Prince Of Tennis Fan Fiction ❯ Hector Protector ( Chapter 5 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
AN: Aheheh… So. Yeah. I know that it has been an insanely long amount of time since my last update. I was working on getting into college, but that’s pretty much finished now, so hopefully that won’t distract me anymore. I was also distracted by an original novel that I am writing and hope to one day have published, which is currently still in the planning stages. I was hit by inspiration to write a new fanfiction, though, so updates should be coming much more quickly now, because I don’t want to start a new story before I finish this one.Dedication: This story was inspired by chapter 48 of expendable’s Changechildren.Pairings: Hints of MomoAnn, Others Undecided.Standard Disclaimer: Sugarpony does not own Tennis no Ohjisama. It belongs to the brilliant Takeshi Konomi. No copyright infringement is intended.Warnings: Mentions of child abuse and psychological abuse, course language, adult situations.
Story Notes:(1) Ore-sama- “Ore” is one way that Japanese boys refer to themselves. “-sama” is an honorific usually associated with royalty. Basically, Atobe is calling himself a king (or a god. To be perfectly honest I can easily see him doing either.)(2) koi- An honorific used to address one’s lover.
—If Wishes Were HorsesChapter Five—Hector Protector was dressed all in green;Hector Protector was sent to the Queen.The Queen did not like him,No more did the King,So Hector Protector was sent back again.-“Hector Protector Was Dressed All in Green,” a Mother Goose nursery rhyme—
Saturday was a long, aggravating day for Ryoma, and it was only half over. Morning practice had been a somewhat interesting affair, most likely due to the flashback he had had the day prior and was currently trying to forget by pushing it into the deepest recesses of his mind where he kept the names and faces of the many untalented tennis players he had defeated. Unfortunately, his teammates seemed to have an opposite frame of mind in regard to the event, for they had unrelentingly hovered over him for the entirety of practice, as if at any moment he would drop the floor in a blubbering mess. They must have thought that they were doing him a favor, but personally, Ryoma felt annoyed and exasperated.He had been able to get some rest once classes had begun, but when it came time for lunch break and he had retreated to the rooftop for a little privacy, he found himself once more spending the hour with Fuji. His senpai had chattered away at him the entire time, despite Ryoma’s best attempts at ignoring the smiling young man; the first year was still angry at both he and Tezuka for their betrayal the previous evening when they informed his father (who was still insisting that he join him in a meeting with a psychiatrist the following day) of his flashback. Ryoma had ended up storming down the stairs and returning to the safety of his classroom after snapping his chopsticks in two and abandoning the bento Ryuuzaki had prepared for him.Now afternoon practice — thankfully the last one until spring — was nearly over, and he was seriously considering ditching the remaining fifteen minutes. In fact the only thing keeping him from walking off the court and making a run for it was the knowledge that Fuji would probably chase after him without so much as a reprimand from Tezuka, who would catch up to the pair after practice was finished.Even if his friends had the best of intentions in mind, they were doing nothing to alleviate Ryoma’s fears and insecurities instilled in him by his mother. At the moment, though, this was not at the forefront of his mind. He was a petulant brat, and once he got into a bad mood he stayed there until someone forcibly snapped him out of it, which could take quite a bit of effort. And at the moment he was tired of being constantly hounded by everyone he knew. It was highly insulting, as if they did not have faith that he could take care of himself. He was fourteen for crying out loud! He had been traveling on the professional tennis circuit for the past two years! He was more than capable when it came to handling himself.Ryoma let out an irritated breath as his thoughts were proven to be true when Inui approached him after he had finished running the laps that Tezuka had assigned to him. He tried to make a hasty escape as he spied a suspicious-looking sports bottle clutched in one of the data man’s hands, but Inui’s long legs caught up to him before he had taken five steps. His senpai rested a hand on his shoulder and spun him around, anticipating any attempts to flee, and his rectangular glasses flashed a familiar gleam at him. Ryoma felt his body shudder involuntarily.“Ah, Echizen-kun,” the taller boy greeted, a frightening smile creeping onto his face, “just who I was looking for. I’ve been developing a new juice that enhances both physical and mental strength, and I was hoping that you could test it for me. You see,” he explained, not once loosening his grip on his kouhai, who was ready to bolt at the slightest given opportunity, “some researchers have recently been claiming that certain ingredients will effect not only physical performance but also the emotions that one experiences. Take, for example, the assertion that chocolate has a calming effect on those who eat it. As such, I’ve decided to do some experiments of my own, and as you are at the age where your moods will be heightened by your hormones, you are the perfect one to assist me.”Ryoma restrained himself from nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he fervently wished for any kind of distraction. Even Tezuka or Fuji would be welcomed at this point, if only to save him from the terror that was Inui’s latest concoction, which he had a good hunch was made especially for him. Unfortunately, it seemed that he would not be walking away from this encounter, for nothing appeared and Ryoma was left with no option but to drink whatever Inui had prepared.Oh, well, he thought as he bravely took the bottle from his teammate’s hand, if nothing else I can use this as an excuse to get out of practice early. And with that in mind he plugged his nose and downed the disgusting sludge, rushing for a convenient place to wait for the nausea to pass immediately afterward.Finally, mercifully, the rest of practice passed and Tezuka and Coach Ryuuzaki called all the students to Court A. The aging woman stepped forward and looked over the crowd before clearing her throat and addressing the club as a whole. “I would like to thank you all,” she began, “for your hard work and loyalty to the tennis club despite it being the off-season. I expect to see that same dedication come spring, no matter what new form of teen angst that makes me wish I had turned down this promotion comes along.” She grinned, and a round of chuckles circulated the throng.“To all of the third years, I would like to congratulate you all on your win at the Nationals and for improving so much in this short amount of time. I wish you all the best of luck after graduation.“I will announce the new buchou and fuku-buchou before the first practice of the new season. That being said, you are all dismissed!”Ryoma lingered on the courts with the other freshmen, hoping that the other regulars would tire of waiting for him to finish picking up tennis balls and leave the school without him. He easily tuned out Horio’s boasting and the random complaint and was able to momentarily relax as the mind-numbing monotony took its effect on him. The chore was soon accomplished, and Ryoma returned to the clubhouse with his classmates to escape the growing chill.Unfortunately, his deliberate dilly-dallying did not result in its desired reaction, for after changing out of his sweaty clothes he was stopped midway between the club house and the soda machine for his usual post-practice Ponta by Momoshiro, who tossed a can to his friend as he himself sipped at one of the sugary drinks. Ryoma let out a disgruntled breath as he halted in his tracks and deftly caught the beverage in one hand while his senpai approached him.“Yo,” the trickster greeted, and Ryoma stiffened as the taller boy slung an arm good-naturedly across his kouhai’s shoulders. “How about a burger run to celebrate winter break from the club?”Ryoma shrugged off Momoshiro’s grip and began walking toward the school gates. “No thanks, Momo-senpai,” he dismissed him, preparing himself for the dispute that was certain to follow.Momoshiro frowned at the younger boy and moved to follow him, not one to accept defeat so easily. “Aw, come on,” he chided, “you can’t live without some fun, na, you can’t, yo! Junk food is just what you need right now!”“I’m not hungry.”He snorted, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Yeah, right. Like I’ll buy that. You just don’t want to pay the bill. It’ll be my treat, okay? I’ll buy you as much as you want.”“I have to take Karupin to the vet.”Ryoma stopped short and leaned backward as Momoshiro was suddenly in front of him, hands on his hips and he peering at his face a bit more closely than that with which he was comfortable. “Are you sure you’re not just trying to ditch me?” the senpai asked, leaning in even further so that the two were practically nose to nose.Yes, Ryoma thought exasperatedly, although he kept it to himself, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.The two stood that way for a few seconds before Momoshiro broke out into a grin and straightened himself, clapping his kouhai on the shoulders. “Yare, yare, go on ahead if you’re that desperate. I’ll see you tomorrow, ‘kay?” Waving goodbye, his guzzled down the rest of his soda, crushed the can, pitched it into a nearby trash can, and jogged away.Ryoma tentatively began to trace his friend’s path to the exit, almost afraid to allow himself to believe that he would not be accosted by anyone else on his way out of the school grounds. Much to his dismay, he found none other than the two people he least wanted to see waiting for him just outside the tennis area. He almost turned around to hide out in the clubroom, but he really did just want to go home — and besides, the building was already locked up tight. He didn’t get more than a few steps forward before he was accosted by Fuji, Tezuka waiting ahead of them.“Finally ready to go, Ryoma-chan? I had begun to think that you had fallen in.” Fuji smiled brightly at Ryoma as he pulled up beside his senpai, continuing on his path home without acknowledging either of the other boys’ presence. Fuji ‘tsk’ed at the ill-mannered behavior. “Saa, Ryoma-chan,” he purred as he and Tezuka walked beside him, “it’s really quite rude of you to ignore us after we waited for you to finish clearing the courts so that we could walk you home.”Ryoma scowled and tightened his grip on his tennis bag. “I don’t need a baby-sitter,” he bit out at him. Fuji clucked at him again, and he and Tezuka continued to follow him despite Ryoma’s opposition, thankfully in silence. They had just turned onto the main walkway in the front of the building, however, when they were all stunned still.Outside the school gates sat parked an elegant black stretch limousine, each of its doors fancifully emblazoned for all the world to see with the Atobe family crest. A few students who had lagged behind in their respected clubs had gathered around it in awed curiosity. Ryoma’s scowl deepened as he forcibly squelched the urge to groan and palm his forehead in exasperation. Damn it, he thought angrily, now completely convinced that whatever god there was was conspiring against him, what the hell is he doing here? As there was only one way out of the grounds and it was currently being blocked off by the extravagant hunk of metal, Ryoma reluctantly resigned himself to approaching the car and finding out what it was that the self-absorbed diva wanted. The three boys approached the limousine, and most of the crowd backed off and scattered as the Ice Emperor Atobe Keigo himself stepped onto Seigaku territory.While Atobe looked around and sniffed in apparent disdain for Seishun’s facilities, Tezuka and Fuji subtly positioned themselves slightly in front of Ryoma, who frowned in response. Fuji smiled brightly as he addressed their guest. “Atobe-san! To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”Atobe nodded slightly in acceptance of Fuji’s greeting before turning his nose up and resuming his usual pompous arrogance. “Ore-sama (1) is here to speak with Echizen, and ore-sama will not speak with anyone less. The rest of you plebeians may be on your way.”Neither of the older boys moved, and Tezuka frowned slightly. “Whatever you have to sat to Ryoma-kun can be said in front of us,” he said.“ ‘Ryoma-kun,’ is it?” Atobe gracefully arched one eyebrow at the familiar form of address. “Why, Tezuka-kun, ore-sama had no idea that you were so close. Have you been getting soft on me?” Tezuka did not so much as blink at the accusation, which Ryoma chalked up to his incredible poker face, and the diva continued. “No matter. Even if you are going soft, ore-sama have something of great importance to discuss with Echizen, and it has nothing to do with you. Please do go and do whatever it is you commoners do to entertain yourselves.”Fuji chuckled a bit at the insult. “Saa, I’m afraid that we really must insist,” he told Atobe. “You see, to be blunt, we really don’t trust you with our precious little Ryoma-chan here. After all, it would be quite irresponsible of us to leave our kouhai alone in enemy hands, now wouldn’t it?”Ryoma scowled and pushed through his teammates. “I told you I don’t need a baby-sitter, Fuji-senpai,” he apprised them. “I can handle the monkey king myself.”Atobe glared at the freshman but otherwise let the jibe pass. Nonetheless, he was obviously affronted by the dig, proven by his ticking eyebrow as he gestured Ryoma into the limousine. Ryoma caught Fuji and Tezuka sharing a concerned glance as the vehicle pulled away from the school, but at the moment he could not bring himself to care.Once they were driving on on the main road, Atobe having fixed himself a drink, settled into his seat, and daintily crossed his legs, the diva turned to address his companion, who was resting his chin in his hand as he gazed out the window. “Now, Echizen,” he began, “Ore-sama am certain that you are wondering to what do you owe the honor of ore-sama’s divine presence–”Ryoma snorted and rolled his eyes, not needing to turn away from the limousine’s tinted window to know that Atobe had a scowl on his face. “Yadda,” he told him, “I really don’t give a flying rat’s ass what you want; I only came with you to get away from the mother hens.”Atobe flipped his hair and allowed his scowl to melt into a cool expression. “Ore-sama suppose that they are simply picking up the slack left by someone else.”Ryoma’s eyes narrowed in suspicion and righteous anger, and he finally turned from the window to glare the older boy. “That’s none of your business, Monkey King.”Here Atobe grinned like the cat that ate the canary in a way that was eerily reminiscent of Fuji and pounced upon Ryoma’s words. “Ah, but it is exactly my business, Echizen,” he declared, and pulled several files out of a nearby briefcase. “For you see,” he continued loftily, leafing through the papers, “Aizawa-Nakamura Legal Associates, with which I am certain you are more than familiar, is one of the many subsidiaries of Atobe Enterprises, and we at Atobe Enterprises pride ourselves upon taking an active role in both choosing our employees and maintaining our employees’ happiness at Atobe Enterprises. That, of course, includes a rigorous background check, personal visits, and, of course, a constant monitoring from a distance.“Despite all this,” he went on, having apparently found the documents for which he had been searching, as he had set most of the files aside and now held only one in his manicured hands, “Ore-sama was rather surprised when ore-sama received the tidings that a certain Echizen Rinko, one of Aizawa-Nakamura Legal Associates’ competent lawyers, had requested a leave of absence in order to pursue divorce proceedings.”Ryoma’s scowl soured, and he petulantly turned back to the window, pointedly avoiding eye contact with Atobe but keenly watching the young business man’s reflection. “So what?” he bit out waspishly. “Lots of people get divorces.”Atobe didn’t even blink. “Most people don’t rush through the proceedings, using their connections to illegally, I’m sure, bypass the mandatory mediation and push forward the court date.” Ryoma could not think of a reply to this, so he simply remained silent.“Now,” Atobe opened the file he held at an angle at which Ryoma could read its contents, “Atobe Enterprises and all of its subsidiaries is required to provide legal assistance to all of its employees. However, Echizen Rinko has refused this offer, stating that she felt confident in her abilities to represent herself. Naturally, being the heir to one of the most powerful businesses in the country, ore-sama is well versed in the signals of someone who has something to hide. So, using his many resources, ore-sama investigated.”Ryoma stiffened but otherwise refused to acknowledge that which Atobe was suggesting. It was none of his business, and even if he had suspicions, they could not be confirmed without the testimony of a select few, with all of which he was certain he had had no recent contact. Unfortunately, Atobe ignored this fact and leveled a steady gaze even with Ryoma’s in the tinted window as he asked, “Where did those injuries come from, Echizen?”Ryoma snapped his head around and glared at the boy’s smug expression, practically growling his reply. “That’s none of your business, Monkey King.”Atobe said nothing, but the smugness did not leave his face as he exchanged the file in his hand for a slightly thinner one and tossed the new folder into Ryoma’s lap. At the younger boy’s inquiring glance, he explained. “In that file you will find all of the evidence needed to prove to you that I know just exactly what goes on behind closed doors. Of course, because it is circumstantial, it would not hold up in court — and believe me, that is the only reason Echizen Rinko has not yet been brought up on charges. Atobe Enterprises, while fully supporting their proper employees, does not approve of criminal practices, especially those which undermine the importance of and endanger a family heir.”He paused, allowing Ryoma to peruse the information at hand, which did indeed give quite an accurate depiction of reality. Ryoma felt a cold weight drop into his stomach as he scanned the pages, and he was forced to set the file aside before he became physically ill at the harsh reminder of just exactly how seriously screwed up his life was at the moment. Atobe took this as an indication to recommence his monologue.“Now,” he elaborated, “while Atobe Enterprises publicly backs all employees who have not been convicted of a crime, it does not support those who are obviously guilty. And while the company is obligated to provide legal assistance to its employees,” here his grin took on a decidedly predatory quality, “there is absolutely nothing forbidding the practice of providing that same assistance to its employees opposition.”Ryoma narrowed his golden eyes once more, not liking the insinuation in Atobe’s statement. “Get to the point, Monkey King.”Atobe frowned at the name but refrained from commenting, probably for the sake of what was likely to be a business proposition. He pulled one last file from his briefcase and slid it across the car seat to Ryoma. The younger boy stared at it for several seconds, debating whether or not to look at its contents, before deciding that he might as well get it over with so that he could leave the presence of the pompous teen (who had apparently told his driver to take a roundabout way to Ryoma’s home, because they had yet to arrive at the temple), and reluctantly opened the folder. After briefly scanning the papers inside Ryoma’s scowl deepened again, and he flung the file back at Atobe. “Even if what you’re suggesting is true, I refuse to accept a handout, and I most certainly don’t want to owe anything to a monkey.”“Why you brat! Ore-sama have gone to the trouble of procuring the most outstanding of my own personal lawyers in order to benefit your case, and you dare to turn down my help? !”The vehicle finally rolled to a stop, and Ryoma hastily shouldered his tennis bag and climbed out of it and walked through the temple gates, but not before throwing one last jibe over his shoulder. “You know, you should really do something about that tick in your forehead, Monkey King, or you’re going to get premature wrinkles.” He snickered as the diva was left floundering, and moments later he could here him screeching “ORE-SAMA DO NOT HAVE WRINKLES!”—As Ryoma was mindlessly eating his takeout dinner that evening, he was both surprised and disgusted when his father informed him of a rather disconcerting fact.“I was approached by some kid with an ego the size of Mt. Fuji today,” he said casually, not even pausing in devouring his meal. “He said something about being Rinko’s boss and wanted to help us with our case. Had some big shot lawyer lined up for us.”Ryoma sighed tiredly and set his chopsticks on the table, having suddenly lost his appetite. Stupid monkey doesn’t know when to give up, he though absently, resting his head next to his food.“I told him to mind his own business and just exactly where he could put that fancy-shmancy lawyer of his.”Thank kami for small favors.There were no more words for the next several minutes, but Nanjiroh eventually paused his feasting and hesitantly spoke again. “You know,” he began, and Ryoma was slightly afraid of what was going to be said, for his father was never hesitant about anything, “I’m going to court later this week. I know it’s really soon, especially since I haven’t even filed my case yet, but apparently Rinko’s convinced a judge to skip the mediation clear a day on his schedule for us. But anyway, I don’t know if you wanted to come to the trial or not, but I think that it’s best if you don’t. So… yeah.”Ryoma didn’t even lift his head from the table to reply. “Yeah, whatever. I don’t really care.” That, of course, was a bold-faced lie. It seemed that these past few days his mother was the only thing that he could think about, no matter how he tried to distract himself. It would creep into his mind at the most inopportune moments, and everything around him only served to remind him of his troubles even more forcefully.Nanjiroh did not call him on his fib, but he did bring up another topic that Ryoma would do almost anything to avoid. “We’ll need to leave around noon tomorrow, so be sure that you eat lunch early.”Ryoma groaned and covered his head with his arms. “Oyaji, I’m not going to see that quack tomorrow!”He could hear the frown on his father’s face as he admonished his son. “Seishounen, I really think that you should at least come and meet her with me. I mean it, Ryoma– hey, where are you going? Seishounen!”Ryoma ignored the monk’s calls as he trudged up the stairs and into his bedroom, locking the door behind him. He bonelessly flopped face down onto his bed, slinging an arm around Karupin as he climbed next to him onto the bed, and went to sleep, fed up and determined to ignore his problems until the following morning.—Nanjiroh sighed as he cleared off the dinner table. Truth be told, he was more than a little nervous about the trial. If Rinko had been able to persuade a judge to forgo the mediation it was quite likely that she could influence his decision regarding custody of Ryoma. Nanjiroh could only hope that his bringing up the issue of child abuse would negate that bias. The Japanese valued their children as family heirs much more than Americans did, which was why child abuse so rarely occurred; not to say that it didn’t occur at all, but it was much scarcer in Japan than it was in the Western countries. Unfortunately, the fact that he and his wife were divorcing pretty much made the heir thing null and void; it only counted for married couples.Perhaps he should not have been so hasty in refusing Atobe’s offered assistance, but Nanjiroh hated owing anything to anyone, a trait which he had passed on to his son. Besides, if he could not protect his son on his own, then what kind of father was he?Nanjiroh sighed again and scratched the top if his head, rubbing one foot along the opposite leg. This whole ordeal was much too troublesome and stressful for his liking. Maybe some of his precious magazines could help him to relax…—Sunday passed with much door pounding, bribing, and pleading, but Nanjiroh eventually gave Ryoma up as a lost cause shortly before five o’ clock that evening, leaving the boy to sulk behind his locked door. The next morning hailed the beginning of school without tennis practice, and Ryoma could not be more grateful for it; no more coddling, no more worried stares, and best of all no more demonic Inui Juices! He arrived at his class just before the late bell rang, and he spent lunchtime hiding in the library in place of the rooftop, his usual haven, successfully avoiding the unwanted attention of his senpai-tachi from the tennis club. He sought refuge amongst the bookshelves once more when the students were permitted to leave for the day, and he finally left the grounds an hour later, highly satisfied with the day’s work.Once he had escaped the brick prison that is high school, Ryoma headed for the street courts, where he spent a solid two hours pounding tennis balls into the walls and ground before ultimately returning home. As he quietly stepped inside the residential part of the temple and toed off his shoes, though, he barely had time to call out a soft “Tadaima” before being verbally assaulted by his father.Nanjiroh raced into the entry way as soon as the door slid shut, arms crossed over his chest, a glare in his eyes, and looking for all the world like an angry housewife who had just learned that her husband was having an affair. “Where the hell have you been? !” he shouted, and Ryoma flinched and shrunk back a bit at the unexpected behavior from his laid-back Oyaji. “School let out hours ago, and I know that you don’t have tennis practice anymore!”“I-I was at the street courts–”“Then you should have called and told me! You have a cell phone; use it damn it! I even called up Tezuka-kun and Fuji-kun, only to find out that they hadn’t seen you all day! I was just about to call the police!”“G-gomen nasai, otousan! Gomen nasai!” Ryoma was on his knees now, forehead touching the floor in a low bow, begging for forgiveness. He should have known that Nanjiroh would eventually realize that Rinko was right, that Ryoma was a waste of space, nothing but trouble, a monster that didn’t deserve to live, but he had allowed himself to be fooled by the kind words, gestures, and reassurances he had recently made.The boy stayed in his position for several long moments, eyes tightly closed, shaking slightly in fear of whatever his punishment would be, before he heard his father sigh in what he assumed to be disappointment. He felt the man bend down to kneel beside him and tensed in anticipation, but he started in surprise when a hand gently lay on his head and began petting his hair in a soothing motion. Ryoma remained as he was until his father moved his hands onto his shoulders, sat him up, and then placed one hand under his chin to gently lift his head in an attempt to catch his gaze, but the boy kept his eyes averted until Nanjiroh gently admonished, “Ryoma, look at me.”Ryoma hesitantly stared directly into his father’s eyes and was shocked to find not righteous fury but sadness and an apology in them. His eyebrows knit together in confusion, and Nanjiroh sighed once more. “I’m not angry with you, Ryoma,” he told him. The adolescent felt a response form on his lips, that he should be angry with him, that he didn’t deserve forgiveness, that he had every right to get rid of him and be done with it, but the man continued before he could voice his thoughts. “I was worried,” he elaborated. “I thought that something bad had happened to you. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have yelled at you. But please call me and let me know where you are if you’re going to be home late, okay?” Ryoma nodded, and Nanjiroh enveloped him in a sudden hug.The father and son sat in an awkward silence for a few minutes after Nanjiroh pulled away. Finally, Ryoma broke the quiet and said, “Ano (Um), I’m going to get a bath, it that’s alright, tousan.”His father’s face drooped a little at the title, but he nodded and said, “Go ahead. I’ll have dinner ready when you’re done.” He paused before adding, “I still want you, you know. You’re my son, and no matter what you do, I’ll never stop wanting you.”Ryoma headed up the stairs and into the bathroom, dropping his sweaty clothes on the floor before sinking into the hot water once the bathtub was filled. He allowed himself to relax at last, but he knew that it was going to take a long time for him to stop believing everything that his mother had said about him… if he ever did at all.—Nanjiroh sighed as he pulled out two packets of ramen, setting a pot of water to boil on the stove. He really needed to go shopping while Ryoma was in school tomorrow — and learning how to cook probably wouldn’t hurt. Nanako-chan and Rinko always did that kind of thing. And speaking of Rinko, he scowled, I really have a bone to pick with the woman. She completely screwed over our son. I hope she…At that moment the pot boiled over, and Nanjiroh began muttering profanities under his breath the likes of which were not fit for human ears, though whether it was due to the mess or his rage at his wife he was uncertain.—School the next day was a repeat of the previous one, although Ryoma was asked to stay after classes in order to tutor Ryuuzaki Sakuno in English. Normally he would have complained before grudgingly accepting his duty as the most advanced English speaker in the school — including the teacher — but as he would have been skulking in the library anyway, he did not kick up a fuss about it, although he was sure to phone home to inform Nanjiroh that he would be at the school until further notice and that he would call again when he was leaving. At the moment, though, he really was regretting not refusing when he had had the chance.Ryoma sighed, leaning back in his chair as he massaged his temples with one hand. “We’ve been at this for nearly two hours, Ryuuzaki. It’s really not that difficult.The auburn haired girl chewed guiltily on her eraser. “I’m sorry, Ryoma-kun!” she cried, frustrated nearly to the point of tears. “If you could just explain it one more time, maybe…?”Ryoma let out another long-suffering sigh and pointed to one of the books lying open on the table between them. “Who is used in the subject of a sentence or phrase, which means that there is a verb following it. Whom is used in the object of a sentence or phrase, which means that there is no verb following it.”“So,” Ryuuzaki slowly said, “number eight would be The winner was the girl who painted the portrait?”“Yes!’’The girl smiled brightly at her tutor and wrote the answer in her notebook. “I think I’m getting the hang of it! Thanks Ryoma-kun!” She hummed happily as she continued working on the assigned problems. After a few minutes, though, she quieted and paused in her furious scribbling. “Ano, Ryoma-kun,” she began hesitantly, not looking away from her homework, and the boy in question turned to her.“Nani?” he asked, intense golden eyes staring at the top of her head. “Do you have another question?”“No, I just,” she said, and Ryuuzaki blushed in embarrassment, “I just wanted to know if everything is all right with you.”Ryoma’s eyes blazed, and he scowled. It figures, he thought, that no matter what I do, I can’t get away from stupid overprotective worrywarts.Hai,” he hissed irritatedly. “You can tell senpai-tachi that I’m fine.”Ryuuzaki’s face reddened even more, but she glanced up on his, giving him a confused expression. “Wh-why would I tell that to senpai-tachi?” she questioned.Ryoma rolled his eyes in annoyance and turned away from the girl. “Because I know they put you up to this,” he explained.Realization dawned on her countenance, and she set down her pencil in order to fully plead her case. “But they didn’t, Ryoma-kun,” she insisted. “I know that they’ve been worried about you, because yesterday Fuji-senpai and Tezuka-senpai came looking for you during lunch, and today Eiji-senpai and Momo-chan-senpai came, but they left when they saw that you weren’t there. And I know that Obaa-chan (Grandma)’s been worried, too, but she won’t tell me why. But you haven’t been acting like yourself lately, Ryoma-kun, and I tried talking to Tomo-chan but she didn’t know what I was talking about, so I thought that maybe I should just ask you and if you needed to talk about anything you could, I mean, you don’t have to, but I though I’d let you know that if you wanted you then I would listen and–”Ryoma interrupted the girl, who had not yet realized that she was rambling (How can still still be breathing? he idly wondered). “I’m fine,” he repeated, then continued, a bit confused, “but if senpai-tachi didn’t put you up to it, then why do you even care?”Ryuuzaki blushed to the tips of her ears this time, but she looked down shyly and twiddled her thumbs, saying, “Well, Ryoma-kun, you’re my friend. I-I,” here, her face began to darken into a purplish shade, “I c-care about you, and I’d be really upset if anything bad ever happened to you.”Ryoma continued to stare at her, perplexed, as she resumed working on her English assignment. Ryuuzaki… cared about him? But why? Sure, he gave her tips on improving her tennis, but her grandmother was a coach; she made a living helping people get better at the game. He was helping her learn English, but he wasn’t doing anything that a teacher or even another tutor couldn’t. Still, she told him that she would be sad if anything bad happened to him…Half an hour later the duo was leaving the library. They parted at the front gates, but before he left, Ryoma called out to the girl. “Ne, Ryuuzaki,” he said, pulling his cap over his face, “I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, either.” He heard her gasp and saw her flush happily but left before she could respond.Che, he thought as he dialed his home phone number, since when am I so sentimental? Baka senpai-tachi must be rubbing off on me…—Nanjiroh pulled at his collar, loosening the tie that uncomfortably encircled his neck. He absolutely hated suits; they were stiff and itchy and were way too close to the sportsman’s skin for his liking. Unfortunately making a good impression was extremely important, and he needed all the help he could get. The judge that would be deciding the fate of him, his wife, and his son would be entering the room at any moment, and for all Nanjiroh knew the man had already made his decision.Ryoma was at school, probably sleeping through his English lesson at that very moment, and that was exactly where Nanjiroh wanted him to be: as far away from Rinko as humanly possible. Tezuka and Fuji had strict orders for them to keep a close eye on him all day and for one of the two to drag the boy home with him and keep him there until Nanjiroh himself came for him by any means necessary. He wasn’t taking any chances. Even if he won full custody, the judge’s ruling would mean less than nothing if Rinko got her hands on Ryoma and disappeared with him.The woman in question was currently sitting next to him, but both he and she were doing their best to ignore one another’s presence. She had papers laid out on the table, and Nanjiroh could not help but feel that they would be nothing but trouble for him. He did not have long to contemplate this, however, for the judge walked into the room and settled across from the couple.He was a middle-aged man with average height and weight and slightly graying hair. He gave Rinko a nod of recognition as he sat but otherwise made no friendly gesture to the lawyer. “I am Judge Ariyashi,” he introduced, “and I will be deciding whether or not your relationship merits a divorce and, if it does, to whom custody of Echizen Ryoma will be given.”Nanjiroh frowned slightly at his words as a question was raised in his mind. “Demo, Ariyashi-san,” he voiced, “we both are in agreement that we want a divorce. Shouldn’t this case just be about custody?”Ariyashi shook his head negatively. “Once a divorce case is brought to trial, all decisions are made by the presiding judge regardless of the participants’ opinions. This is because the couple has been unable to compromise and make the decision for themselves, so instead it is made for them”Nanjiroh deflated a bit. He hadn’t realized that, by taking Rinko to court, there was a chance that their right to a divorce would be denied. He could only hope that the abuse charges would put the judge in favor of approving the divorce.“Now,” Ariyashi continued, “we will begin by having you each tell me why you believe you do or do not deserve having a divorce and, if a divorce would be granted, to whom you believe custody should go and why.“Rinko-san, would you start, please?”The woman nodded and sat straighter in her seat. “I initially did not want a divorce, but I have come to realize that our differences are too great for us to continue on with our relationship. As proof of this, I am going to tell you something that is a bit embarrassing for me.” She paused, her face gaining a pinkish tinge, and Ariyashi nodded encouragingly to her. “Nanjiroh and I…” She coughed slightly, clearing her throat. “We haven’t had sex in nearly six months.”Here Ariyashi interrupted before Rinko could continue. “And is there a reason for this, Rinko-san?” he queried.“Hai,” she elaborated, “Nanjiroh refused me every time I came to him.”Nanjiroh reddened angrily at this statement, but he could not deny it. Even so, both members of the quarreling couple were at fault, not only he himself. While it was true that he had denied Rinko each time she came to him after he learned of her actions toward Ryoma (he had felt as if he no longer knew his own wife and was uncomfortable at the thought of having sex with her), he had overcome this when things appeared to be returning to normal. In addition, there had been many times when Nanjiroh had gone after Rinko and she had refused him, claiming that she was too tired or not in the mood because of work. He opened his mouth to explain this, but he was stilled by the judge. “You will have your turn, Nanjiroh-san, and you can defend yourself then,” he told him. Nanjiroh scowled but slouched in grudging acceptance.“At any rate,” Rinko continued, stubbornly ignoring her husband’s reactions, “I’m ready to accept a divorce, but if it is granted I want full custody of my son. As much as it pains me to say this (Nanjiroh barely suppressed a snort), Nanjiroh really is unfit to care for a child.” She pushed forward the documents in front of her and began pointing things out as she explained them. “As you can see, Nanjiroh has not worked at all since he quit the professional tennis circuit nearly fifteen years ago, and he has no education past high school. He spends his days lazing around reading porn magazines, occasionally following around our son or playing a tennis match, and he has no domestic skills whatsoever. He is not qualified for the responsibility that comes with raising a son.”She relaxed in her chair, signaling that she was finished, but left the papers for Ariyashi to peruse. The judge spent the next few minutes reading whatever was written, but he soon set them aside and gestured for Nanjiroh to speak.Nanjiroh nodded jerkily and began his rebuttal. “First, let me just say that I’m not the only one who’s been refusing to have sex.” He leveled a glare at Rinko, who merely sniffed disdainfully. He was not giving up without a fight. “The reason I want a divorce is the same reason that she cannot have custody of Ryoma no matter what. Rinko has been abusing my son.” Ariyashi raised an eyebrow in interest and leaned forward slightly, wanting to hear the entire story. And so Nanjiroh began to tell this complete stranger everything that had gone wrong in his life. He told him of when he first discovered that his wife had been both physically and verbally abusing their son. He told him of how she had promised to stop and he had foolishly believed her. He told him of how less than a week ago he had found Rinko attempting to kill the boy, and he told him of how the next day Ryoma had attempted to kill himself. Finally he slumped in his chair, suddenly both mentally and physically exhausted.Rinko didn’t even blink. “Obviously he is lying because he wishes to separate me from my son.” She sighed and turned a heavyhearted face to her husband. “Do you truly despise me so, Nanjiroh-koi?” (2)Nanjiroh said nothing.Ariyashi straightened, and the married couple redirected their attention to focus on the judge. He cleared his throat and declared his verdict. “I have no problem with declaring your marriage to be annulled. Both partners have been denying sex, which pretty much makes the wedding a moot point.“As for the matter of child custody, I have decided that at this moment I am unable to ascertain which course of action will be best for the child in question. As such, there will be a one month trial period of full custody with no visitation rights for each parent, beginning with Takeuchi-san. Echizen-san, if you are unable to obtain a job with a steady income before Takeuchi-san’s month is up then full custody will be awarded to Takeuchi-san.” He saw Nanjiroh open his mouth to protest but continued before he could comment. “Unfortunately, Echizen-san, you have no evidence to back up your claim of child abuse, which means that I must discard it. However, at the end of the two months there will be a revisitation of this case, at which point I will request Ryoma-san’s presence. I will then make my decision based on the information I gain from his school’s home visits and Ryoma-san’s testimony. Echizen-san, if you wish to continue your claim of child abuse, I must insist that you either have evidence or are able to convince Ryoma-san to testify against Takeuchi-san.“Case dismissed.”—Atobe Keigo frowned at the words in front of him. This would not do at all. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and resolved that the Echizens would have his assistance, whether they wanted it or not.—Ryoma was sitting at Fuji’s desk doing his homework when the doorbell rang. He did not look up as he heard his senpai’s older sister (he thought her name was Yumiko, or something like that) descend the stairs and answer the front door. He gathered his things when she to him that his father was there and it was time for him to leave, ignoring Fuji as the older boy shadowed him. As he reached the doorway he felt his stomach drop and twist violently at the sight of the monk’s solemn expression. Suddenly his mouth went dry, and all of his irritation at the people around him evaporated. Something was very very wrong.The short car ride home was silent and tense. Neither father nor son spoke as they stepped out of the vehicle and entered the temple grounds which were darkened by the night. As they went into the house Ryoma moved to head to his bedroom but was stilled by a light hand on his shoulder. He paused and stiffened, waiting anxiously for his father to speak.“Pack your things,” he said simply. “Your mother will be picking you up from school tomorrow to take you home with her.” He removed his hand, and Ryoma listened to him walk into the kitchen, rummage through the refrigerator and crack open a beer before resuming the climb to his room.He had known that it wouldn’t last. He had known that things would eventually return to normal. He had known, and yet he had still allowed himself to hope that they would stay as they were.His hope was dead.After all, he didn’t even deserve to have hope.—Echizen– no, Takeuchi Rinko, she reminded herself, smiled as she settled into her bed for the night. I won’t be Takeuchi Rinko for long, she told herself. Soon that demon will be gone, and with it its hold on Nanji-chan. She turned on her side to the empty space before her, imagining her love’s smiling face. And them Nanji-chan will be here beside me, where he belongs…AN: Ooh… ominous ending. Come on, you didn’t really think that Rinko would make things easy for our boys, did you?I researched divorce proceedings in Japan as best I could. I hope that I was able to represent them well enough. Everything said about divorces and child abuse in Japan is, from what I can find, actual fact. The links to where I got my information are in my bio. If anything is wrong, please let me know! Same goes for child custody, which will have a much larger part in this story starting now.I really hope that I’m conveying the different things Ryoma’s feeling and how he’s trying to sort out and deal with everything. He’s going through something that’s extremely traumatic, so he may be feeling one thing but trying to ignore it, or he may have sudden mood swings or feel different things at different times. Please let me know if I’m showing this properly.Please let me know what you all think of this chapter. It took me a long time to work it all out, so I’m really looking forward to reading your thoughts on it.-Sugarpony—Chapter Completed: 4/29/08, 2:07 AM
Chapter Four
There's a neat little clock