Disclaimer: I don't own Prince of Tennis or any associated characters.

Warnings: slight angst, fluff "Bye!"

"See you tomorrow, senpai."

"Ah! I'm late! Bye!"

The last members of the Seigaku tennis club rushed out of the locker room in a hurry, eager to get home. Momoshiro Takeshi waved as the first years called out their goodbyes. His grin faded as he turned his attention back to the supposedly empty locker room. There was one second year that still hadn't left, Echizen Ryoma. And until he left, Momoshiro didn't feel like leaving either.

Well, that and Echizen hadn't been acting like himself during practice. It was the first time Momoshiro could ever remember the younger boy being so distracted and out of his game. Echizen had lost to Horio.

So it was Momoshiro's concern that made him wait for his younger teammate. But as the minutes dragged out, Echizen still didn't emerge from the locker rooms; Momoshiro's concern began to shift to annoyance. After waiting huffily for another few minutes, the third year decided he couldn't wait any longer.

"Hey, Echizen! Why are you taking so long?" The door creaked open as Momoshiro stepped inside, searching the small room for his friend. It didn't take long to find him.

Beneath the lone window, Echizen sat on the bench, slumped against the wall as he watched his racket spin in his hand. At the site of the usually smug and confident boy looking so lost, Momoshiro paused. This wasn't a situation he was familiar with; how was he supposed to act around Echizen when he was like this?

"Hmm? Momo-senpai." Large eyes blinked at Momoshiro until they finally focused on him.

"What's taking you so long? Club let out long ago." A frown marred the boy's face as he reprimanded his friend.

Echizen rolled his eyes upward, pressing his lips together in thought. After a short silence, during which Momoshiro fully entered the small building to watch the second-year, Echizen rose from the bench and placed his racket in his bag. There was a moment's pause before he zipped his bag shut and shouldered it.

"Why are you still here, Momo-senpai?" Echizen walked past the taller boy and out the building, stopping just long enough for Momoshiro to pick up his own bags before following in silence.

"It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter at all." The conversation resumed only once they were well off the Seigaku grounds. "What's wrong with your racket?"

"What do you mean?" Street lights flickered on as the sun dipped lower behind Tokyo's buildings. Momoshiro rubbed at his head, looking towards the sky as he answered.

"You were looking at it strange in the locker room. Is there something wrong with it?"

"No, not really."

"That might explain your playing today." Momoshiro continued on, as if Echizen hadn't spoken at all. "Hmmm...but you've played with a worse racket before so that couldn't be it."

As they continued down the street, Momoshiro lapsed into silence. For some reason, it seemed to be taking longer than normal to reach the burger joint. A quick glance at Echizen showed Momoshiro that his friend wasn't paying much attention to anything other than his sneakers. There was something...different about the second year that Momoshiro just couldn't place.

After walking for a few more minutes in silence, and gathering his thoughts, Momoshiro turned to his friend.

"Na, Echizen..." He paused, searching for the right words, "You're game was different today."

"Hmm?" Echizen glanced at the older boy through his bangs. "Was it that bad?"

"You lost to Horio!" Momoshiro stumbled, tripping on a crack in the pavement as he stared at the other boy. "You don't think that's bad?"

Echizen just watched a passing car as they were held up at a crosswalk; Momoshiro was restraining himself from seeing if the boy had a fever.

"He could have just been having a good day."

"Not against you. You've played him at his best before and were still able to beat him without losing a game." As they walked into the burger joint, Momoshiro took the time to examine his friend. Outwardly, Echizen appeared completely normal - the same bored, yet annoyed, look plastered on his face that had been there since the first time Momoshiro had seen him.

"Momo-senpai. Are you going to order?" An eyebrow was quirked in the third year's direction as he laughed nervously, quickly placing an order.

As the two located a place to sit, Momoshiro found himself, once again, analyzing his teammate. For the first time, they ate in total silence. It wasn't until the end of their meal that either of them spoke.

"You're not telling me something." The hamburger paused in mid-air, halfway to Echizen's mouth as he stared at the older boy in surprise. Momoshiro was staring hard at him.

Slowly, Echizen chewed and swallowed the last bit of food, looking off to the side as he sipped on his drink. It didn't seem as if he was going to say anything until...

"It's nothing." With that brief answer, Echizen stood and threw his trash away, shouldering his bag once more as he left Momoshiro behind.

It took a few seconds for him to react. Echizen was already out of the building by the time Momoshiro grabbed his bag.

"What do you mean it's nothing?" Whether it was the question or the fact that it was shouted quite loudly that stopped Echizen, Momoshiro didn't know. Nor did he really care. "It's got to be something. Is it why Horio beat you?"

"Something like that." The lamp Echizen paused under flickered, causing his shadow to dance oddly on the sidewalk. "Ne, Momo-senpai. What do you think leaving Seigaku would be like?"

"Leaving Seigaku? I dunno. Why are you asking?" When Momoshiro glanced down, Echizen wasn't looking at him. Instead, the boy seemed to have become interested in a shop display to his right.

"This is your last year, right?" The second year kept his eyes on the display, waiting for Momoshiro's answer.

"Yeah."

"You're not worried about leaving?"

"Not really." Momoshiro shrugged, running a hand through his hair. "Nearly everyone else is leaving that I know. Other than you, and a few of the second years on the tennis club, I don't talk to many underclassmen. And the high schools have tennis clubs, too. There won't be a lot of difference between Seigaku and high school."

The day's noises slowly disappeared as night's darkness began to deepen. Momoshiro shifted anxiously, feeling more than a bit uncomfortable at Echizen's odd behavior. The boy had been staring at the store display for a fairly long period, as if captivated by it.

Then, suddenly as if nothing had been wrong, Echizen turned to face the third year, a smirk on his lips.

"Want to play some street tennis?"

Giving the younger boy a challenging smile, Momoshiro shifted his bag. "Only if you feel like losing."

---

It was close to ten by the time Momoshiro and Echizen left the street tennis courts. The inconsistencies in Echizen's game that Momoshiro had noticed earlier had nearly disappeared as they played round after round. But there was still enough of a difference to keep him from completely passing it off as a bad day. There was definitely something wrong with Echizen. And Momoshiro was determined to discover what it was, fired by something more than just simple concern for a friend. What it was, he didn't know that either.

How he was going to discover the source of Echizen's problem, Momoshiro didn't know. It wasn't as if he could just ask Echizen; that would be too straight-forward and rude. And he wouldn't willingly tell Momoshiro if something was bothering him. So that left weaseling the information out of the boy. Unfortunately, tricking information out of Echizen was not a skill Momoshiro had come anywhere close to mastering.

It took a few minutes for the third year to realize that he and Echizen had stopped walking.

Turning to glance quizzically at his friend, Momoshiro discovered Echizen staring straight ahead, away from the street. Following his gaze, Momoshiro found himself looking at the Echizen residence.

Momoshiro was now utterly confused.

They had to have been standing outside the house for nearly ten minutes, yet Echizen had neither called Momoshiro on his momentary slip of focus nor gone inside. The silence stretched on as the two boys stood outside, Momoshiro shifting slightly while Echizen stood staring at his house.

"We're leaving soon." The statement was rather sudden and succeeded in confusing Momoshiro even more.

"Huh?"

Glancing sideways at the older boy, Echizen answered. "My family. We're leaving soon."

"Oh? Where to?" Momoshiro fiddled with the strap on his bag, unsure of why he suddenly didn't want to see Echizen.

"America."

"What?!" Momoshiro fell sideways a few steps as he jerked his head up. Echizen simply stared back at him, a small smile on his face.

No; it wasn't quite a smile, but it was softer than a smirk.

"We're moving back to America. Dad didn't say why, just that we were." Echizen's face became serious again as he watched Momoshiro.

"But...when? Wha-why didn't you tell anyone?" Momoshiro just gaped, unable to believe what he had been told.

"Maa...it didn't seem that important. Ryuzaki-sensei knows and she was going to tell everyone once I was gone." Silence fell once more as the two boys stared at each other. Finally, Echizen moved forward, reaching for the gate to his yard.

"When are you going?" It was odd. For some reason, the thought of Echizen leaving made Momoshiro feel...lonely, lost. There was a strange ache in his chest that he just couldn't define or place.

Echizen looked back over his shoulder, regarding his senpai for a moment before answering. "Three days. Today was my last day of school. We need to finish packing, then send everything ahead of us."

"Oh." Momoshiro was unable to hide the disappointment in his voice. The gate creaked slightly as Echizen pushed it open. Without warning, Momoshiro reached out and grabbed his younger teammate, pulling him back.

"Ah!" Stumbling backwards, Echizen still managed a glare at the other boy. Grinning, Momoshiro scratched his head sheepishly. "What is it?"

Again, there was silence as Momoshiro tried to find a way to say what he wanted. It took a few minutes, but Echizen seemed content to wait it out, not even glancing towards his house. After struggling a short while longer with words, Momoshiro simply pulled some paper and a pen out of his bag, quickly wrote something and handed the paper to Echizen.

Echizen simply blinked and looked down at the paper in his hand as if he didn't know what it was doing there. "What's this?"

"Ah...it's my phone number. In case you need someone to...talk to when you move." More attention was being paid to zipping up the tennis bag than to Echizen.

"A-ah. Thanks."

As Echizen made his way to the gate, Momoshiro could think of nothing else to say that would stop him. It took a few moments for the second year to enter his yard and close the gate; just enough time for Momoshiro to stop him once again.

"Hey, Echizen!"

Echizen looked up quickly; a lot faster than Momoshiro had expected him to. Now that he had the boy's attention, however, Momoshiro seemed lost for words.

"Momo-senpai?"

"Call sometime. Okay?" He felt extremely lame after saying that.

But to Momoshiro's surprise, Echizen smiled, actually smiled, and replied. "Okay, Momo-senpai."

And with those last words, Echizen Ryoma turned and walked to his house. Momoshiro stayed long enough so that he saw his friend disappear behind the door. Feeling strangely alone, the third year kicked at a pebble, reluctant to leave yet not wanting to stay either.

Finally, Momoshiro turned and walked away from the Echizen residence for the last time, whistling loudly as he left.

---

It had been one month. One month since he had last been at Seigaku; since he had talked to his teammates; since he had seen Momo-senpai. One month had passed and it had felt like longer.

Ryoma lay on his bed, staring at the phone sitting beside it. He had been staring at it for a good half an hour, as if thinking that by his will alone he could make it ring. But, as had been proven over the course of time, he did not possess that particular ability.

He pitted his will against the phone for another five minutes before deciding to concede, flipping over on his back with a huff to stare at the ceiling.

The silence lulled him into a doze, his mind wandering freely for a few brief moments. For some reason, Ryoma kept hearing his senpai's voice over and over, the words differing most of the time. One phrase, however, was repeated many times.

Brows furrowing, Ryoma stirred into full wakefulness and glared blearily at the phone, once more.

It still didn't ring.

Of course, he reasoned with himself, how could it when no one knew his number? His eyes fell on the piece of paper trapped beneath the phone and table. Momo-senpai's phone number.

Call sometime. Okay?

Lazily, Ryoma pulled on the scrap of paper until it was free. He stared at the writing for a moment, not really seeing what was written. If it was late evening for him, then in Tokyo, it would be around morning. So it was either too early to call, or too late, seeing as how Momo-senpai would be at school. And he didn't feel like calling just to be told he couldn't talk to his friend.

Call sometime. Okay?

It had been an easy request to make with an easy answer to give. However, the follow-through seemed to be much harder. Muffling a yawn, Ryoma turned away from the phone, intent on taking a quick nap before dinner. Besides, he thought as he placed the number back on the table, not noticing as it slipped off and fell on the floor, it wasn't as if he had anything to talk about anyway.

A few days later, Ryoma found himself searching his room frantically for Momo-senpai's lost number, wondering when it had become so important to him.

---

The paper was smooth beneath Ryoma's fingers, not tough or thick but soft and flimsy - as if it had been handled quite often. And, in fact, it had been. In the past few days, Ryoma had stared and messed with that one piece of paper enough to wear the numbers down. Luckily, he had already memorized them.

A quick glance at the clock assured Ryoma that it was late enough to call. Since it was Sunday, he didn't have to worry about Momo-senpai being in school. Even with these reassurances, it still took a few minutes for Ryoma to pick up the phone and dial.

He shifted impatiently as the phone rung a few times. Where was his senpai? Momo-senpai had told him to call and now he wasn't there.

After about the sixth ring, Ryoma was ready to hang up. If he felt generous, he might try again next week. But if Momo-senpai wasn't...

"Hello?" A female voice answered, breaking the monotony of the rings. Ryoma was caught off guard for a moment.

"Is Momo-senpai there?"

"Onii-chan? Mmmm...I think he left earlier."

"Oh." So he hadn't been waiting. For some reason, Ryoma felt disappointed.

"Did you want to leave a message? He should be back this afternoon..."

"No, that's all right."

"If you're sure. May I at least tell him who called?" Ryoma paused, caught between wanting to leave his name and just getting away.

"No, that's all right. Bye." And before the girl could say another word, he hung up.

Ryoma stood before the phone, staring at it for a moment. A soft scratch at the door and a muffled mew brought him out of his reverie. Tilting his head to the side, Ryoma listened to the sounds while in thought. Finally, allowing his lips to curl into a small smile, he went to the door.

"All right. I'm coming."

---

"I'm home!" Momoshiro yelled as he toed off his shoes, plopping his bag on the floor.

"Ah! Onii-chan!" A young girl popped her head through the doorway, eyes scanning the hallway. "You had a call earlier today."

Momoshiro blinked as the girl hopped out of sight, a soft humming floating into the hall. Curiosity peaked, the boy followed her into the other room.

"And?" He watched as his sister sat down at the table, picking up a pen to fiddle with.

"And that's it. You had a phone call." She turned her attention back on the work in front of her, seemingly ignoring Momoshiro's presence, annoying him greatly.

"That's it? Who called?"

"Didn't say."

"When did they call?"

"After you left."

"Did you recognize the voice?"

"No. It sounded male. Could have been a girl though." With a loud flop, Momoshiro sprawled across the couch, rubbing his eyes in exaggerated annoyance.

"And you didn't even get a name? What am I supposed to do now?" Or maybe it wasn't so exaggerated.

His sister shrugged in nonchalance, chewing on her pen as he struggled with a problem.

"I don't know. And they wouldn't leave a name, so it wasn't my fault. They asked in "Momo-senpai" was here and then just hung up. Very rude. I don't like them." The pen scritched across the paper, signaling the end of the conversation.

With a sigh, Momoshiro picked himself up from the couch and headed to his room. He had just thrown himself on his bed when the meaning behind his sister's words hit him. After a slight struggle with the sheets, Momoshiro pushed off the bed and bounded out the door. Thankfully, he found his sister just where he left her.

"Hey! What did you mean he asked for me and just hung up? Did he say anything else? Leave a number?"

The girl looked up from her work, a frown on her face, "I meant that he asked for you and when I told him you weren't here, he just hung up. What does it matter?"

Momoshiro didn't hear the last question, however. His socks rubbed against the hall as he walked back to his room wearily. With a soft click, the door to his room closed behind him. Much more gently than his previous attempt, the boy lay down on his bed, shifting enough so he could look out his window.

The sun cast a soft light into his room as it set for the day. Minutes passed by, but Momoshiro did not move.

The sun set a short time later, the soft light fading and leaving his room dark. With a sigh, Momoshiro turned his gaze to the ceiling, closing his eyes as he swallowed lightly.

"Echizen." The whisper died before it left his lips.

That lonely, lost feeling returned; the same one he felt when Echizen had said he was leaving. That strange empty feeling was back, too. Why did he only feel that way when it concerned Echizen? How strange.

---

The next day dawned bright and early and with Momoshiro sitting on the living room couch, staring glumly at the phone. His yawn cracked with a loud yawn, tiny circles forming under his eyes. The scent of strong, un-decaffeinated coffee filtered through the room with ease. It was strong enough to make Momoshiro perk up just long enough to get a cup for himself.

The phone still sat perfectly still and content on the coffee table when he returned from his brief trip.

Momoshiro made sure to carefully set his cup down before flopping very ungracefully onto the couch. His limbs felt very heavy all of a sudden, the muscles not responding like he wanted them too. The sun shining through the windows was incredibly warm on Momoshiro's face. It made him...kinda...drowsy. The couch was kind of comfortable, too...

Maybe...he would just - close his eyes for a moment. Just to rest them, really. He...he wasn't, tired. No. Not at all. Waiting for...Echizen to...call.....him....

The next thing Momoshiro knew, he was grappling at the couch cushions in an attempt to remain on the piece of furniture. A loud ringing was echoing in his head at the moment and the quick wake up also served to disorient him.

"Huh? Whazzat? Tori?" The ringing stopped only to be replaced a moment later by a rather soft voice.

"Momoshiro residence." Another pause. Groping around in semi-blindness, Momoshiro managed to climb his way back up onto the couch, listening to his mother's one-sided conversation. "Hmmm? Takeshi? Yes, he's right here - hold on."

Momoshiro felt his mother's hand hover above his shoulder and turned to face her, "Yeah?"

"Phone call, Takeshi." With a nod, he accepted the phone, cradling it between his shoulder and head.

"Hello? Momoshiro speaking." There was no answer for a moment and Momoshiro began to think that the person had hung up. Maybe some shy girl from school or...

"Momo-senpai." Echizen.

For a moment, Momoshiro forgot to breathe. He was quickly jerked back into reality when something hot and wet dripped onto the toe of his sock. Looking down, he saw a puddle of coffee slowly soaking its way into the carpet.

"Ah! Shit!" He dropped the phone and ran to grab some napkins, or paper towels, or anything that would soak up the drink. Before it ruined the carpet.

"Momo-senpai? Momo-senpai!" Though slightly muffled, since the phone had managed to fall between the cushions, Momoshiro could still make out his friends voice. Quite clearly actually.

"Ah! Shit!" He exclaimed once more, fumbling for the receiver as he scrubbed at the floor, "Echizen! Sorry 'bout that. I - uh...had to clean something up."

There was a brief pause.

"Heh. You made a mess, didn't you, Momo-senpai?" Unconsciously, Momoshiro winced, blushing slightly.

"No! Of course not! Who do you take me for?"

There was another, brief silence.

"Well, maybe. Just a little." Slowly, Momoshiro rubbed at the coffee spot. "So...." He had no idea what to say. It had been a few months since he had last spoken to Echizen, and yet, Momoshiro could think of nothing he wanted to say.

Well, no. That wasn't true. There was plenty he wanted to say, just didn't know how to go about saying it.

"Ne, Momo-senpai."Echizen's voice sounded a little distant, and Momoshiro didn't know if that was because of the literal distance between them, or because of something else.

"Yeah?"

There was a slight pause. If Momoshiro listened hard enough, holding his breath as he did so, he could just barely hear Ryoma breathing. It was, rather comforting.

"...nevermind."

A few moments passed in silence, Momoshiro still rubbing absently at the stain.

"Echizen."

"Yeah?" The reply was immediate.

"You called yesterday." It wasn't so much a question but a statement. Again, there was a brief silence.

"Yeah. You weren't home."

"Heh, yeah. I know. There was some tennis stuff and..." Momoshiro trailed off, debating the merits of speaking his mind, "and I didn't think you would call."

"Ah." And nothing more.

The longer the conversation continued, the more difficult Momoshiro found talking, thinking of something to say, to be.

"So..." he groped for something to say, "how's...wherever you are?"

"You mean New York?" There was just the slightest hint of mockery in Echizen's voice helping to make Momoshiro finally feel comfortable.

"You never told me where you were going."

"Yes, I did. You just don't remember."

"Oi! I would remember something like that! You must've forgot to tell me."

"Momo-senpai shouldn't blame other people for his mistakes!"

"Hey, you..." Just as Momoshiro came up with a nice, snappy insult, his mother walked in, effectively halting him.

"Takeshi, don't be too much longer. You'll be late for school."

"Uh..ahhh. Right. Thanks!" With a soft smile, his mother left the room, leaving an awkward silence that filled the conversation. "I have to go, Echizen. School."

"Oh...right. School."

Somberly, Momoshiro stared at the coffee stain before him, reluctant to just hang up. It was...weird...that feeling. For some reason, he couldn't place it; couldn't figure it out. With a firm shake of his head, Momoshiro pushed whatever it was back and out of his immediate attention.

"Yeah. I've gotta go now. Call again, okay?" A slight pause. "Sometime when I'm home."

"Whatever you say, Momo-senpai." The smirk Echizen must have been wearing carried clearly through the phone. Without further thought, Momoshiro hung up the phone and rolled back onto his feet. It was going to be a good day. Long, but good.

---

It was twelve-thirty. Just a few minutes ago, it had also been twelve-thirty. And, Ryoma was sure, in a few more minutes it would still be twelve-thirty.

Casting a glare up at the motionless clock, Ryoma was near positive that the world was conspiring against him. It was another two hours until school ended. After lunch, he had two more classes left; science and P.E. Those were fairly easy classes. Or maybe he could just play sick and go home early.

Ryoma was putting the last thought into serious consideration when he was nearly knocked off his feet.

"Ryoma! Hah! I've been looking all over for ya!" Gritting his teeth together, Ryoma glanced over his shoulder to glare.

"Hmmmm..." Ryoma replied, moving up in line to get some food. "What is it?"

"Huh? Wha-" The newcomer seemed a little taken aback by Ryoma's manner. But that passed in a moment. "Oh. Well, a few of us were thinking of going to a movie tonight. Kinda of a group activity thing. You wanna come with us?"

For a few seconds, Ryoma just stared at the boy in front of him, expressionless. Turning his attention back to the line with the 'Next!' shouted by the cafeteria lady, he replied with a simple, "No."

"No? Oh, com'on, Ryoma! It'll be fun! You should spend more time with your teammates. Team spirit and all that and you can't do that if you never hang out with us. Besides," the boy's voice dropped in level to a sneaky whisper, "Cara'll be there."

It was with a very strong effort that Ryoma did not roll his eyes at his teammate. What interest should he have in seeing a movie he didn't want to see in the first place? With a bunch of teammates that annoyed him and a girl that wouldn't stop chasing him? As Ryoma pulled out a few dollars to pay for his lunch, he absently noted how similar his situation here was to the one back at Seigaku: the loudmouth teammate that always followed him, the girl that was interested in him, the team that constantly went out of their way to make him social.

Ryoma snorted as he sat down. Now all he needed was the upperclassman that he preferred being with.

Coughing on a bit of water, Ryoma decided that he really didn't want to follow that train of thought for the moment. It posed a few questions that he didn't want to deal with; that he couldn't deal with. Not at that moment. Fortunately, a clatter to his right brought Ryoma back into focus, "Are you sure you don't wanna come? It's the weekend!"

Choosing not to reply, Ryoma simply finished his lunch as quickly as possible. A quick glance at the clock showed that it was only twelve-forty. Well, at least it wasn't twelve-thirty anymore. Picking up his tray and bag, Ryoma threw away his trash and walked out of the lunchroom.

"Hey! Ryoma!"

"No." Came the response. Letting out a long suffering sigh, Ryoma headed for the library. There was still about twenty minutes of lunch left and he knew of a nice little corner that he could take a nap in. Maybe he'd just sleep his way through the rest of the day. That idea was much more promising than playing sick.

---

Night had already descended on the city by the time Ryoma made it back home. Practice had run a bit late then the team had decided to gang up on him, trying to force him into going to the movie. What was it with people trying to make him social? Why couldn't they just understand that he didn't want to be with them? Distantly, Ryoma knew that all the effort was just being wasted on him because of his skill. He never could figure out why everyone had to be friends with him just because he could hit a tennis ball.

Slipping into his house, Ryoma toed off his shoes, shouting to the rest of the house, "I'm home!"

The sound of padded feet alerted Ryoma to his first greeter. A small, white head butted his arm followed by a plaintive 'mmmrow'. Scratching the cat gently behind his ears, Ryoma smiled softly while continuing on his way.

"Ah! Ryoma, welcome home." His mother stuck her head through the doorway for a brief second, giving her son a smile. "Someone called for you earlier."

"Oh?" That perked Ryoma's interest.

"He didn't leave a name but said he would call back later. That was...around five." She murmured, glancing at the clock before turning her attention back to the dinner she was preparing.

"Ah. Thanks." As he shuffled through the contents of the fridge, Ryoma did a quick calculation in his head. It was seven now, that meant...about nine in Japan. So everyone was in school. Taking tennis practice into account, that would mean...

Thinking his way through time zones and schedules, Ryoma failed to notice his father following him.

"Oi, boy! What are you doing home? Shouldn't you be practicing or something?"

Closing his eyes in frustration, Ryoma ignored the bait and continued on his way. Four there would mean two in the morning here. Four would probably be late enough. So he could eat dinner, take a shower and get some homewo-

"Is that anyway to treat your father? 'Che, kid didn't learn any manners...should send him back to Japan..."

Pausing just long enough, Ryoma turned to level a smirk at his father. Father and son faced off in a smirking contest, each smug in his own opinion of himself.

"Ahh...you're scared of losing." There was a brief silence as the two seemed to measure each other up.

"Losing? To you?" Nanjiroh asked, his body swaying slightly as if in preparation for an attack. Then, suddenly, he straightened, crossing his arms behind his head as he walked off, laughing. "Mada mada dane."

That remark made the smirk disappear from Ryoma's face faster than anything else. Fuming inwardly, he quickly ascended the stairs and stalked to his room. With a loud huff, Ryoma closed his door and flopped down on his bed. He just felt himself start to drift off when a soft scritching at his door pulled him back into reality.

Stretching out his weariness, Ryoma headed for the door. A small white kitten darted in as soon as there was a crack large enough for it. "You stay here. I'm going to get clean." And so it was that a few minutes later, Ryoma entered the room in his pajamas and then proceeded to curl up on his bed and fall asleep.

A few hours later, Ryoma was jerked awake by a very loud and shrill ringing. Groggily, he flipped over onto his side and stared at his clock. He blinked. The clock still glowed three o'clock at him.

Well, then it wasn't his alarm going off. Then...what was...

"Momo-senpai!" Making a valiant grab for the phone, and praying that his parents weren't woken, Ryoma tumbled out of bed, snagging the phone cord with one finger and landing in a heap on the floor, the phone falling on top of him moments later. Groaning softly, Ryoma felt around for the receiver, hearing the pieces of the phone clacking together.

After what felt like hours, Ryoma finally found the receiver, dragging it across the sheets and to his head.

"Uhhh...hello?" He asked, still dazed from being woken up so quickly.

"Echizen? Is that you?"

"Momo-senpai." There was a distinct relief in Ryoma's voice; he hadn't been quite sure it would have been his senpai.

"Echizen, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine. You just woke me up in the middle of the night." With a few shuffling movements, Ryoma was able to make himself a comfortable nest of sheets and comforter on the floor.

"Heh. I'm sorry. I guess I didn't think of that, huh?"

"Eh...it's okay." The comforter shifted slightly as the kitten tried to carefully walk on it. A few plaintive mew's accompanied the kitten as it bounded across the comforter to Ryoma's side.

"What's that?" Ryoma smiled as the kitten reached for the receiver. Gently, he picked it up and placed it in a little space in the comforter.

"What's what?"

"That sound."

"Ah. It's Fluffball." Ryoma replied, running his fingers over the kitten's fur. There was a significant pause before Momoshiro spoke again.

"Hmmm? Echizen? What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"...you're crying."

"Am not."

"All right, fine. If that's the way-"

"Leave me alone, Momo-senpai."

"Fluffball?"

"My cat...the one you gave me." More was conveyed in that sentence than just what Ryoma said.

"Na...you sure you're okay, Echizen?"

"I'm fine."

"You said that a few days ago..."

"...just leave it."

"Echizen, you shouldn't keep stuff from your senpai."

"I...it's...it's nothing, Momo-senpai. Really."

"Ah! Wait a minute...you named your cat Fluffball?!" A snicker escaped Ryoma before he could catch himself, "Why'd you do that?!"

Even though he knew Momoshiro couldn't see the action, Ryoma shrugged, still watching his cat. "That was what Momo-senpai called him."

"Oi!! Echizen!!"

"What?"

"I have something for you!"

"I don't want it."

"That's not what you say when you get a present. Come with me!"

"I said I don't want it!"

"Here."

"...what is it?"

"I thought you might, ya know...like the fluffball or something."

A long-suffering sigh carried through the phone. "Echizen...you should still give your cat a better name."

"He seems to like it and it fits." The current topic of discussion yawned widely, nudging Ryoma's fingers as he curled up in a small ball.

"...thank you - Momo-senpai."

"Don't worry about it, Echizen."

"So...we're playing Hyotei again. Sunday actually."

Pulling the comforter up to his chin, Ryoma smirked. "Heh. Will you actually get to play?"

"What?!" Momoshiro's voice carried through the phone quite clearly, making Ryoma wince, "Of course I'm playing! You're talking to one of Seigaku's best."

"Momo-senpai must be delusional."

"Heh...just come and play me and see if I'm lying."

There was a brief silence. Ryoma could almost hear Momoshiro shifting around; could almost see the look on his face as he once again realized that Ryoma couldn't go and play him that easily. It was an awkward moment for the both of them, for some odd reason.

"I'll still beat you." Well, it wasn't the best thing to say...

"We don't know that until you play me." It was an invitation.

"Heeeeh." Ryoma smirked into the receiver, knowing that Momoshiro would be able to read his voice. There were so many answers to that unasked question; the unworded request. Just as he knew Momoshiro could read his actions over the phone, thru his voice, Ryoma could read his friend just as well; knew that Momoshiro was waiting for agreement, "You shouldn't confuse reality with daydreams."

And that sent them back into the familiar bickering; a comforting constant in their lives and with each other.

---

"Carefully clean and replace the beakers and test tubes once you're finished. Put the Petri dishes in the incubator and then..." Momoshiro washed the glass container as quickly and yet as gently as possible. He couldn't afford to pay for another of those things.

A glance at the clock showed that it was only three in the afternoon. They were supposed to have a short practice today, it being right before break. But that hadn't stopped the teachers from assigning masses of homework so why would it stop Tezuka from keeping them as late as usual? All in the name of bettering themselves and taking Seigaku to nationals. Again.

Sighing wearily as he shrugged his way through the crowded halls, Momoshiro gave a brief moment of thought to what he considered a more important matter. Echizen's birthday was just a few days away. He had yet to find and send a gift.

Then again, what could you give to your friend that lived all the way over in America? There were probably a ton of things that Echizen would have bought had he still lived in Japan, but nothing that he couldn't find wherever he lived now. And that was only because the only thing he ever showed interest in was tennis. Always tennis. If he had any other interests or life outside of the sport, Momoshiro had yet to discover it.

Glancing at the clock once more, Momoshiro sighed. Only three-thirty in Japan; that meant early in the morning over where Echizen was. Although being first to wish the brat a happy birthday, and it didn't matter if he was early, had become a top priority on his list - Momoshiro blinked, tried to figure when Echizen became a top priority, and shrugged off the idea figuring it was because he missed his friend - he didn't really want to incur the boy's wrath by waking him up at such an ungodly hour. Or take the chance that someone else might pick up the phone first.

It wasn't as if they were keeping their correspondence a secret yet - there was something special about it; something that kept him from divulging their biweekly, sometimes triweekly, conversations to his teammates. All those conversations, the late nights and early mornings were made all the more special if it was only between the two of them. Or maybe he was being selfish and wanted Echizen to himself for once.

Raucous laughter and a few high-pitched squeals greeted Momoshiro as he neared the tennis courts. No matter what grade or where he went, tennis club always felt the same. Shouldering his tennis bag with more confidence, Momoshiro strode into the club room. A good game of tennis will help to pass the time, and just maybe he'll be able to think of something for Echizen by the time they're done.

---

"Dammit! Why do we always stay late?! I'll bet Tezuka has plans to ruin our lives so all we ever do is play tennis!" Momoshiro complained as he raced all the way back to the clubhouse.

He was late. The clock had struck seven just moments ago making it...seven in Japan - fourteen hour time difference so nine there...no, wait, fourteen hours behind which meant, errrr, seven minus two...somewhere around four was a good guess. Four when? It was early morning a few hours ago so that would still make it morning now...supposedly.

Momoshiro sighed as he rubbed his head; planning out when he could and couldn't call Echizen was complicated, even more complicated than becoming his friend in the first place. He had never had headaches over that, but then, bothering someone until they grew used to you didn't require much thought.

Jumping on his bike, Momoshiro grabbed his cell phone absentmindedly. He would call around six or seven. It was possible that he'd completely miss Echizen - he had no idea when or how long American schools ran, if they had the same breaks or not - but it was worth an effort to catch him. In fact, maybe....

His train of thought was abruptly cut off as his phone began to vibrate in his hand. Startled nearly to the point where he ran into a sign post, Momoshiro pulled his hand out of his pocket and let his feet drift to the ground so he could walk his bike as he talked; running into a wall just once had been enough to prove to him that biking and talking on the phone were not a good combination.

"Momo-chan here."

"Momo-senpai."

Momoshiro stopped. He stopped moving, he stopped thinking, and he stopped breathing for a brief second.

"Echizen." The name rolled off his lips in disbelief mixed with a bit of awe, "Wha-you aren't...but isn't it...?"

"Hello would be the proper greeting, Momo-senpai." Although the voice was slightly raspy and sleep-laden, Momoshiro could pick up the traces of a smirk in it.

"You should be asleep."

"Woke up. Can't sleep anymore."

"So you just decided to call me when it's..." he groped for a number, wishing he was better at math, "four thirty there?"

"Five-fifteen." Came the prompt response. Damn Echizen and his math...wait. He probably had a clock right in front of him.

"You could be practicing tennis. You still have a goal to reach. Right?" He added in afterthought. For Echizen to continue playing...he had to know.

"I wanted to talk to you. Is that a problem?"

"What?! No! Not at all, it's just I wasn't expecting to hear from you."

"Heeeh. Where's the fun if I don't surprise you once in a while?"

Momoshiro shook his head in amazement, murmuring into the phone, "You always surprise me, Echizen." He immediately wished he could unsay those words but luckily Echizen yawned loudly at that exact moment, covering his mistake.

"What was that, Momo-senpai? I thought you said something."

"You must be hearing things. I'd have had to shout to be heard over that yawn." Teasing just came so naturally with Echizen and the response came the same as it always had.

"Momo-senpai! You big oaf!"

They chatted for a few minutes longer before Momoshiro noticed the snow falling. The flakes weren't big by any means and melted as soon as they hit the pavement, but it was snow nonetheless. He cut off whatever he had been telling Echizen to watch the tiny flakes fall. It made him nostalgic for past winters with his friend when they could hang out during break practicing tennis or perhaps just wander around the city, looking for something to do.

"It's snowing." He simply stated. A soft humming, and nothing more, came from Echizen leaving Momoshiro to interpret the sound as he wished, "It just started, when we were talking. I don't know, I thought you should know."

"I miss the snow."

"Eh?"

"It doesn't really snow here. And if it does, it gets turned into slush. I miss the snow in Japan."

Momoshiro took a deep breath of the sharp winter air, letting it fill his lungs until it hurt. Exhaling loudly, he watched his breath drift up and hide a few flakes of snow as they made their way to the street, "Happy birthday, Echizen." He was greeted by silence, "I wanted to be the first to tell you and, well, I'm talking to you now so..."

"...thank you, Momo-senpai."

Hefting his bag further up his arm so he could comfortably grab his bike with one arm, Momoshiro walked the rest of the way to his house, talking to Echizen the entire way.

---

Back and forth, and back and forth. His eyes swung like a pendulum as he watched the tennis ball be hit from one end of the court to the other. The motions were the same no matter where he went, no matter how old he was; the ball always went over the net, in one direction or the other. Back and forth, back and forth.

Stretching painfully across the school bleachers, Ryoma yawned as the practice game continued. Behind him, he could hear the murmur of his classmates and teammates, some in awe and others in criticism. He had given up paying attention to what was being said when he realized that no one every actually discussed the game. He could never understand that reasoning; why watch something and never try to figure out how to improve from it?

In an odd, twisted way, he missed Inui's book of data. He missed Fuji's remarks and Oishi's steady explanations. He even missed - no, he didn't miss Horio. But he did miss having a warm should to lean against when a game went on for too long and he had grown weary of standing.

Ryoma sighed as he rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. What was he doing, thinking of things like that? He had more important things to do than reminisce on the past. His new team had their own problems to overcome and a tournament not too far away. He needed to pay attention to practice and learn. So, his eyes followed the ball once more going back and forth, and back and forth.

For just a moment, Ryoma closed his eyes, taking a break from the monotony of the match. All it ever was was volley after volley; didn't these people have any imagination?

"WOW! That was incredible!! Did you see that, Ryoma? Ryan just smashed the ball out of the court! What power..." Opening his eyes, Ryoma looked around the court to see where the ball had landed. When he spotted it just slightly beyond the line, rolling back from hitting the fence - why wasn't it stuck in the fence grates? Momo-senpai... - Ryoma just snorted.

"Mada mada dane." He muttered as he pulled his cap down over his eyes.

"Huh? Mada what? What did you say, Ryoma?"

"Nothing." Ryoma stood and stretched. It was too boring sitting around so he headed to the fence to see the game better.

"Hey, Ryoma! What are you doing down there? You're going to distract the players. Come up here."

Suppressing a sigh, Ryoma turned and headed up the bleachers once more. It wasn't that the bleachers were too far away from the courts (in fact, they were only a few feet away) or that he had to sit when watching the games, it was just...

Back and forth, and back and forth. The comforting movement of the ball lulled Ryoma into a half-sleep.

"I got such a bad grade on my English test! I can't go home with this! Mom'll yell when she sees it. Want to grab something to eat after practice? I'll give you a ride home." A voice floated over the noise of the others.

"Only if you're paying, senpai." Ryoma murmured as he watched the game intently.

"Paying? Who's paying for what, Ryoma?"

Snapping out of his daze, Ryoma looked over his shoulder to see a few of his teammates staring at him. He stared back for a moment, trying to remember what he had said. Not coming up with anything, he simply shrugged and slumped back on the bleachers, "Nothing."

This didn't feel like tennis.

---

Ryoma was awake when the phone rang that night. He had been more than awake; he had been anticipating the call, his heart thumping at any sound that possibly sounded like a phone ring. The tennis ball he had been fiddling with fell to the floor, rolling towards Fluffball, as he reached for the phone. As his fingers wrapped around the received, he took a quick breath to keep his voice steady.

"Hello?"

"Yo! Echizen."

"Momo-senpai."

There was a long silence between the two; Ryoma shifted uncomfortably on his bed for once not feeling very confident.

"So," Momoshiro broke across the phone, "how are you?"

"Fine." Start off with something simple, get the conversation going, "You?"

"Good." Another pause, "I saw Ann-chan today. Tachibana's sister, you remember her, right?"

"Ah."

"Thought so. She and Kamio are dating. 'Che, who woulda thought he had the guts."

Ryoma snorted as Momoshiro complained about his old enemy now sorta-friend. It was a half-hearted banter that didn't last long; everything had been said before. The silence returned too soon for Ryoma's liking. Fidgeting with the phone cord, he tried to think of something to say.

"I..." He huffed, frustrated.

"Yeah?"

I hate tennis here. I don't like living in America. I can't sleep anymore. I miss my stupid senpai. I miss eating burgers with you after practice. I miss playing against you...I miss...

"I miss you."

Ryoma blinked as the words just, fell out of his mouth. Fluffball batted the ball and it rolled until it hit his foot. He looked down at the piece of green fuzz, only somewhat aware of the kitten trying to bite into it. That...didn't come out quite right.

"Oh..."

Silence hung in the air once more as Ryoma held his breath, wanting to know if Momoshiro would say anything more and also wanting to take back what he said.

"I miss you, too, Echizen." Ryoma didn't even notice when Fluffball missed the ball and accidentally bit into his foot he was so shocked.

"A-ah."

"...ne, Echizen."

"Yeah, Momo-senpai?" He could hear Momoshiro struggle on the other end. Even with a fourteen hour time difference, thousands of miles, an ocean and a continent between them, Ryoma could still picture Momoshiro as clearly as if they were in the same room. The way he would run a hand through his hair, scratching nervously at the back of his neck, look everywhere but at him.

The image made him smirk.

"Come home soon. Okay?"

Momoshiro's request, however, made him smile.

"Ah. I will."

--

AN: hisses at formatting problems I can't do html, I can't fix this cause my comp is being pissy, and all my little markings setting apart scenes won't show hisses moreI started this last summer but wasn't able to finish until a few weeks ago. I know the idea's been done before, but I still claim I thought of it first :P Anyway, let me know what you think; what could be improved on and what absolutely sucks.

--Lady Cosmos