Rating: PG-13, for some swearing.
Note: I just rediscovered this in my biology notebook. XD I sort of like it, sort of look at it and go "WTF mate??"
“Buchou, I need your help.” Tezuka sets down his cup of tea. If Momoshiro calls him on his cell phone and asks so bluntly for help, it has to be something important. Momo has his pride, after all, and has been handling everything capably...up until now, apparently.
“What’s happening?” Tezuka asks, keeping his tone neutral, his voice calm.
Those two simple words make Tezuka wince involuntarily. He has to keep himself under tight control to prevent himself from bursting into a frenzy of questions, demanding answers. “What about Echizen?”
“He’s...I don’t know.” Momo sounds quietly desperate, which does nothing to alleviate Tezuka’s concern. “He hasn’t been to practice in two weeks.”
“Two weeks?” Tezuka asks sharply. “That long?”
“Yeah. He was being normal for a while, and then he just disappeared. Well, not disappeared. He’s been going to class, sometimes, at least.”
Tezuka didn’t realize how tightly he’d been clutching the cell phone until he noticed that his fingers were aching. He loosened his grasp. “What do you want me to do?”
“Come and talk to him,” Momo says without hesitation.
Tezuka wants to ask why Momo thinks his presence will change anything. He wants to ask if Momo’s talked to anyone else, if Echizen has said anything, what Ryuzaki-sensei thinks of it all. But most of all, strangely but not-so-strangely, he wants to ask if Echizen’s tennis was off before Echizen started skipping practice.
He doesn’t ask any of those things, though. “I’ll be there tomorrow,” he says.
“Thanks, buchou,” Momo says gratefully before they hang up.
Tezuka puts the cell phone down on the table and leans back in his chair, exhaling slowly. He has the uneasy feeling that there’s something Momoshiro wasn’t telling him. He dismisses the idea, because Momo has always been nothing if not straightforward. But there were too many silences, too much ambiguity.
Tezuka both looks forward to and dreads going to Seigaku again.
“Hey, buchou!” Momo raises a hand in greeting. Then he stops, unsure of the level of formality that is expected of him.
“Momoshiro,” Tezuka says warmly. Momo grins, relieved, then grimaces. “Sorry it has to be under these circumstances, buchou.”
“It’s all right,” Tezuka assures him. “I’m sorry; you’re in the middle of practice.”
“Nah, it’s fine,” Momo says, waving a hand in negation. “Mamushi’s just taking care of some drills, it’s not like we have ranking matches today or anything. No worries. Well,” and he grimaces again. “Almost none.”
“Where is Echizen?” Tezuka asks, and even Momo can hear the restrained note of urgency in his voice.
Momo shrugs helplessly. “Damned if I know. Sorry. He was in class today, though, Kachiro said. I don’t know where he is now.” Then Momo brightens a bit. “On the roof, maybe? Someone said they saw him heading up there the other day, and we sometimes ate lunch up there before...uh...sometimes.”
“Thank you,” Tezuka says with a nod, and heads toward the building. Momo watches after him almost sadly. There are some things no one but Tezuka will ever be able to do. Momo runs a hand through his hair and goes back to his team.
Tezuka is halfway up the stairs when a wide-eyed freshmen almost collides with him. The freshmen manages to stop himself, but virtually ricochets off the railing. He stares at Tezuka’s high school uniform. “Um, sorry, sorry!” He bows quickly. His hair is disheveled and the sleeve of his uniform is torn. When Tezuka looks more closely, he sees that the freshman’s wrist is bruised, another bruise forming around his eye.
“It’s fine,” Tezuka says. The freshman nods, frozen in place, breathing hard. On a vague suspicion, Tezuka asks slowly, “Have you seen Echizen Ryoma on the roof?”
The freshman gasps. “Why? N-no, I haven’t seen him, no, not up there.” He sort of folds in on himself, hunching protectively, like a mouse avoiding the gaze of a snake. “I was just going to the council meeting, if you’ll excuse me.” He skitters past Tezuka, acting as though Tezuka is going to grab him or hit him.
Tezuka continues up the stairs anyway. He feels old and weary and abruptly certain that he doesn’t want to do this. But he cannot let himself leave this alone.
He opens the door to the roof. The door squeaks loudly on its hinges. “You little bastard, I told you to leave me alone.” The voice’s tone is bored with an undercurrent of rage. “Do you want another black eye?”
Bizarrely, when confronted with the truth, Tezuka isn’t shocked or upset. He nods to himself, accepting what he hears. He closes his eyes to prepare for the inevitable.
“Did you hear me?” the voice, Ryoma’s voice, inquires. “You had better have something to make me beating the shit out of you again worth my while.”
”Echizen,” Tezuka says firmly. There is a pause. Tezuka walks out onto the roof, beneath the cloudless sky, and glances around.
Ryoma is just to the side of the door. He was probably leaning against the wall up until a minute ago. The cigarette is still in his mouth, two lunches spread out on the cement, probably one of them belonging to the freshman. Ryoma is wearing black lipstick and eyeliner. He’s wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, definitely not regulation as far as school uniform is concerned. His hair is slicked back.
Ryoma’s back is straight as a board at the moment. He stares incredulously at Tezuka. “Buchou?”
“Echizen,” Tezuka repeats, surveying Ryoma, feeling slightly disconnected.
Then Ryoma smirks, and leans indolently against the wall again. He takes a drag from the cigarette and blows the smoke at Tezuka. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Momoshiro told me that you hadn’t been to practice in two weeks,” Tezuka told him, unable to keep the edge out of his tone. “Is that true?”
“So what if it is?” Ryoma asks. He reaches over and stubs out the cigarette on the ground right next to Tezuka’s shoe. Tezuka doesn’t move away.
“You’ll lose your place on the regulars.”
It’s a small, pathetic enticement, and both Tezuka and Ryoma know it. Ryoma stretches and takes his time before answering. He gets to his feet, kicking the lunches carelessly aside. “Like I care.” He snorts. “What’s the point in beating a bunch of losers?” He glances quickly at Tezuka, and then away. Tezuka doesn’t miss it.
“They’re not losers,” Tezuka says, gaining back his conviction in a rush.
Ryoma rolls his eyes and tries to push past Tezuka. “Fuck you.”
Tezuka does the unexpected, though, and grabs Ryoma’s arm. He’s not gentle about it, either. Years of holding a tennis racket have given him hands of steel. Ryoma yelps, startled, and whips around, trying to tear his arm out of Tezuka’s grasp. “Let go!”
“No,” Tezuka says, and drags a protesting Ryoma out the door. They meet almost immediately with a third year that Tezuka doesn’t recognize. He looks at Tezuka disinterestedly. “Hey, Echizen, where’s the money? And who the hell’s this?”
“Money?” Tezuka asks, keeping his painful grip on Ryoma’s arm, despite the fact that Ryoma is clawing at his hand. “What money?”
The third year sneers. “For the blowjob I gave him yesterday, asshole.”
The former captain of Seigaku’s tennis team can’t help himself. He doesn’t even know if the third year’s words are true, but he doesn’t care. He releases Ryoma and punches the third year, who yells and flails, almost falling down the stairs. Tezuka knows that he’ll regret that later, but for now it was worth it.
Then Tezuka looks at Ryoma, who looks guiltily back up at him. Tezuka takes hold of Ryoma’s arm again and this time encounters no resistance as he marches Ryoma the rest of the way down the stairs.
“Momoshiro. Kaidoh. I would like to use a court and two rackets.” Momo silently hands his own racket to Tezuka. Ryoma eyes the racket in Kaidoh’s hand, then snatches it when Kaidoh holds it out, handle first. He mutters, “I won’t play,” even as he tests the racket’s strings.
Tezuka doesn’t have to pull Ryoma out onto the court. Ryoma precedes him, glaring at anyone who dares stand nearby. They all back away. Kachiro, Katsuo, and Horio look on anxiously. Momo and Kaidoh do the same, although they have an appearance to maintain.
Tezuka bends to pick up a tennis ball, then tosses it across the court to Ryoma. “It’s your serve.”
Ryoma looks furious, but catches the ball. “No.”
“Serve,” Tezuka says. Ryoma takes an unconscious step backwards.
“Fine,” Ryoma spits. He hits a weak lobbing serve to spite Tezuka.
Tezuka will have none of that. He hits an ace past Ryoma like a blast of flame.
Ryoma scowls. This time he bounces the ball, looking like a warped version of his former self, which, of course, he is. He hits a scathingly fast Twist Serve, aiming for Tezuka’s head. Tezuka returns it.
The rest of the team kept up the pretense of practicing on the other courts for about a minute. Then it was no use; nothing Momo or Kaidoh or anyone could have said would have stopped every eye from being glued to Tezuka and Ryoma’s match. The onlookers press against the chainlink fence without a murmur, not even from the younger ones. One of them sneezes and he is shushed instantly by his friends. The sound of the ball slamming against the court is the only thing that can be heard.
Ryoma doesn’t lose his fierce defiance as the match continues. He attacks every ball that comes across the net, smashing it as though it is his mortal enemy. Tezuka, by contrast, remains calm. He plays the way he always has, calm and unflinching, no matter how close a shot comes to hitting him in the glasses.
Tezuka cannot stop himself feeling exuberant. High school tennis is good, but it’s not this. And Echizen still won’t play at less than one hundred percent of his potential. Nothing has changed, even though everything is different.
It has to be hours later when they finally stop, panting and aching. Ryoma stares at Tezuka again, just as he did on the roof, sweat dripping off his face and smearing his eyeliner. Tezuka’s gaze is level and quietly challenging.
Suddenly Ryoma smirks. He twirls the racket around in his hand. “Not good enough, buchou.” He saunters onto Tezuka’s side of the court. “Come back tomorrow, and I’ll kick your ass.”
Tezuka wants to laugh, but he only nods solemnly. “I’ll be here, Echizen.”