“You sure you don’t want to get that looked at?”
Ryouma rolled his eyes. If one more person asked him that, they were going to eat a tennis ball. “Yes, I’m sure,” he sighed. “I banged my funny bone, that’s all. You’d think I’d been in a traffic accident or something.”
Momo looked stern, which almost made Ryouma smile. A year and a half ago, Momo would never have been able to pull the expression off. Ryouma was forming the theory that you could only learn it by being responsible for people two years younger who kept doing stupid things. Kachirou was very good at it, though too good natured to hold it for long.
“Don’t give me that,” Momo growled, “you know perfectly well it’s a nerve cluster; of course everyone’s worried.”
“Inui-senpai said there was nothing to worry about as long as my grip kept coming back steadily,” Ryouma argued, deciding that if he ever met the person who had injured Tezuka-buchou and thus been the ultimate cause of all this mother henning, they would regret it very deeply. “It has been. You’re getting as bad as Oishi-senpai.”
That succeeded in distracting Momo, and Ryouma did smile at the indignant expression on his friend’s face. “You coming in?” he asked, opening his gate.
“For a while,” Momo agreed, smiling back a little ruefully, which Ryouma took to mean he would let the subject be changed.
They were waylaid, however, by his dad’s hail from the court.
“About time you got back! Come and play some real tennis.”
Ryouma leaned against the porch, trying to decide whether it would be more trouble to play with a lingering handicap or to refuse and deal with the ragging. He didn’t have any particular interest in telling his dad about today’s little slip at practice, which argued against playing, but… He blinked as Momo stepped past him.
“Well, now, Ryouma’s had a long day. If you want a game, why don’t you play me?” It was less a request than a demand, and Ryouma’s brows went up at the hard light in his friend’s eyes.
His dad eyed Momo up and down, and the little smile that said Momentary entertainment, how nice crossed his face. “Why not,” he murmured, and beckoned Momo onto the court.
Ryouma frowned as he watched them play. They were both acting strangely. His dad wasn’t being quite his fully annoying self, and Momo was…
Momo was angry.
Not angry in the snarling-with-Kaidou-senpai sort of way, which wasn’t really angry, though Ryouma couldn’t say just what it was. Not angry the way he got at an opponent who ticked him off and who he wanted to beat. This was colder. His eyes were burning, but it was like the fire of the cutting torch in the art class studio—so focused down that the heat became sharpness. Ryouma had watched Momo play for years, and he knew Momo played hot; Momo liked it that way. He didn’t stop to think, unless he was playing doubles and had to take a partner into account. He saw and he acted. It was the same way Ryouma had seen him do his math homework: writing down the answer immediately, and then going back to fill in the steps that led to it, because they were required.
This time, Momo was thinking. Watching, and testing, and watching again. He wasn’t playing for the score, Ryouma realized, slowly. He was playing to find something out about his opponent.
Ryouma was confused. What could Momo want to know about his dad, that could make him this mad? Momo’s eyes still had that bright glitter in them when the match ended. Ryouma didn’t think he’d ever seen quite that look before.
“So,” his dad asked, casually, “find what you want?”
Ryouma snorted to himself, confusion momentarily overcome by familiar exasperation. Of course his dad had spotted it.
“Not especially,” Momo answered, evenly.
Ryouma sighed as his dad smiled, inscrutably, and strolled inside. He looked up at Momo, who had come to stand beside him.
“What was that all about?”
Momo shrugged. “You didn’t want to mention that,” he gestured at Ryouma’s arm.
“Yes,” Ryouma agreed, and waited. Momo’s mouth quirked.
“And I didn’t think you needed to deal with it today,” he added, and quickly held up a hand. “I know, I know, overprotective mother hen.” He made a mock tragic face. “Even after all this time you don’t appreciate your senpai. Ah, I’m used to it.”
Ryouma, caught between laughing and glowering, folded his arms and looked aside.
Thus, he was surprised when Momo’s hand came up to cup the side of his face. He looked back around, eyes wide. He’d long since given up on enforcing any idea of personal space with Momo, but this was a little unusual.
“You should have someone you can actually trust, every now and then, that’s all,” Momo said. His mouth tugged up at one corner. “Someone who can talk, instead of meow.”
And then the oddness of the moment seemed to reach Momo, too, and he dropped his hand and shouldered his bag.
“See you tomorrow,” he told Ryouma, and made for the gate, leaving Ryouma staring after him and still wondering what that was all about.
Ryouma was still wondering at club practice the next day, and stalked around the courts with only half his attention on his team. When his Singles Three player nearly nailed him in the back with a wild ball he didn’t even bother to glare.
“You need to retape your grip, Ougurou,” he said, absently, swatting the ball back.
“Yes. Um. I’ll do that now,” Ougurou said, sidling away before Ryouma could change his mind.
And normally Ryouma would have called him out to demonstrate in action just how the problem could harm Ougurou’s game. But he had other things on his mind today, and Kachirou seemed willing to take up the slack if the way Ougurou was shuffling in face of his lecture was any indication.
What had that been all about? It wasn’t that he wasn’t used to Momo touching him; in fact, if he were quite honest with himself he’d started to invite it. The contact was comfortable, and Momo was a good friend, after all. But that had been more than just friendly.
Ryouma stopped, and stared blankly through the fence. Just friendly. What was just friendly? What wasn’t?
He started walking again, more slowly. He knew he didn’t necessarily have the most normal view of these things. Apart from his dad’s occasional jokes about wanting to grope his mom for old time’s sake, at which point she offered to smack him one for old time’s sake too, he didn’t see any examples of anything from them. With his mom so busy with her job and the house, they didn’t really spend that much time together, he guessed. And if Nanako was dating anyone, she didn’t seem to have any intention of letting her aunt and uncle, or her cousin, know about it.
Not that he could blame her.
“Sagara, Tsunan, get back to work on your new formation,” he directed his gossiping Doubles One pair, passing quietly behind them. Another day he might have been somewhat more amused that they jumped half a meter before stammering out affirmatives.
Maybe he should ask someone’s advice on this. Except that the person he would normally ask about personal things was Momo. Besides, he didn’t like having to ask.
He knew that he took his desire for self sufficiency from his mother; Nanako had commented on it before. Maybe he could take some methods from her, also. She was good at logic. So, logically, how to answer this question?
If his parents weren’t any help, maybe he could compare the situation to someone else. Someone a little more average. So, who did he know who was more than friends?
Well, there was always Ann and Sakuno. Yeah, they would be a good comparison; Ann had a protective streak wider than Momo’s. Ryouma figured it was probably genetic. How did she act around Sakuno?
She was almost always in contact with her, for one thing. A hand on her wrist, shoulders brushing, leaning against Sakuno, a hand around her waist. The more of those gestures Ryouma tallied up, the more unnerved he felt. That was the way Momo was around him, all right. And he hadn’t noticed. Why hadn’t he noticed?
Whether it was intuition or logic, the answer sprang up in his mind and rooted his feet to the ground. He hadn’t noticed because it hadn’t felt any different. He had always been comfortable around Momo, from the first day they met and he recognized the gleam of challenge in the eyes of the second year who had interfered to protect his kouhai.
Which raised the interesting question, had Momo noticed?
He could see about answering that later, Ryouma decided, briskly. Right now, he had things to be doing. Mind relieved for the moment, he called his team in and set them playing two on one, in rotation. The expressions of relief rather startled him, given how grueling this exercise got before too long, and he looked a question at Kachirou, who was smothering a laugh.
“They’ve been worried all day that you were distracted by thinking up something more, um, interesting for them,” his vice-captain explained.
“Hm. I’ll have something for tomorrow, then,” Ryouma said, with a wicked smile. “Wouldn’t do to let everyone down.”
Kachirou lost the fight with his laughter, shaking his head.
Figuring out whether Momo had noticed proved more difficult than Ryouma had expected. Not because Momo was particularly difficult to read, but because Ryouma kept getting distracted. When Momo leaned against him, or sat behind him, or wrapped an arm around his shoulders, Ryouma kept forgetting to watch Momo because, now that he was noticing it, he was noticing how nice it felt.
And it did feel very nice. Having someone close to him, someone he could relax with because he knew for a fact Momo didn’t mean him any harm, felt… warm.
In fact, he was starting to have to resist the urge to press closer, to invite Momo to hold him tighter.
At last, after a particularly unproductive day of staring at his History homework while his thoughts tripped over each other trying to observe Momo watching him, Ryouma decided, quite firmly and rationally he thought, that enough was enough. Logic was great, but Ryouma had known for a long time that instinct and action often had the edge. He clapped his book shut and tossed it off to one side.
Beside him, Momo looked up. “Homework that frustrating?” he asked with a grin.
“Actually, no,” Ryouma declared. “Something else is, though.”
And, as Momo was opening his mouth, probably to ask what, Ryouma turned and slung a leg over Momo’s, settling comfortably astride his lap. Momo’s mouth stayed open.
“Ah, Ryouma?” he managed, after a moment.
Ryouma spread his hands against Momo’s chest, and felt his sudden intake of breath, watched his eyes widen. Momo’s hands didn’t seem to share the surprise, though, and closed firmly at Ryouma’s waist. Mmm, yes; that was nice. Ryouma smiled. He was now prepared to bet that Momo, or at least the part of him in control of his hands, had been perfectly aware of how their touching had changed. Which raised yet another question.
“So, what’s been taking you so long?” he asked.
Momo opened his mouth, closed it again, and growled. When he saw Ryouma’s grin, he, too, seemed to decide that action was the best course, because he slid his hands up Ryouma’s back, and pulled Ryouma against him, and caught Ryouma’s mouth with his. Ryouma didn’t make it easy for him; he was laughing. Momo persisted, though, tracing the curve of Ryouma’s lips with his tongue, kissing the corner of his smile. And Ryouma finally sighed, and leaned against him, and kissed back.
The feeling of Momo’s arms this tight around him, and Momo’s tongue playing tag with his, was a lot more than just warm.
Momo drew back a bit. “Are you sure you haven’t done this before?” he murmured against Ryouma’s mouth.
“Very sure,” Ryouma told him, repressively, and rocked forward to kiss him again.
A lot more.
If the groan that tangled with his in the middle of their kiss hadn’t been enough to tell him, he could feel, now, that Momo was enjoying this as much as he was. Experimentally, Ryouma shifted, rocking their hips together again. Heat tingled through him, and he heard a soft, wordless sound in his own throat. Momo leaned his head back against the bed behind him, but if he meant to catch his breath it backfired. Ryouma took the opportunity to taste the skin under Momo’s jaw, and they both gasped as their bodies pressed flush together.
Ryouma’s hands moved down Momo’s body, almost involuntarily, because he wanted more. More contact. And clothes were very much in the way, though not for long. Momo bit back a moan as Ryouma’s fingers brushed against his skin, curled around his cock. Ryouma rather liked that sound. He liked it more when he felt Momo’s fingers shaking just a little as he loosened Ryouma’s pants and slid a hand inside.
And then Ryouma kissed Momo again, hard, to muffle his own harsh moan. Shivers coursed through him, trembling out from Momo’s touch. Their fingers tangled together as Ryouma pressed closer, feeling Momo’s other hand smoothing up and down his back, and he wound his own free arm around Momo’s shoulders to brace himself against the flickering, shuddering heat.
“Ryouma,” Momo whispered, and Ryouma buried his head against Momo’s shoulder, pressing his lips against the skin of Momo’s neck, biting down with the first surge of pleasure that wrung his entire body. He shuddered, hearing Momo’s sharp gasp, riding the fire that twisted through him again and again. It was too much, in the end, and he heard his breath sob through his chest as the fire threw him loose, falling…
But he was leaning against Momo, and Momo was holding him. He couldn’t be falling. The hot pleasure let him back down into warmth that curled around him, gently. Both of them stayed where they were, and Ryouma listened to Momo’s breath calm against his ear. Their fingers were still tangled together, and, while messy, there was something oddly comforting about the feeling.
At last, Momo stirred, shifting to fish in his pocket and produce a packet of tissues. Ryouma stifled a laugh at the practicality, and didn’t look up as they cleaned themselves off.
Momo’s fingers brushed over his hair. “You all right?” he asked, quietly.
“Of course,” Ryouma told him, raising his head to look Momo in the eye.
Those eyes were just a little soft, and lit with a smile at Ryouma’s answer. Ryouma bent his head back down to Momo’s shoulder to hide what he was fairly sure was a blush (of all things!), and locked his arms around Momo.
“Of course I’m all right,” he said, again, though a smile.
Momo’s fingers rubbed up and down his neck. “Good.”
It was possible, not likely but possible, that Ryouma was being paranoid. He was nearly positive, however, that Inui-senpai had been spending more time than usual watching him at unofficial practice, today. It was starting to make him a bit twitchy. He edged around the other side of Momo on the pretext of getting his water bottle, and leaned briefly against Momo’s shoulder for reassurance.
A quick glance showed Inui-senpai scribbling furiously.
“Momo-senpai, has Inui-senpai had a new project going or something?” Ryouma asked, cautiously.
“Not that he’s mentioned,” Momo answered, a bit uneasily.
The soft laugh behind them was not reassuring, despite its warmth, and Ryouma turned to give Fuji-senpai a wary look. While Fuji was an excellent source of protection from everything from too-loud teammates to malicious opponents, and one Ryouma was perfectly willing to take advantage of, the flip side was that Fuji tended to regard protectees as his personal source of amusement.
He certainly seemed amused by something, today.
“It’s just Inui’s way of wishing you well,” Fuji-senpai told him. “Come play a set with me, Echizen.”
Ryouma hefted his racquet and headed back to the court. He wasn’t going to ask. It just wasn’t worth the trouble, and answers usually presented themselves sooner or later if he just let it ride. Sometimes his subconscious just needed time to decide what Fuji-senpai was talking about. They were, in fact, in the fifth game before Ryouma’s backbrain piped up with a suggestion of what Fuji-senpai’s rather cryptic remark might have implied. His swing went wild, and he nearly tripped over his own foot before slamming to a halt and staring across the net at his senpai’s blandly inquiring look.
It showed? And Inui-senpai was recording this in one of his damned notebooks?
Ryouma shot a blistering glare at Inui-senpai, who smiled cheerfully back. He growled very quietly, and directed an even more searing look back at Fuji. Fuji-senpai wasn’t even attempting to look innocent, any more, and his eyes were laughing.
Before Ryouma could attempt bodily harm against his grinning seniors, however, Tezuka-buchou turned from coaching Momo through a speed exercise and narrowed his eyes at them.
“Fuji. Inui.” An admonition to knock it off and get back to work hung, unspoken, after their names, and, with a last chuckle, Inui tucked away his notebook and Fuji backed off to receive Ryouma’s next serve. “Echizen, mind your concentration,” Tezuka-buchou added.
Ryouma ground out an acknowledgement, and stalked back to serve. He was going to kill them both, he really was. Later, because Tezuka-buchou had a point; nothing interrupted the game, not even senpai who were getting far too much amusement out of Ryouma’s… relationship with Momo. At least, he grumbled to himself, there was still a handful of months to go before they would be on the same campus again. He could hope they wouldn’t be smirking quite so hard by then.
When practice ended, though, and Fuji-senpai’s hand fell on his shoulder, Ryouma’s mistrustful glance met an unusually soft smile. Ryouma looked aside, stepping firmly on the urge to squirm, and Fuji-senpai squeezed his shoulder, companionably, and let him go. None of them were smirking as Momo draped an arm over his shoulders.
“Come on, Ryouma, let’s get something to eat; I’m starved!”
“You’re always starved, Momo-senpai,” Ryouma pointed out, going along easily.
The looks that followed them, as they left, might even have had an edge of affection.
All right, maybe he wouldn’t actually kill them.