Title: Kingdom by the Sea
Summary: On cities, seawater, green tea, and a relationship that isn’t a relationship.
Disclaimer: I own neither Tenipuri nor the random lines I’ve stolen from “Annabel Lee.”
A/N: I have no experience writing fanfic. Apologies.
It was many and many a year ago…
Like all things Fuji, the first word of the story is “Chiba,” that kingdom by the sea which speaks, in sweetly lilting tones, of a thousand shades of green, green like stone-cool jade sold in the city shops, hot tea steaming fresh from the kitchen, ripple after ripple of the wide, wide sea. Chiba teems with more than six million people, who with each passing day, live, die, love, breathe as one; yet the word is little more than a drop of calligraphy ink, almost accidental, soaking through too-thin sheets of rice paper and blurring into an incomprehensible stain as Fuji leaves it all behind.
He was a child and I was a child…
Of course Yumiko would say that it was an act of fate when they met. She would say it with a secret smile that mirrors his own, because this is how Yumiko is. But for all the ways in which they are alike, Fuji is not his sister. When he meets Tezuka, he doesn’t think of fate, but of dark hair and stern eyes and beauty hidden in passion.
Tezuka is too old for his years. He could be stone or fire or gale winds, but not water, Fuji thinks, never water. Waves, for all their regularity, can be fickle, and unexpectedly, Fuji misses Chiba for the first time in years, wonders with vague amusement whether it’s quite normal that he’s simultaneously thinking of dark hair threading through his fingers.
With a love that was more than love…
It is at once startling and surprising, when Tezuka invites Fuji home for the first time.
Tezuka brews the green tea to perfection, pours equal amounts into identical white cups with deliberate precision. Fuji smiles with his hands wrapped around warm porcelain, stares absently into its depths and thinks, for a moment, that he can smell the ocean. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Tezuka says curtly. Fuji’s smile widens. Silence lingers in the space between them for all of seven minutes.
A raised eyebrow. “Yes?”
“What do you do in your spare time?”
Silence. Fuji waits patiently for it to crack again.
Tezuka blinks, and without missing a beat, takes a single sip of tea.
“I play tennis.” And looks on, faintly bemused, when Fuji begins to laugh.
Steam wafts lazily from their cups, circling slowly upward toward the heavens.
That the winged seraphs of heaven…
Tezuka isn’t entirely certain how they found themselves at the party, but it’s over now, leaving only memories of a too-large room that buzzes with small talk, occasionally punctuated with the clink of glasses, a burst of laughter, a stolen kiss. His brow creases slightly at the thought of the latter.
“Well,” Fuji says cheerfully from his perch on Tezuka’s sofa, “that was mildly entertaining. Enjoyable, even.”
“Aa,” says Tezuka.
“The appetizers may have been a little stale.”
“A fine selection of music, though, wouldn’t you say?”
Fuji leans slightly forward and digs his toe into the small of Tezuka’s back, rumpling the neatly pressed suit jacket. “You saw the kiss.” His voice is surprisingly close; Tezuka can feel warm breath tickling his ear with each syllable that comes out of Fuji’s mouth.
“Yes,” he says stiffly.
“I’m happy for them.”
Body heat at Tezuka’s back, the sound of light breathing, the unobtrusive and overwhelming sense of an other, now so close, too close.
Too close, he thinks, and it isn’t over.
A wind blew out of a cloud by night…
In Tezuka’s eyes, discretion is a virtue. That he leaves without bidding a formal goodbye is only natural, or so he rationalizes to himself. There’s an image of a rumpled suit, the scent of freshly brewed tea, a memory of the rhythmic bounce of faded green tennis balls against a clay court like so many pieces of hail. And then he’s gone, like a passing breeze or the wink of a candle flame.
On this night, the moon tugs coyly at the tides of the sea and hides behind feeble threads of grey cloud. Fuji twirls the jade-colored candlestick back and forth between tapered fingers, thinks of the circumference of the globe in centimeters.
“Who will brew the tea now?” he asks aloud. In the open air of night, his voice is forlorn.
He wishes he could see the ocean.
Fuji’s fingers fall away from the wax. He watches the flash of jade tumble to the ground, brings his hand to his nose. It smells sweet and bitter and overwhelmingly of green tea.
He has never quite been able to appreciate the luxury of scented candles.
And neither the angels in Heaven above…
Hidden somewhere between the crumpled manuscript pages and the jar of india ink, Fuji believes that there lurks an ever-elusive ending, forever lost in translation, two becoming one.
It isn’t as it should be, but it is as it is.
The ink spills, and he watches, a little fascinated, as the stain creeps across the page, greedily swallowing his words until all that remains is blackness.
He’s growing tired of stories.
Nor the demons down under the sea…
In Chiba, the population is steadily growing.
In Chiba, a new seaport has just opened.
In Chiba, a hundred new businesses are established.
In Chiba, a three-day wedding will take place.
In Chiba, a stranger is dead.
In Chiba, the economy, the tourist atractions, the train, a marriage, a funeral, plain lovely ugly city by the sea.
Tezuka closes the newspaper with an unsatisfying crinkle.
The moon never beams without bringing me dreams...
The world spins.
When Fuji sleeps, everything he sees is thrown into sharp relief, and for precious seconds he thinks that he can watch the turning of the globe through everyone else’s eyes.
Time moves too quickly, Tezuka.
Absently, he writes the words on a corner of paper away from the mess of spilt blackness, doesn’t know whether to be frustrated or grateful when he runs out of ink before the final sentence.
My darling, my darling…
Later he believes that he saw it all, Tezuka covering up the centimeters, swallowing distance mile by mile, like ink swallows words.
“Fuji.” The tone is stern and faintly disapproving.
Fuji opens his eyes, and for the first time in a year, smiles genuinely.
“Welcome back, Tezuka.”
There’s a single crack of the voice in an otherwise flawlessly casual greeting, but it’s enough for them both.
By the side of the sea.
In spring, they leave one city to visit another.
The beaches of Chiba are as vast and pale as Fuji remembers. He sits just out of reach of the ocean, and Tezuka sits a little behind him, close and far enough that they might or might not be spending the afternoon together. The thermos of tea is propped up between them, just within the corners of Fuji’s peripheral vision.
Fuji says, “I’ve missed this,” and it isn’t quite clear whether he’s talking about sea and sand and city, or about glasses and green tea and their strange little not-relationship.
Somewhere, a seagull cries. “We never finished, you know,” Fuji says conversationally, inhaling the smell of salt.
“You can’t finish something you don’t start,” Tezuka answers, dryly, as if he’s known the truth all along.
Fuji turns around, blinks at the other for a few seconds. Then without warning, his foot shifts, the thermos tilts, and tea seeps green against white sand, trickles toward the pull of the sea.
He watches Tezuka, watches the horizon, digs his toes deep into the sand. Sharp little grains and hot liquid swell against his skin. This is how a story is made, he thinks, cutting and burning and beginning.
His fingers twine into Tezuka’s, and at long last, the page turns, the first word is written. This is how the story is told.
This is how they begin.