Breathe (2 AM)
Disclaimer: I don't own Prince of Tennis.
Author's Notes: Some brotherly….angst? O.O This is new. I've only ever written fluff for them. Anyway, this is for Ciel D' Serendepite for drawing the most amazing TezuRyo picture in the world. Thank you with all my heart, Ciel ;) I know you'd probably have preferred thrill pair, but my muse was itching for some Ryoga stuff, so I hope that's okay with you.
The airport was empty.
Ryoma curled into the uncomfortable seat, blanket slipping off his body. He shivered, and tugged it to his chin again. It was a cold winter night, with snow piling in buckets outside the window. He saw the shadowy outlines of airplanes lined for takeoff. A thin stream of moonlight broke through the glimmer of the window.
Beside him, his father flicked through a magazine. Even though he was humming, his eyes were heavy and his mouth dragged in a straight line. He'd probably went through a pack of cigarettes in the past hour, even though he usually only smoked one in the morning.
It was Ryoga's fault, of course. It was always his fault.
"Can we just go home?" Ryoma asked.
Nanjiroh arched a brow. "My son can't handle an airport?"
"It's two in the morning," Ryoma pulled the blanket tighter around him. "And this airport doesn't even have heating."
"Wimp. He's a wimp," his father sang.
Ryoma felt edgy nerves shoot up his spine. Stupid father. But he was too tired to argue, and instead found a comfortable position to sleep in. He stared up at the distant ceiling. Everything about the airport was stark white. White walls, white counters, white lights. It made the place look large and empty, like a hospital. Lonely, even.
He glimpsed his father's wristwatch. 2:30 AM. His brother was late.
Ryoma shifted. "He's not coming."
Nanjiroh glanced up. His eyes softened. "He'll come, Ryoma. The plane was probably delayed."
"It's not like he ever keeps his promises," Ryoma's mouth tasted bitter. The cool metal of the seats sent slivers of cold up his skin. He could hear the tapping of a woman in heels marching on the tile floors. Nanjiroh put a hand on his head, calloused fingers stroking through the thick silk of green. "He'll come this time. For your mother."
"He doesn't care," Ryoma said. His heart contracted. "He doesn't give a shit about anyone but himself."
"Ryoma," Nanjiroh's voice was sharp.
Ryoma didn't apologize. Maybe it wasn't true, but from what he'd gathered from the events of his life, that was fact. He turned away from his father and stared at the long window illuminating the airport. Outside, snow drizzled over dark clouds, and a distant lamppost flickered on and off. He wouldn't come. Ryoga never kept his word.
Even when they were kids, he'd never been kind. And now, what was he? Ryoma didn't know. He hadn't seen him in years. All he knew was that he was in some hard core gang, gambling in Los Angelos, going on high-quality cruises – corrupted, money-oriented. Probably getting drunk every night.
He didn't know why he had to come. Ryoga wasn't even his brother anymore.
His father heaved a sigh. He stood up and yawned loudly. "I'm going to get a coffee. You want anything, kid?"
"No," Ryoma burrowed his head under the blankets. He listened to his father's noisy footsteps clamber away until silence filled the dark fabric. He could hear every breath he took, every little beep or buzz in the airport. It was cold, and dark, and lonely – why couldn't they just be home? He didn't need stupid Ryoga.
"Chibisuke, I'm going to run away tomorrow. Wanna come?"
"Why would Nii-san want to run away? Nii-san will miss okaa-san and Oyaji."
"To explore the world. It'll be fun. You up for it?"
"Ryo-tan doesn't have a passport."
"We'll steal it from Oyaji when he's not looking."
"But stealing's supposed to be bad."
"Chibisuke, live a little. This could be the experience of a lifetime."
Ryoma snorted. He was glad he'd been smart enough as a kid to not be lugged across the world by Ryoga. Who knew where he'd have ended up. Probably broke, abandoned by his brother, searching for a way to get back home without money. He pulled his knees to his chest. Nanjiroh came back with a coffee in his hand, whistling.
"He's not coming," Ryoma said. "Can we just go?"
Nanjiroh grinned. "Nope. If only for your misery."
"Son, that's no way to treat your beloved father."
It was funny how his father tried to keep up the charade that everything was okay. Nothing was okay. Ryoma hid his face in the blanket. His eyes ached for sleep. He knew he had the ability to doze off in minutes if he wanted to, so he didn't know why he was staying up. It wasn't like he had hope Ryoga would come. His blood ran cold. Of course he didn't have hope. He didn't care about his brother at all. He didn't -
A choked feeling clogged up his throat. Stupid Ryoga.
His father put a hand on his back. "Go to sleep."
Ryoma's strained eyes closed, his breathing unsteady. "I hate him," he said, so quietly, so tiredly, that Nanjiroh didn't bother to scold him. A moment later, with his father's hand on his back and the sound of the clicking emptiness of the airport, Ryoma fell into his dreams. They were soft and nice, and away from reality, and in his subconscious mind, he hoped he stayed in them forever.
Four AM. He blinked wearily.
"Is he here?" he said, hoarsely.
Nanjiroh's eyes were shadowed over. "Go back to sleep, son. No, he's not."
Ryoma didn't dwell on it, and plonked back into dreamland. His heart ached with an emotion he'd learned to forget.
Six AM. The bleary start of morning painted the walls gray.
From outside the window, the dark sky filtered into light, and orange dipped from behind the snowy hills.
"I told you he wouldn't come," Ryoma's mind was hazy, half-asleep.
Nanjiroh looked exhausted, struggling to keep his eyes open. "I don't know anymore, alright?"
His father didn't even believe. Ryoma curled up, closed his eyes, and fell back to sleep. His brother was someone who, once they spread their wings and flew, never came back to their nest. Maybe he wouldn't have minded so much if they'd never been close, but there'd been a time when Ryoga had been his everything.
Now he was starting to wonder if it'd just been him who had cared. Maybe family had been a fun game for his brother. Just like everything else had been.
Eight AM. It was light now, the pale pink of the sky fading into blue.
Ryoma felt a hand stroking his hair, soft and steady, and for a moment, he thought it was his father. But this hand was skinnier, and rougher. The fingers were shaking. With a jolt, Ryoma looked up, and saw his brother's face smiling at him, gold eyes warm, apologizing. A startled joy shot through Ryoma, and even though he was furious, he smiled back.
Ryoga laughed, dazedly. "I did, didn't I? Well, I missed ya Chibisuke."
"You did?" Warmth crept through the defenses of his heart.
"Yeah. I promised I'd come, right?" he said. "Too bad you missed the trip around the world. I invited you."
"I can play better tennis than you, though."
Ryoga smirked. "It always goes back to that, doesn't it?"
"Tennis is better than what you do."
The lips curved into apology. "I'm sorry. I'm an awful brother. But I want to make it up to you."
Delirious. He felt delirious. But he kept his lips pursed. "How so?"
"To stay. Forever."
Ryoma echoed, "Forever?"
"That's what I said, didn't I?"
He felt hazy delight all over his body. Ryoma reached his hand out to reach for his brother's face, to touch him, but suddenly he was going away, disappearing. His smile faded, his body evaporated into thin air. Ryoma opened his mouth to make a noise, but in a split second, his brother was gone. There was only emptiness and the sound of a plane taking off.
8 AM again. The skies were bright blue out the window. His breathing was labored. He searched, wildly, for his brother's face, but the only thing he saw was his father, packing up the carry-along bag they'd brought. Ryoma felt panic, frantic and instilling, thunder in his chest. The blanket slipped off as he got to his feet.
Nanjiroh glanced up. Dark shadows circled his eyes, and his smile looked like it'd been strewn together with a knitting needle. "He didn't come," he said, softly. "You were right, boy."
"What?" Ryoma felt like he was floating underwater. "What? He didn't come?"
"Yeah," Nanjiroh scratched the back of his head. The airport was bustling now, with families and people. Warmth covered the white walls. "Don't worry about it. We'll go have a tennis match when we get back home."
Sinking, drowning. Ryoma swallowed. It had been a dream. But it'd been a real dream. He'd seen his brother's face, felt his voice, his smell. And he'd let his heart miss and leap with joy. When he saw his father looking at him, expectantly, ready to leave, he wondered if he should tell him. Tell him that he wanted to wait some more.
But instead, he shrugged. He let himself forget.
"Yeah," he said. "I'll beat you."