title: Building Sandcastles
fandom: Prince of Tennis
characters/pairings: Tezuka+Fuji
rating: G
warnings: childhood
summary: Tezuka's mother takes him to the beach
notes: for the lovely and incomparable ladies of lamplighter, who so thoroughly rock my world by scanalating slide. *flutters with love* thankyou!!! ^_^ something a bit fluffier to take the taste of slide out of your mouths. ^_~

Tezuka looked back over his shoulder, but his mother had already closed the door to their little cabana. That morning, the first morning of summer vacation, she had come into his room really early. She shook him awake, and smiled brightly, and told him that they were going to the beach. His father and grandfather had to work, so it would just be them. She then smiled even more, and told him to hurry up so they could go have fun.

He wasn't stupid. As he sat up in bed, she started to pack his bags, throwing everything he valued in haphazardly. He watched her, his heart sinking, as she forced herself to be more cheerful than he had ever seen her before.

He heard them arguing. They were traditional Japanese, so they didn't argue loudly, but there was an iciness to the way they spoke to each other that made Tezuka want to keep his head down and avoid any eye contact. He dutifully got up as his mother instructed, knowing perfectly well that she was rushing him out of the house before his grandfather came home after his morning class. He got dressed and combed his hair and brushed his teeth, and he helped his mother carry the seven bags she had packed for herself and the four bags she had hurriedly packed for him. She kept talking about how much fun the beach would be, but he didn't say anything. He didn't want to start crying, and make his mother upset.

He wished he could have a chance to say goodbye to his father.

It didn't take too long to get to Chiba, but the traffic was pretty bad. When they got to the place his mother had arranged, the man who showed them their cabana was almost rude. He kept asking about Tezuka's father, and when he was coming. Tezuka knew, of course, that the man didn't want a single mother in his 'respectable' resort. But his mother breezily and cheerfully assured the man that her husband would be along as soon as he could get away from the office.

Tezuka wandered out to the beach outside their porch, unwilling to listen to his mother pretend to be happy for much longer. When she was done with the man, she went out onto the porch, and called out to Tezuka, telling him to have a good time, and to be back for dinner. They hadn't had lunch, but his mother probably forgot. She had the phone in her hand already, and Tezuka knew she was going to call her mother. His grandmother never seemed that compassionate to Tezuka, but maybe she was different with her daughter.

He stuffed his hands in his pockets, and he kept his eyes on the sand under his feet as he walked. He didn't actually like the beach that much. It was hot and noisy and crowded, most likely. And wet. And he was wearing shoes with socks. And he didn't want to take them off. And he didn't want to go back to get his swimsuit. And he didn't like swimming that much, anyway, because he had to take off his glasses. And he'd like to cry, maybe, except that was pretty embarrassing, and he didn't want to go back to the cabana to cry, because he didn't want to worry his mother. And he was hungry. And he thought his mother was being terribly unfair, but it wasn't right for him to say that, and if he had to choose between his mother and father, he'd probably choose his mother, because she wasn't as strict, and even though he always followed the rules, he still preferred not to feel like he was always toeing a line, but he really didn't think he should have to choose between them.

What did they argue about, anyway?

He sat down on a tree limb that was lying on the beach, and he stared out at the ocean. It was also really sunny, and that was annoying. He put his elbows on his knees and his cheeks in his hands, and he stared forlornly out at the water.

How long before he could go back, he wondered?

There weren't many people on the beach at that time, but there were enough people that he couldn't just start crying here on his own, and he didn't want to wander too far away, because he didn't want to get lost. He scooted down onto the sand, and he started to play with it, just sifting it with his hands. That seemed deplorably unproductive, so he started to form it. The sand where he was sitting was too dry, so he moved forward. He didn't want to get too close to the water, but if he dug a bit, he could find sand that was wetter. He started to make something. He wasn't sure what, but he didn't have a bucket or a shovel or anything, so he just did his best. He formed the sand into a very smooth and even upside-down cone, and when he was satisfied with the height of it and the shape of it, he searched around to find a twig to start drawing a pattern in it. He started at the peak of the cone, and wound his way down, making a long spiraling line. When he was done, he started connecting the arcs of the line, making little windows.

It was very neat and orderly.

"That's rather good."

Tezuka started, and looked up. Another boy was there, wearing a pink t-shirt that was way too big for him, and green shorts. That looked sort of odd. The boy was also smiling rather too brightly. Tezuka wasn't quite sure what to make of it. "Thanks," he said cautiously.

That seemed to be more encouraging than he'd intended. The boy sat down next to him, and poked his finger in Tezuka's sand cone. "It needs doors, though."

Tezuka really thought he might cry. His sand cone was so perfect, and now this interloper was ruining it! He stubbornly bit the inside of his lip, ducked his head down, and tried fervently to pretend the other boy had never come over and sat down.

"Hey," the other boy said, sticking his face in Tezuka's, "what grade are you in? You're kinda tall, aren't you?"

Tezuka blinked. The boy said tall like it was a bad word. "I'm in the third grade," he stiffly replied. But then. Would they ever go back home? Would he get to go to school with his friends again? Though, he didn't really have any real friends, but he was the head of the classroom, and it was his job to feed the hamster, and if that Mitani took over, poor Fluffels would explode from overstuffing in a week.

"Really?" The other boy exclaimed happily. "Me, too!" He took Tezuka's hands, and swung them around. Their joined hands grazed the sand cone, and sent a big chunk of sand spilling down. Tezuka just stared at it. "We live here. Just over that hill. I like this beach the best because it's not so crowded. You're not from around here, are you? How long are you staying? Where are you staying?"

Tezuka just stared at the boy blankly. How was he supposed to answer so many questions at once? He looked over to where their cabana was. "We're over there. I... don't know how long we're staying."

"Oh?" The other boy cocked his head to the side and looked at Tezuka quizzically, but he didn't say anything more. "Let's play here again tomorrow, ok? I'll bring my toys. I have to go now, though. It's almost time for tennis practice."

"Tennis?" Tezuka asked slowly. He didn't really want the other boy to get the idea he was interested, but he'd never seen anyone playing tennis in real life.

"Yup. It's super fun. Ok, I'll see you tomorrow!" He got up, waved, and trotted off.

Tezuka watched him go, and then looked down at his damaged sand cone. Sighing deeply, he started to repair it.

He had little sandals now, for playing on the beach. He got a new swimsuit, too, and a towel, and a bucket and a pail, for playing in the sand. He also had a big jar back in the cabana that he was filling with shells and pretty rocks he found, which he would place neatly in stacks on his towel until it was time to go home. His mother had called her sister, who lived in Hong Kong, and her sister had come to stay with them. His mother never mentioned his father, and he never brought it up, either, because at night, he could hear his mother crying all alone, and it would just make her even sadder.

He wasn't sure what his father had done, but he thought his father must have done something really mean, and he should have apologized properly like a man.

His aunt being there wasn't a bad thing, but she always tried to pick him up and cuddle him. Tezuka couldn't stand that. She smelled too much like girls. And when she kissed his cheeks, she left long, red marks from her lipstick. It was gross.

His mother looked tired all of the time, and Tezuka didn't think that his aunt was really helping anything. They were always talking about plans and shopping and jobs and stuff, and his aunt was always encouraging his mother to get on with it, no time like the present, what are you waiting for? Tezuka thought his mother might be waiting for his father to apologize for whatever he'd done, but he didn't say anything.

Before he went to bed, he'd read to his mother from his books, and then he kissed her cheek voluntarily, and he let her hug him.

He hoped his father was thinking of a really good way to apologize.

Sometimes, the other little boy would come and play with him on the beach. Tezuka never asked the boy to play with him, but the other boy didn't seem to need an invitation. Tezuka disliked swimming, but sometimes, the boy would run into the water and splash in the waves. It seemed pretty useless to Tezuka. He would tell Tezuka sometimes about his best friend who was learning to surf, and how he was spending every morning at the beach at the crack of dawn, trying to master the waves. Tezuka was somewhat interested in that, because he'd never seen people surfing in real life, either, and it seemed really hard. He didn't say anything, though, because the boy talked enough without encouragement, and he didn't want to make the boy to think that he wanted to be talking to him. Still, he wasn't a bad boy. He always left for tennis practice at the same time, and he was collecting shells for his summer homework. But he had to be able to identify what kind of animal had lived in the shell, too. Tezuka helped him dig up really good, big shells, because he had a shovel, after all.

It was, he had to admit, fun.

One morning, he got up really early, just as the sun was rising, and he went out to the beach to find the surfers. He had to go up the beach further than he'd ever been, but he saw them out there, rolling around on the waves. He watched them for a long time, until the sun got really hot. He was trying to figure out how surfing worked. It looked really hard, and even the really good surfers only stayed up on the waves for a little bit. It was disappointing. It wasn't at all how he'd imagined it.

He walked back home slowly, kicking the sand and watching it splatter all around. His mother scolded him for going out without telling her, and he apologized quickly, looking away from where his aunt was shaking her head. His mother forgave him right away, reinforcing in his mind the theory that if his father just said he was sorry, everything could go back to normal.

He'd gotten really good at making sand castles after they'd been there for a few weeks. He was working on making sand pagodas. It was hard, and he needed wet, thick sand, just the perfect kind, but he was able to make rough pagoda shapes. It was hard, though, because always, before he was able to etch on the shape of the roof tiles, the edges would crumble off.

The other boy would sit next to him, already having learned that Tezuka was slightly more agreeable if he didn't touch Tezuka's creations. He would snicker, though, when the edges of the pagoda crumbled away. Tezuka didn't appreciate that.

Sometimes, the boy would take Tezuka's hand, and pull him toward the water. He made Tezuka get his feet wet sometimes, which Tezuka thought was just weird, but he didn't say so.

Still, little by little, he got used to the other boy's presence near him. Days when he didn't show up dragged on forever, and days when he was there were always more fun. It occurred to Tezuka that this boy might be his first real friend, but he didn't much want to say anything one way or the other to the other boy. It seemed like the boy wasn't the type to be lonely if he didn't want to be, after all.

One rather hot day, the other boy was trying to get Tezuka to go into the water, and he poked at Tezuka's sand castle. He had abandoned doing pagodas, and gone to making European-styled castles, complete with dragons, which he drew into the sand in the courtyard. When the boy poked the castle, he nearly knocked over a turret.

Tezuka frowned.

The boy beamed brightly, which he did a lot, just to be cute, perhaps. Tezuka wasn't impressed by it. "Hey, you really like sandcastles, don't you?"

Tezuka frowned, and looked down at what he was doing. He shook his head. "I don't. Not really. I don't like them at all."

The boy blinked. "What? Then why do you make sandcastles all day long, everyday?"

Tezuka shrugged and went back to work. "Because there's nothing else to do here."

The boy laughed brightly. "What do you mean? There's tons to do!"

"Like what?" Tezuka asked placidly, stilling his hands to look at the boy.

"Well," the boy rubbed his chin. "There's swimming, and water sports, and there's parks, and hiking trails, and shopping and arcades and all kinds of fun stuff!" He finished by throwing his hands up and smiling.

Tezuka just blinked. "But. I don't want to get too far away from my mother. In case she needs me," he said, looking over his shoulder to the cabana. "And I don't like swimming."

The boy just shook his head, bewildered. "Is your mother sick or something?"

"Not sick," Tezuka said, hedging. "Just. I should be close, in case."

The boy didn't understand at all, of course. "Well. Why do you dislike sandcastles? You're way too good at them..."

Tezuka looked down at the sandcastle. "It doesn't last. Every day, when I come back, it's like I was never here the day before." Petulantly, Tezuka knocked down a wall of the castle as proof.

The boy looked down at the knocked over sand, and for a second, Tezuka felt the thrill of feeling as if he'd been completely understood.

The boy then beamed, and jumped to his feet. "Come on! I'm going to take you someplace good!" He reached out, waiting for Tezuka to take his hand.

Tezuka frowned. "But..."

"Don't worry!" the boy laughed. "It's not far."

Tezuka really had no reason to trust the boy, but... he wanted to, perhaps. He took the boy's hand, and gathered up his towel and his bucket, and he followed the boy. They went down a path through some trees, and it was really pretty cool, like they were hiking in a forest. Tezuka liked hiking, and he liked the way trees looked when he looked up at the sky through their leaves. They emerged on the other side of the trees, and there was the coolest park Tezuka had ever seen. His eyes went wide. This place was always so close? Why hadn't the boy taken him to this place sooner? He opened his mouth to say something, but the boy let go of his hand, and ran off, calling out for someone and waving. Tezuka took two steps to follow him, and then he stopped. The boy met up with another boy, whose hair was bleached on the top to be almost white. The boy's friend put his arm around the boy's shoulders, and pulled him close.

Tezuka didn't move a step closer. Behind the boy and his friend, he saw the tennis courts. This was where the boy had his tennis lessons. It was the grounds of a high school, and there was a team on the courts at that time, having summer practice. More than a few people noticed the boy, and greeted him.

This was the boy's home. He belonged in this place. Just like Tezuka belonged back in Tokyo, in his home, with his grandfather, doing the things he always did.

He took a step backward, and then another. And then he turned, and went back they way they had come, moving very precisely through the trees so he emerged back on the beach, nearly exactly where they had first entered the trees. He walked quickly back to the cabana, trying not to hurry too much, but suddenly very much wanting to be with his mother.

At the cabana, his aunt was on the patio, looking rather cross, and inside, inside...

His father was apologizing!

He burst into the cabana, and looked eagerly from his mother to his father. Had his father apologized properly? Had he said everything right? Had he shown a truly repentant face? His mother smiled, and Tezuka sighed with relief. "Father."

His father smiled softly, and nodded to him, and then he reached out and took Tezuka's mother's hand. Tezuka dropped his bucket and towel, and he went over to his mother and father's side.

His father reached out, and patted him on the head. "Well. Are we ready to go home... together?"

His mother lowered her head, grinning softly. "I think... yes, let's."

"I'll go pack," Tezuka said quickly, and then he dashed to his small room. He actually hadn't unpacked much, and neither had his mother, so it didn't take long. His aunt had some harsh words for his father, and Tezuka heard some things that he probably shouldn't have, but he just put it out of his head. His father had apologized properly. There was nothing more to be done, he thought. If his mother forgave his father, it was all right, wasn't it?

They drove his aunt to the airport, and then they got on the road. His mother looked back at him, and winked. "Did you enjoy your summer vacation, Kunimitsu?"

His eyes widened. He realized... he wasn't going to see that boy again, ever. And he didn't get to say goodbye. He just disappeared. That was rather rude. He nodded at his mother. "Yes, mother. Thank you."

His mother smiled at his father, who smiled at her, and he reached over, and squeezed her hand. Tezuka picked up his book and buried himself in it, leaving his parents alone.

Well. That boy... would probably understand.

"You disappeared on me again," Fuji said softly, coming up behind Tezuka. Tezuka continued to calmly stare out at the water, though. "I think that playground might be cursed."

Tezuka didn't move, or acknowledge that he had recognized Fuji from that long ago summer.

Fuji said down in the sand next to him. "Is it really all right for the vice captain to disappear in the middle of the match?" Fuji asked archly.

"I'm warming up," Tezuka said stiffly.

Fuji chuckled, and slipped his arm around Tezuka's. "Perhaps literally... Really. I think you're a nymph." Tezuka raised his eyebrow and looked down at Fuji in surprise. "Well. You're too perfect to be human." He then laughed, and rolled his eyes, to show Tezuka that not even he could take a line like that seriously. "And one second, you're at my side, and the next... it's like you've been called back to the water."

Tezuka felt no need to acknowledge it.

"By the way, why were you here that summer?" Fuji said with uncharacteristic frankness. "Was there something wrong with your mother that year?"

Fuji seemed genuinely concerned, and Tezuka had left without saying goodbye, so Tezuka decided to answer him with equal frankness. "My father cheated on my mother. When she found out, she took me and left him. He came to apologize to her, though. That's when we went back. It was abrupt. I'm sorry."

Fuji blinked. He then scooted nearer to Tezuka. "It's all right. Though, I'm glad we met again, so you could apologize. I always wanted... to see you again, you know."

Tezuka just nodded, and lowered his chin slightly.

After a few minutes of silence, Fuji took a deep breath, and stood up, dragging Tezuka up as well. "Come on. It will be time for your match soon. And remember, these people are my old friends, so I won't forgive you if you don't kick ass, understand?"

Tezuka shook his head, adjusting his glasses. "I won't be careless."

Fuji laughed, and took Tezuka's hand. "Come on, then. I'll show you someplace good." He winked at Tezuka, and then led him off, through the trees to where Rokkaku Chuu's playground was.