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The Power of Gossip - Chapter 8

Title: The Power of Gossip
Rating: T
SummaryIn Tezuka’s defence, it had been a moment of panic at the end of a very stressful day. Now everyone thinks he and Ryoma are dating.
Author’s Notes:  Ryoma is finally made uncomfortable.

Chapter One - One White Lie
Chapter Two - This Is How Rumours Get Started
Chapter Three - Dropping Pennies
Chapter Four - Resisting the Forces of Chance
Chapter Five - Over-thinking Things
Chapter Six - Discussing Rumours
Chapter Seven - Reading Between the Lines



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The Power of Gossip
 
Chapter 8 – Outside the Comfort Zone
 
By Sinnatious
 
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Tezuka spent most of the rest of the evening, night, and a good chunk of the morning running the issue through his head over and over again. Since his reactions the day before, it had becoming a burning need to understand. Yet no matter how many different angles he looked at it, he still couldn’t see where his friends had found evidence of their relationship. But there had to be something, otherwise they never would have leapt to the conclusion that the two of them were dating based on the tail-end of that one fib, or at least would have shown some shock or SOMETHING. 
 
Even after investing so much thought in the matter, though, the tennis pro was at a loss. So he finally caved and invited Oishi to lunch that day, intending to ask him about it. Fortunately, the others all seemed to have their own plans, so it wasn’t hard to get his old friend alone for what he expected to be a mildly humiliating conversation. 
 
Their talk was casual to begin with, centred mostly around tennis and the upcoming tournament. Towards the end of lunch, though, Tezuka sprung the question, hoping that the mere act of asking it wouldn’t cement the notion further in the well-meaning doubles player’s brain. “Oishi, there’s something that’s been bothering me, and I was hoping you might be able to explain it to me.”
 
“What? Something’s bothering you? Tezuka, you know you can come to me with anything right? You arm is okay, isn’t it? Your schedule isn’t too stressful? Problems with your coach? Oh, you and Echizen didn’t have a fight did you?” Oishi fretted. Of course, that was the problem with talking with his old friend. Sometimes the gentle man could get ahead of himself. If anything, his mothering had become worse over the years, instead of better.
 
“My arm and tennis are both fine. My issue is with Echizen.”
 
“Oh, you two ARE fighting? I did think it was a little odd that you hadn’t been sitting together and whatnot.”
 
“No we’re not…,” Tezuka started, but gave up. They weren’t fighting, but they weren’t going out either. Rather than repeat himself in futility, he continued, “My issue… or rather, question, is as to why everyone is so accepting of this notion that the two of us are in some sort of… relationship.” The words themselves felt foreign on Tezuka’s tongue. “Nobody was even surprised by the idea. Why is that? Why was everyone so willing to believe that Echizen and I would be going out?”
 
His friend grinned, seeming relieved that the issue wasn’t something more serious. His answer was then surprisingly simple.  "You're the only one who can reign him in, of course."

Tezuka almost dropped his fork at that.  He cursed his recent lack of composure for what felt like the millionth time that week, managing to ground out a surprised "What?" without squeaking.
 
Oishi laughed.  "You mean even though you two got together you never even noticed?" Tezuka forwent the usual corrections in the interest of getting an answer.  "Have you ever seen Echizen listen to anyone else?  His manager will spend hours bullying him into going to a press conference, but one word from you and he's there immediately.  Inui couldn't get him to keep to the training acumen he'd set up at all until you'd suggested that it was a good one.  He'll adjust for even the smallest things you say!  It's sort of cute, though don't tell Echizen I said that. I’m surprised it was bothering you. Sorry, it’s just been sort of obvious for everyone else. Inevitable, maybe. You two are off in your own world all the time, it just seemed like a reasonable conclusion."

Tezuka was too busy mentally reeling in shock to respond.  He had no idea that his effect over the younger pro was so powerful, but now that Oishi had pointed it out, he could see that it was true.  Echizen typically didn't listen to anyone, but he was always obedient when the elder pro stepped in.  Was it just habit from when he'd been captain?  But that was years ago!  The thought that even his careless words could have that sort of effect on Ryoma was rather humbling.  He'd never honestly believed that the youth respected him that much.
 
Though Echizen had asked Inui to be his manager mere hours after Tezuka had suggested it. Had that just been coincidence, or…?

"And, of course, at the same time Echizen is the only one who ever challenges you," Oishi continued thoughtfully.  "Not just in tennis, though certainly there is that to think about.  He makes you think.  He pushes you, makes you step outside of your comfort zone when no one else can. And the two of you have always got along so well, too."
 
“But surely… that alone isn’t enough to make you think that we’re… you know?” Tezuka croaked, finding his voice again at last.
 
“Well, no, I guess not,” Oishi conceded, oblivious to the chaos his words had unleashed upon his friend. “Maybe it was just because neither of you showed the least bit of interest in girls? And there was the lavender shirts…” Tezuka had no idea what his wardrobe had to with it, but didn’t dare interrupt. “I guess eventually we started to assume you were gay, and then from there it was a small leap to assume that the two of you would eventually get together. I guess it might not have been so simple for you two, though, right? Say, how did it all happen? You still haven’t told any of us exactly how long you’ve been together, or when you finally realised your own feelings.”
 
There weren’t any feelings to realise – or at least, he didn’t think there were. His reactions to Fuji’s lewd comments the day before had left him suddenly doubtful. Tezuka just shook his head, unable to trust his voice. He’d been expecting the whole ‘never been interested in girls’ deal – tabloid writers had tried to pose the question often enough – but Oishi had thrown him a real curveball in regards to Echizen’s behaviour.
 
“Oh, of course, it’s probably very personal. Sorry,” his friend apologised hurriedly. “But… you aren’t having problems, are you?”
 
Tezuka very nearly laughed. “Just the one.” We’re not actually dating. “Thank you for lunch, and your time. I expect Kikumaru will be waiting for you by now. You’ll be wanting to get back to training.”
 
“Oh, you’re right, look at the time! I’m late! Sorry Tezuka, I’ve got to run!”
 
The doubles player all but dashed out of the diner, thankfully leaving the pro alone with his thoughts. It was absurd. Surely Echizen didn’t treat him that differently to all the others? It was just habitual respect, left over from the days where he was captain of the tennis team. 
 
Eventually, he shook himself from his introspection and returned to the hotel. To his surprise, the room wasn’t empty. His roommate – the other half of his current predicament - was fussing about in the kitchenette. A video of a tennis match – it looked to be from last year’s French Open – was playing on the TV. Just his luck, the focus of his troubles – innocent though he may be – just had to choose today to lounge about the room.
 
“Echizen,” he greeted, still somewhat in a daze. “What are you doing in here?”
 
“Buchou? Back already?”
 
“I thought you’d be out with Momoshiro again.”
 
“Che, he and Kaido spent the whole morning arguing. Got bored. Borrowed some of Inui’s videos. Want to watch?”
 
It probably wouldn’t help his already terribly damaged credibility to keep hanging out with his supposed significant other, but nor did he want to deal with Fuji or Inui while his world was still spinning. Watching a match on TV was probably the best way to put the issue out of his mind. “Okay.”
 
“You want something to drink?”
 
“Oh, I’ll get it,” he offered, half-rising from his seat which he didn’t even remember taking. 
 
“Already here. I’ll take care of it.” The teen removed the electric jug of boiling water, fishing for a mug. Tezuka attention was temporarily stolen away by a rally on the screen. 
 
"Here," Echizen said, placing his cup in front of him.  Tezuka accepted it with an absent-minded nod, taking an appreciative sip.  It was his favourite blend, and just the right strength - so much so that he paused.

"You got it perfect," he remarked to the younger tennis player, who was in the process of opening his own can of Ponta. He didn’t know where the youth had found it – he hadn’t seen grape flavoured Ponta anywhere other than Japan yet. Probably wasted suitcase space bringing it with him.

The youth shrugged.  "It's how you like it, isn't it?"  His attention was almost wholly fixed on the match occurring on the television in front of them.

It was, and that was why it was so remarkable.  It was so close to how he normally blended it that he could have made it himself.  Echizen was that observant?

He supposed it stood to reason, considering that they'd been spending a fair amount of time together on the circuit for the past two years, but even then, his companion had never struck him as the sort to pay attention to things like that - or rather, to pay attention to anything but tennis.  Oishi’s words came back to haunt him once again. Was it really true?

Over the rest of the day, while they watched tennis matches on TV and then later went out with the others, Tezuka began noticing other instances he found almost odd - little gestures from his roommate that he hadn't ever noticed but surprised him when he did.  They were all small things that Echizen seemed to do almost automatically - such as rewinding and replaying all of the exact shots he wanted to see again in the video without having to exchange any words, handing him the sauces he wanted at dinner without him even having to ask – he hadn’t managed to grab the seat at the opposite end of the table on this excursion - or keeping the space at the end of the couch free for him, just as he preferred.  Were these things Echizen had always done, and he was only noticing now that they’d been brought to his attention? 
 
What was he supposed to make of a revelation like that? At least now he had some notion as to where perhaps his friends had found some evidence of a relationship to base their assumptions on, however tenuous that proof was, but what could he really do about it? It wasn’t like he could just ask Echizen to stop, especially since the teen seemed to perform these little gestures of uncharacteristic thoughtfulness almost automatically. At least, he assumed it was automatic, given the young tennis star’s careless attitude while doing them. 
 
Not to mention he still hadn’t had the chance to really examine his odd reaction to Fuji’s teasing words the day before, even though they still lingered at the back of his mind. It had actually taken quite a bit of self-control to resist stealing glances at his roommate when they’d been watching videos that afternoon, and it unsettled him. Even now, as they ate, his eyes automatically slid to the side, before the sight of Fuji talking to Echizen quickly forced his gaze away again.
 
What were they talking about? Over the din of the restaurant they were eating at, it was hard to hear the hushed conversation, words getting lost in the background clatter of plates and conversations from neighbouring tables. That smile was one he had come to associate with the blue-eyed man making jokes at someone else’s expense - but Echizen was somehow managing to look completely uninterested in the conversation. Probably the perfect foil to ward off that particular brand of subtle teasing. Tezuka was curious as to what they were talking about, but knew better than to interfere. Instead he settled for distracting himself by talking with Kawamura for the rest of the meal about his plans for his restaurant. 
 
All too soon, it seemed, the meal was over and they were leaving. It was still quite early in the evening, and Tezuka realised with a start that he’d probably wind up spending the rest of the night watching videos with Echizen in their hotel room at the current rate – the younger pro had already insinuated as much. While that seemed a pleasant enough activity, he had not yet forgotten his earlier vow to temporarily put distance between the two of them in order to avoid fuelling the rumour mill’s fire any further. Spending an evening cooped up alone in their hotel room would look suspicious to almost anyone, especially when they’d already been watching videos all afternoon. 
 
“It is still early,” Inui piped up suddenly from behind him. “And I’ve been curious to visit an American bar. There’s one on the way back from the hotel – perhaps we could stop and check it out?”
 
“Excellent idea, Inui,” Fuji congratulated, then tilted his head in a thoughtful manner. “…But isn’t the drinking age here twenty-one?”
 
Oishi, Eiji and Takashi had all perked up at the suggestion, and looked worriedly to the youngest three of their number. “Well, we wouldn’t want to leave anyone out…,” Oishi began hesitantly.
 
“Maybe we can sneak them in, nya!” Eiji suggested with a wicked grin. 
 
“Kikumaru,” Tezuka chastised, feeling obligated to step in before they started breaking laws. Even if it was only a minor misdemeanour, he hardly wanted to be party to it.
 
“Che, who wants to go to a bar anyway?” Echizen muttered dismissively, already wandering away.
 
“Oh, Echizen, wait just a moment,” Fuji called, jogging over to him.
 
“Fssshuuuu, let us know what it’s like,” Kaido hissed, similarly stalking away, leaving Momo no choice but to follow, grumbling vocally about differing alcohol laws in different countries. Oishi was fretting about leaving them out, but the others had already forgotten, discussing with Inui the location of the establishment. Tezuka wasn’t particularly fond of the practice of partaking in alcohol, but it was currently better than the alternative – and he wouldn’t mind trying something different. Fuji rejoined the group several moments later. At his friends’ inquisitive glances, he merely replied, “Just had to give something to Echizen.”
 
Tezuka didn’t really want to know, especially given the way Fuji was smiling. 
 
The bar Inui spoke of was pleasant – it wasn’t too crowded, and the music was just loud enough to discourage much in the way of close conversation but not so raucous as to leave him with a headache. The lighting was a little dim, but there wasn’t much smoke and the floors were clean despite the grunginess of the entranceway. The rowdier members of the group told loud jokes, and even though it wasn’t the sort of activity Tezuka ever liked partaking in, he found himself relaxing in the atmosphere – though not enough to forget to guard his drink from his friends. Close association with Fuji and Inui over the years could foster paranoia in even the most easy-going of individuals, especially when it came to beverages.
 
“Tezuka, you should try this one,” Fuji suggested, sliding some electric green concoction his way as though the mere thought had summoned him.
 
“I’m quite fond of this one, actually,” he responded firmly, clutching his glass a little closer. 
 
“Oh? Top it up, then?”
 
“Hardly. I’m not even halfway through.” Tezuka took another small sip of his drink, and nodded to Inui to show that he was listening to him prattle off data about Eiji’s level of alcohol tolerance.
 
Yes, it was a mildly enjoyable evening, going out drinking with friends, even if Kikumaru got drunk and rowdy awfully quickly, and Fuji kept trying to refill his glass. He rather suspected his friend was trying very hard to get him drunk, but ever since his graduation he’d learned the art of how to nurse a drink and avoid getting intoxicated. Especially when someone as manipulative as the former prodigy seemed so very interested in achieving that goal. 
 
When Kikumaru managed to knock over his drink for the second time in a row, Oishi decided it was time to leave – no doubt dreading the prospect of having to train when his partner had a hangover. They left the bar quite late, with only the hyperactive doubles player seeming to be feeling the effects of the alcohol, though Kawamura was being a little louder than his usual meek self. Tezuka himself had only the slightest of buzzes, and felt mildly proud that he’d been able to resist Fuji’s not-so-subtle attempts at manipulation, if his friend’s mildly disappointed demeanour was anything to go by.
 
So soothing the time out had been that Tezuka had briefly forgotten the issues that had been plaguing his thoughts for most of the day – that was, until he finally returned to the hotel room.
 
Echizen had been sitting on the bed dressed in the hotel’s white complimentary bathrobe, but hurriedly slammed the bedside draw shut when he entered the room. Even though it had only been a glimpse, it looked like he had been contemplating something.
 
 "What is it?" he asked, not bothering with a greeting. It was odd behaviour from the teen.

"It's nothing." the young pro said quickly, picking up his racket from where it sat next to the bed and plucking at the strings to look busy – never mind how ridiculous it was to be checking your strings before you went to bed. 

Tezuka didn't believe him for an instant.  Striding over purposefully, he opened the drawer before Echizen could react.  Strangely, it was entirely empty... except for one bottle of lavender oil.

"Fuji gave it to me," his roommate mumbled, looking highly uncomfortable and face turning bright red.

Oh.
 
Oh.
 
Tezuka was sure that he too must be sporting a blush by now. This must have been what Fuji was talking to Echizen about earlier. And then… had he been trying to get him drunk to…
 
Surely even Fuji wouldn’t go that far! Teasing him with lewd comments was one thing, but this was entirely inappropriate!
 
“Don’t pay him any mind,” he eventually managed, though it was a trying task to keep his voice level. Carefully, he placed the bottle back in the drawer and shut it. Out of sight, out of mind. “I’m going to go have a shower.”
 
When he climbed into bed that night though, he was extra careful to stay on his side. At the rate this holiday was going, Tezuka was rather sure that he was going to be more tired afterwards than if he’d never gone at all.
 
 
 

Comments

mimineko_chan
Sep. 26th, 2007 09:14 pm (UTC)
I'M GOING TO PUT MY TENNIS RACKET RIGHT NEXT TO MY BED FROM NOW ON...