Title: Decline and Accept
Word Count: 1334
DECLINE AND ACCEPT
Echizen Ryoma knows he's being selfish – the invitation brushes against the skin of his two fingers, beckoning, calling, begging him to accept. It's the Wimbledon this time, but things are different. He won't lose in the semifinals. He is one year older, one year more experienced, and this time, he will win. And then he'll go on to the next big tournament.
He'll win his first grand slam. And then another, and another, and another.
He wants to debate about it, and tries to think rationally – but in his heart, the decision is already made.
The door to his bedroom is open, where Tezuka is waiting, unsuspecting, innocent. He already knows Tezuka will encourage him, and want the best for him – but in the end, he is expecting Ryoma to choose to stay in Japan. Ryoma doesn't want to crush his heart, and he doesn't want to be away from the boy he has come to love so much, but somehow, he doesn't think there's another choice.
He walks in, and as casually as he can, says, "I'm going to participate in the Wimbledon."
Tezuka just stares at him, silently, before he nods. The only sign that he is disturbed is the tightening of his hand around the tennis ball. "Congratulations."
After he wins the Wimbledon finals, Ryoma's face is everywhere. He is on the headlines of all the big ads, with fans and autographs. His manager is rapidly signing him up for interview after interview, and all Ryoma can do is nod and smirk and play his best tennis. He had planned on visiting Japan right after the first tournament, but his schedule is so tight he isn't sure he can fit it in anymore.
He skips the visit for an important interview.
"Who has helped you on your journey to becoming such a great tennis player?" the woman with too much lipstick asks, sticking the microphone under his nose.
Ryoma's throat closes in. "My father," he says, and he wants to say another name, but can't. The guilt stays with him for the rest of the night, and he promises himself he will visit the week after, but the promise is forgotten when he is piled in interviews and tournaments. Every interview, they ask about his inspiration, and every interview, he can't say Tezuka's name.
One night, when he is sorely exhausted, he finds something interesting on his manager's computer.
The words on the screen make him want to cry.
Tezuka was invited to the Australian Open.
That is all Ryoma can think about – Tezuka was invited to a tournament long before him, and he had declined, without even mentioning it. The guilt hits full-force, and even though somewhere in his heart, Ryoma knows Tezuka is happy for him, he can't stop himself from feeling awful. After participating in three straight tournaments with distracted, guilty thoughts, Ryoma decides enough is enough.
He cancels all his appointments and catches the first flight to Japan.
The familiar scent of Japan, where people call him by his last name instead of his first, is refreshing. Ryoma doesn't stay at a hotel, or even visit his home before he visits Tezuka. In wrinkled clothes, his hair askew, and circles around his eyes from jetlag, he stumbles upon Tezuka's front door. The door taunts him, and Ryoma swallows back his pride and punches the doorbell with more force than necessary.
When Tezuka opens the door, he just stares. Ryoma wonders if he has been forgotten.
"Congratulations," Tezuka says after a moment, and this time, a real, genuine smile spreads across his face. He opens his arms, and Ryoma steps into them, but the nagging guilt still doesn't disappear. "You declined," Ryoma whispers quietly, and he squeezes his eyes shut and lets every ounce of regret spill over his tired muscles.
Tezuka holds him tighter. "And you accepted. I never expected anything less."
"Echizen. Just be quiet. You did great out there."
Ryoma shuts his mouth, but after a second, he says timidly, "Hai, buchou," and everything seems right again.
For the one week that Ryoma stays in Japan, he spends every day over at Tezuka's. Mostly, all they do is play tennis matches – one game after another, soaring higher, pushing each other's limits. And although Ryoma has played with the best of the best, Tezuka has not lost an ounce of skill. Ryoma wins the first game, but Tezuka wins the second. They can't seem to come to a conclusion, and Ryoma sort of likes it like that.
When he leaves for America, Tezuka doesn't come to see him off at the airport. But the night before, he hugs him tight and says, "Go win it for the both of us," and now Ryoma knows he can't lose no matter what. He wins the next tournament, but America isn't hot enough, and the players aren't hard enough, and for some reason, no one seems to match the thrill he gets when he plays his captain.
And as he collects his umpteenth trophy, it occurs to Ryoma that even though he's only thirteen, he might just know a little something about love.
Only a month after the first visit, and Ryoma has cancelled his appointments once again. He can hardly sit still on the airport seats, and rudely excuses himself to hovering fans. The desire is suddenly overwhelmingly strong, and Ryoma thinks that maybe this time he might just not return to America.
When he arrives at his captain's house, Tezuka's mom opens the door instead. When he asks where his buchou is, she just smiles kind of proudly and says, "He's off to the US Open for his first tournament," and then, with a knowing twinkle in her eye, she adds, "Better watch out."
That night, Ryoma goes home, ignores his father's idiotic sentiments, and curls up under his bed. There's a throbbing in his heart, one that won't leave, and he concludes that this is how Tezuka must have felt when he had unexpectedly announced his own first tournament. He spends the rest of his week moping around the house.
It takes almost five days until the words kick in.
"Better watch out," he repeats to himself quietly, and a sudden smirk grows on his lips as he realizes what all of this means. He calls up his manager to double-check his entry in the US Open, then takes his racket and starts practicing. It will take more than just willpower to beat Tezuka.
When he stands across the court from his captain, Ryoma feels a comfortable weight settle into his chest. He grips the racket, and starts to bounce on the balls of his feet, because there isn't any going easy when he is playing with his buchou. Tezuka thinks the same way, and when the match starts, neither of them holds back.
As each score points, Ryoma tries to remember the feeling of every smash, every exhilarating moment – because this is the best game he has ever played with his captain yet. He can feel Tezuka's gaze at each ball, and he tries not to gaze back too giddily because he knows the paparazzi have cameras.
Eventually, they go into tiebreak. The match goes on until the crowd gets bored, and starts murmuring with disapproval. Ryoma's lungs are on fire, and the grunts he make sound painfully like he's dying, but every time he thinks about giving up, Tezuka gives him a look and he is re-energized again.
When the game ends, Ryoma stumbles to the net, and his hand weakly grips Tezuka's.
"Buchou," Ryoma says.
And before either can say another word, they tangle themselves into a hug. Tezuka's hands are in Ryoma's hair, and Ryoma's arm is around Tezuka's waist. "Rematch," Ryoma gasps out from exhaustion, and his body goes limp in the strong hold of his captain.
Don't ask what that was. I'm embarrassed already. I shouldn't try new writing styles.