From the Beginning

Rinko smiled down at the baby cradled in the crib. She cooed and crooned over the way he would squirm under the blankets, desperate to escape. Even at the age of one, her son was constantly moving around and active. He hated being stuck in his crib for over thirty minutes, unless he was asleep.

Ryoma gurgled and spit dripped down his chin, his silent way of demanding freedom. "Gah…"

"Aw, look at you, you naughty little birthday boy." Rinko grabbed a napkin and rubbed the wetness off his mouth. Her eyes twinkled in the sunlight. "You just can't stand being still for a second, can you?"

"Gah…" he repeated. He flailed his arms around.

"Hold on baby," Rinko brushed a strand of her hair from her face. "I'll get you out of there in just a second, but first you need to eat. I'll go get your bottle, okay?"

Ryoma blinked up at her innocently. Kissing him on the forehead, Rinko quickly hustled into the kitchen. She knew to be quick because if Ryoma stayed in there longer than he wanted to, he started to cry – a lot.

The moment Rinko disappeared into the kitchen, Nanjiroh crept out of his hiding spot. He hastily made way towards the crib; eyes shifting around to make sure his wife wasn't going to walk in any time soon. The young father grabbed a Christmas sweater from the sofa and wrestled it over his son's head.

"Waah…" Ryoma mumbled in confusion.

"Nothing to worry about." Nanjiroh said quickly. He slipped mitts over Ryoma's small fingers and tugged a hat over his head. "I'm just going to give you your birthday present."

Ryoma poked his finger into his mouth to suck on. Nanjiroh, slightly flushed, carefully lifted the baby out of the crib. A squeal emitted from his son, who looked more than happy to be out of the stupid thing. The former tennis pro gently cradled Ryoma to his chest. "We must not tell mama about this, okay? It'll be our secret."

"Oka…" Ryoma sputtered. He'd been trying to say the word 'okay' for weeks now, but he never really finished the sentence.

With a quick glance towards the kitchen again, Nanjiroh breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed Rinko still wasn't out yet. Grabbing his own coat and two tennis rackets, he slipped outside. "It'll be the best birthday present you'll ever get." He said softly to his son as they entered the cool winter air.

Ryoma giggled in delight as snowflakes danced to the ground. He was oblivious to his father's idea of 'best birthday present'.

The moment Rinko saw that her son was not in his crib, she knew what had happened. Furiously, she flung on her jacket and marched down the street. Yesterday night, Nanjiroh had suggested what he should do for Ryoma's birthday present. The idea had been incredulous, stupid, dangerous – did she mention stupid? Rinko had firmly banned Nanjiroh from doing it. She should have known he would sneak off when he had the chance.

Her husband, she decided, was the biggest idiot on the planet.

When she arrived at the tennis courts Nanjiroh had built, her anger rose. She was indeed correct. That man will be the end of me, I swear. With narrowed eyes, the women stomped over to where her husband was standing.

He held a tennis racket over his shoulder and grinned from ear to ear. "Isn't this a fun present, Ryoma?" he said. "You get to play your first tennis match with a former tennis pro!"

Rinko slapped her forehead in frustration.

Her little baby boy sat on the other side of the court, completely confused. His small fingers repeatedly tried to grasp the tennis racket to no avail. "Gah…" he whined when he couldn't hold the racket. Upset with this, he pushed the racket away from him with a grunt.

"No, no Ryoma. You hold the racket and hit it over the net." Nanjiroh admonished. His eyes sparkled. He threw the ball up in the air and lightly smacked it over the net. His great accuracy ensured that the ball whizzed far away from his son so he wouldn't get hurt.

"15, 0!" Nanjiroh cheered.

Ryoma watched the ball fly by with wide eyes. He muttered to himself and tried to grab the racket again.

"Now, now kid. There's no way you'll win if you don't try." Nanjiroh teased. His son looked up and blinked cutely, on his knees, trying to crawl towards the net. The father threw another ball in the air and gently let it sail across to the other side. He smiled as his baby boy watched the ball in awe, golden eyes already intrigued.

Nanjiroh, quite pleased with himself, could tell his son would be a natural tennis player.


The loud, furious voice of Rinko bellowed over the courts. Nanjiroh looked with disappointment as his son got distracted and cocked his head to where his mother was. He made a small noise and started to crawl towards her.

"What is the meaning of this?" she stormed over and punched her husband hard in the arm. Nanjiroh groaned, rubbing his skin and glaring at her.

"I'm giving my son the best birthday present he could ever have," was his smart retort.

Rinko growled, surprisingly lowly. Still holding onto his arm, she whirled him around to her direction. "It's dangerous. You could have hit him with the ball."

Nanjiroh raised an eyebrow. "Don't you trust my tennis skills enough that I know where I'm hitting?"

Her glare continued but it softened. She had a look of pleading in her eyes. "Nanjiroh, this isn't right. He's only a baby and you've put him in the middle of a tennis court. Why can't you just understand?"

"But Rinko," Nanjiroh explained. "He likes it."

He jabbed his finger towards Ryoma. Rinko followed the gaze. Her sweet little boy clutched the stray tennis ball in his hands. He brought it to his mouth and tried to bite it. When he realized it wasn't edible, he frowned and carefully placed the tennis ball in the middle of his racket. Once he was done, he squealed in contentment at his masterpiece.

"Che, see? The boy already loves tennis!"

Rinko sighed wearily, yet she couldn't help but be amused by her son's antics. "Fine. I'll let you off on a warning this time, but you really can't expect him to play tennis until he can at least walk Nanjiroh."

Nanjiroh shrugged. "It's his birthday present."

Rinko merely rolled her eyes. She strode over to where her baby was staring at the tennis ball on his racket with a grin on his face. "Hi Ryo-baby," she reached down and scooped the boy into her arms. Ryoma wiggled slightly to get comfortable, little fists curling around his mother's shirt. "Waah…" he mumbled. Rinko let him bury his face in her shoulder.

"Oh, I know sweetie. Daddy is a big meanie, putting you in that tennis court all by yourself when you can't even walk yet." Rinko said gently.

"Hey!" Nanjiroh yelled.

Rinko giggled. She brushed her dark hair from her eyes. Her eyes shone as she stared at the little boy curled in her arms, already starting to doze off after that 'tennis match' he had. Pressing a little kiss on his forehead, she turned to walk back home, ignoring Nanjiroh's pleads of 'one more game with Ryoma'

"Happy birthday Ryoma." She whispered affectionately.

Ryoma gurgled, spit dribbling down his chin. Rinko sighed.

Why did she have a feeling that Ryoma was going to grow up being as crazy about tennis as her husband was?

"Gah." The boy sputtered some more, wetness oozing out of his mouth.

Rinko smiled down at him. "Now," she said with a bit of sternness in her voice. "Since you were kidnapped by your father to play tennis, you missed the food I prepared for you. Let's go back and feed your hungry tummy, shall we?"

She swiftly turned in the direction of her home.

Behind her, Nanjiroh whined, "What the hell do you mean by kidnapped. It was a birthday present I tell you, a birthday present…"

Happy birthday Ryo-chan! I love you! :D