Tezuka spent his last few months before graduation concentrating his efforts on coaching Echizen, the guy that he has recognized as the next pillar of support for Seigaku, after himself. The one-to-one training would normally go on until the last of the sunlight disappears from the horizon. Unaware, they usually have to be evicted from the court by coach Ryuzaki. The man that has lit a fire under Echizen is giving the latter his undivided attention and in response, Echizen has been working extra hard to gain approval. Towards Nanjirou, Echizen feels the need to defeat him at his own game and make his old man keep his snide remarks to himself. Towards Tezuka, Echizen feels no competition, just the desire to rise up to expectations. Every time he looks at his captain, he feels that he could only see his back. He wants to walk side by side with his captain. This is a first for young Echizen. He usually categorise other players as stronger as or weaker than himself but never has he once wants to be side by side with a fellow player. Maybe he has finally found someone he can honestly look up to. Tezuka has instilled in him the power of evolution and it has been the key to unlocking his potential, one that he inherited from his old man. He helped him look past the towering figure, and hindering block, that is his father and beyond that, towards the real world of tennis.
"Bring your elbow closer to your body," Tezuka calls from across the court.
"Hai, Buchou," Echizen replies nonchalantly.
Having the captain specially train him has caused some commotion within the club, jealousy and envy and other useless emotions. Echizen could care less though. To be able to gain access to the black box that is Tezuka's strength, he could not be more ecstatic.
"Ryoma, Tezuka! Go home!" shouts coach Ryuzaki from outside the court.
"Oh, it's this late already," says Tezuka after he checks his watch. "Let's end here."
"Ok," Echizen responds.
"Precision training. Hit every ball into the basket as you clean up," commands Tezuka.
"Eeeh? I thought the training has ended," argues Echizen.
"One should always hone their basics. A good foundation is everything," chides Tezuka.
"You sound like an old man, as always," taunts Echizen.
"No respect for your seniors, as always," is Tezuka's comeback.
After cleaning up, locking up and changing, the sempai-kouhai pair makes their way home.
"You don't have to walk me home every time. I am not that young," complains Echizen.
"It's dark, so it is dangerous."
"You are not that much older yourself."
"I am bigger than you are."
"What has it to do with anything?"
Tezuka is silent after that.
He probably ran out of reason but still wants to continue in his stubborn ways, thought Echizen. Nothing I want to complain about. This is the only time that I can walk at his side.
Unknown to the younger one, Tezuka enjoys walking Echizen home. Tezuka never thought that he would feel such a strong attachment to anyone. To want to personality coach and induce growth into the kid and to the extent of wanting to see that he returns home safe, it is as if the boy is precious to himself. The thirty minute walk to Echizen's house comes to an end quickly, with neither of them speaking a word to each other.
"I will walk you to your bus stop," Echizen offers.
"The point was to make sure you are home safe," Tezuka explains.
"And I am. The bus stop is not far from here and it is not that late yet. I will be fine."
"Just go on in."
Echizen leans his tennis bag against his gate then proceeds to walk in the direction of the bus stop. If it is stubbornness, Echizen does not lose out to his senior. Tezuka gives in and wordlessly follows.
"Ne, Buchou, why do you walk me home every day?" asks Echizen. "You feel bad about making me work so hard?"
"Something like that."
"Eeeh? Sounds like you are not being honest."
"Don't make fun of your seniors, O'chibi."
"That's new. You normally just call me by name."
It's true. Tezuka does not enjoy addressing other people with endearing nicknames. He thinks it is redundant. Everyone already has a name, why do they need another?
"Seriously, why?" asks Echizen again. Being persistent is one of his good points.
They arrive at the bus stop just as Tezuka finish his ambiguous reply.
"Go home," orders Tezuka.
"When your bus arrives," Echizen says.
"You are real stubborn, you know that?"
"Are you not the same? Still no answer to my question."
"I think I like you," says Tezuka, as his bus screeches to a stop.
Before Echizen could confirm that what he heard was exactly what he thought he heard, Tezuka has already boarded the bus and it is pulling away just as Echizen is coming round. Well, he would have to wait till tomorrow to continue this conversation with Tezuka.
On the bus, Tezuka is reflecting on his blab. Why did he answer Echizen that way? Did he actually mean what he said? He wanted to laugh at himself for doing something so ridiculous. Fuji would probably laugh at him. How did Echizen take it, he wonders.
Tomorrow arrived quickly. Classes, cleaning duties and finally, club activities. The walk home with Tezuka is quickly approaching.
"There's something I have to discuss with the coach today. You go ahead without me," Tezuka says, barely looking at Echizen.
"Why? Is it not dangerous for me to return home alone anymore?" questions Echizen, without an ounce of malice.
Tezuka taps his junior's head with the edge of his racquet and says, "Respect your seniors."
When Tezuka is leaving the school an hour after the conclusion of the training session, he finds Echizen leaning against the school gate waiting for him.
"Didn't I tell you to leave without me?" Tezuka asks, as he approaches.
"I was afraid to walk by myself," Echizen says, smugly.
"I thought I told you to respect your seniors."
Echizen gives a small laugh then reach out his hand to grab Tezuka's collar as he is passing by. Echizen pulls the tall guy down to face level and kiss his lips in a surprise attack, then quickly pulls back to look at his expression.
"I was wondering when I can put some kind of emotion on that face of yours," says a smirking Echizen.
A shocked Tezuka quickly recovers to his usual nonchalant state after Echizen's smug statement. He cups his hand on the back of Echizen's neck and pulls him forward to land a firm one on the younger boy's mouth.
"I told you to respect your seniors," says Tezuka, mimicking the smug look Echizen had on just a moment ago.
They kiss for real after that exchange. Tezuka bend down a little more to fully capture Echizen's mouth with his own. When they break away, Echizen has a displeased look on his face.
"What's the matter?" asks a concern Tezuka.
"You don't have to bend down so much," a slightly pissed Echizen says.
Tezuka laughs openly now. His junior is pissed off at their height difference. It is so laughable. Trust Echizen to feel insulted by that.
"It won't matter if we are not standing up," answers Tezuka.
"Ooh? What are you suggesting?" challenges Echizen.