Title: The Final Shot
Rating: PG, for just a tiny bit of language.
Summary: Fuji tries to help Tezuka through a tough time, only to find himself getting shut out.
Warnings: I'm mean to Tezuka. x_x; Don't worry, I didn't kill him or anything.
Disclaimer: Prince of Tennis is not mine. I only wish it was.
A/N: This was actually my second try, and it was written in three (non-consecutive) days. My first attempt, I slaved over, and only got about half as far before giving up. ^^;; And thanks to A for beta-ing ^_^
Fuji has always watched every one of Tezuka's matches through the viewfinder of his camera. He's always taken pictures, sometimes selling them to newspapers or sports magazines.
And this match is no different. Fuji is there, watching the final match of Wimbledon, Tezuka versus some Russian guy whose name is long and difficult to pronounce.
But to Fuji, someone who is privy to the behind-the-scenes information, there are lots of unconfirmed rumors about this year's Wimbledon, about this year's Tezuka.
Rumors that throughout the tournament, Tezuka's shoulder has been hurting him. Never badly enough to jeopardize his win, and, if the rumors are true, never badly enough for Tezuka to make a comment about it one way or the other.
The rumors are true, Fuji knows, from having watched Tezuka play countless matches since their first year in junior high, from having played against him many times over the years. There hasn't been a single match in this tournament that needed Tezuka to play at his full ability, but never before, in all those years, has Tezuka been careful about how he plays.
Fuji has been worried, but he does not ask his old friend about the unnecessary caution.
But this match, against the Russian who is bigger than even Kabaji and at least twice as powerful, scares Fuji.
He knows that Tezuka is powerful, that his former captain is far stronger than his slender frame leads one to believe. Fuji has, after all, been on the receiving end of that power more than once.
But back in junior high, Kabaji's power had injured Taka's hand. Taka, the most physically powerful member of Seigaku's regulars.
Multiply that power by two, and Taka would probably have been injured badly enough to never play tennis again. Replace Taka with Tezuka, even at his top physical cndition…and there was still no way for Tezuka to come out of that match unscathed.
But Tezuka's shoulder is in pain. Has been, since the start of the tournament, and is now, as the match drags on and on and on…
The Russian's power isn't decreasing, and Fuji fears a repeat of Tezuka's match with Atobe.
But all Fuji can do is watch and photograph.
He watches as Tezuka struggles to return the Russian's serve. Watches Tezuka fight to return the next ball. And the next. And the next. And either the Russian's power is increasing, or Tezuka's shoulder is failing him, because this ball is only barely returned.
Fuji pulls himself away from his camera, watching the match through open eyes. The foreboding feeling he has is too strong to ignore, too strong to worry about taking photos.
And then it happens, what Fuji has been afraid of. The Russian hits a ball with power the likes of which Fuji has never seen before and Tezuka, determined and stubborn as he gets in matches like this, moves and poises himself to return it. His grip on the racket turns his knuckles white, and Fuji can tell he's struggling to not let go, putting all his strength, all his power into his left arm…
…and it's not enough.
Somehow, Tezuka keeps his hold on his racket, but the ball breaks through his strings.
And that's not the only thing it does.
Fuji watches as Tezuka's arm goes limp, Tezuka himself gripping his shoulder and dropping to his knees with a shout so loud that the crowd goes silent.
Fuji's first reaction is to run onto the court, to make sure Tezuka's okay. But he remembers the match against Atobe, all those years ago, and stays put, just staring, watching, waiting.
Silence reigns, until one of the line judges goes out to Tezuka. Fuji watches the line judge's lips move, speaking inaudible words, and after a few more moments Tezuka pulls himself up, but his head is lowered.
Fuji waits, impatiently, for Tezuka to raise his head, retrieve his other racket, and insist he can continue to play.
But Tezuka's head stays down as he walks to retrieve his racket. And Fuji notices Tezuka still hasn't moved his left arm. In fact, Tezuka uses his right hand to pick up his racket.
And then he hears the call. The chair umpire's voice, ringing loud and clear through the speakers set up around the stadium.
"Tezuka has forfeited the match, due to inability to continue."
And that's all Fuji needs to hear.
Fuji moves, then, with all the speed he possesses, and runs down to where he knows Tezuka will be leaving the court. He's considered press, so he knows he can get there. He disregards the other people, crowding around, trying to get to where Tezuka is heading, and shoves others out of the way.
"TEZUKA!!!" Fuji yells when he sees him, pushing through the small crowd, and he notices with a sense of panic that Tezuka has slung his bag over his right shoulder, not his left. Fuji can see the look of pain on that usually so stoic, so calm face, and knows that Tezuka's shoulder is hurting more than he's letting on.
But Tezuka waits for Fuji. Fuji takes Tezuka's bag from him, hoisting it onto his own shoulder, and glares at any who get in their way as Fuji leads Tezuka to where the match has a doctor on hand.
"It hurts. Your shoulder, and your pride," Fuji says softly, away from the crowd. It's not a question, because he knows he's right. "Worse than that time against Atobe."
Tezuka nods once as Fuji pushes open the door to the infirmary and holds it for him.
Fuji is amazed, somehow, that aside from the pain in his eyes, Tezuka is almost completely calm. Fuji can feel his own heart thudding in his chest, his pulse racing as fast and as hard as if he had been the one out there, facing those powerful shots.
He is quiet as the doctor examines Tezuka's shoulder, and doesn't know what to say when the doctor puts Tezuka's arm into a sling and points them towards the ambulance bay, saying that Tezuka needs to get to a hospital for x-rays.
In the ambulance, Fuji asks Tezuka, "Did you need x-rays, then? Against Atobe?"
Tezuka shakes his head. "No. That was a damaged rotator cuff, something that was bound to happen to me eventually."
Fuji worries a little when Tezuka pauses.
"It's probably dislocated," Tezuka finishes, looking first at his left shoulder, then down at the sling.
Again, Fuji finds himself at a loss for words, and they're at the hospital before he can think of anything to say.
The x-rays confirm Tezuka's statement His shoulder is dislocated.
Fuji watches as Tezuka takes a deep breath, relaxing himself for the reduction. The doctor warns them both that it may hurt, and that Fuji might not want to watch.
But Fuji watches anyway, eyes wide open and locked on Tezuka's as the doctor puts his shoulder back into place. He's amazed again that his former captain turned down the anesthesia, and managed to keep himself from screaming.
To Fuji, that looked like it would have hurt like hell.
Weeks pass, and Fuji and Tezuka are both back in Japan. Wimbledon is but a memory, but Fuji worries about his roommate.
"Tezuka," he begins, one morning at breakfast. "…What are you going to do…about tennis?" Fuji knows that Tezuka will be unable to play for a while, waiting for his shoulder to heal, waiting to see if he needs surgery to repair the tendons and ligaments in his shoulder.
Tezuka gives a one-shouldered shrug, Fuji assumes because he doesn't want to dislodge the ice pack on the other. "I'll see how the treatment goes," he replies simply.
Fuji sighs. "You have to be thinking about it, Tezuka. Do you plan on going back to the pros? Do you plan on ever playing again? You could play right handed, you know. You're good enough to pull it off."
"I won't play right handed," Tezuka says firmly, glancing up from the newspaper and looking at Fuji over the rims of his glasses.
Fuji tilts his head curiously. He remembers their first year of junior high, when Tezuka did nothing but play right handed.
And then he remembers asking Tezuka to play against him, not knowing that the upperclassmen in the club had injured Tezuka's elbow for not taking them seriously and playing with his lesser hand.
"Because of your elbow," Fuji states, putting the pieces together.
Tezuka nods. "If it turns out that I can't play as a southpaw, I just won't play."
"Tezuka…" Fuji says sadly, an ache in his heart. Tennis has been Tezuka's life for as long as Fuji has known him. "Do you have any idea what to do with your life, if you're not playing tennis?"
He tries to be patient and wait for an answer, but after several minutes of silence, it's clear that Tezuka has no intention of providing one.
Whether that's because he doesn't know, or he doesn't see the need to inform his roommate, is beyond Fuji.
Fuji sighs and cleans up their breakfast dishes. "I wish you'd talk to me more, Tezuka. We've been friends for so many years now…"
His second attempt at coaxing an answer fails as miserably as the first, and Fuji wonders whether Tezuka plans on talking to him at all anymore.
Since that day at Wimbledon, Tezuka's been quiet, more so than usual. And the silence wouldn't bother Fuji half as much, if Tezuka wasn't going around acting like having his left arm in a sling was a perfectly normal occurrence.
Fuji hears the rustle of newspaper pages turning, and sighs again. He calmly, quietly, puts away the now-clean dishes in his hands, then turns towards Tezuka. As nonchalantly as if it happens every day, Fuji grabs the newspaper and yanks it from Tezuka's hands.
"Tezuka Kunimitsu, I am tired of this," Fuji says, throwing the paper into the wastebasket.
Tezuka looks up at Fuji, surprised, but the look in his eyes tells Fuji that he knows exactly what it is Fuji's tired of.
"Ever since Wimbledon, you've been closing yourself off from me. I know you've never exactly been social, but you used to actually talk to me. Now, I'm lucky to get two full sentences out of you in a day." Fuji takes his seat again, attempting to keep himself calm. Getting angry with Tezuka and yelling at him will make no progress, he knows.
Tezuka says nothing, so Fuji takes a deep breath and continues.
"After your match with Atobe, you went to Kyuushuu for treatment. You practiced and trained and followed doctors' orders, or so I assume. Perhaps you told the doctors to go fuck themselves and made your own regimen. But whatever you did, it was something. Now, you're just sitting here, eating breakfast and reading your paper like your shoulder's perfectly fine." Fuji rubs the bridge of his nose, irritated.
Tezuka's face is more than stoic. It's impassive, completely void of emotion.
"You're doing it again, Tezuka. Closing yourself off from me." Few were capable of that, because Fuji has his own brand of insight that stems from years of people-watching. Tezuka is one of those few, because he has learned over the years the things that Fuji watches for and reads.
Tezuka blinks, still silent, even in the face of Fuji's barely contained anger and frustration.
"I don't know what to do with you anymore, Tezuka," Fuji admits softly, hands sliding up his face and through his hair. "Go to your appointment, before you're late." He doesn't even need to look at the clock, to know that it's that time.
And he's gotten nowhere, despite having kept his temper.
Later that night, Fuji lies awake in his bed, staring up at the ceiling and thinking about the past several years.
In junior high, he'd admitted to finding Tezuka fascinating. In high school, he admitted to himself that he'd developed a crush on the tennis captain.
And now, Fuji admits only to himself that he's not just crushing. He's fallen in love with Tezuka, which is why it pains him so much to see Tezuka so incredibly closed off. But he hasn't been able to figure out if Tezuka feels anything towards him outside of friendship.
And that is probably because Fuji doesn't let himself behave any differently towards Tezuka than he did when they were in junior high. Their friendship is a good one. Or was, until Tezuka's shoulder dislocation at Wimbledon.
Fuji is at his wits' end. Watching the man he loves pull away from him, watching him appear to do nothing about his shoulder's condition… Fuji hasn't seen Tezuka do any form of training since the tournament. Tezuka hasn't even touched his tennis bag since they returned from Wimbledon.
And Fuji wonders if Tezuka intends to play ever again.
Tezuka could play right handed, Fuji knows. He'd need to practice with it, since he hasn't used his right hand to play in years, but Fuji is more than willing to be his opponent for that.
But Tezuka is just…so…damn…stubborn…
Tomorrow, Tezuka doesn't have anything planned. Fuji vows to himself that tomorrow will be different.
Tomorrow turns out to be different the moment Fuji steps out of the shower. Since Tezuka's injury, the routine has been for Fuji to get up, shower, and make breakfast. Tezuka usually gets up sometime while Fuji showers, and they pass each other in the bathroom - Fuji heading out, Tezuka coming in. But this morning, Fuji gets all the way to the kitchen and is about to start preparing breakfast when he realizes that Tezuka didn't pass him in the bathroom. Fuji stops and listens for any sound at all, but all he hears is his own breathing.
Worried, Fuji makes his way to Tezuka's room. There has always been an unspoken rule between them, that they never enter each other's room without invitation, so Fuji knocks, calls Tezuka's name, and puts his ear to the door.
Hearing nothing, Fuji knocks and calls again. "Tezuka? Are you up? I'm getting ready to make breakfast…"
Fuji braces himself to be yelled at, to find an angry Tezuka staring back at him, and opens the door uninvited. He peeks in…
…and finds Tezuka, seated at the corner of his bed, curled up, leaning into the wall joint behind him. Glasses off, eyes slightly glazed.
"Tezuka?" Fuji asks, stepping towards his friend. But Tezuka doesn't move, doesn't even blink, and Fuji starts to panic.
Tezuka's not the kind to kill himself…right? He's stronger than this…
Fuji knows he's overstepping their unspoken rules as he climbs into Tezuka's bed and places two fingers at the pulse point on Tezuka's neck. He places the fingers of his other hand against his own pulse, comparing the strength. Tezuka's is weaker than his own, but there, and not weak enough to warrant Fuji's calling an ambulance.
He feels his eyes water, and settles himself into what should be Tezuka's line of sight, but the way Tezuka's eyes are glazed makes Fuji wonder if his friend is seeing anything at all.
"Tezuka," he says softly, not at all scolding as he'd intended to be before his panic. "Tezuka, please. Talk to me. Say something. Anything."
Tezuka doesn't so much as blink.
"Tezuka…please. I'm worried about you. I was angry yesterday, because you won't talk to me at all, and I don't know what to do anymore. You keep drawing away from me, aside from doctor's visits you haven't left the house since the tournament… And I don't know what to do. I don't really care what you do with your life, but I don't want to see you just…throw it away like this. You're better than this. Tennis is not all you have going for you…" Fuji trails off, and watches a tear slip down Tezuka's cheek. He smiles shakily, because it means that Tezuka's in there, somewhere, hearing his words. It's a sign that, with the right steps and the right words, Tezuka can be drawn back out of whatever little world he'd closed himself into.
Fuji brushes away the tear with a gentle finger, and leans in to rest his forehead against Tezuka's. He runs his own left hand along the length of Tezuka's right arm, and maybe he's just imagining it (especially since it's so hard to see for sure from this close), but he thinks that Tezuka's eyes are slowly un-glazing.
"Tezuka. I know how important tennis is to you. I know you want to play, and that you don't want to quit. What you do from here out is your choice…but I'll be by your side supporting you for every step of it. I've been by you since junior high, Tezuka. I haven't left you yet. I have no plans on leaving." Fuji tilts his head and brushes his lips against Tezuka's, barely enough to be called a kiss. "I'm in love with you, Tezuka Kunimitsu. There isn't a thing in this world you can do to get rid of me, so you might as well just open up and let me in."
Another tear slips down Tezuka's cheek, and this one Fuji kisses away. Then he pulls back, his own blue eyes open, examining the look on Tezuka's face. He smiles when he sees that Tezuka's eyes are wet with the tears he's too proud to shed, and no longer glazed over.
So Fuji settles himself against the wall to Tezuka's right, and slides an arm around him, mindful of Tezuka's shoulder.
He smiles again when he feels Tezuka lean against him, and watches Tezuka's legs uncurl.
"The doctor says that joints that have been dislocated have a higher chance of future dislocation. Even if I can play tennis again…I won't be able to take on the same level of opponents without higher risk to my shoulder." Tezuka's voice is soft and thick with restrained emotion, but Fuji is glad to hear it.
Fuji waits patiently for Tezuka to say more. He knows that Tezuka is already aware of the questions Fuji wants to ask.
Tezuka takes a deep breath, and speaks again. "I…don't think I'll go back to playing. At least not professionally."
Fuji holds Tezuka closer, tighter. He knows it costs Tezuka much to make that decision.
"Maybe…I'll go back to school. Get that degree I started on, before putting it on hold for tennis."
Fuji remembers that. Journalism. Sports Journalism, specifically. He remembers that during high school, Tezuka had written articles for the school paper, particularly about the local tennis teams, but about other sports as well. He remembers reading them. They were excellent articles, and Tezuka's teachers had suggested he consider a career in journalism.
Tezuka had followed their advice, and tried to earn a degree while also playing as a professional tennis player. The two paths had conflicted more often than not, so Tezuka had put his education on the back burner, taking night classes when he could, but mostly entering and winning tournament after tournament.
"You'd be good at Journalism. We could be a team, even. I take all the pictures, you write the articles," Fuji tells him, gently stroking Tezuka's side with his palm.
Tezuka chuckles a little, and Fuji smiles.
"Would you still play against me? And not go easy on me because of my shoulder?" Tezuka asks, and Fuji wonders if that's a hint of insecurity in Tezuka's voice, or if he's imagining it.
"Of course. So would Echizen. And Atobe, and Sanada, and Yukimura, and all those other players you called rivals back in junior high," Fuji assures him. He promises for himself, and is sure the others would also agree (and that he would be able to coax them into agreement if they didn't). "You'd have to promise, though, that you'd stop before you injured yourself again."
Fuji feels Tezuka nod.
Tezuka sighs and becomes heavier against Fuji. "The time against Atobe…I fought so hard because I was captain. Because I had a team I couldn't let down, a promise to keep. But the pros are different. The only one I'd let down is myself, the only broken promises are my own. Since Wimbledon… I realized I'd rather be playing as part of a team, if I'm going to play for anything more than fun. That's why…I'll be okay, as long as I can play well enough to play you. It will be enough." Tezuka's voice sounds sleepy, like he'd been awake all night.
Fuji realizes that he probably had been, and that his body had probably just kind of…shut down to force him to rest, leaving him in the state in which Fuji had found him.
He turns to Tezuka and kisses the top of his hair. "Sleep, Tezuka," he says softly. "You look like you need it."
Tezuka nods, then lifts his head and presses his mouth to Fuji's, a much firmer kiss than Fuji's pathetic excuse for one earlier. Then he pulls away and rests his head against Fuji's shoulder.
Fuji feels Tezuka's breathing even out, and knows instinctively that he's asleep. He shifts a little and settles in, arm still around Tezuka, and leans his head back against the wall. Maybe he'll sleep some, too, and they can start the day with lunch.
Fuji wakes up a little after noon, and finds Tezuka no longer by his side. Concerned, he gets up and roams about the apartment, searching for his roommate.
He finds Tezuka at the kitchen table, recently showered and dressed, face hiding behind the newspaper. Fuji wonders if their talk was just a dream, until he remembers that he'd woken up in Tezuka's bed.
Tezuka puts the paper down and smiles at him.
Fuji smiles back, pushing up his shirtsleeves. "So. What would you like for lunch?" he asks, opening a cabinet.
He hears Tezuka's chair scooting across the floor, Tezuka's confident steps behind him, and then he feels a hand on the small of his back. Surprised, he turns towards Tezuka, eyes open and watching.
"I was thinking we could go out to eat today," Tezuka says, a hint of a smile on his lips.
Fuji blinks, surprised again, then smiles. Tezuka hasn't wanted to eat out since his injury.
He wraps his arms around Tezuka, grinning from ear to ear. "Absolutely," he says, and his happiness is audible. "Just us, this time. Next time, I'm making you be social and hang out with the old team."
Tezuka nods, the hint of a smile growing a little.
"And after lunch, we're going to the university to get you enrolled in classes. You can't just sit on your ass all day every day," Fuji says firmly, with a tone that leaves no room for argument.
Tezuka nods again, arm winding around Fuji's waist and pulling him closer.
Fuji smiles and leans up a little, kissing Tezuka more confidently this time. He threads the fingers of his left hand with those of Tezuka's right, and gives them a gentle squeeze when he pulls back.
"Come on, Tezuka," he says, grabbing his keys off the counter. "I don't know about you, but I'm starving." Fuji doesn't even wait for Tezuka's response before tugging the man towards the door.
Fuji smiles to himself. Tezuka's real healing will start now.