For the 30_kisses challenge.
Theme: #6 - the space between dream and reality.
two of them have been, inevitably, pretending that there isn’t a Thing
and that it isn’t going on between them, Echizen because it would mean
acknowledging that he cared about something besides tennis, and Tezuka
because he absolutely refuses to do anything about it. Yet. He is very
good at self-denial, in this case in part because he knows the
satisfaction when he finally turns pro will be that much sweeter if he
can also add ‘and thank god I can finally date Echizen’ to the mix.
far the Thing that isn’t going on between them has been subtle but
consistent. It has consisted of Echizen sitting next to Tezuka in their
advanced English lit class and sniping at any girl who dares to ask
either of them for help conjugating verbs. It has also involved Echizen
following Tezuka around calling him “Buchou,” Tezuka ordering Echizen
to pay their current captain more respect, Echizen chiding him for
giving orders he’s in no position to enforce, and Tezuka reminding him
that he can enforce all the orders he wants on the tennis court, which
leads to Echizen lowering his cap, muttering, “Che,” and brushing his
arm against Tezuka’s as he stalks off. Lately it has included Echizen
grasping Tezuka’s elbow when he wants his attention (which has also
been happening more and more), and Tezuka letting it happen so many
times that they are well past the fluke stage. Quite possibly it has
also involved Tezuka looking at Echizen a bit too long when it does
happen, and Echizen looking right back.
The giveaway for Tezuka,
however, is the fact that Echizen no longer showers with him after
tennis practice. When he cannot avoid it he stands in the corner and
faces the wall, and finishes as quickly as possible.
no life outside of tennis and Tezuka knows him well enough to know he
doesn’t want one. But Echizen is also a teenager, and between the
not-quite-accidental touching and the shower avoidance, Tezuka knows a
crush when he sees one.
Tezuka was, after all, only fourteen
when he met Echizen. The three years in between have taken away the
crush and produced something far more mature: lust.
self-respecting seventeen-year-old, when faced with a cocky freshman
with wide green eyes, a killer backhand, and a body far too perfectly
toned to contain an ounce of baby fat, would have abandoned all
pretense of self-control months ago. Tezuka, however, is willing to
wait for the right timing with stoic caution, because he is Tezuka, and
Tezuka is cautious, careful, and quite possibly insane.
problem with being a stoic, however, is that people are left to assume
what you want since you never tell them. Since Echizen is much like him
in that respect, Tezuka assumes that Echizen has assumed Tezuka is
waiting until he turns pro. He has forgotten, however, that Echizen is
only newly fifteen and has yet to master the subtle art of
mind-reading. He has also forgotten that Echizen is always the first to
challenge, on or off the court. So when Echizen casually asks, “Buchou,
have you ever thought about dating anyone?” Tezuka is far more
surprised than he ought to be.
They are eating sushi at
Kawamura’s with the rest of the Seigaku high regulars after practice,
and Tezuka is so startled that he forgets to correct Echizen about
calling him “Buchou” when the actual captain is within earshot. The
captain, a senior named Gabuto, is a far inferior player compared to
the other members of the team, but has a strength of leadership which
Tezuka values even if Echizen underestimates it. Tezuka has long ago
made his peace with the fact that Echizen will never call anyone
“Buchou” but him, and suspects that Echizen sees through his efforts to
pretend he is outraged, efforts which are perhaps undermined by the
fact that he is no longer in a position to make Echizen run laps.
He blinks twice, and says as carefully as possible, “That’s an abrupt question. Is there any particular reason behind it?”
lifts his cap. When he speaks his voice is full of challenge—the voice
he typically uses on the court during a match, and occasionally during
Tezuka’s fantasies, which Tezuka really doesn’t need to think about at
“Why do you think there should be?” he says, and if he were a girl Tezuka suspects his eyelashes would be fluttering.
are at one end of a long table of oblivious tennis players, all of whom
are currently watching Kikumaru and Momoshiro stage an impromptu
wasabi-eating contest. Fuji is quite probably staring at the two of
them in knowing silence from the other end of the table, but Tezuka
knows if he turned and looked he would never get another moment like
this out of Echizen again, so he holds Echizen’s gaze and responds,
“For one, neither of us like to make small talk.”
fingers are centimeters away from his across the table and Tezuka is
suddenly keenly aware of how easy it would be to touch them, and of
what it would mean if he did.
“But you haven’t answered,” says
Echizen, and his voice is drawn strangely tight, as if he is suddenly
aware of it too. “So that’s a ‘yes,’ then.”
“Yes,” Tezuka says in spite of himself. “I have thought about it.”
them Eiji has apparently just eaten three wasabi at once, and the rest
of the players are making such a racket that only the fact that Taka’s
father has favorites is keeping them from getting kicked out of the
restaurant. Amid the noise, Echizen tilts his chin and says
deliberately, watching Tezuka’s eyes, “Have you ever thought about
Tezuka’s stomach plummets like a drop volley. He
can’t stop his voice from dropping a level as well, and for a moment
it’s as though they are already on a date, exchanging intimate,
low-voiced conversation amid a crowded restaurant full of oblivious
“If I were to date you while I played for Seigaku,
Ryoma,” he answers, and doesn’t realize the name he has used until
Echizen’s eyes widen ever so slightly, “there would be people who would
assume I purposely advanced your tennis career during junior high out
of favoritism. Even among the regulars it could create resentment. I
won’t do that to the team. I am still the vice-captain, and my priority
is to build the unity of the team, not to weaken it.”
Echizen stares at him for a moment, and then blurts, “So you have thought about it.”
almost flushes, and allows himself the gesture of looking down
awkwardly at the table where their hands almost touch. “Yes.”
Echizen looks in the direction of the wasabi contest and says, “Sanada has already gone pro.”
turned seventeen in June. His birthday was early enough that he could
give the team a chance to recover from his absence. I intend to wait
until the summer.”
Echizen’s eyes widen. “That’s months away. You could be playing professional tennis right now.”
“The qualifying hearing is set for April. It will take them some time to decide.”
Echizen frowns, and half-mumbles, “No, it won’t. And we’ve recovered from your absence before.”
is not as strong now as a team,” says Tezuka sharply, and his voice is
suddenly familiar to himself again: the voice of Echizen’s captain, the
role he is much more comfortable with. “Your priority and mine should
be to strengthen it as much as we can, not to weaken it further by
focusing on ourselves.”
Echizen’s eyes flash with guilt or
perhaps indignation. “If you’re Seigaku’s pillar of support now,” he
mutters, “Why do I have to be too?”
Tezuka doesn’t deign to
respond to that. He lifts his eyebrow expressively, and watches
Echizen’s face clear slowly into determination.
“I guess this means I should start calling you Tezuka-kun,” he says.
“When we’re alone,” Tezuka says simply, “You may call me Kunimitsu.”
looks at him, and then reaches across the table to brush his fingers
over Tezuka’s. Tezuka is too busy feeling the concomitant exploding
butterflies in his stomach to reprimand him.
“I’m turning pro next year,” he says. “When I turn sixteen, no matter what.”
“Then be the best team member for Seigaku you can be until then,” Tezuka says gently.
will be,” Echizen says softly, and Tezuka knows that although there
isn’t much conviction in the statement yet, it will come.
he runs his thumb over Echizen’s where their fingers touch, a promise
and a reminder. Echizen’s breath hitches slightly, and Tezuka takes his
time before drawing his hands away, back to his own side of the table.
“Focus on the team for now,” he says. “When I learn my standing in the
pros, we can have this conversation again. But for now—”
“Look to the opponent in front of you,” says Echizen. “Buchou…”
Tezuka sighs inwardly, does not correct him, and says, “Yes?”
“Seigaku tennis isn’t the same, is it?”
looks down the table at the team assembled in front of them: at the
captain and the three senior regulars, Ogakata, Yuushi, and Jintou; at
Fuji, Momo, and Eiji, the remaining starters, and the notable absence
of Inui, Kaidoh, and Oishi, all of whom by rights ought to be starting
regulars but who could do nothing against the weight of rank and
seniority of the older players. The lack of regular ranking matches
among the high school players did nothing to the spirit of the members
who had never played tennis at Seigaku Jr. High, but Tezuka could see
that the fighting spirit of the national championship tennis team had
been lost when the members had seen that their talents meant nothing
respective to pre-established rank and order.
They both know
that the only reason Echizen is playing among the starters is that
Echizen’s name preceded him. Oishi, Inui, and Kaidoh, were not so
lucky. They have all trained as fiercely as usual, but they have all
lost something in the process, and the rest of the Seigaku tennis team
has too. Eiji without Oishi is half of what he was despite his best
efforts, and without Kaidoh to spur him on, Momo’s game is inconsistent
and unfocused. Fuji is a locked door, and the other regulars are
keeping their distance even off the court. They are not a team. And
then there is Echizen, he thinks, who is still following the wrong
Tezuka looks back at Echizen and sees him with his eyes
slightly wide, awaiting advice in a way that makes Tezuka feel years
and years older than seventeen. He lets his gaze linger, drinking in
all of Echizen’s uncertainty and honesty, because it is meant only for
him, and Tezuka wants him to know how much he appreciates it.
there is a lack, Echizen, the more you have to work to become the
missing element.” Tezuka’s voice is warm, because this, this he really
believes, and he needs Echizen to understand it too. “Whatever you saw
in Seigaku that is no longer there—find it in yourself.”
“Hai,” says Echizen. “I will.”
knows he will, and feels the butterflies in his stomach again. Bit by
bit through moments like these, this is how it has always been for
Tezuka, until only the promise of more to come, later when Echizen is
older, when he is ready, keeps Tezuka at arm’s length from him when
they are like this.
“Gabuto is a good captain,” says Tezuka, his
voice not quite the reprimand he hoped it would be. “You disrespect him
every time you fail to acknowledge him as your captain, even when no
one else is around. And you bring the team down with you.”
Echizen sighs. “It was easier when it was Oishi-senpai,” he says. “You weren’t around then.”
“But I was with you,” Tezuka responds. “I was with the entire team. I never left you in spirit.”
Echizen shakes his head, tugs on his cap, and waits for more.
“That won’t change, no matter who you call captain,” says Tezuka. “I will always support you.”
“Hai,” says Echizen in an odd voice. And then he lowers his cap and mutters, “I wish…”
“I wish it were April,” Echizen tells the table stubbornly. “I really want to kiss you.”
will,” says Tezuka, surprised at the assurance in his own voice. It is
dark and warm, and Echizen reacts to it very quickly by flushing and
pulling his cap down over his eyes.
“That had better be a promise, Buchou,” he murmurs.
table erupts in whistles and catcalls as the wasabi champion is
declared. As Eiji stands up and takes a bow, their end of the table is
temporarily blocked from view of the rest of Seigaku, and Tezuka lets
his fingers touch Ryoma’s one more time.