Looking Forwards

A Prince of Tennis Fanfic

By Jaelle



Disclaimer: Not mine.

Rating: G.

Pairings: None.

Spoilers: None. Post-series speculation.



Ryoma Echizen trailed slowly along the paths to the tennis courts, feeling a strange nervous sensation creeping over him as he walked. Would they be there? Would it be the same? Or would his memories disappoint him?

It had been three years since they'd all been properly together, and a month since he'd seen any of them at all. After he'd finished his third and final year at Seigaku Junior High school and sat the entrance exams for the associated High school, his father had dragged him back to the States for the holidays to visit old friends and to play tennis against the up-and-coming international competition. Ryoma had acquited himself well, meeting some old opponents from his earlier career, and encountering new ones. It had been fun, and he'd won a lot of games (and even a tournament, fortuitously scheduled for his last week of holidays). But it had meant a month away from what he now thought of as home. And away from the others.

*I wonder if they even know I'm here.*

The first day of school had passed in a bit of a blur, with all the usual problems associated with trying to find ones way around a new environment, and trying to remember everyone's names. He'd seen quite a few familiar faces, and heard one or two familiar squeals, but the people he'd REALLY wanted to see had been absent.

They'd been the best tennis team Seigaku Junior High had ever seen. Kunimitsu Tezuka, Syuusuke Fuji, Syuuichiro Oishi, Eiji Kikumaru, Takashi Kawamura, Sadaharu Inui, Kaoru Kaidou, Takeshi Momoshiro, and himself. Almost legendary now, even after only three years. They'd stormed their way to the Nationals and won, and for a short period of time he'd felt like nothing could prevent him from becoming stronger and stronger and eventually defeating all of his opponents.

But time was one opponent that no-one could beat. On the tennis courts he was a part of the team, but no matter how good he got, he couldn't erase the age gap. It had been a glorious golden year, and at the end of it over half the team had graduated and left. Even when he'd left America, the place he'd been born and grown up in, it hadn't hurt so much, and for the first time he felt the real implications of what it meant being the "Ochibi", the baby of the team.

They were all going to leave him behind.

His second year hadn't been too bad. He'd still had Kaidou and Momo to play against, even though he could beat both of them four times out of five, and there had been some promising new players who'd joined. Most of his really good opponents had moved on too, but some were still around, so at least he had a few decent games. And he still saw all his other senpai on weekends and occasionally after school for practices and friendly games (ha!), and even the occasional "reunion outing".

But it just hadn't been the same.

Then Kaidou and Momo left, and he was all alone.

He'd tried to make friends his own age that last year, inside the team and out. But he'd never really been particularly socially adept, and to be honest he didn't really WANT to be friends with most of his contemporaries. They were so JUVENILE. And they weren't very good at tennis. He'd only really spoken to one person in any real depth at all that year, a promising young player named Akira. Akira had come late to tennis, but he had talent and a newly-discovered and enthusiastic love of the game, and Ryoma had become quite fond of him by the time he left, although only his senpai would have been able to tell.

"Become Seigaku's pillar of support,” he'd told Akira on the last day of school, his gaze unwaveringly locked on the younger boy. “Rise to meet every challenge, and inspire others to rise with you. Don’t EVER give up, and don’t let anyone else give up either. Lead.”

It had been an unusually eloquent and long speech for the normally close-mouthed Echizen, but he’d felt that an occasion as important as the handover of the captaincy of the team required special effort.

(Admittedly his own had been somewhat different: “It’s you next year,” Kaidou had growled. “Don’t embarrass us. Dismissed.” But he’d understood the underlying message well enough).

He’d been very surprised to find that it had meant more to him that he’d expected.

And now he had left too, and everything was new. He was no longer the first year prodigy, the vice-captain, or captain. He was starting over again. Would it be the same? It was useless to want to go back, but that first year of Junior High... when they'd all become a team...

Wasn’t he a loner anyway?

Apparently not. He wanted it again. He might be able to have it again. They were all here. All of them, even Kawamura-senpai, although he'd quit the team. But they were all HERE. Maybe he COULD go back, just for a little while. It hadn’t been so bad, and... well, it hadn’t been si bad. Maybe they could recreate those days. He would find out today if they could do it again.

If he could just make it to the tennis courts.

Ryoma glumly considered his sneakers as his pace slowed.

He didn't want to go. He didn't want to find that it would all be different. He didn't want them to have changed.

This was so pathetic! He couldn’t even get up the energy to be irritated, and he was ALWAYS irritated by SOMETHING. But all he could think about was that it had been a month since they'd thrown him a farewell party, and he'd sent some postcards, but there had been no point in them replying, and no-one had visited last night when he'd returned and maybe they were avoiding him...

His head lowered even further and his shoulders slumped as he dragged his feet.

It wouldn't be the same.

"Oops."

Ryoma halted, and slowly raised his head.

Sparkling eyes greeted him.

"You know," Momoshiro said, grinning widely. "You could walk into someone if you don't watch where you're going. Look in front of you when you walk, in front."

Ryoma blinked as a memory surfaced from the depths of his mind. It lingered out of reach, but in a rare display of effort, he grabbed for it and pulled it close.

*Oh yeah. That's what he said the first time we met.*

Momo sighed at the unmoving boy and grabbed his hand, tugging him along. "Hurry up, we're going to be late."

Ryoma felt like he was moving through a dream as they neared the courts. He could see familiar figures waiting, and Momo dragged him along faster.

"Found him!" Momo yelled as they approached.

"Ochibi!" Eiji yelled, flinging himself at the boy. Ryoma grunted as the impact knocked him to the ground. "Where have you BEEN? We've been looking all over for you!"

"Eiji, don't tackle him like that!" Oishi ran up. "Are you alright Echizen? How are you feeling? Your flight only got in yesterday, are you having any problems with jet-lag?"

"Ah, for that I have Inui's special Jet-Lag-Be-Free Tea!" Inui materialised behind him, clutching a container. "Drink it."

"Waaa! Don't go poisoning him on his first day at school!" Eiji yelled, hugging Ryoma fiercely.

"It's perfectly safe, I tested the effects on Kaidou earlier," Inui said.

This statement would have been more reassuring were Kaidou not rolling around on the ground, clutching at his throat and hissing. Fuji stood over him, holding a half-empty cup. "Piquant," he murmured, sipping at it.

Momo burst out laughing, "The perfect reaction for the viper!"

Kaidou suddenly underwent an amazing recovery and began yelling something at Momo, apparently a continuation of an argument they'd been having earlier.

Ryoma slowly got to his feet, aided by Oishi and hindered by Eiji, and absently accepted a water flask from Kawamura, before realising who it was.

"Kawamura-senpai!"

"Hello Echizen," the taller boy smiled at him gently. "Tezuka-buchou asked me to help out with the club this year, even if I'm not playing anymore. It's good to see you again. Have you grown a little?"

"More milk needed in his diet," Inui muttered, making notes. "Height/weight ratio estimated at..."

"Ahem."

The group quietened and turned. Tezuka regarded them all with a narrow gaze. "Club started five minutes ago," he said quietly. "20 laps around the courts!"

There was a loud chorus of "Yes, Buchou!" and everyone immediately set off.

"Echizen," Tezuka called out.

Ryoma hung back and lowered his head again as Tezuka walked over, wishing he was wearing his hat so that he could tug it down. He felt weird, off-balance and unsure of himself.

A hand landed on his shoulder and he flinched.

"I presume you've brought the application for membership with you?" Tezuka asked.

Ryoma found himself blinking at Tezuka in surprise. "Umm..." he felt around in his pockets. "No?"

Tezuka frowned at him slightly and handed over a sheet of paper. "Inui filled it in. Look over it while you get changed and let me know if he got anything wrong."

Tezuka walked away to keep an eye on the running and chattering team.

Still feeling a bit dazed, Ryoma quickly ducked into the changing rooms to get into his tennis gear, and scanned the membership form, feeling both oddly pleased and deeply worried that he didn't need to make any changes to it.

Jogging back out to the courts, he handed it to Tezuka and was motioned to join in with the runners. "They’re up to twelve," the older boy said quietly. "Catch up quickly, there’s much to do."

Ryoma nodded and jogged on the spot until the main group came into view.

"Welcome back," Tezuka said with a small smile as the younger boy dropped into place with his old teammates.

"About time you got here," Momo said, swiping at him as he fell in with the others. Ryoma ducked his head to avoid the swat and sent a tentative smirk at Momo in reply.

The older boy frowned at him. "Now Echizen, for the last time, make sure you look IN FRONT of you when you run! In FRONT!!!"

Ryoma grinned as the others added comments and Tezuka yelled at them to pick up the pace.

It was different, yes. But the feeling was the same.

He didn't need to worry about looking backwards anymore.

From now on, he was only looking forwards.

End.



A/N: Argh... actually my second PoT fanfic. I thought I could handle it, but I was wrong. Just what I didn't need. Another obsession. *groans*

This was originally supposed to end at the point where Momo encounters Ryoma, because I LOVE their meeting in the second episode, when Momo tells him to look in front of himself when he walks. The reminder to look in front when he walked, kind of got mixed up in my head with the often-used metaphor of moving forwards which appears in FMA, and I decided I wanted to use it to bring the story back to where the series started. However, I promptly got crash-tackled by Eiji, who insisted on appearing, and then he said that I had to put all the others in as well in order to be fair. So, the whole gang wound up in there after all. Sigh.

In one of those weird coincidence things, both Orla and I wrote PoT fics in which we needed another player and both of us named him Akira. I guess we just like the name.



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