Fandom: Prince of Tennis
Disclaimer: Konomi-sensei, manga-ka!
Time: 65 minutes total
Notes: A-1 Placement refers to front page placement of a picture/story in a newspaper. Very valuable, since freelancers are often paid rates according to how prominently their stories are placed – and staff need to keep on the front as well.
When Fuji Syuusuke was eighteen, barely graduated from high school, he ignored other’s expectations for university or a professional tennis career and instead chose to enter the work force directly. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, since he always marched to the beat of his own drummer, but many were disappointed. While he had talent as a photographer, talent wasn’t enough to make a living. Talent didn’t feed you, especially when you were a freelance photographer.
He was determined to prove them wrong.
He didn’t realize how naïve that sentiment was. Eighteen and fresh out of school, and secretly convinced that the world would spin the way he wanted it to – Fuji Syuusuke was riding for a fall.
It came two years later, when he found himself having to choose between paying for his rent or food for the week. He was too proud to tell his family – and as well off as they were they would have gladly helped their beloved oldest son – that he had been wrong, and too stubborn to admit that he might have been wrong. The commissions he received for his work were an unsteady flow, and no matter how careful he was with his money, it inevitably ran out between checks.
That was how the real world was like.
Around him, his former classmates were going to school and enjoying college life. Eiji often invited him out to play, whether it was to go eat or a movie or a club, but Fuji always begged off, explaining that he had work to do.
It wasn’t true. Work was too irregular for him to be that bogged down – he just didn’t want to admit that for once, all his genius and cunning couldn’t beat the system. Eiji didn’t seem to notice, but he suspected that Inui or Tezuka did, the few times they tried to get in touch with him. Kawamura constantly was inviting him over to sample his cuisine, but Fuji couldn’t accept that kind of charity.
But he loved his job. He loved catching images on camera, and showing people something they might have missed; he loved the wizardry required to work in a dark room; he loved meeting new people and seeing new things. He had an exciting profession, or so a lot of people thought.
“What do you do for a living?” someone would ask, and when he would reply he was a photographer, and they would glow and ask questions, charmed by the mystique of his career. Few of them realized how much work was involved, sometimes, in capturing the perfect shot.
He loved his job, but sometimes practicality had to win.
That day, when he finally paid his rent for the month and bought enough dried ramen to last the week if he ate sparingly, he came to a decision. Freelancing was risky, especially for a twenty-year-old no-name with no real credentials, so he would have to seek out steadier employment. He’d lose much of the freedom he cherished, but perhaps looking at becoming a photojournalist for a newspaper or magazine would be best. A steady wage might mean that someday, he would again be in the position to freelance... and make enough to live on.
It was hard to find a position, and eventually he had to move out of Tokyo to a smaller town, where the competition wasn’t so fierce. The position he found was at a medium-size paper with a circulation of 50,000, and a managing editor with the temper of a dragon.
She was a woman in her forties, and she had a penchant for hiring new talent and having them leave her as soon as they had worked on their portfolio enough to move onto bigger and better things – or they snapped. She was a hard taskmistress, but Fuji didn’t mind. His easy smile and laid back acceptance of some of her crazier ideas earned points with her, and that was what mattered. Within months of signing on, his pictures were almost always on the front of the paper daily.
The rest of the staff hated him. They found his smile grating, but Fuji didn’t care. He had never really cared much for what others thought of him, and he was used to those with lesser talent being jealous.
It was familiar ground.
There were parts of his job he didn’t like, and that was working with the writers. Often times, he would be sent out on assignment with one to take pictures, and the second-class treatment he received grated on his nerves. Having his work associated with mediocre stories was something he could do without.
Fuji remained with that paper for three years, and found little time to pursue his own interests. During his second year, the company made the transition from film to digital, and he found himself missing the time he spent in the darkroom. He maintained a film camera and often used the bathroom in his apartment as a darkroom, but he recognized that the change was inevitable. There was much less turnaround time, but it seemed to him that he was beginning to lose a bit of control over his work. He began to spend less and less time with his older camera and in the dark room as he became accustomed to his new one.
The most exciting thing that happened at that time was that the AP Wire picked up four of his photos for publication. One was on a funeral of a renowned resident – he’d caught a small girl walking by the hearse, and focused on the reflection of the flowers against the dark black of the car, her slightly out of focus face softened by tears. The second time there had been a minor earthquake in the area, but two had died – he’d found a teddy bear in a ruined house, and using that as the foreground, he’d taken a shot of the rescue efforts. The third was for a kidnapping – a shot of the mother crying, holding her daughters picture as she begged for help.
Tragedy always got attention. None of his happier shots – those of kids playing in the first snow, the festivals or the quirky shots of people doing odd things were ever picked up. He felt almost guilty when a fire destroyed the main factory in town, and knowing as he took a shot of a tired fireman receiving cold water from a volunteer as the fire burned brightly in the background, that he had just taken his fourth shot that would go national. The repercussions of the fire would be devastating for the town – but wonderful for his career.
Fuji was right. He received a call from a Tokyo publication two weeks later, offering him a job. The paper had a better circulation, and he’d be back in Tokyo. He missed the city where he’d grown up, and the temptation of going home was simply too much to resist. So he said good-bye to the dragon lady (who merely gave him rolled eyes and told him to remember her when he wrote his memoirs), and packed up to go home.
The paper he was assigned to work for had a larger circulation, over 100,000, and he quickly used to trailing around an annoying journalist who never remembered what his name was. The man was forty, decorated with awards, and seemed to have the attention span of a stick. He was twenty-three, and the man called him “boy.”
“I have a name, you know,” Fuji said once in the pleasant fashion that always got him what he wanted.
“Oh? I might bother learning it if you’re around in five years,” the man said. “High burn out rate here – seen a ton of you hot shots come and go.”
Fuji had fumed a bit inside, but swore to make that man remember his name. His new editor, a stoic man who reminded him very much of Tezuka, didn’t think much of him, either.
“I hired you because I thought I saw a glimmer of talent. We’ll see if I’m right or not.”
It took two years for Fuji to get permission to go out and take some stand-alone shots on his own, but when he did, there was no looking back. He received his first award for excellence in photojournalism, and soon managed to ditch the man who still refused to call him by name – only instead of boy, he was now christened “hot shot.”
He didn’t mind. He was. He was going places.
To get there, he worked hard, crazy hours, sometimes not having a day off for a week before taking three consecutive days to make up for it. He spent hours and hours behind the camera, taking those photos that jerked heartstrings and made him feel like a vulture, because those were what sold.
Bad news travels fast, and his reputation grew with it. His heartfelt, sensitive images began to win awards, and they began to talk about having a show where he could display what he’d seen. Fire. Floods. Earthquakes. Tragedy. Death. The worst of the human condition.
Somehow, it wasn’t quite what he planned, but things tended to work out, he supposed.
And being in Tokyo meant he was closer to his friends, so he made time to see them. Eiji was busy, between dating and his new career, while Kawamura was preparing to officially take over for his father. It was more enjoyable to see them, now that he didn’t have to worry about their pity.
He rarely saw Tezuka, who was doing quite well on the professional scene. He couldn’t go to the matches to just enjoy, because he always felt like he should be working, and taking pictures, but they did arrange to get together for tea, every now and then. They would speak of politics and philosophy, both carefully avoiding mentioning the other’s career. Tezuka found fame trying, and like to escape; Fuji liked to pretend that work didn’t exist sometimes.
To his delight, it was Yuuta who he saw the most of. Their estrangement from their teenage years had melted away after Yuuta had chosen a business career, and while he was proud of his older brother’s achievements, there was no jealousy in him anymore. Maybe that was why he worried so much about Fuji.
He often asked if Fuji was happy. Fuji would always give him a smile, and say he was doing quite well, thank you.
One day, when Yuuta had been over for dinner and drinks, he asked the same question, and received the same reply. Yuuta had been too drunk to not watch his tongue, and his question cut Fuji to the quick as he repeated himself.
“Yes, niisan, but are you happy?”