Title: These inglorious days
Pairing: Tezuka Kunimitsu and Fuji Syuusuke
Summary: Something extraordinary may be just a series of ordinary things.
Disclaimer: Prince of Tennis belongs not to me.
A/N: All snippets used in this story were based on the anime only and concludes just before Tezuka leaves for Germany.
These inglorious days
It is the rain that adds music to their conversation.
Fuji looks at Tezuka behind wet fringes, listening and contemplating the question that his captain asks of him. It is, in a way, nothing new – but the reason’s never quite clear to Fuji himself. And so he gives Tezuka an old answer. From the inside, he wants to reply something sensible and concrete, but it has become so wordy and complicated. The rain outside does not help. It sounds like a symphony in his head.
Where is the real you?
Part of Fuji feels happy – the conversation changes its face from Echizen to himself. And now he knows that Tezuka’s attention is his, and his alone, for now. Fuji does not want to waste the moment, so he settles into a compromise.
If I get in the way, take me out of the regulars’ line up…
Tezuka looks at him and part of the frustration comes from the fact that he sees more than Fuji, he believes more – with that incalculable amount of potential inside the Seigaku prodigy. And when Tezuka chooses to do so, his belief is immovable.
The captain closes his eyes and ignores a stray drop of water on the verge of falling from his brow. This is not the Fuji he wants to discover and one day he will get the chance to find out and until then, the libertarian in Tezuka sleeps.
He ignores the request and turns to get his things.
Part of Fuji is crestfallen at being ignored, but he is resigns himself to the fact that this conversation is over. He takes his own things and stands. Part of him is still riding the thrill Echizen gave him; the other part is crashing. Fast.
Did you feel the same, when you faced him in the courts?
Tezuka then answers if Fuji knew, but he’s Seigaku’s captain and it’s simply thinking out loud and not a validation. Yes, Tezuka says, without adding the fact that Echizen is powerful in a way that it is delightful to face in any tennis court, on any turf. Tezuka thinks that Echizen plays with heart – but lacks the soul and, like Fuji, he can be more.
Fuji simply nods and walks ahead of his captain – he does not need to hear what is not spoken to know that it is there. Whereas Tezuka looks at Echizen with pride – like a mentor would do his protégé, maybe, just maybe, Tezuka can spare him the same, more or less.
“I’m locking up,” Tezuka announces.
Fuji walks past him quietly, eyes on the grayish surroundings, but then he goes wide-eyed as he feels the warmth of fingers in his hair. The feeling is ghostly, gone as if it was never there. He turns abruptly to face Tezuka but, like he said, he is locking up.
So Fuji blames the weather.
* * * * *
It is the night that makes this path look endless.
Fuji sees no light save for the lamppost outside. He stands in front of the sink, a glass of water in his hand. And he thinks of the clubhouse, the silence, and the rain. The glass slips from his hand with out warning, and he spares not restraint and curses underneath his breath.
Syuusuke is everything all right?!
And he answers as if it is nothing. Fuji turns on the light and sees that the kitchen in pristine, the shards are contained; hiding the pieces will be easy.
He goes up to his room and lies on his bed – the sheets are cold, though it is nothing strange since the weather’s been frigid the past few days. His mobile phone is quiet on the side table; he opens it and finds that he missed a call. Fuji knows the number and closes his phone. He is sure that the caller misdialed.
Tezuka calls no one but Oishi.
* * * * *
It is the fish that draws out the calm in everyone.
Tezuka believes this and thinks that anyone who does not take joy in such an obvious form has something missing inside of them. What leads him outside to the fish pond is the fact that the large female Tosai Kohaku will be spawning soon. And he anticipates. He is sleepless in a way that he cannot explain. But he is a person of habit, has not been sleepless before – and so – it is the fish, he tells himself, the fish.
He thinks of false alarms and how it is to be young and how unreliable things can be. He can only trust his path, not necessarily his emotion. So he leads wholeheartedly, and never lets his guard down. Tezuka watches the fish swim for another minute or so. His mobile phone is in the pocket of his sweat pants – he has all the numbers of those in his team. But he calls no one but his vice captain, up until tonight.
* * * * *
It is the synergistic energy that brings the courts to life.
Like a person standing too close to a moving train, the energy is palpable enough to be heard and felt. Fuji stands across the court with Kawamura’s racquet in his hand and Akutagawa bouncing figuratively off the walls, excitement evident because of Fuji and his abilities and his techniques. They meet at the center and shake hands.
Is there someone stronger than you in your team?
Fuji is not lost for an answer. He thinks of Echizen and then himself - power, flair, and talent. And then he thinks of Tezuka and thinks that there is no one else as powerful as him when it comes to tennis, simply because he is captain, and it must mean something to want the game more than anything.
Yes there is.
Fuji gestures towards Tezuka and shows Akutagawa. Tezuka watches, arms crossed over his chest, he does not speak and knows what is to come next. He calls out to Echizen and they disappear in silence. Fuji wonders and then he wonders no more. He does not want to ask ‘why’ – Fuji opts to stand quiet in anticipation of the next match.
* * * * *
It is Atobe’s imitation of the sun that makes the crowd go wild.
Hyoutei is a school known for its rabid loyalty to this boy. At a snap of a finger, what was once roaring becomes mute. Tezuka watches him quietly like always. And in time, the match becomes exactly what it’s supposed to be. Intense, grueling and a game of heart and soul, whomever it is that has more is the winner.
Everyone tells Tezuka to stop.
They speak as if they know.
He listens to no one and goes by instinct – and he goes bravely once he and Oishi meet and his vice captain begins to understand.
Tezuka’s fallen in love with the match, the challenge and the tenacity of the other player. He wrings the battle for what it is worth. He wants this game. And he teaches Seigaku to want it as much as he does. It is a lesson with an unlikely accomplice. But they are eloquent in articulating the lesson.
Atobe’s soul is visible in the end but he is thirsty and covers himself with a towel. Gain or grow. He is livid because Tezuka always has more of those things which one simply cannot buy.
Tezuka wants to swim in the cool, blue sea. His body feels transparent. Tezuka closes his eyes and lets the moment pass him by – he knows he’s said what needs to be said. It is an indistinguishable fire inside him. To decide and follow through – because he is captain, he will take them as far as he can. Not to win every match, but to grow from it.
Fuji closes his eyes. It is the first time he truly acknowledges Tezuka’s strength.
I win no matter what.
Tezuka knows himself more than anyone.
* * * * *
It is the orange hues of the sunset that makes the city familiar.
Fuji waves to Kawamura as he goes down his stop, then he looks at Tezuka, who is busy with paperwork. Fuji returns his gaze to the city – in all its somber simplicity. He likes this instance before the neon lights come alive. Before what’s innocent and natural becomes lost in the pace of modern times.
Fuji lies in a way because he likes modernity, yet longs for something a little bit dated. Emotion knows no time frame.
This is my stop.
Fuji tells no one in particular before he presses the button. He stands up, just as the bus comes to a full stop, making him lunge forward – just short of falling. Tezuka is aware and stops writing to grab Fuji before he falls. Fuji catches himself, and Tezuka never quite reaches him. The pen falls and clatters.
Are you all right?
And the other smiles and nods.
Tezuka is satisfied with the answer and reaches for the pen and stops as he feels a hand on his left shoulder – gentle like a child touching a hamster, curious and caring and awkward. Fuji touches Tezuka because he feels useless. Tezuka does not need protection or vengeance in order to feel whole again.
From where Tezuka is bent, reaching for the pen, he sees Fuji’s rubber shoes. He looks up sharply, but sees nothing except Fuji’s back as he steps off the bus.
* * * * *
It is the wind that breathes new life into the weak.
Tezuka is icing his shoulder when the call comes through.
Tezuka Ayana hands her son the cordless with a disapproving look. It is past 10PM, and it is one of her rules that no one should call past this hour. He may be captain, but he is 15 years old nonetheless. Tezuka heeds to his mother and takes the phone, apologizing softly.
He does not mince words when he asks Fuji how he got his number, and is not surprised when Fuji answers – Inui. Everyone says that when he asks.
Fuji wants to ask if it hurts both -- shoulder and heart. Fuji wants to ask if the thrill of playing someone as good as Atobe makes his blood rush – like what Fuji felt with the match with Echizen. But then he remembers what Tezuka told him a year ago. I dislike daydreaming…
And even if Fuji knows that is not true, he decides it would be better to say nothing. He gives Tezuka a break – just this once. He shifts and moves the phone from right to left ear. Tezuka is so quiet he reckons.
And he answers knowing that he’s lost the purpose of the call. And he asks about the science homework he’s already finished doing. Tezuka is not an idiot in the very least, but answers Fuji because sometimes he likes to speak for the sake of speaking. He adds that he will not be joining them for practice the next day.
Fuji feels every word, and he is annoyed – but in turn he remembers that it was/is Tezuka’s decision.
Get some rest, Tezuka.
It sounds so insincere to his ears; he doesn’t mean to sound so patronizing. And Fuji is not surprised when Tezuka hangs up without saying anything.
* * * * *
It is the sunrise that paints over the darkened corners of the city.
And Fuji knows bliss when he hears it. And he hears it from everyone, in the way Momoshiro babbles all the way to Tezuka’s silence. It surprises Fuji in a way – that he’s become this perceptive with regards to his captain. He does not look at him and keeps his eyes on the rising sun. He is glad that Tezuka’s there with them, so he says it. In a way, it is an apology for what he said over the telephone.
Tezuka replies with his usual – yes.
There is something different but Fuji cannot tell what’s going on. The edge in that answer is missing – as if Tezuka too wants to escape himself even for a moment. Fuji turns to him and looks at his countenance before he moves to join his other teammates in celebration.
Tezuka moves not an inch as he feels Fuji’s hand brush against his.
Fuji tells everyone to gather for a group picture – he sets up the camera on a mound, just the right height and distance and sets the timer. He rushes to where his teammates are and smiles for the first flash that the camera renders.
He develops the film the next day and smiles at the finished product.
Even if Tezuka’s the only one not smiling, it is still a perfect picture, just because he is there.
* * * * *
It is the absence of Seigaku’s populace that gives a death-like feel to the courts.
Everyone else has gone home – some with disbelief and others with heavy hearts regarding Tezuka’s announcement that he’s leaving for Germany. He remembers listening with eyes open, meeting that immovable gaze. Fuji chooses to wait for Tezuka outside the clubhouse, and he shoulders his bag as soon as Fuji appears by the doorway.
Let’s walk home together.
Fuji says it with little conviction.
We are headed for opposite stations.
Tezuka replies factually.
That’s all right.
Fuji smiles and follows Tezuka as he heads for the gates. And like always, the questions in his head remain unspoken. But for tonight, he does not want the silence to stretch on for miles between them. He goes on a few steps ahead stopping Tezuka in his tracks.
Let’s watch the city lights.
But Tezuka declines and says it’s late and both of them should make their way home, next time, maybe. Fuji looks at him quietly and nods. He tells Tezuka he understands, and then he adds that it is cruel to break two promises consecutively. Tezuka asks about the promises he does not remember making.
He reminds him of the first: as sophomores, as friends. Tezuka will search for the real Fuji – the tennis prodigy. Tezuka shakes his head and looks at him – strong brown eyes that are intense behind glasses. He tells his player that he has not forgotten before he steps aside and walks past Fuji.
Somewhere deep inside Fuji is happy, but he wants something slightly different. It is an honor to have someone long for you and recognize your abilities as a valuable player, but it is wonderful in and of itself to have someone see you as a person.
And that’s what he is – prodigy or not – just a boy.
* * * * *
It is the way people say things that molds and shapes words into meaningful messages.
The school is abuzz with Tezuka’s announcement.
The library is not exempt from this and though it is a rule not to speak, the room is filled with the hum of people talking about the plight of one of their school leaders. The librarian lets it slide for now - but as soon as Tezuka enters – he points out how noisy everyone is, and that is enough to bring the whole place to a dead calm.
Oishi is far beyond hearing range and does not realize what Tezuka’s done. He is busy looking for a tennis rulebook and is slightly taken by surprise once his captain appears out of nowhere asking for them to talk.
Oishi is emotional; Tezuka knows this but is truly grateful that Oishi accepts his offer. He makes a promise to comeback, leaving Oishi to wonder when he will do so, exactly. But the captain is steadfast with his decision.
The dream is not lost at all.
Oishi dreams with him about the Nationals no matter where he is.
Tezuka heads for the third floor towards the block section where Fuji belongs to. He opens the door and searches quietly – not realizing that everyone’s ceased activity to watch him. Upon seeing Fuji, he stares him in the eye – ignoring even Kikumaru who is beside him.
I need to speak with you after class.
That is all he says and then he leaves closing the door of the classroom behind him.
* * * * *
It is the blue sky that stands witness to their conversation.
Fuji opens the door to the rooftop to find Tezuka looking out to the school grounds. In his hand a tennis ball. The footfalls of the prodigy do not escape Tezuka and he turns and effortlessly tosses the ball to Fuji. The other catches it with no problem and stops by the rails. Bravely, he leans on the steel weave and looks at the ball in his hand.
Lime green against his pale skin makes for an odd combination. Just like Tezuka to send a message this way. Fuji looks at his captain and opens his eyes.
Germany…far isn’t it?
Tezuka knows the numbers and the specifics, but he did not want Fuji here for statistics. He tells him that he has confidence in his abilities, indirectly. Because even if he is going away – knowing that Oishi and Fuji will be left to the team, he is not worried. Not worried at all.
Fuji wonders if it is all that Tezuka wants to say. Even at the last moment his captain wants to talk shop, still on the hunt for Fuji the prodigy. Fuji wants to tell him that all Tezuka has to do is look hard enough to see that there is more to him than that. He tells himself that it is all Tezuka ever cares for.
It is always about tennis, always about the game.
When my shoulder heals fully, I can face whomever…
Tezuka speaks as if he knows the future. And it is more like an assurance to himself than for Fuji. The shorter boy nods and looks at Tezuka, tightens his hands over the ball he is holding.
Tezuka looks at him, hand in his pockets and nods. He confirms this. And wonders why Fuji looks away.
It is always about Tennis.
Tezuka looks up to the sky and blink to offset the glare on his glasses. He clears his throat and thinks about people and how it is they say goodbye. Without really knowing the reason, he feels as if it is necessary to tell Fuji all he needs is a little time.
Progress is not an unreachable goal…
Fuji looks up and wonders what it Tezuka is trying to say. He is unsure whether the progress he is talking about refers to him or to the team. Tezuka’s back is straight and strong, thin fingers wrap around his arm, sliding from elbow to bicep.
Fuji realizes now that the warrior in Tezuka sleeps, because he needs to heal. Tezuka looks at him, and Fuji replies with a smile.
Tezuka has his permission.
Fuji will give Tezuka time.
I should go, I have class.
The tiles of the rooftop are painted with shadows, and they begin to shift and move because the afternoon has set in and the earth’s done its course. Tezuka hears no answer from Fuji, so he walks on. He spies the shadows moving again – like an arm reaching out to him, to touch his back before it retracts.
Tezuka stops but does not look back; he tells himself that it is the light playing tricks on him.
* * * * *
It is the eyes of those who look up to him that are hardest to deal with.
Echizen needs to grow and Tezuka feels guilty for forcing certain responsibilities upon him – no one else can carry the weight of a dream but a pillar. And he knows that the younger boy has the makings of a samurai, and a destiny of an even bigger legend.
Get on the courts…
Tezuka’s voice is steel with the way it falls and hits anyone that hears it. Parts of him may be vulnerable – but he has not lost his points in authority. He turns and tells Oishi to referee. It will be a good practice with regards to the rules. And while he they are speaking – Echizen turns to Fuji – the one Tezuka chose to practice with earlier.
Che, what is he thinking?
Fuji smiles as he shrugs on his jacket. He looks at Echizen before he opens his eyes – deeper shade of blue with a hint of danger for he is envious and wondering and truthful all at the same time.
Be grateful. Tezuka is saying goodbye to you. Not everyone has the privilege.
He walks away before Echizen can think of some witty comeback or make some noncommittal noise. He passes Tezuka but does not look at him. Fuji stops, balling his fist – the skin burning at his captain’s touch. When he finally attempts to look at Tezuka, he is no longer there – he’s halfway inside the courts with Seigaku’s hope resting on Echizen’s shoulders.
* * * * *
It is city lights that glitter from afar that make them feel separate from the world.
Fuji, what is it?
Tezuka stops by the door of the clubhouse to find that Fuji is waiting for him. He surmises this because there is no one else left to wait for. It is late and everyone’s tired because the match with Echizen is taxing. He pulls the door close behind him and adjusts his glasses.
You will leave tomorrow morning?
Fuji keeps his tone light and shifts his weight from left to right as he sways in place. It is cute without meaning to – and he is safe with Tezuka because he finds no such term in his vocabulary. Fuji nods when Tezuka says yes. He smiles a bit more after telling his captain that he will walk home with him.
I am still going up the classroom to pick up some papers.
Tezuka says, taking off his glasses once to rub his eye lightly with his thumb.
That’s all right. I’ll wait for you.
Fuji falls into step and presses just a bit closer to Tezuka. Something which Tezuka does not seem to mind at all, but he does not encourage the act either. They reach the classroom and Tezuka opens the door for them he moves to the fifth seat in the first row to gather the folders that Coach Ryuuzaki left for him.
Even on your last night, you still have much to do.
Fuji speaks as if he’s privy to Tezuka’s life, as if he knows every ache and pain that his captain has gone through -- all for the love of a thankless game. Tezuka’s life is more or less an irony, something that makes it perfect. Fuji sits on the sixth seat and watches Tezuka stuff the folders in his bag.
It is because there are things only I know of.
Fuji is taken by surprise by Tezuka’s answer and the tone – serious and cocky all at the same time. Fuji is well on his way to confirming this but Tezuka is already by the window.
Fuji, come look at this.
Tezuka’s eyes are fixed on the lights created by Tokyo, the seeming flames of a suburban sea. The neon is too bright and they put the stars to shame. He exhales once Fuji settles beside him – eyes also transfixed upon the spectacle.
The city is beautiful isn’t it?
Fuji says, his voice partial.
Tezuka agrees before he glances over to his right eyes intense on Fuji’s face.
Mm, this is half a promise fulfilled. You know.
Fuji meets his eyes and smiles.
I will not forget.
That is good.
And though it is important, Fuji cannot help but want more. He looks down and purses his lips. Hands in his pockets, with fists balled tightly. He wants to say something. Hours from now Tezuka will leave for Germany – and in his mind, time has run out.
Fuji wants to say something. Like – stay. But he gives it no voice.
Fuji. I see you.
Tezuka beats him to it and makes it clear that there is no need to look for something that is already found.
Fuji takes time to think about Tezuka’s words. How his face lights up when he comes to understand their meaning. Fuji smiles, chuckles once and nods. He is happy in the knowledge that it’s not just about tennis.
I see you.
He sees me – Fuji tells himself.
Tezuka…say goodbye to me.
For once, Fuji demands something because he is a genius and he knows that people say ‘goodbye’ with the intent to say ‘hello’ again.
Tezuka gives Fuji what he wants - from one boy to another.
It is the sweetness of the taste and the awkward feel of Tezuka’s lips on his that makes the kiss memorable...magical.
Fuji’s hands are soft on either side of Tezuka’s face, holding him in place, while Tezuka leans a bit, hands still in his pockets like a boy scout. The rim of his glasses tickles the bridge of his nose. He will have to remember to tell Tezuka to take them off next time. And he smiles to himself and ignores his captain’s inquisitive look. Fuji likes the sound of it in his head.
There is a promise of next time.
When Fuji finally decides to let Tezuka go – the taller boy clears his throat and adjusts his glasses. He wants to make promises, but doesn’t want to break them.
I know…I’ll wait.
They smile at each other. They have all the time in the world.
Tezuka, the city is beautiful at night isn’t it?
Enchanting is the word, but Fuji knows that Tezuka hates the flowery stuff. And so he steps closer, their knuckles touching.
Fuji is looking straight ahead. Tezuka is looking to his right when he answers.