Suffice to say that Echizen Ryoma was not a happy boy. To start with, he'd been forced to attend this celebration of Atobe's brilliance (read Halloween party) because Tezuka-buchou said it would be impolite not to show up. To make things worse, Fuji-senpai and Eiji-senpai had discovered at practice that afternoon that he hadn't bothered finding a costume. If Tezuka-buchou hadn't found them half an hour later, he wouldn't have needed to worry about the party after all, as he wouldn't be in any state to attend.
That was, to be honest, why he was sitting in an out of the way corner in Atobe's ballroom looking like someone had emptied a bag of flour over his head (Eiji-senpai's brother had bleached his hair and now Eiji was itching to try it out on someone else). At least Tezuka-buchou had interrupted them before they'd got any further than that. If asked, he was quite happy to declare that he'd come as the ghost of a tennis player, as indicated by the racked propped against his chair.
In fact, he might not have minded sitting there watching all the seniors get drunk if it hadn't been for the company. Not only had Fuji-senpai also decided that his corner offered a good vantage point but Rokkaku's first year captain had spotted him as soon as he arrived and latched on. Honestly, the guy was more hyper than Eiji-senpai and he hadn't thought that was even possible. He wasn't quite sure what Fuji's costume was - he thought it had to be something relevant after the fuss he'd made over Echizen's costume - but didn't dare ask.
At least Atobe was over at the other side of the room - dressed as a vampire slayer, complete with stakes and what looked like it might be a real sword - holding court. He was surrounded by most of Hyotei - Kabaji (Frankenstein), Oshitari (Echizen wasn't sure what he was but it involved a lot of leather) and Gakuto (an imp, complete with horns and a red face that clashed with his hair).
Echizen grunted: it wouldn't do to encourage the idiot. Aoi had come as a mummy and was shedding pieces of loo roll everywhere. Echizen had taken a moment to wonder what he was wearing under it, if anything, because it would almost certainly be showing by the end of the evening.
"Your captain's costume is awesome."
He looked up. Apparenty Tezuka-buchou had indeed showed up at last: about time as well, he wasn't planning to suffer alone. Somehow he doubted this was quite buchou's scene either. He was wearing a long black coat with the collar turned up but couldn't detect any real sign of a costume.
"What do you mean?"
"He makes an awesome vampire! I hope I'm as cool as that when I'm a third year, don't you Echizen-kun? I wonder if he has real fangs; I can't see from here."
Echizen exchanged a look with Fuj-senpai.
"Aoi-kun," Fuji said gently. "Tezuka isn't wearing a costume."
Aoi's face went blank for a moment and then the grin was back bigger than ever. Echizen winced: the next comment was bound to be even louder than usual.
"Really? Awesome! I can't wait to tell my brothers that I know a real vampire!"
Echizen stared at him, looked at Tezuka, turned back to Aoi.
"Aoi-san, I don't think..."
"Do you think he'd show me his fangs if I asked him?"
Echizen gave up. Maybe he hadn't yet figured out that the 'non-alcoholic fruit punch' had been spiked, probably by Fuji-senpai or Inui-senpai if Hyotei or Rikkai hadn't got there first. It might even still be non-alcoholic if Inui had got there first.
"There's Yukimura-san as well and he's a vampire too. I bet you that's why he's so pale and that his illness was becuase of bloodloss when Tezuka-san bit him."
There was really no hope for this guy. True enough, though, Rikkai's Yukimura had just slipped out of his own dark corner to stand at Tezuka-buchou's shoulder, wearing a similar ankle length black coat.
Echizen turned abruptly when Fuji-senpai chuckled lightly. That was never a good sign.
"What is it, Fuji-senpai?"
"I've worked out why Tezuka was so keen to come to this party."
"Go on then, tell me. It's not like he's here to see the Monkey King."
"Yukimura's got his back to us at the moment, have a very good luck at it."
Echizen looked very carefully at Yukimura-san's back, wondering what on earth Fuji-senpai was going on about this time and why he hadn't wandered off the spike the punch again or cover the snacks in wasabi like he did at Eiji's last party.
"It does fit him very well - it's all lumpy."
"That's because he's got something underneath it. Have a guess."
"A tennis racket?"
"Absolutely and I bet Tezuka's got his as well. Now that Atobe's seen them and Oshitari's distracted him, they'll probably sneak off to Atobe's tennis courts - I'm fairly sure Tezuka knows where they are. They've been itching to play each other for years."
Echizen looked at Tezuka-buchou with newly regained respect. If turning up to this party was all for the sake of getting in some good tennis matches, he completely understood. Fuji-senpai cocked his head slightly as he caught Tezuka's eye.
"Tezuka would like to know if you're interested in going with them, Ryoma-kun" he said after a moment.
"Really?" Aoi exclaimed, practically bouncing in his seat. "He's telepathic as well? That's so cool."
Echizen sighed. After a while in the Seigaku team, one tended just to accept that Tezuka didn't talk much and learned to interpret the unspoken signs. Looking over to Tezuka himself, he picked up his racked with his left hand and gestured at himself with his right. Receiving a curt nod, he stood up and nodded politely to Aoi-kun and Fuji-senpai.
"Ah, one other thing," Fuji said as Tezuka gestured vaguely. "Tezuka wants you to pick up Fudomine's Tachibana as you go out. He and Yukimura will meet you by the door."
Echizen eyed him with suspicion. He was never quite sure when Fuji-senpai was making things up but it was generally understood that he understood 'Tezuka' better than anyone else. At any rate, it would be easier to fix up matches with an even number of players and Tachibana-san was more than good enough to make an interesting challenge.
"You're not coming?" Even if Tachibana-san was quite good, he was sure that Tezuka-buchou would rather play Fuji-senpai, given the choice.
"And miss out on all the fun in here? Hardly. Off you go and enjoy yourself."
His loss. Echizen picked up his Ponta can - better not to leave it unattended in that company - and set off resolutely towards Tachibana-san: the sooner he cornered him, the faster they could start playing. Unlike most of the others, Echizen had to be home by 10.30pm - Atobe's chauffeur was dropping him back - and it was already half past eight.
"Echizen-kun?" Tachibana-san asked, looking a little surprised to be approached. He looked about as happy to be there as Rikkai's Sanada, who was scowling as he stalked Kirihara and Niou around the room.
"Tezuka-buchou wants to know if you want to come play tennis."
"Tennis? I'm not exactly dressed for it."
That was true: he appeared to have come as some kind of zombie, complete with rags. Echizen looked over to where Tezuka-buchou was observing their conversation and gestured vaguely towards his clothes, quirking an eyebrow. Tezuka said a few words to Yukimura, turned back and looked pointedly down at his shoes.
"Are you wearing trainers?"
"What? Oh, yes, you can't see them under the costume."
Thumbs up to Tezuka-buchou and another nod in return.
"It's okay, he's got something in mind. Come on. Do you want to finish my Ponta?"
He had most of a can left and if he left it while he played, it would go flat. Tachibana-san eyed it with suspicion.
"Not spiked: I got it sealed and haven't let any of my seniors near it."
"Any of them? Is that who's been spiking the punch?"
"Who knows? Fuji-senpai and Inui-senpai would, given the chance, and the others are gullible enough to pass on something they gave them. It might be Rikkai or Hyotei."
As they walked out the door, Echizen was met with a fiercely competitve-looking smile from Yukimura and Tezuka's hand brushing his shoulder in what would have been a reassuring pat from anyone else. Falling in at his captain's shoulder, he relaxed for the first time since arriving at the party. Maybe Atobe's parties weren't such a bad idea after all, not if he had tennis courts, anyway.