"I'm taken," Echizen snapped, and everyone stared.
The girl looked mortified, teeth clamping down on her lower lip and envelope - Echizen's name inscribed on the front in neat handwriting - fluttering to the floor from shaking fingers before she dashed away, hands flying up to cover her face. One of her friends chased after her, but everyone else was frozen, staring at the freshman as if he had just grown a mutated limb or announced he was quitting tennis in order to join the art club. Of course, it was expected for any girl who approached Echizen to come away in tears or indignation from the boy's untactful, blunt nature - which was to say, since Echizen had never said "yes" to anyone, they never expected him to claim attachment as his rite of rejection.
Momo never expected it either. For the first time, he found himself part of the crowd, blinking dumbly down at Echizen instead of dismissing the incident with a chuckle and dragging the freshman off to practice.
As the crowd began to dissipate, murmurs and whispers already threading through the throng as the buds of rumors, Momo shook himself out of his stupor. Echizen tugged on his jacket sleeve, muttering a sullen, "Hurry up, Momo-senpai."
It could have been Momo's imagination, but the brat's baseball cap seemed pulled lower than usual. He couldn't see those catlike yellow eyes; they didn't flicker up at his with a hint of mischief or a spark of humor to let Momo in on what was obviously a private joke.
Momo was Echizen's best friend, and he can't help but feel a twinge of jealously and resentment that he didn't know what was going on. He figured he, if anyone, should be the first to know if Echizen had a significant other - he spent so much time with the boy that he was pretty sure he would notice if Echizen was taking time away from "their" time to date someone, but he honestly couldn't think of a single afternoon for the past two weeks that they hadn't spent together, eating burgers or sprawled in Echizen's backyard (they always went to Echizen's house, if only to escape the terrors Momo is forced to call siblings) or playing tennis up at the street courts.
Momo walked with Ryoma to and from school every day, hung out with him after practice and, on some evenings, would end up carrying the freshman up to his bed to from where he'd fallen asleep in the backyard in the middle of a chat. Somehow, Echizen had become so ingrained into Momo's schedule that he couldn't imagine a day without him - what would he do if he couldn't tease the brat all afternoon?
... Really, he was unnaturally attached to Ryoma. He had turned down more than one date because he didn't want a relationship interfering with hanging out with him. But, if Ryoma was taken...
It seemed obvious that - the only explanation - if Echizen was seeing someone, he was purposely hiding it from Momo.
Momo came to this conclusion and it immediately wrenched something inside him; the idea that Echizen has been keeping something from him in a relationship where he himself has given complete trust, no secrets - and he had really thought Echizen felt the same way, because Momo was the only person he had to talk to about stuff...
... Or at least, that's what Momo thought.
The second-year glanced down at the top of Echizen's head as they walked, the silence between them hanging heavy in the air instead of the quiet camaraderie they usually had. Momo knew Echizen expected him to ask what that had all been about, but Momo respected Echizen's privacy, even though there never had been much of that between them. He'd hardly ever egged the freshman to spill information; it always sent a pleasant shiver through him when he thought that he was the only one that Echizen willingly shared his thoughts - his hopes - even his doubts with.
The other freshman always came to Momo when Echizen was being particularly bratty, knowing he'd have an explanation for their classmate's behavior. On more than one occasion, even Oishi-senpai pulled Momo aside for advice before approaching Echizen with a concern. The whole school viewed Momo as the only person who knew everything - anything - about the prodigal freshman. It made Momo ridiculously happy to be able to point another person in the right direction to approaching his rather socially inept best friend, or to grin and sing a "hi-mi-tsu" when the cause for Echizen's mood really wasn't any one else's business. But...
"I'm taken," Echizen had said, and Momo had no idea why.
Echizen had never hid anything from Momo before. There have been things that Momo hadn't known, but that wasn't because the brat was hiding them, it was that Momo just didn't notice them at first. There were always new things to notice about Echizen - like how he always did his stretches in the exact same order (biceps, triceps, deltoids and trapezius...) and how he always ate the tomatoes out first when he had a salad; how he would lip synch to B'z and w-inds. sometimes, but only when he was alone; how when he slept, his eyelashes seem even more long and graceful than usual across his cheekbones, and his lips were always just slightly parted, and once he was asleep he didn't move at all, not an inch, unless something bothered him.
Sometimes it occurred to Momo that it might be a little weird for him to know such intimate details about his friend, but he didn't really care. He liked knowing stuff about Echizen - stuff no one else knew. Besides, Echizen had claimed him as a pillow enough times, anyway.
But if Echizen was taken...
... someone else would be working overtime as a makeshift pillow.
Someone else would be watching that slender back as it stretched before practice.
Someone else would chuckle at that shy grin Ryoma gave when he was caught doing something he'd usually be embarrassed about - singing to the radio, talking to his cat - but he trusted you enough not to lash out.
"Oi, Echizen." The words came out a lot more brusquely than he'd have liked, and the freshman actually started as he looked up at Momo. Momo felt a pang of guilt, but he wasn't sure what it was for, so he shoved it away.
Echizen lifted an eyebrow at him in a perfectly practiced expression. "Hm?"
Momo looked away from those bright yellow eyes, licking suddenly dry lips. He glanced quickly down at Echizen's face, then away again. "You're..." He swallowed. "You're... taken."
Echizen blinked at him. Looked down at the sidewalk. He was mentally tugging his baseball cap down over his face, Momo knew, but he thought his discomfort would be to obvious if he physically adjusted it. Momo wondered how he would answer, if he knew exactly what it would mean to Momo if he had been keeping secrets from him, if...
Ryoma shrugged. He looked back up at Momo, and Momo swore he could see the barest hint of a smile curling the younger boy's mouth. Tilting his head slightly toward Momo then back as if indicating the space between them, he reached up and tugged his cap down.
"Couldn't think of what else to call this."