Extreme Streets Tennis
I'm so sorry for the long delay! But I can promise that it won't happen again… ^_^` I am working on 3 other stories atmo tho, so updates could still be a little sporadic.
If you read the previous chapters again and thought maybe they were a little different, it's just cause I fixed up the grammar and sentence structure. Only the doubles match between Kevin, Ryoma, Sam and Duke is really any different.
Anyway, here's a reminder of the different Levels of tennis.
Level One: child's-play, amateur styles, basically warming up.
Level Two: intermediate skill, slightly complicated moves and techniques.
Level Three: advanced skills, techniques and specialities.
Level Four: a wider range of complicated techniques, general skill level is higher.
Level Five: Muga no Kyōchi or the State of Self Actualization. The three 'pinnacles,' considered the epitome of tennis.
Level Six: The inner spirit is awakened.
Ryoma stood in front of the bathroom mirror, examining the fading scar on his eye. It was only faint now after two days, but he could tell it was the kind of scar that would heal completely without leaving a mark. Ryoma sighed lightly and leant back to stare into his own golden eyes. Playing tennis with the Seigaku team was different. It was more exciting than playing solo in tournaments, but not as thrilling – or as life-threatening – as playing in Extreme Streets tournaments. And as for his team mates… Ryoma's reflection smiled slightly as he thought of them. He'd only known them for two weeks, but somehow it felt much longer then that. He had thought he'd never find people he could enjoy being around in the same way he had enjoyed being around his old teammates in America. They didn't fill the hole completely, but they helped Ryoma to forget the hole was there.
It really wasn't so bad here… Life was pretty simple; go to school, play tennis, come home, train, sleep, and repeat. Nothing much to worry about except for when the next tournament match was. The only thing that perhaps wasn't good at the moment was Ryoma's nightmares, but could live with them – he was used to them by now.
"Are you nervous?"
Ryoma was silent as he stared out at the city lights spread before them from the rooftop of the warehouse. The night was still around them, but the noise of New York's traffic filled the streets that were only just hidden by neighbouring buildings. He could feel Felix's cool gaze from where he was leaning on the railing next to him. The dark-haired fifteen year old gave a short chuckle at Ryoma's silence, and his nimble fingers went to his pocket. "Want a fag?" At this Ryoma turned his head to look at the offered box.
He nodded. "Thanks," and took one.
"'Welcome," Felix seemed amused, but Ryoma ignored it, lit the cigarette, and went back to staring. After a few moments, Ryoma could feel the older boy's eyes again. "It's okay if you're nervous. Everyone is nervous the first time–"
"Yadda. I can't do it."
Felix's silky voice dropped a few degrees. "Why not?"
Ryoma shot a look at him. "Why me?" he fired back.
"Why not you?" Felix stepped closer. Ryoma turned his head away again, glaring furiously at nothing. Long fingers grasped his shoulder. "Do you have a problem with it, Samurai?"
"Why does it have to be me?" Ryoma's voice was high-strung compared to Felix's and his heart was beating in his ears. Even the cigarette wasn't helping much. "The others have been here longer than me, why not one of them? Why not Moon, or Kevin even–?"
Felix cut in sharply, "Neither has the same level of potential or skill that you do, nor learned as quickly as you did."
"But–" Ryoma sucked on his cigarette, and clenched the railing of the rooftop with both hands. A dog started barking nearby. "…I don't even know how to be a Captain," he said.
"Just keep doing as you're doing. The others already look up to you, and respect you. You've beaten everyone in single matches, except for me. You're naturally the best choice for the position."
Ryoma let out the breath he'd been holding in one gust. "But what if they don't want me to be their Captain… and what does a Captain even do, anyway?"
"You support your team mates. You become their pillar of strength. Their pillar of support."
Ryoma chewed on his cigarette for a moment. "Alright," he said, "I'll do it. But…" Ryoma turned to scowl at Felix threateningly, "the first person to call me Captain Samurai dies a painful death, got it?"
Ryoma jerked awake on his desk as the loud school bell rang. Chatter rose around him as students packed their stuff together and left the English classroom. Ryoma stretched and rolled his shoulders as he got to his feet, finally it was the end of the day, he only had tennis practice next, and then he could go ho– his stomach grumbled –and get some burgers with Momo.
Ryoma walked to the locker room and changed into his tennis gear, he was one of the first ready to start, and so began warming up by hitting a tennis ball against the wall. A few minutes later as he repeatedly hit the ball at the same spot, he became aware of being watched from off to the left. Subtly, Ryoma stole a look to the side from under his hat – and then started when he saw who it was – hitting the ball slightly harder than necessary in surprise.
He was just standing there with his arms crossed, staring at him from near the fountains. Ryoma silently continued to whack the ball as he tried to think of a reason for this – but nope, he was coming up with nothing. Inwardly sighing, Ryoma stopped the ball and bounced it on his racket.
"Something you want, Buchou?" he turned to the stoic boy. Tezuka just continued his levelled gaze, but two can play at that game, Ryoma thought, and so he waited patiently for a reply.
"Do you know the clay court in Haruno University?" Tezuka said eventually.
Ryoma blinked. "The newly renovated place, right? I know it." Tezuka uncrossed his arms, and pulled a tennis ball out of his pocket. He threw it to Ryoma – who caught it on reflex, and then frowned in confusion. "Nani?"
"I'll be waiting for you at 3:00 pm three days from now," Tezuka said, "come alone. I'll bring the balls." With that, the Captain put his hands in his pockets and walked away – leaving Ryoma standing there slightly stunned.
Okay… Ryoma placed the ball Tezuka had given him on his now stationary racket – it rolled and stopped to lightly touch Ryoma's own tennis ball. Oh well, at least I'll get to see how good the Buchou really is.
Tezuka clicked the front door closed behind him as he stepped out into the early morning air of the next day. The sky on the horizon was pinker then usual this morning; almost red on the shapely clouds drifting leisurely by. His shoes loudly crunched on the gravel path as the Seigaku captain began his way to morning practice. A cool breeze played with his hair, making a wind-chime sway on the next door's front porch. The street was deserted which was strange, usually there were a couple of joggers going for an early morning run or something.
He walked lost in thought, until a deep throated bark from a neighbouring house startled him. Tezuka frowned slightly as he continued to walk pass the house, Papi – the dog – was ordinarily friendly, and rarely barked at passerby's. Tezuka dismissed it; he didn't have pets, maybe Papi was just getting old. The deep barks followed him down the street, only fading when Tezuka turned a corner.
"Ohayou Tezuka," Fuji's voice came from off to the side as the boy left his house. Tezuka paused to wait for him, and then the two continued walking to school.
"…" Tezuka watched Fuji out of the corner of his eye. Then he focused back on the street, pushing his glasses more securely onto his nose. He looked back at Fuji. After a few minutes of walking in silence, not even the stoic captain could stand it any longer. "Fuji?" he asked firmly, getting the boy's attention. "Is something wrong?"
"Hmm? Why?" Tezuka slowed, and Fuji matched him.
"…" they gazed at each other for a heavy moment.
"Oh." Fuji closed his eyes and the familiar mild smile took over his face. "Is this better?"
"Aa," they continued walking. "What's wrong then?" Tezuka asked sternly.
Fuji smiled. "Oh nothing much. Just one of my cacti on the outside windowsill – it fell off, and since my bedroom is on the second floor…" his expression darkened again.
"So," Tezuka frowned, "you found it as you left the house this morning."
"Mmm," Fuji hummed, and then smiled at Tezuka. "Perhaps it's a sign. Maybe I should skip school today?"
"…Education should not be disregarded. If you ignore your studies you are disrespecting your teachers and your hard-working peers," he responded severely.
Fuji giggled, "I was just joking Tezuka. Saa… now I feel fine."
The two rounded a corner and a strange sight greeted them. A small crowd of people had gathered outside a general store, exclaiming loudly to one another. Tezuka and Fuji joined the back curiously – some people moved off allowing them to see the store. The huge glass window had been broken, and police tape surrounded it. Shards of glinting glass littered the place where the window had been.
"It's a disgrace isn't it?" a lady said to her friend.
Her friend clucked in agreement. "What is this place coming to?"
"A person breaking in – just for some smokes!" The two walked off shaking their heads disdainfully.
A nearby jogger nudged a guy wearing a suit. "Pretty amazing though, how they did it. I mean that glass is pretty thick!"
"Yeah," the suit guy nodded, "must have been one hell of a tennis ball!" they laughed and moved off.
Fuji gazed at the vandalised general store. "Tennis ball?"
Tezuka frowned. "Come, or we'll be late for practise," he said, even though it was still early yet.
Fuji smiled at him. "Hai, Buchou."
The next day was hard for Ryoma, every moment seemed excruciatingly long – the clocks on the walls seemed to tick slower, and all his teachers pulled out extra-boring work and lectures, as if they had all conspired to save it just for today. His baka oyaji was being, if possible, even more annoying then usual, and the weather was too hot. Much to his chagrin the day after that was no better, and he found himself snapping increasingly snarky and sarcastic comments at anyone who talked to him.
Ah… sweet water… Ryoma closed his eyes in bliss as he slowly drank from the fountain. It was after practise now and mostly everyone had gone home. Ryoma had changed back into his school uniform and was waiting for Momo to come out of the changing room so he could hitch a ride home on his senpai's bike. Ryoma squeaked the tap off, and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. Then he paused, his sensitive ears picked up a noise from behind him.
"Momo-senpai?" Ryoma looked over his shoulder – then all around the small courtyard surrounding the fountain. There was no one there. Ryoma mentally shrugged and bent to pick up his racket. The back of his neck itched and prickled fiercely, and he turned his head sharply to scan the courtyard again. Something's there… he was sure of it, but again the courtyard was empty. Ryoma frowned.
The change room door clanged loudly as it opened, making Ryoma jump. Momo came out dressed in his school uniform.
"Ne Echizen, ready to go?" The second year walked over with a friendly grin.
Ryoma scowled at him. "Baka. Hurry up." He started walking towards the school gate.
"Nani? Echizen that's no way to treat your senpai, no it is not!" Momo's hand mussed up Ryoma's hair as he caught up to him.
"You bastard," Ryoma growled, and he slowed to fix up his hair. Momo just laughed and went to unchain his bicycle from the bike rack. Unable to help himself, Ryoma glanced back towards the small courtyard. There's probably nothing there…
Two birds suddenly trilled and fled the school roof, shooting over his head as if something had startled them into flight. Ryoma's gaze fixed to the spot they had been, watching the roof for any other sign of movement.
"Oi, Echizen! Now who's the slow one?" Momo yelled from the school gate. Ryoma, still frowning, turned and ran to get on the back of his senpai's bike. As they left he couldn't resist looking back once more at the school. If nothing is there, then why do I feel so uneasy…?
Ryoma closed the door behind him with a small relieved sigh. All the way home he couldn't quite shake the strange feeling hovering over him, but now that he was inside he felt better. He kicked off his shoes and dropped his school bag by the door, calling out a flat hello in case anyone cared he was home, and made for the stairs leading to his room.
He stopped when a loud crash and a squawk of pain came from the kitchen. Ryoma listened to the following sounds of several somethings smashing, and watched as a lone plate rolled out of the kitchen and clattered to a stop in front of him. Ryoma gazed at the plate on the floor, and then at the doorway of the suddenly utterly silent kitchen.
"Che," Ryoma stepped forward to enter the kitchen, but found his way blocked.
"Ehehe… What, home already, brat?" Nanjiro stood in the doorway, rubbing the back of his neck, and smiling too wide to be normal. "I thought you were supposed to be at that tennis club? Don't tell me you're slacking off! Eh, kids these days are so lazy! Why, I bet all you want to do is go up to your room and lie on the bed! Ah well, don't let me keep you…" Nanjiro made shooing motions at Ryoma who just stared back in response.
Eyes narrowing slightly, Ryoma leant to the right to try and see into the kitchen. Again his view was blocked as Nanjiro leant with him, still smiling too widely. Ryoma glared up at his annoying father and there was a beat of tense silence for a moment as both of them refused to move. The sweat-drops on the back of Nanjiro's head were multiplying by the second.
Finally Ryoma closed his eyes, and stretched his arms behind his head. "Heeeh, fine. I'm not sure I want to know anyway."
"Nothing to know! Nothing to know!" Nanjiro sang happily, pushing Ryoma towards the stairs. "Besides, shortie brats like you shouldn't be interested in things that don't concern th– HEY!" Ryoma ducked under his arm and darted through the kitchen doorway. "BRAT!"
Ryoma stared at the mess that was their kitchen – at the flour covering nearly all surfaces, the sticky brown goo dripping down the side of the cabinet from a large up turned bowl, at the broken china scattered over the floor – and was that whipped cream sprayed across the wall? "…baka oyaji…"
"It's not my fault!" Nanjiro wailed. "Nanako went out, and your mother's at work, and I was hungry, and the woman on the TV made it look easy! But it wasn't!" Ryoma turned to their blaring TV on the bench corner where a woman, with what could be two melons stuffed down her shirt, was carefully decorating a cake. "Do you know how difficult it is to bake a cake? First I couldn't get the stove to work, and the eggs wouldn't crack right, and the shell kept going to the mixture! The flour burst everywhere when I opened the bag, and the lady on TV kept distracting me at crucial moments… OI! Brat!" Ryoma was halfway up the stairs. "BRAT! HELP ME CLEAN IT UP!!"
Ryoma put his father's antics out of his mind as he went to his room. He was looking forward to curling up with Karupin for the next couple of hours and trying to forget what a boring day it had been today… he reached for the doorhandle and went to open the door to his room, but before he'd even opened it quarter of the way–
"REOW!" a white blur shot out and clamoured up his leg to his shoulder. Ryoma grabbed the cat on reflex, and held him. He looked at Karupin in surprise, his cat seemed… spooked or something… Ryoma patted him and shushed softly until Karupin had calmed down enough to retract his claws from Ryoma's shoulder.
Ryoma frowned as he looked back at the small open gap to his bedroom. He pushed the door fully open, revealing his room completely, and stood at the entrance for a few moments looking around. What exactly he was expecting to see, he wasn't quite sure… but one thing was certain; whatever it was it wasn't there. The room appeared normal. Ryoma cuddled and scratched his cat as he walked in and closed the door behind him. He shivered as he placed a reluctant Karupin down on his bed, and turned to close the window.
Ryoma stared at the open window; it was starting to get dark outside and the fading sun threw a rectangle of red light across the carpet, the curtains were shifting gently with a cool breeze. But… he hadn't left it open… had he? His brow creased as he tried to remember whether he had or not, and he reached forward to close it. I must have left it open…
Ryoma scanned his room once more, feeling unsure. Then he started to notice little things about his room. Hadn't that book been next to his bed? Had that photo always been pointed in this direction? Wasn't that pen by his lamp this morning? Those papers hadn't been in a pile like that… The uneasy sense from before rose again, more definite this time. Suddenly feeling terribly exposed in his own room, Ryoma shifted so that his back was against a wall.
Something's not right, Ryoma thought, as his eyes continually flicked around the room, spotting things that might have changed or moved; dust that had been disturbed on shelves he barely touched. Had that old man been in his room? Karupin mewed by the closed door, wanting to go out again. Ryoma couldn't help but agree with his pet. Maybe a bath would make him feel better.
A few minutes later he was nice and warm, sitting in the steaming water, and letting it soak into his body. His thoughts had drifted to tennis again, and the game he had with Tezuka the next day. He and the captain were skipping the afternoon tennis practice to play the match, and surely everyone at the club would wonder where they were, and what was going on. Che, they were always so nosy.
The real question was how far he should go with Tezuka's match. He couldn't show the Seigaku Buchou what his real ability was, as that would be breaking the code of EST, but should he go far enough to beat the captain? Should he only just lose? He knew that was why Tezuka wanted this match; to test how good Ryoma was, and to probably encourage him and motivate him more… but should he–
Ryoma's head shot up with a splash and he stared at the ceiling with wide eyes. His eyes followed the sound, as if he could somehow develop x-ray vision if he stared hard enough. The sound moved further away. Groan… creak…
Something was on the roof. It wasn't Karupin, it was too heavy for her. But there was definitely something out there… or someone.
He was being followed. He had no idea why, but his imagination easily supplied ideas for who it was, and throughout the rest of the night one name continuously flashed through his thoughts.
Ryoma had quickly left the bathroom and checked the roof, but whoever it had been was gone again. His mind raved with different questions and possibilities as he'd stood alone on the roof tiles, and he felt like a cat with all its fur sticking on end; he couldn't relax. Why was someone following him? Want did they want? Ryoma returned to his room and wiped his forehead irritably as he sat down on his bed.
This was utter nonsense, he was being ridiculous. If he was being followed he just had to think rationally about why that would be and the answer would come to him easily, if he only it wasn't so hot…
The dark-haired boy lay down on the bed and shut his bright eyes tight. But no matter how long he tossed and turned and re-organised his sheets and pillows, he just couldn't relax enough to sleep. Crazy notions of Felix being right outside his window, or of footsteps stopping right outside his door played over and over in his mind, until finally the light of dawn appeared through the curtains, and Ryoma fell asleep.
"Hai?" Inui looked up from where he was scribbling notes in a green book. Fuji had left the other Regulars still stretching on the court and was now standing next to him.
"Have you gathered any new data on Echizen?" Fuji asked. Inui adjusted his glasses, and flipped the pages of the notebook back to about half-way through the book.
"Aa. Hmm. Echizen Ryoma… I must apologise Fuji, but it seems the data I've gathered previously has a ninety-six percent chance of being unreliable."
Fuji's smile widened. "That much, huh?"
"Echizen's data appears almost fluid and changes frequently. Yesterday, for instance, the level of flexibility Echizen displayed during the drills was on the verge of Kikumaru's level. Echizen, however, has never used that extent of flexibility in any of the court games… that we've seen…" Inui's glasses flashed as he sat forward suddenly, as if he'd just thought of something new. He began scribbling quickly in the notebook. "In every game of his I have recorded, Echizen has presented a single constant, which is his incredible control over his abilities… this leads me to believe… that there is an eighty-seven percent chance that Echizen is still holding back the true extent of his abilities."
"Aa," Fuji sighed lightly, "I thought that myself."
Inui stopped scribbling and looked down at his fellow third year. "As expected of Fuji, but there is another aspect of Echizen's tennis style I have considered. I believe that Echizen has played another sport, other then tennis – or at least – he has had some special training in another sport."
"Oh? Like what, Inui?"
"…I do not have enough data to make an accurate assessment," Inui said, "but most probably a sport that requires great control, flexibility, and power. Perhaps gymnastics."
Fuji's face went blank. "Gymnastics…?"
"Besides that, there is also the question of why Fuji is so interested in Echizen's data. Would you care to expand on your reasons for the enquiry?"
"Fuji?" Inui readied his pen.
"Hmm? What?" Fuji turned back to the data player. "Oh, gomen Inui, I wasn't listening. Thank you for the interesting information. Though, while I agree that Echizen probably has participated in another sport, I cannot see him wearing a leotard… willingly..." Fuji paused, and turned his serene face to scan the court in front of them. Fuji's expression didn't change, but his tone was tilted with annoyance as he spoke up again. "Ne, Inui? Isn't it strange that our Buchou, Fuku-Buchou, and our youngest Regular all have yet to arrive at practice?"
The train clattered and swayed beneath his feet, and he inaudibly panted as he tried to catch his breath. He lowered his cap so the light would stop stinging his eyes. His eyelids were heavy with tiredness, his tongue felt too big in his mouth. He could really do with a drink of cold water; this heat was getting to him, even in an air-conditioned train, he was sweating. The train swayed beneath him again, and he grasped his racket bag tighter in his fist – it felt heavier the usual today. He turned his head slightly and peered at the Seigaku Captain from under his cap; the older boy looked as stoic as ever, it was obvious the heat wasn't affecting him. Ryoma turned away again and stared sullenly out the window.
He'd barely had an hour's sleep the night before, and even then he'd been late to school. At least school had finished earlier today, Ryoma wasn't sure he could have taken much more of it. People had been asking him annoying questions all day, 'Why is Ryoma-kun so quiet today?' or, 'Echizen, are you alright?' and, 'Are you worried about the science test or something, it's just you look a little pale…?' Plus he'd been trying to keep an eye out for his mysterious stalker, who hadn't yet shown themselves once today. In fact he'd been so distracted and hot and bothered, he'd almost completely forgotten about the match with Tezuka today.
For a brief amount of time Ryoma had even considered asking Tezuka to post-pone the match to a later date, when he wasn't under so much stress… before he'd come to his senses and squashed the idea vehemently. He wasn't going to let a little hot weather and a bad night's sleep stop him from versing Tezuka – whom he'd wanted to play and test his ability since he'd first joined the Seigaku team. The train swayed again and Ryoma closed his eyes tight as a sudden burst of pain throbbed in his temples. Ryoma panted soundlessly for a few moments as he recovered. That had been happening a lot today too – painful headaches that came in stops and starts – probably a result of thinking too much and the lack of sleep.
Finally the train reached their stop, and Ryoma and Tezuka got off together. The University court was right next to the station so luckily they didn't have to walk too far. They entered the court silently, Tezuka quickly taking up the opposite position on the far end. Ryoma took in a deep breath before letting it out slowly, trying to make himself relax. He dropped his bag by the entrance, taking his time as he rummaged through it for one of his rackets. A wave of nausea momentarily washed over him from looking down too long and he quickly looked up again, sucking in another gulp of air. He swallowed, trying not to grimace too obviously as he turned around to face his Buchou.
Tezuka already had his racket and a tennis ball in hand, so Ryoma figured the other boy would serve. He fell automatically into a receiving position, deciding to go straight to Level Four. Eyes fixed on the captain Ryoma started bouncing on the spot for the split-step, and focused on raising his Level. But before he could get it high enough though, Tezuka served.
The ball flashed by Ryoma in a yellow blur, and he blinked in surprise. A smile crept across his face despite his head-ache.
"Heh, a fast one right off the bat," Ryoma said, turning his attention back to Tezuka, only to blanch in shock.
The look Tezuka was giving him was deadly serious, his glasses glinted in the light, and there was no trace of a returning smile on his lips. Ryoma had thought this would just be a friendly game with the Captain, but apparently that was not what Tezuka had in mind. Ryoma once again tried to concentrate and raise his Level up to Four, but it was incredibly hard for some reason. It felt like his own body was resisting him. Tezuka served again and Ryoma leapt for it, barely catching the ball – sending it flying only to hit the net. Ryoma scowled. What was this?
The game continued without much improvement. He was bewildered and irritated at his body's sudden rebellion, and even when he finally broke the barrier of Level Four, he then had to concentrate hard to keep himself there. After a long-rally for the last point, Tezuka won his service game, leaving Ryoma panting and sweating already. What's with this reaction? Ryoma worried from his kneeling position on the ground. His golden eyes were bright as he glared at the Seigaku Buchou, wondering if his lack of control was somehow the older boy's doing.
"Echizen!" Tezuka barked suddenly as he stared unflinchingly back down at Ryoma. "Can you beat me?" The challenge sharpened Ryoma's thoughts for a moment, steadying his control.
Ryoma stood up again, his face darkened by the shadow of his cap. "I'll do it if you say so," he replied in a monotone. He took up his favourite position on the base-line, and began to bounce the ball. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he would beat it nevertheless. I will beat the captain! Ryoma threw the ball up, and smacked it towards Tezuka. The ball spun on impact and then soared upwards completing the famed Twist Serve.
Tezuka shifted; his movements made in total calm and control. Ryoma saw too late that his technique wouldn't work. Tezuka had bent his back to make the shot a high shot, and then added a half volley to spin the ball further as he returned it – sending the ball speeding by Ryoma's foot. Tezuka fixed Ryoma with a stern golden gaze. "The Twist Serve won't work on me," he informed Ryoma, who stared back as he came to a realisation. Tezuka wasn't playing; he was going all out.
A rush of appreciation flickered through Ryoma, and he smiled again. Tezuka was not treating him like some kid-freshman; but as an equal, worthy of his respect.
"Nice one, as expected of the Buchou." Ryoma switched to his left hand again, and served a fast shot. The rally continued, but now both boys were putting a huge amount of force behind their hits. Ryoma was finding himself hard-pressed to keep up, his control and focus continued to waver, and he was finding it slightly difficult to breathe due to the tightness of his chest.
"Echizen, why do you play tennis?" Tezuka suddenly asked him. Ryoma didn't immediately reply, and Tezuka frowned as he countered the ball. "Why? Why?!"
Alarmed at the sudden forceful questioning, Ryoma swiped at the ball with a top-spin and yelled back, "I have someone I want to defeat!"
His answer seemed not to impress the Buchou, whose next shot caused Ryoma arm to hurt when he returned it. "You're playing tennis for the sake of defeating someone. Is that enough for you, Echizen?"
"What do you mean?" Ryoma felt slightly desperate; it was hard to concentrate on keeping his Level up – which was now wavering dangerously – and hold a conversation at the same time.
"What will you have left after that? What are you going to do after you defeat him? What will you be left with?" Tezuka fired the questions one after another. Was this some sort of tactic of his? Distract the opponent or something?
"I don't know!" Ryoma whacked the ball. "Money. Respect. Skills." He paired each answer with swift shots to opposite corners of the court.
"But what do you want out of it!" Tezuka countered each shot, even though they were all hard ones.
Ryoma's mind whirled, his blood pumped fiercely through his body, his breath came in sharp gasps. "I want…" What did he want? "…I want…!" What was it? "…I…" 'Dare to play this game and you can do anything in the world!' "I want to stand on top of the world! As Number One!" Ryoma slammed the ball, but Tezuka's stance had changed. His racket angled downwards so subtly that at first Ryoma didn't see it. Tezuka swept his racket across his body steadily. A Drop shot.
Ryoma was too unprepared, and the ball landed and rolled back into the net.
"Echizen, see if you can beat me!"
Once again, Ryoma found himself shocked by the Seigaku Buchou. Of course he'd seen a Drop Shot before, but that… that had been an utterly perfected version of the technique – it took almost legendary skill to pull something as grand as that off. This guy must be a very high Level Four, on the brink of Level Five… in fact Ryoma was sure Tezuka Kunimitsu would definitely be suitable to the more extreme version of this sport. A slightly wild grin pulled at his lips. "As expected, you're good Buchou. But I won't lose like this."
Again the ball was set into motion, and both of the boys were hard pressed to keep up in the fierce rally. Sweat dripped into Ryoma's eyes, but he couldn't spare a moment to wipe it away – his vision blurred and for the next few shots he was playing blind. Ryoma gritted his teeth as he hit a hard top-spin; he wouldn't lose like this, he could do better than this, damn it! He returned the ball once more – only it veered from the course he was aiming for, and nearly landed out. Kuso! What the hell is wrong with me?!
Suddenly his entire stomach clenched, and all his air whooshed out of him in one gush. It felt like someone had just walloped him in the gut, and for a moment Ryoma was frozen in pain. The ball was speeding back towards him over the net – so he forced the pain from his mind – and leapt forward to meet the ball. As he smacked it back he was startled to realise that his Level had radically dropped to Level Two. The ball thwacked into the net and fell to the ground. Tezuka called the score, three games to two, with the older boy in the lead, while Ryoma collected the ball and went back to the base position. His vision swam as he wiped his eyes, and Ryoma suddenly felt like he really, really had to sit down right now, in case he did something ridiculous like throw-up, or faint.
The feeling passed in the next moment though, so Ryoma pushed it from his mind, bounced the ball and served using his left hand. The minutes dragged by, each point blurring into the next one for Ryoma. It was almost like… he was playing in a dream or something… His mind was only half there, only half aware of his opponent – instead he was focused almost entirely on what was happening to him, and was struggling to make his body respond the way he wanted it too. It was almost like he was fighting two opponents...
Ryoma would run easily to one corner and return the ball, then his Level would drop, and he'd have to sprint to catch the next one, before forcing his Level up once again. His shots alternated between powerful and weak, his aim wavering from good to off-target. He scrambled, and tore across the court in Level Two, and then he'd raise it once more – jump and smash the ball in a graceful arch – before dropping back to earth and feeling even more tired than before. Tezuka returned his shots stoically, completely unfazed by anything Ryoma threw at him, even though the older boy was sweating too, he still managed to look calm and in control. It was infuriating and frustrating Ryoma.
Obey me! he snarled in his mind, and finally his body responded. His Level soared upwards, surpassing Four and crashing into Level Five. Triumphant golden fire burned through Ryoma's eyes, and he let out a yell as he twisted around and smashed the ball. The ball hurtled by Tezuka so fast the Captain had no time to even move.
Ryoma landed and breathed easily, the strength of Level Five burned like liquid fire through his veins and allowed him to ignore the tightness of his chest. He met Tezuka's shocked gaze and stared back, challenging him once more. His Buchou's eyes narrowed behind his glasses and Tezuka seemed to nod to himself before crouching slightly for Ryoma's next serve.
The serve pounded across the court and Tezuka had to swiftly move and stretch to reach it – his racket caught the ball at an awkward angle, and his eyes widened at the extreme force behind Ryoma's shot, before the ball careered out of the court. The next serve Tezuka knew more what to expect and he managed to return it properly. If he had any chance of winning this game now, the older boy realised, he'd have to pull out all everything he had.
Ryoma was pumped on his side of the net and his body responded instantly without him barely having to think about it. The power of Muga no Kyōchi ran through him and he won the next two games, pulling his score up to level with Tezuka's at Four games all. In the next game a part of him realised there was something strange about the balls he hit, and the way Tezuka returned them. No matter where he aimed, his ball continually curved to Tezuka's position, which – Ryoma realised with surprise – was exactly the same every time. While Ryoma was running all over the court to hit the balls, Tezuka was just standing there letting the ball come to him.
Confusion darted through him, and his mind began to climb up from its subconscious state in Muga no Kyōchi, causing his Level to begin to drop from Level Five back to Level Four. Ryoma tried desperately to salvage his concentration and pull his Level higher again, but despaired as it continued to sink despite his efforts. The match continued and the struggle to keep his concentration returned with a vengeance to Ryoma. A detached part of him even felt like laughing at how he continued to fight in vain; it reminded of those matches he used to have with his father all those years ago, where he would lose no matter what he did. He watched as his arm seemed to move in slow motion, and the ball zoomed pass him before he could get it.
It was overwhelming. The heat, the sweat, he couldn't get enough air, his stomach churned, the sun hurt his eyes, his legs ached so much. The image of Tezuka seemed to dance on the other side of the net, the ball appeared and disappeared, and his hand shook when he returned it. He had stopped trying to force his body to obey him, his Level seemed to jump higher and lower all by itself. He couldn't stop. If he did… a stab of pain hit his stomach and bile rose in his throat as if warning him. Ryoma swallowed convulsively and gasped for air as he lunged once more for the ball.
Ryoma crouched on the ground, breathing hard as he tried to focus on his Captain while exhaustion crashed like a wave over him. Tezuka walked slowly up to net, and Ryoma watched half-fascinated, half-hypnotised as the sun caused the older boy's hair to light up like a halo. His face became shadowed; his body became a dark shape silhouetted by the sun.
"Game set," a voice Ryoma thought he knew from somewhere echoed across the court. "Echizen," the voice continued, "become Seigaku's pillar of support!"
Pillar of support
The dark-haired boy stopped breathing. His golden eyes widened with shock, and his heart gave one enormous thump as he stared up at the dim image before him. Shadows danced across the face towering above him, keeping him from seeing it clearly, but Ryoma knew who it was that stood before him.
The person stepped forward from the silhouette; revealing a cold crazed stare, black hair, and a half smirk crawling and stretching across his face. The face from Ryoma's nightmares. Panic and fear welled up like a tidal wave inside him, adrenaline squashed his exhaustion and his Level soared in response to his fear.
The figure in front of him stepped closer again and said something, but Ryoma could only stare back as his fear broke the barrier of Level Six and the dragon woke inside him, filling his mind with its force and presence. But still Ryoma's vision whirled.
Attack, the spirit hissed.
The figure stepped closer again with his hand outstretched, reaching for Ryoma.
Attack! the dragon snarled, wanting to snap and break the hand in front of him. Ryoma shivered as the urge to lash out rocked through him; but he knew he wasn't ready to face him yet, there was no way he could beat this guy. Tension thrummed through his whole body. His vision wavered and the form of Felix blurred slightly as he reached over the net for him – only the victorious leer twisting his features was clear to Ryoma.
Then run, the dragon rumbled, and Ryoma shot to his feet and he fled in fevered haste.
"I never thought you'd play him with your full strength. But I guess without it, you would've lost… right?" Oishi said as he and the Captain caught the train back from the university. Oishi had watched the entire game from the shade next to the court; it had been totally awe-inspiring watching the two Regulars verse each other. But it had also been a worrisome thing too… "You shouldn't be so stubborn. What are you going to do if it gets worse?" Oishi sighed and he gripped the strap hanging from the roof of the train harder. The memory of Tezuka's Drop Shot played in his mind again. If Tezuka's shoulder got worse because of this… but then there was Echizen to worry about too… Oishi shifted Echizen's abandoned tennis racket bag to a more comfortable position.
"Tezuka… Echizen will be alright, won't he? This type of harsh playing… even though you said it was best for his future… You saw the look he gave you afterwards, didn't you? He looked… more or less… scared of you. And the way he ran off, not even bothering to take his stuff with him, I don't think he's ever lost before… Tezuka…? Are you listening?"
Tezuka stared out the train window, consumed in thoughts of the golden-eyed boy.
His shoes pounded across the cement; colours whirled passed him in hazy smears. The wind tugged at his hair and clothes as the boy allowed the dragon to take control. He was moving too fast to take in his surroundings, the wind roared in his ears as he climbed and leapt up the sides of buildings, sped across the rooftops, before jumping down ledges, falling and rolling onto grass. He skid across gravel paths and scaled fences, sprinting as he ran further and faster. He leapt across the gap between two buildings, the wind snatched his cap and sent it spinning away, but still he didn't stop. Mindlessly, he raced across the city. He didn't know where he was going, but that wasn't important – just as long as he got away.
Only when the sun sunk below the horizon did he finally stop, plunging into a deep sleep.
"Eh?! The Buchou and Echizen are both absent again?!" Eiji, Momo, Fuji exclaimed the next day at practice. They turned to glare suspiciously at Oishi.
"H-Hey, don't look at me! I don't know anything," Oishi protested as sweat-drops formed on his head from the combined glares.
Ryuzaki nodded grimly, folding her arms in front of her chest. "Yes, Tezuka had to go to doctor today but–"
"The doctor!" Oishi interrupted, instantly assuming the worst case scenario.
"Yes, calm down," Ryuzaki said, "it's just for a check up so he can get the A-Okay for the tournament."
"Oh… Ah!" Eiji glomped his friend, his brow furrowed in thought.
"Nya, but what about Ochibi, Ryuzaki-sensei?" he asked.
Ryuzaki scowled, and closed her eyes. "Unfortunately, I don't know why Echizen's not here… but that's no reason for the rest of us to get slack. Get moving, all of you."
"There's something up with that kid," Momo grumbled to the other Regulars as they went to prepare for drills. "I mean, we're so close to the tournament and he's been absent for two days."
"Saa… I wonder if he's really sick?"
"Oh no, poor Ochibi-chan! Fujiko, we should bring him ice-cream or something yummy so he feels better soon."
Fuji hummed as he set down a basket of tennis balls. "Maybe we should go by his house later to see if he's alright."
"I bet Echizen's just wagging school!" Horio said loudly by the fence to Kachiro and Mizuno. "That guy is so lazy!"
"Fsshh!" Kaidoh came up behind them, scowling fiercely. "You shouldn't talk bad about your classmates," he said in a low threatening voice.
"Wahh, gomen, gomen!" The three freshmen yelled, running away to hide behind Momo.
"Oi, Viper, are you frightening the freshmen again? You shouldn't do that, no you shouldn't!"
"Shut up, you moron!"
Kachiro poked his head out from behind Momo. "B-But s-senpai just said not to talk bad about classmates–"
A ring-tone sounded in Ryuzaki's pocket, startling her from her thoughts. Digging into her pink tracksuit pants she pulled out her cell-phone. The number was unfamiliar.
"Moshi, moshi," she said, answering it, and then a moment later she exclaimed, "Nanjiro?!" The name caught the Regulars' attention, and they paused on the court.
"Nya, isn't that the name of Ochibi-chan's father?" Eiji whispered as they gazed at their coach and the growing frown on her face.
"Wait, slow down and say that again," Ryuzaki said, before listening for a moment. Then her frown deepened further. "Ryoma? No, he's not at practice. I believe he was absent from school today." She listened more, and the Regulars were surprised to see an expression of concern settling over her features. "Nanjiro? What do you mean? What's the matter?" Her eyebrows shot up suddenly. "Ryoma never came home last night?!"
The Regulars gasped and exchanged looks. Dropping the drill equipment, they moved back over to surround their coach. Fuji stood a little behind the Golden Pair, watching all the little changes in Ryuzaki's face as she listened intently to Ryoma's father.
"What do you mean, 'again'?" Ryuzaki asked sharply, her nostrils flaring. Then she rolled her eyes. "Alright, no need to bite my head off. Geez," she sighed, and ran her free hand over her face. "Tell you what; I'll have the other Regulars spread out to look for him, okay? Yes… of course we will. Ryoma is a part of our team." Her eyes softened as she listened once more. "That's alright. Don't worry yourself, Nanjiro, we'll find him."
She hung up, and turned a grim face to the worried Regulars around her. "Practice is over for today. We have a missing freshman to find."
Ryoma woke slowly as if he was rising from beneath water. The first thing he noticed was that his pillow was extremely cold and hard on his cheek. The next thing he noticed was the wind playing with his hair. His eyelids cracked open, but what he saw was unfamiliar and strange. Painfully, he pushed himself up until he was half sitting. His thoughts were foggy and sluggish as he stared at the bumpy metal beneath his fingers, and he became aware of an odd creaking noise. Sitting up further to see where he was, his eyes quickly widened and his mouth dropped open at the bizarre sight.
He was lying on the highest platform of a radio tower. The city was sprawled out before him as the wind carried clouds in front of the afternoon sun. It was the same wind that made the tower creak as it slightly swayed back and forth. Reaching for the metal rail that bordered the small worker's platform, Ryoma laboriously pulled himself to his feet and looked down. A dazzling drop of a hundred metres to hard cement ground greeted him, and he instinctively took a step back from the edge. How on earth did I get up here? Ryoma wondered as the wind once again caused the tower to groan mightily. His head felt rather woozy and he rubbed his temple with one hand as he tried to recall his last memory.
The game with Tezuka flashed through his thoughts, and Ryoma remembered with a sinking feeling that he'd lost. But then, he hadn't been playing like usual – the idea that he was sick finally settled in his brain.
But still there had been something else. Ryoma's eyes narrowed as the wind danced with his green-highlighted hair, trying to recall what had happened before his memory went blank. Then it hit him. Felix had been there, Ryoma thought, his heart beating faster again, but… how? He had been playing Tezuka, and the next thing he knew Felix was on court and his Buchou was nowhere to be seen.
Become Seigaku's pillar of support!
The words whispered through his mind, and the truth dawned on Ryoma. He'd hallucinated. His Buchou's words must have triggered it through his fever; he had let the dragon take control, and ran wildly across the city. Now he had no idea where he was. And Buchou probably thinks I'm Mada Mada… Well, there was nothing he could do about that now, he had to focus and find someway down from here.
His limbs were sore as he moved awkwardly around the high platform. They ached as if he'd just had an incredibly intense training session, and he wanted to go back to sleep. But if he didn't get home before dark his father would become extremely annoying for the next week. Ryoma arrived at a metal ladder on the far side of the platform, and he saw it went all the way to the ground. Now I just have to climb down… Limbs already protesting the thought, Ryoma reached up to tug his cap down more firmly on his head. His hand grasped only air and Ryoma looked up in surprise. His favourite hat was nowhere to be seen.
The loss weighed down on him, and with a weary sigh, Ryoma turned and began to painstakingly descend down the thin ladder.
Momo jumped the curb and pulled his bike to a stop, scanning the street court before him. Yet another dead end, Momo fumed. He'd already checked the usual places he and Echizen went to; like the tennis store, the burger shop, the ramen shop, and the bridge the two of them sometimes stopped at. Now he was checking all the tennis courts near the Echizen house, but he wasn't having any luck. It was like the kid had dropped of the planet!
"Oi… Echizen, where the hell are you?" Momo murmured, frowning. He pushed off again. The next one… maybe the next one…
Ryoma plodded along a series of alleyways, stubbornly telling himself that he wasn't lost, he meant to go this way. It had to be a shortcut to… somewhere… Ryoma reached another fork between several tall, dull buildings and paused, looking one way and then the other. He grimaced.
Okay. He had no idea where he was and he was dead tired. A slight familiar noise echoed down the left lane, and he blinked in surprise. That sounded like… Ryoma perked up a bit and followed the sound; he wove around the back of one more large building, before space opened up before him. A tired smile made its way to his face. This is better. It was a couple of tennis courts. There were people using them, a team of some sort, but Ryoma was too exhausted to challenge them, and he didn't have his tennis racket anyway. Absently he thought he must have left his rackets when he played Tezuka, and he hoped the Captain had picked them up, otherwise his father would bite his head off for losing them.
The sun hung low in the sky, giving the court an autumn hue as Ryoma slipped his hands into his pockets and slid quietly around the side, watching the matches. Whoever they were, they were good, Ryoma had to admit. Giving in to the fatigue seeping through his bones, Ryoma sunk onto the viewing steps on the sidelines, and folded his arms on the small wall separating the stands from the courts. Gratefully he settled his head on his arms, deciding there was no harm in watching this team play for a while.
The team wore a uniform that Ryoma couldn't remember seeing before; it was yellow with a black strip around the torso. Hmm… like a bumblebee… Ryoma yawned. A black-haired boy, smaller than the others, was playing a guy who always kept his eyes closed – and apparently losing, judging boy the smaller boy's angry outbursts. On the other court a guy wearing glasses was playing a tall, bald, black guy. The other team members sat idle at the base of the viewing stands opposite Ryoma. After a few minutes a pink-haired boy, who'd been blowing gum and watching the second match keenly, turned and noticed Ryoma.
Ryoma watched impassively as the guy started in surprise, before twisting and saying something to a stoic, muscular boy in a cap – who turned and looked straight at Ryoma with a deadly serious expression. Ryoma blinked lazily back, he was too tired to do anything else. The boy in the cap continued to gaze seriously at Ryoma for a few moments more, before obviously deciding to ignore him.
A trickle of annoyance ran through Ryoma, and a glare pushed through his exhaustion and settled on his face. He wished he had his tennis racket.
Fuji ambled along the sidewalk an hour after practice would've usually finished, now quite a long distance away from the Seigaku School. Fuji started searching from the Haruno University courts – which was apparently where the freshman had last been seen – Oishi had told Fuji this while avoiding his eyes.
He didn't have to be a tensai to work out what had happened yesterday, Fuji thought sourly, and yet it was Oishi who'd gotten to see the match. The Fuku-buchou had known that Tezuka was playing that first year, and he hadn't said anything. And why did Echizen get a match with the Buchou so soon anyway? Fuji was still waiting for his match with Tezuka. Though he did wonder who had actually won the match yesterday. He would've killed someone to see it… like Oishi maybe…
"Er- hey! Excuse me!" someone yelled from behind him. Fuji turned around curiously. A boy who looked about sixteen with tanned skin, and brown hair swept up to the side with gel, was hurrying towards him. As he got closer Fuji noted the piercings in his lip and eyebrow – the boy looked foreign.
Fuji smiled at him. "Can I help you?" he asked pleasantly.
"Uh… Seigaku?" the boy said with a terrible accent, gesturing awkwardly to Fuji's tennis uniform. "You go. To Seigaku?"
"Yes," Fuji answered, watching with small amusement as the boy began fumbled through his bag. His smile dropped quickly when the boy pulled something out.
"Where did you get that?" Fuji asked sharply, eyeing Echizen's white cap in the boy's hand.
"Uh – can you… say slower…?" a pained expression came across the boy's features.
Fuji switched to English easily. "Where did you get that?"
"Ah! You speak English. Good." A relieved grin flashed at Fuji and disappeared just as quickly. "A boy ran by me wearing your uniform and dropped this. Do you know him?" the guy now clearly had an American accent.
"Hmm. Yes, I'll give it to him. Thank you." Fuji smiled and took the hat. The boy left, and the tensai continued wandering, musing over the cap. He was pretty sure Echizen wouldn't just leave his cap behind, but that boy had said the first year was running… why? Perhaps he was being chased? Fuji puzzled over it as he neared his next destination.
Fuji walked along the wire fence and peered down at the courts below. Initially he thought they were empty, but raised voices drew his attention to the base of the viewing steps below him, and the sight made him pause. Huh. He hadn't known Rikkai Dai practiced on street courts – he would've thought they believed the street beneath them… but then, he knew Hyotei sometimes did the same. Fuji remembered last year Atobe had said something along the lines of 'becoming accustomed to plebeian quality fields.'
Fuji smiled at the memory and looked back down at Rikkai Dai, wondering what they were doing. The team was crowded around the base of the steps, and a couple of the members were arguing or something. Fuji wandered closer, going through a small gate at the top of the steps. Now he could see what the team was crowding around.
Although he didn't quite believe it at first.
"Saa… Echizen, you never do things half-way, do you?" Fuji chuckled to himself. Before lightly heading down the steps.
"You little brat!" A pink-haired boy, Fuji recalled was named Marui, said furiously glaring down at Ryoma. "What are you, like, ten years old? I could crush you with both eyes closed!"
"Che. Just try it," Ryoma dared the third year, staring insolently back.
"Ne, ne, Marui, it's not nice to bully little kids," Niou, the trickster in tennis, admonished mockingly, coming up beside Marui.
"He started it!" Marui yelled. "Someone's has to teach this guy some respect. Sanada let me have a match with him!" The rest of the team looked to the Fuku-buchou, who actually looked like he was considering it.
Whoops, that's my cue. Fuji hurried faster towards the group. "Saa… Rikkai Dai, I see you found our freshman."
"Heh? Seigaku's Fuji Syusuke?" Yanagi muttered as everyone turned to Fuji.
"Your freshman?" Sanada repeated, eyes narrowing beneath his cap.
Fuji hummed happily as he reached Echizen's side, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Ah. Yes, this is our newest Regular. First Year, Echizen Ryoma."
"Fuji-senpai," Echizen said, his eyes glowing hungrily, "lend me your racket."
"A First Year got to be a Regular? Is Seigaku losing its touch?" Niou teased.
"I could beat a brat like you easy!" Marui laughed, blowing a large green bubble.
"Fuji-senpai, give me your racket. I want to beat this bubble-head."
Fuji smiled down at the freshman. "Echizen. This is the Rikkai Dai team, the National Champions of last year. I don't think Tezuka would approve."
"Don't care," Echizen snubbed him. Fuji subtly tightened his hand intensely on the boy's shoulder.
"I don't approve either, Marui." Sanada said sternly. "Seigaku, we look forward to going against you in the tournament." Sanada pulled his team away and set them to start packing up their equipment.
"That hurts," Echizen said in a monotone once they were gone.
Fuji released his grip. "Ah, gomen." He examined the younger boy carefully, and sighed. "Echizen… where were you? Everyone is worried about you."
"Heeh, what are you talking about Fuji-senpai?" Echizen looked up at him.
"Your father said you didn't come home last night,"
Echizen frowned. "Of course I did." His baka oyaji had been trying and failing at baking a cake. That was hard to forget.
"But you weren't at practice today, or yesterday…?" Fuji was puzzled, had Echizen's father been lying?
"Nani? Fuji-senpai I think you're confu–"
Fuji's voice went chilly. "Didn't you have a match with Tezuka yesterday?"
Echizen suddenly stilled and his expression cleared. "Uh, Fuji-senpai… what day is it today?"
"Thursday," he answered.
Echizen seemed to deflate. "Oh god," he said flatly in English. "Dad's going to kill me."
Fuji worked it out. "Ah. You thought it was still Wednesday…? But how?"
Echizen sighed, "I… just wasn't myself." Echizen made to leave it at that, but Fuji opened his eyes, silently warning him that excuse wouldn't be enough. Echizen got the hint and scowled up at him, before turning away and closing his eyes as he continued bluntly, "I was sick. I got lost. I went to sleep at some stage, and must have slept the day away. I thought it was the same afternoon when I woke up."
"Saa… you're sick?" Fuji leant forward and felt Ryoma's forehead; it did feel slightly warmer than it should be. "You are sick, and you wanted to challenge Rikkai Dai?" Fuji laughed quietly at the thought.
Echizen glared at him. "I could have beaten him," he said stubbornly.
"Hmm, if you say so." Then a thought occurred to Fuji which made him open his eyes in surprise. "You were sick this badly, but you still went and played Tezuka?"
Echizen dropped his gaze and shifted uncomfortably. "…Aa."
Fuji stared at the boy for a moment longer, before smiling a little sadly. "Saa… you're just like him."
"Fuji-senpai, please don't tell Buchou I was sick."
"Hn? I'll think about it." Fuji lifted his other hand and put Echizen's cap on his head.
Echizen's eyes widened delightfully. "My hat! Sankyuu." He pulled it down more firmly.
Fuji tilted his head as he watched the younger boy fiddle with it, noticing something else and frowning. "You're not wearing your uniform…" he murmured.
Echizen gave him a weird look. "So?"
"Hmm. Nevermind. Let's go, I should call the others and let them know I've found you." As Fuji got at his mobile and dialled Ryuzaki's number his thoughts mulled over the stranger who had returned Echizen's cap. For some reason, the stranger had lied to him… and if Echizen hadn't been wearing a uniform like Fuji's, then how had that guy known they were on the same team?
Woo! This chapter just didn't want to be written for some reason, but I conquered it eventually. XD
Next chapter is: Devils, Angels, and Monkey Kings
– Mel XX