A Gift for All Seasons
Bearit's Notes: Happy Holidays, minna! Here is my first attempt at a Prince of Tennis ficcy featuring my favorite pairing: MomoRyo, which involves an anal Tezuka, Ryoma's snooping cousin, and Momo-chan's tactless little sister. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas Momo-chan, and Happy (Belated) Birthday Ryoma-kun.
The crisp December air chipped the skin of the bare hands within the dreary gray tennis courts as little hollow punches echoed against the beige school walls. Inside the tall fences were young boys adorned in blue and white jumpsuits, running to and fro within a dark green square as they swung rackets. Off to the side were boys about the same age as the ones in the tennis courts, some maybe a little younger, all wearing green or white and red uniforms. All watched the matches, some with awe and others with impatience, wishing that the captain of the club would let them go early so that they could celebrate winter break in their junior high ways.
It should be the case, for the following day would be the Emperor's Birthday and the first morning of winter vacation, the day before Christmas Eve. There were to be no games during the two weeks off, so there was no immediate need for any sort of training.
Many speculated that Tezuka believed that none of the regulars would practice during vacation; others viewed the captain as a martinet: just because it's the last day of school for the year did not excuse the club from letting out early. Either way, many of the second years became especially annoyed when the second hand of the school's clock continued to click in a cheesy slow-motion effect past the top numeral.
Momoshiro Takeshi was among those second years. Every five seconds or so he would look past his shoulder to check the time, and every time he sighed dejectedly and turned back to watch his fellow teammates continue their matches. He said nothing, for when he had previously moaned what had to be five hours ago, "Buchou needs to let up and get us out early for once!" he had received a dangerous glare from said third year; he had quickly smiled and shouted, "Go Seigaku!"
Of course, even Momoshiro noticed that the other regulars had anxiety spells. All other clubs but tennis had their meetings cancelled, and many of the regulars attended in hopes that at least Ryuuzaki-sensei had decided to cut their practices short, but she had not. Everybody knew that Tezuka would do no such thing, so many groaned as they dressed into their jerseys and headed for the courts.
He glanced over his shoulder again. "Still 5:56?"
The match in front of him between Kikumaru and Oishi halted as soon as he said those words, and the two glanced in the general direction of the clock.
"Huh, it's true," said Kikumaru. He turned to the court on the other side of him and shouted, "Tezuka, it's only four more minutes. Four minutes won't hurt anybody."
The captain did not answer but only continued his match with Fuji. Momoshiro sighed. "It's no use."
Kikumaru nodded and turned back to Oishi. "Let's hurry up and finish this match then. Tezuka is so mean. Can't you do anything Oishi?"
"Nope," was the reply as the yellow ball was served.
Momoshiro groaned and rested his forehead against the fence as the golden pair resumed their match.
"It can't be helped," he muttered.
He stared past the courts to the second to the furthest one. Seeing no action, he frowned and squinted, attempting to get a better look. Already finished? he mildly wondered and scanned the immediate area.
Momoshiro jumped and spun on his heel. "Echizen!" He pouted. "You shouldn't sneak up on your senpai like that."
Echizen Ryoma, his hands dug into the pockets of his shorts (How can we wear that in this weather? Momoshiro thought for the fifth time that afternoon) shrugged nonchalantly. "You're bored, aren't you?" he asked again.
Momoshiro sighed. "It's not that I'm bored; I just want to go on vacation."
"I'm sure you feel the same way."
"Doesn't matter to me."
Momoshiro glared. "Winter break. Of all times to not care: winter break. You didn't even care when club wasn't cancelled or cut short or anything! You wouldn't have cared even if it had been." The first year did not respond as he turned his attention to the match before him. Momoshiro breathed a grumbling sigh. "So, anyway, how did your match with Inui-senpai go?"
Echizen shrugged. "Fine."
"Did you win?"
"Are you the bored one here?"
"Two more minutes!" Kikumaru exclaimed as he fell on the cold ground, a ragged tennis ball rolling right past him. "Only two more minutes! Come on, Tezuka! Let us go already!"
Even from the distance Momoshiro stood, he could tell that the captain did not enjoy the complaints, and Kikumaru did nothing to help. Oishi must have realized it as well, for he finally approached Tezuka and discussed the matter with him, though they did so quietly for Momoshiro could not hear their words. Soon Fuji stepped in, hopefully to convince Tezuka to just let them go at least on time. It was becoming very apparent that Tezuka had every intention on making the club stay past six.
"He's inflicting revenge, isn't he?" Momoshiro mumbled.
Echizen shrugged. "At least he's not making us run laps."
"Sheesh, at this rate, he'll let us go too late!" Kikumaru wailed. "It's six now; why did Oishi have to try to convince him to let us go now when we won't be freed now but later because of that?"
Momoshiro grinned weakly, but he had to agree with his senpai. The time it took for Oishi and hopefully Fuji to persuade Tezuka was the same as it would have taken for him to dismiss them and everybody to head to the locker room. Maybe Oishi and Fuji were in on the plan?
To make the time go a little bit faster, he turned to Echizen and asked, "Do you have any plans for over break?"
He frowned. "I thought this morning you said that your family from America was coming over for Christmas."
"Tonight, actually, but that's it. Nothing special. How about you?"
"I'm going to relax," he said with a smile. "I really need it; what with school and club, I haven't had much time for anything else."
Echizen smirked. "Oh? But I heard the second years were piled with homework for the vacation."
Momoshiro glared. "Shut up."
"It's five minutes past!" yelled Kikumaru, still sitting cross-legged on the ground. However, his back was to Momoshiro and Echizen and facing where the trio of debaters stood. "Can we please go home now?"
"All right," said Tezuka. "Dismissed."
A cheer whooped among the club members as the second and third years rushed to the locker rooms, and the first years swarmed into the courts to pick up the remaining balls from the just completed matches. Kikumaru hopped to his feet and promptly began chiding Oishi, and the regulars who were still on the courts promptly walked off; Kawamura relieved, Kaidoh indifferent, Fuji amused, and Tezuka very much annoyed.
"Chances he's going to get us back?" asked Momoshiro, eyeing the captain wearily.
"I figure he's going to have Inui-senpai handle the revenge after the break," said Echizen.
Momoshiro cringed. "Great."
The first years weren't so slow to follow the rest of the regulars as they passed the two lounging underclassmen. They lingered for a bit, not really saying anything, and despite Momoshiro's impatience earlier, he had not yet felt the urge to leave. Probably because Echizen had no particular desire to go home, though Momoshiro couldn't place his finger on why, but if Echizen didn't feel like leaving, he didn't either.
He blinked and shook his head. Ridiculous.
"Club's over," Echizen pointed out.
Momoshiro nodded. "I know."
"You wanted to start your vacation, didn't you?"
"Nothing." Momoshiro shook his head. "Come on, let's go."
Echizen sighed. "Right."
Silence inflicted a painful walk back to the locker room, and for the first time Momoshiro felt uncomfortable with the first year. He knew not of what to say, and to ask if anything was wrong would not be a good way to start a vacation. He couldn't leave Echizen to deal with himself, and then that's when an idea hit him.
"Are you doing anything on the twenty-fourth?"
Echizen looked at Momoshiro, startled. "Why the twenty-fourth?"
"I have to do some last minute Christmas shopping, and I can't name a store that would be open tomorrow, so I can't do it then. The twenty-fifth would be too late. Want to come along if you're not doing anything?"
"Sure. It's better than being with family, anyway."
"Is that sarcasm?"
"It's the truth. Christmas is a dangerous holiday in my home."
Momoshiro laughed. "If your visiting family is anything unlike you, I wouldn't doubt it."
Ryoma considered himself lucky that his uncle and aunt and cousin were too tired to do anything as soon as he got home. Jet lag was a miracle. So his mother didn't bug him about saying hello to the family, and "Oh how have you been?" and "Look how much you've grown!" even though the last time the two sides of the family saw each other was only less than a year ago when the Echizen family was getting ready to move to Japan and they had decided to stay for a month in Los Angeles.
Greetings aside, the only person in the threesome Ryoma had troubles with was his cousin. She was about a couple of years older than he, a freshman in American high schools. Horribly clumsy and frightened of fast-paced flying balls, she never provided Ryoma with any challenges in tennis other than trying to get her to even hold a racket. Even then, Ryoma enjoyed her deer-in-the-headlights expression every time he did so, but she always got revenge. As a musician, and a flautist at that, she dug up her piccolo and played the highest note she could.
Ryoma always wondered how the windows never shattered, or even how he maintained the ability to hear.
He hoped that she didn't bring the hellish instruments with her, and decided that if she did, he didn't want to find out, so he had better not try to provoke her. Unless, of course, she pulled either the piccolo or flute on him first.
The following morning, his uncle and aunt instantly bombarded him with the greetings he so despised, but at least his aunt wasn't like the stereotypical ones where she was round and loved to suffocate him against her breasts and kissed his cheeks multiple times with bright red lipstick. Instead, she was thin and had dignity. Well, enough dignity that all she did was pinch his cheeks teasingly. His uncle was a little bit better and complimented that Ryoma had grown almost exactly an inch since last year; he still wasn't hitting five feet.
Afterwards, the family minus his cousin, who was still asleep, discussed about life over the past year, how settling in Japan was for the Echizens, and how Ryoma's cousin adjusted to high school life. Ryoma paid no mind to the conversation and instead kept silent and ate, answering only when his uncle or aunt directly asked a question.
Christmas wouldn't be dangerous if it was just his uncle and aunt. Just boring.
Only midway through the meal did his cousin with a bird's nest of a hair slump into the dining room, her eyes droopy and a scowl more dangerous than Kaidoh's. Ryoma sighed and turned away, holding his chin with his hand.
"Ohayou, Amy-chan!" Nanako chirped.
Amy narrowed her eyes. "We all know English here, right?" she grumbled.
Her mother scoffed. "Amy! You're taking a class on the Japanese language at school; you should be able to respond."
"It's too early," she whined.
She sighed dejectedly. "Ohayou."
Her mother grinned. "Good girl. Now sit and have some breakfast."
Amy complied, and the adults laughed at how cute she was, which caused her to glare at them some more and Ryoma to roll his eyes. She picked up her fork and stabbed at the sausage, and then blinked, realizing that Ryoma was right in front of her.
Ryoma gritted his teeth. "Don't call me that."
Amy shrugged and bit the meat. After swallowing, she asked, "How have you been?"
Aside from the adults' excessive talking, the rest of the morning meal ensued in silence. Ryoma thanked small favors, for he knew that once Amy woke up, nothing good would happen.
That moment came later in the evening when Ryoma's father urged Amy to keep Ryoma company. She complained, of course, saying that she much preferred to listen to her discman, and Ryoma protested as well, saying that he'd rather play his videogames. His father would hear none of that and shoved Amy into Ryoma's room and closed the door behind him. To Ryoma's dismay and comfort, Amy had nothing in her hands. Nothing to keep her busy, but nothing that would inflict pain on him.
The two glared at each other for a moment before Amy said, "Go ahead and play your game. I'll just count the dots on the wall."
"Fine," said Ryoma with a shrug and turned the console on. He wished that Momoshiro had offered to spend the day with him on this day rather than the next. Or, rather, the entire winter vacation.
After about half an hour of playing his tennis game, Ryoma put the game on 'Pause' and glanced over his shoulder to see his cousin facing the wall. Was she really counting the dots? It was then when Karupin, who had been sleeping on Ryoma's bed, jumped off and nudged Amy's side curiously. She scratched behind his ears but had no further movement.
"Are you bored?" Ryoma asked.
"I've counted up to five hundred and forty-two dots. Yes, I'm bored. And I've lost my place. Thanks."
Ryoma sighed and turned off the game console and television. "Pathetic," he mumbled as he crawled to sit next to his cat.
Amy looked at Ryoma. "Are you mocking me?"
"The dots are more like blobs."
Amy scowled but said nothing further. After about ten minutes, Karupin became bored and curled up into a ball between the two cousins, falling soundly asleep. Amy sighed.
"Bored?" she asked.
"No. I figured that staring at the wall aimlessly would be more fun than playing simulated tennis."
"You're supposed to be counting," she said, her words dripping with death.
Ryoma shrugged, and silence ensued once more between the two. Aromas of the kitchen found its way up the stairs and rumbled his stomach, and he sighed. Dinner needed to be ready soon. Weren't musicians supposed to be hyper and fun-loving, never providing their peers with boredom?
That opportunity soon came. "Want to play a game?" she asked.
"What? I thought you hated tennis. And video games," he replied.
"Not that kind of game, you idiot. A word game."
He blinked. "A what?"
Amy grinned and swiveled around to face him. "A word game! I got it off an Internet survey. I say a word, and you answer as quickly as you can. No thinking, and you have to say the first thing that comes to mind."
Ryoma shrugged. "All right, though when you said game and not tennis game, I thought you meant a card game."
"My cards are in my room. With my flute."
Wide-eyed, Ryoma stared at his cousin. "Okay, fine. Let's play."
With a smirk that had Ryoma almost instantly dreading his compliance (well, when she mentioned "flute," of course she had evil intentions up her sleeve), she began.
"Wow, you go by last name first name now... erk." Amy cringed. "Right, moving on. Age?"
Amy arched a brow. Ryoma sighed. "One more day, Amy. One more day."
"Fine, whatever. Gender?"
Amy blinked, and Ryoma did likewise. What?
"That means pink, right?" she asked slowly. "Momo-iro... means pink? Or peach-colored. Same thing."
Ryoma slapped his forehead. "Never mind. It's a slip."
"You like the color pink? You're the first boy I've ever known who--"
"I do NOT!"
"Or!" she said with a sunny smile. "You have a crush!"
She stuck her tongue out and snickered. "Let's continue?"
He crossed his arms and looked back at the wall. "Sure."
Amy rolled her eyes. "Of course. Cat?"
"Waste of time."
"You like ham?" Ryoma glared, and Amy sighed. "Okay, fine. Letter?"
"Oh, come on, it wasn't that bad this morning!"
"Yes it was."
Amy narrowed her eyes. "Bed?"
"Momo-se-- er." Ryoma stopped himself and widened his eyes.
Amy gave him a confused look. "What? 'Momose'? Is momose some sort of peach food I've never heard of before? Is it new?" Ryoma sighed and stood up. "Wait a minute, Rome..."
"Just shut up, Amy," he grumbled as he hurried out of his room, hoping that the heater had just been turned on. It had been rather cold in the house beforehand, after all.
But why had he just been about ready to reply, 'Momo-senpai' when his cousin had said 'love'?
Ryoma baffled Amy to many extents, but never like this. She replayed the word game continuously in her head all through dinner and into the night, trying to figure out what it all meant. She had bought his Christmas present back in Los Angeles, but she had no idea what to get him for his birthday. He was going to be a teenager; she remembered how excited she was when she had been about ready to turn thirteen, even if she realized only a year later that it wasn't as big of a deal as she had originally thought. But still, it's a good feeling while it lasts, and she wanted to get him something good.
Thus, the word game, which had worked so well for her friends in the past. Amy had no idea how they had done it, but for her thirteenth birthday they had managed to gather their and her parents' money together and bought her the piccolo she so adored. Getting her cousin Ryoma something better than that proved to be a difficult task.
She laid in the guest bed and stared at the ceiling. "He has something going on with 'momo'--peach. What the hell is momose? Maybe it's not food but a tennis thing?" She sighed and rolled over. "Boys are so hard to shop for!"
Despite her face smothered into her pillow, she could still smell the strong scent of waffles that her aunt was making in the kitchen downstairs. Her stomach grumbled, and she groaned as she sat up from bed and stretched.
"Rome and Nanjiroh both love tennis so much that I can't imagine something having to do with tennis that they don't have. They even have their own tennis court!" she sighed. "This is hopeless."
Amy stood and slumped down the stairs. As she passed the front door, a loud knock sounded. She blinked, looked around, and shrugged. "I'll get it!"
"You don't even live here!" Ryoma snapped as he rushed to the door. "You don't even know enough Japanese to answer properly to anybody here."
Amy placed two fists on her hips. "Hey!"
Ryoma glared at her, and then turned away and swung the door open. There stood a boy, not too much older than Ryoma and only a year or so younger than Amy with spiky hair and adorning a heavy red jacket and a bright smile on his face.
"Momo-senpai," Ryoma greeted. The boy answered something back in Japanese--something Amy could not understand--and then Ryoma nodded and turned back around and shouted, "I'm leaving!"
He hastily grabbed a jacket and slipped on tennis shoes. When the door slammed shut, Amy cocked a brow.
"Momo-se--?" She blinked. "That's the 'Momose'? Is his name Momosenpai? Wait. My cousin loves him? He's--"
She placed a hand over her mouth thoughtfully. On one hand, this didn't help her at all. How was she supposed to get Ryoma that boy for his birthday? Completely impossible. Nobody could just give a complete stranger to someone else for any occasion nowadays. On the other hand, she discovered the mystery as to what 'momose' was.
Amy frowned and lowered her hand, before a malicious grin transformed on her face.
She hopped happily into the kitchen where all the adults sat at the table, drinking coffee joyously and continuing their conversation from the night before. She came behind her uncle Nanjiroh and tapped his shoulder.
"Oh, Amy-chan, what do you want?" he asked.
"Do you, by chance, still have your fishing pole?"
Ryoma's mother groaned. "That piece of junk. You only used it once, Nanjiroh."
Her uncle shrugged the chiding off and shook his head. "We sold it at the yard sale just before we left New York. Why?"
"No reason," Amy replied with a tight frown. Improvise. "Do you at least have a stick and string?"
"There's some string in the desk drawer. What do you need it for?"
"Rome's birthday present, of course!"
As Momoshiro and Echizen walked out of the gates of the younger one's home, the older boy grinned widely and asked, "So, was that girl in there your cousin or something?"
Echizen nodded. "Unfortunately. Lucky for me she doesn't know much Japanese, so I could insult her all I want and she wouldn't even know it."
"Have you done it yet?"
"A couple of times, maybe. So, where are we going?" he asked.
Momoshiro shook his head and headed down the road. "Well, we could go downtown Tokyo. Less chance of running into my little sister. Crazy little girl; we can't hide anything from her in my house. She somehow always finds her Christmas presents before we wrap them, which is why this year, my parents made sure to wrap her gifts at work, and I'm not shopping for her until now."
"Downtown? I hope you're good with directions."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Momoshiro demanded angrily.
"I know my way around downtown; don't worry about it," he said reassuringly. "If you need to find a store down there, tell me, and I'll find it for you." He winked.
Echizen shrugged. "I'm not shopping. All the Christmas presents are already bought in my house."
Momoshiro frowned. "Then why are you...?"
"Like I told you at club: I need to get out of the house. Please don't let me use my cousin as an example of why," he said. "Last night was pretty bad."
"Do you have to get something for your parents, too?"
Momoshiro nodded and dug through his pocket. He pulled out a white piece of crumpled paper and straightened it out, looking over the items he had to buy over again. "These shouldn't be too hard to find downtown. Actually, my sister's presents I can buy around here without having to take the train, but like I said--"
Echizen grinned. "She's a snoop?"
He laughed. "Exactly."
"Sounds like someone I know."
Momoshiro instantly frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Echizen shook his head and sighed. "I didn't mean you, Momo-senpai. Though, your sister must have gotten her behavior from someone..."
Momoshiro glared. "Just because I did it when I was in elementary school doesn't mean I influenced her!"
"Must be in the genes, then."
"Either way, I'm being insulted."
Echizen smiled again but so serenely that Momoshiro stopped his anger to observe and ponder. Only a short while thereafter, Echizen stopped walking, and Momoshiro did likewise and continued to study the first year.
"Momo-senpai, we are friends, aren't we?"
Momoshiro blinked. "What? Of course we are... why?"
The serenity on Echizen's face went back to the normal smug smile Momoshiro was used to seeing, and it had returned all too soon.
"No particular reason," he replied. "Let's hurry and get to the train station."
As Echizen walked passed the baffled Momoshiro, the second year gaped and scratched his head, and then shrugged and followed the younger boy down the street. "Yeah."
What was that all about? he wondered on the way.
Maroon and orange swirled in the western sky by the time Momoshiro finished shopping. Ryoma stood outside the store while his senpai had the clerks wrap his little sister's gifts so that she wouldn't be able to raid his bags as soon as he walked in the door and discovered what he had bought her. She was the last person he had shopped for, and Ryoma dreaded the time to go home drew nearer by the second.
Many had just been released from work, so the streets were exceptionally packed with high school kids prancing from store to store to get their Christmas shopping finished, or just spending Christmas Eve with friends because home proved to be too boring; Christmas wasn't nearly as much as a family holiday in Japan as New Year's was, and Ryoma knew that his parents would uphold that custom and would not allow him to leave the house that day. Pity; his cousin would still be in town, and he knew that he certainly couldn't get Momoshiro away from his family that day either.
He stared up at the indigo sky above him. The sun set rapidly; he could almost see the nighttime stars forming pictures against the midnight blanket above him, and he knew that he had to return home soon.
Ryoma looked over his shoulder. Through the window he could see Momoshiro at the cashier, laughing with the clerk behind the counter joyously as she wrapped the books he bought. It wasn't long before Momoshiro noticed him and turned back to the clerk to say something--well, Ryoma was growing rather impatient. It's not that he wanted to go home, but...
He sighed. "Why was I going to say--"
"Echizen! Sorry it took so long," said Momoshiro as he pushed the door open and charged out with two new brown bags in his hand. "My sister is incredibly hard to shop for, and the clerk in there is really nice."
Ryoma shrugged. "No big deal. Are you done shopping?"
He nodded. "Yeah, but there's one more place I want to go."
"I'll show you," said Momoshiro, and he miraculously wriggled one hand free of bags (though some dangled from that same wrist and forearm) and snatched Ryoma's wrist, dragging him to the train station.
It wasn't until an hour later, when the two stepped off the train, did Ryoma realize that Momoshiro hadn't taken them elsewhere. He frowned and turned to the second year accusingly.
"This is our train station," he pointed out as the two made their way through the station's ticket gates.
Momoshiro nodded. "Where I want to go is in our neighborhood, and I don't have to risk running into my little sister now because it's dark. She's not allowed outside by herself, but I wouldn't be surprised if I ran into her and my parents at the place we're going."
"You'd still run into her, then."
"Yeah, but her presents are wrapped as well as my parents'. There's nothing to worry about."
Ryoma shook his head as the two made their way back the way they came earlier that morning. Night had completely fallen, and the orange streetlights illuminated the sidewalk on which they walked. Ryoma kept his gaze to the ground, and while Momoshiro talked boastfully about his family and school life, and complain about the amount of homework his teachers had given him, which a couple of days ago didn't seem to bother him too much, Ryoma kept one ear open and one him while his thoughts wandered to the slip he had made to his cousin.
Love... Momo-senpai... what does that mean?
Of course, "love" was a subjective word. It held lots of meanings, and Ryoma knew for certain that she had not meant "romance love" when she said it, for she had thought that "Momose" was some sort of food. She had probably meant what he thought she meant: most favorite thing.
He blinked. That didn't make sense, either!
"We're here!" said Momoshiro cheerfully.
He pointed across the street, where many bundles of families walked through a gate covered in sunny yellow lights and a sign that said, 'Paradise of Lights.' Next to the sign were two familiar trees adorned in similar strings of tiny bulbs and blinked alternating colors of red, blue, green, and orange.
Ryoma gaped, and Momoshiro beamed triumphantly. "It's awesome, isn't it?"
"Well," said Ryoma wearily, "it's bright."
Momoshiro laughed. "You'll say more than that when we go in!"
"Go in?" Ryoma asked. "Does it cost anything?"
"You let me worry about that."
The two made their way across the street--and, Ryoma noted with emotions bordering between annoyance and bashfulness, nearly hand-in-hand if it weren't for the fact that he was still being dragged by the second year--and came to the gate, when Momoshiro finally let go of Ryoma to dig out some change to give to the ticket master. Ryoma sighed and peeked inside the fence. There didn't seem to be anything too special; just a bunch of lights strewn across trees and bushes. He arched a brow but ultimately decided that this was better than going home.
Momoshiro and Ryoma turned towards the exit and saw a middle-aged woman walking out of the gates grasping the hand of a girl who couldn't be older than nine. Momoshiro smiled.
"Mom!" he greeted his mother in return.
The two exchanged a few words, and Ryoma realized that the little girl had to be Momoshiro's younger sister. She wasted no time in digging through Momoshiro's bags, and her mother scolded her, but he waved it off with a laugh. The little girl then realized that all the presents were wrapped and pouted.
"Niichan, you're mean!" she said.
Ryoma smiled at the scene. Almost just like a little female version of Momo-senpai.
"You can open them when I get home," Momoshiro reassured her. "Mom, if you don't mind--"
His mother smiled gently. "Of course. It'd be a hassle to look at the lights carrying those around." She grabbed the bags from his hands; that was when she noticed Ryoma. He quickly wiped the smile off his face as she turned to her son and asked, "Takeshi, is that your friend?"
Momoshiro turned and beamed at Ryoma. "Yep. Echizen Ryoma, a first year."
His mother bowed slightly. "Nice to meet you, Echizen-kun. Takeshi has told me so much about you."
Ryoma returned the bow nonchalantly. "Nice to meet you, too."
Momoshiro's little sister tilted her head curiously. "Is Niichan on a date or something?"
Again her mother scolded her for saying something so tactless, and Momoshiro became flustered as he growled, "HEY!"
Ryoma, on the other hand, widened his eyes and snapped his head away and towards the ground with gritted teeth. For some reason, the weather turned warmer.
"But he's blushing!" Momoshiro's little sister exclaimed.
Ryoma blinked and looked up at Momoshiro and inadvertently met his eyes. Momoshiro's face had the same emotions that Ryoma felt: bewilderment, scared, and a little bit... hopeful?
Momoshiro's mother raised an eyebrow, and then smiled, and snatched the little girl's hand again and headed for the crosswalk. "It was nice meeting you, Echizen-kun. Takeshi, don't be too long out; your sister will become too impatient and we'll end up opening the presents before you get home."
Momoshiro nodded, and instantly the emotions were replaced with cheer once more. "Right. See you later!"
"Have fun on your date!" the little sister piped up again as the two crossed the street and was promptly met with a glare from her mother.
Momoshiro sighed and turned to Ryoma with a grin. "Sorry about my sister. Shall we go, then?"
Ryoma shook his head after his little sister. "A miniature you."
"What?" snapped Momoshiro.
Ryoma snickered. "Nothing. Let's hurry, then; it's cold."
Indeed, a small breeze had lifted the dead leaves off the ground and warm breaths made tiny clouds against the frigid air. Ryoma's face was still warm, but the rest of his body shivered. He still did not wish to return home; however, Momoshiro might want to, or be anywhere but near Ryoma if his little sister had actually been referring to him about the "blushing" incident. Besides, Momoshiro has a fun time with family to look forward to. It was no fair that Ryoma was keeping him for himself.
"All right, let's go!" said a pumped up Momoshiro, and again he snatched Ryoma's wrist and pulled him inside, this time at a quicker pace because of the lack of bags.
Somehow, the weather turned a little bit warmer once more.
The night ended with a blissful walk back to the Echizen residence as Ryoma and Momoshiro discussed menial topics such as the tennis club and how they dreaded the evil plans their senpais were brewing for the return after break, and how their rivals seem to be or might be holding up so far and what kind of challenges they would bring in the future. They reflected over times in the past and laughed or grew equally upset over some of the mishaps and bragged about their current progress in the sport.
When the two arrived at the gate, Momoshiro turned around in front of Ryoma to face him and smiled. "So, honestly, how much fun did you actually have?"
Ryoma blinked and stared. After a moment, he smiled back; there was no use hiding. "Best time I've had in a while."
"Better than all the other Christmas Eves you've had?"
He hesitated. No use. "Actually, I've never considered this day to be a holiday."
Momoshiro frowned. "Why not?"
"I need some day to myself," said Ryoma, suddenly feeling sheepish for what he was about to say. "Everyone else has another day of the year that's special, just for them. I never had it. My birthday always landed on Christmas Eve."
"Oh... WHAT?! You never told me when your birthday was!"
"You never asked," Ryoma shot back.
"And even if I did, you still wouldn't have told me," said Momoshiro slowly. Ryoma nodded, amazed at how much he knew about him. The second year then grinned, to Ryoma's bafflement. "I understand. I bet a scenario like yours would be tough to handle. You'd think you'd get twice the presents, but why not have a bunch of two-in-ones? It's cheaper."
Ryoma nodded again and turned his head away. "And besides that, people would make too big a deal out of it."
"At least it's an easy date to remember! I have no excuse to not remember it for next year," said Momoshiro, winking. "Though, I feel bad, because you're thirteen now--right?--and I didn't get you anything."
"Momo-senpai, today was one of the best presents I've ever received," said Ryoma. He finally braved to look into Momoshiro's eyes again, and when he did, a sense of pride crept into his heart, for Momoshiro's eyes held a world of joy. "Thanks."
He shook his head. "I didn't know; it shouldn't count."
"It's my birthday. If I say it counts, it counts."
Ryoma didn't know what came over him then, and never would he find out, for it was at that moment when he stood on his toes and pulled Momoshiro's face in closer until their lips met. At first shocked at what he had done, and then further surprised that Momoshiro did not even attempt to pull away but was actually enforcing it by wrapping his arms around his body, a glow ignited in his heart as he realized that he was all he had ever wanted for any sort of occasion.
When the two pulled away, they exchanged what might as well have been equal looks of shock. Coherent thoughts soon clicked into Ryoma's head again, and he smiled softly.
"That's what I call a 'two-in-one' gift," he said. "Merry Christmas, Momo-senpai."
Momoshiro grinned widely and leaned in for perhaps another kiss, but he stopped suddenly and frowned. Ryoma blinked as the second year glanced up.
"What's that?" he asked.
Ryoma followed his gaze and saw a little piece of evergreen dangling over their heads. "Mistletoe?" he wondered to himself quietly. He widened his eyes with haste realization. "AMY!"
A feminine laugh erupted on the other side, and Ryoma felt his cheeks glow as he pushed past Momoshiro to... do something to his cousin. As he turned the corner, Amy had fallen off a wooden stool she had been sitting on, a twig with a line of string attached to it plummeting next to her. She said a quick "ow" and continued to burst into a guffaw, and Momoshiro came behind Ryoma.
"That's your cousin."
"I'm not related to her in any way."
She sat up, and luckily not having had understood Ryoma, grinned and chirped in English, "Happy birthday, Rome. I hope you're happy with your present?"
"I never asked for mistletoe," he responded with annoyance.
"I'm not talking about that present," she said as she nodded towards the fallen string. "I'm talking about that one. Your Momose."
Ryoma turned to Momoshiro, who smiled wearily and asked what was going on. Ryoma grinned back, and then turned to Amy and said, "If it's any of your business, yes."
"Good! Now hurry up and get inside, because I want cake already!"
As Amy made her way back to the house, Ryoma looked at Momoshiro again.
"What was that all about?" asked the elder.
Ryoma shook his head. "Nothing, really. She was just being her typical idiot self."
"It's not nice to insult a lady like that."
"She's not a lady."
Momoshiro laughed. "Finish where we left off?"
"Want to include the mistletoe?"
"Why, when I'm certain that this will last even without it?"