Tennis Pro Monthly comes on the third Wednesday of every month. Except for August, but that is because of a special pre-U.S. Open double issue. Tezuka tries not to panic when it doesn't. It arrives on the fourth Monday and as the post is delivered, he meets the mailman, bowing slightly while taking his magazine.
The other letters don't matter.
He rips the plastic off and flips it around the right way, Ryoma plastered on the cover, looking smug as ever. Tezuka stifles a laugh, his fingers running down the glossy front. He reads through the entire issue in about thirty minutes, then puts it on the shelf with all the others. Twenty years worth of magazines weighing down his bookshelves and he wouldn't have it any other way.
Ryoma fidgets and yawns. He's never been a fan of interviews, especially when they come right before big tournaments. The interviewer asks the same questions as everyone else. How long have you been playing (it's for the new fans)? How many tournaments have you won (as if that's not painted all over the internet)? Are you looking forward to playing any one in particular (for the tabloids)?
The answers are always the same. Since I was three (with a sigh). I lost count after five (with a glare). Always (with a self-satisfied look of victory in his eyes).
Momoshiro lets him eat hamburgers and drink Ponta up until a week before the tournament. Then he makes Ryoma actually work, watching tape of old opponents to get a feel for their playing style. Ryoma falls asleep each night, head slumped against the arm of the chair. Every morning, Momoshiro asks if he learned anything.
Che. No. It's not the same as playing them. You don't get it.
Tezuka takes two weeks off for every Slam tournament. He's never missed a match (that's what Tivo is for) and especially not Ryoma's. He changes his sleep schedule specifically for U.S. Open (and the others, to be honest), so he is able to actually watch him play, live.
Watching Ryoma sends a phantom ache to his shoulder and he doesn't realize he's been digging into it until the match is over and Ryoma's moved to the next round.
The next morning, the fingertip-sized bruises tell him it wasn't a dream.
Ryoma goes through the motions until the quarterfinals. That's how it works. He's not stupid though and knows not to make any careless errors. After all, what would Buchou say? He snorts in the middle of a match thinking that, then mentally chastises himself for not focusing. Of course Buchou would never take his mind off the opponent.
He gets into the semi-finals easily enough. The Romanian was good, but he's mada made dane to the people he's played in the past. He tells as much to Momoshiro after an interview in which he says that he's going to win and there's no one there to stop him.
He hopes Buchou hears that.
Fuji texts him after the interview. That was amusing ^.^, the text says and Tezuka would be apt to agree if it didn't hurt so much. He knows better than to text back, but he does anyway. Aa, he sends. He hopes that doesn't give Fuji the invitation to keep texting him. He wants you there, Fuji says. Tezuka closes his eyes. He shouldn't have sent anything back. He doesn't, this time, saying I know to his empty apartment.
The semi-finals are hard. Hewitt pushes him to tie break the first two sets, but Ryoma rallies back and it ends up being 7-6, 6-7, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.
Momoshiro runs onto the court after the win, arms flailing, talking animatedly in English. Bad English. (He idly thinks that Kawamura is better at that.) Ryoma swats away his hands saying, It's not the finals, baka. He wears a towel over his head during the after-match interview and all his answers are clipped.
The bruises get rougher, darker, more painful after every match. Tezuka doesn't mind. He lets the hot water beat into his arm until he has to get out in time for the next match.
It's three A.M. in Japan when the match starts, but it's okay, he's not tired. The kettle whistles loudly and he pours himself tea before curling up on the recliner. Though, as soon as the first ball is served, the tea lays forgotten on the table and he is sitting on the floor, wide-eyed, gripping his shoulder.
He wins. Of course he wins. Ryoma falls to his knees on the court, racket gripped tightly. The crowd's roar is but a soft hum to his ears. His own screams of victory drowning them all out. Momoshiro tackles him and he can barely here him say anything. But he does.
You're the youngest Grand Slam champion ever.
Tezuka finds himself crying as the sun rises over Tokyo. He's watched the match over fives times (he's keeping track -- he's always kept track) and he keeps hearing the announcer's high pitched cry telling the world that Ryoma Echizen is the youngest Grand Slam champion in the history of tennis.
He feels like his chest is about to explode.
Ryoma skips the interviews. I've done enough, he tells Momoshiro who gawks at him as they sneak out of the New York hotel. JKF Airport is almost dead at two A.M. when they arrive, but Ryoma is wide awake. He walks to the first open counter and tells the woman he wants two tickets to Tokyo, leaving as soon as possible, cost isn't an issue. She goes glossy eyed as she realizes who he is, but a glare from him sends her typing away.
It leaves in an hour, she says and he nods, sliding his credit card across the counter. In minutes, with his credit card hidden away again, he and Momoshiro are dragging tennis bags and suitcases down to the terminal.
Tezuka wakes to knocking at three P.M. two days after the match. He should have been up an hour ago, but he didn't fall asleep until seven A.M. and an extra hour wasn't really going to make a difference. He puts on his glasses and slides off the couch. His joints pop satisfyingly as he pads over to the sound. Stifling a yawn, he turns the lock and opens the door.
Ryoma drops his bags just inside and to the left, reaches tired arms around Tezuka's neck and kisses him. He feels Tezuka relax against his lips and he finds himself smirking. His fingers trail down Tezuka's arms, ending at Tezuka's hands. He breaks the kiss and leans against him, breathing Tezuka in and himself out.
The television is replaying his match and he laughs against Tezuka's chest. Ryoma wants to tell Tezuka a million things, but none of them are right for this occasion. He pulls back a little, looking Tezuka dead in the eyes, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips before he opens his mouth.