Disclaimer: It's not mine. Trust me, it's not. Also, the excerpts and mentions of Tennyson's "Mariana" and In Memorium A.H.H. and Robert Browning's "Porphyria's Lover" are not mine.
Pairings: Tezuka/Ryoma; vague Golden Pair
Spoilers: spoilers for anime canon after Episode 66
Warnings: angst, brief sexual references
Word Count: ~11,000
Summary: What will you have left? Tezuka didn’t know; all he had was the certainty that Ryoma would now surpass him and more.
Author's Notes: I like this story, not least because it haunted me until I wrote it. Major thanks, again, to bookshop, who took this and made it stronger and better. I cannot thank you enough. To everyone else, I hope you enjoy reading this: this one is special to me. Written for the Letters Challenge at pillarchallenge.
It was unexpected, and there was no pain until later.
He didn’t go in with the expectation of an injury – not even Fuji had that much foreknowledge – and when he stepped onto the court, he felt no sudden premonition of future harm, no sudden shiver down his spine, no tingling at the nape of his neck. He felt only what he normally felt at the beginning of every game: the calmness pooling like ice in his stomach, the tightening of his grip on the racquet, and the deepening of his breath as he gazed at his opponent across the net.
He never treated a match casually, not even the ones he played when there was nothing riding on it (though there was nearly always something riding on it), but even before the match began, he hadn’t truly been expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen.
The only thing that could be said for explaining this expectation was that it cost him dearly.
It happened in seconds and was over in less than half a minute; when silence finally fell once more, Tezuka found himself facing a suddenly altered future, his career suddenly stopped in mid-leap. As the smell of antiseptic filled his nostrils, stinging and giving him a headache, Tezuka stared into the distance, heedless of the babble and hushed whispers around him. Grimacing at the taste of blood in his mouth, he forced himself to assess the options left to him, the tatters of his assumptions, hopes, and dreams falling gently around him.
No, not yet, he thought, when the match – along with his career – was forfeited, even when he knew that no amount of patience and physical therapy would heal this injury.
You know that you will surpass me because you are Echizen Ryoma. It is not because you are the son of Echizen Nanjiroh, nor is it because you will conquer and change Japanese and International tennis. It is because you are yourself and greater than all of this – even me.
So get on with it.
What will you have left?
Tezuka still remembered the first match he played with Ryoma – he knew he would never forget it – and sometimes, when he closed his eyes, he could see Ryoma in the setting sun: arrogant, wide-eyed and sweating. If he stretched his imagination enough, he could see himself: pale, unmoving, and waiting for something that would not yet come.
What will you have left?
He remembered the game, defeating Ryoma, and asking him to be the pillar even though he knew Ryoma wasn’t able to understand what he meant – yet. He remembered, and remembered, but remembering would not make time rewind to make it his current reality again.
Time, he had been repeatedly told after the accident, was a fickle mistress, adept to being delightful and sullen all at once. Tezuka, lying in the hospital bed and staring up at the ceiling, knew that time had decided to team up with reality and make him miserable.
He had never, for so many years, imagined a life that did not include playing tennis, in some shape or another. Throughout junior high and then high school, this assumption had only grown stronger; even though he had done many of the university entrance exams at his father’s behest, the intention of going pro had always lingered at the back of his mind. Ryoma had merely cemented his decision.
What will you have left?
Now he found himself faced with a ruined professional career and only a high school education standing to him. Somehow, his father had told him dryly, numerous tennis titles, trophies and an esteemed reputation did not impress employers very much. Tezuka had told his father, replying with sarcasm for the first time in his life, that they had never been people he had wanted to impress anyway. He had regretted the retort afterwards, lying in cold, sterilised silence once more with only the ceiling and his thoughts for company, but the walls could not convey his apology to his father.
He hadn’t expected the old tennis team to visit him – life moves on and he had never been the best at keeping contact – but he had forgotten the wonders of modern communication and how scandal and drama are the fastest events communicated in the world. Fuji was the first to arrive, bringing him music and soft words that eased around his headache and disappeared into the muted white walls. For once, his barbs were heavily controlled and his sympathy had been blatantly apparent; he was not cruel enough to think that this was not destroying Tezuka, no matter how well he fought to hide it.
What will you have left?
The others had come and gone, each trying their best to cheer him up and convey their sympathy, all the while knowing that Tezuka most likely privately considered their visits an intrusion; professionalism and real life had not made him any better at social interaction. Oishi had looked ready to cry or set up camp in his hospital room for however long was necessary, and he had stayed the longest, Kikumaru hovering nearby, unsure of his welcome but unwilling to leave Oishi.
The days had melded into one, despite the music and books that were brought, and his sense of time disappeared – years could have passed and he wouldn’t have realised. There was a television in his room, of course – whatever his father’s feelings were, it did not mean that Tezuka received anything less than the best for his medical treatment – but Tezuka watched it rarely, merely as an attempt to keep up with the news, and he always switched it off whenever the sports reports came on.
The physical therapy was gruelling and he was told repeatedly not to expect miracles. The pain made his stomach clench and he bit his lip raw to avoid crying out – he was the stoic, expressionless captain, after all – but he kept at it, day after day, his lips drawn in a thin line as his progress crawled along.
Tezuka was used to being exceptional at what he did (apart for any activity he shared with Fuji, especially tennis, when one considered the lengths one had to go to for Fuji to take any match seriously), so he wasn’t surprised when he was told that his progress rate was exceptionally high for the injury he had received. His only response was to make himself go further and faster, bordering the line of inflicting serious pain and potential relapses on himself.
What will you have left?
His family started discussing his future with him, when his progress was significant enough that his options could realistically be considered. Tezuka dodged and ignored these conversations as politely as was able, even when his father offered him a peace offering in returning to university – it’s not too late, you know – and he found himself spending most of his time staring at the wall, unable to put on headphones or open a book. The world was passing him by, and even though he was getting better, his life was no longer the same and his anchor had shattered and he was adrift, hopeless, lost, drowning.
What will you have left?
The pain was fierce and he often woke up in increasingly dark moods, refusing to acknowledge the cheerful small talk of the nurses – who tried their hardest ‘to get the handsome young man to smile, the one with the glasses who was the professional tennis player; he’d be perfect if he only spoke a little more!’ with little success.
Tezuka knew Ryoma would come, however. If he didn't, well… that was a reality he wasn't quite ready to face up to yet. It was bad enough waking up every morning with the knowledge that holding a racquet, bouncing a ball, would not be as it was, that his arm would always throb and the pain would always linger?
Ryoma would probably say that if their roles had been reversed, Tezuka would respectfully keep his distance, but Ryoma would be wrong. If this had happened to Ryoma, Tezuka would be there. He probably wouldn’t say a word, but he’d be there, because some things, like tennis and Ryoma, were simply more important than his pride and being respectful.
What will you have left?
Tezuka didn’t know; all he had was the certainty that Ryoma would now surpass him and more.
Fuji is sometimes very worrying.
When his father walked in, Tezuka tensed and immediately removed his headphones, clicking off the music player and setting it neatly aside. "Father," he said quietly, lowering his head to stare at his fingers splayed against the plain hospital blankets.
"Kunimitsu," his father acknowledged. "How are you feeling today?"
"Better," Tezuka replied after a moment's pause, glancing up at him quickly before lowering his gaze once more. "The therapy is making a vast improvement."
"Wonderful," his father said, smiling. Tezuka stared at him for a moment before blinking and attempting to recover himself. "I brought you some university leaflets," he continued, reaching into his briefcase and holding out a sheaf of glossy papers. "For you to look at."
"Ah." Tezuka took the papers, holding them like they were about to scald him. "Father, I haven't come to a decision about that yet – the doctors seemed open to the idea of a recovery –"
"Keeping your options open isn't a bad thing," his father said lightly, fingertips pressing against the buckles of his briefcase, "even if you do decide to try at tennis again."
Tezuka blinked, then looked up at him. "You would… approve of my returning to tennis?" he asked, a weight rising from his shoulders.
His father looked away. "We will see how your recovery continues."
Following his father's return to work, Tezuka found himself staring down at the leaflets, rubbing a fingertip across the lamination. His mother had always secretly wished for him to continue onto university, to make the most of his intelligence, but she had accepted his desire to go pro, knowing that a part of that desire was because of Echizen. His father, however, had never quite agreed, but if he was cautiously agreeing to a return to tennis, then perhaps there was still hope.
He looked up at the polite knock on the door and he sighed when Fuji peered around the door. "Don't you have lectures to attend?" he asked.
"Now, Tezuka, you know you're more important than university," Fuji said, smiling, and Tezuka sighed, knowing better than to answer and encourage him. "Besides, Echizen is waiting outside to see you."
Tezuka froze, his eyes widening. "Already?"
"Mmm. It appears he took the first plane back to Japan that he could get on." Fuji sighed. "Such devotion; how heart-warming!"
Tezuka resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Tell him not to come in."
Fuji's eyes immediately snapped open. "Not to come in?"
"My father was just here," Tezuka explained.
"I know; we met him coming down," Fuji replied, a frown twisting the corners of his mouth. His eyes fell on the leaflets on the bed. "Ah," he said, suddenly becoming quite still as he shifted his gaze back to Tezuka, his expression turned calm and thoughtful.
Tezuka shrugged, glancing down at the leaflets. "They're only a potential option. But he did agree that I should also consider a return to tennis should my recovery prove positive."
Fuji's frown deepened. "I see. But does that mean he approves of Echizen?"
Tezuka sighed and said, "It's a start."
Fuji shook his head slightly and turned back to the door. "I'll go and tell Echizen that you don't wish to see him – don't worry," he added, glancing over his shoulder, "I'll explain why. I don't think he'll be very happy; he seems quite worried about you."
Tezuka allowed a smile to tug the corners of his mouth. "I knew he'd come back," he murmured. "But if my father comes around, it'll be the better for both of us."
"And only you can do that, of course," Fuji said. If he there was any dryness or mockery to his tone, he hid it well.
Tezuka merely looked at him for a long moment and Fuji sighed, shaking his head again. "Very well," he said, opening the door. "But I should warn you: when your father caught sight of Echizen, he didn't look very pleased to see him. He didn't appear ready to accept the two of you anytime soon."
The door shut quietly, and Tezuka stared at the leaflets blankly, the weight suddenly descending onto his shoulders once more. His fingers tightened around the papers, marring their glossy smoothness.
I wouldn't worry about Tezuka – he'll realise that he was a bit too hasty in believing in his father's change of heart soon enough. You and I know his father better, of course (I don't think he approves of me, either, for some reason), but Tezuka has always been a little blind when it comes to his father – he's sought his approval for so long that he can't associate him with anything else.
Tezuka's recovery is coming apace, of course. I'm sure you're as well informed as we are, it being featured in most international news and every decent sports magazine. You won’t believe how many journalists tried to get into his hospital room for an interview; in the end, Momoshiro and Kaidoh played bodyguard at the door and we placed Taka-san there for good measure, too, a racquet in his hand, of course… a few of the reporters caught fire, I believe. It was interesting.
I’m not going to be vague and tiptoe around the issue. It’s time to show him the man you now are, Echizen, the man he helped to shape. I do believe that the two of us are going to have a struggle upon our hands in the next few months; Tezuka also seems strangely unenthusiastic, now, about his possible return to tennis, after being so optimistic a few days before.
I'll talk to you soon. Oh, your father says hello, by the way, and to return home before your cat forgets what you look like. Also, don't delete this. It wouldn't be good for either of us.
Tezuka looked up from leafing through a book and sighed when Fuji walked in, shutting the door quietly after him. He knew he should be grateful for the time Fuji took to visit him – it wasn’t like Tezuka had much else to do, all things considered – but sometimes it seemed that Fuji didn’t quite understand that a hospital visitor was there to provide sympathy and company for someone bored out of their mind for the rest of the time. So far, all Fuji had provided was good music, food that Tezuka refused to touch, mental riddles that made Tezuka's rusty intellectual skills creak, and a disturbing amount of information on the Echizen family's activities, most of it thankfully not about Ryoma.
“Nanjiroh gave me Echizen’s email address,” Fuji finally revealed. “I emailed him yesterday, just filling him in on the situation. He hasn't replied yet.”
Tezuka stared at him, his lips rapidly thinning. “Considering your version of filling him in probably included veiled threats and possible blackmail, I won’t be surprised if he immediately deletes it when he sees it in his inbox.”
Fuji blinked. “I warned him against that,” he said, a slow smile creeping across his lips. His face took on that look that always made people think twice about making an enemy of him; it was the look that immediately made the vein in Tezuka’s right temple start to throb unpleasantly.
Tezuka closed his eyes, wondering what the chances were of Fuji going home if he kept them closed long enough and pretended to doze off. “I imagine you did.”
“I felt quite privileged to be such a font of information for him,” Fuji said happily.
“Wonderful,” Tezuka said, opening his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose.
Fuji frowned. “You really don't want to see him?”
“It's not that I don't want to see him,” Tezuka said, trying his best to dodge the question. It wasn’t the most elegant attempt he’d ever made – he’d become unaccustomed to deflecting Fuji's barbs and faux-innocent remarks over the years, Fuji having apparently decided that trying a more direct approach was a good experiment. Tezuka had no idea how he managed to keep his sarcasm and occasionally nasty streak under control, but he somehow did. Tezuka’s headaches never seemed to lessen, however, which didn’t seem very fair at all.
Fuji tilted his head, gazing at Tezuka with narrowed eyes, who immediately began to sweat a little at the temples. “It could be worse. At least he’s back. You two will be able to go back to normal.”
"I'm not sure," Tezuka sighed after a moment’s pause. “My father informed me yesterday that I must have imagined that he would support me in a return to tennis. He said that university was the most currently stable route for me to take. The doctors told me that a recovery could take years and even then there is no guarantee."
Fuji frowned, his eyes fluttering shut in the way they always did whenever Tezuka's father came into the conversation. "And you believe them so readily? Doctors are not always correct."
Tezuka shrugged. "If Oishi were here, he would be throwing a fit at you for saying that."
Fuji smiled. "But he is not here."
Tezuka sighed. "Perhaps it would be easier for me to enroll into university rather than spend years attempting to return to tennis."
Fuji's eyes snapped open. "What makes you think that?"
Tezuka shrugged. "I can hardly say that it didn't cross my mind."
Fuji’s eyes narrowed, taking on a dangerous gleam. “Tezuka, what has your father been saying to you this past year?” he asked, a smile curving the corners of his lips. “Your father must now what a difficult decision this is for you.”
“He wants me to keep my options open. Professional tennis careers can sometimes be remarkably brief, after all,” Tezuka said, closing his eyes as he laid further back in the bed. "I cannot stop him from being concerned."
“I see,” was Fuji’s reply, even though his eyes had not yet closed and he was staring down at Tezuka in a most unpleasant fashion.
Fuji, however, did not make any further remarks; instead, he bent down and retrieved several sheets of paper from his bag. He tapped them together neatly on his knee and lay them on the bed by Tezuka’s thigh. “My sister has a fondness for Victorian poetry,” Fuji remarked after a few moments, his smile back in place as Tezuka stared at the sheets. “Sometimes she prints out the poems that she especially likes and gives them to me. I saw this one and it reminded me of you,” he added, tapping the first bunch of stabled sheets.
Tezuka picked them up, frowning as he read the poet and title. “Alfred Tennyson’s ‘Mariana’?” he asked, looking up to gaze sharply at Fuji.
Fuji’s eyes opened as he smiled again. “‘She only said, “My life is dreary,/ He cometh not,” she said;/ She said, “I am aweary, aweary,/ I would that I were dead!”’ he quoted softly, his smile taking on a dreamy quality.
Tezuka stiffened, his fingers clenching around the paper; it crumpled around his grip with a harsh sound. “I am not wasting my life waiting for him to come back,” he said, too quietly as he looked straight at Fuji.
Fuji’s smile turned sharp and bitter at the edges. “I never said you were,” he said briskly, rising to his feet. “But you know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.”
“There is nothing shameful about considering a life beyond tennis,” Tezuka snapped. "The rest of you did."
“Ah, but we are not you,” Fuji returned.
"You're assuming, Fuji," Tezuka said too quietly.
Fuji smiled, the gleam in his eyes brightening. “Forgive me.”
Tezuka abandoned all pretences, openly glaring at Fuji. “Yes, you are,” he ground out.
“Well, then, if you think so," Fuji said, his eyes closing. “I’ll take your word for it.” He walked to the door, his fingertips lingering against the frame and Tezuka’s hands shook as he held the poetry in a death grip.
“Oh,” Fuji said, stopping and glancing back at him. “I could have given you far worse poems… Tennyson’s epic that runs almost to three thousand lines, mourning the death of one of his closest friends, for example.”
Tezuka looked away, his shoulders hunching as Fuji continued, “But I didn’t. Don’t read the other poem until Echizen finally sees you and you decided who to believe. You’ll understand it better, then.” He left, closing the door silently behind him.
Tezuka stared down at the pages and flung them into his bedside drawer, not caring if they crumpled or not.
…Tezuka-Buchou and Fuji-senpai have always seemed to me like a disaster waiting to happen. Buchou seems to be the only person able to cope when Fuji-senpai’s smiles disappear and his eyes open
and all hell breaks loose. Fuji-senpai seems to be like an unstoppable force and Buchou an immoveable object, and I don’t think I want to be around when they finally meet in a moment of impact.
"Ah, this one says that you allowed yourself to be deliberately injured because you were secretly breaking inside for a lost love! Your injury is your physical plea for forgiveness!" Fuji's face was lit up in animation as he flicked through the magazines, his brow furrowed in concentration.
Tezuka put down his tea and stared at him for a long moment, before taking off his glasses and beginning to clean them slowly and methodically. It was as if their sharp words had never happened, but then, he was dealing with Fuji. After counting to ten, he asked slowly, "Fuji, did you really come here to discuss the journalistic rumours about my love life?"
Fuji put down the magazine and blinked rapidly. "I thought it would cheer you up," he said.
Tezuka stared again. "Fuji, you're the one who's getting excited."
"You cracked a smile at the article that said you were secretly in love with your opponent."
Tezuka replaced his glasses on his nose. "I didn't. I nearly cracked my teacup."
"Ah, well." Fuji paused, tapping the magazine, and then ventured, "You were secretly smiling inside?"
"Here," Fuji said, holding out a book. "I brought you crossword puzzles."
Tezuka hesitated before accepting the book. "Thank you," he said slowly, looking away. Aside from the news, he had started following some ridiculous soap opera (it had taken him a week to realise that there were three affairs, four break-ups, one marriage, and one hinted homosexual unrequited longing, all centred around eight people). He had no idea how people watched these things, much less enjoyed them, but he was afraid to mention it in case Fuji mentioned that he and Eiji followed it and started discussing the storylines with him. Something in book form was very much appreciated.
Fuji smiled, the action reaching his eyes which flashed blue as they briefly opened. "Don't finish them all too fast. The store got in an omnibus edition this morning, so I'll bring that with me the next time."
"Ah, Fuji, you don't have to –" Tezuka began, but stopped when Fuji's phone went off. Fuji pulled it out, frowned as he peered down at the number, and flicked it open. "Echizen?" he asked, still frowning, and Tezuka froze, staring at him. "How did you get my number – ah, I see. Well… oh, I see. Oh, dear. Was he very insistent? Ah. Oh. Well. Oh. On his way here? Now? Are you here as well? Ah, well. Yes, I'll be out. Of course. Try to keep calm… I said, try. Yes, yes – well – ah." Fuji lowered the phone and gazed at it thoughtfully.
"That was quicker than I thought," he remarked after a moment. "He still hasn't learned that patience is a virtue, and he really does need to work on his phone etiquette."
"Fuji," Tezuka said, attempting to be as calm as possible, "do you mean to say that Echizen is here?"
Fuji blinked. "Ah, yes!" he exclaimed, causing Tezuka to pinch the bridge of his noise. "Echizen is here, and so is your father. They're not too pleased to see each other, and your father won't allow him in to see you. And since I am here and on your side, Echizen appealed to me for help. Very politely, all things considered," he added after a moment's consideration.
Tezuka fought not to widen his eyes. Things must have been desperate for Ryoma to actually appeal to Fuji, of all people, for assistance.
"Oh, yes, also, your father thinks the three of us are all having a relationship at the same time," Fuji added sadly.
Tezuka's glasses slipped down his nose. "What?"
Fuji smiled, but it never reached his eyes. "No, he doesn't; you just looked terribly worried, so I decided to try and lighten the mood."
Tezuka's left eye twitched; he had to bite his tongue not to snap that this was most definitely not the time for jokes.
Fuji rose gracefully. "I better go out and help. Stay here and do a crossword. I expect the first one completed when I come back." He walked to the door and closed it firmly after him. Tezuka knew he would be standing in front of it, so he didn't even bother attempting to eavesdrop… besides, he wasn't that desperate to know what was going on.
He wondered if Fuji would somehow know if he held a glass to the door, however.
It was the most agonising ten minutes of his life. He broke four pencils and almost threw the book against the door, but decided against it for fear of Fuji's reaction. He got out of bed: he paced; he ate grapes; he tried to breathe evenly and failed.
The door opened and he stood, frozen, and his heart dropped when Fuji entered, alone.
Fuji sighed. "I sent them both away," he explained after a moment. "Neither of them was in a fit state to be around you." He sighed again and then glanced at his phone when it beeped twice. He nodded and then held up his phone to show Tezuka the text message on the screen. "Ryoma will be here tomorrow at two; your father has a meeting then, and will probably be several hours. You're to be dressed and waiting."
Fuji did not stay long, after that: the air was thick and oppressive and Tezuka was unable to concentrate on what either of them was saying. Fuji smiled, kissed him on the cheek, and said goodbye cheerfully to him as he walked towards the door.
Tezuka slept badly, tossing and turning for several hours. His dreams were strange and fragmented, bits of the past, his hopes, and when he woke, he couldn't remember what was real and what was not, and he felt like he was grasping onto things that were turning to dust in his hands and rebuilding themselves into things he couldn't recognise.
…isn't it one of your anniversaries? I know he said not to come back until it was all cleared up with his father, but surely you should get him a present? Flowers – does he like flowers? Chocolates… wait, he's not like you, heedless of his cholesterol levels. Actually, I know what you should get him.
Bring your ass back to Japan. Now.
It was exactly two o'clock when Ryoma appeared at the door. Tezuka had been uneasy all morning, changing his clothes several times and unable to concentrate on anything – he had watched soaps all morning, the melodrama seeping into his mind and making him stare blankly at the television screen. The names and faces had blurred, and soon all he could see was Ryoma's face in front of him.
Then he had blinked, and realised that Ryoma was really standing there. Tezuka promptly stopped breathing.
“Buchou,” Ryoma said, looking straight at him, a grin lingering at one side of his mouth.
“I’m not your Buchou anymore,” Tezuka replied before he could register what words he was forming. “We’ve already been through this.”
“And I’ll keep calling you that,” Ryoma said, his grin widening as Tezuka frowned at him. The grin faded when Tezuka fingers automatically went to curl around his arm, an action that Tezuka didn’t even realise he was doing until he followed the direction of Ryoma’s gaze. He immediately lowered his arms back to his sides, but the damage was done and the air was now filled with unsaid words and unacknowledged apologies and arguments, and perhaps Ryoma shouldn’t have returned after all.
Neither of them spoke for a few minutes before Ryoma said, "Well. I guess we should talk."
"Yes," Tezuka agreed, absently pulling at the left cuff of his sweater. "I think we should."
"This way," Ryoma said, and Tezuka had no choice but to follow him.
One of the nurses immediately came over to them, smiling brightly. “Tezuka-san,” she said, still smiling. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Ah, yes. I just…” He stared at Ryoma, trying to think of what description could cause the least offence and pain on both their parts.
“I’m an old friend,” Ryoma said, smoothly picking up the temporary lapse. “I came to see him… am I too early for visiting hours?” He took a breath and then smiled good-naturedly at the nurse, an action that had Tezuka struggling not to stare at him. Apparently this nurse hadn't witnessed the scene between Ryoma and his father yesterday.
However, Ryoma’s new social skills did the trick as the nurse smiled back at him. “Normally, yes, but Tezuka-san is a private patient and can accept visitors within reasonable expectations.” Compliments of his father, Tezuka thought darkly, but held his tongue.
Ryoma’s eyes flickered to him, and Tezuka knew in the slight smile that lingered on his face that Ryoma had, in his own way, picked up on some of Tezuka’s thoughts. Turning to nurse, Ryoma asked, “Is it all right if we go outside for a bit? We have a lot to catch up on.” How he managed to keep his face smooth and emotionless while saying that, Tezuka had no idea. Ryoma’s self-control had improved immensely in almost the year and a half he had been away.
The nurse’s face flickered with indecision, but Tezuka chose at that moment to smile at her, deciding if it had worked for Ryoma then it was worth a shot, and she responded with a brilliant smile. “Well, I really shouldn’t, but… just don’t take too long, all right?”
“We won’t!” Echizen replied, grinning. “Thank you!” he added, turning, and Tezuka had no choice but to follow him.
It didn’t surprise him that Ryoma chose to go up on the roof – the few courtyards wedged around the hospital buildings were still too public for his own comfort – and Tezuka sighed as he lowered himself down beside Ryoma, closing his eyes at the breeze that caressed his face and ran through his hair. For the first time in weeks, he was with a visitor and he didn’t feel like hiding anything or being forced to make conversation, even though they both knew they would have to talk at some point or another.
Several minutes passed by as they simply sat beside each other, comfortable and silent. At last, Ryoma asked, looking away as he spoke, “How have you been?”
Tezuka took his time in responding, finally saying, “I’ve been better.”
Ryoma laughed shortly. “I suppose that was a stupid question.” He paused, then said, “I’m sorry I didn’t return sooner.”
Tezuka shrugged, his eyes still closed. “You returned sooner than I expected," he said, though they both knew that was a lie.
“I still should have returned sooner. I should have realised that you needed me back, but I just wasn't sure if it was all right to immediately return…"
“I hope Fuji won’t be able to blackmail you too badly.”
Ryoma laughed again, the sound more bitter this time. “I can handle Fuji. I can,” he added, as Tezuka opened his eyes, turned, and raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t come back for Fuji.”
Tezuka swallowed. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“So am I,” Ryoma said, taking his hand, and then he was kissing him, and it was right, and it had been far too long, and Tezuka really had missed him very much. They were both panting when they broke apart and Tezuka winced inwardly when his arm gave a protesting twinge; he hadn’t realised he’d been using it to support himself while allowing Ryoma to kiss him.
Ryoma’s gaze immediately went to his arm as he frowned. “The reports said that the injuries were extensive, as did Fuji…” He trailed off as his hand lingered on Tezuka’s arm, then fell away back to his side when Tezuka shifted away. “What happened?”
“You already know what happened; Fuji delighted in reading all the different versions in the papers and magazines. He tried to get me to decide which one was the most dramatic,” Tezuka replied, his lips tightening. Ryoma shook his head, but Tezuka knew he was trying to repress the urge to laugh.
Ryoma sighed. “Fuji.”
“He’s been good,” Tezuka reluctantly admitted. “He visits me almost every day, though I do point out that his work must be suffering.”
“He ignores you,” Ryoma said.
“He ignores me,” Tezuka agreed, and they lapsed into silence once more. They remained like that for the next half an hour, leaning comfortably against each other as they determinedly ignored the invisible gulf of unvoiced questions and unconfirmed promises between them.
Your Buchou rang looking for you, to confirm some match you two are playing this weekend? Sure it’s not a – date? :)