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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: Rather long chapter! Longest yet I think. In any case, this chapter contains swearing and sexual references, just for warning’s sake.
The Dispossession of Echizen Ryoma
Chapter 8
Ryoma irritably stuffed his cap into his tennis bag after the third gust of wind nearly blew it off, and did his best to ignore his rumbling stomach. Friday had come and gone, and he’d just spent half his Saturday walking around to all of the different tennis clubs within the prefecture. His search for work had not gone terribly well, and now he found himself deep in the business district after dark, a good hour's walk back to Seigaku and still lacking in money. After trying a variety of tennis clubs in the district, only one of them had been advertising an open position, and they'd been after a full-time employee. He'd asked at a few other places regardless, and had mostly just been met with blank stares. Normally Ryoma preferred to take advantage of people underestimating him because of his age, but it was a serious issue now. 
His stomach growled again, and he had to resist the urge to growl back at it to shut up. So what if he was hungry? There were only a few yen left in his name at this point in time, and he wasn't going to spend them unless he absolutely had to. As it was, it hurt just to sacrifice that measly 100 yen to do his laundry in the Laundromat. 
Despondent, he chose an empty street bench across from a massage parlour and sat down, relishing taking the weight off his feet after spending the entire day walking around looking for work, and hoping a rest might make it easier to ignore his complaining stomach. It was irritating - if he hadn't had to blow off Momoshiro and Kikumaru in order to search for a job he could have at least scored some more free burgers from them. Damn, was he going to have to last all the way until Monday afternoon? Maybe he could drink some of Inui's juice in Monday morning’s practice - as disgusting as it was, surely with all of the 'nutritious' ingredients in it he could survive a little longer. Some of Inui's earlier concoctions - before he started to get really creative - were somewhat survivable. The data-obsessed senior probably still used those for himself, given that even Inui hadn't managed to stomach some of his latest creations.
Ryoma groaned, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. He must be really hungry if Inui's disgusting juices were starting to sound good. 
His eyes snapped open again when he felt a foreign hand settle on his posterior. Shooting to a standing position, he whirled and fixed his glare on the strange businessman he hadn't noticed arriving and sitting next to him. The stranger was tall and lean, looked to be in his early thirties, smelt heavily of cigarettes and his face was covered in stubble. He wore a sloping grin and his white-collared business shirt had the top few buttons undone and a tie only half knotted. An office worker on his way home from work after a few beers? 
"Hey, kid, relax," he cajoled, even as he approached again. Ryoma didn't even realise he'd been stepping backwards until his back met with the wall.
The stranger, having him trapped, leaned in and asked, "So, how much?"
The businessman huffed, looking annoyed. "Don't tell me I picked another rookie. I asked how much for you."
The freshman didn't like how close this guy was getting. He especially didn't like it when the stranger's hand cupped his face, forcing him to meet his eyes. 
"Don't touch me."
"What, you don't like it? Or is that part of your gig?" Ryoma found himself being pressed against the wall, and was now aware of the man's other hand sneaking its way under his shirt. "You're surprisingly well toned. Okay, then how does thirty sound?"
"Thirty yen?" Ryoma asked, temporarily confused and more occupied with trying to remove the offending hand.
The stranger laughed softly at that. "You're a funny one. No, thirty thousand."
Ryoma's mind froze at that. Thirty thousand yen?
He might've been slow on the uptake when it came to interpersonal affairs, but by no means was Ryoma stupid. This guy wanted to pay him to have sex with him.
He pushed the hand cupping his face away. "You're mistaken. I'm not for sale." This guy should have known better – even if the red light district was only a few blocks away, prostitutes wouldn’t wander away from it; nor would they carry tennis racquets with them. On the other hand, with his face so close the scent of alcohol was unmistakeable. A drunk and lost pervert. Just great.
The businessman's face darkened at that, and the hand that had been caressing his cheek quickly fisted itself in his hair. The freshman let out a little cry of surprise as his head was jerked back to an uncomfortable angle. "Mistaken? What is it, am I not good enough? Too cheap for you? Let me tell you this, you little tramp, you'll be lucky to get even half that with guys twice my age! You can't pick and choose in this business!" He accentuated his point by slamming Ryoma back into the wall and shoving his left knee between his legs. 
"Hey, stop- Hel-!" Ryoma found his voice cut off as his hair was released and that hand wrapped itself around his throat instead. He gasped as the fingers applied more pressure when he tried to speak again.
"Don't be causing a scene now, brat. You'll get in trouble too - aren't you awfully young to be doing this? You even sixteen yet?" Oh for the love of… of all the times for someone to think he was older than he was!
Ryoma scrabbled, trying to throw a punch with his left fist, which was intercepted by the stranger’s right hand and pinned against the wall. He choked as the pressure on his neck increased again, right hand reflexively wrapping around the wrist, trying to tug it away so he could breathe freely.
"Come on, brat, stop being difficult. Thirty thousand. And in a proper hotel, too, not one of the trashy ones in this neighbourhood."
Ryoma's eyes rolled to the left, searching for the source of the familiar voice. Tezuka-buchou?
The stranger's grip had lessened when he'd realised that they had an audience, and Ryoma used that chance to throw the hardest punch he could with his right arm. He only managed to strike a glancing blow on the man's cheek, but the shock of it was enough for the stranger to drop him and step back. Ryoma practically tripped over his own feet trying to run away, barely remembering to pick up his tennis bag that he had dropped at some point during the scuffle. He came to a stop behind the stern-looking captain, taking a moment to cough and massage his throat. "Are you okay?"
Still coughing, the freshman nodded. 
“You fucking little brat! What makes you think you can get off acting like that! You’re a shithead, you hear! A slut! A whore!”
Tezuka's frown deepened as he looked towards to the still-swearing businessman, who was thankfully keeping his distance despite his angry ranting. "Should I call the police?" 
Regaining his voice at last, Ryoma replied, "No, it was just a misunderstanding. Leave it. I'm going." He didn't waste any time hurrying in the opposite direction, barely resisting the urge to run. Tezuka quickly caught up, but didn't say anything until they were at least two blocks away.
Ryoma was dreading the first words that would come out of his captain's mouth, but at the same time, he had no way of sending the senior away. So he just cringed when Tezuka finally spoke in that disapproving tone. "What happened there?"
"Just a misunderstanding," he repeated.
"It looked more like he was about to molest you without your consent."
The freshman tensed, wishing he were still wearing his cap so that he could better hide his face. "Who cares what it looked like? It doesn't matter anymore."
"What are you doing out in this area so late anyway?" Tezuka pressed. 
Ryoma resisted the urge to groan. And he'd thought that Oishi was a chronic worrier. "I could ask the same about you," he snapped back, still too shaken from the encounter to worry over appropriate levels of respect. He clenched his fingers into fists, not liking the way his hands were quivering.
"I had an appointment in the area that ran late. I was on my way to the train," came the steady reply.
"Yeah? Well, I was going to the train too," he replied stubbornly. What were the odds of running into his captain then and there? It was hard to figure out whether to be grateful for that turn of luck or curse it. 
Tezuka arched an eyebrow, but thankfully didn't ask any more questions after that. "I'll accompany you to the train station, then."
"Whatever." Ryoma folded his arms and looked away, even if a part of him was relieved to have the captain's reassuring presence at his side. He was starting to understand that pillar business that Tezuka was always going on about - that feeling that there was someone you could always depend on that wouldn't crumble at the first sign of hardship. Ever since he'd been thrown out of home, he'd felt like he'd been floating free without a single piece of driftwood to stop him from drowning. With Tezuka, though, he could feel that reliable support. It was a shame it didn’t linger after the captain had left his presence.
Even so, Ryoma found himself looking back as they walked towards the train station. That man had been willing to pay him a fair amount, and he did need the money... could he...?
He shivered. No, he couldn't. He was still barely able to suppress his shaking. He'd been scared, something he couldn't bring himself to admit to Tezuka. How stupid to get scared afterwards. It was a lucky thing the senior had come along, or he might have been in real trouble. He'd just have to keep checking out the tennis clubs. There were still at least half in the phone book remaining; there was bound to be something eventually. And if not, he could always try tutoring people for money in English, or doing their assignments if necessary. Who cared if it was facilitating cheating when he was starving?
As though summoned by his thoughts, his stomach growled loudly again. 
“Have you eaten yet?” Tezuka asked as they arrived at the train station.
Wordlessly, Ryoma shook his head, not trusting his voice to remain steady with the sudden attack of nerves.
The senior pondered that for a moment, then suggested in a voice that seemed too gentle for his stern face, “Would you like to come over for dinner? My house is closer. You can even stay the night if you want.”
Ryoma froze, surprised by the unexpected godsend. “Won’t your parents be inconvenienced?” he croaked out, voice barely above a whisper.
“They aren’t home at the moment. Your company would be welcome. Eating with other people is always more enjoyable than dining alone, even if my microwave dinners are not particularly delicious.”
Still in shock from the unexpected – and decidedly uncharacteristic - offer from the typically aloof captain, Ryoma just nodded his agreement wordlessly, happy not to question this brief turn of good fortune. 
They boarded the train in silence. Ryoma placed his bag on his lap and hugged it, trying to quell his quivering with little success. He could only hope that it was slight enough for Tezuka not to notice. Thankfully, the rush hour crowds had thinned, so the car wasn’t at all crowded and Ryoma had plenty of personal space. Scowling and irritated with himself, the freshman attempted to focus on his more pertinent concerns first. Mostly what he was supposed to do all day tomorrow. Even if Tezuka let him stay the night, he’d probably be booted out in the morning, and that left an entire day to try and fill. Should he go and try the other tennis clubs on his list?
After a short while, Tezuka stood, indicating that they were about to arrive at the stop. Disembarking in silence, they started walking down the dark streets. Ryoma was worried that the senior might try to ask more questions, but it appeared that he was safe for now.
“We’re here,” Tezuka announced unnecessarily when they arrived at the house. He dug his keys out from his own bag and unlocked the door, holding it open for his guest. Shuffling in with a mumbled thanks, Ryoma stooped to untie his shoes, and cursed under his breath as his fingers fumbled with the laces. 
“So why aren’t your parents here?” It seemed like asking questions was the best way to cover how long it was taking to perform the simple act of taking off his shoes. 
Following after him, the senior explained, “My grandfather has recently suffered some health complications. My parents took him to a specialist hospital in Kyushu."
Echizen made an affirmative noise to confirm that he was listening as he looked around the house, having finally succeeded in removing his shoes. He'd seen Tezuka's residence before of course, but he was still surprised at how large it really was. You could even spy a relatively spacious garden out the back. "Will he be alright?" he asked in a quiet voice. He knew next to nothing about his captain’s family, but having a family member that lived with you in a hospital had to be stressful.
"I have been assured that he’ll be fine.  It’s not a high risk operation," the senior explained absently as he removed his own shoes. "He is old though, so my father decided to accompany him. My mother went to keep him out of trouble."
"Are you close to your grandfather?"
Tezuka seemed surprised by the question. "I suppose. He’s been living with us for as long as I can remember.”
"Hn." It certainly explained why Tezuka could be terribly old fashioned about some of the strangest things. No wonder everyone mistook him for an adult - he didn't seem to have any influences under the age of 40. “You didn’t say anything about it at practice,” Ryoma observed. 
“It’s a family matter. Like I said, the operation is not high risk. There’s no point in causing worry.”
“And your parents trust you to live on your own, just like that?” Ryoma asked, genuinely curious. Tezuka might’ve just oozed responsibility, but it was still hard to imagine anyone entrusting the house to any teenager.
“They seem to think that since I managed myself in Germany, I’m capable of managing here,” was the somewhat dry response. “Anyhow, you’d better call your parents. Let them know where you’re staying. The phone is in the hallway. I’ll get dinner started in the kitchen.”
Ryoma made his way to the phone placed on an antique-looking coffee table while Tezuka headed into what must have been the kitchen. He wasn’t sure if the senior was listening in, so he made a show of dialling, pausing awkwardly as he cradled the phone to his ear. How was he supposed to do this? He liked to think he was decent liar, but he wasn’t particularly the world’s greatest actor.
Best just to hurry it along. Ignoring the dull dial tone, he started randomly speaking, trying to imagine how the conversation would normally go. “Hello? Old man, it’s me. Yeah, I’m at Buchou’s. I ran into him in the city. He’s letting me stay here tonight. Tell Mom not to worry.” Why was his throat closing up when he was just pretending to talk to his parents? It wasn’t like they were really on the other end of the line. “Yeah, I know. Sure thing. Remember to feed Karupin.” God, they better have remembered to feed his cat. It was almost impossible to force the last few words from his mouth. “See you later.”
Tezuka came into the living room just as Ryoma replaced the receiver to its cradle. He offered the freshman a glass of water since it looked like he needed it, and took the opportunity to study the youngest regular on his team a little more closely.  Echizen wasn’t looking well at all.
In all honesty, it hadn’t been necessary to invite Echizen over, and it wasn’t typically the sort of thing he’d do, but it was an unexpected opportunity to try and discover the cause of Echizen’s recent unusual behaviour. Unfortunately, whatever situation it was he’d found his kouhai in had left the young tennis player jittery, anxious, and unhealthily pale. Tezuka decided that he might have to forgo the casual interrogation he’d been planning, even if his concern for Echizen had been continuing to mount for a number of days. Hopefully just close observation for a couple of hours outside of the tennis court would be enough to provide insight into what the issue – if there was an issue – might be. 
“You can wait in the kitchen while I finish making dinner if you want,” Tezuka offered. “It will only be five minutes.”
Wordlessly and with an odd look of estrangement on his face, Echizen trailed after him, slumping almost bonelessly into the closest chair without asking while the senior put dinner into the microwave. “You’ll have to forgive my cooking – I didn’t get the opportunity to go shopping today and all I have left are microwave meals and reheated rice.”
“You cook?” Echizen asked. There wasn’t much interest in his voice, but then again, there never was. 
“If by cooking you mean applying heat to food. I had to reach a certain standard of self-sufficiency if my parents were not to worry about me before they left, but I don’t do anything terribly fancy.” Cooking, Tezuka admitted to himself, was something he was not even remotely interested in, and he usually only went so far as to ensure the food was nutritious and edible – taste never particularly factored into his meal planning. Then again, when cooking for one it rarely mattered.
“Self-sufficiency, huh?” Echizen mumbled under his breath, so quiet that the senior wasn’t at first certain he’d heard it. There was, however, more interest present in the Echizen’s voice when he spoke next. “How did you learn?”
“My mother showed me the basics. Almost everything else just involves reading a recipe or following instructions.” It seemed an odd thing for his kouhai to show interest in, but who was he to judge? All of Seigaku’s regulars had their quirks. The microwave beeped, alerting him that the meals were done. Tezuka let them sit while he extracted the warmed rice from the cooker. 
A minute later, he placed two plates of microwave chicken and vegetables with a side bowl of rice down on the table. Normally the senior just ate out of the plastic tray the meals came in, but given that Echizen was a guest it seemed unspeakably rude to eat out of the packaging, even if the freshman was unlikely to notice, much less mind. 
They both gave thanks for the food, but Tezuka hesitated when Echizen dug into his meal with an unexpected gusto. There must have been an odd expression of his face, because after a minute or so the freshman grew self-conscious and paused, brow crinkling in thought. A moment later, his eyes dawned with some sort of realisation, and he hurriedly announced, “It’s delicious, Buchou. Thank you for going to the trouble.”
That was more startling than anything else. Not so much that the first-year was using his manners – for all of his aloofness, Echizen still tended to have better general manners than both Momoshiro and Kikumaru – but more the earnest declaration of approval. Delicious? In mild disbelief, Tezuka took a tentative bite of his own meal, but it was the same slightly dry, bland microwave chicken that it had always been. It was puzzling, but his kouhai hadn’t been lying just for the sake of etiquette. 
No accounting for sense of taste after all. Inui and Fuji were both proof of that.
Dinner was concluded in silence, though Echizen finished some time before him, even going so far as to accept a second helping of rice. The freshman then gathered the dishes, and without prompting, proceeded to wash them in the sink. 
“You don’t have to do that, Echizen,” Tezuka said when the youth attempted to take his own empty plate. “You are the guest after all.”
“And you provided dinner. At least let me clean up.”
It appeared that Echizen’s pride was at work. The freshman never had particularly liked being indebted to anyone, not even his senpai – except of course when it involved burgers. Tezuka could respect that, so he didn’t attempt to argue the point; even knowing that his mother would have keeled over the spot if she knew there had been a guest in their house doing their own dishes.
Since there were so few dishes, it only took a couple of minutes for them to be finished. Leading Echizen upstairs, Tezuka put his belongings away, saying, “Would you like to use the bath first?”
The captain was puzzled by the gleeful expression that flitted across the freshman’s face at those words. He knew that Echizen liked baths, sure, but there was still something odd about it. 
That was when he realised. That evening, seeing Echizen eat his meal and show such simple pleasure at the thought of a bath, he’d seen the most emotion from the freshman for what felt like a long time. Even though the first-year was naturally reserved - much like himself - there had still been an unnatural neutrality to his expression of late. Even when playing tennis, his usual emotional repertoire of mild boredom to mild amusement had been replaced with a frosty, detached sort of determination. The rest of the time… it was hard to pin what that new default expression was, and that bothered Tezuka immensely. 
“Sure,” Echizen said softly, obviously thinking that the senior was waiting for a response rather than being lost in thought. 
Startled from his musing, Tezuka briskly made his way to the closet, digging around in the back for the smallest pair of pyjamas he could find, eventually extracting a plain green pair that didn’t fit anymore. “Here, you can borrow these. They’re the closest I have to your size.”
Wordlessly, Ryoma accepted the proffered garments and followed Tezuka to the bathroom, where he pointed out where the towels and soap were and left him to it. He paused outside the door for a moment until he heard running water, then made his way back to his room where he pulled out a book and then promptly sat there not reading it. 
What was he doing? Did he really expect that Echizen would suddenly confess all of his problems to him like that? For that matter, Tezuka didn’t know for sure that there was a problem to begin with. No, that wasn’t true. The more he watched the more certain he became that something was going on, but he only ever seemed to gain more questions in his quest for answers. 
It was tempting to let sleeping dogs lie. But as captain it was his duty to assist his kouhai. Especially since in a matter of months the seniors would be leaving Seigaku, and then Echizen would become the club’s lone pillar of support.   
Eventually Tezuka managed to distract himself by actually reading the book in his hands instead of speculating on matters he knew little about. A shuffle of footsteps at his door about half an hour later brought him back to awareness, and the sight that greeted him almost managed to make the stoic captain smile. 
Echizen looked somewhat refreshed after his bath, but his hair was still slightly mussed and the pyjamas were far too large; hanging awkwardly off one shoulder with the sleeves dropping past his hands. Fortunately, Tezuka was able to quell his mirth, as no doubt his kouhai would not appreciate it. 
“Bathroom is free,” he announced.
Tezuka just nodded, standing and making his way out of the room. “You can help yourself to any of the books.”
It appeared that Echizen had taken his offer up when he returned from his own rather quick bath – not wanting to leave his guest bored and waiting – as he was leaning against the foot of the bed, immersed in one of the thicker tomes from his bookshelf. It appeared that the freshman didn’t notice him upon his quiet return, so the senior merely resumed his own reading.
They sat there reading for some time in a comfortable silence, until Tezuka noticed Echizen stifling a yawn. Decision made, he closed his book with a snap. “Time for bed.” He frowned a moment later. Why did he suddenly feel so old saying that?
Startled, Echizen set his own book down. “There’s no need to go to bed early on account of me,” he protested. 
“I am actually an early riser by nature, so I tend to go to bed earlier also. And in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s already ten o’clock.”
That seemed to surprise the first-year. “I guess I lost track of time.”
Tezuka had as well. It was a pleasant change from his usual houseguests, who were typically bored within minutes and complaining that he had no video games or movies to watch. There hadn’t really been the opportunity he’d desired to discover what was bothering his protégé – or rather, rival, he sternly reminded himself – but the youth’s nerves had apparently calmed from his altercation earlier that day, and that would have to be enough. “You’ll have to stand back from the bed. The spare futon is underneath.”
"It still surprises me that you have a western-style bed," was Echizen's only comment as he moved to a far corner of the room.
"I grew accustomed to sleeping in one while in Germany," Tezuka explained simply. "My old futon is still in good condition, though. That’s what you’ll be borrowing." Tugging it out from underneath the bed, the senior briefly left the room in search of pillows and blankets, returning with an armful. It only took a minute or so to finish setting the futon up, at which point his guest promptly splayed facedown on it. 
"Oh wow," Ryoma mumbled, voice muffled by the pillow. "It's so soft!"
The corners of Tezuka's mouth quirked up in what could have been mistaken for a smile at Echizen’s antics. "You're the first to ever say that. When Oishi stayed over a couple of months ago, he complained more than once that it felt like he was sleeping on the floor."
"Oishi-senpai doesn't appreciate it enough, then," came the reply. 
"If only all of my guests were as easy to please as you. My microwave dinner is the finest cuisine and my spare futon is the softest bed you've ever laid on. One would think that you've been living on the streets." It was a somewhat half-hearted attempt at a joke, but Echizen didn't remove his face from the pillow, fingers clenching the blanket in what looked like a death grip.
"Echizen?" he asked, concerned.
"Sorry, just was drifting off to sleep," the freshman muttered, turning his head to face the other direction. 
His kouhai was lying again, he could tell. But what good would calling him on it do?


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 17th, 2008 10:04 am (UTC)
yay! tezuka to the rescue....:)i wander if tezuka will pick up the hint soon....
Mar. 17th, 2008 11:49 am (UTC)
I do hope Tezuka does pick up on the hint soon. *sigh*
Mar. 17th, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)
That was definitely a close call T.T........Good thing Tezuka was there to help ~.~......Maybe he'll let Echizen stay with him until his parents return????????? **wide grin ^_^**
Mar. 17th, 2008 08:43 pm (UTC)
TEZUKAAA! *Flails* You can put two and two together right?!?!?!
Mar. 18th, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)
oh oh oh tezuka. i don't even care about canon anymore. =D
Apr. 6th, 2008 03:51 am (UTC)
Too short! Too short!

Sorry Sin, but this comment will be cut short because I want to go to the next chapter...

- Mimikitty
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )