Summary: Momoshiro-Senpai frowned in concentration, putting a hand on Ryoma's shoulder. Ryoma stared into the boy's eyes for a moment, then looked away as they widened in shock.
'I can't feel anything,' he murmured. 'It's like...'
Chapter 1: Doubles
'I know we've never played doubles before, but geeze Echizen, can you be any more out of it?' Momoshiro-Senpai whined loudly. 'I signaled you loads of times, "It's my ball." You should pay attention to people when they're synching with you, you really should!'
Ryoma glared up at his senior as they walked down the stairs to the street. The sky was getting darker and orange steetlights glowed in orderly lines.
'Momoshiro-Senpai was the one not paying attention.'
A heavy hand fell upon his head and squeezed it.
'I'm not the one who ignored his partner, I'm not... Come to think of it...' Momoshiro-Senpai's voice became thoughtful. 'I don't think we've synched at all since we met. Don't you like me, Echizen?' The second year pouted at him.
Didn't Momoshiro-Senpai know already? Oya-Jii had probably told Ryuuzaki-Sensei by now. Hadn't she told anyone else in the tennis club?
'Who ever said I liked you, Momoshiro-Senpai?'
'Hey!' The older boy grabbed Ryoma in a headlock. 'What about when I treated you to hamburgers, huh?'
'Senpai's are supposed to take care of their juniors.'
'You little brat!'
They wrestled on the sidewalk for a while and Ryoma ignored the warm feeling in his gut.
'Anyway,' Momoshiro-Senpai huffed when they straightened out their school jackets, gakurans they were called in Japanese, 'how come you're always ignoring me when I'm trying to synch you? I'm sure you don't hate me, right?'
The warm feeling vanished instantly.
'I can't synch, Momoshiro-Senpai.'
'I can't synch.'
'What do you mean you can't synch? Everyone can synch.'
'I mean I really can't synch,' Ryoma hissed, sick of subject already.
Momoshiro-Senpai frowned in concentration, putting a hand on Ryoma's shoulder. Ryoma stared into the boy's eyes for a moment, then looked away as they widened in shock.
'I can't feel anything,' he murmured. 'It's like...'
XXX xxx XXX
'It's like nothing's there...'
He heard it everytime someone tried. Kids, teachers, other people at the tennis club. The doctors at the hospital. At first, no one noticed when Ryoma didn't respond to a synch. They just didn't notice him, or they thought he was ignoring them.
If no one was looking, he could walk into a room unnoticed because they couldn't detect his mind with their psychic power.
When they tried to, it was like sensing a machine. Warm and electric. Like there was nothing human inside him. Of course there was human stuff inside him, but how could other people know when they were looking with their pyschic power? People who were used to using synchro their whole lives?
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It had begun developing in humans around the late 19th century. Only a few at first, a small power that grew and spread to nearly everyone in the world. It wasn't full blown telepathy. People could project feelings, like expressions, and simple images and noises to others close by. If you had the talent or training, you could share complex pictures and sounds. The closer you were to someone, physically or emotionally, the more you could share.
XXX xxx XXX
Synchro also allowed you to sense and signal others. Ryoma couldn't play any team sport because he missed half the communication between players; the rest of a basketball team could move into man-to-man defense formation without him knowing because the signal to move was in synchro.
He missed a lot of communication everywhere else too. It wasn't as though eveyone had stopped talking or using phones, but a lot of talking was done through synchro. Not an outgoing guy anyway, talking to people was so much harder when he missed half the conversation, lost in a cloud of feelings and sensation he couldn't touch any more than the air.
XXX xxx XXX
'Wow, you really can't do it.'
Ryoma glared in Momoshiro-Senpai's direction and shrugged his hand off.
'Hm, I've never heard of that before. What should we do about it, hm? What should we do?'
The older boy started muttering to himself, ignoring Ryoma.
I'm going home to practise for singles three.
'Hey! Where do you think you're going, Echizen?' Momoshiro-Senpai demanded, falling into step with him. 'We're supposed to plan our strategy for the match... What's that eyebrow for, huh? You think we can just play without practising at all?'
XXX xxx XXX
'Woah! You've a tennis court in your backyard? Awesome! You lucky kid!'
Momoshiro-Senpai (Senpai? Really?) dashed around like a little kid. The temple up the hill behind Ryoma's house had a large landscape that included a zen garden and a tennis court installed by his dad.
They consulted a Doubles for Beginners book brought at a sports shop on the way there, which told them the person who's forehand the ball came too should hit it, but when the ball came you wanted to hit it no matter what, right?
'So, Echizen. How are we gonna decided who gets it? And how are we gonna make the signal?'
Ryoma decided to think about it, even if he only brought his senior here to show him what a disaster playing doubles would be.
'How about that?' He pointed to two statues of deities flanking a gateway.
'"Ah" and "Un"? Alright, let's try it. We'll hit against that wall by the bell.'
They stood a few metres from the stone wall.
'I'll be "AH", Echizen, you'll be "UN". If I call out "AH", call out "UN" so I know where you are. Whoever is in a better psoition to get ball will go for it. OK?'
The tennis ball flew under their clashing rackets and rolled away into the grass.
'Oi! That was my ball!'
'No, it was mine! You're standing too close, Momoshiro-Senpai.'
The older boy huffed and picked up the ball.
'Fine. I'll stand back further. Again!'
'That one was mine!'
'It barely went past me!'
'I- Oh. Sorry. I forgot about-'
'Yeah. I'm sorry, I won't do it again.'
'Don't make promises you can't keep, Momoshiro-Senpai,' Ryoma said without venom. 'There isn't enough time to practise this. Better to find out now than during an official match.'
Momoshiro-Senpai stared him.
'Oi Echizen! You can't back off from a challenge, you just can't! Didn't we decide that real men play doubles? So what if it's hard? Are you a coward?'
'You-!' Heat flooded Ryoma's face and he clenched his teeth.
'Now that's a good face! Come on, kid, I know we can get the hang of this! I know it!'
XXX xxx XXX
'Aren't you going to be late, Ryoma?'
'Momoshiro-Senpai will pick me up,' Ryoma told his mom. 'Oh. We aren't having Japanese food today?' he asked, pouting at the eggs, toast, bacon and cressonts on the table.
'Since Oba-Sama likes American food so much we're having it for breakfast today,' Nanako-San smiled at her cousin's pout and her aunt's smile.
'You have to make sure you beat Gyokurin properly,' his dad piped up from where he sat on the verander outside, door open and newspaper out, probably hiding some dumb magazine full of women in bikinis. 'Is it a singles match?'
'Dunno,' Ryoma grunted. He stuffed a cressont in his mouth.
'Yo! Echizen!' Momoshiro-Senpai's loud voice called from outside. 'I'm here!'
'I'll be going now.'
'Goodbye, Ryoma-San!' said Nanako-San. 'Good luck today!'
'Do your best!' His mom blew him a kiss as he left.
Momoshiro-Senpai leaned against a bike outside the fence, tennis bag sitting in the front basket.
'Morning, Echizen,' he chirped. 'Hop on anywhere you like. I can ride with up to two passengers.'
Ryoma stood behind Momoshiro-Senpai and held on to his shoulders.
'Go on,' he grunted, just before the older boy took off, humming.
There was a nervous, tight feeling in his belly. What if their formation didn't work? Momoshiro-Senpai might forget Ryoma couldn't synch and try to signal him that way. What if they lost the match and everyone thought it was his fault? Could he be kicked off the team for that?
No way. So long as I'm great at singles, they can't not use me. Tennis isn't a team sport unless it's doubles.
'Oi, Echizen,' Momoshiro-Senpai's voice broke into his thoughts. 'Does anyone else in the club know about you not being able to synch? Do Ryuuzaki-Sensei or Tezuka-Buchou know?'
'You don't know?'
'No one's said anything.'
'Oh yeah. Hey, are you gonna tell anyone or do you want me to keep it a secret? I think Sensei and Buchou should know. And probably Oishi-Senpai too, since he's vice-captain.'
'Che! There's no pleasing you, is there?'
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Shikinomori Sports Park was a fairly large place with lots of gardens. teachers, supervisors and students in different uniforms ran around, many of them gawking at the Seigaku team as they went to give their registration form to reception.
Ryoma could hear their whispers,
'Look, it's a first year,'
'What a shrimp!'
'Seigaku sure are calm.'
Seigaku too was full of talk, the non-regular members suprised that Tezuka-Buchou was on reserve. Everyone was surprised that he and Momoshiro-Senpai were going to play doubles. Ryoma admitted to himself compared to the Golden Pair; Kikumaru Eiji and Oishi Shuichiro handing each other towels and drink bottles, they looked terrible. Ryuuzaki-Sensei had given him an odd look when they made their request to her before, but it looked like she would give them a chance. Maybe she was curious?
Their opponents turned out to be the guys who beat them at the street courts, much to their, and his and Senpai's pleasure. The match started out alright; with AH-UN taking care of the middle, he and Momoshiro-Senpai could guard their own sides. As the games drew on, though, Gyokurin began to attack their weaknesses; a space in the side within each of their reaches, the back corner when they were both on the opposite end. Then they were getting in each other's way and getting hit by the ball from behind.
Gyokurin's teamwork was better, Ryoma admitted. Could he and Momoshiro-Senpai get their act together and beat them?
'Look!' one of Seigaku's first years cried, pointing. 'They're dividing the court!'
Momoshiro-Senpai's racket touched Ryoma's where they meet in the middle of their court.
'Momo-Senpai thinks like me,' Ryoma grinned. Momo-Senpai grinned back.
'Let's play the way we like. Leave this side to me.'
'You'd better not come on my side.'
The line they drew in the dirt turned their court into a singles match, and they were taking the lead back. Maybe it wasn't proper doubles, Ryoma thought, but who cares? This is our doubles.
A Gyokurin member made the mistake of hitting to the middle, and Ryoma heard his partner shriek,
'No! Why'd you hit there? You forgot-'
[Game, set, match! Seigaku wins, 6-2!]
'Yeah! Victory!' Momo-Senpai cried. 'Echizen!'
He held out his fist to Ryoma.
'Heh, not bad, Momo-Senpai.'
They shook hands with Gyokurin and Ryoma noticed another difference between Japanese and American culture. In the US, an opponent he'd just defeated would try to snych him as they shook hands. The Japanese were more reserved. Since Gyokurin didn't look offended or confused, they didn't try to synch him, or they didn't take it personally if he didn't synch back.
'You guys are always welcome by the street tennis courts.'
'Sure,' said Momo-Senpai.
'I already had enough of it,' said Ryoma, already walking away. He was weirdly tired for a match against weaker opponents.
XXX xxx XXX
'You two idiots!'
'It hurts! it hurts!'
'Do you think winning is all that matters?'
Ryuuzaki-Sensei's cheek-pinching claws were merciless. Ryoma actually felt water gathering in his eyes.
'In seiza as soon as you've warmed down, you two!'
She made them kneel in front of the bench after they'd stretched gently and Ryoma heard the other team and their spectators laughing at them.
'Look! Seigaku are getting punsished, even though they won!'
Their own teammates were snickering too.
'Ochibi is excused because he's a cute first year, but I expected better doubles from you, Momo!' Kikumaru-Senpai scolded as he and Oishi-Senpai picked up their rackets.
'Eiji-Senpai! That was my first time playing doubles!' Momo-Senpai whined. 'Well, my second actually - but don't blame me for lacking experience!'
Kikumaru-Senpai shook his head.
'Sit back and watch how Seigaku's Golden Pair plays.'
A drink bottle was dumped on Ryoma's lap, and Momo-Senpai was grinning at him.
'Not bad for our second time, huh? Not bad at all.'
Notes and translations
I'm trying to use American and Japanese terms (eg. sidewalk. I'm used to footpath.) so feel free to correct me here. Also tell me if I'm overdoing the Japanese vocabulary.
Buchou - a way of saying captain. In the PoT anime many Seigaku people called Tezuka "Tezuka-Buchou."
Oba-San/Sama/Chan - Aunt.
Ochibi - Baby, kiddo. Eiji is calling Ryoma their little one.
Oya-Jii - Old man, or a way of saying Dad. Can be disrespctful, possibly affectionate. Taka-san also calls his dad Oya-Jii.
Sama - A respectful, gender-neutural honourific added to a name.
San - Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss. The most common, polite honourific added to someone's name.
Senpai/sempai - Upperclassman. Senior. An honourific added to the name of a person older or senior to you, usually in a school or workplace.
Sensei - "One who has come before." People like teachers, doctors and other profesionals may be called this.