title: Chrysalis Cracking
fandom: Prince of Tennis
characters/pairings: Ryoma, Kachiro, Katsuo, Horio, Tomoka, Sakuno, Ryoma's dad, Tezuka
rating: G
warnings: none
summary: Echizen drifts.
notes: manga continuity, or AU. ^_~

They were chattering, as usual. He stared out the window, his hand on the creamy, pale beige envelope. Their noises blended together, like his father's nonsense.

It almost made him wish class would start.

"Eh, Ryoma-kun..."

Kachiro was in front of him, looking nervous.

"I have two tickets to the w-inds' concert. You, uh, do you want to go?"

There was quiet. Everyone was waiting to hear his answer. They were always waiting for him. He leaned back in his seat, and closed his eyes. "Sure."

The quiet only lasted another moment. Tomoka was whining because she didn't get to go now. Horio was griping, too. Sakuno made a little 'o' sound. Kachiro was sputtering.

At least Katsuo was quiet.

"Eh," Ryoma sighed. "Class is starting, isn't it?"

They eventually stopped crowding around his desk.

He ignored the teacher, and ran his fingers over the smooth paper of the envelope. He wondered why he brought this to school.

"Ryoma-kun!" Kachiro was out of breath when he caught up to him. "Ah, Ryoma-kun, about the concert..." Kachiro was blushing. He put his hands in his pocket, and sighed.

"Is it like a date?" He yawned.

"Wha-wha-wha-what?!" Kachiro blanched and backed up, almost tripping over bucket of balls behind him.

"Watch it." His vice-captain could be so clumsy. "Don't worry. I'm a good date." He leaned over impulsively, and he kissed Kachiro lightly, just barely brushing their lips together. He was pretty sure Kachiro was either with Katsuo, or he wouldn't put the moves on Ryoma because of Katsuo. Either way, Ryoma didn't care.

Kachiro turned bright red and hung his head down. "Ahahahahahahahah, Ryoma-kun... I-I-I-I-I..."

He shrugged, and continued on to the clubhouse. Horio was watching him, but he didn't care.

There was no rule that said a captain couldn't leave early every once in a while.

He sat on the steps up to the bell, holding Tezuka's letter in his fingers. He pulled the smooth, white sheet out of the envelope, and looked at Tezuka's neat writing. His former captain had a habit of saying things that made Ryoma feel like he was being compelled by powers greater than himself.

It was odd to think that it was comforting to know that there were powers greater than himself.

Fuji was with Tezuka, too. It wasn't in the words on the page. Somehow, it was in the space between the words. Ryoma wasn't jealous, and he wasn't happy. It was just a fact. Fuji had been in a position to stay by Tezuka's side.

If Ryoma was jealous, it was just because he had no rival like that for himself.

Do you know why you are still playing tennis, Echizen?

He wasn't afraid to enter the larger courts and the even larger stages. He wasn't afraid to leave everyone behind.

Was he waiting for something?

His father came by whistling, swinging his racquet with one finger. "Sooooo, Ryoma-sama, want to play?"

Ryoma shrugged. "Going out tonight. Play yourself." He slipped the white letter into the pale beige envelope, and he walked back to the house.

Maybe he would go to Chiba this weekend, depending on how the concert went. He might find a reason to stay or to go on the court with Aoi, or maybe he'd find it at the concert, with Kachiro.

Or maybe his reason was pitching a temper tantrum on the dirt court, or maybe it was in California, training for new season.

Maybe it was all the same, after all.