The Perfect Moment

Title: The Perfect Moment

Author: Agni

Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis.

Summary: It was a perfect moment, a rare instance and Fuji captured it in a photograph. That single photograph encourages a romance that was always meant to be. Sometimes, love is not complicated at all.

Warnings: Yaoi, Tezuka/Echizen pairing. Slightly AU because all of them are in high-school at the moment. Humor me and assume that Ryoma did go to US but returned to attend Sr. High in Japan and Tezuka did not go to Germany to pursue professional tennis as of yet.

Xxx

It was the very last photograph in his album. The last but the most stunning. He had always believed that one must reserve the best for the last and therefore he had deliberately placed that photograph on the final page of an album filled with his most beautiful works.

For Fuji Syusuke, photography had always been a passion he indulged in often. He loved how he could freeze a moment in time, turning it into a precious record of memories that had the tendency to disappear as time passed.

As he traced the picture, he smiled a rare, honest smile. He remembered how he stumbled upon this particular gem…

xx

Fuji smiled deviously, trying to be as discrete as possible. It wouldn't do for Tezuka to realize what he was up to. He stifled a laugh as he observed his surroundings. He had finally managed to bring his camera to practice without anyone noticing and now he could click away at his heart's content.

Sharp eyes revealed themselves as he scanned his surroundings, looking for a good shot. His eyes landed on Momoshiro and he smirked. His kohai was trying to inch away from a smiling Inui, a look of abject horror on his face as he eyed the drink the data-player was offering him.

'click'

Fuji turned his eyes towards Tezuka, the strongest man in Seigaku was keeping his stern gaze on the practicing first years. He giggled when he saw the captain bring his hand to his mouth to conceal a yawn.

'click'

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kikumaru leap into the air with infinite grace to return another regular's shot. He paused a moment, waiting for the perfect time to take the shot…

'click'

Glancing around, he looked for his next target and found it in the form of his hissing kohai. He giggled again. In Fuji's opinion, Kaidou was too cute for words. Always hissing, always sulking and those wide eyes, thin, elegant brows and a pouting mouth; it was hardly a wonder that Inui paid such close attention to him. He watched as the boy adjusted his bandana before glaring at Momoshiro out of the corner of his eyes.

'click'

Fuji's gaze wandered onto the cutest kohai of all and he paused, stunned. Echizen had just finished a game with Oishi and was sitting on a bench, small beads of sweat tickled down the side of his face as he breathed steadily. He did not look too tired and that did not surprise Fuji. Over the years, Echizen had grown so much in tennis that very few could push him enough to reveal his full potential.

Oishi, unfortunately, was not one of those few.

He could not comprehend exactly what that expression on Echizen's face was and what it implied. Only thing that registered was the sheer beauty of it. He did not even realize when he raised his camera and when he took focus. Only the need to preserve that particular expression for eternity drove his actions.

'click…'

Xx

"Nya!" Kikumaru's loud voice brought him out of his thoughts and he looked up, smiling naturally, as he saw his friend's eyes fixed on the picture he was tracing lightly with his fingers. "Kirei…" he whispered in awe.

Fuji laughed softly and handed the album to Kikumaru, letting the other boy look at the photograph properly. "I know."

Kikumaru's voice had attracted the attention of all club members, but only the ones who were on the regular team in junior high along with Fuji came forward to see what the commotion was all about.

He watched, smiling contently as Oishi gasped at the sight of the picture while Momoshiro whistled in astonishment. Even Kaidou's eyes had widened for a moment before he turned away, a slight hue of pink marring his lightly tanned skin.

"Ii data." Inui muttered as he studied the picture, "Fuji's skills at photography are to be commended."

"Hai hai!" Kikumaru exclaimed excitedly, "I didn't know that ochibi could look so beautiful. Ne, Oishi, don't you think our ochibi looks beautiful?"

Oishi smiled softly in response, "That is indeed a rare expression on Echizen-kun's face. I am curious, Fuji, when was this taken? I doubt he would be so unguarded under normal circumstances."

Fuji shook his head, "I got lucky." He smiled in remembrance, "I wonder who he was thinking about." He glanced at the stoic form of their captain, his smile turning sly. Tezuka was standing a little away from them, looking over some papers that their coach had handed to him. Fuji knew that he could hear everything they said and he knew that the buchou was itching to get his hands on the picture.

"Eh?" Momoshiro frowned, confused, "What makes you think that he was thinking of someone senpai?"

"Baka." Kaidou murmured, "Isn't it obvious?"

Before the two could start bickering again, Inui hummed thoughtfully, "There is a ninety-six percent probability that Echizen was thinking of someone he cherishes, a sixty-three percent chance that that he was thinking of someone he loves…" he adjusted his eye-glasses, "romantically."

Fuji stifled a laugh when Tezuka visibly twitched.

"Eh!" Momoshiro exclaimed in surprise and Kikumaru jumped in excitement, "Hoi hoi! Ochibi is in love. I bet it is that Ryuuzaki girl!"

Oishi hastened to silence his doubles partner, "Eiji!" he reprimanded, "Echizen would not appreciate you announcing such things so loudly, be grateful that he is will be late to practice today or he would have been angry!"

"I don't think so." Everyone but Fuji looked at Momoshiro in surprise.

"What do you mean?" Kikumaru asked, puzzled.

"Echizen doesn't even remember Ryuuzaki's first name." Momoshiro deadpanned.

Fuji chuckled at the silence his statement brought. He could understand why Kikumaru was so surprised. Ryuuzaki Sakuno was still very smitten by Ryoma and she had grown up to be quite a beauty. The fact that Ryoma did not even cast a lingering glance at her despite the fact that they were in the same class was telling enough for Fuji.

"Then who…" Kikumaru pouted thoughtfully before brightening suddenly, "I know! It must be buchou!"

Even Fuji's eyes widened at that declaration. Stunned silence fell about them as Kaidou, Momoshiro gaped at Kikumaru in absolute astonishment, and Oishi sputtered. They couldn't help but look at Tezuka who had gone utterly still.

"Ii data…"

"Kikumaru, 20 laps, NOW!" Kikumaru jumped in fright before moved to comply. "And the rest of you, break time is over, get moving. Pair up and start practicing serves!" Tezuka ordered.

Fuji chuckled as everybody hastily gathered their rackets. Slowly, he walked towards Tezuka, the album in his hand and a sly smile on his face. "Will you hold onto this for me, Tezuka?" he offered the album to the captain who eyed it warily before taking it with a nod. Fuji smiled pleasantly before heading towards the courts.

"Oh and Tezuka…" he paused, feeling the captain's questioning gaze on his back, "You better pray to the Gods that you were the one he is thinking about when I shot that picture."

Tezuka pointedly placed the album on the bench without looking at it, seemingly dismissing the object before returning to reading the papers the coach had given him. Fuji simply continued on his way, knowing that sooner rather than later, Tezuka would give into the temptation of looking at the picture.

'He did it on purpose.' Tezuka thought, his eyes narrowing on the album that lay innocently beside him. Fuji knew exactly what he was doing when he handed him the album and that irritated Tezuka.

He sighed, placed the papers back in their file, and closed his eyes for a brief moment. Oishi had been right in assuming that Ryoma would not appreciate this. The boy was a private person and did not enjoy people prying into his matters. However…

'Ne, Oishi, don't you think our ochibi looks beautiful?'

He gritted his teeth, cursing Fuji and his perceptiveness in his mind. The genius knew exactly what Echizen meant to him. What Ryoma meant to him ever since he returned from America.

When Ryoma had informed them that he would be returning to Japan to complete his education, everyone had been surprised and pleased. They had always assumed that he would stay in America and continue playing tennis, eventually becoming a professional player.

His mother seemed to have other plans. While Ryoma was subjected to serious training in tennis with the intention of becoming a pro, Ryoma's mother noticed that his education was taking a slump.

Ryoma was a straight A student so it was no joke when a prodigy who procured top grades without a drop of sweat started getting B and C grades on his tests. Although he never came close to failing, Rinko decided that it would be best if he completed his high school education before becoming a professional.

Ryoma had insisted on returning to Japan. Tezuka suspected that Ryoma had missed Japan and them more than he showed. Now he was back to Japan and back to being a straight A student, much to his mother's pleasure.

With a resigned sigh, he picked up the album and browsed through the pages. At the very first picture, he acknowledged that Fuji had talent. It was striking and so Fuji-like to have the picture of a cactus on the first page. The genius had managed to make the cactus look good.

Tezuka did not know much about art but he could definitely see the skill. His brow twitched in irritation when he saw a photograph of himself yawning. The genius had a knack for embarrassing people.

Absently he turned another page and stilled completely.

"Kami-sama…" he whispered, reaching forward to trace the familiar features. The expression on Ryoma's face was entrancing. Golden eyes were half-lidded, content as they stared ahead sightlessly. The prodigy was resting his chin on his palm; his fingers seemed to caress his cheek as gleaming beads of sweat tickled down his neck into his shirt. His hair had become slightly wavy with moisture and curled about his eyes making Ryoma look slightly effeminate.

All these things would have made a rather handsome picture of the prodigy if it were not for that smile.

Tezuka's finger traced those full-lips that were forming a rare but stunning smile that made the usually handsome Ryoma, beautiful. That smile glowed with so much love and gentleness that Tezuka envied Fuji for having witnessed it in real life. No matter how good Fuji was, he was certain that a picture could not possibly live up to reality.

The captain understood why the other regulars immediately assumed that Ryoma was thinking of someone he loved when Fuji took the picture. Not even tennis had managed to coerce such a response from the prince.

"Having fun?" Tezuka did not move his eyes from the picture to glance up at Fuji.

"You are supposed to be practicing." He said softly, unable to bring the usual curtness to his voice. "Fuji, may…"

Whatever was about to say was interrupted when Fuji took the album from Tezuka and carefully removed the photograph. With a smile that seemed somewhat teasing and somewhat genuine, he handed the picture to Tezuka, "This belongs to you." His smile widened when the captain took it with a murmur of gratitude. "Of course, if you want to see the real thing, all you have to do is make him smile at you like that." He gestured towards the picture. "I am sure you are capable of such a thing."

Tezuka did not reply and Fuji left it at that.

Xxx

Ryoma knew something was up the moment he stepped onto the court. It seemed to him as though all his friends stilled the moment he came into view, their eyes turning towards him in an oddly synchronized manner. He narrowed his eyes and turned his sharp gaze towards Fuji. Usually, he was the one who caused all sorts of mayhem with his innocent seeming words.

Sure enough, that amused smile gave him away. Just when he was about to open his mouth to speak, Kikumaru pounced. "Nya, ochibi!!" Ryoma was once again subjected to a crushing hug. He scowled and tried to push the hyperactive regular off him. "Ochibi is in looooveee!"

Ryoma stilled, his eyes narrowing dangerously, "Excuse me?"

"No use denying it, Echizen, we have proof." Momoshiro teased as he swung a friendly arm around his best-friend's shoulder. "Come on, tell us who it is, we will help you."

The prodigy closed his eyes, begging for patience, "And how is it that you concluded that I am in love?" he asked dryly.

"Fuji-senpai photographed it! He took a picture of you with a love-sick smile." Momoshiro said with a sly grin, "Come on, who is it?"

100, 99, 98, 97…

"What. Photograph?" his voice came out in a hiss that would make Kaidou proud.

96, 95, 94… 'Patience, I must have patience.' He thought to himself as he continued counting backwards.

"Nya! Fuji, show him the picture!" Kikumaru commanded as he embraced Ryoma tighter.

"Saa," Fuji grinned in amusement, "It is with Tezuka."

Ryoma snapped his eyes open before steadily, with strength that he only used while playing tennis, he pried Kikumaru's arms off him. He then shrugged off Momoshiro's hand and leveled his golden stare at Fuji. "Let me tell you something, Fuji-senpai." He said in his usual impassive voice. He watched as Fuji continued to smile casually, tilting his head to the side in mock innocence. "I understand you garner amusement from such things. It has hardly ever bothered me. However, in matters such as these, I ask you to keep your nose out of my business." Stunned silence fell about them and Fuji opened his eyes.

Impassive gold met icy blue and Fuji tilted his head to the side, "Echizen-kun…"

Ryoma raised his arm to interrupt Fuji, "I know that this was fully orchestrated by you. Bringing whatever photograph you took to practice when you have never shown us your work before, then attracting everyone's attention towards it. It is no doubt that you were that first person to imply that there is a deeper meaning to my expression in the photograph."

Everyone turned to Fuji when they realized that Ryoma was right and the genius arched a brow in amusement. The prodigy started walking towards the courts, checking the tension of the strings on his racket. "Have you guys been lazing about all day discussing my love life?" he asked in a bored tone, "What are you, gossiping, giggling fangirls? Get to work."

Tezuka stifled an amused smirk at the command. Ryoma was taking the responsibility of being the vice-captain well, it seemed.

"Man…" Momoshiro grumbled, "Even that did not faze him."

Kikumaru nodded sullenly in response, "And he scolded Fuji! Ochibi is so brave. That must have been the most I have heard him say in an entire week!"

Fuji chuckled, a faint smile curling at his lips, "He is the fukubuchou of our team. It seems he has adopted a portion of Tezuka's personality."

Fuji glanced at Tezuka and offered him a smile, "Ne Tezuka, did you notice. Echizen did not ask you to return the photograph."

"Fuji-senpai, stop bothering buchou and come and play a match with me." Echizen said, glaring at the genius from out of the corner of his eyes. "I have won four out of eight matches between us; I intend to win this one as well."

Momoshiro sighed, "He is still a cocky brat."

Fuji walked forward, watching a slight hint of glowing green appear in Ryoma's eyes. 'So this is my punishment, is it?' he thought to himself, his eyes opening to play seriously.

Ryoma had given him the first serve.

Fuji knew he was going to lose.

Xxx

"Fuji-senpai lost." Momoshiro murmured, shaking his head to come out of a daze.

"That is no surprise." Inui commented, "But I must admit that I did not anticipate a six games to two match."

"The brat was angry." Kaidou commented with a slight hiss, faintly disturbed to see their genius defeated so easily. Ryoma rarely, if ever, played so seriously. Usually, he was more concerned with enjoying the game than winning. If the opponent were as tough and ingenious as Fuji, Ryoma would deliberately drag the game along purely to enjoy the thrill of a challenge. He had been like this ever since he attained the Pinnacle of Perfection.

This time, he started out serious with every intention of winning and he did.

Fuji walked towards them, wiping the sweat off his face and neck with a tired but amused smile. "I guess I deserved that."

"Eh?" Kikumaru looked at him with a frown, offering him some water.

"If Tezuka's form of punishment is assigning laps, Echizen will ask the offenders to play against him. He will then defeat them soundly, totally exhausting their stamina." Fuji shook his head, "He really is a cunning guy. This not only improves the skill of the offenders, it also polishes his own skills, keeping him on his toes. He assigns laps only when there are too many offenders to play against individually." Fuji smiled faintly, "Makes me wonder who the true genius is…"

"Alright. Enough talking. Momoshiro, you go against Inui, Oishi against Kikumaru, and Kaidou against Fuji. Echizen," he glanced at his watch, "We need to leave now or we will be late for the meeting."

"Wait, both of you will be going for the tournament placement? I thought you wanted to keep Ochibi a secret of sorts?" Kikumaru asked with a frown.

Inui adjusted his glasses, "Being in the Singles 1 position, Echizen did not get to play much because our team hardly ever needed to play all five games. However, Echizen's true abilities are not known of anyone and we, as his teammates, have only witnessed a small portion of his current skills." He frowned, "The two years he spent in America doing intensive training must have caused his skills to grow to a great extent. So his true abilities are still a secret."

Tezuka nodded in agreement, "I have been getting calls from Atobe and Sanada wishing to confirm whether Echizen was truly back. I am taking him with me so that he can meet them."

Ryoma raised a brow, looking mildly amused, "They actually missed losing to me?"

Fuji chuckled while Tezuka sent a reprimanding look towards his kohai, "Both of them have improved their play, Echizen so don't let your guard down."

Echizen simply offered the captain an unimpressed look before turning on his heel to walk towards the clubroom to change his clothes. Tezuka closed his eyes in slight exasperation before following the brat of Seigaku. Fuji chuckled, "I wonder how Tezuka would react when he faces the reality about their fixation with Echizen." Inui simply smirked at the thought, choosing to stay silent.

Tezuka paused in his stride for just a moment, knowing that Fuji had not intended for him to hear that last comment. The implication in it made the stoic captain's eyes narrow and he quickened his steps to catch up with his kohai.

"Do you want that picture?" Tezuka asked as he closed the clubroom door behind him.

The prodigy glanced at him from over his shoulder, golden eyes piercing, "Don't you want it, buchou? Isn't that why Fuji-senpai gave it to you?"

"He wants to tease me." Tezuka replied bluntly and the regretted it the next moment when he saw Ryoma's eyes narrow. He had forgotten just how sharp the boy was. He had also forgotten the promise he made to himself about watching what he said in front of his youngest kohai.

"Now why Fuji giving you a picture of me would be considered teasing, I wonder." Ryoma responded as he pulled off his shirt and headed towards the shower. "Keep it, buchou. I'd rather you have it than Fuji-senpai."

"You don't want it?" Tezuka asked, mildly puzzled.

Ryoma paused at the door to the shower, looking back at him with a raised brow, "Photographs are memories, buchou. Why would I wish to possess that memory of my own face when I just glance at the mirror to look at it?"

Tezuka did not reply, he could not when he was faced with that blunt logic. He moved to another shower stall, his mind lingering on Fuji's last comment. It was hardly logical to believe such a thing. The last time both Sanada and Atobe saw Ryoma, he was nearly thirteen and neither of his rivals were the type to be interested in someone who was so young. Unlike him, they had not been in regular contact with Ryoma when he was in America.

So where did Fuji get that idea?

He walked out of the stall once he was done, turning his face away politely when he caught a glimpse of Echizen getting dressed. "Buchou…" there was a little curiosity in Ryoma's voice. Tezuka hummed to indicate he was listening, "This Yukimura… what kind of person is he? I mean, aside from being strong in tennis."

Tezuka frowned thoughtfully, "Rather blunt and stern. I don't know him that well."

"Hmm." Ryoma murmured.

Tezuka shrugged on his shirt and started buttoning it, "Is there any particular reason why you wanted to know?"

"I received flowers from him the other day…" He answered with a puzzled frown, "The note that came with them stated that he had just been informed that I had returned and wanted to give me a 'welcome home' present."

Tezuka paused in his actions for a moment, a look of intense possessiveness flashing in his eyes before he schooled his expression, "Sou ka…" he glanced at Ryoma who was busy buttoning his own shirt, "You impressed him with your performance in at the Nationals in Jr. High."

"Hmm." Ryoma scoffed, "He was just another opponent." He waved his hand dismissively, "A strong one… very strong but just another stepping stone for me."

Tezuka grimaced, "You should be more thoughtful." He reprimanded sternly, "He needs to be respected."

Ryoma shot him an unreadable look, "He called me a pathetic byproduct of the immense gathering of talents that year."

Tezuka felt his lips twitch in amusement, "And you were offended by that?" he raised a brow as he slipped his belt into the belt-loops. "You did not seem fazed by it then."

Ryoma gave him a dry look, "Buchou, I have been working hard on my tennis since I was old enough to hold a racket. Oyaji drilled everything into my skull. I earned every bit of my skill." He narrowed his eyes, "If I was so pathetic, how come I defeated all those talented people?"

Tezuka paused and narrowed his eyes on the golden-eyed boy, "Echizen…" he placed a hand on Ryoma's head and applied a bit of pressure to make the boy look up at him, "It has been such a long time. Why is bothering you now?"

"It seemed to me that neither he nor Sanada played with me at their full strength, buchou. They underestimated me and lost." Ryoma scowled, "It feels like hollow victory."

Tezuka frowned as he thought back on his match with Yukimura. "It does not matter." Ryoma shrugged, "It is just that that thought has lingered on my mind and his flowers are not welcome."

Tezuka looked at him intently before removing his hand from those silk-like strands of emerald tinged hair. "You will be meeting him today."

"Don't worry. I will behave." Ryoma said dryly. Tezuka looked at Ryoma in slight exasperation, watching as the boy deftly tied his tie and adjusted his collar. "I would like to play against them again."

"You will get the chance to do so in the Kanto tournaments." Tezuka pointed out as he put on his coat.

"Hmm." Ryoma muttered, running his fingers through his hair before glancing at the mirror absently. His uniform was immaculate, the white blazer with black pants was properly ironed, and a red tie completed the formal looking High school uniform. "I am ready."

Tezuka nodded, "Then let us be on our way."

Ryoma simply nodded and they left the room.

Xx

By the time they reached their destination, most participants had already arrived. Tezuka could see Sanada and Yukimura in the front, talking to each other in quiet tones. Atobe was present too, Jirou lazing by his side, looking ready to drift off to sleep.

Tachibana had joined Shitenhouji along with Chitose. It seemed that the entire Fudomine team had separated, each going to different high schools.

"Yo! Monkey King, a ponytail? Did becoming bald traumatize you so much that you let your hair grow that long?" The familiar, mocking voice brought Tezuka out of his thoughts and he resisted the urge to sigh when Atobe turned about, his handsome face contorting in rage.

"You brat!" Atobe exclaimed as he stood, marching over to them with a scowl, "Show ore-sama some respect! Do you not know how privileged you are to be in my ever astounding presence."

Ryoma smirked, the same infuriating smirk that had driven all his opponents to insanity. "Mada mada dane, saru."

A soft laugh brought their attention to chocolate brown eyes that were trained on Ryoma in amusement, "It has been too long since I have heard that particular phrase." Yukimura Seiichi said, "It is good to have you back, Echizen-kun."

Sanada, who was standing beside him, nodded in agreement, "We have a score to settle."

Tezuka, having heard Ryoma voice his dislike for Yukimura and Sanada before, was mildly relieved when he detected only faint respect and politeness in Ryoma's voice when he greeted them.

"Sou ka," the young prodigy smirked, "I hope you have improved, Sanada-san." Golden eyes stared piercingly at the fukubuchou of Rikkai, "And I hope that this time, you take me seriously."

Sanada narrowed his eyes, "Not taking you seriously is suicide, Echizen-kun. All of us know this."

"Now now, Genichiro," Yukimura said softly, "There is time later for such challenges. Echizen-kun had finally returned. We shouldn't spoil this first meeting in such a manner." He turned to Ryoma with a smile, "I hope you liked the flowers, Echizen-kun."

"I would have," he replied bluntly, "If I were a girl."

Sanada and Yukimura looked amused while Atobe smirked and Tezuka shook his head, "Ryoma…"

The boy looked at his buchou, noting the informal use of his first name with a gleam in his eye, "I think that Yukimura-san would prefer truth rather than white lies, buchou."

Yukimura chuckled as they took their seats; "True, true…" he turned to Tezuka with a somewhat sly smile and said, "I must commend your cunning, Tezuka-kun, placing Echizen-kun in the Singles 1 position."

Tezuka raised a brow, "I merely took advantage of the fact that very few players at the high school level seemed to know Echizen. They will not scout for him as much as they would for our other, more popular, players."

"That is what I assumed." Atobe said, before looking at Echizen shrewdly, his insight letting him understand things that others would ignore, "Your growth is astounding, Echizen, it has always been."

Echizen simply smirked. Sanada looked a little disappointed, "I would have liked to watch Echizen play. I wanted to see how much he had improved."

Atobe snorted, "Whatever skills he has garnered, only someone on our level would be able to force him to reveal it. As far as I know, there was no one of such caliber in the District level selections."

"Echizen-kun has grown since we last met him, don't you think, Atobe-kun? Not so cute and short anymore." Yukimura said teasingly and was rewarded with an unimpressed look from Ryoma.

"I wasn't short to begin with." The boy said with a scoff, "Young, but not short."

"True." Atobe said with a smirk, "If it wasn't for Jirou, I would have asked you to join me for dinner sometime."

Ryoma looked at the sleeping boy with curiosity, before turning to Atobe, "You are assuming that I am available."

Yukimura leaned forward in interest, "Oh? You are not? Who is the lucky person that caught your attention?"

"Ask Fuji-senpai." Echizen said dryly, unfazed by the interrogation. Tezuka shot him an intrigued look. The Seigaku captain knew very well Fuji would suggest his name and he had a feeling that Ryoma knew it too. The prodigy did not meet his enquiring eyes, even though Tezuka knew that Ryoma must have felt the weight of his gaze.

'Interesting…' The captain thought with a slight inward smile, his fingers coming up to cover his lips in an absentminded gesture. The perceptive Atobe caught this and he raised a brow at the Seigaku captain, a smirk teasing his lips. The Rikkai Dai fukubuchou was looking at him with open amusement and Tezuka felt a little amount of relief to know that Fuji, fortunately, had been wrong in his speculation.

As the interactions between Yukimura, Atobe and Ryoma continued, Tezuka marveled the friendship that was developing right in front of his eyes. Ryoma's strange allure seemed to attract people towards him despite his aloof nature.

"They are starting." Sanada's deep voice called their attention and they turned to the organizers on the dais. The process of tournament placement was not something interesting. They had gone through it so many times that it had lost its appeal. By the end of the meeting, it was confirmed that Seigaku would have its first match against St. Mary boy's high school from Chiba.

Yukimura chuckled, his eyes discretely looking at Seigaku's first opponents, "Look at them, they are eyeing you so intently, Tezuka, ignoring Echizen completely."

Sanada followed Yukimura's gaze before he looked at Ryoma. The Fila cap shadowed the boy's eyes but that smirk was visible. "Of course…" the boy said, amused, "Buchou can be a very intimidating opponent, after all. No matter how much they scout him, they would not be able to defeat him."

"As for me," Ryoma's glittering eyes looked at them, "I am just a first year rookie."

Sanada and Atobe scoffed while Yukimura chuckled, bestowing upon Ryoma a fond smile. Tezuka tapped Ryoma slightly on the forehead, "You shouldn't let your guard down."

The youngest of the group simply smirked.

Xxx

"So, you are going to keep Echizen-kun at Singles 1 again?" The coach of Seigaku High's tennis club, Asakura Takeaki, enquired softly as he took the details about the Kanto tournament from Tezuka. The coach was young, in his late thirties but Tezuka was pleased with his competence. He was soft-spoken but his presence was as commanding as Tezuka's sometimes.

"Hai." Tezuka answered simply.

Seeing the question in the coach's eyes, Oishi moved to explain, "In our team, Echizen is the one who copes best with pressure." He reasoned, "He thrives on it."

"Sou ka…" the coach murmured, "You have deliberately placed him in that position, not only to fool our opponents but also to ensure that in case of a tie, Echizen will prove to be the tie-breaker who garners a win for Seigaku?"

Tezuka simply nodded. "You seem to be placing a lot of trust in the boy." The coach warned, "Having a very strong player, such as you, in the Singles 1 position, would mean that the rest of the team can relax and play their own style of tennis. You are the captain they trust and respect after all."

Asakura crossed his legs and looked at Tezuka shrewdly, "I know that Echizen is a very strong player… he is probably on par with you, isn't he, Tezuka? However, what I am concerned about is his lack of experience with such a responsibility." He looked down at the sheet of paper that held the order for their first match in the Kanto tournaments.

Oishi smiled softly, "I know you are skeptical. You have every reason to be but Echizen…"

"Echizen has my complete trust." Tezuka said, looking at the coach in his eye, "And he has never failed me and he never will." The captain looked out of the window, recalling all of Echizen's stellar performances.

Especially the match against Yukimura.

It had been then when their Prince had surpassed all of them.

"That's right." Oishi said with a fond smile, "Both Tezuka and Echizen are equally trusted by all of us. The boy may look laid back and unmotivated at times; sensei, but I assure you that you will never see him with his guard down."

"Well," the coach said with a shrug, "I do not know him as well as you do. I meant no offense by that, I hope you understand, Tezuka-kun."

The captain nodded but the perceptive coach at seen the brief flare of protectiveness in Tezuka's eyes before he had managed to conceal it.

Seeing that the discussion was over, Tezuka stood and bowed, "I must leave now."

The coach smiled and nodded, "Alright, Tezuka-kun."

As Tezuka walked out of the room, his fingers traced the picture that was in his pocket. There was some motive behind Ryoma's actions throughout the day, he was certain of that. Letting him have the picture, that nonchalant acceptance of Fuji's insinuation, the calm refusal to Atobe's most obvious attempt at flirting…

He had even admitted that he was not available.

Ryoma had left him enough hints; it was time for him to act on it.

Xxx

A smirk teased at his lips as he gazed at the empty tennis courts. The day had been rather amusing despite the fact that he had been annoyed by Fuji-senpai's rather blatant attempt at matchmaking.

As he checked if the first-years had done the cleaning up properly, he let his mind drift. Surprisingly, Atobe, Sanada and Yukimura turned out to be more interesting than he thought. Atobe's arrogance was just plain amusing while Yukimura seemed rather gentle and elegant. What was most humorous was the manner in which Sanada hovered over Yukimura.

His keen eyes scanned the spotless courts that were such an important part of his life. Everything seemed to happen on a tennis court. His discovery of tennis itself happened on a court. His relationship with his father revolved around the courts. His first encounter with his best friend Momoshiro involved the tennis court. His first encounter with all the former Seigaku regulars and his precious senpai-tachi happened on the tennis courts.

The dawn of his rather odd relationship with Fuji-senpai happened on the court. It started with the unforgettable practice match. A relationship where they exchanged sly words, set up pranks that no one could connect to them and tortured their poor peers.

His amusing rivalry with Atobe started on the courts along with the relationship of mutual respect with Sanada. And Yukimura… Ryoma still had lingering feelings of awe when it came to the Child of God.

Then there was the relationship with his buchou. Tennis had introduced him to Tezuka Kunimitsu. A court had pushed them together, first as teammates, then as mentor and protégé, soon after as pillars who stood side-by-side to support their team and then as equals.

Ryoma wondered absently as he crossed his arms and looked at the sky, would tennis bring them together as lovers as well?

A slight sound of rattling caught his attention and he moved his gaze. His eyes widened slightly when he spotted two hands on the chain fence in front of him, trapping him between the fence and the body he could feel behind him.

"Lost in thought?" That voice was familiar.

"Buchou?" he asked in surprise when he felt the other move closer, the heat of the captain's body warming his back. "Buchou what…?"

He turned his head a little, his eyes landing on strands of chestnut colored hair. He stilled, trying to comprehend the fact that his beloved buchou's head was now resting on his shoulder. His arm, which had suffered so much, was now wrapped around his waist.

"The photograph."

Ryoma raised a brow, confused, "What of it?"

"I want to keep it."

The prodigy frowned, "I told you that you can keep it, senpai." He whispered, growing even more confused when Tezuka's arm tightened around his waist. "Is something wrong?"

"I want to keep the subject of the photograph as well."

Ryoma stilled, his eyes moving to the tennis courts in front of them. A small smile teased at his lips, his face expressing his amusement. "You can keep that as well."

"I am serious, Ryoma." His buchou's voice was stern and he knew that Tezuka had already sensed his amusement.

Ryoma chuckled, "I know." He gestured towards the arm around him with a smirk, "That is a rather possessive grip but you don't see me complaining."

"You are not making this easy." A laugh spilled from Ryoma's mouth, soft and somewhat delicate and it was unlike anything that Tezuka had ever heard. Ryoma turned in his embrace and leaned back, effectively trapping the captain's arms behind him.

"Easy?" he smiled, "What could be easier?" seeing Tezuka's frown, his smile widened, "Really, buchou, does this need to be complicated?" he raised his hand, a finger easing the frown between Tezuka's brows. "Why don't I make it easier for you?"

"What do you mean?" Tezuka asked, relaxing as both of Ryoma's arms landed gently on his chest. It bothered him somewhat that they were in public but to back away now would be foolish.

"I love you."

Tezuka's breath stilled.

"See, it is that simple." Ryoma said with his usual blunt honesty, the same honesty that was the very essence of his character. He had seen that simple honesty cause Ryoma's opponents to bristle in anger. He had seen it cause arguments within his team that he could do without but now…

Now, with those three words said so casually yet with the honesty that Tezuka never doubted, he wondered why he ever wished for Ryoma to curb that habit.

Tezuka leaned forward, his lips brushing gently against Ryoma's, effectively stealing the boy's breath as he had done his. Pushing the younger boy against the fence, he discarded all his worries about the seeming complexity of their situation.

"Kunimitsu…"

The captain narrowed his eyes and abruptly pulled away from those tempting lips that had just pronounced his first name so delectably.

"Senpai!" Ryoma protested when Tezuka grasped his wrist harshly and pulled. He stumbled as he was forced to follow the captain to whatever destination he had in mind, "What? Where are we going?"

Tezuka did not answer and Ryoma had to adjust his pace to keep up with his senpai without stumbling. He scowled at captain. The prodigy did not appreciate being dragged around like this.

As they left the school, a few lingering students eyed them speculatively but Ryoma paid them no mind, his attention focused on his buchou. "Would you mind telling me where we are going?" he asked, his irritation clear in his voice.

Tezuka glanced at him, "Some place where Fuji's camera cannot reach."

Ryoma quirked a brow in amusement but remained silent, Fuji-senpai had left a lasting impression on Tezuka's mind. He chuckled softly, looking down at the firm grip on his wrist with a raised brow.

He would make sure that Fuji-senpai got something extra-special this Christmas.