Title: Rebated Affections
Summary: Everyone seems to forget that Tezuka isn't really a block of wood.

Tezuka is horrible at expressing his emotions. Arai, or Horio, or a distant member of the tennis club would say that he didn't have any emotions to express. The regulars though, are very aware of Tezuka's tendency to keep things bottled up. At times when he feels things he can't put a label on, he doesn't act. If he's nervous or angry or sad everyone will just see a blank, stony mask.

Ryoma on the other hand has no problem with expressing himself. The reason he appears so aloof all the time is because he is aloof all the time. Or bored. Or smug. On the rare occasions when he is happy he can easily smile, and if he's upset he'll sulk and be gloomy and sullen. Echizen's range of emotions is limited, but that's because everything he feels is focused on tennis.

Ryoma, even with his insensitivity, is able to tell exactly what Tezuka is feeling, and though Ryoma isn't as expressive as Kikumaru, he knows enough to be able to make Tezuka react and stop hiding behind his mask.

On the anniversary of his grandfather's death his eyes are dry, and his heart empty. When Tezuka shows up in front of Ryoma's home late at night in the pouring rain, Ryoma doesn't ask him anything; only offers him slippers, a towel, and some of Nanjiroh's clothes.

They're sitting in Ryoma's room, across from one another, on top of a soft, thick rug. Karupin winds his way around Tezuka's body and purrs appreciatively when a hand reaches out to scratch his head. After three strokes Karupin runs his body under the soft hand, before darting towards the bed.

Ryoma, dressed in flannel pajamas patterned with bright yellow circles upon a deep purple canvas, is leaning against his bed, a leg propped up lazily while the other is stretched out in front of him. Tezuka is sitting no more than a few feet away, resting his weight on his calves with his back ramrod straight. Neither of them says anything. Ryoma stares at Tezuka as he busies his hands with the cuff of his sleeve.

It's too late for tea, and even if it wasn't Ryoma isn't used to offering his guests drinks--when he did have guests. A minute passes, then ten, then thirty, and still not a single words is uttered.

Sharp eyes pick up on every instance when Tezuka opens his mouth to speak, only to close it again quickly. Ryoma thinks it's stupid, but he knows, understands why Tezuka can't cry; he doesn't want to, doesn't know how to, doesn't know if it's alright to.

Ryoma sighs, jolting Tezuka out of his deep thoughts, and reaches forward, looping a hand behind a neck that's still dripping with water. He tugs Tezuka down, sliding the cold glasses carefully off his nose before holding his head to his chest. Ryoma winds his arms around his shoulder and hugs him, breathing slowly but staying silent.

Tezuka lays there, eyes half-lidded as the tension slowly drains from the stiff muscles in his back. He can feel it every time Ryoma draws in a breath, every time he exhales, every time his heart beats. Comforted, relaxing, Tezuka closes his eyes and brings his arms around Ryoma's torso reluctantly. When Ryoma tightens his hold around him, Tezuka returns his hug earnestly, tightly.

Ryoma knows Tezuka always feels lonely; when he's in the classroom, at home, at gatherings with his friends or at tennis tournaments. His grandfather's anniversary only serves to remind him of the feeling, reminds him how he absolutely hates being lonely. Ryoma knows Tezuka won't do anything about it, whether it's because he doesn't know if he can feel differently or because loneliness has always been normal for him.

It's for that reason Ryoma always makes sure he can be around Tezuka as much as he can.