Title: Winter's Coming

Word Count: 3065


Winter's Coming


"I told you to borrow my jacket,"

"Iya da, then you'd just be cold instead Momo-senpai,"

"But I'm your senpai," Momoshiro emphasises.

His rebuttals are ignored by Echizen Ryoma who walks straight into the clubroom, cheeks flushed red and body trembling. He isn't exactly sure why everyone else had remembered to bring a jacket and he hadn't. All he knows is that it went from breezy autumn to freeze-your-ass-off-winter overnight. It wasn't fair.

As he drops his tennis bag onto the bench with a clunk, he notices everyone is staring at him. He also notices with envy that each and every other club member is wearing sweatpants and their Seigaku Jacket. Ryoma stares down at his own shorts and t-shirt and his teeth chatter on instinct. Momoshiro gives him a look that says I-told-you-so, but Ryoma ignores it.

He doesn't need to borrow someone else's jacket. The person he borrows it from will be cold instead, and then Ryoma will feel guilty.

Oishi is the first to speak, and his voice is reprimanding. "Echizen, don't you know how cold it is? If you attend practice in those clothes, you'll freeze."

Ryoma shrugs. "I'll be fine."

"We can't have members catching the flu so close to the game against Hyotei," Oishi frowns.

"I said I'll be fine, senpai."

Kikumaru, who has over exaggerated and is dressed in earmuffs, mitts, and a scarf, has his arm slung around Oishi's neck in a friendly manner. His blue eyes are shiny and bright, and every pore in his body tingles, thinking, Winter is finally here, time to make snowman and go sledding and create snow angels!'

He smiles brightly at Ryoma. "Don't worry Ochibi, I'll warm you up with a big hug!"

Ryoma recoils, and starts to refuse, but the cheerful acrobat is already across the clubroom and squeezing the life out of him. Ryoma squirms uncomfortably in the extra-tight grip of the acrobat, a little short of air and a little numb in the body. But as he forgets about the fact that he is turning blue, he realizes how warm body heat can actually be. He instinctively cuddles closer to Kikumaru.

"Eiji, he's blue," Oishi says, panicked.

Momoshiro shoves his running shoe onto his foot, a toothy grin on his face. "Don't worry, Echizen needs some warmin' up anyway. You should have felt his hands when he was on my bike. Cold as ice."

Kaidoh snorts in the corner, and grumbles, "So lame, always hanging out with freshmen."

Momoshiro shouts back, "Echizen is not just any freshman!"

Nobody can argue with that, so Kaidoh just grunts and returns to zipping up his tennis bag. The rest of the regulars are still staring at Ryoma, slightly concerned about the fact that he is wearing shorts and a t-shirt on such a cold day. They know that the weather changed pretty drastically, but there is something called the weather network.

"Kikumaru-senpai," Ryoma finally chokes out. He feels a hundred times warmer from being hugged, but he really can't breathe anymore. "You can let go now."

Kikumaru pulls away slightly, and there's a mini-frown on his face. "Mou, Ochibi, your skin is so cold!"

Ryoma shrugs.

Fuji slithers around the rest of the regulars and walks up to Ryoma, comfortably dressed with the ever-serene smile on his face. With delicate fingers, he presses his palms against Ryoma's smooth cheeks. Ryoma shifts awkwardly, annoyance in his features. "What?" he nearly growls, trying to move away from Fuji's hands.

Fuji lets his arms drop to the side. "Eiji's right, you're unbelievably cold."

Kawamura, who is watching the scene, starts to remove his own jacket. "Here Echizen, you can borrow min-"

"No thanks," Ryoma says quickly.

"Don't bother," Momoshiro says to Kawamura. "He's just that kind of guy, won't accept help from anyone. I already tried offering him mine."

Exactly at that moment, Inui decides to pop up. His glasses shine and he adjusts the pen against his notebook, lips pursed in a thin line. "According to my data, if Echizen continuous to recklessly wear such attire for the rest of practice, there is no doubt he will catch the flu. In fact, because of the cold weather, it is even possible that he could catch something more serious like Pneumonia."

"Pneumonia?" Kikumaru gasps, and he latches onto Oishi's arm. "People die from that!"

Oishi tries to comfort him, "Don't worry Eiji, it's fairly rare for someone to die from Pneumonia," he glances up with concern in his dark eyes. "Inui, what are the chances exactly that Echizen will catch a cold or the flu?"

Inui clicks his pen. "85%,"

"And the chances of Pneumonia?" Kikumaru sniffles out.

Nobody bothers to answer him, and the rest of the regulars continue to stare oddly at Ryoma who is trying his best not to shiver. It isn't exactly working and he finds himself knocking his knees together to try to keep warm, hands trembling from the cold. He feels like the cold has seeped into him and locked itself permanently into his body.

At one point, Ryoma gets fed up of the staring. "I'm fine!" he snaps.

Kikumaru snaps right back, still frightened about Ryoma getting Pneumonia and dying. "You're not fine."

Ryoma opens his mouth to argue, but a deep voice interrupts.

"Who is not fine?"

The tennis regulars whirl around to see their captain standing at the entrance of the clubroom, formally dressed in dark blue Seigaku jogging pants with his jacket draped over his body. He looks clean and well kept as always, but the glint in his eyes is stern. "All of you are late," he says mercilessly.

"It's not our fault," Kikumaru immediately wails, pointing at Ryoma. "He's going to die of pneumonia!"

"I'm not," Ryoma protests.

Tezuka glances at two of them, narrows his eyes, and turns to Oishi. "Who is not fine?" he repeats.

Oishi scans Ryoma nervously, noting that he has stopped shivering as hard and his skin is slowly returning to normal colour. Still, being out in the cold practicing tennis for an hour in nothing but shorts and a t-shirt won't do him any good. He sighs and nods seriously to Tezuka.

"Echizen didn't bring a jacket, and it's rather inappropriate for how cold the weather is. Inui says he'll most likely catch the flu."

Tezuka turns and eyes Ryoma, who shrinks back against the wall, hoping he isn't going to get in trouble. His captain can be ruthless when he wants to. He is surprised, however, when Tezuka just frowns and says nothing. Instead, the stoic boy faces the rest of the regulars, pushes the glasses up on his nose, and says:

"Everyone, start practice. Thirty laps for being late."

Nobody comments, and nobody brings up the fact that Ryoma will freeze to death. The regulars slowly file out of the door, Kikumaru still sniffling, Momoshiro mumbling under his breath, and Oishi internally fretting. Ryoma follows last, slowly, and he winces when the cold gust of wind prickles against his skin. He knows it's his fault for being so irresponsible, but he still thinks the weather has issues too. It had been perfectly nice out the day before.

As Ryoma starts to close the clubroom door, a strong hand clamps on his shoulder. He looks up to see Tezuka staring at him.

"Bring a jacket next time," the older male says, voice low and stern.

Ryoma's throat goes tight, and he feels slightly warm, which is really odd considering his situation. He nods once, mumbles an apology, and quickly jogs away to catch up with Momoshiro. He can feel Tezuka's gaze burning into his back the entire way, but the entirety of how cold it actually is suddenly hits him and Tezuka is forgotten.

Ryoma shivers, and hopes he can survive practice.

XXX

Ryoma wants a fireplace, hot chocolate, a big puffy blanket, and a tight hug from Kikumaru. He stands on the other side of the court, playing a practice match with Momoshiro, and feels like crying. He knows he's being stupid, but it's absolutely freezing, and his arm and fingers have gone numb.

He can barely feel his racket, and his legs are moving by themselves as he runs back and forth on the court.

Momoshiro seems to be able to tell that he is about to turn into an ice sculpture, as he goes rather easy on Ryoma. Ryoma doesn't once have to return any super hard shots that cause his racket to fly out of his grip, and he knows even if he had to, he wouldn't be able to. On cue, he shivers and tries to hug himself.

"Geez Echizen, just accept my jacket already!"

Ryoma growls softly, and clenches the tennis ball tightly in his hand. "No," he yells back, and lifts it up to serve.

Even his toes are cold.

XXX

"Tezuka," Oishi says, worry inching in his throat and creeping in through his voice. The vice-captain of Seigaku is currently going in panic-mode, unable to stand watching Ryoma freeze his way through morning practice. Anyone can see the boy is this close to going numb, and he wonders why Tezuka doesn't just do something. "Look at him, he's so cold."

Tezuka's frown deepens, but he doesn't say anything. He keeps his arms crossed over his chest and observes the scene.

"Tezuka," Oishi repeats with concern, "What should we do?"

"It is his responsibility to bring a coat or jacket when necessary," Tezuka finally says. He feels a twinge of guilt as he says it, but it seems like the right thing to do. Ryoma has already refused to accept anyone's jacket, and there isn't much of an option left. Tezuka can't very well just allow Ryoma to completely skip practice. It would be too lenient.

Oishi shivers slightly in his jacket. "I'm in a jacket and I'm cold. Tezuka, he'll catch the flu for sure."

"…and right before the Hyotei match too. Quite a pity, huh?"

Fuji's smooth voice drawls across the tennis court, confirming Tezuka's suspicions of someone listening in on them. The prodigy moves to stand beside Oishi and Tezuka, hands tucked in his pocket, a peculiar smile on his face. When he speaks, faint white puffs out. "Tezuka is right though, there isn't anything we can do."

Oishi sucks in his breath. "But-"

"He'll be fine," Fuji says quietly, watching Ryoma from a distance. "Catching the flu isn't the end of the world."

"I agree," Tezuka turns his head, and he sees the small figure crossing his arms and trying to keep himself warm. More guilt clogs up in his throat, but his expression remains blank. If Fuji Syuuske agrees with his decision, then it must be the right one. Oishi worries about everything anyway.

"I don't know," Oishi sighs, then shrugs with a weary-sort of smile. "He is our kouhai though, and we 'ought to take care of him."

Take care-? Tezuka blinks, and his eyes narrow on Ryoma. Perhaps, he should-? He looks down at his own jacket, wondering if he should demand Ryoma to wear it. After all, Ryoma wouldn't be able to refuse Tezuka's orders. The older male thinks for a moment, then purses his lips and shakes his head. He tells himself that this is Ryoma's punishment for being irresponsible, but he doesn't really believe it.

Maybe he needs to listen to Fuji and loosen up.

From the corner of his eye, Tezuka sees Fuji's lips curve upwards in a smirk. As the prodigy shifts past him to start his match, he whispers:

"You care about him a lot, don't you?"

The words echo in Tezuka's mind until mid-practice break.

XXX

Ryoma settles onto the bench. He is shivering uncontrollably, and the regulars crowd around him with worry etched in their features. He just wants them to go away so he can chatter his teeth and hug himself without looking stupid. Cold slivers into his skin, and his cheeks have gone pale from the cool wind. Once again, he curses the sudden weather change.

"Ochibi," Kikumaru folds his arms behind his head. "Want another hug?"

"N-no thanks," Ryoma says, and is surprised when he stutters it out. He glances over at Kikumaru who is bundled in his Seigaku jacket with a scarf, mitts, and earmuffs. Envy rises in his throat. Baka Oyaji, he should have mentioned it was going to be cold today. Isn't that what parents are supposed to do?

"Baka," Kaidoh says, "Forgetting your jacket like this."

Momoshiro plops down next to Ryoma and slings a friendly arm around him. He draws his arm back immediately. "Man, you're super cold," he states, and his violet eyes contemplate the situation. "You sure that you don't want my jacke-"

Ryoma interrupts. "There's only ten minutes of practice left anyway. I'm fine."

That closes the case. The rest of the regulars, aside from Tezuka, Fuji and Oishi, all shoot him one last look before restarting practice. Ryoma pulls himself off the cold bench and steps into the cold wind with his cold skin and his cold blood. Ryoma is certain that he has turned cold-blooded at this point, and he's pretty sure the nails on his fingers are icicles too.

Tch, it's not even supposed to be winter cold, Ryoma thinks. There is no snow in sight, only crushed autumn leaves and bare trees. It's still supposed to be autumn!

Ryoma grips his racket, doesn't feel it, and declares he has gone numb. He is just about to start practicing again when he feels Tezuka's presence behind him. When he turns around, he is right. The captain is standing strong and tall in front of him, but his hazel-brown eyes hold disapproval. Ryoma swallows hard and takes a step forward.

"Buchou?"

Tezuka stares at him for a long moment, and Ryoma tries not to shake too much.

"I never want you to come to practice in this state again," the captain finally says.

Ryoma ducks his head. "Sorry," he says, voice tight.

There is a long pause. Tezuka clears his throat. "Will you be alright for the rest of practice?"

Ryoma grips his racket tighter. "Perfectly fine," he lies.

XXX

Tezuka is starting to think that Ryoma lied about being perfectly fine. No, he is one hundred percent that Ryoma lied about being perfectly fine. He wonders if he is being too harsh on him, then scratches it out. He cannot let his feelings for Ryoma, whatever feelings they are, come in the way of being the captain. Still, as he watches Ryoma play rather stiffly, his stomach twists uncomfortably.

His eyes fly to his watch.

There are still five minutes of practice left.

He wonders if he really should cut practice short for Ryoma. One look at those trembling fingers makes up his mind.

"Everyone, practice is dismissed," Tezuka says loudly and firmly, gathering the attention of all the regulars and non-regulars. Nobody notices the early dismissal, for it is only a five minute difference. Some cheer to be able to finish off, while others moan at the thought of school right after. The regulars seem glad about going in the building, if only for Ryoma's sake.

Fuji slides up to Tezuka. "Five minutes early, hm?"

Tezuka stares straight ahead, suddenly finding the bare willow tree fascinating.

The smoldering blue eyes continue to look at him, a knowing charm in his smile, and an eerie expression. Then Fuji shuts his eyes, grins calmly, and swiftly disappears out of the fence entrance. Tezuka is relieved when Fuji is gone, and waits patiently for everyone to empty the tennis courts.

After a moment, Tezuka realizes Ryoma is the last one left.

Curious, because he expected Ryoma would be the first to rush off to school where he could warm himself up, Tezuka inches over to see what the younger boy is doing. His eyes widen when he notices Ryoma is trying to zip up his tennis bag, and is failing miserably. His fingers fumble to grab the zipper but it is obvious they have gone numb.

A rush of guilt fills Tezuka's throat. He should have done something before. "Here," he says quietly, gently pushing aside Ryoma's freezing hands. He zips up the tennis bag quickly. Even his own hands are cold, but he has had them tucked in his jacket pockets most of practice, so they aren't nearly as bad as Ryoma.

"Ah…" Ryoma blinks, and faces Tezuka. "Thank you."

Tezuka turns around. "Let's go. We shouldn't be late for school."

He starts to walk towards the clubroom and feels a faint trace of a smile form on his face when Ryoma trots after him, steps falling alongside his. In their closer proximity, Tezuka can hear Ryoma's teeth clacking against each other and every little grunt he makes when an especially strong gust of wind attacks them.

As they start outside the courts, Tezuka stops. He can't take this anymore.

He's our kouhai though, and we 'ought to take care of him…

you care about him a lot, don't you Tezuka?

"Buchou?" Ryoma questions, still shivering hard. His knees knock together.

Tezuka gives him a long stare. "What class do you have first?"

"Uh, math," Ryoma says, confused.

"That means you'll be going through the backdoors, which is a further walk from the tennis courts," Tezuka begins to unzip his jacket. "Do you want my jacket?"

"It's okay."

His mouth says no but his eyes say yes.

Tezuka thinks for a moment, but he can't stand the way Ryoma won't stop shivering. He takes off his jacket and gently drapes it over Ryoma, carefully guiding his arms into the sleeves. Ryoma stares at him with wide golden eyes as Tezuka zips the jacket up snuggly to Ryoma's body. It is big, and nearly hangs to Ryoma's knees, but Tezuka decides that is a good thing. Ryoma is wearing shorts, after all.

"I said no," Ryoma whispers quietly, burying his face in the extra warmth.

Tezuka gives him a stern look. "It's captain's orders."

Ryoma opens his mouth to complain, but then shuts he. His lips quirk into a small smile. "Hai, buchou."

Tezuka adjusts his glasses and starts to walk again. This time, he can't hide the smile that grows on his face when he feels Ryoma's footsteps following behind him.