A/N: It's been so long since I write fanfic . I'm not so sure how good this is since I think I've lost my skill (and vocabulary) a lot. This was meant to be Tezuka's super belated birthday fic. But then the muse took a sudden turn from UST-filled fic into... yeah. I hope you can enjoy this.

Disclaimer: Tezuka and Fuji belong to Takeshi Konomi. I make no profit from writing this.

To Love A Friend

Friends? They knew they're not just that. They were closer than that, understand each other more than that, attracted to each other more than that. It's inevitable that they were drawn to each other. They knew the risks, they were scared, but they could do nothing to stop gravitating toward each other, taking them to the painful road toward demise.

Tezuka closed his eyes. If he strained his senses he could feel Fuji's presence so close to him. His body grew oversensitive, the heat of Fuji's body licked his skin tantalizingly. He could smell the familiar scent in the air around him, making him wish for an embrace he must forever refrain from asking. He chanced a glance at Fuji and saw the other boy looking at him with an open expression shown to no one else but him. Tezuka closed his eyes and shifted closer until the fabric of the jerseys they wore brushing against each other, wishing nothing more but holding Fuji's hand.

Fuji loved his girlfriend, he really did. Chiaki was a sweet, understanding girl adored by many. He knew he was lucky to have her choose him to be her boyfriend. Fuji enjoyed their time together and did think that he was lucky to be with her. But no matter what she did, no matter how much Fuji tried, Tezuka's position in his heart couldn't be replaced.

The time he spent with Tezuka was never enough, that there was always something else more important that distracted them, there was always this rule he couldn't break, there was always this fear overruling his needs. But Fuji knew his place. He knew he couldn't demand for more. It would be too selfish and too careless. He shouldn't hurt himself with wistfulness. So he closed his hands over Chiaki's and smiled, making new memories to fill the loneliness Tezuka left him with.

It was only weeks before their graduation and Tezuka knew he was not thinking clearly. But he needed this to keep him sane. He needed this to accompany him in the days to come where memory was his only company. He invited Fuji for a slept over, not entirely certain of the consequences but more than willing to risk anything for what might be the last chance they have to be together.

They ignored the spare blanket Tezuka's mother had prepared, opting instead to sleep on Tezuka's small bed. Their backs pressed against together, Tezuka could feel each breath Fuji took. The warmth of Fuji's body seeped into his through the clothes. He closed his eyes tightly, torn between wanting more, much more, and fear of what's going to happen if he takes that final irrevocable step. Then he felt Fuji shift to lay on his back so he turned around to face Fuji, looking at him desperately for a solution.

Fuji sighed, a long suffering sigh full of needs and uncertainties, and closed his eyes in an attempt to sleep. Tezuka, too, closed his eyes, knowing that there was no way to escape their complicated situation. But he could help but held Fuji's hand, needing the strength to face the unknown. They slept through the night side by side, enveloped in each other's scent, warmth, sight, sounds, and feel, for the first and last time.

It wasn't easy to move on, pretending that nothing special ever happened between them, but somehow Fuji managed to do just that. He was stronger than this and he did have his own life to live. His existence wasn't dependant of Tezuka's and for nearly a year he managed to prove the strength of his determination to live for himself.

Fuji never asked what high school Tezuka went to because he wasn't sure he could not go there if he knew. He also knew that they were very unlikely to meet by accident as they have different interests. It's safe to think that whatever it was that they had had ended, no matter how painful it was to consider.

And yet there they were, standing in front of each other, with their girlfriends oblivious to meaning of this simple meeting. Fuji smiled at Tezuka happily, remembering how it felt like to be fully comfortable in the presence of someone else.

"What a nice coincidence." He said as casually as was proper. And when Tezuka's lips quirked into a brief smile, he knew his sentiment was shared.

If there was anything he learnt from their separation, it was that he needed Fuji by his side. They've gotten close ever since their meeting during the double date, making weekly appointments their girlfriends innocently approved. Despite having known Fuji for many years, Tezuka felt closest to him now when he could openly listen and talk to Fuji without fearing any kind of misunderstanding. Still nothing could fully prepare him for Fuji break up with Chiaki, his girlfriend of over three years now.

Tezuka wasn't sure what to expect but he was filled with a chaotic mixture of hopefulness and apprehension. Tezuka half expected Fuji to get heavily drunk when they went to a club that night. Instead Fuji was quiet, though he hadn't lost his good-natured quality Tezuka could tell that he wasn't quite himself that night. His mind was obviously somewhere else though he tried to seem all right. It was later that night when they were walking home that Fuji finally spoke his mind.

"I loved her." He confessed, his voice as broken as his heart. He looked away, choosing to gaze at the empty street rather than let Tezuka saw him at his vulnerable moment.

It felt like a poison but Tezuka knew that it was the truth. He felt embarrassed at his selfishness. But more than anything he was heartbroken, knowing for sure now that Fuji would never be fully his.

Fuji could feel something's changed; there was a shift to unpleasant direction. He blamed his slip of tongue days ago but he knew that he had only told the truth. It was an unpleasant truth, but truth nonetheless. He hadn't thought of the consequences of his action then but he couldn't help but regret it if only a little bit.

His senses alerted him of Tezuka's approach. Fuji hadn't realized that Tezuka had come to the kitchen or that he had spent a little too long to prepare the tea. In different situations, with other people, he might try to hide it but Fuji could hide little from Tezuka and the truth was he never felt it was necessary to hide anything. Except now, perhaps, when he no longer know where he stands in front of Tezuka.

Fuji tried not to tense up when Tezuka stood next to him, so close and yet so far. He dared not look at the expression on Tezuka's face, unsure he could handle whatever he might find there. He looked at the empty cups in his hands, waiting for Tezuka to voice his anger or disappointment or grief, anything but to fill the silence.

"Fuji." He heard him say and then a warm hand closed over his shoulder. Fuji didn't have to ask the meaning of the simple gesture. He smiled as tension left his body and he leaned on the strong yet gentle grip as he had always been all along.

Sometimes Tezuka wondered whether no one really realized it yet. They had been careless on so many occasions, not all of them private. Did no one really look and wonder the nature of their togetherness? It was an important issue, he knew it was, but it actually came as a mere fleeting thought, forgotten when faced with a chance of showing compassion.

Here they were, standing in front of each other in the busy street with the pretense of examining an article on a sport magazine Fuji just bought. He was painfully aware of the way their arms brushed each other with every slight movement, of Fuji's familiar scent permeated his sense, of Fuji's voice laughing at something he knew wasn't very amusing, of Fuji's gaze filled with need mirrored in his own eyes.

Tezuka leaned a bit closer, their shoulders touching now. Only self control prevented him from burying his face in Fuji's hair or worse, running his lips over the expanse of Fuji's skin. Fuji looked up, fake smile disappeared into something softer, something more painful to watch. Realizing what he had done, how much he had tortured them both, Tezuka stepped back, instantly missing the physical contact.

"I'm sorry." He whispered, just because it seemed to be the appropriate response. He knew he wasn't sorry for giving in just a little to something they both craved. Fuji smiled at him in understanding and Tezuka wondered why he kept torturing them both like this.

The temptation to move in together was strong. College offered an array of excuses they wanted to take. No one would be suspicious, not their families, not their friends, not their girlfriends. They had been friends for years, it would be natural, unquestionable, common. And yet it wouldn't be that simple. They chose dwellings on different sides of the city and different majors of different universities, as if the distance would somehow help reduce their compassion. They knew it wouldn't, it would just be another test, another way to fan the fire.

New acquaintances, new views, new world, new concerns. Fuji closed his eyes, letting the steady movement of the subway calmed his busy mind. The light from the dying sun on the west disturbed him and he opened his eyes to fully appreciate the magnificent sight though not without slight annoyance. He leaned tiredly on the closed door, feeling lonely despite the crowd in the train. His mind drifted unconsciously toward a certain person he hadn't seen for days now and he smiled in sad nostalgia.

A movement caught his attention, someone had come to stand in front of him. Fuji blinked in surprise when the familiar face greeted his sight. Tezuka said nothing in greeting, opting instead to look at the sun set in the sea of buildings. Fuji smiled and leaned his head on the glass, wishing the train ride to never end.

As knowledge grew, Tezuka became aware of the approaching change. Who knew where destiny would take them? They've managed to remain close to now. Coincidences had brought them together many times. But how long could they count on luck to help keep them together? They must move on. They'd have to sever this binding attachment.

Sometimes Tezuka wished Fuji would break them off this enchantment but that would be too cruel. Fuji, too, had his own responsibilities and dreams. It's too selfish to expect Fuji to abandon those in order to chase uncertainty with Tezuka. He knew well that idealism didn't always have place in reality.

Tezuka almost ended things right then and there. He gripped the edges of his seat tightly as he braced himself to hurt Fuji. But then he looked into Fuji's sad eyes and realized that his thoughts and intentions were already known. Fuji was not oblivious of what was coming at them, of the decisions they had to make. Or had it been made already? Tezuka wasn't so sure anymore.

Tezuka swallowed thickly. The thought of hurting Fuji hurt him more than he thought it would. He knew it's most probably wiser to put a stop to their relationship before they got hurt anymore than they already did –if it's possible to be hurt more. But things weren't as simple as that; he couldn't pretend nothing ever happened, no feelings ever involved, no pain would be caused if they were to be parted even if there was never word of confession between them.

Tezuka couldn't end this. He couldn't. Besides, how did one end something that had no beginning?

Fuji knew this girl was different. He knew it from the way Tezuka talked about her; the lightness in his voice, the tiny smile on his lips, the glow in his eyes. No other girl had ever made Tezuka this happy, this excited about the unknown future. These facts alone reminded Fuji of his place, of what he couldn't be to Tezuka. Fuji knew he had no chance against her and he wouldn't even try to compete.

But still it hurt even if just a little. Still he wanted to remove the girl from Tezuka's life. Would that hurt Tezuka as much as he thought it would? Had this Maki seated herself so deep in Tezuka's heart? Had she reached places he never would? Would Fuji be eventually forgotten in the face of ideal life?

Fuji set down his can of beer on the floor and leaned forward so he could touch Tezuka's knee. Tezuka instantly looked guilty but guilt was not Fuji's objective. No, he didn't wish to cause Tezuka any kind of pain at all. They've been through enough of it.

"Tezuka," he started gently, pleased that his voice didn't crack under emotional strain. "I'm happy for you." He said sincerely. When Tezuka's hand closed over his, Fuji closed his eyes, enjoying the rare gesture for he knew that soon there would be no chance for it anymore.

"I'm going to marry Maki." Tezuka said. The decision was easy yet difficult. Not only because he just started working for an electronic company but also because of Fuji. And yet he really, really wanted to marry Maki. He knew this was the person he'd like to be with, someone to raise family with, someone he was expected to share the rest of his life with. And as much as it hurt to think of it, she could give everything Fuji could not offer.

For the first time ever, Tezuka didn't dare to go near Fuji. At other times he couldn't fight the craving to be near Fuji but this time was different. He wasn't sure what to expect from Fuji. He had every right to be angry, to cut off any kind of communication, and even to demand Tezuka to not marry Maki. And the truth was Tezuka wouldn't be upset if Fuji did any of those. In fact he would be relieved for the action would speak louder than overused words ever could.

Fuji continued to smile, not a sliver of grief or rage or disappointment detected in his expression and gesture. He bridged the distance between them with several silent steps and still his smile didn't falter. Tezuka was almost disappointed but then Fuji drew him into a hug, his arms wrapped around Tezuka's taller form loosely. Tezuka couldn't help but notice how comfortable and safe he felt that moment, unlike any moment he'd ever spent in Maki's embrace.

There was no need for words. Fuji would not fight for what he believed should not belong to him.

It was easy to accuse Fuji's wedding the year after Tezuka's as an act of revenge but it wasn't. While it was a little rushed, it was only because Reiko was already pregnant. It wasn't a hasty decision, Fuji didn't regret any of his actions. He loved Reiko deeply and while realistically knowing feelings could and would change, knew he would never give up trying to love this woman.

It didn't mean that he had forgotten about Tezuka, though. Despite distance, work, and family, they still kept in touch. Meeting at least twice a month to sate their longing for companionship only the other can provide. It's almost nothing ever changed, except that many things had changed. They were not who they were before, their lives were different, people around them were no longer the same. Only one thing remained the same, the one thing they absolutely must not express.

It was difficult to say why it didn't hurt to talk about their families. They showed pictures of their children, told stories about family outings, shared their families' antics and still managed to laugh heartily. Fuji thought he should be happy that they didn't feel awkward at all… or had they grown resigned to their destinies? He couldn't tell anymore as he looked at Tezuka's smiling eyes when he told a story about his daughter. Shifting a little closer in search of comfort, their knees brushed against each other. Tezuka looked up, eyes shining with something reserved for Fuji only, and Fuji smiled in contentment, basking in the familiar warmth of unmentionable emotion they would forever have for each other.

Tezuka almost fooled himself into thinking that this unusual arrangement with Fuji would last forever. They've known each other for so long. Their families, their children –now adults- were close friends. Everything had gone so well, leading to believe that time would never run out, that they were immune to it.

What a fool he was.

Tezuka ran through the long, long corridor of the hospital, his dignity forgotten in the face of possible loss of what would never be regained. He frantically searched the room Reiko had told him about, still wishing it was but a nightmare. His heart beat madly as he slowly opened the door, hoping, still hoping for the best… But it was no use. He saw Fuji lying helplessly in the bed, surrounded by beeping machines that fought to support his life. His eyes closed, his body limp, his lips unsmiling. Reiko sat on a chair next to the bed, holding Fuji's hand while crying softly. Tamaki, their son, did his best to keep his calm, though his eyes were clouded by unshed tears.

Tezuka leaned on the door, heart sinking. He ignored his old body's protest after the exhausting run. He wanted to approach Fuji; wanted to hold his hand; to kiss him to wakefulness; to run his hand over the soft, graying hair; to caress his skin; to whisper hopes and pleas and confessions. But Fuji seemed so far away, too far away that Tezuka couldn't reach him no matter how hard he tried.

Tezuka quietly left the room, his heart clenching painfully in his chest and his throat clogged by grief he could not express. He had never realized how hurt it was to not have the right to cry.

Fuji was tired. He had fought for so long, his old heart no longer able to support his life. He knew the machines would barely make any change. His time was nearing, he could feel it.

Reiko was crying by his side, her soft hands clutching his almost painfully. Fuji wanted to apologize for causing such sadness to his wife; he had promised to make her happy and would do anything to carry that promise to the end. But he couldn't and maybe he shouldn't. Maybe she needed to cry the tears to be able to let him go.

Tamaki tried his best not to cry though Fuji could see his chin tremble under the strain of powerful emotion. He was always strong, often reminding Fuji of Tezuka. While he had indeed toyed with the idea to name him Mitsukuni, he hadn't thought how similar their personalities would be.

Tezuka. Fuji wanted to say the name out loud but it was getting harder for him to remain conscious. His eyes drifted to the tall figure near the door. He tried to smile to show his appreciation to the man's presence. He could feel pain radiating from the man and wished nothing more than to chase it away. It hurt him to know that he was the cause of such sadness to Tezuka but what could he do? He was even too weak to fight for his own life.

Fuji's fingers twitched very slightly in an attempt to reach for Tezuka. The distance between them frightened him. He needed him now beside him, he needed him more than ever. Fuji wanted to hold his hand, to whisper words they never had the chance to say to each other, to feel that warmth again, to be touched by those hands again, to be lulled to eternal sleep by that deep voice.

But he was too weak and his time was quickly running out. Fuji opened his mouth to beg for one last chance with Tezuka but no sound ever came out. It was getting harder to breathe and his consciousness was slipping away. He kept his eyes on Tezuka's, hoping that his silent final message could get through for the last time.

I love you. I really, really love you.

And into darkness he fell for one final, eternal time.

Tezuka never realized how lonely life could be. He had his family with him, Maki still faithfully accompanied him through the difficult years. His loving daughter and son, Ayame and Kuniyoshi, still contacted him regularly though they now lived in different cities. It had always been like this for a very long time and he had always been content. But now something had changed, something that would never be the way it used to be.

Why was he still here? Why was he not with Fuji? What was he doing here? Many years ago he would scoff at the idea of being unable to live without someone but now he finally understood how real the feeling was. Empty. Numb. It felt like a part of his soul had disappeared and he couldn't go on without it. What did he wake up to when there's no more hope of seeing Fuji's smile? Where should he turn to when the burden of the old world got too heavy on his shoulders? Who should he be happy for when Fuji was no longer around?

It's been five years since Fuji's death. Five long, lonely years he spent in endless yearning. Tezuka had visited Fuji's grave this morning, hoping it would ease his longing if only a little. It was no use. All it did was intensifying his grief and regret and yearning. And now as he lay in the bed, surrounded by the dark, embraced by the cold night air, he finally let his tears fall. He wept silently as he wrapped his arms around his own trembling body, wishing they were Fuji's arms instead. He wanted to hear Fuji's voice calming him. He wanted to feel Fuji's hand caressing him. But Fuji was not with him. He would never be anymore.

The memory of Fuji's loving gaze at his final moment suddenly filled his mind, overwhelming him with calmness and affection. He knew what that look meant, he knew that Fuji never regretted a single moment they had shared, he knew Fuji never wished to make him sad, he knew that Fuji wanted him to be happy. He wondered if Fuji knew his happiness rested in Fuji. Tezuka smiled for the first time since a very long while. He closed his eyes as he struggled to breathe evenly, a feeling of peace settling in his broken heart.

"I love you, too." He whispered his confession finally, his body surrendering to the exhaustion that had defeated his soul.

He knew everything would be all right.

The End

A/N: Tezuka would be glad that this isn't a birthday fic. Anyway, my knowledge in Japanese female names is very limited as a result of watching anime/reading mangas with very few female characters so I googled some of the names, esp. Tezuka's son. I also wikipidia-ed list of cause of death since I've killed off both Tezuka and Fuji in accidents before. Twice, in fact. So in the end... sorry, my muse was feeling extra angsty... R&R, please...