Title: About Tennis
Pairing: Tezuka/Fuji, unrequited Tachibana/Fuji
Summary: It all comes back to tennis.
Warnings: Spoilers for Genius 243 and 244 and parts of the Nationals arc.
Disclaimer: The characters used in this fic aren't mine.
A/N: Thanks a lot to D for the beta!
The problem was, Fuji thought as he looked out the window at a yellow butterfly landing on a pink flower, that Tezuka had finally learned to care for something more than he cared about tennis. This wasn't something that displeased Fuji at all but it certainly brought new possibilities that would have to be addressed. He supposed he would have to thank Tachibana eventually for enlightening him in this matter but for now, maybe it was wiser to stay away, at least for a bit.
In the front of the classroom the teacher cleared his throat and Fuji glanced at him. He was fixed with a stern look that Fuji returned with a smile. Psychology was an interesting subject but that didn't mean that Fuji had to give it his whole attention, even if the rest of his classmates were busy scribbling every word that was spoken. Fuji wasn’t about to emulate them just to please the teacher; that wasn't why he was here.
After a few seconds the teacher started speaking again and Fuji turned back to the window. The butterfly was now gone. He looked past the branches of the nearby tree to the tennis courts in the distance. They were empty now, practice was in the afternoon and early morning, but noon was coming close and many students would be going there during their lunch hour to challenge someone to a game or two.
The courts were closed to everyone but the tennis team members except on the lunch hours, from noon to two, so the many people that still loved to play, but weren't skilled enough to make the team, crowded in these two hours trying to get as much practice as they could before the next ranking matches.
Fuji had known when he entered this university that they took pride in their tennis team. Tezuka had been sure he was informed of the fact. After all, it was the reason Tezuka had picked this particular school among the many others he could have entered. He wasn't captain, not just yet, but Fuji knew that just as soon as the current captain graduated, Tezuka would take his place, especially after the last tournament match just a week ago.
His lips curved up a little more, thinking of the game. He spent the rest of the class replaying the match, each shot, each moment, each gesture, each look that was thrown his way. It was funny how everything came back to tennis.
* * *
Fingers linked on the wire fence, Fuji watched the practice match, smiling softly. He only knew the players by name and by what Tezuka had told him about them but nothing more. This, actually, was the first time he had watched them practice, the first time Fuji had decided to stand by the courts and just observe. They were skilled enough. They certainly had earned their place as regulars of the University tennis team, but Fuji still found them boring. Their shots were rash, without holding any of the spirit and tenacity he had grown used to from his teammates in Seigaku.
Tezuka used to tell him that Seigaku was long ago and this was now. Fuji knew that but he also realized that he would always compare any type of tennis with the one played during junior high. He also knew Tezuka secretly felt the same way.
Maybe that was way Tezuka's face didn't show the same type of intensity as it did before. He was just as dedicated as before, if not more, he was flawless in his play and had yet to lose a university tennis match but still, Fuji thought something was missing.
"Reminiscing old times?"
Fuji tilted his head to where Oshitari Yuushi was leaning on the other side of the fence. He was casually sipping from his water bottle, also watching the match.
"This is nothing like it was then," Fuji replied. His eyes traveled to the far court where Tezuka was playing a match with a far less skilled opponent.
"Is that why you refused to join the team?"
Fuji's smile turned playful. "Two prodigies in one team would feel awkward."
Oshitari snorted. "Afraid I might steal the spotlight?"
Prying his fingers away from the fence, Fuji shrugged. "You should get back to practice. Your captain is glaring." Without waiting for an answer, he turned around and left.
* * *
"I saw you at practice today."
Fuji leaned back on the wall, stretching his legs in front of him. This was his favorite spot in Tezuka's room, just by the window where he could see the whole room, see Tezuka no matter where he decided to sit. "I had a free period."
Tezuka was sitting at his desk, his books opened in front of him and a pencil in his hand. They had been studying together, each quietly reading the material needed for their respective classes. It wasn't like Tezuka to start a conversation in the middle of his study time, but then again, it wasn't like Fuji to stop by the tennis courts in his free periods either. "The coach recognized you."
"Did he?" Fuji lowered his eyes back to the papers he was reading, not really expecting an answer. Tezuka wasn't one to repeat himself.
"He asked Oshitari about you."
Fuji grinned. The coach didn't know Fuji and Tezuka knew each other. Actually, no one on the team, except maybe Oshitari, knew Tezuka was involved with someone and they wouldn't even imagine that someone was of the same sex. "I told him there isn't room for two prodigies on that team."
"The coach disagrees." Tezuka let his pencil fall on the desk and rotated his chair to fully face Fuji, all pretense of studying gone.
"I'm not interested in joining the team."
They'd had this conversation before. Tezuka had only insisted during their first month at university, and since then, he had only hinted when there were again open calls for new team members. Fuji just smiled and changed the subject.
When Tezuka didn't speak again, Fuji resumed his reading. He was almost done when Tezuka closed his book and said, "Have a match with me."
Putting the papers away, Fuji started to stand up. "Of course."
* * *
Fuji returned the shot, the ball landing on the line, too fast for his opponent to catch. He smiled and lowered his hand, fighting the urge to rub his wrist. "You are getting stronger, Yuuta."
His brother scowled. "Don't be condescending." He went to the back line, took a ball from his pocket, and served. Fuji watched the ball bounce and returned it easily. He risked taking his eyes from the ball to watch his brother's face. His lips were pressed on a thin line and his eyes were fierce with determination and pride. Fuji kept his smile as he returned the shot and took the point.
Fuji finished the match and Yuuta walked out of the court without saying goodbye and didn't even turn back when Fuji told him he would see him at home.
"You never lose to him," a voiced said as Fuji sat on the bench and took a sip of water. The street courts were empty because it was so early. Few people were willing to get up before dawn on a Sunday to play a match, and usually, Fuji wouldn't either, but Yuuta had asked.
"I have," Fuji answered, placing his water bottle back in his bag. "Once."
He didn't turn around to look at Tezuka. He knew, before being asked, that Tezuka would want a match and Fuji would give it to him.
"You let him win," Tezuka said; there was a hint of the tone Tezuka used when he asked Fuji to play seriously, but just a hint.
If it was possible, Yuuta had hated him even more for that. Yuuta would be hurt, no matter if Fuji humiliated him by losing or by letting him win, but if he won, at least Yuuta wouldn't think Fuji didn't consider him worthy, at least he hoped so. "Just once," Fuji repeated, and this time he did turn around to look at Tezuka. He could see the question there; why was he denied while Yuuta wasn't.
Fuji picked the racket from his bag and stood up. "Want to play, Tezuka?"
The frown and disappointment was barely visible but Fuji could see it. Still, Fuji wouldn't give in, not when that voice in the back of his head kept telling him that while Yuuta might hate him for his tennis, Tezuka might only love him for it.
* * *
Fuji's hand rested on the handle of the door while he looked at the person standing outside. His smile didn't drop and he nodded slightly as he said, "Tachibana, this is a surprise."
Hair blond and a lot longer now that it was in junior high, Tachibana stood at the threshold, dressed in jeans and a button up blue shirt. "It's been a while."
Moments later they were walking down the street, heading for the park or just any place to sit and talk. Tachibana had enrolled in a university in Okinawa and he and Fuji only corresponded by mail sporadically, not keeping a close friendship but not being distanced from each other either.
It was mid afternoon but that didn't stop them from going to grab a couple of beers. The bar was dark enough that it gave the illusion of a later hour and even though it wasn't crowded, there were a few groups of students talking loudly in other tables.
"You are here for the tournament," Fuji said when they were in the middle of their third beer.
Tachibana placed his bottle on the table and nodded. "The game is this Saturday."
Fuji already knew that. He knew enough about his school tennis team. Tezuka made sure Fuji was informed; it was better to be prepared, he'd said. Fuji remembered every bit of information Tezuka gave him, it was second nature to him and it didn't matter if it was the tennis lineup or the little noises Tezuka made when Fuji kissed him.
With the first sip of the fourth beer Fuji said, "You want something."
"I wanted to see you," Tachibana's eyes were trained on Fuji. "It's been a while," he repeated.
"I know, but you want something more." Much more if Fuji was reading Tachibana correctly. It was the eyes, the way Tachibana leaned a little closer than necessary to talk to him or how his tone of voice was slightly different whenever he talked to Fuji.
But Tachibana surprised him saying, "I want a match."
Fuji's smile turned playful. "Have you run out of valuable opponents in Okinawa already?"
Tachibana brought his beer bottle to his lips slowly, taking his time drinking from it. "Think of it as returning the favor I did for you in junior high."
A short laugh escaped Fuji's lips. "I'm not in the team. If you want to test your abilities before Saturday I would advice you seek an opponent that's still playing competitive tennis."
The bangs in front of Tachibana's eyes moved right and left as he shook his head. "I want to play you."
"Why?" Fuji started peeling the adhesive label on his beer bottle. He wondered if Tachibana knew that he played with Tezuka frequently. He dismissed the idea immediately because even if Tachibana could guess that bit of information there was no way he could know how intensively they played or of by playing Fuji he could get an insight into Tezuka's strength or not. And even so, Tachibana wasn't the type to try something like that.
"We never got to finish that match." His fingers brushed over Fuji's slightly as he finished peeling the label of Fuji's beer.
Fuji's fingers pulled away quickly but the smile didn't drop. "Tomorrow?" he asked, keeping his gaze fixed on Tachibana.
The other nodded and took a swig of his beer, his fingers still clutching the label.
* * *
"You've been drinking."
Fuji took off his jacket and placed it on his desk chair. He walked to the bed and sat beside where Tezuka had been waiting for him. "How long have you been here?"
"Drinking isn't healthy," Tezuka said, stubbornly ignoring Fuji's question and giving him a disapproving glare.
"A few beers don't make me an alcoholic, Tezuka." Fuji moved closer and brushed his lips lightly over Tezuka's. "I saw Tachibana today."
Tezuka's eyes narrowed and his fingers, resting just a few inches away from Fuji's hand, moved close enough to touch. "I'm playing him Saturday," he said, neutrally, but his tone was a little strained.
Careful to keep his smile exactly the same, Fuji curled the tips of his fingers around Tezuka's. "He asked me for a match."
The tension wasn't only palpable in Tezuka's hand but also clearly visible in the grim expression on his face. "Why?"
Fuji had never told Tezuka about that match. If Tezuka had been there, maybe Fuji would have asked him to play a match before nationals, or maybe he wouldn't have, but the fact remained that with Tezuka gone, he hadn't been given the chance to choose. So he had gone to Tachibana and he had kept that match to himself. "It's personal," he said, knowing as he spoke the words that they would unsettle Tezuka.
Not harshly, but quickly, Tezuka moved his hand away. He didn't say anything but that single gesture had spoken volumes. If it was personal and it concerned Fuji, then it should concern Tezuka as well.
Without meaning to, Fuji wondered if Tezuka was upset about Tachibana or about Fuji having a match with him. After the years they had been together, known each other, a part of Fuji still wondered if Tezuka could distinguish between Fuji and Fuji's skill or if what had brought them together, brought Tezuka to him, had been anything more than tennis.
When Tezuka had asked him why he refused to join the university tennis team, Fuji had replied that there were other interests he wanted to pursue, and it was partly true. He was having a couple of his pictures shown in a gallery exhibition the day after tomorrow and a few of his essays had already been published in local culture magazines. However, he still wondered if, deep inside, what he was doing was trying to show Tezuka a Fuji apart from tennis to see if Tezuka still loved him.
Fuji couldn't tell. After all, he had been unable to part completely from tennis. No matter what he said or what he was trying to find out, when Tezuka asked for a match, Fuji gave him one. It might have been just tennis but between them, when they played together, it was still special, still something that linked them and probably would never fall apart. However, Fuji wondered if it was all they had.
"I need to go," Tezuka said standing up. Fuji followed him out and they parted without a kiss.
* * *
It wasn't his idea to have the match here but that didn't mean that Fuji minded the place. After almost three years studying in this university, this was the first time he had stepped inside their tennis courts. It felt foreign but comfortable at the same time. He could never feel awkward in a tennis court.
Looking at Tachibana across the net, Fuji smiled and extended his hand. The other took it, his eyes glinting, and said, "I won't hold back."
Fuji nodded in response but didn't make the same promise.
Tachibana was ruthless from the start. His style of play was aggressive and powerful, many of the shots missing Fuji's body by mere inches. Smile still in place, Fuji matched Tachibana's game point by point. So far, he had abstain of using any of his special moves, just playing a solid type of tennis that wasn't flashy or harmonic or beautiful, a type of tennis that focused in wining every point, the type Tezuka played.
The way Tachibana looked at him every time a point was taken told Fuji that this wasn't the game Tachibana wanted to have. He was fierce but his eyes looked disappointed, like he was trying to grasp something that was just out of his reach.
They allowed themselves a short water break, and sat side by side on the bench, breathing harshly and trying to keep their concentration intact for when they resumed their game. It was only then that Fuji allowed himself to pay attention to the murmurs around the court and the large number of people that had stopped by the side to see their game. He glanced at his watch and placed it back on his bag. They didn't have much time before the courts were off limits to non-team members and Fuji had to get ready for his first afternoon class.
As Fuji threw the ball to serve and resume the game, he noticed Tezuka's glasses reflecting the sun. Service ace. He took his time taking another ball from his pocket and looked towards where Tezuka was standing away from the rest of the crowd, his eyes meeting Fuji's across the fence.
When Fuji looked back at the court, Tachibana was frowning.
With a smile towards Tezuka, Fuji did a disappearing serve. The murmurs of the crowed became exited as he took the point. Later, Tachibana returned each of the first triple counters but Fuji took a point with the fourth. He took one game using the other four, noticing, with great amusement, that the crowd had grown bigger.
Tezuka stood still, arms crossed over his chest, his expression neutral.
Contrary to what Fuji had thought, Tachibana's disappointment hadn't faded from his eyes and an even deeper scowl had settled in. Fuji had the feeling that he was succeeding in waking the sleeping lion with every angry shot Tachibana threw. It was a challenge; Tachibana wanted even more, he wanted for Fuji to go all out, to show how many other counters he had developed over the years, to have a chance to display his true potential, but Fuji didn't.
There were more counters, all named, tested and displayed, but Tachibana wasn't Fuji's intended audience. Few had seen them so far and they were regularly used against only one, the only person other than his brother that Fuji would play happily against every day.
Fuji ran, stretching his hand to reach Tachibana's return shot. He extended his arm, steadying his feet as the ball hit the racket, sending a sharp pain down his wrist. Fuji gritted his teeth and forced his hand to move. The ball landed on the other side of the court, just on the line and didn't bounce. Fuji's racket fell on the floor.
For once the crowd was quiet.
Fuji bent down to pick his racket but before he could a voice cut through the court.
"Everyone please vacate the courts, they are now for exclusive use of the tennis team." Tezuka's voice appeared to be neutral but Fuji could detect annoyance and something else he couldn't quite define in the tone.
Using his left hand to pick his racket, Fuji gave Tachibana an apologetic smile. They both headed to the bench to collect their belongings while the crowd dispersed. "We can continue this in a street court if you want to."
Tachibana dried his face with a towel and shook his head. "Our fate seems to be to leave matches unfinished. Maybe another time."
When Fuji turned around, Tezuka was nowhere in sight, but other team players were already gathering inside the courts. The coach was there too and walking towards him. Fuji forced himself to smile.
* * *
Tezuka wasn't home when Fuji went to look for him. The house appeared to be empty so Fuji sat on the front steps to wait. The sun was setting and the weather was starting to get colder. Fuji was wearing a simple sweater and he put his arms around himself and looked up at the sky, hunting for the first star.
Three appeared before he heard Tezuka's steps approach and stop before him. "It's cold," Tezuka said.
"I don't mind," Fuji lowered his gaze from the sky until he was looking at Tezuka's eyes. "I was counting stars."
Tezuka didn't look up. "Come inside," he said.
They made their way to Tezuka's room, closing the door behind them. Fuji let his school bag fall on the corner behind the door and stood by the desk instead of claiming his usual spot on the floor by the window. Tezuka stood behind him, as if he was waiting for Fuji to move before he could.
"You are upset," Fuji said, turning around and smiling at Tezuka before sitting on the bed.
Tezuka's lips were pressed in a thin line. He sat beside Fuji and took his right hand gently, then he moved the sleeve of Fuji's sweater back to reveal a bandage covering the wrist. Fuji didn't try to snatch his hand back or cover the injury. Tezuka had known from the moment Fuji's racket fell on the floor. No one knew him better than Tezuka, or could see his weaknesses so clearly.
"I could have finished the match," Fuji said, flexing his fingers slowly. They were stiff.
"That wasn't why I stopped it."
They both knew it was a lie.
"What if I could never play anymore?" Fuji asked, not really knowing why he was speaking the words, not now. "What if tennis was no longer a part of me?"
Tezuka's eyes widened slightly. "You can still play."
"That's not what I'm asking," Fuji pointed.
"I don't know what you are asking," Tezuka confessed, his tone slightly frustrated.
Fuji remained quiet. He wasn't sure what he was asking either.
Tezuka squeezed his fingers and then kissed him on the corner of his lips. As Tezuka unbuttoned Fuji's shirt, all thoughts of tennis slipped away.
* * *
Dressed in loose slacks and a non-descriptive white shirt, Fuji stood in a corner of the gallery, watching unobtrusively as people walked by admiring the pieces. The owner had insisted he needed to be present and wouldn't let him leave until they had a toast and an official opening in the middle of the evening.
He didn't find any appeal in people pointing at one of his pictures and asking him why he had taken it. What does it mean? You really are a genius! It was tiring and monotonous and not the way Fuji intended to spend an evening. Instead, he hid in plain sight, watching amused as people stood in front of one of his photographs and nodded thoughtfully, as if they understood. Maybe they did, Fuji didn't know and he didn't really want to. It was more interesting this way.
"Shouldn't you be having a drink and being congratulated for your work?"
Fuji didn't turn to look at Tachibana. He hid his surprise behind a smile and said, "They don't need me for that." He had mentioned the art exhibition to Tachibana in passing that first day over a few beers but Fuji had never thought he would remember, even less show up.
"You shouldn't be alone on a night like this." Tachibana was leaning on the wall beside him, a little closer than what was considered normal between friends but without invading Fuji's personal space. He was smiling warmly.
Fuji swallowed. "I'm with Tezuka," he said. It wasn't a secret but it wasn't something they told anyone either. They could be mistaken for good friends and Fuji suspected this was a mistake Tachibana had made.
The smile slipped from Tachibana's face to be replaced by a fake curl of the lips. "He isn't here."
It was possible Tachibana misunderstood his words or maybe it was just an innocent observation but it hurt anyway. Fuji's closed his eyes into his smile. "He doesn't have to be."
"He should." There was no mistaking the accusatory tone in Tachibana's voice.
He just forgot Fuji wanted to say. I told him three weeks ago and he's busy, has a lot on his mind, studies, tennis… "He'll be here," he said instead.
Tachibana didn't reply, he just stood by Fuji's side, silently keeping him company and making the silent statement that he was there.
Just fifteen minutes later Fuji decided he was leaving. It wasn't that Tachibana's company was uncomfortable but the whole evening felt wrong, empty. He would make amends with the gallery owner later but for now he just wanted to walk back home. "Tachibana…"
"It's okay, go. I'll just look around for a bit."
Giving him one parting smile, Fuji left the gallery through the back door and started walking home. It still was early in the night and the streets were crowded. People were heading home after a long day at work or going out for a relaxing meal. Fuji enjoyed the cold air on his face and the anonymity of getting lost in the crowd.
He stopped walking so suddenly that several people ran into him, and Tezuka had to take him by the arm and move him to the side of the street where they wouldn't be on the way.
"Fuji, shouldn't you be at the gallery? I'm certain I don't have the date wrong." Tezuka frowned and checked his watch.
"I got bored," Fuji said and shrugged.
Tezuka's frown deepened. "You are supposed to be there. You made a commitment."
Fuji looked back the way he had come from. "Would you keep me entertained, Tezuka?"
The slightest hint of a smirk appeared on Tezuka's face and they started to walk back to the gallery.
* * *
With a final elegant smash, Oshitari won his match, 6-2. He gave his opponent a polite nod and went back to the box where all the other players were waiting. Fuji's lips curved upwards as he waited for the next players to take the court. They both looked determined and they both spared him a look before the first serve.
This wasn't just a tennis match and Fuji was delighted.
Tezuka took the first point. He didn't smile and his look was as focused as ever, no one would think there was something different about him but Fuji could see the little hints, the tiny wrinkles around his eyes, the pressed lips… whatever Tezuka's expression had been missing since junior high was back.
Tachibana moved gracefully around the court, countering Tezuka's attacks and attacking himself, fiercely, but that didn't stop Tezuka from taking every point.
Tezuka knew about Tachibana. He had been showing his annoyance at the other man in the gallery last night, narrowing his eyes whenever Tachibana dared talk to Fuji. Tezuka had stood closer to Fuji than he usually did, their shoulders touching most of the night. After that, Tezuka had followed Fuji home and they'd had sex against a wall in his room.
Fuji's fingers went to his neck where Tezuka had left a hickey, as if they were still teenagers, and back then, it was Fuji the one leaving the marks. But Tezuka had been staking a claim and that was exactly what he was doing now, the best way he knew how, through tennis.
It was a battle and Tezuka was ruthless. He took every point, no matter how difficult it was, how many times he tumbled down or how fast his breathing was. He was covered in sweat, glaring at his opponent at the other side of the net and playing more beautifully that Fuji had ever seen… and he was playing for him.
* * *
"It all comes back to tennis," Fuji mumbled, looking out the window as he sat in his favorite spot in Tezuka's room.
Beside him, squeezed next to Fuji in the small space, Tezuka let one hand rest on Fuji's knee. "It wasn't about tennis."
Turning his eyes away from the window Fuji said, "I know." He put his hand on top of Tezuka's. "It has never been about tennis, right?"
"It has," Tezuka said. Fuji followed his eyes towards the yellow ball lying on the floor by the bed. "We met because of tennis."
Fuji closed his eyes. Seigaku, tennis, first year, Tezuka, Higuma Otoshi,
regulars, matches, Tezuka's shoulder, Echizen, the golden pair, nationals, Tezuka Zone, Ryusaki-sensei, wasabi sushi, Kagerou Zutsumi, friendship, love. Fuji opened his eyes to catch Tezuka looking at him. That passion that had been missing from his games was there, and Fuji realized with a start that it had always been there… when Tezuka looked at him.
After stealing a kiss, Fuji stood up and grabbed Tezuka's hand, pulling him towards the door. "Let's have a match," he said. "If I don't practice, the coach will have second thoughts about letting me on the team."
Tezuka's fingers squeezed Fuji's hand and his lips curved into a small smile.
It wasn't about tennis after all.
-The End –