Title: Going and Waiting

Word Count: 1177


GOING AND WAITING


"That was a good game, buchou," Ryoma said breathlessly, smaller hand fitting perfectly in Tezuka's stronger one as they shook hands. The twelve-year old's hair was damp with sweat, and the gold in his eyes blared up at his captain with unwavering confidence. "But next time," he started. His fingers lingered against Tezuka's. "I'll definitely win."

Tezuka looked down at him. "As long as you don't get careless. And work on balancing the weight with your split step," The hazel-brown eyes narrowed into the familiar sternness Ryoma had come to grow fond of. "You are following what Inui said, right?"

"Hai, buchou,"

There was a pause, and silence enveloped the clay courts. The willow tree surrounding the fence shed colored leaves. "I'm not really your buchou anymore," Tezuka finally said quietly; the kind of quietness that was filled with more meaning that it resembled. "You can stop calling me that. The season ended a month ago."

Ryoma frowned. "But you're my buchou."

"Actually," Tezuka corrected gently. "Kaidoh will be your buchou the following year."

"But you're my buchou," Ryoma repeated stubbornly. He could feel irritation growing in his mind, even as he tried to brush it off. With a scoff, he dragged his tennis racket against the ground and towards his bag that lay haphazardly on the bench. The burn of Tezuka's gaze was hot on his back, but he kept his walk steady and unconcerned.

He wished he had won. For some reason, he felt like this would be their last game together. As he put his tennis racket in his tennis bag, he could feel nostalgia creeping up in his throat, even as he tried to push it away. Flashes of images flickered in his mind – his first game with Tezuka, where he had been on his knees in loss. The tournaments and practices the team had endured. They had been amazing, unbeatable…special.

And now, it was all going to fall apart. Ryoma scowled and zipped up his bag.

"Echizen," Tezuka joined him, packing up his own tennis bag. "It's fairly dark out. Would you like me to walk you home?"

"Ch', whatever," he mumbled, then realized how impolite he sounded. He glanced up and shrugged. "Okay."

They both slung their tennis bags over their shoulder and started out the courts. It was the beginning of autumn, the leaves burnt and scattered carelessly on the ground. The murky scent of earth and dirt filled the air, and a breeze so gentle practically caressed the skin of the kouhai and senpai. The sidewalk was empty, aside from the hum of electricity lines and the rush of passing cars. Ryoma tugged his cap down.

"Promise me we'll play again," he said, steps falling alongside Tezuka. He wasn't sure where the words had come from.

"Echizen?" Tezuka asked.

Ryoma's throat tightened. "Promise?"

Awkwardly, a silence deeper than the last pursued. Tezuka adjusted his glasses, eyebrow knit together, for once looking a little less than unemotional. He didn't know how to comfort Ryoma – to explain to him that things wouldn't change that badly just because he was going to high school now. But he couldn't reassure him, because Tezuka was unsure himself. People separated, and slowly lost touch when they were distanced.

"We will play again," Tezuka finally said. "Not once, but several times."

"Good. I still have to beat you."

Another pause. Their footsteps echoed against each other as their sneakers slapped the pavement. Ryoma's throat tightened even more. He wished he could rewind time.

"Be Seigaku's pillar of support."

"Buchou…when I start high school, we'll have our tennis team back, won't we?"

"Echizen, why do you play tennis?"

"I suppose we will."

"And you'll be my buchou again."

"I will," Tezuka said, almost in a whisper – his tone was soft, filled with beautiful emotion unlike his normal self. He added as an afterthought, "But we must not get careless."

Ryoma smirked, and his gaze flickered from the streets in front of him to Tezuka's face. At the right angle, and in the glorious light of the lampposts, Ryoma could see the curve of Tezuka's jaw, and the lashes that tickled the lens of his glasses. When the twelve-year old had first met him, months and months ago, the captain had looked the same.

Maybe some things didn't change, after all.

"I'm going to Germany to get my arm healed."

"Momo-senpai was complaining that he should be the new captain," Ryoma stated randomly.

Tezuka's reply was instantaneous, almost rehearsed. "I have already spoken to him about the reasons why Kaidoh is more fit to be the captain for Seigaku's future. He was most likely complaining unnecessarily."

"Buchou?"

"Yes?"

"Are you an adult?"

Tezuka didn't reply to the question, and Ryoma's lips tugged upwards. They turned a corner, and the Echizen residence drew closer. A feeling of dread filled the both of them, but they chose to ignore it, instead simply walking on forward, wrists brushing against each other.

Ryoma snuggled inside his Seigaku jacket. "Hey, buchou?" he asked, and he vaguely wondered if he said the word too much. He just liked calling Tezuka that – it made him feel special, because he felt like he held an important position with Tezuka. Even if Kaidoh and Momoshiro called him buchou too, it still felt different.

"Yes, Echizen?"

I'll miss you.

"This is my house."

The abrupt stop surprised Ryoma, and he looked up to see Tezuka staring at his house with something that resembled longing. The emotion vanished in a split second, and all that was left was the stony gaze that Ryoma had come to memorize. Ryoma remembered all the words they had exchanged through actions, and the weight in his chest got heavier.

"What will you have left after that?"

Ryoma smiled a genuine smile, as small as it was. "People make such a big deal about high school, right buchou?" he said. "They're all so mada mada dane. When I get there, I'm going to join the tennis team, and everything will be like it was before. But you have to join too, remember. No using too much studying as an excuse."

It was probably the most words Ryoma had ever said in one breath. It was also probably the first time Ryoma had demanded his captain.

But Tezuka didn't scold him – instead, he just looked down at him warmly. "Of course. I'll be waiting for you, Ryoma."

Apparently satisfied by the last sentence, Ryoma shot his captain one more half-smirk, half-grin, ducked his cap down, and started running up the steps of his home. Tezuka watched as the small figure flung open the door, settled inside, and shut the doorknob behind him. Over the months spent with Ryoma, Tezuka had realized something. They had become more than just a mentor and a student.

With this in mind, Tezuka turned around and walked into the streets of Tokyo, Japan, the thoughts of a certain freshman boy swindling in his mind until midnight.

XXX