A/N: This is kind of a companion fic to Clatter. It really has nothing to do with it, and this can definitely be read on its own, but the very end of the story indulges in the same topic as Clatter. The last sentence, in fact, is the very same. Enjoy!
Echizen Ryoma gulped, and wiped a sweaty hand against the side of his shorts. In front of him, a large concoction of crystal blue Aozu taunted him. Inui gestured brightly at it, as if encouraging him to try a new type of Ponta.
"It tastes quite good this time," Inui's glasses shone with deceit. "In fact, I've refined it so it's 20% stronger than before."
Ryoma stared at it. Great, he thought sarcastically, but didn't dare say it outloud. The last thing he needed was for Inui to force a second glass down his throat for being disrespectful.
"Don't worry, Echizen," Momo exclaimed. He waved his racket in the air to grab the twelve-year old's attention. "Once you pass out, you won't taste a thing!"
Ryoma glared fiercely at him, and Momoshiro shrunk back with a small chuckle. Ryoma continued to glower at his friend, annoyed. It was Momo's fault anyway, for distracting him in the middle of his match with Fuji precisely because he knew Inui juice was on the line. And Fuji! The tennis genius had tried harder than ever to win the match because Aozu apparantly affected him as well. It was still unnerving that the 'Prodigy with No Taste Buds' disliked the drink.
"Echizen," Inui smugly shoved the pitcher in his hands. "I'm sure you'll enjoy the new added ingredients."
"Yeah, right," Ryoma muttered, but nevertheless, he took the glass. The mixture of cyan swirled and bubbled inside, and Ryoma twitched. Why had he come to Seigaku again? He should have just gone to Rikkadai, or Hyotei, or even stupid St. Rudolph with stupid Mizuki. With a sigh, the freshman quickly downed the tall glass in one go, the blue liquid flowing in between parted lips.
Before the bad taste even settled in, he ran for the club room, making a small choking sound as he went. The rest of the regulars heard a strangled noise come from the distance, and a thud as Ryoma fell unconscious.
Momo winced. "Man, I almost feel bad for him."
"Mou, poor Ochibi!" Kikumaru nodded. He turned and pouted at Fuji. "Fuji, why didn't you just let him him win?"
Fuji smiled nonchalantly. "Aozu affects me too, unfortunately." His smile quirked into a grin. "Plus, Eiji, I hope you haven't forgotten that watching people suffer is a hobby of mine."
Everyone stepped away from him. Fuji smiled pleasurably.
"Ah," Oishi frowned, and turned to Tezuka, who had been silent during the small ordeal. "Honestly Tezuka, have you ever thought of banning Inui Juices? Although Inui would never intentionally harm us, their making people pass out…and I'm not exactly sure that's healthy…"
Tezuka shook his head brusquely. "It may not be the most reasonable method, but it works well with getting everyone to put forth their best efforts during practice. The juice is the only thing I can rely on to keep the regulars in line."
"Oishi," Tezuka inquired calmly. "Have you ever seen Fuji play that seriously before?"
Oishi sighed in relent, and shook his head. Perhaps Tezuka was right. Inui Juice may have tasted diabolical, and forced people to faint, but it also was a fool proof plan in making the team work their butts off.
"Still," Oishi murmured under his breath. "He could choose something milder…"
Fifteen more minutes dug into practice and Tezuka noticed that Ryoma still hadn't come back. Normally, victims of Inui Juice were up and ready to play in a matter of minutes - one of the pros of the revolting drink. Tezuka didn't have much knowledge on Aozu since he had been in Germany during its introduction, but he was certain Ryoma should have been back by now.
"Oishi, watch the regulars," he instructed. "I'll be right back."
"Alright, Tezuka," Oishi tilted his head. "Where are you going?"
The captain adjusted his glasses, and didn't respond as he disappeared out the double fence doors of the tennis courts. After walking a few paces, he found Ryoma lying on the grass in front of the club room, face implanted in the damp green strands. Tezuka paused for a moment, and his eyes locked on Ryoma's small frame.
A lithe, lean body fit with a face of pure innocence – Tezuka was temporarily in awe, and ceased to rip his gaze away. When he realized what he was doing, he quickly broke out of his state and knelt down beside Ryoma on the ground.
He shook his shoulder gently.
"Echizen," he said.
Ryoma shifted slightly, and grunted.
"Echizen," the captain said firmly, and he shook him a little harder.
This time, Ryoma's gold eyes fluttered open, and a pained expression crossed his face. He coughed and sat up. "Buchou?" he asked, and another cough emitted from his throat. Tezuka stood up, the stoic face masking his expression.
"Practice isn't over yet," he informed.
"I know," Ryoma stood up too, and brushed the dust off of his shorts. He grimaced. "Inui-senpai really needs to stop with his juices. It makes me light-headed afterwards."
Tezuka's brown eyes immediately shed concern. "Will you be able to practice, then?"
Ryoma yawned. "Haai…"
The older wanted to prod further, because he didn't want Ryoma to collapse during practice, but he refrained for the sake of his pride. They walked silently towards the courts, Ryoma a few steps behind Tezuka.
"You know what I think, buchou?" Ryoma's casual drawl strummed out of nowhere.
Tezuka narrowed his eyes. "What?"
"I think you should ban Inui Juice." The twelve-year old stated. He then proceeded to scoff. "Che', it's dangerous."
Tezuka frowned. "It constructs good practices."
"But it makes me faint," Ryoma said innocently as he trotted alongside his captain.
The request bugged Tezuka, and he could feel his resolve weaken. Although Oishi had suggested the same thing moments ago, Ryoma had a gift for persuading people to agree with him. Tezuka frowned when he realized his nonchalant method was actually working.
"Inui Juice will stay," he said sternly, his voice leaving no room for arguments.
There was a moment of silence, and Tezuka thought he had won.
"But buchou…" Ryoma made a small whimpering sound, causing Tezuka to stop walking and look down.
"Please?" Ryoma asked with a quavering voice. Tezuka blinked, and swallowed thickly. Ryoma had put on a face of pure innocence, gold eyes wide and upset, brows furrowed with determination, and lips pursed into the cutest of pouts. Tezuka's heart thumped and he was forced to look away to maintain his composure. His resolve melted into oblivion.
"Fine," he grudgingly agreed. "Inui Juice shall be banned."
He didn't look back to see Ryoma's victorious expression, and internally sighed to himself as he entered the courts. Oh well, he thought, and he glanced back to see Ryoma smirking, cap pulled over his face as he followed Tezuka. A rare, fond smile spread over the captain's face.
He always did have a soft spot for Ryoma.