Unfinished by Halrloprillalar
Prince of Tennis, Tezuka/Ryoma, G, 2000 words.
Ryoma, after Nationals.
NB: Manga canon, but with more anime characterization.
Thanks to trinityhelix for betaing this nearly two months ago and to kestrelsan for giving it a once-over today.
"Momo-chan-buchou," Horio says.
"Call me captain." Momo bops Horio on the head. "We're a sports club."
Horio's eyes bug out and behind him, Kachiro and Katsuo clutch each other's arms. "Momo-chan...captain. It sounds weird."
Ryoma shoves his hands into his pockets. At this rate, practice will never start.
"Who's the fuku-bu-- fuku-captain?"
"Echizen," Momo says and claps his hand on Ryoma's shoulder.
"No," Ryoma says.
"Come on, Echizen," Momo says. "It will be good practice for next year."
"What about Kaidoh-senpai?"
Momo looks away and shrugs.
"No," Ryoma says again. He picks up his bag.
"Who else can I ask?"
Ryoma shrugs too and Momo's hand falls away. Ryoma walks onto the court. Even warm-up with Arai is better than standing around.
"If you need any help with anything, Momo-chan-captain," Horio says.
Kaidoh knocks into Momo on his way through the gates. "Hey, Mamushi," Momo says but Kaidoh doesn't turn around.
"Get off the court," Kaidoh tells Arai. He turns to Ryoma. "Serve."
Ryoma serves and the power in Kaidoh's return takes him by surprise. But Kaidoh's play is erratic and it's not much of an improvement on playing Arai. Ryoma wins the first game without giving up a single point. Kaidoh turns his back and throws his racquet onto the court.
"Everybody gather up," Momo yells and Horio chases around like a sheepdog, prodding anybody who isn't running over fast enough.
"Kaidoh-senpai," he says. "Momo-chan-captain says that--"
Kaidoh turns and grabs Horio by the collar. Horio squeaks and goes pale. Ryoma walks over to A court.
Their first practice since Nationals. Ryoma remembers his match with Yukimura. Playing him was like climbing a steep grade, the air getting thinner and thinner. Then a stretching, pushing through something, like a snake splitting an old skin.
The win. The cheering, yelling, screaming. Momo and Kikumaru jumping onto his back at the same time and knocking him down. Oishi helping him up, tears running down his face. And Tezuka nodding to him, smiling down at him, even when Kikumaru jumped on his back.
Ryoma thought it would last longer than a week. He didn't think that it would be the end.
The third-years are there, lined up in front, Tezuka beside Momo and Ryuzaki-sensei. Ryuzaki says a few words that Ryoma doesn't listen to. Tezuka is in school uniform, he is no longer the leader of the club. Soon, he will turn around and leave. Without giving Ryoma the chance to beat him.
"Call me captain," Momo says. "We're a sports club."
Ryoma earned the chance to beat him.
Tezuka steps forward for his farewell speech. "You did well," he says. "Uphold the reputation of Seigaku. Don't let your guard down." He doesn't even look at Ryoma.
"Okay, everybody can go," Momo says and Kikumaru jumps on his back. Oishi pulls at Kikumaru and says something to Momo. Kawamura and Fuji come over to Ryoma. Kawamura talks about Nationals, Fuji smiles and says he has photo albums for everybody. Ryoma looks past them.
Tezuka is still standing beside Ryuzaki, his arms folded. I've beaten everyone else, Ryoma will say. And now I'll beat you.
"Echizen?" Kawamura says. "Momo told us you were going to be the fuku-buchou."
"No." Ryoma pulls out from under Kawamura's arm around his shoulders. He starts towards Tezuka and Kaidoh bangs into him. Fuji catches Ryoma before he goes sprawling. Kaidoh stops in front of Tezuka.
"Kaidoh." Inui steps forward, reaching after him.
"Buchou," Kaidoh says, "play a match with me."
"Out!" Inui calls. "2-love Tezuka."
"Tezuka is in good form," Fuji says.
"But that Mamushi isn't doing so badly," Momo says and rubs his knuckles on Ryoma's head. Ryoma ducks his head out from under and stares through the wire fence.
Kaidoh against Tezuka now is nothing like Kaidoh against Ryoma earlier. It's the difference between day and night, between Momo and Horio. He's switched on, lit up, playing better than Ryoma has ever seen him.
And then there's Tezuka. Ryoma doesn't want to look at him, but he can't help it. He can't help wanting to be on the court with him, straining for breath, stretching out of his skin.
"I did ask," Momo is saying. "But that dumbass said no. Well, that's the polite version. He's just a sore loser."
Ryoma remembers that Momo played a match with Tezuka, just before Nationals. Kaidoh takes a point. Ryoma goes to the clubhouse to change.
On Monday, Momo has a bruise on his face and Kaidoh's lip is split. Momo announces that Kaidoh is the assistant captain. "Fuku-buchou," Kaidoh says.
"Fuku-captain," Momo says. "We're a sports club."
Ryoma plays a match with Momo and beats him 6-2.
Oishi and Inui keep dropping by the practices. Oishi asks how everything is going and tells Momo to let him know if he has any problems. Inui passes sheets of paper to Kaidoh, charts and schedules and menus. Kaidoh takes them all and thanks him. Once Inui's gone, he stuffs them into his bag.
Twice, Kikumaru coaxes Momo into playing against him at lunchtime, because he's bored. Fuji and Kawamura come on Wednesday and watch the morning practice for a few minutes.
Ryoma plays Kaidoh, plays Momo, plays Arai, Ikeda, Hayashi. He hits a ball against a wall by the school gates, staying until everyone else has gone. He goes home and plays his father every day. He looks at the photo album one night. "Jerk," he says, and slams it shut on Tezuka and Sanada.
"Ranking matches next week," Momo says.
"Soon we'll both be Regulars." Horio drapes his arm over Ryoma's shoulders. Ryoma pulls away and goes back to the wall. He stays until it's nearly dark, slamming the ball over and over.
Saturday, Ryoma climbs to the third-year hallway. People stare; he's not supposed to be up there. He looks in every classroom until he finds Tezuka and Oishi together, eating lunch. He stands in front of them and sets an unopened can of balls on the desk.
"Echizen," Oishi says. "Is everything all right?"
Tezuka goes still, silent like an unplucked string. He looks at Ryoma. Ryoma is holding his breath and Tezuka is quiet so long, he starts to run out of air.
"Tezuka?" Oishi says.
"Sunday at 2," Tezuka says to Ryoma. "The same court as before."
Tezuka is already there when Ryoma arrives. He's sitting on a bench, his racquet over his knees. He follows Ryoma with his eyes.
"Three sets," Ryoma says, stopping in front of him.
"Are you prepared?" Tezuka stands and Ryoma tilts his head back to look him in the face.
The blood pounds in Ryoma's ears. "I've beaten everyone else," he says. "And now I'll beat you."
Tezuka aces his first serve. Ryoma stares at him, tries to clear his mind. I'll beat you, he thinks and takes the next point.
The last time they played, Tezuka yelled at him across the court. Try and defeat me. Hit a shot that I can't return. Today he is silent, except for the air that blows out of him with each stroke.
Tezuka takes the first game, Ryoma the second, then the third. I defeated Sanada, he thinks. Atobe. Tooyama. Yukimura. Sweat trickles down his back.
He loses the first set, 4-6. He wipes his forehead and adjusts his cap against the sun.
In the second set, Ryoma pulls out all his special moves, and one by one Tezuka tears them apart. I've seen them all, you can't fool me. But Tezuka does the same with all his tricks and Ryoma destroys every one. At 7-5 for Ryoma, they are both stripped down to nothing. They sit side by side on the bench, breathing hard, and Tezuka hands Ryoma a bottle of water.
"Can you defeat me?" Tezuka says.
Ryoma puts down the empty bottle. "Yes."
And then they play. Ryoma has never seen Tezuka play like this before. But Ryoma has never played like this either. He reaches deep inside himself and finds an answer for each of Tezuka's shots. He forgets why they are there, forgets the score. Only the ball, only Tezuka's face. Only the blood in his head and the strength that will crack his chest.
He yells and smashes the ball. He sucks in air. He jumps to serve.
"Echizen." The ball flies at Tezuka but he doesn't reach for it. "Echizen. It's over."
Sweat runs down into Ryoma's eyes and he blinks. Tezuka is at the net. He goes to meet him.
"It's over," Tezuka says and Ryoma doesn't know what happened. He looks up at Tezuka, blinks again against the sun. Tezuka holds out his hand.
Ryoma takes it and when their fingers touch he remembers. "I won," he says, breathing out the words like they'll disappear if anyone else hears them.
"Well done," Tezuka says and smiles, the same smile as before, at Nationals. Ryoma holds onto Tezuka's hand and looks up at him. How can he be so happy to lose?
"Thank you," Ryoma says, because he wants to say it. He is still panting, victory expanding inside of him.
"Are you satisfied?"
Ryoma swipes his arm over his eyes. Let's play again, he wants to say. But he's too tired.
"Take Seigaku to the Nationals again," Tezuka says. Ryoma can't think what Seigaku has to do with anything. Tezuka lets go of Ryoma's hand.
"We'll do the rankings Swiss style," Momo says.
"That's not the way we've always done it." Kaidoh grabs Momo's notes and throws them onto the floor. "Don't be stupid."
"It's a better system. And you're the stupid one."
Horio picks up the notes and hands them back to Momo. Ryoma leaves the clubhouse. Oishi is hovering outside. "Echizen, how did it go with Tezuka?"
Ryoma pulls his cap down over his eyes. "Okay." He goes onto the court and plays a match with Kachiro. "Don't grip the racquet so tightly," Ryoma tells him.
They do the rankings Swiss style. Ryoma shoots to the top like a ping-pong ball underwater. Kaidoh is number two and Momo mutters that the old system was better. Ikeda breaks his ankle rollerblading and Horio scrapes through at number eight. "I won't let you down, Momo-chan-captain," he says and wears his Regular jacket over his school uniform.
Ryoma stares out the window during class and hits the ball against the wall by the gate after practice.
On Sunday at 2, Ryoma goes back to the court and sits on the bench. He waits for half an hour. He's getting up to leave when he sees Tezuka. "You're late," Ryoma calls.
It's close, but Tezuka wins the match. "The next one is mine," Ryoma says. He grins and holds out his hand across the net. Tezuka takes it. And he goes quiet again, looking down at Ryoma.
"Come with me," he says finally. He buys Ryoma okonomiyaki and talks to him, a little, about Wimbledon and grass courts.
"When we're pros," Ryoma says. He thinks about the players they will fight in the Grand Slam. Tezuka will place. Ryoma will win. "Do you want shrimp in the next one?"
Tezuka walks home with Ryoma and they stop at the gate. "See you next week," Ryoma says. Tezuka stands for a moment. Then he nods.
"Come on, Mamushi," Momo says. "An said I had to bring you along. Apparently her friend thinks you're cute."
"It's against the rules," Kaidoh says. "Is that the example you want to set for the club?"
"Sure, we owe it to them to provide leadership in dating as well as tennis." Momo turns. "Hey, Echizen. Come along on Sunday afternoon. We need three guys."
"I think Horio is free," Ryoma says.
"Come on, Echizen."
"I'm busy Sunday," Ryoma says and heads out to the court to practice his serve.