Practice had ended that day and Ryoma had stayed late, idly lobbing tennis balls across the court, while Tezuka conferred about team line-ups with Ryuuzaki-sensei; now they both stood eye to eye and Ryoma's lips when he moved them were defiantly taunt, with the smallest hint of a smile.
"Really," said Tezuka.
"It's just not for me," Ryoma said. "I'm not responsible enough."
But you could have been, thought Tezuka despairingly. You were supposed to be the pillar. You were the only one I could have chosen.
"I see," he said.
"I'm not going to let anyone constrain me," continued Ryoma. "Not even you, Buchou."
He hadn't anticipated this. What would he do if he couldn't establish a pillar for the club to rally around? Beyond that . . . if Ryoma cut this, this last tie he'd extended between the two of them (even if Ryoma didn't realize that was what it was), they . . . .
"Will you be leaving the club?" he asked.
"No," said Ryoma. The stoutness of his voice caught Tezuka by surprise, as did the flash of determination his eyes showed as they riveted themselves to Tezuka's own.
"You have potential," was the only thing he could think of to say.
"You don't get it, Buchou," Ryoma said, not breaking that mesmerizing stare. "For me, tennis has never been about pillars." He paused. "It's been about balls."
This metaphor, Tezuka thought suddenly; this overwrought homoerotic metaphor, he knew it well. He never thought he would hear it on the lips of Ryoma.
"Balls," he repeated numbly.
"Your balls," Ryoma said, "and mine, in an eternal volley back and forth. That's what tennis is. That's why I play it."
That's exactly what I wanted, Tezuka thought dazedly. But I phrased it my way, and now you're phrasing it yours. You've grown so much, Ryoma.
"You play a good game," he said. "It would be a shame for you to waste your potential."
"It would be a shame for me to waste you."
"I don't know what you mean," Tezuka lied. He could feel his heart panging.
"You're amazing, Buchou," Ryoma said.
No, he thought. You're amazing; you're amazingly beautiful. I want you to be mine. I want to embrace you passionately now that we've come to this understanding.
"You'll move beyond me someday," he said.
"Never," said Ryoma, and kissed him.