Ryoma only wants to lean his head on Tezuka’s shoulder. He doesn’t mean to start something larger, but he thinks, later, that maybe this was the beginning, whether he intended it to be or not. Maybe it wasn’t; maybe that match beneath the tracks was the beginning, or maybe his first matches with the regulars, or maybe his flight from America to Japan. In the end it doesn’t matter anyway.
He is sleepy on the bus ride home, but he doesn’t fall asleep. He can’t, not with Tezuka a few inches away. So he closes his eyes, listening to Tezuka breathe and controlling his own breath so that it’s deep and even. Ryoma thinks at first that Tezuka will continue looking straight ahead, out of the windshield of the bus. But then Tezuka looks at him, Ryoma can feel it, not just a glance but a real look. He feels Tezuka exhale, feels the light, barely-discernable flutter of air against his face.
A minute passes, and then two. Ryoma murmurs something, Buchou, so softly that even someone in the next seat might not be able to hear. But Ryoma knows that Tezuka hears him.
He lets his head sink, curling his legs in like a sleeping child. Tezuka’s shoulder is not altogether comfortable, and so Ryoma goes farther, settling his head in the space between Tezuka’s upper arm and his chest. Tezuka is warm and firm, his muscles toned from playing tennis and from hiking and mountain biking and all of the other things that Buchou does in his spare time.
Ryoma wonders if Tezuka will push him off, or even just guide his head away. But Tezuka doesn’t move. At first he is so still, as still as a person who is afraid to startle away the rare bird who has landed nearby. Then- and Ryoma almost thinks he imagines it, to begin with- then Tezuka shifts, ever-so-slightly, lifts his arm so that Ryoma’s head is pillowed more comfortably against him.
A smile would give the game away, so Ryoma keeps his face sleepy and relaxed. Momo laughs, sounding farther away than he is. “You’re the pillow this time, huh, Buchou? Hey, Echizen!”
Ryoma doesn’t want to pretend to wake up, because then he’d have to move. Luckily he has always been a heavy sleeper, but Momo will probably persist, and then…
“Let him sleep.”
Tezuka’s deep voice can be heard and felt from where Ryoma is, a low and comforting vibration. Ryoma is hard-pressed not to grin this time, so he counts Tezuka’s heartbeats, distracting himself. Momo says something else, and then Eiji adds something to that, and then there is silence again, silence that is wonderful except that it means Tezuka doesn’t speak anymore.
Beat. Beat. Beat. The heartbeat is a steady pulse in Ryoma’s ears. He changes his breathing, just a little, so that it matches the rise and fall of Tezuka’s chest. Beat. Beat. Beat. His own heartbeat is quicker. He decides that it would be better if it also matched Tezuka’s.
Beat-beat. Beat-beat. Beat. Beat.
Together now, synchronized, not the fluttery, spaced-out beating of their individual hearts. It’s easy, and suddenly Ryoma realizes, with perfect clarity, that Tezuka is doing the same thing that he is. Buchou, he thinks, doesn’t say it aloud this time, content and becoming truly sleepy.
Tezuka, amused but somehow still grave, still serious, even about this: Echizen.
Oh, thinks Ryoma, that’s it, not surprised, not breaking the rhythm of their heartbeats.
Affirmation from Tezuka, affirmation like an ace across the court, like a bird spiraling into the air, like. Like this, is all Ryoma can think. He tries not to fall asleep, tries not to give in to the drowsiness that overtakes him, but he can’t help it.
He dreams about curling against Tezuka’s side, happy and comfortable and feeling Tezuka’s presence rumbling in the back of his mind like Tezuka’s voice, and when he wakes up he is mildly surprised to find that this is exactly what he’s doing.
“Echizen,” says Tezuka, even though he’s already woken Ryoma some other way. “We’re back.”
“Oh.” Ryoma looks up at him, and Tezuka is studying him, wearing a partial smile that he probably doesn’t even realize is there. “I wasn’t sleeping,” says Ryoma as they leave the bus, the last ones to do so aside from Ryuzaki-sensei, who watches them with some combination of amusement and resignation.
“Not at first,” Tezuka replies, raising an eyebrow.
“Che.” But Ryoma, naturally, is pleased.
And Tezuka, just as naturally, knows this.