Warnings: Hm... None for this chapter, but for later chapters there might be spoilers and of course, eventual boy x boy relationship. If you are uncomfortable with that, please turn back and read another fic. Otherwise, enjoy :D
As for the pairing... well, you'll find out eventually. ;) Very, verrry slightly hinted in this chapter. Blink and you'll miss it. More obvious hints will come along as the story progresses. And unless I change my mind (which happens quite often XD) about the plot I initially had in mind, the real pairing might not become apparent until much later :p
The bell signaling the end of the last period resounded throughout the school. The hallways were immediately filled with students and their voices as they caught up with their friends. Things like what they did during vacation or the latest news and gossip were the most commonly heard topics.
Amidst all the noise, one student carrying a pile of hardbound books that made him look all that much smaller was quietly passing by, hoping to avoid unnecessary attention.
That was until a loud screech from behind nearly made him trip over his own feet.
"Echizen?!!! So it's true! You are back! "
There went all the sweat and blood he poured into staying unnoticed. 'Looks like Horio hasn't changed one bit', Ryoma sighed. He silently prayed that the other girl who was just as loud wasn't anywhere within the ten kilometer radius.
As expected, the volume of chattering in the hallway slowly receded until it finally died down. Subtly increasing his pace, he walked past the students while keeping his head down and acting like nothing had happened. Some people who were blocking the way stepped aside, as though clearing a path for him. It was only a mere three seconds later that he realized they were indeed giving way, not to him, but to someone who was loudly dashing behind him.
Ryoma slowly moved aside too, carefully balancing the pile of books he had on his thin arms when the person running grabbed his shoulders from behind.
Ryoma knew that voice (not to mention that irritating nickname) all too well. However, he had no time to react when he felt himself suddenly being overpowered by the weight of the person bear-hugging him, pushing him down. At the same time, the books he held started to sway. Unable to react, he closed his eyes as he readied himself to fall, face first, into the ground.
The expected impact didn't come.
Someone caught his hands, supporting his hold on the books and preventing him from losing his balance. Ryoma noticed the warmth radiating from his helper's hands, bringing back the feeling in his arms that were starting to numb.
"Eiji, please be more careful."
The instant he heard the soft, almost melodious voice, a smiling face flashed in his mind.
"Sorry, Fuji." Eiji swiftly tightened his hold on Ryoma before releasing him. "It's been so long since I last saw Ochibi, nya." He ruffled the soft olive hair, making the shorter boy scrunch his nose.
"Right... It's been a while, ne Echizen?" When Ryoma looked up, he saw Fuji's smiling face. It was just as he'd remembered it.
Ryoma blinked before his eyes lit up and his lips quirked into a tiny smile. "Aa. Thanks, Fuji-senpai."
"You're on your way to the library, aren't you? Here, let me help." Eiji grinned. He was about to take the books from Ryoma but the latter firmly held on to it.
"No, thanks, Kikumaru-senpai. I can do this on my own." And he started to walk off.
"Stubborn as ever, I see." Fuji chuckled beside Eiji.
"Yeah. He hasn't changed at all, that little one."
Eiji's gaze followed Ryoma's retreating back as he yelled after him. "Hurry up, ne? We'll see you at practice, nya!"
Ryoma's steps suddenly halted.
"About that..." Ryoma quietly began. "I didn't sign up for the tennis club."
Eiji was dumbstruck.
"Then... What club are you in?" Fuji asked, all traces of his ever-present smile now gone from his face.
"The going home club." Ryoma answered without looking back. He moved forward before any more questions came from his seniors and the freshmen trio who were walking towards them.
Drown out the confusing noise
Shake free the gazes that have grown apathetic
Continue from here, on to the next stage (1)
Stars on a Rainy Night
Ryoma felt somewhat relieved when he was able to get out of the school building and make his way across the school grounds without meeting any familiar faces, especially his former teammates. He silently thanked his luck for being the library rep that day, giving him an excuse to stay at the library through the duration of club practices.
At the moment, all he wanted to do was go home, where he could curl up next to Karupin in his warm bed and fall into a dreamless sleep- something that he'd rarely had ever since… that time. He swiftly shook his head, ridding himself of memories, he didn't want to remember just yet.
"Oi, is it true?"
Just a few more steps and he would've made it safely out of school, if someone hadn't stepped out from behind the Cherry tree closest to the school gate. As soon as Ryoma looked up, an intimidating expression met his droopy gaze.
'Let's see…' Ryoma tilted his head to one side, trying to dig up the name that matched the familiar face. Then his eyes lit up. 'Ah, Arai-senpai, was it?'
"Don't give me that!" Arai spat angrily. "Don't tell me you actually forgot about me!" Arai clenched a fist in front of the shorter boy's face.
Ryoma cringed. He hadn't realized he said it out loud.
"Anyway… What's with this talk among your fellow midgets? They're all saying this nonsense about you not joining the tennis club. Is that true?"
Ryoma didn't reply, irritating his senior, making the older boy clutch at the front of his uniform.
"That's what they said, isn't it?"
Arai tightened his hold. "You're kidding." Then he shook him forcefully. "Why!? I don't remember you having any problems storming your way into the team three years ago! So what's up with you now, eh?"
Ryoma simply looked back with a nonchalant expression.
"Fine. If you're not going to tell me, then I'll beat the answer out of you!"
Arai raised his right hand, fist clenched and ready to strike. When Ryoma didn't so much as flinch, it was the reaction Arai sort of expected.
The younger boy had always been like that, unafraid of anything. What surprised him, however, was that Ryoma didn't make any attempts to fight back, either. On the contrary, he even looked as though he had long prepared himself to receive the hit. It was as if he was openly accepting punishment he deserved for something terrible he had done. This aggravated Arai further and triggered him to punch the kid's lights out.
However, before his fist could hit Ryoma's face, someone else grabbed his wrist.
"Oi oi… Just because you're older doesn't mean you can bully little kids, man. You can't do that. You just can't."
"Shut up!" Arai turned to the other person angrily. "This isn't the time for that, Momo! Besides, you must've heard about it by now. Don't you have anything to say to him?"
Momo shifted his gaze to Ryoma, whose head was down, his face blank. However, he didn't miss the exhaustion in those golden eyes that were no longer as brilliant as he remembered them.
"Ranking matches are going to start early tomorrow, Arai. You wouldn't want to be late, right?" Momo said, grinning brightly but practically pushing Arai towards the school gate.
"Momo, the brat's your best friend, isn't he? Knock some sense into him!" With one last glare at Ryoma, Arai reluctantly walked off, leaving the two alone.
Before Momo could speak any further, Ryoma walked off without looking back.
"Tadaima." Ryoma quietly announced to the dimly lit living room. The orange rays from the setting sun passed through the gap between the curtain, the only source of light until he flicked the light switch on the wall. As soon as the lights were on, the faint thump of footsteps resounded from the stairs as his Himalayan spotted cat came running to him and jumped right into his arms.
"Karupin..." He caught the ball of warm fluff and started scratching the back of its ears. He shifted its weight to one arm while he took his shoes off one after another with his free hand. After placing them on the rack he headed straight for his room.
As soon as he got in, he released his cat and collapsed on the bed. A sigh unconsciously escaped his lips, and as if Karupin had heard it, the cat promptly jumped onto the bed and snuggled close to its master. Ryoma, who was already half asleep, hugged Karupin close as he curled up, and dozed off.
Ryoma didn't know when, but at some point, the feeling of smooth bed sheets suddenly changed into that of slightly ticklish blades of grass. Suddenly, his nose was filled with the scent of leaves. It should've been evening by now, since it was already dusk by the time he got home and fell asleep, but strangely enough, he could feel the sun's warm rays behind his closed eyelids.
"I knew I'd find you here..."
He knew that voice well, but refused to open his eyes. He could hear the rhythmic thumping of tennis balls from the distance and the sound was so soothing it almost felt like a lullaby. Ah yes, sleep. That was what he came here for and that was what he intended to do. If the person who just came wouldn't start nagging and let him be, anyway.
"You nap too much. Geez, just like an old man."
The sound of footsteps slowed down and came to a halt. He heard a soft rustling of grass and assumed that the other person must have lay down as well. He was about to drift off once more before he felt something- or someone- poking his nose.
"Mmm... Cut it out..." He groaned and turned the other way. He curled up, hoping to get more sleep. That, however, made the other person burst into laughter.
"I guess your odd habit of sleeping too much is the only thing that makes you like an old man. The rest of you is still a little kid, huh."
"I am a kid. " He mumbled drowsily. "Now get lost."
The other person just laughed even harder.
Neither of them spoke afterwards, and Ryoma was just about to drift off once more before the other person started talking again.
"Ne, Ryoma... Practice is fun, isn't it? Who would've thought training with your greatest rival could be this much fun... But of course, playing against you during official matches is still the best."
"Mm..." Ryoma muttered sleepily.
"But... I guess moments like this aren't so bad too." He sighed.
Ryoma suddenly felt that the back of his shirt was lightly grabbed.
"Ne, Ryoma, promise me something. If one of us decides to quit playing, we'll still remain friends, okay? Even if that's where we started, I don't want tennis to be the only reason for our friendship. Could you promise me that? Huh?" The other person tugged on his shirt.
When Ryoma remained quiet, he felt his shirt being tugged a little harder.
Ryoma sighed and opened his eyes, giving up on the idea of sleep. "Kevin, that's stupid." He said, looking up at the sky.
"What!? Hey! I was being serious here, you know!?" The blond fumed. "You're one of the closest friends I've ever had. I just... I just wanted to make sure we'll always be friends."
Ryoma kept his gaze up at the blue vastness with a nonchalant face.
"That's why I'm saying it's stupid. Why do you still have to make sure of things like that?"
When Ryoma turned to Kevin, all signs of sulking were present on the other's face.
"Your hand..." Ryoma blinked at Kevin's right hand.
"Hm?" The blond looked at him inquisitively before raising his own hand and looking at it too. "What about it?"
Ryoma reached out and tentatively crossed his little finger over Kevin's. (2)
"Hey, what was that for?"
Ryoma shrugged. "There was dirt on your finger." He got up, stretched and started to walk towards the tennis courts.
As he came closer to the chain-linked fence enclosing the courts, Ryoma felt the wind blowing harder and harder. For some reason, the wind blew so strongly that he was unable to stand before it. Before he could hold on to anything, he felt himself being carried away by the wind.
Ryoma woke up feeling small paws lightly clawing at the back of his hand. He noticed that he was breathing heavily, a bead of sweat trickling down his temple. When he opened his eyes, it was already dark, his room lit only by the moonlight coming in through the opened blinds.
Without thinking, Ryoma took Karupin and hugged it tight until the doorbell rang and his father's voice echoed from the front door.
"Oi, Ryoma! We're back!"
Ryoma wished his father wouldn't yell his name so loudly. The last thing he wanted was for the neighbors- no, anyone- to associate him with that perverted monk. After all, nothing good ever came out of being related to that guy. Unless utter humiliation was considered a good thing.
The next morning, after whining to his mother about a western style breakfast (again), reciting a mantra to ignore his father who, for some reason, always seemed to harass him exponentially more in the morning, and fighting with Karupin over his cap which couldn't possibly hide half of the scratches the wretched feline inflicted on him, Ryoma was ready to face the new day.
He sat behind the front door and put on his shoes. He then got up and held on to the knob as he announced "Ittekimasu" (3) before opening the door. As soon as he got out of the gate, someone's head seemed to have popped out of nowhere and came right in front of his face.
Ryoma, startled, instinctively stepped backwards. It took a moment before he registered who it was.
'Don't scare me like that...' He mentally scolded, scowling at the much taller guy.
"Ohayou!" Momo spoke to him through gritted teeth with a lopsided grin. "Honestly, man, what time do you think it is? How dare you make your senpai wait, eh?"
Before he could prepare himself, Momo got him into a headlock.
"That hurts, Momo-senpai!" Ryoma chided halfheartedly as he struggled to get out of Momo's firm arms. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"Idiot. What do you think you have a best friend for? Free burgers?" Momo released him and started ruffling his hair.
"I just combed that..." Ryoma pouted, running his fingers through his olive locks.
"Besides, isn't it kind of lonely going to school alone?" Momo said as he took his bike and got on. "Oi, hop on. I don't want to waste my energy running extra laps for coming late the morning of the ranking matches."
Ryoma smirked. Without much thought, he leapt onto his usual place on Momo's bike… just like he used to.
"All right, hold on tight. Let's go!"
As they sped off to school, Ryoma felt the wind rush to his face and brush across his cheeks. He closed his eyes, relishing the sensation. Slowly, he started to realize he had also missed riding along on Momo's bike. When he opened his eyes, he looked down on the spikey mop of dark hair and a smile crept on his lips.
No matter what lay ahead, no matter where the wind took them, as long as he kept moving forward with Momo-senpai and everyone else, everything would be fine… and fun.
To be cotinued…
(1) "Tobira no Mukou e", second ending song of Full Metal Alchemist.
(2) For those who watch anime and read manga, you must've come across this (perhaps a lot of times?) already. Crossing little fingers means a promise.
(3) Ittekimasu- Usually announced before leaving one's home. Roughly means "I'm going."
Disclaimers: Tennis no Oujisama belongs to Konomi Takeshi-sensei.
Author's Notes: First of all, a big thanks to apocadelic for encouraging me to post this thing, and to everyone who read for giving it a chance.
Double thanks to dear arctic draconis who continues to patiently beta my lil ficlets.
So, um, this is my first multi-chapter fic for TeniPuri. Gah, and I wanted so bad to put it up in time for Ryoma's birthday, but it looks like I won't make it? I'm still anxious about posting this thing. As I was editing and up until uploading it on ff . net, my heart was going "thump thump". XD I already have an idea where the story is headed. Err… More or less. Please take care of me as I continue to write this little fic. (bows)
Until the next chapter! Please review and let me know what you think of this so far. :D