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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: This chapter makes me relieved that I decided against chapter titles.
 
 
The Dispossession of Echizen Ryoma
 
Chapter 13
 
 
Tezuka had fetched Ryoma for lunch the next day as well, and that evening had asked only a few more cursory questions, most of which he had avoided answering.  By the end of the week, to avoid having to put up with his classmates asking annoying questions later, the first year just met the captain in the cafeteria himself.  Inui kept muttering about how terribly in error his data was, but other than that the other seniors didn't seem to mind his presence, even if they found it a little unusual. 
 
Friday afternoon practice, however, brought more surprises. Ryoma had glanced up after finishing his drill, and had been startled by the sight of his cousin – that was his cousin, Nanako, right? – standing under a tree outside the courts. The shock was bad enough that he nearly dropped his racquet. At some point, he’d practically forgotten she even existed.
 
Tezuka nodded to him when he glanced over, giving his permission for him to go speak with her before Ryoma even had to ask. Leaning his racquet against the fence, he made his way to where she was waiting outside, ignoring Horio's voice behind him complaining, "Eh? Why does Echizen get to skive off practice?!"
 
He didn't bother with any particular greeting, instead just stopping and standing awkwardly several paces away. They were far enough from the tennis courts that he was confident no one would overhear their conversation.
 
"Ryoma," she greeted him with what looked to be a relieved smile.
 
He didn't say anything; too busy drinking in the sight of a friendly familiar face. Had it only been a month? It felt like he hadn’t seen his cousin in years. Ryoma hadn't really thought about it, but a small part of him had missed seeing Nanako. Really, upon reflection, he saw more of her than he did of his mother, and she often went out of her way to cook him a Japanese-style breakfast, even though she was under no obligation to do so.
 
After a moment, he finally asked, "What are you doing here?"
 
“Looking for you, of course!” she burst out, then withdrew a little, looking embarrassed. “I’m sorry… but when I got back and heard what had happened... This was the first place I could think of to check.” She nodded towards the tennis courts. “I didn’t even know if you’d still be going to Seigaku.”
 
“Che, where else would I be?”
 
“I… I didn’t know. That’s why I was worried… I couldn’t stand the thought of not knowing where you might be if you weren’t here,” she admitted, then hesitantly ventured, "Do you have somewhere to stay?"
 
"Yeah, Tezuka-buchou is letting me stay with him at the moment." No point worrying her by mentioning his time in the park or clubhouse.
 
She smiled again – that worried little relieved smile that he was quickly starting to hate. He didn’t want to throw his cousin into the middle of all of this, but at the same time a part of him was immensely happy that there was someone from his family that actually missed him. 
 
“So, what exactly happened? From what I managed to get your father to tell me, he threw you onto the streets for something as ridiculous as losing a tennis match?”
 
Ryoma’s first instinct was to correct her by saying that tennis was never ridiculous. In the end, though, all he said was, “That’s pretty much it.”
 
She sniffed. “Pitting a twelve-year-old against someone who’s practically an adult? Uncle has gone insane. I keep telling him to give up and go bring you back, but he’s being stupid and stubborn – doesn’t want to admit that he’s even done anything wrong! Keeps talking about how it’s all for the sake of tennis! He’s always been far too irresponsible for someone his age, but I thought he at least had more common sense than this! What kind of parent-”
 
“No,” Ryoma cut her off. “Just… don’t. Who knows what’s going through that old man’s head?”
 
She stared at him in silence for a long moment, before thrusting an envelope awkwardly at him. “Here.” Cautiously, the freshman took and it and flipped it open, peeked at the contents curiously, then almost went weak at the knees at the sight of all the money inside. That had to be at least 50,000 yen! "I'm not going to sit back and just watch this forever, Ryoma, but this is all I can do for you right now."
 
"I have a part-time job," he said, more out of formality than anything else. Even though he desperately needed the money. 
 
"You're only twelve," was her surprisingly acidic response. "I seem to be the only one who remembers that. Whatever you're doing, it can't possibly pay enough."
 
“Almost thirteen,” he muttered a little petulantly.
 
“As if that makes a difference!”
 
He blinked, and then quietly pocketed the money, tugging his cap down over his eyes as he did so. “I… Thanks. It’ll really help.”
 
Ryoma was surprised a moment later when Nanako suddenly pulled him into a bone-crushing hug. He blushed faintly, embarrassed and hoping that no one on the courts was watching. “Maaa, Nanako….”
 
“I’m sorry… I just… you standing there so calmly…. I can’t imagine how it must have felt, suddenly cast aside like that for your brother….”
 
“Ryoga’s not such a bad guy. Besides, the exact same thing happened to him when he was my age.”
 
“Your father is lucky I haven’t gone to the authorities yet!” she snapped, finally releasing him from the embrace. Her words were harsh, but her eyes were shining with unshed tears.
 
“Don’t. I don’t want that sort of attention. And it wouldn’t really solve anything,” Ryoma insisted. “I’ll just practice, and a year from now, I’ll come back and beat both Ryoga and that old man!” 
 
“As if I’m going to wait a year! But I won’t go to the authorities if you insist. I’ll keep talking to them, though – both your father and your brother!”
 
He didn’t want to ask. He was afraid of the answer, but the words slipped from his lips anyway. “And… mother?”
 
Nanako’s lips puckered a little at that. “I heard from Ryoga that Aunt Rinko and your father had a terrible row over the whole affair, but that man wouldn’t budge. Ryoga said something to her, I think, and she eventually relented. She didn’t want to force you to return when you might not feel welcome anymore, but said that if you asked, she’d make certain you could come home.”
 
If he asked?
 
Why hadn’t she come for him? Why did it have to be up to him? It was true – returning home would be uncomfortable; it wouldn’t be a home he could feel relaxed in or take for granted anymore – but if his mother had asked….
 
If she’d asked, he’d have come home in a heartbeat regardless of anything his father said, Ryoma realised. If any of them had. But none of them had, and now it was too late. Even now, his well-meaning cousin wasn’t asking. They all knew that once the wheel had been set in motion, there was no pulling it back. Ryoma had too much pride, and his father could be just as stubborn as he was.
 
Nearly choking on the words, he blurted, “I- I have to get back to practice. Thanks very much for the money. It was… it was good to see you.” At that, he turned and practically fled back to the clubhouse – forget practice, he wasn’t stepping back onto the courts until he regained his composure. 
 
On the courts, Tezuka watched out of the corner of his eyes with some concern as his kouhai practically ran back to the clubhouse. He didn’t recognise the woman, but figured she must have been related to Echizen in some way, given the youth’s reaction when she first showed up. His mother, maybe? No, she looked too young. 
 
He’d originally planned to call practice to a close around then, but let it run a little longer to give the youngest regular some more time to compose himself. The woman stood there uncertainly for a minute or so after Echizen had disappeared into the clubhouse, before turning and walking demurely away. It was hard to resist the urge to go over there and talk to her himself, to find out what had apparently upset Echizen so, but none of the other club members had paid much attention to the exchange, and it wouldn’t do to give them any reason to gossip about it. 
 
After what seemed like forever, the freshman returned to the court to fetch his racket. As he did so, Tezuka called the practice to a close. Fortunately, Coach Ryuuzaki wasn’t there that day, so he and Echizen only had to linger until everyone had left before they could make their way home. Ryoma spent most of the walk to the bus staring at his shoes. 
 
Eventually, the senior’s curiosity got the best of him and he broke the fragile silence. “Who was that?” There was little point in beating around the bush. 
 
It took a long time for Echizen to respond, and his voice was practically a whisper when he did. “My cousin, Nanako. She just got back from a trip out of town.”
 
Tezuka blinked, surprised. That at least explained who she was. “What did she want?”
 
Echizen shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “To check on me. Oh, and she gave me some money too.”
 
“That’s all?” He’d seen the heartfelt hug the woman had enveloped the boy in.
 
“It was a LOT of money.”
 
“She didn’t want to take you back home?” Tezuka pressed. He’d been hopeful for his kouhai - when he’d heard the woman was a relative - that maybe things were on the way to being sorted out and the youth would be able to return home.
 
Echizen’s gait slowed briefly, before speeding back up again. “No, she didn’t ask.”
 
Not such good news then. Even though Tezuka wanted more details, he recognised that the question had upset his kouhai, so didn’t push it. 
 
They didn’t talk about the matter again that evening. Echizen seemed troubled so Tezuka left him alone. They did their homework, even though they both theoretically had the entire weekend to work on it, ate dinner, and Tezuka read books in his room while his guest stayed downstairs watching some tennis matches on tape. After a while the senior joined him, and then eventually they wandered off to bed. 
 
Tezuka lay in bed awake for a long time, staring into the darkness of his room. It was getting quite late, but for some reason he just couldn't fall asleep. Thankfully it was a Friday night and there wasn’t any school the next day, so he could always sleep in. It was still annoying though, just doing nothing while wide-awake. In this sort of situation he'd normally turn on a light and read a book until he felt sleepy, but he didn't want to disturb his roommate.
 
At that, his attention turned to the freshman laying on the spare futon on the floor. It was Echizen's fourth night as his houseguest, and he still wasn't quite able to make heads or tails of the situation. 
 
That wasn’t entirely true, of course – he’d figured out the basics, but couldn’t shake the feeling that there had to be more to the story. He was mostly troubled by the mystery of Echizen Ryoga – and not for the first time, either. To begin with, he had been incredibly suspicious when they'd met on that cruise, and Ryoma had claimed that he didn't know who the elder boy was. At the time, Tezuka had chalked it up to a case of the freshman being embarrassed of his family. As he watched, though, he saw none of the familiarity that one would expect from family; Ryoga seemed to halfway act the part, but his kouhai had been clearly bewildered and uncomfortable. Later, when Echizen announced that he had finally remembered where Ryoga was from, Tezuka had switched from being suspicious to thoroughly disturbed. 
 
For a while, he’d wondered if perhaps they were brothers only in name. It wasn't uncommon for children to call an elder boy they were familiar with older brother, and the same was true for the reverse. The last name could have been a coincidence, or it could have been a fake picked out by Ryoga, or even just Ryoga teasing Echizen by pretending to be his older brother for real. It would have been easy to explain the odd situation then - that Ryoga was merely a neighbour of Ryoma's when they were younger, and the Echizen family eventually moved house. Ryoga, being older, would no doubt have clear memories, but Ryoma, being significantly younger, would likely only remember snippets of that time. Indeed, that would have been a convenient conclusion to draw, but to do so would require ignoring the startling familial resemblance. Looking at the two standing across from each other, one couldn't imagine them to be anything but brothers - Ryoga essentially looked like an older, more laid back version of Ryoma.
 
Now the elder presented new mysteries. Tezuka wasn't certain of the boy's age, but judging from his appearance he was probably a good seven or eight years older than Ryoma, making him approximately twenty years in age. That was just a guess, of course, but he doubted he was off by more than two years at the most.
 
From Echizen's tale, it sounded as though Ryoga had been about thirteen or fourteen when the first fateful matches took place. Given the vast differences in reach, power and coordination between an early teen and a six-year old, there was no doubt that Ryoga had decided to throw the matches; either out of pity or protectiveness for his younger brother. That made sense, though in itself it was a sad story. What didn't make sense was Ryoga's return now, of all times. Was it really as Ryoma said - that his older brother had just been waiting until he was old enough to take care of himself? It did seem likely that the events on the cruise ship were a catalyst for the situation - Ryoga would have essentially lost an employer, and he would have been acutely reminded of a life he'd left behind. It was quite possible he'd grown bitter, and decided to inflict the same fate on his younger brother that he himself had suffered. Especially as they themselves were rather directly related to Ryoga's state of unemployment, even if the older Echizen had a healthy hand in it himself.
  
While that entire mystery was compelling, it didn’t really help him figure out how they’d arrived at this situation. Tezuka hadn't even thought about it when offering his home to Echizen - he'd just known that one of his regulars was in trouble and needed help.
 
He was pulled from his musings suddenly by a small sound in the room. Frowning, he focused harder, trying to discern the source of the noise. It sounded like a sort of muffled chuckle, or maybe even muffled choking. Brow creasing, Tezuka listened a little more carefully, before the realisation finally dawned on him. 
 
Echizen was crying.
 
He lay there for a good five minutes, listening to his roommate desperately trying to remain silent as he sobbed into his pillow. Again, Tezuka found himself wishing Oishi were present. His friend would know what to do in this sort of situation.
 
When the senior stopped and thought about it, it was the first time he'd seen the freshman actually show his emotional upset over the whole ordeal. For the first few weeks Echizen must have been too preoccupied with survival to think too deeply about his situation, and so only now would everything be beginning to sink in. The appearance of his cousin that afternoon probably had something to do with it, too.
Eventually, Tezuka couldn't put up with listening to Ryoma trying to stifle his sobs anymore. Sitting up, he reached over to his bedside table for his glasses, and then flicked on the lamp. "Echizen?"
 
He could hear Echizen's effort to steady his breathing, but the youth made no move to come out from under the covers. Eventually, the freshman replied in a somewhat strangled voice, "Buchou? You're awake?"
 
Sighing, he replied, "I haven't actually been to sleep yet." It was already past midnight, too.
 
In the silence that followed, he could hear the first-year still snuffling, though it was more irregular now - a sign that Ryoma was trying his hardest to stop. After a minute or so of that, Tezuka demanded, "Echizen, look at me."
 
There was a pause as his kouhai obviously considered disobeying, but he had to eventually realise that there was no escaping his captain at this point in time. Slowly, the strands of dark green hair poked out from under the covers, and a moment later, Echizen turned to face him. The freshman looked perfectly miserable - his eyes were rimmed red, and there were wet tear tracks on his face.
 
"Come over here," Tezuka ordered. Echizen hesitated, but a stern glance from the senior had him pushing back his covers and shuffling over to the bed.
 
The senior held his blankets open. Echizen stood there looking confused, so he sighed and ordered, “Well? Get in.”
 
Cautiously, Echizen crawled into bed beside him, though Tezuka expected the only reason he’d done so was out of reflex for obeying the captain’s orders in club. Once in, he started rubbing slow circles on the youth’s back. “What’s bothering you?”
 
Echizen just shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut tight. A couple of tears leaked out of the corners. “Shhh, just let it out.”
 
The first-year barely stifled the next few sobs. Soon, he was crying openly, left fist clenching the senior’s shirt. Tezuka just kept up his careful ministrations; occasionally muttering assurances that sounded awkward to his own ears every now and again. 
 
Eventually, Echizen grew quiet, and became still. Tezuka carefully pulled the covers up over the youth who was still clutching at his pyjama shirt. His left hand reflexively settled on the younger boy’s head, stroking the soft dark hair in a soothing, repetitive manner. It seemed like Echizen had eventually cried himself to sleep.
 
He hadn’t really known what else to do, so had simply taken the course of action his own mother had whenever he’d been upset about something as a child. Admittedly, he hadn’t really expected it to work on Echizen, but was relieved that it had.
 
It had been profoundly strange, though, witnessing the stoic freshman that normally presented such strength and lack of fear in a moment of emotional weakness. The poor youth must have been overwhelmed after holding everything in for so long. He seemed so frightfully delicate, so incredibly young right then. This small boy with tear tracks down his face didn’t look anything like the middle schooler who could defeat adult pros on the tennis court. 
 
Much like how many of his peers forgot that Tezuka was still the same age as them, just as many seemed to forget that Echizen wasn't.
 


Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
pharrezychica
Mar. 26th, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)
*sobs openly*
Ryoma... ;____;
I'm growing to hate the Echizen family for putting him through this. How wrong it is that Nanako was the one looking for him and not his mother?!
She could have easely done the same, visited and helped him behind Nanjiro's back...

You're doing an amazing job, I can't wait to see where the story will go.

sinnatious
Mar. 27th, 2008 11:44 am (UTC)
Yes... but consider! We know so little about Rinko. We know that she works, and that she's rarely home, and how she met Nanjiroh... and that's about it. You can probably count on the fingers of one hand how many episodes she appears in. Nanako feels much more like Ryoma's mother than Rinko does. Which brings up all sorts of questions about her. And then with the whole Ryoga mystery on top of that....

Admittedly, Rinko does not get as explored in this fic as deeply as she should be (it was too long already), but it's fascinating to think about, no?
argentum_luna
Mar. 26th, 2008 01:15 pm (UTC)
Much like how many of his peers forgot that Tezuka was still the same age as them, just as many seemed to forget that Echizen wasn't.




And the last scene of Tezuka comforting Echizen was just touching.

I bet if the other regulars found out, Echizen would be babyed to death. Poor boy! :(
sinnatious
Mar. 27th, 2008 11:38 am (UTC)
Heee, that's actually probably my favourite sentence in the whole fic. *___* I'm glad you liked it.

Oh, he'd hate the babying for sure. But would secretly relish it. :)
pat_ace87
Mar. 26th, 2008 01:23 pm (UTC)
..... ;.; ...... **cries** It's sad, but you know, I'm kinda glad that he was finally able to cry....I mean, holding all those emotions inside must have been horrible.....And Tezuka was just wonderful, he did the best thing anyone could possibly do for Echizen, letting him know he wasn't alone 83!!!!!! I loved it, another great chapter, and truthfully I think it was your best chapter thus far 8D!!!!!!!!
sinnatious
Mar. 27th, 2008 11:25 am (UTC)
Thanks! It's one of my favourite chapters too, actually.
iluxia
Mar. 26th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
*snicker* I'm betting that last sentence is inspired by Onegai Teacher.

FINALLY. BUCHOU. IT'S BEEN TOO LONG.
jade_peace
Mar. 26th, 2008 11:03 pm (UTC)
;____________;

Poor, poor Ryoma! I love Tezuka in this - so akwardly perfect.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 27th, 2008 04:15 am (UTC)
Chapter titles would've killed this. *____________*

Oh Ryouma. (nearly forgot the u there. xD;; )

OH BUCHOU. GODS, NANAKO. RINKO. RYOUGAA. -flailing- I shouldn't be flailing about Ryouga, but. ;~~~~~~~~~~;

(i'm so glad that echizen "came." ;D)

GODS, you.
roseofthine
Mar. 27th, 2008 04:16 am (UTC)
as if you couldn't tell from the u comment
(and also the coming one)

That was me. -shoots self for forgetting-
sinnatious
Mar. 27th, 2008 11:23 am (UTC)
Re: as if you couldn't tell from the u comment
*laughs* Yes, you're the only one I know who is insistent on using the 'u' :P. Also the only one with such a dirty mind. XD
roseofthine
Mar. 28th, 2008 04:36 am (UTC)
Re: as if you couldn't tell from the u comment
The u is pretty. -shot-

I'd doubt that. We are pillar pair fans, after all. ;3
todecide
Apr. 1st, 2008 01:30 am (UTC)
Much like how many of his peers forgot that Tezuka was still the same age as them, just as many seemed to forget that Echizen wasn't.

loved that sentence ♥ and tezuka ♥ and ryoma

great fic! i was trying to keep awake to finsh whatever u've written the previous night xD
sinnatious
Apr. 1st, 2008 09:58 am (UTC)
Thank you! ♥ That sentence is one of my favourites too. Possibly out of the whole fic. Lovely icon, by the way. What's it from?
todecide
Apr. 1st, 2008 10:24 am (UTC)
from a flyer/magazine i think ._. i snagged the icon somewhere in... 2006? the original image looked as blury and small as that though ._.

*goes to read ur latest chapter 8D
mimineko_chan
Apr. 6th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
BUCHOUUUUUUU! You made me want to cryyyyy a river! XD But there was sooooo much L♥VE! But you know, when I was taking a nap today, my mother came and caressed my hair till I was asleep. It really felt nice even at my age .

You know, you are beginning to ROCK with your last sentences of each chapter.

Much like how many of his peers forgot that Tezuka was still the same age as them, just as many seemed to forget that Echizen wasn't.

Really, it is true that Ryoma is young, but we all put him with the others because of his ability. Sure, everyone calls him a freshman, but add the prodigy to it and make him seem like that the prodigy just give him age.

BUT WHERE IS KARUPIN? WHY DIDN'T RYOMA ASK FOR KARUPIN'S NEWS?

- Mimikitty
mimineko_chan
Apr. 6th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC)
Hey, where is my html? the quote part and the strick doesn't show! WHY WHY WHY!
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )