Summary: Things that aren't said can't be heard.
Disclaimer: I don't own PoT
A/N: This was actually my second or third attempt but uh... it was the only one that actually got finished. Hope it’s at least somewhat palatable~
If I ever become a hindrance to the team, please remove me.
His eyes snap open just as the whistle of the train blows and Fuji can feel the floor rumbling, groaning beneath his feet before the entire coach comes to a stop. He watches as people walk on and off the train, but doesn't quite see them, the scene too dull for his tastes.
The memory of the words is an old one; he isn't really sure why he remembers it now. It was the last time, he realizes, he had ever been weakened enough to say something true from his heart. His hands tighten unconsciously, reaching for the handle of a racket he hasn't held for years, reaching for what had once been the center of his life before he had walked away and never looked back.
That was the problem with being someone who drifted through life without ever reaching out and grasping at anything. When it came time to finally decide what he really wanted, he hadn't even known what it was, much less how to get it.
Sometimes, sometimes he wishes –
But the thought is cut off as quickly as it comes. He doesn't regret; that would imply he cared enough to regret.
The train suddenly lurches forward and he closes his eyes again — for a moment, returning to his old habit of smiling. It is a habit that still draws stares from passersby, he knows, but he does not care. He is not like the world; the world is not like him. Were the world like him, it would be interesting, he thinks, his lips twitching just slightly upwards. Interesting in theory, but boring in reality (because yes, it would be interesting if everyone were like him, because Fuji thinks himself interesting; on the other hand, though, if everyone were the same, regardless of what they were all like, it'd be very boring.) A house of cards built of the same suit lacks the vibrant color and vitality of a whole deck, and when it crumbles, it crumbles unwanted and forgotten.
A family walks past him, a woman and two children. The girl points at him and, before her mother can stop her, she reaches to grasp at the camera hanging around his neck.
"No!" The mother bites out a quick reprimand and the hand is snatched away before it can reach him, with an apologetic smile and a "So sorry" thrown in his direction. He doesn't bother to retract the smile on his face.
Alone again, he fiddles with his camera, brushing his hand across the smooth surface, fingering each button carefully. Photography hadn't been his top career choice but it had been familiar, easy.
Sometimes, he wonders if he is lazy or if he simply can't bring himself to care.
"It's your serve," Tezuka says, and he hits the ball across the net. Fuji catches it easily with his racket, scooping it out of the air. He holds the ball up, preparing to toss it up for a serve, but then his eyes lock with Tezuka's serious gaze. Play me with everything you have, it says.
His hand falters.
"Tezuka," he starts. His mouth shuts and he pauses once more, hesitating, before throwing the ball up and hitting it across the net. It is a weak serve, and he sees the disapproval in Tezuka's gaze just before he slices it in return. Fuji smiles and doesn't move. The ball rattles against the fence behind him.
Tezuka's mouth thins and Fuji imagines that, if he were more talkative, Tezuka would be yelling at him in frustration. Instead, he is silent and Fuji wordlessly tucks his racket under his arm and starts to run.
"Sorry," he almost says as he passes Tezuka. But his throat tightens and he continues without saying a word. The other courts are still busy: the regulars and club members are rallying while the freshmen run around picking up scattered balls. Only Tezuka is alone now, his game finished far sooner than the others.
It seems to Fuji that his whole life back then had been just that – the feel of tennis balls in his palm, the steady swish of rackets, and the heavy weight of Tezuka's disapproving glare pressing into his back whenever he ran.
"I'm going back to Germany," Tezuka says without preamble. Just like him to cut straight to the heart of the matter and not waste breath with idle speech.
Fuji just smiles, his fingers tightening on the strings of his racket. "Is that so? I thought your arm was healed."
"It is. I'm going back for university," Tezuka clarifies. "I've decided to enter a German academy for college." For tennis is understood by them both.
"I see." Fuji is silent after that, his back facing Tezuka as he stares out the window at the rest of the team. "Did you pull me out of practice just to tell me that?" He shakes his head in mocking disapproval. "How unprofessional of you, Tezuka. Don't you think the rest of the team would like to know too?"
Fuji imagines Tezuka scrambling for words, but his back is still turned and he can't tell what Tezuka is thinking—and probably wouldn't have even if he could see his face. When the captain – still "captain" in his mind – speaks, however, his voice is as impassive and coldly lacking in emotion as ever. "I thought I would tell you first."
Fuji throws back his head and laughs. "Thank you for the thought, Tezuka," he finally says, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. He turns, spinning his racket on the ground nonchalantly. He should think before he opens his mouth, he knows, and the phrase does process in his head — in fact, part of himself he whimsically calls 'Inui' is quickly analyzing all of Tezuka's possible and likely reactions, and he swears he hears himself saying something like "There is a 90% chance Tezuka will never speak to you again."— but to hell with consequences, he's leaving, is the thought that rings loudest. Maybe it is anger, maybe it is disappointment, maybe he simply wants to hurt Tezuka, but it doesn't make a difference. Whichever the case, what he says is: "What makes you think I care?"
The silence that follows is almost thick enough to cut with a knife. When was it, Fuji wonders, that they had stopped understanding each other? When was it that they both decided conversations weren't worth it anymore and spoke to each other without ever saying what they meant, leaving each other on edge, guessing at meanings behind meanings behind meanings behind…
Tezuka's face is blissfully blank. Fuji wonders if it's just him.
"It is my mistake for being presumptuous then," Tezuka finally says and Fuji wants to hit him. There is a light rustle as Tezuka moves to pack his things and suddenly, the sound of the team's practice breaches the clubroom's walls again, breaking the tense atmosphere.
"Don't stop playing," Tezuka says as he swings his bag onto his shoulder and leaves the clubroom. Fuji swears his voice is already fading away, disappearing in the cacophony of other sounds. "You have potential. I want to play you seriously one day." He doesn't bother waiting for an answer. Maybe he had said it simply because it wasn't polite to leave without some semblance of a proper goodbye; Fuji will never know.
As soon as the door closes, Fuji's smile disappears. Tezuka had never mentioned what to keep playing.
Looking back, the first time Tezuka leaves for Germany, his words are just as disconcerting. Fuji has trouble acting differently from how he thinks and Tezuka has trouble thinking differently from how he acts. Not much has changed over time.
"Tezuka," Fuji says as the rest of the team heads back and leaves them alone. The captain is holding his left arm awkwardly and Fuji wonders if Germany will really heal Tezuka's injury. Sunlight streams in from the airport windows and strikes his hair, forming a halo around his head as plane engines roar in the distance. "What makes you think you can always win?"
He thinks he has hit a nerve then; Tezuka stiffens suddenly, his eyes narrowing behind his glasses before his head turns to the side slightly, just enough to hide his eyes.
"Why do you bother?" Fuji continues. "Always trying so hard to reach the top, always trying so hard to be the best. Always trying so hard to win. Hard work doesn't solve everything." He pauses. "It's not good for you, you know. One day you'll have a heart attack from the stress." Tezuka still doesn't answer and Fuji continues his one-sided conversation as though he doesn't notice. "You can't always be the best. Someone out there will always be better than you. So why bother?"
"Why not?" Tezuka counters and Fuji can hear the disappointment in his voice. Even after all this time, Fuji thinks he still feels like a failure in Tezuka's presence. "I'd rather keep on trying than to never have given an effort at all." His head turns again and Fuji thinks that he will always remember Tezuka's gaze, stark and honest and powerful, how it always seemed to see through him rather than see him. "You may look down on dedication, but apathy accomplishes nothing at all."
Tezuka lifts his bag and heads to the ticket line. Fuji watches him until he disappears into the crowd before he walks back towards the rest of the team.
The day after Tezuka leaves, Fuji resigns from the tennis team. He pretends not to notice Kikumaru running down the halls after him, demanding to know why he quit. He pretends not to see Oishi buckling under the pressure of finding two members to fill in the open regulars' positions. He pretends not to notice how Seigaku loses in their first match up in the high school Nationals; they'd dropped both their doubles matches, and had to rely on Echizen's victory in singles. If only Tezuka and Fuji had been there...
Fuji leaves the country soon after as well. It is graduation, and when he says his goodbyes to the rest of the tennis team, they feel perfunctory, forced, more like formalities than the heartfelt farewells they should have been. But he hasn't spoken to them since his resignation, and it is only polite to notify them before he disappears -- even Tezuka had the decency to do that. And Tezuka always knows best, he thinks, a little mockingly.
Oishi looks a little too happy when Fuji approaches him, his expression betraying his relief at not having to talk to Fuji himself. He misunderstands Fuji's farewell to mean more than it actually does, mistakenly assuming Fuji still cares about them and their loss, and assures him that Fuji's leaving had nothing to do with Seigaku's disappointing misfortune, that even if Fuji had been there, the result probably wouldn't have changed. Fuji smiles, shakes Oishi's hand, and tells him to take care of himself in the future.
As soon as his feet hit the new country's land, he stops thinking about Japan and tennis altogether.
People always assumed that Tezuka and Fuji would be perfect together because they understood each other when no one else did, or could. But although they shared this silent understanding, that didn't mean they weren't to speak at all, and in the end, too much was left unsaid. There is still that final message on Fuji's phone (he has never erased it, nor has he changed cell phones since then) that says, "Yudan sezu ni ikou", the only Japanese phrase worth remembering in this foreign land.
Tezuka had always cared too much, taken too much responsibility into his hands.
Fuji thinks he hates him for that.
The door to his cabin bangs open and Fuji is startled awake. He shakes the sleep from his eyes before turning to watch the disturbance in amusement. Two men walk past quickly, bickering in barely suppressed voices – with no regard for the other passengers, apparently.
"I tell you, he's going to win." There is a snort of protest before the man quickly continues, "The French will take Wimbledon for sure this year. No competition." The cabin door slams shut when they walk out, and Fuji doesn't hear the rebuttal.
Not true at all; the Japanese will be the team to beat, Fuji thinks. He has seen familiar names in the preliminaries: Sanada, Kaido, Tezuka. Echizen. People that had carried a passion for the game far beyond their peers, even back then. It is not pride for his native country that makes him think this — he has faith in their victory because victory is what they are.
All of them share one thing in common: they refuse to be anything less than the best.
And how strange it is, that he remembers exactly how everyone else is, but can't even figure out himself.
The overhead speakers turn on, calling the next stop. Fuji pulls his things together – a small bag, his camera and wallet – and makes his way to the front of the train.
By and large, Fuji considers photography a hobby, and he is a professional photographer by necessity, not choice. He's found himself lacking in funds between paychecks often enough to know that, sometimes, he has to take pictures that he hates because he needs the money.
Which is why he finds himself here, in a tennis stadium.
He isn't quite sure how he feels.
Fuji hasn't watched a single tennis match since he left Japan. He knows of all the old faces that managed to make it into the professional tennis circuits (not, of course, that he'd been checking up on them or anything: news traveled quickly these days), but has never watched them play.
So when Tezuka enters the court, it is junior high all over again. He stops and shakes hands with his opponent and Fuji, even from where he sits, can see them exchanging words. He wonders what they're saying, if the opponent is making Tezuka feel half of what Fuji had made him feel. Upon closer inspection, he thinks not. Tezuka always seemed to carry an air of disappointment whenever he spoke to Fuji.
Then Tezuka walks to the baseline and serves, and Fuji stops thinking altogether. In a flash of sudden clarity, he realizes why he's always had trouble facing Tezuka directly. Tezuka has always played with insurmountable passion and control - not one shot, strike, or serve goes out of place. His expression is blank, impassive, but his eyes burn with a fervor that blazes with such concentration that when Fuji sees them, he already knows how the game will end.
The match finishes: Tezuka's win, of course. As he leaves the court, Tezuka's eyes quickly scan the stands nearby and, as if pulled by a string, fall upon Fuji. Even from the distance Fuji's at, he can see Tezuka's eyes widen in surprise.
Tezuka walks off the court.
Fuji swears, and the people around him shoot him dirty looks. He'd forgotten to take pictures of the match.
Several days later, they stumble into each other again. Fuji sits on a bench outside a set of empty tennis courts, his eyes open and his gaze distant, his fingers unconsciously fiddling with the buttons on his camera.
Suddenly, he feels a hand on his shoulder, and he whips his head around, only to stare at Tezuka in shock. The silence that follows is awkward, and Tezuka quickly removes his hand.
"Tezuka," Fuji says, his face crinkling into a smile. "To what do I owe this pleasure of a visit?" His mouth stumbles over the now unfamiliar Japanese language and he has an accent, even in his own ears. He notices that Tezuka is followed by his publicist and trainers — an entourage. His smile falters.
Tezuka stares pointedly at Fuji. "Play me." Simple and so Tezuka, it makes Fuji feel nostalgic enough that something catches in the back of his throat. He could swear, if only for an instant, that they were, in that moment, twelve years old again, filled with that childish tendency to just drop everything and play tennis. Behind Tezuka, his trainers are sputtering in surprise and quickly raising protests against the brashness of Tezuka's actions. He ignores them completely, his eyes locked on Fuji.
"I don't play tennis anymore." Fuji raises his camera to justify his assertion, as though it would explain everything. It takes all his effort not to immediately bring the viewfinder to his eyes at Tezuka's dumfounded expression, as if the phrase 'I don't play tennis anymore' isn't quite computing; upon remembering Tezuka's passion for the game, Fuji suddenly realizes it probably doesn't.
Being Tezuka, however, he quickly shrugs his jacket off and tosses a racket and ball at Fuji, mindless of Fuji's protests. "It doesn't matter. You'll remember."
His trainers try to interrupt once more and Tezuka sends a scathing glare in their direction (it takes all of Fuji's willpower not to laugh) and walks to the other end of the court. Unconsciously, Fuji's fingers tighten around the tennis ball, already remembering the motions even after years without touching a racket.
One last chance. "Don't you have the finals tomorrow?" Fuji asks and hopes his voice isn't betraying his desperation. "Against Echizen?"
"I'll beat him." Tezuka's answer is firm, his voice the same as it was back when they were still young. Tezuka's confidence is infectious, and Fuji finds himself so caught up in his reality that he can't help but wonder why he'd ever thought that Echizen had a chance. "Serve."
The game, of course, turns out to be his undoing. Playing tennis again is exhilarating and, despite what he had told and was still telling himself, he realizes how much he's missed the feel of a racket in his grip and the steady thunks of the ball hitting the ground. With Tezuka on the other side of the court, Fuji can't help but remember everything he thought he'd forgotten, and he can't help being caught, burned by Tezuka's eyes. He feels a strange sort of exhilaration now, after being held back for so long.
It isn't more than a few sets before Fuji falls to the ground, drenched in perspiration, soft laughter punctuated by gasps for breath. Tennis, he remembers wryly, requires certain muscles, most of which had atrophied in his time away from the sport. Tezuka, of course, hasn't even broken a sweat and Fuji feels envious. He rolls his right shoulder lightly and winces when he realizes that it will ache furiously tomorrow and he probably won't be able to function properly, even to raise his camera to eye level.
"I think," Tezuka says, suddenly appearing in front of the net, "that was the most honest game you've ever given me." Fuji wants to protest, that wasn't even a game! but decides to keep his mouth shut when he sees the look on Tezuka's face. Fuji opens his eyes, studies him intently, searching for a hidden motive. Finding none, he smiles.
"Perhaps," he finally murmurs, just to break the silence.
"Was it worth the wait?"
Fuji realizes: Tezuka had always said exactly what was necessary and nothing more. Fuji had just never wanted to see what he hadn't believed was there.