Title: Perfect Circle
Summary: How it begins, and why it won't—can't—end.
Disclaimer: I neither own nor profit from the Prince of Tennis.
A/N: Happy White Day! :D
It begins fairly simply:
In Fuji's second year at Seigaku, three of his teachers refer him to the school psychiatrist in order to cope with his "loss"—namely, Yuuta's departure from the school. The other three seem to be under the impression that Fuji is glad that Yuuta is gone, which is probably a lot more ridiculous. "None of that nasty sibling rivalry to deal with, eh?" are his history's teacher's exact words. Fuji's responses to all six teachers are, in no particular order, smile, smile, smile, smile, smile, and smile. It works marvelously—the first three are surprised at his quick recovery and cancel his three appointments with the school psychiatrist, and the second three stop teasing him.
In truth, Fuji is (naturally) upset. For two weeks after Yuuta's departure, Fuji leads a double life: the nice, friendly, smiling boy-next-door in school, and the recluse at home. He 'loses' his cell phone in the dam, gets a new one, and only sends the number to Yuuta and his sister. When Eiji complains about it in class, Fuji tells him it's been confiscated by his parents until he gets his grades up.
He also excuses himself from the tennis club, to Eiji's chagrin and the captain's severe disapproval. He sends his excuses to Ryuuzaki-sensei, who understands more than the club leadership might. Luckily for him, the melancholy doesn't quite last forever.
The first day of his return to the tennis club, he comes in tardy, choosing to change only after everyone else has already gone out to the courts. When he finally alights, the captain is nowhere to be found, and he makes a beeline for Tezuka, the vice-captain. Up to that point, they'd known each other in passing, though Tezuka was friendlier to him than most.
"Hey," Fuji says in greeting. "Sorry I'm late."
"It was a family emergency," Tezuka replies, eyes still on the game in front of him. "Am I right?" Before Fuji can answer, he says, "Court D, opposite Yamada. Take a few minutes to stretch first."
Fuji nods, stretching on the ground beside Tezuka's feet. Then he picks up his racket and walks over to Court D, where Yamada is practicing his serves. "Sorry I'm late, Yamada-senpai," Fuji says. "We can rally for a bit before starting." He feels Tezuka's searching eyes on his back, wonders briefly if he's only imagining it all in his head. Then he shrugs and serves.
Nobody comes even close to beating Fuji that day.
"Thanks," Fuji says after practice. "That was probably more than I deserved." He yanks his regular jersey off, rummaging in his cubby for his shirt. The two of them are the last ones in the clubroom, having gone to discuss Fuji's absence with Ryuuzaki-sensei and the captain before coming back to change.
Tezuka is bent over, tying his shoelaces. "Practice went well," he says. "That's all that matters."
Fuji pulls his shirt on, starts buttoning it up from the bottom. "Is it really?" he asks. "By the way," he says, "where was the captain during practice?"
"He had a make-up exam. Luckily for you." Tezuka straightens and slings his bag over his shoulder. "I promised I would be home early today," he says. "The early bus leaves in ten minutes."
Fuji grins. "Tomorrow, then."
Tezuka nods. "Bye."
It has been two years since that incident, and Fuji still remembers it quite clearly; the planes of light streaming into the clubroom from the tiny window above the door, the first-years gawping at him as he'd returned to the team without so much as a ripple of punishment. (Of course, after Tezuka becomes the captain, Fuji starts running laps for things a lot less incendiary than disappearing for two weeks and being late on his first day back. "With great power," he says airily to Tezuka on one such day, "comes great responsibility," to which Tezuka responds by never putting Fuji and Echizen in the same ranking match block.)
He doesn't join the tennis club in his first year of senior high school. Over lunch on the first day of school, he tells Eiji: "It's sort of a been-there, done-that kind of feeling."
"Yeah, but," Eiji says, waving a riceball in the air, "wouldn't it be cool to win Nationals twice?"
Fuji considers this. "Not really," he says. "But just for you, Eiji, I'll consider joining the tennis club, say—second year?"
"You just don't want to spend a year picking up balls," Eiji grouses. "You should work up the hierarchy like everyone else, Fuji." But he's grinning, as easy to please as always.
"Where's the fun in that?" Fuji asks. He's smiling too.
For Fuji, high school isn't much different from junior high school. He joins the tennis club in his second year as promised, to Tezuka's quiet approval, and makes it into the regular lineup with ease. "What can I say," Fuji says to Tezuka under his breath during stretches, "history repeats itself."
"Let's hope not," Tezuka replies, getting up. "Everyone, two laps around the courts! When you're finished, practice serving!"
Fuji takes off, and only realizes Tezuka's concern when he rounds the first turn of his second lap. Upon finishing, he jogs up to Tezuka. "Hey," he says.
"Pick a partner and rally," is all Tezuka says. He looks a little bored. "The captain left no further instructions."
"About earlier—thanks for the sentiment," Fuji says quietly.
"Pick a partner and rally," Tezuka repeats.
Fuji has played against Tezuka, on official and unofficial counts, five times by the end of senior high school. Fuji's won twice, Tezuka's won three times, and Echizen, the insufferable brat, has won all five by association. "Echizen's in the newspaper again," Fuji says over potato salad, fried rice, and microwaved chicken, tossing the local paper to Tezuka. "He has stubble now. Isn't he cute? In the trailer park sense, of course."
Tezuka opens the paper to the sports section and makes some comment that sounds vaguely like "growing up too fast". "Straight wins in the Australian Open," he reads aloud. "Well," he comments, "that sounds like him, if it doesn't look like him."
"We're all growing up too fast," Fuji agrees. "Yumiko wrote me and told me she found a white hair. She's distraught."
"She's in America," Tezuka replies, still reading the article. "No doubt they have fixes for that."
Fuji laughs, watching Tezuka read. His eyes land on a sentence in the article—Echizen's signature serve has been integral in his path to victory in the Open semifinals—and he does a double take. "Integral," he says suddenly. "I just remembered."
Tezuka looks up. "What?"
"I have a calculus exam tomorrow," Fuji says. "Oral. Professor gives us the name of a theorem; we lecture on it."
Tezuka closes the newspaper. "I can help you study," he says. Echizen's picture sits on the dinner table by the potato salad, forgotten.
Fuji gets up. "I'd appreciate that," he says. "I just need to match the theorems to names, though." He winks. "No use knowing what the—hospital guy theorem is if I don't know what it's named."
"L'Hôpital's Rule," Tezuka says drily. "And it's your turn to do the dishes."
"Spoilsport," Fuji says lightly. He clears the table, tossing the newspaper into the trash.
They are roommates for the course of their undergraduate studies by chance, not by choice, though the contact in the Director of Undergraduate Affairs office probably helps. Fuji is pre-med; Tezuka is pre-law—well on their respective ways to become paragons of Asian male success. Both their schedules are so busy that the rare few times they actually see each other are the weekends and the times right before and after they pass out in their dorm room, sometimes on the wrong beds.
"We are so coordinated," Fuji says delightedly the morning he finds himself on Tezuka's bed, feet on Tezuka's pillow, and Tezuka on Fuji's bed, feet by a pile of Fuji's more vile textbooks.
"You're doing the laundry," Tezuka says blearily, eyeing his pillow.
In their sophomore year, Tezuka invites Fuji to his house over Golden Week. "My family is curious," he says. "My mother and grandfather are surprised that you don't irritate me."
Fuji laughs. "I wonder why."
They take the subway back to Adachi, stopping only for lunch at a quaint udon shop. "It's been so long since we last visited our families," Fuji says, then chuckles a little. "Well, only my mother will be home, but it's better than nothing."
They arrive at Tezuka's house a little after noon by taking the bus, then walking a few blocks to his front door. Even from the outside, the house is formidably traditional and strict, an unwatered glass of Japanese culture. Fuji takes care to set his shoes outside the main sliding door, parallel to the wall and perpendicular to the inside of the house, and to his vague amusement, Tezuka kneels and does the same. He offers Tezuka a bland smile when he straightens.
"Feng shui?" Fuji asks, and Tezuka rolls his eyes briefly before motioning him inside.
"My family will be home in a bit," he says. "We're early."
In the house, walking on Tezuka's stiff tatami floors, Fuji feels like a tourist. There is a certain sanctity to the halls, a certain strange, detached sterility that Fuji's only ever seen matched in museums. The only difference is that a museum puts everything it has on display—and Tezuka, much like his household, is furtive and secret, hidden under layers of masks and walls.
Fuji's a little too polite to take a wrecking ball to those walls, or so to speak, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't want to try.
The first time they visit the street tennis courts by the dorm, it is during school hours, and the courts are virtually empty. "Lucky us," Fuji says, setting his bag down by the net. "For a minute there I was afraid we'd have to venture into foreign territory."
"Pardon?" Tezuka asks. He takes a drink of water, sets his bag down as well.
"Doubles," Fuji says. At Tezuka's puzzled glance, he smiles. "Oh, right, you weren't there. The courts that Momo and Echizen used to frequent would only play doubles, no singles."
"How limiting," Tezuka remarks.
"Mmm," Fuji says. "Shall we begin?"
Tezuka serves; they rally. By the end, they are sweaty and laughing—even Tezuka, who's fighting to catch his breath. "It's been a while," he says, a faint smile. He holds out his hand over the net, and Fuji clasps it, grinning.
"Three-all," he says.
The second time they visit the street tennis courts, it is after class, and the courts are jam-packed with college and high school students alike. "Lucky us," Fuji says, this time a little apprehensively.
"I suppose we have no choice," Tezuka says, pulling out his racket and walking up to a doubles pair standing opposite an empty court. "Excuse me," he says. He motions to Fuji, who saunters up to the court.
"We're undefeated," the taller of the doubles pair says. "You sure you can take that?" They're only kids, juniors in high school at best. One is a redhead.
Fighting a smirk, Fuji says, "Oh dear, an undefeated doubles pair. Considering that we've never played together before, Tezuka, I don't know if we could handle this."
Tezuka doesn't get the humor. "Your standing in the street tennis circuit"—at this, Fuji tries not to fall over giggling and fails—"is irrelevant. I accept your challenge. Fuji."
Fuji snaps to attention, saluting with his tennis racket. "Aye, aye, captain." He marches onto the court, doing an absurd impression of a tin soldier. "Do you want me to stand off to the side while you cream them one-handed, or should I make a grand show of trying to hit the ball?" Tezuka snorts and moves next to him, and Fuji bumps his elbow, laughing.
"Wait," he says slowly, "Tezuka and Fuji?"
"No," Fuji says seriously. "Fuji and Tezuka. There's a difference." Tezuka looks at him strangely, but Fuji just keeps smiling.
"Tezuka Kunimitsu and Fuji Shuusuke—of Seigaku?" The redhead is leaning closer, almost rocking on the balls of his feet. "You're joking, right?"
"I don't joke," Tezuka says.
"But you don't play doubles," the redhead says, clearly confused. "And no offense, Tezuka-senpai, but the doubles you played in the game against Shitenhouji the year you guys took Nationals… that wasn't doubles."
"So you're a fan of his," Fuji puts in.
"Isn't everyone?" The redhead returns, grinning. "My family moved after I graduated from junior high, so I don't go to Seigaku anymore. But I still follow all their sports."
"Isn't that nice, Tezuka," Fuji says, twirling his racket. "You've left a legacy behind." He smiles at the two kids, winningly. "So, any chance of a match? Tezuka's not too fond of pointless conversation."
The redhead considers this, then nods. "You can have the court for a singles match if you guys will play a real game." He grins. "I've wanted to watch you both since… man, I don't even know anymore."
Fuji looks at Tezuka, laughs. "So much for doubles," he says.
It is like this:
When Fuji first meets Tezuka, it is on the green of a junior high tennis court, and it is, like Tezuka, polite and terse. They exchange cursory greetings; say nothing beyond the strictly polite. This is point A; note, for the purposes of graphical illustration, that it would be at roughly (0,4) on a rectangular Cartesian plane. The score is 1-1; they are fourteen.
Point A connects to Point B (4,0) in senior high school, when Fuji rejoins the tennis club. With half the original lineup gone, and unfamiliar teammates, they bond—easily, quickly, over badly-flavored nutrition drinks and the lime-yellow fuzziness of tennis balls on cushioned asphalt. At the close of Point B, the score is 3-2 Tezuka's lead; they are sixteen.
Point B connects to Point C (-4,0) at Tokyo University, the day that Tezuka opens his assigned dorm room and finds Fuji's cactus collection staring back at him. It is awkward for about two seconds, before Fuji wanders back from the bathroom and laughs. Then, still smiling, he helps Tezuka unpack his things, dragging him out to a local café for lunch. The score is 3-3; they are seventeen.
When Fuji first meets Tezuka—the Tezuka behind the layers of whatever he'd been behind—it is on the green of a street tennis court and it is, unlike Tezuka, rather strange but easy, friendly. Fuji laughs and shakes Tezuka's hand, and when they walk away from the courts amidst loud cheers and clapping, their elbows brush: once, twice, three times. This is point D, at (0,-4). The score is 4-3 Fuji's lead; they are eighteen and nineteen.
Point E has the unfortunate—misfortune of colliding with Point A somehow and sending it four units down to (0,0), though how that happens nobody is entirely sure. It is not in Fuji's nature to make sense; it is not in Tezuka's nature to force it. In any case, it begins because someone draws a dot, somewhere. It keeps going because it is not in Fuji's nature to make sense—that is, it is not in Fuji's nature to travel in straight lines, from point to point, but to throw curveballs every once in a while. And it doesn't stop because it is not in Tezuka's nature to force a line segment into becoming a line.
The only problem with the entire equation is: nobody can quite figure out where it ends, or who wins, because it just keeps going...