by Tari Gwaemir

"Here," Tezuka says, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. He unbuckles his pack and sets it down on the ice and rock.

Fuji, clambering up behind him, pauses a moment to calm his shuddering lungs; Tezuka is not a person before whom one can lose composure. He fixes the smile on his face and strolls up to the edge, where Tezuka stands gazing into the far horizon: a heroic pose. Fuji does not have his camera with him, but he would not take a photograph of this image even if he did. He too has his integrity though it be inscrutable to others.

But he pauses nonetheless to admire the strong curve of Tezuka's back, the regal lines of his neck. He places his hand on the damp spot between Tezuka's shoulder blades. It fits seamlessly, and Tezuka arches a little at the touch.

"Fuji," he begins but does not continue.

"A beautiful view. Have you climbed this far before?"

"Once, when I was eight. My grandfather took me up this trail and told me that if I grew too tired, we could turn back."

"You didn't, though."

"I refused to stop. The teenagers who sprinted up the first few miles and didn't have the stamina to finish. The older, experienced tourists who saved their strength and stopped at the first picturesque picnic spots. Even the hikers with expensive boots--we passed them by."

"How very Tezuka," and Fuji's smile softens.

"My grandfather says that my lips grew white towards the end, but I kept following him. Until we came here."

Fuji looks at the pure blue of the sky against the clean sharp peaks of the mountains around them, the bright piercing white light of an unshielded sun. He feels dizzy at the clarity, the unbroken intensity of the shapes and colors--the air here is light, so light that it is dissolving into empty space.

"I didn't remember any of it, you know," Tezuka says abruptly. Fuji turns to look at him--Tezuka who also could dissolve the very air around him with his clarity--and Tezuka explains, "I remembered everything, the people we passed, the rocks I stumbled over, the stream we dangled our feet in when we stopped to rest. But I didn't remember what it looked like, here, at the top."

"It is too impressive to remember," Fuji murmurs.

Tezuka nods. Fuji looks again, but knows he cannot fix it all in his mind: these bold strokes of rock and tree and cloudless sky, this larger-than-life boy beside him who stands as if at the center of it all, a focus too bright for a camera or a memory. It's then that Fuji makes a promise to himself to keep following, no matter how high or long the trail goes, because he does not trust himself to hold on to Tezuka if he ever stopped.


Prince of Tennis belongs to Konomi Takeshi.

Written for 31_days (August 20th theme). Dedicated to Shi Lin (ayatsujik), who wrote the first Tenipuri fanfiction I ever read.