"Why do we always have training camps with them?" Ryoma muttered. He flicked his eyes up to catch Atobe looking at him again, a trace of that superior smirk still lingering on his face. Ryoma made a face and looked down again, at the gum-littered floor of the bus.
Momo shrugged. "I guess because he owns everything?"
"I guess." In that instant, Ryoma made a peculiar sound.
Momo frowned, and Kikumaru and Oishi turned around, ceasing in their discussion of tennis shoes and which was the best new type. "Oi, Echizen, you all right?"
"I'm fine," said Ryoma, and made that sound again. Hic.
Kikumaru burst out laughing. "Ochibi's got the hiccups!"
Taki and Oshitari looked over from the seat across the aisle. "Hiccups?" Oshitari asked.
Hic. Ryoma tried to stifle himself with his hands. It didn't work very well.
"Here, I have a water bottle somewhere." Oishi bent down and started digging through his bag.
"Hold your breath!" Kikumaru said.
"Does anyone have a paper bag?" Oshitari inquired.
"I'll get rid of them myself," said Ryoma, looking like he wanted to sink through the floor of the bus. He did not glance up at Atobe again, which was probably lucky; Atobe's trace-of-a-smirk had evolved into a full-fledged one.
"You found the kitchen rather quickly, didn't you?" Atobe leaned against one of the cabinets to watch Ryoma gulping down water. "You've heard the story, then, I take it?"
Ryoma hiccupped, then covered his mouth, looking annoyed. "What story?"
"Oh, a local superstition," said Atobe, waving a hand in dismissal. "It's beneath you to concern yourself with such matters, I'm sure."
Hiccupping again, Ryoma shook his head hard, as though trying to drive the hiccups away by doing so. "You think everything's below you," he retorted. "Why do you know about it?"
"It's a story my grandmother used to tell." Atobe snorted. "A silly thing."
"Tell," said Ryoma.
"Why should I?" Atobe inquired. "It's not as though anyone actually believes that you'll die after one hundred hiccups."
Ryoma narrowed his eyes. The effect was spoiled somewhat by another hiccup. Ryoma managed to gasp out, "What?" before recovering his composure.
"I told you, it's a silly superstition." Atobe pushed off of the cabinet and walked away, but paused in the doorway and looked back. "How many has it been? Twenty-something?" Then he was gone, leaving Ryoma to glare after him.
Ryoma reached out to the doorknob of the room he'd been assigned to, but before he could touch it, the door opened. Atobe stood there looking down at him, stepping aside after a moment so that Ryoma could enter.
"You've got rid of your hiccups, I see," said Atobe. "Well, I hear, more like."
"Yeah, so?" Ryoma closed the door behind him. "No one's ever really died of the hiccups anyway."
"Of course they haven't," said Atobe. "Though my grandmother was convinced that her brother died of just that. He died in this very house, you know."
"Yeah, right," said Ryoma skeptically. He glanced around at the two beds, neatly made, the single bathroom, and the tasteful but plain paintings on the wall. "Why are we sharing a room, again?"
"Purely coincidental, I assure you," Atobe replied. "The rooms were drawn by random lots, to ensure fairness."
Ryoma eyed him suspiciously. "And you didn't rig it?"
"Why would I rig a drawing to end up with you?" Atobe sniffed. "I daresay Tezuka or Oshitari would have been better company."
"Fine, Monkey King." Ryoma dropped his bag on the floor and marched straight over to the bed by the window, plopping down on it.
"What are you doing?" Atobe asked indignantly, and gestured to the suitcases and trunks on the floor. "Have you noticed that my things are all around that bed already?"
"Yeah, I noticed," said Ryoma with a faint grin, curling up on top of the covers and falling promptly asleep.
There was a rustle of covers from the bed by the door.
Another sound of movement followed, slight enough that it could have been the bed's occupant turning in his sleep.
This hiccup was accompanied by a muffled curse from the bed nearer to the window.
"Echizen, it's-" Atobe sat up to check the clock on the bedside table. "Almost three in the morning. Can you keep it down over there?"
"What, need your-" Hic. "-beauty sleep?"
"As a matter of fact, yes, I do," said Atobe, rubbing at his eyes. "Some of us actually care about the face we present to the world."
"Some of us don't have to," Ryoma shot back. "We have-" Hic. "-talent instead."
"That's five," Atobe noted, then amended, "Six," at the appropriate moment.
"Stop counting and let me get rid of these things!" Ryoma settled sulkily back against his pillow, crossing his arms. Hic.
"Unless you want to stay up all night," said Ryoma.
"I'd rather not," said Atobe dryly. He pushed his bedcovers aside and swung his feet over the edge of the bed, padding to the bathroom. He returned a minute later with a small paper cup full of water. "Holding your breath?" he asked.
Ryoma nodded and scowled mutely up at him.
"Here. Breathe out for as long as you can, then drink this," Atobe instructed, pushing the cup into Ryoma's hand. "All you need do is interrupt your breathing pattern long enough, and they'll stop. And then we can sleep."
Ryoma hesitated, and then released his held breath, blowing out for a good ten seconds. He downed the water right after, finishing it all, then coming up for air.
He and Atobe both waited expectantly.
"Good," said Atobe finally. "You can thank me later."
His only answer was a snore. Atobe sighed and rolled his eyes, prying the cup out of Ryoma's fingers and tossing it into the wastebasket. "Good night, Echizen."
"Still got the hiccups?" Kikumaru asked over breakfast the next morning.
"No," said Ryoma, through clenched teeth. "I have them again." Hic. "They won't stop."
"You've held your breath?" asked Momo.
"Tried drinking some water?" asked Kawamura.
"Doing both at once can be an excellent remedy, or rather, holding your breath and then drinking water afterward, as it interrupts your-" Inui began.
"I tried that," said Ryoma, staring hard at the table and definitely not at Atobe. "It didn't-" Hic. "-work this time."
"Have you tried eating a teaspoon of salt?" Ohtori asked, passing by with his plate.
"No, no, Choutarou, that's sugar," said Shishido.
"Is it really?" asked Ohtori, puzzled. "My mother always had us use salt."
"Eating anything can help, actually," said Inui. "In the process of swallowing masticated comestibles, one must close one's airway for many brief lengths of time, which can cause the diaphragm to stop spasming."
Ryoma set to his breakfast with a will, coughing when another hiccup caused him to inhale a bit of toast.
"Seventeen, and that's just since you left the room," Atobe commented, carrying his empty plate back to the kitchen.
"What's he counting for?" asked Momo, confused.
"Some stupid local story," Ryoma mumbled around a mouthful of food. "It says that you die after you hiccup a hundred times."
Momo and Kikumaru gasped.
Kawamura laughed. "Don't worry, you two. I've heard that one, and that's all it is, a story."
"Superstitions generally have no basis in fact," said Inui. "One chance occurrence leads to the assumption that the same occurrence will take place again under similar conditions, with no scientific experimentation to verify the idea."
"We have to save Ochibi!" Kikumaru declared, stabbing a finger at the air above his head. Kawamura and Inui's assertions seemed to have gone in one ear and out the other. Momo nodded, wide-eyed.
Ryoma sighed, hiccupped, and determinedly kept eating.
"How many is it, now?" Atobe seemed to materialize from out of thin air to walk beside Ryoma, who was pacing furiously along the side of the building. "Quite a few, if this has been going on since breakfast."
"Shut up," Ryoma snapped. "It's your fault I'm counting at all."
"So, how many?"
"Thirty-seven," Ryoma said, glowering. "I got rid of them for awhile by eating."
"You had better get rid of these ones soon," said Atobe. "We have a match in ten minutes. Or did that slip your mind?"
"Don't be stupid," said Ryoma. "No." He walked faster, trying to outpace Atobe and finding it difficult to accomplish, given the difference in their heights. "Go away."
"Not until I-"
"Gotcha!" Kikumaru whooped, leaping from behind a shrubbery to catch Ryoma in an enthusiastic hug that almost bowled them both over. "Did I startle you, Ochibi?" he asked mischievously. "Are your hiccups gone?"
Ryoma looked disinterestedly up at him. "You do that all the time, Eiji-senpai. It's not-" Hic. "-startling."
"Oh." Kikumaru was crestfallen. He disentangled himself from Ryoma and turned around to holler, "Momo, it didn't work!"
"He does that often?" Atobe asked, grimacing.
Ryoma glanced at Atobe and laughed, even though a hiccup interrupted him. "What, you were startled?"
"No," said Atobe. "We should get to the courts."
Ryoma laughed and hiccupped all the way there.
By the time the match started, however, Ryoma wasn't so amused. His hair was mussed (from an unexpected tackle from a 'helpful' senpai, namely, Kikumaru again), his left sleeve was wet (another 'helpful' senpai's fault; Momoshiro this time, who'd apparently concluded that if water helped with the hiccups, startling someone with water had to help even more), and he was still hiccupping.
"I'll wait until you're rid of those," said Atobe, sitting down on the bench beside Ryoma and setting down his racket. "I want you at your best. And tell your idiot teammates to stop jumping out from behind things."
"Like they'll stop," said Ryoma darkly. "I'm not waiting. We're playing now."
"No," said Atobe.
"Yes," said Ryoma. Hic. He stood up and stomped off to his side of the court, racket in hand. "I'll play with them, and still beat you."
Atobe called after him, "That's fifty, isn't it?" Ryoma's absolutely murderous look did not seem to faze him.
"One-set match, Echizen to serve!" Momo announced from the referee's chair.
Ryoma served the ball like a man possessed, giving it a little extra kick so that even Atobe had a hard time returning it. He managed, though, and the Hyoutei regulars cheered.
If anything, Ryoma's playing became even more fierce as the match went on. Hic. Smash.
"Fifty-nine," said Atobe, taking a ball out of his pocket to serve it.
A ball pegged Ryoma in the shoulder, and he whipped around to glare at Momo.
"Whoops," said Momo sheepishly, and gave Ryoma a lopsided grin. "Were you startled?"
"No," said Ryoma.
"Two games all!"
"Stop counting!" Ryoma snapped furiously, firing his return across the net with deadly force. Hic.
"Stop hiccupping, then," said Atobe, hitting the ball effortlessly back. The onlookers let out a collective ooh, impressed.
"I can't!" The next hiccup shook Ryoma's body just as the ball touched the strings of his racket. Atobe didn't even try to make the return as the ball sailed just over his head and harmlessly off of the court.
"Ninety-three," Atobe remarked.
"Um, out," said Momo. "Forty-fifteen."
Ryoma glared daggers at Atobe. "Shut up."
"No," said Atobe, stepping up to the net. "You should have taken my advice and postponed the match, but now- come here, brat."
Ryoma didn't budge. Hic.
"I'm not going to murder you, just cure you," said Atobe, wearing a thin veneer of false patience. "Ninety-four, by the way."
"Ochibi's going to die!" Kikumaru wailed.
Evidently deciding that Atobe was the best of several bad alternatives, Ryoma went, dragging his feet all the way. He tilted his chin up stubbornly. "Well?"
"Well…" Swift as a falcon diving for its prey, Atobe swooped down and kissed Ryoma on the lips, putting his arms around Ryoma so that he couldn't move. The kiss was quite long, quite thorough, and given the looks on the spectator's faces, probably would have cured their hiccups, if they'd had them.
Ryoma blinked when Atobe was finished. "…oh."
"Now play," said Atobe, his expression somewhere between a smile and a smirk. "Properly."
"Still mad I beat you?" Ryoma asked, grinning. He sat down on his bed and kicked off first one shoe, then the other.
"Of course not," said Atobe icily. "At least my hair made it through intact this time."
"Are you sorry you cured me?"
Atobe looked up at Ryoma and smiled slowly. "No, I'm not. Are you?"
"Maybe," said Ryoma. "If Eiji-senpai and Momo-senpai keep acting like you saved my life, I'll be sorry."
"I think their gratitude is deserved."
"And if they don't continue showering me with praise?" Atobe inquired. "Will you be sorry then?"
"Hm." Ryoma tilted his head to the side, considering.
Then, suddenly: Hic.
"Oh." Ryoma put a hand to his mouth. Atobe raised an eyebrow.
Ryoma's face took on a downright devilish expression. "Going to cure me again?" he asked, his tone deceptively casual.
"It would be my pleasure," Atobe said.
And it was.