Bonds, by kishmet. AU, TezuRyo (sort of), G, 1961 words. The Tenipuri universe with one minor alteration. This is complete crap, and just me messing around with "what if?" so feel free to ignore.
When Echizen Nanjiroh’s eldest son is born, he is giddy with delight. He runs out of the hospital, telling everyone and everything that gets in his way that he’s a father, he has a son, and finally he knows that his legacy is secure. He goes straight to the nearest sporting goods store and buys a child-sized racket. As an afterthought, he goes to the florist next door to buy flowers for his wife.
“Not until he can walk,” Rinko tells him when he presents his infant son with the racket. “He’s not playing tennis until then.” Baby Kunimitsu yawns in his hospital basinet, his eyes fluttering open to take in the sight of the racket’s strings.
“You don’t need to walk to play tennis!” Nanjiroh says. “Especially not if you’re my son!” He shows the baby the difference between the Western grip and the Eastern grip. Kunimitsu falls asleep midway through the explanation, but Nanjiroh still feels that they’re making progress.
Rinko is surprisingly firm in her insistence that Kunimitsu’s tennis career can wait, though. He is her first child, after all. She keeps a close eye on Nanjiroh, making sure he doesn’t put Kunimitsu on a court until he is at least two.
When Kunimitsu is eight months old, however, Nanjiroh is holding him on his lap and tossing a tennis ball, explaining the right way to serve when Rinko isn’t looking. Kunimitsu reaches out for the ball, touches it with his tiny fingers, then looks directly into his father’s eyes. “Ball.”
“Aha!” Nanjiroh jumps to his feet, Kunimitsu in tow. He dashes into the kitchen. “Oi, oi! He said his first word!” He displays his son proudly to his wife. “Say it again, boy.”
Kunimitsu blinks at Rinko.
“Oh! That’s right, sweetie, you’re going to start talking now!” Rinko takes Kunimitsu and places a kiss on his head, smiling. “What did he say?”
Nanjiroh holds up the tennis ball. “Say it again,” he tells his son.
Kunimitsu reaches for the ball again, his hand closing into a little fist. “Ball. Ball.”
Nanjiroh gives a great whoop of laughter, Kunimitsu stares at him as though he thinks his father is crazy, and Rinko gives up.
As soon as Kunimitsu can toddle unsteadily a month and a half later, Nanjiroh gives him the racket he’d bought almost a year ago. Kunimitsu takes it and regards his father with a solemnity that doesn’t fit his age. Nanjiroh takes him out to the tennis court to teach him how to hit the ball.
When Kunimitsu is just about three years old, Nanjiroh and Rinko’s second son is born. Nanjiroh takes Kunimitsu out to pick a new racket for this new baby before Kunimitsu ever meets his little brother.
This time, Rinko doesn’t even try to fight the inevitable. She brings baby Ryoma out every day to watch Kunimitsu and Nanjiroh play.
Ryoma watches the ball fly back and forth with keen interest. Once he’s old enough, he tries to crawl onto the tennis court. No matter how many times Rinko pulls him back, he stubbornly keeps on going. Kunimitsu walks over the first time this happens and lets Ryoma see his racket. Ryoma takes hold of the handle, waves it around, and laughs.
“Both my sons play tennis now!” Nanjiroh boasts, coming over to ruffle first Kunimitsu’s, then Ryoma’s hair. Ryoma promptly hits him in the kneecap with Kunimitsu’s racket. Nanjiroh leaps back and howls dramatically. Ryoma is unconcerned. “Ball,” he says, and reaches for the one in his brother’s hand.
“Let’s play a game after breakfast, Ryoma,” says Nanjiroh, lounging comfortably in chair at the table. He doesn’t even look up because it doesn’t occur to him that he will be refused.
“I don’t want to play tennis.” Five-year-old Ryoma says this with a calm surety as he’s eating his breakfast cereal. He takes another bite.
“Oka- Hey, what do you mean you don’t want to play tennis?” Nanjiroh asks, eyeing him over the newspaper.
“Don’t want to,” says Ryoma simply.
“Eh, you’ll grow out of it,” says Nanjiroh with a shrug, going back to his porno magazine.
“Kaasan says you aren’t supposed to have those,” says Kunimitsu, pointing to the centerfold.
“No, no, she meant the other one,” Nanjiroh assures him with a nervous laugh. “Don’t worry about it.”
“No, that one,” says Ryoma, who doesn’t know but is always happy to make things difficult for his father.
“Gah, you two,” says Nanjiroh. “Go on eating breakfast, I’ll be out on the porch.”
Kunimitsu sits down in the chair next to Ryoma and looks at his brother. “Play with me after school.”
“Play what?” Ryoma asks, glancing at Kunimitsu out of the corner of his eye.
“Tennis,” says Kunimitsu.
Ryoma gives him a suspicious look. “No.”
“Yes,” says Kunimitsu, with an authority that only their mother is supposed to have.
So Ryoma nods and says, “Okay.”
“Kunimitsu.” Ryoma pushes open the door to his brother’s room in the middle of the night. He walks across the floor without bothering to be quiet about it.
“Ryoma.” Kunimitsu sits up, completely awake after only a moment.
Ryoma climbs into Kunimitsu’s bed and gives him as serious a look as a three-year-old can muster. “I can’t find my racket, aniki.”
Kunimitsu doesn’t question why Ryoma needs his racket at midnight. He gets out of bed and follows Ryoma back to his own bedroom, where they search until they find the racket under Ryoma’s blanket.
Ryoma holds the racket as Kunimitsu tucks him in. “Aniki,” he says. “Can we play again tomorrow?”
Kunimitsu nods. “Yes. We can.”
Ryoma goes back to playing tennis with his father with no complaint and no word of explanation. He always loses, again. This time it doesn’t matter if he’s mada mada da ne.
This time he’s not aiming for his father.
When Ryoma is nine years old and Kunimitsu is twelve, the family goes back to Japan. Nanjiroh makes up a whole lot of reasons for this, but Kunimitsu and Ryoma both know why they’re moving. They can win every tournament they participate in, and they can both do it without so much as breaking a sweat.
One day, Nanjiroh beats him even more badly than usual. Ryoma skids on his face and stomach in an attempt to catch the last shot. He misses.
“Not bad, not bad,” Nanjiroh says idly. “You always miss that shot, though, you know that?”
“I want to play you twice a day,” Ryoma says suddenly, getting to his feet. He eyes his father, his chin lifted and his eyes full of the stubborn determination that can only come from someone under the age of ten.
“Oh?” Nanjiroh asks.
“Yeah,” says Ryoma.
His father considers the request, playing with his racket, spinning it around as he thinks about it. “Hm, I don’t know...I’ve got a lot of things to do.”
Ryoma is already old enough to distrust the canny look Nanjiroh gives him, but he knows he can get his father to agree. “I’ll do some of your chores for you.”
“Mow the lawn?”
“Yes,” Ryoma snaps.
“I don’t know how much time I’ve got, even with that,” says Nanjiroh, humming a popular song that most people over the age of thirty have never heard of. “I’m a busy man, you know! Two games is an awful lot.”
It’s not a lot at all. Ryoma doesn’t point out the perfectly obvious fact that Nanjiroh is in good enough shape to play ten times that number. Maybe his father is getting old. “Then I’ll get up early.”
“Right, right. Be out here by six, or I might have to use that time for something else,” Nanjiroh warns, scratching his back cheerfully with his racket.
“Che,” says Ryoma.
Ryoma is still yawning and bleary-eyed when he walks slowly down the stairs the next morning. He reminds himself why he’s doing this, fingering the racket in his hand. He slides open the back door, blinking in the morning sunlight. Then he steps back, eyes widening. “Aniki-!”
Kunimitsu is already dressed and sweating, also holding his racket. He glances at Ryoma and nods. “Good morning, Ryoma.”
Ryoma quickly hides his shock, draping his racket over his shoulder and feigning nonchalance. “Good morning, aniki,” he says airily. “How did it go?”
“It went well,” says Kunimitsu, knowing that Ryoma means the tennis game he so obviously played.
“So you beat him?” Ryoma asks, being cheeky because he knows that whether Kunimitsu can beat him or not, their father is still a shared obstacle.
“Not as well as it might have gone, then.” Kunimitsu amends his statement, a flicker of a smile crossing his face, gone before it’s even properly there.
Nanjiroh is waiting when Ryoma finally jogs onto the court. There’s a self-satisfied grin on the old man’s face. “So, you actually woke up!” says Nanjiroh. “I thought you’d sleep ‘til noon the way you always do.”
“Kunimitsu was out here,” Ryoma says bluntly, ignoring Nanjiroh’s semi-insult.
“Mm-hm!” says Nanjiroh, his grin widening. “You said you wanted to play me twice a day, eh? But Kunimitsu asked for three times.”
“...oh.” Ryoma starts to grin, too. He points his racket at Nanjiroh. “Can you handle four, old man?”
“Watch me, brat!” Nanjiroh laughs heartily, tossing the tennis ball high into the air for the serve.
Ryoma doesn’t look to see, but he knows Kunimitsu is watching from the window. He resolves to wake up even earlier the next morning, so that he can watch Kunimitsu’s game, too.
He can’t let his brother get one up on him, after all.
When Ryoma comes to Seigaku, the whispers flood the hallways, the classrooms, and, of course, the courts. Some of the second years take bets on how long the younger Echizen will stay. Most people say that Echizen Kunimitsu’s brother will leave even more quickly than Fuji Syusuke’s.
If Kunimitsu and Ryoma hear the rumors, they give no sign. During the first set of ranking matches, Ryoma beats everyone in his block, even Kaidoh and Inui, who are both team regulars. He does this with a saucy smirk that shows absolutely no respect for his senpai.
What they don’t know is that it hadn’t been easy for Ryoma to win. None of them ever find out that Ryoma enjoys himself more in the ranking matches than he has in a long time.
When they enter their first tournament with Ryoma as a regular, Seigaku blows away the opposition.
No one ever refers to him as “Kunimitsu’s little brother” again, the betting stops, and Ryoma doesn’t leave.
“I would like permission for a private match with Ryoma.”
“He’s your brother, Kunimitsu,” says Sumire, with a look of amusement. “You don’t need my permission.”
“Yes I do, sensei,” he says, meeting her eyes.
“It’s fine with me,” she tells him, shrugging. “You play him all the time, don’t you?”
Kunimitsu says, "I did, when we were younger.” He doesn’t elaborate, and she doesn’t push him for more information, just dismisses him and tells him to get to practice.
“You’ve improved,” says Kunimitsu.
Ryoma is on his knees across the net, panting, sweating, and exhausted. He looks up at Kunimitsu, though, and the exhaustion doesn’t touch the light in his eyes. “That’s because I don’t just have you and the old man anymore,” he says. “I have a whole team.”
Kunimitsu nods. “Ryoma. You will become the pillar of Seigaku.” He says this as though he is offering Ryoma the world. Both of them know that he is, in a way.
Ryoma picks up his cap and gets to his feet. “No,” he says, then smirks just a little. “We will... buchou.”