When they stay out late, Echizen is the first to start yawning, resting his cheek on his folded arms and dozing off while his teammates chatter around him, while Oishi drapes a jacket over his shoulders and Tezuka stops Fuji and Kikumaru from playing with Echizen's hair. "Better than a watch, that's what Echizen is," Momo jokes sometimes. "We always know when we've been out too long, we do!"
"And that there's no waking him up, once he's out," says Fuji, and they all laugh at the truth of it.
Echizen scowls and denies it and falls asleep anyway, because there's something about being comfortable and safe and surrounded by the others that seems to be irresistible, and more effective than any sedative.
Tezuka is accustomed to this, as they all are. Bundling Echizen up and sending him off with Momoshiro or Oishi or whoever is willing to shepherd him home has become usual, their routine. "Ochibi's asleep!" Kikumaru proclaims, and that is their cue to begin gathering their jackets and sliding their plates over the counter so that Kawamura can put them in the sink.
This is Seigaku, just as Momoshiro's appetite is Seigaku, as Kawamura's split personalities are Seigaku, as Kaidoh's hissing is Seigaku, as Inui's juices and Fuji's occasionally-eerie smiles are Seigaku as well.
So Tezuka is slightly surprised when Echizen scoots over to him at eight o'clock and leans his head on Tezuka's shoulder from behind. He is surprised mostly because no one else reacts to it; Momo grins and Kikumaru laughs at something Kaidoh's said, and Kaidoh looks very put-out, and Inui writes something in his notebook, though whether it's about Tezuka and Echizen or about the eerie smile Fuji's giving them (this is one of those occasions, evidently), Tezuka has no idea.
Echizen links his arms around Tezuka's neck and snuggles close, and stays there. And it seems, to all intents and purposes, that this is Seigaku as well.
Momo stands up to fetch some more napkins, and he pokes Echizen playfully in the head. Echizen squirms and buries his face in Tezuka's shoulder. "Echizen, Buchou's gonna have to carry you home if you don't get off him," Momo teases. Tezuka gives him a look, and Momo flashes him a sheepish but unrepentant grin. "Sorry, Tezuka-buchou."
"Ochibi!" Kikumaru bounces to his feet and leans in to peer at Echizen's face. "Are you asleep?"
Echizen nuzzles at the hollow beneath Tezuka's ear. "M'tired," he mumbles, clinging to Tezuka's neck like a creeper vine to a tree or a baby monkey to its mother. "G'way." He makes a half-hearted attempt to swat at Kikumaru and Momo when they try to tug him away from Tezuka. "M'tired."
"It's all right," says Tezuka, "I'll take him home."
Oishi fetches Tezuka's jacket and after a moment of consideration, puts it over Echizen's shoulders. With Kawamura's help, Tezuka stands up, Echizen riding piggyback and holding onto him as though he's never going to let go. Echizen's breathing is quiet and even, against his back and in his ear.
They all part ways outside of Kawamura Sushi, Kikumaru nearly tackling Buchou to the ground in an attempt to hug Ochibi goodbye. Echizen doesn't lift his head, complaining in another mumble that he's sleepy and should be left alone. And then Tezuka and Echizen are alone, and Tezuka starts walking, barely encumbered by Echizen's slight weight and the limbs wrapped around his shoulders and his waist, limbs growing longer and lankier every day.
Echizen nudges at Tezuka's earlobe with his nose, and then brushes his lips over Tezuka's skin, soft and light and almost believable as an accident.
Tezuka turns his head a little, so he can meet Echizen's half-closed gold eyes with the corner of his own. "Are you really that tired?"
Echizen smiles and lets out a warm breath of air that tickles the side of Tezuka's neck. "No."
And this, indeed, is a part of Seigaku too.