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Many happy returns!

PG-13. Romance/Character Study. 4,129 words. Third in a series of birthday ficlets written for Fuji Syuusuke's birthday. This is a follow-up to Time Leap and takes place a year later in the same storyline. This series is set in divergent future where Tezuka did not go pro immediately after junior high. Please note that this series also disregards the events in Shin Prince of Tennis series.



Inter + Twine


[February 29, 2012]

The apartment was quiet and still when Tezuka opened the door.

“Fuji?”

Only silence answered him. Tezuka turned on the lights and walked to the living room. Everything was neatly in place except for a mug on the side table with coffee stain at the bottom. Weariness made itself known just then, and Tezuka stretched, feeling a crick in his neck from sleeping in a cramped airplane seat. First, there was his suitcase to be unpacked. Then a shower, and a change of clothing in order. Tezuka padded to the master bedroom, carrying the suitcase so as not to leave marks on the floor.

Tezuka had already showered, changed, and was nursing a cup of hot tea when Fuji returned home. After entering the apartment, Fuji paused, surprise turning swiftly to pleasure.

“I didn’t expect you until tomorrow,” Fuji said, toeing off his shoes. “You could have called. I would have come home earlier.”

“Welcome home,” Tezuka said simply, and rose to boil more water for another cup of tea while Fuji put on the slippers and came to join him.

“Welcome home yourself,” Fuji replied with a smile that felt like home, and Tezuka gave in to the urge to pull him into a hug. “Sorry I’m late,” Fuji murmured. “My coworkers threw me a birthday party after work.”

“Today?”

Fuji hummed. “Because I took tomorrow off.” Fuji’s arms tightened, and Tezuka inhaled slowly, breathing in the familiar scent of Fuji’s hair. “I wanted to pick you up from the airport. Spend the day with you after.”

“I thought I’d surprise you,” Tezuka answered, and felt Fuji’s shoulders shake with a quiet laugh.

“Your surprise is better.”

The tea kettle whistled, and Tezuka went to turn off the stove while Fuji slipped into the bedroom. A minute later, Fuji returned without his jacket and tie, and accepted the cup of tea gratefully. “Have you eaten?” Fuji asked after the first sip.

Tezuka nodded. “On the plane. I’ll be fine.”

“Did you catch your flight right after the closing ceremony?”

“I was already at the airport when I called,” Tezuka said between sips to hide the curl of his lips. From the way Fuji’s eyes sparkled, however, he knew Fuji had seen it.

“I hope you had time to shop in between, then. You do realize I expect souvenirs.”

“Tomorrow,” Tezuka promised, eyes following Fuji’s fingers as they absently scratched at Fuji’s collarbone.

Fuji’s mouth quirked. “Aren’t you tired?” Even as he asked, his fingers drifted over the open collar, fiddling with a button.

“Yes.”

His admission had the desired effect. The playfulness gave way to warmth, and Fuji tilted his head, tiny smile tugging at his lips. “I’ll grab a quick shower, then.”

After washing and drying the mugs, Tezuka retreated to the bedroom to wait for Fuji. They would have to make plans for tomorrow – the birthday dinner with their friends wasn’t until seven, and they had an entire day together – but for now, plans could wait.

~*~*~*~


Tezuka had been roommates with Fuji for three months at university when things finally settled down to a routine between them. After figuring out classes, chores, locations of various and sundry, and one rearranged living room later, Tezuka had not expected yet another surprise first thing in the morning, snoring away on their sofa.

“Good morning,” Fuji murmured, walking past him to pull the blanket up to his sleeping brother’s chin. “Sorry I didn’t tell you beforehand. Yuuta was really upset when he called me last night and it was so late, I didn’t want to disturb you.”

Tezuka had come home shortly after midnight, and had gone straight to bed. Fuji had been asleep then. Which meant Fuji Yuuta must have called after that, so Tezuka thought the consideration balanced out the surprise of finding uninvited guest in the living room at six in the morning.

“It’s fine,” he said, then hesitated. Having siblings was one of the few things Tezuka envied of Fuji, though he was sure Fuji would laugh if he heard. Tezuka’s birth, which happened six years into their parents’ marriage, had been met with whole-hearted welcome and not a little bit of relief. Tezuka’s parents regretted they never had another child after their first, but counted themselves lucky. For his part, Tezuka hadn’t thought much about it until later, when he saw his friends and their siblings. By the time he realized he might have liked to have little brothers or even sisters, it had been too late. And Fuji, despite the troubled years during junior high school, had always been extremely close to his younger brother. Had their positions been reversed, Tezuka was sure Fuji would be more supportive, more helpful.

“Do you need help with anything?”

Fuji gave him a surprised look that melted to a grateful smile, and a quick shake of the head. “No. But thank you, Tezuka.”

Two weeks later, however, Tezuka’s goodwill was showing the bottom. Their flat was small, with two bare-essential bedrooms and a tiny shared space that fused the living room with a dining area and a kitchenette. The sense of invasion in his personal space aside, it was simply not designed to handle three occupants. There was clutter everywhere, and damn it, Tezuka liked studying in his living room. (Not to mention he was missing two weeks’ worth of his favorite comedy show.) There was a limit to how late Tezuka could stay in the university library, or how long he could stay holed up in his own room politely pretending not to hear the screamed arguments over the phone. This was clearly a private, in-family issue he had no business witnessing, and it bothered him that he had no choice but to witness it. And Fuji was no help at all, stubbornly staying through every argument. (To be quite honest, Tezuka thought Yuuta might have a better chance working things out with their father if Fuji just stayed out of it. Fuji annoyed their father by firmly supporting Yuuta, and irritated Yuuta by asking him to be more understanding with their father.)

Tezuka wasn’t unsympathetic. And he did think Fuji’s commitment to helping his little brother was admirable. But this was not. Helping. Anyone.

“Tezuka-san. Um. Hi.”

Tezuka carefully exhaled and refrained from pinching the bridge of his nose. “Yuuta-kun.”

“Er, sorry. I must be bothering you taking up your living room like this.”

The thing was, Yuuta sounded genuinely remorseful. His quick temper and stubbornness aside, Yuuta was a sweet boy, polite and kind-hearted. So Tezuka settled for giving a shake of his head and sat down on the loveseat across from the youngest Fuji. “Does it help?”

Meaning being away from home. Thankfully, Yuuta seemed to understand him almost as well as his older brother did. “Maybe a bit. I don’t know.” A sigh. “I think I should go home. Try and work it out with dad, maybe. Aneki’s coming home for the weekend and... Mom will be there. I guess aniki can come, too.”

At the sideway glance, Tezuka realized Yuuta was waiting for his response, and...couldn’t find anything to say. Fuji would be supportive and empathetic, would manage to sound both understanding and encouraging. But he wasn’t Fuji, and Fuji’s method... Well, it hadn’t worked for two weeks. Tezuka figured he couldn’t do much damage if he spoke his mind. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know the finer details of the argument after two weeks of (unintentionally) listening in every night.

“I believe confronting the problem is better than avoiding it.” There. That was as neutral as he could manage.

Yuuta’s eyes twinkled. “Heh. You sound like my sister. Aniki doesn’t argue, not really. He thinks if dad and I started screaming at each other in person, we wouldn’t stop until we’ve disowned each other.”

Tezuka waited, head cocked to side a tiny bit to indicate he was listening.

“I don’t think we’re going anywhere over the phone, though. I need to talk to him in person.”

Tezuka nodded. “By now, your father understands you are serious about your plan. He may be more willing to listen.”

“Now – yeah, maybe.” Yuuta flashed him a crooked grin. “Thanks, Tezuka-san.” Then, he surprised Tezuka by continuing. “Y’know, sometimes I kinda wish aniki’d be more like you. Less – y’know. Less circles. I know aniki doesn’t want me or dad upset. But we’re not like him and it’s harder to talk when aniki’s tiptoeing around us trying to stop every argument.” There was a faint blush on his cheeks, and Yuuta ducked his head. “I mean. Maybe if dad and I actually had a proper argument, we might understand each other better. And it wouldn’t be like, the end, y’know. I know dad’s worried about me.”

“You would know best,” Tezuka said, choosing his words with care. “It’s your life. And your father.”

Calming Fuji down was harder. When Fuji came home to discover Yuuta had gone back home alone, he’d nearly gone after his brother before Tezuka physically grabbed him at the door.

“He’s my brother. I know you find it hard to understand—”

And that had been the last straw.

“If two weeks of staying with you hasn’t helped, what makes you think any more will?” At that, Fuji had recoiled as if from a physical blow, and Tezuka nearly let him go. But he had a feeling this just might become a recurring pattern: Fuji unable to let go, still thinking he was responsible for his younger brother’s life. And Yuuta was seventeen.

“Your brother is old enough to take care of his own problems. It was his choice to go back. I know you’re trying to help, but if you go after him now, it won’t help anyone, least of all Yuuta-kun.”

For a long moment, there was a dead silence.

Slowly, tension unwound from Fuji’s body, but it was a controlled relaxation. Fuji only acted so calm if he was feeling anything but. When Tezuka released his arm, Fuji did not meet his eyes.

“I’m going to my room to study,” Fuji said without looking at him, and walked away with a catlike quiet, not even a footfall betraying him. The door closed behind him with barest whisper of a click.

Tezuka tidied up the living room and sat down with a textbook in his lap. It was only when Fuji’s cell phone went off that Tezuka realized he couldn’t remember a word he read. After a short, half-muffled conversation, Fuji emerged from his room and headed to the kitchen.

“I’m having tea. Do you want a cup?”

If Tezuka hadn’t been glancing at the clock every ten minutes for the past hour, he might not have noticed Fuji’s voice was still a touch more controlled than usual. “Yes, please,” he answered, then frowned when he noticed which pair of cups Fuji was taking out.

The cups were from a special tea set Fuji’s sister gave him as a housewarming present, made of translucent bone china with a little blue forget-me-not painted on the inside rim. With matching saucers. The tea Fuji chose was the high-quality sencha they used only when they had company over.

Fuji set down the cup and saucer before him with a soft clink. “Please.”

“Thank you,” Tezuka said automatically, and did not ask anything. Instead, he scooted over a bit, so Fuji could join him on the sofa if he wished. A moment later, Fuji did join him, setting down his own cup and saucer on the coffee table.

They drank the tea in silence. After they finished, Fuji reached for Tezuka’s cup, and Tezuka automatically reached out to hand it to him, and their hands met. Fuji let their hands linger for a moment before accepting the cup from him.

“Thank you,” Fuji said softly.

Tezuka didn’t have to explain himself to Fuji very often. Similarly, Fuji rarely had to explain himself to Tezuka. Even when they didn’t fully understand one another, they knew how the other thought. That had always been the best part of their relationship.

“You’re welcome.”

~*~*~*~


During the summer break in their first year of university, Fuji got an internship at a PR department of a large publishing company. It made Fuji extremely busy, but happy. By the end of their first year, the department head wanted Fuji to work part-time, with a promise of full-time employment right after graduation. The only downside was that although the job was termed part-time, the actual hours varied anywhere from twenty to thirty a week.

So at the beginning of the second year, Fuji told him with uncharacteristic hesitation that he was quitting the university tennis team.

Oishi had also quit the previous fall, his schedule having become too busy to keep up with the practice and the research project he was assisting. And as he had with Oishi, Tezuka nodded his understanding and that was that.

Six weeks after the semester began, Tezuka started taking two bento boxes to school. Last year, they used to take turns making breakfast and lunch boxes. Last year, despite his classes being in the late mornings or afternoons, Fuji would wake up early to have breakfast together and read over his assignments after Tezuka left for his classes. But these days, Fuji, exhausted after his long days, was always asleep when Tezuka left in the morning. And Fuji was rarely home for dinner. It was just easier for Tezuka to stay late at the campus and finish his assignments before coming back to the flat to sleep.

Three months into the semester, Oishi invited Tezuka for a Sunday lunch together. Oishi gave him a searching look before asking, “Has the semester been busy for you, Tezuka?”

“Yes.”

“How are you doing? How’s Fuji?”

It occurred to Tezuka then that he hadn’t exchanged more than a few words with Fuji for over two months. They didn’t have any classes in common, so without the tennis practice, they rarely ran into each other on campus. And when they did, Fuji seemed tired to the point of being stressed, and Tezuka couldn’t find anything to talk about beyond basic inquiries about their daily life, chores, or classes.

Tezuka knew he’d been silent for too long by the way Oishi’s searching gaze shifted to a concerned one. So he settled on, “Busy,” and did not elaborate.

“Eiji emailed me the other day. He said Fuji was stressed about working long hours.”

“It’s what he chose.”

Oishi looked at him for a long moment. “I saw you in the library after hours lately. I thought you preferred studying at home?”

“The library is more convenient.” Something about Oishi’s gaze was beginning to make him uncomfortable, so Tezuka added, “It saves me time if I finish my assignments on campus.”

“Tezuka.” A soft sigh, and Oishi reached over the table to touch Tezuka’s wrist, gently. “When was the last time the two of you actually had a conversation?”

Kikumaru should learn to mind his own business, Tezuka thought sourly. What annoyed him the most was that Kikumaru never actually said anything to Tezuka himself, always opting to talk indirectly through Fuji or Oishi. Like now. Which made it difficult for Tezuka to cut him off like he deserved.

“We’ve both been busy. Even if we have time, we’re not obligated to spend it together.”

That had come out sharper than Tezuka intended, but Oishi was unfazed. “I think you two should talk. And you definitely need to talk to Fuji about his schedule. I’ve seen him around the campus, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so stressed before. Or ever.” Oishi’s direct, honest eyes were still on him, and Tezuka couldn’t avoid those eyes, not without feeling like a coward. It didn’t make him any less uncomfortable, however.

“It’s his own business.”

Oishi frowned, and Tezuka held back a sigh. He’d hoped that was brusque enough to make Oishi drop the subject. Apparently Oishi wasn’t taking a hint. In fact, Oishi looked like he was getting his mother-hen on good and proper now, and Tezuka braced himself for a barrage.

It didn’t come.

“Inui emailed me a couple months back,” Oishi said instead, carefully casual. “He’s kept in touch with Yanagi. You remember – from Rikkai?” Tezuka nodded, and Oishi continued. “Apparently, Yukimura and Sanada had a really big fight last year. You know Yukimura went pro right after graduation?”

“Yes.” He had heard, of course, from multiple sources. The only thing unusual about that was the fact it prompted Echizen to contact him, despite Echizen’s notorious inability to keep in touch with anyone.

“And Sanada – well, he’d had offers. He was well known after all, like you, Yukimura, and Atobe. But Sanada chose not to go pro. So he and Yukimura didn’t talk to each other for months.”

Tezuka knew his brows had drawn together in a frown. Their situation, if it could be called that, wasn’t a parallel of Yukimura and Sanada’s. Theirs wasn’t about tennis, or really anything at all. He and Fuji hadn’t even argued, let alone had a fight big enough to stop talking for months over it.

“They finally talked it over last winter. Yanagi isn’t sure if Sanada will go pro just yet. But it sounds like they worked things out.”

“There’s nothing to work out between us,” Tezuka snapped without thinking, then blinked at his own outburst. He hadn’t meant to say that aloud, least of all to Oishi, and— Well, he was also right, wasn’t he? There was nothing wrong between him and Fuji. Sometimes people just grew apart after their interests diverged. But life didn’t stop. They just had to move on, that was all.

Oishi’s mouth pressed in a tight, unhappy line, then opened with a quiet, controlled breath. “Okay. Can you tell Fuji he can always talk to me? As a friend, I’ll always be glad to listen.” To both of you, Tezuka heard, but ignored it.

“I will.”

“It has been seven years since we all met,” Oishi said, apropos of nothing in particular, with a nostalgic smile. “Unbelievable, isn’t it?”

If there is nothing to work out between you...what have you both been doing for the last seven years?

Oishi never said it, not in words. And Tezuka later wondered if it might not have been better if Oishi had.

Afterward, just before the summer break began, Tezuka and Fuji had their first argument in a long time. Tezuka didn’t remember what it was about, just that it was something stupid and silly. At the time he thought it was just Fuji being unreasonable, but Tezuka wasn’t feeling inclined to let things go like he usually did. They didn’t argue after that time, but then summer began and for the whole break Tezuka didn’t see Fuji at all. After the second semester started, Tezuka was beginning to wonder if he shouldn’t look into university housing for the following year. He did not voice the thought, but did bring home a brochure and the application for dormitory placement to peruse.

A month later, Fuji left for France on a study-abroad program.

~*~*~*~


“Do you miss tennis?”

Shortly after Fuji’s birthday party in their third year, Tezuka had asked him that question out of the blue. Fuji tilted his head with a thoughtful look, tapping a finger on his lower lip.

“In a way. It’s what bound us – all of us – together since we were young.”

But not tennis itself. Tezuka wasn’t sure if he was disappointed or not. For Fuji, tennis was interesting and challenging. Fuji enjoyed playing tennis, especially with Tezuka, but it wasn’t something he could live for.

And it was thinking about Fuji and tennis that made Tezuka realize he, in fact, missed tennis.

~*~*~*~


Sunlight streamed through the blinds, and Tezuka knew without opening his eyes he’d slept in. The warm weight on his right arm told him Fuji also had.

Tezuka opened his eyes slowly, blinking as brightness assailed his eyes. Not for the first time, he was grateful Fuji had insisted on the warm sandy beige for their bedroom walls. The color reminded him of a beach, sun-warmed and welcoming, and did not blind him like the pristine white wallpaper at home used to. He raised his head off the pillow to peer at Fuji, and found him fast asleep. Fuji must have been exhausted the night before; usually Fuji was a light sleeper and woke up the moment Tezuka stirred. Fuji probably worked overtime to get the day off, Tezuka thought with a hint of wry affection.

Slowly, Tezuka lay back down, moving as little as he could, and closed his eyes. He was pleasantly warm and rested, though his muscles faintly ached with the usual post-tournament fatigue. Being idle never suited him, but this was a well-deserved moment of rest for both of them. He could afford to remain in bed a little longer.

“Good morning,” came a whisper, and Tezuka cracked his eyes open.

“Good morning.”

“Did you sleep well?” Fuji’s voice was still scratchy from sleep, but his eyes were awake, and very blue in the morning sun.

“Yes. You?”

“Mm. Very well.”

“What are your plans for the day?” Tezuka asked, running a hand down Fuji’s bare arm. He wasn’t inclined to leave the bed in a hurry, but it had been a while since they both had a day off together.

“You’re leaving on Saturday night, right?”

“Yes.”

Fuji hummed softly. “We could go watch that musical I mentioned last time. If we leave after lunch, we can catch the afternoon matinée.”

“All right.” His hand never ceased the soothing motion down Fuji’s back, and as he expected, Fuji’s eyes drifted close after a moment. Tezuka smiled, knowing Fuji wouldn’t see it. He liked Fuji best on mornings like this, drowsy and relaxed. It was one of the things he’d never confided to Fuji himself. Fuji’s eyes didn’t even open when Tezuka kissed him, though he did return the kiss languidly.

Near his graduation from junior high school, when Tezuka put his plans of going to Germany on hold, a lot of people including his parents had asked if he was sure.

(Ryuuzaki-sensei hadn’t been very surprised, weirdly enough, though she did raise an ironic eyebrow when she heard. “Different path, same destination,” was all she’d said.)

When Tezuka made it known he intended to attend university, nearly everyone he knew called him to confirm yes, he really was going to university, no, he wasn’t joking, and no, he wasn’t going to regret it.

Only Fuji never asked Tezuka if he was sure. “You’d never say it otherwise,” Fuji said, and agreed to share a flat with him for their first year of university. (With Fuji, some things really were that easy.) And then, somehow or other, every year thereafter. (And some things really, really weren’t.) However, in their fourth year, when Tezuka brought up his post-graduation plans, Fuji was the only one whose response Tezuka couldn’t predict. To be precise, Fuji hadn’t given him much of one beyond a neutral hum and a nod.

“Were you surprised when I said I wanted to go pro?”

The question made Fuji still under his hand. When Fuji opened his eyes a second later, they were surprisingly alert for all his sleepy languor of the moment before. “Well – not exactly. I know you thought you’d chosen otherwise. But for me...” Fuji hesitated, then continued after stealing a glance at Tezuka. “I don’t know if I ever really imagined you without tennis.”

Echizen, when they met at their first tournament together, had been more direct and more impertinent besides. Glad you finally decided to stop fooling yourself, buchou. Told you it’s way better than college. Tezuka’s quiet laugh had surprised him as much as it had Echizen. “Ah.”

“Were you surprised that I didn’t continue?”

Tezuka considered the question carefully. He knew Fuji and knew Fuji meant disappointed rather than surprised, but this was something he’d never tried to put into words, before.

“No,” Tezuka said. He wasn’t disappointed or even surprised, really. To Fuji, tennis had been something he focused on because it interested him more than anything else at the time. “I do miss it. Your tennis.” Though professional tennis circuit had no shortage of interesting opponents, no one could be quite what Fuji had been to him. And it was a personal regret of Tezuka’s – but not enough of one to pose a problem.

“But it’s not the only thing that binds us.”

The smile that emerged was like the sun coming out from the clouds. “No, it isn’t,” Fuji agreed softly, fingers intertwining with Tezuka’s. Tezuka squeezed back, lacing their fingers together.

“Happy birthday.”

Fin


Note: A quick note about the shower thing. I won’t name the source here, but apparently, in contemporary Japanese culture, invitation to use the shower from a boyfriend is tantamount to an invitation to physical intimacy. And shower is a must in such a case.

Yuuta uses “aneki” to refer to Yumiko in the PairPuri Picture Drama. Not to be confused with “aniki”!

Forget-me-not, in flower language, also means true love.
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