Author's Note: The end, hurray! I'm quite sure the ending will leave many people dissatisfied, as I took a few cues from Konomi and not all the loose ends are tied up – I deliberately neglected Rinko, for example (seeing as she is also terribly neglected in the anime). I really wasn't very happy with this fic overall, but it appears to have garnered a reaction from some of you and if people are still reading at this point you must have enjoyed it at least a little, so that's good.
Thanks very much for reading, and especially for all the reviews. I'd like to thank everyone by name, but that would take much too long. And no, there won't be a sequel. I'd rather move on to new fics. ;)
The Dispossession of Echizen Ryoma
Tezuka absently brushed a snowflake from his coat. The snow probably wouldn't stick, but the weak flurries signalled the official end of tennis for the season. Fortunately, Ryoma's part-time job was at a partly indoor complex, so they could still play fairly regularly and keep their skills honed during the off-season. It was an unexpected boon from a job the freshman admitted to taking in desperation; indoor facilities were usually rather expensive and difficult to book, but for an employee it was both cheaper and substantially easier to secure time.
Ryoma was picking up some extra classes now, too, after his employers witnessed a practice session between them and realised exactly what sort of player they'd unwittingly hired for a children's class.
Things had been working out rather well lately. After Ryoma settled into his own room he seemed a lot calmer and integrated better with the household. He still had a tendency to do his homework in Tezuka's room and take on as many chores as Ayana would allow in some sort of attempt at compensation for food and board, but it appeared that the last vestiges of his insecurities had finally been chased away. Nanako had explained a few of the more delicate points of Ryoma's situation to his parents when she'd come over for dinner, and they both took it as an invitation to make the first-year part of the family in everything except the most official of capacities.
Something still felt unfinished to Tezuka, though. The matter of Echizen Nanjiroh continued to bother him.
After they'd encountered Ryoga, something had changed; that much was obvious. There was a sort of disappointment in Ryoma's eyes whenever the other man was mentioned.
Tezuka, for his part, couldn't quite come to grips with it. There had to be more to it than tennis. Which was why he was currently standing outside the Echizen residence, hesitant to act despite making the decision days ago.
Ryoma wouldn't go, not even when he asked, claiming that there was no need and that he understood now. Tezuka didn't really believe him, but he couldn't blame him. If his own parents had thrown him out, for whatever reason, he couldn't imagine wanting to see them again. Not after such a betrayal of trust. And Ryoma wasn't exactly an open and trusting person in the first place. Echizen Nanjiroh – someone he once considered a hero - had left a permanent emotional scar on his team mate, his rival, his friend.
Tezuka had to know though. He had to hear it from the horse's mouth, even if Ryoma didn't need to.
Hesitantly, he knocked on the front door, but there was no response. It appeared that neither Nanako nor Ryoga were at home; this was sort of a relief.
Should he leave and try again later?
Ryoma had mentioned before that there was a tennis court of sorts out the back. A look wouldn't hurt. Just in case. After all, he doubted that he would get up the nerve to come again, and the opportunities to do so were limited almost entirely to the times when the freshman was working.
His curiosity paid off. On the back porch a man dressed in black monk robes was resting in front of a heater, reading what looked to be some sort of magazine and chuckling to himself. Tezuka cleared his throat.
It took the man a minute or so to register his presence and look up, during which time Tezuka had realised exactly what sort of magazine was being read, and was fighting down a blush. "Eh, who're you? Wait, you look familiar…" The man peered at him for a long moment, then sat up, exclaiming, "Hey! It's the kid-captain!"
Tezuka had never actually met Echizen Nanjiroh in person. He'd seen him on television when he was younger, as well as in magazines, but all of those images were rather out of date.
He was not impressed by the image before him now.
The slovenly appearance, the stubble, the exhibited laziness, and not to mention the porn magazine… he'd heard both Ryoma and Ryuuzaki speak derogatorily of him before, but Tezuka had not truly understood until meeting the man for himself.
"Echizen Nanjiroh?" he asked, just to be sure. It was hard to reconcile this man with the image of a once-great tennis player.
"Who else would I be? What do you want? Here for a match? You'll have to wait until it stops snowing."
"No. I'm here to talk about your son."
At that, the man rolled his eyes and settled back on to his elbows. "You too? Ryoga's been on my case constantly lately. And sweet little Nanako has been so cold to me!" The last part was exclaimed in what the senior hoped was mock dramatism.
His cavalier attitude towards the issue was rather unsettling. Thus, Tezuka sought to cut straight to the point. "I want to know why."
"Yes. Why you set up that competition between your sons. Why you threw Ryoma out."
The question seemed to genuinely puzzle the other man. "Isn't it obvious? It's for the tennis, of course."
When Tezuka just stared at him, he laughed. "What else did you think it would be?"
He didn't know what he'd been expecting. Ryoma had said that it was for the tennis – that knowing his father, it wouldn't be anything else – but a part of him couldn't believe it.
"It was just for the tennis," Tezuka repeated woodenly.
Echizen Nanjiroh shrugged, then leaned forward abruptly, a fire burning in his eyes. "You understand it, don't you? You'd have to, if you managed to beat the boy so many times. To be the best, to go to the top, you have to want it more than anything else. You need special motivation. You have to suffer for your craft. Like artists."
Was it true? Had it really been…
When he remained silent, Nanjiroh elaborated, waving his hand about airily. "Those kids, you know… they've got it in them. But they didn't have the motivation. They needed rivalry. I'm too far ahead for them to really consider me. It doesn't mean anything if I defeat them day after day, you know? It was better that they play off each other."
"To go that far, though…" Tezuka stated, voice strained. "Anything could have happened to Ryoma. He was sleeping in a park. He was going hungry. He-" …Nearly turned himself into a prostitute, but the captain didn't think he could bring himself to say that when the man seemed so uncaring. In fact, his expression was almost delighted.
"Exactly! You see, right? He's become stronger, hasn't he?"
Tezuka's mouth went dry. It was true. Ryoma had become stronger; he'd practiced even more fervently recently than during the lead up to the Nationals. His game had come leaps and bounds in the past few months. Tezuka did not doubt that the freshman, if he really wanted to, could go pro at any time.
He couldn't bring himself to answer, and Nanjiroh finally seemed to register the disapproval on the senior's face. Frowning, he flopped back down, and picked up his magazine again. "Che, should have known. You kids just don't get it."
There were so many things Tezuka wanted to say to that. He did understand. He really did. He was just horrified. Disillusioned. It had rocked his faith that an adult could be so blind, so childish, so narrow-minded as to not fully understand the consequences of his actions.
He was a man obsessed with tennis, a man who had given it up with noble intentions before he was really prepared to. Echizen Nanjiroh had become bitter, he realised, at departing from his tennis career so early. It probably seemed a fanciful, wonderful notion at the time; raising a rival who would be better than himself, sacrificing his own love of competing for the good of his newborn son… but the honeymoon had evidently worn off at some point. And for someone so obsessed with the sport to suddenly realise that he'd spent his best years teaching a small child to play a game with a racket too large for him, and another son who seemed to enjoy tennis but possessed no real ambition for it… of course there would be resentment.
It was starting to take shape in Tezuka's mind. Frustrated and impatient - regardless of the fact that he was expecting too much from two children, prodigies though they might have been - Echizen Nanjiroh had obviously constructed a competition between the brothers in order to ignite the ambition that he perceived to be lacking. Tezuka could just imagine a younger, carefree Ryoga not caring about it in the slightest, so of course then Nanjiroh would find some way to up the stakes to the point where Ryoga would have no choice but to care.
Were he patient enough to wait several more years, to the point where Ryoma actually had a chance, it might have worked. But Ryoga was responsible enough of a big brother to take the fall and throw the match. And then when his father hadn't changed his tune the next year, Ryoga ran off for good, refusing to be dragged into that sort of future. And so Nanjiroh had been left to pin all his hopes on Ryoma.
Ryoma was good. He easily had the potential to become the best, but Tezuka had seen that when he'd come to Seigaku, he'd been lacking any real love of the sport, and lacking any real motivation to play. He'd thought it a shame, and tried to coax a fire out of the young regular. Apparently he'd been successful, but at some point Ryoma started caring more about the team and his friends than his tennis career. After all, the young regular that once would have left the club with nary a backwards glance tried to turn down an invitation to the American Open just so he could go with them to the National Tournament.
That must have upset the sports legend, reminding him once again of how his children, who had the love of tennis instilled in them as though by genetic right, weren't moving fast enough despite all he'd sacrificed for them. Then by chance Ryoga returned – finding himself adrift and at a loss after the debacle on the cruise ship. And Nanjiroh saw an opportunity to correct where he'd gone wrong. He'd obviously thought that he'd been too soft on Ryoga, and that his son hadn't been given enough motivation yet to want to win in tennis if throwing the match was still considered an option. And so the competition was brought back. Only this time, he figured, he really would leave his child out in the cold. There would be no hand holding through the ordeal, no phone calls, no drives to friends' houses, no bank accounts.
Tezuka wondered whether the man was even aware of how warped his thinking had become over time. It was enthusiasm, really, coupled with a subconscious resentment over the fact that he'd given up the prime years of his tennis career and ceasing his climb before he was honestly ready to.
That left only Echizen Rinko, a woman who must have been so blinded by love for her husband that she allowed herself to be convinced by his twisted logic.
"Is there anything else you want?" Nanjiroh yawned, sounding irritable now.
Tezuka shook his head. There was no more point to talking.
"Then leave me to my beauties in peace! Oh ho, what have we here?" he chuckled, flipping to the next page.
The senior retreated quietly. He'd got what he'd come for. Yet…
He had hoped, he realised, that there was more to it than tennis. Had believed it. Because if tennis was all it was… then both Ryoma and Ryoga had nothing more to them in their father's eyes. It made the concept of family so shallow. It was an injustice to them. Ryoma was so much more than tennis. And there was so much more to tennis than simply being the best.
Should he tell the freshman what he'd learned? Was there even a point? He'd seen Ryoma's discomfiture when asked about it in Ryuuzaki's office, and then after the chance encounter with Ryoga… a sort of sad acceptance.
Ryoma already knew.
It made his declaration of revenge all the more chilling. Tezuka thought it a fitting punishment, and so had wholeheartedly agreed, but perhaps it was only now that he fully comprehended what it meant.
He didn't care. Echizen Nanjiroh deserved it. If he didn't understand the depth of what he'd done in the name of the sport, perhaps such a punishment would open his eyes to it.
The journey home was spent feeling somewhat ill.
Ryoma met him on the corner two blocks from his house, bundled up in a jacket two sizes too large for him.
"Buchou! Where have you been?"
He raised his hand in greeting. "Nowhere special. Would you like to play some tennis?"
"Do you even have to ask?" Ryoma responded eagerly, and held out his bag. "I brought your racket. The court's already booked. Oishi and Kikumaru want to come, though."
"Doubles?" he asked in disbelief.
"Che, of course not. They can just watch."
Tezuka laughed. Ryoma started at the sound, giving him a sort of amazed expression. "So Buchou can laugh."
He smiled indulgently. "Don't tell anyone you heard that."
Things would be okay. There was so much more to them than tennis, after all.
Thanks for reading.