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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: So much Fuji love last chapter! *laughs*. By all means, allow your imaginations to run wild. Usual thanks to the lovely  ka0richan  for her beta work.  Everybody go give her a hug.  T___T
Previous chapters can be found here.
The Dispossession of Echizen Ryoma
Chapter 24
The interrogation seemed to go on forever. It was clear to Tezuka that Ryoma was hoping he could let the matter settle with as few words as possible, but his teammates wanted details. He couldn't blame them - he'd practically wrung them out of the freshman over time as well, but couldn't they see how overwhelmed their kouhai was?

"Why exactly were you thrown out?" Inui asked, cutting straight to the most important points.

Ryoma tugged down his cap even further over his eyes, muttering, "Ryoga came home. We played a match. I lost."

"You lost?" Momoshiro seemed flabbergasted by that possibility.

Ryoma scowled. "It was after that practice where you and Kikumaru were misbehaving with Inui's juice," Tezuka offered.

Now the junior looked even guiltier, though that hadn't been his intention.

"You were thrown out for something like that?" Kawamura asked in disbelief.

Ryoma remained silent, which by now most of the regulars had come to interpret as a 'yes'.

"How horrible," Fuji intoned softly. "You must have been very lonely."

It never ceased to amaze Tezuka how easily his classmate managed to zero in on the heart of every matter.

"Che, I'm still here, aren't I? I obviously managed just fine," Ryoma replied dismissively.

"Isn't that illegal? Shouldn't family services or the police or someone be notified?" Oishi asked worriedly.

"They don't need to be."

"But Echizen..." Oishi started.

"It'll just create a fuss over nothing," Ryoma insisted, "I'm doing fine. And.... if family services or someone were to be involved, I might not be able to keep going to Seigaku."

It seemed as though Momoshiro and Kikumaru were about to start crying at any moment. “Ochibi! You wanted to stay with us? That's so sweet!" Kikumaru wrestled the freshman into a hug.

".... can't... choking..."

"You're staying with Tezuka, now, you say?" Inui inquired, notebook open and pen poised to write.

"Since he found me in the clubhouse after the gates had closed," Ryoma admitted, finally freeing himself from the hyperactive senior's grasp.

"And your cousin who keeps coming to the courts?"

Echizen looked embarrassed at that, mumbling, "She was away visiting her parents in the country for a few weeks. She only found out after she came back."

"Your teaching of junior tennis classes at the private sports complex across town is also related?"

The first-year looked as though he wanted to melt into the ground at this point. "I needed money."

“Oooochibiiiiii!” Eiji wailed, actually tearing up at this point.

Ryoma was looking beseechingly to him for escape and Tezuka decided that it was time to end the conversation. "That's enough!" the captain barked. The rest of the team fell silent. "It's nearly dark. We were on our way home when you stopped us."

"But-" the acrobat started, still sniffling.

Tezuka pinned the hyperactive redhead with a sharp gaze. "Ryoma waited so long to tell you because he wanted to keep this quiet. I expect that you'll respect that, and won’t push him for details he is unwilling to give nor spread word of this situation around."

"Of course we won't," Fuji interjected smoothly, eyes glittering in the twilight.

“But-” Momoshiro started to say.
“Let’s go,” Tezuka interrupted, ignoring the junior and making to leave.
“See you both tomorrow!” Kawamura called out, everyone else belatedly waving goodbye as they walked away. Ryoma nodded to his senpai, and then double-stepped to catch up with the captain’s longer stride as they made their escape. 
The rest of the Regulars stood there in silence until they were out of sight, the situation still sinking in. Eventually, Oishi asked, "Fuji, did you have any idea?"  The vice-captain looked positively stricken that he'd been unaware of the freshman's situation - never mind how distraught Momoshiro was.

The prodigy shook his head as he stared in the direction Tezuka and Echizen had vanished.  "Of course not, Oishi.  We all figured out that something wasn't right, but it's safe to say that none of us expected something like that."

"The signs were there," Inui commented, shutting his notebook with a snap.  "But that scenario was not one that even occurred to us.  In light of this revelation, I wish we had acted when the first signs of trouble appeared, rather than biding our time waiting for things to be explained."

"Poor Ochibi," Kikumaru murmured, looking ready to start crying at a moment's notice. 

"At least now we know why Echizen started eating lunch with us," Fuji mused. 
"That must have been directly after Tezuka discovered his situation," Inui agreed.  "He was obviously trying to make certain that Echizen ate.  Prior to that, it is not unreasonable to assume he was surviving by sharing boxed lunches with the other freshmen and getting free burgers from Momoshiro."

"Now I feel terrible for calling him a cheapskate all the time," complained the power player.  "Argh!  Why didn't he say anything?!  He just sat there, suffering in silence!  He must have been practically starving!"

"Echizen's pride continues to get in the way of him asking for and accepting help when he really needs it," Oishi noted.  "It's a good thing Tezuka stepped in."

"Buchou has been taking good care of Ochibi, hasn't he?" Kikumaru asked, starting to perk up.
"If we think about it, Echizen was looking his worst about a month ago – that means he started improving almost immediately after Tezuka discovered him," Kawamura observed thoughtfully.  "He must have really been looking after him."

"We already know he was making sure that Echizen ate," agreed Fuji.  "And I've seen them talking a lot too.  He's probably done more than we know."

"It's good that we can rely on Tezuka-buchou like that," Momoshiro added, looking a little less distraught as he realised that at least the problem was in hand already.

"Fssshhhhhuuuuu, it's a lot of extra work for the captain, though, isn't it?  Echizen won't like accepting that much charity," Kaidoh hissed. 

Inui immediately picked up on the Viper's hidden suggestion.  "That's true, Kaidoh - now that we are aware, we should be doing everything in our power to put them both at ease.  If we all have a hand in looking out for Echizen, Tezuka will not have to worry so much."
The people in discussion were meanwhile walking home in an oppressive silence. When they were only a few blocks shy of their destination, Tezuka softly asked, “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Ryoma just made a non-committal grunt.
They arrived home, and Ayana greeted them warmly, though quickly retreated back into the living room, obviously noticing the serious pall over the two of them. Tezuka wondered how she seemed to know, especially when neither of them were being particularly expressive.
They both lied awake in bed that night, staring at the ceiling. “It’ll be okay,” he said into the darkness.
More silence.
“Wanna play a match after practice tomorrow?”
They’d just played today, but he had the feeling that they’d both need it. “Sure. Just one set, though, no tiebreak.”
Tezuka wondered if it was possible to hear a smile through the darkness.
Without morning practice, they managed to avoid the other regulars for a little longer than usual. Lunch was a bit awkward, with the more polite of the seniors getting tongue-tied, both Momoshiro and Kaidoh coming to join them, and half of the regulars offering Ryoma their lunch. The freshman just stared at them, and muttered, “I’m fine with Buchou’s, thanks.” Though he did end up accepting some of Momoshiro’s anyway. Tezuka had the feeling it was just to make his friend feel better, but didn’t dare point it out. 
Fortunately Fuji held court impressively at the table, preventing them from talking too much about sensitive issues where others could easily eavesdrop. Afternoon practice was a different story. Everyone was playing matches again. Tezuka finished his against one of the non-regular seniors quickly enough, as did Oishi, but the rest of the regulars were still playing, having mostly wound up against each other. Apparently the vice-captain thought this a prime opportunity to talk.
“Oishi,” he acknowledged.
“Echizen… is he okay? Really?”
Closing his eyes, Tezuka admitted, “He wasn’t doing so well for a while, but now… I think he is for the most part. There are still some issues to deal with…” Ryoma was probably going to have to confront his father or brother eventually – for a tennis match in ten months, if nothing else. “…But he’ll be able to handle them.”
“And you?”
“What about me?”
“Well… you know; your grandfather died pretty recently. How have you been holding up with all that in addition to this? You haven’t really… well, you know…”
“I did my grieving in private. Outside of that, I’ve honestly been too busy to focus on it. But perhaps that’s best.” Oishi had once been his closest confidant. He hoped the other man didn’t feel as though his position had been stolen, but then, Seigaku’s ‘mother’ was much too reasonable and kind-hearted to be jealous over something like that.
True to form, the vice-captain smiled. “Even though the circumstances are so terrible… maybe it has worked out for the best. I think both you and Echizen needed a friend.”
He didn’t acknowledge the statement. Tezuka considered his teammates his friends, and he knew that Ryoma did too, but that hadn’t been what Oishi meant. It was definitely a different level of friendship – a sort of closeness and understanding that even time couldn’t replicate. They watched as Fuji played Kawamura on the court in front of them. The prodigy could have easily ended the match earlier, but seemed intent on drawing it out. At least the power player looked like he was having fun, shouting English taunts for every third hit.

"Tezuka, why didn't you tell us?" Oishi asked quietly. Ah, there it was. The question had been hovering about unspoken ever since the previous afternoon.

"Because it wasn't my place to do so.  All I could do was encourage Echizen to tell you himself."
Nodding, the vice-captain admitted, “I thought it might be something like that.” Then… “If we hadn’t been following you…”
“I think he would have told you eventually, but perhaps not this soon, and not in that fashion.”
Oishi shook his head, running a hand through his hair. “Never expected that sort of thing would happen to one of us.”
“Nobody did,” Tezuka agreed. It looked like most of the matches would soon be wrapping up. “End practice for me. I have a few student council things to take care of.” Normally he’d stay to the end of practice and tend to them after, but didn’t want to make the freshman wait too long.
 “No problem.”
“Thank you. Tell Ryoma where I am.”
He headed off in the direction of the school building. Meanwhile, Ryoma slammed another service ace past Kikumaru. 
“Echizen, five games to one. Change court,” Arai called in a bored tone.
“Mou, Ochibi!”
“Mada mada dane,” he quipped at the acrobat as they swapped sides.
The last game took a while, but Ryoma had hit a good rhythm, breaking serve again and claiming the match. The next court over, Fuji and Kawamura finished their match, as did Momoshiro and Kaidoh on theirs. Oishi greeted them and handed out their water bottles as they left the courts and headed to the clubhouse to change. “Echizen, Tezuka said to tell you that he’s taking care of some student council work.”
Ryoma just nodded – he’d join the captain later. Momoshiro slung an arm over his shoulder, “Does that mean you’re up for burgers today?” His voice had a sort of forced casualness to it, like he was trying really hard to act natural.
“Maybe tomorrow.”
“Argh, Echizen, I’m hurt! You don’t hang out with us anymore!”
“Eh, I’m sparing your wallet Momo-senpai. You should be happy,” he remarked with a deadpan.
Momoshiro laughed, then turned serious. “I don’t mind, you know, right? I’ll pay. Especially with your situation, you know…”
Growing miffed, Ryoma shrugged the arm off. “I’m not a charity case.” Then… “But you can pay for my burgers if you insist.”
Kikumaru glomped him from behind almost as soon as he’d escaped the power player’s grasp. “Ochibi is so brave, nya! I’ll pay for your burgers too! And you can come sleep at my house any time you want!”
“Buchou’s house is fine.”
Oishi frowned. “That reminds me… Tezuka left in the middle of the day last week to go to Kyushu. Where did you stay while he was away?”
Ryoma shifted uncomfortably. Hadn’t they interrogated him enough the day before already?
“Echizen?” Fuji prodded.
Wordlessly, he gestured at the clubhouse.
“Oh my, you went back?” the prodigy murmured. “It’s been even colder lately too.”
“It hit a minimum of eleven degrees Celsius the first night, and eight degrees the second,” Inui reported promptly. “If you layer wind chill on top of that…”
“OCHIBI! HOW DID YOU NOT FREEZE TO DEATH? YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO STAY IN THE CLUBHOUSE ANYMORE!” Kikumaru exclaimed, shaking the freshman repeatedly. 
“What?” came the abrupt bark behind them.
The regulars froze as a unit, before they all very slowly turned around. Ryoma felt his heart plummet to his stomach.
“Ah, Sumire!” Fuji remarked in a forcefully cheery voice.
Their Coach stood behind them wearing her usual pink jumpsuit combination along with a dangerously neutral expression. “Would someone care to explain this to me?”
Inui adjusted his glasses, then cleared his throat. “…How much did you hear?”
The slightest hint of a scowl was developing. “Enough.”
Everyone shuffled in place awkwardly, clearly unwilling to say anything, eyes sliding towards their youngest member with guilt. Ryoma was on the verge of a panic attack. His idiot senpai hadn’t been able to keep his secret for even a full day?! His eyes darted about the courts, but it didn’t look like any of the other club members had been in earshot, thankfully. 
“Well?” Coach Ryuuzaki demanded impatiently.
No one uttered a word. Kikumaru had turned as white as a sheet, and Kaidoh was glaring at all of them indiscriminately. Inui tapped a pencil nervously against paper.
When it appeared no one was willing to budge, Ryuuzaki’s eyes zeroed in on him like a hawk’s would on its prey. Ryoma forced himself to stand his ground, but wound up feeling a little relieved when Momoshiro and Kawamura casually shifted in front of him. Her gaze grew calculating at that, before she abruptly ordered, “Echizen. Come with me.”
His feet had turned to rock, and his throat felt like it was closing up. Why was it so hard to breathe? Fuji stepped forward, “Maa, Sumire, I think you’ve-”
“I’ve told you not to call me that, Fuji,” Ryuuzaki interrupted sternly, crossing her arms and starting to walk away. She glanced back when nobody moved. “What are you just standing there for?”
Automatically, Ryoma lurched forward. Oishi hurried alongside him. “Come on, Echizen.”
“Just Echizen, thank you Oishi. You have to call practice to a close,” Ryuuzaki firmly informed him. 
The vice-captain had no choice but to fall behind as their Coach led him away, heading to what the freshman assumed was her office. With leaden feet, Ryoma trailed her, just far enough behind that she wouldn’t try to talk to him, but close enough that she’d know he was still following. Should he make a run for it? What could he do? Just refuse to answer?
It was all going to fall apart. No matter how much or how little Ryuuzaki had heard, now that she was suspicious there was no way they’d be able to keep the truth from her. And when she found out, she’d have to report it. The law bound her to. And then the press would become involved, family services would become involved; everyone would know and they’d send him away for sure. Away from Seigaku. Away from Tezuka.
They’d arrived at her office without him even noticing. “Echizen, take a seat,” she offered, her voice a little softer now. Blankly, he complied, staring at his knees. She was going to want to know everything. Was he even capable of telling her? It was hard enough just telling his senpai the day before. He’d known it was a mistake. Even if his teammates tried their very hardest not to tell anyone else, the risk of having someone overhear had always been too high. Accidents happened, after all.
Tezuka had thought it would be fine, though. Since when was Tezuka ever wrong?
His hands clenched the fabric of his pants so hard that his knuckles turned white. But Tezuka had been wrong. Where was he, anyway? Right, student council. He had to think. According to his friends, he was an absolutely horrid liar, but he’d also managed to fool most of them for the better part of two months, so what did they know? Think of it like tennis. A solid defence. Each of her questions needed a return. She’d try to wear down his endurance, but he’d outlast her until she was forced to concede defeat.
He wasn’t going to leave Seigaku. He wasn’t going to leave Tezuka. He just couldn’t. He’d figure out a way.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 6th, 2008 05:24 am (UTC)
Apr. 6th, 2008 05:33 am (UTC)
Oh Ryoma. It's wonderful how protective the Seigaku regulars become of Echizen, especially how Momo and Taka-san shifted in front of Echizen to shield him from Ryuuzaki. And before, he was only intent on not having to leave Seigaku; now, it's Seigaku and Tezuka and that made me squee despite the solemnity of it all. :)

Thank you. It's such a wonderful piece.
Apr. 7th, 2008 07:52 am (UTC)
You're welcome, I'm really glad you like it.

Yes, I was getting the warm fuzzies so hard towards the end of this fic. It's my compensation for the angst in the first half.
Apr. 6th, 2008 05:34 am (UTC)
We love Eiji but... -_-U

He wasn't going to leave Seigaku. He wasn't going to leave Tezuka.

Apr. 6th, 2008 05:38 am (UTC)
Tezuka wondered if it was possible to hear a smile through the darkness.

and ohhhh, the regulars. <3

oh oh oh Ryuuzaki-sensei and Sumire and He wasn't going to leave Tezuka.

and ohhhh EIJI and asdfjkl; there was something else I was going to say but ;~~~~~;


Apr. 7th, 2008 07:54 am (UTC)

Apr. 6th, 2008 06:44 am (UTC)
Oh, Ryoma.


I love you.

Apr. 6th, 2008 06:48 am (UTC)

Apr. 6th, 2008 12:52 pm (UTC)
.....Oh and....THANK YOU KA0RICHAN XXXXXXDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Apr. 6th, 2008 03:30 pm (UTC)
*Hugs you and Kaori*

Tezuka wondered if it was possible to hear a smile through the darkness.


Ryoma. Oh Ryoma.


Oh Ryoma.

Words could not express how much I love this. <3
Apr. 8th, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
Oh no! I can't believe that the regulars would give the secret away that fast. Well, I least it's Ryuuzaki-sensai and not Horio that discovered it. She is a nice coach and would not give away their secret. Right? *Big begging eyes* TEZUKAAAAAAAAAAAA! Come and save Ochibi!

It was an earthquake. It wasn't that surprising, really. Japan had earthquake, not that often, but it was not rare either. But I can only hear the thump sounds. I looked around, my classmates were just as cluless as I. Then, the door to the room opened. It was Kikumaru Eiji. We were in the same homeroom first year and second year. He was one of the regulars in the famous tennis club in my junior high school. Seishun Gakuen was quite famous with the Seigaku tennis club, especially since they have won the nationals. I'm not in the tennis club, but everyone know of them. Behind him, there were the other regular. But what would they be doing here? Then I remembered that Tezuka-san was the buchou of the Seigaku tennis club. But it was the first time that the club members would come and disturb the student council meeting. It seems that there was something happening. Tezuka-san had a panick look and left suddenly. I admire Tezuka-san very much and I hope that everything will work out.

How does that sound? Well, it's lunch time for me... Class was sooooooooo boring!

- Mimikitty ♥
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )