Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for freshman abuse.
Summary: Echizen, Kaidoh, Momoshiro, Oishi, and Yamato, but not Tezuka.
AN: Once in a while I write something that I just have no idea where it comes from.
Five Times Tezuka Kunimitsu Wasn't Captain
"Echizen-buchou," Kachirou said reproachfully when the freshman's lower lip began to tremble. Echizen gave a little grunt and reached up to tug at his cap, not pulling it down, just like it was a habit he couldn't break.
"Fine," he said, crossing his arms. "Ten laps. And don't…and be more careful."
"Ryoma," Kachirou started, touching Echizen's shoulder lightly, but Echizen shrugged him off, shoving his hands in his pockets as he walked over to pick up his racket where he'd dropped it when the other freshman's shriek had rung across the court.
Sakuno was kneeling on the court next to him, in her tennis uniform and late for practice. Tomoka was nowhere to be found, shirking her official manager duties and no doubt in the bushes somewhere with Horio.
Who was about to get two years worth of lap-running experience whenever he did finally show up.
"Is he okay?" Echizen asked. The other freshmen were still standing around anxiously, interrupted in the middle of swing practice by the injury, and thankfully finally shorter than Echizen.
"It just startled me," Arai-kun said, and who knew Arai-senpai could possibly have such a soft-spoken little brother? "Minami-kun didn't mean to hit me with his racket, Echizen-buchou. It was my fault, I was standing too close."
"He'll just have a bruise," Sakuno assured Echizen, ruffling Arai-kun's head and pushing to her feet. "It's fine, isn't it?"
"Fine," Echizen repeated, rubbing his wristband over his eyes to wipe away the image of Arai-kun clutching his elbow, white-faced. "Forty more swings for all of you, and fifty for Minami-kun when he finishes his laps."
"Yes, captain!" the freshman chorused, and Echizen drew a slow breath through his nose and released it at the whoosh of rackets cutting the air.
Kaidoh really hadn't minded when that idiot Momoshiro had been named captain. In a way it had been a relief, since it didn't matter whether or not he hissed at the new freshman or that he ducked out of practice just a few minutes early to train with Inui-senpai when their schedules didn't quite match up.
Of course that had all gone out the window when that idiot had broken his ankle, not during the two-hour match he'd played again Hyoutei's Hiyoshi to secure one of the four spots at Nationals, but tripping down the stairs over one of his sister's dolls.
"I'll be back in two weeks!" Momoshiro-ex-buchou was shouting over the static of his phone, the line stretched thin with the distance from Kantou to Chiba. "My ankle's doing fine, just fine! And I won't be a hairdresser!"
"Take some more pain pills, you dolt," Kaidoh grumbled, the phone pressed tight between his ear and shoulder while he tried to rifle through all the tournament forms. Good thing he'd had lots of practice with that.
Momoshiro kept talking though, about physical therapy and how the food was there and how Saeki-kun even came to visit him and then asked a lot of weird questions about Fuji-senpai and did Kaidoh think Echizen would come and visit this weekend, since it wasn't really that far by train, not really that far at all…
"We've got a tournament this weekend!" Kaidoh snapped, just as the forms spilled out of his hands and into a heap at his feet. Kaidoh sighed at them, too tired to even snarl properly. Outside, some second years jogged past the window, laughing breathlessly, and Kaidoh smothered the urge to join them, to run and run and not stop.
"I know," Momoshiro said, "I know." He sounded just as tired as Kaidoh. He sounded very far away.
Kaidoh tried to remember the last time he'd played in a tournament that Momoshiro hadn't played in. Tried to remember what it felt like to be on the court without Momoshiro hollering his name and a lot of other ridiculous drivel. Tried to remember when being Singles Two had seemed like the most important thing in the whole world, much more important than being Doubles Anything.
"Hurry up and get back," Kaidoh finally grunted. "I'm signing us up as Doubles One again Rikkai."
"I'll be there," Momoshiro promised, some of the distance gone from his voice. "I'll definitely be there. And then Nationals, Viper, Nationals!"
Nationals, Kaidoh's eyes closed and his lips moved, Nationals.
"Too careless, too careless!" Momoshiro shouted from the next court over as Kaidoh's snake shot slammed into the left corner, Arai two inches short of it no matter how much time Echizen spent with him working on his split-step. "Doesn't look like you plan on leaving doubles anytime soon!"
"As a matter of fact…" Arai started, then cut off as Kachirou put a hand on his arm and handed him a water bottle. Kachirou turned to fix Momoshiro with a look that still made Momoshiro look away and rub the back of his neck even now that Kachirou's bowlcut was a thing of the past.
"Doubles is just fine, Momoshiro-buchou," Kachirou said evenly, and Momoshiro clambered out of the ref's chair to hide his chagrin. It seemed to work just fine until he heard a "Che" behind him and turned to find his vice-captain slouching at him smirkily.
"Too smirkily by half," Momoshiro grumbled, and Echizen just smirked harder.
"Doubles One, eh, Momochan?" Echizen asked. "Predictable."
"That's Momochan-buchou, shrimp." Momoshiro reached out to muss Ryoma's cap, just to remind him who was taller. "Momochan-buchou, Singles One."
"Work hard, Momochan-buchou," Echizen knocked his hand away, tilting his head back to see Momoshiro's face from under the bill of his cap. "Seigaku fight-o. And Hiyoshi-kun hasn't lost to anybody yet this year."
"Not yet," Momoshiro cracked his knuckles, grinning, "Not yet, right?" Then he paused. "Say, who told you that?"
"Good data," Kaidoh said, strolling by them with his racket on his shoulder, "you idiots."
For the first week, things had gone much smoother than Oishi had feared. It was weird to be the one stepping on the court when everyone's heads were turned, weird to see the half-second of disappointment smooth off all their faces. But it was okay, for the first week. Everybody did their best to help out, to keep practices running smoothly as they prepared to face Jyousei Shounen.
After a little while though…well, things had just gone back to normal. Somebody had to keep Momoshiro and Kaidoh from fighting every five minutes, somebody had to keep count of how many swings the freshmen had really done, somebody had to keep Taka-san from practicing until he broke his wrist and Fuji from sneaking off with Echizen to…Oishi wasn't sure exactly what, but somebody had to keep it from happening.
"Oishi-senpai," Kaidoh said, staring at his sneakers and teeth clenched tight, "I can't play doubles with that idiot, I just can't. He won't stop breathing."
Funny how Oishi had always thought of those things as his job, not as vice-captain but just as Oishi. He hadn't realized how many things and people he'd been keeping track of until his head was too full of blocks and tournament registration and photocopies to hold together all those usual thoughts as well.
"Oishi-fukubuchou," Horio kept glancing nervously over his shoulder, "you told us to tell you if Inui-senpai tried to test anything on us, but you didn't say what to do if it was Momochan-senpai dressed up like Inui-senpai…"
It was a lot to remember, too much even with Ryuzaki taking on most of the paperwork that Tezuka usually filled out as a matter of course. There were practices to schedule, and training activities to design, and first years staring at Oishi like he knew the secrets of juice avoidance, and…
"Oishi," Kikumaru laid a hand on Oishi's shoulder, his other hand holding his tennis bag, "don't stay too late, nya?"
It was getting dark by the time Oishi did finally lock up, fireflies hovering low on the grass and streetlamps coming on. Oishi decided to walk home, the air cooling after the heat of the afternoon sun, and when he slid his hand into his pocket, he found his cell phone, cold against his fingers from the aircon.
"Oishi." Tezuka didn't sound very surprised when the line connected with a click, and Oishi looked sheepish even though there was no one around to see him. "How are you?"
Oishi opened his mouth, but what he found himself telling Tezuka was how Momoshiro had taught the freshman to balance their rackets on their fingertips, how Eiji had run twenty laps with no whining at all, and how Inui had increased the speed of his serve by two kilometers.
"I knew about that last one," Tezuka interrupted gently, and Oishi chuckled despite the burst of loneliness in his chest. "But you haven't answered my question. How are you?"
"I'm fine," Oishi said, then realized that…he kind of was. "It's weird, but…ah, it's fine."
"That's good," Tezuka said, and Oishi heard the echo of Tezuka's voice, the only noise in his room in Kyushu. "I have physical therapy."
"I'll let you go." Oishi ducked his head a little, then remembered Tezuka couldn't see him.
"Work hard. Don't let Momoshiro dress up like Inui."
"Tezuka!" Oishi exclaimed, laughing, but Tezuka had already hung up. Oishi's phone was still in his hand when it rang, and Oishi looked down to see Inui's number blinking on his screen. He thumbed the 'accept' button and put it to his ear. "Inui-kun?"
"Ah, Oishi." Inui's voice was low and steady, ready for the long haul. "I had some information to discuss with you about the upcoming Jyousei Shounen match…"
Oishi let Inui rattle off serves and opponents and figures until the bus came, and then hung up without saying goodbye and smiled because he was starting to feel just a little bit like a captain after all.
"About that freshman," Ryuzaki said when they were finished penciling all the names in the blocks for the regular's tryouts.
"Yeah," Captain Yamato answered, tapping the eraser of his pencil onto the block that was smudged so that the new name on it was slightly less legible than all the others. He blew the eraser bits off the paper. "It's a shame. A real shame."
Ryuzaki nodded, and they went to pin the blocks up on the board.