Fandom: Prince of Tennis
Rating: PG for now, NC-17 later
Disclaimer: Anyone you recognize belongs to someone else and I make no money from their work. All original characters belong to me and may be used with permission.
Summary: Sometimes life can throw you a curve ball. You can either swing and pray you hit it or let it go by and take the strike.
Thanks for not poking me with a sharp stick:) I'm sorry about the delay with this chapter, but I went on vacation where I had internet service that ranged from Nadda to slower than a snail. Then, I had issues (major issues) with the way the chapter was turning out. While its not what I hoped it would be, it's way better than what it originally started out as...
Thanks to reddwarfer for pulling my ass out of the fire (i.e. beta reading)!
Tezuka leaned against the kitchen counter, his eyes on his daughter as she played with the plastic spoons and bowls that his mother set out for her.
“Tezuka, will next Friday be all right for you?” Oishi’s voice brought his attention back to the conversation. “Will it give you enough time to find a sitter?”
“Next Friday?” Tezuka repeated and checked the wall calendar, which was nearly filled with his parents' various doctor appointments. He remembered asking his mother if she and his father were okay after he had first noticed the calendar. Ayana merely laughed and assured him that they both were doing fine and the appointments were the results of various health checks associated with getting older.
“That shouldn’t be a problem, Oishi.” Tezuka answered after he double checked the date. “My parents have already agreed to watch Hana on whatever date this was going to be held. I’ll confirm with them, just to make sure that they haven’t made any other plans for that night. If there is a problem, I’ll let you know by tonight.”
“I forgot about your parents being built in baby-sitters,” Oishi joked.
Tezuka smiled as Hana banged a spoon against the bottom of a bowl. ”They weren’t able to be there for her birth. My return home three days ago was the first time they’ve seen her outside of the pictures we emailed them. Mom and Dad want to spend some time alone to bond with Hana-chan.”
Hana, hearing her name, turned her head in the direction of her father’s voice. Her grey-green eyes lit up when she spotted him and she abandoned her new toys to crawl to him. Her little hands slapping loudly on the vinyl floor and the rustle of her diaper alerted Tezuka of her rapid approach. He watched as she sped across the kitchen floor at the fast pace she’d been using since she mastered crawling.
'Definitely my child,' he thought as he watched her single-minded focus on her goal of reaching him.
“Tezuka? Are you still there?” Oishi’s concerned voice jerked Tezuka from his thoughts.
“Sorry, Oishi,” Tezuka apologized, actually feeling a little guilty for ignoring his friend. “I’m afraid I wasn’t paying attention. Please, forgive me.”
Oishi was silent for a moment, taken aback by words that he rarely ever heard from Tezuka. His mind raced back counting maybe four times total, in all the years he’d known Tezuka, that the man had ever admitted fault or asked forgiveness for his actions.
“Oishi?” This time it was Tezuka who sounded concerned.
“S-sorry,” Oishi stammered, then blurted out, “you’ve changed.”
“Have I?” Tezuka asked, amused by the bewilderment that colored Oishi’s tone, and the way the statement almost sounded like an accusation.
“Yeah, you're actually…human.”
Tezuka surprised them both by laughing. “I was always human, Oishi.”
“Not really,” Oishi said in all seriousness, “our Tezuka-buchou was never human to us. He was super-human, able to carry the Seigaku Tennis Club to victory on his shoulders. He was stoic, fearless, focused, and cold to the point of it being considered arrogance by some, but he was never a mere human.”
“I don’t know wh…” Tezuka started to say, completely stunned by Oishi’s revelation.
“It’s true, though,” Oishi interrupted gently figuring that since he might have already said too much, he might as well tell it all, “you intimidated us, you sometimes pissed us off, but always inspired us to do more than our very best. We watched you push yourself to the limits of what was good for you and we were awed. You believed we could win and we believed in you. It was always that simple, Tezuka, and because of that, I’m afraid we always thought of you as our buchou before we even considered you our friend.”
Tezuka was surprised by the amount of hurt that last sentence caused, but even he couldn’t deny the reasoning behind the sentiment. After all, he spent years cultivating that very image of impenetrability until it settled on his shoulders like a fitted cape. He knew that his expressionless features, his stand-offish body language, his frigid personality and the air of absolute confidence he wore like a suit of armor pushed people away as surely as the Tezuka Zone drew the ball towards him.
Driven, ambitious, focused: these words followed him through junior high, high school and into the Pros. They were spoken in near reverence when attached to his name and always listed as his foremost attributes. Tezuka was very aware that these so-called attributes were also his biggest flaws-he was too driven, too ambitious, too focused, too everything and his world had narrowed until all he could see was Tennis and what it could do for him.
Nothing else mattered.
Oishi’s words made Tezuka realize just how impossible to cross he tried to make that line drawn between himself and those who wanted to be his friends and, yet, no matter how one-sided he made the give-and-take nature of friendship, they found ways to stand beside him.
“I was still a friend, though?” he asked, for just a moment unsure.
“Always,” Oishi answered without hesitation.
“God,” Tezuka groaned with the cleared vision hindsight gives, “I must have been an ass at times.”
“You had your moments.” Oishi laughed, knowing he said more than was required and was relieved that Tezuka wasn’t angry with him for it.
The silence that sprang up between the two men wasn’t awkward, but it couldn’t entirely be called comfortable either. There were certain truths voiced in that moment that would never have been revealed if Tezuka were still the same person he used to be. Tezuka now had to decide if the change was actually for the better. Could he live happily with this new openness? Could his friends accept this Tezuka?
He took a deep breath, cleared his throat and, for the first time he could even remember, bridged the silence himself instead of waiting for the offering to be extended to him. “I believe you haven’t told me where the reunion is going to be held.”
“Ah, yes,” Oishi replied with an audible breath of relief and, just that easily, the balance between the two friends was restored, “Kawamura has offered to close down the sushiya for that evening.”
“I should have known,” Tezuka said with a chuckle. “It’s become almost a tradition, hasn’t it?”
“It does seem as if all of our highs and lows were either celebrated or commiserated at Kawamura’s,” Oishi said with a laugh. “It’s as much a part of our Seigaku Legacy as Penal Tea and wasabisushi. I suppose that’s why Eiji wanted the reunion held there.”
At the mention of wasabisushi, Tezuka’s mind went to
He stopped mid-word when he felt a tug to his pants leg. He glanced down to see Hana slowly pulling herself up. She stood on wobbly legs, fingers firmly gripping the material to keep herself upright.
“What did you say, Tezuka?” Oishi asked. “I didn’t hear you.”
“I was just wondering if Fu…” There, he stopped himself again, “if everyone was coming?”
Oishi ruffled some papers, “Let’s see…hold on a second, Tezuka? Eiji has the list somewhere…oh, here it is…still can’t figure out his filing system. The only person who hasn’t confirmed is Echizen. I’m sure he’ll show up, though. After all, you know he does have the habit of…”
Tezuka half-listened to Oishi’s gentle rant in regards to Echizen’s manners as he watched his daughter’s expressions while she discovered her new feat. Her eyes widened in delighted surprise and she looked down at her feet. She smiled happily, here eyes narrowing into mere slits in her chubby face. Tezuka reached down to brush his fingers through her dark auburn hair trying to tame the wild riot of curls. Curls that were more unruly than usual because he hadn’t had a chance to brush her hair after her nap.
“Da, da, da, da, da!” She chanted loudly, laughing and bouncing on fat, little legs.
“Sounds like Hana-chan’s wanting some of her dad’s attention,” Oishi teased. “I should let you go, Tezuka. I’m taking Eiji to a late lunch and need to pick him up.”
“Thanks, Oishi, I’ll talk to you later.” Tezuka hung up the phone after they said their good-byes.
He smiled down at Hana, who bounced a little harder as she realized she had her father’s full attention now. Tezuka had to quickly grab his waistband because he faced the very real possibility of his daughter depantsing him. “Hey, kiddo, you seem awfully proud of yourself.”
Hana babbled something up at him and laughed harder. She let go to pat his leg and, losing her only means of support, fell on her diapered bottom hard. Her eyes rounded in shock and she sat there a moment, her face twisting then smoothing out as she tried to decide whether to cry or not.
“Uh oh,” Tezuka said, drawing her attention back to him.
“Uh oh,” Hana parroted and her smile returned as she quickly forgot her indignation.
Tezuka scooped her up and tossed her lightly in the air. He playfully held her over his head and blew raspberries on her tummy, laughing as she squealed in excitement. Every little sound of happiness she made, every little expression of joy on her sweet face just filled Tezuka’s heart with love and pride.
“Ah, Kunimitsu, this makes my old heart happy,” Ayana said after she had observed the interaction between her beloved son and granddaughter for a few moments.
Tezuka turned at the sound of his mother’s voice, his smile warm. He tucked Hana upside down under one arm, and while she giggled madly, he took on of the canvas shopping bags from Ayana, “There is nothing old about you, Mom.”
“Flatterer!” Ayana happily accused as she watched Tezuka flip Hana right side up and press nipping kisses to her flushed cheek. “I knew you had your father’s charm somewhere. Where in the world did you manage to hide it, young man? That Amy-chan, she sure worked a miracle with you!”
Tezuka froze, waiting for the wave of grief that inevitably followed any mention of Amy. He was confused when it came but not with the crashing force he expected. It was more a crest of pain that swept over him, stealing his breath for a moment, then quickly ebbing away and leaving behind a hollowness. What he wasn’t prepared for was the rush of guilt that followed and nearly brought him to his knees.
Ayana watched helplessly as Tezuka closed himself off. She gently caressed his cheek, wanting to wipe away the mask that she hoped had gone for good. She wanted to see just a hint of the young man he was becoming peek through the façade. “Kunimitsu? Mitsu-chan, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Mom.” Tezuka put on a shadow of his earlier smile and passed Hana to Ayana, “Watch her, please?”
“Mitsu-chan, where are you going?” Ayana tried to keep the worry from her voice as she cuddled her granddaughter.
Again, the smile that never reached his dark eyes, “Just for a little walk. I need some fresh air.”
Tezuka wandered aimlessly through the familiar streets and neighborhoods walking towards no particular destination, just trying to outrun his thoughts. He wasn’t the least bit surprised when he found himself at the nearby city park heading towards the tennis courts. The park and courts were nearly empty, which wasn't out of the ordinary for this time of the day as most people were either at work or school. He sat on a bench and watched two young boys, not even wondering why they weren’t in class just grateful for the distraction, as they played.
“Daisuke!” The youngest, who looked no older than six, whined as he struggled with a racket that was nearly as big as he was, “Aniki, stop hitting the ball so high.”
“Tatsu-chan,” the older brother, Tezuka guessed him to be around ten or eleven years old, sighed in exasperation, “stop whining. You need to learn how to return everything that comes to you, not just the easy ones.”
Wrinkling his nose in disgust at his older brother, Tatsu-chan stuck out his tongue. A sly smile curved his lips, “Mama told you to stop being such a know-it-all.”
“And she told you to stop being such a whiny baby,” Daisuke retorted as he gently beaned his brother with the ball. “Now pick it up and serve it back to me.”
Tezuka watched them play for a while longer, noting that the elder brother made his shots easier for the little one to return. He used the boys as a diversion until that annoying voice in his head, the one that had an aversion to procrastination in any of its forms, prodded him to continue with his thoughts until he worked them out. The only problem that Tezuka could see was that he really wasn’t sure what the problem was and, even if he had, he wasn’t sure there was a solution for it.
'Stop stalling!' that voice now screamed at him, 'you know damn well what’s going on!'
Tezuka sighed. Amy was the problem, but was she really a problem? Or was he the problem and she just a convenient place to lay the blame?
To start, Amy was supposed to be his life. They were supposed to have more than the three years they were given. Right now, his life was supposed to be the perfect one he always believed he had. The house in
All empty suppositions in the face of cruel reality.
Tezuka allowed the bitter smile to curl his lips as he finally admitted to himself that those three idyllic years were nothing but huge, rose-colored lies they told themselves and each other as reassurance, to convince themselves that they were happy. He couldn't honestly say he never loved Amy, or she him, but loving someone and being in love with someone were two different things and he, in his new found wisdom, was starting to realize this.
Amy was eight years older than Tezuka and, maybe in her maturity, she realized it first. Tezuka could now see clearly that, on the night of the accident, Amy was trying to tell him but he stubbornly refused to listen. He gave up too much, walked away from the one thing that mattered most, for a world that was built around the idea of this perfect marriage, and he wasn’t going to watch it fall apart.
How naïve they both were, really, to think they could have lived on promises of forever that were made in the heat of the moment. Tezuka and Amy had both been seeking something in each other’s arms, something they thought the other one possessed. Amy wanted the opportunity to be a wife and mother before her youth completely faded and her chances died. She didn’t want to be lonely anymore. Tezuka wanted to be normal, he wanted someone to help him hide from certain truths and keep him from the temptation of certain desires. He needed a safe haven. The two of them dangled these hopes like carrots in front of the other and both had taken the bait with eyes wide shut.
It wasn’t until after the storm of passion had blown over that Tezuka finally gave thought to
The one person who was hurt in the aftermath. The one he sometimes hated as much as he desired. Tezuka, confused and guilty, dealt with it the way he always did, he slowly began to build a wall between him and
Always there, but after a while he stopped noticing it.
“Did you ever love me?”
Tezuka never even thought to put a name to his feelings for
“Yes, I did.”
“I love Amy more.”
Tezuka had made his choice; there was no turning away from it now. To Tezuka, the world was black and white. He knew about the grey areas but he would never actively seek them out; that was for the dreamers. To him, they just didn’t exist. What he did see was the distinct line between what one wants and what one needs. Tezuka gave up, willingly, his wants to attain his needs.
Tezuka chose to be a coward.
I’m a coward.
Tezuka came out of his musings, disgusted by his own revelations in regards to himself; the truth of it too jagged a pill to swallow. It was almost funny how, today at least, hindsight was willing to kick his ass.
Tezuka looked around at his surroundings, trying to get his bearings and figure out just how far he wandered from home. He began to feel uneasy as the neighborhood took on an eerily familiar aura. Slowly, Tezuka turned to look at the house behind him and he made contact with a pair of wide-open, shocked blue eyes.