At first Ryoma doesn’t mean to steal Tezuka’s wrist protector. He’s just standing there by the fence, on Tezuka’s left, thinking that he’s seen Fuji-senpai and Eiji-senpai play each other dozens of times and wondering if Tezuka would notice if Ryoma reached out and touched his hand. Grinning to himself, he decides that it’s worth finding out the answer. He touches the back of Tezuka’s hand just below the bottom of the wristband, running his finger over skin and feeling the tendons and bones beneath it. Then he glances up.
No one else would be able to see Tezuka look away from the match, but Ryoma is watching him even more closely than usual. Tezuka’s eyes turn to him for just a fraction of a second, and his mouth moves as though he’s about to say something. But he doesn’t say anything, and he doesn’t move again.
That could be the end of it, but the match is still going on and Ryoma can’t think of anything he’d rather do anyway. He traces his finger down the back of Tezuka’s hand and then lightly over the knuckles. Tennis players’ hands are always more worn and rougher than anyone else’s, though Ryoma doesn’t much care. He’s not going to touch anyone like this if they don’t play tennis, so it doesn’t matter how non-tennis-players’ hands are different. In fact, it doesn’t matter much how people-who-aren’t-Buchou’s hands are different, because Ryoma isn’t going to touch any of them.
He still doesn’t mean to steal the wristband, not yet. He slips his fingers under it, though, so that he can touch the skin that he can’t see. The skin underneath the wristband is smoother, possibly, and warmer, definitely.
Stealing is, of course, the last thing on his mind even as he starts sliding the circle of fabric over Tezuka’s hand. He just wants to be able to run his fingers over Tezuka’s arm without the band being in the way.
Ryoma knows that Tezuka knows he is there, and that Tezuka knows what he’s doing, too. Tezuka doesn’t stop him, though, and so Ryoma keeps going, working the band slowly over the wrist bones that stick out slightly farther than the rest of Tezuka’s forearm. Ryoma keeps his hand beneath the wristband so that his palm slides with the wristband over Tezuka’s hand and knuckles and fingers.
When the band comes off in Ryoma’s hand, finally Tezuka looks over at him. Their eyes meet, and suddenly Ryoma knows that he wants to keep the wrist protector at least for the afternoon. It’s Tezuka’s wrist protector, after all, and Ryoma wants it just because of that.
“Echizen,” Tezuka starts to say, and lifts his other hand, perhaps to stop Ryoma from taking his wristband. Even Tezuka doesn't look as though he knows for sure.
“Oi, Echizen! You going to play a match with me or not?” Momo hollers from C court. Even from here Ryoma can see the first years next to him wincing at how loud he is.
Ryoma steps away quickly, before Tezuka can catch his arm. He pulls down the brim of his cap, smirking, and then looks up and says, “Mada mada da ne, Buchou,” and then he’s trotting around the fence before Tezuka can order him to give the wristband back and to run laps. As he goes, he replaces his wrist protector with Tezuka’s, slipping his own into his pocket for safekeeping.
He wins the match against Momo-senpai, but then, he would have done that anyway.
“Twenty laps,” says Tezuka, when Ryoma walks off of the court, and holds his hand out expectantly.
Ryoma takes off the wristband and gives it to Tezuka. His hand lingers a little too long against Tezuka’s fingertips, and he can’t help grinning when Tezuka doesn’t pull away. “Laps,” says Tezuka sternly, but now Ryoma knows that he’s not angry or even displeased, not really.
Tezuka is waiting for him after his laps, although everyone else has already gone home. He’s got something in his palm, and Ryoma knows what it is even before he comes close enough to see. Ryoma picks up the proferred wristband and fingers it, remembering the feel of it on his arm and, more importantly, the feel of it on Tezuka’s.
“Next time, just ask,” says Tezuka, his smile almost too slight to be seen.
Ryoma grins up at him, takes Tezuka’s hand and slips the wristband back onto Tezuka’s arm. “Che. Where’s the fun in that?”
And this tiny little drabble contains spoilers for the current manga arc, sort of. You know, if the thing happens, with the, and the, yeah. WHY, KONOMI.
Tezuka draws in a sharp breath when he sees the matured face and the lean, toned, adult body and the familiar yet unfamiliar posture that has turned cockiness into confidence. He feels for a moment that Echizen is the only one who’s aged, that he’s fifteen years old again and somehow Echizen has passed him by, skipping straight from twelve to twenty. He almost smiles, thinking that if anyone could do that, it would be Echizen.
Then the moment is gone and Echizen is walking in Tezuka’s direction. He’s seen Tezuka, of course he has, and their eyes meet for the first time in so many years. The triumph fades from Echizen’s face and Tezuka sees the twelve-year-old again, looking out from behind the adult exterior.
At first Tezuka thinks that Echizen will walk right past him without saying a word. Tezuka doesn’t turn his head, just closes his eyes, and at that moment Echizen pauses and says one word, right by Tezuka’s ear. “Why?”
Tezuka begins to shake his head, and then stops. He has an answer, he’s always had an answer, that’s why he’d done what he’d done in the first place. He has a reason.
But it eludes him now, with Echizen so close, with the scent of sweat and tennis on him. Tezuka realizes that he doesn’t know that answer to Ryoma’s question anymore.
He realizes that perhaps he never did.