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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 two chapters left! Homestretch!  This chapter is quite a significant one.  Well, given how close we are to the end, it would be pretty lame if it wasn't.  :P
Previous chapters can be found here.
The Dispossession of Echizen Ryoma
Chapter 26
The next week was incomparably different to the weeks previous.
After their initial slip-up – which had them all running laps and feeling guilty for days – it had amazed Tezuka how his regulars had come together. As a team, they were always close, united by their dream to win the Nationals and then further by their memories of that experience. A sulky Arai had more than once claimed that trying to get into the current batch of regulars felt like you were trying to intrude on a family, and now more than ever that felt like the truth.  Tezuka always tried to look out for the club as a whole, but even he had to admit that he had grown attached to his teammates, and would have been disappointed had any of them fallen in the ranking matches to another club member.

They really had become something of a family, though, united by Echizen's cause.  Oishi hovered over the freshman at the first sign of any sniffle or ill health, and was forever offering to talk to him.  Inui had taken it upon himself to assist in optimising Ryoma's strained financial situation and even finding him extra part-time work at tennis clubs, going so far as to rearrange his training schedule so that the freshman could fit all of his extra responsibilities in.  Kawamura was constantly inviting them over for free sushi.  Kikumaru smothered his kouhai with outlandish amounts of hugs and affection, and Momoshiro had gone into full big-brother mode, treating him to burgers, dragging him to the street courts or arcade in the afternoons when he wasn’t playing tennis with Tezuka and threatening anybody who so much looked at his friend wrong.

Even Fuji and Kaidoh did their part, with the Viper seeing fit to scare off inquisitive classmates and team members whenever Nanako came to visit and Fuji stepping in to accompany Ryoma anywhere if the other members of the team happened to be busy, even though the freshman never asked.  Generally, if the blue-eyed prodigy decided to do something, you didn't question it for fear of the answer. Ryuuzaki-sensei's support had turned out to be an unexpected boon as well, as she ran interference with the other teachers and club members and just generally played the role of the responsible adult.  On days when practice was running late, she brought Nanako into her office for coffee, and held both captain and freshman back for chats after practice, making sure that everything was going well and discussing Ryoma's options with him.  A couple of times she'd suggested he pick up a scholarship to a boarding school - with his marks and tennis it would have been frightfully easy - and even put forward the idea of the youth turning pro, as getting through the US Open preliminaries proved that he had what it took.  She only smiled knowingly when the freshman continued to insist on staying at Seigaku.
“They fret even worse than you, Buchou,” Ryoma commented after that particular meeting. “You’d think I was an invalid or something.”
Tezuka’s lips quirked, but he didn’t otherwise react. Even though Ryoma never took Oishi’s invitations to talk, scoffed at Inui’s schedule, tried to escape from Kikumaru’s smothering and complained about Momoshiro picking fights on his behalf, the captain knew that their efforts were appreciated and that the first-year felt better for it.  
He supposed he too should have felt relieved that Ryoma had the rest of the team to rely on now, but strangely, he felt a little jealous.  It was irrational of him, but apparently he'd eventually come to like the fact that Ryoma relied so heavily on him.  It should have felt like a burden, but instead it was heart-warming.  There was something truly precious about having the reserved youth's trust.  It was like having a feral cat for a pet that would scratch anyone else that tried to pet it, though he suspected his kouhai wouldn't particularly appreciate being likened to a feral cat. 

It was more proof that their relationship had rather dramatically changed.  That was almost inevitable, but Tezuka couldn't quite figure out what it was changing into.  Actually, that wasn't the real issue - it was more the sensation lingering at the back of his consciousness suspecting that in time, it was going to change again, in a direction he'd not properly considered.  For now, though, he avoided examining his own emotions too deeply, and instead accepted the fact that he'd grown fond of Ryoma, and closer to him than any of his other friends. The fact that the freshman still seemed to prefer shadowing him to joining the others even now went some way to soothing that irrational jealousy, too.
It was hard to hide how pleased he was to see Ryoma waiting for him while he closed up the clubhouse on Friday.  “Ryoma. You’re not going with Momoshiro today?”
 “Nah, he’s baby-sitting his sisters again.”
“Tennis?” Tezuka guessed.
Ryoma shook his head. “I was hoping we could go to the sports store. Nanako gave me some more money when she came by yesterday, and I need to get some more grip tape for my racket, as well as some to replace what I’ve been borrowing from you.”
Tezuka frowned. “Ah, that reminds me. I have to pick up a new wristband.”
The freshman grinned, and started leading the way. Tezuka didn’t need to know that Fuji and Kikumaru had invited him to go out for burgers with them in Momoshiro’s stead. The senior had apparently developed some sort of complex where he was worried about hogging his company or something. Ryoma thought it was stupid. He liked his senpai well enough, but he liked Tezuka best. Besides, even though they’d all been really good to him, Momoshiro and Oishi in particular seemed to tread as though on eggshells around him. It could get a little irritating after a while.
He didn’t wander through the store browsing as he usually did when going with Momoshiro – there was no real point to it now. He didn’t have the funds to even dream of purchasing a lot of the equipment he normally eyed - it was down to bare essentials now. He’d even considered compromising on the brand of grip tape he bought a couple of times, but couldn’t bring himself to do so. A cheap grip would just wear down faster and wind up being more expensive anyway with the amount he used his racket. 
Tezuka selected a new wristband – Ryoma made a mental note of the brand out of habit, then internally winced at how Inui-like that sort of observation was – they paid for their purchases, and then left the store. “Thanks for coming, Buchou.”
The senior just inclined his head. Ryoma frowned. Something was missing. “Where’s your bag?”
Tezuka looked at his hands, then looked back to the store. “Oh. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Ryoma chuckled to himself, sticking his hands in his pockets while he waited for the captain to retrieve his forgotten purchase. Would Inui consider something as inane as Tezuka forgetting his purchase to be worthwhile data? Not that he’d ever give Tezuka’s information to the data-gatherer. If the senior asked nicely, he might share some things he’d noticed about the juniors, but never the captain. 
He was so wrapped up in that train of thought that he almost missed the strangely familiar yet utterly alien voice calling to him.
“Oi… Chibisuke?”
Ryoma froze.
Very slowly, he started to turn around. 
Green-black hair. Laughing hazel eyes, just a little darker than his own. A relaxed posture and sloping half-smile. A face eerily similar to his own.
“Ha, it is you! Almost didn’t recognise you without your cap!”
He hadn’t expected to run into Ryoga, but then when he stopped to think about it, it wasn’t so surprising. They all lived in the same area after all, and they both played tennis – if anything it was remarkable they hadn’t come across each other sooner. But by the look on his face, it appeared his brother was surprised too.
“Didn’t expect to see you here, chibisuke.” He made as though to reach forward and ruffle the freshman’s hair, but stopped halfway. Ryoma suddenly became aware of Tezuka’s presence at his shoulder. That explained that. Buchou always did have remarkable timing, be it good or bad. “Tezuka, wasn’t it? Remember me? Ryoma’s elder brother?”
“Of course,” came the crisp reply.
If Ryoga was put off by the clear unfriendliness the senior was radiating, he gave no sign of it. Instead returning his attention to his sibling, he asked, “So, how have you been? Hope you’ve been practicing lots! Where are you staying at the moment, anyhow?”
“He’s staying with me,” Tezuka interjected before Ryoma even had the chance to open his mouth. Sighing and pulling his cap on, the freshman decided to let his senpai handle the exchange. Even if he didn’t blame his brother, that didn’t mean he was happy to see him – he’d spent quite a few miserable days and nights that were not quite so easy to forget because of him, however much it may not have been entirely his fault.
“Eh, you’re staying with this stiff board, Ryoma? Jeez! That can’t be much fun.”
“Buchou has been really generous. I owe him a lot.”
Ryoga shrugged, and looked as though he was going to leave it at that, but Tezuka wasn’t finished. “I found him sleeping in the tennis clubhouse. Apparently he was sleeping in a-”
“Buchou!” Ryoma tried to interrupt, face reddening.
“-park before that.” Tezuka finished. He sent his kouhai an apologetic glance, but didn’t regret saying it. Even if Ryoma was embarrassed, his brother ought to understand what he was responsible for.
Indeed, that did stop the elder Echizen cold. “The park?” Eyes wide, he looked down at his sibling, who was pointedly looking away. “Is that true?  Chibisuke? You were sleeping in a park?!”
Ryoma hunched in on himself, obviously none too keen on having his misfortunes and discomfort so openly discussed once again.
Ryoga took a step backwards, shaking his head. “You’re kidding… and then your school? In this weather?!” He shifted from foot to foot, fists clenching and unclenching anxiously. He stepped forward again, half-reaching out to Ryoma, though not quite going the whole distance. “I thought you had friends you’d stay with! That tall guy – Momoshiro – or that hyper one who played crazy acrobatic doubles!” He turned back to Tezuka, still shaking his head. “No way. I never…. Godammit, Ryoma! I never thought your pride mattered so much you’d be sleeping on the streets!”
“Shut up!” Ryoma suddenly snapped. “I don’t have much pride left, okay?! But it was all I had, and I’ll be damned if I let you stomp over what little there is left of it!”
Both Tezuka and Ryoga flinched back at that, surprised by the outburst from the normally quiet youth. “…I-” Sighing, Ryoma withdrew, seeming to deflate. "…Just forget it. Buchou's been kind enough to let me stay for a while, and I've managed to get a part-time job for money," Ryoma muttered, tugging his cap down over his eyes.
It was clearly meant to end the uncomfortable discussion, but Ryoga only seemed to grow paler. "Part-time job?" he echoed. "Oi, chibisuke, the old man didn't give you a bank account?"

Ryoma, in the process of turning away once again, halted and looked back towards his older brother. "What?"

"Don't you have a bank account? The old man should be depositing money into it every two weeks. How the heck did you think I survived? My friends might've been happy to let me live with them, but they would have kicked me out eventually if I couldn't contribute room and board!"
“He gave you money?” Tezuka repeated.
“Of course! It’s crazy to think that he wouldn’t! I’m not saying it wasn’t tough,” Ryoga’s face twisted as though he was remembering eating something particularly bad. “…I mean, even with the money it’s not… but he should have given some to you!” he hurriedly blurted, clearly seeking to skip past his own discomfort.

Ryoma stared. "This is first I’ve heard of it."

Tezuka's opinion of the other Echizen was improving only slightly when he seemed troubled by this revelation. "Chibisuke... are you saying the old man didn't ever explain any of this to you?"

The senior steeled himself as he felt the freshman tense up next to him, expecting another outburst. Surprisingly, though, Ryoma's voice was steady and quiet when he spoke. "Explain? No. All I knew was that I lost a match and was suddenly out on the street. It took me a couple of days to piece everything together."

Ryoga actually took a few physical steps backwards at that. "But- but... you never got any explanation or anything? Not even when we were kids?"

"Didn't I just say that?"

"But when I... damn, I had no idea that old man was that much of a bastard! Gods, Ryoma, if I had known... I'm so sorry." He looked distraught.

"I keep telling you, stop being sorry. You had to deal with the exact same thing." Ryoma folded his arms, looking away.

"That's just it... I didn't. He'd already sat me down and explained the consequences of our matches first, and after I lost, he helped me pack, set me up with the bank account, and even drove me to my friend's house and talked to their parents!"

"And their parents didn't have anything to say about your father abandoning one of his sons with them?" Tezuka asked dryly.
Ryoga waved his hand dismissively. "He spun them some crazy story, and they didn't question it either, because he was calling every couple of weeks to check up on me and everything.” He paused, forcing a strained smile onto his face. There had always been something a little odd about the elder sibling’s smile, Tezuka realised. It was easy-going and carefree, but only half the time did it reach his eyes. “One of my friend’s parents were a bit suspicious about it all, I think… a couple of teachers at school asked questions and…” he trailed off again. “…That’s all irrelevant. After the second match, I decided to run off on my own. But even then I still received fortnightly payments, right up until I turned sixteen.”
He ran a hand through his hair, glancing at his little brother nervously, as though afraid to meet his eyes. He looked genuinely upset. Tezuka supposed that out of anyone, Ryoga probably had the best idea of what Ryoma had gone through. “I figured Ryoma would get the same treatment." 

Tezuka noted with concern that his friend's fists were clenched so tight that the knuckles were turning white. "Ryoma?"

"He didn't. He didn't do any of that. I didn't get any explanation. No bank account, no phone calls... nothing. He just pushed me out of the door, telling me to come back in a year."

For a moment, Tezuka thought that Ryoma might actually start crying, but then, he didn't think that the youth would ever lose enough of his self-control to cry in public no matter how he felt. Instead, he was surprised to see a cold fire burn in his eyes. Ryoma turned abruptly, and started walking away, leaving Tezuka to catch up. He cast a brief glance behind them. Ryoga remained standing there awkwardly, a myriad of emotions flitting across his face.

Tezuka followed Ryoma in silence for some time, not wanting to break the fragile equilibrium until the freshman was ready. At first, the youth seemed to just be walking without destination, but eventually they came to a stop in a deserted park the captain had never come across before. He wondered briefly if this was where Ryoma had spent his first few nights before moving into the tennis clubhouse.

"It must have always been Ryoga, all along," he said suddenly, startling the captain.

"It's stupid, but for a while I was thinking he'd only brought Ryoga into it in order to make me into a better player - to give me a rival so that I'd improve faster and he could finally have an opponent worth his time. But it was never me at all. It was always Ryoga. I was just being raised as a tool to make Ryoga stronger. And now I've outlived my usefulness. So I've been thrown away."

Tezuka frowned. That didn’t sound right. "But I've seen your brother play. You are a far better player than Ryoga. I imagine the only reason he won that match was because you were both surprised and exhausted. Even a professional would struggle under such conditions."

"I might be better than him right now, but after a year of him playing the old man? He got that good without anyone really training him."

"You don't know that," Tezuka pointed out practically. "Besides, I've seen both of you play. Every time you come across a difficult opponent, you evolve. I saw no such evolution in Ryoga's play style. He is an excellent player, but I don't believe he could defeat myself, Fuji or you in a fair match."

"Then WHY?" he half-shouted, voice cracking. "Why else would he throw me out into the cold with no explanation when he practically held Ryoga's hand through it?! Why did he call Ryoga every week to check up on him, when the only person who bothered to check if I was even alive in the past two months was my cousin?!"

"I don't know," was the only answer Tezuka could give. He didn't think he could bring himself to say anything else.
The silence that followed was lengthy and oppressive - they couldn't even hear the twitter of birds or rustle of leaves that should have been present in a park. It was almost as though nature itself had stilled out of reverence for the freshman's anguish.
When Ryoma spoke next, his voice had turned to a cold steel, normally reserved for only his most arrogant opponents on the court. "Buchou - I'm going to become the strongest tennis player there is. I'm going to become far stronger than that old man. But I'm not going to play him. Even if I win every grand slam title there is, I'm never going to play him again. Even if he challenges me. If he enters a tournament to play me, I'll forfeit before I even get on the court. Beating him... or even crushing him with tennis isn't enough anymore. That's what he's wanted all along. I'm going to deny him that pleasure."

The speech left Tezuka chilled to the bone. And yet, he couldn't help but find himself agreeing that for Echizen Nanjiroh, there would be no more fitting punishment. To see what he had thrown away... a lifetime’s worth of work of which one was unable to reap the reward would be a torturous thing to deal with.

Perhaps that was what prompted the next words from the senior's mouth. "I'll come with you."

Startled, Ryoma turned his golden-brown gaze towards him. Tezuka shrugged slightly. "You're still going to need a rival. And what could possibly be a worse punishment than witnessing a strong player who refuses to play him? What about two strong players?"

The wicked smirk that stretched across Ryoma's face was the best thing he'd seen all day. "Che, didn't think you had it in you, Buchou."

“I may have mentioned this before, but I think you’re a bad influence on me.”


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 8th, 2008 09:22 am (UTC)
ahhh, another twist to the mystery....i love this chapter.....and the last line --->>>> so much love ;)
Apr. 8th, 2008 09:36 am (UTC)
I teared up again *sniffle*. What's up with Nanjiroh?!

Hooray for jealous!supportive!Buchou! XD

Also, aww, Momo! He's so big-brotherly. And you know Kaidoh is probably quite fierce when defending small cute things :D
The wicked smirk that stretched across Ryoma's face was the best thing he'd seen all day ♥!
Apr. 9th, 2008 07:08 am (UTC)
Kaidoh is quite vicious when defending small cute things. I just have to say that this line cracks me up so hard.

Ironic, too, given the viper moniker. You would think he'd prefer EATING small cute things. XP
Apr. 8th, 2008 01:19 pm (UTC)
Oh gosh, this chapter just left me speechless. I mean, I had some ideas that Ryoga must've had some assistance if he still willingly came back home, because no way he'd let Ryoma sleep out in the streets like that. However, it still made me very angry at Nanjiroh. And indeed, that's the fittest punishment for Nanjiroh if there ever were one. Oh Ryoma.
Apr. 8th, 2008 04:21 pm (UTC)
WWWWAAAAAAHHHHHH I WISH IT WERE TOMORROW ALREADY AND THEN THE NEXT AND THE NEXT UNTIL WE'RE DONE SO THAT I CAN READ IT ALL ALREADY XXXXXXXXXOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It made me sad ;_;.....and it made me scare when I read what Ryoma said on the last part....and then I screamed YES when Tezuka said he'd follow Ryoma XOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! And then my Bio TA looked at me all weird .... o.o""" I always read your chapters either through my Bio lab class or through my technical writing class o.o"""" they're just too early and too boring XXXXDDDDDDD!!!!!!!! Your storie helps get through them 8DDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!
Apr. 9th, 2008 07:10 am (UTC)
Crazy, don't be reading these in class! *laughs* You could pass off your reaction as your crazy enthusiasm for learning about biology?
Apr. 8th, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)
Look look, Sin-chan, I'm at chapter 26! Yay, I won! *Sigh* Now I'll have to be patient just like everyone else to know what's going to happen next. This chapter revealed a lot, you know?

Question: In the third paragraph (not counting the first sentence), you mentioned "the viper" as reference to Kaidoh. The problem is that I had the feeling that this was not in the third person, but rather Tezuka's opinion. Since Tezuka is the 'narator' of the story, why would he refer to Kaidoh as the "viper"? It's just that I don't think he actually would call him that.

About Ryoga and Nanjiroh... that was totally unexpected. And damn, you made Ryoma evil. And of course Ryoma has a 'bad' influence on Tezuka. But on the other hand, Tezuka has a good influence on Ryoma, ne?

"Yo, sorry to bother you." said Ryoga to his long time friend.

"No problem. Come on in, I'll show you to your room. And I just got this super cool playstation and that game we saw at the store. It's going to be awesome! We'll be able to play till dawn." Both boys then went upstairs leaving the two adults at the front porch.

"Aah, thank you for taking care of my son madam." A hand went to the back of his head and messed with his already messy hair.

"It's no problem at all mister Echizen. But are you sure that letting your son live with us is the best solution to placify your wife?"

"Hahahaha! Well, my wife Rinko is really jealous and such a hard woman. But you know I love her and want to please her. She doesn't forgive me that I had a child before I even met her. She could be very jealous and I am just afraid that my son would suffer."

"Oh dear. Should we call child services? Mister Echizen. You must not let your wife get control. Why don't you let me talk to her? I am a major in psychology and I can help."

A panicked Nanjiroh waved his two frantic hand in front of him and said: "No no no no no no... It's really a nice offer but we wouldn't want to impose. Also, Ryoga would take good exemples in studying with your son. I heard that he is in the top three of his class?."

"Hohohoho. Yes yes, my son is such a good student. We are soooo proud of him. Well, you don't have to worry about Ryoga. My husband and I will treat him well."

Nanjiroh left after exchanging some other politeness, went into the car and sighed.

"May Rinko never find out what lies I told them about her!"

*Hide away*

- Mimikitty ♥

PS: Are you sure you are going to let this fic stay PG-13? Maybe the Epilogue could be a NC-17? XD
Apr. 9th, 2008 07:17 am (UTC)
Hee, you made it! Thank you for all your comments and drabbling. ♥

You may have a point in regards to Tezuka pov on Kaidoh - you can write it off simply on me trying to avoid excessive name repetition. But I did think that most of the team thought of 'Viper' as a nickname Kaidoh earned thanks to his style of tennis, more so than a term that just Momo uses against him? In which case Tezuka thinking of it is not so unusual, even if he may never call Kaidoh that to his face.

*likes evil Ryoma*. Would Ryoma be forgiving and understanding? No way! Ryoma punishes bullies and people who misuse tennis. :|

They are a balancing influence on each other, yes indeed. And in regards to the influence thing, can't you see Kuniharu despairing over the fact that his son is more responsible than he is? :)
Apr. 8th, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)
Jealous!Tezuka is so adorable.

♥♥<3 Heartz for the last line!
Apr. 9th, 2008 12:34 am (UTC)
is it wrong to say i love you? <3
A sulky Arai had more than once claimed that trying to get into the current batch of regulars felt like you were trying to intrude on a family, and now more than ever that felt like the truth.

They fret even worse than you, Buchou,

and ohhh, jealous!Tezuka. *_______*

It was like having a feral cat for a pet that would scratch anyone else that tried to pet it, though he suspected his kouhai wouldn't particularly appreciate being likened to a feral cat.

and oh, oh, oh Ryouga. I knew I loved you here. *__________*

oh Ryouma. xD oh Tezuka. 8DDD

Oh them.
Apr. 9th, 2008 07:19 am (UTC)
Re: is it wrong to say i love you? <3
Ha ha, you found all my favourite lines in the chapter. :D

ICONS, AWESOME. (Though maybe too much text to be effective?)
Apr. 11th, 2008 03:35 am (UTC)
Re: is it wrong to say i love you? <3
I have good taste in lines, yes? 8D


or chop them in half/animate them, but that seems...=/
Apr. 9th, 2008 06:09 am (UTC)


"I'll come with you."

Apr. 9th, 2008 07:20 am (UTC)
Yes, yes, I do realize that there's still another chapter left before I get to date with all you've posted this hectic week, but... OH, ECHIZEN. I loved his 'I go all cold and dangerous and I'll never forgive the old man'. I kept on imagining Tezuka going all *blink blink* and thinking 'damn, I hope the club never gets angry as a whole. I don't want two Fujis in my hands.' ^^'

(And Tezuka joking about Echizen being a bad influence in his life for so many chapters is just so adorkable *__*)

(And I love you for the Ryuuzaki cameo. She's one of those amazing characters that should be far more loved than she actually is D:)
Apr. 9th, 2008 07:43 am (UTC)
Isn't she just? There needs to be more Ryuuzaki. I shall attempt to rectify this in future ficcing. :|

Wow, both Echizen and Fuji in cold and dangerous mode at the same time. (Though you have no idea how strong the urge was to have Ryoma suddenly start talking in English.)
Apr. 9th, 2008 07:46 am (UTC)
To which Tezuka would have to choose between answering in bad, bad Engrish or in German. (Although I personally believe that he'd cross his arms and go into 'stern, supportive, silent, stoic' buchou mode. >D)
Apr. 14th, 2008 11:54 am (UTC)
HOT DAMN... I had to stop and review before moving to the next chapter... NANJIRO! HOW COULD HE?!?
There might be more than meet the eye to this, but right now I want to punch his lights out.
Poor Ryoga tho, he must be feeling so guilty :\
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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