Long Exposure – One

Upon meeting again in the hospital, after Seigaku plays Rikkai, Tachibana decides Fuji could use a friend outside of tennis. Drama With Romance, I-3

Tachibana Kippei was fretting. It wasn’t a common activity for him, but he didn’t have a great many alternatives at the moment. He still wasn’t permitted to walk any significant distance. Certainly not far enough to visit the person he’d been told was also a guest in this hospital to see if he was all right.

So he was sitting up on the hospital bed he had come to loathe, picking at a raveled corner of the far too thin blanket under him. He’d been told before, most notably by his little sister, that he worried too much. But he couldn’t shake off a feeling of responsibility for this injury. Couldn’t forget the direct, burning blue look Fuji had shared with him over an innocuous roll of tape. That look had promised to take up the hope Kippei couldn’t carry for a while, and asked for his help to gather the spirit to bear it.

How could he not feel he had some responsibility for what had happened?

A knock at the door was a welcome distraction.

When he saw who was coming in, though, Kippei surged up off the bed and strode to meet him, hardly noticing the warning stab of pain through his foot.

“Fuji!” Kippei caught his shoulders, examining his visitor closely. “Are you all right?” Fuji blinked at him, looking rather surprised at this greeting.

“Yes, I’m fine, thank you,” he murmured. Seeing the brilliant eyes focus and track, Kippei breathed a short sigh of relief. Fuji’s brows went up.

“Your teammates stopped by, along with mine, to tell me what happened. And Ann’s tape of the match didn’t exactly relieve any of my concern,” Kippei told him. He lifted a hand to touch, very lightly, Fuji’s cheekbone just under the temple. “That was an extremely reckless thing to do,” he said, quietly.

Fuji’s smile was a bit sharper than usual.

“So. Do you think you need to scold me in Tezuka’s place, since he isn’t here to do it himself?” he inquired. A half laughing breath escaped Kippei, and he dropped his hands.

“Of course not,” he said, stepping back to sit on the edge of his bed. “For one thing, you never chose me as your captain, and I don’t have the right. For another,” he smiled slightly, “I have no doubt Tezuka can deliver his own reprimands, whether he’s present or not.”

Fuji didn’t answer, busying himself instead with pulling out a chair. He sat precisely, hands folded. Kippei eyed his posture.

“You’re worried about what he might say?” he asked, more gently. Fuji’s smile froze just a little. Kippei waited.

“It’s more complicated than that,” Fuji said, at last. “I… haven’t actually spoken to him about that match, yet.” Watching him, Kippei recognized a variation on the expression Akira had worn the day he tried to keep a traffic accident quiet from him, and play on anyway. He doubted Fuji would let him push for details, though. At least not right away. Well, that needn’t be a problem; he certainly had the time to spare to work it out.

“If I promise not to ask, will you come visit again?” Kippei asked. “It’s really boring, here.” Fuji looked up with a quick laugh.

“All right.”


It took Kippei over a month to winkle out the source of Fuji’s disturbance, following his match with Kirihara. By then Fuji was visiting his house, rather than a hospital room. It wasn’t until he succeeded that he really thought to question why he was doing it. Even then, all he could really tell himself was that Fuji needed someone to ask, someone to have the patience to wait out his smile.

The break came the second time Fuji brought him ice cream to cool the frustration of physical therapy. It was also the day after Seigaku had heard from Tezuka that he would be home soon. They sat outside, passing the carton back and forth, but neither the good weather nor the butter-pecan was able to keep Fuji’s attention.

“Have you ever had a friend you didn’t understand?” Fuji asked, abruptly.

“Several.” Kippei didn’t mention that Fuji himself was currently one of them.

“And what if, suddenly, you did come to understand?” Fuji was staring up at the sunlit leaves above them, looking more lost than Kippei remembered ever seeing him look before, though he doubted a casual observer would recognize it.

“And didn’t know how to say so?” he hazarded. He’d realized some time ago that Fuji wasn’t really much good at speaking directly.

“And didn’t know how to apologize,” Fuji corrected softly, looking down at his hands.

“Was the friend hurt that you didn’t understand?” Kippei thought he might be starting to see what the topic of this circling conversation was.

“I never had to. Not before then. Te… he never pushed me like that.”

Kippei nodded to himself.

“Some things, only an enemy can do for you,” he said, and paused. Fuji might be angry with him for the next part, but someone needed to say it and he didn’t think Fuji could bring himself to. “Beyond that, though, you never let him push you.” Fuji flinched slightly, and Kippei sighed. “You didn’t want to be an opponent to him. I don’t think Tezuka will hold that against you, Fuji. You came forward when it mattered.”

“But it means so much to him,” Fuji murmured. “It’s always been his goal…” Kippei set a hand on his shoulder and shook him once.

“Stop that,” he said, firmly. “Take it from another captain, Tezuka cares more for the well being of his team than for that title.”

Fuji blinked at him a few times, jarred out of his introspection.

“You’re right. Of course he does,” he answered eventually, with a self-deprecating little smile that nearly made Kippei grind his teeth. He tightened his grip on Fuji’s shoulder.

“Fuji. You did not fail him.”

After a moment of aching stillness, Fuji took a deep breath and let it out, closing his eyes. When he opened them again he offered Kippei another small, but more genuine, smile, and laid his fingers over Kippei’s hand on his shoulder.

“Thank you.”


Kippei didn’t have a chance to do anything about the conclusions he had come to until after Nationals were over. Over for Fudoumine, at any rate. Just their luck, he reflected, that after clawing their way to the quarterfinals they should come up against Seigaku. He would almost have preferred Rikkaidai again. He knew he couldn’t speak beforehand. They had to play this round out however it fell.

In the end it worked out well enough. He was proud of his team; the matches actually went all the way to Singles One. Tachibana Kippei had never, in his life, been pleased to lose, and never would be. Nevertheless, he was satisfied that he had played his best against Tezuka, and had no hesitation about approaching him afterwards.

“Tezuka.”

“Tachibana,” his fellow captain acknowledged, stepping apart from his team at Kippei’s silent request.

“Nearly the end of the season,” Kippei observed. “It’s been a good year for both our teams, injuries and all.”

Tezuka’s mouth tilted, rueful and partial agreement.

“It will be at least a year before either of us is in a position to draw up team rosters again, but there was something I wanted to ask you now.” Tezuka tipped his head, inquiring with one brow. Kippei met his eyes evenly. “When we come to play each other again, I would prefer not to play opposite Fuji.”

“Is there a particular reason why not?” Tezuka asked after a long, searching look. Kippei smiled a bit wryly.

“Because he needs someone who doesn’t,” he said, simply. Tezuka’s eyes darkened, and Kippei shook his head. “I’m not criticizing you, Tezuka, it’s just…”

Just that, although Fuji was devoted to Tezuka, and Kippei suspected that Tezuka was one of Fuji’s few real friends, Tezuka saw all truly talented players as potential opponents. Even the ones on his own team. One had only to watch how he handled young Echizen to see that. And Fuji… Fuji couldn’t seem to imagine truly exerting himself against those he cared for.

“You want to be safety for him?” Tezuka asked, deep voice soft, and Kippei relaxed. Tezuka did understand; good.

“Yes.”

“I will see to it, then.” Tezuka turned to head back to his team, paused, and looked back over his shoulder. “Thank you. For your compassion.” Kippei thought his eyes were just a little sad.

Kippei inclined his head. “Thank you for your trust.”

“It’s his trust you need to worry about,” were Tezuka’s parting words.

Kippei didn’t doubt them in the least.

TBC

A/N: I have used the manga version of the match between Fuji and Kirihara, since it’s far more dramatic.