The day after the events of “Twist”, Ryouma tries to sort out his thoughts. Drama With Slight Romance, I-3

Character(s): Echizen Ryouma

Ryouma scrunched down in his bath until the water was at his nose and contemplated the surface of it.

It had been a strange weekend. First the game with Whatshisname, which had set him off balance pretty badly, and then the talk with Momo, and then this morning… Every time he had to deal with Momo’s sister he was glader than ever that Nanako was so much older than he was. And not his sister. And not crazy. Maybe girls didn’t become sane until they grew up.

The day itself had been better. He and Momo had wandered around, and a bit of luck had come his way when they stumbled over a few of Fudoumine. He’d had a pretty decent game against Ibu. And another against Kamio, once he’d managed to actually get Kamio’s attention off of his staring contest with Momo. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure they had thought it was a good game; they’d been too out of breath to say.

Momo probably thought Ryouma hadn’t heard him thank them.

Ryouma lifted a hand out of the water and watched drops patter back down.

He knew Momo was a little worried about him, still. He’d insisted on walking Ryouma home, and it had been hard to miss the sidelong looks. He supposed Momo had a reason; Ryouma had kind of freaked out last night.

He leaned back with a sigh and poked at the thought that had been lying in the back of his mind ever since. Was his dad one of the crazy ones?

He didn’t remember, now, when it had started. It might even have always been this way, that every effort of his, on the court, was met with the same words. Some variation on You’ll never beat me like that; nope, a hundred years too early. And he knew what the real message in that taunt was: defeat me—if you really think you can. It was a dare. Pushing him down to make him push back harder. There was a name for that, in English, Ryouma remembered reading it somewhere. Ah, yes. Reverse psychology.

Ryouma snorted and swished a hand, impatiently, though the water. What a load of crap. He also knew perfectly well why it worked, when he thought about it. It was the dishonesty that got him mad. The way that never-changing formula pretended that any progress Ryouma might be making was negligible, invisible. Ryouma was capable of tracking his own progress, and he knew he was starting to close in. And he was bound and determined, and had been for years, to beat his dad completely enough that he couldn’t brush it off or say it was a fluke, that he would be forced to acknowledge the truth!

Ryouma frowned at the water. What a stupid reason to play tennis.

He pushed a wave of water away from him, watched it rebound, caught a little bit of it and pushed it back again. It wasn’t a motive that would ever open up the game to him, a fact that pissed him off more the better he understood it. He’d been going stale before he came to Seigaku. He could see that, now. He hadn’t been playing tennis, he’d been pursuing a vendetta. Like that would get him anywhere! What had his dad been thinking, anyway? He was just damn lucky that Ryouma really did like this game he had a talent for and had found people to remind him of that, because otherwise Ryouma would have been stuck right there in the same place, without being able to move forward or to win or do anything but keep trashing the small fry and never understanding why he couldn’t reach any further, watching his dad lose interest and…

He slapped a hand down, splashing water up, violently, and sucked in a long breath. It was all right. It hadn’t happened. He’d come to Seigaku, and found good people to play against and with, and Tezuka-buchou had seen and understood. Ryouma folded his arms on the edge of the bath and rested his head on them. He had a sudden wish to be with his captain. Not even to play a game, necessarily; just being around Tezuka calmed him down, made everything seem a little clearer, a little cleaner. He didn’t always say out loud what the point of his orders was, but his challenges to Ryouma, and his wish for Ryouma, was always clear and straightforward, and Ryouma could trust that the point was always the benefit of the team and its players. He could trust that Tezuka-buchou’s praise or cautions or reprimands actually meant something.

It would be nice if he could trust his dad like that.

But his dad didn’t think like Tezuka-buchou. His dad had never shown him that the game could be more than just beating some particular opponent, that there was a core to it, a spirit to it that went beyond that. Maybe his dad couldn’t show him. Ryouma supposed he might give his dad the benefit of the doubt and figure that his dad knew that too—that it was why he had sent Ryouma to Seigaku. But he didn’t know if he wanted to give his dad the benefit of anything, just now. After a day of simmering, the thought that had hit him hardest, last night, was starting to take on a shape Ryouma could grasp, and the edges on it were sharp.

To taunt and dare, to make himself into the enemy, to drive with insults… Ryouma could see a teacher doing that. Not a nice teacher, maybe not a good teacher, at least Ryouma had never seen that work too well when Mr. Cotswold or Yoshida-sensei did it, but a teacher that the student had come to and said ‘I want to learn this thing you know’. There was a… a deal made, there, on both sides, and everyone more or less knew what they were getting into.

A teacher, maybe. But a father?

Ryouma twisted against the edge on that thought. It cut.

Did he really have a father anymore? Did his dad even see Ryouma as his son, anymore, or just as the one who might, possibly, finally, give him a real game? A real challenge. Even a real defeat. The better he played, the worse it seemed to get. Oh, yeah, his dad got all bright-eyed, but it didn’t feel like that was because he was proud of Ryouma. It felt like the eagerness Ryouma saw in his opponents. And from them it felt right; that was what they were to each other. But a father? That wasn’t how Kachirou’s dad looked at his son, when they grinned and gave each other a thumbs up. It was a lot closer to how Akutsu had looked at Ryouma the first time they played.

That, that was the thought that had kept him huddled against Momo this morning.

Ryouma blinked down at the water in front of his nose. Weird. Remembering this morning was actually making him feel a little better. Like he could breathe again. Like…

Like someone was holding him.

Ryouma snorted a laugh. If he ever admitted to Momo that his protective streak made Ryouma feel better, he’d be doomed. Probably for life. Momo would never again believe Ryouma was serious when he grumbled or swatted Momo away. Still, he admitted to himself, turning over to stare up at the ceiling, it had felt… nice that Momo took the trouble to comfort him.

If Momo stopped believing Ryouma was serious, Ryouma supposed, as he climbed out of the bath, he could deal with that. Heck, maybe he could even deal with the rest of it. Maybe.