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The second half



…………………….


When Ryoma is four days overdue to return, Tezuka starts getting worried. His family isn't back either, which is the only thing that keeps him from outright panicking.

Then the phone rings, and his world shatters.

"He's just vanished," a tearful Rinko tells him over the phone.

Tezuka's on the next plane to America, but nothing has changed by the time he gets there. Apparently Ryoma had gone for a walk to the convenience store to buy some treats for Karupin. He never returned. There are no witnesses, no signs of a struggle, no evidence of Ryoma planning a disappearance. He’s just vanished.

Tezuka joins the search, but it doesn't seem like they're getting anywhere. He can’t sleep, can barely bring himself to eat in his worry. A hundred nightmare scenarios run through his mind – Ryoma lost and injured, Ryoma kidnapped and being held against his will, Ryoma lying dead in a ditch somewhere…

He forces the thoughts out of his mind, but as the days pass and nothing is found…

The Media are everywhere. Most of them assume that he only speaks Japanese, so don’t bother him for comment. He’s happy to let the myth persist – as grateful as he is for the assistance they provide in asking people for information and spreading the word, the last thing he wants to do is spill his feelings on national television. The news reaches Japan, and his friends call constantly, assuring him that the team is doing fine without him and to just focus on finding their wayward ‘Ochibi’.

It’s a little worrying how few tips they receive, though. Ryoma is distinct looking, he’s not easily missed or forgotten, but they receive only a trickle of calls, and none of them pan out. It seems impossible that anyone should be able to disappear so thoroughly.

Tezuka combs the surrounding countryside on foot for what must be the tenth time. He very nearly raises the alarm when he catches sight of a head of green-black hair – he runs forward blindly, breath coming in short gasps, arm reaching out...

It's just Ryoga. The disappointment is overwhelming.

He turns around. He looks depressed, which is an unusual expression for him, but it stands to reason. "Oh, it's Tezuka-buchou."

"Just Tezuka is fine," he states automatically, his heart clenching at the familiarity of the term.

Ryoga shrugs. "It's what the shorty calls you."

"I haven't seen you at the house yet," he says – the disappointment at his mistake is crushing, but his surprise at coming across the elder Echizen is nearly as strong. For a time, he’d almost forgotten that he existed. "You aren't part of the search team?"

He kicks at a loose rock, hands shoved in his pockets. "Figured I'd just do my bit from the sidelines. I’ll just get in the way otherwise." His grin is slightly sardonic.

"You're family," Tezuka insists.

Ryoga isn't looking at him. "Not as far as they're concerned." He skips ahead. "Don't worry, Tezuka-buchou. I know Ryoma's okay."

He's glad somebody has that sort of confidence.

…………………….

That night, Tezuka asks Rinko and Nanjiroh about Ryoga.

"Oh, he's around?" Rinko asks, briefly startled.

"He must have seen the search on the news," Nanjiroh mutters. The man is slovenly at the best of times, but he looks a wreck - bags under his eyes and five days of beard growth covering his face.

"Shouldn't we get him to join the main search team?" Tezuka asks. They need every set of eyes they can get.

Nanjiroh waves it off. "Let me him do what he wants. He was always a weird kid. Good at tennis, though."

“But isn’t he family?” Tezuka is confused.

Nanjiroh scoffs. "You of all people should know that the brat’s an only child." His expression grows thoughtful though, and he rubs at the stubble covering his chin. “Although thinking back, I wonder…”

Rinko's lips press into a thin line at this, and Tezuka senses that the topic is better left alone. He wonders, not for the first time, if maybe Ryoga is an illegitimate son of Nanjiroh.

"If you see him again, Tezuka, please tell him to drop by and say hello all the same," Rinko asks. "I doubt Ryoma remembers, but he was the one who gave him Karupin, you know? He was a kitten he found in the rain."

Tezuka just nods. He's a little perturbed, but he's honestly more worried about Ryoma's persistent absence than the ancient infidelities of his boyfriend's parents.

…………………….

The search starts to thin a couple of days later, and the police withdraw most of their support. The Media start to turn to their attention to other stories. The prognosis isn't good, but Tezuka continues looking. He doesn't see Ryoga again, so never gets the chance to pass on Rinko's message.

Helpless, he's soon forced to return to Japan. Nanako calls him every day, but the news is always the same. Everyone begins to suspect the worst, but they never find a body, never receive a ransom demand… there's not even a clue.

Tezuka goes through the motions of life like a robot. None of his friends seem to know what to say to him. Days become weeks, and weeks become months.

Eventually, they're forced to hold a funeral. There's no body, and no evidence of foul play or any accident, but everyone has given up hope. The family returns to Japan for it, but don't intend to stay.

Tezuka lingers at the funeral - he's considered one of the family, even though he's rather sure that he and Ryoma never formally announced their relationship to his parents. They seemed to understand anyway. A hollow feeling dwells in his chest after the rituals have ended and all the guests have paid their respects. It's a farce of a ceremony - a feeble attempt at finding closure where there isn't any.

It's getting late, but Tezuka finds himself heading back to the graveyard anyway. Maybe if he visits the grave for a while, even if there aren’t any ashes... maybe it will let him accept it and move on. He doesn't think so, but it's worth a try.

Rain splatters on the footpath, perfectly reflecting his mood. It drums against the umbrella at a steady beat. The streets are mostly empty – it’s late and the weather is miserable.

When he arrives, he's surprised to see that the space in front of the grave is already occupied. For one brief moment, his heart pounds in his chest, but upon closer inspection he realises his mistake. It’s just Ryoga. That’s twice he’s nearly been fooled now.

"Tezuka-buchou," he greets.

Tezuka nods in reply, then states. “I didn’t realise you were in Japan.”

“I probably shouldn’t be, but I’ve missed this place.” He tilts his head at the grave. “It’s a bit weird, looking at this.”

It looks like he’s not the only one who refuses to believe that Ryoma is dead.

"You didn't come to the funeral."

Ryoga shifts from foot to foot - he seems uncomfortable. "Thought it would be awkward."

It's been nearly a year since that topic last entered his thoughts, and Tezuka realises that he'd forgotten about Ryoga's curious status in the Echizen family.

"Why are you even here then?"

"I offered to take care of Karupin for them. He wasn't reacting very well to anyone else. Been difficult for months, apparently."

"That's right... you gave him to Ryoma, didn't you? You found him in the rain?" His memory is fuzzy - the days surrounding that conversation were so full of worry and grief that it feels buried.

Ryoga chuckles. "Nothing quite so dramatic. I passed a family giving away some kittens, but later realised I couldn't keep him."

“Ah.” They stand there in silence for some time, staring at the grave. But when Tezuka looks up, Ryoga is actually looking at him instead. He turns away quickly, as though embarrassed to have been caught staring.

“It doesn’t seem like he’s gone,” Tezuka says quietly.

Ryoga doesn’t say anything.

“Everyone is acting as though he’s dead, but we don’t know anything. There’s no proof, no sign, no body… What do you think happened?”

It takes a while for the elder Echizen to answer. “…It could be anything. Maybe he went to an alternate universe, or a different dimension," he says airily.

Tezuka frowns. "You shouldn't make jokes about something like this."

“Do you have a better explanation?”

Unfortunately, Tezuka doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t annoyed at Ryoga’s cavalier attitude towards the whole affair. “Aren’t you upset?”

He runs a hand through his hair. “Well, of course… but more angry…” His voice trails off. “Though it’s funny. I guess finally… I feel sort of free.” He folds up his umbrella - the rain has finally stopped.

Tezuka never gets the chance to ask what he means, as Ryoga suddenly presents him with a folded up piece of paper. There's a telephone number and e-mail address written on it.

At his questioning glance, Ryoga explains, "I'm heading back to America in a couple of days. I move around a lot, but if you're ever in the country..." He looks suddenly unsure of himself, and the expression of uncertainty is enough for Tezuka to accept the piece of paper.

"Thank you."

Ryoga smiles and heads out without saying goodbye.

When Tezuka finishes high school two months later, he heads to University in America instead of Germany. He supposes he hasn't given up yet after all.

…………………….


Tezuka takes up forensic science at University. He plays tennis on the courts occasionally, but doesn’t join the team despite their begging. He fills in at one tournament when their vice-captain gets injured, but curiously it seems like one member or another has been mysteriously ‘sick’ or ‘injured’ before almost every major match since.

He wipes his face down with a towel and heads to the stands after winning in straight sets. He blinks in surprise when he sees someone waving him over. Ryoga again.

“You still haven’t gone pro,” he accuses good-naturedly.

“Neither have you,” Tezuka retorts.

Tezuka's taller than Ryoga now, even if it's only by a finger's width. He gave the elder Echizen a call a couple of weeks after moving to America out of courtesy, but didn’t expect him to turn up on his doorstep only a couple of days later, wanting to hang out.

In the end, he wound up being grateful for it. They've become friends, in a way. Tezuka doesn't really know when his dislike turned into curiosity. Maybe it's because of Ryoma. Tezuka's still looking, still doesn't believe he's gone, and Ryoga is the only one who doesn't tell him to stop. He doesn't ever help or contribute, but he doesn't editorialise, either.

“Will you ever go pro?” Tezuka asks after the tournament is over and everyone is heading home. They stop to buy some drinks from a vending machine and take a detour through the park.

Normally Ryoga just brushes the question off, but this time he looks a bit thoughtful. “I guess maybe now I could…” He takes a swig of his drink and grins. “Might be a bit difficult if word ever gets out about that Sakurafubuki guy, though.”

That’s true. The press tend to be terribly thorough when it comes to the top players, and if it’s ever discovered that Ryoga used to play in fixed matches, his career will be over.

"I never asked. Why did you work for that man, knowing what he did?"

Ryoga crushes the empty can of orange Ponta and tosses it towards the bin. It bounces off the edge and lands neatly inside. "I didn't want to. But I needed a job. Tennis was the only thing I knew how to do."

"You could have gone pro," Tezuka presses. "You were good enough even then."

"But I didn't have any paperwork or anything... he was the only person who'd take me on no questions asked." There was that rueful smile again. "And I guess when I met him in that situation, I knew that I had to… I’ve told you that I don’t like coincidences before, right?"

It's a perplexing answer that creates more questions than it answers, but Tezuka senses that Ryoga isn't going to be any more forthcoming with information. He's strange like that - he'll suddenly clam up on the oddest topics, and it's like his voice becomes forcefully bright.

Tezuka carefully places his own rubbish in the bin – he still gets the urge to sort the burnable from the non-burnable garbage. “I should be getting back. There’s an exam this week.”

“Still such an honour student,” Ryoga mocks.

…………………….


Tezuka’s just finishing dinner when there’s a frantic knock on his door.

“Ryoga?” He was there watching tennis only a couple of hours earlier.

He smiles awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head with his hand. “Sorry to bother you… but I think I might have left something here earlier.”

Tezuka opens the door wider in invitation. Ryoga ducks his head in thanks and heads straight for the couch. He fishes around the cushions for a moment, then withdraws a familiar-looking necklace with a relieved expression. It’s a strange orange bauble on a strip of black leather, and Tezuka belatedly recognises it – he hasn’t ever seen the elder Echizen without it.

“Lucky!” He fiddles with it briefly before sliding it back around his neck. “The clasp has been loose lately, I’ll have to get it fixed properly later.”

“Is it important to you?” Tezuka asks, unable to contain his curiosity.

“Haa, sort of. I…” Ryoga hesitates, and for a minute Tezuka thinks he’s going to clam up again, but he continues, “I found it on the ground a long time ago, can you believe? It’s sort of… a clue, I guess. Hey, you know, it was right before I met the shorty. Until then I didn’t even realise that…” he cuts himself off abruptly.

“Didn’t realise…” Tezuka prompts.

The only response is the loud growl of a stomach. Tezuka sighs, fishes about in the kitchen and throws the elder Echizen an orange.

“Thanks!” he says with a bright smile. “How did you know?”

“Ryoma said you always liked oranges,” Tezuka explains. An awkward silence follows his words – it always does when the younger Echizen is mentioned.

Ryoga brushes it off pretty quickly, though. “Heh, I guess he would. That’s how I wound up staying there that Summer, you know. I was caught stealing oranges from the tree," he reminisces, tossing the orange in the air and catching it again.

"Stealing?" Tezuka raises an eyebrow.

"I was hungry!" he defends. "Anyhow, the old man caught me. For some reason he put me up for a while, no questions asked - because I was good at tennis I guess."

"But then..."

"Summer ended. I couldn't stay. I didn't really belong there, after all." He laughs again - by now Tezuka can hear the bitterness cloaked within it.

He still won’t answer the direct question of what exactly his relation is to the Echizen family, but Tezuka carefully files the story away with all the other bits of his past that Ryoga lets slip. “What about before then?”

“Ha?” His question is met with confusion.

“Before you were caught stealing oranges.”

“I just said – I picked this thing up off the ground.” Ryoga points at the necklace around his neck.

“No, before that.”

Ryoga freezes. It’s obvious that his question has genuinely shocked and unsettled him. Is it really so terrible to talk about?

That laid-back smirk appears on his face a moment later. “It wasn’t anything interesting. Anyhow, thanks Tezuka-buchou! Sorry to have bothered you.” He leaps off the couch and lopes towards the door.

It’s probably the most Ryoga has ever told him in one sitting. Tezuka’s satisfied with that for now. Even if he’s terribly curious, it really isn’t his business. The only mystery he’s really interested in solving is the circumstances behind Ryoma’s disappearance. The mystery of Echizen Ryoga can wait.

…………………….


Another year passes. Tezuka enters his second year of university. Word of his orientation must have made it around somehow – he’s inclined to blame Inui, even if he’s halfway across the world – and one of the freshmen asks him out. Tezuka declines.

He doesn’t have much hope anymore, but he still doesn’t want to move on. He’s not ready to get back into the dating game. Possibly he’ll never be.

“Hey!” Ryoga’s standing outside again.

“Don’t you have a job or something to go to?”

“As a matter of fact, I work part-time at a speciality store.”

Tezuka doesn’t comment as he unlocks the door. Ryoga follows him in uninvited.

“What’s with that expression, anyway? You seem really down,” he observes.

“A freshman asked me out today,” Tezuka explains. He feels tired just remembering it.

Ryoga starts. “Hey, seriously? What did you say?”

Tezuka frowns. “I turned him down, of course.”

The elder Echizen relaxes at that. “Oh. Yeah. Of course.”

He’s not sure how to feel about that reaction. Fuji or Oishi or any of his other friends would probably lecture him about not allowing himself to be happy and moving on. Come to think of it, his uninvited guest looks a little conflicted too, though who ever really knew what Echizen Ryoga was thinking? He probably doesn’t want Tezuka to move on either.

“Hey, you know what? We should go play some tennis,” Ryoga announces suddenly.

“I just got home,” Tezuka protests.

Ryoga goes hunting for tennis gear. “So that means you’re free, right?”

“I’m not-”

Despite his protests, Tezuka soon finds himself on a tennis court.

They’ve played before of course, but Ryoga’s twist serve is even sharper than he remembers. Soon he doesn’t have time to think about such troubling issues as hurting people’s feelings or his friends and family nagging him to move on. It’s all about tennis, where the ball is going to land, and how he’s going to respond.

They’re neck and neck as they trade shots – each faster and more powerful than the last. Tezuka activates the zone, but Ryoga breaks out of it with a modified buggy whip shot. Then all of a sudden, Ryoga has two chances at match point.

Tezuka saves the first one with a zero-shiki drop shot. But the match is decided in the next point when a smash blows the racquet out of his hands.

His palms are left stinging from the power of it.

That move.

Cyclone Smash. Ryoga must have copied it on the cruise ship.

They meet at the net, both short on breath and drenched in sweat. “Good game,” Ryoga says with a grin.

“You used your left hand,” Tezuka says quietly.

Ryoga glances down his grip. “Oh.” He switches it back to his right, and laughs. “I didn’t even notice! You know my old man’s Nitouryuu, right?”

“You’ve never used it before.”

He rubs the back of his head sheepishly. “I guess not. Seems like it could turn into a bad habit, you know? I don’t want to get lazy on my backhands.”

Tezuka just nods in agreement, but seeing that particular smash has left an odd churning feeling in his stomach.

He enjoys Ryoga’s company, he really does. But sometimes he’s just a bit too similar to Ryoma. It dredges up memories and makes his chest ache. He feels cheated.

Playing tennis made Tezuka feel better for a while, but he winds up going home feeling ten times worse. Ryoga doesn’t follow.

…………………….


It seems like a long time until Tezuka talks to Ryoga again.

He usually comes by fairly often. He doesn’t tend to stay for long, and he has this guilty air about him the entire time he’s there, but he hasn’t visited once since they played tennis. Tezuka sometimes sees him outside, but most of time he leaves without ever approaching the door. It’s frustrating and doesn’t seem to mesh with the carefree attitude always being projected.

That day is different, though.

The knock on his door is so quiet that he at first thinks it’s just the wind. It’s late, and he’s not expecting any visitors. The only visitor he ever gets is Ryoga, and he hasn’t been by all month.

Eventually, he’s roused from his book, and goes to the door to investigate.

He’s surprised to see Ryoga. Or more specifically – surprised to see Ryoga like that.

He looks so despondent, so miserable... Ryoga is normally so laid back, so carefree, that it's like he's looking at a different person. It's as though all the masks have been torn away. He's not even wearing his contacts.

The question must show on his face, because Ryoga miserably declares, “Karupin’s died.”

…………………….


Ryoga ends up spending the night on his couch.

It’s not that surprising, really. Karupin must have been at least thirteen years old. The real shock is how hard Ryoga is taking it.

Tezuka can sort of understand. It’s like another part of Ryoma has died, and there’s just a little bit less of his existence left in the world. He hasn’t seen the Himalayan cat since the funeral – doesn’t even know how Ryoga managed to take care of him given how much he moves around – but it’s still disheartening.

Tezuka covers the sleeping form with a blanket. Even in sleep he seems troubled.

He doesn't understand the older Echizen. Even though he keeps asking, he's never been given the full story on where exactly Ryoga fits into things. It's like he's out of place in the world, a square peg looking for a home in a field of round holes.

He acts so carefree and laid-back about it, but lately Tezuka's started to think it is just that - an act. Maybe even a coping mechanism. Tonight almost proves it – he thinks it might be the first time he’s seen the man so unguarded.

It seems like recently he's started to find his place, though - talks of going pro and maybe actually finding a more permanent place to live instead of continually shifting around the countryside. Maybe even the increasing honesty in his expressions is because of it.

What he doesn't understand is why Ryoga came to him when he was miserable. Why he keeps turning up outside his house and then leaving without a word. Ryoga was cut off from the normal world for a long time on that cruise ship, but Tezuka mostly just considers them acquaintances, casual friends at the most. They have Ryoma in common, but Ryoga wasn't that close to his little brother - it doesn't seem right. Does he really have no one else to turn to?

Tezuka doesn’t sleep very well that night.

…………………….


Ryoga sleeps until the afternoon. Under any other circumstance he would have woken him up and kicked him out earlier, but Tezuka doesn’t have any lectures for once so doesn’t see the harm in letting his guest sleep for as long he wants.

That doesn’t mean he puts any effort into being quiet.

Eventually, Ryoga stirs. He’s rather disorientated upon awakening, but given his nomadic nature it’s probably a common occurrence. “Huh? Tezuka-buchou?”

“Are you feeling better?”

“Oh… a bit. Sorry. Looks like I took up your couch.”

“Do you want something to eat?”

“Anything’s good.” Ryoga yawns and stretches. “Can I use your bathroom?”

“You don’t need to ask.” As an afterthought, Tezuka adds, “There’s some spare toothbrushes and toothpaste in the medicine cabinet you can use.”

“Thanks.”

He shuffles off to the bathroom, and Tezuka prepares some sandwiches and tea. Ryoga would probably rather drink soft drink, but it’s not a dietary habit he wants to encourage.

His guest returns from the bathroom marginally more awake, though it doesn’t seem like he’s managed to reconstruct his personality yet. Tezuka sits down with him at the table, but something else is bothering him.

“You look different.”

Ryoga pauses halfway between stuffing a sandwich into his mouth. “Hrmph?”

"Without your contacts."

Ryoga blinks and swallows, as though briefly confused by the statement, before his face lights up in realisation. "Oh.... I got clear ones."

The long pause is odd, but Tezuka doesn't pay it any mind. He's too busy being disconcerted by the eerie familiarity of those hazel eyes. It’s surprising how much a slight shift in eye colour can change a face. Ryoga has always resembled his missing little brother - Tezuka has lost count of how many times he's nearly called out to him by mistake - but with his natural eye colour on display the resemblance is uncanny.

Is this what Ryoma would look like now? Tezuka realises that the Ryoma in his memory is still a middle school senior, but it's been over four years. How different would he look?

They don’t talk again until Ryoga leaves. But Tezuka can already feel that something has changed.

…………………….


A slap echoes through the apartment.

Ryoga steps back, head still turned to the side.

“What were you thinking?” Tezuka hisses, wiping his mouth.

"Just… Maybe you should stop looking," Ryoga mumbles.

For a second, Tezuka thinks he's heard incorrectly.

It doesn't make any sense. Ryoga hasn't said a single word about it for the past two years he's been in America. His friends and family have told him to give up - even Ryoma's parents have told him to move on - but Ryoga would always just give him a pat on the back and change the subject. Now, all of a sudden, he's trying to tell him to stop too?

He’s being selfish, a voice whispers in his head. He’s never cared before, but now

"You can't replace him." Tezuka's voice is tight and cold and angry, but he just feels empty.

Ryoga's face twists into a scowl. "Even if he… It's been years. He'll have changed."

"It wouldn't matter," Tezuka says heavily.

"Wouldn't it? He'd be a different person. All those years on his own, unable to control his own destiny..." There's a sharp bitterness to his words. "He'd be older. He'd have been forced to change. Would anybody be able to accept it?" He grasps Tezuka's hand and clutches it to his chest.

"I'll accept it," Tezuka states firmly, pulling his hand from Ryoga's grip. "...You should leave."

“I’m here now.” Ryoga is suddenly vehement. “How much of your future are you going to waste pining for the past?”

“Get out.”

Ryoga hesitates, then shoves his hands in his pockets and storms out. “…Fine. See if I care.”

…………………….


For the first time, Tezuka’s thoughts are not filled with Ryoma, but instead with his older brother.

He hasn’t felt this bad since Ryoma first disappeared. What is it with Echizens messing up his world?

His fingers keep straying back to his lips, but he pushes the memory out of his mind. A cold anger still burns in him every time he thinks about it. He feels betrayed. Ryoga knows how he feels, why did he suddenly spring something like that on him?

Was it so sudden, though? Tezuka’s been wondering about Ryoga’s odd behaviour for a long time. There was a time he even wondered if he might have known something about Ryoma’s disappearance, had privately suspected his involvement in foul play. Impossible, of course, but the old suspicions whisper at the back of his mind with the latest turn of events, even if he’s already disproved them.

Thoughts keep whirling in his head. He’s barely sleeping, not paying attention in classes – he’s almost a wreck. The lecturer’s voice drones on in the background, but he doesn’t hear a word.

He won’t accept it. His fingers clutch the fabric of his pants so hard that his knuckles turn white. Everyone keeps telling him to move on, but he can’t accept it. He can’t!

He loved Ryoma. Why doesn’t anyone understand that? Do they think that just because he was in high school that it wasn’t serious?

He’s going to lose a friend. It’s another connection to Ryoma lost, but it’s the way it has to be.

Unfortunately, it seems that stubbornness runs in the Echizen family.

…………………….


Tezuka nearly doesn’t answer the door. He peers out through the crack, just enough to talk.

“Hey.” It’s Ryoga. He’s not smirking, smiling, or laughing – just wearing a deadpan expression. “…Aren’t you going to let me in?”

Tezuka’s first instinct is to refuse, but a lifetime of having good manners grilled into him has him opening the door automatically.

Ryoga keeps his distance. “Tea?” Tezuka offers. He’s not really sure what to expect now that the older Echizen has turned up on his doorstep – he didn’t think he’d be seeing him ever again. Was sort of hoping for that, in fact.

“No thanks.”

Tezuka makes tea for himself anyhow. He has the feeling he’ll need it. “Why are you here?”

“I wasn’t going to come, you know. But it turns out I’m not the only one who can’t give up.”

“I’m not going to change my mind.”

Ryoga’s eyes seem to glitter. “Neither will I.”

…………………….


Tezuka doesn’t really have much experience in the way of courtship, but he’s pretty sure what he’s going through now is unusual by anyone’s standards. Ryoga doesn’t stalk him, exactly – he just seems to pop up in the oddest places, demanding his time and company.

He doesn’t try anything again, and keeps out of Tezuka’s personal space. In his surprise visits he doesn’t bring up the issue – he keeps the talk to safer topics, like the weather and classes and work and tennis and the neighbour’s cat that keeps coming around looking for attention. Tezuka privately likens the neighbour’s cat to Ryoga, but doesn’t say so out loud.

It’s somehow more stressful than if Ryoga was throwing himself at him. One of his classmates at University asks in a hushed voice what his relationship with that handsome green-haired man is, and would he be willing to introduce her to him? Tezuka curtly informs her that only an idiot would want to meet Echizen Ryoga, and in any case, he’s gay. She goes quiet and doesn’t talk to him again after that. Later he regrets losing the opportunity to potentially foist his problem on to someone else.

He continues to keep his distance, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before his pursuer makes his next move. The current situation would be fine if he didn’t already know that Ryoga isn’t going to allow it to stay this way forever.

Even then, he’s unprepared to find the envelope in his mailbox. There’s a familiar necklace with an orange bauble inside, along with a handwritten note.

‘You can’t change the past, but there’s still hope for the future.’

Tezuka throws the necklace into the bin. An hour later, he fishes it out again.

He’s had enough of this.

…………………….


This time, Tezuka tracks Ryoga down. It’s not too hard – he knows where he works, and the proprietor is more than happy to give him his address when he explains that he needs to return some lost property to him.

It’s a nice apartment, on the second floor of a row of units. Tezuka carefully checks the unit number one last time, and knocks on the door.

He feels slightly vindicated at the shocked expression on Ryoga’s face when he answers. See how he likes it for a change. “Tezuka-buchou. What are you doing here?”

Tezuka holds out the necklace. “I don’t want it.”

Ryoga turns away and heads back into the apartment. “Then throw it away. I don’t want it anymore.”

“You said it was important to you, right?” he persists, following him inside.

He waves it off. “It was. But I should have thrown it out years ago. It’s too late. I was just clinging to some stupid hope.” He smirks in a self-depreciating manner. “I probably shouldn’t have been telling you to move on when I was still holding on to that necklace.”

Tezuka places it carefully on the table anyway. “This stops here. I’ve already answered you clearly. Don’t drag it out anymore.”

Ryoga steps forward, but Tezuka immediately backs away, keeping the distance.

“Why?” he hisses. “Do you really hate me that much? What does Ryoma have that Ryoga doesn’t?”

“It’s not-” Tezuka starts to protest.

“How long are you going to cling on to a memory?! I’m here, I’m real.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t change how I feel.” If he could, he would have moved on by now. Four years is a long time to be miserable.

“I’ve waited and waited… even after the cruise I waited, after the funeral too…”

So long? Ryoga’s liked him that long? His stomach churns with guilt at the news. “I’m sorry,” Tezuka repeats quietly, turning away.

“What more do I have to do?!” He’s nearly hysterical. “Would it help if I were still in middle school? If I wore a white cap? Do I have to tie mistletoe to a tennis net?”

Tezuka freezes.

He's never told anyone about that Christmas Eve. It’s a deeply personal memory, a private moment. A cherished sliver of time that is theirs and theirs alone. No one else was there – no one could have seen.

“You’re a liar,” Ryoga whispers in a broken voice.
 
The mystery of Ryoma's disappearance.  The mystery of Echizen Ryoga.  He's been treating them separately, but they've been the same all along.  This isn't a puzzle that's only four years old - it goes back much further than that.  It goes back to the day when a boy with an uncanny resemblance to Echizen Nanjiroh turned up out of nowhere and was caught stealing oranges from a tree.

He turns back around. Echizen Ryoga is staring at his feet, face cast in shadow. He's wearing that bitter smile again. That fake expression he puts on whenever he’s hiding.

Tezuka suddenly feels like he’s seeing this person for the very first time.

“…Ryoma?”


 

Comments

( 49 comments — Leave a comment )
argentum_luna
Nov. 8th, 2008 06:59 am (UTC)
o.o
su24
Nov. 8th, 2008 07:10 am (UTC)
i'm confuse...maybe i miss a line or something...so the ryoga now is actually ryoma?!? ~scratch head~
zen_strike
Nov. 8th, 2008 07:39 am (UTC)
;___;

Part 3? 08)
sinnatious
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:49 am (UTC)
Nope, this is it, sorry. :P
bemysty
Nov. 8th, 2008 08:05 am (UTC)
...Toki o kakeru Ryoma? =D
sinnatious
Nov. 8th, 2008 08:34 am (UTC)
:D You win the prize!
lala_ii
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:40 am (UTC)
!! *pisses a brick*
W-what? How- when- why- who-?!
HUH?!
(Deleted comment)
sinnatious
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:47 am (UTC)
One word: TIMETRAVEL.

Ryoma IS Ryoga.

(What I get for being experimental I guess. -___- I seem to have only caused confusion!)
pat_ace87
Nov. 8th, 2008 04:35 pm (UTC)
....so...Ryoma run away???....and then came back....or something like that....and Ryoga was some...IDK.....trying to make sense of that last part....
pat_ace87
Nov. 8th, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)
O_____________O you left BIG hidden clues.....unless I'm just going crazy trying to figure this out...

“Anything’s good.” Ryoma yawns and stretches. “Can I use your bathroom?”

“I’m here now.” Ryoga is suddenly vehement. “How much of your future are you going to waste pining for the past?”

So... if I got this right....it changed back to Ryoma when Karupin dies...right???... o_o""" ....And somehow Ryoga knew about this...right???? o_o""""""""""" ......
sinnatious
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:45 am (UTC)
Actually, that first one is just a typo on my part. It was hard to use the right name, given that it's Tezuka POV. *sheepish*

Actually, the change is way before that. Ryoma was always Ryoga. That's what this fic is suggesting. Time travel!

Oh dear, I messed up pretty bad if I have to explain it!
pat_ace87
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:51 am (UTC)
O______________O ah ..... o_o ..... that typo threw me off...when I went back and re-read it and found that I thought "OH, so that's when it changes...or something right?" .... ~_~.....mmmmmmmm So let me get this straight, when the Echizen's say that Ryoma is gone, that's when he disapears and the whole time travel thing comes into play....O____O WOW I wasn't actually expecting that.... ~_~ I have to go back and re-read it again. But I liked it nonetheless, I actually love it when a fic comes around that I have to re-read to try and understand what exactly it is that the author is trying to convey ^__________^.
jade_peace
Nov. 8th, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)
;_________________________;

So Ryoma went through time? And Ryoga knew...

Oh gosh this makes me teary.

=3 Part 3?
sinnatious
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:41 am (UTC)
Oh gosh, you're half right. Um, this is all epic failure on my part... Ryoga IS Ryoma.
jade_peace
Nov. 9th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
That actually makes sense. SO ALL ALONG HE WAS-. ARGH. ASDFGHJKL;.
jade_peace
Nov. 9th, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)
ASDFGHJKL; THIS IS EPIC FAIL ON MY PART.

All the times he called Tezuka 'Tezuka-buchou' and the exact same techniques and knowing how to beat them and asdfghjkl;

He couldn't exactly become pro when he was supposed to be 14 but was really 18...

I GET IT.

SINN~ This is just brilliantly tragic.
tezukaryo
Nov. 9th, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
*scratch head*...HUH...totally lost...will there be a part 3...although I really love this...it just show faithful and in love Tezuka is to Ryoma...is Ryoga and Ryoma the same person...is the necklace that cause the time travel, leap, or warp...hoping for more. ^___^
sinnatious
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:40 am (UTC)
Yes! You got it exactly - one of the few! High-fives.

Unfortunately, this was intended just to be a one-shot. It already wound up being twice as long as it was supposed to be - I just have no sense of scope. :P
agentlerain
Nov. 9th, 2008 02:48 am (UTC)
... A lot of people said that they didn't see it coming. Um. I saw it at the beginning? =D Being a Inuyasha fangirl sorta sets you up for a lot of time travel angst fics. ;)

The Boy Who Leapt Through Time... ;_______________; Poor Ryoma, spending all that time watching and waiting for Tezuka. And Karupin. ;___; aldkajsdalskdjas. And Nanjiroh sort of knowing because he recognises the same techniques. *_____________* Sin, I'm glad he's not being evil for once!

I mean, come on, Buchou! He's been calling you Tezuka-buchou all this time! Only the Seigaku regulars do that! ;_________________; GAH.

Love it, Sin!
sinnatious
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:36 am (UTC)
*glomps* I'm so glad that you got it! Here I was worried that it was much too obvious, but apparently it was the exact opposite. *___* Ha ha, yes, I have moved past villifying Nanjiroh and straight on to villifying Yukimura instead?

<3 ALSO, HAVE YOU REPLIED TO KATH'S OPEN CALL FOR AUSTRALIAN OPEN FUN YET?
agentlerain
Nov. 9th, 2008 05:46 am (UTC)
*glomps back* askdjsdkjaslahk! It's beautiful. Heh. Yukimura is clearly asking for it. >:|

NO. :O I MUST GO STALK OVER THERE. BUT I DON'T THINK WE'VE EVER BEEN INTRODUCED SO I DUNNO. Hmm.
faire_estela
Nov. 9th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
HEY THAT'S TRUE KAORI SHOULD BE BACK SOMETIME SOON =DDD

Anyways, fic? For some reason, every single time you talk about Ryoga as 'the elder Echizen' my mind goes straight back to Nanjiroh. It's like, NO, RIA, STOP IT, YOU'RE OBSESSED DHS JKALFHKA FFHSAUFHAK!

Tezuka can’t believe that their Coach didn’t check up on this. <-- which is what we all thought during the whole cruise thing :O

Ah, Ryoga's mystery. AND THE LINES ABOUT TEZUKA CONFESSING. THAT'S SO RIGHT =DDDD

AND SIN. WHAT. WHAT. THE ENDING, IT'S SO ABRUPT, SIN. DDDDDD:
sinnatious
Nov. 9th, 2008 10:21 am (UTC)
She'll be back next week! Rejoice! :DD

Hey, for once, Nanjiroh was a good guy!

There's also the question - what on earth were a bunch of middle schoolers doing on a ship without adult supervision?! XD Surely the Coach should have been coming along!

I stand by my ending, even if it seems to have confused and horrified people horribly. >:3
faire_estela
Nov. 9th, 2008 10:24 am (UTC)
Nah, the ending is really good that way - abrupt and sort of cut short, but I quite like it that way. Explaining anything else would make the fic drag on uselessly. It's perfect this way.

...but then I tend to agree with your way of ending stuff, so... ^^'
ankoku_tenshi
Nov. 10th, 2008 04:41 am (UTC)
Whoa. This is genius.

Is Ryoga who Ryoma was originally? Like, when he turned fourteen, went back to America he got sucked into some weird time warp thing, and then came out a couple years younger, survived on the streets for a while, before finding his old house and self?
sinnatious
Nov. 10th, 2008 11:18 am (UTC)
Yes indeed. *___*
gayroadtrip
Nov. 13th, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC)
I was suspecting Ryoga was Ryoma but I didn't understand HOW until I read the comments.;; It all kind of clicked into place after that. :')


It'd be interesting seeing this from Ryoma/Ryoga's POV.

Edited at 2008-11-13 05:04 pm (UTC)
sinnatious
Nov. 14th, 2008 10:14 am (UTC)
Do not tempt me to write the other pov. I wasn't even supposed to write this much! It was going to be a nonsensical tiny short drabble designed to hurt people's brains. ;___; (Well, at least I seem to have succeeded at the last part, albeit unintentionally).
sleepingfingers
Nov. 14th, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
*is holding out for you to write the Ryoga/Ryoma's POV*

...

If you really don't intend to write it (please please do write it? :)), do you mind if I, erm, attempt to write it from Ryoga's POV? I will definitely credit, of course!

I am rather obsessed with this fic. =|
gayroadtrip
Nov. 14th, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
I love how you and I think alike, Thanh. ♥
sinnatious
Nov. 15th, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
Heee, I am pretty tempted, and it's all there in my head already... although if I do write it it won't be for a couple of weeks at least. I have a couple of longfic projects running that this one interrupted - I am determined to not be distracted this time! >:3

You are of course, welcome to try your hand it if you become impatient. :)
sleepingfingers
Nov. 15th, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC)
*tempts you even more*

I doubt any of us would mind waiting as long as we get to read it some day! :D
kaorismash
Nov. 20th, 2008 01:29 pm (UTC)
. I have a couple of longfic projects running that this one interrupted - I am determined to not be distracted this time! >:3

OOH OOH OOOOOOH! A COUPLE EH?

>D


sinnatious
Nov. 21st, 2008 01:23 pm (UTC)
YOU ALREADY KNOW ABOUT ALL THE ONES YOU'D ACTUALLY BE INTERESTED IN. /:)
gayroadtrip
Nov. 14th, 2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
But just think how interesting it would be from the other side! The heartache! The jealousy (of oneself?!)! The utter loneliness. ;~;
writeitwriteitwriteitwriteit
sleepingfingers
Nov. 14th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC)
I was utterly confused the first time I read this, but re-reading it with "time-traveling" in mind puts this all into context and it's just brilliant! Ryoga is Ryoma and oh, even though Tezuka was hurting those four years without Ryoma (sort of), think of how many years Ryoma was hurting without Tezuka--and to get spurned by Tezuka repeatedly before Tezuka finally figures it out...

Thank you so much for writing this!
sinnatious
Nov. 14th, 2008 10:17 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading! Hee, it really does only make sense the second-time through I guess. :)

All those years where Ryoma could only look but not touch... ;___;
sleepingfingers
Nov. 14th, 2008 05:23 pm (UTC)
Just re-read it again (gawd, I'm obsessed...), and um, is there any way I can bribe you into writing a sequel? Please? Even just a 100-word sequel? Just. =/ I want to see, Ryoga, Ryoma, happy so so badly.
sinnatious
Nov. 15th, 2008 01:50 pm (UTC)
A sequel, eh? My, you are demanding. First Ryoma pov, and now a sequel? ;)

The ending was actually the bit I liked the most, so I don't think your bribes will work there! XD Isn't it implied that Ryoma will finally be happy? He slipped up, and Tezuka realised that the person he'd been looking for was right there all along, so naturally there would be happier times ahead as they get reacquainted properly? Sure, there would be bumps, but Tezuka's already used to Ryoga. Just now he doesn't need to feel guilty. ;)
sleepingfingers
Nov. 15th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
If it's a Tezuka/Ryoma from you, of course I'm demanding. ;)

LoL, yes, I can understand. That's the perfect place to end the fic, the writer in me does recognize. But it's just. While I *know* they will have a happy ending, because now that Tezuka has "found" his Ryoma, he would never let him go now. But um, even knowing that, a part of me still want to *read* about it, to make sure that it does indeed happen. ^_^;
mimineko_chan
Nov. 17th, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)
I thought Ryoga killed Ryoma so he could be with Tezuka! --;

So timetravel huh? Well, uh, it wasn't all that cleared until I read the comment...
mnemo_syne
Nov. 25th, 2008 12:37 am (UTC)
Okay, I admit that I didn't quite get it at first, but that's only because I spent the entire time I was reading trying not to let my heart break into a million pieces! There were hints that I paused over, but then just shrugged off because I never once considered time travel, heh. But reading it again, it was VERY clear. This is actually quite incredible, I think! Your descriptions are gorgeous, too. I love so many lines I can't pick out just a few. But the characterization is perfection.

In closing: AWESOME. And thank you!

Edited at 2008-11-25 12:38 am (UTC)
sinnatious
Nov. 25th, 2008 11:46 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading! <3

Yes, not too many people got it first time through. Tis one of those that only makes sense on the second read. :)
roseofthine
Dec. 9th, 2008 11:39 pm (UTC)
I...read the chapters out of order. -FAILFAILFAIL-

D;

It was still very lovely and confusing though~ <3 Godihaven'tlookedatanyone'sLJinages Dx
star_jinin
Mar. 14th, 2009 12:44 am (UTC)
ZOMG this is so freakin old but I still ADORE it. I mean, the whole fic was fabulous with an in-characterness that I live for! :D And all the subtle hints--I guess I dismissed them just because Wikipedia contradicted me XD *fails*

The whole 'live for the future' thing was kinda totally contradicted because Ryoga was Ryoma. Doesn't it mean that if Tezuka pursued Ryoga then he would really be sticking to his past love of Ryoma?

The last part's significance totally confuses the crap out of me @_@

Oh well, lovely fic! ^^ I'll be sure to bookmark it!
sinnatious
Mar. 14th, 2009 03:28 am (UTC)
Heh, it confused almost everyone. One of my failboats. ^__^ That said, I still sort of want to write Ryoma's side of it.

Even if it is Ryoma, it's a different Ryoma to how Tezuka remembers him. My thinking was that was why Ryoma kept trying to get Tezuka to forget about his past self and just fall in love with 'Ryoga'... or fall in love with him again, fresh, depending on how you want to phrase it. Essentially he fails, but gets what he wants anyway?

Tezuka finally makes the connection when Ryoma slips and mentions the mistletoe on the tennis net - their first kiss, and something Ryoga shouldn't know about. Is that what you were talking about with the last part?
star_jinin
Mar. 14th, 2009 03:48 am (UTC)
I mean the whole 'forget and move on' significance. But if that 'renewed love' was you intention, then LIEK, OH WOWZ. NICE. But it REALLY did seem like 'Ryoga' was trying to get Tezuka to move on.

Sorrez. The whole thing kinda boggles my brain. And I reckon I'm probably confusing myself.

Naws, I know what happened, it just doesn't fit perfectly in my mind--which it rarely does, anyway.

Don't go insecure on me!! You're the best PoT writer I know!!
(Anonymous)
Dec. 30th, 2009 03:33 am (UTC)
I was so moved I decided to review. Been rewatching PoT and got into the TezuRyo fandom again and ohmygosh, I was thinking "they're the same person... maybe...?" the entire time but didn't click until I reread it.

I've been crying this entire time. Poor Ryoga! Poor Tezuka! Great job! Though yes, it did hurt my head a bit to figure out :]
featheredsilver
May. 3rd, 2016 04:47 pm (UTC)
This has got to be one of the most poignant time travel stories I've read. Just, damn <3
The ending is pretty abrupt but it fits the story perfectly.
( 49 comments — Leave a comment )

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