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Short fic is looooong

Title: Fair Game

Summary:
One-shot.  Tezuka, Ryoma and Ryoga.  Tezuka's devotion to Ryoma is equal only to Ryoga's devotion to Tezuka.

Rating: PG-13 for shonen-ai. 

Words: 9,382

Author’s Note: Credit to Kaori-chan (the hiatus is almost over, hooray!) for the title. <3  My fascination with Ryoga's contradiction with canon continues.  Edit: lsdajfklsjf Come on LJ, I am well under your silly 10,000 word-ish limit.  Has now been broken into two parts to accommodate.  Link to Part two at the bottom.

 

...........................
 
Tezuka meets Echizen Ryoga for the first time on that fateful cruise. 
 
His initial opinion of him is not a good one. While their host is addressing them at dinner, he’s completely ignoring him in favour of talking to pair of women at least ten years his senior. Only at the magnate’s pointed cough does he start to pay attention and introduce himself.
 
“Echizen Ryoga, nice to meet you.” He salutes lazily.
 
Tezuka stands as well. “It seems as though you have some relation with our Echizen. What a coincidence.”
 
“I don’t really like coincidences. Hey, shorty!” He waves at Ryoma, who is on the other end of the table. “Thank you for taking care of my little brother, everyone!”
 
“You’ve got it wrong,” Ryoma mumbles under his breath.
 
The introduction seems strained, but Tezuka can’t understand why. Perhaps there’s more to the Echizen family history than he thinks.
 
As he sits back down, Ryoga’s eyes slide slowly across the rest of the Regulars, seeming to weigh each of them in turn. He stares at Tezuka the longest, and the senior feels slightly uncomfortable under his gaze.
 
…………………….
 
 
His second meeting after dinner does not improve his opinion of the elder Echizen in the slightest.
 
The door swings open, and Tezuka pauses at the sight that greets him.  Echizen Ryoga is also in the bathroom, leaning over the sink.  One eye is brown and the other is hazel.

Their gazes meet in the mirror, and not a second later both eyes are brown and Ryoga is blinking rapidly.  "Tezuka-buchou, right?" he greets after a moment. They were only introduced an hour ago – did he forget his name already?

Tezuka nods.  "I wasn't aware that you wore contacts."

"I'd rather not, but..." There's a pause as he tilts his head.  "...They're better for sport, you know.  Maybe you should try them sometime."

"They seem uncomfortable," Tezuka offers by way of explanation, and feels like his position is affirmed by Ryoga's rapid blinking.

"Suit yourself," he says carelessly, and heads out of the bathroom.  He seems like he's in a rush.  "Later."

Tezuka nods, moving to side to let the elder Echizen pass.  He doesn't really approve of the vanity involved in changing one's eye colour, but is too polite to comment.
 
…………………….
 
 
His bad opinion of Echizen Ryoga is set in stone when he and Oishi meet with him and Sakurafubuki that evening.
 
Tezuka lets his gaze wander over the playing order. Ryoga is lounging on the arm of the chair across from them.
 
“So it’s the captains going last, is it? Well, go easy on me please.” He slants the other captain a long look that feels laden with meaning.
 
He ignores it and politely replies, “We are the ones who are honoured. Let’s have a good game.”
 
Ryoga looks almost rueful at those words. “A good game, huh?”
 
Sakurafubuki lights a cigar, and the pungent odour of smoke fills the cabin. “I hope you guys didn’t think you can have a regular match after being invited on a gorgeous ship like this, did you? There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
 
Oishi is visibly confused. Tezuka starts to get a bad feeling, and wonders if his initial instincts about this magnate were true. “I’m not following.”
 
Sakurafubuki’s grin grows wide. “To be blunt, I need you to lose tomorrow’s matches on purpose.”
 
Oishi splutters, almost falling out of his chair. “What?!”
 
Ryoga smirks, and wags a finger at them. “It means there’s going to be gambling.”
 
“The matches this afternoon were in order to showcase the players to the customers,” Sakurafubuki explains, leaning back in his chair with a self-satisfied air. “Afterwards, everyone bet on the players they liked. This is the odds list. Exactly what we expected from the famous Seigaku tennis team. Everyone has low odds.”
 
Ryoga isn’t looking at them anymore, almost as though he doesn’t want to meet their eyes. Tezuka stares at him, curious as to his reaction, but after a prolonged pause he lets out a low whistle. The odds list is waved in the air, and the numbers next to their names take on a new meaning. “I can’t believe you’re this popular. You really left me in the dust. Unbelievable.”
 
“That’s right, the low odds mean that there are a lot of people betting on you,” Sakurafubuki confirms. Another cloud of smoke curls from his cigar.
 
The wheels in Tezuka’s head are spinning rapidly. “So if we lose, you come into a lot of money as the house. That’s why you want us to throw the matches.”
 
“You understand perfectly. That’s why you’re Seigaku’s captain.”
 
This magnate really is the worst. Tezuka can’t believe that their Coach didn’t check up on this. He stands abruptly. There’s no question in his mind. “We refuse. Let’s go, Oishi.”
 
Ryoga’s voice calls out behind him. “Hey, where do you think you’re going? We’re on a boat. There’s nowhere to hide.” 
 
Tezuka ignores him and opens the door with Oishi right on his heels. His path is obstructed, however, when he sees the chef standing there, brandishing a chicken and a knife. 
 
It’s the way he’s holding the knife that makes them pause.
 
Ryoga adds, “I’m trying to help you.”
 
Tezuka, for some ridiculous reason, wants to believe him. Maybe because he’s Ryoma’s older brother. Maybe because he thinks there’s genuine concern and worry in his voice. 
 
“Just do as they say if you want to go back to Japan in one piece.”
 
Tezuka doesn’t like Echizen Ryoga at all.
 
…………………….
 
 
The team has finished their meeting about the situation, and Ryoma’s off practicing. Tezuka goes to keep a discreet eye on him – knowing the situation on the ship, he doesn’t want his team’s youngest member running around alone late at night.
 
“It seems like you’re better at tennis now, shorty.”
 
“Seems to me like you’ve become a lot worse.”
 
Ryoga laughs mirthlessly. “You’ve got me there.”
 
Tezuka is surprised to see the elder Echizen there. He stays out of sight, listening carefully to their conversation. Soon enough, Ryoga dismisses his younger brother and heads off on his own. Ryoma eventually leaves – though his shock at the realisation that he isn’t the one who’s going to be playing his sibling is still evident on his face. 
 
Once he's gone Tezuka is free to move about again. It was a strange conversation - one he shouldn't have overheard.  But it has convinced the senior of what he has to do.

It doesn’t take long to locate the other captain. He’s practicing on the exhibition court under the lights. Tezuka watches for what feels like a long time – he can’t deny that the elder Echizen has excellent form. He almost regrets his decision, but Ryoma needs the match more.
 
He steps out onto stands once Ryoga has finished practicing.
 
“Seeing the world from behind… Aren’t you starting to get sick of it?”
 
At his voice, Ryoga freezes. He glances up, and their eyes meet.
 
It seems that he’s actually unsettled the other captain, though he doesn’t understand how his presence alone is enough. For the first time, the laid-back expression and cocky smirk are absent.
 
Then, just as quickly as it had vanished, that carefree expression returns. “This is a surprise. It’s not like you, an honour student, to listen in on other people’s conversations.”
 
How does he know that he is an honour student? Did they really do that much background research? Tezuka forgoes those questions, and states instead, “I think you really want to play a fair game with your little brother.”
 
Ryoga’s expression changes again, and this time his voice does too – it’s lower, deeper, rougher… It sounds more natural. “I don’t think you should pry, either.”
 
They stare at each other for a long moment. It’s probably only a matter of seconds, but to Tezuka is feels like forever. There’s something magnetic about the elder Echizen – the same sort of quality he’s seen in his younger brother.
 
Ryoga slings his towel over his shoulder. “I think it’s time to say goodnight. It’s a busy day tomorrow. You should go sleep and ignore all this nonsense.”
 
He’s just as cocky and self-assured as Ryoma. Maybe even more so. But the choice of wording makes him pause. "You're not sleeping?"  After all, it’s true, it is a big day tomorrow - even the older tennis players have retired for the night.

"...Couldn't." He doesn't seem to want to say anything more than that, and for the first time Tezuka wonders if Echizen Ryoga is as laid back and carefree as he pretends to be.
 
“Wait.”
 
Ryoga turns and looks back, tilting his head to side and regarding him through half-lidded eyes. The gesture is so familiar, so very Echizen, that Tezuka can't believe them to be anything but family no matter Ryoma's protests.  He wants to ask about it, but knows it isn't his place.  The other captain looks like he's only a year or so out of high school, but it's obvious that he hasn't been living with his family for a lot longer than that.  It reeks of complicated family matters best left undiscussed.

"I want to change the playing order.”

Ryoga doesn't seem very surprised by his suggestion - Tezuka would even go so far as to say that his smile is almost rueful.  "So you’re going to pry after all. Should have figured."

"You don't have any objections?"

There's something strange about the way the elder Echizen stares at him that makes his skin prickle.  Abruptly, as though only just realising what he's doing, Ryoga walks away and waves a hand airily.  "Whatever.  I would have liked to play you... but I guess this is the way it has to be."
 
He sounds strangely resigned, but Tezuka’s sure that this is the right thing for everyone.
 
 
…………………….
 
 
Tezuka, Fuji and Echizen are escorted to the court under the watchful eye of Sakurafubuki’s cronies. The captain is so preoccupied with getting his team safely out of this mess that he doesn’t see Ryoga leaning against the wall until the others stop. 
 
“Why do you have that look on your face?” Ryoma asks.
 
Ryoga blinks, and slowly turns his gaze towards them. He looks somewhere between pained and confused. “Shorty…” His eyes slide towards Tezuka next, then quickly dart back to the ground.
 
They seem to have caught him off guard again.
 
“Seeing that orange reminded me of my old man’s saying… ‘Tennis allows you to see a grand dream in the grand world’… I remembered because you used to eat oranges,” Ryoma says, examining his brother critically.
 
“Ah… so I did,” he agrees, but there’s none of the usual show of confidence, none of that carefree attitude. Tezuka remains silent, even when Ryoga’s eyes dart towards him again. This is very much a family matter – he’s done enough prying already.
 
Their escorts push them forward, and they leave the other captain staring pensively at the orange clutched in his hand.
 
…………………….
 
 
Thankfully their teammates are able to escape, and both Tezuka and Fuji are able to win their matches without repercussion. 
 
Ryoga seems amused when he and his brother’s names are announced for the last match, and they flip for serve at the net. No doubt because the match is rigged, the elder gets first serve.
 
Tezuka swears his heart stops when the ball spins away and Ryoma misses it completely.
 
“A twist serve,” Fuji comments next to him, audibly surprised and just a little bit worried. 
 
It shouldn’t be so surprising – if both players trained under Echizen Nanjiroh, it stands to reason that Ryoga would be able to perform that serve as well. But the sharpness of the angle at which it turned is what leaves Tezuka breathless. Until now he hasn’t seen a better twist serve than Ryoma’s outside of the pro circuit.
 
The next ball is thrown. Ryoma is already moving, and Tezuka feels assured. “If he knows where it’s going to bounce, there’s no reason he can’t return it,” he states confidently. 
 
Except the ball doesn’t turn, sending the freshman reeling backwards.
 
“Thirty-love!”
 
“Idiot,” Ryoga remarks with a cocky smirk. 
 
Of course… Ryoga is playing with his right hand. It’s not like Ryoma, where you can anticipate a twist serve based on which hand he’s using. He has sweatbands on both arms, though – can he also use two-handed play, just like Echizen Nanjiroh?
 
Not for the first time, Tezuka almost regrets giving up his chance to play him. This person before them might be the closest there is to the Samurai of old. 
 
“Here I go,” Ryoga announces, throwing the ball for his next serve. Ryoma manages to return this time, but Ryoga still wins the point easily, his self-confidence not even wavering. 
 
They continue to play. Ryoma struggles under his brother’s assault. His serve is broken, but they play viciously in the next game, battling over each point. Unbelievably, Ryoma’s being pressured, and Ryoga doesn’t seem to be stressed at all. 
 
Another point is lost. Ryoga approaches the net. “Are you really trying to play, shorty?” he sighs, and Ryoma glares at the ground. “Well, I don’t care either way.” Yet the displeased expression on his face makes it seem to Tezuka as though he really does.
 
Of course, the quickest way to fire up their ace freshman is to mock him. It’s the first time Tezuka gets to see the Cyclone Smash in person, and his heart swells with pride as Ryoga is blown away by it.
 
The joy is short-lived. Ryoga simply seems pleased, as though he’s enjoying his own private little joke. Ryoma glares at him, and pulls out his Cyclone Smash again.
 
His opponent returns it without breaking a sweat. “Too bad, shorty! Mada mada daze!”
 
“He returned it!” Fuji remarks in disbelief, eyes wide.
 
The captain is shocked too. “He’s seen through it already?”
 
That familiar catchphrase, that self-assurance, the fact that he saw through such a powerful smash after only experiencing it once… Tezuka wonders if he’s seeing into the future. If this is their freshman’s potential personified.
 
Then Ryoma, in a feat of agility none of them expected, manages to perform a Cyclone Smash again. Even Ryoga seems surprised.
 
Serve is finally broken.
 
Things don’t get to continue smoothly for long, unfortunately. Tezuka tenses as Sakurafubuki gets on the microphone, and sees his team lined up on the dais. They’re standing awkwardly – their hands must be tied behind their backs. His eyes are drawn to a glint of metal – one of the guards is pointing a gun at Kaidoh. They’ve been caught?
 
He turns his attention back to the court. Ryoga is smiling. “Understand? It’s too bad, but I’m counting on you to fix the match.” But there's something forced about his smile that unnerves Tezuka.  Does he even know how fake his expression looks? 
 
If he didn't know better, he'd think that the elder Echizen is jealous of his team.

Then again, perhaps that's exactly what it is.  Having seen his play, it’s obvious that Echizen Ryoga is a far cut above his so-called 'teammates', and certainly above playing such dirty tennis.  His tennis is clean, precise, powerful... he could be a pro, easily.  Tezuka can't understand why he's there; working for a conman for what would be substantially less money. 

Ryoma is visibly frustrated by the whole affair.  He knows that the freshman can see it too, and doesn't understand.  He claims to remember Ryoga now, and is probably confused as to why the laid back teen is acting like their enemy. Why someone so obviously good at tennis is playing in fixed matches.
 
Then Ryoga hits the ball with an uncanny precision at the crooked cook.  Ryoma smirks and follows suit. 

They all feel a little better with the realisation that Echizen Ryoga hates rigged tennis just as much as they do.
 
…………………….
 
 
They go on to win the Nationals, and summer ends. Tezuka and Ryoma make a habit of meeting up at the indoor complex to play once a week. Sometimes they eat afterwards, sometimes not.
 
One particular time, they pass a fruit stand. Ryoma buys an orange. 
 
“I didn’t know you liked oranges,” Tezuka observes.
 
The freshman shrugs, throwing it and catching it a couple of times. “I like them okay, but they’re more Ryoga’s thing.”
 
Tezuka hasn’t thought of the elder Echizen for a while – the Nationals and all the drama in the lead up to it has buried that cruise in his memory. “How is your brother?” He might not like the elder Echizen that much, but his opinion of him had improved drastically by the end of that match.
 
Ryoma shrugs again. They stop by a vending machine to buy some drinks, and take a seat on a park bench. “I think I saw him in the stands at the Nationals, but nothing since. He might have gone back to America.”
 
“He didn’t even stop in to see your family?” 
 
“No. S’like he’s afraid of seeing my folks again or something,” he mumbles against the rim of the can.
 
The elder Echizen is a strange one, but that he seems to just appear and disappear so randomly is troubling. “What exactly is his relation to you?”
 
Ryoma's brow furrows in thought.  "The old man said he was my brother, but he only spent that one Summer with us, and he hasn’t mentioned him since."  He crunches up the empty can of grape Ponta in his hand and lobs it towards the bin.  It clatters neatly off the edge and lands safely inside.  "My mother says that he was just a neighbour and we’re not actually related," he confides.

"But he's obviously..."

"I know."  He shrugs.  "They must all think I'm stupid."
 
Tezuka wants to ask more, but it’s probably not any of his business. There’s still some time left before he needs to go home to work on assignments, so they go to the arcade. The senior is terrible at every game they try, but Ryoma is having fun so he doesn’t mind.
 
 
…………………….
 
 
Tezuka confesses to Ryoma halfway through his first year of high school. 
 
The middle school junior just rolls his eyes and takes his hand. “Finally.”
 
 
…………………….
 
 
Dating Ryoma is not all that different to not dating Ryoma. They still meet up every weekend for tennis, only now they go out on Wednesdays too. Sometimes they hold hands when no one’s looking, and they tend to talk a bit more, but things don’t change that much. Their friends don’t even notice for a couple of months – probably because they’re going to different schools now.
 
Fuji accuses him of not having a romantic bone in his body, so Tezuka asks Ryoma out to dinner on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t know exactly how, but after dinner they wind up at the courts by the station.
 
“We’re not wearing the right clothes,” Tezuka protests. His brow furrows as he thinks about it more. “…We don’t have racquets either.”
 
Ryoma points to a bag in the corner of the court. It contains two racquets and a fresh set of tennis balls.
 
It’s cold, so the balls don’t bounce quite right, and it’s hard to move in heavy winter clothes. Neither of them mind – they only play a one-set match. Ryoma loses 6-4, which is an unusual result – normally they’re stuck in a tiebreak until it’s time to go home. 
 
They meet at the net and shake hands. Their breath comes out in small puffs, but Tezuka can’t feel the sting of the cold on his face.
 
“Hey,” Ryoma points out. “Mistletoe.” It’s tied to the centre of the net, just below their hands.
 
Tezuka is confused – it definitely wasn’t there when they were playing. When did… Oh. “Isn’t it supposed to be above-”
 
Ryoma is glaring at him now, so Tezuka takes the hint and decides he’d better just get on with it. He winds up rushing, and their teeth clack together and his glasses nearly poke Ryoma’s left eye out.
 
Tezuka removes his glasses, and their second kiss goes a lot better.
 
…………………….
 
 
Tezuka enters his second year of high school, and Ryoma moves into his senior year of middle school. 
 
“We’re going to America over the Summer,” the now-senior informs him. Seigaku only made it to the quarterfinals in the Regionals. Fudomine pulled the same trick on them that they did on Hyotei – Ryoma didn’t even get the chance to play. “Just for a holiday. We still have our house there. I’ll give you the number.”
 
It’s the first time they’ll have spent more than a week apart. Tezuka wants to come, but his tennis club still has matches to play – he can’t let down the team. “It sounds nice. You haven’t been back since your freshman year, have you?”
 
Ryoma shrugs. “I don’t really miss it. I’d rather be here.”
 
Tezuka hears the ‘with you’ that remains unspoken, and he runs a thumb across the back of the hand in his grasp. 
 
When the time comes, he sees them off at Narita airport, feeling an odd sense of déjà vu. When no one’s looking, Ryoma presses a quick kiss to his cheek. 
 
They don’t say goodbye. Ryoma never likes to – he doesn’t see the point in saying goodbye to someone he’s going to see again so soon.
 
…………………….
 
 
There’s some truth to the saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Tezuka is plenty fond of Ryoma already, but the knowledge that the freshman is so far away makes his heart ache. He tries to bury the unexpected emotion with logic – Ryoma’s just on holiday, they’ve spoken on the phone, he’ll be back soon – but his mood persists. Inui comments on a ten percent drop in performance after practice.
 
The days that normally fly by so fast seem to crawl. Tezuka finds his temper shorter than usual, and accidentally assigns Kikumaru laps at one practice before remembering that he doesn’t have the authority to do so anymore. Kikumaru is halfway through his laps before he remembers too. 
 
“He’ll be back soon, Tezuka,” Oishi says with a smile and a pat on the back.
 
“I think it’s cute,” Fuji remarks.
 
Tezuka nearly assigns Fuji laps too, but stops just in time.
 
He gives himself a small shake and tries to concentrate on practice. How many times has he lectured others on being distracted? Ryoma's going to be away in America with his family for a couple of days yet. He should just wait patiently for his return.

Except that Ryoma never comes back from America.



Part Two 
 

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
argentum_luna
Nov. 8th, 2008 06:54 am (UTC)
ALKSDJFA;KDSJFAKDJFAJDFAKJDFAJKDFJAD TEZRYO. I HAVE BEEN SUFFERING FROM A DROUGHT OF TEZRYO.

THIS IS LIKE A BALM TO MY DRY, WITHERED SOUL.
pat_ace87
Nov. 8th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
HE NEVER COMES BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! O_____________________O ............runs off to read part two!!!!!!!!!!!
jade_peace
Nov. 8th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
Oh gosh, I can't wait 'til Kaori's back.

Anyway.

ASDFGHJKL;ASDFGHJKL; TEZU.

*___*

Reading this story to 'White X'Mas' just makes the end bit more tragic
agentlerain
Nov. 9th, 2008 02:42 am (UTC)
:) "Kikumaru is halfway through his laps before he remembers too." D'awwwww.

After having read the whole thing now, this part is even sadder because it seems like they had so little together, and Tezuka-buchou is still so ...gah adsklajsdaskldj.. sad.

;_________;
faire_estela
Nov. 9th, 2008 09:56 am (UTC)
I love the way you tag as 'drabble' something you've had to divide into two separate posts, Sin XD
sinnatious
Nov. 9th, 2008 10:06 am (UTC)
;____; I HAVE NO SENSE OF SCOPE.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )