Categories > Anime/Manga > Prince of Tennis > European Studies

Boxing Day

by Johin 0 Reviews

Skeletons in my closet

Category: Prince of Tennis - Rating: PG - Genres: Angst, Drama - Characters: Fuji Shuusuke, Kikumaru Eiji, Oishi Syuichirou, Tezuka Kunimitsu, Other - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2007/04/06 - Updated: 2007/04/06 - 7536 words

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Disclaimer: see prologue
Warning: see prologue

A/N:

First off I have to admit that in the part where Sengoku is saying some technical stuff, while true I did some research, I don't think it was enough. If there's error to it please tell me. Why Sengoku chose this occupation is more of a whim. If you find it weird just tell me, I'll do some fangirling with you too :)

My deepest thanks go to monster1 who did a fast job beta-ing the chapter even if I'm too slow to produce. So slow that people think I've fallen off the planet.

On that note, telling me you're still following the story is really encouraging. Whatever comment you give is love.

Thank you also to Clam.Clam, yamatoforever, Alaena Flame Dragonstar, Thr0u6hTh31c3, and from the users of lj darkmeira, criskanaschiro, tampabayrocky and eternalwind you guys are the best.

Thank you too reader and to all my previous reviewers.

---
European Studies::Chapter 9
Boxing Day


The train ride back to Hakata was relatively spent in peaceful recluse. Many thanks went to the policeman who offered his help graciously. Thus a relieved happiness filled the silence they threw in the air. When Kikumaru had seen the assault on Fuji he refused to be seated anywhere else but beside him even after Fuji woke. It came to a point where Fuji was hard pressed to convince the redhead he was fine. Speculation aside, Fuji was doing well, not passing up a chance to join in light banter. There wasn't much else to do in Fukuoka except idle away in the station.


It was within the last hour before their arrival in Tokyo that all hell broke loose. Tell tale signs began showing when Fuji had frequented the lavatory more than normal. On his tenth or so trip he screamed in imagined agony. It was a dizzying experience. He could hardly breathe. Blinking away the pain worked for only the first few seconds before a nightmare of cuts and bruises had suddenly come crawling, covering his skin. Hacking up a cough, he could faintly identify the smell of fire, gas and its fumes. Grasping neither how nor for how long he was plastered on the floor, he struggled to keep conscious. An odd sensation on his side trickled down his neck. Intuition told him it was blood. Catching his bearings, he took in his predicament. This was no longer the train ride to Tokyo. Surprising himself, he moaned instinctively. "/Otousan/". His brain had been overcompensating when it drew a blank. He wasn't supposed to be on Fifth Avenue in an overturned car. Is this father's car crash of two years ago? /Then why am I here?/


A lady freaked at the sight of him collapsed on the train floor. It brought him back, effectively making him aware of his problem. He was fighting hard to breathe. The inspiration was halting. The expiration was hurting. Although it would only be seconds before he blacked out he managed to croak for Tezuka. Attendants ran towards the shrill cry. With no doctors except a student and a medic, redressing opened gashes was the only assistance they could offer. The next imperative was the hospital. It should have been the first.


The crew was efficient and precise with their work. The ambulance was there even before the train eased to a stop at the platform. Everything from then on was a distended world of white and red. Yet the spaces in between were far and empty. Everyone hung onto every beep the heart monitor gave. It was everyone's lifeline. The group tailed behind the blaring ambulance by taxi. Roads became more desolate in every turn even as the day slowly started.


Once in the hospital, Tezuka volunteered any information at hand. With an unshakeable need to get distracted, he volunteered to do the paper work and to call up the Fujis. Footfalls heavy with a guilt unnamed, he tugged at Yukio's arm tightly and followed the personnel.


Kikumaru wouldn't forgive himself if anything happened to Fuji. He knew he should have told Tezuka. He knew he should have told the police. He knew he should have told /someone/. They were followed. They were accosted, and what did he do? Promise he wouldn't tell anybody all of it. He paced outside the waiting shed and batted Oishi's hands away.


"Eiji, stop that. He's going to be fine."


He turned sharply and slapped Oishi. He wanted to punch the medical student for hovering over him but he didn't have the heart to do it, not when he had seen shock pass over them both. "Can you not lie to me please? He's in the emergency room, and I'm here waiting for him. He's beat up badly and I'm healthy, making fire on the floor. He's most probably bleeding to death and I'm here having fight with you! Stop. Just stop."


Oishi glowered and seethed, keeping a level voice. "Then stop acting like a child and wait patiently."


"Stop treating me like one!" Exasperated Kikumaru threw his hands in the air and took a seat. The clock ticked half past eleven. No one came out of the double doors.


"I never did, Eiji." Oishi suddenly whispered beside him but refused to even spare him a glance.


Kikumaru laughed. To him, Oishi wasn't lying. The man was just fooling himself. "When we were in college, I had asked you what you would do four years from then if we hadn't seen each other in a long time. You said you'd greet me, hug me, welcome me." He paused. That day had been memorable - on top of the cliff where they usually reflected on their losses. Ironically, that was the last day he'd ever see that sunset with his friend. The whimsical look on his face was quickly replaced by a frown. "You never returned my calls, you cringe at close contact, and you've done anything but welcome me."


"I was busy."


"No. That's not it. You stopped trusting me." He suppressed a shudder. The night was getting colder by the minute. "You see me as my high school self who wanted to get the most out of life. I've grown up, Oishi, and you're just too blind to see it. I'm tired of many things. Of being treated like an idiot, of being your pseudo-friend, of waiting. Most especially for you."


Their depression was palpable and mutual. Kikumaru couldn't believe he finally said everything aloud. Oishi couldn't question it because he bitterly understood where this sprouted from.


Their cards were on the table and all it took was a last gamble, and Oishi didn't like gambling. He plotted and schemed. Marking territories and setting boundaries were things he was good at. He never placed all his bets on a hunch even if he had nothing else to draw.


Staying away helped in his gaining confidence. Staying away helped in his accepting of things that were right but did not feel right. Staying away helped in his paving the path his parents wanted him to take. Staying away was the hardest thing Oishi ever did.


He took a deep breath and without warning, hugged his friend. Over and over he repeated words of apology. "Eiji, please understand." There were many things in this world he wanted and never got. His father taught him that. No matter how hard he worked, he'd never ever get them. But for once he wanted to hope. Weaving his fingers into the soft locks he'd missed and immersing himself in the undeniably sweet smell of Eiji's new brand of toothpaste that had tints of lemon no longer mint, Oishi lost control for the first time and quite possibly not the last. "I know you've grown up. I know you're not a child. I know you're not an idiot. I /know/...You're not my pseudo-friend. You're precious." A beep sounded his morning alarm. Begrudgingly he reminded himself of school. "/Precious/." Letting go, he felt a prickly sensation linger on his skin. It felt like warm coal in the freezing wind.


The double doors swung open to reveal a doctor behind it. "Are you family?"


Removing himself from the awkward moment, Kikumaru stepped up. "No but we may as well be." He declared. Antsy for news, good news, from the doctors, Kikumaru reached out for the doctor's hand and beseeched on his inherent goodness. Losing his best friend would be like losing half of himself. He wasn't strong enough to brave that.


Tension gone from the operation, the physician sighed thankful to be out of the room. However, he didn't seem keen on divulging information to the party. "All you need to know is he'll be his healthy self soon enough. He'll be out in a day or two." He announced, patting Kikumaru's hand comfortingly. The acrobat laughed. Fuji was going to live. They were still whole. Not prepared for the hug, the doctor let out an 'oomph'. A little later, tears were falling quietly. Not unfamiliar with moments such as these, the doctor consoled the boy. "He's going to be fine. You're a good friend, ne."


---


The house had been dead quiet when the phone rang in to inform the Fujis. Yoshiko, ever the light sleeper, was up after the first. It was with difficulty that she groped through the corridors after losing her glasses in the small fight with her husband. Un-ladylike as it may be, she grumbled half the way. At some point, Yuuta overtook her and signaled for her to take it easy. Still groggy from the early wake up call, she mouthed her gratitude and apologies. Yuuta's face was unreadable in the dark but she didn't need to see to tell it was anything but good. Taking the initiative to prepare the three cups of coffee they'd need, she set off.


She frowned at the bruises on her wrist. It was only her right wrist that was ever bruised. Fortunately, never her left or else she'd need to learn to be ambidextrous. Her husband was insecure - insecure in work, insecure in monetary income and most especially insecure in household standing. Some reasonable, some absurd. These were the times he missed Shunsuke. The omiai might have not been the right call but it was what her mother saw fit. The loneliness after married life at so young was a long heavy trudge. Being a remarried and halfhearted woman was manageable, more manageable than a lost and wallowing widow.


The light flickered open, and she was surprised to find her eldest by the bar table. "Geez, both of you are so dark." Yumiko admonished. Offering her daughter the freshly brewed coffee, she smiled. Her daughter was a calming spirit to be with. There was no one else she trusted more. The girl had always been there when she needed someone to lean on. Shuusuke and Yuuta were often along there but men tended to believe in independence more than strong familial bonds. The girl had solutions to whatever impasse. Of course, bringing back the dead wasn't possible but she believed Yumiko would if she could.


"Uh, mom, that was the hospital." Yuuta was torn in search of the right words because there were none. It was a hard position to be the harbinger of bad news. Wanting this to be over with, both ladies waited patiently. "Aniki's been confined. They wouldn't tell me anything except to get there as quick as we could and that they're doing everything they can."


There was only so much Yoshiko could do to handle stress, shock and sorrow. Unlike other women, she didn't faint like a damsel. Wordlessly standing to prepare for the trip to the hateful health business, she kept busy. Yumiko on the other hand choked on coffee that went down the wrong pipe. "AGAIN?!" she exclaimed. Upon realizing her mistake she clamped her mouth shut and attempted to follow her mother. She would have caught up if Yuuta hadn't blocked her. Backing her against the counter, he caged her with his arms. "What do you mean again?"


The proximity made her claustrophobic. She began shivering slightly under the glare. "It's nothing, just a minor accident, Yuu-chan."


"Don't Yuu-chan/ /me, nee-/sama/." He was livid with half a mind to stay there all night if she shrugged off the issue. If this had happened before why was he kept uninformed? Shuusuke mentioned rehabilitation for a fracture he acquired, something that didn't need such measures to be compounded on him.


"Are you threatening me, Yuuta?" Fighting fire with fire, his sister appeared like an animal caught in headlights with a desperate want to escape. A want that bordered on hopeless and inconsolable.


"Well are you hiding something, Yumiko?" Squinting his eyes, he scrutinized every move she made. Whatever this secret was it didn't seem like a simple sibling rivalry. He would know that best. "What is it?"


In a moment she shifted from feeble to frightened to feral triggered by Yuuta spouting unforgivable garble. "I can't believe it. You're taking that tone with me when I- I never did anything to cross you. You're taking that attitude with me for him? HIM whom you've had a bone to pick on ever since high school."


As if touched by white fire, Yuuta let her go. In hindsight he should have seen that everything that's different with Shuusuke wasn't all him. It was how everyone held him while treading on eggshells. "And you've got skeletons." The odium she bore for their brother was blazing right past her eyes. To think he never caught sight of it before. Changed was too light a word to describe her.


Perplexed, Yoshiko descended from the staircase. "What's going on?"


"Just clearing a mix-up, kaasan. I'll drive. Okay?" Yuuta distanced himself from Yumiko. Sheemphatically brushed off her sleeves of dust without a speck of worry visible for their brother. To the boy she was transforming to something he could no longer identify as his older sister whom he respected loved and cared for as she did them in turn. Chagrined, he groused. "You're wrong nee-san. I don't bury; I dig. I love nii-san just like you did him."

---

Opening the door to his office, Tezuka found Atobe on his seat. To say he hadn't expected him would be a lie. Favors only gave so much in return as work gave someone income, graft exclusive. Obviously a pissed off monkey was so much worse than a preening one. "To what do I owe the presence of his majesty?" A courtesy added to the sarcasm warranted the correct reaction from Atobe's near poker face - disgust dashed with discomfort. Atobe was an open book to Tezuka. The probability Atobe found him the same was 99.9 percent, as Inui would have said. The remaining one percent Atobe would disparage as an extremist's idiosyncrasies. This was why both got on each other's nerves. Though neither could fathom how one understood the other well. Vexed by the treatment, the lofty man deadpanned, "Your bills."


Tezuka went by what was routine. Paying no mind to the unwanted company, he maneuvered the obtrusive man around wherever he needed added entrée. Pushing the rolling chair to the left, he crouched to turn on the computer. Pulling it to the right, he opened a drawer to get a clipboard. Reaching over the table, he bent to get the table calendar. Feeling the frustration levels rise, Tezuka refused to look at his employer's son. Only the slow intake of breath foreshadowed the rough manhandling he was to receive. One second he was checking the day's scheduled assignments. The other he was about an inch above ground. The small of Tezuka's back became painfully familiar with the poking door knob, and his none too tidied shirt was cutting at his neck thanks to the balled fists at his collar. "Look you stupid prick. I realize you're mad that I forced you into something that's completely against your principles but I needed your help. Are you done taking revenge now? Or do you still have some more under your sleeve?"


Incensed by the turn of events, Tezuka growled. The day was just beginning, and he was already faced with royalty in PMS. Tezuka was near the edge of immaturely fighting back and tactlessly spewing whatever the moment threw at him so he could hurl it back. Thankfully he had more sense than that and bit the inside of his cheek until it bled. Not allowing himself to show unease, Tezuka despairingly prodded on. "Did it work?"


If anything, Atobe's hold on Tezuka's shirt became tighter. His face glowed bright with fury. This impudence was beyond intolerable. Whatever reason there was, it would presumably be bordering on childish. "/YES!/" He hissed through gritted teeth. "My ear has been talked off nearly ten times because of the tens of zeros in what /you/ made /me/ pay."


Disappointed, Tezuka broke the staring contest. "I meant, Suzuki-san." The pregnant pause dawned on both men. Freeing himself from the death grip, Tezuka slapped the arm away. "You deserved it." There was only so much one could demand of someone without pride and honor being trampled on. While the ploy began as a babyish want it transcended to an astute need not for himself but for his friend.


Standing like a fish out of water, the young entrepreneur sputtered. "You're defending her." Prepared for a comeback, he opened his mouth when it had registered who was clearly on the right. Utmost disbelief forced his jaw to close with an audible snap. Cutting access to the comforts of the leather chair, he eased himself in. The blank expression he donned would have earned him a roll of the eyes from Tezuka if only the man didn't find it a waste of effort.


"You're stating the obvious, and what else are you here for?"


As quickly as he changed girls, Atobe closed the internal debate within him and went into work mode. Checking with the stickies on his palm pilot, he took the effort to be seen with the gaudy reading glasses he labeled as fashion. Tezuka balked at the man's sentiments but that would only earn him another wave of teasing by whatever blackmail material the influential man could get his hands on. "I'm picking up your report. It's to be handed in today."


Tezuka took the briefing documents for a last scan. Fuji's picture was skewed as was Rowe's. Fixing it for the general neatness of the file, he hovered over the former's photo. He didn't agree with his friend's decision but it was nothing more than a personal skepticism. There was no reason for him to stand in between success. Although lending an unwarranted hand lead to nothing but disaster thus far. "With Fuji's background and capabilities he'll benefit you well. Rowe... may prove to be more than your company can handle." He slid the folders across the table for the other to take.


The irksome sneer flashed instantly. "Great so you agree." Atobe buzzed for the secretary. There was a gnawing feeling at the back of Tezuka's head that his report was no more than a necessity as was the degreeless girls outside his room. It was more like an alternative noon time show - except he didn't know why exactly. "Fuji's temporarily confined in the hospital by the way."


"I guess it won't matter until next week." An ounce of concern was gone when the company slut had made her scripted entrance, tripped on the rug for more breasts and lingerie to bounce and peek. Scampering for the infectivity of all her efforts, she straightened herself as much as she could with a sore knee. "Maya-san, please ready Fujii-san's and Rowe-san's acceptance letter. Make sure it reaches them today. Take note that Fuji-san is in - which hospital was it you said?"


"JR Tokyo General Hospital"


"You heard the man. Got that?" Maya nodded as she frantically wrote every word on a small pad. Atobe snatched a business card from the desk and scribbled something on its back." "Attach this card to a bouquet for Fuji-san." As soon as the girl took the card she was sent out. Resting his legs on top of the wooden desk in one fluid motion, Atobe kicked back. Whether he actually learned from his mistakes weren't seen by far. He barely noticed the movement behind him.


"Get off my chair." Tezuka gnarled, and no later was Atobe dumped as a graceless heap on the floor.


"Touchy." He scoffed. Taking things astride, Atobe headed for the door. When Tezuka had thought he finally got the extravagant man out of his hair, he was surprised to hear the man take a melancholic note. "Thanks. I guess I chose you because... I expected you'd react this way."


Tezuka scowled. He could barely see Atobe's face, obscured by a shadow, purposeful or not. "Oshitari wouldn't?" It was more of a statement than a question. Whether the grunt was for agreement or for denial the answer was already swimming in their heads.

---

"Save yourself, Shuusuke." That was his father's voice, and he didn't seem up for wears either. Shuusuke couldn't comprehend why this was happening but a hunch told him death wasn't far away. However, it didn't matter what world, time or space he was flung to, he wouldn't leave his father to die. He wouldn't allow it. He wasn't about to.


"I'm not leaving you." he declared, flipping on his stomach. "I won't leave you." He repeated. They might be in war. They might be fueling each other's antagonism. They might be ignoring each other's words. But they never severed, killed or left the other for dead. The driver's seat was sandwiched by metal and wood splinters. It wasn't surprising that his father was having a hard time getting himself loose. "I won't leave you. No chance." He said for the last time, and it was with that same tenacity both began to hope even if it was a mere spark.


A hand caressing his cheek startled him from his ministrations on pedals that kept his father stuck. A hint of sadness touched the futility of the moment. The rueful smile on his father wasn't helping his fast losing resolve. "Here I thought you hated me."


Tears streaked Shuusuke's face. He didn't believe in sacrificial deaths and lesser evils, only in life and good. They would make out of this place alive and together. Holding onto the last of his strength, he shut his eyes tight. "Musuko. That's what I am, ne, otousan?" he reminded, opening the glove compartment. An assortment of files and plastics fell, followed by an army knife. With the small blade he started hacking at the pedals.


There was a stubborn line on the young man's face. "Shuusuke." his father called. He wasn't showing any signs of listening. Testing, Shuusuke's father said it to himself quietly. "Musuko." he whispered. At first, it was an alien experience. He'd forgotten the emotions packaged with the simple endearment. Soon he pronounced the words lovingly. Shuusuke was fighting hard not to break down, and all his father did was make him weaker. A rough hand enveloped his, stopping all his efforts. The orders he received weren't from a man who'd resigned himself to death however crazy they were. "Hand me the gun. I'll shoot at my foot. If we're lucky the car doesn't blow prematurely, yank me out."


"Are you /mad/?


"Yes but unless you have any other bright ideas..."


Wordlessly father and son set the plan to work.Shuusuke took extra measures to cover them both with a wet mantle. It was their single most important barrier. But in as much as a blanket and a small tub of water could, it would go only so far for their protection. Far off, they heard a car screeching downhill. Panic plus despair equaled disaster. It was a given that they'd fail.


---

Fuji gasped for air. He began thrashing about, screaming for his father. A nurse held him down, nearly coding for the team if he hadn't settled down when he did. "That was an unlucky strike there. You got here just in the nick of time. You did."



Once readjusted to the present time hospital, a string of questions were formulating and he didn't know where to begin. Groaning, he went with the most general and basic one of all. "What happened?" His throat felt coarse, and the nurse's energetic welcome reverberated in his ear drums like ultrasonic waves splitting him in half. Everything from Fukuoka to Tokyo was muddled and incomprehensible. Unless the nightmares were symptoms of sleep paralysis there was no reason for him to have them. Only experience could bring forth such vivid dreams, and he had been confined when his father died. There was the idea of him having a few screws loose. He even doubted himself at times.


The nurse wasn't quick to answer but he couldn't complain. "Your first aide overlooked a broken bone. It was small but it nicked your lung. In time it got punctured. We took out the stale air and patched your collapsed lung as top priority. Since you were already in surgery they fixed the clavicle too." Picking up a random clipboard, he mumbled. "Lucky it didn't hit the brachial plexus. Lucky. Luckier than I am."


Fuji saw the orange mop of hair bounce up and down as the body tried to do its charts dutifully. He must be going crazy. Frisky Yamabuki hallucinations were okay on any other day he wouldn't question his sanity. Weather was an obedient conspirator. Unless the man was philandering yet again, Sengoku wouldn't take up nursing...would he?


"Ahah! Vision and hearing are intact. Five senses check. Although..."


Whether the man was telepathic or Fuji was a complete motor mouth when it came to waking, both ignored the original inquiry. It could be assumed that he was sane if this wasn't an asylum. Not yet at least. "What? What although?"


His friend moved to check the screens hovering around him. "Your brain waves have been pretty erratic."


Something else would have been a warmer welcome. It was a harsh reminder why he hated the stark, bare and cold nature hospitals. He'd accepted the problem already except his pride wouldn't acknowledge it in front of anybody else aside from those who without his consent snooped on his well-being. Saying it aloud would be legalizing the mental disorder. Closing his eyes in exasperation, Fuji exhaled. "Apparently, I have partial amnesia."


Sengoku snickered, mussing his hair a bit. "That's why we've been monitoring. Keep up with the conversation Fuji-kun."


Fuji clicked his tongue. "Invalid on the bed." Notably intake and outtake of air wasn't as hard anymore. The pleasant feeling of oxygen reacquainting itself with his lungs almost made him giddy. It washed away whatever fears the nightmare left.


"Just deranged." Sengoku teased, tapping Fuji's forehead with a pen. Sengoku got his attention before he went into a trance. The trouble with patients of Fuji's kind was that they never focused. "See here, I can't explain much since I'm just a nurse. Yuuta-kun got all the tidbits from the doctors already but anyway. I'm doing this as your friend." Fuji held the man's forearm in appreciation before he signaled to continue.


"These," Sengoku did a 180 for one of the monitors and pointed to the readings it was producing. "are your brain waves. They're slow and rhythmic because you're not really doing anything except breathing normally again. When you have the intentions to move you also exhibit this type called the alpha wave. Low amplitude and multiple varying frequencies mean you're in active thought process. These are - "


"With all due respect, Sengoku, keep it short please."


The man stopped short of following the sinusoidal activity with the pen and completing the extensive explanation of brain waves. Sengoku stood thoughtful of his next words. The pleading Fuji couldn't truly last the compressed lecture. He was having trouble staying lucid without his droning. "You've been jerking from Theta to Alpha to Beta to Gamma then back to Theta in a few second intervals within an hour."


The statement didn't help in Fuji's understanding. He'd sooner memorize the Greek alphabet than decipher what each squiggly line meant. Frustrated, he propped himself up on the pillows, reached for the monitor Sengoku was observing and pointed to a series at random."This means?"


Raising an eyebrow, Sengoku clarified. "You've been going through numerous phantasms which are possible if you have been diagnosed with dreamsomnia, or you're remembering something with those feelings intact." The EEG screen was pulled away from the patient and set back on its proper place. Fuji's earlier speculations were correct but that didn't cushion the brunt of the news. On a final check up, his dilated pupils hadn't gone away.


Yuuta entered the room abruptly. Greeting their mutual friend, he passed the flowers and a card to his brother. "Aniki, I'll take this time to say: Atobe sent you these. You begin work next week. I'm glad you're okay, and HOW CAN YOU BE SO CARELESS?"


The outburst replaced the vestiges of shock in Fuji. Directing a warning to the younger boy, Sengoku pushed him towards a well cushioned seat. "Yuuta-kun, I'm a busy man. I can't have you screaming at the patient like that. If you behave like a good kid, I'll give you something lucky."


Yuuta crossed his arms at the caveat. He shouldn't be the one on the receiving end of this conversation. "Sengoku-san, I'm not a kid."


Dubious, Sengoku's eyebrows flew to his hairline. "Well then be the big brother for a few hours, mm'kay? I'll pass by again soon so if both of you want anything...?" Smile in place, Fuji shooed him away and asked for nothing more. While it was highly unlikely Fuji was telling the truth with that crooked grin of his, Sengoku didn't bother to put up a fight. "Then I'm off. Fraternizing with the patient is bad - baaad I tell you."


Once alone, it was clear Yuuta was not going to pay attention to his brother for the most part. Fuji couldn't guilt him otherwise. Undeniably, he deserved the cold shoulder. However the transient dream played repeatedly in his eyes, and he couldn't steel himself from posing the situation. "Yuuta, don't you ever get the feeling that it's your fault but someone else took all the blame, and no one bothered to tell?"


Not listening carefully, Yuuta turned on the TV to one the dramas their mother and sister were raving about. "Are you going emotional on me now?"


"No." was the immediate reply. Doubtless, the younger sibling wasn't any more aware than he was. If the dreams were real, he needed someone else to know, someone else to find out if they were. Eyes flicking to the door and back to his brother, Fuji cut to the chase. "What do you know of dad's death?"


Already alarmed by the events earlier this morning, Yuuta couldn't help feel things go on a steep downhill. The dysfunctionality of his family was more than his heart could handle. Bringing up their father's death was not something that would help matters. "What are you getting at?" he queried.


Fuji spaced out. Breaking into a cold sweat, he looked at his hands horrified. Whatever the truth was he wasn't sure he wanted to understand anymore. "If I knew, I wouldn't be asking you."


---


There was much effort on Yuuta's side in persuading Tezuka to visit Shuusuke. It took him nearly half the day to get patched in by the clerks and another half to talk sensibly with him as much as a guilt ridden man would.


"If it really is your fault then take responsibility and take care of nii-san." It was Yuuta's winning argument. Tezuka never ran away from responsibility.


The pay ward was extremely quiet. The squeaking of Yukio's rubber shoes was louder than his thought process. It was grating on his nerves. Taking after Atobe's lead, he had come bearing gifts - small flowers with a card wishing well. It was a given that they would be dull in comparison. Just being near him, the petals were drained of color, and he was still second guessing his presence.


"Aren't we going to say hello, Mitsu-niichan?" Yukio piped, looking up expectantly.


"I'll just go get something to drink." Hesitantly he turned away after he had left the garland by the doorway. In that moment's hesitation he bumped into a slightly taller man holding a cup of orange solution and a glass of water. The liquids sloshed against the cups and both men tried in vain to keep it from spilling. It was a deafening second when it had finally spilled on the foreigner's clothes.


"Damn. I just got it dry cleaned." Tezuka acted contritely only to receive a wrinkle of annoyance on the man's forehead. Soon he was being pulled away to a public bathroom and forced to scrub and scrimp.


Sitting on the linoleum, the stranger observed closely as Tezuka did his work "Wow. You're pretty good at this." Genuine astonishment was in the man's voice. Tezuka wondered if the weird man even encountered the concept of cleaning because he was sure as hell doing laundry was not a task so hard you'd have rank status in it.


"Kunimitsu-niichan's the best at everything!" Yukio did his best not to bother his cousin while he sponged down other parts of the shirt as well.


"Oh really? Sorry. Normally I'd just destroy that million yen shirt with my clumsiness but wouldn't want the culprit to pay compensation now." Tezuka's heart sank further after hearing the price. Scrubbing harder, he was determined to get any stains out. He could not afford a million yen debt.


"Yo! Janitor-san!"


Sparing a glance at the mirror, Tezuka saw the janitor in his uniform stretched to the extreme. It seemed almost popping. "Uwah, Rori-tan's expensive branded shirt got destroyed! Can I have it?"


Rori, as he was called, waved the idea off. Eager to see if it was indeed salvageable, the cleaning aide peered over Tezuka's shoulder. He was close enough for Tezuka to smell repugnant cigarette smoke in the aide's hair. "That will definitely stain."


"Think so?" Rori cocked his head to one side. Looking from the shirt and back at the ignored culprit, he clicked his tongue in shame. A young working man's meager salary was lackluster in comparison to the value of his prized shirt.


Whistling, the janitor got what he came for and mopped the toilet floor. "Then again my wife gets mad at the smallest of things." The little boy on the other hand stopped his labor to comment the same thing about his mother.


Tezuka's eyebrow twitched. "Could you please stop unwittingly making me distressed?" When no one had followed that, Tezuka inwardly heaved a sigh of relief. It was not going to stain. In fact it was already gone.


"Kunimitsu, the color's fading." This was karma. It had to be.


They used the hand drier to speed up the airing process. A slight discoloration replaced the blotch unnoticeable to the unobservant. It was just Tezuka's luck Rori was a stickler for blemishes. Wanting to appease the rich man, he ended up paying for piles of clean tasteless food. Luckily Yukio didn't have much of an appetite either after seeing the amount of food and the speed it was being devoured.


"Aren't you eating, /Kuni-chan/?" Rori invited.


A tick formed on his brow. When was his name mutilated without him being informed? Why was he Kuni-chan? "I feed on dirt."


"Mud pie's a splendid idea Kuni-chan! Let's order that too!" Rori hailed for a cafeteria girl to come by. Tezuka's pocket was feeling the pain of this venture. "How about you, Yu-chan?" Yukio shook his head fiercely. The mere thought of more food made him throw up.


Once the insanity settled down, Rori looked at him with a fiendish grin. "Not to pry but whom are you visiting up there? Family? Friend? Lover? I bet it's some sexy gal."


Tezuka stared at him vacantly. The memory of this morning opened old wounds. He would have to apologize to Yuuta. There was no way he could face him after outright failure. There was no way he could face Fuji after his bout of stupidity. "No one."


The incredulity was apparent on Yukio's face. "We're not visiting Shuusuke-niichan anymore? Why?" He wailed at the idea. Fuji had become important to him in the span of one night. While no one was looking unbreakable ties had formed between them. Though traumatized he had braved through the first day of his new school just to ensure his visit.


"That's sad, Kuni-chan."


"I don't have the right to be here." Tezuka explained more to himself than to anyone on the table. He clenched his fingers tightly under the table. A little more, his nails would have dug deep marks on his palms.


Gulping down his milkshake, Rori was unfazed. "I think Shuu-what's-his-name is the one to decide that."


Whimsically Tezuka shook his head. "It's my fault that person's here in the first place."


As Rori finished processing the information he gasped on his conclusion. "Oh. My. God. You beat up your wife?" Rori gestured excessively to call for the police. He even mistook the Japanese 110 code for his country's own.


The millions of logical leaps rendered Tezuka speechless. It was hard not to go with Rori's pace. It was also hard to decide whether he was covertly smart or openly stupid. Recognizing the alert for what it was, Tezuka whacked the offending hand. "I'm not married." The foreigner chortled. "I was... wrong; couldn't accept I was wrong"


Raking his short-cropped hair with his hands, Rori paused in contemplation. "You could apologize. It won't do anything but it would mean that you're acknowledging your own weaknesses wouldn't it?" When he had cocked his head to one side a double image surfaced for Tezuka. It was as if Fuji was scolding him for his mistakes and ordering him to go do the smart thing. He blinked, losing the vision altogether. "Something like that. I'm sorry I'm not really aware what I'm saying." Laughing nervously, Rori pulled his dinner partners up. "Because I'm feeling nice I'll pay for the mud pie. You pay for the rest!" When Tezuka had taken out his card the foreigner instantly retracted the decree. Instead he ushered the duo to the elevator.


Rori's actions mimicked that of two people Tezuka knew: Fuji and Atobe. Atobe because he was posh and Fuji because he was curious. So Tezuka and Yukio were back where they started. Everything came back to Fuji for the two. "Nee, Mitsu-niichan, I want to say sorry too." Yukio whispered as he watched the numbers on the door intently. Forgiveness was so hard to ask for. Still just as nervous but with the flowers long gone, Tezuka knocked and allowed himself in.


Fuji sat reclined on the bed. There was a significant decrease in the number of apparatus compared to the flurry of equipment he'd caught sight in the ambulance. Yuuta was reading by the window, and Yumiko was viewing a weekly TV drama.


"Thank you for the flowers, you didn't have to." Smiling, Fuji showed him the card hand-written by the Ice King himself. If someone else gives you flowers with no name disclosed, they're from your idiotic captain.


Stopping himself from deferring, he bowed low. Yukio followed suit. "I'm sorry." Back then, he was silly to find himself knowledgeable. He didn't know everything or what's best. Pretending to only leads to accidents like. In fact, aside from a childhood memory, he knew nothing more on Fuji.


The patient shook his head. "You big idiot."


Snapping his book shut, Yuuta lightly kicked Tezuka behind the knees. "I'm not as forgiving, Tezuka-san. Logic should precede intuition. It was nothing but /illogical/ to have tortured /nii//-san/. Safety isn't an issue in hospitals."


"Yuuta, it was my fault." The older Fuji reprimanded, trying to gear his brother away from pointing the finger.


"Still ignoring you." Whirling around so he wouldn't have to see the smoldering expression on the elder Fuji, Yuuta threw his hands in defeat. With a pointed look at the captain, he snorted. "I'm still counting on you then."


"/Oniisan//,/ did you make up with Yuuta already?" Everyone was startled by Rori's voice. The foreigner flounced inside the room with the same orange liquid he was carrying hours earlier. He greeted the people customarily, with a kiss reserved for Shuusuke. It was light dancing on the lips.


Introducing his boyfriend formally, Fuji motioned for them to come closer. "I'm sure you recognize Leon, Tezuka."


The happy man beamed, standing with a holier than thou air. "Yeah, we got to acquaint each other quite well."


Yukio was beyond scarred, and Tezuka felt the beginnings of jealousy break his ribs. On the outside there was nothing wrong but every breath hurt. "Quite, Rowe-san."


---


He headed for Saitama after the little run in with Rowe and the Fuji family. Reserving the inexplicable annoyance in his stomach for later, Tezuka made meeting his relatives top priority. Fuji couldn't remember much of yesterday's encounter but if it was true then Tezuka's uncle would have some explaining to do. It wasn't just about Fuji's safety but about Yukio's as well. No matter who it was, they couldn't just up and drag a little boy away from ill-informed adults. Taking a taxi the rest of the way, he massaged a tension that formed above his brow. As they slowed at the area, he noticed some minor differences in the fixtures of the tiny home.


The little wood carvings Yukio was fond of were knocked down. The gate was left unlocked, though that wasn't much of an issue since his aunt almost always forgot to. The flowers were unattended and a small overgrowth of weed was present. A few windows were left open but it was drizzling.


Paying the taxi, he hugged his coat to himself tighter. At the main door he could hear the squeaking of wood against metal and metal against wind. He tried the buzzer. No one answered. He had a sinking suspicion he wouldn't like what he'd find. Foraging for the spare key in the rose bushes, he was able to enter.


"Kaiya-baasan! It's Kunimitsu. Is uncle here?" Silence greeted him. The hallway was eerily empty and the house seemed haunted with the continuous ticking of the ancient clock hung by the door. Murmuring the usual greetings for entering a house uninvited, Tezuka toed his shoes off and took careful steps to the dining room.


It was a total wreck. The floorboards were wet with about a day's worth of rain and snow. The vases toppled over and drawers were over turned. It was as if someone had been looking for something. The most horrifying fact was dried blood on the floor, a kitchen knife not too far away. He was glad he decided to leave Yukio with the Fujis. It would only aggravate the situation, and the boy didn't need to know. Not yet.


He ventured upstairs after calling for the police. Stopping himself from destroying evidence, he took a white handkerchief as a makeshift glove. He may not have lived with the Sato family long enough to discern where each piece of furniture fell in place but he did remember where they kept all their valuables. Below one tatami mat and one wooden panel was an upturned safe just like Kaiya had said. His aunt had divulged those carefully guarded secrets as a tactic to become closer to his 'favorite' nephew. It worked unexpectedly though he had never seen its usefulness until now.


The safe's contents were seemingly untouched. Wads of bills and jewelry sprinkled the metal box full. There were a number of envelopes inside all of which had play money prints on them. Tens of thousands of play money.


Tezuka pocketed three envelopes randomly. Grimacing when a barrel of a gun pressed against his head, he prayed the authorities would drive faster.


"Stop your shuffling and lift your hands where I can see them, boy." Upon following the man's instruction's Tezuka realized he should have turned on the lights by now. It was dark enough that the intruder waved the flashlight like a weapon on his unprotected eyes. "Now, boy, listen. I want you to hand over whatever you found."


Squinting, his sight had adjusted but the glare allowed him to see neither face nor frame of the man. "And you're going to let me go with my life?"


"We can talk about it." He heard the gun cock.


Palms sweaty, it didn't seem like he could stall much more. Passing the counterfeit, he said, "I'm just a petty thief, and that's just my booty."


The decidedly male voice chuckled. Tezuka could hear sordid glee in it. "You're lying to me, Sato-kun. No thief gives his loot without a fight."


The last thing Tezuka remembered was several gunshots and mind-numbing pain.


End Chapter 9
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