A/N: I'll explain this madness at the bottom of this chapter.
Practice for that day had ended, and most of the Seigaku Regulars were already on their way home. Oishi Syuichirou was not one of them, and he went around the tennis club's practice area, making sure no one remained loitering after school hours. Then after padlocking the gates to the tennis courts, he headed to the equipment shed to secure the last of his duties.
The key was in and ready to turn, then he paused midway. He could hear scuffling noises inside. There was someone loitering around after all.
The fukubuchou tentatively pushed the doorknob inside. "Hello?" He saw no one at first, then his eyes were drawn downwards. And there he saw the youngest of the Regulars, their very own freshman Echizen Ryoma, on his knees and scanning the undersides of benches. "Echizen! What are you… doing?"
Ryoma calmly raised his head to the incredulous expression on his senior's face. Just like him to appear like what he was doing was the most natural thing in the world. "Senpai. Hi."
Oishi surveyed the cleanliness of the floor. Aside from Ryoma and his belongings, the entire clubroom was virtually spotless thanks to last week's clubroom cleaning, save the clutter of lost and found items in the box at the corner of the room. "You're looking for something? Why don't you check there?" He motioned to the box.
Ryoma bent his back and lowered his head again to the floor, focused on his task. "I just lost it today. I doubt it'll be there." Not finding it, he straightened his back, crawled to the next set of benches, and checked again. He seemed very determined to find whatever it was.
"Why don't you put it off until tomorrow? It's getting pretty late…"
"By then it might be too late!"
OIshi froze, surprised by the sudden showcase of vocals. It was rare to hear their cool super rookie say something so meaningfully. It must be really serious.
Finally, his senpai said, "Okay… What is it you're looking for?" He got on his knees and rolled up his jacket sleeves, willing to provide help where it was needed. What sort of team vice-captain would he be if he could not help a kouhai with something so simple?
Ryoma hesitated briefly before replying. "I… don't know."
"I know what it's called," Ryoma snapped, trying to sound harsh rather than flustered and failing miserably. "But… I don't know what it's called in Japanese."
That was understandable, Oishi supposed. Echizen had spent most of his life in America, his only experiences of true Japanese form his father. "Alright. Tell me what it's called in English. Maybe I'll recognize it." Oishi would not call himself an expert, but he was fairly confident in his basic English linguistic skills. It was his favorite subject, after all.
Then Ryoma proved him wrong by reciting a word he completely could not understand.
"'S alright if you can't figure it out," Ryoma consoled his disappointed senpai. "But if you're gonna help me out, the object I'm looking for is small – tiny, even… and purple."
"Alright." His senpai bent down to check under another set of benches. He figured that if he found whatever his kouhai lost and recognized it, then at least he had another word to add to his English vocabulary.
But as the minutes ticked by, it started to feel that they were working a lost case. Eventually, even Ryoma gave up on the ground search and instead went to examine each of the empty cubbyhole shelves. He seemed determined to ignore every statement Oishi had to give about continuing their search tomorrow.
Oishi sighed and straightened up, glancing at the clock on the wall. At the rate they were going, it might be nightfall when they could finally head home. But he must admit, he never seen Echizen so focused – or stubborn, for that matter – over something other than tennis.
He heard a small metal clang. He looked down and discovered his shoe had slightly knocked aside the lost and found box. He stared for a moment then decided. Despite what Echizen said, it would not hurt to check inside, right?
But his kouhai turned out right after all. Instead of finding the lost item, all he could fish out were useless pieces of trash that some irresponsible people threw in, including some candy wrappers and a strange bottlecap with some safety pin attached. Understandably pissed with the littering going around in his clubroom, of all places, but he knew it would do no good to just stand there and complain. He could give the team a good talking to tomorrow, but for now better to hold onto the trash until he found the nearest garbage bin.
"Wait!" Ryoma cried just as Oishi was about to pocket the garbage. The boy scrambled over to his senpai and, without warning, began to wrestle the bottlecap out of his hand.
"Hey, hey, you can ust ask!" Oishi exclaimed as he dropped the cap into his eager hands.
Ryoma let out a huge sigh of relief and sat down on the nearest bench, his hands closed tightly into fists. Oishi raised a curious eyebrow and set himself down next to him.
"What is that, anyway?" Oishi asked and promptly predicted a sarcastic comment to reply to his. Probably, he would say something along the lines, "It's a bottlecap. What else could it be, senpai?"
Then again, his underclassman surprised him.
"It's a badge," Ryoma replied quietly, his forehead pressed to his hands. "The highest honor a scout could ever ask for."
"You were a… scout?"
"A Wilderness Explorer, to be precise… oh, quiet smirking, senpai, it was a really big deal back in the day."
"Heh… Well, I bet you were some big shot 'Wilderness Explorer' then. So, were you the best there ever was?"
"Nope," Ryoma replied plainly. "If you ask my moderators, they'd all tell you the same thing. I sucked pretty bad then."
'Then how's you get 'the highest honor a scout could ever ask for'?"
Ryoma sat there silently contemplating, his hands twitching every so often. Then he rose to his feet. "It's too big of a story to tell right now. Gomen."
"God, Echizen. You just got to be so secretive over everything." All this he said with an amused smile, then Oishi too got on his feet. "Fine then. Can I at least have a look at that precious object of yours? I really want to see it again now."
Ryoma opened his hands before him. It really looked like any ordinary bottlecap – it even had a small dent at the side from some past rough handling. The only noticeable thing about it was that the image on top did not advertise any Japanese product. It only stated in bold English letters the words, 'Grape Soda'. Not a very brand-revealing name, really.
"Does your love of Ponta know no bounds, Echizen?" Oishi teased, taking the badge for a closer look.
The freshman looked very offended at this statement. "Hey, I got that badge long before I started drinking Ponta!" he exclaimed defiantly. Then momentarily, he added, "Though… maybe it was because of the badge I started drinking in the first place…"
Oishi laughed and nudged his head at the door. "Well, we found what you were looking for, ne? So, can we head out now? Please?"
"Ah," Ryoma agreed, standing up as well. He made way to retrieve his tennis bag. But once it was strapped onto his back, he stopped for a few moments then slowly looked back at his upperclassman, appearing a bit embarrassed. "And, uh… thanks for your help, Oishi-senpai. Really."
"No problem," Oishi said happily, relishing the wave of fulfillment that washed over him for a second. He looked at the cap in his hand. "Hey, how'd you come to lose this in the first place?"
"I usually keep it in my bag… Probably fell out when I took out my racket earlier."
"But isn't this a badge? And for badges…" He approached Ryoma as he released the metal point of the safety pin. Then he securely fastened the badge right underneath the surprised boy's shirt collar. "… aren't you supposed to wear them?" He stepped back, observing the boy's appearance. "Not bad," he remarked.
Ryoma swept up his signature white labeled cap lying wrinkled on the bench and in a swift, practiced motion pressed it over his head, the rim effectively shielding his face from his taller upperclassman. "You're weird, senpai…" Yet he did not make any move towards the badge like he was planning to remove it anytime soon.
Oishi cheerfully turned his kouhai around by the shoulders and nudged him towards the door. "Come on, let's hurry up, Echizen. I still have to lock up behind us here."
A/N: Okay, I'm back in fanfiction again! For all those who are pissed off at me for being so weird at updating my fanfics… I'm sorry. D: And now I come back to post another one, and you're all probably thinking I won't finish it… But actually, I really think this one might be different. Although it was based on a whim, like the rest, I actually have got a good scenario planned out for the whole story! And for once, it won't be insanely long! (Hopefully)