Author's Note: This is the first time I've ever posted a fic and actually, it's also the first time I had the patience to COMPLETE a fic. Funny thing is, this pairing is not even my favorite one from POT but I just started thinking about them and writing. Not to mention, the story idea for Tezuka/Ryoma actually started as a series of vignettes, but then my brain demanded I first provide relationship background in order to move on to the snippets I want to write, so here it is: three chapters worth of relationship background. Thank you for even reading this. Just to let you know, I am not a professional writer (which will become very obvious) nor will I ever be, so please keep that in mind. And to those party-pooping folks: If you want to waste time flaming, that's fine too, it's your life and breath you're wasting, not mine.
By the way, another warning, I took a LOT of liberties with Tezuka's family background. I only watched the anime which provided little information on that subject. And even if they do decide to give us more info later on, I probably will just keep to my version for the sake of sanity.
Thank you to Sammy-chan for being the first to read this and for being a yaoi fanatic like me. Rabu rabu!
Disclaimer: Pretty Prince of Tennis characters do not belong to me, cuz if they did, I assure you there'd be TONS of yaoish kissage scenes by now. It'd be practically yaoi porn.
Rating: PG for now
Focus: Chapter One
Echizen could not remember when it was that he started staring at Tezuka as he played tennis, but when the realization dawned on him that he was indeed staring, he found it almost impossible to stop himself from doing so.
Not that the action of staring in it of itself was so extraordinary, especially in regards to the Seigaku team's captain. Many of the other team members and even non-team members, both female and male, would stop in their tracks to watch Tezuka play. One must always take the time to stop and stare when a truly great athlete was before one's vision. It was just the thing to do. What was unique about the way Ryoma starred at the young captain was the sheer intensity of his focus. When Ryoma started staring, everything around him ceased to exist. The completeness by which Tezuka-watching overcame his senses would probably surprise even himself. During these moments, the world might as well be sucked into a black hole. Or rather, more appropriately, a white hole since all the background people and noise became just a solid whiteness of nonbeing. All that existed was himself and Tezuka.
And it wasn't solely due to Tezuka's amazing tennis abilities. In addition to the intensity of his gaze, what also set Ryoma's method of starring apart from others was what he was actually focusing on. Normally, when he was watching someone play tennis, he would take in everything related to the game: how the player held the racket, the flex of muscle as he swung it, the distance between the player's feet, and even his opponent's reaction to the swing. In a sense, the player, along with the court and his opponent, became one unit. Everything that might affect how the player would react was considered, even the weather and the angle of the sun.
With Tezuka, Ryoma did not see the racket, the net, the court, or even the opponent. He only saw Tezuka. And not even Tezuka as a whole, more like pieces of the boy that made up the whole. The young tennis prodigy would find himself staring at the curve of Tezuka's elbow (either on one side or the other), the lean muscles of his forearm, the dent behind his knee, the slope of his neck, or even the back of his head. And it did not just end there. His concentrated gaze would at times even further dissect parts of Tezuka's body down to the finer details. For example, when his eyes landed on the back of Tezuka's head, he would start visually picking apart how certain strands of his hair moved differently on one side of his head from the other or how various highlights would only appear when the sun happened to hit at the perfect angle. He would unconsciously spend almost the entire game concentrating on the part of Tezuka that he had unconsciously chosen to focus on while the rest of the world disappeared around him. Sometimes, when the older boy moved too quickly for Ryoma's eyes to catch up with immediately, his heart would actually race a little when he thought he'd lost track of his focal point.
And while staring, random thoughts would sometimes travel through his mind. Once, while staring at Tezuka's wrist, he thought of how it reminded him of an off-white colored mug he had at home that had a picture of Karupin on it. The mug was actually a gag gift from his dad, whom always made fun of the fact that his usually grumpy son would be so kindly attentive to his cat that it almost bordered on obsession. Even though Ryoma had been annoyed with the gift at first, over time, he came to use it so often that it had officially become his own personal mug. Tezuka's wrist reminded him of that mug because it had the same pale beige color and looked to be just as smooth, if the faint impression of veins were discounted. He'd thought about how the cool ceramic of his mug would warm up whenever he poured hot cocoa in it, and then wondered idly if the other boy's wrist would feel as warm. He'd also recalled the hardness of the mug's rim whenever he pressed his mouth against it to sip his drink, and contemplated how Tezuka's wrist might feel if he touched it or even pressed his lips against it.
It never occurred to Ryoma that it might be a little odd for him to be thinking of another boy's wrist in this manner. His mind was basically just a free-for-all, thoughts wandering in and out of it all the time, mostly without him consciously pausing to consider them. Not because he was an airheaded type of person like the coach's granddaughter—it always took Ryoma a while to remember her name—or her equally bubble-headed friend. In a way, one could say that Ryoma had such a laid-back personality that he just didn't give much care to his thoughts. Only during competition did that devil-may-care attitude disappear.
There was another time where the focus of his attention was the slight perspiration on the back of the young captain's neck. Not that Tezuka's opponent—it might have been Kaidoh during one of their practice games—was putting up that much of a challenge to actually cause him to break a sweat. Rather, it was a hot day to begin with and they had just finished warm up laps—30 of them—so Tezuka was already in a state of perspiration when he entered the courts. Tezuka didn't perspire as profusely as some of the other team members. Horio, for example, would look like he'd been dunk in a tub of water; water that also caused him to emit a highly unpleasant scent. For reasons unbeknownst to even himself, Ryoma was pleased about Tezuka's minimal degree of sweating. When the senior perspired, his face and neck would just barely shine with tiny beads of moisture. For that whole game, Ryoma fixated on the back of Tezuka's neck, wondering at the same time why it was only damp, why his sweat was beading instead of dripping, why the dampness seemed to just stay in one place and not run into the collar of his shirt, if Tezuka was at all bothered by how it felt, and if there was a threshold of exertion the older boy had to cross before he would start sweating. Ryoma's thoughts then started veering off into questionable territory as he wondered if the back of the other boy's neck would be warm to the touch, how the texture of his skin would feel there, and if Tezuka would react at all if he should just one day, without prior notice, reach up and actually touch him there. For another person, thoughts like this might have drawn out an embarrassed giggle or two from the thinker. For the prince of tennis, he contemplated all this seriously but with an outward look of immense boredom. The idea of being embarrassed did not cross his mind at all. Strange thoughts were simply birthed, processed, and allowed to move on. He rarely troubled himself to dwell on them.
Although he could not be sure when exactly it was he started developing his fixation on Tezuka—if forced to, he would probably have to say that the match at the Haruno clay courts most likely had something to do with it—he could however pinpoint the moment in which he decided that something must be done about it as the problem had been escalating for some time. Ironically, the person who helped him realize this was the object of his focus.
It was shortly after the Prefectural semi-finals tournament. The members of the Seigaku tennis team were having a regular practice session after school in preparation for the fast approaching Prefectural finals. This day, Ryoma had chosen to stare at Tezuka's shoulder blade, the right one to be exact. So engrossed was he in his examination that he amazingly did not even realize it when Tezuka had stopped playing and was actually standing in front of him speaking to him. It took a few sharp "Echizen!"s from Tezuka and a jab on his arm by Momoshiro before he was jolted out of his self-imposed trance.
"Nani?" he questioned in a slightly befuddled voice.
Momoshiro guffawed and gave the younger boy a few more painful jabs on his arm before saying, "Echizen, were you day-dreaming or something? Tezuka-buchou's been calling your name for the past five minutes!"
Upon catching this, Eiji giggled and piped in with, "Hwaah! Ochibi! Day-dreaming? About what? A girl? A video game? What's for dinner tonight? A way to beat Tezuka?" He nudged Echizen's other arm playfully. At the annoyed look the freshman shot him, Eiji only chortled and nudged him even harder.
"Yeah, he was concentrating so hard, he actually spaced out! I don't think I've ever seen Echizen space out like that! It was damn hilarious!" Momoshiro exclaimed.
Ignoring his senpais' ribbing, Ryoma pulled down the front of his cap and expelled a terse "che" in response.
"Look! He's so embarrassed he's turning red!" Eiji shouted at the consternation of his victim.
"Am not," Ryoma grumbled.
To help staunch the teasing, Tezuka cleared his throat and over the continued twittering of the other two regulars, stated, "Echizen, it's your turn. Momoshiro's your opponent."
His sour look transformed into a smirk at that. Ryoma picked up his racket and then pointing it at Momoshiro, announced, "Momo-senpai, you will not score even one point today."
Relishing the challenge, the second year flashed a toothy grin in response. "Oh yeah?-! You cheeky brat, I'll make you eat your words and your racket after I wipe the court with your ass!"
In the end, Momoshiro not only managed to score a point, but he actually took two games from Ryoma. The freshman had meant to stand by his words but he became distracted right from the beginning of the match as his mind went back to Tezuka. In particular, he started thinking about a course of action to rid himself of his strange obsession with the senior. As a result, he barely paid attention to the game. He eventually came to the conclusion that the best way to solve his odd problem was to spend more time in Tezuka's company. If they spent more time together, he would most likely find the senior completely uninteresting, and therefore, he would be able to get him out of his system completely. Tezuka would revert back to being the old Tezuka, the guy whom he is forced to listen to because he is the captain of the tennis team and the guy he will eventually, in the very near future, beat. Maybe then, the staring would stop on its own.
It all made perfect logical sense to Ryoma, and most likely to Ryoma alone.
Unfortunately, when he finally swung his full attention back to the match, Momoshiro had already won two games. He had actually been taunting Ryoma non-stop the whole time. With an extremely sour disposition, Ryoma decided on crushing his senpai and sure enough, Momo was not able to score any points after that. They were going at 5 games to 2, in Echizen's favor, when Ryuzaki called an end to practice, much to both players' disappointment.
"Aw, come on, sensei! I was on my way to a comeback!"
"No you weren't," Ryoma muttered, loud enough for his senpai to hear.
"Was too! I was catching my second wind, couldn't you tell?"
"No you weren't. I was crushing you," the younger boy stated bluntly.
"Eh, you wanna finish this and see? Let's finish this! Get back over there and I'll show you, you damn brat." Momo punctuated his threat by wrapping Echizen's head in a fierce bear hug.
Echizen winced as he tried to squirm out of the stranglehold. "Itai."
"Momoshiro, give it a rest," Ryuzaki called out good-naturedly. "It's been a long day for everyone, preserve your energy for when it really matters."
"Tch, you're lucky the obasan's on your side, kid." The older boy finally relinquished his hold on his much shorter kouhai, but not before doing what Ryoma hated the most, next to his suffocating head choke: pull off his cap and ruffle his hair violently. The extremely dirty look Ryoma aimed at Momoshiro was completely lost on the other boy as he had already turned to walk away, laughing loudly.
As the younger boy began gathering his gear, Tezuka came up to him and stopped in front of him. Ryoma looked up at the captain with an irritated expression on his face, still blaming Tezuka for indirectly costing him two games.
"Echizen, you're getting careless. There were several shots by Momoshiro you could have easily returned. We will be facing much tougher opponents in the Regionals than we faced in the Prefecturals. You can't afford that kind of carelessness."
"I know already," he replied irritably while looking off to the side.
"Echizen…," Tezuka paused before continuing, "Is something the matter?"
At that, the younger boy glanced up at the senior with a questioningly look. "I've been noticing you seem distracted. Is there…something you want to talk to me about?"
"Something?" Ryoma thought about it for beat. The timing probably be better so he shrugged and answered with, "Buchou, what are you doing after this?"
Caught off-guard by the apparent nonsequitor, Tezuka blinked a few times. "What?"
"Are you going straight home after you wrap things up here?"
"How long before you can leave?"
Still confused, Tezuka replied haltingly, "I usually meet with Ryuzaki-sensei to discuss tomorrow's activities, but that usually lasts less than an hour. Echizen, why are you…?"
"Good. I'll wait for you then. On the front steps of the school."
With that, Ryoma turned to head off to the locker room but stopped when he realized the senior was still standing there looking at him. Out of the corner of his eyes, the freshman saw that Kachiro and Horio, who had been in the process of picking up the balls, had spotted them talking and were now openly staring at them. Wincing inwardly as he imagined Horio's screeching voice asking him what he and the captain had been conversing about, he urged the Tezuka on by impatiently asking, "Anything else?"
There was, of course, namely why Echizen was acting so strangely. However, seeing that the other boy was in an obvious hurry to go get cleaned up, he decided to just wait until they met up later to discuss the matter. Shaking his head, he then pushed his glasses up on his nose and followed behind the freshman silently.
It was forty minutes later when Tezuka exited Ryuzaki's office. The school building was already mostly deserted as most club activities had already concluded. There were only two or three students milling about, but even they were in the process of preparing to go home. As the senior headed downstairs to the designated meeting place, he wondered again about what might be bothering the young tennis prodigy. Although no one would ever be able to tell even if they looked carefully, Tezuka had actually been distracted himself. In fact, he had been preoccupied by his own worrisome thoughts ever since his match with Echizen at the Haruno University court. He had been wondering if he might have jumped the gun a bit. Did he in fact create more pressure for the younger boy by doing what he did, even if his intentions were in the right place? He was a little relieved when Echizen seemed fine during his matches with Yuuta and Akutsu, but considering the first-year's behavior for the past couple of days, Tezuka began to have doubts again. In his heart, Tezuka truly wanted Echizen to escape his father's shadow and evolve into a strong tennis player in his own right, if not for the sake of Seigaku, then at least for the sake of himself. From the first moment he saw him play, Tezuka knew the boy would become a force to be reckoned with in the tennis world. At the same time, Tezuka could also tell that Ryoma was being held back by something which prevented him from allowing his full potential to shine through. Once Ryuzaki told him who Echizen's father was, Tezuka immediately realized what that something was. Therefore, even though he knew he would be risking his own tennis career, he never thought twice about helping Ryoma get over the hurdle he had unconsciously erected because of his obsessive drive to beat his dad. Tezuka was certain that once Ryoma stopped playing as a facsimile of his father and started mining from his own inherent abilities, his potential would be boundless. He would be a powerful role model, inspiring those that will come after him through his example. Tezuka believed Echizen would probably be an even stronger leader than himself. With this belief, the young captain therefore resolved to bestow upon Echizen the duty to become the next pillar of Seigaku. He had no doubt that Echizen would be able to continue to lead Seigaku to the Nationals year after year until he was ready to pass his mantle.
Granted, with the freshman's current disposition, he might not be the most likely candidate to be a team captain, but hopefully that would change in time too once he learns to care about his teammates. Perhaps his disposition will evolve along with his talent. After all, even Tezuka knew that he himself wasn't the most personable human being on earth and he always tried to overcome that shortcoming by showing, in other ways, how important his team's well-being is to him. He had long come to terms with the fact that he simply wasn't wired to be expressive about his feelings. If someone were to ask Tezuka when was the last time he let loose with happiness, or even displeasure, the senior would be hard pressed to find such a moment in the history of his relatively short life. At least in that aspect, Ryoma differed from him. The freshman never had a problem showing his displeasure in a blatant manner.
Perhaps this was the perfect time to talk to Echizen about all this, even though it usually wasn't in his nature to be so inquisitive. Even though the means by which the circumstances came about were still a little odd, after all, he never expected Echizen to extend such an invitation, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Maybe Echizen wanted to talk to him in private about just this very subject that had been troubling himself, that is why the freshman wanted to wait for him after practice like this.
When he opened the front door of the school building, he found the younger boy waiting for him on the steps, just as he said he would be. Ryoma was leaning back against the stairs on his bag, sipping a can of Punta. He greeted Tezuka with a "Sup" before getting up.
Tezuka nodded in greeting, and was about to say something else when Echizen cut him short by asking, "You usually take the train home, don't you?"
"I think I passed by your house once, it isn't that far from mine, even though it's further from school."
Tezuka could only reply in the affirmative. "Wanna walk instead of taking the train?" was Echizen's next question.
The young captain figured that the other boy must want to have more time to talk with him so he nodded and said, "I do walk home sometimes, when we end earlier. I usually take a shortcut through the park, but we don't have to do that."
As they headed out of the schoolyard, Ryoma replied, "No, it's okay. We can use the shortcut."
Tezuka glanced at him, confused again since that dispelled his previous assumption. In actuality, Ryoma felt that taking the train would be counterproductive to his goal since it provided too many distractions and it was over so quickly, they would hardly have spent any time together. Walking on foot, on the other hand, would allow him to absorband process the older boy's presence since for the most part, Tezuka would be the only one next to him. He and Momoshiro usually headed home in this direction and at this time, the streets were mostly quiet as most people were already home, preparing for dinner. He wondered briefly if they would bump into the second year, since if Momo had gone to grab a bite after practice, he would be heading home as well by this time. It hadn't been easy to get rid of the guy earlier. When Ryoma told Momoshiro that he had business to attend to after practice and would therefore not be walking home with him, Momo began accusing Ryoma of secretly meeting with a girl. It annoyed the freshman sometimes how much his senpai reminded him of his father, who always assumed he was going out on a date with some girl every time he left the house for any reason other than school. Nothing Echizen said was able to dissuade Momoshiro of that stupid notion and when Eiji overheard what they were saying, he had joined in on the harassment. To make matters worse, even Inui added to the fray, his notebook and pen at the ready. In the end, it was Oishi who saved him, even though the three upperclassmen continued teasing on their way out at Ryoma's aggravated state.
If Momo knew that he had been waiting for Tezuka all this time, he loathed to think what kind of crazy conclusions the second year would immediately jump to. Not that he really cared, in the traditional sense, but it would just be too annoying. The thought of having to come up with an explanation, any explanation, was enough to make him feel tired. He hated explaining his actions. In fact, he disliked conversing with others at all and always tried to keep the lines of communication to a bare minimum. To him, long, drawn-out conversations were completely uninteresting. Why should he care about what anybody thinks? Likewise, why would anyone care about what he thinks? Ideally, people should just pass through life saying as little as possible. Echizen wasn't sure if this distaste for conversation was the result of having to deal with his father's boisterous nature, but he did know that it bored him endlessly whenever his father tried to talk to him. Part of the problem may be the subject matter Nanjiroh usually would bring up. When he wasn't making fun of the fact that Ryoma still hadn't caught up to his old man in tennis, he would be making insinuations about his son's social life, or one he may soon acquire since he was "at that age" as the old fart liked to say with many obnoxiously leering eyewinks. Once, Ryoma's mother had scolded her husband severely about his immaturity and had actually forced him to have a serious talk with his son. The horrifying outcome of that still made Ryoma shudder at the memory.
As a result of his acquired disdain for conversing, he always thought Tezuka's reticent nature a virtue. Unlike Momoshiro, who would either be blathering about some inane topic or singing some ridiculous ad-libbed song, Tezuka was silent as he walked by his side. It was a pleasant change. He definitely wouldn't mind walking home with the senior again, maybe even as soon as tomorrow if he could get rid of Momoshiro. He wasn't sure at this point if this would really help cure his staring problem, but he decided it couldn't hurt. If increased time spent with Tezuka did not help him overcome his strange fixation, he'll figure out something else eventually. Either way, Tezuka wasn't bad company.
What Ryoma didn't know was that Tezuka had actually been trying to catch his eye for some time now, as an invitation to start a conversation. The captain was so certain that Echizen was troubled and had something to discuss. Why else would he go through the trouble of waiting close to an hour for him? But the younger boy was being perplexingly quiet and seemed content on just walking together. It wasn't that Tezuka minded. He had always been going home alone from school ever since he became team captain. He missed the days when he would head home with other students. He didn't contribute much to their conversations, but he enjoyed their bustling presence. It felt less lonely. Still, it was strange that here they were already cutting through the park and halfway to Tezuka's home and Ryoma still had not said a word. Was Echizen waiting for him to say something first? Perhaps that was it. The two of them were much alike in that sense, people of little words. So he cleared his throat—the sudden noise caused Ryoma to jerk a little in surprise—and asked, "Did you…have something you wanted to talk to me about?"
Ryoma frowned slightly at the unexpected question and shrugging his shoulders, casually replied, "Not particularly."
A very faint furrow appeared on the bridge of Tezuka's nose, the only indication of how mystified he was. If Echizen didn't have anything to say to him, if he hadn't meant to discuss what had been bothering him, then what was this all about? Why did he wait for him after school and ask to accompany him home?
"Why, is this bothering you?" Ryoma asked one eyebrow cocked.
Tezuka looked down at him with as close to a bewildered look as the senior could ever manage. "I-ie." He paused. "I just…thought you had something to discuss with me."
"No. Do I have to have a reason?"
"I guess not," the older boy replied dumbly.
"Good. Then why don't we do this again tomorrow?"
"Eh?" The senior was at a complete loss. "Don't you usually go home with Momoshiro?"
Ryoma shrugged again. "Momo-senpai could walk by himself."
A long silence ensued as Tezuka digested the freshman's words. "Echizen," he said finally. "Are you having problems in tennis?"
Ryoma shot him an incredulous look. "Does it look like I'm having problems in tennis?"
"But you've been distracted."
"I know. That's why I've decided to do something about it."
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
"You probably won't. It doesn't matter. Don't worry about it."
What is he talking about? Tezuka wondered. He was confounded. He wanted to press the issue more and figure out what the other boy meant exactly, but it wasn't in his nature to be so blunt, especially since Echizen had already indicated that his problem was not related to anything on the court. That would imply that it was an issue most likely beyond Tezuka's expertise, but then why would going home with him like this help the freshman. Tezuka's mind was drawing a complete blank.
"Buchou?" At the sound of Ryoma's voice, Tezuka realized that he had been staring off into space like the freshman had done earlier. The irony was not lost on Echizen, who had a smirk plastered on his face. "Are you gonna go in?"
Tezuka blinked and upon turning his head in the direction Ryoma was indicating, realized they had already arrived in front of his house. He frowned at the fact that the younger boy once again caught him off guard—twice in a day was really a record. Not knowing what else to say, and seeing that Ryoma was not going to offer anything else, Tezuka had no choice but to nod once as a good-bye and after unlocking his door, headed in without another word.
Ryoma stayed outside his door for a few seconds more before continuing on his way home, smirking the whole way as he recalled the dumb look on his esteemed captain's usually expressionless face.
For the next couple of days, Echizen waited for Tezuka after practice so that they could walk home together. At first, the freshman had some problems coming up with a probable explanation to give Momoshiro, but then an idea struck when he was in computer class. He simply told the second year that his computer broke at home so he had to use the one in the library to finish homework for now. He even told Tezuka to meet him at the library just to complete the story. Lying was not a hard thing for Echizen as he was used to doing so to his father in order to evade his nosiness. The only difference between those other times and this one was that when he lied to his father, it had never been for the purpose of hiding something because he didn't want anyone to know. While in this instance, he believed it was just easier to lie.
As for the captain, even though he was still thoroughly puzzled about Echizen, he decided to just accept the situation for now since he did enjoy the company.
As to Ryoma's original problem which was what brought about this whole affair, spending more time with Tezuka did not, in fact, help. If anything, it only made things worse. Whereas before, he would only stare at the senior when he was playing, he now stole looks at Tezuka frequently even when he was off the court, especially when they were walking home. He realized he actually quite enjoyed looking at Tezuka. If he were forced to explain what he found so appealing about the older boy, Echizen would probably have to say that he found the captain's stern profile somewhat intriguing. He liked tracing Tezuka's face with his eyes, starting from the tip of his rather sharp chin up to the midpoint of his bangs. He rarely got past that point, peeking from underneath the brim of his cap; any higher would have required him to actually turn and tip his head back since there was quite a difference in their heights. It wasn't as if he was too shy to stare at the senior directly, but somehow, he felt it unnecessary to make such an extreme motion just to look at the other boy. He rather enjoyed simply sneaking a glance up at the captain from underneath his cap from time to time as they walked home together. There were times when Tezuka even caught him doing so, as Ryoma would find himself meeting the other boy's eyes. Most people, upon being caught staring, would quickly look away, embarrassed. Since Ryoma was rather obliviously unabashed, he simply continued holding Tezuka's eyes while one corner of his mouth quirked up in a slight smile.
Tezuka had never really blushed before; there had never been the occasion to blush in his entire life. But in those moments, he would feel a general awkwardness and a faint heat in his cheeks that would cause him to be the first to look away, not knowing what else to do.
This game of silently walking and watching went on for a bit before Ryoma suddenly came to the realization one day that as much as he hated conversing, he actually developed a liking to the sound of Tezuka's voice and therefore wanted to hear it more often. Amazingly, he wanted to draw the captain into an actual conversation. This was so highly uncharacteristic of him that even he was taken aback when the thought struck him. He had been so pleased with the non-conversational state of their time together that it was almost inconceivable to him that he would now want to shatter it by himself. He was so astonished by this idea that he found himself ruminating over it for a couple of days before even acting on it. It was such a riddle to him that he actually became annoyed, more so than usual, when anyone dared to interrupt him during his contemplation. The mere idea that he would be spending time contemplating something for more than one minute, instead of just accepting and moving on, was in it of itself a novelty. What was wrong with Tezuka? What was so special about the older boy that he would actually bring out this alien desire to chat in himself? Even the word itself—chat—was distasteful enough to cause the young tennis player to frown in disapproval.
However, just as with all other obstacles, Ryoma not only rose to meet the challenge but also learned to conquer it. Therefore, one day, out of the blue, he decided to share with Tezuka a thought he had for quite some time.
"The schools here assign more homework than the ones in America."
If Ryoma noticed the captain twitch in surprise—which, in another person would have been equivalent to jumping 10 feet in the air—at the sudden sound of the freshman's voice, he gave no indication of it. "Nani?"
"It takes me hours to finish every day, even though most of it is really easy. Except for math, maybe."
"Oh. Is that so?"
"When I was in America, I would be done with homework by the time lunch break is over. I barely have time to play tennis with the old man after I came to Japan because of homework."
It seemed such an innocuous subject to Tezuka. Was there an actual purpose to this topic? Was he trying to lead into something about tennis? "So, you're worried you won't have enough time to practice?"
Ryoma shrugged. "No. I just find it a nuisance. I don't understand why they have to assign so much in one night. I never minded it before because I never had to deal with it after school."
Tezuka glanced down at the younger boy. "So…you need time off from practice to do schoolwork?"
Ryoma shot the captain a look that obviously indicated he was out of his mind. "Why would I need that? That's not going to reduce the amount of work I have to do."
"You just said…"
"Who cares about homework? Why would I stop playing tennis just to finish it?"
Tezuka was so confused at this point that he decided the best thing to do was just keep his mouth shut. If it wasn't about tennis, or homework, then he had no idea what Ryoma was talking about.
"You don't talk much, do you?"
It was such an incredible question, more as a result of the person who was asking it rather than the actual question itself, that Tezuka had to look down at the younger boy again just to make sure his leg wasn't being pulled. But Ryoma was only staring back at him expectantly.
After a few seconds, the freshman shrugged again and looked away. "Alright, never mind."
Tezuka could barely get over the fact that the pot had just called the kettle black. Not to mention he had never heard Echizen utter so many sentences all at once. When he finally got use to the notion, and came to the startling conclusion that the lower classman had been trying to just have a conversation with him, he needed a few more minutes to digest that information. He wasn't prone to conversations. Mostly because he didn't really have much to contribute to them; secondly because he always believed actions spoke louder than words. Conversations did not start with Tezuka; conversations went to Tezuka to die. It wasn't a trait that the senior was exactly proud of, since he always wondered if it wasn't more appropriate for a team captain to be more vociferous. Then again, he wasn't exactly sure how to go about changing that aspect of himself so he never really put in the effort to do so. When he first met the other seniors, especially Fuji and Eiji, they had tried to pull him out of his shell; eventually, it seemed that they had either given up or simply chose to appreciate him for how he was. Tezuka hoped it was the latter, just as he appreciated this similar quiet quality in the freshman. But now alone and faced with a rather chatty Echizen, he found he felt bit awkward about his assumptions about the younger boy. He was beginning to wonder, other than his certainty about Ryoma's skills as a tennis player, how much of his personality did he misconstrue. He felt not a little sense of alarm that maybe in focusing on Echizen as a tennis player and future pillar of Seigaku, he had forgotten about Echizen the person and the many facets of personality that made up that person.
It was at that moment that he decided that from now on, since his trust in Ryoma's abilities will remain unshaken, he would also invest more time in learning about the freshman. He would try to understand Echizen Ryoma the person.
With that in mind, he cleared his throat and tried to support Ryoma's attempt at conversation by offering feedback of his own. "Perhaps it's the difference in school systems."
It took a beat for Ryoma to figure out what the Tezuka was talking about, since he had already decided that the captain enjoyed conversing even less than he did his mind had already moved on to other things. Namely, food. "Hah?"
"Ahem, you mentioned when you were back in America, you didn't have to do as much homework. I've heard that our school system is more rigid. You didn't have to go to Saturday classes in America, did you?"
Ryoma blinked. "Yeah, that's true. I don't feel that I'm learning more here though. Especially in English."
"That's hardly surprising, considering you've spoken it most of your life. But are you having any problems in any of the subjects? You mentioned math…."
"It just takes me longer to finish it."
On weekends when he had time, Tezuka sometimes tutored as a part-time job. He wondered if he should offer to help Echizen in his studies, but before he could bring it up, the younger boy asked, "Na, buchou, are you hungry?"
The abrupt change in subject was almost disorienting to the upperclassman. "Hungry?"
"Do you need to go home for supper?"
His grandparents usually put aside his portion of supper for reheating since they went to bed earlier and therefore ate earlier. At times, by the time he finally made it home from school, they were already preparing to retire for the evening. They were extremely early risers. Because of tennis, he rarely got to eat dinner with his grandparents on weekdays, but they would keep him company drinking tea while he ate. If he was going to dine outside, which was rare and actually only happened when he went out with the team to Taka's sushi restaurant to celebrate their victory, he would at least call home to let them know not to wait up and the dinner would be saved for lunch next day.
"Iie, I only need to call my grandparents to let them know," he replied.
"Wanna go grab something to eat? We could go to McDonald's. I sometimes eat there after school with Momo-senpai."
Ryoma smiled. "Good. Let's go eat together."
Tezuka could think of little else to do but to follow Ryoma's lead.
In such a slow but certain manner, Ryoma and Tezuka's relationship began, with Ryoma as the initiator each step of the way, the set pattern for the rest of their relationship. And it wasn't because the young tennis prodigy was taking charge intentionally: an idea would strike him, and as would be in character for him, he would voice it without reservations. Tezuka would, in turn, go along with it. The senior was never good at social relationships in general, in this case, he found he was unsure what to do other than passively follow along. Ironically, despite the young captain's passiveness, in the end, Tezuka was actually the first to realize the truth behind Ryoma's sudden interest in him. Upon discovering this, he was greatly relieved since everything finally made perfect sense. Ryoma wasn't experiencing any personal problems relating to his family, school, or tennis, he was simply attracted to Tezuka.
Not that that idea didn't bring about a whole new set of worries by itself. Tezuka had never dated anyone before. In fact, he had never even been attracted to anyone, female or male. While he was not a stranger to other people expressing their admiration for him—you couldn't be the captain and arguably the best player of the infamous Seigaku tennis team without ever receiving love letters and gifts on both Valentine's and White Day from secret and not-so-secret admirers—he had never once reciprocated those sentiments. Therefore, when he realized that Ryoma was doing just that, expressing his romantic interest in him, albeit in a much more roundabout and ultimately less awkward way, he wasn't quite sure how to feel about it. He wasn't sure what to do about it, or if he needed to even do anything about it since Ryoma seemed to be handling things pretty well in that department. Everything seemed to simply be running on some natural course set by the younger boy. Tezuka almost felt as if all he really had to do was show up. Contrary to this instance, he had never taken such a passive role in any aspect of his life, but he decided it was probably the best thing to do for now. It was obvious Ryoma himself hadn't realized where all this time spent together was heading; perhaps it would be best just to go with the flow until the freshman figured it out himself. If nothing else, it would probably be the least embarrassing method for the younger boy.
Recognizing Ryoma's attraction was one thing, deciding how he felt about the younger boy was another. Tezuka wasn't sure if he was in fact unconsciously reciprocating Echizen's attentions by agreeing to spend so much time with the freshman. All he knew, for certain, was that he enjoyed their time together and he would like to see how far Ryoma was going to take them. Could this inactiveness be his unconscious way of returning the other boy's feelings? And was this therefore how it felt to be in love then? Somehow, Tezuka always thought it would carry more of a punch. He was almost tempted to ask someone about it, since he didn't want to be taking Echizen for granted, but he was hard pressed to decide on whom to ask. While Fuji knew him the best even though Oishi knew him the longest, none of them ever really broached the subject of their social lives. Fuji did on occasion tease Tezuka about his many admirers, but it had only been superficial teasing. Conversely, the young captain had no idea if Fuji had ever dated anyone himself. He could not recall ever seeing the tensai being close to any other girl or boy. The only person he really talked about was his siblings, especially his brother Yuuta. Then again, had he ever really paid attention unless it had something to do with Fuji's tennis? Being a private person himself, Tezuka had never tried to delve into other people's personal lives, long-time friend or not. Oishi was in the same category as Fuji. Not to mention, he instinctively knew that he would probably give Oishi a heart attack if he were to discuss something like this with him. Other than Fuji and Oishi, there really wasn't anybody else he'd seriously consider asking about this subject. Even though he knew Inui almost as long as he knew Oishi, they were never really close so he would feel even less comfortable talking to him about something so sensitive. As for the rest of the team, just the thought of their names brought his consideration to a full stop.
So he had little choice but to hope that he wasn't doing anything wrong by not really doing anything. If he had taken a moment to wonder why he was even worried about this at all if he wasn't interested in Ryoma in the least, he probably would have been able to figure out a lot more about his own feelings.
"Na, buchou, are you busy Sunday?"
It had been a rather busy day, both during school and practice, so instead of walking home or going to McDonald's, the two of them were resting on the bench at the park, watching the ducks fishing for food in the pond. It was well after dusk and the park lights were already on. Once in a while, couples or families would walk by to their far left, as it was past dinnertime for most people and the flower bordered path that ran through most of the park was perfect for an after-meal stroll. While the two of them would occasionally people-watch instead of staring at the ducks, no one really paid them any heed. There was nothing more uninteresting than two serious looking teenage boys sitting side by side in mutual silence, despite the fact that they were both physically attractive young men.
"Sunday?" Tezuka replied absently.
"There's this movie I wanna see."
It would be the second time they went to see a movie together. It was Tezuka's third time he ever went to a theatre. His grandparents had brought him once when he was younger.
"I have to help my grandfather in the garden in the morning and then tutoring until 2 but that's it."
"I'll come by after two then."
Ryoma took Tezuka's non-reply as an affirmative. When he first asked Tezuka out to the movies, it was triggered by an advertisement he spotted on a flyer at school. The movie they saw was actually horribly mediocre, but Ryoma still enjoyed it. In fact, it had been a very pleasant outing overall since after the movie, Tezuka agreed to Ryoma's suggestion that they stop at a Hirosue's for ice cream. Ryoma had ordered two Super Deluxe Edition Strawberry Chocolate parfaits for himself but ended up splitting the second one with Tezuka. He even had some of what Tezuka ordered, which was a chocolate banana concoction of some sort, and decided that he would order that next time. The only small hitch, if it could even be considered that, to the day was that on their way out of the ice cream parlor, they had spotted Akutsu and that freshman manager of the Yamabuki team. Echizen couldn't recall his name—it was either Dan or Ran. Thankfully, the two of them weren't looking in Tezuka and Echizen's direction. Not that Echizen still harbored any grudges against Akutsu. He did soundly defeat the guy, after all, it was only right for him to show a little winner's grace as a sign of good sportsmanship. He just wasn't too excited about saying hi so he was relieved when the two Yamabuki students missed them. Despite that, the ice cream was delicious so it was a good place to stop at after the movies. He was glad that they would be visiting Hirosue's again so soon.
A duck waddled up to the two of them at that moment, making a loud fuss. Ryoma guessed it was probably demanding food so he started rummaging in his bag for something. Coming up empty handed, he could only shrug and apologize to the duck. After quacking a few more times, the animal fluttered its wings and then waddled back into the pond, leaving behind a few loose feathers, one of which landed on Ryoma's shoe. Both of them spotted the wayward feather at the same time and simultaneously bent down to brush it off. Of course the inevitable happened and their heads knocked soundly against one another. They mirrored each other by uttering a soft sound of pain while covering their foreheads with their own hands. When Ryoma realized what had happened, and what a funny picture they must make, he started chuckling softly. It took Tezuka a beat later to realize the comedy of their situation and he answered with soft laughter of his own. Echizen could not recall ever seeing the captain laugh, much less smile. The sight of it filled him with a strange sense of…something. Ever since meeting Tezuka, Ryoma started feeling a lot of strange somethings that he could not put a name to since they were so new to him. Like now, he had no idea what this sudden rush of feeling was called but they were making his eyes focus on the senior's lips of their own accord. Just like how it was on the court, the whole world disappeared when Ryoma's attention became fixated on the captain.
When Tezuka realized Ryoma had suddenly stopped laughing and was staring at his face intently, he became still. After an eternal beat, Ryoma whispered Tezuka's name in a weird breathy way and touched his lips to the senior's.
As soon as their lips came in contact, they were jolted back to the present and they pulled back almost instantaneously. For one of the few times in his life, Tezuka's stoic demeanor cracked. The look he had was a reflection of the wide-eyed incredulousness on Ryoma's face. Even though the initiation of their first kiss was something out of a romance novel, they were both completely taken by surprise by its actual occurrence. They looked away from one another in the next second, both filled with a sense of perplexity. They were too inexperienced in these matters to be embarrassed. Ryoma frowned. What was that all about? he wondered. He definitely hadn't been intending to do that when he came here with Tezuka today or any day. But, like with everything else when it came to the young tennis player, he gradually accepted that it did happen and almost in the next instant decided that it was definitely interesting. It wasn't good, however. Even though he had never kissed anyone before, he was pretty sure kissing should be a bit better than that, based upon the books he'd read and the movies he'd seen. Not to mention the fact that if kissing was really that mediocre, why would all the couples in the world do it so much and so often. Unless they were really bored and there really wasn't anything else a couple could do. He found that hard to believe. So the problem had to be with Tezuka and him. They must not have done it right.
He glanced at Tezuka, who was staring down at his hands, with the ever-present expressionless visage firmly in place though his cheeks were slightly colored. He was still a bit awestruck at what had just transpired.
"What did you think?"
At the sound of Ryoma's voice, Tezuka's head shot up to meet his eyes. When the younger boy's question finally penetrated the fog around his mind, he could only blink in response at the sheer strangeness of the question.
"It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either, right?" Ryoma supplied for him.
Tezuka remained silent and blinking.
"Do you want to try it again?"
The young captain finally found his voice. "What?"
"Let's try it again."
Tezuka could only watch in silent bewilderment as Echizen tilted his head and bent forward to touch his lips to the older boy's again. When they were only a breath apart, Ryoma tsked irritably and pulled back. "Your glasses," he grumbled, as if that would explain everything.
Tezuka's hand flew to the object in question. Ryoma frowned at him. "Take them off. They hurt my face."
In a daze, the young captain did as told. Before moving forward again, Ryoma cocked his head to look at Tezuka. He smirked and commented, "You look funny without your glasses, buchou."
This time, the kiss connected, but it was nothing more than the pressing of lips. Ryoma was not shy in showing his disappointment when it was over. "There has to be more to it than this."
The entire situation was so surreal to Tezuka that he could only think of one thing to say. "Gomen."
Ryoma waved his hand dismissively. "I don't think it's your fault."
The freshman leaned back in his seat and thought about it. "Maybe we're just doing something wrong."
Echizen's seriousness in contemplating the matter made Tezuka feel as if he should perhaps be doing the same. He personally didn't think there was anything wrong with the kiss. It was just a bit of a shock that it happened so soon when he wasn't even sure how he felt about the other boy, and when he was pretty certain Ryoma in return still had no clue about how he felt about Tezuka. Did all relationships begin with so much uncertainty? Somehow, it seemed a bit frivolous if that were true. Then again, if they had really skipped ten steps ahead by kissing when so much vagueness was still present, was that really a problem? Maybe experienced people did it the right way, in proper order, but what about inexperienced people like them? Perhaps this was how inexperienced people moved in relationships. And who knows, perhaps jumping ahead as they have done would actually in the end help clarify some of the steps they've missed. Or at least, he hoped so.
More importantly, the kiss wasn't so bad. But if Echizen found it so inadequate, then something should probably be done about it. A wild idea popped into his head.
"We could practice," Tezuka suggested in a very low voice.
Ryoma looked up at the older boy. "Practice what?"
Tezuka cleared his throat. His cheeks flushed with heat in the second blush of his life. In the dimness of the park lights, Ryoma missed it. "Kissing," he replied, barely audible.
Ryoma rested his head on his hand and thought about it for a bit. "Heeh, that's not a bad idea, buchou," he concluded.
"Echizen…," Tezuka hesitated. It was something he had meant to say for a while already, ever since they started spending more time together, but he never thought it was that important until now.
Ryoma lifted his eyebrows expectantly. "You don't…maybe when we're not at school, or at a game, you don't always have to call me buchou."
The young tennis prodigy shot his captain one of his rare smiles as he replied, "Alright, Tezuka."