Long Exposure – Two

Fuji, slowly, learns how to be cared for; fortunately, Tachibana is patient. Drama with UST, I-3

Pairing(s): Tachibana/Fuji

Shuusuke sat with his chin in his hands and watched as Tachibana celebrated the first week of their first year in high school with an… experiment.

He couldn’t quite manage to simply call it “cooking”, not when he’d seen labs using hazardous chemicals pursued with less concentration.

Tachibana tasted what had started life as a Thai curry recipe with a thoughtful expression. He rummaged through through the spice rack for yet another unmarked canister and shook a careful sprinkle into the pot. After a thorough stir and another taste he finally nodded.

“Almost ready for the squid. Fuji, could you give me a hand and chop those lime leaves into strips?” he asked, turning to the refrigerator.

“Of course,” Shuusuke agreed. As he arranged the leaves on their long axis and took the knife Tachibana handed over, he reflected on the knack Tachibana had, the one Shuusuke admitted all his friends probably had to have, of drawing him in. Of making him participate rather than simply watch. Tachibana seemed to do it more unthinkingly than Eiji, who favored nagging until Shuusuke gave in. It was a game between them. Tachibana just asked, as casually as if he never noticed Shuusuke’s tendency to observe from the sidelines.

It was a puzzle, since Shuusuke couldn’t imagine that someone as observant as Tachibana himself was really hadn’t noticed. Fortunately, Shuusuke was fond of puzzles.

“So, how is the high school tennis club?” he asked, recalling Tachibana’s misgivings on that subject. Tachibana sniffed.

“There is one. That’s almost all I can say for it.” The innocent squid received an increasingly cold look. “The players are third rate, judging kindly, with no discipline to speak of. The coach lets them slack along with no motivation at all.”

“Ah, well, history is hard to overcome,” Shuusuke needled, gently. Tachibana gave him a trenchant look that Shuusuke parried with a cheerful smile.

It was true in both senses, though. Certainly the inertia of apathy did nothing to help Fudoumine’s high school tennis club. But the history that clung to Tachibana himself undoubtedly formed a stumbling block of its own. Ann had told him the whole story one day, last winter, when Tachibana had been detained by school matters and she had detailed herself to console his friend by taking Shuusuke for hot chocolate. Fear of Tachibana kept the coach and other students from interfering with his team, but it probably wouldn’t make either listen to his recommendations now.

“It isn’t as though I make a habit of losing my temper,” Tachibana grumbled, taking the shredded lime leaves and stirring them in. Shuusuke leaned against the counter beside him.

“No. But you can and you have, and that’s enough.” Shuusuke was familiar with the phenomenon.

“It shouldn’t be,” Tachibana said, inflexibly. “Anyone with the common sense to look at the circumstances would know perfectly well that I’m no more dangerous than you to people who are merely infuriating.”

Shuusuke blinked at him. After a moment his silence seemed to catch Tachibana’s attention.

“What?” his friend asked. “It’s obvious that you never let your temper go unless someone provokes you intolerably. You certainly never lose it on your own behalf.”

Shuusuke blinked again. Even his own teammates were a little… wary with him at times. But Tachibana appeared both serious and completely matter-of-fact. He made no further comment, but offered Shuusuke a spoon and gestured to the pot.

“See what you think.”

Shuusuke complied, and made a small, pleased, sound over the rich, tangy burn.

“Wonderful,” he declared. Tachibana nodded, satisfied.

And then he proceeded to divide the concoction into two separate pans, and added four cans of spice-diluting cocoanut milk to the larger, before apportioning the squid and covering them to simmer.

“Then everyone should have a good dinner,” he concluded.

Really, very little escaped Tachibana’s notice, Shuusuke decided.

By the middle of summer, Shuusuke was a frequent enough visitor at Tachibana’s house to tease his mother by calling her okaa-san, which made her laugh and say that he could almost pass for Ann’s brother. Ann had suggested that Tachibana should start calling Shuusuke his little brother, so Shuusuke could see what it was like for himself. Tachibana had given them all a tolerant look and sent Ann to fetch more ice for the water pitcher.

He seemed to understand how sensitive the subject of little brothers was for Shuusuke. Which made it more uncomfortable when he did press the issue.The most uncomfortable conversation on the subject actually started as one about Tezuka.

“I told him, today,” Shuusuke said, looking out the door to the Tachibanas’ porch.

“Tezuka?” Tachibana asked, and Shuusuke nodded.

“I told him I would play for him until we graduated. After that,” Shuusuke shook his head, “there’s really nothing in it for me.” Tachibana’s mouth twisted a bit.

“Did he argue with that?”

“No.” Shuusuke gave his friend an honest half smile. “Tezuka understands, I think.”

Tachibana said something under his breath that sounded like about time, but, before Shuusuke could ask, Ann came flying into the room and tackled her brother, who oof-ed obligingly.

“You’re almost too big to do that any more, Ann,” he told her, laying a hand on her head and smiling down at her. “What is it?”

“Okaa-san wants me to go shopping for some vegetables and fish. Is there anything you want me to pick up?”

“If you pick up some plums I’ll make umeboshi.”

Ann squeaked happily and promised to do so.

“Bye, Onii-chan, Fuji-niisan!” she called back on her way out the door.

“Ann…” Tachibana sighed, looking after her with exasperation. Shuusuke suppressed a chuckle. Nothing her brother said convinced Ann to stop calling Shuusuke that.

“It’s all right,” he said, mildly. Tachibana turned thoughtful eyes on him.

“Have you told your brother yet?” he asked. Shuusuke ruthlessly held back a flinch.

“Not yet. Did I tell you that Yuuta is the captain of St. Rudolph’s tennis club this year? The start of term is busy, and he hasn’t visited home yet, but he sent me an email to say.” He turned his public smile to Tachibana, and had to stifle a second flinch.

Tachibana’s expression was even and waiting, and just a touch stern. It was the same expression Shuusuke saw on Tezuka, when Tezuka knew he was talking around something.

“Fuji,” Tachibana said, quietly. Shuusuke looked away. “He’s not angry at you.”

“Really.” Shuusuke let his eyes turn sharp, even though he’d already noted that it didn’t have quite the usual effect on Tachibana. He still wanted his friend to know he was getting annoyed.

“Not,” Tachibana allowed, “that he isn’t several times more likely to argue with you about this than Tezuka. I expect Yuuta-kun will be outraged that he won’t have the chance to keep trying to beat you.”

An involuntary snort of laughter escaped Shuusuke. He had to admit, that sounded very likely.

“Fuji, part of why he loves tennis is because he loves you.”

That hit Shuusuke like a ball in the stomach, and he swallowed hard. There were times when he would have preferred a less perceptive friend.

“Does Ann-chan ever get angry at you just for being her older brother?” he asked, quietly.

“Of course she does, how do you think I know?” Tachibana answered, looking rueful. “Not to mention the uproar as soon as I say the first word about her dates.”

“Now that,” Shuusuke observed, “is not something I’ve had to worry about.”

“Be thankful for your blessings,” Tachibana told him, darkly. Shuusuke smiled for real.

“Oh, I am.”

It was an especially frosty day, which suited Shuusuke’s mood admirably.

He knocked on Tachibana’s door, and made polite conversation with his mother absently and automatically, mind ticking down the minutes until he could gracefully leave her and go find Tachibana in his room. Tachibana let him in, looking a bit surprised since they hadn’t arranged to meet that day and Shuusuke hadn’t called ahead. He ceded the desk chair, which by the looks of it he had been working at, to Shuusuke and sat against the side of his bed.

Shuusuke examined his folded hands, considering the best way to begin.

“The tennis club was talking today about who were likely to be Regulars next year,” he said at last. “Everyone assumes Tezuka and I, and Eiji and Oishi, of course.” He paused. “One of the second years, it seems, has noticed you and I talking at the tournaments this year, and wanted to know if it was all right with me, being so friendly with someone who would be an enemy. He was joking, I think,” Shuusuke added as Tachibana started forward a little.

“As we were leaving, though,” he continued, “Tezuka mentioned to me that I would not, in fact, be playing you. Ever. That you had asked not.”

“Yes, I did,” Tachibana agreed. The casual calm of his tone came close to snapping Shuusuke’s temper. One more question, he thought.

“Did you think I needed to be protected?” he asked, and despite his best control he could hear the cut-glass edge in his own voice. Tachibana was silent almost long enough to make Shuusuke look up at him.

“Yes,” he said at last. Shuusuke’s gaze shot up at that, glaring.

“I am not weak,” he enunciated, low and dangerous, “nor fragile, nor so volatile that I can’t handle playing against you.”

“I didn’t think you were,” Tachibana sighed. He ran a hand through his hair, looking harried. “Fuji…”

Shuusuke raised a brow and waited. He didn’t move as Tachibana got up and came to kneel in front of the chair. Not an eyelash flickered as Tachibana set both hands on his shoulders.

“Fuji, everyone needs to be protected. Even the ones who usually do the protecting. It doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re as human as the next person. And I don’t, for one instant, believe you are less human than the next person.”

Shuusuke stiffened, hearing echoes in his mind of things overheard, spoken behind hands. It wasn’t very far from genius to monster, he’d known that for a long time. But that wasn’t the point.

“I don’t need to be sheltered,” he said, firmly. Tachibana heaved a much longer sigh this time.

“Fuji, listen to me,” he said. “Just because you can survive exposure to ice cold rain doesn’t mean it’s healthy. I’m not saying you aren’t strong enough for everyone else, or that you shouldn’t be. Just let someone return the favor every now and then.” His eyes softened. “No one ever really has, have they? Or you wouldn’t be making so much of this.”

That gave Shuusuke pause for thought. Eiji helped him… to make mischief. He always listened when Shuusuke wanted to talk, but he never pushed and he’d certainly never done anything like this. Onee-san, well, she was always there, but… never like this. Tezuka… Tezuka drew him on. Tezuka guarded, but he didn’t protect. Still. Wasn’t there some inconsistency, in Tachibana saying this to him?

“Who do you let protect you?” he challenged. The sudden lightening of Tachibana’s expression took him by surprise.

“Ann, sometimes. Kamio, sometimes.” Tachibana laughed a little. “Neither of them would ever forgive me if I didn’t let them.”

Shuusuke considered that. No one with the slightest observational skills would ever suggest that Tachibana Kippei was less than a very able protector of his family and his team. Yet… they protected him? Memories emerged, of Ann facing down anyone who showed her brother and his people less than respect, of Kamio fielding administrative problems before they could ever come to his captain’s attention. Perhaps they did, Shuusuke mused.

Actually, that suggested a compromise that his heart and mind might both agree on.

“Would you let me?” he asked. Tachibana smiled up at him slowly.

“Turn about is certainly fair play,” he admitted.

He started to sit back, and, impulsively, Shuusuke caught one hand as it left his shoulder. Just to say thank you… it wasn’t enough this time. He lifted Tachibana’s hand, pressed his lips to the back of the fingers, and let go.

He heard Tachibana’s breath catch. The fingers paused, returned to brush against his cheek, light as butterflies landing.

“Fuji?” he asked, very softly.

Shuusuke found he could only look at Tachibana openly for a few moments. There was warmth there. Not just an umbrella against that cold rain, but a pile of towels, too, Shuusuke though, amused at his own imagery. But it was warmth he wasn’t quite sure how to reach towards.

“I interrupted your homework, I’m sorry,” he apologized, veiling his eyes again.

“It’s all right.” Tachibana stood and stepped back. “I was about to take a break and make some tea in any case. Join me?”

“I’d like that,” Shuusuke agreed.


Last Modified: Feb 08, 12
Posted: May 02, 04
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  1. mildlyinsane

    YAY! I stalketh and I reapeth rewards! ^_________^

    fuwas at Tachibana who was respectively irritable, understanding, protective and cute. also, he cooks! *insert fangirl squeals here*.

    random comment> is funny though. fuji is attracted to perfect people. or at least, near perfect people. *points to tezuka and tachibana* maybe because it’s the genius thing, that makes being close to near-perfect, over-achieving people easier. near-perfect over-achievers being less likely to mutter and point at fuji and call him monster, after all. (eiji gets through to fuji through sheer exuberence, i think, and yuuta, yuuta is family.)

    *sends you much rabu*

    1. branchandroot Post author

      *wallows in the rabu*

      I agree. It would be difficult for Fuji to relate to people who weren’t extremely talented in at least some of the same areas as he is. That’s one of the things genius does to a person; he just can’t understand a lot of common experiences that come from *having* to work at it. He needs someone who’s brilliant. …or else, someone like Eiji, who’s just unstoppably bouncy and *and* has a mind like a knife.

      These characters are just so much fun to write.

    1. branchandroot Post author

      Yeah, I was kind of yelling at Fuji about that, last night. Evil creature. He just laughed, and repeated that it’s fun to wach people suffer. He and Roy are really hitting it off.

      1. hikariblue

        PoT and finals do should not mix.
        Not that I let that stop me any, oh no. >>;
        <- bad, terrible girl who watched 115 eps in just over a week. ._.;;

          1. hikariblue

            holy god. o.o;
            Now THAT’S a marathon.
            If I didn’t take breaks I’d fall asleep every five episodes, I’m sure. Not to mention not get classwork done. But still. wow.

            1. love

              Heh. Well, I didn’t get any classwork done at all. Then again, I was sort of hitting bottom. Found out I was waitlisted for grad school for a really stupid reason (application was 3 hours late), and then did lots of soul-searching and “i don’t know who I am” and stuff. Then I stumbled upon PoT and didn’t stop.

  2. naanima

    Oh gods, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!

    The two of them were just perfect (I might even like them better than Tezuka/Atobe… just a little, little bit more. Honest).

    You made Fuji HUMAN without falling into the trap of making him weepy, and you made me satisfied at Fuji’s decision in letting go of tennis after playing for the current Seigaku team (well, Tezuka) without going for the whole ‘I’m bored. The end’.

    And Tachibana is just so wonderful. The type of man we would all like to have in our lives *sigh*

    Also, loved the detail about Tachibana cooking dinner. How the boy was so thoughtful as to provide TWO different recipes. I LOVE!! &*huggles*

    Okay, more of this couple! (or if you suddenly decide to write Inui… all appreciated).

    1. branchandroot Post author

      Thank you, darling! Fuji is so hard to keep a grip on, and the inconsistency of canon where he’s concerned doesn’t help any. I mean, I’m used to mangaka having a better idea every other volume, and it’s not as bad as, say, the Memory arc in YGO, but still.

      The best part? The cooking is canon. I *love* this series, it gives me so much to work with.

      *giggles* The curry is actually true to life; Anna had to make an emergency run for extra cocoanut milk before our poor, tender tongues could stand it. And we used chicken.

        1. branchandroot Post author

          That’s the mildly irritating part; it doesn’t show up in any epiosde or chapter. It’s part of the extra character info that shows up in the back every handful of volumes, or in character books. *rummages through links* Here, check this site out. http://x.seisatsu.net/index2.htm They translated some of the team info, including Seigaku and Fudoumine.

          The mangaka gives us a *whole lot* of really interesting information very much on the side. It’s kind of strange.

          1. love

            *checks pockets, under bed, behind radiator* Nope, no spare change. *sighs* And I’ve already told myself the DVDs come first.

  3. flamesword

    So, here I am, with my long comments, lol. Anyway, was reading things out of order again tonight. I knew, when I started reading the Atobe/Tezuka storyline, that Fuji was with someone else (other than Tezuka, obviously–what do you think of that pairing, by the way?) in your little ‘verse, but I couldn’t remember who. It was a really odd pairing though, I thought.

    So I went to look it up, tonight, and went omg wtf? Tachibana? ^____^ I was thrilled, but surprised. I guess there is some subtext in those eps after he gets hurt, but I haven’t seen that far yet, so…it seemed really random to me. But I’ve always loved Fuji, and right now I have such a major Tachi fixation, you know I couldn’t resist reading it immediately. ^_^ I didn’t really think I would like the pairing all that much–I couldn’t really see them together, even though I love them individually, I just didn’t see any sparks there. So I figured I’d be pretty ambivalent about it, but I was curious as hell.

    I got as far as the end of the second part here–the scene where they are talking about Yuuta, and I quote, from an IM conversation with a friend:
    KiraSakuya720: oh well. damn.
    KiraSakuya720: that just about does it, there.
    KiraSakuya720: okay, she sold me. (Emily does that with frightening regularity… ^^;;) but. Tachi is so Tachi and Fuji is so Fuji and gah….it just works.

    And it does. <3 I love the way Kippei just gets it, and says exactly the right thing–like he does–and it is so. cool. I *heart* them both so very much. ^_^ The dynamics here are perfect–I positively love that last scene, the almost but not quite acknowledgement, it’s like yes~! So balanced. Like they both are. And wheee, like most of your fics, it leaves me all warm and fuzzy inside. ^____^ Much heartage. ♥♥♥

    I shall have to read the last part later because it is SO damn late here, and I’m putting off the Mizuki arc for as long as possible, because omfg, teh ANGST. >< I love angst, but I hate Mizuki–though I have the sneaking suspicion that I might not after you’re done with me. But. I will read it, eventually. And you may be sure, as well, that you are the only person I would trust to read it from. ^_~ I still don’t promise to like it (Mizuki/Yuuta makes me go ‘oh-dear-god-it-hurts-make-it-stop! ><;;), but we shall see. ^^<3

    1. branchandroot Post author

      *sparkles* Thank you, my dear! I do love converting people; it gives me a nice warm feeling. ^_-

      But, yeah, this pretty much came straight out of The Hospital Scenes, which are really adorable. And I love Tachibana to tiny, little pieces, and simply had to give him someone. And someone stable and protective would be so good for Fuji. *pets boys*

      I’m going to have to start posting almost-AU warnings for my Mizuki, pretty soon, because the anime is hitting him up so hard for comic relief that his earlier characterization is altered quite a bit. The Mirror Writing stories were written when I still believed he had both a soul and a brain. And a psychotic complex, but that’s what makes it fun… ^_^ Not too much angst, really. Just for a little while, anyway. I believe in Yuuta-with-a-spine, among other factors. *cheers and fangirls Yuuta*

      Oh, and as for TezuFuji, I like it but it hasn’t latched onto me all that hard. There’s a TezuFuji bunny hopping about, but it’s kind of shy and skittish. I think the pairing politics may scare it; I know they scare me. ^_^;

      1. flamesword

        Yes! Little tiny pieces gooood. Good, good. ^____^ Right now Tachibana comes very close to being my favorite character on the show. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but if I have one, he’s it. And yes, see your point about Fuji. *nods* Good point. (Which is why I like him with Tezuka, but. Tachibana! so! cooool! *sparkles*) I really do have to see those eps…

        My perception of Mizuki is based mostly on the Seigaku matches against St Rudolph…I haven’t gotten yet to any of his later appearances. It’s also colored by the fact that I love Fuji, and Fuji hates him. With good reason I think. You might have noticed I have a soft spot for protective older brothers. ^_~ I’m going to do an essay one of these days here soon on the similarities and differences between the Fuji brothers, the Kaibas, and the Elrics. I think that Syuusuke and Yuuta are less of a set than the others, though, simply because of the friction between them–for the others, the Kaibas in particular, you just don’t get one without the other.

        But that friction proves your point–Yuuta is independent and thinks for himself, and obviously has plenty of steel in him…anyone who goes head to head with Fuji the way he does has to have a spine and a half. But it’s very clear, at least to me, that they do love each other a great deal. They do have a bond there, it’s just a little bit different. Hmmm…I have a lot more to say about that but I have to go and it’s really off topic besides, so! Later…

        oh yes, I agree with you one hundred percent about the pairing politics. My god. I’m going to write Fudo fic where people don’t care. XD But i think there are reasons why that pairing in particular is such a lightning rod…