"They say Fuji Shuusuke beat Jiro from Hyoutei in fourteen minutes..."
"Ehh? Fourteen? For real?"
"Yeah! It's like he was trying to avenge his brother or something, you know Jiro beat Fuji Yuuta in fifteen minutes..."
"I don't follow tennis that much but that's impressive, right?"
The voices passed beyond the club house, patter of idle conversation switching threads from Seigaku tennis to upcoming exams, and Fuji remained sitting quite perfectly still in the silence and the dark of Seigaku's tennis club house, a racquet clutched in his hands like an afterthought. What time was it?
It didn't matter. Yuuta wouldn't come home.
There were certain things he could count on, the comforting weight of a thing that did not change. Tennis, and the scoring of matches. The precise click of billiard balls on the table as soft thumps announced victory pocket by pocket. The look in Yuuta's eyes, guarded and resentful.
Fuji closed his eyes.
In his mind, on the court it was still the endless light of summer and he and Yuuta played easily, the back and forth of their game childish but sure, not yet strung by tension tight as gut and the edge of difference between a good player and the tensai who picked up a racquet and smashed all expectations. When Fuji opened his eyes, the club house was dark and he pushed away an angry memory that surfaced like a struggling fish. It was branded on his mind, though: the first time Yuuta had looked at him as if he was not something prodigiously clever but poisonous, a monster.
Yuuta wanted to be his own person, not stowed away under rank and file as younger brother, prodigy Shuusuke's sibling. Fuji understood that. His brother wanted to be seen for himself.
Yet to him, Yuuta was his younger brother and that would not be dissociated from his identity so readily.
Fuji sat as the shadows lengthened over the floor by degrees and his grip on the tennis racquet grew tighter. What was it all for, the game? It had driven a wedge between he and Yuuta. Yet he would not give up one for the other, because Fuji Shuusuke did not give up so easily.
Hadn't his attitude lightened, since Fuji had beat Mizuki so decisively?
It had. Yet that afternoon, as Jiro walked from the court still bright-eyed with excitement, Fuji saw it. That look again, as he spotted Yuuta in the stands. As if he were not brother but monster, standing at the baseline with a racquet in his hand.
Fuji wondered sometimes if it was his own capacity for masochism that made him enjoy the suffering of people close to him. Not maliciously, of course; Fuji believed life was too short for malice. It was more like a hobby.
Finger by finger, Fuji released his racquet and set it aside. It was dark. Past time, he knew, to be home in this lengthening hour. It was too late for old regrets.
Tezuka entered the club house and paused with his hand on the door knob. "Fuji."
"Eh? Tezuka," Fuji acknowledged, his smile still fixed in place.
The team captain observed in his adult-deep voice, "You're still here."
Fuji made a noncommittal noise and turned away, stowing his racquet in the waiting sports bag. He froze.
Tezuka Kunimitsu was dangerous because he knew the shape that the absence of words could denote within a person. Tezuka had his own silences and Fuji had grasped on occasion at the insight that they provided, realizing too late that he could be read in the same fashion by one well-versed in wordless congress.
The sun was going down and in its passing it threw sparks off the red-gilded surface of Tezuka's glasses. Without words the team captain paced through the club house, gathering his things, beginning to change. The simple motion of his arms, the bunch of fabric skimmed over pale chest and corded arms, shunted Fuji's thoughts onto a track entirely different from the one that had gripped him before.
"I thought you were gone," Fuji said quietly, meaning instead I wanted you to be gone.
"I had some things to finish." Tezuka turned to face him, face impassive. "There will be another ranking tournament soon." I'll be gone soon enough.
Fuji widened his eyes. You mean that. "How's your arm, Tezuka?" he asked in a steady tone. The way he moved was beyond the economy of motion to be observed in each of his typical gestures. Fuji saw it, tilting his head; he did not favor his arm as he pulled on his shirt and uniform jacket, but his movements were precise and a fraction slower than his norm.
"My arm is fine," Tezuka said shortly. "It's my shoulder." There was a certain set to his mouth, a warning.
Fuji paused. He wouldn't be thrown off so easily. "You're leaving."
Tezuka turned to face him. At that angle, for an instant his glasses gleamed silver-white, obscuring his eyes. "I haven't decided yet."
"To fix your shoulder," Fuji said, thoughtful for the Kanto tournament ahead, "you have to go." He closed his eyes for a moment against the glare of reflected light.
"That's my choice," Tezuka said.
Without opening his eyes Fuji knew that his captain had stepped closer. The whisper of cloth told him Tezuka was buttoning his shirt.
"You should go home," Tezuka said.
Fuji lifted his face. "That's my choice," he said calmly.
"Sometimes," Tezuka said to him, "you have trouble letting go." His nimble fingers finished buttoning up the front of his crisp white shirt. In one stroke, Fuji felt himself rendered transparent. No matter how far he went, he felt Tezuka was always two steps ahead.
"Stop it," Fuji said, beginning to smile. It was not a harmless look. You have no idea why I'm still here, he wanted to say, but it was not the sort of thing he talked about, with Tezuka. With anyone.
Nevertheless, in spite of his silence Tezuka still knew.
"Have I congratulated you?" Tezuka asked, moving out of the light. Fuji could see his eyes now, dark and serious. A waiting look. "Your match with Jiro was impressive."
"Don't look at me," Fuji hissed, wanting to squeeze his eyes shut, unable to look away. "Don't. Tezuka." He stood, seizing his bag. It had only been a day. Yuuta still loathed him. Tezuka was leaving. Of all people, he did not want this person to see the ugliness inside him, the darkness in his eyes right now.
"Fuji." Hands were on his shoulders, making him turn.
Fuji was undone more by the way Tezuka said his name than the way his captain pressed him against the wall behind them. Then he was occupied, all his being centered on returning the kiss to prevent from being devoured, this volley Tezuka had smashed his way that threatened the boundaries that had hitherto defined their relationship.
The Tezuka zone, he was there, his path had been deflected and he was unable to escape.
A brief scuffle, and they parted as Fuji pushed at Tezuka's chest for room, for air. It was too much, always too much. Fuji licked his lips and recalled the day during this summer full of light, not long before, a long golden day of fishing and the real catch of the afternoon, the back and forth of kisses skating over his memory. Tezuka's mouth had been clumsy but sure.
Tezuka had landed him without words, then.
"Where?" Fuji asked quietly, feeling the warmth of Tezuka's hands on him even through his shirt.
"Germany," Tezuka replied.
Shock made his eyes round for all of an instant, then Fuji sighed and bent his head. That much, he hadn't expected. "I don't speak German," he said with consideration. They were speaking now as if it were a sure thing. Tezuka was leaving.
"That's all right." Tezuka's thumb brushed over the side of his neck, then he was letting go, releasing him. "I'm sure you'll learn."
The words were like a rebuke and Fuji straightened, crossing his arms. "You have to go," he repeated, but said it like a question.
Tezuka nodded. His finger touched the bridge of his glasses, adjusting them on his nose. He said, quietly, "But I'm not leaving you."
Fuji looked at him sharply. "You--" he began, muddled.
With a look of concentration, Tezuka grasped his hand, guiding Fuji to lift it palm up. Then, locking eyes with him, he deposited something in his hand.
"Hold onto this for me." Tezuka closed his fingers over the object; stepped back.
Then Fuji understood.
He clutched the object in his left hand, feeling something prick his palm. He ignored it. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."
Without further words they parted, Fuji shouldering his bag and looking out at the remnants of smoldering orange sunset as he stepped from the club house into the cooling air of evening.
Only then did he splay his fingers, unveiling the object that Tezuka had bestowed upon him. A fishing lure, its barbs reddened by the setting sun, colorful tufts of feather tickling against his palm. "Ah," Fuji said softly, and stowed it away for safekeeping. A fishing lure. A promise.
He would never have a normal relationship, Fuji thought. But he would have more of Tezuka than anyone, and that was enough.