Timeframe: Based closely on manga canon up to Genius 340 (semifinals), after which it diverges. You tell me whether or not that's a good thing. :D
Thank you to my emergency speed beta,
Tezuka rubs his mouth. He can still feel something there, the ghost of a sensation. His shoulders, the back of his neck. He wonders how long it will take to fade.
"Tezuka." It's Oishi. "Are you okay?" He's looking at Tezuka with worried eyes and now they're all staring.
"Let's go," Tezuka says and they follow him into the stadium.
They crowd into Kawamura's hospital room. "I'm just here overnight," Kawamura says. His eye is swollen shut and there are bandages all over him. "Thank you for coming."
Tezuka doesn't know what to say, so he nods at Kawamura. Kawamura beams. Tezuka moves back as the others push in closer. He doesn't want to look any longer. He should have stopped the match before it went that far.
He touches his mouth again. It's still there, the pressure, the warmth. He tries to put it out of his mind, but his body won't let him forget.
"Go home and rest," he tells them outside. "The finals are tomorrow." And then the car pulls up.
The chauffeur opens the back door. Atobe beckons. Tezuka gets in, because refusing would raise more questions than acquiescence. He keeps his back straight, he ignores the whispers.
He doesn't look at Atobe until they've pulled away. "The finals are tomorrow."
Atobe lays his arm along the back of the seat. His fingers are behind Tezuka's head, but they don't touch. "So you should relax."
Tezuka doesn't answer. The pulse quickens in his throat. Sweat springs up in his palms and he rests them on his knees. He looks out the tinted glass, at the cars in the next lane, at the people on the sidewalk. He doesn't ask where they are going.
The leather seat creaks as Atobe shifts. Tezuka glances over. The arm behind him is gone and Atobe is looking out the window.
"You have no conversation, Tezuka," Atobe says. The restaurant is elegant, the food is delicious. Tezuka is finding it hard to eat.
"What do you want me to say?"
"I can't entertain myself." Atobe isn't eating much either. Tezuka watches his hands as he pushes food around his plate.
Tezuka finishes half of his dessert. He sips at his coffee, then remembers he needs to sleep well tonight.
"I saw your match today," Atobe says. Something flutters in the pit of Tezuka's stomach. "How did it feel?"
Even if Tezuka had any conversation, he doesn't think he'd be able to find words for it: the movement of his body, the burning in his muscles, the ball large as a balloon, slow as an old man walking, so he can't help but hit it.
He looks Atobe in the eye. "You know how it feels."
"Do I?" Atobe says.
Tezuka's mobile chimes. It's a text from Oishi: Is everything all right?
It's fine, Tezuka writes back. He lets Atobe pay the bill.
In the car, Atobe raises the partition so they're hidden from the chauffeur. Tezuka rubs his hands on the side of his pants. Atobe slides closer. Tezuka turns his head. They move at the same time and their faces bash together. Tezuka's nose compresses painfully and his glasses twist askew.
He pulls them off. But Atobe turns away, hands clenching, pressing into his thighs.
Tezuka wants to reach out, put his hand on the back of Atobe's neck, pull him back. But he doesn't know what Atobe would do. And the finals are tomorrow.
When Atobe drops him off, Tezuka stands on the sidewalk and watches the car drive away. He can't see through the windows from outside. His mobile rings.
"What were you doing with Atobe?" Inui asks.
"We had something to discuss," Tezuka says and hangs up.
The crowds are noisy at the finals, but Tezuka hardly hears them, he hardly takes anything in, until it's over and Oishi is gripping his hands, tears running down his face. It's not until he tastes the salt that Tezuka realizes he is crying too.
At the awards ceremony, they all stand in a row, Kawamura on his crutches, and Tezuka feels the sun bright on his face and the medal heavy on his chest.
It's over, it's won, and happiness expands inside him until he thinks his ribs will break.
"Your friend is waiting for you," Tezuka's mother says. Tezuka walks back to his room. It's detached from the rest of the house, quiet for studying. He reaches into his pocket and wraps his hand around the medal. Then he opens the door.
Atobe is lounging on the bed, hands behind his head and legs bent at the knee. He rolls onto his side. "Your room is small and boring," he says. "And you're late."
There's a bouquet of roses on the desk and their scent is heavy in the air. Tezuka wants to open a window. "Did we have an appointment?" He sets down his bag and crosses his arms over his chest.
"I don't make appointments." Atobe stretches. "Have the scouts been calling yet?"
"Maybe we should compare lists." Atobe rolls off the bed and stands. "Tezuka." He walks to the middle of the room.
Tezuka's heart-rate speeds, there's a prickling in his palms and on the back of his neck. He drops his hands to his sides.
"You must be tired." Atobe moves closer and there's one step left between them.
"No," Tezuka says and takes it.
They're face to face, not quite touching. Atobe leans in slowly, tilting his head, opening his mouth a little. Tezuka watches him. He raises his hand, drops it again.
"Congratulations," Atobe says, and they're kissing, a long moist press, and then it's more. Atobe winds his arm around Tezuka's neck. Tezuka opens his mouth and heat rushes up under his skin.
Atobe pulls at Tezuka, stepping backwards, and Tezuka follows, holding onto to Atobe's arm and leaning in to kiss, and kiss again. Atobe bangs into the desk and the vase tips over, pouring water onto the floor. "Motherfucker," Atobe says against Tezuka's mouth, and pulls Tezuka down onto the bed. Tezuka looks over at the damage, the pooling water, the scattered flowers. Then he looks at Atobe and everything stops.
They stare at each other, side by side, Tezuka's arm trapped beneath Atobe's chest, and everything is strange, so strange, like Tezuka has woken up in someone else's body, with no idea how he got there. And then the moment passes and they roll into each other, pressed together, Atobe's leg pushing between Tezuka's thighs, the medal in Tezuka's pocket jutting into his hip, and they kiss until Atobe's mobile rings.
Tezuka picks up the roses and mops up the water with a shirt from his bag. Atobe talks into his phone, walking to the other end of the room, running his hand through his hair. Tezuka finds a bottle of water in his bag and fills the vase.
When Atobe hangs up, he looks over at Tezuka and Tezuka gets that flash of strangeness again, the body-swap feeling. "Thank you for the flowers," Tezuka says.
"Next year, they'll be to console you."
"Or don't you plan to attend high school?" Atobe says. "Okay, I'm going. Later." And he goes.
Tezuka sits on his bed. He takes out his medal and looks at it, angles it to catch the light. He touches his mouth. He smiles.
"I didn't bring the masks," Momoshiro says. "Inui-senpai had them in his bag."
"Seriously?" Kikumaru grabs Inui's arm and yanks him into their conversation. "Inui? Why do you carry those around?"
"It's good to be prepared," Inui says.
"He had the clippers too."
Tezuka sets his cake down and stands up. He's not sure he wants to hear any more. But there's nowhere out of earshot. They're all crammed into Kikumaru's living room for the third post-Nationals celebration in three days.
Most of the boys are talking or playing cards, but Echizen and Kaidoh are watching videos of some of their matches. Tezuka doesn't know where they came from -- Inui's bag, probably.
He crosses the room and leans against a wall where he can see the screen. His phone vibrates in his pocket.
I'm sending the car, Atobe texts.
I'm not at home, Tezuka answers. He can feel Atobe's weight on him, pinning him down on the bed.
"You're smiling," Fuji says and hands him a glass of juice. "You're still happy about Nationals."
"Of course." Tezuka looks at the TV. And there is Atobe, Atobe and Echizen in the match that would not end. Kaidoh moves and blocks half the screen, but Tezuka can still see the match in his head, he can still feel it inside, what it was to watch and not be on the court.
And then the match is over. He remembers that too. And after.
"Why are you here?" Atobe says. He's stretched out on a couch, head propped up on his arm. He waves Tezuka to a chair.
Tezuka stays standing. "I came to apologize."
"For the brat?" Atobe sits up. His hair has already been trimmed cleanly, not like the chopped mess of the afternoon.
"Yes," Tezuka says. But he wants to apologize for the line-up, for not meeting Atobe across the net. It was good strategy for the team and important for Echizen, but Tezuka is weak enough to want it for himself. He still wants it.
"A man doesn't complain about the bets he makes," Atobe says. "Sit down, Tezuka."
"I can't stay."
"Sit." Atobe is tired and he wears the fatigue awkwardly, like a wrinkled suit of clothes. Tezuka sits. Tea arrives and they drink it. Atobe talks and Tezuka doesn't listen. Instead, he watches Atobe: the movement of his arm as he lifts the cup, the stretch in his thigh as he crosses his legs.
He only notices when Atobe stops talking. "I should go," Tezuka says. Atobe doesn't say anything. He's asleep.
The cup is still in his hand and Tezuka takes it away, pulling gently until Atobe's fingers loosen. And now he should go, but he stands in front of the couch, looking down at Atobe. His face looks different now, leaner, sharp. Atobe shifts, his head dropping to the side.
Tezuka stoops to do something, get a cushion for Atobe's head, something. Atobe's eyes half-open and he catches Tezuka around the neck just as Tezuka is moving away. He pulls Tezuka down and Tezuka lets him and they stop with their faces half a breath apart. Atobe arches his neck and kisses Tezuka. And Tezuka lets him.
It's damp and shocking and brief. And Atobe does it again, longer this time, closing his eyes and tightening his arm. Then he lets go. Tezuka backs away. He doesn't look at Atobe. "I have to leave," he says and turns to go.
"Tezuka," Atobe says. Tezuka is already closing the door behind him.
"Tezuka," Fuji says and Tezuka blinks. "You're zoning out."
"Sorry." Tezuka takes his hand from his mouth. His phone goes off again. "Excuse me." He turns away.
Your phone doesn't have GPS. Where are you?
Atobe, Tezuka writes. Play a match with me.
He puts the phone in his pocket but a call comes in right away. He answers it.
"Who were you writing to?" Inui says. He waves to Tezuka from across the room.
Tezuka hangs up.
"It's all arranged for Sunday," Atobe says.
"Sunday?" Tezuka shifts his bag on his shoulder. If he doesn't get off the phone soon, he'll be late to class.
"Tomorrow. Our match. On my personal courts. Everyone will be there at two. Don't be late."
"Who will be there?"
"And, Tezuka, you might want to spend some time practising." Atobe hangs up. Tezuka goes in to school.
He finds out from Inui, and then from Kawamura and Oishi, that their whole Nationals team is invited. That it's a party. That their match is the entertainment.
In the evening, Tezuka sits in his room, looking from his book to his phone charging on the desk. One of the roses is wilting, petals brown and curling. He throws it out.
He closes his eyes and visualizes playing Atobe, facing each other again, fighting to see who is better. But he can't keep serve and volley in his mind, just Atobe and his mouth on Tezuka's, his body pressing close. He wonders if it will be the same tomorrow, if he'll stand on the court and burn, missing the ball because all he can see is Atobe's face.
He wonders which he would give up, if he can't have both.
His mobile rings. It's Inui, with advice for tomorrow. Tezuka lets him talk. When Inui finally hangs up, Tezuka turns the phone off. He does homework until ten. He's not sure when he finally falls asleep. When he turns the phone on in the morning, there are three missed calls from Atobe.
"You're early," Atobe says. It's eleven am. He smiles. "Are you trying to make up for last night?"
"Atobe," Tezuka says. "Let's play."
"Everyone will be disappointed if they don't get to watch."
"Do you need an audience to win?"
"Fine." Atobe leads Tezuka through the house and out to the courts. There's a building there three times the size of Seigaku's clubhouse. Tezuka turns his back while they're changing.
Outside, they stretch and Tezuka can't keep himself from looking over, from following the line of Atobe's body as he bends. His stomach flutters and he closes his eyes, breathes deeply, tries to focus.
"Ready?" Atobe says.
Tezuka picks up his racquet and steps onto the court. Atobe meets him at the net and they shake hands. When their fingers touch, Tezuka's heart jumps in his chest and he lets go as soon as he can. "Three sets," he says and Atobe nods. Tezuka wins the serve and heads back to the baseline. He puts the extra ball in his pocket and he remembers his medal, crushed between them, pressing into his thigh.
He double-faults. "What's the matter?" Atobe calls. Tezuka serves and Atobe aces the return. Tezuka loses the first game. And the second. And the third.
"What's wrong with you?" Atobe says as they're changing sides. "Playing you is like playing my six-year old cousin."
Tezuka doesn't know what to do. The more he tries to concentrate, the more he grips his racquet too tightly, puts too much spin on the ball. He's not even giving Atobe a match worth playing. He gives up another point. He loses another game.
"We should stop," Atobe says. He crosses his arms, he frowns. He's bored.
"No," Tezuka says. He can't stop here, this isn't all he has.
Atobe hits a jack knife, perfectly placed, perfectly controlled. Tezuka remembers Atobe playing Echizen, how his body moved even when he was unconscious, to take one more point, one more.
And while he's thinking about that, he returns the ball and Atobe can't reach it. Tezuka stands for a moment, shaking out his arm and remember the feel of the stroke, the feel of tennis.
It doesn't matter who's across the net from him. His tennis is in his arms and his legs and he has to let them carry him along. It's tennis, he says to himself, over and over, and he fights hard for the next point.
"It's tennis," he says out loud, and his body starts to work, his tennis works. He takes a game. He's back, he's himself. "It's tennis," he says again and takes three more games before the set is over.
"That's better," Atobe says, while they are resting. "Don't make me embarrassed to win." Tezuka drinks from his water bottle and checks the tension of his strings.
The second set is a battle, every point a drawn-out skirmish under the sun. Tezuka's hair is filled with sweat and his shirt is sticking to his chest. He wins the set, but barely.
The third set is like a dream. The ball is big as the moon, slow as the trees pushing up from the earth, and Tezuka can't feel his body any more. He only knows the match is over from the applause. But he knows he won.
The court-side is full now -- Seigaku, Hyoutei -- and Tezuka wonders how long they've been playing. Atobe is waiting at the net and Tezuka joins him. They clasp hands. "Good match," Atobe says.
Tezuka grips harder. "It was."
The boys crowd around them and it's ten minutes before Tezuka can get in to change. Atobe is still showering when Tezuka finishes dressing. Tezuka waits until he comes out, a towel wrapped around his waist.
"How did it feel?" Tezuka says.
Atobe grins. "You know how it feels."
The match is still inside Tezuka, still pushing at the inside of his chest, like the day they won. It's almost too much for him, he's going to break open.
"Tezuka," Atobe says. Tezuka grabs him by the shoulders and kisses him.
Atobe chuckles, a buzz against Tezuka's lips, and kisses him back. Tezuka gets his hands on Atobe's back, damp warm skin, and pulls him close as he can. Atobe puts his hands on Tezuka's hips and pushes closer and Tezuka has never, ever felt like this before, hot and cold with fever, stretching like a ten pound line.
They stumble into the shower room and Tezuka pushes Atobe back against the tile, and they rock against each other, fingers tight on each other's arms, until Tezuka's eyes squeeze shut and he comes, choking back the sound rising in his throat. Atobe is louder.
They lean against each other for a few moments, breathing. Then Tezuka stands back.
Atobe adjusts his towel. "Is that what three sets does to you?"
Tezuka wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. His shirt is spotted with water. He needs another shower. He feels good.
"Next time," he says, "we'll play five."
Comments of any kind are always very welcome. :) And there's more fic here: Prince of Tennis Fic by Halrloprillalar.