um, so, NOT the last chapter. i told you guys i always underestimate...in this case i had to have another ryoma-goes-to-america arc because he DID NOT USE atobe's private jet. which has to happen, really.
but we are still relatively close to the end. i'm looking at a couple of new projects (a sequel to this, an ot5 circus au, or a fujiryo angst fic)...please please please go to my profile and help me decide which one to work on!!!
I-Love-Anime0 - *headdesk*. um. she died? how could i possibly forget about ryoma's trusty feline sidekick??? unfortunately i have this chapter all written but i do have to put her in somewhere...the question is how...hm...
JacksBoonie - can i just tell you how much i love your reviews? for both their appearance (pretty grammar and correct punctuation) and the fact you're connecting to my fic. love love love!
thfourteenth - yamada had a mental breakdown during the semifinals (chapter 11) and was committed to the the riveredge psychiatric center (saitou ayane, his shrink, shows up midway through chapter 12). riveredge is not really a "hospital", but i like that word.
Americans always said that good things come in threes. Ryoma had never believed it in, personally. But that Sunday night, it suddenly made a lot more sense.
Syuusuke, Yuuta and him had spent the weekend lazing around and adjusting to the fact it was summer. No classes, no tennis – no nothing if they didn't want to. They did want tennis, of course. So they messed around at the street courts for awhile, ran into a few people and messed around some more. And then, coming home sweaty and tired and fighting over the shower, they did not do homework or go to bed at a decent hour.
Ryoma was dozing off sometime after midnight when his cell phone shrilled near his head. At least, he thought it was his. Fuji only groaned and turned over, so Ryoma sleepily reached for it. Somewhere along the way he realized what time it was – oh god please no – and suddenly his heart was in his throat.
"Um…is this Echizen?"
"Hai," Ryoma said, relaxing somewhat. If it was someone from the hospital, they would have said so right away. But the voice sounded so familiar…
"It's Takashima Adaichi. I need…I need to talk to you."
He could barely think he was so relieved. Takashima…his new captain. His opponent in the semi-finals. Yamada's cousin. Nothing to do with Nanako.
"It's three in the morning," Ryoma pointed out. He felt like he was stating the obvious, but Takashima hadn't even apologized yet. "What's so important?"
"I have to tell you something."
Well, that was just incredibly helpful. Ryoma reluctantly untangled himself from the futon and reached for a shirt.
"This had better be good, Takashima," he muttered. "In case you missed it the first time, it's three in the mor – "
"Trust me," Takashima interrupted, sounding oddly relieved. "You'll want to hear this."
Ryoma sighed, but nonetheless agreed to make an appearance at the local park. He then hung up and grabbed his shoes, hesitating in the doorway as he remembered Natsumi's lecture.
"Ne…Fuji-senpai. I'm meeting up with someone."
Fuji muttered something about the time before pulling the sheet up over his head. Ryoma figured that counted as permission and turned to go, but then Fuji was now rubbing sleep out of his eyes and pulling on his shoes.
"I'm coming with," he told Ryoma. He did not sound annoyed or disapproving, only curious.
Ryoma just looked uncertainly at the other boy. "You really don't have to."
"Please," Fuji said, lowering his voice as they passed Yuuta's room. "Like I'm going to miss out on the excitement?"
"It's not going to be exciting," Ryoma said indignantly. He wasn't going to a party, for fuck's sake.
At least, he thought he wasn't. The entire thing was very strange. Ryoma had never even talked to Takashima until the semifinals, so why would the Hyotei (soon to be Seigaku) player suddenly come looking for him? What did he even want?
He contemplated the various possibilities, most of which revolved around tennis, and half-listened as Fuji went on about rapists and murderers. Um, what?
"You can't trust people who are out at three in the morning," Fuji was saying. "If you were murdered before high school, we'd lose to Rikkaidai for sure."
Ryoma stopped, staring incredulously at Fuji's innocent expression. "How – what – why do you think of things like that?"
Fuji just smiled and swung one leg onto his bike. "I'm just looking out for the team," he told Ryoma.
Ryoma situated himself on the back, muttering something about Fuji being murdered instead for being so goddamn annoying. And then Tezuka – not Tezuka actually, but Takashima – would be forced to put Horio in Singles 2. Fuji seemed to find the whole thing rather amusing, and Ryoma thought he was definitely too tired for this.
They made good time to the park, on account of zero traffic (though they did have to dodge a few carloads of drunk college kids). Ryoma immediately made out Takashima by the swings. Fuji apparently did, too, because he looked a good deal less amused.
"Is that who I think it is?"
"No," Ryoma said flatly. "Definitely not."
Even the use of Fuji's given name was not enough to dissuade the older boy. Fuji just tightened his grip on Ryoma's arm and frowned. His eyes flashed strangely under the streetlights.
"Fine," Ryoma said shortly. "It's Takashima. Yamada's cousin, if you prefer. I don't know what he wants. And let go."
Fuji did so immediately, shooting an apologetic look at Ryoma. "I didn't – "
"Please don't interfere," Ryoma said, not caring if he was begging. "I promise I'll tell you everything, but for now…I'd like to talk to him alone."
Fuji just looked at him for a long moment, and then nodded. "I'll wait here."
Ryoma stared disbelievingly for a second before turning and heading towards the swings. He'd been expecting a long struggle, and was caught off guard by Fuji's sudden agreement. Maybe he was waiting to yell at him on the way home. Maybe he didn't think Takashima was a threat. Maybe Fuji trusted him?
Takashima looked up when he arrived, and Ryoma squashed down his questions and said a tentative hello. He still didn't know what Takashima was up too, after all.
"Hello, Echizen," Takashima greeted. He looked at Fuji pointedly, and then back and Ryoma. "You brought a friend."
"Hn," was all Ryoma said. He took a seat on the swing next to Takashima.
"I suppose I didn't actually tell you to keep quiet," Takashima said drily. ""Does all of Seigaku know where you are?"
"No, it's not like that," he corrected hastily. "Fuji and me…well, we share a room and he heard the phone call and just kind of…tagged along. Well. It's like that."
Takashima appeared somewhat mollified by his explanation, but the atmosphere became marginally less tense. "You share a room?"
Ryoma squinted at the other boy, but it was too dark to determine whether Takashima was teasing him or not. "I'm staying with him while my parents are in America," he explained.
"Sure," Takashima said.
There was a long silence. Takashima began twisting himself around on the swing, casting eerie shadows on the ground in front of him.
Finally, "I bet you're wondering why I've called you here."
Ryoma waited awhile longer, not knowing what to say without letting his annoyance show.
"I was thinking," Takashima eventually said.
"Well…my parents say Yamada broke someone's wrist," Takashima said.
Ryoma jerked off his swing. Was this what Takashima wanted? To talk about Yamada?
He knew what it was like to have a sick family member, felt a twinge of empathy for Takashima and his predicament. But he would not and could not help.
"I'm leaving," he said coldly. "I don't want to talk about Yamada."
"Echizen, please wait!" Takashima said, sounding slightly panicked. "You should know…he said some things to me last year. I'm not sure, but I think you know what I'm talking about. What he's like. Don't you?"
Ryoma tilted his head in acknowledgment, and Takashima looked at him – not with sympathy, but with understanding.
Well, fuck. Ryoma sank back onto the swing, finding it hard to breathe.
Takashima continued, slightly calmer this time. "Yamada said I couldn't lose to you. I had to be captain, I had to show I was strong."
He remembered the quiet desperation in Takashima's eyes during the semifinals – he'd barely noticed it, being so terrified himself. "You lost," Ryoma said quietly.
"In the end it didn't matter," Takashima said. And it hadn't, because they hadn't been playing for their teams that day. They'd been playing for themselves. "Yamada was taken to the hospital before he could do anything."
Well, not before Fuji and him tried to kill each other. Ryoma sighed but said nothing, deciding that bit of information wouldn't help anything.
"Yamada says things occasionally, things that only I can understand, when my family goes to visit." Takashima stopped twisting his swing and took a deep breath. "But here's there, and I'm here."
Takashima fell silent and scuffed the ground with his feet, leaving Ryoma to contemplate all he had just learned. He felt a strange connection to Takashima, and then relief. They hadn't known they were going through it together, but they had done it.
"He made me promise not to join the team next year," Ryoma said suddenly. Not even Fuji understood this – how it seemed the only way out at the time, how terrified he'd been.
"You're breaking that promise, aren't you?" Takashima asked. He sounded admiring, envious…and almost hopeful.
Ryoma frowned, trying to figure out why. "Like you said, he's there and I'm here. And I think I know a few more things, now."
"I wish…" Takashima began, then trailed off.
"What is it?"
"Echizen...I never wanted to be captain," Takashima said eventually.
Ryoma went very, very still, realizing what that meant. Yamada was gone…was it possible? He forced himself not to shriek, knowing Fuji would come running and Takashima would clam up again. But now, if he played this carefully…
"Your Tezuka, they say he's good."
"He's very good," Ryoma said immediately. He thought of Tezuka's strength on the courts, but it wasn't just that. Lots of players were strong.
There was something about Tezuka's character that won him the respect and admiration of the other students. He knew, almost immediately, how to draw on a person's strengths, how to correct their weaknesses. Tezuka could turn a group of complete strangers into a team, and he did it fairly and without abusing his power. And this wasn't to say Tezuka didn't make mistakes – but he did own up to them, and he always learned from them.
This was the way it should have been, and it was perfect. Ryoma tried to explain this to Takashima, his mind was racing with possibilities.
Takashima looked at him with relief – yes, relief – and everything fell into place. They smiled widely and got to planning (Ryoma all the while reminding himself not to shriek, because it was going to be the perfect surprise).
"I don't know what paperwork is in place," Takashima said thoughtfully. "I think Yamada would have done something permanent, you know, against Tezuka."
"You could always be captain officially, but let Tezuka run practices," Ryoma suggested. "Or even give the title to Fuji-senpai or someone, and let them do the same."
"Good, because I definitely don't want it," the other boy said.
Ryoma thought it was a beautiful thing to hear. They talked for a bit longer, about ways to keep Yamada from finding out and such. Just in case.
"Okay," Takashima finally said. "I'll check with the athletics director about transferring. And you make sure Tezuka is okay with it."
"That's easy enough," Ryoma said, smirking as he thought of Tezuka's reaction. "Let me know when you find something out."
"Sure," Takashima said. "And I'm sorry for calling so late."
"You're right, though," Ryoma said, suddenly realizing he didn't care about the time. "It was definitely worth it."
They said their goodbyes, and Ryoma pinched himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Then he smiled widely and walked back over to where Fuji was waiting.
Nationals, his exam grades, and now this.
Maybe good things really did come in threes.
Fuji tried to count the stars.
Sometime around two hundred he realized it was pointless, but anything was better than wondering what Ryoma and Takashima were doing. He was too far away to hear what they were saying; only the rise and fall of their voices as they sorted out their mystery. For now, Ryoma sounded confused, Takashima hesitant. Fuji watched as the larger silhouette – Takashima – shrugged and looked away. The thin, dark shadow next to him stopped twisting his swing and appeared to ask another question.
But what was he asking?
Whatever they were talking about, it seemed to take forever. Fuji had probably counted that same particularly bright star three or four times, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
He listened as Ryoma's voice suddenly sharpened in annoyance, and it was an effort to stay where he was. Pushing aside his concern, Fuji forced himself to lay back down on the grass and resume his stargazing.
A streetlight flickered nearby; the noise of the crickets faded in and out. The creak of the swings and Ryoma's voice – excited, this time.
Fuji sighed and closed his eyes. He hadn't realized Ryoma and Takashima were particularly close, but it was always hard to know what Ryoma was up to. If the past month was any indication, Ryoma was well-practiced in hiding his secrets. Maybe Ryoma would tell him when he was ready.
No sooner had Fuji thought this when something unceremoniously fell on top of him. He cried out in surprise, eyes flying open to identify the unexpected pressure.
"Ryoma? You're finished?" Fuji managed to get out. He suddenly found it very hard to breathe, despite the fact Ryoma weighed very little. His heart wasn't working properly, either. But Ryoma looked so...so beautiful, when he smiled like that. Golden eyes sparkled with amusement from mere inches away…Fuji tried very, very hard not to think about closing the distance between their lips.
"I was going to keep it a surprise," Ryoma said breathlessly. "But I can't, not from you."
He smiled widely, and Fuji could feel the muscles of Ryoma's stomach tense and shift as he rolled onto the grass. Fuji missed his warmth almost immediately, despite the summer heat. Hormones, he told himself. It's only hormones. Please, please get over it.
"Is he your lover, then?" Fuji asked bitterly. He wasn't quite sure why he said it, only he needed a distraction. And it hurt him, a little, that it wasn't him who made Ryoma so happy.
He felt slightly better that Ryoma's answering, "Fuji-senpai!" was appropriately indignant.
A second later, Fuji was disgusted with himself. He knew he was acting this way out of jealousy, something Ryoma probably didn't like at all. But he was frustrated. He'd been so close to getting what he wanted, only to have something else come between them yet again.
And now, he told himself for the thousandth time, it was time to take a step back. He wouldn't push Ryoma. Not when the other boy had so much to deal with already. He would wait forever, if he had too, no matter how much it hurt.
"Syuusuke?" Ryoma said, breaking into his thoughts. Fuji tried very hard not to think of how much he liked hearing Ryoma say his name.
"Didn't you hear what I said?"
"No," Fuji said bluntly.
"Listen, then." Ryoma didn't stay irritated for long, and Fuji could practically feel the excitement radiating off of him.
"What is it?"
Ryoma smirked, sitting up so he could better see Fuji's reaction. "Takashima doesn't want to be captain."
"He wants Tezuka instead."
Fuji didn't wasn't sure what to think…he sat up very, very slowly, feeling as though he were dreaming.
"Am not," Ryoma retorted. "Not about this."
Tezuka as captain. It was the way it was supposed to be.
It might have been the heat of the moment, and it might have been something more, but Ryoma very suddenly pulled Fuji closer and pressed his lips against the older boy's.
It was perfect, but Fuji was too stunned to react. He wanted to reach out, pull Ryoma closer and make him feel everything between them. But it was over just as quick. A split second later, he felt Ryoma's lips curve into a smile, and then the other boy pulled away.
No. He didn't want this to be a memory. He was tired of acting like nothing happened, wanted this so fucking badly.
But that was selfish, wasn't it?
Fuji only sighed and followed Ryoma out of the park, wondering how everything could feel so perfect and so wrong at the same time.
When his phone rang a second time, Ryoma was sure he was dreaming. Honestly – one freakishly early phone call was enough. Fuji, too, was less tolerant about this one, swearing loudly before pulling the pillow over his head. Ryoma touched his shoulder in apology and stumbled into the hallway. One of them, at least, should get more than two hours of sleep.
His father sounded fairly relaxed, but Ryoma was too tired to feel relief. A little alarmed, maybe, that he couldn't understand anything else his father was rambling on about. Had his brain stopped working, maybe?
"…but in America…"
"Japanese," Ryoma finally moaned. "Too early for English."
His father laughed, and Ryoma was startled by the sound. It had been a long time…
"You need the practice, brat." A long pause, as if he were debating whether or not to tell him something.
"Well…nevermind. It's not important right now. The real reason I'm calling is to ask whether you'd like to visit. You know, before the surgery."
"That's still on then?" He'd thought, for a moment, since he father had sounded so happy…
"Yes, but the doctors say it has an eighty percent success rate. Nanako could be cancer free by the weekend!"
In the background, Ryoma could hear his mother saying things like "Eight percent is not close to one hundred!" and "Don't get his hopes up!", but he didn't mind that bit of good news. When his father put it like that, everything seemed a lot less terrifying.
"I want to come," Ryoma said firmly. That decided, he told his father he would take care of his plane ticket and catch the subway train to the hospital. God knows he'd done it enough times.
And then, wondering if good things came in fours, Ryoma hung up. Cancer free by the weekend…he knew this wasn't a complete guarantee, but eighty percent was awfully good chance. It was better than the survival rate for soft tissue cancer, in any rate.
Now, what to tell the Fuji family?
durrrr stupid ending (just this chapter, don't worry).
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p.s. thanks so much for sticking with me. love goes to every single one of my readers and reviewers.