The Long Road Home

Disclaimer: I don't own the Eyeshield 21, nor do I own the characters, described in the story. They belong to their respective owners.

Warnings: Minor spoilers, some language… and that's it. What? You expected more?

Shout Out: Thank you for your encouraging words on What If God Was One Of Us. I will try to update soon… as soon as I write the next chapter out. Ahhh, shit, why do I have to stuff my head with statistics and regulations? /whines/

He never did think that his life would turn around in only a month. Scratch that, less than a month; in only a day.

Never did he imagine that he would star as a centerpiece in one of the harshest sports known to man.

American football definitely wasn't for sissies or crybabies… and at the beginning, he was both. His nature was that of a scaredy-cat, and he disliked the pain that came with being tackled to the ground.

Tackled, smashed, crushed… he still couldn't believe he went against them and survived. Heh. If you call running toward the almost certain doom surviving.

One more incentive to be faster than those that chased him for the sake of one ball he was unfortunate recipient, at Hiruma-san's err… gentle …or not…insistence.

His opponents were all heavier than he was, taller, and more muscled, and their bench-presses were also enviously high.

Lessee… Shin-san, the best linebacker in all of Japan, his strength was nothing short of monstrous, along with his bench-press. At the last known reading, it was 140 kilos, and Sena had no doubt Shin -san was already past that one… way past. Sadly, the electronic appliances suffered greatly under the young man's grasp, much to his coach's,Takami's and Sakuraba's aggravation. The official rule for all things electronic, such as cameras and other applications. Heck, not even vending machines were safe from him! Then speed. Sena himself was a speed-devil and it was saying something that Shin was able to match him.

Shin-san had speed and strength, and it was baffling everyone that saw then together in non-violent environment – read – no football pitches, no running matches in squares, how the stoic linebacker treated the obviously petite boy with something akin to respect…. Respect, according to Shin, meant that he wouldn't be spared any tackles in the match, while on Shin's watch.

Shin was the one that unknowingly propelled him to continue his path of tears, sweat, pain and blood in football. And Shin was also the one that egged him to be better, faster, stronger, from match to match. Despite the papers saying otherwise, his true rival was and would always be Shin-san.

Then… Kakei-san. Kakei was intimidating with his height and unusually colored eyes that were either cool as ice, burning with passion, or spitting fire and acid. Figuratively speaking, of course – to one the linebacker thought to be impostor to the great Eyeshield 21 – Sena winced at the experience – or those that just plain infuriated him on the field. Still, he had his vices, like his single-mindedness as to plow through the opponents with sheer height of the players, and that was the downfall of the sea empire.

Munchkins rule.

Still… It was a strange sight, to see Sena and Kakei together, one midget and one almost giant, with the giant acknowledging the midget.

Akaba. Fuu…. Music-obsessed maniac, but terror on the field, with his Spider-poison technique, along with the lead blocking. His rhythm surprisingly, was synchronous with Sena's at least that was what the red – eyed ace of the Bando Spiders said, when Sena asked him why he didn't mind Sena's company. He was cool, hip… and he knew it. Still, he held Sena in high regards… once when Sena beat him on his own turf, of course. Sena didn't mind spending time with him, although his music teacher was fairly surprised at him knowledge of musical terms that was previously almost non-existent. Oddly enough, Sena was surprised too.

When shit hits the fan, you could see that Agon had been here, done the chaos, and reveled in it. Surprisingly enough, Agon didn't fall for Sena's cuddle-me charms, but rather the opposite – he pursued the boy something fierce, with sole mindedness of a great predator. Sena had humiliated him enormously, as he couldn't believe he had been owned by such a wimp. He, the God on the field, with a body in which Gods lived – he, the perfect player!

That incensed him more than that trash Hiruma's defection away from him. And it irked him something terrible, as all the worthy rivals – correction, trashes – milled around the wimp as if he was the eight wonder of the world.

He tried… and failed to crush the little trash. Therefore, it could be safe to say Sena and Agon were not on friendly terms off or on the battlefield. Agon was a wild animal… and he teached Sena meaning of the brutality and sheer perseverance on the field… which he needed sorely against the Hakushuu Dinosaurs…

And we're here, I'd say. Marco was shrewd, cunning, and all around brutal bastard… not brutal as in sheer power, that was reserved for Gaou, mind you - but brutal in strategy and psychological warfare. Of course, he didn't reach to Hiruma's ankles, that nobody could, but he was terrifying in his own way, Sena found out that when he lost the ball against Screwbite. Off the field, he antagonized/seduced his team manager, but now they were more of adopted siblings than anything. Still, that didn't mean Marco couldn't have fun with teasing her.

To Sena, he was some weird mixture of an older brother and friend, slash challenger on the field. Sena had to get used to his droll remarks – Marco didn't have any tact, what he wanted to say, he said, and damned the consequences. That made for some uncomfortable situations sometimes, as Sena learn that open mouth – insert foot – was Marco's permanent illness, along with Mizumachi's, but he enjoyed spending the time with the suave teen regardless of the consequences his mouth rained upon them… mostly by Maria and Mamori. Both of them were scary together…. Sena sweatdropped.

Of course, that leaves Yamato Takeru, the so-called real Eyeshield 21. He had annoying tendencies to predict the outcome of the matches, but nobody could deny that he was a superb player, in a league of his own.

He had speed, power, and he was remarkably good in tactics… for a running back, that is. Sena still wondered how he managed to dethrone THAT particular opponent. His Caesar's charge was scarier that Sena had ever seen coming was, except for the Trident's Tackle and Gaou's front assault. Because this was painful. Sena still could felt a distant ache at the memory of being tackled that way. He was sure his ribs were half-pulverized, and at the end of the match, he marveled at the miracle of still being alive…. After he came off his high of having won the match, of course.

Off the field, Yamato was pleasant to be around…if you didn't piss him off, of course. Agon did it once, and the sparks flew…. Agon then proceeded to sulk away form Yamato for the month, training like mad, and then proceeded to try to beat the living shit out of him.

He succeeded, somewhat. But not quite – Yamato gave as good as he got, and with him being trained in martial arts, that was something to say.

The only one, whom Sena could relate to, in physical abilities, was Riku, his self-proclaimed big brother. Both of them were small, both of them were insanely fast – with Sena now being faster of the duo – and both of them were supporting pillars of their respective teams. Sena couldn't be more grateful to Riku for teaching him how to run – although he used running to run into troubles, and not out of them, as Riku advised him. As he had found out, that Riku gave Shin-san Rodeo Drive, his signature technique, he didn't know whether he should be glad he would meet Shin-san full strength, or scared out of his wits, as he had seem what this particular technique, combined with Shin-san's infamous Spear Tackle had done to his opponent's body.

In the end, it didn't matter. Even Shin-san's strength didn't compare to the raw power of the beast that was Rikiya Gaou. Sena oftentimes questioned himself, whether he was mad or not for going head-to-head with such powerhouses. Or just plain masochist. Sena sweatdropped at his thoughts.

In only a year, his life had done such a turnaround, he could hardly believe it himself. When he looked back, he remembered those exciting days in vivid colors. Of course, there were tears, there was pain and disappointment, there were hours of agony as he continued to polish his brakes on the Death March, there was the hellish training, courtesy of Hiruma, and then the matches against all odds, when he questioned himself if he would ever survive in the meat grinder that were his opponents – Shin, Kakei, Agon and others.

But most of all, he remembered the excited shine in his rivals' eyes, whether they were in middle of the game or finishing it. And he reveled in the pressure, as he ran like the lighting across the field, untouchable, the speed of light.

And now… Now, he was standing on the field, along those who were his rivals and friends, and now, they were his teammates. After he had seen Militaria's match against Finland, he should be scared out of his mind at their sheer brutality.

Somehow, he couldn't muster up the fear. All he felt was the burning anticipation of waiting for the beginning of the match, to find out where would the game lead them, past which frontiers could they extend their abilities, as team and each for themselves.

He pitied Gomery…. The Militaria's captain just had to piss off the person, he shouldn't have. And a pissed Agon was an opponent nobody would want to go against. But on the other hand, Agon finally decided to throw his lot with the Team Japan, and for that, Sena was grateful.

The match began….And Sena was seeing the road, slear as the blue sky. Shin, Kakei, Yamato, Agon, Gaou and others cleared the road in the fraction of time, they descended on their opponents, unstoppable like tidal wave, wreaking destruction and disheartenment. As Sena surged forward, he smiled.

The path to this pitch was long and winding, but Sena didn't mind. As long as he had his teammates, he was sure they would overthrow everything and anything that would be hurled their way.

As for him, he was home.