Believe In You
Ryoma bounced the ball against the court grounds, brows furrowed. A bitter taste formed in his mouth as he thought about his shameful loss – point after point lost to someone who stood above him, levels higher, standing on top of what seemed to be an immovable mountain. When he had lost to Tezuka, he hadn't felt this way.
Maybe it was because Tezuka still regarded him with respect. Sanada thought of himself above him. Hell, all of Rikkadai thought that way.
"Oi, Echizen?" Momo waved his hand in front of his sullen friend. "C'mon, what's the matter? You've been spacing out all day."
Ryoma blinked, and half-smirked in assurance, but his gut wrenched in his stomach. If the pouring rain hadn't foiled the tournament, he would have stood there and been humiliated in front of everyone. He would have let down his entire team, his captain, his senpai-tachi who were all aiming to win the finals. They were unbeknownst to the power Rikkadai held, the storming, reigning power-
He shook his head brusquely. He couldn't think that way.
Momo still stared at him. "You alright?" he asked, and his loud, cheerful voice softened a notch. "You haven't been acting like yourself since yesterday."
"Che, Momo-senpai, I think you're being paranoid."
"Hey! No," Momo shook his head roughly. He sputtered indignantly, "Treat me like your senpai!"
Ryoma tugged his cap down, hiding a smile. And yet, his eyes were still unfocused. "Later, Momo-senpai," he briskly walked faster around the corner, one hand up in a casual wave with not a glance behind his shoulder. Momo watched him go, mouth hanging half-open at the infinite snark. But a part of his mind wondered if his kouhai was really okay.
"Yo! Wait up!" Momo pounded down the sidewalk. It wasn't like Ryoma would tell him, but the least he could do was cheer him. "Burgers! My treat!"
School was worse than it normally was. Ryoma couldn't stand reciting easy English poetry when the rainy match tinkled in his mind, taunted and mocked him. He had never felt so embarrassed, so humiliated – and so powerless. He had been on his knees, the tennis racket feeling oddly foreign in his hands as Sanada rose above him to smash.
And next week, everyone was counting on him to win. He couldn't beat him in a week. It was too short of a time period to improve, no matter how hard he tried.
"Echizen?" Horio yelled. "The teacher called on you five times!"
Ryoma broke out of his thoughts.
"Huh?" he blinked, and clenched his fist tightly. Stiffly, he stood up and, ignored the teacher's disapproving look and grabbed the chalk. He wrote quickly, flawlessly, and everyone watched in awe as the paragraph was written perfectly. When he returned to his seat, the teacher looked shocked, and didn't call on him for the rest of the period. Ryoma didn't take advantage of that and sleep. Instead, he stared out the window, replaying the match in his head until it was hazy and in pieces. A week. He had a week.
The pressure felt infinite.
"Ryoma-kun?" Sakuno asked shyly as he slid books into his hand. The bell had rung, signalling the end of the period.
Ryoma glared. "What?" he snapped.
She looked taken aback, and twiddled with her braids as her face flushed. "Are you okay?"
Ryoma bit his lip harshly, the gentle words suddenly overbearing. He nodded to her, once, quickly, and hurried out of the room. He had felt pressure before – everyone felt it at times, although it was minimal for him. But never like this – never did the task seem so daunting, so impossible, that he couldn't even find the determination or will to do it.
"I wonder what's wrong," Sakuno said sadly as she watched the boy go.
Horio said, "I bet he failed that pop quiz!"
Katsou narrowed his eyes. "Horio," he deadpanned. "He's not you."
Ryoma cursed as the ball sped out of the boundaries. Frustration welled in his eyes, and the other regulars could clearly see he wasn't playing like himself. Damn it, he gripped his red racket tightly. If he had completely lost the other match, he was probably going to be destroyed during the tournament if he played in this condition.
Oishi frowned, and bent his knees to serve again. The ball landed pinpoint on the edge.
Ryoma swiftly moved towards it, and with a powerful grunt, he put all his energy into the shot.
It hit the net.
"G-game and the match, Oishi," Momo stared in disbelief as Ryoma completely lost against Oishi. It wasn't that Oishi wasn't good – he was a regular, with incredible precision – but he was a doubles player. There were several people better than him that Ryoma had beaten before. So why was Ryoma playing so badly?
When Ryoma went up to shake hands with Oishi, his hand trembled. Oishi's eyes were full of warmth, but the twelve-year old felt shattered. He couldn't even win a simple game anymore. No, he couldn't even return a simple ball. The confidence that kept him up seemed to buckle underneath him, and Ryoma gripped Oishi's hand harder, afraid he would fall.
Oishi smiled kindly. "Good game, Echizen."
Ryoma just blinked at him, and Sanada's match replayed in his mind. "Che, whatever," he replied. He tugged his cap down and walked over to the bench for water. He could feel the rest of the regulars gazes on him, but pretended not to notice as he sipped from his bottle. There was an aura of darkness floating around him, and most of them knew to back off.
Eiji was not one of them.
"Ochibi," the cheerful acrobat cried. He sprung over and plopped down beside Ryoma. "What's wrong?"
Ryoma pulled his knees to his chest. "Nothing."
He was surprised when Eiji put a friendly arm around him, dark blue eyes bubbled with emotion. "You know, you don't have to always hide stuff from us," he said in a voice that was much too serious for him. By now, the rest of the regulars had tentatively shuffled over to see how Eiji was making progress.
"There's nothing to hide," Ryoma said simply.
"Echizen, you can't just say that," Momoshiro shook his head, frowning. "You really can't."
"Is it nerves?" Oishi asked.
Maybe it was nerves. Ryoma really wasn't sure anymore, and the attention made him want to curl into a cocoon. Tennis was supposed to come natural to him – he was supposed to play it, evolve, have passion, and take over the opponent no matter how strong or skilled they were. Sanada's match hadn't even been tennis for him. He hadn't got a single point.
And one week. Ryoma shivered involuntarily.
"I know Rikkadai's strong," Kawamura scratched the back of his head. "But you'll do great Echizen, like you always do…"
So strong. They are so strong. Sanada is so strong.
Ryoma stood up, and his legs trembled underneath him. He straightened up, and without saying a single word, he walked out of the courts with the confidence he didn't feel. There were some shouts of complaint, but it didn't really matter, because they would leave him alone in the end. That's what he wanted.
When he slammed the fence door behind him, none of them did go after him, and he felt strangely hollow.
Ryoma was certain he was killing the wall, but at this point, it ceased to matter. His shots gained more power as they went, and lost accuracy too. Eyebrows furrowed, he ran back and forth. Sweat dripped over his body as the evening wind caressed his skin. He was exhausted, both physically and mentally, and yet he couldn't stop playing.
Desperation had consumed him.
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
Ryoma's legs pounded against the ground, his breathing uneven. The gold in his eyes flickered wildly as he tried to control the strength going into his shouts. Bang, bang, bang – like gun bullets, they fired with accuracy and power. Sanada's sharp browns eyes and cocky smirk filled his mind, and he gritted his teeth. His shots got faster.
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
"I thought I'd find you here."
The ball flew past him and flicked against his hair. He whirled around.
Momoshiro stood in front of him, one hand on his hip, and a smile on his face.
"Momo-senpai?" Ryoma asked. He felt vulnerable.
He watched as Momo grinned, and kind of waved. His eyes got wider when from behind the building, six more familiar boys walked out, grinning in the same caring fashion. In front of him, all of his senpai-tachi, excluding Tezuka, stood. Ryoma didn't know if he liked it or not, but his heart swelled and he dropped his arm.
"Senpai-tachi," he greeted.
"Ochibi!" Kikumaru clung onto Oishi's shoulder, lips curled in a smile. Inui adjusted his dark glasses and nodded at him, and Kaidoh just awkwardly did the same. Kawamura grinned comfortingly, and Fuji looked pleasantly calm. Ryoma didn't know why they were here, and how they had known he was here, but he appreciated it all the same.
But then his stomach twisted with familiar dread. They supported him so much, and he was going to disappoint each and every one of them.
"Ya know," Momoshiro reached out and ruffled his hair a little too hard. "You should just tell us."
"What's bothering you?" Oishi asked with a nod.
Inui scribbled against his notebook. "From my observations, you started acting this way right after the declined tournament."
Ryoma stared at the ground, and the familiar twisty feeling knotted up his stomach. When he glanced back up, he could still see the rest of the regulars in a small crowd around him, expectantly waiting. His shoe kicked at a pebble, his cheek tan against the dying sunlight. Maybe it was just him, but Sanada's game play suddenly didn't seem as overwhelming.
"I played a game with Sanada," Ryoma's eyes met each of theirs steadily. "On the day the tournament got cancelled. And I lost without getting a single point."
There was a hush among the regulars.
"Not a single point?" Eiji echoed.
"They were – they were that good?" Oishi asked. Ryoma saw a flicker in his warm green eyes; a flicker of uncertainty and fear. The vice-captain had a heavy job on his shoulders, after all – to lead the team to victory without Tezuka there to assist. But then, a split second after, the anxiety cleared and he returned Ryoma's gaze firmly.
"Echizen," he started. He was interrupted by Momo.
"That's alright!" Momo clapped a hand on Ryoma's back. "You'll just kill 'em in the tournament."
Ryoma stared uncomfortably at the ground. "I only have a week."
"Then train this week." Kawamura grinned. "Train as hard as you can, without overdoing it. If you don't win, it's not the end of the world."
"Heh! Try telling him that!" Momoshiro chuckled, and linked an arm around Ryoma's neck. The boy could feel the noogie coming, but was surprisingly met by an affectionate head rub. When he looked up, Momo smiled at him so assuredly that Ryoma remembered why they were friends in the first place.
Fuji stepped forward. "You're worrying for no reason," he said, nonchalantly pretending to be offended. "We won't even let them get to your turn."
Kaidoh hissed in agreement. "They won't even get to you."
The words were so strong, so ridiculous, and Ryoma felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Despite how much he wanted to play against Sanada, and get his revenge, he knew his senpai-tachi wouldn't let him down. They would play extraneously well, probably kick Rikkadai's butt, and even if they didn't…
"It won't be your fault if we lose," Oishi assured him.
It wouldn't be his fault.
"I can set up a special training menu for the week," Inui commented.
"Thanks, senpai," Ryoma nodded, about to close his eyes in relief. But he was met with a pair of bright violet eyes, and a grin that spread wide over Momo's face. His friend had this mischevious look, like he was about to announce something that would absolutely piss Ryoma off.
"Still, that doesn't mean you're getting off easy! Let's train him!" Momo declared. "Six against one!"
"Ooh, yeah!" Eiji eagerly nodded.
Despite just practicing, Ryoma could feel the energy vibrating from his senpai-tachi, mingling and reducing his own exhaustion. He placed his racket behind his shoulder, and a familiar flare of challenge lit up his face. With fire in his gold eyes, he met each of the regulars' gazes.
"Che," he stated simply. "Bring it on."
And he wasn't sure if it was just the time of day, or the sudden burning enthusiasm, or even the fact his senpai-tachi were there for him, but Sanada's match seemed to be drifting piece by piece thin in his memory, until he could barely recall the events. He remembered the pounding rain, and the slippery court as he raced back and forth – but he didn't see himself missing shots, or Sanada's victorious smirk above him.
"Yo! Echizen! Get ready, 'cause we're not going to go easy on you!"
Ryoma smirked, and lowered his cap. "That's what I want," he grinned.
Confession: I don't like Sanada. *hurriedly hides*
Don't know where this came from, though. I have like two incomplete oneshots, A KiriRyo (that will probably end up staying incomplete) and a TezRyo (that either will take ages or will stay incomplete too. xD) I don't why it is, but I keep starting one-shots and never finishing them lately, so I was pretty glad I got this one out. But I didn't like the ending. xP Hope you enjoyed!