Down on My Knees
Disclaimer: I don't own Prince of Tennis.
Author's Notes: I feel like it's been forever since I've posted something. It's not because I haven't been writing. Believe me, I've been writing at least 2k every day (my goal) but nothing is worth posting. Or, some of it probably is worth posting, but because it's a new writing style, I'm too insecure/nervous to post it. But since it's been a month, I feel like I owe something to my readers. Oh, and btw, this is Meadow Wood. With a new name. -.-
Warnings: Light Shounen-ai
He blamed the damned tree trunk.
Pain, hot, unyielding pain shot up his calf. He gritted his teeth with one hand on the tree bark, trying to stand up. It was a hard-fought battle. The pain that shot up his ankle to his lower knee was excruciating, and it seemed to only intensify because of the rolling heat. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he took a heavy breath and got to his feet.
His ankle throbbed in compilation.
Ryoma glanced down and saw it was already red and swelling. With a hard swallow, he tucked the coins he'd had out to buy a Ponta back in his pocket. No point in getting a Ponta. He wasn't even sure he could walk to vending machine. With caution, he took a step forward. The pressure on his right foot sent waves of agony up his leg.
Damn it. He had a game today. How the hell was he supposed to play his match with a hurt ankle?
The steady voice caught his attention. Ryoma hid his right leg behind his left, trying to appear casual. "Buchou," he said.
The captain looked great as usual: dark hair gleamed in the light, brown eyes flecked with burgundy and lean muscles glowing from sweating in the heat. Ryoma gulped, averted his gaze, and wiped his palms against his shorts. He felt flustered, with his aching ankle, his attraction to his captain, and the boiling heat.
Tezuka sensed his lack of cool exterior, and arched his brow. "Is everything alright, Echizen?"
Ryoma managed a smirk, half-hearted as it was. "Of course. I was thirsty."
Tezuka nodded. "Your match starts in ten minutes. Start warming up."
Warming up? Ryoma wasn't sure if he could walk. A sudden cramp fizzed with his twisted leg. Ryoma hissed through his teeth.
"Echizen?" Tezuka looked mildly concerned now.
"My foot. I hit it on the tree trunk."
Tezuka's brow creased. "Will you be able to play?"
The thought of not playing was too horrifying for the young freshman. He gave a cocky grin. "Of course I can play. They're all mada mada dane anyway."
The dark pair of eyes studied him, searching for lies. Ryoma met his gaze evenly.
"Alright," Tezuka finally said. "Don't let your guard down."
The moment Tezuka turned around and walked away, Ryoma let out a low groan. He looked down at his ankle. The throbbing was now a constant nag against his foot, even when he wasn't walking, and he felt slippery nerves edge up his spine. He wanted to play – he would play, and win, no matter the pain. But it was going to be a long match. A long, humid match.
Ryoma was anything but excited.
He had rolled his sock up so they couldn't see the redness. He hoped nobody was suspicious. As he entered the court, racquet behind his shoulder, he noticed that instead of Ryuzaki-Sensei sitting on the bench to watch over them, Tezuka was substituting. Ryoma frowned. He wasn't sure if this was a good thing or not. Ryuuzaki's sharp eye would catch something out of place immediately, but Tezuka was stricter.
Oh well, Ryoma felt a smirk crawl up his face. He has no right to punish me for playing. He's the one who nearly broke his arm for a lifetime against Atobe.
"Echizen," Tezuka called him over.
Ryoma winced as sharp pain jolted his leg, but swiftly approached Tezuka.
"Your walk," Tezuka said. "It's awkward. Are you certain you didn't sprain your ankle?"
Sprain? Ryoma wanted to laugh. The bones in his poor ankle were probably cracked and bleeding and broken. That's what they felt like, anyway. Instead of saying that, he jerked his shoulder in a shrug. "I only banged my foot against the tree trunk. It's fine now." No use in mentioning that he'd full out tripped and twisted the poor thing.
"Are you certain?"
"Yes," Ryoma nodded. "Buchou's worrying too much."
Tezuka raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. Ryoma strolled off to the net to shake hands with his opponent, and made sure his walk was as sassy and confident as ever. It didn't matter if the injury felt like it'd doubled in the past ten minutes. As long as he won his match. Shaking hands with his opponent, he decided not to worry too much. This game wasn't important. It was part of a smaller tournament, and they'd destroyed everyone they'd faced so far.
He would be fine. Of course he would be.
He wasn't so sure ten minutes later, when the heat had shot up by a million Celsius and his whole body throbbed for his ankle. Twinges of electric pain teased his leg every time he ran back and forth to return a shot. This was torture. Torture. It was worse because he knew his senpai could tell something was off. The guy wasn't even that good and they were tied 2-2.
"Stupid ankle," Ryoma said under his breath. He sprinted forward and slammed the ball down as hard as he could. It hit pinpoint-left-corner, and clattered into the fence.
The referee called, "Seigaku, 3-2."
Body trembling under his clothes, Ryoma slowly walked to where Tezuka was sitting. He slid into the seat as casually as he could and let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Sitting down felt great. The pressure on his leg lifted, and the pain went down by a thousand times. He eagerly grabbed his water bottle from the bench and took a long swig.
Tezuka watched him, eyes narrowed.
"Echizen. You've been making careless mistakes. You're slow."
Ryoma didn't say anything. His ankle stung.
"How is your ankle?"
A flash of irritation crossed Ryoma's face. "I said it was fine, didn't I?"
Tezuka frowned. "Your play is off."
"You've played in hotter."
Ryoma glared at him, hands curling into a fist. His nails dug into his palms painfully. Stupid buchou. He didn't have to worry so much. He was handling it fine on his own, wasn't he? He would still win, despite the pain. With a huff, and a scowl, he marched off to the serving line. He'd show his captain. He wouldn't let his opponent get another point from now on.
Even so, as he bent down, the pain that rocketed up his leg and to his knee was deafening. He winced, then swallowed hard. The serve went over easy and slow. His opponent hit it back fiercely, and Ryoma was sprinting again. Back and forth, up and down, high and low. Everything hurt. As he hit a particularly hard ball, one that put a lot of pressure on his right leg, he squeezed his eyes tightly and tried to block out the pain.
His opponent called, "Are you sure you're Echizen Ryoma? I've heard great things about you. You're play isn't half as good as they say."
"Shut up," was Ryoma's witty comeback.
As he ran forward to return the next ball, he felt an agonizing spasm in his leg. He stopped short and fought to keep his hands from clutching his swollen ankle. Instead, he just bit his lip down hard, browns creased, right leg trembling from the pressure. The ball sailed past him and the opponent got a point.
"Echizen," Tezuka stood up. He'd seen enough. "You'll forfeit the match."
Ryoma's eyes turned fierce. "Yadda. I refuse."
"You've clearly hurt yourself. It's reckless to continue."
"No," Anger simmered under his tone, "The match is almost done. My ankle's fine."
Tezuka gave him a long look. "Are you sure?" The words were said with warning, as if this was his last chance to back out and tell the truth. Ryoma just stared at him before giving a curt nod and picking up his racquet which he'd dropped in pain. "I'm fine, buchou," he squared his shoulders and turned his back.
He was fine. He'd prove it.
With a determine scowl set on his face, he turned to finish the match.
The moment the opponent served, Ryoma found himself running again. His ankle was on fire. But he continued to play, determined to outlast the game, even as his heart pounded and Tezuka watched him with a careful eye. After winning the first three points, Ryoma stumbled to the serving line and bent his knees in preparation.
His ankle jerked. He ignored it. The opponent served, and Ryoma took a step forward.
And then all he could hear, feel, and see was pain. A blur of red, orange, and black filled his vision. A screaming, scorching pain soared up his throbbing ankle. He couldn't think. He couldn't think about the match or controlling himself. All he could think about was the pain. It was grueling. Insufferable.
Ryoma dropped to his knees. Tears pooled his eyes in an instant. His head swam.
He heard the other regulars shouting from behind the coiled fence, but their voices were hazy, distant. There was only pain. There was pain a minute ago. There was pain right now. There would be a pain a minute after. Constant, unyielding pain. He tried to get rid of the torment, the harrowing, searing electricity sizzling his leg.
"Echizen," It was Tezuka's voice, he could tell. Ryoma didn't care about his pride. He couldn't feel his ankle. His mind spun.
Strong arms wrapped around his shaking body. They pulled him closer, until Ryoma felt his face being buried in the chest of his captain. Tezuka voice was soft against his ear, so different from his usually stern tone, "It's alright. The pain will pass," the voice said. Ryoma wasn't so sure. The pain just rocketed up and down, and Ryoma prayed for it to stop.
"Nngh…make it stop, buchou."
He felt Tezuka's cheek against his hair. "Wait a little bit more. Try not to think about it."
Try not to think about? Ryoma held in a bitter laugh. That was impossible. But Tezuka was right. The first burst of excruciating pain had lessened, and was slowly resigning to a constant, steady pulse. It didn't hurt that Tezuka was holding him so tight, so reassuringly, with a hand on his head and one supporting his back.
With ragged breaths, he left his head on Tezuka's shoulder. "I…buchou…that wasn't supposed to happen."
Tezuka exhaled. "You're forfeiting."
Ryoma didn't bother to protest. The pain he'd experienced a moment ago, and even now, was too much to handle. And it wasn't like he had an option anyway. Tezuka steadied an arm around his hips and helped him to his feet. When Ryoma stood up fully, the pressure on his right leg shot up again, but Ryoma refused to make a noise.
He clung tightly to Tezuka's arm as he limped back to the bench.
As he slid into the seat, he saw the regulars faces pressed up against the fence in concern.
"Mou, Ochibi, are you alright?"
"Echizen. What the hell happened?"
"My data concludes that there's a %90 chance he injured his ankle."
Ryoma let out a shaky breath. "I'm fine," he said. Tezuka came back with a bag of ice. With the sunlight gleaming over him, Ryoma noticed Tezuka's shirt was wet. A second later, he realized his own cheeks felt wet too. He swiped at them furiously. He must have cried on Tezuka because of the pain. Great. He was too ashamed to look up.
"Ice," Tezuka wordlessly held the ice pack to Ryoma's ankle.
Ryoma gritted his teeth. "That hurts."
"It'll help after."
He opened his mouth to argue, then realized that there was anger hidden beneath Tezuka's calm face. His stomach muscles clenched. Of course Tezuka was mad at him. He'd lied, even after being asked several times if his ankle was okay, and now he was probably going to get the cold treatment for it.
As Tezuka held the ice pack to his leg, he adjusted his glasses. "You shouldn't have played that match. You're ankle looks like it might be broken."
"It wasn't that bad before."
"Still," Tezuka's voice was stern. "The match wasn't so important that you needed to play."
"I would have won."
Tezuka gave him one, hard look, and Ryoma looked away. As he tried to swallow the wallowing guilt he felt, he realized how exhausted he was. His ankle ached, but the rest of his body burned with fatigue as well. It'd been a hot, long match, even though it hadn't been finished. Tezuka noticed his weary composure, and decided to be less harsh than usual.
"You'll be running forty laps once you recover."
"Only forty?" Ryoma said.
"I can make it sixty if you want."
Ryoma grumbled, but a half-grin filled his face. Even through the pain, he remembered Tezuka's arms holding him tight, his cheek against his head. He shivered, not out of pain, but of thrill. That had to count as something. Buchou cared. His heart felt giddy at the thought. As he thought about this, a frown slipped over the smile.
Something was nagging him. Injustice.
"Buchou," Ryoma said.
"I don't think it's fair that I have to run laps."
Tezuka looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "Why not?"
"Because," Ryoma felt a cheeky grin stretch onto his face. "That time against Atobe, you sacrificed your arm to play. It was the same here, in a way."
Realization crossed Tezuka's face. Ryoma wondered if he'd make an excuse, like that was different, or the match was more important, or but I'm the captain. But Tezuka was a respectable boy, not one to make excuses, and he took in Ryoma's words with consideration. He had a point. A vital point. He sighed.
"Alright. I'll run forty laps too."
"Really?" Even as Ryoma's ankle pulsated, and the heat bore down on his forehead, he couldn't help but feel happy.
"I have no choice," Tezuka said.
"So you'll run laps," Ryoma smirked. "I can't believe buchou has to assign himself laps."
Tezuka just shook his head and turned away, closing his water bottle and zipping it into his tennis bag. The day had given him a pounding headache. As he rummaged around for his Advil, he felt the faint outlines of a smile sweep his face, barely noticeable. He didn't know why. He zipped up his bag, and began to stand up.
Ryoma's hand shot up and grabbed his wrist.
"Echizen?" Tezuka turned to look at him.
Ryoma stumbled to his feet. "About the laps," he smiled earnestly. "We'll run them together?"
Tezuka's throat thickened, but a second later, he nodded, and affirmed:
And when he saw Ryoma's gold eyes light up, full with delight, the headache swept away like it had never even been there.