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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 was a bit of an awkward chapter – I even briefly considered scrapping it altogether, but it contained important legwork for the rest of the fic. So please bear with it. Also, cheese.
 
The Dispossession of Echizen Ryoma
 
Chapter 14
 
 
Waking up that morning was extremely disorientating.  Ryoma still regularly became confused, uncertain of whether he was at 'home', in the park, in the clubhouse or at Tezuka's house, but that morning was especially strange.
 
First of all, the bed was delightfully soft.  As far as Ryoma was concerned, the spare futon was luxurious in itself, but this was on a whole other level - it had to be a dream still.  He didn't want to shatter the illusion, but eventually, some distant part of his mind was telling him that there was something odd about the situation and to wake up already, so it was with great reluctance that he struggled to open his eyes.

It took a few moments to process where he was.  He recognised the room fast enough by now, but it was clear he wasn't on the futon on the floor where he should be.  The logical deduction, therefore, was that he was in Tezuka's bed. How-?

Ryoma's face started to burn crimson as the events of the previous night suddenly rushed back to him. He hadn't... oh god, Tezuka had seen him cry his eyes out like a five-year old.  It had been past midnight, but he hadn't been able to sleep due to all the thoughts whirling about chaotically in his head, still stirred up from the conversation with his cousin that afternoon. Suddenly he'd just been overwhelmed by everything.  It had been a flood of loneliness and dejection and isolation that he'd been stubbornly ignoring, until the dam had burst and hit him all at once.  Tears were leaking down his face before he even realised it, and soon he was practically sobbing, smothering his face in his pillow in hopes that he wouldn't wake the captain up.  He hadn't been able to stop.  It was like an involuntary action he couldn't control.

Tezuka had heard despite his best efforts, and forced him to face him.  Ryoma hadn't wanted to, but he owed the senior a lot, and the habitual respect and obedience afforded to his senpai had already become an ingrained habit that was difficult to shake.  The captain ordered him into the larger, softer bed, and somewhat robotically Ryoma had complied.  He guessed he'd just been seeking the reassurance of another person's presence, and when Tezuka wrapped him in that loose embrace and started murmuring comforting words into his ears, he'd lost it and hadn't been able to suppress the tears anymore.  Obviously he'd eventually fallen asleep, and the senior hadn't moved him.

Ryoma was mortified.  It was probably the single most embarrassing thing he'd ever done in his life. 

Rolling his head to the side, he could see the crumpled blankets partially thrown back.  Curiously, he patted the bed next to him - it was still faintly warm. Tezuka had obviously awoken before him and left the bed a short while ago, for which Ryoma was incredibly grateful. That would have been an awkward moment otherwise, in more ways than one.

It still could be awkward, too.  Ryoma sincerely hoped that this whole affair wouldn't prompt Tezuka to throw him out.  He'd tried his hardest to be a good guest, but he was hardly going to blame the senior if he was made to pack his bags after that humiliating display of weakness.

There was little point in putting things off, so with some reluctance Ryoma left the soft, warm bed and padded to the bathroom with a change of clothes to prepare for the day.  There was still his part-time junior coaching job that day, irritating though it was.  The freshman stifled an annoyed sigh, reminding himself to be thankful that anyone had given him a paying job.  Even if it meant correcting absolute beginners on their sloppy forms, having a small horde of kids asking stupid questions and dealing with the other junior coach - some high school kid that took the intermediate class on the other courts - getting snappy at him because he felt threatened.  Fortunately, no one at the club had pegged him as a national junior high champion or a participant in the American Open yet, sparing him the horrors of miniature fans and endless attention.  Obviously not many people at the club read Pro Tennis Monthly regularly.  It was a small mercy.  God only knew why Inoue put Seigaku in there at every available opportunity.

Shaking himself from those thoughts, Ryoma completed his morning routine and hesitantly made his way downstairs.  Tezuka was in the kitchen, finishing cooking a Japanese-style breakfast.  It had been a relief to discover that the senior possessed similar tastes to his own – bar the love of Ponta, unfortunately - especially as he was still finding himself having to force down the third meal of every day under Tezuka's imposing stare. 

"Morning," he ventured tentatively, eyes following the various movements his senpai made about the kitchen.  He'd been trying to learn a little bit more about cooking simply by observing the other boy, and was relieved to find that most of it did appear to merely be the appropriate application of heat to food.  Some distant part of him noted that Tezuka probably wasn't the best role model when it came to cooking, but as far as Ryoma was concerned the meals were perfectly serviceable, even if nowhere near as delicious as Nanako's culinary delights.  Survival came first after all; taste was a distant last place.  The mere fact he once contemplated taking Inui up on his super-healthy juices from hell was proof of that.

"Morning," replied Tezuka as he served out some rice form the cooker. "Is there much you have to do today?"

"I have to leave to get to my part-time job in about half an hour."  Could it even be called part-time if it was only one afternoon a week?  Maybe he should draw attention to his American Open credentials and get a few more hours. "You?"

"I have a check-up with my doctor for my shoulder.  After that I'll be stopping by the library to gather some references for an assignment."

"Is anything wrong?" Ryoma asked worriedly.  Their captain seemed better than fine during the Nationals, but had he perhaps pushed his arm too far again?

"No, it's just a routine check-up.  I have to go in once a month for the next six months, just in case."

"Hrm."

Tezuka placed a plateful of food in front of him, and took his own seat across from the youth.  "It really is okay. We can even play a match tomorrow, if you would like."

That simultaneously brightened Ryoma up and allayed his concerns.  "That would be good.  Especially since there's no Sunday practice anymore."

"Indeed.  It's fortunate in one regard that Winter allows more time for study, but the seasonal break means that a lot of club members neglect their training."

"Not you, though, right Buchou?  Can't be getting careless."  Ryoma commented with a slight smirk.

"Mada mada dane," Tezuka replied with a completely straight face.

They quickly lapsed into silence as they started eating.  Fortunately, it seemed as though Tezuka wasn't going to comment on the night before, and Ryoma wasn't inclined to bring it up either.  That was fine.  Such a conversation couldn't be anything other than awkward, and if it wasn't going to change anything, pretending that he hadn't had a mental breakdown in the dead of the night suited the freshman just fine.
 
As soon as breakfast was finished, Echizen left for the courts, and Tezuka spent some time doing a few of the household chores he’d been neglecting before also leaving. The weather outside was brisk; not quite yet cold, but the breeze was cool enough that those sensitive to the weather would likely be pulling out long-sleeved shirts and jerseys. It seemed as though autumn was well underway now, and they could expect cool days as well as cold nights. It was lucky he’d found Echizen when he did. 
 
Even as he headed to his doctor for his routine check-up, Tezuka found his thoughts occupied with Echizen. It was nothing new – for the past five days his thoughts had been occupied with little else. And after that whole affair the night before…
 
It was fortunate that Tezuka had been first to awake that morning – though no real surprise, as Echizen was still working through his no doubt massive sleep debt - and was able to leave the bed quietly enough to avoid any uncomfortable moments. There was no doubt in his mind that his kouhai would be embarrassed by his emotional breakdown, so he had decided the best course of action was to ignore it and act normal. This was probably a step in the right direction. Maybe now the first-year would be a little more willing to share some more details of his plight with him. 
 
His doctor noticed that his mind wasn’t really present during his check-up, so Tezuka used the opportunity to ask some questions about diets and nutrition, again for Echizen’s benefit. His kouhai was still struggling to get through three square meals a day, and his servings remained no where near as large as the senior recalled them being in the past. The doctor had initially been confused by the out-of-the-blue questions, but obliged him by answering as many as he could and directing him to some reading material – under the impression that an important science paper was troubling the senior. It felt like the hundredth lie Tezuka had spouted that week - a sensation he was not enjoying - but it was necessary if he was to keep Ryoma’s confidence whilst still ensuring his wellbeing.
 
The library was the next stop after the doctor’s office. It only took Tezuka a short time to complete the necessary research for his assignments – most papers requiring research having being completed well in advance of the due date already – so he spent some time leafing through some of the health and fitness texts his doctor had directed him to. A great deal of it parroted information spouted by Inui on a weekly basis, but the context changed everything. For one, he was wondering how on earth Echizen had been making it through morning practice without breakfast.
 
A lot of things were starting to make sense now that he was gathering the pieces of the puzzle. Echizen had already confessed - or rather, had it dragged out of him - that he'd only been able to buy breakfast for the first few days, and after that subsisted by mooching lunches and burgers from his friends. That revealed why the Ryuuzaki girl had been so cheerful lately for one, in addition to adequately explaining why Echizen's stamina in morning practice had been noticeably poorer than afternoon practice. For most of the other regulars it was the exact opposite. They'd long attributed the disparity to Echizen's non-morning persona, but given his improvement over the past few mornings, Tezuka was forced to rethink that notion. The deep bags under his eyes and drop in class performance Inui had muttered about made sense too.
 
The breakdown the night before also prompted him to check out a few adolescent psychology textbooks, but they all seemed so melodramatic and impersonal that none of the information within their pages felt applicable at all. Growing frustrated, Tezuka abruptly closed the third such book he’d been leafing through. It was ridiculous to research this sort of thing – he was an adolescent himself, he didn’t need a book written by some sixty-year-old filled with abstract Freudian theories. What he really wanted was some of Oishi’s and Fuji’s talent for dealing with people. Though probably more Oishi’s than Fuji’s.  Either way, it was clearly apparent that their skills were not something that could be learned by rote – in some areas it really did just come down to aptitude.
 
Several lights switching off in the east wing shook Tezuka from his introspection. A quick glance at the window revealed that it was already twilight, and that the library would be closing up soon. Cursing under his breath, the senior gathered his books, hurriedly shoved them in his bag and made his way to the exit while placing the references in the 'returns' pile instead of back on the shelves in their original locations as he normally did.  Stupid, stupid, stupid!  He was so used to not having to worry about anyone waiting for him at home that he’d completely forgotten to keep track of the time!

Pulling his mobile phone out of his bag as he left the building, he quickly dialled in Echizen’s number - all of the team members had their numbers entered into his phone, likely at the hand of either Fuji or Inui.  After a moment of trying to connect, a robotic voice on the other end informed him that the phone wasn't in service. Resisting the urge to slap a hand against his head, Tezuka just hurried his pace some more.  Of course Echizen didn't have his phone on - it probably ran out of battery ages ago, and he hadn't seen the freshman recharge it at any point. Until recently, there simply wouldn't have been anywhere for him to recharge it.
 
It seemed like the bus would take forever to get home.  It was already dark by the time he disembarked.  When he arrived at the house, Echizen was sitting quietly next to the front door, knees tucked against his chest and cap pulled down low over his eyes.  How long had he been waiting for him?  It was starting to get chilly out, and Echizen didn't have a jacket.

"Echizen," he called, alerting the other of his presence.  The head snapped up and he was confronted with a pair of curiously blank golden-brown eyes before the freshman inclined his head marginally in greeting.

"I apologise for being back so late," he said, fishing for his key in his pockets and unlocking the door.  "Have you been waiting long?"

"Don't worry about it," Echizen murmured. They shuffled into the house and removed their shoes in an uncomfortable silence – Tezuka felt too guilty to say anything else. In retrospect, this was probably why Echizen kept waiting for him after practice.  There was a spare key that he should have lent the young Regular for the duration of his stay - it was high time he tracked it down and gave it to his kouhai. 
 
“I’ll get started on dinner. You go have a bath and warm up.”
 
Echizen’s voice was soft when he replied. “Thanks Buchou. You really don’t have to go to so much trouble.”
 
It seemed an odd thing to say when he’d just left him waiting out in the cold for who knew how long. Was Echizen being sarcastic? “Don’t mention it.”
 
Tezuka hardened his resolve. At the moment, the freshman didn’t have anyone else to rely on but him. And until Echizen was willing to accept assistance from others, he was responsible. It wasn’t enough to just be a senpai, or a rival, or a captain. He was the older brother, now. No, not even that. Ryoga had failed Ryoma as an elder brother as well. Tezuka would be something else. And he would do right by him.
 
Echizen was the one person he could not allow himself to fail. He would not allow the young tennis player’s senpai to fail him, the way his own had when he’d been a freshman. 
 
On Sunday, they played tennis. Tezuka won, but only barely. During one long rally, Ryoma smiled properly for the first time in weeks.
 



Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
pat_ace87
Mar. 27th, 2008 01:18 pm (UTC)
It was great, and the last few paragraphs sealed Tezuka's resolve to helps Echizen :3.... Is the part where the rest of the team (or maybe just a few of them) find out about Echizen, coming up soo????? 8X!!!!!! For some reason I feel as if Inui or Fuji should have at least an idea that something's happening XXDD!!!!!!
sinnatious
Mar. 27th, 2008 01:49 pm (UTC)
The timing of your questions are eerily accurate. Expect some references in the next chapter. :P
iluxia
Mar. 27th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
Honestly, boys are so..... *sighs, shakes head* never mind. I don't want to insult the *cough* legacy of the gender buchou and Ryoma both come from.
roseofthine
Mar. 28th, 2008 04:44 am (UTC)
EMBARRASSMENT AND PRO TENNIS MONTHLY AND ASDFJKL: SNARKING AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE AND OH MY GOD TEZUKA YOU DORK DOING RESEARCH WITH YOUR DOCTOR/AT THE LIBARARY. xD

and OOHHHHH RYOUMAAAAA WAITING FOR TEZUKA AND ASDFJKL; BEING GRATEFUL DESPITE asdfjkl; asdfjkl; asdfjkl; ABSTRACT FREUDIAN THEORIES! <3 I REMEMBER GOING OVER THOSE IN ART AHAHA THEY ROCK SO MUCH.

did you seriously do all the research for this? ;~~~; My dedication (and time) pales in comparison.

SOMETIMES I WISH I ACTUALLY USED CAPSLOCK, BUT THEN I'D FORGET IT WAS ON. AGAIN. xD
sinnatious
Mar. 28th, 2008 11:35 am (UTC)
I research a fair few things, but honestly, most of it comes down to my vast pool of incredibly useless general knowledge. I so regret spending money on university. :P
mimineko_chan
Apr. 6th, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)
Holà Sin-chan, me again!

I'm trying to study and reading your fic... Actually, I study until a section and your fic is like candy, an award for the good work. Hehe!

As always, your writing is beautiful. You are probably the only one who can capture Tezuka so beautifully. Yep, you, my dear Sin-chan, are an expert regarde one Tezuka Kunimitsu. *clap clap*

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Even in his subconcience, he could feel Ryoma's warmth beside him. Hugging something during his sleep was not something he was used too, and he was hugging not an object, but a person. And the person just happened to be his kouhai. Even as a child, he didn't need a teddy bear to sleep. But just after one night with him... *sigh* He was lucky that Ryoma was too upset to realise that he gave him a hard on. Tezuka felt shame. He was suppose to take care of him, not to molest him and take the advantage of the situation. Where was that control he was so proud of?

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Gomen, it seems that they are just getting more and more lame... :(

Tezuka would be something else = Tezuka will be Ryoma's lover! ♥
sinnatious
Apr. 7th, 2008 09:34 am (UTC)
I find it very easy to get inside Tezuka's head. Ryoma, now he's a challenge. :| I will overcome the Ryoma hurdle eventually.

Aww, thank you. I am glad that this fic is helping you through your study.

YOU READ BETWEEN THE LINES WELL, I SEE! ;)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )