A typical day in the life of Ryouma and Momo, with a few extra revelations on Momo’s part. Karupin gets in on the action. Drama With Getting-There Romance, I-4

Pairing(s): Momoshiro/Ryouma

Momo tried not to take too much enjoyment in Ryouma’s paperwork griefs. He figured a little was due him, though, and couldn’t help grinning just a bit as he waited for Ryouma at the corner where their ways home came together. His approaching friend looked distracted.

“So,” Momo said, as he pushed off from the wall and swung into step with Ryouma, “decided yet?”

“Mm,” Ryouma answered without looking up, “for everyone but Rokkaku and Hyoutei. You never know where Aoi’s going to show up.”

“Oh, come on, that’s the easy one,” Momo scoffed.

Ryouma gave him an eloquent Oh, really? look from the corner of his eye.

“Has he gotten any less bouncy this year?” Momo asked.

“Nope,” Ryouma said, glumly.

“And he’s always impatient to play. Kind of like another team captain I could mention but won’t.”

Ryouma glared.

“So he’ll probably put himself in Singles Two or Three to make sure he gets a chance,” Momo finished. “You know,” he added, thoughtfully, “I bet if you called him and offered to meet him in one of those slots, he’d adjust his own lineup to make it work.”

Ryouma blinked, and a wicked smile spread over his face. “Maybe I won’t mention that part to Ryuuzaki-sensei,” he murmured.

“Ah, you’re getting sneaky,” Momo clapped him on the shoulder. “Fuji-senpai would be proud. Now, what’s up with Hyoutei?”

Ryouma held the gate to his house open. “They’re a pain, like always,” he grumbled.

“Can’t be more of a pain than Hiyoshi was, last year,” Momo declared, kicking off his shoes.

Ryouma paused on the stairs to consider that. “Maybe. Come on, though, I’ll show you.” In his room, he dug out several sheets of paper and spread them on the floor. Momo settled behind him, looking over his shoulder.

“This year’s captain,” Ryouma tapped the name Fukuzawa, “he’s a lot better than Hiyoshi was at talking their coach into new ideas. He took a few tricks from Fudoumine, and sometimes puts the best players in early. And just about everyone knows we only have one strong doubles team. Again. Even if Kachirou and I play doubles, that’s only two wins and leaves singles completely open.”

“Yeah, better assume one win and one loss in doubles,” Momo put in, resting his chin on Ryouma’s shoulder. “They should be short on good doubles, too, this year.”

“Which means,” Ryouma continued, “that Fukuzawa is likely to come in early, which means I should too. But what if he second guesses me? If I take Singles Three while he stays with One, I don’t think Kachirou will be able to handle him, and they’ll have three wins in the end. I hate this,” he sighed, leaning back against Momo with a faint thump.

“Oh, yeah,” Momo ruffled his hair, “you thought it was a lot more interesting when it was my job, and you could just poke your nose in for the fun of it.”

Ryouma growled and elbowed him.

“I bet you were the sort of kid who went on all the really scary rides at amusement parks just to hear how loud everyone else screamed,” Momo teased.

“That,” Ryouma observed, with trenchant accuracy, “would be Fuji-senpai. Besides, I think we only ever went to an amusement park once, when I was really little.”

“And here I thought America had lots of them,” Momo remarked, surprised. “What did you do, then?”

“What do you mean?” Ryouma asked, poking the end of his pen at the paperwork.

“With your family,” Momo clarified.

Ryouma glanced over his shoulder, brows raised. “Played tennis.”

Momo sat, staring straight ahead, as Ryouma crossed something out and scribbled a different name in. The absolute incomprehension in his friend’s eyes hit him like a fist. He thought about his own family, about the annual trip to the beach; about his sister nagging until he took her to pet stores to play with the puppies; about his father and brother wearing almost identical pleading expressions while begging his mother to come watch a local motor cross match with them; about his mother’s soft laugh the first time she played his favorite computer game with him, after days of wheedling on his part, and beat his score. And then he thought of not having any of that happen—of having all of it swallowed by tennis. Tennis the way he had seen Ryouma and his father play it, taunting and needling and provoking.

Absolute fury boiled up in him, twisting his stomach and tugging at his mouth with a snarl.

Ryouma paused in his shuffling of names, and looked around at him. “Momo?” he asked, sounding surprised.

Momo wrapped both arms around his friend, and rested his forehead against Ryouma’s shoulder, hiding his expression. “Nothing. It’s nothing,” he said, quietly.

After a moment, Ryouma leaned back into his hold, puzzled, Momo thought, but willing to offer silent comfort for whatever was wrong. The irony was almost enough to start him laughing. He tightened his arms, instead, thankful that, for whatever reason, Ryouma had decided it was all right for Momo to hold him.

A fuzzy touch on his ear startled him into looking up. Karupin had come in and was standing with one paw on Ryouma’s shoulder, batting at Momo with the other. He meowed in a you’re taking up my space kind of way.

“What if I don’t want to move, yet?” Momo argued.

Karupin batted, insistently, at his cheek.

“No,” Momo said, definitely.

Karupin paused, considered him, and then, with no warning at all, whapped him in the jaw with a remarkably strong, if furry, right hook. Momo jerked back.

“Ryouma,” he said, indignantly, “your cat just punched me!”

The announcement was probably redundant, seeing as Ryouma was doubled over with laughter. Recovering himself, he gathered Karupin up in his arms and, before Momo could protest this favoritism, turned to lean against Momo’s chest, bracing Karupin against them both.

“It’s okay, Karupin,” Ryouma assured his cat. “You don’t have to worry about Momo.”

“Yeah, see?” Momo seconded, cautiously putting an arm around both of them. “I’m not trying to steal him, I just want to share him. Didn’t your mother ever teach you it’s good to share?”

Karupin managed to give him a very skeptical look for something with such a round, fuzzy face, before he snuggled against Ryouma to be petted. Momo suppressed some uncomplimentary remarks. That furball was the only living creature he had ever seen Ryouma look at with open tenderness, and Momo had a good idea of who would lose if it came to a choice between the cat and himself. It was, in fact, utterly typical that Ryouma should let himself practically cuddle with Momo, not for Momo’s benefit, but for his cat’s.

Recalling what he had been thinking about before Karupin interrupted, Momo suddenly had a much better idea why that might be, and looked with less disfavor on the purring menace in Ryouma’s arms. That cat was probably the sole member of his family Ryouma loved and trusted without reservation. Karupin might just be the main reason Ryouma had even been capable of trusting enough to becoming a part of the Seigaku team, much less willing to do so. Momo sighed and leaned his cheek against the top of Ryouma’s head, and scratched behind Karupin’s ears himself. Carefully.

When he left, that day, he gave Karupin a serious look. “Take care of him, okay?” he said, nodding toward Ryouma.

Ryouma gave him a startled look, and Karupin meowed in a tone Momo translated to Teach your granny to suck eggs, kid. Momo grinned and let himself out.

Away from them, though, Momo found his thoughts circling around and around the realization about Ryouma’s family life that had struck him, and by the time he arrived at practice the next morning he felt like there was a rut worn in his brain. It didn’t help his temper any. He finally resorted to a tactic he didn’t need very often, and took himself off to one side to practice his swings. He tossed each ball up, focused on where it needed to go, and imagined Echizen Nanjirou standing there.

He didn’t actually realize that his balls were breaking through the fence until Ryuuzaki-sensei yelled at him.

“Honestly!” she finished her harangue. “What were you thinking? Go get a drink and calm down!”

Catching his breath on one of the benches, Momo was aware of movement in his direction. A quick glance showed it to be Oishi-senpai, and Momo winced. Now, how was he going to explain himself? Oishi-senpai was never intrusive, but he was hard to hold things back from. Another odd note caught his eye, though. Tezuka-san had crossed, quickly, to have a word with the team’s captain, and then turned and gestured Oishi-senpai back. Momo bit his lip and looked at the ground.

“That exercise will work better if there’s actually someone there to return the ball,” Tezuka-san said, beside him.

Momo blinked up at the vice-captain for a moment before cosmic irony overcame his surprise at not being dressed down. He snorted a laugh and scrubbed a hand over his face.

“I couldn’t do it if it were you standing there, though,” he said, a little tired, glancing away. “You’re the one who changed things for him.”

Tezuka-san looked at him for a long moment, and then his eyes narrowed. “I see,” he said, quietly. He touched Momo’s shoulder.

“Come practice while thinking about something else then,” he ordered. “Like winning.”

Momo looked up with a grateful smile. His favorite challenge, for all he doubted there was much chance of it ever happening. There was nothing better to get his mind off a problem. “Yes, Tezuka-senpai,” he agreed.

Really, he reflected, as he followed Tezuka-san to an empty court, it was no surprise Ryouma had found Tezuka-san’s cool approach more reassuring than intimidating. After his father, it must have been a relief to deal with someone so straightforward and consistent, even if what he consistently was was demanding. Tezuka-san challenged his people, always, but he also, somehow, and Momo had never quite figured out how, convinced them of his implicit belief that they would succeed. It was contagious. And it spread to other parts of a person’s life, too. Momo wasn’t sure when he had decided that keeping a snippy, independent-minded brat like Echizen Ryouma well and safe was one of his challenges, but there it was. And if it had become still more personal than that, it just made the challenge all the more exciting.

“Ready?” Tezuka-san called.

Momo grinned.

“Any time!”