Momoshiro Takeshi considered himself a straightforward sort of guy. He didn’t bother to hide what he thought much, and he liked the friends he made by being outgoing and cheerful. He didn’t stand on formality, and if that caused certain stiff-necked classmates of his to call him an annoying idiot, well Momo knew that he gave respect where it was due and accepted it where he’d earned it, and that was good enough for him.
Which could be why he’d gotten along with Echizen Ryouma right from the start. They had very similar approaches, that way.
It was one of the more interesting things, to Momo, about their friendship. He was outgoing and outspoken, while Echizen was self-contained and sparing with his words. Momo, despite his casual ways, was really quite proper most of the time, while Echizen, despite his genuine respect for skill and accomplishment, mouthed off to absolutely everyone. And yet, somehow, they were always in the same place, always looking the same way, always knowing what the other would do.
Kachirou had mentioned, once, that it was strange Momo and Ryouma still couldn’t play doubles to save their lives, since they seemed to understand and predict each other so well. Momo had replied that that wasn’t enough for good doubles, especially when what they could unfailingly predict was that both of them would go for the ball no matter where it landed. Kachirou had agreed, ruefully, that Momo had a point.
In fact, the only one Momo had seen who could play doubles with Echizen was Kachirou himself. And that highlighted the difference, of course. Kachirou played as support to Echizen, and he did it well because he’d spent so long watching how Echizen played. Momo knew how Echizen played, too, but Kachirou… orbited Echizen. Ryouma was the primary in that relationship. And neither Momo nor Ryouma would ever do that for each other. For them, Momo decided, extending his astronomy metaphor, it was more like a double star, both turning around a common center. Not that determination to win generated gravity. Or, maybe it did…
An elbow in the ribs interrupted his musing.
“Momo-senpai, quit dozing off and work on the English,” Echizen directed from where he was propped against Momo’s back, reading his Japanese textbook.
Momo sighed. “Right, right, whatever you say. Buchou.”
Ryouma reached over his head and noogied Momo.
Despite his startlement, Momo could hold back a delighted grin. Lately, Ryouma had been descending to physical retaliation, in their teasing; it was almost as good as having another little brother. Momo thought it was probably because Ryouma was afraid of losing contact, with Momo gone from the club. His sister had acted a little the same, when Momo had started junior high and wasn’t in the same school with his siblings anymore. Whatever the cause, it meant that, every now and then, Momo actually won.
Thinking of his brother gave Momo an idea, and he reached around his side and crooked his fingers in Ryouma’s ribs.
A stifled squeak answered, and half a second later Ryouma was on the other side of the room, plastered against the wall, glaring at him.
“You’re that ticklish?” Momo asked, hugely amused.
“Of course I’m not ticklish,” Ryouma snapped. Momo recognized the spinal-reflex, defensive denial, and grinned more broadly. Ryouma glowered.
“Oh, don’t worry, I won’t let on,” Momo assured him.
Ryouma gave him a very suspicious look.
“After all, I have to keep some advantages to myself,” Momo finished.
Ryouma now looked like his worst suspicions had been confirmed.
“You worry too much, Echizen,” Momo told him. “C’mon, homework.” He patted the floor next to where Ryouma’s book had fallen.
Ryouma didn’t budge a centimeter. Momo sighed a little. Looked like he’d found another gap. Most of the time, he and Ryouma could have their little brawls without worrying, because Ryouma gave as good as he got; it passed the time until they encountered an outsider they could cooperate to take down. Every now and then, though, Momo stumbled across some gap in Echizen’s poise. The first one had been Karupin, and he still remembered being startled at how badly Ryouma’s cool attitude had shattered when his cat was missing. Feeling the slightest bit vulnerable did not seem to be something Ryouma did with any grace whatsoever. Momo held out a hand.
“Come on, Ryouma,” he said, more gently. “You know I wouldn’t.” Wouldn’t attack his friend in a weak spot anywhere except on the court. Wouldn’t deliberately hurt him.
Ryouma tucked his head down, and didn’t say anything, but did come back across the room and settled down beside Momo with his book. Momo smiled, wryly, down at his friend’s bent head. Not quite like having another little brother, he decided. He understood Ryouma better than he did his brother, most of the time, and Ryouma was more willing to be coaxed. Not that a single other person would believe him about that last, but it was still true. Under certain circumstances, Ryouma was also more willing to be protected. As long as Momo was casual about it, Ryouma would let Momo protect him when it came to one of those little gaps.
No, not quite like a brother.
Ryouma leaned against his shoulder, silently, and Momo leaned back, reaching for his homework again.