A/N: Okay, I updated this chapter a little bit. Just a tad. I needed to add something that's an important detail for the sequel.

Chapter 6

Tezuka brushed himself off and readjusted his thin, slightly bent glasses. He gazed over at the others who were also staggering upright and getting themselves reacquainted with a stable floor. Unconscious sailors littered the white tile around them.

Kikumaru shook out his prickling hands, frowning at Oishi. Oishi merely shrugged, unable to stop himself from beaming at everyone and everything. Kikumaru grinned back. Inui pushed his white glasses higher up on his nose as he spoke in low tones with the humble Kawamura. Momo hesitantly approached a gently smiling prodigy. Tezuka heard the junior ask, "Fuji, have you seen Echizen?"

A tall male automatically turned toward Momo with eyebrows lifted, a question waiting in his eyes. But then he slumped and turned back to tennis players whom Tezuka did not recognize. The Seigaku Captain finally had a chance, though, to really look at this stranger that was so familiar – green-and-black hair, hazel eyes, and confidence to the point of arrogance.

Tezuka barely heard Fuji's soft reply, "Yeah, Momo. I have." His words were optimistic, but his tone was gloomy. Alarm fluttered in Tezuka's stomach. He marched toward the pair, loudly demanding of Fuji, "Tell me everything."

Fuji shifted toward Tezuka's booming voice with surprise. The quiet room fell into listening silence. Tezuka added, "Tell us all."

So Fuji spoke of what he had experienced, introducing Captain Ryoga Echizen and his tennis team as he went. He finished, "So we need to go look for Echizen – the sooner, the better."

Tezuka nodded. "Yes." But first, he turned toward Ryoga and bowed. "Thank you very much for the help of you and your team in freeing us." The stern-faced senior met Ryoga's hazel eyes once more. "We would –"

Kaidoh, his match finished, burst into the shower room, panting. He dripped with sweat. "Oi!" he bellowed breathlessly. "Let go of my friends!" He stopped short, surprise and confusion on his face. He blinked around the room and flushed pink. "Um… never mind," he murmured, trying to edge away.

Momo cried, "Mamushi!" He approached the other junior, leaning an elbow on his shoulder. He asked slyly, "Did you think you were going to free us all by yourself? Che. Baka Mamushi."

Kaidoh thrust Momo away, still blushing. "You're the baka, baka." Momo only laughed.

Tezuka cleared his throat. Momo's and Kaidoh's faces straightened. "Kaidoh," Tezuka commanded. The junior jerked his chin up with obeisance that was nevertheless angry and competitive. "You're with Kawamura and Oishi. Momo… with Kikumaru and Inui. Fuji, you're with me." The Captain had already planned this while they were bound; he purposely paired power players with gentler personalities in the hope that – if that particular group found their freshman – while one or two protected, the other could tend to Echizen, if necessary.

"Hai!" they chorused.

Ryoga Echizen lifted an eyebrow. What's with this level of respect? To his teammates, he waved an indifferent hand and directed, "Split yourselves up like they did. Groups of three, one of two." He glanced around. "Oi, where's Shimizu?" He's the one who was supposed to play against Chibisuke, Ryoga thought. He called, "Oi!" Then to himself, "What was that guy's name?" Then louder again, "Oi, Kaidoh!" The junior turned his glare toward Ryoga. "Where's Shimizu, the guy you were playing?"

Kaidoh shrugged. "Don't know."

Ryoga strode up to the junior. He leaned in and asked a bit bitingly, "Care to elaborate?"

Kaidoh could even blink angrily, which he did. Then he growled, punching out each word, "The match ended. I left and came here. I didn't see where he went, nor do I care."

Ryoga leaned away and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He sighed. "Well, fine, then," he muttered to himself. "We don't have time to look for him, too." With that, he walked off and joined Fuji and Tezuka's group without a word to the Seigaku duo. "All right, people! Let's go find my brother."

Momo scooped up Ryoma's cap as they departed. Dusting it off, he frowned at it in worried apprehension.

The crowd waited impatiently for Singles One.

Never would it be forthcoming. At last standing up to leave, one wealthy man could be heard to grumble, "This is the worst, most disappointing waste of a tennis tournament to which I have been an unfortunate witness."

His blonde companion chirped, "But isn't it fun?" He stared at her.

Kawamura fretted, "I hope we find him soon."

Oishi murmured, "Yeah."

Kaidoh sneered. "Fshuu. He's tough – so stop worrying." He glared until they nodded, looking slightly relieved at his confidence. But when they looked away, the hardness in Kaidoh's expression dissolved, leaving concern.

They continued to slink along the outside deck, peering through large, highly reflective ports with hands pressed against the glass. The late afternoon sun slanted ochre light across their tense faces.

Oishi was jumpy. "What if they catch us again? We're kind of conspicuous."

"Yeah?" Kaidoh growled. "So what?" He moved to the next window. "We have to find Echizen." With a twinge, he thought, It's a senpai's duty to take care of his kouhai, and we've been failing miserably.

Kawamura suddenly halted, holding up a hand. "Did you hear that?" Kaidoh and Oishi froze, listening. "There it is again! Come on, this way!" The trio clattered a short distance down the deck. Kawamura slid to an abrupt stop just before a straight bay of deck-to-ceiling windows. Oishi and Kaidoh nearly ran into him. Pressing himself against the wall, Kawamura gestured for them to do the same.

Finally, Kaidoh muttered with distaste, "I don't hear anything. You?" Oishi gave a negative.

Kawamura shushed them. For a moment, they still heard nothing, but then Oishi's eyes widened. His voice shook as he whispered, "Is that someone crying?" Mixed with the hushed sobs was a sort of rhythmic creaking. When these were suddenly joined by muffled male moans and gasps of sexual pleasure, the three erupted into motion – crying was never supposed to accompany that.

The sliding glass door centered in the bay of windows vibrated with the force of its opening. Three shocked men jerked their heads toward the clanging thud and gaped over the back of a dark, leather couch. They leapt to rather unstable feet, dashing toward the new threat. Kawamura, though he held no racket, yelled with fiery fury as he drew back his fist. The cook – the jerk who had assaulted Ryoma earlier – grunted as a cast-iron blow connected with his jaw. He toppled over the back of the sofa, legs sticking up ridiculously in the air.

On Kawamura's right, Kaidoh kicked in the gut a sailor whose hand was rising toward a hip holster. As he doubled over, the junior gripped the man's head in both hands and snapped his knee up. The guard crumpled to his knees, blood flying in strings from his nose. A white-knuckled fist to the temple knocked him out. Kaidoh glared down at the man's unconscious body, furrowed black eyebrows millimeters apart. He hissed.

To the far left, Oishi felt his heart cracking in sympathy with the unknown, hidden victim. Anger snarled up from his inner depths. His dark eyes spread wide with a frantic need to help, he connected an inexperienced fist to a sailor's face. The guard's head jerked to the right, but then he slowly turned back with a ferocious glare. Oishi involuntarily took a step back. Kawamura roared as he lashed out with a foot. The guard's left knee broke sideways with a loud crunch. He cried out, collapsing onto the floor. Clutching his knee, he rolled back and forth in vociferous anguish.

The chef staggered to his feet on the other side of the mummy-brown couch, glowering with black eyes. He clambered his flabby bulk over it. Kawamura crouched slightly, fists out and ready. The senior's thick, brown eyebrows shadowed intent, focused eyes. As the man's feet hit the pale carpet, Kawamura exploded into action – a powerful kick to the chest, a knee in the groin, and it was already over.

Panting, Kawamura at last appreciated his six years of martial arts training.

The three tennis players then stood in the middle of the lounge, slightly at a loss. Over the snuffling cries of the man with the broken knee, the carnal noises reached their ears again. As one, they surged toward a dark, wooden door to their left.

A crash and a flood of light filtered into Ryoma's battered mind. He blinked, struggling to bring himself back to reality. He turned toward the source and strained to make out the silhouettes. Framed in the rectangle of white light stood Kaidoh, Kawamura, and Oishi, their expressions filled with horrified shock.

The burning thrusts within him gradually slowed and then stopped even as his teammates watched. The man above him shuddered with his release. Ryoma let out an anguished whimper through the scarlet gag and averted his face from his friends. His chest tightened as tears slid over his flushed cheeks.

That quiet sound of pain rocketed them out of their shocked disbelief and confusion. Kawamura and Kaidoh roared with rage as they tore Sakurafubuki off their kouhai. The man's naked back smacked onto the varnished, wood floor. He blinked up at them with unconcerned surprise that slowly crystallized into fear around the edges.

Kaidoh and Kawamura could not look more frightening. In their fury, they seemed to swell to twice their height and breadth. Twin, white-hot volcanoes – elemental and utterly unforgiving – exploded with wrath and flooded over Sakurafubuki. Punches and kicks flew, landing with dry thunks and pinched grunts of pain. The two tennis players bellowed furiously with every blow.

Sakurafubuki lifted his arms up in front of his face, trying to block their raining fists. He scrambled back, but he was no match for these two boys – these boys who had never before felt such overwhelming rage. Their nearly unimaginable level of fury gave them a speed and a power they'd never otherwise possess, leaving Sakurafubuki no chance.

Oishi slammed the door shut behind him, cutting off the flow of white light. He was sorely tempted to join the other two in pummeling that horrible man, but consumed with anguishing concern, he instead rushed over to Ryoma in the dimness. The senior leaned over the edge of the bed and fearfully asked, "Echizen?" The twelve-year-old refused to look at him, but his breathing hitched in response, barely audible through the gag. Oishi relaxed slightly and breathed, "Okay... let me get this off you." He slid his hands behind Ryoma's head, searching for the knot in the red fabric. At the touch, Ryoma jerked and at last turned terrified, weeping eyes to Oishi, beseeching comfort. Oishi shook, frightened to see the arrogant Ryoma Echizen with such an expression. "It'll be okay, Echizen," he answered automatically. He set to work on the knot. "It will all be okay. It'll be all right," he crooned over and over.

The gag slipped loose and came free. Oishi tossed the disgusting thing to the floor. Ryoma's hazel eyes seemed fixed on Oishi as he whispered with chapped lips, "Oishi-senpai?" His voice was feeble.

"Yeah?" the senior replied, as gently as he could.

"Could you…" Ryoma took a shallow breath. "…cover me? Please?" His naked body trembled.

"O-of course!" Oishi cried. He yanked off his Seigaku jacket like it was flaming, and settled it across Ryoma's hips. "I'm so sorry! That should have been the first thing that I did."

Ryoma nodded and closed his haunted eyes. Oishi bit his lower lip. His hands hovered uselessly before setting to work on the rope around Ryoma's pale, bloodless wrists. The Vice Captain did his best to block out the thuds and yelling behind him.

The rope began to loosen; soon it slipped free. Oishi flung it, too, onto the floor. Ryoma left his hands above his head for a long moment. Then he slowly pulled them in toward his chest. Oishi hesitated. He edged his jacket up just far enough to quickly free the boy's small, icy feet. Then he put an arm around the freshman's shoulders. "Come on, Echizen." He gently tried to lift the boy into a sitting position.

Ryoma flinched, eyes flashing, and gasped out, "Stop, Oishi-senpai!" He clutched Oishi's arm, eyes squeezed shut.

"Echizen, what is it?" Oishi asked. Ryoma only shook his head, breath held tight. "What is it?" he asked again, panic entering his tone.

Once the ache abated somewhat, Ryoma glanced up into the frightened eyes of his friend and then looked away. He swallowed. He forced himself to sit up, even though it made the sharp, burning pain strike through him all the way to his head. He moved stiffly, slowly.

Oishi cried, "Echizen!" Ryoma curled his thin, quivering limbs in close and tightly clutched the jacket across his lap. Despite his efforts, tears slid down his cheeks. Oishi had wanted to panic, but at that gesture and those tears, his heart ached and he stuffed down the fear. He wrapped his arms around the boy's hunched shoulders and held him close against his chest. "It's okay now. You're safe."

Ryoma didn't want to cry anymore. He refused to blink – tears would fall if he did. But of course, eventually he had to blink, and saltwater trailed down his cheeks. It seemed to open the floodgates. His hands shot up and fisted in the back of Oishi's shirt. He began to sob. He panted after breath and wailed with heartwrenching misery.

Ryoma had never appeared younger, smaller, or more vulnerable than he did then. Normally, he acted so confidently and was so unbelievably excellent at tennis that he seemed much older, with a nonchalant sort of charismatic stage presence. But right then, he seemed to be no more than what he was – a traumatized twelve-year-old boy.

The sobs penetrated the red film of rage in Kaidoh's and Kawamura's minds. Beyond the foot of the bed, they at last rose and turned away from the unconscious, bloodied pulp of Sakurafubuki. The soft cloth of Kawamura's jacket settled over Ryoma's bare shoulders and atop Oishi's enfolding arms. Streaming hazel eyes lifted to see Kawamura's hands fall back to his sides. Kaidoh rested a comforting hand on Ryoma's back.

Ryoma's tears slowed and eventually stopped. He sniffled, wiping away water. He winced at the pressure on his bruised left eye. Oishi gradually let his arms drift down and out from under the jacket. Ryoma now sat, weak in the aftermath and seeing nothing, though his eyes were open and ostensibly focused on Oishi's chest. The freshman burrowed into Kawamura's too-big jacket. It was still warm with body heat.

Oishi broke the uncomfortable silence by gently inquiring, "Echizen, do you know where your clothes are?" Ryoma slowly shook his head, still staring. The boy's face was unnaturally white. Oishi wondered what he was thinking. The Vice Captain turned to the other two.

Before he could say anything, Kaidoh offered softly, "We'll look." With a last, sympathetic glance to Ryoma, he and Kawamura began to search the room. Ryoma's blank stare began to unnerve Oishi. The Vice Captain reached up to touch the freshman's shoulder. Ryoma flinched and suddenly scrambled away. Oishi jumped. Ryoma stared at the senior in fright, one quivering hand outstretched, the other holding the jacket closed. Oishi could see the boy's fluttering pulse in his throat. They stared at each other. Slowly, Ryoma pulled the hand back inside his warm, double-jacket tent, cast his rhyolite eyes down, and muttered, "Sorry."

Oishi managed to find his voice. He forced a false cheeriness into it. "No, no, nothing to be sorry about!" There was another awkward silence. Finally, he twisted around. "Have you guys found his clothes yet?" It helped him to have something to focus on, something… mundane.

Kawamura looked up and slid a drawer shut. "No, not yet."

Ryoma waited, suspended in a peaceful blankness – a white noise of body and mind. He shivered.

Oishi felt useless. Should he help them look, or should he stay beside Ryoma's side? He had no idea what he was supposed to do. His gaze drifted across the watercolor painting, to the floor, across the unconscious man, and back to the rumpled sheets in front of his knees. His eyes abruptly widened, and he reached out to touch a spot just in front of his knees. It was where Ryoma had been lying when they'd walked in, and where he had sat when Oishi held him. The Vice Captain flicked horrified eyes up to his kouhai. "Echizen," he whispered. He held out his hand, palm up. His fingertips were bloody.

Ryoma blinked vacantly at the hand. Then he blinked vacantly into Oishi's dark eyes. The senior opened his mouth to speak.

"Found them!" Kawamura cried a bit desperately. He leapt toward the bed, wrinkled clothes outstretched in his hands. Kaidoh stood up and swaggered toward the four-poster, too; the search was over. They both froze, eyes locking onto the blood on Oishi's hand and flicking to the small, glistening stain on the sheets. Tension rode the air.

Finally, Kaidoh stated in disbelief, "It's blood." He met Ryoma's distant, hazel eyes as he continued in disbelief, "Echizen's blood."

The clothes slipped from Kawamura's fingers to the floor with a rustle. He swallowed. The sight of blood made him feel ill. He hastily vowed not to faint.

Ryoma looked away from Kaidoh's hard gaze. He asked faintly, "Is it?" The three senpai-tachi winced at Ryoma's indifference.

Oishi suddenly realized that they needed a leader – that he could not afford to vacillate or hover uselessly. He needed to be Seigaku's Vice Captain. He stood on slightly shaky legs and nodded to the air. "Okay. First things first. We need a first aid kit." He paused. "And we need to notify Tezuka where we are." He gestured. "We've obviously found Echizen." His voice faltered.

No one moved. Finally, Kawamura lifted a forefinger, his ashen face brightening a bit. He yanked open a drawer of the dresser behind him, pulled out something and thrust it toward Oishi. The Vice Captain took the cell phone in slow, confused surprise, murmuring, "Thanks, Taka-san."

Kawamura shrugged, explaining sheepishly, "I found it along with Echizen's clothes."

Oishi dialed his Captain's number by heart and held the cell to his ear, hoping desperately that Tezuka had his phone with him. The rings ended shortly with a familiar, stern voice, and Oishi sighed in relief. A short, to-the-point conversation ended in a few exchanges, and the Vice Captain snapped the phone closed. Some of the tension left his shoulders, and he lifted his chest with more assurance. He announced with a small smile, "Tezuka is coming."

The air in the room changed – as though Oishi had proclaimed that their deliverance was at hand.

Kaidoh scooped up Ryoma's clothes from the floor and thrust them into the boy's chest. "Here," he muttered. "We'll look for a first aid kit."

Ryoma reflexively closed his hands around the blue and white fabric. His eyes wandered over the wadded wrinkles and across the pale surface of his hands. He noted with distant, vaguely scientific interest that his fingernails were tinged with blue. Without sensing pain, he saw that his wrists were red and abraded from the rough rope. Thin trickles of brown blood had dried like charm bracelets. His slender fingers trembled.

Ryoma jerked his head up with a wild look as Oishi's words finally connected in his brain. "What?" he demanded. "Tezuka's coming? And the others, too?" He didn't wait for a response. "Senpai-tachi," he implored, flicking frantic eyes from one to another, "please don't say anything about..." He gestured to the blood spot. His eyes seemed to say so much more than words ever could.

When they faltered, he begged, "Please. Don't say anything. Don't ever say anything."

Oishi lifted a hand up to Ryoma's shoulder, but pulled it back before it touched. "Echizen..." he whispered. His hand fisted. He glanced toward the others' concerned, bewildered faces. "Okay," he murmured. "We won't."

"Good," Ryoma breathed. His wet eyes met Oishi's, Kaidoh's, and Kawamura's with profound relief. "Thank you."

Keigo Atobe smirked. "So you're Ryoma Echizen's brother?" He scanned the other – black-green hair, hazel eyes, and a perpetual arrogance. The smirk became tinged with a sneer. "Of course you are."

Ryoga lifted an eyebrow, singularly unimpressed with this rich snob. "What that's supposed to mean?"

Atobe smoothed the purple satin lapel of his tailored tuxedo and shifted a stray, wavy lock of violet-gray hair back into place. "Oh, nothing. Right, Kabaji?"

"Yes," grunted the dark-skinned giant latched to Atobe's heels.

Ryoga finally just shook his head and turned away. "Oi!" Atobe called suddenly. "Aren't you going to thank me?"

Ryoga turned only his head to see them out of the corner of his right eye. "For what?"

Atobe fluffed affronted feathers like a hen pecking for her share of the corn kernels. "For saving you, that's what!" He threw out a hand. "That guy's a scoundrel, and I'm the one who realized it!"

Ryoga's face tightened as his gaze followed the gesture. A small boat and a larger yacht floated alongside the huge, steel cruise ship. He could just make out the handcuffed, slumped form of Sakurafubuki sitting cross-legged on the deck. Around him, four armed officers stood at alert, rifles in hand. Other shapes scurried to and fro.

Atobe seemed to realize too late what he had said. He folded his arms and huffed in a softer voice, "I only meant that when I heard about Seigaku's little field trip, something rang false. I didn't recognize the family name Sakurafubuki, and I should have. So I notified the authorities and decided to come along." He glared at the side of Ryoga's head. "As it turns out, he was committing fraud, not to mention illegal gambling, and..." He swallowed.

Ryoga faced forward again. He paused before calling in sincerity, "Thank you." He then lifted a hand goodbye and walked off.

Atobe's eyes suddenly widened as a thought occurred to him. He yelled again, "Oi!" Ryoga turned, annoyance on his face. "Tell Echizen that if he wants to, he can come back with me! The rest of Seigaku, too!" The elder Echizen shrugged, nodded, and strolled away, hands shoved in his pockets.

Ryoga wished desperately as he strode along the dim, (falsely) luxurious passageway that he had realized earlier the depths of Sakurafubuki's depravity. If he had, he could've spared his little brother. No matter how long his life, he would never forget the memories of hurrying past the stirring, bloodied forms of sailors, past the other tennis players, and into that room. He would never forget the pulp of a fiendish man lying on the floor. But most of all, he would never forget the bruises on his brother's young, lost face, the bloodied marks on his wrists… or the haunted look in his eyes.

Ryoga forcibly shook off the recollections. His tennis shoes squeaked to a halt. He rested the weight of his hand on the brass handle of a door. He took a deep breath and twisted the knob.

Eight Seigaku tennis players snapped to their feet at the sound of the door's creak. The last player slowly lifted rhyolite eyes shadowed by a white cap. Ryoma huddled in a too-large armchair in the far right corner, his arms wrapped around the knees he'd pulled into his chest. Momo stood as close as the chair would allow, one hand resting protectively on his best friend's shoulder. His hard face eased when he saw who had entered. He sank slowly back onto the seat of his own chair.

Ryoga approached his younger brother and crouched in front of him. "Ryoma," he said gently, "Atobe's boat is leaving soon. He told me to tell you that if you want, you can leave on it, too." He looked up to see the intent gazes of the Seigaku team locked on him. "Along with your friends, of course." Ryoga gently lifted Ryoma's hat off by the brim. With a mischievous grin, he settled it over his own head. "Do you want to?"

Everyone waited to see Ryoma's reaction. He slid stiffly off the chair and snatched his cap back. After placing it back where it belonged, he shrugged and muttered, "Okay."

Owari (for now) –

Notice: The sequel to Hostage Situation is up! You can find it with this: /s/5924030/1/Hostage_Situation_II_The_Aftermath But you'll have to add the rest of the link, because this site is goofy like that. Hope to see you there! ^_^