Title: Orange Crush
Summary: Tezuka has a flavor fixation.
Disclaimer: Don't own Tenipuri yadda yadda yadda
A/N: I tried for unbridled smexing but just…never seemed to make it. Still, I hope it leaves you smiling and not cursing my existence.
Whenever Fuji steps into the room, Tezuka can taste mandarins at the back of his tongue, sweet and stinging with citrus. It's a memory from second year, the week before the Nationals. It was a friendly gesture, very European, Fuji said. Tezuka shouldn't worry about it.
Tezuka doesn't feel awkward around Fuji because of it, no more awkward than he feels conversing with every other member of his team, but sometimes he wonders if the taste clinging to his mind and tongue is really mandarins. Perhaps it is just the taste of Fuji. A part of his brain – the bit not reserved for school or tennis – dallies on the idea, mostly during showers or the bus ride home. If he were someone bolder, Kikumaru perhaps, he would pull Fuji aside and kiss him, an equally light brushing of lips, to put his questioning to rest, but he's never been one for bold action and being stoic is much easier than possibly making a fool of himself.
"Maybe we should put Fuji in D block. We can't afford to have Kaidoh or Inui out. Same with myself and Eiji. I'd like to play Taka-san if at all possible, too." Oishi taps his pencil against a clipboard before lifting the eraser to his mouth and nibbling on it. At Tezuka's request, he's compiling the assignments for the final ranking match before nationals. The ranking matches are in name only – Tezuka plans to utilize the full compliment of regulars during the national games – but tradition is important and Ryuzaki believes that the media exposure during the ranking matches will be key in convincing the school administration to up the tennis club's budget next year.
"Put Fuji in A with me," Tezuka says. He doesn't realize until Oishi's pencil is clattering against the floor that he may have done something silly. Still, he can't take it back, even though he's never played a formal match against Fuji, just half-hearted rallies and a few mock sessions to focus in on a skill. He told himself he wouldn't play Fuji until the tensai was serious, and Fuji made it abundantly clear during first year that he would not play a cripple. Cripple wasn't the word used, of course, but Tezuka has no illusions about his condition. He's better now, yes, but the problem isn't going to go away. He has five, ten years tops until the injury is aggravated again. The Zero Shiki is his and he intends to use it.
"Are you sure?" Oishi asks, even as he pencils in the assignment with a shaking hand.
Tezuka nods because Oishi's question is Oishi's way of showing concern and not at all meant to question Tezuka's decision. In some ways, Tezuka supposes he is as strict in his authority as he hears Yukimura and Sanada are with Rikkai. He does not shout orders or impose ridiculous "never lose" stipulations – and he certainly never raises his hand to his team – but Tezuka's word is the law of Seigaku. No one questions him and no one disobeys him, which is as it should be. A ship runs best, Tezuka's grandfather says, when there is one captain piloting it and all hands know the plank is just two steps away.
"It looks like you've come up with a good plan, Tezuka." Ryuzaki laughs and her stomach stretches out the pink drawstring of her sweatpants. It's hard to believe that, not too long ago, she was a tennis player to be feared and respected. Tezuka has felt the power of her serve, though, and knows that, wobbling belly or no, she could still wipe the court with him if she were playing seriously. It is humbling but, at the same time, frustrating. He wants their coach to shuck her cheerful attitude and train the team hard, sculpt them into a well oiled tennis machine. Instead, Ryuzaki says, "I'll leave the rest to you," and retreats into her office.
"I'll check up on the team," Oishi says, pushing the assignments to Tezuka. "Is there anything you want me to tell them?"
Tezuka walks to the window of the classroom they use as a meeting place. He sees Momoshiro pluck Echizen's hat off his head and dangle it out of the freshman's reach while Kikumaru abandons a rally with Fuji to join in the taunting. "Laps," Tezuka says, still watching the court. Inui and Kaidoh are stretching in a far corner of the court, oblivious to the ruckus Momoshiro is causing. Kawamura hovers near them, wanting to ask Inui for advice but uncomfortable because Inui's hand is rubbing out a knot in Kaidoh's shoulder and the data player's smile is, for once, betraying his thoughts. "Thirty laps. All of them. Then send the first years home. The regulars can clean the courts today."
Oishi leaves and Tezuka's eyes are still on the court, focused on Fuji as he laughs and goes to break up Inui and Kaidoh's stretching so Kawamura can ask his question. Despite an occasional violent streak, Fuji is one of the more compassionate members of the team. Tezuka can't recall a time that Fuji's antics have brought anything but laughter, strained though it might be at times. Even now, as Tezuka looks down to the court, Fuji is smiling. It's a true smile, though some mistake it for malice. Fuji's shoulders roll as he laughs at the way Inui quickly removes his hands from Kaidoh's body. Fuji's lips curl up while Inui sputters out excuses and Kaidoh slinks away to begin his laps.
The taste is back in Tezuka's mouth and he rolls his tongue through a growing pool of saliva. When Fuji finally begins his laps, Tezuka retreats to the clubhouse to prepare his advice sheets.
When Tezuka gets home, he kicks his shoes off, then arranges them neatly next to his mother's. The neatness bothers him a little, he'd like to have a messy entryway and a messy room for just one day, but he knows his grandfather will be upset if he doesn't follow the rules and, when his grandfather's upset, Kunimitsu is sent into town to buy heavy things, bricks for the garden wall or large bags of flour, and forced to jog home with them. Compared to his grandfather's ire, Tezuka thinks twenty laps around a tennis court is nothing.
It doesn't take long for him to finish his homework. Alone and blanketed in lamplight, Tezuka flies through equations and short answer questions. He'll get full marks - the teachers never actually check his homework, just look to see that it's been completed – and he'll make his family proud.
Fuji gets full marks, too, but without the completed work or the scrupulous notes. Sometimes, Fuji sits in on Tezuka's homeroom. He sits in the empty chair two seats back and passes notes forward, asking about practice or television shows Tezuka has never heard of. There's no cable at Tezuka's house, just a beaten down antenna on the roof that sometimes picks up the local news. There's an internet connection, though, and Tezuka could easily download Fuji's shows off of an American website. He knows enough English to navigate around the download archives, but his download client is busy with other things.
When the day's work is done and the last of the tennis sweat is washed off, Tezuka locks his door, settles down in his desk chair, and watches porn. It's heterosexual, usually anal and two-on-one. He prefers foreign material to domestic because some of the women remind him of his mother. The remainder remind him of Fuji and, while he admits that pressing Fuji against a locker and slicking him up with strings of semen has crossed his mind multiple times, Tezuka does not want a woman. He wants, instead, to know what it must feel like to rub his scrotum against another boy's, like the two tattooed men in his favorite video.
He's not straight and he would never claim to be, but taking the leap from curious fourteen year old fantasizing about his teammate to hard-core gay porn watching deviant is a chasm Tezuka is not willing to cross. Also, his grandfather could raid his computer at any time and it is easier to explain away his current media collection – every boy his age does it - than the alternative.
When the porn is over and Tezuka is done cleaning up and wiping what mess might have accidentally drizzled onto his desk, he leaves the now pine scented space and gets desert out of the fridge. He likes ice cream, cookie dough and rocky road being his two favorites. The taste and heaviness of the cream wipes away the gooey taste of come on his tongue and the salty, somewhat fungal scent from his breath.
It was an accident that started it. He was watching his second favorite video and staring as a gleaming silver cock ring pulled and tugged at one of the actors. He was so transfixed by the tight pull of skin and the sliding movement of testicles up and down that his release took him by surprise. To cut off his groans, he shoved a fist into his mouth.
He's used to the taste now and enjoys the texture, but that day he vomited up mackerel and teriyaki tofu. He woke in the night, stomach roiling and heaving, bile rising. Nevertheless, the next day his fingers found themselves snaking toward his mouth after release. He pretends it's not his own fluids he's sampling, but one of the men in his video. Sometimes, he's tempted to take his stickiness and slide it back, insert a finger and have a second round. He doesn't, though, for the same reason that his videos are filled with large-breasted brunettes instead of fresh-faced college boys.
When he's done with desert, Tezuka brushes his teeth, dusts the trophy room, and goes to bed with nothing more on his mind than a quick verification that he's set the alarm properly and will be able to get up in sufficient time to iron his uniform.
Ryuzaki posts the block assignments at the end of morning practice. Tezuka ignores the gasps and the few mumbles of outrage. The three lowerclassmen are in the same block, fighting for a regular's position. Everyone believes Momoshiro is going to be the odd man out again.
"Buchou, I wanted to be in a block with you. Can I trade with Fuji-senpai?" Echizen is holding his hat so tight his knuckles are white. His knees are locked and his breathing is unusually fast.
"No," is Tezuka's answer. He turns to the clubhouse for a quick shower and to change into his uniform.
"Buchou!" Echizen runs to catch up and grabs onto the hem of Tezuka's shirt. "P-please?"
The please confirms what Tezuka suspects: Fuji is trying to meddle with things, using fear tactics to get others to do his dirty work. "Tell Fuji the assignments stand." He brushes off Echizen's hand and the freshman stomps back to the court and his waiting senpai. Tezuka catches Fuji's eye and frowns. Bullying a lowerclassman is grounds for removal from the team. There will be no removals at this critical point in the season, but Tezuka will certainly see that Fuji spends a match in the alternate's position. Being a regular is a privilege, not a right.
"This'll be exciting," Eiji says, then averts his eyes when Tezuka is fully in the room.
Oishi nods and says, a little too loudly, "We're all looking forward to seeing how everyone's grown over the season."
Kikumaru smacks Oishi across the head. "Oishi, don't be so obvious," he sighs, then walks over to pat Tezuka on the back. "You and Fuji give us a good match, buchou. We're all waiting to see who wins." Kikumaru leans forward and cups his hand around Tezuka's ear. "Don’t tell Fuji, but I've got 500 yen riding on you, buchou."
Tezuka shrugs off Eiji and his enthusiasm. Everyone is taking the ranking assignments out of context, placing drama where tennis ought to be.
Speaking of drama. Tezuka continues to the showers, towel in hand. He ignores Fuji's stomping and the rustle of regulars as they try to beat a hasty retreat, not caring that they're headed to class smelling like filth, not minding that it's Tezuka who fields the complaints that classrooms are starting to smell like locker rooms.
"Tezuka!" Fuji grabs onto Tezuka's arm just as he is about to turn on the water.
"Yes?" He shakes off Fuji's hold – Fuji never did have much in the way of grip – and turns the shower on, adjusting the temperature until it's hot enough to steam but not to burn. He takes a loofah from his toiletries bucket and squirts some shower gel, unscented, onto it. He focuses on scrubbing off his agitation instead of watching Fuji's hurried undressing. The tensai, in all of his genius, has forgotten his towel and will be sorry when he has to walk like a drowned puppy to his locker to get it. Mornings are cold at Seigaku and the clubhouse isn't insulated.
"I thought we had an agreement, Tezuka." Fuji slides under the shower next to Tezuka. Splatters of cold water ricochet off his body and sting Tezuka's skin. "Not until you're healed, that was the promise."
Tezuka doesn't recall making any promises. He remembers a much shorter and much more agreeable Fuji refusing to play a game of tennis in freshman year, that is all. "The assignments stand," he says, rinsing now. He didn't sweat enough to warrant shampooing. Turning the water off, he goes for his towel, eyes trained on the tile floor, even though he feels Fuji's eyes burning his back, leaving a heat that will last through homeroom and into the first lesson of the day. "I'm healed," he adds as an afterthought.
Fuji laughs and throws cold water at him, forcing Tezuka to turn around. "Are you?" Fuji asks, hand on lean hip. "Healed enough so we don't have to hold back?"
Tezuka nods and looks resolutely at Fuji's nose. "Don't be late for class," he says before disappearing with a towel wrapped securely around his waist. He returns a few moments later carrying a green towel. "Here," he says, setting it on one of the bathing stools. "Don't catch a cold before nationals."
It has only been in the last few months that Tezuka has truly been convinced of Inui's sanity. The data player has always been eccentric and competitive, but never friendly – not until he started playing doubles again. Now, with Kaidoh to listen to his crazed theories and feign interest – Tezuka knows the interest is feigned because Kaidoh's eyes sometimes slide shut during longer monologues – Inui is a much better companion. Tezuka would almost go so far as to call him a friend.
"Things are certainly getting interesting," Inui says, closing his notebook and tapping it against his chest. "I'm relieved to be in block B this time, Tezuka. Thank you. It will be a good opportunity to evaluate Kikumaru's condition before nationals." Inui is waiting for Tezuka to mention the block A assignments. He's calculating what it'll take to get Tezuka to crack.
Tezuka shrugs, his only concession to the data player.
"I feel sorry for Fuji," Inui says, opening his notebook. "He's certainly made his intentions clear. Now, if you'll excuse me, Kaidoh has lunch and I have a free period." Inui walks away, waving over his shoulder and mumbling to himself.
Tezuka wonders how Inui manages to navigate the campus with his nose in a book. Maybe he's counted steps or is looking at the ground through a small hole in the notebook.
Or maybe he bumps into walls because he can't see a blasted thing.
Tezuka smiles as Inui rubs his forehead, assures curious girls that he's okay, and continues on toward the stairs. Inui knows that Tezuka plans to pass the torch to Kaidoh and has been "grooming" him for the duty. Between groomings, Tezuka suspects Inui is also making sufficient time in their schedule to harass the junior.
Tezuka makes his way back to the classroom in time for the next period bell. As he sits, he's not at all surprised to find Fuji in the seat behind him, hyacinth stationary ready for a class full of note passing. The teacher won't say anything about it, even though Fuji's in the wrong class and is stealing a legitimate student's seat. Fuji's characters are neat and square on the paper in shining pencil lead.
It was rude of you not to warn me, Tezuka.
Writing notes is much easier than speaking. Tezuka enjoys it, even. On paper, he can check over his words, make sure they sound as proper as possible and, on occasion, he can be more playful than he might allow himself to be, otherwise.
As captain, I reserve the right to arrange ranking blocks as I see fit. If you do not approve, please bring the matter up with Ryuzaki.
While Fuji writes a response, Tezuka concentrates on the quadratic equations in his book. The free study period is meant for study and Tezuka won't have time to get everything done after practice if he slacks off.
Fuji's knuckles slide across Tezuka's neck as he drops the note on top of problem number eight.
We have special circumstances. Let's go see a movie this weekend. No one will go with me and you should get out more.
Tezuka frowns at the note. He gets out plenty. Last week, he went hiking with his grandfather. He tells Fuji so and the tensai snickers.
Family doesn't count. Stop being a stick in the mud and come have some fun with me.
He reads the line over and over again until he's certain Fuji isn't coming on to him. The taste of mandarins is back in his mouth and he wonders if, on this trip to the movies, he might get the opportunity to test his taste theory out. Not that he would necessarily take the opportunity should it arise, but Fuji is unpredictable and might take the initiative, as he did last time.
Still staring at the words, Tezuka ponders on his first and last kiss with Fuji. The tensai was in high spirits. Tezuka was just named buchou and all his yearmates were celebrating. Kikumaru and Oishi raided the cafeteria for what snacks were leftover from lunch, mostly trail mix, bread, and fruit. Fuji had trouble peeling a mandarin so Tezuka helped, methodically shucking the peel into a napkin and stealing a slice for himself.
"If you wanted some, all you had to do was ask," Fuji laughed, popping a slice into his mouth, crushing it with his tongue, and pressing forward to share the juice with Tezuka. "See? Plenty to share."
Fuji taps on Tezuka's shoulder and draws him out of the memory. He points at the paper and frowns. Tezuka scribbles out a message.
I'm thinking. Give me a minute.
A movie wouldn't be bad. It might even be fun, and the stress of ranking matches the following week would weigh too heavily on him if he didn't have a suitable distraction. Inui always jokes that Tezuka was 83% likely to have a panic attack before his second year in high school. Tezuka hands the paper back to Fuji.
Fine. I'll meet you at your house at 9am. I have studying to do now.
Fuji laughs and is gone.
By the end of the day, everyone knows and is asking Inui about Tezuka's "date" with Fuji. Inui adjusts his glasses and says that some data is not meant to be shared before giving Tezuka a thumbs up, hidden from the populace by the notebook. Inui is smart enough, Tezuka assumes, to know that he isn't going on a date with Fuji, just a trip to the movies. People go to movies all the time without such a fuss.
Fuji ignores all the ruckus and smiles through Eiji's congratulatory hug and Momoshiro's questions about how he managed to get Tezuka to agree. No one seems to realize that the tennis court is in the open and voices travel further on the flat grounds. Tezuka hears every last whisper and snicker and comment about sticks shoved up his ass.
"Horio! Twenty laps!"
The freshman falls on his ass before scrambling to begin his laps. Tezuka would never laugh at the spectacle, as the rest of the team does, but he's amused nonetheless. Still, too much laughing and not enough practicing is counter-productive.
"The rest of you, fifteen laps!"
The team takes off quickly, but Inui remains. "Tezuka, if I might have a word."
"You have a new Jiru?" Tezuka doesn't really need to ask. Inui has a new Jiru every other day. "Fine," he says, noticing that Kikumaru is chatting with Oishi and neither seem to be taking the run seriously. "They can all drink it," he decides. "Do you have enough?"
Inui snickers and produces a thermos. Tezuka doesn't ask where Inui keeps the thermos. "Plenty," Inui assures, sloshing the silver canister back and forth. "Would you like to try some?"
"Fifteen laps. Get going."
Fuji is overdressed for a simple trip to the movies. A Quiet House on a Quiet Hill does not require dress shoes, nor does it require cufflinks. Tezuka is in jeans and a lilac shirt, per usual. He does take care to comb his hair into place today, though. It would be wrong to ruin Seigaku's public image with sloppy hair. Fuji's compliment on his style the previous Tuesday has no influence on Tezuka's decision.
"Let's share a drink and popcorn," Fuji says, dragging Tezuka to the concession stand. They wait in a sea of high school girls, many of them on dates, most of them congregating in packs of five or more. "I was thinking about orange. Is that okay?"
Tezuka nods mechanically. The swarms of people and the scent of butter are a little overwhelming. The space between the ropes forming the lines are doing little to assure him that one of the girls currently pointing in his direction won't hop over and engage him in uncomfortable conversation. He doesn't want to explain his type to a stranger and he certainly doesn't want to go to an after movie meal.
He went out on a group date once, payback to Atobe Keigo for assistance during a training camp. While Atobe dripped honeyed words that the girls lapped up, Tezuka sat, straight-backed, in silence, bored and wanting to go home. Tezuka hasn't tried to be social since and doesn't plan to try in the near future.
"I'll get us a large," Fuji says. "There's free refills." He stumbles back when the girl in front of him gets into a purse fight with one of the girls in her group.
Tezuka reaches out a hand and steadies him. "Don’t get careless," Tezuka says, a little distracted by the way his fingers are burning and his arm is reaching out to move forward as Fuji does.
"I'm okay now, Tezuka. Thank you." Fuji's tongue darts out of his mouth and slides across his lower lip. "I'm really thirsty, though. Maybe I should get a water as well."
"I have one," Tezuka says, indicating his tennis bag. He debated for ten minutes as to whether or not he should bring his bag. In the end, he figured he could use it to sneak in snacks and then, once the movie was over, he could get in some solo practice.
Fuji decided against bringing his tennis bag, though he does have a small satchel. "But that's for you," Fuji argues, moving forward until he's at the counter. "A large orange soda, a large popcorn, and one water, please." Tezuka takes out his wallet to pay for his half but Fuji swats him away. "I've got it, Tezuka." Fuji also paid for the movie tickets.
"I'll buy lunch," Tezuka says, holding the popcorn when Fuji shoves it into his chest. "And I'll get the bus fare back home."
Fuji sips at the soda, his pale lips already turning orange. "That's wonderful of you. Thank you, Tezuka."
Tezuka can't concentrate on what Fuji says after that, all he sees are orange lips moving and moisture glistening in the overhead lighting. He follows Fuji into the theater and sits down. In the dim light, only the scent remains, heating and stinging at Tezuka's stomach. If he kissed Fuji now, he's certain that the taste would almost match that day. A little sweeter, perhaps, but with the same citrus sting that haunts him in his dreams, both waking and asleep.
"Are you okay, Tezuka?" Fuji puts a hand, moist from holding the beverage cup, to Tezuka's forehead. Even Fuji's hand smells of orange. "You don't have a fever. Here. Drink some." Fuji holds the straw to Tezuka's lips and waits. "I don't have a disease. Go on."
He draws in a long sip of orange soda and nearly chokes. His heart is racing and his hands are starting to shake slightly. He grips the armrest and tries to look nonchalant while continuing to sip at the cup Fuji holds before him. "Thank you," he says when he can gather himself enough to move away. His tongue feels heavy, weighted down with the taste of orange and the phantom pressure of lips against his.
He nearly jumps when Fuji's hand rests atop his. "I wish the seats were bigger," Fuji says, offering Tezuka the popcorn bucket with his free hand.
"It's more economical this way," Tezuka replies, refusing the bucket. "They can fit more people into the theater if the seats are smaller." Fuji's cufflink is burning a circle in Tezuka's left wrist. He'll never be able to play tennis now.
"Of course. You're always so good at finding the practical answers, Tezuka."
The drink is empty by the time the previews end. Fuji takes the cup for a refill and Tezuka begins to shovel popcorn into his mouth, letting the gritty butter taste coat over his tongue while bits of kernel wedge themselves between his teeth and gums. When Fuji returns, he finds Tezuka with a finger under his lip, nail scraping at a kernel shell that refuses to be budged. On the screen, the THX ad begins, deafening the crowd.
After the movie and lunch, Tezuka is honorable and escorts Fuji home. They arrive just in time for the grey clouds overhead to burst, sending down sheets of rain. Fuji refuses to let Tezuka walk home, even with an umbrella. "You can stay here," he says, handing Tezuka a glass of water. "Yuuta's at school and Nee-san is traveling with my parents this week." Fuji collapses onto the small couch in the entertainment room. "That was a great movie, wasn't it?" He scratches at the portion of his stomach that was exposed when he fell. Tezuka averts his gaze to the small plant stand full of cacti.
"My house isn't far," he says. "I can make it if you'll lend me an umbrella."
Fuji hangs their shoes on a cedar shoe rack. "The wind's blowing the rain sideways. An umbrella wouldn't do you any good." Fuji considers Tezuka a moment then asks, "Is there somewhere you had to go tonight?"
"I don't want to be a burden." Tezuka curls his toes into the carpet. It's scratchy and prickles at his feet, almost crunchy. "If you insist, though, I'll stay."
"Good. It was going to be lonely tonight by myself. Yuuta hates cats and my mom's allergic to dogs so the only pets we can have are fish and plants. Want something to drink?"
"Water, please." Tezuka looks around while Fuji is gone. The house is pristine, curtains falling aesthetically around perfectly cleaned windows. Every surface looks freshly dusted. Even though Tezuka's grandfather likes a clean home, there are small spaces, nooks behind cupboards or places where a dustrag won't reach, that remain coated in grey all year. In Fuji's house, even the inch of carpet between the back of the couch and the wall looks freshly vacuumed.
Tezuka wonders if Fuji also gets tired of a clean house and a nice, orderly life. Does Fuji ever get the urge to move a lamp off-center of a table or fling his shoes into the corner of the entry and leave them there, crooked and propped against one another?
"Here you go," Fuji says when he returns with a tray. "I brought some cookies, too, in case you wanted a snack."
Tezuka accepts the cookies and water. Fuji turns on the television and surfs around until he finds the sports channel. There's no tennis on, but Fuji is quickly drawn into a European soccer match. His fists curl just before an approach at the goal. His bare toes beat against the bottom of the couch when the team he's supporting, a team in colors the same as Seigaku, misses the point and loses the ball to the other team.
Tezuka doesn't know the first thing about soccer so he nibbles a peanut butter cookie and keeps an eye on the window to see when the rain stops. If it doesn't stop soon, he really will have to stay over. He has half an hour before he'll need to call home and let his family know.
While Fuji watches the game, Tezuka stares at the cable box, wondering how many channels Fuji gets, at least 100, and why there isn't anything more entertaining on than soccer. Maybe his grandfather is right and television is for idle-brained idiots. Or maybe Fuji's family has a bad cable package and all the good channels are on the premium subscription.
"Is this boring you? I can turn something else on. We have movies, too." Fuji points to a modest DVD rack in the corner. "It's mostly war films and old stuff, but mom bought a few new things last month." He gets up and fingers through the cases. "My sister has some drama box sets but she keeps them in her room and'll kill me if I go in there." He turns, flashing a smile to Tezuka. "She thinks I don't know about the secret box under her bed." Fuji laughs and continues to go through the movies. "If Yuuta hadn't taken the PS2, we could be playing games."
"Can I check my email?" Tezuka asks, thoughts of what might be under Fuji's sister's bed making him feel a little uncomfortable. He checks the window – it's still raining. "Inui is sending me some practice reports."
"Of course. This way." Fuji abandons the DVD rack and motions Tezuka toward the stairs. "My room's a little messy, so please excuse it."
Tezuka fails to see the alleged mess. All he can see are cleanly bleached curtains, a well-made bed, and a desk. The desk has a few bits of homework scattered across it but, otherwise, all seems normal. "It'll only take me a minute," he tells Fuji after the tensai unlocks the desktop.
The email from Inui is long but, per tradition, there is a summary paragraph at the end telling Tezuka everything he needs to know about the preceding strings of data. Attached to the email is a small video clip of a new stretch Inui thinks Tezuka might benefit from. Tezuka opens the file and waits for it to load.
He clicks it again.
On the third attempt, he closes the player, reopens it, then tries to drag the video clip over. He mis-drags and copies the file to the desktop but, in the meantime, the player starts running, playing the last item on Fuji's playlist. Tezuka tries to close it but finds that his hands won't move. Staring, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, is how Fuji finds him.
Sunday is the longest day of Tezuka's life. He spends the morning explaining to his family why he walked home in the rain with a useless umbrella. He tells them he wanted to study and his texts were at home. Because he is a model student and an obedient son, they believe him. He cannot explain, though, why the oranges his mother serves with his lunch that day go untouched. He cannot explain why, the moment he smelled them, he rushed to the bathroom and dry heaved until accidentally hitting his head on the toilet lid calmed him down.
He can't explain why he's feeling betrayed and disgusted but horribly, horribly turned on at the same time. He's burning in his stomach, throat, and groin all at once, and he knows that normal boys only burn in one place at a time, usually the latter.
Fuji doesn't leave any messages on Tezuka's cell phone, no texts to explain the situation or to apologize. By two, Tezuka is wondering if he should give the tensai a call or if he should just ignore it as Fuji's ploy to throw him off his game in the ranking matches. It couldn't be a trick, though, he reasons, because Fuji had no control over Tezuka's ability to open Inui's video, nor did he know that Inui would be sending Tezuka a video, thus requiring that Tezuka use Fuji's tainted media player.
But really, what Tezuka wants to know most is how Fuji can watch that kind of thing and still walk into the lockeroom with a clean conscience. How does he stare at the slick bodies on the screen and not cast that over his friends in the tennis club.
Or is he?
After half an hour and more dry heaves, Tezuka gives up and calls Inui. Inui is secretive; he won't divulge Tezuka's fears to anyone even though he'll be writing it all down in that book of his, waiting for the right moment to use every piece of data to bring Tezuka down.
"Ah, Tezuka. I didn't expect you to call. Just a moment please, I'm on the other line."
Tezuka listens to silence and contemplates hanging up.
"Sorry for the delay. I was discussing some things with Kaidoh." Inui says his partner's name like he's speaking of a million yen and not a boy. Tezuka feels embarrassed for his friend, who is so obvious about his affections but seems to be getting so little in return. For a moment, Tezuka wonders if Inui watches the same sort of videos Fuji has, but dismisses the thought quickly. Inui's more high strung and prudish than his touchy-feely ways suggest. As far as Tezuka knows, Inui hasn't even asked Kaidoh out on a date yet.
"I didn't mean to interrupt. I can go if you need to call him back." Long acquaintance with Oishi has familiarized Tezuka with the "boyfriend time" tone; it's rushed and breathy and irritated while still floating on a cloud somewhere. Oishi is useless when he's thinking about Kikumaru - one of the main reasons Tezuka doesn't call him anymore. After the wrist incident, the Golden Pair are preparing for a comeback, spending every waking hour together, spending the night at one another's homes every other night.
Tezuka is fairly certain Oishi and Kikumaru have done it. He's happy for them, but somewhat disgusted in a moralistic way. It's sad how he can quietly encourage his friends in their abnormal relationships but, when it comes to his own inclinations, he gets queasy and changes the subject.
"This is about Fuji's porn, correct?"
Tezuka drops his phone and stares at it. Of course Inui would know. He knows everything, especially those things he shouldn't. Tezuka picks up his phone and grunts. "Yes. It's about that."
"Did you watch enough to determine if it was any good? I'm conducting a study on the quality of downloaded pornography in the junior high tennis circuit. My sources tell me that Rikkaidai finds the highest quality downloads – I attribute that to Renji's research capacity – and Seigaku has the lowest, though I haven't been able to obtain much internal data and I am discounting specialty titles." Tezuka hears a page flip. "Your thoughts, please."
Tezuka doesn't know why he even bothered to call, how he could think that Inui would have anything constructive to say about gay pornography. The fact that Inui is speaking of it so nonchalantly, that the boy has figures and that there are apparently others, several others who share Fuji's…tastes, is startling. Tezuka always suspected Inui was off, he spent too much time whispering Kaidoh's name in the shower to be at all normal, but to just…ask was a bit much.
"I only saw a couple minutes," Tezuka says, finally.
"And did it help you reach any conclusions about yourself? My data shows that fifty percent of gay porn viewing amongst adolescent males is for exploratory purposes. Twenty-five percent are honestly turned on but will remain in heterosexual relationships. The rest are gay and will remain so."
"I threw up," Tezuka admits, covering his face even though no one's there to see his blush of shame. "It wasn't bad, though."
"So you like Fuji and Fuji likes gay porn. We have a good foundation."
Tezuka spends the next two hours on the phone, eating up his weekend minutes and feeling like an idiot for calling the least sensitive man on earth. Inui doesn't criticize, though, when Tezuka admits that he's been wanting to taste Fuji's tongue for half a year, and Inui doesn't tell Tezuka he's disgusting when Tezuka reveals his personal video collection. Talking to Inui is easy, like talking to wall, just a wall that occasionally rustles on the other end of the line.
"You have a crush," Inui concludes. "Just ask him out."
Coming from the same person who chewed his nails to bloody stubs for a week before asking a teammate to play a game of doubles, the advice is less than sound. "I don't have a crush," Tezuka says. "It's a phase."
Inui laughs, a hard, bitter sound. "Is it still going to be a phase when your stomach gives out in the middle of your match and you vomit on the court?"
"I won't –"
"85% chance. There's a 23% chance you'll vomit before the match and have to forfeit." Inui is still laughing. He goes on for a few more rough chortles, then stops. "Give up, Tezuka," he says. "As a friend, I caution you to be honest. It's easier."
The whisper in Inui's voice prompts Tezuka to ask, "How are things with Kaidoh?" He doesn't want to know, but he doubts Inui wanted to know about Tezuka's issues with Fuji. Tezuka is often told he's as good a conversationalist as a rock. Sometimes, though, a rock that grumbles out the occasional bit of false comfort is all that's needed.
"It's still difficult," Inui confesses. "I'm making progress, though."
The sun is gone when Inui and Tezuka finish their slow verbal volley. When Tezuka finally wipes the sweat from his phone's display and sets it aside to charge, he feels better, perhaps even a bit confident. After he wins his game against Fuji tomorrow afternoon, he's going to sit the other boy down and they're going to have a calm, rational talk. They will clarify the matter of the porn, then they'll move forward from there, possibly to an eating establishment. Tezuka will pay.
Content that the world is once again in balance, Tezuka pulls out his homework and begins his nightly ritual.
On ranking day there is no morning practice so Tezuka has ample time to think himself out of the previous night's verbal bravado. He eats a light and sensible breakfast of rice and miso soup and will have bread for lunch. The chances of throwing anything up are slim, no matter what Inui and his statistics say. All Tezuka has to do is show up to the matches, win, and go home.
At lunch, Inui sets an orange juice down on Tezuka's history text. "Vitamin C is essential in preventing scurvy as well as a number of other diseases."
Tezuka stares at the box. There's a smiling fruit on the front, waving an orange hand and tipping his leafy little hat. The orange is grinning, mocking Tezuka and his modest lunch, which is now wiggling its way back up his esophagus in a rush of bile. He manages to make it out of the cafeteria and into the hallway before losing his stomach into a trash can.
"You okay, Tezuka?"
Tezuka heaves again at the sound of Fuji's voice and, when Fuji rubs him on the back, his legs begin to go, forcing him to hold on to the side of the waste bin. "I'm fine," he gurbles out around sopping bits of melon bread. "It's just a small bug."
"I'll help you to the nurse." Fuji moves a hand under Tezuka's armpit, trying to help him up.
Because his legs are refusing to move, Tezuka accepts the assistance, though only so far as a nearby window ledge, where he sits and tries to wipe the green-brown ropes of saliva off his chin with a handkerchief. "Thanks," he says, tongue smacking against the roof of his mouth to rub out the vile taste. "Do you have any gum?"
Fuji checks his pockets and holds out a square of chocolate. "Sorry," he says, "it's all I have."
"I'll just get some water. I can get an antacid from the nurse." Then, so as not to be rude, he adds, "Thank you for your help," even though this mess is Fuji's fault in the first place.
"Will you be okay to play today?" Fuji asks, sitting down beside Tezuka and tapping his heels against the wall. "I don't want to play you if you're not at your best." Fuji's eyes are open, a challenge.
"I'm fine," Tezuka insists, folding his handkerchief. "We don't postpone ranking matches for anyone."
"I'm sure an exception could be made for –"
"No exceptions." His words echo down the hall and Tezuka cringes. He doesn't mean to sound that harsh. "I have to set an example," he clarifies.
"Of course. An example." Fuji looks out the window, resting his head on the graffiti-etched glass. "Ne, Tezuka?"
"Yes?" Tezuka looks away, down the hall.
"I'm serious about you." Fuji turns and grins. "I thought you should know."
"I'm serious, too," Tezuka says. "I will not take our game lightly." Then, as an afterthought, "Do not expect to win."
He's never made such a bold declaration and the sound of it thrills him. Fuji's eyes, wide with surprise, almost drive the nausea away. Almost.
Before the game, Inui walks up to Tezuka and hands him a roll of antacids as well as a small box of mints. "Data doesn't lie," he says, tapping his notebook on Tezuka's head. "You should be fine to play. Chances of you winning are 50%." With a final snicker, he trots over to Kaidoh and whispers something in the second year's ear. Kaidoh shrugs him off and continues putting on his jersey.
The preliminary matches against the non-regulars are nothing, just a stretch. Tezuka nearly sleepwalks through them. It isn't until the sun is reddening the sky that Tezuka and Fuji both step onto the court. Fuji's eyes are open, staring Tezuka down from the other side of the net while his hand holds Tezuka's in a crushing grip.
This is more exciting, in its own way, than the date. It certainly makes Tezuka's heart beat just as fast. He stands at the net, not releasing Fuji's hand, but Fuji isn't releasing his, either. "Serious," he tells Fuji. "We play seriously."
"I'm always serious about you, Tezuka." Fuji lets go and spins his racquet. "Which?"
"Smooth." He watches the racquet spin round and round, the scraping sound echoing in the hushed court. It lands rough.
"I'll serve." Fuji picks up his racquet slowly, arching his back as he rises. Tezuka's eyes can't help but follow the movement. He reaches into his pocket for another antacid.
Fuji serves and any lingering feelings of nausea flee. The ball flies over the net, the force of the movement causing the net to sway back and forth. The weight of the ball is surprising but nothing the renewed power of Tezuka's left arm can't handle. He returns light with a topspin, trying to lure Fuji into the Zone. If he doesn't control the game early, he'll be sucked into Fuji's pace.
The return shot is high and straight, no spin. "It's not that easy, Tezuka!" Fuji glides across the court, retreating to the baseline, the perfect chance for a Zero Shiki, but Fuji knows that as well. Fuji is fast and light on his feet. He can get from his location to the net before the ball drops if he has to. It would be a gamble, whether or not he could get the return ball, but Tezuka won't risk the first point on such a reckless chance.
Tezuka lobs the ball, sending it directly to Fuji. Now is the waiting game. Tezuka waits for the perfect spin and Fuji waits for an opportunity to counter. The ball flies across the court, smacking into their racquet faces with loud, defined pops. Tezuka's toes ache because he's scrunching them every time Fuji returns the ball, channeling the excitement and tension to his feet, hoping it will make them move faster, reach the ball just a second quicker. If he can do that, he'll get the edge and break through.
The first point is a net ball. 15-0, Fuji lead. The next point, the ball is out. 15 all. By the time the first game is over, both boys are panting and sweat cascades down their faces, sometimes stinging their eyes. Tezuka's glasses are slightly fogged from the heat and moisture of his face but he dares not remove them, suctioned as they are to his nose. This happens often when he plays a good game and, though good games are rare, he adjusts to the hazy world quickly. The first game is his, as is the second.
"I thought you were serious," he says as he hands Fuji the ball to serve.
Fuji swipes the ball from his hand. "We're just warming up, Tezuka."
The next serve is faster than the serves of the first game, and harder. Fuji slams his weight into the ball and the serve comes in low, forcing Tezuka to bend his knees to return it. Fuji's learned a little something from Kaidoh, it seems. Tezuka has learned something, too, though, and slices the ball, dropping it close to the service line. In his haste, Fuji fails to notice the ball's spin.
Tezuka can almost hear Fuji's teeth gritting and it makes his heart skip that much faster. His legs are burning and his arm aches a little – even though it's recovered, it hasn't played a match of this caliber yet – but Tezuka pushes on. Everything is in balance now that his Zone is up. He's in control and Fuji, try as he might, is unable to steal that control away. Tezuka will take the game with a smash to the baseline.
As the ball drops behind him, Tezuka's stomach sinks. Fuji's smile shines from across the net, mocking. "Don't go easy on me just because you're two games up, Tezuka."
The game goes to Fuji, as does the next. At two games all and a fully set sun, Ryuzaki calls the game. It will resume tomorrow afternoon, when both players will be bleary eyed from a sleepless night.
Tezuka doesn't eat breakfast and he doesn't hear his homeroom teacher take his name during roll. Only Oishi's hand in front of his face snaps him back into reality long enough to give a semi-respectful apology before sitting down and glaring at his eraser. He doesn't eat lunch, even though Inui points out that a lack of nutrients could be disadvantageous to his performance. He doesn't see Fuji until they are in the locker room, changing for practice.
Fuji is chewing citrus gum- Tezuka can smell it as soon as he walks in. The scent makes him lightheaded and unstable on his feet.
"Are you okay, Tezuka? If you're sick, you shouldn't be playing." Fuji spits his gum into a trashcan before placing the back of his hand on Tezuka's forehead, testing the temperature against his own. "You don't seem to have a fever. Ryuzaki has a thermometer around here somewhere. I'll go find it." He jogs off toward the first aid box on the wall. "It's just like you to play when you're sick," he says, sighing through his words.
"I'm not sick," Tezuka says, even though there's a gurgling in his stomach and two Fujis instead of one are headed toward him with an electric thermometer.
"You're not playing if you can't even stand straight," Fuji says, shoving the thermometer into Tezuka's mouth and holding his chin so he can't talk back. Around them, the rest of the team pretends they don't exist. A minute later, the thermometer beeps, shattering near perfect silence. "You have a small fever, nothing to explain why you're dizzy, though." Fuji sighs and Tezuka gets a shot of citrus right to his nose. His stomach roils.
"I'll be back," Tezuka says before taking off in the direction of the toilet. He's not sure whether he needs to throw up or get himself off in the one-person room, but either is preferable to standing in the middle of the clubhouse and having Fuji fuss at him. He's buchou; he doesn't need to be babied.
In the bathroom, throwing up wins out. Tezuka coughs up bile, hacking so loud Oishi knocks on the door to see if he's all right. Tezuka doesn't respond, just stares at the ribbons of greenish yellow trailing down the sides of the toilet bowl. One of the freshmen can scrub it later.
When he emerges, Fuji is standing there with his bag. "I'm walking you home," he says, eyes dark, fingers wrapped around the strap of Tezuka's bag so tightly that the skin is pulled thin over throbbing purple veins. "Ryuzaki said the game is cancelled. She's calling it at a draw. Come on." He nods his head toward the door and Tezuka follows silently, making no move to recover his bag or collect any other personal items. He suspects Fuji would hit him if he tried.
Fuji takes Tezuka home and shoves him into bed. "I'll make you some soup," he says, his smile back in place even though his words still have a sting to them. "Don't do anything stupid while I’m gone."
Tezuka thinks about locking the door and calling his mother. She's at her weekly mahjongg gathering with some of the women on the block but she'd come home quickly if he called. His father and grandfather won't be home until late. His father is working and his grandfather is off somewhere, keeping himself busy in his old age. The soonest anyone will be home to save him is seven, three and a half hours away.
He doesn't even feel particularly sick anymore, just anxious and slightly afraid. The scent of mandarins still lingers in his nose and at the back of his brain. It's doing weird things to his body, too, heating him in places he doesn't want Fuji to notice. He's embarrassed and nervous and wondering if Fuji has noticed anything is wrong other than the fact that he's slightly more green than usual.
Fuji knocks on the half opened door. "I made you some miso soup," he says, holding the small bowl out in front of him as he enters. "It's probably not as good as your mom makes – it's instant - but I tried my best. "
Tezuka takes the bowl and sips at it. The miso is salty and not as rich with paste as he's used to, but it isn't bad – certainly better than his few attempts at it. "Thank you," he says, breathing in the steam. "You don't have to stay if you don't want to."
Fuji stares out the window. "I've been meaning to talk to you. About the other day." He runs a hand through his hair and takes a deep breath. "You knew about me, didn't you?"
This is not the conversation Tezuka wants to be having while he's half hard and alone in his house with Fuji. Given the choice, he'd rather not be having this conversation at all. In a few months, maybe a year at most, his fascination will dull and he can go on living a normal life. He can watch his porn, quietly get himself off, and no one will ever know he had a crush – if that's what this is – on his teammate.
"I don't make those kinds of speculations," he tells Fuji before he takes a long sip of miso. "Nor is it my business." His hands shake as he holds the bowl.
"Oishi didn't tell you? Eiji?" Fuji sits on the side of Tezuka's bed, pressing against Tezuka's shoulder.
"No one tells me anything," Tezuka says before drinking up the last of the miso. "Thank you. It was very good." He hands the empty bowl to Fuji. "I'm feeling better. You don't have to stay if you don't want to." In fact, he'd much rather Fuji leave, and quickly. The unusual warmth in Tezuka's bed is stirring up images in the back of his mind and he can't seem to fully dismiss them.
"I wasn't done talking to you." Fuji sets the bowl down on the floor and puts a hand to Tezuka's cheek, turning his face until they are eye to eye, Tezuka sitting up in bed and Fuji kneeling beside him. "You're very dumb," Fuji says. He puts a finger to Tezuka's lips to stop the inevitable protest. "I even asked you out on a date and you didn't get it."
If Fuji's finger weren't sending little sparks into his lips, Tezuka would tell Fuji that what they experienced wasn't a date; it was a disaster.
"Inui said I should give you time to adjust because you're just getting used to the idea that you like another guy, but…" Fuji grunts and turns away.
Tezuka would like to say all manner of things now, that liking another boy is unnatural and wrong, and what would their parents say? He wants to chide Fuji for giving in to the tennis player stereotype so easily. He can't do any of this, though, because there are little tears of frustration welling in the corner of Fuji's eyes. "Fuji," he says, cupping Fuji's chin in his hand, pulling them together. "Don't cry."
Fuji is the one to lean forward, pressing their lips together. Tezuka's tongue moves forward almost immediately, seeking the taste of mandarins. He slides it along Fuji's teeth, above and below his tongue, along his hard palate. When Fuji gags, Tezuka backs off. In the end, Fuji tastes of…nothing. Tezuka frowns while Fuji tries to calm his gag reflex.
"We need to work on that," Fuji coughs. Trails of saliva drizzle down his chin and he wipes at them with the back of his hand.
Tezuka nods and moves forward to try it again, proceeding more carefully this time.
At practice the next day, everyone knows, even though Fuji and Tezuka haven't told anyone. Perhaps walking to school together isn't the most discrete option they could've chosen. Eiji gives Fuji a high five when they enter the clubhouse. Inui gives Tezuka a thumbs up before Kaidoh smacks Inui on the head with a towel and tells him to mind his own business.
"How far did you go?" Eiji asks, jumping onto Fuji's back.
"About a kilometer," Fuji says, shoving Eiji off. "Tezuka doesn't live very far away." Fuji's eyes catch Tezuka's and he winks. Their secrets are safe.
No one but Tezuka and Fuji will ever know that Tezuka is a horrible kisser or that Fuji, attempting to be seductive, drove one of his nails into Tezuka's groin deep enough to bleed. No one will know that Fuji helped Tezuka find and download his first gay porn movie and that they watched it together while eating chips and discussing whether or not some of the actors had been surgically enhanced.
"No fair," Kikumaru grumbles. "I told you about Oi-"
Oishi clamps a hand over Kikumaru's mouth. "Forget you heard any of that," he says, dragging Kikumaru toward the courts. "We'll get started on our warm-ups now." Kikumaru wiggles out of Oishi's grip but is silent.
Inui pats Tezuka on the back. "If you ever need to talk, I'm here for you." He gives a cheesy grin before following Kaidoh and Momoshiro out to practice.
"Gross," Echizen grumbles. "Come on, Taka-san, it's weird in here."
Changeroom empty, Tezuka feels free to sigh. "Idiots," he says, looking out the window to make sure his teammates are practicing and not spying. "Mom packed lunch. It's in my bag."
"Oooh, what'd she make?" Fuji finishes tying his shoes and trots over as Tezuka unwraps a large bento.
Egg salad, onigiri, and mandarins. For two.