A/N: I really don't like this. I know I say that all the time, but I actually don't this time. For one, I tried re-reading it, and I couldn't even get myself to do it because it was that boring and wordy. Two, I don't think Ryoma would ever be stupid enough to think Tezuka hates him. Three, I didn't really have a problem with Tezuka hitting Ryoma (I was shocked, and a bit unsure of who was right at first, but I wasn't like…HOWDAREYOUTEZUKA!) but this is written in Ryoma's third-person point of view, which is why I make Tezuka seem all bad. If that makes any sense. Okay, read on. Tell my your opinion please. :DDDD Bad or good, I can take it.
NOTE: The dialogue isn't EXACT from the anime. I just took what I remembered because I couldn't be bothered to rewatch it.
The sting on his cheek burns as Ryoma tumbles onto the wet tennis court. His hand instinctively flies to the pain. "Ouch," he says in a small voice, but he doubts anyone hears.
Confusion and hurt fill his gold eyes, and the boy is afraid to look up, afraid of the angry expression on his captain's face. He has never seen Tezuka look so tall and confident compared to him, and he feels small lying on the ground with his palms scraped. With hesitance, Ryoma's desperate eyes lock on Tezuka's, and the twelve-year old's heart breaks a little more at the coldness and lack of mercy.
"Echizen," Tezuka says, voice low and controlled. "Let's go."
Before Ryoma can say a single word, Tezuka starts to walk away, back rigid. Kevin is screaming in the background, saying stuff that doesn't matter anymore, because all Ryoma can think about is that his buchou hit him for no apparent reason. He knows he was being disrespectful, but did he really deserve…- The cat-eyed boy touches his cheek again, the burn starting to dissipate. Did he really deserve to be punished this way?
Ryoma stumbles to his feet. The clouds crackle in the sky and rain starts to fall, but Ryoma doesn't notice that he is getting wet. The backhand repeats in his mind again and again and again, until he feels dizzy, sick. The events of the past few days flash in his head; like a roller coaster, he only catches glimpses.
The early morning when he asked Tezuka for a match, and the captain refused. The announcement of the invitational team, where he wasn't chosen. The disapproval in Tezuka's eyes lately. The hit. That is the final straw, the last episode that confirms Ryoma's suspicions.
"Let's go, Echizen," Kawamura says warmly, directing Ryoma towards the captain.
Ryoma nods silently, and follows. The pieces click.
His buchou hates him.
The realization hurts, and Ryoma buries his face in his arms on his bed. He is locked in his room, not in the mood to talk to his father or Nanako or even his favourite kitten Karupin. Even though it seems almost impossible, stupid to think that Tezuka would hate him – it is the only logical reason. Ryoma has tried desperately to think of any other reason, but the evidence always concludes to the sole fact:
His buchou hates him.
Perhaps hate is a strong word. Ryoma wonders if dislike is more appropriate.
"He didn't have to hit me," Ryoma mumbles softly to himself, playing with the edge of his pillow. He never usually cares about what people think of him, but this is Tezuka – his buchou, the guy he has admired and idled since he first played against him. Ryoma has unconsciously tried so hard to make Tezuka proud, for approval from his captain.
Now, it seems like it was all a waste. Ryoma doesn't know what he's done, but ever since Tezuka came back from Germany, their relationship has been distant.
"Karu…what do you think I did?" Ryoma asks his cat. The cat makes a mewling noise and curls up against his leg, as if knowing his master needs comfort. Ryoma strokes the kitten's fur, but nothing can ease the thumping in his heart. He doesn't get it – he just doesn't get it. First, Tezuka refuses to play a match with him since he's come back from Germany. Two, he doesn't get chosen for the invitational match; even though he is sure he played decent against Sanada in the finals. Three, and finally, his captain hits him for being disrespectful.
It all leads back to Tezuka hating him, and that's the last conclusion Ryoma wants. Why? He thinks to himself, over and over and over again. It is so confusing. He lies like that in bed for what seems like hours, trying to think of what he has done, before exhaustion finally takes over.
He falls asleep to Karupin's mewls and Tezuka's strong voice.
The next morning, Ryoma is angry. The sad feeling in his chest has been replaced by pure ire. Who does he think he is, hitting me like that? Ryoma childishly rants this in his mind as he roughly bites a piece of his toast off. Even though he is beyond angry, nobody notices, because his face still remains blank. The only sign that something is off is that he is viciously ripping apart his breakfast. And who cares if Tezuka hates me? I have plenty of other people in my life. I think.
His fury carries him throughout the day as he searches for Kevin. His sole purpose is: Ha, buchou, you think you can stop me? You think you can hit me and demand that I don't play? Geez, what's your problem! You know I can't play in the invitational match, so why not let me play with Kevin? Well, too bad. I don't have to listen to you. I'll play against Kevin and defy your orders. Kick me off the team if you have to.
Ryoma isn't thinking properly. Even as he rants, he knows he doesn't mean any of it. For some reason, though, being angry at Tezuka is the only way he can feel better about himself. As he asks yet another school if they've seen Kevin, someone interrupts him.
"Ryoma," Atobe says in disapproval. The smaller boy whirls around to find himself face to face with Atobe Keigo of Hyotei.
"Monkey King," Ryoma says blandly. He really doesn't want to deal with him right now.
"You've been asking around for Kevin, apparently?" Atobe says with a sneer in his voice, and he eyes the freshman. "How embarrassing. Hn. You know Echizen, winning against Kevin won't mean anything. You lost when you weren't chosen for the invitational tournament. Don't try to make yourself feel better by playing against Kevin. You'll only feel awful afterwards."
Ryoma just stares at him, and his cheeks burn at the lecture. That's not the reason, he wants to say, but his throat feels clogged.
Atobe flicks his hair. He stares at the Seigaku rookie with an easy face, but his blue-gray eyes are serious. "Now run home obediently with your tail between your legs."
Ryoma feels the weight in his chest grow at the comment, and he can't help but stare at his feet, ashamed. Maybe Tezuka is right. Maybe he has done something terribly horribly wrong. It must be the truth, since everyone seems to have an issue with him now. Why is Atobe being so mean anyway? Ryoma trembles slightly, sick of it. He doesn't need to hear Atobe's cruel words after everything else that has already happened.
Atobe's sneakers clack against the ground as he walks away.
Later that evening, Ryoma continues his search for Kevin, but he is no longer fueled by anger. The sad feeling returns, and among the faceless masks of people, Ryoma doesn't care anymore to play with Kevin. Atobe's words repeat in his mind, again and again and again, and he can't seem to remove them from his mind.
Buchou hates me, Buchou hates me, Buchou hates me, and Ryoma stops and turns around to head home. At least, he is planning to go home.
His feet walk to Tezuka's house on their own accord, and Ryoma can't remember a time when he wanted answers so bad.
It is raining, and Ryoma shifts on the wet porch.
The night sky is dark and cloudy, and Ryoma shivers in his drenched clothes. His mind feels like it has been warped and tormented, because he has never thought so much, been so confused, tried so hard to figure something out in his entire life. Everything has always been straightforward, or too unimportant to dwell on. For the first time, he has thought really hard, and his mind and heart both hurt tremendously.
A beautiful woman opens the door, dressed in an apron and mitts. She has been baking.
Ryoma speaks, explains that he wants to see Tezuka, but he thinks it might be someone else's mouth moving. A moment later, he hears the woman yell through the doorway 'Kunimitsu, one of your teammates is here to see you!"
The pretty, nice woman gestures Ryoma to walk inside. Ryoma complies, body shaking from the cold, a stray raindrop sliding between his eyes. At least, he hopes it's a raindrop. Tezuka's house is warm and bright, and Ryoma relaxes. He cannot imagine Tezuka ever hurting him in such a friendly little home, where the smell of dinner wafts in the air and books are stacked on dusty shelves.
Tezuka's deep, steady voice jolts Ryoma out of his thoughts. He turns around and his breath catches. He feels even more vulnerable. Tezuka is dressed cleanly, and his walk down the stairs brims with confidence. The brown-hazel eyes burn into Ryoma's wet skin, and he feels himself getting smaller and smaller. He used to always feel important around Tezuka – because Tezuka always regarded him in such an approving manner. Now, he feels lost, and weak.
"Why are you here at this time?" Tezuka says.
You don't even want me here, do you? You want me to be gone, Ryoma swallows hard at the direct question, but before he can respond, Tezuka continues.
"It is unsafe for you to be wandering around in the middle of the night,"
So? Isn't it better if I catch a cold? Wouldn't you enjoy that? Ryoma shivers again, and he tries to remember why he came here. His mind feels like a jumbled mess after seeing Tezuka. The backhand repeats in his mind, and Ryoma coils. Wet and upset, he stands in the doorway, Tezuka's frown hitting a nerve.
"I don't care," Ryoma snaps, then immediately regrets it. He doesn't apologize though, and continues to stare at the cream-coloured carpet.
"You're soaked Echizen," Tezuka's frown deepens, and worry etches in his voice, "You'll catch a cold."
"I don't care," Ryoma repeats, voice small.
They share a silence, in which Ryoma backs against the door, ready to make a run for it. He keeps trying to remember why he came here, but all he can think is: He hit me, he hates me, what happened to our silent connection? Ryoma's feels a small smile unconsciously slip onto his lips when he thinks about how much the captain and him could read each other, without even exchanging a single word. The smile turns bitter. Not anymore, obviously.
"Echizen, why are you here?" Tezuka finally asks, straightforward as always.
Ryoma clenches his fist, and sudden determination burns in his gold eyes. "To get some answers,"
"Answers?" Tezuka asks calmly, although curiosity glints in his glasses.
"Yeah." A long silence. "Why do you hate me?"
There is another moment of silence, this time longer. Tezuka is startled, but his expression only shows the raise of an eyebrow. Ryoma wishes he hadn't asked the question bugging his mind, but he knows he wants to know – he needs to know why, so he can put his mind to peace. He sees Tezuka push his dark brown hair out of his own face, before kneeling down slightly so he is eye level to Ryoma.
"I don't hate you."
The four words send relief coursing through Ryoma's body faster than he thinks is possible. He still isn't sure if he believes it though, and his mouth starts talking on its own. "The how come – how come you never want to play a match with me anymore? It's like I'm not good enough for you. And then, you didn't choose me for the invitational tournament, and you didn't even say why or anything…" Ryoma shoulders shake slightly, and he tries to sound like he doesn't care all that much. "And then you didn't let me play a match with Kevin, even though you knew that I would want to play him badly. And then – and then you…hit me."
Tezuka appears surprised, but Ryoma can't possibly think of why.
"You hate me," Ryoma repeats, and he looks at Tezuka angrily, "I just want to know the reason."
"Echizen," Tezuka says, and his eyes are warm and soft. Two strong hands clamp on his shoulders. "I don't hate you. I didn't think you'd misinterpret my actions in such a way."
"What misinterpretation? What other reason could it be?" Ryoma asks, and his voice shakes. He finds himself falling into the captain's arms. He is both mentally and physically exhausted. Tezuka's arms wrap around him tightly, securely, and Ryoma closes his eyes. "Why?" he whispers, and Tezuka whispers back, "I don't hate you. I don't know where you got such an idea, despite your reasons."
Ryoma mumbles something, and tiredness lags in his body. Tezuka holds him close. "Don't assume things," the older male says sternly. His body radiates warmth. "Come with me upstairs. I will explain everything to you. I don't want you to ever think things like that again."
"Think things like what?" Ryoma yawns. The past two days have been too exhausting for the twelve-year old to handle.
Tezuka says nothing and simply guides Ryoma up the stairwell.
It is cold again, and Ryoma tries to get comfortable on the carpet.
Tezuka's room is neat and tidy, just like Ryoma expected. The bookshelf is organized with books of all shapes and sizes, the bed is made, and the furniture is shiny and clean. Tezuka sits near his desk on his swivel chair, a troubled expression on his face. Ryoma wonders why the captain could possibly be troubled, but decides not to ask. Even though he is on the floor, Ryoma feels important again. He doesn't want to ruin that with the ugly truth.
"First and foremost," Tezuka says, like he is starting a speech. Ryoma shakes his head slightly – no, not a speech, but a lecture. Definitely a lecture. He pays attention very closely to the captain's words. "I do not hate you, as you put it. I never want you to say something like that, Echizen. I understand that my actions may have portrayed dislike, but my intention was never that."
Ryoma wanted to laugh for some reason. Tezuka sounds like he has rehearsed this. If the older boy wasn't meant to be a tennis pro, Ryoma would have suggested he be a teacher.
"But why did you refuse to play a match with me when I asked?" Ryoma says, and the doubt is still clear in his voice. He adds in a small voice, "Am I not good enough for you anymore? Did you meet someone more challenging in Germany?"
Tezuka is quiet for a moment, and his eyes stare at the white carpet. Rain patters hard against the window, and a clap of thunder follows. "Ever since I came back from Germany with my arm healed, you have been wanting to play me. I wanted you to focus on your future opponents, because there are other people besides me that are strong. I didn't think you would get offended like this."
"I wasn't offended," Ryoma jumps to defend himself, and his security walls go up. "I just – I just didn't understand."
"I see," Tezuka murmurs, and he feels a bit guilty, even though he knows it was fully Ryoma's misinterpretation. He stands up and closes the blinds because the rain is splashing even harder now. He sits and leans back on the swivel chair, his mind churning. "Also, you mentioned before that you were upset about not being chosen for the invitational tournament."
"I wasn't upset," Ryoma says, "I just wanted to know why!"
"Echizen," Tezuka says softly, and he leans in a bit closer. Ryoma feels his neck and face flush. "I want you to be honest, and tell me, did you put in your full effort during the training camp? Just because you are a good player does not mean you will automatically be chosen. The team was being picked based on your performance at the camp, and you didn't seem to take it seriously."
Ryoma glares at him, but bites his lip, knowing it is true. He hates being lectured about it though. "I know, I just…" his knuckles are clenched so tightly they are white. "I didn't think about that, I guess. I just thought you suddenly had something against me."
"I wouldn't make such a choice for no reason," Tezuka says quietly, and he picks up a stray pencil from his desk. "Your passion was missing, and I didn't want that to break your performance. If you take your opponents too lightly, victory will be theirs, not yours."
Ryoma's throat tightens. "I'm sorry, buchou."
The burn in his voice makes Tezuka soften his eyes. "It's alright."
"It's not alright, I failed you…"
"You didn't fail at anything, Echizen. You lost your way, and it happens to everyone one time or another."
Ryoma looks up, and Tezuka's face is steady. "Even you?" the boy asks tentatively.
His reply is firm. "Even me."
The silence is deafening. The rain is loud and lightning makes the room flash. Ryoma shivers in his wet clothes and is grateful that he got to Tezuka's house before the storm hit home. He waits for Tezuka to speak, because he knows something else is lingering to be spoken, but the captain doesn't say a word. His face darkens and lights from the reflecting window.
Finally, Ryoma realizes it is his turn to talk. Or, at least, bring up the topic. "I'm sorry for being disrespectful," he says quietly.
He doesn't state when, or what incident he is talking about, but they both know. Ryoma notes that Tezuka looks torn between forgiving him and lecturing him. At last, he takes a sip of the cold coffee lying on his desk, and says, "It's alright, I already punished you for that."
Ryoma winces and ducks his head down, not wanting to be reminded about the backhand. He wishes it never happened. It's embarrassing.
Tezuka stands up. "I guess that's it."
Ryoma looks up, about to nod, but a question is still nagging in the back of his mind. The last lingering piece of doubt that won't wash away. "Buchou, I don't understand though. Why wouldn't you let me play against Kevin in the first place? I wouldn't be able to play him because I wasn't chosen, and if you don't let me play an unofficial match…" Ryoma swallows, "You know how badly I wanted to play him after I saw his performance with Akutsu."
Tezuka sits back down, dark eyes kind. "I nearly forgot to tell you. When we were discussing who would be chosen, we decided to pick Fuji-senpai instead of you. However, we had room for a substitute…"
The older male trails off, and Ryoma stares at him in confusion. It takes a moment for him to understand what the captain is implying. The moment he does, his gold eyes brighten and the flame erupts stronger than ever. "I'm in it?" he asks, like an excited child on Christmas morning. The last bit of weight remaining on his shoulders leaves him.
"Yes, as a substitute," Tezuka says firmly, "You may even not get to play."
"But I'm in it," Ryoma repeats to himself, and he can't believe he spent the last day mourning over his loss. Truthfully, it was his Tezuka-hates-me theory that had really bugged him, but he couldn't pretend that not being chosen hadn't affected his state at all. "I have a chance of playing him."
"A small chance," Tezuka warns.
"A chance all the same," Ryoma says, and his eyes sparkle. "I won't let you down this time. I promise."
Tezuka smiles softly. And because Ryoma's wet clothes and impish smile is too innocent to not be rewarded, he reaches over and touches the boy's mop of hair. He tenderly rakes his fingers through the black-green strands. Ryoma breathes in quickly, and for a moment, he is frozen. Then, his shoulders relax, and the rhythmic motion becomes as natural as when Momoshiro or Kikumaru does it.
"I should go," Ryoma says after a bit.
Tezuka stops running his fingers through Ryoma's hair, and a small frown works onto his stoic face. "I don't think that's a good idea. Unless you have someone to pick you up, you should stay at my house. The storm is pretty severe." He pauses, and says, "My mom hates driving, especially in this kind of weather, and my father is working a late-shift at work, or I would have let my parents give you a drive home."
"That's okay," Ryoma says, but his mind is in overdrive. His father and his mother are at home, and so is Nanako. He can easily get someone to pick him up and drive him home. But a smirk adorns his face, because he wants to spend the night with buchou, and he wants to bond with his strict captain. He wants to see how Tezuka sleeps and what Tezuka eats for breakfast.
"I don't have a drive though," he adds innocently, "I have to stay over,"
Tezuka doesn't suspect a thing, and if he does, he doesn't question it. Ryoma feels giddy when he thinks that maybe his buchou wants him to stay over too. The captain starts explaining a few basic things about him staying over, and how he can borrow his pajamas from when he was younger. Ryoma nods along and pretends to listen, but all he can think about was how horrible last night was and how great this night was going to be.
As Ryoma stands up, still dripping from head to do, a childish smile lights up his face, "I can't believe I thought you hated me,"
Tezuka just stares at him. "I can't believe you thought that, either."
Outside, the night sky is rainy, and thunder clashes with lightning. Ryoma tries to remember the sting on his cheek from when Tezuka hit him, but he can't. Whenever he tries, all he can recall is Tezuka's warm smile and his fingers gently carding through his hair.
"Echizen, let me show you the bathroom," Tezuka says.
I'll never let you down again.
Ryoma stands up and says the words that he has been saying since he met the captain, the words that flow out of his mouth so naturally they're like breathing or the beating of his heart:
XXX The End XXX
Bleh. I guess I kind of like the second-half of the story. It's really the beginning half that bothers me….