Title: Zero-Sum Game
Summary: Fuji thinks about his loss to Shiraishi.
Warnings: Spoilers for the manga if you haven't read the Nationals arc.
Disclaimer: I do not own PoT.
A/N: For kat8cha! I hope you enjoy this. Apologies, but your prompt seems to have gotten lost somewhere as this grew. But I did look at the rest of your kinks and try to incorporate them. ^-^ Happy White Day! And for anyone else who read and liked, please do review! Thank you!
After the match against Shitenhouji, they retreat to Kawamura’s place as always, and Fuji smiles as always. They are all flush with victory, Eiji and Momoshiro (and Kaidoh when he gets into a spat with Momo) making enough noise for all of them put together.
Fuji smiles, and sits in the corner, and recollects his match with Shiraishi, his hands curled tightly around a cup of green tea. The heat seeps through the ceramic, uncomfortably warm though not scalding, but Fuji does not think of it. The words of the referee calling the final score still resound in his ears.
He hates it.
But he jolts out of his reverie when someone sets a platter of sushi down in front of him. He smiles, turns to thank Taka-san, and instead finds Tezuka, standing just behind his shoulder, waiting. Strange, that just when he has lost the right to stand at Tezuka’s shoulder, Tezuka chooses to come to him instead.
It is a credit to Fuji’s composure that he doesn’t jump. He merely smiles again and says, ‘Ah, Tezuka.’
Tezuka nods at him, and asks, ‘May I?’ He doesn’t wait for an answer before taking a seat next to Fuji.
Their little bubble of silence is sacrosanct. Not even the noise of their teammates breaks it (Momoshiro has Ryoma in a headlock, Ryoma is yelping and trying to get his senpai to let him go, damn it), because Fuji is silent and Tezuka will not say anything. They wait each other out, and usually, Fuji would be capable of seeing this game through to the finish.
But today is different, today Fuji is weary and tired and he has just lost for the second time in his life and he feels disappointed, and afraid of Tezuka’s disappointment, and he says, ‘Tezuka?’, much like a child who invites a scolding in the hopes of getting it over with.
‘Aren’t you eating?’ Tezuka asks, taking a sip of his tea.
Fuji’s smile stretches just a little wider. He is in no mood to mince words with Tezuka, to dance around the subject of his defeat. And yet today it is ironically Tezuka who is taking Fuji’s usual approach of speaking in circles.
‘No, actually,’ Fuji answers, just this side of sharp. ‘I’m not quite hungry. In fact, I think I’ll go home and rest.’ If Tezuka will not say it, neither will Fuji. Fuji does not want Tezuka’s pity, and to think of receiving it from Tezuka is unbearable. It would be better if Tezuka reprimanded him, questioned him, much like that day, in the rain, where Tezuka had stared him down and asked, ‘Where is the real you?’
He had an answer for Tezuka once, when Tezuka had played him in the ranking tournament just before Nationals. He was there, on the court, opposite Tezuka.
Now, he is not so sure.
He gets up and takes his bag with him. Unfortunately, the team notices this and Eiji asks, ‘Ehhh, Fujiko, you’re leaving?’
Fuji nods and smiles reassuringly. ‘Yes, I am. My sister expects me home today, so I’ll take my leave first. Enjoy yourselves, minna.’
Ryoma looks up, and says, ‘Sayonara, Fuji-senpai, Tezuka-buchou.’
Fuji’s eyes fix on Ryoma for a moment, who looks back fearlessly. Ryoma has grown, Fuji knows, this is the boy who faced down Sanada and Atobe and Tezuka himself, and today in the match Ryoma was the one to talk to him, tell him to play properly.
It is obvious who Tezuka’s eyes should be on.
‘Ehh? Buchou’s going too?’ Momoshiro asks, raising an eyebrow.
‘Yes, Tezuka, you should stay, really,’ Fuji adds. ‘Stay and celebrate with everyone else, ne, Momo?’
‘I fail to see that I am a particularly festive presence,’ Tezuka says dryly. ‘And given that my leaving means more food to go around, I’m sure Momoshiro won’t mind.’
Fuji wheels and walks off. Other days he would enjoy sparring with Tezuka, the rare moments when they speak together and clash together, like their tennis matches but with an intensity that is not so much painful but rather playful.
He gets about ten paces away from Kawamura Sushi before Tezuka says his name, and Fuji walks faster. It’s futile, he knows, because Tezuka has a longer stride, and Fuji refuses to run. Even if he ran, Tezuka would catch up.
Tezuka ran past him a long time ago.
But Tezuka stops beside him, matching his pace to Fuji, and he reaches out – touches Fuji’s hand, long fingers brushing. ‘Fuji.’
‘Saa, Tezuka, Echizen-kun did well today, ne? You should be glad, really. It’s safe to leave Seigaku with him now... what was it again? Pillar of support.’
‘Ah, and I haven’t even congratulated you on your own win, ne, Tezuka?’
‘Fuji. Stop it.’
‘Stop what?’ And Fuji’s smile is not in the least brittle. It is as it has always been. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, Tezuka.’
Safe in the sanctuary of his own room, Fuji strips and steps into the shower, turning the water on full blast and then just standing there, letting the water run over him. It’s terribly irrational of him, he knows. Tezuka left because he knew that talking to Fuji was pointless just then, and it was perfectly rational, and yet Fuji had wanted him to stay, to talk to him, to tell him –
What? He doesn’t know. Fuji opens his eyes and lets the water run into them; it stings but he doesn’t care. His eyes were stinging anyway.
Seigaku has come a long way, and taking their own roundabout, circuitous path, he and Tezuka have also come a long way. He remembers their first year, the match that they both wanted, where Tezuka had pushed his limits too far and they had stopped before any kind of closure.
Fuji considers that a start of a relationship that did not seem to exist. No one would have considered them particularly good friends, and neither would they have been considered enemies or rivals. There was nothing extreme between them, and yet Fuji reveled in it, their tension, that always-awareness of each other, of hidden strength and the unknown quality of each other.
Fuji had dared to think that there would be more. He lets the water beat down on his skin and contrasts its harsh, unrelenting pound to a day where he’d walked beside Tezuka in the sunlit snow and shared an umbrella on the streets. He remembers inviting Tezuka into his house, a cup of tea, books, and a shoulder massage.
He’d dared to touch Tezuka, then, careful not to put too much pressure on the shoulder, warming Yumiko’s lavender-scented massage oil with his own hands before rubbing it into Tezuka’s shoulders, stiff, strong, all sinew and corded muscle. Tezuka had allowed it, much the way he allowed the rest of Fuji’s audacity, and Fuji had dared to think that Tezuka welcomed it.
And then Tezuka had left for Germany, and returned, and they had had their match.
Fuji had lost, and yet, he had been happy.
‘Syuusuke?’ his sister’s voice cuts unceremoniously through his own self-berating reverie. ‘Someone’s here to see you. It’s Tezuka.’
Fuji swears, softly. Yumiko is every bit as perceptive as he is; it’s Yuuta who’s the oblivious one in their family. His sister knows better than to pry into what was bothering him, but telling her to tell Tezuka to go away will cut no ice with either of them. Tezuka is here for a reason, and Yumiko will let him in.
She’s probably already served him one of her fruit teas, warm and sweet.
‘I’m coming,’ he yells.
He chooses a long sleeved shirt and loose pants, too large for him, the hems reaching his feet. If he’s not careful he’ll trip up, but he likes that about this pair of pants. It would fit Tezuka, he thinks to himself, given that Tezuka is just slightly taller than Fuji himself.
And then he shoves that thought away, and steels himself to walk down the staircase, feeling like an outsider in his own home.
Yumiko meets him at the landing. ‘I’ll leave you guys alone, Syuusuke.’
He nods, and she pats his head like she used to do when they were younger. He gives her a genuine (if wan) smile, and walks in.
Tezuka’s seated on the sofa, and there are two cups of tea resting on the table. Fuji hovers for a moment, torn between taking the seat opposite Tezuka or sitting down beside him. Eventually he settles for sitting beside Tezuka. Opposite him seems too confrontational and today of all days Fuji has had enough of confrontations, confrontations where there’s a winner and a loser, because right now Fuji doesn’t think he’ll win. Even if it wasn’t Tezuka.
‘Persistent, aren’t you, Tezuka?’ Fuji chuckles. ‘Maa, so now I can’t run away. I’m sorry for losing, buchou. It was unforgivable.’
‘So this is about losing to Shiraishi, then.’
‘Did you think it could have been anything else?’ Fuji asks.
‘You’ve lost once before.’
‘But that was to you. That’s different,’ Fuji points out, quite reasonably.
‘You know as well as I do that that answer doesn’t go anywhere, Fuji.’ Tezuka says firmly, taking a sip of his tea and setting the cup back down.
‘Ah, but it might be the only answer I’m willing to give,’ Fuji says sharply.
‘It’s not the answer I’m willing to settle for.’ And Tezuka’s eyes are as sharp as blades, and Fuji realizes that he’s tensed up, every muscle in his body ready to dash to catch the next serve or rally from his opponent. Tezuka will win, because Fuji is not prepared to fight him, not like this, not now. What can he say to Tezuka? That he is afraid, afraid that Shiraishi and Echizen have proved him unworthy – because losing to Tezuka does not lose him his place as Tezuka’s adjutant, as someone that Tezuka looks at, because during that match their focus had been entirely on each other. But now Tezuka is slipping away from Fuji and Fuji can no longer believe in himself –
‘Don’t waste time, Tezuka,’ Fuji says instead, because what he thinks cannot be said, he cannot find the words for it. ‘You know as well as I do that Echizen is someone you can trust Seigaku to, and there’s still Rikkai to beat in the Nationals. Will you play Yukimura?’
‘Yukimura reminds me of you, actually. You’re both dangerous,’ Tezuka replies. ‘And this isn’t about Seigaku, Fuji.’
‘It is. Isn’t it always, Tezuka? Your match with Atobe showed me that, really, your drive, your determination to win and take Seigaku further, forwards...’ Fuji breathes in the scent of the tea and leans back, careful not to touch Tezuka. ‘And I told you once before that I would be a handicap to the team.’
‘You are not a handicap to the team.’ Tezuka’s words are staccato, ricocheting off the walls like tennis balls against the green of the court. ‘I stand by the decision I made then.’
Fuji remembers that too, when he’d played Ryoma, in rain that sleeted down and drenched the courts. He remembers his own intuitions that Tezuka had played their star freshman before, and he remembers that Tezuka had asked him why he hadn’t gone seriously for the win.
Fuji had told the truth, and asked Tezuka to take him off Regulars if his attitude would be a problem, his incapability to be serious about any match. They both knew that if Fuji were dropped, the Singles Two position would go to one Echizen Ryoma, and knowing that, Tezuka had said no.
Fuji had been grateful then. And against all his resolve, he is still grateful now, to hear Tezuka say these words in affirmation of Fuji, again, despite.
‘The team doesn’t need me, Tezuka.’
Fuji’s blue eyes open in shock for a moment; Tezuka doesn’t not give Fuji a chance to close them, does not give Fuji a chance to retreat. And on Fuji’s part, he looks at Tezuka and watches Tezuka and tries to detect pity or a lie in Tezuka’s hazel-gold eyes, and fails. They are clear as always, clear and set and determined and Fuji feels inexplicably more lighthearted, and the smile he directs towards Tezuka is mischievous and real.
‘Ne, Tezuka, this is starting to sound like a love confession,’ he prods slyly.
‘Maybe it is.’ Tezuka represses the urge to laugh at Fuji’s startled face, twice in one day. Either Fuji is losing his touch, or Tezuka is learning how to get under Fuji’s skin. ‘I’ll be leaving now. Please tell your sister I said thank you for the tea.’ He rises gracefully and walks into the foyer, grabs his coat and turns to leave.
‘Goodnight. Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome. I’ll see you at practice tomorrow morning, Fuji.’
‘Oyasumi. Yudan sezu ni ikou,’ Fuji adds, grinning.
Tezuka offers a rare smile in return.