Title: Going Home
Author: Becchan
Fandom: Prince of Tennis
Rating: PG
Characters: Momo and Ryoma
Notes: "It frustrated Ryoma to no end, because tennis was tennis, no matter who you played it with, and the people you played with shouldn't matter nearly as much as the game itself - but - when it came to Momo-senpai, that was where everything fell apart." No matter how things change, there are always some things that will stay with you no matter what.

This took forever. Ryoma was being an absolute bitch to write. And he still seems kind of OOC; my only excuse is that he had to have changed a little as he got older. ...Yeah. Beware of rampant symbolism and ambiguous dialogue. For Kira, because I luffle her, even if I can't write as well as her. 3


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Winter still hung on the air. It was springtime, obviously; all around, leaves were unfolding and the first flowers were peeking shyly out of their buds. The first spring showers had already come and gone - puddles dotted the sidewalk from the most recent one, even, and the trees and shrubs all carried a damp kind of poise, drooping and dripping, but really doing neither.

It was springtime, but winter still bit your tongue with every breath, blew briskly among the new leaves, frosted itself white on windows and cars on those particularly chilly mornings that still made you want a cup of hot chocolate. It clung to flagpoles, handrails, anything that would welcome and keep it and pass it to whoever touched it. It hung on the air and stung your face if you ran too fast. It was springtime, but winter stayed, lingering, like the fading end of a story that wasn't quite ready to be over.

But it had hung on far too long, and soon people would grow tired of winter and push it away. They'd don shorts and t-shirts, even if it made them shiver a little bit. Little children would save their pennies for ice cream, and when winter was finally whisked away on that last bitter breeze, it would have already been long gone in everyone's mind.

But not yet.

Ryoma pulled his jacket more snugly around himself, focusing more on his feet than the sidewalk and only occasionally glancing out from under the brim of his baseball cap to take in his surroundings. It didn't matter, anyway; It wasn't like the path was an unfamiliar one, and to Ryoma bumping into someone was much preferred over accidentally soaking his shoes in some half-frozen puddle.

Hefting his bag on his shoulder, Ryoma paused to look around. This wasn't where he had been heading, though the path here was just as familiar as the one he had intended to take. It was almost as if his feet had brought him here on their own accord. Or... well, it wasn't surprising that he had ended up where his thoughts were. He lowered his tennis bag gently to the ground and approached the dull silver fence; his fingers curled around the chain links as he peered through the fence.

A few brown, crinkled leaves were scattered across the tennis courts; most of them had been blown away during the winter or swept up by the occasional maintenance worker. But the ones that were left were hardly noticeable; they blended with the courts like they belonged there. Actually, Ryoma mused, they were better than the green, leafy branches that were poking through the fence down at the far end of the court. The brown leaves were worn and withered, just like the courts. They had watched the team from high on their trees for so long, knew everything that had happened, and now they could whisper directly to the pavement, sharing the secrets of smash hits and footfalls...

Ryoma felt a weight settling in his chest, an inevitable heaviness around his heart. It wasn't often he was so nostalgic. Things had definitely changed.

"Echizen-buchou."

The voice was warm, friendly, and Ryoma knew its owner right away. He tossed a smirk over his shoulder. "Not yet."

"Aa." Momo leaned against the fence next to the younger boy. "But tomorrow."

"Yeah. Tomorrow."

They stood in silence for a long moment. Ryoma looked across the court, distant, and Momo watched him, smiling softly down to the top of that white hat that wasn't quite as far below his face as it was when they first met - Just another thing that had changed. But Ryoma... he was still a little brat. Older, maybe. A little more mature. Still Ryoma.

"It's weird to think--" Momo started, stopping as Ryoma started. He had forgotten that there was someone else there.

He looked up at Momo. "Eh?"

Momo hooked his thumbs into his jacket pockets. "I was just saying..." he turned, too, to look through the fence. "It's weird to think that now you're the only one of us left."

"Hm?"

"In Seigaku. Our team... You're the only one left." The taller boy leaned his forehead against the chain links.

"Oh..." Ryoma said. "You mean..."

"Yeah. Me, you... Fuji-senpai, Oishi-senpai, Kikumaru-senpai..."

"Inui-senpai, Kawamura-senpai..."

"Kaidoh," Momo added, smirking to himself.

"And Tezuka-buchou."

Momo looked at Ryoma, smirk fading into a smile. "Tezuka was a good captain."

Ryoma's eyes danced. "So were you, Momoshiro-buchou."

Momo laughed, ruffling Ryoma's hair before he could duck away. Ryoma scowled and tried to flatten to mess with his fingers. "Ah, you never called me buchou. And you never gave me an easy time of the job either, don't you deny it."

"I did." Ryoma grinned. "Call you buchou, I mean."

Momo snorted. "Only when you wanted to make fun of me," he said, but he was grinning, too.

"Mm."

Ryoma turned back to the courts. There were so many thoughts whirling around in his head; he wished he had time to sort them out, work through them, make sense of them. But there was only today, and his mind kept wandering back, not forward. Even though the courts were deserted, he could almost hear the voices of the last two years echoing off the pavement.

"We were great, weren't we?" Momo interrupted his thoughts. The taller boy smiled fondly. "We were really something good."

"We could have been better," Ryoma said softly, the words slipping out before he had even thought them.

"Echizen?"

"No..." Ryoma avoided Momo's gaze, running his fingers along the zipper teeth of his friend's jacket. Momo's Seigaku Regular jacket. "Big high schooler won't need this anymore, eh?"

Momo brushed his hand across the jacket to where Ryoma's hand lingered on the edge. "I'll always need this."

"Your high school..."

"...will never be as good as we were." Momo smiled down at Ryoma, then pulled him into a spontaneous bear hug. "I'm gonna miss you, you little brat."

Ryoma closed his eyes. "We can still play street tennis," he said against Momo's jacket.

"Yeah." Momo let him go, stepping back with grin. "Maybe I'll stop by sometime to help whip your freshmen into shape."

Ryoma couldn't help but smirk. "Momo-senpai, you're a freshman this year, too."

"But not a cute one like you were, Echizen."

They always did this, matching each other jab for jab and smirk for smirk, It came so naturally; Ryoma remembered how at practice they would--

Dammit, it just wouldn't be the same! It frustrated Ryoma to no end, because tennis was tennis, no matter who you played it with, and the people you played with shouldn't matter nearly as much as the game itself - but - when it came to Momo-senpai, that was where everything fell apart.

Because Momo was his friend. Momo mattered. Those weren't things he used to have to take into account.

And Momo was...

"Brrr!" Momo laughed and shivered, rubbing his arms through his jacket sleeves. "It's getting cold."

"Because it's getting dark," Ryoma replied, not looking away from the courts.

"Yeah. We should probably be getting home. Echizen, want me to walk with you?"

Yes.

"I'm... going to stay here a little longer."

"Suit yourself." Momo shrugged. "Just don't stay too long," he called over his shoulder as he walked away.

Ryoma turned, watching the other boy's retreating back. "I think I already have," he said to himself. It was really now or never. Well, not really, because there was always forever, but...

"Momo-senpai!"

Momo paused mid-step. "Hm?"

"What kind of senpai are you? Leaving your little, vulnerable kouhai out here alone." Ryoma grinned.

Momo blinked. A smile quirked at his lips. "Want me to wait for you, Echizen?"

"Only always." Ryoma smiled then; a real smile, not a smirk. He hurried forward, slipping his hand through Momo's arm. "But we can go now."

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