A/N: Happy belated birthday, fye-chan! I know this is super late, and this is not as fine-tuned as I would have liked, but whatever. I wanted you to see this before you go back to the States. I hope you'll like this, even though this is not clearly my best work so far. (In the end, this sounded like a character study on Izumi. Oh well.)

Disclaimer: Konomi Takeshi owns Prince of Tennis. fyerigurl owns the OC.


-one-

Tezuka never really cared about the rankings of other students, as long as he was number one. Occasionally, he would catch Fuji's and Inui's names a few spots below his while skimming through the results posted in the bulletin board after exams, but that was only to be expected of teammates who had been together for years.

There was one name, however, that he had come to be familiar with, largely due to the fact that it was consistently listed below his, and that the score beside it was usually not far from his own.

Morioka Izumi.

She was never his classmate. For the longest time, she was just a faceless name, a label for nothing, a mark of a stranger's existence in his life. He did not mean to remember her name at all, for he wasn't very good with names, but two years of regularly seeing the kanji made him memorize every stroke.

The first time he formally met her was during the first student council meeting he presided as its president. She had her long black hair tied in a bun secured by a chopstick, presumably to keep them from disturbing her writing. A day later she went to his class and handed him a copy of the minutes, already organized and written in her neat handwriting. He gave her a small nod of appreciation, which she returned with a respectful bow before turning to leave.

By then he had already formed an opinion of her in his mind: a dedicated council member, a reliable secretary, an intelligent, hardworking student. He never once thought that she would quit her job after a month, for she was very efficient, but he did remember noticing from time to time the bags under her eyes and the slight paleness of her lips. He supposed she must have been stressed out (her letter said she was having a hard time managing her extra-curricular activities), and so he approved her resignation and found a replacement.

He was slightly surprised to see Fuji's name, instead of Morioka's, below his when the exam results were posted weeks later. He lingered in front of the bulletin a little longer, and found out she dropped to third place. She was only half a point behind Fuji, but then again, he didn't really care.

-two -

He'd seen her match against the second year Marui Kimiko.

She used a rather harsh tactic – exploiting the other girl's lack of stamina to turn the game into her favor – but at least she had the sense of adjusting to the skill of her opponent instead of playing her own game. That was important, but when he noticed how out of breath Marui was, he couldn't help but think that she'd overdone it a bit for a match in which the outcome had no bearing at all to the selection of the regulars. It would've been better to show what she can do instead.

When he got back to the game later after checking out the other matches, she'd let her long hair down, and she moved with a grace that could only belong to an experienced dancer. The match went on as if it was choreographed – he could almost hear the music in his mind – and then it hit him: she was using a strategy similar to his Tezuka Zone.

She was also controlling the spin of the ball to create her rhythm, but her technique was much more complicated than it looked. While Tezuka only needed to get the ball return directly to him, Morioka had to make sure all the movements were on beat and perfect timing.

Now that could pose a problem. It was a stressful style, and there was a reason why dance numbers were kept short and limited to a certain amount of time. She couldn't keep dancing forever.

-three-

He was on his way for his regular check-up when he spotted Morioka and a woman (presumably her mother, judging from their resemblance) coming out of the Tsuchiya hospital. That alone could have meant many things: getting a check-up like him, visiting an ill relative, retrieving medical records, or even simply accompanying her mother. But from the way the woman supported Morioka's weight, he could tell that she had been sick.

Her face, though naturally pale, had been devoid of color more than usual; the bags under her eyes more pronounced from lack of sleep. And, for the first time since he had known her, he took notice how thin her wrists were, how skinny her arms and legs were. It suddenly dawned on him how vulnerable she could be, like a porcelain doll that could easily break in the slightest of bumps.

This was the same girl who had submitted to him meticulously accomplished minutes of student council meetings, without fail, in the short time that she had been his secretary. This was the same girl whose name he'd known because of her excellent exam results. This was the same girl who mercilessly drained the stamina of the energy ball Marui in a grueling tennis match.

He looked into her eyes, seen by many as dark and mysterious, but to him the words they spoke were as clear as day – in them was sheer hard work, despite the flickering beam of drive and motivation.

Yes, she was the same girl.

He made a mental note to inquire on her condition in the next practice. He had to know, because she was his teammate. He needed to take responsibility.

-four-

It was a bad day, when Morioka did not show up in practice. Tezuka had the hunch that she fell ill again (though he certainly hoped she didn't), and when he came across her name in one of the hospital rooms, having unconsciously checked them one by one, his suspicions were confirmed.

He entered her room with the intention of asking about her health, but the conversation they had had turned into something he never expected at all:

"Do you realize that if I'd never known you'd been hospitalized... I would have given you 100 laps as punishment for skipping practice?"

"Do you realize that I would have run them?"

That day, he experienced for the first time how stubborn Morioka could be.

When she got back a few days later, bowing in front of his tall form, her long hair veiling her face as she awaited her punishment, Tezuka gave her 70 laps to run. Rules were rules, and he wasn't about to make an exception, unaware that he already did.

He raised his eyebrows in surprise when she looked up to him sharply, dark eyes questioning, feeling betrayed by what she saw as pity.

"But –"

"Go."

She ran.

Tezuka checked on her from time to time while overseeing practice, slightly worried that she might be pushing herself too hard. He learned later that she actually was, when Inui told him that she was running her 87th lap.

He pinched the bridge of his nose. It seemed that Morioka was even more troublesome than Fuji ever was.

-five-

He had borrowed her history essay.

They were tasked to write about the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and he got an 89 for the narrative essay he did on the events of the Bakumatsu revolution. He would have been satisfied, if he got the highest mark in their year. But when he heard that Morioka got a 93, he wanted to find out what she did better than him.

Tezuka had no idea he was in for a surprise when he finally got to read her work. Unlike Fuji and Eiji, who had been classmates with Morioka for the past two years, this was actually his first time to see her writing. She had a way with words, expertly weaving them into a scarf as if they were wool, composing a melody out of them as if they were a succession of notes and rests.

She'd also written about the war – the Shinsengumi, Sakamoto Ryoma, and the Ishin Shishi – but the way she looked at things were so, so different from him. He analyzed the war as if it was a specimen under the microscope; she talked about it as if she traveled back in time and witnessed the battles herself.

'War dehumanizes people – it makes killing acceptable, empowering the sword of men to decide who shall die and who shall live to see the new era, justifying the thousand deaths as a necessary sacrifice for the sake of the future.'

Mirai no tame ni.

He set his pencil and paper aside. There was no need to take down notes.

The next day at lunch, he went to her class to return her essay. He nodded in thanks as he handed her the paper, and before he left, he said:

"You should write for the school paper."

-six-

Shortly after they got back from the snowy mountains, they coincidentally met in the bookstore near the train station. She was struggling to reach for a book that was placed high on a shelf, tiptoeing and extending her arm to no avail. He'd seen her from the opposite aisle and approached her dejected form, getting the book for her. It was a collection of Akutagawa Ryunosuke's short stories.

"Tezuka-san!" she paused when he presented the book to her. "Th-thank you."

He pushed his glasses. He was sure they didn't have any homework in relation to Akutagawa's works, which meant she was looking for something to read for leisure. It was impressive, because at this point, most of the students in Seigaku were cramming the assignments they neglected to do over the winter break. And yet, here she was, apparently having free time in her hands.

"There is a copy of that book in the library," he pointed out.

"I see," she said, turning her attention to the other titles. He was about to leave when she suddenly turned to him.

"Ano, have you finished reading the novel Sayaka-san gave you last Christmas?" He nodded. "May I… borrow it?"

"Aa."

He waited until practice was over the next day before he handed her the book. Morioka thanked him and immediately scanned the pages as they made their way home (their houses were just a street away from each other anyway), her dark eyes showing a bit of surprise when she realized it was a mystery novel. She noticed small pencil scribbles in the margins and some light circle marks around certain words, and she smiled.

"I didn't know you were into detective stories, Tezuka-san."

He stiffened at that. "Don't tell anyone."

-seven-

"Did Seigaku really think they could win with an invalid on their team? Moreover, what kind of captain would let –"

The courts fell silent when Morioka slapped St. Rudolph's manager, Mizuki Hajime, across the face. Had it happened on another occasion, with different circumstances, Tezuka would have apologized and had a word with his teammate. But this time, he did none of those.

Ever since he found out Morioka's health condition, he knew how she had tried so hard to keep the matter a secret even to her friends. To have gone this far in intruding a person's privacy, he could not just let this slide.

"You will expect no such thing! In fact, you will have your manager apologize to my teammate for provoking her."

Because he understood.

She was wrong with a lot of things – keeping her illness to herself because she didn't want others' pity, for example – but she had her reasons, and he respected that. For all of Morioka's stubbornness and pride, he knew she only wanted to be strong. And as her captain, as someone who knew of her position, he would never allow anyone to get away with insulting her.

In the end, the apology never came and the damage was already done. She lost the game.

He certainly agreed with Akane – Morioka needed to sort out her issues – but he understood.

He understood.


A/N: A lot of FujiXIzumi fans will probably hate me for this, but hey. They're not really an alternate pairing, but I would have liked to explore the possibilities. They seem to have a healthier relationship than Fuji ever had with Izumi. As much as I have liked the thrill and tension between them since the start of TCAFS, I couldn't help but think that they're both troublesome and hard to deal with. I think Izumi needs a more stable er, someone (not necessarily a lover or anything of the sort) to count on.

So. Review? Constructive criticism is highly appreciated.