Oddly, I ended up with these drabbles and complete notes for the class. No idea how that happened.
Ryoma is coming back again.
Tezuka doesn’t know how to take the news. Oishi is excited when he talks to Tezuka over the phone, Momo is jubilant, even Inui is happy, which is made clear when he uses percentages at least twenty percent more than usual. The American tennis magazine (one that Ryoma had sent him by way of announcing his visit) laments Ryoma’s departure, noting that Ryoma always seems drawn back to Japan.
But every time Ryoma leaves and returns, leaves and returns, Tezuka feels as though something inside him is being pulled in two directions at once. Ryoma should be in Japan, the tennis is something more here than it is in America, but at the same time Ryoma shouldn’t, can’t limit himself. He can’t stay forever. Tezuka knows this.
Each time Ryoma comes back, he and Tezuka say little to each other. Little, that is, out loud; they always play tennis, which, for them, says more than words could ever say. There are some things, though, that can’t be resolved through tennis, or maybe Tezuka just won’t let them be resolved until the day when one of them finally breaks and uses words instead of a serve, a volley, a smash, a tiebreaker.
Tezuka wants Ryoma to stay forever, and he thinks, sometimes, when he lets intuition or hope override sense, that Ryoma wants it too.
It’s been eight months this time, a very long stretch even for them. Tezuka always thinks that something will be different, that something will have changed irreversibly, that what’s between them (whatever it is) will have disappeared, or turned into something he no longer recognizes.
“Buchou.” Ryoma pushes up the brim of his cap so he can look into Tezuka’s eyes. He’s grinning, just enough that Tezuka can see it and no one else can. “No one else came this time.”
“No, they didn’t.” They’re giving Tezuka and Ryoma space, probably at Fuji’s suggestion, though Tezuka doesn’t mention that. “Tonight they’ll be at Kawamura Sushi.”
“Che, they didn’t miss me enough.” Ryoma doesn’t sound displeased, though. “Oh, I forgot.” He digs around in the front left pocket of his pants, shifting his carry-on bag so that he can reach. He comes up with what looks like string. “Your shoelaces.”
Tezuka raises an eyebrow. “My shoelaces.”
“Why did you have my shoelaces in America?”
“I wanted them there,” says Ryoma, and returns them when Tezuka holds out his hand for them. “I gave them back now, though, didn’t I?”
“Yes, Echizen,” says Tezuka. “You did.”
“Let’s play a match before we go to the restaurant,” says Ryoma, and Tezuka nods, because of course his racket is what Ryoma chooses to carry onto the plane. They walk through the airport, in no hurry, barely an inch between them so that when their hands brush, they can honestly call it an accident.
Tezuka always thinks that something is going to be different, but nothing ever is.
Ryoma is back, and they play tennis. They always play tennis.
The match is one of the best of Tezuka’s life. Every match with Ryoma is. Ryoma’s serves scorch the court, his returns are flawless, he plays with such fire and drive that Tezuka understands exactly why American tennis misses him when he’s gone. He also understands why he wants this, he needs this, why he does it every single time Ryoma leaves and returns again.
Tezuka wonders if Ryoma plays like this in America, whether this tennis is just for him or for everyone. Then he realizes that it doesn’t matter.
He’ll be disappointed either way.
They’re sitting together on a bench by the court, not speaking, not even drinking Ponta, just being. It’s good enough and better after a match like the one they just had. Ryoma’s legs don’t dangle anymore, the way they did when he was in junior high and even high school. Tezuka doesn’t notice that anything is different right away, because it seems perfectly natural for Ryoma to sit with his thigh resting against Tezuka’s, seems perfectly natural for Ryoma to lean against him, perfectly natural for Ryoma to turn to him, to raise a hand to Tezuka’s face.
Ryoma doesn’t kiss Tezuka, just lays two fingers very, very lightly against Tezuka’s lips. “I want to kiss you,” he says, and then sounds irritated with himself. “I don’t know how.”
Tezuka feels as though he can see the serve coming, but he isn’t sure he can make the return on this one. “You’ve been kissed before,” he says, not a question.
“I’ve been kissed, but I’ve never kissed anyone,” says Ryoma, which makes Tezuka feel unaccountably like he’s won a match of some kind. “And none of them were you.”
A tennis player can’t just stand and watch a serve go by, whether he knows he can hit it back or not. Ryoma knows this, which is why he’s made this a serve and left it up to Tezuka to return. Tezuka knows this, too.
He still doesn’t know if he’ll make the return, but all he can give, all he’s ever been able to give to Ryoma, is his best. The kiss is surprisingly natural too, as though it’s been waiting for them all this time and they’ve only now found out that they could have done it a long time ago.
“I’ll always come back,” Ryoma says, after, resting his head on Tezuka’s shoulder.
“I know,” says Tezuka, and he doesn’t understand why he’d ever doubted in the first place.