Categories > Anime/Manga > Prince of Tennis

Bystander

by sesame_seed 3 Reviews

TeniPuri boyband AU. Triangles make the world go 'round.

Category: Prince of Tennis - Rating: PG - Genres: Angst - Characters: Echizen Ryoma, Fuji Shuusuke, Tezuka Kunimitsu - Published: 2005/05/11 - Updated: 2005/05/11 - 3045 words - Complete

Bystander

The search for a vocalist goes slowly. Tezuka sits in the park and listens to the voices around him, young voices, old voices, tenors and baritones, the shrill babble of gossiping housewives, a businessman muttering into his cellphone that he's sorry, something came up, he won't make it back in time for dinner, the shrieks of children in a game of tag. Nothing breaks through the banal hum, turns his head so that he can hear it more clearly. When Oishi calls him that night, he has nothing to report but a wasted day and a headache.

Oishi tries to be optimistic. "Something will turn up," he says. "Rome wasn't built in a day. We're going to build something even grander, and these things take time."

"Aa," says Tezuka, and hangs up after a few more exchanges. He towels off his hair and thinks of sitting unnoticed on a park bench while the rest of the world passes by with its petty joys and mundane tragedies spread out for him to see.

Before going to bed, he pens down the outlines of a song titled 'Bystander'.

*

Ryuzaki-sensei approves it. "I knew you had talent, Tezuka. Too bad it isn't in your vocal cords," and he accepts the chaffing with only a twitch of eyebrow.

"Your songs are special," says Oishi, looking up with admiring eyes that hold a hint of diffidence. Tezuka is used to that look; he receives it often due to athletic superiority, acedemic excellence, and now the uncovering of this lyrical talent. "How did you come up with this? Obviously you're a leader, not a bystander."

Tezuka shrugs. He only writes what he knows. His portfolio is stashed with songs on city life, fishing, the sky turning dark at the end of the day, lily petals unfurling one by one. He doesn't touch love songs -- hopeful love, hopeless love, these things have passed him by in his fourteen years of existence, and he knows better than to chase vainly after them. Inspiration strikes as it will.

*

He continues his vigil, keeping alert for that perfect note, the click that will tell him it's done, the search is over. It doesn't come. It doesn't come in school, convenience stores, parks or coffee shops; it doesn't come from the TV or the radio. Tezuka believes in perseverence and hard work, not predestination, so he isn't too bothered by the lack of a fateful meeting, but he does start to wonder if it might not be best to settle with someone talented, skilled, willing, rather than perfect.

'Bystander' has taken a more or less completed form, though there's still room to make adjustments for their vocalist when he or she appears. In the interim, Tezuka starts another song, low and fretful with a staccato beat of anticipation.

He calls it 'Waiting'.

*

Oishi phones him excitedly one day. "Come over to the studio," he says, sounding breathless, as if he'd just tired his lungs out whooping. "There's someone I want you to meet."

Fuji Syuusuke is short and slim. His dead straight hair covers so much of his forehead and eyes that it's something of a puzzle how he manages not to bump into things, but when he lifts his face, Tezuka sees that he has the looks of a front man, androgynous without crossing the line into femininity.

It's his voice that's the surprise, though. "I'm very pleased to meet you," he says, sticking out a hand, and Tezuka knows instantly that this is it, the note, the click, the one he's been searching for. As he shakes hands with Fuji his eyes meet with Oishi's, and the same thought crosses both their minds -- we're set.

They try out a song -- already a rehearsal, not even an audition -- Tezuka on drums, Oishi playing guitar, Fuji singing, and Tezuka realizes after a few bars how right he was not to trust in predestination.

It falls flat. Fuji's voice is perfect -- low, compelling, sensuous to go with his heavy-lidded smile -- but it isn't /right/, it can't fully express the impact of the lyrics. Listening to Fuji is like being teased by a light summer's breeze, refreshing but leaving the audience ultimately unmoved.

Fuji's voice is a vehicle that transports only himself.

He can see the same realization dawning on Oishi's face, but Fuji's is serene and unreadable, like he's keeping a pleasant secret to himself. Tezuka thinks: it isn't Fuji's will that's lacking, Fuji's will is the hindrance, because he doesn't want anyone with him when he sings. The resulting product is beautiful but empty, and Fuji steps away from the microphone after the final measure.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out," he says, before Tezuka can find a way to break it to him, or rather, allow Oishi to let him down gently. "It's a good song, though. It was a pleasure to sing with you."

Oishi is in the middle of politely demurring when Tezuka says, "Stay."

He's not sure what makes him open his mouth. They both turn to look at him, Oishi in distress, as if saying 'He's not the one, can't you tell?' , Fuji still with that enigmatic smile.

"Stay," he repeats, leaving no room for refusal. "We can find another vocalist to balance you off."

Fuji's eyes flash, and he realizes almost as soon as he finishes speaking that it's the wrong tack to take, that someone with eyes like that, with a voice like that, won't take kindly to anything resembling an order. Perhaps that's for the best, in the end, because finding a suitable vocalist is hard enough, while trying to find one suited both Tezuka's songs and Fuji's voice is like searching for a needle in a haystack when the needle itself might not exist.

He readies himself for disappointment, wondering how on earth they're going to find someone suitable when the first hopeful candidate they have in months is dismissed in less than half a hour, and almost misses it when Fuji says, "Very well. When's our next meeting?"

Just like that, they become a band of three.

*

Fuji settles into the group easily, like a drawn breath, like he's always been there. Usually in an initial gathering of individuals there are bumped elbows, stubbed toes, edges clashing with each other, and Tezuka's edges are sharper than most, making for explosive situations. It's obvious soon enough, though, that if Fuji has any edges to speak of, he conceals them well. He chums up with Oishi, doesn't seem to mind Tezuka's reticence, and soon there's no question at all that he'll be with them in the long run.

He always seems delighted by Tezuka's songs. He'd asked for a glimpse of Tezuka's portfolio early on and was refused, because it seemed too much like stripping naked before a stranger, but Fuji didn't look particularly upset, merely smiled in that way he had and said, I'll wait till you're ready, so that it sounded like an oddly intimate pact.

One afternoon, during a break between songs, Tezuka glances out the window and sees a girl standing at the bus stop, hair in two long braids. She looks around twelve, thirteen years old, no older, and her dress is a frilly white concoction swaying with the wind. There's something about her that catches his eye -- something in the way she stands, smoothing down her dress every few minutes, shoulders held straight with obvious pride; it's a new dress, he thinks, and she's happy just to be wearing it, with all the wondering rapture of a little girl playing dress-up.

'Innocence'. He begins almost automatically the process of fashioning the moment into lyrics, memorizing as much of the scene as he can for further contemplation, when he notices a glint of blue in the glass.

Refocusing, he realizes that it's a reflection of Fuji studying Tezuka's own reflection on the window, eyes open and intent. As Tezuka watches, awareness shadows the intensity, and their gazes meet through the medium of a pane of glass, joining, locking, a shared acknowledgement -- 'I see you.'

There is no admiration in Fuji's eyes, no diffidence, nothing except the desire to observe.

It's like looking into his own.

Oishi strums a few bars, and the moment ends; they both turn away, making preparations for the next song. Before leaving the window, Tezuka takes one last look at the girl.

She's met up with someone, a boy with his face mostly covered by a baseball cap, the posture of a rebellious teenager. Watching the animation on her face as she greets him, he wonders with a brief, fleeting brush of unease if maybe it isn't the dress that's making her smile, after all.

*

The next day, he hands his collection of finished work to Fuji.

Fuji, to do him credit, strives to look surprised; he takes the portfolio and says, "Thank you for showing me these."

Tezuka hears, 'Thank you for trusting me.'

"Return it when you're finished," he says and walks away.

*

After that, Fuji takes to discussing the songs with him, although perhaps discussion is too strong a word for their one-sided conversations, since Tezuka still doesn't feel comfortable speaking his thought processes out loud.

Fuji doesn't comment on the technical aspects; instead, he says things like, "I know where you wrote this. Ueno Park, right? I think I've seen the sakura tree you're talking about." He lies belly-down on the floor, face propped in his hands, feet kicking idly, the pages spread out in front of him like a fan. "It would be nice to hold a concert there. We should bring Oishi out, see what he thinks."

Once, he says, "I don't see any love songs in here."

"I don't write love songs," Tezuka tells him, wondering whether he should be feeling the vague embarrassment that he does. It's never seemed a big deal before. "I'm not qualified."

Fuji stands and stretches, his shirt rucking up to show a glimpse of white skin. "That's for the best," he assures Tezuka with a grin, "because I'm not qualified to sing them, either. So we're perfectly matched, aren't we?"

Tezuka starts gathering his songs back into the folder. "Not quite."

"Oh, yes." Fuji's sigh is a languorous thing, stretching out across the room. "Exactly what kind of sound are you looking for? Maybe I should help you out with that."

"Something powerful. With presence. Outstanding presence," he adds, thinking of the way Fuji's voice tends to hook people into the music until they overlook the existence of the voice itself. "It has to be -- explosive." Pausing, he says thoughtfully, "You would probably be very good at singing lullabies."

Fuji bursts out laughing at that. "Are you saying I put you to sleep, Tezuka-kun? That can't be good for sales."

We could market it as a cure for insomnia, he thinks but doesn't say, because he's afraid it might actually sell.

He dreams that night of lying with his head in Fuji's lap, listening to songs of jungle animals that behave like humans in Fuji's low, hypnotic voice that doesn't try to hide from him, just covers him like a blanket until he falls asleep.

*

He starts writing for once without a visible image in mind. He writes, thinking of meetings and recognition, of trust, of Fuji's blue eyes and his white skin and his smile that doesn't give anything away. At first he thinks he's writing about Fuji, but then it seems more as if he's writing about himself -- of insubstantial fears, irrational impulses, a nameless joy.

It's harder to write than anything he's ever attempted before, and easier. The words pour out, but too many are imperfect, /wrong/, unequal to the emotions he's trying to express when he's not even certain what those are. He locks himself in for an entire weekend, taking the phone off the hook, subsisting wholly on ramen, writing and deleting, crumpling papers and then smoothing them out, until his room resembles a huge wastebasket.

Finally, on Monday morning, it's mostly finished. When he looks it over, he thinks it may well be the best thing he's ever written, but there's still one part left to fill.

The line for the title remains blank. He doesn't know what to call it.

*

Oishi grows increasingly uneasy over their fourth member and his refusal to turn up. "It can't be that there's no one in Tokyo suited for the role," he frowns during one meeting, rubbing at his forehead, and Tezuka wonders if he stays up nights worrying over the problem.

He doesn't feel much urgency himself. Sometimes he thinks it's fine with just the three of them, that he can tailor his songs to Fuji's voice if he has to. It would severely curtail their range and be unfair to both Oishi and Fuji, so he doesn't mention the idea, but he thinks that if things actually come to that pass, he wouldn't mind.

"I'll be attending the talent show tonight for my brother's act," Fuji speaks up, drawing out an arpreggio on the keyboard. He smiles at Oishi. "I'll keep an ear out for you."

*

Fuji doesn't show up at their meeting the next day.

*

He does show up at the one after that, with apologies. "I overslept," he says, and Tezuka doesn't have the heart to glare at him for more than five seconds.

Something's changed about him, though. It's barely noticeable, more a feeling than anything substantial, but Tezuka has been an observer for most of his life, and he finally manages to put a finger on it. When he does, he almost thinks he's mistaken, because he hadn't thought that could change.

It's the smile.

Fuji still smiles like he's keeping a secret to himself, but now the secret is exciting as well as pleasant.

They don't talk so often of songs these days. During break time, Tezuka no longer looks up to find Fuji's eyes fixed on him with the curiousity of an anthropologist; instead, Fuji gazes off at some unknown point and smiles his new smile. Oishi doesn't seem to notice the difference. Tezuka doesn't intend to inquire after it.

Tezuka is keeping a secret too, one that's neither exciting nor pleasant. When Oishi asks if he's written anything lately, he says no -- immediately, unequivocally. The song sits on his bedroom desk, still nameless, still his best work yet, and he hasn't shown it to anyone or even mentioned it. Something tells him it would be a bad idea right now, but he doesn't know why.

Weeks later, he finds out.

*

'Powerful,' he'd told Fuji, 'with an outstanding presence. Explosive.'

Echizen Ryoma is all these things and more. At first glance, he's just a slightly stunted teenager underneath a baseball cap that Tezuka finds vaguely familiar, but it only takes one flash of those eyes to prove otherwise.

His eyes are golden. He looks like the kitten of a sleek black hunting cat, the ones described in lullabies Fuji never sang. Those eyes serve as a wordless challenge to anyone he looks at -- anyone who looks at him, really, because he doesn't deign to notice many -- and are capable of igniting instantaneous fury, instantaneous passion. The first thing Tezuka thinks when he sees them is that this boy must get called up to the rooftop very often.

He's as pretty as Fuji and even more striking, an instant pass when it comes to looks, but also like Fuji, his voice is better. He starts off shaky at the audition, and Tezuka throws Fuji a glance -- what were you thinking -- but winds into something incredible, something that Tezuka's only heard in his own head while songwriting before this. He strengthens at the chorus, soars into a crescendo, then plummets down to the end, and Tezuka finds himself being carried along helplessly -- him, helpless -- on a crashing wave of music until the last note dies away. This boy has the ability to knock him, anyone, off their feet.

He's everything Fuji's not.

He's exactly what they need.

At the end of the session, before they go their separate ways, he sees Fuji bid Echizen good-bye with a smile, and he finally understands why the boy looks familiar.

This is the boy with the girl in the white dress. He knows because he remembers the girl's smile that day, warm and golden like sunshine given form, and it's the smile on Fuji's face right now, a third permutation different from all the rest.

He remembers wondering what that smile had meant, and goes home to start a new song. This one doesn't have a name, either, but he knows what it's about. He knows that it's the most honest thing he's ever written.

He knows that he will never show it to anyone.

*

After a few days, Fuji asks him if he has any ideas for their first single.

He'd been prepared to suggest 'Bystander', as it's one of Fuji's favorites, and both Oishi and Echizen enjoy it. Something stops him, though. He observes the tilt of Fuji's smile, the red mark not quite hidden by Fuji's V-necked sweater, and thinks of the blush he'd surprised on Echizen's face this morning.

Fishing around in his bag, he pulls out a few pages of sheet music. "Try this," he says.

Fuji reaches over for it and glances down the first page. "You haven't given it a title yet," he says, sounding surprised, not without reason; Tezuka never gives him unfinished compositions to work with. "What's it called?"

"Leave it nameless," he says. "That way it can be for everyone."

Fuji flips through the pages, and his eyebrows lift. "It's a bit different from your usual work."

"It's better." He glances at Fuji, who's mouthing the lyrics to himself with a kind of wonder. "Do you think you can handle it?"

There's a pause as Fuji appears to consider, tapping the papers against his cheek thoughtfully. His eyes are very blue, and Tezuka thinks, once again, 'I see you'.

"Yes," he says finally. "We'll do it justice. Thank you, Tezuka."

*

When the CD comes out, the track is labeled: Untitled.

Later, after Metro Transit skyrockets to fame, the fans give it a different name --

Tezuka Kunimitsu's first love song.
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