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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: In this chapter, the nature of the plot bunny is revealed. Um, did I mention that this was primarily an angsty hurt/comfort sort of fic?  No?  Well, now you know.  Either keep reading or run screaming now.
Chapter 1
The Dispossession of Echizen Ryoma
Chapter 2
"What are you doing here?" Ryoma asked, almost stumbling over his words in his shock. 
For one crazy moment, it seemed like a hallucination, or a dream that would vanish at any moment. Even after a spree of rapid eye blinks, though, Ryoga was still there in the flesh with his sloping smile, lazy eyes and eerie familial resemblance, complete with the green-black hair and vaguely cat like features. It was just downright strange to see someone who looked so much like yourself and your father out of the blue like that, even if you intellectually knew that they were family and the similarity was to be expected. 
The elder Echizen grinned, then replied, "Looking for you, of course!" He reached over and mussed the freshman's hair playfully. "Want to play a match?"
"What?" The first year was feeling completely lost.
"A match. I spoke to the old man, and he agreed it was time. So put your shoes back on and come out to the court, okay? The old man will referee."
"But-" Ryoma started. His mind was whirling with questions, and he was still tired after practice; he really didn't feel like playing tennis right then.
"Hurry along! You're not allowed to forfeit!" his brother called out, already heading out the back towards the court.
Not sure what exactly was going on but figuring it best just to go along with things, Ryoma deposited his bags in his room and changed back into his tennis clothes. Of all the people he'd been expecting to see when he'd arrived home that day, Ryoga was the very last.   The possibility of his flighty half-brother - at least, what little information he'd managed to wrangle from his parents about him labelled him as such - turning up at his house hadn’t even been considered; not then, not ever. So even if he felt too tired to be playing a proper match right then, he'd go along with it if it meant getting questions answered.
Stopping by the kitchen, he grabbed a Ponta and chugged it on the way to the court in hopes that the sugar and caffeine rush would replenish his drained stamina. Ryoga was already warming up on the other side of the court, and his father had stacked several chairs on top of each other to create a dodgy and somewhat dangerous-looking umpire's chair. Ryoma still couldn't quite get past the fact that his brother was standing across from him on this particular court. It hadn't been even three months since they’d seen each other last. That was a record, considering that it had been a good six or seven years between their previous meetings.
"Oi, brat, you ready yet?" his father taunted.
"Che, why have you turned up now?" Ryoma asked, ignoring his father and addressing his brother instead.
Again, Nanjiroh interrupted before he could get an answer. "It's good timing, isn't it? I was starting to think this kid was never going to show up again. Then he just pops up out of nowhere this afternoon."
Ryoga smirked. "Heh, I did like the idea of never seeing your face again, but I hear that cute little Nanako has grown up into a lovely lady!"
Ryoma wasn't certain if he should feel some sort of sibling solidarity in his and Ryoga’s shared contempt of their father, or disgust at the similarities in Ryoga and Nanjiroh's personalities. He eventually settled on the side of admiration. Ryoga was still more bearable than his father.
"Ah, unlucky! Such bad timing! Our darling Nanako just left yesterday on a trip. She's not supposed to be back for another couple of weeks."
"That's a shame. I guess I'll be sticking around then."
His father laughed, to Ryoma's surprise. "Play the match first, Ryoga. Then we'll see."
"Should I just leave you two to it?" Ryoma remarked dryly.
"Che, so impatient, brat. Okay, whoever wins gets to stay!"
"Whatever," the freshman drawled, tired of his father's jokes and moving to the net. 
“Smooth,” Ryoga called.
The racquet fell on rough. "My serve." It seemed like he wasn't going to get to have a proper conversation with his brother until the match was over and done with. Why did his stupid father have to use tennis for everything? Couldn't he just say hello like a normal person? And why was he acting so blasé about his long-lost son turning up out of nowhere? 
Ryoma immediately fired off his twist serve and earned two easy points before Ryoga got used to its new speed and power. They battled over the remaining points, sticking to relatively simple shots, with the freshman only pulling out a Drive B to win the last point.
What would his mother would think of the situation - a long lost family member turning up after so long and rather than ask where he’d been and why he’d come back, they were playing tennis? Then again, she probably wouldn’t be surprised, given that she’d shown such devotion to a pervert like his father against all common sense. Still, would she be shocked or just take it in stride as well? The youth vaguely recalled that she'd been very fond of Ryoga when they were little, but the odds were that he wasn't her actual son, since by his estimation Ryoga would have had to be born before his parents had even met. 
Ryoma was so focused on his thoughts that he didn't even see Ryoga’s first serve go whizzing past. He blinked in surprise.
"15-Love! Hey, brat, you awake now?"
The freshman didn't respond, but was at least paying more attention. Barely catching the second serve, he and his brother embarked on a short rally that he eventually won. There was a lot more power in Ryoga's shots than before, though, and it seemed like the waters were still being tested. Tezuka’s words sprung to mind. “Let’s not get careless.”
His brother won the third serve, then the fourth, and then the game. 
They changed court, and Ryoga took the next game as well, though Ryoma made him chase after his shots by hitting deep into the corners. He’d taken two points out of the game before Ryoga managed a trio of powerful smashes, breaking his service. Ryoma scowled at losing that many points in a row. His brother's play wasn't fancy, and he didn't use that many tricky shots, but his strokes were clean, powerful and precise, and he seemed able to return even the hardest shots with apparent ease. The freshman was tempted to draw out his cyclone smash, but he was already losing the stamina battle, and using that shot would drain him even faster.
Still, he was barely able to bite back his groan when the next point was lost because he’d been too slow to respond to a shot. The following game was fought to deuce more than once, before another high-speed serve rocketed past him in a no-touch ace. 
“Game to Echizen Ryoga, four games to one!” his father announced, enjoying his role as umpire entirely too much. Ryoma tried to glare at him, but the setting sun was behind him and wound up forcing him to look away. Stupid old man.
Ryoga stepped back, resting his racquet on his shoulder, “Hey bro, are you really playing seriously? This is nothing like that match we had on that cruise ship.”
“Mada mada da ne,” the freshman replied automatically, tugging his cap over his eyes. It was true he wasn’t really playing with everything he had – all of those extra laps in practice had been more tiring than he wanted to admit, and his heart wasn’t really in the match. Besides, he was still in a state of shock over Ryoga turning up at their house out of the blue like that. He felt a little bad, knowing how much it annoyed him when his opponent wouldn’t play him seriously, but what did his older brother expect when he’d pretty much forced him into a match the second he had arrived home? How was anybody supposed to concentrate under those conditions?
Still, he owed his elder brother better than this. He resolved to put more effort into the game – the cruise had been quite some time ago, after all, and Ryoga had been a plenty tough opponent then. If his legs were a little tired, he’d just have to run his opponent around the court a bit more to even things up. 
With several long rallies and a lot of net play, Ryoma managed to take the next two games and get his brother at least working up a bit of a sweat. His own movements were becoming stiff, though, and Ryoga won the following game. They struggled back and forth for the next game, hitting deuce countless times as neither of them would let the other get two points in a row, before Ryoma finally pulled out his Cyclone Smash. It wasn’t quite as powerful as it normally was, but it was enough to get past an opponent who hadn’t been expecting it. 
“Heh, every time I see that shot I’m impressed,” Ryoga commented. “You teach him that one, old man? That seems like favouritism!”
No one bothered replying as they entered the ninth game. Ryoma inwardly cursed as he missed two easy returns, and another where the unexpected power of his opponent’s shot caused him to hit out. Ryoga wound up taking that game too. 
The next few points were desperate as the young prodigy put in more energy than he realistically still had, managing to steal a few points. Still, before he knew it, Ryoga was up five games to four, and the score was 40-30. His brother was sitting on match point. 
Ryoma was slightly annoyed with himself for not being able to rise to the occasion despite his best efforts. His elder brother had become stronger. Ryoma had improved too, and he knew under normal circumstances that he could take the match, but his concentration – normally one of the strongest parts of his game – had failed him. It wasn’t good enough. His training regime would have to be increased. Defeating Tezuka again would be impossible if he let himself slip like this. 
A comeback was still possible, though. Ordering himself to focus and ignore his tired legs, he focused his eyes on the ball Ryoga was holding, the sweatiness of his palms gripping the handle of the racquet and leaden muscles becoming secondary to everything but the game.
“Hey, Ryoma!”
The freshman briefly turned his attention to his opponent’s face. Instead of the usual laid-back smirk, he was surprised to see his brother sporting a deadly serious expression.
“Sorry, but you’re old enough to take care of yourself now. It’s my turn.”
The last rays of sunlight disappeared over the horizon and twilight started to set in. Ryoga served, Ryoma blinked, and it was over.
“Game, Set and Match! Echizen Ryoga wins six games to four!”
Ryoma stared, disappointed with himself, but shrugged all the same. It might have bothered him more if he didn’t know that he could beat Ryoga. And his brother really had played well, throwing himself completely into the match. If anything, he was more disappointed that he hadn’t been able to force himself to do the same. 
“Oi, Ryoma, you lost. You’ve got an hour. Go pack your things,” his father said, voice suddenly stern as he left the court.
He turned to Ryoga, who was standing there with a mildly guilty expression on his face. “Weren’t you listening, bro? Whoever wins, gets to stay.”
“Gets to… stay?”
His elder brother looked off the side, not meeting his eyes. “Pack your bags, chibisuke. You might want to hurry. When he says an hour, he means an hour.”
“Hey, but-“ What was going on? What did he miss?
“Don’t waste time. Move, move!” Ryoga gave him a friendly push back towards the house. Thoroughly confused, he headed back inside the house, only stopping briefly for a drink of water to refresh his parched throat.
Half an hour later it was getting dark outside and Ryoma was in his room, haphazardly throwing his things into a duffel bag more or less on automatic, not understanding but going along with it for the moment, as he had been all afternoon. His school bag and tennis bag sat next to his bed where he’d left them upon his arrival home, still untouched. The freshman folded his two spare uniforms and packed them in his bag, following them with all of the clothes he regularly wore from his closet. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he was determined to ignore. The stupid old man was probably sending him on some training trip or something – it wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened out of the blue. Or maybe he was being sent to a friend’s house while Ryoga was there? That didn’t make any sense, as his brother could just take Nanako’s currently unoccupied room, or share, but how was he to know how his father’s twisted logic worked? 
Firmly repeating that to himself, Ryoma fetched his toiletries from the bathroom, threw a few books for reading into his bag, as well as some extra grip tape, tennis balls, and a spare cap. He hesitated when reaching for his wallet, and then grabbed his meagre savings that had been hidden inside a book. Just in case his father thought it funny to send him somewhere ridiculous, he wanted to have enough money to catch a bus or a train home.
After stuffing a few more items in as an afterthought – just some stationary and a map – he proceeded to pull the zipper on his duffel bag closed. There. The hour was up, and it was time to go find out what harebrained scheme his father – and now brother - had in mind this time. 
There was no need to search the old man out; when he turned around he found him lounging against the doorway. Years of practice were all that prevented the freshman from starting.
“Oi, you ready to leave yet?” The usual mirth was missing from Nanjiroh’s expression, and Ryoma found himself oddly unsettled by it. 
“Where am I going?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
Ryoma was more than just thoroughly confused by this point, and he’d had enough of being left in the dark. He sat down on the bed in a show of defiance and crossed his arms. “I’m not going anywhere until you explain.” See how the old man handled that.
He wasn’t sure what he expected his father to do, but he certainly hadn’t been prepared for him to grasp him by his arms and haul him bodily to his feet. It took a second for his mind to process what was happening, and by then the freshman was already being dragged into the hallway. 
“Hey, no, stop! Let go!” Ryoma hollered, growing scared and trying to dig in his heels in protest, but his father simply lifted him up so that his feet couldn’t get purchase. His struggles were useless, and not for the first time the youth found himself cursing his height as his scrabbling movements failed to free him. In seconds, they’d reached the porch, where Nanjiroh half pushed, half threw the freshman onto the front lawn.
Ryoma threw out his hands in times to prevent planting his face on the ground as he landed with a dull thump. “What the-? Old man!”
“You lost,” his father said simply. “You’re on your own now. Come back in a year and try your luck again. And don’t even think about trying to sneak back in.” With no further words than that, Nanjiroh turned on his heel and headed back into the house. 
Ryoma sat there on the front lawn, palms of his hands stinging from their harsh impact with the ground, stunned at his father’s words. Was the old man serious? Was he really…?
Ryoga emerged from the front door a moment later with his duffel bag, school bag and tennis racquets in tow. He set them down next to the stunned freshman, and gave him a cocky smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “See ya in a year, chibisuke. Take care of yourself, okay? Get stronger!”
“Catch you later!” Ryoga threw him an orange. It sailed through the air and landed on the ground near his knees without being caught, rolling off into the grass. Ryoga shrugged, and headed back into the lit interior of the house, pulling the door shut behind him with an eerie sort of finality.
It felt rather like that door would never open again.
Where was he supposed to go? Where could he go?
It was clear he wasn’t welcome there anymore. 
After a moment, it was as though sensation returned to the freshman’s limbs, and he became aware of the tickle of dewy grass against his knees and the rough fabric of his duffle bag brushing his arm. He ought to get moving – it was almost dark. Standing and gathering his bags, Ryoma turned and started walking somewhat robotically towards Momoshiro’s house, legs just moving over the familiar path by their own accord. 
What had just happened?
Ryoma wasn’t capable of processing anything at that point in time. Rational thought had betrayed him, and his thoughts were swirling chaotically, each one slipping past too fast to properly comprehend.  Had he just been thrown out of his house because he’d lost a tennis match? Had his father been truly serious when he’d laid those terms down?! He’d assumed it was a joke, as every second thing that came out of Echizen Nanjiroh’s mouth tended to be. 
What was he supposed to do? This wasn’t the sort of situation he’d even pondered before. 
Why couldn’t everything just be like tennis? He’d know what to do then.
Amidst the haze, Ryoma eventually realised that his legs weren’t moving anymore and that his autopilot had brought him to Momoshiro’s house. The familiar building was dark. He shifted from foot to foot uneasily, but walked up the path and knocked on the door anyway. Silence was his only greeting. Even after knocking a little more forcefully, no one answered. Obviously his senpai – and his family – weren’t home. He couldn’t recall the junior saying anything about a family outing earlier that day, but then, it was always possible he just hadn’t been paying attention. 
Ryoma was suddenly acutely aware of how heavy his bags were on his already tired shoulders, and the aching soles of his feet. Where to next? He couldn’t very well just stay there – some nosy person would probably call the police about some suspicious delinquent hanging out in their neighbour’s yard. And the familiar landmark felt terribly alien and uncomfortable all of a sudden. Sticking around wasn’t an option.
Tired, the freshman shuffled away from his friend’s house and headed vaguely in the direction of street tennis courts. His mind was numb as he walked the streets with no particular destination.  The last vestiges of twilight had long been swept away, and Ryoma's stomach growled irritably.  He ignored it, not currently able to stand even the thought of food, still trying to wrap his mind around what to do next.  Eventually he stopped in a small park several blocks away from the school. It had never really caught his notice before, not being along his regular route, but he was grateful for a place to rest his feet now.

Momoshiro wasn't home, and he didn’t think he could handle Kikumaru’s energy at that point in time – not to mention, it would be a painfully long walk to the acrobat’s house with all of his bags.  Who else could he turn to?  The only remaining regulars whose addresses he knew were Kawamura and Tezuka.  He liked Kawamura well enough, but they weren't particularly close, and chances were the senior would be helping with the sushi shop at this time of day.  Nor could he really turn up at the door of the shop with his bags.

It was tempting to go to Tezuka's place, if only because the senior's calm, stabilizing presence might return some order to his world that had just been thrown into disarray.  In the end, though, Ryoma couldn't bring himself to stand.  It just... didn't feel right, imposing on his captain like that.  And he didn’t want to admit that he’d lost to Ryoga, either. The senior would almost certainly be disappointed in him.

Ryoma sat there in the cool evening air for some time, mind blank.  He was jerked back to awareness only when he felt his eyelids drooping.  A quick glance at his watch revealed that it was nearly midnight. How long had he been sitting there?  Going to any of his senpai's places was completely out of the question now. 

The park was still deserted, lit only by one streetlight near the road that was half obscured by a tree.  It was rather secluded. 
Ryoma found himself jumping in fright when a brief breeze rustled the leaves. He scowled, angry with himself for getting spooked by something so lame.  But it still felt too quiet.  A car would occasionally go past on the road, and there was the odd set of footsteps passing by, making him unreasonably nervous now he was aware of it.  Still, despite the intermittent signs of movement from the road and footpath, the park remained empty.  Maybe he could just spend the night here?  At this point in time even the ground was looking comfortable.
Another pair of footsteps wandered past, accompanied by a deep, murmuring voice of someone obviously talking into their phone. Ryoma tensed, relaxing only when they were out of earshot again.  Reluctantly, he gathered his bags and made for a patch of grass mostly obscured by shrubs that wouldn't be visible from the road.  Sleeping on the ground wasn’t a big deal, but it would be wise to take precautions so that he was hidden from the casual observer, thus reducing the risk of someone trying to steal his bags while he slept.
Once certain that his hiding spot wouldn't be easily visible to anyone until they were practically on top of him, the freshman pulled his spare jacket out of his duffel bag and lay it over himself like a blanket before resting his head against his bag as though it were a pillow.  The coarse fabric and lumpy contents hardly made it ideal, but it was better than the ground. 
Ryoma found himself staring into the black night sky, dotted with pinpricks of starlight.  The day had been so normal. He’d woken up with Karupin curled up against his side, traded insults with his father over breakfast, gone to school, and run a ridiculous number of laps in afternoon practice. Then all of a sudden, Ryoga had turned up, challenged him to a match, and he found himself physically thrown from his house with next to no explanation and nowhere to go.
Even though he was exhausted, sleep didn’t come easily.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 11th, 2008 10:58 am (UTC)
I'm running screaming with joy. :P
Mar. 11th, 2008 12:14 pm (UTC)
hey, why is nanjirou kicking out his beloved son? is it somekind of tradition that whoever winswould be the heir or something like that or are they making fun of him? ... hm... i can't wait for the next chappie! please update soon!
Mar. 12th, 2008 10:56 am (UTC)
Updates should be daily. Next chapter is up now. Don't expect questions to be answered properly just yet though. :S
Mar. 11th, 2008 02:30 pm (UTC)
I honestly thought they were joking until Nanjiroh bodily threw Echizen away. Oh wow. That's another thing I wasn't expecting. If you're going to keep on surprising me this way in every chapter this fic is going to be amazing.

I just... don't get this Nanjiroh. I don't like him. What will Rinko say?

Anyways, I really hope you don't get Echizen to live at Tezuka's family home - Ryuuzaki would be glad to take him in or something, I know. Poor kid. That's the only thought going through my mind at the moment - poor kid. DDD_:
Mar. 12th, 2008 11:04 am (UTC)
I am honestly thinking you are going to just HATE this fic. :( It is a gathering of many cliches and convenient shortcuts shoehorned into a theory/plot bunny that wouldn't leave me alone. It was supposed to be abandoned, there were so many of them! I would extrapolate, but that would be spoilers I guess? Stop reading while it is still surprising you! Nanjiroh is the villain! This is not enough to warn you off it?
Mar. 11th, 2008 03:43 pm (UTC)
ka0richan is running screaming in joy, I'm running screaming in exasperated confusion and anger T.T .... I must have the next chapter X.X!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Mar. 12th, 2008 10:48 am (UTC)
Kaorichan is cheating. She helped me fix this fic up and finish it. :P

Lucky you, chapters will go up daily, unless I hit one that is a quagmire of continuity errors. (Do not expect the confusion and anger to go away, though. Unfortunately, I tend to only explain things properly at the end. If this annoys you, I really recommend abandoning ship now.)
Mar. 12th, 2008 12:25 pm (UTC)
Are you kidding me O.O!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE ANGST JUST AS MUCH AS I ADORE FLUFF XD!!!!!!!!!! I will not abandon ship, I can not XD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Mar. 12th, 2008 05:05 am (UTC)

Half of me is screaming at my muse to write an angst about that Nanjiroh-throws-Ryoma-out-of-the-house-in-favor-of-Ryoga thing.

The other half is laughing my arse off.

How unfortunate, Ryoma-chan.
Mar. 12th, 2008 05:16 am (UTC)
Where's Karupin? o3o

And yeah, I kinda figured from the summary. x3;;

Eeeee~ -flailing at you- It's well-written for such an out-of-the-blue plot. I like. <333
Mar. 12th, 2008 10:14 am (UTC)
Okay, I'm sitting here stunned. I honestly thought Nanjiroh was joking until he actually threw Ryoma out of the house. Holy god. I think I whimpered aloud. Ryoma! I'm just so distressed and aching for him. Karupin, you need to desert home and come and find your boy immediately! He needs you!

Sinn, it's a sign of how good your writing actually is at how deeply I've been drawn into this story in only two chapters. You make the characters so real. I'm totally depending on Ryoma's mother here to Do Something about Nanjiroh; cut his balls off, for starters because oh my god.

I really hope there's a chapter waiting for me in the morning; I'm going to be thinking about this fic until I know Ryoma's safe!
Mar. 12th, 2008 10:52 am (UTC)
Sadly, that would be the easy way to conclude things. (Though the more believable). Oh no, this is my angst fic. I should warn you - Ryoma gets put through the wringer. :) This is me making up for the excess of fluff I've been writing lately. (Though it creeps back in later).

In any case, new chapter is up now.
Mar. 12th, 2008 05:16 pm (UTC)



Poor Ryoma.

Apr. 6th, 2008 02:49 am (UTC)
Well, euh...

I think that I'm in shock as well... HUH? What the hell just happened? Ryoma got kicked out? HUH? HUH? HUH?

Rinko came home with her usual 'Tadaima'. Through her son rarely followed the traditionnal manners of Japan, he always had a 'Okaeri' to respond her. And this time, only silence greated her at the entrance. Entering the house, she could hear balls being hit and calmed her racing heart. Even this late, her husband still played with their son. Putting away her coat, she went to the kitchen to put away the groceries. Still, there were the sound of tennis ball and Nanjiroh's usual taunting 'Mada mada dane'. Then why did she feel uneasy? Something in her heart was twitching. Her breathing was cut, like she just ran a marathon. Deciding to check on both her men, she walked to the backyard where the tennis court were built. But the sight were not what she expected. It was not her son playing tennis with his oyaji. It was HIM. Oh, she thought that he was a sweet boy. She liked him, during the short period where HE live with them. She treated him just like her own son. But, and there was always a BUT, it reminded her of that time... The time when Nanjiroh was nothing more than a skilled play boy. Oh, he changed. No longer did he chase everything walking female with a skirt. He still had lewd hobbies, but she accepted that. But HE was a reminder of that time. She knew that she had no right over his past before he met her, but knowing that he had a child with someone else was still painful. She turned back from their game and went upstares to find her son. The son that she had with Nanjiroh, her precious boy, the son that was proof that Nanjiroh belonged to her now. Opening Ryoma's door, her eyes widened.

Ok, I'm going to see chapter 3!

- Mimikitty

Apr. 6th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
*glomps* Drabble! Oh, excellent. I can rely upon you to flesh out Rinko for me. ;) I largely neglected her, taking the Konomi stance of 'you hardly ever see her, but you get the impression that she exists'. XP!

Thank you for writing this!
Jun. 7th, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)
Haaa, okay, so I wasn't going to read this until I skimmed this chapter... and then the comments. And now I think I'll go back and properly re-read chapter one and continue on with the fic. >:
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )