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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: Only five chapters left! The convention was quite enjoyable. I shall load up some cosplay snaps later in the week for those who are interested in such things.
Previous chapters can be found here.
The Dispossession of Echizen Ryoma
Chapter 23
Tezuka was surprised by how quickly his spirits had rebounded after his grandfather’s death. He knew a lot of it had to do with Ryoma – offering silent support and distracting him with tennis whenever he could – but he’d always imagined that the period of grieving would be more protracted. His own father was still moping about the house, and would probably still be skipping work if his mother didn’t bully him into going. It had been over a week now, and while all of them were frequently hit by pangs of sadness and loss at random reminders, those moments were no longer overwhelming. 
It was unexpectedly relieving, sharing the burden like that. At first Tezuka felt bad about it – Ryoma had more than enough problems without him adding to them – but things seemed to work out. His mother frequently commented that he’d coped better than she’d expected, always with the underlying hint that it was thanks to their guest. With the way she sometimes talked, Tezuka was starting to think that she’d like to keep him permanently. “A little brother for our Kunimitsu,” she remarked to him once in private. He’d almost choked at that. Still, he didn’t mind it either. When the freshman had been originally invited to his house, it was intended as a stop-gag measure until they could figure out a more permanent solution. But now it was sort of hard to remember what life had been like before Ryoma had been living with them. Had it only been a little over a month? It felt a lot longer.
Tezuka had long grown comfortable with the freshman shadowing him, but was now consciously valuing the persistent company. He was going to miss it after he graduated. There was something nice about going to school library after practice and having Ryoma lounge around while he studied, intermittently offering small samples of conversation. It created a sense of companionship that he’d never really experienced before.
The young Regular seemed unnaturally skittish that day, though. “Something bothering you?” he asked, not really expecting a reply.
"Inui’s been following me lately," he complained in a low voice, even as his eyes darted around as though expecting the other senior to appear at any moment.
"Hm? He must be worried about you," Tezuka commented absently as he paged through his maths book.
Ryoma scowled. "More likely he's preparing for the next set of ranking matches."
"I doubt it – there’s no more ranking matches until Spring, and it's unlikely that the two of you will wind up in the same set anyway. Inui would know that as well - he's probably casing out Kawamura and Kikumaru."
Echizen didn't bother replying, and Tezuka was grateful that the freshman didn't press for information on which people he would be up against. The seniors themselves would only have one more ranking match anyway; the last one before they graduated, which was really a purely symbolic measurement as they’d wind up handing the reins over to the juniors almost immediately afterwards. Either way, he expected that it was more likely that Ryoma didn't care - or he was still bothered by Inui's stalking. Tezuka could sympathise with that. Sometimes he wished he were a little more ignorant of his surroundings so that he could better ignore the creepy pressure of Inui's calculating gaze. He was at least relatively certain that in this case his classmate meant well, as all of the regulars had developed something of a big-brother complex towards their team's youngest member…. though how they displayed it varied rather dramatically from person to person.
It was sort of amusing to see Ryoma getting paranoid, in any case. “Does having Inui nearby bother you so much?”
A scowl. “If he wants to know something, he should just come out and ask.”
“Unfortunately, that isn’t Inui’s style.”
Another scowl. Smiling lightly, Tezuka started to gather his books, done for the day. They headed out of the library together, taking their time walking to the bus. “What’s he worried about, then?” Ryoma asked sulkily.
“You’ve hardly gone for burgers with Momoshiro lately. You haven’t been talking to the other freshmen at all. You’ve also been practicing harder than usual, even though there are no more scheduled matches or tournaments. Rather atypical behaviour. Inui always gets worried when things don’t match his data.”

Frowning and folding his arms, Ryoma quietly contemplated that. Both of them knew, of course, why it was the first-year had been doing those things, but without that context the behaviour was strange. Tezuka himself had been concerned by it prior to his discovery. If anything, it was amazing that it had taken Inui this long to start the stalking process.
The senior paused, adjusting the straps on his tennis bag over his shoulder. Now was as good a time as any to broach the subject. "I expect it would help if you told the others."
That statement was unexpected enough to momentarily confuse the freshman, if the expression on his face and awkward silence was anything to go by. Echizen was the only person Tezuka knew who could communicate so proficiently without saying much at all – though perhaps that was the pot calling the kettle black. Sighing, he explained, "I'm the only person outside of your family who knows you've been thrown out, correct? It's been two months now, and you're still keeping it to yourself. I honestly don't know how you've even managed to last as long as you have keeping up the act. But people are going to find out eventually, just like I did."
"It was pure fluke that you found out," Ryoma grumbled.
Tezuka pinned him with his best captain glare. "And I'm glad I did, because you'd probably-" The senior cut himself off, not intending on finishing that sentence. It still worried him when he stopped and considered the 'what-ifs' and tried to imagine what might have happened if Ryoma had gone undiscovered. It was clear that the first year hadn't been getting nearly enough sleep or food and with the onset of winter the tennis clubhouse would have become nearly as uninhabitable as the park – as proven by the most recent two nights Ryoma had tried to spend there. Not to mention what might have become of the first-year's mental state - even though Ryoma refused to admit it, it had been wearing him down. Just because he was made of stern stuff didn't mean that he didn't have a breaking point. But Tezuka didn't think that his companion would like having that pointed out to him, so instead settled for taking a different route. "The point of the matter is, how much longer do you think you can fool everyone? You said it yourself - Inui's started following you around, which indicates he's at least noticed something off enough to worry. Momoshiro still doesn't know why you won't walk home with him anymore. What are you going to do when parent-teacher conferences come around, or you need a permission slip signed for something? Ryuuzaki-sensei at the very least is bound to find out."
"I can forge my father's signature easily, or get Nanako to sign stuff," Ryoma promptly replied.
Tezuka resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the youth’s determination to not co-operate. "I'm sure you could manage for a while yet, but that doesn’t mean you should. I'm not suggesting you tell the entire school, but you should at least let the regulars and Ryuuzaki-sensei know. I'm sure they'll keep your confidence."
"Che, Momo and Kikumaru couldn't keep a secret to save their lives."
"The others will keep them in line. As will I. And I'm sure Ryuuzaki-sensei can also be convinced not to report to the authorities."
"Isn't there some law that they have to report it if they know?" Echizen asked.
Tezuka shouldn't have been surprised - he knew by now that in the precious time Ryoma wasn't playing tennis or sleeping, he'd be reading. Apparently his position as his class’s library monitor wasn’t entirely just show. In fact, the first-year was already making impressive headway through his personal modest library of books. So it stood to reason that he'd probably read up on such things when his situation first presented itself. "I am uncertain of the specifics, but as I understand it that is only if they believe you are in harm's way."
Ryoma mulled over that for a few minutes – the captain could practically see the wheels turning in his head. The bus arrived, and they took a pair of seats towards the back. 
“I would feel better if some others knew,” Tezuka eventually said softly. “In case anything was to happen to me.” Like it already had. His guilt would never be fully swept away. He hadn’t believed himself capable of such a gross neglect of responsibility, even if it was entirely accidental.
“…I’ll think about it,” came the grudging reply. That was an improvement, at least. “…But I’m never telling my classmates.”
Tezuka opened his mouth to argue, but then closed it again. That was probably fair enough. Kachirou and Katsuo wouldn’t be able to keep a secret from Horio, and if Horio knew anything at all, secret or otherwise, it would be announced to the whole school in a matter of minutes. As captain he hadn’t to deal very much with their freshmen members, but even he knew that. 
The senior hadn’t expected any action to come about from their conversation for a while yet, but it appeared that he only had to wait until Monday for things to start moving.
It was an ordinary enough day. They arrived at school, went to classes, ate lunch and attended afternoon practice all as normal. When Tezuka started closing up the clubhouse, Ryoma suggested, “Should we go to the street courts today?”
The senior contemplated that briefly, searching his mind for any assignments due or tests the next day. Was he caught up on his student council duties yet? His conscience came up clear after a moment, and he nodded his agreement. 
The street courts were deserted for once; rather unusual for a weekday afternoon, but then, it was getting quite cool in the evenings and most people were starting to prefer indoor entertainment. They didn’t play a proper match, instead just taking turns serving and having some casual rallies. This sort of practice was usually used to try and refine some new moves – Ryoma was in the process of attempting to copy over some of his more difficult trick shots to his right hand – but that day the freshman didn’t seem interested in it. 
When the sun started to dip into the horizon, Tezuka called an end to their playing – they both still had homework to do that evening, after all. However they hadn’t gone more than a couple of blocks from the street courts when Ryoma suddenly stopped in his tracks. Curious, Tezuka halted too, looking questioningly at his companion.
Ryoma whirled.  "You can stop hiding already!  I know that you're following us!"

Tezuka had to school his face into as neutral an expression as possible when the rest of the regulars sheepishly rose from behind the bushes half a block behind them. He hadn't even noticed them.  Then again, thanks to Inui he tended to background most stalkerish movements, over time coming to associate them entirely with the data gatherer.  Still, that all of them managed to follow without capturing his attention...

"Mou, we were found out!" Kikumaru complained.

"I did tell you that there was an 80% chance that Echizen would notice.  And with the ruckus Momoshiro and Kaidoh were making earlier, it's rather amazing we got as far as we did."

Echizen folded his arms, glaring at his senpai.  Tezuka was internally amused at how his stare temporarily cowed at least half of their team.  For a freshman, he certainly had guts.  Then again, he had stood up against adult tennis pros - his senpai on the tennis team were nothing to afraid of.  Except for maybe Fuji.  And Inui when he was holding a pitcher of juice.
“Saa, when did you notice?” Fuji asked curiously.
“When we were leaving the clubhouse.”
“The WHOLE TIME? You made us wait that long?! Ochibi is mean, nya!”
The glare transformed into a self-satisfied smirk. “Serves you right.”
"But we were worried, Ochibi!" Kikumaru protested.  "You've been acting strange for so long!  And then you started walking home with Tezuka instead of Momo all the time!"

"Yes, Tezuka, what has been going on with you two?  It's like you've been keeping something from us," Fuji said sweetly.

Tezuka paid his classmate no mind, instead watching Ryoma clench his fists out the corner of his eye. He was honestly expecting the freshman to bolt at any moment, and was trying to decide whether to force a confession or let him escape.

Kawamura had apparently picked up on this too - before Oishi, surprisingly enough. "Echizen, if it's too personal you don't have to tell us anything, but we're only asking because we're concerned."

"Yeah!  I'm supposed to be your best friend!  You can come to me about anything!" Momoshiro declared, grabbing the youth in a friendly headlock.  At least now Tezuka didn't have to worry about Ryoma making a run for it.

"Only if you want, though," Oishi interjected hurriedly.  "We don't want to pry... well, we do, but that is, we respect your privacy and it's just that there are a few things that don't make any sense and everyone's imaginations have sort of been running away and..."

"I'm living with Buchou at the moment," Ryoma suddenly announced, presumably to shut everyone up. 
It worked.  They were all temporarily stunned into silence, glancing between their captain and rookie.

"Ah, Ochibi and Buchou are-?" Kikumaru started.

"I was thrown out of my house."

Silence again.  Eventually, Inui cleared his throat and stated, "I have to say, that was not within any of my scenarios."

Kaidoh was the next to speak.  "You okay?" he asked gruffly, in the tone of voice meant to suggest that he didn't really care either way, even though most of them knew by now that he did.

"Like I said, Buchou's been taking good care of me."

Momoshiro and Kikumaru had been temporarily rendered speechless.  Fuji opened his eyes and addressed Ryoma, though his gaze was focused on Tezuka.  "How long?"

Ryoma was trying his hardest to remain nonchalant; trying to make it sound as if they were discussing the weather rather than revealing the secret he'd been keeping from his teammates for so long.  "About two months."

None of them had been expecting that.  Under different circumstances Tezuka might have enjoyed seeing Fuji get a shock, though his classmate hid it well enough. 
Tezuka figured it was time for him to step in before Ryoma could once again gloss over the important parts and insist that everything was okay.  "I found him in the clubhouse a month ago.  He'd been sleeping there for three weeks - he stayed in a park before that."

"In a park?" Fuji asked in a dangerously smooth voice, eyes sharp as daggers.

"Echizen!  Why didn't you tell us!  You could have come over - we would have been more than happy to put you up for a while!" Momoshiro pleaded, finally finding his voice.

Ryoma tugged his cap down over his face, embarrassed.  "I did stop by your house first Momo-senpai, but no one was home.  By then I was too tired to walk anywhere else, so I slept in the park. After that, it didn't seem to matter anymore."

Momoshiro looked stricken at that news, and Tezuka was similarly surprised.  Ryoma hadn't told him that he had initially reached out for help.  It was hardly Momoshiro's fault that he wasn't at home, but the mere act of Echizen reaching out to anyone for help was rare enough that the junior must feel terrible that in that one instance he hadn't been there to give it.

Tezuka added that piece of information to his expanding puzzle of the freshman’s plight.  The picture was starting to make more sense over time, but every time he thought he was nearly finished he'd discover another piece that had been missed.  From what he understood now, Ryoma had probably dragged himself to his friend's house, prepared to bite down on his pride in his extreme need.  Already feeling pretty terrible, when he discovered it empty he probably couldn't summon the will to clamp down any further on his damaged pride and seek someone else's assistance.  Over the course of the first night and day, in the effort to salvage what little dignity he had remaining he probably convinced himself to keep it secret and manage on his own.  Pride was an even bigger issue for the young tennis star than what it was for Tezuka - he could understand that Ryoma had probably been hurt, confused and humiliated, to the point where preserving his remaining dignity became more important than his health and comfort.
By now, Tezuka had more or less figured out all the reasoning behind the first-year’s recent actions, so this extra insight wasn’t terribly earth-shattering. But it served as an uncomfortable reminder that neither of them yet fully understood the motivations of the rest of the Echizen family. Ryoma said that it was probably just all about tennis, but he didn’t know for sure. It didn’t fly as a valid reason to Tezuka. You didn’t throw your children out of the house just because they lost a tennis match. Why even set up such a competition between your sons in the first place? There were lots of rivalries in families – the Fuji family was an excellent example of one almost torn apart by it – so why go that extra mile?
There had to be more to it than just tennis. There just had to be.
Ryoma had escaped to his side, sidling close to him as though for protection from the barrage of questions. Tezuka rubbed at his temples briefly, feeling a headache coming on. It was his suggestion that the freshman come clean with the others, so he shouldn’t complain… but he still hadn’t envisioned it happening quite like this.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 5th, 2008 11:15 am (UTC)

"In a park?" Fuji asked in a dangerously smooth voice, eyes sharp as daggers.

I would like to see what Fuji would do will be doing to the Echizen family.

Apr. 5th, 2008 12:37 pm (UTC)
finally!!! confrontation!!! :) big-brother complex....hihi, probably very true...i too am excited to see what kind of stuffs the regulars are planning for the echizen family :)
lovely chapter as always
Apr. 5th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)
"In a park?" Fuji asked in a dangerously smooth voice, eyes sharp as daggers.

Apr. 5th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)
Well the truth is sort of finally out, there's just Ryuzaki-sensei missing but I'm guessing that come at the end o.o.......maybe.....Can't wait for the next chapter to come out five more to go 8888XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Apr. 6th, 2008 05:07 am (UTC)
Fuji killing Ryoga! *laughs* How EXTREME.
Apr. 6th, 2008 12:27 pm (UTC)
o.o is it???? I mean....ho has the biggest big brother complex I've ever seen....ya know....o.o""""".....I can so imagen him killing Ryoga with a sweet smile on his face O_O!!!!!!!!!!!
Apr. 5th, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC)
Oh yay! I love the confrontation--especially the regulars' reactions upon hearing the information. You've made it one of the few times when I actually like Fuji in his dangerous mode. And it's sweet, that last paragraph, how Ryoma sidles up to Tezuka. :)
Apr. 5th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
...skipping work. -amused-

and oh, LAST LINE RABURABU. <333

even though most of them knew by now that he did.

Who's the exception, Momo? xD

and, i love how ryouma noticed asdjfkl;

...why does Tezuka have books of law in his room? Or are those from the library? x3
Apr. 6th, 2008 05:06 am (UTC)
Those were from the library. Though given the situation, Tezuka was highly likely to have books on law in his room too.

Of course Momo is the exception! Not exactly the most observant of the bunch, is he? :P
Apr. 5th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
Mada mada dane, senpais. XD

At least now Tezuka didn't have to worry about Ryoma making a run for it.


Also, I can totally see Tezuka eventually becoming an addict of asprin/ibuprofen.

Can't wait for more! Esp. what the regulars will do now they've found out.
Apr. 6th, 2008 05:04 am (UTC)
Also, I can totally see Tezuka eventually becoming an addict of asprin/ibuprofen. Is there a fic of this yet? And if not, WHY?

Apr. 6th, 2008 06:49 am (UTC)
I think there is, actually XD

But you could always write more :D
Apr. 5th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
:O So they finally find out...
Apr. 5th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)

I love this chapter so so so much. Only five more. =(((
Apr. 8th, 2008 02:16 pm (UTC)

A scowl. “If he wants to know something, he should just come out and ask.”

Aw, Ryoma, come on. If Inui came and asked all the questions, do you think that you would actually all those answers? Of course not! You would be in bratty mode and refuse to give away anything. Admit it! ^.^

Also, it's funny that Tezuka is afraid of Fuji and Inui holding a pitcher containing is juice! Hmmm, I wonder what his juices are actually like. And between Inui and Fuji, who is the scariest? Well, Inui would be afraid of Fuji, but then again, in one of the episode (the one when the gang went bowling or was that the one where they went to play pool?), Fuji actually got knocked out after drinking Inui's juice. But Tezuka being 'internally' afraid of them is funny.

The park? The brat has been asleep in a park? Fssshh, what kind of family was that? And that baka Momoshiro, why wasn't he at home that day? Fssssh, if he was, then the brat wouldn't be that bad of a shape. Through I know that it wasn't his fault, but still. Fsssshh. At least the captain has been taking care of him. The brat seems to have more colors than before. I'll ask my mom to make more bentos. I'll give my part in helping the brat. Fssssshh. He is family. Fsssssh.

Ok, that was weird. Kaidoh is soooooooo hard to write! He is probably the hardest to write in the team. He is so secretive and rough, but in his heart, he is a kind being. He loves animal and do you remember the episode where they showed his family? Well, they might look scary, but they are just a normal family. And Kaidoh is such a nice young man, a bit shy, but definitely from a good 'bread'. Hihihi! Defenitely husband material! XD

- Mimikitty

PS: You HAVE to read Haru Wo Daiteita. It's really hot and steamy and god, I don't know how to describe, but you will surely fall in love with Iwaki-san and Kaito. Go on Youtube and watch the OVA. There are two of them and it's the 'resume' of the first two volumes.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )