title: Games People Play
fandom: Prince of Tennis
characters/pairings: Fuji/Tezuka, Fuji/Atobe, then Fuji/Tezuka again, Oishi/Eiji, Yumiko, Yuuta/OFC, some Yuuta/Mizuki, Inui, Taka, Yuushi/Gakuto, Saeki/Ann, Yukimura/Sanada, Momoshiro, Kaidou, Echizen
rating: M
warnings: me pretending to know things about actual tennis, vicious flirting, sex (many kinds), one rough non-con scene, emotional pain
summary: Misunderstanding, hurt emotions, pain, sex, love... all tools in the game.
notes: takes place post-series, much post series... there is Atobe/Fuji. And Fuji/Tezuka. ultimately, and initially, fuji/tezzie, but there will be a great deal of fuji/atobe in the meanwhile.

"Bob, there is a great atmosphere here today, isn't there?"

"You said it, Phil. From the crowd's enthusiasm today, I'd say we are ready to kick off a phenomenal Wimbledon."

"I think it's safe to say that this match is primary focus today, wouldn't you? Bob, what do you think we are going to see here today?"

"Well, Phil, Cuerrero is a strong, fast up-and-comer, and he bears watching. But is he a year or two before his prime? Absolutely. On the other side of the net, though, we have Kunimitsu Tezuka, one of Japan's best tennis players, all time. In fact, his consistency over the past ten years is amazing... he's a real credit to the sport. And you know, Tezuka has never gone down without a fight, so this is bound to be a very interesting match."

"But most people are counting Tezuka out, aren't they? Is it Cuerrero's youth? Is this the Tezuka's swan song?"

"Well, the critical issue, Phil, will be his arm. The last time we saw Tezuka on the court, he was hurting, he was definitely hurting, Phil. And there have not been any conclusive reports on what Tezuka has done to secure his arm, so that's going to be a big issue. Is his arm solid? If yes, then Cuerrero doesn't stand a chance, I think. If no, well, then, it's anybody's guess, but I will tell you this: Tezuka is a fighter. He's a true fighter. And no matter what, this will not be an easy match, not at all."

"He's had issues with his left arm throughout his career, right, Bob? And I believe he played the French Open last year with his right hand, which caused quite a stir."

"He came close to winning the French Open, Phil, with his right hand, and that's the determination and spirit that I'm talking about. He injured his arm as a grade schooler, Phil, but he never gave up, and he's the first player from Japan to win a Grand Slam. I would not count Tezuka out in this Wimbledon, I really wouldn't."

People were milling about, excited. It had been a long time since Fuji had gone to a pro tennis match. The nostalgia was palpable, like a thousand memories were spicing his appreciation of the experience. Nervous energy kept him moving back and forth, his eyes sharp on the crowds. When he saw who he was looking for, relief flooded him, and he took a deep breath.

Yuuta looked more than a bit annoyed, but Fuji knew - or hoped, at least - that it was in part an act. Yuuta still loved tennis as much as he ever had, and a free ticket to Wimbledon was nothing to take lightly, even if it was last minute.

Fuji grinned brightly, more brightly than he felt. "Yuuta. Thank you for coming."

"Hmph," Yuuta sighed, not looking his brother in the eye. "If I'm in trouble at work, you'll have to deal with it." An idle threat, as there was no conceivable way for Fuji to navigate Yuuta through any difficulties at work. "Are you sure about this, Aniki?"

Yuuta's tone was so serious and low there, Fuji had to smile and laugh it off. "Of course. It's no problem at all. I checked ahead of time; Tezuka reserved a box, and put me on the list. It's ok to bring a guest. Are you excited? It's been years, right?"

His brother hated it when he treated him like a kid, but just as Yumiko couldn't help but mother them every chance she got, Fuji was too used to protecting Yuuta. "Let's just go in, mm? The match has already started, hasn't it?"

Fuji smiled. His heart was pounding. This is where he wanted to be, and whom he wanted to be with, he knew that. But it felt complex, regardless. He hadn't expected to be so conflicted when he left Atobe. And he wasn't at all sure Tezuka should even be playing. Would this be the last time Tezuka would be raising his racquet in his whole life? That seemed like a daunting prospect. Fuji was sick of confusion and uncertainty, though. The more nervous he was, the more determined he was to see it through.

This was going to change his life, after all, so he'd better enjoy it.

"Two sets down already, Bob. This is heartbreaking, isn't it?"

"I have to tell you, Phil, this is not the Kunimitsu Tezuka we have come to expect. It just seems like he has no energy, he has no drive. This is awful."

"But Cuerrero is looking good. Maybe it's just time for the old guard to step down?"

"Tezuka is not playing at his own level, Phil, that's clear. Cuerrero is getting away with a lot down there. A lot."

"Can Tezuka come back? Can he salvage this match?"

"Well, we've seen him do just that, too many times to count. Australia, two years ago. Remember? But he's got to get his head in the game, or else it's all lost. It is all lost."

He let his head hang down a bit, shrouded in a cool towel. He was disappointed in himself; this was far harder than it should have been. He kept seeing things as if in slow motion. He couldn't get his body to react in time, and he couldn't get his arm to extend the way it should.

At this rate, he'd be eliminated in just a few hours. Disappointing, disappointing, disappointing.

He could hear the chatter of the crowd, and the buzz of the announcers. They were surrounding him, suffocating him. Distracting him. His coach was talking, making general comments that any fool watching the match on television could make. The droning was another distraction, not helpful at all. He could even hear Sam calling for him. Usually, she stayed out of the way for matches. Another distraction.

Sam was being too insistent, though, and his coach got up to talk to her. A moment later, his coach's thick hand was holding a piece of paper under his nose. After a second, Tezuka took it, and unfolded it. Sam wrote it in Japanese, in crudely formed shapes that were only recognizable as words because of the simplicity of the message.

'Look in your box.'

He blinked, and considered for a moment, before looking up. The boxes were easy to locate in the stadium, because Wimbledon had an almost cozy feeling to it. Each box had six seats, but there were only two people in his.

He hadn't expected anyone to be in his box for the first two rounds.

Slowly, he started to smile.

"He's looking at you," Yuuta commented unnecessarily.

Fuji smiled. Tezuka got up to go to the service line. He took a few moments to center himself, and then it was like a new Tezuka was on the court. There would be no more straight games for Cuerrero.

"'Bout time," Yuuta grumbled, under his breath.

Fuji leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, and he watched the ball zing back and forth. He watched Tezuka set Cuerrero up, and then smash the ball to the other side of the court.

He grinned. It was almost possible to ignore the way Tezuka's arm was moving when he was playing like this.

Someone else entered the box, and sat down a seat away from Yuuta. When they were changing courts, she passed something over to Fuji. "Here," Sam smiled nervously. "You'll need these to get to the locker rooms."

Fuji took the pass, but he gave Sam a look.

She shrugged, and stood up. "Everyone makes mistakes, Fuji-san."

He didn't watch her leave, more interested in Tezuka's return ace.

He knew his way around these halls perfectly. Wimbledon hadn't changed in fifty years, much less five. He knew most of the faces he passed, too, and he nodded politely as he passed people. He tried to tell himself that he was being silly. He had seen Tezuka already recently. Had kissed him. And he knew Tezuka well, better than anyone. There was no reason to be nervous.

He kept telling himself that, all the way there.

He wasn't paying attention, clearly, because he had passed the familiar reclining form, and didn't stop until he spoke. "So, you're here to take care of him, mm?"

Fuji paused, and turned to smile at Echizen. "Ah, how are you, Echizen-kun?"

Echizen closed his eyes and grinned. "A lot better since that third set started. ...His arm's not good, is it?"

Fuji tilted his head to the side. "You are so concerned for your former senpais. That's so sweet."

Echizen watched Fuji closely, and then he smirked. "Make sure he doesn't lose until he faces me." He shoved himself off the wall, and started to walk away.

"Do you know what he's planning?" Fuji asked, purposefully vague.

Echizen just shrugged. "Doesn't matter. I won't go easy on him, no matter what." He looked over his shoulder, and met Fuji's eye for a moment.

Fuji turned away, unsettled.

He didn't allow himself to linger outside Tezuka's assigned locker room; he put his hand on the knob as soon as he got to the door, and he let himself in. He closed the door behind him immediately, and surveyed the scene. Tezuka was shirtless, and his shoulder and elbow were being wrapped up. He was surrounded by people who were all trying to pull him or prod him in one direction or another. Tezuka, however, was only interested in the newest person to enter the room.

No one could hold Tezuka back, though his coach tried. Fuji found himself in Tezuka's sweaty arms, being pressed against the wall as Tezuka kissed him. He put his hand on Tezuka's skin, and his arms around Tezuka's neck, and he gave in to this wonderful feeling.

"You're here," Tezuka whispered, his eyes shining with awe.

Fuji ran his fingers through Tezuka's hair. He could get drunk off the scent of Tezuka's sweat. It always made him so needy. "And you're already sweaty for me."

Tezuka grinned, and Fuji, ludicrously, wished he had his camera. "You're early."

"I am," Fuji replied, softly.

Tezuka kissed Fuji, slowly building the passion up, until Fuji felt like his brain had melted into his shoes. "I'm so happy."

"Tezuka!" Someone was trying to pull them apart, without getting too close. "Your arm! We have to treat it!"

Fuji ran his hands over Tezuka's half-bandaged arm. "Are you all right? Are you in pain?"

Tezuka brushed his nose over Fuji's. "All right? You're here. I'm holding you. I don't feel anything but good."

Fuji smiled, and slipped his fingers over Tezuka's lips, over his face. He kissed Tezuka, and clung to him.

This was worth it. This was worth all of it...

"Tezuka-san," Sam coughed discreetly, trying not to intrude, even though she was at Tezuka's elbow. "You really do need to take care of your arm. It will only take a little while."

Tezuka was scowling, and Fuji could tell that he would disagree, so he took the initiative. "Why don't I go on ahead and wait for you at your hotel? Been a long day of traveling, anyway."

There was clearly a lot of things that Tezuka wanted to say, but he just released Fuji enough to let him down off the wall, and he looked at Sam.

She smiled, and nodded. "I'll show Fuji-san to your room."

Fuji leaned up and kissed Tezuka. "See you soon, then."

There were times when looking into Tezuka's eyes was a lot like sticking a fork in an electric socket. Fuji was shivering as he followed Sam out of the locker room. She didn't say anything as she led him to the car park, but she continued to smile nervously.

Fuji knew that his own empty smile was only making it worse for her, but he had no desire to make things easy.

When they were pulling out onto the street, she took a deep breath. "Look, I know you must be angry with me, and you have every right, of course. Just... my job is to look after my client's image, no matter what. It was... easier... when he was distanced from the relationship that threatened his public image. I realize that it's not your concern anymore, but being in a gay relationship would ruin an athlete's hope for any endorsement deals."

She sounded so rational and reasonable. And of course, she could attempt to maintain righteousness because it had all worked out in the end, hadn't it? Fuji grinned. "Mm. I'm sure the fact that you are in love with him had nothing to do with it. Too bad he decided to fuck that Russian bimbo, hm?" She swerved a bit in traffic, and got them honked at. "Careful," Fuji chided. "I'd prefer to arrive at the hotel in one piece."

She looked miserable. "Fuji-san, I am sorry. I was wrong, I know. But it wasn't malice, or jealousy, I swear. I really was doing what I thought was best for him."

Fuji looked away, not quite capable of maintaining his smile. "I'm what's best for him."

"I know," she conceded.

Fuji narrowed his eyes, and watched London speed by. The difficulty, of course, was that Tezuka was what was best for him, as well.

Tezuka was rushing so much that he had to insert the keycard three times before it registered. He just couldn't be sure that Fuji would be there until he saw him. The room looked empty, and for a second, he was about to panic, but when he turned the corner to the bedroom, he saw Fuji, in the middle of the bed. Slowly, Fuji sat up as he heard Tezuka enter.

Tezuka just watched. Fuji, naked, looking at him from his bed. He grinned.

Fuji rubbed his eyes, and frowned. "Your shoulder..."

"Oh," Tezuka pulled off the ice pack that was taped to his arm and tossed it to the bathroom. "It's fine." He climbed onto the bed with Fuji.

Fuji leaned forward and touched Tezuka's arm. His fingers felt hot, and he really was naked. "Tezuka! Don't be so careless... you need to take care of yourself..."

"Syuusuke," Tezuka caught Fuji's hands, and brought them to his lips to kiss each finger. "Please. Isn't it time to call me by my name again?"

Fuji bit his lip, and slumped his shoulders. "'Mitsu, aren't you in pain?"

Tezuka leaned down and kissed Fuji, holding his face. "Not at all. You're here. You're early. You came back to me... Syuusuke, I love you."

Sighing, Fuji leaned his head on Tezuka's good shoulder. "I've been worried about you. You played too hard."

He brushed his fingers over Fuji's face, unable to keep from grinning. "I played to win. That's all."

Fuji pouted a bit. "You always do."

He traced the lines of Fuji's face, his eyebrows and his cheekbones, and he kissed Fuji's lips softly. "Are you... are you all right?" That wasn't exactly what he wanted to ask. He had to do better. "You aren't regretting coming here?"

Sighing, Fuji put his hands on Tezuka's shoulders, applying no pressure as he smoothed his palms over Tezuka's shirt. "You're overdressed."

Tezuka felt awkward, as if he had too many limbs. He felt self-conscious, too, like he was still the teenager, fumbling clumsily in the dark while trying not to disturb his parents. He tossed aside his clothes, and pulled back the sheets. He reacquainted himself with Fuji's skin, with his body, with gentle kisses and timid touches. "I need to show you... that I love you..."

"Show me," Fuji replied immediately, fervently. "Make me forget that we were ever apart, 'Mitsu."

He'd forgotten the way his stomach flipped and turned. He'd forgotten the way his skin shivered and quaked at Fuji's touch. He'd forgotten Fuji's habit of curling Tezuka's hair around his fingers as he got more and more excited. He'd forgotten a lot, but it was all details.

Some things, he couldn't forget, no matter how much time passed.

They moved together like they had perfectly choreographed every move. Tezuka was on his back, because Fuji was being cautious of his shoulder. He held Fuji's hips as Fuji tortured him by moving so slowly, up and down. He looked up at Fuji's body, and the expression on Fuji's face, the sound of his voice, and it was like he was breathing fresh air again after being trapped in a dungeon for decades. He let his hands drift up Fuji's skin as Fuji could no longer keep from riding Tezuka faster and faster, and he curled his fingertips into Fuji's flesh as he screamed.

He held Fuji in his arms. Their bodies were messy and the bed was a mess and Fuji was asleep almost right away, so Tezuka held him, and brushed his hair out of his face, and kissed his forehead and his cheeks.

Their second life was starting.

Fuji had been awake for nearly twenty minutes, and he knew that Tezuka knew, too. It was odd, because he was used to playing the game with Atobe. Not that he minded. At all.

It was easier with Tezuka.

Fingers pushed through his hair, and lips touched his temple. He smiled against Tezuka's skin. He wished he had his camera, and he wished he didn't think like that. It wasn't so much the aesthetics of the moment as much as it was that he wanted to remember this morning for a long time. He lazily circled Tezuka's nipple with his finger. "Aren't you being horribly lazy? It's time to train, right?"

"There's really no reason to," Tezuka shrugged without moving, his voice low, as if he was still trying not to disturb Fuji's rest. "It won't affect the outcome either way."

Fuji frowned, and pillowed his chin on his hands, on Tezuka's chest. "What does that mean? Are you not thinking about the future at all?"

"I haven't stopped thinking about the future since I first saw you yesterday," Tezuka smiled. Mornings like this used to be so common Fuji never even took note of them. He wanted to believe he would be able to take them for granted again soon.

"What do you think about when you think about the future, 'Mitsu?" Fuji shifted to put more of his weight on top of Tezuka. He liked the way his body felt when pressed against Tezuka.

Tezuka put his hand in Fuji's hair. "I think about atonement, first of all. I think about making you happy."

Fuji yawned. "Atonement sounds boring. Should we travel?"

Blinking, Tezuka's expression shifted so he was watching Fuji more carefully. "Would you like that?"

"I suppose we've pretty much been everywhere interesting in the world," Fuji shrugged. "But there are places I like to be. Do you remember when we rented that car in Los Angeles, and we drove up to Oregon? That was fun."

Tezuka caressed Fuji's face with his thumb. "Mm, I do remember. I did all the driving. And you kept trying to distract me..."

"That was the fun part," Fuji grinned.

Tezuka put his hand on Fuji's shoulder, letting it slide to Fuji's back. "We've done that, though. We have new adventures before us, don't we?"

It was true, and somehow, it still wasn't quite what Fuji wanted to hear. "Are you going to ask me about Atobe? About where I was, and what we were doing?"

Pain flickered briefly across Tezuka's face, but he was able to smile again quickly. "I hadn't thought about it."

"Why not?" These smiles were for him, and him alone. No one else ever saw them. Tezuka didn't smile for his little Russian 'friend,' Fuji was sure. He reached forward to touch Tezuka's bottom lip. This was for him. "Aren't you jealous? Don't you want to know what happened?"

Tezuka looked away for just a moment, and he took a deep breath. "Do you want me to be jealous, Syuusuke? I know what I need to know. You were with him, and you chose to be with me. Everything else is... less meaningful."

Fuji considered for a moment. He watched Tezuka watching him. Without his glasses, Tezuka's eyes looked different, looked smaller, less distinct. Fuji leaned up, and kissed Tezuka, pushing his tongue into Tezuka's mouth. He slid his hand down Tezuka's body to rest on Tezuka's hip. He put his cheek down on Tezuka's chest, and took a deep breath. "What will we do today?"

Tezuka put his arms around Fuji, blanketing him. "I only want to be with you. Anything else is fine by me."

"Let's go back to sleep, then," Fuji suggested, but he knew they wouldn't sleep. He pressed himself closer to Tezuka's body. He wasn't prepared to give this up just yet.

They went down for lunch much later, after the small bistro in the hotel was officially closed, but fortunately, the concierge was sure they could accommodate them. Fuji was wearing Tezuka's t-shirt and shorts, which were ridiculously large on Fuji, but somehow, he managed to make it look cute instead of strange.

Tezuka took Fuji's hand as if it were normal, and walked while keeping his eyes on Fuji.

There was a surreal blend of the mundane and the bizarre at work in the way they behaved around each other that added an element of nervousness. They weren't doing things in the right order. It felt like they were on the first date, but they'd already slept together.

Tezuka had told him that he loved him more than a few times.

Fuji felt lethargic from being in bed all day, and he stopped picking everything apart as their food arrived. He wasn't questioning his choice. He'd already made it. It would just take time.

There were things that he didn't know about Tezuka now, and there were definitely things Tezuka didn't know about him. It would just take time.

Fuji pulled his hand from Tezuka to wave to Yuuta, who was walking by the bank of leafy palms that separated the bistro from the hotel lobby. His hand dropped to his side when he realized Yuuta wasn't alone. Tezuka was watching him, and Yuuta clearly wanted to just keep going, but his companion was interested in stopping and saying hello.

There was plenty of room at the table for Yuuta and Mizuki. Tezuka nodded at Yuuta, who ignored him. Mizuki grinned quietly at both Fuji and Tezuka, but refrained from saying anything.

Fuji forced himself to smile. "Yuuta, I didn't know you were planning on meeting anyone here."

"Yeah, well, after you ditched me yesterday, I ran into Mizuki. Lucky, too, because I had no idea where you went," Yuuta grumbled, and looked petulantly from his brother to his friend.

"Ah, well..." Fuji let the thought drift off. He didn't really know what to say, so he just smiled.

"I still have all your bags and stuff," Yuuta complained further, goaded on by Fuji's lack of response.

"Are you staying in this hotel?" Tezuka asked, still able to affect an air of authority with everything he did. "Regardless, we can arrange to have the bags transferred. I apologize for taking your brother away from you so abruptly."

Yuuta snorted softly, but he was left with nothing to say. Mizuki chuckled, and rolled his eyes slightly. "There's no cause for concern, really. I knew this was where Tezuka-san was staying, and we met your publicist in the lobby yesterday evening. She made sure we got a room, and she'll take care of everything else. Yuuta-kun is just used to being babied, I suppose. Happens to youngest children."

"How long are you in England, Mizuki?" Fuji was tired of this conversation, and tired of the forced politeness. He wouldn't mind spending the afternoon with Tezuka and Yuuta, but he didn't want to be bothered with a stranger.

"Oh, for the whole tournament," Mizuki grinned. "I brought a few of our girls here, because we have a young lady playing in Wimbledon. She's quite good. You might know her, Tezuka-san. Her name is Andi Lacey?"

Tezuka shrugged. "I don't really follow women's tennis closely enough to know of new players."

"Oh, you're probably more interested in the Russian girls, anyway," Mizuki nodded, sympathetic.

Fuji narrowed his eyes, and Yuuta smacked Mizuki's shoulder with the back of his hand. "Shut up!"

"What?" Mizuki rubbed his injury, feigning innocence. "I didn't mean anything by it."

"Of course you didn't," Tezuka sternly replied levelly.

Mizuki looked away from Tezuka, and smiled at Fuji. "I saw your photo spread in Aperture a few months ago. Very evocative. I always think it would be so alluring if you did a series of self-portraits in a similar style."

Tezuka's hand drifted over to Fuji's knee. It was a small possessive act, but it made Fuji smile, because it recalled a thousand other such gestures, small and large, that had always made Fuji feel so desirable. He covered Tezuka's hand with his own, and sipped his iced tea. "I'm quite sure you do."

Yuuta grumbled a bit, and leaned closer to Fuji. "So, everything's... all right?"

Fuji looked confused on purpose. "Of course it is. Why would you ask?"

"Ah, I hope you don't mind an interruption," Inui cleared his throat with calculated politeness. "Tezuka, Fuji. I am most happy to see you two again. Yuuta-kun, Mizuki." Inui stood and waited for an invitation to join them, but his hand was already on the back of a chair in anticipation.

"Inui!" Fuji greeted his former manager with pleasure. "I had forgotten that you would be here."

"I will not be offended by that," Inui grinned, knowingly, taking the greeting as an implied invitation. He sat between Mizuki and Yuuta, and adjusted his glasses. "I'm certain you have been busy."

Yuuta snorted, and Mizuki looked amused, but Fuji just smiled happily and nodded. "We have been. How are you? Has your player had his first match yet?"

"Ah," Inui pulled a small notebook out of his pocket. Mizuki tried to look over Inui's shoulder to read it, but he discovered, as everyone did, that Inui had developed his own shorthand over the years, and the markings on the pages were nonsense to anyone else. "He played yesterday, on the south court. He was eliminated, as I had expected. We have much work to do."

"Well, you can't always have geniuses," Fuji winked. Tezuka's hand squeezed his knee.

Inui smirked. "Indeed. But then, I think that is just as well. It is more satisfying to lead someone to greater heights than he could have otherwise hoped to attain than it is to shepherd someone whose talent is always a mystery."

"How are the matches today going?" Tezuka asked in his direct manner.

Inui shrugged. "I have my assistant taking notes. She is terribly inefficient. It's trying. She called me to let me know that Echizen won, but that was hardly a surprise. You should be playing him in the third round, if your arm survives."

"It will," Tezuka promised.

Inui seemed to gleam. "I'm sure."

"We're going shopping," Yuuta announced, having reached his tolerance for his brother and his brother's friends. "You want anything?"

"Get me some film?" Fuji asked, in part because he was used to asking for film whenever he was out. "Ah, but... I don't think I have a camera. Get me one of those disposable ones?"

"You didn't even bring a camera to Switzerland?" Yuuta asked, astonished.

Fuji felt a bit embarrassed. He looked sidelong at Tezuka, but Tezuka did not appear to be reacting. "Ah, no, I...forgot."

It was clear that not even Mizuki believed that. "Aniki," Yuuta complained. "You could have at least taken some pictures of the chalet, and the Alps. I bet it was gorgeous."

Fuji smiled serenely. "It was."

Yuuta rolled his eyes and stood up, motioning to Mizuki to follow him. Mizuki stood very reluctantly, and smiled at Fuji. "Well, it seems we are going. I hope we will see you again soon, Fuji-kun."

Fuji just smiled as they left.

Inui leaned forward in his seat. "I don't want to disrupt your time together. I will take my leave as well. I am glad to see you two together."

"Inui, you don't have to go," Fuji protested, although he would be just as happy to be alone with Tezuka at this point. Tezuka watched Inui with a touch more earnestness than normal, indicating that he, too, did not wish to rush Inui off.

Inui grinned. "You are most kind. But it's not necessary; you two must catch up with each other. I will leave you with this. I never got a chance to give it to you before." He placed a small crystal frame on the table, with a picture of the two of them after Wimbledon, the year Fuji won. They weren't touching, but they were looking at each other, and they were both smiling. Inui stood up. "Thank you."

"Inui..." Fuji exhaled slowly, avoiding looking at the picture.

Tezuka stood up as well, and extended his hand to Inui, who took it readily. "Thank you."

"I'll see you in Japan once this is over," Inui promised, and bowed shortly.

Tezuka sat down again, and picked up the picture. "We had champagne that night."

"We were celebrating," Fuji smiled sadly. He still didn't want to look at the picture.

"That was the best game of my life," Tezuka sighed.

Fuji leaned back in his seat, and he watched Tezuka. "Mine, too. But then, we've covered that already."

"I've missed you, Syuusuke," Tezuka sighed, still looking at the picture. "Missed playing you. And soon... I won't be able to play you."

Fuji frowned a bit. "It's not necessary, you know."

Tezuka shrugged. "It's not important, either. I keep trying to imagine my life when I no longer play tennis every day. It's... difficult. I don't know what I will do with myself."

"Inui is in love with us. Did you know?" Sudden shifts in topic were as good a way to deal with unpleasant topics as any. Tezuka appreciated honesty, after all.

"Of course," Tezuka replied immediately.

"You knew?" It was astonishing to realize that Tezuka had been more sensitive to this than he was.

Tezuka shrugged. "In school, he used to follow us around. Off the courts, as well. I never fully trusted him. But I was insecure then."

Fuji laughed, loudly and sharply. "'Mitsu, you have never been insecure in your life."

"Not in regards to most things," Tezuka conceded. "But I would get powerfully jealous of anyone who spent any time with you at all. I was sure, back then... that you would want someone more like yourself. Someone more... fun. I disliked Kikumaru back then, too."

Fuji chuckled softly. "I like it when you are possessive, though."

Tezuka pushed his chair closer to Fuji, and put his arm around the back of Fuji's chair. He spoke against Fuji's neck, and put his hand on Fuji's stomach. "Mm, I'm not so sure. I couldn't stand the thought of sharing you, with anyone. I even resented the time you spent with your siblings. When you told me you wanted to live in Japan while I continued to play... I couldn't hear any difference between that and you wanted to break away from me completely. It would have been better if I were more... accepting. I was selfish then. If I couldn't have you all to myself, so I thought I couldn't have you at all."

Fuji was conscious of the air moving in and out of his body. His heart was thumping slowly in his chest. He could smell the sharp, tangy scent of Tezuka's aftershave. He smiled, because he had shaved Tezuka a few hours ago. He pressed his lips to Tezuka's smooth cheek. "You said you were selfish 'then.' Does that mean you don't want me all to yourself anymore?"

"It means that I want you on whatever terms you want to set, Syuusuke. Won't be without you again," Tezuka promised.

"But you still weren't willing to share me with Keigo," Fuji mused, putting his hands on Tezuka's face, turning Tezuka to look him in the eye. "I like it when you are selfish. Just don't forget to listen to me."

"Promise," Tezuka whispered, smiling.

Fuji stood up abruptly. "Let's go," he grinned. Tezuka looked up at him, confused. "Let's get your racquets, and find a court. After all..." he swallowed hard. "Have to take the chances you get in life."

Yuuta was waiting in line for 'chips.' Fuji was pretty sure there was nothing more disgusting in the universe than 'chips,' especially from a fast food vendor at Wimbledon. The Australian Open had better snacks. He loved the food in Australia.

He had time to kill, so he pulled out his credit card, and called Japan.

"Atobe." His voice sounded remarkably clear, given that he was on the other side of the planet. Fuji grinned.

"Miss me?"

He couldn't tell for sure if Atobe was sighing or just shuffling papers around. "Aren't you busy fawning over your perfect love?"

"He's getting ready for his next match," Fuji replied cheerfully. "What time is it in Tokyo?"

"I'm sure you know, Syuusuke," Atobe replied. It was hard to get a handle on the conversation. He wasn't sure if Atobe was exasperated or not.

"Working late, aren't you? Don't you have something better to do, Keigo?"

"I do," Atobe replied with humor, "but I've been chained to my desk and forced to work. It's terrible. Don't suppose you'll come and save me?"

"Match starts in ten minutes. Maybe next time." Fuji tapped his finger on the side of the phone. He had forgotten now why he had called.

"So, did you call to gloat, or were you afraid I had slashed my beautiful wrists in despair?" Atobe asked sharply.

"I had a few minutes, and I didn't know what else to do," Fuji replied with deceptive honesty.

"Well, that's not fair, is it? I can't always be here to fill in your extra moments." Atobe was teasing, but not. It was a familiar game between them.

Fuji found the game tiresome. "I suppose I should say goodbye, then."

"You already did, in Switzerland. I think. You were pretty clear, at any rate. I hope you are happy." Atobe sounded more sincere than he wanted to be. "I had nothing to do for days up there by myself."

"I'm sure you were able to entertain yourself. I recall many occasions of creativity from you." Yuuta was coming toward him with his cone of chips. Fuji sighed.

"Well, you'll have to teach Tezuka how to be creative now. I'm going to hang up, Syuusuke. Unless there was something else?"

Yuuta was almost at his elbow. "No. Take care." He hung up the phone.

"Who'd you call?" Yuuta asked, holding onto his greasy chips.

Fuji smiled blankly. "No one. Let's get in."

It should have been easier this time. Really, Tezuka had dominated the match from the first game. Now, everyone was buzzing about Tezuka's chances of winning it all... There were even some who were whispering about a second Grand Slam at his age.

But Tezuka was in more pain this time. Fuji sat behind Tezuka in bed, and massaged his shoulders. He had stayed, this time, and watched Tezuka's physical therapy, and had even asked the trainer about what he could do. Tezuka tried to tell him that it was all fine, but Fuji wasn't really asking him. He dug his fingers into Tezuka's flesh. These muscles, they were so precious to Tezuka, he took such pains to work them properly. And they betrayed Tezuka at every turn.

"It will get worse," Tezuka stated quietly, his fingers splayed out over the bedspread. "You know that..."

"I know," Fuji cut him off. He took a calming breath. "It doesn't have to..."

"It's all right. It's not as bad as before," Tezuka half looked over his shoulder, just enough so Fuji could see his eyes.

"What are you talking about?" Fuji laughed. "You always got treatment before. This is so irresponsible..."

"No," Tezuka shook his head and pulled away. "The last time... that was worse."

"How?" Fuji asked, plainly.

Tezuka waited for the right words to come to him. "Last time was... difficult. It wasn't at all clear that I would be able to recover at all. I had nothing. I... was at the hospital in Germany, and they were telling me that I should abandon tennis, for the sake of my arm. But, Syuusuke, I had nothing else. I couldn't... I was in pain most of the time. I could hardly lift anything at all. It was bleak."

"But this is precisely what you are headed for again," Fuji argued, pouting.

"Not precisely," Tezuka argued. "It was... I was depressed the last time. I didn't want to think about living without tennis. I... didn't want to think about living at all. I thought, if I didn't have tennis to fall back on, then... I was nothing. I wanted to die."

Fuji inhaled sharply.

"There was a time when all the doctors were sure that I wouldn't recover the full use of my arm, and I was being counseled to quit from every angle. I was sure that if I couldn't play, I had no purpose in living. I was ready to kill myself. I even... I obtained a gun. I cleaned it, and had it ready. There was one night... I almost did it. I lost my nerve, and Sam called me about some print ad. After that, I decided that it didn't matter what the doctors said. I would play again, because I had nothing else. If it was a question of living with pain, and playing, or dying, it was a clear choice. I..."

"Stop!" Fuji threw his arms around Tezuka, and clung to him. "Stop, stop saying these things! You wanted to die? 'Mitsu!" He swallowed back his sobs. He would not cry. He could not. "Don't say something so horrible as if it was just something that happened to you."

"It happened," Tezuka replied apologetically. "It happened and then I got past it, by chance or by fate or by luck. And then, I realized, still, I couldn't play forever. That was when I had decided I would win you back. I had to. You're..."

"You only had to call me," Fuji snarled, clinging to Tezuka. "All you had to do was call me... I would have come if you had called. Damn it, 'Mitsu... Do you know what you would have done to me if you had killed yourself? Even now, just thinking of you holding a gun to your head..." Fuji could not stop shivering. He clung as tightly as he could to Tezuka, to keep from showing his fear. "How could you have thought to do something like that to me?"

Tezuka ran his hands over Fuji's arms. "I'm sorry. I swear, next time..."

"There won't ever be a 'next time,'" Fuji ordered. "If this is what happens to you without me..."

Tezuka turned around in Fuji's arms. He sighed, and touched Fuji's face, reverently, his eyes half closed. "I will never be without you again, my beloved."

Fuji tried to satisfy himself with just holding Tezuka tightly in his arms, but he needed more proof. Tezuka's body was sluggish, but he reacted to each touch, each kiss. He was tight, so tight, but they opened him together. Fuji pushed inside of Tezuka gently, careful of his shoulder, careful not to hurt, careful to show Tezuka pleasure, to show him life.

He fell asleep on Tezuka's sweaty chest, with Tezuka's arms around him, and when he woke up, the first thing he was aware of was Tezuka's heartbeat.

Tennis stadiums were generally quiet during a match, but today, it felt like the quiet of a funeral parlor; at least, it would if funeral parlors were put right next to the room where the soon-to-be-deceased was in the process of becoming deceased, and all the mourners came early enough to hear the death throes.

Fuji didn't expect Echizen to go easy on Tezuka. That wasn't the point. For some reason, it looked like Echizen was going all out against Tezuka, who was ignoring everything in his attempts to return every shot.

Tezuka screamed out in pain every time he hit the ball, ever since he returned the smash in the third game of the first set. He was still using his left arm, though. There had been buzzing about that, but now they were in the third set, and no one was speaking anymore.

Yuuta reached out and took his brother's hand, and held it in both of his. This was torture. Fuji wanted someone to make this stop. Sweat was pouring off of Tezuka's body like Fuji had never seen before.

He could never imagined that anything would be this hard. It no longer made any sense to him, except he realized it made sense to the two men on the court, and for that, he resented Echizen like he had never resented anyone before in his life.

Eventually, Fuji couldn't watch anymore, and he put his head on Yuuta's shoulder, and shut his eyes tightly. He wouldn't leave, though. He would hear every scream. He would be here for Tezuka as Tezuka destroyed himself forever.

It was a different scene in the locker room this time. Echizen had helped Tezuka make it there, and as soon as Tezuka saw Fuji, he fell to Fuji's feet, and wouldn't let anyone else near him. Fuji had to tear Tezuka's shirt off, and give him the cortisone shot, getting hushed directions from the medic. He wrapped Tezuka's arm, and slipped a Happi jacket on him gently, so as not to disturb his arm.

Tezuka was taking small, even breaths, and kept his head tucked on Fuji's shoulder. Apparently, Tezuka didn't find it unusual at all to trust Fuji so completely. Fuji tended to Tezuka carefully, in honor of that trust.

The trainer and the doctor and coach all wanted Tezuka to go to the hospital. They had medics and an ambulance ready. Tezuka refused. Fuji determinedly went about fulfilling Tezuka's wishes. Sam quietly calmed everyone down, but when it came time to leave, Fuji kindly told her that her services were no longer required.

He didn't need any help to take Tezuka home.

He sat in the hallway, his back against their hotel door. Yuuta begrudgingly sat down next to him, because it was the only way to get Fuji to speak. Tezuka had finally consented to taking enough painkillers to sleep, so Fuji was just waiting for the hours between the now and the time to leave for Japan to go away.

Once again, Yuuta tried to engage his brother in conversation. "Echizen called. He wanted to know how Tezuka was. I told him not to worry, and to focus on winning."

"The Spaniard will win," Fuji replied automatically. It was true, though. He was three years Echizen's junior, and at the peak of his game. He would be impossible to stop.

Yuuta grunted. "Still sure you made the right choice?"

Fuji didn't respond right away. He waited until he was ready. "What's going on with Mizuki?"

Yuuta shrugged, uncomfortable. "Nothing, really. Just... as long as I'm here, thought... you know."

"And?" Fuji wasn't in the mood for generalities.

Yuuta sighed. "Don't worry, Aniki. I tried to kiss him earlier, but he told me to go back home to my cute little sweetheart with a clear conscious." Yuuta looked away, obviously displeased with being rebuffed. But then, Yuuta never had liked being told what to do.

"And? Is that what you want?" Fuji wasn't looking at his brother, but he was almost facing him, and that was as much as he could move right then.

"I think so," Yuuta sighed. "I'm always coming up with six million excuses why it won't work. Mizuki thinks I'm afraid."

"Are you?" Fuji wondered.

"It's scary, though, isn't it?" Yuuta challenged.

Fuji wasn't sure. He had never been afraid of it. Whatever it was. But then, he'd gotten hurt, too. "It can be. It can be the other thing, too."

"The other thing?" Yuuta asked, amused.

It was always nice to amuse his little brother. "Good. It can be good, too."

"Is it good?" Yuuta asked, looking at the wall as if he could see through it to see Tezuka on the bed.

Fuji smiled. "I love him."

"I hope you haven't told him that, yet," Yuuta muttered. "He deserves to suffer."

Fuji felt sick. "He is suffering, Yuuta."

"So he is," Yuuta agreed, quietly. "I'm sorry, Aniki."

"No reason to be," Fuji smiled. He even sounded empty. "Tomorrow, we'll be back in Japan. Everything will work out."

"It better," Yuuta sighed.

"Yuuta..." Fuji glanced at Yuuta quickly. "If you don't love this girl, don't bother. It gets... too complicated when it's not because of love."

There was quiet for a moment, and then Yuuta scooted over, and put his head on Fuji's shoulder. "Do you miss Atobe?"

The question left Fuji feeling cold. "Of course. But I'll get over it.

"I never stopped missing Kunimitsu."

Yuuta closed his eyes, and accepted his brother's choice.

Even in first class, Tezuka couldn't get comfortable. He shifted in his seat so many times, Fuji was ready to just knock him unconscious. There was a small wrinkle between Tezuka's eyes, like he was concentrating really hard. That was the only outward manifestation of his pain.

Fuji picked up Tezuka's hand, and kissed his fingers, kissed his palm, licking the skin enough to tantalize.

"Syuusuke..." Tezuka breathed.

"Will you take a sedative if I tell you a secret?" Fuji grinned.

Tezuka shook his head. "I hate those things. You know that."

"It's a good secret, though," Fuji winked.

Tezuka watched Fuji for a moment, and then shrugged. He was too uncomfortable to really resist, after all.

Fuji leaned over to whisper in Tezuka's ear. "I love you, Tezuka Kunimitsu."

Tezuka let his head drop onto Fuji's shoulder. "Forever, my beloved."

Fuji displaced Tezuka's head as he leant down to get the bag with the pills.

"Hey..." Tezuka began, but Fuji raised an eyebrow.

"You promised," Fuji warned, and he shook out one blue pill.

Tezuka sighed, and took the pill with no water. "I'm sorry that I'm a burden," he said without looking at Fuji.

Fuji pushed Tezuka's head back onto his shoulder. He kissed the top of Tezuka's head affectionately. "It's all right. I can bear it."

ProloguePart OnePart TwoPart ThreePart FourPart FivePart SixPart Seven • Part Eight • Epilogue