disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognize

Warnings: AU from the Goodwill Tournament onwards(beware of spoilers), there may be m/m later (and some hints now and then)

This is my first PoT fiction, so comments will be appreciated

At the bottom of an ocean

Chapter 1:

The moment the back of the tall teen's hand made contact with his opponent's face Kevin felt it. He knew Echizen Ryoma, had felt a connection that had snapped into place the moment their eyes met. It was through that strange connection that he knew something in Echizen broke at the contact. Even if he hadn't felt it, the look of utter disbelief, of total betrayal in wide golden eyes would have clued him in to the fact that something wasn't right.

And when the older teen simply turned and started to walk away, those golden eyes grew hard and cold. Yes, Kevin concluded, something had been broken here on this court, something precious taken away and he was pretty sure that it was irreparable, too.

Therefore he wasn't surprised when Echizen declined the helping hand his other companion gave, nor when he packed his racket himself, not even when he turned his back on his two companions and walked to him.

Kevin wondered where his hatred had gone to, but looking into those mesmerizing, burning golden eyes, he felt nothing but admiration and the need to possess. Here was the perfect person to train with, the perfect training-partner to grow with and he was damned if he let him go.

"As I said before, I won't be participating in the tournament. Ring me up if you have time left after it and we'll meet privately to have a match between friends." Echizen's voice was frighteningly devoid of emotion, yet Kevin could detect a nearly imperceptible plea for peace in it. His rival stood straight and proud, but Kevin still detected the need to be elsewhere, to lick one's wounds in solitude and he respected it.

"Got it." he replied dryly. "If we don't find the time, you could always come back with me to the US. See you."

Kevin threw one last smirk at the older teens that still waited for Echizen to follow them like a good dog as he left. They had lost him and the idiots didn't even know it yet. Well, if they were too stupid to take care of Echizen he would have no problems with taking the boy home with him.

Kawamura had been shocked when the buchou hit their youngest team member. It wasn't like Tezuka at all and in his eyes it hadn't been necessary. When Echizen had refused his hand he started to feel worried. Something wasn't right, but as long as he didn't know what it was he couldn't fix it, no matter how loud his instincts screamed at him to fix it and fix it now.

Yet, there were no tears on the young boy's face, no indication that something had happened at all besides the red swelling where the buchou's hand had connected.

When Echizen left without turning around, without saying good bye, without even recognizing anyone's existence but the blond American's, dread settled in his heart.

"I wish you hadn't done that, Tezuka-buchou." he said, his concern for their freshman evident. Looking after the leaving figure growing smaller in the distance he repeated: "I really wish you hadn't done that."

Tezuka just shrugged. "It will help him wake up."

And that was the end of the discussion.

When Ryoma finally reached his home he couldn't quite recall how he'd gotten there. The noise his buchou's hand had made when it connected with his flesh was still ringing in his ears, the cold look of contempt in those eyes still prominent in his mind.

Still in a daze he entered the house and told Noriko that he was tired and to please not disturb him for dinner. Ignoring her concerned questions he went to his room and curled up on his bed.

He had heard something break on that court. It had sounded like someone had broken a glass and for a moment his eyes had frantically searched for the pieces of broken glass on the ground. It was then that he discovered that no one else had heard that sound, well that Kevin boy had looked liked he'd heard something, too, but surely, surely the others had to have heard it as well. It was such a terrifying sound after all.

Ryoma knew better now. The others couldn't hear it, because that glass that had been broken had been inside him. He could still feel the pieces that cut him and cut him, cutting into little Ryoma shaped pieces. That made him wonder how the other boy could have had heard it breaking, but he didn't really care anymore. The other had seemed to understand, a connection had been made and he simply didn't care about the rest.

He felt hot and terribly cold at the same time. To stop the shivering, and why couldn't he stop shivering anyway, he climbed under the blanket and fell into a troubled sleep and still the pieces of glass kept cutting at him.

The next day Ryoma was woken up by an excited Noriko who babbled something about getting a call and him being late to the tournament. His fuzzy mind needed a bit to catch up with what she said, but then he calmly stood up, went to the shower and got ready.

His moves were sure and steady, but he still felt that terrible cold spreading in him. It felt like he was floating somewhere outside of his own body, experiencing everything from a far distance. It was his voice that answered his family's questions. It were his hands that carried his tennis bag. It were his feet that carried him to the court where the other selected members were already waiting. But it wasn't him.

The moment Echizen joined them at the entrance to the court Fuji knew something was wrong. Though as taciturn as the freshman usually was, this utter silence wasn't like him at all. He didn't challenge anyone with words or eyes; he just stood with a straight back next to Eiji, not once reacting to the other's antics. Echizen stood still as a statue, never once moving his eyes from the court.

The usual kind smile on his face, Fuji walked up next to Echizen and asked: "Did you sleep well, Echizen? Or have you been too excited to sleep?"

His prey didn't even look at him as he answered with a noncommittal grunt.

Sharp blue eyes opened and fixed on golden ones. He noticed how the younger boy's pupils seemed to be dilated and how they glowed feverishly.

Concerned the tensai swiftly placed a hand on the freshman's forehead, a slight frown marring his face, blue eyes narrowing when he felt how hot it was.

"Echizen, are you sure you're alright? You're running a light fever." his voice though still as soft as before, was now demanding.

His only answer was a wordless shrug.

"What? Ochibi has got a fever?" a concerned Eiji cried, loud enough to attract the attention of the rest of the selected team.

"Ochibi, are you alright? You should go lie down and rest."

Usually Ryoma would grow angry at all the attention and mothering the others were exhibiting, but he was still so far away and the cold had reached every last corner of his soul. So, he just shrugged Eiji's hands off and said: "Don't bother."

He wasn't aware of the fact that his voice was devoid of any life or emotion, nor of the fact that his behaviour caused even the stoic Sanada to raise his brows. If they hadn't been sure before now every last one of them knew for sure that something wasn't quite right with the young boy.

Yet, this was neither the time nor the place to ask further questions and as the matches proceeded they could do nothing but steel worried glances at the young boy.

Ryoma watched the matches with interest. It was tennis, after all. He understood tennis; it was only when you left the court that things got confusing.

He watched as the American team lost one match after the other, till it was finally time for Kevin to play against Kirihara. He had known it would be Kirihara and not him. He didn't care, didn't react to the news in any way, but simply remained in his position, unmoving, unmovable and followed the game with sharp, glowing golden eyes.

Ryoma didn't notice the worry and confusion his non-actions caused his team mates and he didn't care. The coldness inside him was calming. It was as if he stood at the bottom of the ocean, only emerging when being on the court. There the broken pieces couldn't cut him anymore; they just fell down and were covered by sand.

He didn't even blink when he was told to continue Kirihara's game, he just nodded. Only when Tezuka tried to touch him did his body react and compared to his non-reactions before nearly violently so.

Ryoma jumped away before the hand could touch his shoulder. He still didn't feel anything, but he remembered that that hand had caused him the agony of broken pieces of glass.

He went out onto the court alone, meeting his new rival's eyes and giving him a fleeting smirk, because this boy had noticed the glass breaking, had cared. To honour that strange connection between them Ryoma would play to the best of his abilities, no holding back.

The game was exhilarating. It set his hidden soul free and with fire burning in his eyes he took the victory away from his opponent. But one look at Kevin's face assured him that the other boy didn't mind, because it was tennis and they had both given it all they had.

It was when the other boy smiled at him and raised both their arms to the heaven that he made his decision. He would talk to his parents and then, he would take up the young blonde's on his offer.

When inevitably others came to congratulate them, Echizen ignored them. He didn't react when they touched him as he had with Tezuka, a fact that a certain tensai noticed with narrowed eyes. That wasn't like the Echizen he had come to know and like at all. He also noticed the look of utter delight on the blond American's face when he received a nodded answer to the question he has whispered into Echizen's ear.

Fuji liked puzzles and mysteries; they amused him after all, right after tormenting his little brother. Yet he found himself disliking this mystery more and more, because he couldn't ignore the feeling of dread that settled in his stomach when he remembered Echizen's reaction to Tezuka.

Well, at least he knew where to get some answers if the situation continued.

Still, the way the blonde hang all over Echizen didn't sit right with him. It didn't fit with the absolute hatred for Echizen Ryoma he had previously displayed.

When the two boys left together, blue eyes narrowed even more.