waiting is
by cimorene

Tezuka reads in the paper that Echizen is coming back to Japan for the remainder of the off-season and suddenly decides to leave Tokyo for Fuji's family's cabin in the mountains the weekend before his exams. Fuji smiles and wishes Tezuka luck studying when he comes to Kawamura Sushi to get the key, but since Fuji is always smiling Tezuka thinks nothing of this. However, he should.

The snow starts falling before he is within an hour of the place. The little cabin is surrounded by forest, so the car can't go all the way there, and just walking those last fifteen minutes makes Tezuka's nose and ears numb with cold.

He's surprised to find the wood stove in the main room burning. The warmth is welcome, but Fuji has never called ahead for him before. There are no lights on in the cabin except the stove's glow, not even the electric ones in the modernised kitchen, and snow muffles the last of the sun outside the windows, making it like night though it's still mid-afternoon.

Tezuka goes into the kitchen alcove to prepare tea and turns on the radio. At first he mostly gets static, and he fiddles with it in between rinsing out the electric kettle, plugging it in and turning it on. Finally Tezuka hears something about the weather, but the reception is still poor and he has to turn the volume up to make out the words: "Snowstorm... slippery... all buses stopped..."

"Hey," says a very irritated voice, and Tezuka turns around as the door screen to the sleeping room on the other side of the living room slides back. He tells himself it's ridiculous to tense at the sound, that lots of people could have voices a little like Echizen's and he hasn't spoken with Echizen in person for years, and that it's only occurred to him because of what he read in the paper yesterday anyway.

Echizen is standing in the doorway dressed in a zip-neck jacket and warm-up pants, the slightly longer hair Tezuka's seen on television tangled and standing on end, a rumpled nest of blankets and a futon visible behind him. "Buchou?" he says, voice full of confusion, blinking golden eyes half full of sleep, and he comes across the living room to stand at the sink and look up at Tezuka.

His limbs have lengthened, and his jaw, but his eyes are exactly the same. The top of his head is almost as high as Tezuka's chin, now. Seeing him again is affecting Tezuka strongly - there's tightness in his chest, warmth - it's like all the longing Tezuka has ever felt for Echizen has come back to hit him at once, pooling in his belly, Echizen's lazy sensual magnetism sparking all Tezuka's nerves to life. He wants to move closer, to touch him.

"Echizen," says Tezuka. "Fuji didn't tell me you would be here."

"I'm home for the off-season," says Echizen. "You woke me with the radio."

"It's snowing heavily outside," Tezuka replies. "Do you want some tea?"

The radio, under the static, is saying something about blizzards. "Yeah," says Echizen, "thanks." He yawns. Tezuka reaches for the kettle and the electric light over the stove blinks and dims, flickers madly for a few seconds, then dies.

Echizen turns his head to look at the stove. The radio, through increasing static, says "power outage", but the rest of the sentence is too garbled to make out. Tezuka twists the tuner, but he can't get anything, so he turns the volume most of the way down. Then he pours tea into the cup waiting on the counter and hands it to Echizen.

He rinses another cup for himself.

They drink it in front of the wood stove, since it's the only source of light in the cabin - and the only source of heat, until the electricity comes back on.

"I didn't know you were coming," Echizen remarks to the fire. The wind is loud outside, and it's getting colder; he's drawn into himself, arms wrapped around his knees, but he's giving Tezuka that tiny secretive smile, and his voice is relaxed and casual. "No one told me you were coming to that last birthday party, either."

When Echizen turned seventeen Eiji and Oishi had called all the regulars together to celebrate his first year playing professionally. Tezuka watched everyone clustered around Echizen then and felt more an outsider than ever; he barely spoke with Echizen except for a confusing conversation over a plate of shared sushi late in the evening. Echizen promised to beat Tezuka again someday and asked him if he practised a lot at University. Tezuka wished him luck and fiercely regretted the cup of sake that heated his blood and riveted his eyes on Echizen's mouth and wrists.

He has never let himself say goodbye to Echizen, but leaving the party early and riding the elevator back up to his empty dorm room that night felt like goodbye, and it was one of the most painful things Tezuka remembers doing. He only stopped for his tennis bag, and went straight back out to the deserted University courts, where he practised alone until past one in the morning. Exhaustion wasn't enough to empty his mind then, though; he fell asleep that night thinking about Echizen's legs twining around his back.

He watches all of Echizen's matches on television. Afterwards he goes running, or takes long showers, or takes himself to the tennis courts, but it's still never enough. When he touches himself Tezuka always sees Echizen - across the net, across the room, at his side, in his arms.

"Ne, buchou," Echizen says after a while. "You're going pro after college, right?"

It's just like Echizen to know this when Tezuka has never even discussed his intentions with anyone except his mother. "Aa," he says.

"Hn." Echizen smirks at the fire. "Only one more year."

He isn't Echizen's captain anymore, whatever Echizen calls him, and he doesn't tell Echizen to focus on the opponent in front of him. Echizen knows that anyway; it's why his face is full of mischief. "You almost lost your last match," Tezuka says instead. "Atobe is still growing stronger."

"Che," Echizen snorts. "Mada mada dane." Tezuka smiles.

When the fire starts to die, Echizen gets up and goes to get a coat out of the closet. He wraps it around himself and pokes his head out the back door, letting in a blast of cold air and a drift of snow that swirls onto the floor. He closes it again hurriedly and leans against it. "Like I thought," he said, "there's not very much wood. We shouldn't build it back up again yet because we can't go to the woodshed when it's like this."

Tezuka only nods. The woodshed is in easy walking distance if it's not snowing hard, but it's up a steep slope. Now that night has fallen, the visibility outside is almost zero. All he saw framing Echizen in the crack of the door was a blank gap of slate grey.

Echizen frowns then. "Damn. There's a draft in the sleeping room, too. The blankets will be freezing."

Tezuka stands up and turns towards the kitchen. His face feels hot. "You should bring them here and fold them near the stove where it's warmer," he says. "I'm going to make another pot of tea. Are you hungry?"

"Yes," says Echizen, "but will you make me hot chocolate? It's in the cupboard."

Without electricity Tezuka is forced to heat the water in an iron kettle at the stove. He stirs Echizen's cocoa, watching the white milky skin form on top while Echizen carries in several armloads of blankets from the closet in the sleeping room and stacks them next to the stove. Apparently he noticed how much colder it was away from the only source of heat, too. In the kitchen near the outer wall and especially near the window, it feels like at least minus ten. It must be colder than that outside.

Tezuka heats miso soup, udon and vegetables. Echizen is in the sleeping room, then the bathroom, and finally he takes boots from the bottom of the closet and carries them to the back door, bundles himself in his coat and slips outside. When he drops his second armful of wood inside next to the door and sheds the outer garments again, he's shivering, and hurries back for his cocoa.

Tezuka puts it carefully into Echizen's hands. His fingertips are so cold he probably doesn't feel it when they brush Tezuka's hand, but Tezuka feels it like the warmth of a fire too close to his face, like the first prickly surge of unexpected arousal.

"Thank you," says Echizen, and gulps half the mug at once, much the way he used to drink Ponta, without even sitting down. His hair and eyelashes glitter with melting snowflakes and his nose is red. Tezuka makes himself look back at the pot of miso and udon.

He knows then that he's not going to study tonight.

The temperature drops, and drops. They each put on another pair of socks and another sweatshirt, but Echizen is still cold. Seeing his shoulders hunched is trying Tezuka's forbearance, even though his hands are full of a bowl of soup, even though he's turned to face Echizen and wouldn't actually be able to reach him without moving.

Finally he gets up and unfolds the top blanket in the stack of bedding Echizen carried in from the sleeping room. "Here," says Tezuka, and Echizen looks up from his bowl of miso. Tezuka kneels next to him to wrap the blanket around his shoulders. "I think it's too cold to sleep far from the stove," he says.

Echizen shivers and pulls the blanket around him. "Yeah. The wind is louder than before."

He's right. Tezuka brings the radio closer to the stove, and by the time he comes back from the kitchen he can't suppress a shiver either. There's still nothing but static anywhere on the tuning dial. Tezuka sips his tea because it gives him something to occupy his hands and his mouth. It's been a long time since he's seen Echizen like this, swathed in darkness, the planes of his face lit with the warm glow of flames. His hair looks as black as his dilated pupils, his skin pale and flawless. His wrists are slender and strong, and Tezuka can never see them without thinking about Echizen's grip on his racquet, the perfect timing as he tosses it from hand to hand.

Echizen drinks his cocoa and licks his lips, then rubs his eyes. "Great," he mutters. "There's snow everywhere now and there's no way we can play a match tomorrow."

Tezuka is amused. He's been thinking that he hopes they can make it to the car tomorrow and get back down off the mountain, and Echizen's been thinking about the single asphalt court in the village? But it's been years since they've played a match together, and now that Echizen has said that Tezuka's whole body suddenly seems heavy with those years. Maybe when they go back to Tokyo, Tezuka thinks, and then he stops himself, because the last thing he needs is to think about finally playing Echizen again while he's sitting so close. "I'm not sure I'll even be able to get the car out," he says.

"So?" says Echizen carelessly. He's reaching out to heft the kettle, and when he finds it's not empty, he carefully pours half the tea into his own cup and the rest into Tezuka's. "You don't have to be somewhere tomorrow, do you?" He glances up at Tezuka measuringly as he says this, and Tezuka's heart does something he has never felt it do before, stuttering as though one beat of it were going to stretch out for several breaths.

Tezuka takes the kettle and stands up abruptly. "No, but I have exams next week," he says as he rinses it out in the sink.

There's a considering silence behind him. Then Echizen says, "Isn't that why you came up here, because it's quiet and easy to study? It doesn't bother me. I won't get in your way."

When he's not looking at Echizen, Tezuka can still picture his face vividly - his face today in the firelight, in the newspaper, on television at the Australian Open, on his seventeenth birthday - his face at sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, twelve. It sounds as if there's a note of suppressed hope in his voice, but when Tezuka turns around the room is empty, the bathroom door clicking shut.

Tezuka tries the radio again and still gets nothing but static, and when he dares to crack the back door open a gust of snow flies in his face with a shrieking, whistling noise. He squints outside and sees the snow flying sideways, the sky pale grey and practically opaque. He can't see to the end of the porch. When he shuts the door again the wind battles him for control of it, and there's snow on the floor.

He's drying the melted snow off his glasses when Echizen comes back out stifling a yawn. "Still snowing?" he asks.

Tezuka looks up. Echizen's face is just a pale blur in the darkness of the room. "Yes, harder than before," he replies.

Echizen looks at him for a moment without blinking, and Tezuka concentrates on polishing his glasses and not on how much he would like to know what expression is on Echizen's face when he knows Tezuka can't distinguish it. By the time he settles them back on his nose, Echizen is unfolding the top futon on the stack in front of the fire.

The Fujis have four single futons and one large one in their linen closet, and Echizen has brought out all four of the small ones. It makes sense, since the floor in the sleeping room is soft tatami, but here it is smooth, dark wood; and they need the extra blankets, anyway. They each get two, and they try to arrange both within the circle of heat from the stove, but they've already used nearly all the wood. Tezuka feeds it a little more, but it doesn't make a lot of difference. The side of the futon away from the stove is already cold when he goes to bed.

He takes off his glasses, closes his eyes and breathes deliberately, carefully, counting every breath; but still it's difficult to fall asleep. The blankets are heavy but cold, and Tezuka's feet are like blocks of ice. He's forced to lie on his side, all his limbs drawn close to conserve warmth. And he knows that Echizen's head is perhaps twenty centimetres away. Tezuka can hear him breathing in soft counterpoint to the hissing and wailing of the storm outside.

Tezuka can't help imagining sometimes what it would be like to fall asleep and wake up next to Echizen any more than he can help the way it's always Echizen he sees when he plays tennis, no matter who his opponent. He's thought for years about it, has wanted Echizen since he was barely old enough to want another person.

Sometimes Tezuka thinks this is the problem. He started to fall in love with Echizen's tennis as soon as he saw it, before he even knew what was happening to him or why he watched Echizen play so hungrily. When he began to consider it, he thought he was studying Echizen's game for those brief moments when Echizen's own tennis showed through. Those flashes of brilliance were why Tezuka couldn't look away.

They were also why he understood Echizen's tennis, felt it in his own joints and muscles as if he knew it already. Echizen's tennis has never, even now, lost the ability to surprise Tezuka, but the shock is always a shock of recognition, as if once he knows it he also has known it all along. Playing Echizen always felt both exciting and inevitable, like he remembered it from a dream or like he was dreaming something which hadn't yet happened. It was already too late when Tezuka realised that what he glimpsed in the cracks of Echizen's game wasn't just Echizen's tennis but Echizen himself. That was when it became truly impossible to turn away.

The first time Tezuka wakes up the fire has mostly died. He's still cold even under all the blankets, maybe colder than before, but he crawls out to get another scrap of wood. His breath crystallises to white mist in front of his face, even when he kneels in front of the stove. Even his eyelids feel cold. It must be colder than minus fifteen by now. Echizen has pushed back one of his comforters, leaving his face and neck uncovered, and Tezuka sees him shiver. He pauses to pull the blanket back up before climbing back into his cold futon, and falls asleep thinking about Echizen's eyes.

He dreams in disjointed images: playing tennis in a sea of quicksand; standing outside the fence around the school courts back at Seigaku, watching Echizen and himself play a match, but finding himself locked out when he tries to enter; Echizen's slitted eyes and sleep-tousled hair; Tezuka sitting at his computer after watching Echizen's latest match, conflicted and aroused; Echizen crouching in the light of the stove, leaning over Tezuka in the futon, and although Tezuka realises now that he is dreaming, he lets himself dream, lets himself feel the dream-Echizen slip under the covers and blanket Tezuka's body with his own and writhe slowly against him, -

Tezuka wakes up again at a loud sound from outside. A sharp crack, almost like a gunshot, penetrates the high-pitched whistle of the wind, and it takes him a moment to recognise it as a heavy tree branch breaking and falling. Then it registers how very cold it is, and that the fire in the stove has completely gone out, and that Echizen is sitting up. Tezuka pushes himself up on his elbow and reaches out, fumbling for his glasses, but Echizen moves and gets them for him and presses them into his hand. His hands are even colder than Tezuka's, all the blankets from his futon piled around his shoulders.

"Echizen?" Tezuka says. It comes out lower and quieter than he intends, his voice slightly husky. His body still feels, through the pervasive chill, the dream-impression of Echizen's warmth pressing close, the taste of Echizen's neck. (He remembers tasting it in the dream; he wishes he could remember the taste, but he can't.)

Echizen has already pulled his hand back and wrapped the blanket around himself, even covering his face. "It's too cold to sleep," he mutters, muffled by the corner of the comforter.

Tezuka thinks about this. His feet are actually numb, and while he watches, another shiver wracks Echizen, one so violent he can see the pile of blankets quiver. There are some more changes of clothes in his bag, and Echizen's too no doubt, but there's only so much good another layer will do. "Aa," Tezuka says. The warmth of the dream is already fading away. Echizen tries to make himself even smaller in the blankets. Tezuka can barely see his face. "Echizen," he says, "come here."

Echizen's face emerges from the blankets and he looks at Tezuka levelly. "Buchou?" he says, and his rising intonation is curious, but his eyes are unnervingly free of curiosity or questions. His eyes are challenging, understanding, naked.

Tezuka lifts the edge of the covers and moves a little away from the stove, out of the warm spot his body has made on the sheets. "It will be warmer," he says.

Echizen nods once at him, shortly. Then he's moving over the floor, dragging the comforters from his futon onto Tezuka, and he kneels at the edge of Tezuka's for a moment to smooth them out before he slips under Tezuka's arm, into the warm space left by Tezuka's body.

He sighs right away at the warmth, and the single futon, which always seems so spacious for a single person, is suddenly full. Tezuka brings his arm down carefully around Echizen's back, tucking the blanket up around the back of his neck and his ears and pulling him close. He hardly has to, though, because at the merest touch Echizen moves closer to him, tucking his face under the edge of the blanket so his hair tickles Tezuka's nose.

Tezuka means to say something about the excess layers they're wearing, how they will only make them colder at this point, but Echizen has leaned into his chest, warm through two layers of sweater, and Tezuka is preoccupied with the feeling of finally folding his arms around him. He's real, and warm, breathing on Tezuka's shoulder, and when Tezuka flattens his palm gently between Echizen's shoulder blades, he makes a soft wordless noise, half questioning and half approving, and nestles closer against Tezuka's chest.

Through two layers of track pants, Tezuka registers the feel of their knees bumping. He registers Echizen putting his arm around Tezuka's ribs and tilting his head up, pressing his face into Tezuka's neck, and Tezuka feels his stomach clench and snarl with heat as he slides his hands up under both of Echizen's sweatshirts, past two layers of t-shirt and up the warm living skin of his back. After that Tezuka's memory goes hazy, a blur of Echizen murmuring again, shifting against him, pressing his lips against Tezuka's temple more by accident than by design because he misses the ear. "Buchou," he says, hungrily, and Tezuka goes molten with need and turns his head, blindly, until he finds Echizen's mouth.

Echizen responds to the kiss instantly and fiercely and the arm around Tezuka tightens while he kisses Tezuka's mouth open. Tezuka feels his hand on the skin of Echizen's back, the bumps of spine in his palm, and when Echizen rolls onto his back he follows and covers him with his body. It's very dark, but Tezuka can still faintly see the smile on Echizen's face. "Buchou," he says, "you're still wearing your glasses," and before Tezuka can move he reaches up and gently pulls them off himself.

While he's leaning out of the nest of blankets to set them by the stove, he pauses and peels off all four of his shirts at once, then slides hurriedly back into Tezuka's arms, leaning up to kiss him as though he can't stand to lose the taste of Tezuka's mouth. Tezuka has been waiting too long for this kiss to break it when Echizen doesn't want to, not even to undress himself faster. He can't get used to the feel of Echizen's mouth, the curve of his lips, the heat, the taste of miso and green tea and a hint of chocolate, the feel of the points of his teeth against Tezuka's tongue. There is no way to compare this to any other kiss he's had before. There was never anyone but Echizen for Tezuka anyway, and now the first kiss has completely erased them all from his memory.

Echizen undresses Tezuka too, sliding his hands under shirt and sweater and then breaking the kiss to whisper, "Hey, this is that dark red sweater, isn't it? I like that one. It looks good on you, buchou."

Tezuka swallows. His throat feels dry even though his mouth is wet and his lips swollen. He helps Echizen tug the shirt and sweaters over his head, and then he whispers, "You don't have to call me that."

Echizen chuckles softly, smugly, and tugs down the waistband of Tezuka's track pants. "I like to," he murmurs.

"Ryoma," Tezuka says, for the first time, and he - Ryoma - freezes with his hand on Tezuka's hip. "It isn't my name."

Even without his glasses Tezuka can see Ryoma's eyes close. There's a long, long moment, and Tezuka thinks about how easy it was to call him that. "Say that again," Ryoma says, and Tezuka kisses his eyelids and says it against his mouth.

Ryoma tries to slide Tezuka's pants and boxers off without stopping kissing again, which proves impossible. He mutters, "Ch'," and lets Tezuka do it himself.

Their knees and elbows bump together as they finish undressing, and some drafts of icy air come in as they disturb the layers of blankets, but Tezuka's chest feels stretched and lightweight and full of warmth, and when Ryoma rolls over on top of him, gripping his shoulders, their legs tangling together, Tezuka can't feel the futon, the cold, anything. Everything vanishes at the sensation of Ryoma settling on top of him, and just the heat of his skin and the weight of him in Tezuka's arms, on his chest and belly, thighs, everywhere, is like an unbearably intimate caress. Ryoma is breathless too, his mouth fallen open, gazing wide-eyed and shocked into Tezuka's eyes while he writhes slowly against him.

As if by their own volition, Tezuka's hands go back to Ryoma's hips, and Ryoma moves over him, against him, until Tezuka's breath stops and his grip tightens. But Ryoma doesn't stop, just bends his head down to kiss Tezuka, hard and open-mouthed, and keeps moving. Then he touches Tezuka, and the feeling shocks Tezuka with pleasure so he can't even think, more devastating than the first time Tezuka bit his lip to keep from crying out Ryoma's name to an empty room.

He couldn't bite his lip now if he wanted to. He can't remember how to control his body with Ryoma touching him gently and possessively, can't even kiss him; he's panting and trembling, undone. Tezuka can't remember where his hands are through the burning impression of Ryoma's hands and wrists on him.

He makes a helpless, confused noise, and Ryoma tries to soothe him, "Yes, yes, you can," but his voice comes out husky and strained, vibrating like a sigh, and his face is terribly open, full of arousal and wonder. The sound goes through Tezuka like a slow shudder, his spine prickling all the way up to his neck in an agonising heated pulse. Ryoma shivers convulsively, arching into Tezuka and absorbing the movement from his body even as Tezuka pulls him roughly down into his arms.

Ryoma cries out, a tiny pleading sound, and he looks determinedly into Tezuka's eyes while he shifts deliberately against Tezuka's body, invitation and pleasure in his face, and something Tezuka has seen far away in his eyes before, something so near and real now that it burns. Tezuka's voice rises and breaks, not Ryoma's name, not even a word, and Ryoma presses closer, looking fearlessly into Tezuka's eyes with his gaze full of deep wistfulness and certainty - as though he knows that dream, too.

They cling together for a long time after without moving except their fingers and toes, just to touch. Tezuka rests his palms against Ryoma's waist and lets himself absorb the warmth, like sunlight seeping through his skin, and traces the crests of Ryoma's hipbones with each of his fingertips.

Ryoma yawns and caresses Tezuka's ankle with his toes. "So I guess the wait didn't turn out to be a whole year after all."

"I still have to finish my degree," says Tezuka, tilting his head slightly when Ryoma kisses his neck.

"Hnn, that's a wait too," Ryoma agrees lazily. "But will you still play with me before next year?"

"Of course."

"Then you can take as long as you want." His voice is still casual. "It's not as important as what I was really waiting for."

Tezuka doesn't know how to answer that. He wants to tell Ryoma about solitary practise at midnight, running himself to exhaustion after every recorded match he watched, walking by the clay courts at Haruno University and standing for hours watching the trains; but Ryoma knows what waiting is like. He thinks about his exams and next year's classes and his thesis, and the dates of all the major tournaments through tournament season, but Ryoma knows all of that too. All he says in the end is "Ryoma." That makes Ryoma laugh.

When Tezuka does finally move more than a hand or foot, Ryoma protests, "Don't move. You'll make it cold."

But Tezuka only shifts them over towards the centre of the futon carefully, so that no fingers or toes will accidentally go outside the blankets.

"Oh," says Ryoma, "mmm," and takes the opportunity to stretch, starting by pointing his toes - every long slender muscle in his compact graceful body flexing smoothly, rippling from his toes up to his head, and he squirms a little and nestles against Tezuka's chest, disturbing the half-dried stickiness gluing their abdomens together.

Tezuka reaches outside the blankets and extracts a shirt from the pile of clothes beside the futon by feel. They both wince at how cold the fabric is as he uses it to wipe up the worst of the crusty mess, and when Tezuka tosses it back out on the floor, he says pointedly, "I made it cold." Just lifting the edge of the blanket let in cold drafts that are raising gooseflesh on Tezuka's arms.

"Sou, saa," Ryoma smiles. "You'd better warm me up again."

Tezuka has never liked being touched by other people, not even his mother when he was a child, but he has wanted to touch Ryoma from the beginning, to feel him in his embrace, his hands, his mouth. Being around Ryoma makes Tezuka feel how his skin is covered all over with empty space waiting to be filled.

He puts both of his arms around Ryoma and Ryoma tucks himself against Tezuka's chest. They are so close, skin to skin, breath to breath, that the steady beats of Ryoma's heart tangle with the beats of Tezuka's own. Tezuka thinks he could get lost in that sound, in the simple impossibility of Ryoma's heartbeat resonating against Tezuka's ribs. His hands slide slowly up Ryoma's spine, over his shoulderblades and the back of his neck, brushing through his hair, then back down to his hips, an endless luxury of sleek, smooth skin, muscle and bone shifting under his fingertips. Ryoma murmurs wordlessly again, something breathy like Aaaa, and arches his back.

Tezuka wants to be wearing his glasses so he can see Ryoma's face, wants a light on, even just the glow of fire from the woodstove. He wants to see Ryoma's pupils dilated with pleasure and his controlled nonchalance shattered. He stares up avidly at Ryoma's face. Ryoma is panting now, long uneven breaths, ribs heaving under Tezuka's hands. Tezuka wraps his arms around him, pulls him back down so he won't disturb the blankets and let the cold air in.

"Buchou," he protests, resisting the loss of his momentum for a moment, but then reaching up to touch Tezuka's cheek with one hand.

He presses against Tezuka, and Tezuka draws him closer automatically, almost without knowing what he is doing, answering almost before Ryoma has even moved, just like in tennis, where feeling flashes to response before Tezuka knows what he has seen and he moves to return every shot.

But Ryoma has been hitting him shots he cannot return for years. He touches the corner of Tezuka's mouth gently with his thumb, and Tezuka can suddenly feel every millimetre, every cell in his lips. They move together again as if it's one single impulse, one slow inevitable movement as Ryoma shivers, Tezuka's fingers slipping on the curves of his hipbones, and Tezuka lays him on his back and presses him down into the futon again and his legs lift, twining around Tezuka's back.

Tezuka holds still, shuddering, at the incredible way Ryoma's spine curls, and Ryoma wraps his arms and legs around him more tightly and pulls Tezuka down on him. He puts his mouth where his thumb was then, at the edge of Tezuka's lip. When Tezuka kisses him he says, low and hoarse, "Kuni-mi-tsu," and arches slowly up into Tezuka like flying, and Tezuka feels that through his whole body, hears it with his whole body, and he can't tell which of them is moving, and he doesn't touch the ground again, until Ryoma breaks away from the kiss and buries his face in his neck.

Touching Ryoma isn't like touching himself, either. Tezuka can't make himself take his hands away completely even after Ryoma melts bonelessly under him with a little hum of contentment, or when he puts both of his hands carefully around the edges of Tezuka's face, fingertips brushing his temples and trailing in his hair, thumbs on his cheeks, and kisses him.

"Kunimitsu," he says - easy and natural, not stumbling or hesitating over the syllables. "Can I really call you that?" He sounds curious.

Tezuka says "Yes" only because he can't say "Please."

He lies on his side, facing the cold, dark stove, and Ryoma curls up in the curve of his body, facing away, and nestles back against him, skin to skin. Tezuka pulls the covers up over his head to block out the cold. "Did I warm you up?" he asks, against the back of Ryoma's neck.

Ryoma shifts and pulls Tezuka's arm around him. "Not bad," he yawns, "but your job isn't over yet."

"No," says Tezuka, and feels Ryoma's fingers pushing between his in the darkness.

Tezuka dreams about tennis frequently: tennis at the indoor tennis courts, tennis underwater, tennis flying through the sky, tennis at the sports park, tennis in the corridors of Seishun High School with the balls smashing out windows and breaking down doors, tennis at the Haruno University clay courts and in the train station, under the overpass. Tennis with Echizen Ryoma.

In his dream Tezuka is playing tennis against himself and Ryoma is watching silently from the bench, his hands deep in his pockets. Then Tezuka's desk from his dorm room is on the side of the court instead of the bench, and Ryoma is sitting in Tezuka's desk chair watching him. Tezuka looks at him between serves, and Ryoma is sweating, his hands clenching on the arms of the chair. Then his hands vanish below the desk. He flushes slowly, leaning back in the chair, but he doesn't look away from Tezuka. His eyes are large and brilliant.

Tezuka serves a Twist Serve. In the dream he performs the serve as naturally as Ryoma does. He watches the mirror of himself across the net return it but he feels Ryoma's eyes on him. Ryoma is panting and Tezuka feels the scrape of each breath in his own lungs, the adrenaline of the game pouring through him with each controlled return and at the same time pooling tense and hot in his belly. When he turns to look again, Ryoma gets up from behind the desk. He comes across the court to Tezuka slowly, unzipping his jersey as he walks. Tezuka feels like a raw nerve, a caught breath, nothing but want. Ryoma takes the racquet from his hand.

The third time Tezuka wakes up it is because Ryoma is shifting in his embrace, restless. He leans back a little to give Ryoma more room to move.

"My arm is asleep," Ryoma mutters, his voice slurred with sleep.

"Here," Tezuka says, and rolls onto his back. Ryoma flops over and burrows into Tezuka's side, wrapping arms and legs around him, and Tezuka touches his hair, the edge of his shoulderblade, the small of his back, waiting for the tightness in his chest to go away.

Ryoma makes a vague questioning noise, but Tezuka just says, "Is that better?"

"Mmmmmmm. Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you, buchou." He sounds so sleepy Tezuka doubts he's even aware he called him that.

"It's all right," he says, but Ryoma has fallen asleep.

Tezuka holds him until the light seeping under the edges of the blankets has turned to bright glowing lines of white, and he only stops then because Ryoma wakes up first and climbs on top of him, and when Tezuka wakes up he's pinned to the floor and being thoroughly kissed. He kisses back before he is even awake, unmoving except for his mouth, just like hundreds of dreams he's woken from cold and alone before. But he swims up from sleep gradually this time, anchored in reality by points of sensation like Ryoma's knee against his, Ryoma's fingers on his shoulder and Ryoma's mouth, soft and hot, kissing him slowly and lazily.

Even after he's awake it takes Tezuka a while to notice that it is still very cold outside the blankets, though not as cold any longer. A phone trills nearby, and Ryoma grunts and rolls off of Tezuka. Instead of getting the phone, though, he presents Tezuka his back and says pointedly, "Buchou, I'm cold."

Tezuka obediently shifts to embrace him. He has to close his eyes to feel it properly, savouring the long moments it takes to arrange their limbs, Ryoma pushing back against him until it's like he feels nothing, with any part of his body, except warm skin.

Then a phone trills again, and this time it's Tezuka's, with the message tone. Tezuka reaches for the edge of the blanket, and Ryoma grumbles and curls up more tightly.

The light streaming through the windows is bright with the glare of new snow, so it's hard to tell what time it is, but Tezuka thinks it must be at least ten o'clock. Ryoma puts his head under Tezuka's pillow. Fortunately the pocket of Tezuka's trackpants is still within arm's reach. He pulls out his phone.

"It's from Fuji," he tells Ryoma, pulling the blanket back around them carefully.

"Hnn," says Ryoma, without moving the pillow, and Tezuka can tell it means something like Tell him his cabin sucks.

Tezuka props himself up on his elbow and opens the message.

Echizen isn't answering his phone. Should we send the helicopter?

Tezuka texts back,

We are both alive and unharmed. Your power went out.

While he's writing it, Ryoma stretches against him and pushes the pillow off his head, then rolls onto his back with a sigh. The sunlight falls on his hair, even more tousled than it was yesterday afternoon, and turns it bright with a beetle's-wing-blue sheen of highlights. There's a pink pillow crease on his cheek. "What does it say?"

Tezuka tells him.

"Huh," Ryoma says. "What did Fuji have to do to get the helicopter?"

Tezuka's phone beeps again, and he opens Fuji's reply.

I heard about the power outages on the news. The roads are still closed to buses and most cars, but we could borrow a four-wheel-drive truck from Taka-san's neighbours. Or you could call Atobe. He might send a real helicopter.

Ryoma snorts.

"It's too cold to stay up here without heating," Tezuka says out loud. He'd never be able to study.

"Sou," Ryoma agrees. "It's too cold to even get out of bed."

Tezuka texts Fuji,

They don't expect the power to be back up soon?

His phone rings almost immediately, but before Tezuka can answer it he's stopped by Ryoma's hand on his wrist. He looks down and meets Ryoma's serious, searching gaze. "Kunimitsu," he says, and something turns hot and liquid in Tezuka's chest. Ryoma pronounces his name like a statement.

Tezuka moves his hand a few centimetres, so the backs of his fingers brush against Ryoma's neck and cheek. "Aa."

"You just need someplace quiet to study, right?"

Tezuka nods.

Ryoma's tone is casual. "You can come with me. I'll get a hotel."

Tezuka smiles at him and answers the phone right before the last ring.

"Tezuka." Fuji sounds faintly surprised that he answered. "I take it you two are all right."


"Well, the power's been out up there for weeks at a time before," he says. "But the next-door neighbour said we can take his truck, so we should be there in about two hours. You just have to keep warm until then."

"Thank you," says Tezuka politely.

Then Ryoma takes the phone out of his hand. "Fuji-senpai," he says, and Tezuka suddenly hears how his voice is deep and sleepy, eloquently warm and scratchy with satisfaction. "We'll be fine. Thanks for the vacation."

thanks to aja for beta and other manifestations of endless patience.

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