Backstage – Part Four

Tezuka and Atobe meet while out fishing, in the Spring of their third year of high school. Conversation, verbal jousting, poetry, philosophy, angst, dramatics and humor ensue. Drama with Budding Romance, I-3

Atobe seemed to have something on his mind this week. He kept glancing over at Kunimitsu and then away. After the fourth time he did it, Kunimitsu sighed.

“You might as well say whatever it is.”

Atobe really must have been distracted, because he immediately recoiled to his default response of mockery.

“What,” he drawled, “you think you can figure it out if I don’t? Let us witness your great deductive abilities, then.”

Kunimitsu eyed him. Atobe didn’t often fall back on that sort of thing any more. He shrugged one shoulder. “I think that if I wait quietly you’ll say in any case. You might was well say it now as later.” Atobe blinked, and slouched back, grumbling under his breath.

“Just because I know how to use my tongue…”

Kunimitsu smiled. It was too perfect. He couldn’t resist.

“Do you, now?” he murmured.

Atobe’s eyes widened, and he stared at Kunimitsu for several beats before he burst out laughing. There, that was better. Atobe’s mocking humor was a serrated thing, both sleek and ugly, subtle and vicious. Kunimitsu preferred it when Atobe relaxed enough to laugh, instead.

“Innuendo from Tezuka Kunimitsu,” Atobe managed at last, “be still my heart! The world must be ending.” He sighed and looked out over the lake. “I was wondering why you invited me to stay. That first day we were both here.”

The question surprised Kunimitsu. Most of the understanding between he and Atobe was unspoken. He had not expected Atobe to want to change that. Well, how to explain, then?

“The things you say here,” he began, at length, “could you say them anywhere else?” Atobe’s eyes flickered. Kunimitsu turned one hand palm up. “Neither could I. But you aren’t a member of my team, that I have to maintain my authority with. You aren’t a classmate I have to get along with. I have no family duty to you. And there are things you understand.”

Atobe considered this for a while.

“You were so sure of all that at the time?” he asked, finally, not quite mocking but clearly on edge. Kunimitsu’s mouth tightened; he wasn’t sure Atobe would accept the answer, but he had asked for it. And while Atobe might not have noticed it, yet, Kunimitsu told him the things he asked directly. Always.

“We’ve been playing each other for years, now,” he pointed out. “You are very honest when you play full out. And given that key, you aren’t difficult to read at other times, either.”

Tension threaded through Atobe.

“Besides,” Kunimitsu added, after a moment, returning to the original question, “sometimes you quote German poets with a very bad accent. It’s an amusing way to pass the afternoon.” The tension leaked away as Atobe drew himself up.

“A bad accent?” he repeated, in a deeply offended tone. The gleam in his eye undercut his supposed indignation.

“Horrible,” Kunimitsu confirmed, evenly. “You mangle the gutturals.” Atobe snorted.

“Well, if it’s a good accent you want…” He tilted his head, consideringly, and started to recite in what Kunimitsu recognized, after a few sentences, as Greek. He thought the language suited Atobe. The sound of it was sharp, but it had a rolling rhythm, like an avalanche of broken stone seen from far enough away to make it fluid. When Atobe finished, Kunimitsu quirked a brow at him. Atobe’s smile was a bit distant as he translated.

“Imagine the condition of men living in a sort of cavernous chamber underground. Here they have been from childhood, chained by the leg and also by the neck, so that they cannot move and can only see what is in front of them. At some distance higher up is the light of a fire burning behind them.” He paused. “The prisoners so confined would have seen nothing of themselves or of one another, except the shadows thrown by the firelight on the wall of the Cave facing them, would they?”

“Plato,” Kunimitsu identified it. Atobe nodded. It had to be from The Republic, as that was the only thing by Plato that Kunimitsu had ever read. He remembered being irked by the man’s complacence, while appreciating the idea of ability being allowed to lead. On reflection he wasn’t at all surprised that Atobe knew it well enough to quote.

Though what he had chosen to quote today indicated that he focused more on the bleak picture of human understanding than on the bright, brittle vision of a perfected society. That didn’t entirely surprise Kunimitsu either.

“I think I prefer the German poets,” he said quietly. A particular passage from one of his favorites came to mind, and he quoted it in turn. “You know how much more remarkable I always find the people walking about in front of paintings than the paintings themselves. It’s no different here, except for the Cézanne room. Here, all of reality is on his side: in this dense quilted blue of his, in his red and his shadowless green and the reddish black of his wine bottles. And the humbleness of his objects: the apples are all cooking apples and the wine bottles belong in the roundly bulging pockets of an old coat.

Atobe looked at him inquiringly. “That’s not poetry.”

“It’s a poet’s letter about a painter’s work,” Kunimitsu explained. “Rilke writing about Cézanne.”

“You like Rilke enough to memorize his letters?” Atobe asked on a chuckle.

“The philosophy of artists appeals to me,” Kunimitsu told him softly. Atobe was silent, with the rare depth in his eyes that only showed when he was thinking seriously about a challenging idea. Kunimitsu kept his gaze as light as he could. Atobe was… compelling like this. But he didn’t think it would be wise to let his companion know that.

It wasn’t as though his ego needed the assistance.

“Cooking apples, hm?” Atobe murmured. “That’s certainly different from the ideal Form of Apple-ness.”

“Quite,” Kunimitsu agreed, dryly. Atobe leaned toward him.

“But isn’t perfection what we’re looking for? Especially on the court?”

“Yes,” Kunimitsu allowed, “but perfection differs from one player to another. There wouldn’t be a game if it didn’t.”

“You don’t think the final winner would be the one who found the real perfection?” Atobe challenged, dark eyes almost glowing.

“If that were true you and I should be converging toward a similar style.” Kunimitsu noted. “We’re not.” Atobe leaned back with a delighted smile.

“Good point.” Then he gave Kunimitsu a narrow look. “Why haven’t you ever argued philosophy with me before, Tezuka? You’ve been holding back on me.”

Kunimitsu couldn’t hold back a quiet laugh. It was so like Atobe to be irate over something like that. He was just a bit surprised that Atobe also seemed to feel that they had passed from rivals good enough to talk to friends good enough to argue. But perhaps Atobe hadn’t thought it out quite that far. Kunimitsu had rarely observed him applying his quite incisive intelligence to his own feelings.

“I won’t any longer, if you like,” he offered.

“I should hope not,” Atobe admonished him. “So, are you familiar with Theses on the Philosophy of History?”

Neither of them really seemed to mind that they didn’t catch any fish at all that day.


A/N: The passages of Plato and Rilke in this story are quoted, with a few artistic inaccuracies, from The Republic of Plato, Oxford Press edition, translated by Francis Cornford and Letters on Cézanne, North Point Press edition, translated by Joel Agee.

For those who may be curious, Theses on the Philosophy of History is a thoroughly cracked-out essay by the German philosopher Walter Benjamin. I highly recommend it. That it appears as subject matter in one of Laurie Anderson’s songs should tell you something about how wonderfully bizarre it is.

Last Modified: May 08, 12
Posted: Apr 25, 04
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  1. naanima

    I KNEW there was a reason why I adore you so. Beside your taste in most anime (IniD 4th Stage!!), you have read the letters to Cézanne! I thought I was the only one *cries*

    The fact that you managesd to put Rilke’s letter and Plato in the same story about two tennis players…. oh, how I adore youu, and your mind *huggles*

    And it figures, it is Tezuka who is more happy to be humane, and contemplate the beauty of every day, and that Atobe to be concenred with the grand. AND, it is ALL about TENNIS (and flirting). MWAHAHAHABWAHAHAHAHA.

    1. branchandroot Post author

      *snuggles* I love Rilke, and Letters just seemed very appropriate to the way I think Tezuka-nature-boy might see the world. And, of course, what with the info saying that Atobe likes Greek, well, Plato was a shoo-in for him.

      More flirting coming up, my dear! I shall start on it today, just for you.

      1. naanima

        Yes! Yes! Tezuka-nature-boy would be a sucker for Rilke’s letters *happiness* And it’s a given that Atobe would have read the ‘Republica’. In Greek. The conceited little boy *adore*

        THANK YOU *huggles* Flirting is GOOD!

  2. mica-chan

    I’m too lazy today (actually, I’m always too lazy) to do a good review, but…I enjoyed so much these four parts that I had to write even though I just will say that I loved it.
    It was a pleasure to see your Prince of Tennis fics…specially with those particulars characters, that I like so much.

  3. flamesword

    Flirting! and philosophy! ^_^ And Tezuka being honest…hmm…do I detect some sneakiness here? Tezuka seems rather…um. I don’t have the word, but anyway, he’s up to something. ^^ Schweet.

    Okay, dammit, I give…I like it. This pairing has some awesome potential. Just…wow. I <3 it. It’s entirely your fault, I assure you. Well, not quite entirely, but almost. I’m starting to really like Atobe, though, just in general…he’s a very interesting character. *sigh* He’s starting to remind me of Kaiba, from Yugioh, and I know from past experience that when that happens, the character 0wnz me. Kaiba characters are ones that I simply have to play with, explore, and write for. Ack. And [ profile] zerotwofan is not helping, poking me as she is for Atobe gen fic…. XD

    1. branchandroot Post author

      *snickers* Oh, yes, Tezuka is being just a bit sneaky. Let’s just say, the fishing is appropriate.

      I can definitely see the Seto connection. That absolute value placed on a good match, and a good win. And that arrogance that you can’t quite manage to hate them for, because they work so damn hard to live up to it.

      (Though, the first time I listened to Inui’s character songs, and realized where I recognized that voice from, it nearly broke my brain.)

      Atobe gen, yeah, write it, write it!

      1. flamesword

        oh my god, I love you! *squeeeee!* A Kaiba fan. Okay, that does it, you are officially the coolest person I know. ^____^ ♥

        To be honest, I think the arrogance from both of them is more a facade than anything…that’s the persona they show to the world, but not necessarily a true keystone of their character. Kaiba in particular, I think, is not arrogant at all. He sees himself as a tool, a means to an end, and nothing more–he doesn’t really take pride in the fact of his perfection, it’s only what he expects of himself, what he sees as necessary to accomplish his goals. The arrogance is to keep others from looking at him too closely.

        But I think the most striking similarity I see is the absolute perfection they demand of themselves, always. Absolutely no room for error, ever. And the astonishing grace with which they almost always seem to pull it off. I don’t know if I exactly like Atobe, yet (getting closer with every fic of yours I read though ^_~), whereas I love Kaiba to death, but I certainly respect the hell out of both of them.

        Kaiba’s voice is teh SMEX…hearing it from Inui does really break your brain though. ^_^ When I found out his seiyuu was in PoT, that was when I knew I had no choice but to see it.

        Eep! more poking… ^^;; I will write it, sooner or later, I am sure…Atobe is just too fascinating a character to resist.

        1. branchandroot Post author

          *nods thoughtfully* That’s certainly one of the ways I’ve taken Atobe–that the ‘showing off’ is an act to keep his club in line. It makes sense for Kaiba. Goal-oriented doesn’t even begin to describe him. Though I think he does use his arrogance to provoke closeness as well as distance; with Jounouchi, in particular. The evolution of his insults was one of the things that interested me enough to include it on the website I did for the show. ( if you’re curious)

          I have to say, I was a completely lost cause once I saw Kaiba fighting that thug-in-chief at Duelist Kingdom–the affair with the gun and the card, and Kaiba being unspeakably cool.

          1. flamesword

            Hmmm…interesting point. I actually think a lot of Kaiba’s initial hostility to Jou, and vice versa, is due to the fact that neither of them is willing to look past the surface. They take one look and dismiss each other as being nothing more than the face value image that they first see; i.e., a poor little rich boy and a loudmouth street rat. Ohh…well, I have a lot more to say on that subject, but I’m not going to rant in your journal. ^_^ You might find this post ( interesting, though. ^_~

            I did check out your website…needs an update, ne? ^^ And as for Atobe…yeah, I agree. I have a lot more to say about that, too…probably make a rambling post about him and Kaiba and stuff in my journal soon. ^_^

            1. branchandroot Post author

              I’m debating whether to wait for the anime to finish up, and see how the end is handled there. I shudder to imagine what the dub is going to do with the end, having somewhat painted themselves into a corner on the name issue. *makes face* Updates, bleah. Revisions are enough of a pain. *wanders back to them*

  4. anazergal

    read this, loved it. i think the boys are a bit too mature, but the writing was fantastic and the emotions portrayed, wonderfully complex. keep up the wonderful work!