that I didn't exist; he told me the wrong date the last time we were supposed to meet. But I suppose it worked out alright… I've never seen such a flustered Tezuka as I did on Wednesday." He laughed, and then clapped his hands as a thought struck him. "I caught a picture of it so I'd remember it forever. Tezuka rarely does anything more than frown and look like an evil statue. I should show it to you sometime."

"Oh, yes… please do!" Fuji said excitedly. The two of them giggled like schoolchildren who were busy hatching a big plan against their teacher.

On the other side of the room, Tezuka paused in his conversation with Sanada to turn his head to the side and sneeze. Twice.

***

"Did you see Yukimura tonight?" Tezuka asked, taking a wet dish from Fuji and wiping it dry with a dishcloth. Now dry, the plate continued on its journey as Tezuka placed it into the cupboard. Since the photographer had no need to head home, he had offered to help Tezuka to clean up. Naturally, Tezuka had protested (a guest shouldn't help the host clean up!) but Fuji had been adamant, and in the end Tezuka had relented to the smaller man's persistent efforts.

And deep down, inner Tezuka was glad that he did. Two people cleaning up certainly went a lot faster than with only one person. Not only that, but he was rapidly finding that Fuji was wonderful company. They didn't talk much, but the silence between them wasn't an awkward one. It was more of the kind in which one could really get down to thinking about things that he hadn't had time to think about earlier. And Tezuka, being the kind of person that he was, valued those kinds of silences, although he also knew when to speak as well.

Fuji tilted his head gently to one side as he rinsed off another soapy plate and handed it to Tezuka. "I did. He makes for enjoyable company," he said pleasantly. "As it is, we've already made plans for a get-together. I look very forward to it."

Tezuka nodded quietly in response, not saying anything as he placed the plate into the cupboard and took another from Fuji. They were silent again before Fuji chanced to speak once more.

"Say, Tezuka…" Fuji ventured forth, handing the last plate to Tezuka and moving on to cups. "You always seem to have so much advice on all my relationship related problems, am I right?"

Tezuka tilted his head slightly over so that he could face Fuji, raising an eyebrow, a bit puzzled as to Fuji's sudden inquiry, but managing to mask it well. "I know a bit, I would suppose," he answered, taking the cup from Fuji, letting as much water drip from it as possible before hanging it onto the rack where it would fully dry. "Why do you ask that, Fuji?"

Fuji pondered over the reason while he handed another cup to Tezuka, finally shrugging. "It just crossed my mind suddenly one day," he said. Actually, it wouldn't have if Eiji hadn't brought something remotely like it up, but what Tezuka didn't know wouldn't hurt him, he reasoned. "And I've gotten to thinking, if you know so much, did you pursue a relationship at one time?"

Tezuka returned his gaze to in front of him, face stonier than usual. "No. I'm not the type to go for relationships," he said flatly. "They do not interest me."

This puzzled Fuji, and a small frown crossed his face as he handed the last item over Tezuka and drained the water from the sink. "Then how come you decided to help me?" he asked, thoroughly curious.

"Perhaps it was because I pitied you," was Tezuka's ice-cold answer. Fuji flinched, but said nothing, instead motioning for the taller man to go on. While the comment hurt, Fuji was glad that Tezuka was the kind of person who was painfully blunt and drove straight to the point. It saved a lot of trouble in the long run, Fuji believed. It was better to receive something as it was than to have it tied up in fanciful paper and pretty ribbons, so to speak. "Perhaps it was your insistent pursuit on what you want to call 'happiness' which made me help you. Or perhaps it was simply the fact that such frivolity seems to overcome everyone that having a person who actively seeks it be left out was not ordinary. That's all there was to it."

"So I was a person in need who you felt obligated to help," Fuji reasoned.

Tezuka frowned; that wouldn't be how he would put it, had he been asked to summarize his actions. But in essence, he assumed it was correct, so he nodded, setting aside the dishrag so that it could dry out overnight. "Ah," he said, his standard one-syllable sound of agreement.

"I see…" Fuji murmured, and there was something in his voice that made Tezuka turn around to face him. Fuji's head was down, eyes fixed on the floor as he thought, but before Tezuka could ask just what exactly was going through his mind Fuji's head had snapped up, and Tezuka found himself being glared at by the bluest eyes he had ever seen. The effect they had on him was stunning; Tezuka felt himself drowning in them, and vaguely, he remembered this sensation during the first time in which he had met Fuji. It had been no more than a week ago when Fuji had first stepped into TeniPuri under the pretense of catching Atobe for a photo shoot… without a camera, if Tezuka remembered correctly.

"Well, then!" Fuji hissed furiously, glaring daggers at Tezuka. "I'm sorry that I'm stupid and I try to chase after silly things like happiness! I'm sorry that I set myself for so many failures because I'm looking for it! But at least I know that with every failure, I'm limiting my choices, and that I have a better chance at being happy and loved than you ever will, since you're just a stupid rock!"

Finished with his explosion, successfully managing to leave Tezuka stunned and absolutely speechless (had it been any other time he felt like he would have been quite proud with the achievement), Fuji spun on his heel and marched straight out of Tezuka's door.

***

Fuji was still seething the next day. His mind kept screaming things along the line of 'Tezuka, you jerk! You rock! You stupid, stupid, jerk-ish rock!' and when he ran out of names to call Tezuka he had proceeded to glare holes into his wall, and when that lost its appeal, he had gotten onto his computer, pulled up Photoshop, and sprayed red over the pictures that he had saved onto his computer (he didn't save them, though, otherwise he would have been angrier than he had been before; those were good pictures). He was a dangerous person to be around during that period, and all stayed clear of him (Eiji approached him once and nearly got his head bitten off. Following that, he wisely decided to stay away until Fuji had cooled off).

By the time evening rolled in, Fuji had cooled off considerably and was the calm, smiling, pleasant person he usually was. In fact, it was like he had forgotten all about Tezuka. Instead, he occupied his time with searching through his wardrobe for an outfit suitable to wear for his get-together with Yukimura. Fuji felt like a child invited to a play date; what would be best to wear for such an occasion?

In the end he settled with a white T-shirt, over which he layered a blue vest that had had a plunging neckline and dark pants. Blue and white together were a nice combination; Fuji nodded at his reflection, pleased with his choice. More than half of his wardrobe had been assembled from the need to have clothes to wear for conventions in which his photographs were shown. In all honesty, Fuji did not like having a big wardrobe, nor did he think he needed so many clothes for conventions, but his manager had insisted, and he had had no choice but to go out and shop for them.

To say the least, Fuji was glad that some of those clothes now had a use that didn't involve photo conventions.

At that point, the doorbell rang, and Fuji padded over to his front door, opening it, smiling brightly when he saw Yukimura standing there. Like him, Yukimura had chosen a casual approach, and was wearing light blue collared shirt, over which he had slung on a black jacket, not bothering to button the front, and black pants. The two of them exchanged greetings before Yukimura held out his hand.

"Shall we, then, Fuji-san?" he asked.

Fuji accepted the hand and stepped out of his studio, locking the door after him. He chuckled lightly. "Of course, Yukimura-san. But do call me 'Fuji'; 'Fuji-san' makes me feel old."

At this, Yukimura laughed. "Very well, Fuji," he said cheerily, "but then you should call me 'Yukimura.' 'Yukimura-san' makes me feel old, too." Fuji agreed, and in rather high spirits, the two of them trotted out of the apartment building.

***

'You're just a stupid rock!'

Tezuka frowned, his brows furrowing as he tried to concentrate on the paper in front of him. He had work that needed to be done! He couldn't afford to have himself distracted by something that Fuji had said to him, even if the insult had stung. Tezuka was not a rock. He was a person, just like anyone else. He just… had troubles with expressing his feelings.

'Can I ask you for more advice later on?'

Tezuka growled in frustration, jabbing his pen mercilessly at the paper, whose only crime was the fact that it was right in front of him. Curse that Fuji, with that sweet angelic smile on his face, with that personality that could be so dangerous yet so naïve that it was cute… Focus! You must focus! Get those thoughts of Fuji out of your head and focus on what needs to be done!

'Do you think they let hermits live on Mt. Fuji?'

Against Tezuka's better nature, he smiled, finding that particular memory of Fuji amusing. The tip of his pen tapped lightly against his paper, no longer jabbing at it with the intent on killing the paper (if paper could be killed, that is). Somehow, Tezuka couldn't imagine Fuji as a hermit, much less a hermit on Mt. Fuji. Fuji seemed the kind of person who thrived on attention; the small man would probably drive himself insane if he had to live alone as a hermit, even though there was an abundance of nature that would have made for wonderful photograph subjects (Tezuka knew, having dabbled in a little photography a while back on one of his trips up Mt. Fuji, being the fan of mountain climbing that he was).

'Well… there's no rule about that, but it would have been nice to see if you were the exception.'

Tezuka still had no clue what Fuji had meant by that phrase. Throwing down his pen, he stood up, opting to prowl the length of his office, an unreadable expression on his face. If there is no rule, than there cannot be an exception. What had Fuji been driving at? Sometimes, Tezuka felt that the photographer was like a maze, a horribly complicated maze that he couldn't solve. Or was it simply because Fuji didn't want to be solved? Tezuka didn't know. In the end, Tezuka didn't know Fuji.

'Really, now, Tezuka, you spend so much of your time with Fuji on the phone that I have half the mind of saying that you want to sweep the man off of his feet and carry him away with you.'

That had been what Inui had said, that night at the party. Tezuka frowned darkly; had Inui been suggesting that he had feelings for Fuji? Impossible, he thought darkly, shaking his head. That's absolutely impossible.

'Is this alright with you, Tezuka, to see someone else snatch him away?'

Sanada. Always down-to-earth Sanada. Why had he said something like that, too? There was nothing between him and Fuji, nothing at all. Fuji had made his intentions clear as day the first time they had met: he was looking for happiness. Tezuka didn't give people happiness. He just didn't. It just didn't work like that. But I want…

'What are you afraid of, Tezuka?'

Now it was Echizen, the young man he had met in middle school when he had captained his middle school tennis team. He was a prodigy tennis player, and Tezuka had been thrilled to have him on his team (although he never showed it, of course). Since then, the two had kept in touch, whether it be via email or phone call or in person. Tezuka had watched Echizen's endeavors as a professional tennis player and Echizen made it his duty to come to TeniPuri at least once whenever he returned to Japan from his career. They spoke mostly of tennis, and this had been the first time Tezuka had heard anything that was not remotely related to the sport leave Echizen's mouth.

'The captain I had and knew wouldn't be afraid of saying what he really felt… about anything.'

Echizen… Tezuka glanced out the window of his office. His reflection stared back at him, bespectacled and stoic, although his hazel eyes were troubled. Afraid, was he, of talking to Fuji?

Well, anyone would be if they had received Fuji's tongue-lashing, he thought, giving a faint shake of his head, realizing that he was only making up excuses for himself. All of a sudden he wheeled around and marched out of his office. Oishi gave him a curious look as he brushed past him, asking where he was going.

"To see someone," Tezuka answered shortly. "There are a few things I need to clear up." He strode out the door, but not before seeing Oishi shake his head knowingly. Feeling rather irked, although he did not know exactly why, he went to his car, unlocked it, and got in, turning the key a little harder than absolutely necessary as he did so.

***

Yukimura and Fuji were engaged in a spirited conversation about nothing in particular as Yukimura walked Fuji back to his studio door. Fuji thought that had been extremely sweet of Yukimura, seeing as the other man could have just dropped him off at the front door and driven off. Yukimura, had, of course, protested to that, insisting on parking and walking him. 'A reliable date must see things to the end, right?' Yukimura had asked, with a light smile and a wink.

"It was an absolute pleasure to have you with me this evening," Yukimura said pleasantly as Fuji unlocked the door.

Fuji chuckled, inviting Yukimura inside for a bit. The other politely declined. "If time allows, then, perhaps we can get together again for another meeting? I'll treat," Fuji offered.

Yukimura smiled, looking bemused. "That doesn't sound half-bad. I look forward to it." He gave the photographer a well-meaning embrace, which Fuji returned, before bidding him good-night. His smile nearly stretching from ear to ear, Fuji nodded, murmuring 'Good-night' to Yukimura and shutting the door.

There was, however, a knock on his door shortly afterwards. Curious, wondering it was Yukimura, Fuji padded to the door and opened it. "Did you forget something?" he asked, only to stop short, snapping his mouth shut. A frown crossed his face. "Tezuka…"

Only with extreme willpower was Tezuka able to stop himself from flinching at that cold glare that Fuji was giving him. "Did you want something?" Fuji asked, forcing his voice to be light and pleasant as he spoke to this… stupid rock…

"Yes, I did, actually," Tezuka said, staring down into blue eyes.

Fuji waited, and when Tezuka said nothing, he raised an eyebrow, looking curiously up at him. "Well…?" he asked expectantly, wondering what would drive Tezuka to come all the way over to his place at nearly eleven o'clock at night in order to talk to him.

Tezuka frowned, studying the bit of doorframe that was just above Fuji's right shoulder as he composed his answer. "I…" he started, but faltered. His ears were burning. His heart was thumping in his chest. He didn't like it.

"You what?" Puzzled, Fuji cocked his head to one side.

"I've been thinking, lately," Tezuka mumbled, wondering how in the world was he not able to form an intelligent sentence. It also struck Tezuka as how small and pathetic his voice sounded, and mentally, he berated himself. "I've been rethinking over about some things that I haven't had the chance to look further into before." He sighed, mentally shaking his head. This was not going the way he wanted it. The words were jumbling up in his throat, tumbling over each other as they formed sentences and thoughts of their own that only managed the scratch at the meaning he was intending them to take. "What I'm trying to say, is that I like you… Fuji… You're always in my head; it's almost like I couldn't get rid of you even if I wanted to."

Fuji frowned, leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossing over his chest. "Really?" he asked, not looking or sounding very convinced (not that Tezuka blamed him). "And this is coming from the man who told me that he pitied me? That told me I was looking for something that was 'frivolous' and 'stupid?' And besides, Tezuka… weren't you the one who told me that relationships don't interest you? You never did strike me as the type to lie." Fuji heaved a light sigh. "Saa… I also recall you telling me that I was the rule, not the exception. Nothing extraordinary ever seems to happen to--hmm?"

He never got to finish his thoughts, as Tezuka had moved forward, pinning the smaller Fuji to the doorframe, his mouth covering Fuji's. All Fuji could do was blink as Tezuka's tongue probed hesitantly into his mouth, and then when Fuji did not resist, gain a little confidence. And rather than feeling irked, like he knew he very well should be, he found that he actually liked the feel of Tezuka kissing him.

Tezuka pulled away not looking the least bit ashamed of himself, and Fuji found that he rather missed the closeness, although for the life of him he couldn't figure out why. This was Tezuka, after all. And besides, he had been angry with him for the past twelve hours. He shouldn't have felt that way. He really shouldn't…

"Fuji, look at me."

Fuji had no choice but to look; there was something about Tezuka's tone that forced him to do it. He obeyed, staring into hazel eyes that were dead serious. "Fuji, you are an exception," he murmured softly. Fuji held his breath, not even daring to breathe as Tezuka leaned forward so that he could speak directly into Fuji's ear:

"You're my exception."


A/N: Ah... this took me forever. Terest and I hatched the idea during her sleepover for her birthday sometime in late August or September (I can't remember exactly... I am a fail...) and by the time the middle of October I finally get off my lazy bum and finish this. But it's LONG, so I have an excuse (not really, but it makes me feel better). This is probably going to be the longest one-shot I'm ever going to attempt to write and complete. And you can tell where I got lazy, from the two-three lines of Oshitari mentioned (there was going to be a whole section on him but I got lazy and my big sections with Atobe made me tired. Bleh)

I think I might write an omake if I ever get around to it. Should I? I really do want to write about Niou and Yagyuu's wedding though. :)

Please leave a review so I know what you think of this long work..? Please...? You deserve a cookie if you've gotten to this point. The review button is the cookie jar. Click on it for your cookie. ^_^ (bribing totally works. Hehe)