Installment Three


A/N: Had a complete heart attack at the review count. Thank you so much for the feedback. [Although I have a suspicion it was because I asked for the voting, but a girl can dream, right?] Although OT3 ultimately won, several people wanted Friendship, so I'm going to try to incorporate as much of the other regulars as I can as well.

EDIT: accidentally updated the same chapter. xD how embarrassing...


"Yo, Echizen!"

Momoshiro's call brought Ryoma out of his reverie as he stormed out of the house. A permanent scowl was on his face as he marched over to the awaiting bike and friend. The morning had been nothing short of disastrous – his father had been an idiot again, his mom had left for work without making him breakfast, and he felt like utter crap for entirely no reason.

"Morning," his best friend sang cheerfully.

Ryoma glared at him darkly. "Hurry up. Or we'll have to run laps."

Momoshiro paused for a moment, and stared at Ryoma. "Woah, someone's grumpy this morning," the sophomore said with slight confusion. He blinked, and realization crossed his face. An evil grin spread to his cheeks. "Wait a second, this doesn't have to do with your pregnancy symptoms, does it?"

"Shut up," Ryoma grumbled.

"Aw," Momoshiro teased. "Is little Echizen Ryoma having mood swings?"

Ryoma glowered. His face was absolutely murderous. "I'm going to kill you."

"But why?" Momoshiro said innocently, leaning against the bike handle. "I haven't done anything wrong. I think you're just being moody."

"I'm not," Ryoma snapped, boiling with anger. He wasn't having mood swings! He was just having an…off morning. Yes, that was it. This had nothing to do with the pregnancy symptoms. He was perfectly capable of controlling his emotions if he wanted to. Everything was under control. He wasn't even in a bad mood. Just slightly irritated.

Momoshiro good-naturedly ruffled his hair. "Don't worry about it. I think you've banned Inui from making any more juices."

"Isn't that great?" Ryoma said through clenched teeth. He couldn't believe how selfish Momoshiro was being. Here he was, suffering intensely from the pregnancy symptoms, and all his best friend cared about was not having to drink Inui Juice. Ryoma growled under his breath, and waited for Momoshiro to get onto the bike.

The violet-eyed teen seemed to notice the volcano about to erupt. "I was just kidding," he informed quickly, sliding onto the bike seat. He felt Ryoma's smaller hands grip one of his shoulders, and sighed under his breath. It was fun teasing Ryoma, but he didn't want to spend the week with a grumpy best friend.

"If we're late," Ryoma said, "I really will kill you."

Momoshiro wasn't sure if it was an empty threat. He chuckled nervously, "Calm down Echizen, I'll road rage my way through."

To prove his point, he started pedalling like mad down the street. The wind roared in his ears and leaves crunched under the bicycle wheels. Faintly, he heard Ryoma mutter behind him,

"I am calm."

Momoshiro snorted, and pedalled a little faster.

XXX

Ten minutes, they reached the club room. Ryoma scowled profusely and refused to even look at Momoshiro as he tore off his school clothes and threw on his Seigaku inform. Then, without waiting for his best friend, he stalked off towards the courts. He didn't care if Momoshiro was annoyed with his attitude- he was tired, in a bad mood, and was in no shape to go run extra laps.

When he reached the courts, he found the other regulars already in practice. Tezuka stood firmly on the front of the court, arms crossed, observing the tennis courts with great pursuit. Ryoma wondered if he could sneak past the captain.

He stared to hurry, but Tezuka caught him immediately.

"Echizen!" the captain called. "Over here."

Ryoma winced, and lugged himself over to where Tezuka was standing. The fatigue from yesterday had yet to wear off, and his muscles were sore and achy. "Buchou?" Ryoma asked, ducking his head in submission.

"Thirty extra laps for being late," Tezuka instructed.

The twelve-year old blinked, and straightened up. Normally, the captain only assigned twenty extra laps if someone was late. He didn't understand why today, there was suddenly thirty laps. Especially because Ryoma was more tired today. It's like everyone's out to get me, Ryoma thought, frustrated. He could feel his eyes getting moist, and frowned.

He hated these new emotions creeping into his mind. They made him feel weak, and powerless.

"Echizen?" Tezuka asked patiently since Ryoma had yet to move.

"Why thirty laps?" Ryoma demanded. "You normally assign only twenty."

Tezuka narrowed his eyes at the act of defiance. "If you don't learn from twenty, and still end up being late every day, it's only proper to increase the punishment." He paused. "I'm not asking anything unreasonable, Echizen."

Ryoma sunk in his merciless tone, and he could feel his eyes getting wetter. What was wrong with him? "Fine," he said, lower lip trembling. Before Tezuka could say another word, he quickly started running his laps around the court, forcing his aching legs to pound against the pavement.

Tezuka watched him go with slight concern. He hadn't meant to be harsh, but this was how he dealt with the team members. He wasn't acting any different. Perhaps the symptoms? Tezuka shook his head brusquely. He couldn't focus on that right now. His job, first and foremost, was to properly train his team. And proper punishments strung along with that goal.

Suddenly, the captain felt as if he were being watched. Tilting his head, he saw Fuji slide up to him, smiling sunnily.

"Echizen seems a bit upset, doesn't he?" the tennis prodigy mused. He leaned against the court fence and observed Tezuka. "You really should go easy on him."

"I wasn't-" Tezuka collected himself. "I was treating him like I always do."

"But he isn't always getting mood swings and pregnancy symptoms," Fuji explained calmly.

Tezuka's frown deepened. "What do you propose I do? I can't lower his laps just because he's frustrated with himself. It's unfair to the other club members."

"But it's unfair for him to be experiencing this in the first place, isn't it?" the words were soft, and spoken with ease, but Tezuka knew a challenge when he heard one. He focused harder on Fuji, who was suddenly smiling entirely too deceiving, his dark blue eyes open under the sunlight. It was hard to argue with something Fuji Syusuke uttered – and it was one of the things about Fuji that constantly intrigued Tezuka.

He sighed. "I'm not very familiar with pregnancy. Do you think he's more tired?"

"Maybe," Fuji grinned in satisfaction. "It's only the first day, so it's hard to tell."

Tezuka watched Ryoma run his first few laps, and adjusted his glasses.

"I'm sure he'll be fine, Fuji."

"He looks tired already, and it's only his fifth lap."

Tezuka furrowed his brow. Ryoma passed by the fence, sweat trailing down his flushed face. It was obvious that he was putting a lot of effort into his laps, not to mention his distressed expression. Maybe he should lower the running until Inui came up with a counter-recipe. One glance at Fuji, who was giving him a threatening look, confirmed his decision.

"Echizen," the captain called. He waited patiently for Ryoma to jog up to him. When the boy approached them, he glared furiously, like Tezuka had done something horrible to him.

"Just do five more laps and you're done," Tezuka informed.

Ryoma looked surprised, but didn't argue. "Hai."

Fuji smirked from behind him. "Everything alright, Echizen? You look a little winded."

Ryoma was breathing heavily, and turned his glare at Fuji instead. "I'm fine," he snapped, trying to get his heart beat back into control. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand before nodding quickly to Tezuka and continuing his remaining laps.

Fuji watched him go. "He's a cute one, ne Tezuka?"

Tezuka just stared at his friend oddly.

XXX

Ryoma's sneakers pounded against the ground as he finished off his last lap. He was exhausted; his muscles were sore from head to toe, and all he wanted to do was collapse onto the ground and sleep. Unforunately, his tennis racket taunted him to start practicing.

"Hey, Echizen," Oishi caught up with him. Concern creased his face. "Are you alright from yesterday? You kinda just left."

Ryoma shrugged, still breathless. "My senpai-tachi were being mada mada dane."

Oishi frowned. "But you're okay? If you have any questions, I'd gladly be able to answer them for you."

Ryoma shot him an odd look. "How would you know?"

Oishi quickly flushed, and fidgeted nervously. "Nevermind."

He turned away from his kouhai, mumbling something about being there for him, before hurriedly disappearing out of sight. Ryoma just blinked, and shrugged. He always had a feeling Oishi liked motherly things – knitting, cooking, learning about pregnancy. It all sort of fit him.

Ryoma took a step towards his racket, but before he could go further, a flash of red whizzed past him. The twelve-year old blinked, momentarily confused, before a suffocating feeling overpowered him. He wriggled uncomfortably as Kikumaru hugged him tightly. "Ochibi!" the red-head jumped up and down excitedly, bringing Ryoma with him. "I missed you!"

"You saw me yesterday."

"But still," Kikumaru pouted. He disentangled himself from his kouhai. "You were being unsociable back then."

Ryoma's eyes narrowed. "I hope you're not here to speak of-"

"You're pregnancy issue?" Kikumaru interrupted, eyes bright. "Don't worry about that. I heard you get weird cravings when you're pregnant. So whenever you find out what you're weird craving is, tell me, and I'll make you an unlimited supply of it." He leaned in to whisper, as if he was sharing a deep, dark secret. "I won't tell anyone, Ochibi."

"I don't have a weird craving," Ryoma said, annoyed.

"Not yet!" the acrobat said cheerfully. "But you will, Ochibi. Trust me on this." He then looked around wildly, and spotted Kaidoh. "Oi, Kaidoh, do people get weird cravings when their pregnant?"

Kaidoh, who was in the middle of swinging his racket to practice the boomerang snake, paused. He appeared flustered. "Senpai, what kind of question is that?"

Kikumaru pushed Ryoma in front of him. "He needs to know."

"I never asked," Ryoma growled.

The moment the second-year saw Ryoma, he became even more flustered. With gritted teeth, Kaidoh said gruffly, "I don't know," and whipped around to continue swinging his racket. It was obvious pregnancy was something outside his comfort zone.

Kikumaru frowned. "Well, you still believe me, right Ochibi?"

Ryoma took a deep breath, trying to control the urge to punch Kikumaru in the face. The acrobat was just so happy, always bounding around with energy. Ryoma felt tired, and annoyed, and grumpy – and he was envious that his senpai got to act so carefree while he couldn't. "I don't care, go practice," Ryoma demanded.

Kikumaru's eyes flashed with hurt. "Hey!"

Ryoma met his eyes with a steady gaze. "Go away."

The red-head's mouth dropped open. "Ochibi's being a meanie!" he wailed, before running off to find Oishi for comfort. Ryoma watched as Kikumaru clung onto Oishi's shoulder, looking purely distressed at what Ryoma had said. The twelve-year old sighed, feeling slightly guilty, but mostly just relieved. He picked up his racket and glanced around for Momoshiro so he could start practice.

"Echizen?" Oishi appeared in front of him. Kikumaru was at his side, smiling in triumph.

Ryoma glanced up questioningly. "Hai?"

"Apologize to Eiji," the vice-captain said gently. "You hurt his feelings."

"Yeah, Ochibi, I'm very sad," Kikumaru informed him. He scrunched his face in pain, like he was actually terribly hurt over Ryoma's rudeness. Ryoma glared at him, and the tennis acrobat stuck out his tongue when Oishi wasn't looking. Tattletale, Ryoma thought to himself. Well, there was no way he was going to apologize.

"Yadda."

"Echizen!" Oishi exclaimed. "Just say sorry."

"Yadda," Ryoma repeated, running his fingers across the racket.

Oishi pursed his lips. "Fine," he sighed. "Let's leave it."

Kikumaru opened his mouth in protest, but Oishi hushed him and said quietly, "Just let it be. Remember, he'll get mood swings? It's better not to set him off."

Ryoma clenched his fist tighter around his racket, infuriated that they were talking about him like he wasn't even there. With a huff, and the most vicious glare he could muster towards Oishi, he stormed off to the opposite direction of the court. Where was Momoshiro anyway? Oh, right. He was running his laps.

The twelve-year old wished he could go to bed again. And kill Inui.

"Echizen!"

Tezuka's voice startled him out of his boiling anger, and Ryoma looked over his shoulder to see Tezuka's eyes on him expectantly. Sighing to himself, Ryoma straightened up and walked towards where the captain was standing. He noticed that Fuji was pleasantly standing behind him. The smile on the prodigy's face seemed to grow when Ryoma approached them.

"Echizen," Tezuka greeted.

Ryoma shifted uncomfortably. "Yes, buchou?"

The captain's brown eyes looked oddly despondent, the gaze lingering firmly on Ryoma's face. "We actually have a bit of a problem. Inui brought it up to me yesterday. I'm not sure if you heard or not."

"All I heard was that I wouldn't be able to play tennis if I'm pregnant," Ryoma huffed. "But I don't see the problem, since I'm not actually pregnant." He paused. "Plus, won't the counter-recipe be done before Friday's tournament?"

Tezuka focused on him. "Echizen, your stamina clearly shows that you'll be exhausted before even halfway of the game. It's not healthy for you to push yourself to play, even if they're only symptoms." The brunette paused, and said in a gentler tone, "Inui said it will take at least a week for the counter-recipe to be completed."

A startled look crossed Ryoma's face. He took a step backwards, a mixture of horror and fear flickering in his eyes. "A week?" he repeated. Dread flooded through his body – he couldn't survive a week of this! It already made him feel weak and horrible…and it had only been the first day! He anxiously looked towards Tezuka, who didn't seem to be joking.

"I can't," Ryoma said. "Make him do it quicker."

"Echizen-"

"I refuse to not play," Ryoma repeated stubbornly. "You can't do that to me."

The desperation and panic in Ryoma's tone made Tezuka's heart melt with sympathy. However, he was determined to handle the situation with ease, and didn't show a trace of his emotions in his eyes. Instead, he met Ryoma's gaze evenly.

"I'm sorry Echizen, but you won't be participating in the game against St. Rudolph."

The finalism in his tone struck a nerve. Ryoma flinched. "Why not?" he said, voice beginning to shake. "Is it because…of that game? That we played? And you beat me…" his body trembled, and Ryoma could feel his eyes burning with tears. It wasn't fair. Everyone was being so awful towards him. And why was he crying? He couldn't cry.

"Echizen?" Tezuka looked stunned. "Are you alright?"

"Just because you beat me, you don't think I'm good enough anymore?" Ryoma snapped, and the tears threatened to spill over his cheeks. He didn't know what he was saying – the only thing he knew was that he hated everything, including Tezuka right now. "You think I'm bad and can't be a good pillar…" Ryoma sniffled, and a stray tear trickled down his face. He rubbed at it with the sleeve of his shirt. "You think I'm a bad tennis player."

Tezuka stared in disbelief as Ryoma started to cry. Flustered, the captain tried to correct the accusation. "Echizen, of course not, I don't know where you're getting this idea…"

"Don't lie," Ryoma choked out. He ducked his head so they couldn't see the tears flooding his face. His shoulders shook. "Everyone hates me now. You won't let me play because I'm not good enough, and Kikumaru-senpai said I'm mean…and they keep saying I have mood swings!" Ryoma looked up, and glared through his tears. "I'm not!"

Tezuka blinked. Clearly that was a lie. "Echizen, it's obvious that the pregnancy symptoms are affecting you to believe this." There was something gnawing in Tezuka's stomach – an odd concern that wouldn't go away. He felt like hugging the twelve-year old to make him stop crying, but his muscles didn't move.

"It's not the symptoms," Ryoma said hoarsely. "You're just being unfair to me…"

"That's not true," Tezuka protested. "It's for your own well-being."

"No!"

Tezuka watched anxiously, unsure of what to do with the situation. He was trying his best to deal with the it, and explain to Ryoma that none of the stuff he had said was true, but the boy wasn't comprehending properly. "Echizen," the captain said wearily. "Please try to understand-"

"Tezuka," Fuji's swift voice cut in. Tezuka had honestly forgotten the tennis genius was even there.

"This," Fuji said with slight admonishment, "Is obviously not your forte."

Fuji then proceeded to wrap his arms around Ryoma's slender body, enveloping him in a tight hug. Ryoma sniffled into his chest, and the prodigy cooed, ruffling his hair. "It's alright Echizen," he purred in a soft tone, "I won't let them be unfair to you." He stroked the hair of the boy lovingly, murmuring comforting words into his ear. Ryoma relaxed slightly. "Fuji-senpai," he mumbled, leaning against him. "They were being so…awful."

"I know, don't worry Ryo-chan…"

Tezuka narrowed his eyes, and odd feeling of jealousy and longing burning in the pit of his stomach – but he mostly just shook his head in a chastising manner. Fuji was hugging the boy a little closer than necessary, and Tezuka had a feeling Seigaku's genius was enjoying himself greatly. Fuji had once spoken to him about how cute Ryoma was, and how nice it would be to coddle him.

And did Fuji just call Ryoma Ryo-chan? It was all too much for Tezuka to process.

Once Fuji was done, Ryoma had calmed down, and the prodigy was smiling with delight.

"Feeling better, Echizen?" the tensai asked.

Ryoma stared at the ground, looking embarrassed at his small breakdown. He didn't know what had come over him – Tezuka hadn't said anything that wasn't reasonable, and he had started shouting and crying about him being unfair. Despite that, he couldn't help but be grateful towards Fuji. He was the only person who had agreed with his emotions, and helped him calm down.

Ryoma sighed slightly, face flushed. He had no control over himself anymore, and he hated it.

"Echizen," Tezuka finally cleared his throat awkwardly. "I'll reconsider your entry against St. Rudolph. But if you get more tired as the week goes on, you understand that I can't let you play, right?"

"I understand," Ryoma grumbled, although his mood lifted slightly at the reconsideration.

"Alright," the captain instructed. He observed Ryoma's fragile state of mind, and his eyes softened. "You go practice for now."

The twelve-year old nodded, dragging himself over to where the bench was to get some water. Both Fuji and Tezuka watched him go, the former with a frown, and the latter with a bright smile. "He really is adorable," Fuji fixed his stare onto Tezuka, who appeared uncomfortable at the remark. He shrugged.

"He's young."

"And cute," Fuji smirked. "Right Tezuka?"

Tezuka tried not to glare. "Fuji, I don't want to have to assign you laps."

Fuji smiled calmly. "For doing what? Calling Echizen cute?" he paused, and his lips spread wider. "He really is cute at times. Although…" Fuji leaned forward slightly. "A flustered Tezuka isn't so bad either."

Tezuka was left in a state of shock as Fuji slithered across the cluster of tennis players. His muscles felt stiff from the casual opinion, and his mouth was dry from laps that weren't yet commanded. Shaking his head, he tried to forget about Ryoma crying over nothing and Fuji's unusual words, and instead focused on the rest of the regulars.

Life was becoming much too complicated for his liking.

XXX

Ryoma was drying his sweaty hair with a towel and sipping on his water bottle when Inui walked up to him.

The freshman hadn't seen Inui all day during practice, and the moment his eyes met with the pair of black glasses, Ryoma bolted up from his spot on the bench. He marched straight up to the tall player, not caring that he was his senpai, and stood firmly underneath him. A dangerous spark lit up his gold eyes.

"I want the counter-drink."

Inui adjusted his glasses. "I'm sure Tezuka has informed you that the drink will take at least a wee-"

"I don't care," Ryoma hissed. "I want it by tomorrow."

Inui took a step back, slightly startled. A moody Ryoma was definitely frightening, and he didn't even bother to take out his notebook to record the fact. He had a feeling he wouldn't forget it.

"There's an 85% chance you have already experienced some symptoms, and are desperate to relieve yourself of them."

"Brilliant," Ryoma said. He narrowed his eyes. "I still want the drink."

Inui composed himself. "I'm afraid that's impossible."

Ryoma looked like he was about to argue, and yell, but he just slumped his shoulders and nodded in resignation. "Fine, Ch'," he muttered unhappily, grabbing his racket. Even though he wanted to throw a tantrum of some sort, he was already embarrassed from crying, and was determined not to lose control of his emotions yet again.

He slung the racket over his shoulder. "Whatever, Inui-senpai. But if it's not done by a week, I'm going to tell buchou to make you run a million laps."

Inui nodded with relief. "Alright. That's fine."

The data-player watched Ryoma stalk away to play a practice match with Momoshiro, and hurriedly whipped out his notebook. He flipped hastily through the pages, until he found the one he was looking for. Quickly, he scrawled a few calculations down, and the colour drained from his face as he did so.

It appeared that the drink would take a little more than a week to be complete. Maybe two weeks.

Inui quickly shut his notebook. Ryoma didn't need to know that.

Not yet, anyway.


Was the crying too weird? Well, I researched [Although I already kind of knew] and they say girls cry a loooot when their pregnant, over like the tiniest things. Obviously, since Ryoma's a boy and rarely cries, I'm not going to make him cry as often as the average girl would, but it will happen occasionally. Hopefully no one gets drawn away from the story because of that. xD

Thanks for reading!