For the 30_kisses challenge.
Theme: #6 - the space between dream and reality.

The 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.

So 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.

Echizen has 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.

Any other 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.

The 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?”

Echizen 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 the moment.

“Why do you think there should be?” he says, and if he were a girl Tezuka suspects his eyelashes would be fluttering.

They 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.”

Echizen’s 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.”

Beside 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 dating me?”

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 people.

“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.”

Tezuka 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.”

“Sanada 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.”

“Seigaku 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.”

Echizen 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.

“I will be,” Echizen says softly, and Tezuka knows that although there isn’t much conviction in the statement yet, it will come.

Slowly 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?”

Tezuka 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 captain.

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.

“Whenever 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.”

Tezuka 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.”

“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.

The 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.

~ main ~ about ~ rants ~ nqr ~ livejournal ~ the armchair ~
Fiction: harry potter ~ hikaru no go ~ prince of tennis ~ other fandoms ~ originals ~