Author's Note: Yosh! So here's my entry for our forum's Breakout! fanfiction contest given the prompt 'Escape'. Also I'd like to say thank you to the judges' criticisms! If you'll be reading this again I won't say that this is any better but I tried to apply your comments (all the while maintaining the word count lol WHAT IS OC).

Also! Each first letter after the breaks (the roman numerals) says E, S, C, A, P, E. I wanted to put the word without typing it as a word. So yes. Carry on!


i

Even before the unborn child became Echizen Ryoma, everything was already laid out in front of him. His father Nanjirou, who retired so suddenly from being a professional tennis player, would give him the training at a very young age. Start at four maybe, or six at most. He would buy his son a cat and name it Karupin, and it would become his son's best friend. His close friends would be tennis players, too. Probably his teammates when he would enroll in middle school or high school.

Ryoma would continue the path where he had left. He would have his first match in their backyard, and start beating people come elementary. America would be his training ground and later on, if they would go back to Japan, he would become the top tennis player. Just like what he had dreamt of himself to be.

Ryoma wouldn't commit the same mistake that he did; that, Nanjirou swore. Not that he thought of his family as a mistake, but more like they came a little too early. A little too soon than what he had originally planned. And he regretted it, that he was not able to do the things that he personally wanted for himself. So now that he had the chance, he was going to make the life of his little boy a little easier. That he wouldn't have to deal with distractions as he walked his way to the top.

That was Plan A.

However, there never was Plan B that ever existed in Nanjirou's vocabulary.

ii

Starting his first year in middle school in Japan, Ryoma was all set to pursue his dreams. His mind was only focused on school, getting a spot at being one of the tennis regulars, and crush his soon to be opponents.

"I'm sending him to Seishun Gakuen," Nanjirou said to his wife who was preparing them American breakfast. "They're good there. And the old hag is still the tennis coach. He'll be fine."

Rinko placed the plates down on the table and came over Nanjirou's side, rubbing his back as if reassuring him that he was doing the right thing. "You're doing just fine, don't worry."

Mornings turned into afternoons and afternoons into nights. Ryoma played tennis with his father at the old temple until the day of his first class arrived. However, on those days, Ryoma only scored once against his father. And that was when Karupin walked over to Nanjirou's feet and started licking him clean. At the other side of the court Ryoma smirked, telling his father that "Maybe you really need to move your feet once in a while."

And so the next day Ryoma took the busy road to school, his stomach filled with Japanese breakfast that he had requested to his mother. He wore his uniform bearing the Seigaku logo as prepared by his cousin, and he slung his navy blue tennis bag on his left shoulder. He bumped to men in business suites and women carrying their child on their arms, but he didn't say a word, didn't even look at anyone. He stayed quiet as he walked down the road until–

"Anou…"

Her voice was soft, that if Karupin could speak Japanese (or any human language for that matter), he would not even think twice that this would have been its voice.

"I don't know which streets do I turn heading to school and you're also from Seigaku. I mean you are wearing the uniform so…"

But Ryoma wouldn't like Karupin talking so much if it were human, would he?

"I don't mind."

The girl walked behind him silently, a good arm-length away. He stopped his track when there were two opposite street directions in front of them. He stood there and glanced her way, and if eyes could speak they would have told her to 'follow me.'

And that was Ryoma's first ever real encounter with a stranger. From the looks of it, everything was going well according to Plan A.

(However, that's only if this encounter didn't mess even a single detail up.)

iii

Classes were almost so easy for Ryoma. Given that he grew up in America, it was already established that he was a little advanced to this and a little more knowledgeable to that.

When he tried talking to the school's tennis coach, she only said that he should at least wait for two months to get used to the school system before applying for any club. So he was cool with that, no problem. He spent his free time hitting balls at the back of the school building, instead.

Not later during the first quarter though, that the teacher started to assign their seats by their names. Surprised that he was almost sitting in the middle-last row, Ryoma raised his hand as he waited to be acknowledged by the teacher.

"What's wrong, Ryoma-san?"

"I'm supposed to be sitting with the E's. My family name is Echizen, Sensei."

"But I don't have my name record with me and looking at this paper you passed, you wrote your name as Ryoma Echizen." The homeroom teacher looked at his paper once more, showing it to him even though his distance from the front made it impossible for him to read the letters. But Ryoma already knew what he wrote there so it really didn't matter. "And with you here in Japan, you should have already known that we write our family names first before the given names. Am I right or am I right? So now, for the rest of the school year you're sitting beside Ryuzaki-san."

Ryoma sat on his chair without any protest. Giving a glance to his new seatmate, that was when he noticed that he was homeroom classmates with the girl who approached him on the road. He thought of Karupin and her voice, as he pictured himself actually talking to his cat sounding like the girl.

Morning periods became lunch breaks and lunch breaks became afternoon classes. Ryoma's days at school passed by rather quickly, and he slowly grew accustomed with his seatmate's long, braided pigtails. He wouldn't mind moments when she would abruptly turn her head sideways and the end of his braids would hit his arms lightly.

What he noticed on lunch break was how her bento was carefully made and how it possibly looked so appealing and delicious every day. During this time he would just go back to his spot at the back of the building and drink his grape-flavored Ponta, hitting his neon ball repeatedly against the wall.

Everything on Plan A was still flowing according plan until–

"So you're Ryuzaki Sakuno, eh." It was the first time that he addressed twin-braided girl directly, and it was only because they had to check the paper of their seatmates. "You're so bad at this," he blatantly pointed out as he put small X marks on her paper. "You make me lunchboxes and I'll tutor you in English."

Pigtails girl only nodded in response as he gave Ryoma's paper back with a perfect score.

The perfect score was most likely included in Plan A, but the other bit?

Also read: Ryuzaki Sakuno.

Also read: lunchboxes.

Also read: tutoring.

Most likely these things were first in the red signal list.

iv

At least two months, that was what the coach said to him before he could talk to her again about joining the tennis team. According to what the coach said, everyone who wanted to join the regulars and those who wanted to stay as regulars were to have matches against each other within two weeks.

Hours became days and days became weeks. Some of those whom were already regulars lost a few games (only against each other, too) but retained their spots except for one, whom happened to be Ryoma's rival for his final match. It was a do or die match. If he'd win against this junior regular named Inui Sadaharu, then he was in. If not, he would be with his co-first years toning up stamina and picking up scattered balls whenever those from higher levels did practice games.

The next day, tennis captain Tezuka Kunimitsu went to see Seigaku's tailor, and ordered a small size uniform. And a week after that, Ryoma was spotted trying on the tennis regular's uniform. Where? It was on the rooftop one afternoon with a certain twin-braided, pigtailed girl.

The regulars accepted him without any objection seeing that Ryoma really deserved his win, and even senior regular Kawamura Takashi invited the team (Inui still included) to celebrate a party at his dad's sushi shop. There was this big "welcome to the family" sign for Ryoma and they even surprised him with a shower of confetti when he entered the place. There were strips of crepe paper in every color adorning the room everywhere and a lot of food to wipe out.

He felt really comfortable with them, like they were his second family. And they were, they said to him. And for Ryoma it was fun and great and just everything positive wrapped into one (though of course he didn't verbally say that since he knew too well that they would tease him, for sure).

Ryoma later on got used to the after class practices; got used to the vice-captain, Oishi Shuichiro, giving him a glass of milk every after team meeting; got used to Kaido Kaoru's hissing every time they would duel in a practice match; got used to Fuji Syusuke teasing him about his homeroom seatmate Ryuzaki one time when he saw them at the rooftop (to Ryoma's excuse he was tutoring her in English and eating the bento that she made as an exchange); got used to his hair being ruffled by his senpai-tachi namely Kikumaru Eiji and Momoshiro Takeshi.

Kantou Regional Tournament came and the tennis captain could say they were more than just ready. Tezuka saw each of his teammate's determination and improvement over the past practice matches, and he knew they would still get even better after their games. He chose his lineup thoughtfully, carefully, until he felt assured. And if Tezuka would compare his batch to the previous batches, he knew they were stronger, if not the strongest.

At the end of the tournament, they won more games and lost some. And the most satisfying was beating the fifteen consecutive champion wins of Rikkai Dai Fuzoku.

We just don't know what kind and level of "having fun" was tolerated in Plan A, but Ryoma was, indeed, really having fun.

And it's probably more than how it should be.

v

Pacing in front of Ryoma, Nanjirou's face was almost blank. Maybe too many thoughts were already running on his head that he could not think straight. Saying that he was upset was an understatement. Rather, he was... disappointed. Afraid, even.

Ryoma, on the other hand, had his head down as he sat on the middle edge of his bed. He was not sure if he should be the one to tell something first, or if he should just wait for his father to speak. Still, this was a very heavy atmosphere for him.

Tensed atmosphere enveloped them when suddenly Nanjirou faked a cough. "I called your coach and she said you weren't going to any of your practices. Why is that?"

"Tezuka-buchou said it was okay if I don't come to practice once in a while." However, Ryoma didn't look him in the eyes. "I've got things to do. And I'm winning my games anyway and that's actually the only thing that matters to you, right?"

"Attend your practices regularly." And Nanjirou knew as he said that, that there was something other than tennis that Ryoma prioritized.

The next day (and the day after the next and so on), Ryoma could be found spending more and more time in either the rooftop (during lunch) or in the library (during or after his tennis practice), with Ryuzaki Sakuno by his side. And there were actually times wherein Ryoma would surprise his mother for waking up early, only to hear his lame excuse that he would "go meet someone," which his mother gladly translated to "I will be walking with a girl from her house to the school."

And although his senpai-tachi egged him to tell the truth when they asked if they were really together, Ryoma and Sakuno didn't say a word. Even when it was Sumire who asked, they kept their lips shut.

Maybe the reason why Nanjirou acted all weird was because he knew that he was right. That perhaps, something in Ryoma had really changed after all.

Weeks became months and months became years. The straight path that Nanjirou planned for his son was slowly making a curve, and what troubled him the most was the fact that Ryoma was making it himself. If Nanjirou would tell the truth, he had never expected something like this to happen. He wasn't even so sure if it was already too late or not for Plan A, because each detour that Ryoma took was a bump to his straight line.

vi

Ever since Ryoma was young, if there was one thing that he was so grateful for of his father, it was that he showed him tennis. Because even though how many times his father would say "You should go and continue my dreams," it was his own dreams that he pursued.

As the future turned into present and the present turned into past, Ryoma had already mastered the power of balance, which his father lacked of.

Looking back, maybe the reason why Ryoma felt like the way he had back then was because the utter perfection of his father's plans already suffocated him. Maybe, he craved for an arc to the very straight line that was already being laid in front of him. Maybe, just maybe, he wanted to build his own path which he could proudly say his own, and that he wouldn't face regret later on in life like his father did. Because he knew that every decision he would make was his own doing; that at some point in his life, he wanted this over that.

And Ryoma did just that.

In one of the press conferences after he won yet another grand title match, he announced he was retiring from the field, saying this with his head held high as he pointed to Sakuno and his little boy (who was wearing his old, white cap) in the audience. The room instantly became so silent, so still, except for the tape recorders and cameras that were still on roll. But when his little boy waved at him and called him 'Dad' aloud, everyone in the room clapped and gave their congratulatory messages.

And now that he was already forty years old, he couldn't wish anything more. That night during the conference, what he knew was that someone watching the telecast at home was proud of him.

Someone like Echizen Nanjirou.

fin.


Author's Note: I think most of you will say that everything's so bland but well, that's life. Lol okay kidding aside, writing something like this is actually quite rewarding.

Shameless pimping: I usually post shorties/drabbles in my livejournal account (http: / astraldrop11. livejournal. com). And also go visit our forum (http: / z7. invisionfree. com/ ImaginationUnleashed) because. Just because. I have both links in my profile so feel free to check them out.

Reviews would be lovely. Thank you!