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Plum Blossom (Blue/Green)

[Prince of Tennis] Et Cetera: Ripples - 06. Ryoma, Fuji, Tezuka

Posted on 2014.02.14 at 09:09
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Tags: , , , , ,
Sixth (and probably last) story in Ripples arc. 4,480 words. Rated G for this part. Working title was "Hashira" (after the famous canon match between Tezuka and Ryoma, where Tezuka asked Ryoma to become Seigaku's hashira). Guest appearance by Rikkai! I’ll add notes later. Too exhausted tonight. :( It may be worthwhile to remember the Books in Cetera universe, despite the name, are not actually paper volumes at all, and can take various forms.

Coincidentally, the 2014 Valentine's Day falls on a night of full moon. Not just any full moon, but the very first full moon of the year by the lunar calendar, which is celebrated in my culture.

Happy Valentine's Day! I hope you enjoy this installment of Et Cetera.

Et Cetera: Ripples by Shiraume

06. Ryoma, Fuji, Tezuka

[ Written 11/21/2006 :: 2/14/2014 Edition ]

"Your family name is Echizen?"

Echizen shrugged.

Fuji considered for a moment, then murmured neutrally. "This might become interesting."

"Are you planning to tell me what you're talking about?" Echizen asked pointedly.

"Do you want to know?" Fuji countered calmly.

Echizen was one of the few who could meet his gaze so levelly, so challengingly. "I think I have a right to know," the boy said.

Fuji nodded, acknowledging the validity of Echizen's claim. "It's before my time as well, but it's a well known incident among the Cetera. Have you heard anything about your father at all?" Echizen shook his head wordlessly. Fuji considered what he was about to say, then decided to just tell the boy the truth. "To the point, then. Your father, Echizen Nanjirou, was something of a celebrity among the Cetera. You'll receive mixed reaction when you make your last name known." He added, softer, "Not all of them will be favorable. The last Echizen heir was a brilliant Mage, but had a reputation for arrogance. Caused quite a stir with his utter disregard for Cetera’s sacred laws. He was eventually disgraced.”

"'Was'?" Echizen prompted.

"I presume you understand Echizen Nanjirou is no longer with us," Fuji said, not unkindly, but without holding back. "He was exiled for heresy by the Council. About thirty years ago, his Book returned to the Lake Aeterna. I'll explain about the Book later," Fuji added, forestalling a question when Echizen frowned. "A Mage's Book only returns to Lake Aeterna when it no longer has its Mage's consciousness connected to it. So the Council publicly pronounced Echizen Nanjirou deceased and expressed regret over his fate."

"You said he was famous."

Fuji nodded. "Arguably the most talented Mage since the War of Adamant. Purportedly one the most powerful in Cetera history as well." And amongst Cetera, talent at Magic trumped everything. The most prestigious families were synonymous with families that produced the most powerful and talented Mages.

"So what'd he do?"

Fuji gave him a long look, then answered. "He was accused of perverting Cetera's sacred purpose and practicing the heretical methods in Magic, including and not limited to the practice of Magic without the Book."

The boy gave him a withering look, and Fuji wished he'd had the foresight to brew some tea before starting this conversation. This was going to take a while, and he'd had plans for the afternoon, which would now have to be all pushed back. Honestly, aside from the trifling issue of security, this unwanted disruption in his daily life was the very reason he'd avoided taking on a pupil.

"Every Cetera child is bonded to a Book of his own at the naming ceremony. The Book acts as both a teaching aid and a safety valve for the young. It provides a focus as well as a safe conduit for a Mage practicing Magic, and further serves as an individualized lexicon." There, straight from the textbooks. "It is forbidden for the Cetera to practice Magic without the aid of the Book or the Ralt, preferably both. Unfocused Magic can bring harm to those around the Mage and the Mage himself. Echizen family has always been a forerunner in the theories of Magic, but when the previous Echizen heir, your father, was reported to be practicing Bookless Magic, the Council ordered an official inquest. The investigative committee found Echizen Nanjirou's methods heretical and deeply dangerous, and recommended that he be recalled to Heda immediately and summarily stripped of his privileges as an Archmage. And the Order of Aras rescinded his scholarship. But Echizen Nanjirou refused to comply with the Council's decision. Even after his status as a certified Cetera Mage was conditionally revoked, he never returned despite several overtures of reconciliation from the Council."

Finding out that Echizen Nanjirou had fathered a half-Cetera child in the interim, Fuji thought, would simply serve as icing on the cake. Not that he was going to say it aloud to Echizen; it wasn't like he personally disliked the boy or his wayward father. And Echizen Ryoma was hardly responsible for any of the supposed misdeeds on Echizen Nanjirou's part.

Or at least that was the theory according to the Council.

"Why did the Council bother?"

Fuji spared a moment to feel a measure of empathy for Inui when he first found Fuji. "Cetera do not have a criminal justice system, per se. And for eons there was no need, either; it's rare to have a prominent member of the Cetera society misbehave as Echizen Nanjirou did. But at the same time, Echizen Nanjirou was hugely popular, especially with the younger Mages, even among the more prestigious families. To cut him off from the Cetera completely would have been an unpopular move."

Echizen's eyes narrowed. "That's the worst that could happen to a Cetera breaking the rules? A slap on the wrist?"

"For those the Council cannot afford to punish publicly," Fuji added, beginning to feel a hint of unease at Echizen's tone.

"And he knew." It wasn't a question. And Echizen wasn't done yet. "He knew he'd get away with it, and his Human wife and his -- half-breed offspring wouldn't."

Fuji briefly considered pointing out Echizen Nanjirou certainly hadn't gotten away with anything, that Cetera usually lived to a ripe old age of a millennium and a half barring accidents, and only a small portion of the Cetera ever believed Nanjirou's untimely and unexplained death had been one, whether or not they agreed he'd deserved it. But Echizen was right to point out Nanjirou likely knew the full implication of having a half-Cetera child. Polluting the purity of Cetera bloodline with another species was one of the three greatest taboos in Cetera culture. Even those outside Cetera knew that.

Echizen hadn't been forthcoming about his life with his Human mother, but Fuji knew what Echizen likely faced all his life. For that, there was no excuse to be offered, and it was certainly not his place to make them on Echizen senior's behalf.

"So the old man was good at Magic, was he? Enough to get away with anything?"

Something about Ryoma's voice snagged Fuji’s attention. When he looked at his pupil, the boy's eyes were focused elsewhere. Utterly dry. And furious.

"I'll crush him. I'll make sure not even a memory of him remains when I'm through."


Tezuka’s expression was progressively growing darker by the moment as he watched Ryoma. It was not exactly displeasure, but more of disapproval, or perhaps even puzzlement.

Fuji waited patiently.

Tezuka’s hand curled, then clenched on the railing.


“Yes, Tezuka?”

Tezuka paused for a moment, probably trying to gather his thoughts. “About Echizen...” Fuji let Tezuka take his time. Finally, Tezuka gave up trying to phrase his question gracefully and simply asked, “What happened?”

“He found someone he wants to defeat,” was all Fuji said. Tezuka glanced at him with another one of his non-expressions that nevertheless communicated a question. “He found out about his father,” Fuji supplied.

“From you.” It was not a question. Fuji nodded. “Does he know what happened to Echizen Nanjirou?”

“I told him exactly what the Council announced.” Fuji’s voice was just pleasant enough to turn the innocent answer into a barb.

“I see.” Tezuka’s expression did not change, but his voice was too even, too neutral, even for him. “So Echizen wants to defeat his father. Is that why he suddenly took to training?”

Fuji shrugged. “It’s a good a reason as any. He doesn’t like Magic – surprising, given how comfortable he seems using it.” Fuji stole a furtive glance at Tezuka’s face. As he expected, Tezuka’s brows were furrowed. “Nor does he care much about Cetera. All he wants to do is to become stronger. To eclipse his father until not even a memory remains.” Fuji paused only briefly. "His words."

“And after that?” Tezuka asked.

Fuji did not answer. They were silent for a short moment.

“Fuji. Can you bring him here next week?”

Fuji’s eyes locked on his. After a moment, he nodded. “Let me know which day is good for you.” He added, with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “You’re the busy one.”

Tezuka nodded back. “I’ll contact you as soon as I clear my schedule.”


Fuji did not watch Ryoma and Tezuka’s first duel.

Ever since Ryoma came into the picture, neither of them had ever questioned each other on their respective decisions regarding Ryoma. Fuji had not asked Tezuka why he accepted Ryoma as his ward, and Tezuka had not asked why Fuji took Ryoma in as his pupil. Tezuka did not ask if his intervention bothered Fuji, no more than Fuji wondered if that was going to become a regular occurrence. Fuji had never intended to be the one to guide Ryoma’s future, had always meant only to give him lessons to find his own way there. Tezuka had never intended to teach Ryoma himself, but knew Fuji would not attempt to direct him in any way. After all, Fuji couldn’t care less about Cetera or Magic or the deeper meaning behind either; but it mattered to Tezuka, and just maybe, it would matter to Ryoma. That left what and how to teach Ryoma as Fuji’s prerogative, and where to guide him as Tezuka’s.

In that same way, they had always understood each other.

Therefore, when Ryoma came back that day, Fuji did not ask the outcome of the duel, or ask anything at all. When Ryoma asked to train with him that evening, Fuji thought he saw a similar fire in Ryoma’s eyes that he sometimes glimpsed in Tezuka’s, and could not help a shiver when those eyes locked on his, intense and watchful.

So the next day, their true lessons began.


“Don’t.” His voice was low, dangerous. Fuji said nothing, but bit his lip. His mouth twitched again.

Fuji opened and closed his mouth. The third warning glance did it. “I said light up the candle, not blow it up, Echizen.”

Ryoma glared at him, picking out the droplets of wax from his hair. “I don’t see why I should do this in the first place. I’ve known how to make fire for ages.”

“I suppose,” Fuji allowed generously, “given your present level of mastery, not being able to light a candle would hardly matter in the long run.”

The glare intensified. “Exactly,” Ryoma muttered, then went to fetch another candle with all the dignity he could muster. Fuji only chuckled quietly.

Two minutes later, Ryoma was scraping off yet another candle from his shirt. “There has to be a better way to do this.”

Fuji looked up from his scroll. “If you’re referring to an easier way, I’ll be happy to guide you through the basic steps.”

“Not easier,” Ryoma said with a huff. “Just a better way. This is inefficient.” Fuji’s amused silence was too pronounced, and Ryoma met his eyes pointedly, daring him to say something. “And didn’t you say something about Bookless Magic being forbidden?”

“Elemental Magic is an exception, since the Elemental itself acts as a focus,” Fuji replied serenely. Ryoma raised an eyebrow at that, and Fuji smiled, like he was pleased Ryoma caught on so fast. “Though it too can be done with the aid of the Book. If you’d rather train with your Book, we can change our lessons.”

Ryoma studied him for a moment. “Is there a reason why you don’t use your Book?” Come to think of it, he had never seen Fuji use the Book for anything. Not that Fuji did a lot of Magic to start with, but when he did, he always used Elemental-based spells and didn’t bother to even touch his Book. In fact, Fuji seemed content to forever leave his Book in the study he never used (Fuji always took the books to his own room to read), unnecessary and forgotten.

“Let’s just say the Book tends to get in the way when you’re in a hurry.”

Ryoma frowned at the cryptic answer. “Then why do Mages use it at all?”

“Like I said, it’s easier. The Book is a conduit. It translates your intent and guides your Magic to perform a spell.”

“But you said it gets in the way,” Ryoma objected, then reconsidered what Fuji said. “When you’re in a hurry.”

Fuji’s expression was shuttered. “Magic is an intuitive act of will.” A tendril of water gathered over his open palm, dancing with the air, then solidified into needles of ice in a blink of an eye. Ryoma watched, wide-eyed, eyes riveted on Fuji’s hand. “Elemental Magic is a prime example. Using an agent like a Book or Ralt to translate your will can facilitate the learning process, but it will invariably create a small gap of time between thought and action.” Fuji met his eyes, and the next moment, the needles of ice shot through the air and were embedded deep in the wall, piercing the wood like butter. The needles then melted away, leaving no trace of what happened save for the tiny holes left in the wood, unnoticeable to inobservant eyes. “For the most talented Mages, the delay is only a second, or perhaps even a fraction of a second. Time enough – just enough – to decide life or death.”

It was a while before Ryoma found his voice. “Are you saying you can just...do it as soon as you think it? The Magic?”

“That’s the point of Elemental Magic. But you cannot simply learn Elemental Magic. You must master it completely, or you can endanger yourself and those around you.”

Ryoma felt a chill run down his spine, remembering how things used to catch fire when he was scared or angry, and it was so much easier to start a fire than to end it. If he had ever lost control over his fire while he was traveling with his mother, back then...

“The Book can be a useful tool. If you’d like to use it, do so. But you should prepare to do without at some point, or you will end up to relying on it forever.” Fuji’s eyes darkened, then he added in a low voice. “I knew a very competent Mage once. His analytical skills were unparalleled, and his potions, innovative and powerful. He knew every spell, weave, and array known to Cetera.” He paused. “But knowing all the spells in the world isn’t going to help you if you can’t use it in time.”

Something about Fuji’s voice prevented him from asking further questions. So Ryoma asked something else instead. “Elemental Magic isn’t generally taught until you have Mage certification, though, isn’t it?” Fuji nodded. “Then, why are we starting with Elemental Magic?”

Fuji looked at him for a moment, then smiled. “Because you’re already bonded to an Elemental, and there’s no sense wasting your time or mine. Most people have to learn it the other way around, but once you know how to use Elemental Magic, it’s much easier to go the opposite way.”

It wasn’t until later that Ryoma understood the implication of what Fuji said. When he did understand, perhaps Ryoma felt tiny bit proud, and just patient enough to suffer through the amused silence and quietly shaking shoulders.


When the septennial tri-level competitions came around, Fuji entered Ryoma with the air of a falconer releasing his favorite raptor for its first flight. Despite the reservations of the tournament committee, Fuji had entered him in the competition without first entering him for an assessment to verify his pupil had enough skills to participate safely. And Ryoma, who may or may not have been a trifle annoyed in a slightly embarrassed way, breezed through his level to the top in a couple of hours.

The pointing fingers and whispers did not escape his notice as he walked back to Fuji with the red tasseled cord carelessly draped over his shoulder. Fuji only smiled at him when he saw the red cord.


“You should have entered me in a higher level,” was all Ryoma said with a huff.

Fuji did not answer, but his eyes danced. “Do you want to stay and watch the Apprentice-level competition?”

Ryoma considered. He was rather curious what the other levels were like; the Novice-level competition, in his humble opinion, had been a joke. But that couldn’t possibly all there is to it. Tezuka and Fuji were the living proof.


“I’m going to contact Tezuka, and let him know you did well.” He nodded to the cord. “He’ll be pleased to hear the news.”

“Like I care,” Ryoma muttered as he walked off on his own. His guardian would not be impressed, not yet. And he had a bigger goal in mind.

Unfortunately, by the time Ryoma managed to navigate around the maze of courtyards and plazas to the correct arena, the other levels had already finished their tournaments. There were animated talking voices, and several burgundy-collared Apprentice-Mages with colored cords were exiting. The two with white and yellow cord seemed disgruntled, looking with envy at the other two with blue and red cord. Ryoma only recognized the one with red cord from the practice area. That was the one who handled fire, with sufficient expertise that even Ryoma had grudgingly recognized. (Also, quite a show-off, Ryoma thought, given Elemental Magic wasn’t even allowed at Apprentice-level competitions.)

“...the Apprentice-level just isn’t enough of a challenge, you know? I can’t wait to compete at Mage-level and challenge Archmages instead. Now that’s real Magic,” the fire-using Apprentice finished. Ryoma smirked. Interesting. Without hesitation, he stepped forward, placing himself directly in the path of the Apprentice with red cord.

“Why don’t you teach me some real Magic, then?”

The Apprentices all stopped dead for a moment, then started laughing.

“By the Nine, is he for real?”

“Hey, shorty, do you know who you’re speaking to? This here is Kirihara Akaya, who dominated the Apprentice-level tournaments four times straight!”

Ryoma did not reply, did not even look at the others, keeping his eyes on the one with red cord instead, until the smile melted away and cool green eyes looked him over. “What’s your name?”

“Echizen Ryoma.”

The green eyes narrowed. Sharpened. “So you’re the brat Fuji took in.”

The hoots and laughs died down, and other Apprentice-Mages nervously eyed the two. Kirihara's unsmiling, keen appraisal continued, already having dismissed their audience.

“Well?” Ryoma demanded in a bored tone, and was pleased to note the answering spark in Kirihara’s eyes grew hotter.

“if you like. But it will be a costly lesson for you, Echizen Ryoma.”

“Oy, Kirihara. Apprentice-levels aren’t allowed to duel with Novices, you know,” said the Apprentice-Mage with blue cord, sounding more cautious than before.

“Shut up.” Instantly, everyone did. “There’s an empty dueling arena across the courtyard.” Kirihara threw a mocking look behind his shoulder. “That is, if you still think you can handle it.”

Ryoma flashed him a smirk in answer. Without another word, they walked towards the arena.


Sanada looked as if he wished to be anywhere but here. Which explained Fuji's unusual friendliness in engaging him in a conversation. Not that Yanagi couldn't understand it. Yukimura had much the same tendency to prod at Sanada. Yanagi stifled a laugh and nodded politely to Fuji. “I’m glad to hear your pupil has obtained first place in his level. Genichirou’s student has held first place in his for – how many tournaments now, Genichirou? Three?”

Sanada gritted his teeth. “Four as of today.” Yanagi knew perfectly well how many times Kirihara had won first place, of course, and knew Sanada knew that as well. But Yanagi couldn't help enjoying the way Sanada glowered like a bear whenever he was forced to socialize with people he didn't feel comfortable around. Fuji was definitely one of them, but Sanada's reaction to Archmage Irie of the Academy tended to be particularly entertaining. Fortunately for Sanada, Irie wasn't present today, but Fuji was. And Fuji's sparkling, cheerful smile had only grown as Sanada's discomfort grew.

Fuji beamed at him. “How wonderful. Although, many mentors would think it’s unnecessary to repeat the Apprentice-level competitions, and would rather focus on the Mage-level certification exam.”

“There are overlaps in the material,” Sanada replied, just on this side of snapping.

Fuji’s smile, if it were at all possible, became even friendlier. “You are a conscientious mentor, Archmage Sanada, as I have heard.”

“Archmage Sanada!” Three of them looked up at the newcomer, and Sanada nearly sighed in relief, to Yanagi’s barely suppressed amusement.

“Mage Kuwabara Jackal, one of those under Genichirou’s guidance to obtain Archmage certification,” Yanagi murmured to Fuji. Fuji nodded his thanks, and inclined his head in greeting. However, Jackal seemed too agitated to even notice, let aloe return the courtesy.

“You have to come. It’s Akaya.”

"What has he done this time?" A note of real concern belied Sanada's annoyed tone.

"It seems Akaya's gotten into a duel."

Yanagi's brows furrowed. "The Apprentice-level competition should have already ended."

"It did." Jackal confirmed.

"Who's the opponent?" Sanada asked, already turning on his heel.

"The first-place winner in Novice-level competition, I believe. Echi—"

"Where?" It was Fuji this time, and Jackal looked at him, startled to realize he was there.

"This way."

Without another word, all three of them followed Mage Kuwabara, their pace just short of a sprint. "How did this happen?" Sanada snapped, and Jackal seemed uneasy. "You were supposed to have been with him."

"I was waiting for him at the gate, as promised. It seems the Novice-Mage challenged Akaya when he was leaving the competition arena."

"Akaya hardly needs a challenge to start a duel," Sanada shot back angrily. "If the word gets out he's dueled a Novice without permission..."

Yanagi shot a sidelong glance at Fuji's tight expression and added, "Especially if he were to cause injury. Let's hurry."

When the four arrived at the scene, however, they stopped as one to stare. The two contestants had collected a large audience, and from what they could see – Yanagi blinked to make sure he was not seeing things – the two of them seemed evenly matched.

"Amazing," one of the spectators said in a hushed voice. "I've never seen anyone under Archmage-level handle Elementals this well."

Fire clashed with fire, entwined like twin serpents, each vying to pin the other, but neither able to gain the upper hand. Despite himself, Yanagi couldn't help watching, just for a moment, mesmerized by how naturally and readily the Elementals responded to their bonded wielders, whose faces held intense concentration, aware of nothing but each other and their own Elementals.

"Are they really Apprentices? Wait, that one – isn't he wearing a purple collar? By the Nine, he's a Novice-Mage?"

"Akaya!" Sanada thundered, apparently recollecting himself, and Kirihara jumped, his concentration broken. Ryoma relentlessly pushed his advantage, but it was clear he was nearing his limits.

"Echizen," Fuji said, not quite a snap, but his voice carried like an icy wind, and Ryoma instinctively backed off, startled.

“Archmage Sanada, I was winning!” was the first thing that left Akaya’s mouth, and Yanagi’s lips twitched despite himself.

Ryoma snorted. “You wish.” He seemed quite unfazed by the intense glare Sanada leveled at both of them.

“Both of you. Out of the arena. Now.” Kirihara gulped and made beeline for the nearest exit, but Ryoma merely angled a look at Sanada, sizing him up. Yanagi wasn’t sure whether to be amused or appalled at Echizen’s sheer nerve. Didn’t the child have an ounce of self-preservation instinct?

“I could settle for you, if you want.”

Fuji’s mouth opened exactly the same time Sanada’s did. Hastily Fuji bit his lip, stifling a half-formed laugh. Sanada, for his part, seemed speechless out of sheer disbelief.

“Echizen.” A new voice. Quiet, yet it nonetheless turned all attention to the speaker. Echizen finally seemed resigned, and with a soft, “Che,” headed to the exit, where Tezuka had materialized seconds ago, waiting to collect the wayward Novice. Kirihara seemed astounded, and by the time the indignation set in, Echizen had already passed him by with a smirk, and Jackal had to redouble his efforts to restrain the volatile Apprentice-Mage.

“Your pupil really is something else,” Yanagi murmured to Fuji, who was back to his normal self now that he’d seen his pupil was unharmed.

“That he is, though I could say the same about your friend’s pupil.” With a nod, Fuji murmured his excuses and joined his pupil, who was following Tezuka out of the competition arena. Yanagi exchanged short nods with Tezuka, then rejoined his colleagues.


Once outside, neither Tezuka nor Fuji spoke, and Ryoma shifted, growing uncomfortable with the silence.

Finally, he cleared his throat. “I could have handled him.”

“No, you couldn’t. Not right now.” Fuji’s voice was too quiet, too smooth, and Ryoma couldn’t see his face. Tezuka was silent, face inscrutable.

“I was doing fine,” Ryoma insisted, but his voice was losing conviction.

“Only because Kirihara underestimated you, thinking you couldn’t possibly match him in Elemental Magic. If he had switched to weaves or arrays, he’d have won in a flash.” There was the same featureless tone again, like carved obsidian, obscuring what lay underneath. Ryoma did not answer, now sensing something was really wrong.

“You could have gotten seriously hurt,” Fuji snapped suddenly, and Ryoma started. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Tezuka’s eyes darting to Fuji, fleeting expression of surprise in his eyes. Before he could answer, Fuji walked away, leaving him alone with Tezuka.

“You do not have the full understanding of dangers associated with Elemental Magic,” Tezuka said, and even though he did not raise his voice, Ryoma knew Tezuka was displeased. Not angry, the way Fuji was, but definitely disapproving. “Neither of you has adequate control over your Magic. If your Elementals tangled mid-spell, you could have taken out the entire arena. And Kirihara Akaya isn’t known for his control.” Ryoma’s head lowered a fraction, which constituted more of an apology than anything he could have said, and Tezuka’s expression smoothed. “Fuji is angry because he was worried about you,” Tezuka added, and something in his tone made Ryoma wonder if it was first time for Tezuka too, to see Fuji angry.

Then the rest of what Tezuka said registered, and Ryoma swallowed. “Oh.”

Tezuka said nothing else, not even that Ryoma should apologize. Fuji was waiting for them at the arched gateway at the end of the courtyard. When the two of them caught up with him, Ryoma glanced up at Fuji, who looked very much his normal self now, and said simply, “Sorry.” Fuji’s expression did not change, but after a moment, he nodded. Ryoma added, “Next time, I’ll be sure to win.”

Unexpectedly, Fuji smiled. “Next time.”

Together, the three of them stepped outside the gates, into the open streets.


Crossposted at http://shiraume-fic.dreamwidth.org/30988.html.

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