Title: Menuet in G Major
Rating: light R
Summary: 7,500 words. Of Tezuka & Fuji, daily life, the great Northwest, and everything in-between.
Warnings: Quite a mouthful to plow through. Other than the casual mentions of explicit activities, there's nothing else (except a tiny bit of blood).
Disclaimer: I own nothing other than the words penned.
A/N: Love to my beta, N & the people who looked this over M, S, H, and R because without them this wouldn't even be alive. Any mistakes you find hereafter are my own.
The deep gorges lining the skin between Tezuka's eyebrows threatened to remain permanent on a daily basis.
Tezuka worried too much. He didn't worry in a fretting sense – not over where Fuji was or whether he would get home safely or other things that were completely out of his control. He worried in a way that made him meticulous in his daily habits; he always brushed his teeth after every meal, always compulsively washed his hands every thirty minutes until they were raw and cracking, and always took showers after sex. The power he had over finicky things like germs was too great for him to let them slide without reining them in.
Fuji purchased the best moisturizing hand soaps and lotions from high-end product lines. He even bought an eye cream serum for the lines around Tezuka's eyes. He waded through Cosmo and Good Housekeeping and a variety of other magazines for the home, comparing ratings on an assortment of toothpastes before deciding which one was best. Being meticulous in this way made him feel like the good little housewife who clipped coupons and kept a keen eye on the wrongdoings of her neighbors. ("I like your teeth," he would say when Tezuka came home to find him digging through newspaper clippings and magazine articles, exasperation lining Tezuka's eyes. "And don't do that. You're ten years too young to be getting permanent wrinkles.")
Tezuka never figured out how Fuji found the time to slip these silly, unnecessary products into his briefcase and the inner pockets of his sports jacket. It couldn’t be at night, because Tezuka was a light sleeper (missing an on-call could be detrimental to his career and the life of a human being) - so much so that he couldn't even sleep with Fuji in the same bed on most days. And certainly not during the day, because Tezuka wasn't around during the day and he brought his briefcase wherever he went. Not during the evening; those scattered few that were actually spent together were always spent on the chipping tiled kitchen that gave Fuji's back rashes or the scratchy checkered rug sprawled out before Bella's fake leather couch or on Bella's fake leather couch or over the armrest of it or balanced atop the hardwood floor underneath the ancient piano or over Fuji's work table, leftover clay rubbing against their skin.
Body products in his pockets weren't so much of a problem until one unsealed container ruptured within the confines of his coat, rendering the silk beyond repair to even the wonders of dry cleaning.
Before this incident, Tezuka was sure that nothing in this world was more taxing than late nights during residency. However, sitting through a three hour meeting with all of his superiors, systematically letting off whiffs of floral and coconut oils – well, compared to that humiliation, residency felt like a long lost stroll through the park (especially since a few older, more experienced doctors already considered him "soft", which wasn't helped by Fuji's habitual "visits").
After the meeting let out for a forty-five minute lunch break, Tezuka picked up his briefcase and was out the door in less than thirty seconds. Outside it was raining but the weather was easy to ignore after he was settled in the safety of his car and driving towards Fuji’s apartment.
Winter in the northwest meant a trail of dirty, wet leaves intruding into every building, especially unkempt apartment buildings twenty years past its due for a revamp with an overseer like Mr. Jacobson. Tezuka's leather shoes squished along the rickety cemented stairways, padding across wet and unfurling carpeting until stopping before apartment number 203.
His coat pocket, wet regardless of the weather, made him careless, for he opened the brass doorknob without a second thought of knocking.
"Shit!" then, "Ow!" accosted his ears before he had the chance to even toe off his oxfords. One still on, the other half untied so that he tripped out of it on the third step, leaving it wet and soaking atop Fuji's treasured floor mat, Tezuka hurried to the source of the noise.
"Don't ask me why I'm naked, Tezuka, or I'll throw this pan at you."
Tezuka bit down those four words. Instead, he asked, "Is Bella –"
"Out, with her latest."
That still didn't solve the mystery of why Fuji was naked. This was like the time Tezuka came home during a scheduled lunch break to find that Fuji had "accidentally" gotten hand-cuffed to his bed. Naked. The bubbling jealousy that had threatened to overtake his mind at the time was so strong that he nearly missed the seductive tilt of Fuji's lips and how Fuji was completely naked without a single scratch on his pale skin. That and the wrinkle-free sheets beneath Fuji, shining back at him in marigold glee.
A quick glance around the room found him a light blue shirt folded neatly over beige bottoms. A confused frown tugged at his lips. "Fuji –"
"Yes, I deliberately got naked. If it's all the same to you, could you please usher yourself to the living room and let me finish cooking?" Fuji turned in a way that signaled the end of the conversation.
Tezuka kept his eyes trained at the back of Fuji's head until he turned and couldn’t see Fuji anymore at all. That was for the best, seeing how his pants were already feeling a bit tight in the nether regions.
It wasn’t until he was seated on Bella's pleather couch that he remembered why he had come home early. The dampness of his pocket and the smells up to meet his nose made some things impossible to forget. Annoyance itched between his eyebrows. Tezuka resisted the urge to rub the grooves on either side of nose with the pads of his two thumbs. He settled back, leaning both ways to undo a few cricks in his spine, before closing his eyes. Fuji would rouse him when he was ready.
Before he even rounded the corner, Fuji could smell an unnatural odor coming from the living room. Two sniffs confirmed that it was the body butter he had sneaked into Tezuka's coat pocket while he was in the shower this morning. Either Tezuka liked it a whole lot, or a mishap with the poorly sealed container occurred. Fuji placed his bet on the latter, quenching a pleased smile.
Tezuka was dozing on the couch, head lolled backwards and arms crossed over his chest; Fuji's eyes softened. Instead of pouncing on Tezuka like he had planned to, Fuji crept back into the kitchen and put his clothes on, placing the dishes of food he had spent most of his afternoon making into the refrigerator. There were still spots of chocolate remnants on his forearms and neck, so maybe he would have his fun; that was, after Tezuka woke up.
Back in the living room, Fuji curled up next to Tezuka, legs draped across the larger man’s lap. Tezuka woke with a start when the couch dipped under Fuji's weight and intuitively groped for his glasses, hands feeling the couch (and Fuji's legs) and table to no avail. Fuji had removed them before attempting to cuddle, placing them up on the bookshelf in the far corner of the room.
"Fuji," Tezuka said, leaving his right hand on Fuji's thigh and closing his eyes against a blurred world. "Where did you put my glasses?"
This moment could be romantic, Fuji thought. He could lean over and whisper seductively into Tezuka's ear, "You are so much more handsome without them"; or say something ridiculously passionate like, "When you lose one sense, the other four become much more honed … like your sense of touch".
But he didn't say any of those things. Instead, he pressed his face into the side of Tezuka's neck and took an exaggerated sniff. He pulled away quickly, eyes narrowing. "You've been cheating on me with your secretary!"
"I don't have a secretary. Now where are they?"
"You smell like a woman."
Tezuka turned, groping a hand up Fuji's chest to land on his shoulder. A small smile tugged around the weary lines of his lips. Fuji," was all he said for he knew that Fuji knew; it was Fuji’s fault, after all.
The electricity that buzzed through Fuji from just hearing his name was sinuous. He leaned over and pressed a slow, deep kiss against Tezuka's lips, pulling away with a smile.
Frowning, Tezuka said, "You taste like chocolate."
"Mmm." Fuji trailed a finger down his neck, stopping just above a spot of chocolate dotting his collarbone. "I've got a bit more here."
The dark flash of lust painting Tezuka's eyes was all the warning Fuji got before he was pushed back, landing with an "oof" onto the couch, pants down to his legs, and, quite literally, eaten.
When they were done and sated, their skin sticking to the fake leather upholstery, Fuji turned so he was facing Tezuka. "You still smell like a woman." He traced figure eights on the exposed skin of Tezuka's upper chest, where Fuji had managed to undo a few buttons before he gave into the passion and forgot his menial task.
Tezuka nodded, darting a glance over at his soiled sport coat, lying in a wrinkled mess near the faux-stone fireplace. "I had a meeting today," he started, finger-spread hands rubbing Fuji's back in circles. "I didn't even realize that it had split until I sat down and the people around me started to sniff the air."
Fuji could imagine Tezuka sitting in one of those hard-backed meeting chairs, hearing and seeing the sniffs and trying to figure out what flu epidemic was plaguing his co-workers. He quenched a smile. "I'm sure all their theories about you have been cemented now."
Tezuka turned and flipped them over. He hovered over Fuji in a menacing way – well, it would've been menacing had his eyes not squinted, trying to pinpoint Fuji's exact face without his glasses. Fuji reached up and traced the light wrinkles etching a path across Tezuka's forehead, tongue darting over his lips in worry over how many there were and how much deeper they seemed to get every day.
"They already know about you," Tezuka said, catching Fuji's hand and placing an open-mouthed kiss upon his palm.
Fuji felt his heart warm. "That doesn't really cement anything. They still have to figure out if I'm a flat-chested woman or a very effeminate male."
Then Tezuka nudged Fuji's legs apart and showed him exactly how male he was.
After high school, they parted because of regional difficulties and demanding family ties. The sweet, adolescent memories stayed with them through most insomniac nights, raw and nearly tangible.
Upon graduating and receiving his bachelor's degree, Atobe helped Tezuka secure a spot in one of the leading post-graduate medical schools in America. Tezuka, harboring ill-feelings towards most of his associates, took the opportunity to study abroad without a second thought. He bid his parents a cold, respectful farewell and boarded the plane without a single glance behind.
Fuji attended a local university and dropped out after his third quarter. From there on, he visited many community centers, volunteering his time to help teach budding apprentices the art of photography, tennis, and even pottery (a hobby Fuji picked up in his first quarter at Uni). When Yuuta found out about Fuji's endeavors in helping out the community, he phoned in.
"I heard you were," laughter, "helping people, aniki."
Fuji became restless. He itched to photograph something new, work his hands through clay that would be fired and molded differently, learn new techniques and phrases…
During one of their scheduled tea meets, Jiroh told him all about an amazing place he and Atobe had just recently visited, full of trees that never lost their green and valleys and valleys of tulips if you knew where to look and people of all colors and sizes and backgrounds, mingling together at a market that regularly threw fish overhead customers. "You should plan a trip there," he had said, "It's delightful if you're looking for something new and different from this same-old, same-old." He waved a few fingers around in indication of Fuji's neighborhood of two-story houses with brown picket fences.
Fuji packed what few belongings he owned and flew to this strange American place, where the joke was that it rained only twice a year – once for six months and once for four.
With so many people, meeting someone you knew from high school was a one-in-a-million chance. It was a Saturday afternoon that Fuji found himself sitting on the dock, camera resting heavily in the juncture of his arm and bared feet tickling the water beneath him. Tezuka, lost in thought, tripped over Fuji's messenger bag.
"I'm sorry –" was out of his mouth before he looked down into the clear blue eyes of someone he knew so personally so many years ago. He choked, hesitated, and let out a dizzy, "Fuji."
Fuji smiled up at him, not one of his dime-a-dozen smiles – no, this one was pure, genuine. Tezuka found himself falling for the second time that day.
After all, you can only find what you’ve once lost before.
Tezuka liked spending Saturday evenings strolling through the streets and alleyways of the city. There was something about late Saturday afternoons, with the sun just barely setting, splotching the Puget Sound with oranges and golds that drew him outside into areas that he usually didn’t visit. The University District, where students from the local college or university mingled, peering through glass displays of over-priced iPods with a feral want, fingers itching to save enough money from their minimum wage jobs to afford one, to Washington Square and the areas around it, full of high-end clothing stores and Japanese restaurants where your own personal chef grilled your orders right in front of your eyes – these areas beckoned to Tezuka, every Saturday night.
By the bustling market, he liked watching the long-limbed, sun-bleached guitarist strum away lonely chords that told pedestrians of happier days of the past. The Balloon Man, who sold balloons of all shapes and sizes and all variety of animals and objects to the tourists' kids for a dollar twenty-five each. Even the sunken-eyed homeless, clad in sad grays and drab greens, begging for money from snooty business men in Armani suits, held some fascination for him.
Tezuka liked assessing people on Saturday nights. Monday through Friday was reserved for the hospital and late on-call shifts. Sundays were reserved for black tie dinner affairs with the ancients and newboys and their acquaintances, but Saturdays were strictly his. The left side of his brain was definitely dominant over his right side, so much so that a nurse once asked him if he hired someone to sort out outfits for him to wear every morning. A man like himself couldn’t be trusted to understand matching colors or correct combinations of various articles of clothing. But he did enjoy people-watching. There was something about how the hobby demanded very little from him; he could watch a crowd and look at the sights as they passed on by, and walk away when he was done, no demands on either end.
If Tezuka did not get to spend his Saturday evenings alone, he did not function well. As if the entire balanced flow of his Qi was disrupted, he was usually assaulted with throbbing headaches from forced conversation or anxiety in his fingers from trying to remember too many names and too many faces. He declined as many Saturday invitations as he could get away with.
Fuji understood all of this. However, they had been together (a very loose term, indeed) for nearly seven consecutive years now. Together could mean so many different things, which was why Fuji liked using the word. Did he mean together in that casual way that people used when meeting up for a semi-formal dinner ("Oh, yeah, we're together")? The way that insinuated lusty, drunken nights filled with debauchery and sin (We've been together")? Or the way that left a seemingly domestic feel on the tip of the tongue, oozing normalcy and clockwork ("Of course we're together!")?
They were not, in the very least, your usual couple. For one, Tezuka was an emergency doctor. His schedule was a mess and he was leaving home more often than coming home. Fuji was a part-time barista at the coffee house two blocks down. To make up for the quiet hours spent at home, he taught a ceramics class every other Tuesday evening. They both had Saturday evenings off, but those were never spent together.
They didn't live together. Tezuka lived in one of the newly built flats located in the upper Queen Anne area with a gorgeous view of the Sound, and sleek, new-age furniture. The joke between them was that though Tezuka spent ten times as much money on his real estate than Fuji did, Tezuka probably spent ten times that in Fuji’s apartment
It was run-down, sure. Sometimes the ceiling leaked and the group of college kids next door had raging techno parties all night long more often than not, and Bob, their landlord, was never around. But it was homey – Bella made sure of that.
Bella, his roommate, was another strange facet of their relationship. Tezuka lived alone; Fuji lived with a portly-sized nearing-middle-aged woman whose Japanese did not go any further than "konnichiwa". To make up for it, she was excellent at giving hugs and making "authentic" green tea.
Fuji found her through a newspaper ad asking for a "colorful and fun roommate". At the time, he was living in a run-down apartment in the suburbs of the city and selling stock photos for fifty cents a piece. He was learning English by lamplight at night through the guide of an English-Japanese dictionary. Though Bella's apartment was nearly as ragged as his own, Bella added the kind of warmth and happiness you only found a few times in life – the kind that exuded from tomato soup on a frosty winter night or from the embrace of a lover, heavy and sound.
She was apt to question their relationship, hands on either side of her rather generous hips.
"Why would you date someone who's more dedicated to their pager than they are to you?"
"He's an absolute toad, darling; you could do better."
"He spends his Saturday nights alone? Why are you dating a prude?"
To all of her questions, Fuji would smile. Leaning back on their shared La-Z-Boy and taking a sip of his mocha frappuccino for reassurance, he would then usher her into the kitchen with the promise of peppermint cookies. Later, full and content, she would poke him in the ribs and say, "You always know how to evade my questions. Tell you what. You should dump him and date me instead. I would keep you happy."
While he never denied that it was a possibility, he also never seriously considered it.
The apartment that he and Bella shared was a small one. There was never enough room for the food, much less anything else. He itched to have a studio at home so he could improve his clay work, but where would he fit one? In his bedroom, where there was just enough room for his full-sized bed and tiny bedside drawer? In the living room, where newspapers and magazines and old mugs and ancient paintings dotted every corner? In the kitchen, where the two of them could hardly fit in comfortably at the same time?
It was a dilemma that Fuji figured would never be solved. That was, until Tezuka felt Fuji's itch and graciously volunteered his guest bedroom. "It needs a bit of a revamp, anyway," was his way of handing it over.
Given full reign, Fuji pulled out the carpet and installed hardwood floorings. He bought a pea-sized kiln from ebay and a potter's wheel, although he preferred hand-building. There were always hefty bags of terracotta, stoneware, and whiteware in the corner
It was Friday evening and they had scheduled an at-home dinner. They picked Tezuka's place, not only because they hadn't visited there together in quite a while but because Bella insisted she wanted a little "peace". Fuji was more than happy to comply; Tezuka had a delicious kitchen that was rarely ever in use and Fuji planned on taking full advantage of it.
He let himself in an hour early, creaking the door to his studio open and taking tentative steps into the room. The single double-paned window was the room's only source of light, casting shadows over his dusty work tables. Slowly, standing away from the window, Fuji removed his jacket, button-up, and khakis, folding them neatly and placing them just outside the door. His hands itched for soft, moldable clay between his fingers, and applying any form of art with as little clothes as he could get away with helped him concentrate.
In the back room, he found the simple coil-vase he had started three days ago. The base was smoothed over and the coils, a little dry from sitting under a towel for so long, were starting to unravel. He caught his tongue between his teeth and moved the board holding the vase to his work table, pulling a stool close.
Soon, he was lost in a medley of terracotta, small wooden tools, and rubber scrapers. His fingers were stained a dark reddish brown, disappearing against the clay he worked so deftly. There was something gorgeous about elementary styles of clay building – any novice could quite easily pull off a coil pot. But the round-about movements, so circular and without stop, were soothing to a troubled mind.
One by one, thoughts of Tezuka's pager, those lonely Saturday nights, infrequent kisses, and old, family values were wrung from his mind. It’d never bothered him before: Tezuka's consistently dry hands (the powder of his latex gloves never helped), the deep gorges lining his forehead and feathering out around his mouth and eyes, his sometimes blank stares when his mind was off somewhere replaying a surgery or visually moving around the furniture in his flat to create a new sort of harmony. Only when he worked on clay did he remember how separate their lives really were.
He shook his head, clearing his thoughts and letting his fingers work without the use of his mind; he would enjoy himself tonight.
A knock on the door interrupted his session of relaxation. "Fuji?" Tezuka's voice called from the other side of the door.
Pausing, Fuji wiped his hands on his apron and glanced at the clock. He had been so lost in his musings that he'd completely missed Tezuka's return from the hospital.
"I'll be out soon," he called, not wanting to leave Tezuka hanging by the door, waiting for his response. He covered his vase with a damp paper towel from the sink and enclosed it in a paper bag, leaving it on his work table as he rinsed his hands and put on his clothes.
When he opened the door, Tezuka was not in the adjacent hallway. A soft trickle of water alerted him to Tezuka's presence in the bathroom, probably taking a quick shower to cleanse off all the impurities of the day. That was good; it gave Fuji more time to heat up his previously prepared dinner.
When passing the living room, Fuji noticed a small, fist-sized box on Tezuka's glass coffee table. The outside material looked well-worn, as if Tezuka had run his fingers over the sturdy paper many, many times. Fuji could see Tezuka bending over on his leather couch, turning the box from one hand to the other, eyebrows creased together in thought.
Unable to quench his curiosity, Fuji stepped past the elegantly placed décor in Tezuka's living room and lifted the lid on the box. Inside was another box, small and velvet. He replaced the lid, incapable of prodding farther. Tezuka would tell him when he was ready.
Tezuka was greeted in his bedroom by the smell of simmering curry and freshly baked French bread. He smiled, rubbing tired lines away from his face his thumb and forefinger.
Fuji just set the plates when Tezuka entered, a little wet and wholly delicious. "Hi," he said, moving to work on the tie of his apron.
Interceding, Tezuka pulled on the strings until they came apart with two heavy tugs; no one was adept at untying things behind his back. Tezuka's hands stayed on Fuji's hips, his breath ghosting the back of Fuji's neck as he said, "It smells nice."
They sat down for dinner. There was quiet during their dinner – quiet and quaint, dotted with a sense of hominess, with the only noises permeating the stillness being the clank of metal chopsticks against porcelain bowls and calm slurping, where Fuji felt too at peace to be bothered much by manners.
Tezuka finished with a bit of curry dotting the side of his mouth, and Fuji did not hesitate in leaning over to lick it off, slow and sensual. He moved to get up to clear the bowls but Tezuka stopped him mid-air with a hand on his hip, warm and dry like the bread they had just consumed.
"Leave it. I'll get to it later." Later – the time between now and later held such a promise – Fuji felt a thrill run up his spine.
It wasn't until his legs were around Tezuka's hips and their lips were messily sealed together did he remember the box. Both of Tezuka's hands were supporting Fuji's weight as he carried him towards the bedroom just down the hall. Because his arms and lips were both busy, he tripped over a carpet rug and nearly dropped Fuji, causing Fuji's eyes to fly open. They landed on the box, sitting small and precarious amidst Tezuka's vast living room.
Soon, Tezuka was kissing his neck and doing all sorts of talented things with his tongue and all thoughts of small, insignificant boxes completely left his mind. Some things could wait for later.
Tezuka had never left in the middle of one of their scheduled nights. He always made sure to request leave. Fuji decided that Tezuka wasn't going to start now.
"They need me."
Fuji smiled and pulled the sheets closer around his naked body. He wasn’t going to say something stupid like, but I need you too. He said, "Fine, tomorrow…?" The words died on the tip of his tongue, remembering their unspoken Saturday rule.
The lines were starting to appear on Tezuka's face now, hard and jagged. "Fuji," he said, and it sounded a lot like please. They stared at each other for a while – Fuji's eyes curved into tiny slits, Tezuka's open and tired.
Then Fuji remembered. "Tezuka, the box, in your living room." He noticed the tightening of Tezuka's shoulders and the hard line of his lips. Something akin to fear clenched at his heart. "I've never seen it before."
Tezuka studied him for what seemed like an eternity but was really only a minute or two. Finally, he relaxed his shoulders and turned to pick up his briefcase. "It's nothing," he said. Then he shrugged on a jacket and headed towards the door, nodding at Fuji once before exiting.
When Fuji finally found the strength to move his sated limbs and pad out into in the living room to check, Tezuka's white sheets wrapped tightly around his waist, the box was gone.
Tezuka visited the following Tuesday.
Bella was doing yoga exercises in front of the television when he entered. A quick glance found Fuji picking out songs on the piano without music sheets, playing random staccatos and lively romps through the upper notes.
"Hi Bella," he said. She nodded in reply, seemingly too focused on the awkward positions shown by the video instructor to give him a proper greeting.
Fuji, it seemed, was also too intent on his composition to say hello after Tezuka uttered it, hands resting on the dark wood of the piano. Tezuka took his time to watch Fuji's hands fly over the keys, stroking out melodies that knew no structure. After a while, Fuji's fingers stilled and he looked up at Tezuka from where he sat, smiling hello.
"Did you try the new hand cream I got you?" Fuji asked. It was a question that didn’t really need an answer, but Tezuka obliged, sensing something dark behind Fuji's eyes.
He let out a soft cough behind a closed fist, "I liked it more than the last one – the lavender one."
They fell silent. Fuji's finger ghosted over the keys with an itch to fill in the silence with music. They were often times like this: still and nonabrasive yet both keenly watching the other for a surprise attack. Their breathing was even and not sporadic like one would expect, with all the tension in the air.
Bella broke the silence. "You guys are ridiculously impossible," she said, picking up her yoga mat and heading towards the bathroom. "I'm taking a shower, if you need me."
After a pause, Tezuka ventured, "Fuji, last Friday –"
A hundred thoughts whirled at the bait. He could name them off on all his ten fingers and ten toes and there would still be dozens left over. But Fuji didn't say anything; nothing about the days since last Friday, or the box, or anything in-between. Instead, his fingers picked up a slow, dreamy tune.
"Well, maybe we weren't meant to be," Fuji said evenly, continuing to stroke out broken chords on the piano. It was something he always heard on dramatic soap operas and beautiful Disney movies, but it felt brittle and hollow on his tongue when he forced it out. Once he said them, he felt an acute yearning to reach out a hand and pull them back in.
Tezuka froze and then nodded slowly, although Fuji only caught the movement through the outskirts of his peripheral vision. "Goodbye then, Fuji."
Tezuka left. Fuji continued to strum out Bach, and Enya, and whatever came out after Beethoven.
Their bathroom was jokingly called the "yellow room" by the guests that visited far and few in-between, not because it was the place where you relieved yourself or the place where you scrubbed off all your impurities but because the room was, in fact, very yellow.
The ground was a faux-stone vinyl of the darker marigold variety. The bathtub was like day-old mustard, the exact same shade as the porcelain of the toilet. Even the walls were shiny gold, peeling in around the edges to reveal pale yellow plaster.
It was rather soothing, sitting in a room so ugly and miss-matched. Had he been sitting in a gorgeous white room with sleek, black furniture and perfectly plump pillows, it would be easy to pinpoint him as a disgusting creature. However, in the "yellow room", there were many other distractions to focus your attention on.
It took Fuji six days to admit that he missed Tezuka. It was during a shift at work, putting together a grande chai tea latte with more milk, less water, 5 shots of chai and soy. He nearly dropped the whip cream canister because of the weight of his revelation. "I miss Tezuka," he said, eyes slowly opening. His co-workers worked around him as he stood there, still holding onto the canister in his hands. Soon, the bustle within the tight space became too much and he was shoved into the back room with all the extra cups and lids.
He took an early leave and his manager let him, detecting an incompatible shift in his character. He went home and sat in the yellow room until Bella came home and tugged him into a fierce hug, petting his hair until his head bobbed from the force.
He didn't say anything except, "I miss him," over and over.
It turned out that the man who had helped Tezuka get through a financial crisis four months ago was throwing a party – on a Saturday night – and there was no way etiquette would allow for him to decline such an invitation.
He dressed himself in tan chinos and a black cashmere sweater from the local Banana Republic and stepped out of his condo on Queen Anne to hail a cab. He wasn’t sure what business casual entailed, since he hadn’t attended such an event in quite a while, and decided that he couldn’t go wrong with the ensemble he had on.
In the back of the cab, Tezuka wiped sweat-soaked hands on the cheap upholstery as he gave the address to the cab driver. The man raised his eyebrows at Tezuka's anxiousness and mistook it for a sign of impatience.
It only took twenty-two minutes to weave through the traffic of downtown. Tezuka wished it had taken more as the taxi driver deposited him in front of a flashy, dark club. A keen foreboding sense of dread crept up his spine. This wasn't what he had expected.
Tezuka was always early to events such as these. He never caught on that 6:30pm actually meant 8:30pm. Why didn’t the invitation just read 8:30 instead of 6:30? And why was there such a thing as "fashionably late"?
Some things in life would never be clear to him, figuratively and literally speaking, since his eyesight did technically get worse every day. He had met his host and firmly shook his hand, exchanged a few pleasantries with the wife, and then took his spot against the mauve wallpaper.
There were many men in the same situation as his, he presumed, if he judged only by their slightly over-dressed attire.
Tezuka wondered idly if leaving a party after arriving just 45 minutes prior could be considered rude. If he left now, he could still stop by the small pub where the girl with long, honey hair sang every third Saturday. Sometimes she sang with a dark-haired companion. When the mood was especially romantic, the two of them would hold hands on the stage above the entranced crowd.
He thought about Fuji and what he was likely to be doing. Working, perhaps, even though he rarely accepted shifts on Saturday. Maybe doing Tae Bo with Bella in their living room or going to the Hot Yoga studio just a five minute stroll down the street. Or maybe he was in Tezuka's flat, spinning the wheel with rhythmic taps of his foot and pressing the walls in.
He glanced at his Cartier. This was his fifth time in twelve minutes. He wondered if he looked impatient to other people, but then he realized that no one was really paying attention to him.
Then he found Fuji, swaying with the crowd.
A hand caught Fuji's shoulder and pulled him backwards; he tripped, landing face-first against a classy dark sweater. "What!"
He looked up into the dark eyes of Tezuka. "Why… you… Bella said."
Tezuka cut him off with a swift tug, pulling him out of the sweaty crowd and into the open air. "What are you doing here?" he asked, voice tight with anger. When Fuji failed to answer, Tezuka rubbed his forehead with his thumb and forefinger and took him outside and hail a cab. "We’re going home," he said, the word "home" sounding foreign on his tongue.
"No, you," Fuji's world spun and he fell against Tezuka again, tripping over his own feet as he walked. "Mmm…Wanna stay."
A cab stopped by the sidewalk and Tezuka opened the door, helping Fuji in first before sliding into the seat beside him.
The ride home was insignificant. Fuji kept his eyes trained at the passing buildings; Tezuka kept his eyes trained on Fuji. By the time they made it off the lift and stood before Tezuka's door, Fuji's eyes were threatening to droop.
Tezuka led Fuji into his bedroom and left him snoring atop his goose-down comforter, looking for all the world like he belonged there.
Tezuka decided that Fuji actually did belong there.
Fuji woke the next day to a throbbing headache and an empty bed. At the bedside table, a cup of lukewarm water and two pills of Advil were laid out for him. There was no note, but Fuji knew that Tezuka was always busy Sunday mornings.
The water told him that Tezuka had left a short while ago. He held the mug in his hands and let it offer him some warmth. Soon, the pills were gone and the water was working its magic.
He was only a little upset that Tezuka had left him to go to work. It was such a routine thing that he was, quite simply, numb to the fact that work would always come first. And either way, they weren't together anymore, so there was no reason for him to be in Tezuka's bed. He didn't belong there anymore.
Getting up and ignoring the pain in his temples, he moved across the thickly carpeted floor and into the studio, where the bright morning light streaming through the windows hurt his stinging eyes.
There were various objects lining the cabinets that he and Tezuka had installed themselves so many months ago. He ran his hands over a few notable ones – the large bowl he had made at Tezuka's suggestion, blue and chipped and lopsided; a black teapot that didn't trickle water out of its spout (Fuji had let Tezuka glaze it and it ended up clogged); and various small teacups, their quality slowly crawling higher as his fingers became more adept.
Though this was technically his room, there were traces of Tezuka everywhere. Irrationally angered, Fuji filled his hands with delicate ceramic pieces and flung them across the room, basking in the thuds and shatters that accosted his ears. When it was all done and quiet, dust rising to sting the cuts in his hand, he fell to the floor and sat with his back against the wooden counter, knees pulled up to rest under his chin.
He thought, quite simply, I want Tezuka home.
There was a lot of dust, and that was all Tezuka could focus on, when he found Fuji sitting in his workroom, staring at a mess of broken ceramic shards, clay, and slowly dripping blood.
He didn't say anything – no, couldn't say anything. The shock was so sickening that he morphed quickly into Dr. Tezuka, pulling Fuji towards his sink and washing his hands clean of debris and blood. Fuji followed like a rag doll, eyes unseeing and body unresponsive. He sat Fuji down on his leather couch, not caring that Fuji's dirtied pants would stain the cream fabric. Pulling out a medical kit, he gently held Fuji's hands with his right hand as his left hand pulled out the necessary anti-septic and bandages.
He didn't say, "What were you thinking, Fuji", or glare disapprovingly; he didn't comment on the sheer stupidity that must've ran through Fuji's mind when he decided to destroy nearly all the invaluable works of art in that room and he didn't say, "Don’t you ever do this again."
Instead, he cleaned Fuji's hands and wrapped them up as tightly and gently as he could. Then he leaned forward and kissed him, straight on the mouth.
Fuji responded. He let out a low cry – something akin to a wail – and bit at Tezuka's lips, pulling him closer so that their noses were meshed together and breathing was close to impossible.
When they pulled away, both breathing hard and sporting bruised lips, Fuji folded his damaged hands in his lap and asked, "Why are you home, Tezuka?"
Tezuka had so many things to say. He wanted to say, "I'm sorry", and "Forgive me", and "I love you."
But he didn't say any of that. He decided enough was enough.
He got up, leaving Fuji on the couch even though it hurt him to do so, seeing Fuji so uncharacteristically lost. In the drawer underneath the television behind his meager supply of DVDs, Tezuka fished out a small, cardboard box.
Fuji's eyes widened in recognition when Tezuka sat down beside him. "Wha – " he started to ask, but Tezuka silenced him with a kiss.
Then Tezuka got on one knee, pulled out the velvet box, slipped the ring out of its case (white gold, a simple weave with encrusted diamonds) and onto Fuji's forth finger.
"Will you marry me?" he asked.
"the key of benediction"
Bella moved in with her boyfriend two weeks after their engagement. She packed all her bags and left them by the door before crushing Fuji into a hug, telling him quite seriously, "If he ever hurts you again, remember that my door is always open and I have a very good knife set and excellent aim."
Patting her on the back for reassurance, he helped carry her furniture down the rickety stone steps and into the back of her boyfriend's four-by-four Chevy.
She still visited often, and they had coffee together every two Mondays.
Fuji quit his job as a barista.
"It was too much time and not very rewarding," he told Tezuka when he found Tezuka watching him with calculating eyes. "I miss the coffee though," was the only thing he would admit to regretting.
Tezuka still worked as an emergency doctor and Fuij would have it no other way.
However, if Tezuka's pager ever went off during a quiet moment out in the garden or during a bout of passionate sex, Fuji would dig it out of Tezuka's clothes and chuck it against the closest object that could do it some damage, whether it be stone, plaster, or a wayward pond.
("I'm going to need a new one," Tezuka said between kisses as they watched the black pager land behind Fuji's rose bushes.
Fuji smiled. "Good.")
It took the hospital four days to replace Tezuka's pager and they fined him a fee that made Fuji's head spin. Nonetheless, that was highly insignificant compared to the moments they had together, beep-free.
Every Saturday evening, they had dinner someplace new in the city and explored uncharted territory.
Fuji finally found a hand cream that Tezuka could settle with. It was a rich shea butter and tickled the nose.
Now, Tezuka's hands were rarely dry, no matter how many times he washed them during the door or how powdery his latex gloves were. Fuji made sure to apply the butter to each of Tezuka's fingers individually, one by one, then moving along to rub it into his palms.
Softer hands were nicer than rough ones when they were given free reign over all of Fuji's body and touched sensitive areas on and in him.
Whenever Tezuka would come home, it would stun him to realize that that was exactly what it was. It was not just a few solid walls holding them in and topped with a leaking roof. Not just a place to sleep at night and a place to leave in the morning.
It was a place where Fuji played self-composed songs on the ancient piano in the corner; a place with a make-shift studio in the middle of the family room (because they had no where else to put it); a place where Tezuka contained trinkets bought from the market and flowers purchased for Fuji.
On late-winter afternoons, sometimes the sun would shine on the abundant ivy just outside their bedroom window. All the vegetation would glow a euphoric gold, as if someone has taken a can of paint and brushed it over the landscape.
Those days, Tezuka would file his pager away somewhere very far away and very safe and he would lead Fuji to bed, unclothing him slowly and worshiping his skin like he was a god. Fuji, in turn, would make inopportune comments before giving himself into the bliss, giving away tenfold what he was receiving.
This home, with its leaky roof and yellow room, was their sanctuary.
They would have it no other way.