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By Sinnatious
 
Summary: When Ryoma finds himself in a tough situation, his pride might keep him swimming, but it’s Tezuka who keeps his head above water.
 
Rating: PG-13
 
Author’s Note: You guys know this is 28 chapters, right? Do not be expecting quick progression or resolution! Just warning you.
 
The Dispossession of Echizen Ryoma

Chapter 3 
 
Ryoma woke that morning completely disorientated, uncertain of where exactly he was and wondering why there was sunlight on his face.  He blinked groggily as the events of the day before and the restless night came rushing back to him.  Obviously he’d managed to drop off properly eventually, though a glance at his watch informed him that it was still early morning – his normal waking time wasn’t for another hour. 

The park wasn't quite so... ominous in the morning sunlight.  It was a little dingy and distinctly lacking any features save for a couple of shady trees, a few park benches and a drinking fountain, but it seemed so much more normal and harmless now that he could observe it with proper light.  It certainly made him feel a little silly for being so spooked the night before. He stretched his stiff shoulders, contemplating what to do next.  It was still early, but there was nothing else to be done - might as well head to morning practice.  He wrinkled his nose in distaste as he looked down at his crumpled clothes.  It wouldn't hurt to make use of the clubhouse's shower facilities, either.

Glancing at his bags thoughtfully, he withdrew his wallet and school uniform and stuffed them into his backpack, then shoved the duffel bag deep into the bushes, half covering it with some leaves. Standing back to inspect his work, Ryoma decided that it shouldn't be visible to anyone who didn't know it was there - he'd have to be extremely unlucky to have anyone trip over it. He'd come back and fetch it after school - it was too big to lug around everywhere.  It was inconvenient, and the thought of leaving what was apparently now the entirety of his worldly possessions behind like that was anxiety inducing, but there wasn’t a whole lot of choice in the matter. Most people would probably hand it in as lost property if they happened to find it, so it should be safe enough.

Ryoma dusted himself off and emerged from the bushes, stopping by the water fountain to wash his face.  After double-checking that his school and tennis bags were both in order, he headed out onto the footpath with the morning joggers, making his way towards Seigaku for lack of another destination.  He walked on automatic, only stopping briefly at a convenience store to pick up some energy bars for breakfast - his rumbling stomach had acutely reminded him that he'd never had an opportunity to eat dinner the night before, and he was positively famished.

The energy bars tasted like cardboard in his mouth, but he paid it no mind as he mechanically headed towards school, relieved to find that he arrived as the gates were first opening.  Ryoma quickly make his way to the clubhouse, but was surprised to find locked.  Of course... he was normally one of the last to arrive at morning practice.

He was filthy and dirty from sleeping on the ground - he desperately needed that shower. Unfortunately, it looked like that was going to have to wait until after practice after all. 
 
Oishi arrived after he’d been waiting for about ten minutes, slouched against the clubhouse wall.
 
"Echizen?" the vice-captain asked in surprise.  "Oh, good morning!  I'm sorry - when I saw that someone had arrived at the clubhouse before me, I guess I was expecting it to be Tezuka."

Ryoma cleared his throat, finding it surprisingly hard to form words.  "'Morning, Oishi-senpai," he eventually ground out. His voice sounded strangely alien to his ears, and suddenly the entire situation took on a sensation of hyperrealism. It all felt… almost too normal. How could things still be so normal, when everything he thought he knew had changed?

The kindly 'mother' of Seigaku's tennis club busied himself unlocking the clubhouse and putting his bags away. "What brings you here so early today?"

"Nothing special," he replied automatically.

Oishi frowned at that. Ryoma knew that his answer was unsatisfactory to his senpai, but he couldn't bring himself to care.  Fortunately, the vice-captain seemed to shrug it off with a smile as he set about gathering the nets and preparing for the rest of the team's arrival.

Ryoma wandered out as the other club members started trickling in - getting more than just a few surprised glances at his uncanny earliness. He didn’t even notice.
 
When practice started, he went through the daily greetings and morning drills like a zombie, mostly because he didn’t know what else to do. He had some dim memory of Tezuka scolding him for not paying attention and assigning him laps, which he was grateful to do because they didn’t require any thought. When practice was called to a close, he headed to class for lack of any other ideas.
 
Homeroom passed in a haze, as did maths and history. Fortunately, none of the teachers called on him, so no one noticed that he hadn’t paid a whit of attention all day. At least, that was until Japanese literature before lunch. 
 
"Echizen!  Echizen!" The teacher barked, drawing his attention at last.

"Hm?" he asked, not so much startling out of his reverie as floating away from it.  He was aware, of course, that his concentration both in practice that morning and class all day had been poor, but couldn't bring himself to care.

"Your homework," the teacher repeated impatiently.  "Hand it in."

He blinked.  Homework?  "I don't have it."

"Do you need to fetch it?"

"No," he amended, "I mean I didn't do it."

The class went silent, a little surprised. Echizen Ryoma was well known for sleeping in class, but he'd always had a perfect record for homework and tests.  It wasn't particularly a huge deal, as all students forgot every now and again, or things came up, but it was obvious that the teacher wasn't quite certain of how to deal with the fact that one of the more reliable members of the class had announced quite easily that they hadn't done the homework - and in such a tone of voice that suggested that homework was the least of their concerns at that moment.  Eventually, he just settled on saying, "Don't let it happen again," and moved on to collecting the work from the rest of the students.

The bell rang a minute or so later - Ryoma robotically stood from his seat when they were dismissed for lunch, ignoring the calls of his classmates as he made his way to the roof. 

It all felt so surreal.  Everything felt so terribly normal - it was almost as though the day before had been a horrible nightmare.  It had been impossible to process anything the night before - he'd been in shock, and to a certain degree still was now, but the familiar routine and surroundings he was now immersed in helped re-centre his universe. 
 
The roof was thankfully deserted, and the freshman took up a spot near the fences at the far edge so he could stare out over the school grounds. Some of the clubs had activities during lunch hour, but the lawns were mostly filled with groups of students gathered in loose circles having lunch. Their chatter couldn’t reach the roof, though, muted to a general background warble largely drowned out by the gentle buffing of the wind and rustling of tree leaves.

The entire situation was starting to piece together in his mind.  So far it had been 'Ryoga appeared out of the blue, challenged him to a match, he lost, and suddenly he was out on the streets'.  Now, though, he was rewinding through the previous evening, finding hidden meaning in his brother’s comments and sifting through even older memories of his kin in order to make sense of everything that had occurred.

So far, he'd been able to establish that their father, tennis-obsessed weirdo that he was, must have set up some sort of twisted competition between them when they were younger. Ryoma's memories of the time when Ryoga was still living with them were fuzzy, but he could vaguely recall playing two matches with him before the one on the cruise ship, though Ryoga, being quite a bit older, had let him win both times so they'd never counted as proper games in his mind.  More telling now was that he recalled Ryoga disappearing after each match - and after the second match not returning until their fateful meeting aboard the cruise ship.  As far as he could tell, the conditions of the matches must have been that whoever lost was kicked out - Ryoga must have taken pity on him and thrown both of the matches. His father could be especially harsh with training when he became impatient, but Ryoma couldn't remember him ever being quite so Spartan.  Why would he organise a competition with those sorts of stakes? Humiliation was more his deal.  Hate and resentment bubbled deep within – Ryoma’s desire to completely destroy his father with tennis had now been magnified a hundred fold.

A small, more rational part of him wondered if that was what his father had wanted from the very beginning.  The old man had been put out when he'd expressed more of an interest in Tezuka as his rival rather than the great Echizen Nanjiroh, as had been the case since forever.  Had he maybe even called Ryoga back so that he'd have a new reason to hate him, to want to beat him in tennis?  Was it all just his father's ploy to make himself Ryoma's number one rival yet again?  Or was he trying to turn Ryoga into that rival instead? More than once his father had remarked that the ‘kid-captain’ was filling his head with all sorts of silly ideas about winning not mattering and whatnot – maybe this was just his way of taking his attention away from Tezuka and placing it back on himself?

He shook his head as though to clear it.  That theory was ridiculous.  It didn't match with what Ryoga had said at all.  It seemed a lot more like his elder brother had tired of living a wandering lifestyle and had come back to reclaim his place now that Ryoma was old enough to take care of himself.  He hadn't yet decided how he felt about that.  Though the term 'feeling' was a bit beyond him at the moment.  Other than a brief spike of resentment for his father, Ryoma was finding it curiously difficult to feel anything at all.  Reality still hadn't properly set in, he supposed.
 
It was absurd, and cruel, but his father was good at absurd and cruel so long as he thought it might improve one’s tennis. It was hard for him to comprehend, but the fact of the matter was that neither of his parents seemed to ever have any good explanation for Ryoga’s sustained absence. Was this the reason? Some elaborate Spartan tradition of abandoning your children so that they’d become strong and return as some sort of super tennis player?

The ringing bell announced the end of lunch and Ryoma dragged his reluctant feet back to class, ignoring his rumbling stomach – he’d been too focused on his thoughts to even think about food.  The afternoon's classes passed in a similar daze to the morning’s ones; he was unable to bring himself to focus on anything, mind forever wandering to a million different topics that seemed infinitely more important to sort through.
 
Afternoon practice arrived; they were doing drills, presumably so that Tezuka could keep an easier eye on everyone and prevent the sort of messing around that had occurred the day before. It seemed like a lifetime ago already. 
 
Ryoma was automatically going through the motions of his drills when suddenly Inui appeared before him, holding out a cup of blue frothy liquid with streaks of red in it.
 
“What?” he asked, when the senior didn’t seem forthcoming with his usual spiel about his latest juice. 
 
The data tennis player looked momentarily disconcerted, before adjusting his glasses and explaining, “You hit the ball into the blue basket instead of the red one. So you have to drink my new Marvellous Super-Deluxe Juice,” he explained, holding out the glass. “No getting out of it.”
 
Ryoma stared for a moment, belatedly realising that they’d changed drills and he hadn’t even noticed. No way out of it – it was best to just deal with the consequences and keep moving. He accepted the glass wordlessly and chugged it down, not even registering the taste. When he was finished, he handed the empty glass back to the slack-jawed senior and turned back to his drills. He waited for the next ball to be fed, relaxing his stance when it didn’t seem to be coming. “What?”
 
“Echizen, are you okay?” Arai asked – he was the one feeding the balls on the other side of the net.
 
“Yes,” he replied. “Hurry up. How many balls do I have left?”
 
“Seven,” Inui mumbled, shuffling away muttering under his breath. The first-year didn’t even notice the slightly concerned glances of his team mates as Arai continued feeding him balls, didn’t think anything was strange when Momoshiro willingly offered to treat him to burgers once practice ended, nor thought anything of it when half of the team tagged along. 
 
He put in his regular order with his senpai and went to find a seat for them. A still-disturbed looking Inui followed him, along with a curious Fuji. A moment later, Kikumaru and Momoshiro appeared, arms laden with everyone’s food.
 
“So… Echizen, how did you do it?” Momoshiro asked as they all started eating.
 
“Do what?” he replied as he chewed mechanically on his burger. It tasted like styrofoam in his mouth, but he ate it anyway. 
 
“You know…,” Momo risked a glance at the data-gathering senior seated diagonally from him. It was strange for Inui to accompany them on an outing that didn’t involve stalking, but the junior supposed the data tennis player was just as befuddled as the rest of them. “You managed to drink it.”
 
“Drink what?”
 
“Inui’s juice,” he whispered. 
 
Ryoma shrugged.
 
“Hoi hoi! Maybe it was actually okay for once? Did Inui finally make a juice that was drinkable? Gimme, Inui!” Kikumaru demanded, bouncing in his seat as he stretched out his arm.
 
Wordlessly, the bespectacled senior handed over his drink bottle. His classmate paused only for a second before taking a tentative sip, then dropped the bottle and ran for the bathroom.
 
Fuji was grinning now. “It appears not.”
 
Ryoma stuffed the rest of the burger in his mouth and swallowed. Even if he couldn’t taste it, he was hungry, having had only a few energy bars for breakfast and no lunch whatsoever. He started on his second.
 
“Ochibi!” Eiji gasped, when he finally re-emerged from the bathroom, scaring a few of the other customers as he did so. “That was nearly as bad as Aozu! What’s your secret? Tell me!”
 
The first-year shrugged again, then nearly choked on his food when Momoshiro grabbed him in a headlock   “Echizen, are you holding out on us? How did you do it? Did Tezuka-buchou teach you?”
 
“No! Go ask him if you want to know!” he replied, wresting himself free and returning to his burger. 
 
“Heh, all that Ponta you drink probably finally destroyed your taste buds,” the junior remarked, digging into his own meal at last. 
 
“That is highly improbable. For Echizen’s Ponta intake to have that sort of effect, he’d have to drink-”
 
“It was just a joke, Inui,” Fuji interrupted, eyes still fixed on the quiet freshman. 
 
The conversation turned to other topics after that, and while his teammates continually tried to draw him into their discussions, Ryoma remained mostly silent, only making brief comments when prompted. Fuji kept staring at him and Inui occasionally glanced at him and scribbled a few more notes in his notebook, but other than that no one pressed him for anything more. His senpai’s words seemed muted, as though they were underwater, and Ryoma found his attention continually drifting off into grey space. 
 
It was getting late by the time they left McDonalds. The seniors bade them farewell at the door, even going so far as to address the freshman personally, but he didn’t respond outside of an absent-minded wave. Ryoma then proceeded to follow a chattering Momoshiro to the sports gear shop; mostly out of habit as that was what they normally did on Wednesdays. He stared through the merchandise without seeing it, and then numbly followed his friend to the counter where he was purchasing some new sweatbands. 
 
“Echizen, want a ride home?” Momoshiro asked cheerfully as they left the shop. 
 
For the first time that day, Ryoma’s world focused properly. “No, it’s alright Momo-senpai,” he blurted. “I just remembered I have a couple of errands to run. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
 
“Hey, Echizen!” Momoshiro called out as he started walking away. Ryoma half-turned at his words. “If something IS bothering you, you know you can talk to me about it, right?” he said with a serious expression. 
 
In that one brief instant, Ryoma very nearly spilled everything to the junior. As his mouth started to form the words, though, his throat clenched. 
 
He couldn’t do it. Not just yet. 
 
Instead, he just muttered, “Okay, Momo-senpai,” and walked away. 
 
 
 

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
pat_ace87
Mar. 12th, 2008 01:14 pm (UTC)
Nanjiroh is........can't find proper word to describe him right now T.T......**Sits down to wait for next chapter ^.^**
jade_peace
Mar. 12th, 2008 06:12 pm (UTC)
ALKSDJGAIUDSOFJAKLADS;

((No coherency will be found here, whatsoever))
iluxia
Mar. 12th, 2008 09:12 pm (UTC)
I still cannot comprehend how Nanjiroh was able to throw his Ryoma out of the house, with nowhere to go to, nowhere to safe to stay for the night, no roof above his head, no food to fill his belly, and not enough clean clothes to last him for long. And no money to take care of his needs, to top it all off.

*sigh*

Hidoi neee, Nanjiroh...
m3owchan
Mar. 13th, 2008 04:04 am (UTC)
Aww, Ryoma:(
faire_estela
Mar. 13th, 2008 07:10 am (UTC)
I still want to kick Nanjiroh. You're a bad, bad woman; he's supposed to be one of my favourite characters.

And yay for the Seigaku kids. They're so concerned for their kouhai <3~
sinnatious
Mar. 13th, 2008 10:28 am (UTC)
I know. Sorry. T__T I really am.

Nanjiroh's an interesting choice of a favoured character! How unexpected.
roseofthine
Mar. 14th, 2008 04:01 am (UTC)
oh oh oh ryouga.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 25th, 2008 08:51 am (UTC)
Cool post.
i am gonna show this to my friend, man
(Anonymous)
Apr. 5th, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
thank you
favorited this one, brother
mimineko_chan
Apr. 6th, 2008 02:56 am (UTC)
Hmmm...

What would I do in this kind of situation? Probably no better than Ryoma!

No wait, I would go to the police and report child abuse and put my father to jail. Yep, it's the law (yeah, law is getting to my head).

KARUPIN! I miss her!

On to the next chapter! Sorry Sin, but this chapter give me no inspiration to write a dabble. I'm actually too sad for Ryoma. And I really hope that no one stole his things. Through with his bad luck right now, who knows? But we all know that Tezuka is going to be the shining armor and save him, ne?

- Mimi

PS: Today is my cat's birthday. She's 9 years old... *hugs her tightly and whispers to her that I'll never throw her away*
sinnatious
Apr. 6th, 2008 04:31 am (UTC)
Please give you cat a happy birthday pat for me. *___*

Oh, please do not feel obligated to write drabble for every chapter! That would be CRAZY. What you do write is lovely, though. ^__^
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )