Sometimes Ryoma wondered how things could be deceptively simple. Things like how Tezuka was "buchou" and Ryoma was "the pillar". But without Ryoma, Tezuka would still be "buchou". Without Tezuka, what would Ryoma be?
Since the first time that Tezuka had played him, Ryoma had been trying to figure out exactly what Tezuka wanted him to do about this pillar business. When Ryoma really thought about it (sometimes while in the bathtub or on the extremely rare mornings when he woke up early) he would wonder if Tezuka actually knew what he meant, either. It was true that he could be asking Ryoma to be the one support for the rest of the team, but Ryoma thought their teamwork should be enough for that. It also certainly couldn't mean that Tezuka wanted Ryoma to be the next buchou. He wouldn't dare take it until he was a third year... unless Momo and Kaidoh both refused it, and he would still be wary.
Ryoma just kept at what he was doing -- striving to become better and to best his father... and another rival who had made himself known over the past year. "Buchou..." he whispered as he saw Tezuka walking up, his bag slung over his shoulder. "Buchou... was there something you needed?"
Tezuka lay a steady hand on Ryoma's shoulder. "You've improved a lot."
Ryoma cast a look to the ground where he'd been crouched down moments before, lazily shredding blades of grass, as he thought. "Thanks, buchou. Now that your arm is healed, I think we're going to do just fine."
There was an odd look on Tezuka's face that Ryoma couldn't quite decipher. "We're going to miss you... but we'll all be playing as hard as we can for you." His hand was still on Ryoma's shoulder.
Ryoma thought of the U.S. Open and what a big deal it was. He still couldn't quite muster up the urge to care. "Say... when you told me you wanted me to be the pillar of Seigaku, what did you mean?"
Tezuka finally moved his hand. "I meant to do exactly what you're doing. Rise above us and keep us strong."
"You couldn't have come up with a less obscure was of saying that?" Ryoma crouched down again and picked at a few long blades. "I thought I was getting it all wrong because you just kept seeming to push me away. Maybe I was just imagining things."
From the vague look of discomfort painting Tezuka's face, he *had* been avoiding Ryoma. "It's not what you think, Echizen. I just... don't want to make you uncomfortable."
Ryoma nudged away a ladybug that had suddenly crawled on his fingers. He paused a moment after it flew away and then grabbed at a few blades of grass, forcefully yanking them out of the ground. "You couldn't even write me from Germany?"
Tezuka wouldn't respond and Ryoma just looked at him plaintively before Tezuka said tersely, "Good luck."
Ryoma let him go, not sure how to respond. He took a deep breath, wiped off his hands, and went over to practice. If the point was just to rise above and stay strong, he was definitely up for the challenge.