A/N: Umm…something that come to me totally randomly… I wasn't even watching at the time…I just got an urge to write…and so…yeah…It was inspired by those episodes (too lazy to check which ones), my muse just had a delayed reaction.

In all honesty, it could have been anyone who spoke to Ryoma. I just wanted a Jiroh/Ryoma fic, friendship if nothing else. If you don't like the friendship pairing, then switch it in your minds. It's really easy to do ;)

Warning: slight oocness. Spoilers for…damn, I'm going to have to look it up, aren't I…Spoilers for episodes 166 – 178…I think…Let's just say pretty much the entire seventh season… Ohh, this wasn't really meant to be shounen-ai, but take it that way if you want.

Summary: Tezuka arranged a round-robin match between the Regulars. Ryoma ponders on the different rivalries within the team.

Disclaimer: Don't own the anime of magna, but I DO own a tennis racket and some balls. (actually, come to think about it, I need to get me racket re-strung, the grip could do with a replacement as well…)


Ryoma sat on the bleachers, looking out over the empty court. He was somewhat surprised that no-one else was there. It was still early in the afternoon, and he knew that the place generally came alive after dusk, but still…there should have been someone here. It was so strange to see the street courts so silent. He thought back to earlier in the day. When Tezuka-buchou had announced their little tournament. A round-robin tournament with all nine regulars. The whole club had been talking about it. But what struck Ryoma the most was the conversation in the locker rooms.


"We'll definitely see who the stronger one is this time Mamushi!"

"Fshuu…bring it on baka!"

"We'll have a good game too, ne?"

"Of course! And this time you won't be held back by an injury!"

"Just cos you beat me last time, don't think that the same will happen again, nya!"

"Hmm…we'll just see, I have collected enough data that I think I'm able to predict you now…"

"Saa, everyone's so excited. This will be very interesting."

"Hmm… I wan't you to play seriously this time."

End Flashback

Ryoma sighed. He thought, for the first time, that he truly belonged. Who was he kidding? His senpai-tachi had known each other for years. Coming up on six. Well, five for Momo-senpai and Kaidoh-senpai, but the rivalry was even more intense. He felt so left out. He had beaten Tezuka-buchou two and a half years ago before he left for the US Open, and Fuji-senpai never took him seriously. The others…well, he had seen each one beaten by different opponents before. Both in and out of the club. He knew their weaknesses. Ryoma heaved another sigh. He hated odd numbers sometimes.

---------- I actually wanted a less obvious line ----------

Jiroh was, for once, not sleeping. He had just had a very exciting practice match with some of the other Regulars from Hyotei High. Choutarou's Scud Serve was faster, Gakuto was more flexible (if that was possible) and Atobe-buchou's Rondo towards Destruction was even more powerful. The narcoleptic boy shivered in anticipation. Hyotei would be a force to reckon with this year! He had been so excited that he had wanted to play more, but everyone had refused. So Atobe, being the kind buchou he was, pointed him towards the nearby street courts. He said that he had heard and seen members of Seigaku, Fudomine – now Koyaba – St Rudolph, and even Jyosei Shounen. So Jiroh was pretty confident that he would find some pretty worthwhile players. As long as he didn't fall asleep first…

When he arrived at the courts he was rendered speechless. There was no-one there. At first he was astonished, then remembered what Atobe-buchou had yelled to him as he was leaving.

"You won't really find people on the courts right away! They come at nght when everything else is closed!"

Jiroh almost whined. He was too hyped to wait. And if he did wait, he'd likely fall asleep again. Oh well, maybe he would hang around for a while in case someone turned up. Making his way to the bleachers, he suddenly stopped. There was someone there! Excited, maybe they would like to rally for a while instead of sitting and waiting, he hurried forward. Only to come to another halt when he saw who the person was. A 'Seigaku' tennis bag on the step n front of him, small stature, white cap, it could only be Echizen Ryoma, the cocky freshman from Seigaku High. He would definitely play! Jiroh resumed his dash to the bleachers, only to come to another stop when he reached the bottom step.

---------- Same reason as before...it's too...blue ----------

All the Regulars who made it to the Nationals, as well as a few supporting members from other teams (Sengoku, Muzaki, Fuji Yuuta) knew each other reasonably well. Afterall, the had all gone on to sister high schools and the teams were reunited. Know that Fudomine's – Koyaba's – team of second years, as well as Momo, Kaidoh, Yuuta, Kirihara and the other Juniors were allowed to play, the stage was set for a repeat of three years ago. Though many swore it wasn't going to be a repeat, damnit, Seigaku would fall, the teams were eager to play again. Many had wondered about the little freshman, until word had gone round a few weeks ago that Echizen was in and Seigaku had nine, very strong Regulars to contend with. Though seeing how many played to the point of injury in a match, t was probably a good thing… But anyway, why was Echizen Ryoma sitting there looking depressed? He should be excited, psyched up, ecstatic…well, maybe not the last one, but certainly not depressed! Jiroh decided that he was going to find out what was wrong with the smaller boy. Even though they were rivals in different schools, Echizen was still his kouhai. Plus, if he cheered him up, he'd get a good game.

Ryoma stared blankly in front of him, not seeing or sensing someone come up and sit beside him. The other person didn't do anything, just sat there, bag in front of him, on the same step as Ryoma. After a few minutes, he slowly came to the realization that he was being stared at. He debated turning around, the person was quiet enough, but eventually decided that the staring was annoying enough.

Jiroh almost sighed in relief as Echizen turned to face him. His adrenaline rush was beginning to wear down and he seriously thought that he would fall asleep before the small first-year decided to acknowledge him. His tiredness was instantly forgotten as gold orbs turned his way. Outwardly, the boy showed no reaction, though annoyance, confusion flashed in is eyes. The boy looked questioningly at him, obviously not one for small-talk.

"Hi Echizen! Remember me?"

"Akutagawa Jiroh. Hyotei High School, third year. Singles Two. Generally asleep, you won't play seriously unless it interests you. Accurate, strong shots and good speed. All around player. If someone or something excites you, you tend to be over-entusiastic." Jiroh sweatdropped.

"Well…yeah…I think you've been hanging out with Inui-kun too much…" that was a long list. Jiroh was pretty sure that the kid could do the same thing for all the others on his team. He inwardly shivered. Echizen was scary enough without being able to predict shots. "You know too much." The freshman shrugged.

"I observe, you're a good player. You have two opposing sides like Kawamura-senpai-" Who? Oh yeah, the 'Burning' guy' "-and you don't play seriously, like Fuji-senpai."

"You're comparing me to Fuji-kun! Cool! Thanks!" The boy just stared at him. Oh well, might as well get straight to the point. He doubted the kid liked beating around the bush.

"So, Echizen, why are you here? Alone? And not practicing against a wall?"

Ryoma leaned back slightly. He could just ignore the question, but as he himself had just pointed out, Jiroh was persistent if he was interested. Another reason he was like Fuji-senpai. Thinking of his senpais took Ryoma down another trail. He wondered if Hyotei had such intense rivalries within the team. Couldn't hurt to ask.

"Ne, Akutagawa-san, does Hyotei have strong rivalries?"

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"I mean…people in the club. Does anyone have rivalries within the club?"

"Umm…I'm not sure what you mean, but Hiyoshi's always trying to improve so he constantly challenges and beats everyone." The smaller boy shook his head.

"No, I mean one person. One person that they're always trying to outdo. You know, so if they had a match there'd be lots of tension and the atmosphere…" Ryoma trailed off, uncertain of what to say. "Forget it, it's stupid-"

"No," Jiroh interrupted. He had a slight frown on his face. "I understand what you're sayoing. You mean like Momo-kun and Kaidoh-kun, the two Juniors, right?" Ryoma nodded. "Hmm…well…I can't say that we have rivalries within Hyotei like that. I mean, Gakuto's Obsessed with beating Kikiaru-kun, Oshtari's determind to surpass Fuji-kun, in the Higuma Ootashi if nothing else. I think Kabaji holds a grudge from that power-match with Taka-san and of course Atobe's always on about your buchou. I'm pretty sure that Shishido at least wants a match against the Golden Pair…but none of the Regulars are really competing with each other…why?"

Ryoma looked back to the courts, mulling over what the third-year had said. It was all true, any tennis player could see that, and most had commented on it. There were quite a few personal rivals between schools, but Ryoma was interested in those between club members. Jiroh's soft call broke him out of his thoughts, but his sight remained on the courts.

"Echizen-kun? Why do you ask?"

---------- I just felt like throwing in a line break... ----------

"Three years ago, before the Nationals, Seigaku had their ranking matches." Jiroh nodded, instantly alert. He had a feeling that Echizen was coming down to the problem. Seigaku was famous for their inter-school ranking tournaments. "That was around the time I found out I was entered in the US Open. I missed some of the matches between the Regulars. I actually only saw Momo-senpai's and Kaidoh-senpai's. I had my own problems to sort out. But I remember hearing about them. From the other freshman, and over the phone. I realized I missed the greatest matches of the year. They were all paired up within their blocks. Tezuka-buchou was obviously trying to shake things up.

Kawamara-senpai was against Oishi-senpai. His wrist was still sore from the accident during the Kantou preliminaries. But Kawamara-senpai had never beaten Oishi-senpai before. And the Nationals were supposed to be his last tournament. The game went into tiebreaker and Kawamara-senpai won with a Jump Hadokyou. Momo-senpai and Kaidoh-senpai's match also went into a tiebreaker. I remember Kaidoh-senpai was really determind to return Momo-senpai's Super Dunk Smash. He did in the end, but Momo-senpai won because it was out. They still agreed it felt like a tie. Inui-senpai played against Kikimaru-senpai. That was another match that was played to a tiebreak. Because it got to the point were Kikimaru-senpai was losing stamina and energy and Inui-senpai had given up on predicting moves and ball placements. It was straight tennis. Inui-senpai insists it was luck that won him the point, his glasses were cracked and he had ended up diving for the ball. Then the match between Tezuka-buchou and Fuji-senpai. That was the only match that didn't go into a tiebreak. But I heard Buchou defeated Fuji-senpai's triple counters in one play with the Tezuka Zone and Zero-Shiki Drop Shot. But Fuji-senpai came back and defeated the Tezuka-Zone, for the first time playing seriously, he still lost 6-4."

Ryoma finally turned back to a stunned Jiroh. "You understand now? They've all known each other for years and within the team they found a rival. I was wondering if other clubs were the same." Jiroh shook his head. No wonder Seigaku were good. Those matches must have been amazing to watch, he had felt his heartbeat quicken at the mere mention of them. Suddenly he realized something.

"You felt left out, don't you?" the small boy turned to him, a small blush on his cheeks, quickly hidden by the cap, told him all he needed to know. "I see. In all honesty, I think Seigaku's pretty unique that way." A raised eyebrow encouraged him to continue. "I haven't heard of any other teams like that…I think it's got something to do with the Inter-school ranking matches you guys have. It's not often that other teams test themselves against each other. Hyotei has many more members so people don't really have a one-on-one rivalry. Especially nothing like those two Juniors" He was rewarded with a small smirk. "I guess it's good for the players that they can constantly test each other and improve…I kinda wish I had someone in the club like that now…I'd probably be more excited then." Ryoma snorted

"I think that you can get excited enough Akatagawa-san. You could always go against Marui-san from Rikkaidai. You both get hyper enough." Jiroh laughed and ruffled Ryoma's hair, mush to the boy's annoyance.

"See! There you go?" A quizzical look was his only response, but Jiroh remained grinning. "Rivals in other schools. It's probably good that you don't have a hard-core rivalry in the team. I know Ibu Shinji from Fudomine is still after you, and that first year from Rokkaku – who, by the way, made the Regulars again – Hyoshi's still sore over the loss. Umm…let's see…I know that Sanada definitely wants a re-match to claim back his title, I heard from Sengoku that Akutsu Jin will only play absolutely seriously against you…Yamabuki's Dan Tachi also wants to play you, though I think he's years too early. Hmm…who else…Jyosei Shounan's Vice-Captain." Jiroh's voice dropped to a whisper, causing Ryoma to lean in grudgingly. "Don't tell anyone else, but I'm pretty sure Atobe-buchou wants a re-match too. And Fuji Yuuta from St. Rudolph told me the other day that he considered you just as dangerous as his brother." Jiroh pulled back and looked in amusement at the surprised face of the younger boy. Ryoma blinked a couple of times, digesting the news.

"All those people…they want to play me?" a nod. "They consider me…a threat?" Another nod. "Oh…"

"What do you mean 'oh'" teased Jiroh. "With all those people coming for you, you need to be at your best, so what better way than practice! I'll take you on right now!" Ryoma glanced up at the excited teen and raised an eyebrow.

"…that's what you wanted all along, isn't it?" Jiroh just shrugged, unashamed. "…ok then…"

The score was tied and they had gathered a small audience. Granted, the street courts were supposedly for doubles only, but no-one had broken up the match yet. To the contrary, someone had run over and offered to referee. Neither minded, so they told him the score and let him take it from there. One less thing to concentrate on.

"Ne, Echizen-kun!" called out Jiroh, "I do believe you've just gained another rival" He grinned crazily at the small boy on the other side of the court. Ryoma smirked, bouncing the ball with his left hand.

"Made made dane, Akutagawa-san!"

A/N: If anyone's interested, the comments in the flashback (it's actually pretty easy to figure out, but I didn't do Taka in 'Burning' mode since it's kinda hard to change and hold a racket at the same time) Momo, Kaidoh, Oishi, Taka, Eiji, Inui, Fuji, Tezuka.

By the way, How far did Ryoma get in the US Open anyway?