Categories > Anime/Manga > Prince of Tennis

White Chocolate

by xanos 1 review

Momo finds that he gets along with Atobe entirely better than he expected. Eventual Atobe/Momo, past Momo/Ryoma. Mild slash, obviously.

Category: Prince of Tennis - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance - Characters: Momoshiro Takeshi, Other - Published: 2005-10-19 - Updated: 2005-10-19 - 10191 words - Complete

Author's Notes: Written for Kira (miracula) as a belated birthday present last year.
Disclaimer: The boys belong to Konomi Takeshi, not me; I'm not making money off of this.


When Ryoma left, Momo's world fell apart. Years before, when he hadn't known Ryoma, he would have laughed to think of his world being destroyed by the absence of one boy. Somewhere along the way, though, between tennis practices and entrance exams, he'd fallen in love with the younger boy.

So, when Ryoma left, Momo's world fell apart.

He really should have expected it, he realized later. Ryoma had never been fully comfortable in Japan, and he felt he needed the challenges that America offered. Still, Momo had never once thought that he'd up and leave, with barely a backward glance. For Ryoma, their relationship was something comfortable, but not life-consuming. For Momo, it was something else altogether.

For the first week after Ryoma left, Momo stayed in his room. It was summer break, and without school or tennis practices to distract him, he was free to wallow in his pain. His parents worried, but they were busy; his younger siblings were confused, but their lives didn't change much. He felt alone.

After that week, he emerged from his room, but he rarely smiled and never laughed. Oishi worried, as Oishi was apt to do, and even Eiji was sympathetic. He played tennis, and, while it didn't fix everything, it made life seem closer to normal.

Months passed, then a year, and while he still hurt, the pain had faded to a dull ache in his chest. Some days, he received mail with an American return address; those days, he locked himself in his room. The days after, however, he was back to normal, if a bit haunted looking.

When Momo was in his second year of high school, Oishi surprised everyone by transferring to Hyotei. Seigaku, he explained, just didn't have the courses he needed to get into medical school. While his friends - and the tennis team, suddenly lacking a captain - missed him, they still saw him on a regular basis, and life continued on as normal.

On Oishi's seventeenth birthday, his friends decided to throw him a surprise party. As this involved people from both Seigaku and Hyotei, it was decided by Inui that a joint committee should be formed. As the third-years were incredibly busy and Kaidou wasn't exactly the kind of person that was good at planning parties, Momo was elected the Seigaku representative.

The Tuesday after that, Momo walked into the coffee shop that Inui had declared the official meeting spot and looked around. He didn't know who he was supposed to be meeting, but the Hyotei uniform was noticeable, and they were far enough away from both schools that it was unlikely more than one Hyotei student was there.

Still, his eyes widened when he saw a rather familiar figure sitting in one of the corner booths. Of all the students in Hyotei, Atobe Keigo was the person he'd least expected to find waiting for him. There was no mistaking that hair, though, or the aura of ego surrounding the booth.

Momo looked around to make sure he wasn't missing any Hyotei students before walking over to the table. He slid in across from Atobe, noting the look of slight surprise on the other boy's face.

"Yo," he said by way of greeting. "I take it you're the Hyotei half of this joint committee?" He hoped his voice didn't sound anywhere near as awkward as he thought it did. He'd only ever exchanged a few words with the Hyotei tennis captain, and they hadn't exactly been polite.

"Aa, though I was expecting Kikumaru," Atobe said, calmly sipping his coffee.

Momo nodded. Most people had expected Eiji to be the one in charge of this - Oishi was his boyfriend, after all - but Eiji just didn't have the time right then. Like the rest of the third years, he had university entrance exams to study for, as well as club activities. He'd sulked when Inui, who had somehow become the main coordinator of their little group, had pointed this out, but had finally agreed to let Momo go instead.

"He had other responsibilities," Momo replied, glancing over the menu. This place was expensive, but good - or so he'd heard. It was definitely above his current budget.

"I already ordered two white hot chocolates," Atobe said smoothly, "I hope you don't mind."

Momo looked up in surprise, then shrugged.

"Never had it before, actually," he said. "I'm willing to try it though. Er, thanks."

Atobe nodded, then looked up and thanked the waitress as she placed two cups of steaming white hot chocolate in front of them. Atobe handed one to Momo and took a sip of his own before speaking.

"So, we are to coordinate Oishi's friends at Hyotei with Oishi's friends at Seigaku, correct?" he asked.

"Correct. We need to figure out a time that works for everyone involved, and let everyone at both schools know what's happening without having Oishi-senpai get suspicious," Momo said, practically reciting Inui's words from earlier that day. The Seigaku data specialist had given Momo a quick rundown on what he would be planning, and had told him specifically not to screw up - something Momo felt was rather insulting.

He looked at his cup of hot chocolate as he waited for Atobe's response. He had never seen white hot chocolate before, although he rather enjoyed regular hot chocolate. He took a sip and was pleasantly surprised by the taste. It was a bit more buttery than the stuff he was used to, but good.

"Well, when is Oishi's birthday, exactly?" Atobe asked. "I suppose that's where we should start."

"Oishi-senpai's birthday is April 30th," Momo said. "Inui thinks it would be best to have it on a weekend, rather than after school, to give everyone a bit more time." He took another sip of his hot chocolate and wished he didn't feel quite so awkward around the Hyotei third year. The few times he'd met Atobe before, he'd either been pissed off at him - the thing with Ann-chan - or in awe of his tennis skills - the match with Tezuka. Sitting across from him in a coffee shop was an entirely new experience.

"I'm sure I can schedule around a party, and I trust that Inui can do the same. I'll check with everyone and see if they have any conflicts, although I think the 26th would likely be the best date," Atobe said, and then finished off his hot chocolate and wiped his mouth. He looked at Momo.

Momo nodded, looking back at Atobe. "I'll ask around as well, then," he agreed, also finishing off his hot chocolate. "And I'll talk to Inui about scheduling when we figure out a date."

"Then, shall we meet here again next week?" Atobe asked. "We can exchange information and continue planning."

"Sure, that'd be fine," Momo said, hoping that Atobe didn't expect him to pay for the hot chocolate - this time or next.

"I'll see you next week, then," Atobe said, and got up to walk towards the cash register. He paid, then came back to stand next to the table.

"By the way, whatever happened to the first year brat on your team? Echizen Ryoma, I believe his name was."

Momo promptly knocked over his empty cup. Most people avoided bringing up Ryoma around him - and everyone at Seigaku avoided bringing up his absence. Even those who didn't know the specifics of their relationship knew that talking about Echizen Ryoma around Momoshiro Takeshi was a bad idea.

Atobe, however, knew nothing of this, and was therefore asking a perfectly reasonable question, Momo told himself.

"He, er, left," he said finally, picking the cup back up and trying to force himself to relax. "He went back to America."

When he looked back up at Atobe, he found the other boy looking at him with a raised eyebrow, but no other indication of surprise at either Momo's words or his reaction.

"Aa," he finally answered. "I'm sorry to hear that."

With that, the Hyotei captain turned around and left. Momo sat in the booth for a while longer, trying to avoid thinking of Ryoma's absence. He hadn't thought of him in so long that he was almost surprised to find out that it still stung, and was quietly glad that Atobe hadn't questioned further. Realizing that he'd been sitting in the booth on his own for longer than intended, he, too, got up and left.

Their meeting the next week went much the same, although it was longer, as they'd actually reached the planning stage. Momo found himself a lot more comfortable around Atobe the second time around, as he knew more or less what to expect from the other boy, and was rather surprised to find that Atobe actually seemed to want his input on things.

Atobe had ordered white hot chocolate again, and had almost laughed when Momo had sheepishly apologized for mooching. They decided on the 26th as the date for the party, but had somehow ended up sitting around and talking for a while after they'd run out of party details to discuss.

Atobe, although his ego was still very apparent, had mellowed slightly since middle school, Momo found. He was genuinely curious as to what the Seigaku regulars had done since middle school - even though the two teams were in the same area, they rarely played each other. Momo was equally curious as to what some of the Hyotei players were up to, and they managed to talk for over half an hour before Atobe had excused himself.

Momo pondered this development as he walked home. Somewhere, under the ego and stuck-up exterior, Atobe had a nice side, he finally decided. After all, Oishi-senpai was friends with him - sort of friends, at least, from what Momo could tell. Also, hadn't Atobe sided with Shishido during that whole thing with the now-well-known doubles player being kicked off the team? Momo was sure he'd heard about that somewhere, although he couldn't remember where any more.

Still, it wasn't as if they were friends. Acquaintances, maybe, but definitely not friends. They merely had a few common interests and knew a few of the same people. Being friends with Atobe Keigo just crossed over the line of things Momo considered weird.

The week passed quickly, and Momo once again found himself sitting in the coffee shop, waiting for Atobe. While he was usually a bit late, class had ended early that day, and he'd found himself at the coffee shop half an hour before the agreed upon time.

He had just checked his watch for the third time when their usual waitress stopped by his table.

"Is your boyfriend running late?" she asked, smiling as she set down two cups of white hot chocolate.

Had Momo been drinking at the time, he would have choked to death. As it was, he merely turned bright red and made a noise he later described as "a choked squeak."

"He's - we're not - he's not my boyfriend!" he yelped, trying to convince his lungs that they really did like to intake air.

Of course, Atobe had to choose that moment to walk up to the table.

"Who's not your boyfriend?" he asked, looking rather amused.

The waitress ducked away before Momo had a chance to kill her.

"You aren't," he answered, still blushing brightly.

Atobe raised an eyebrow as he slid into his seat.

"Did she assume I was?" he asked.

Momo nodded and stared at the table, trying to wrap his mind around the situation. He couldn't figure out why the waitress had assumed that he and Atobe were dating. They certainly didn't act like a couple, from what he could tell - they didn't hold hands or smile sickeningly sweet smiles at each other. Momo blushed even harder as his mind supplied a rather scary image of him and Atobe holding hands with hearts floating by.

"Well, that's certainly new," Atobe finally commented, then took a sip of his hot chocolate. "I wonder why she thought that."

Momo just shrugged and tried to block the entire thing from his thoughts. He succeeded quite well, and they spent the rest of their time working on party planning - the party was only half a week away, and they were in the process of buying supplies and handing out responsibilities.

Momo was surprised at how well they worked together. His opinion of Atobe was shifting slightly every time they met, and he was starting to see why the other boy was such a respected and adored tennis captain. Atobe's planning skills were incredibly useful, and Momo's ideas were often adopted and adapted to fit the overall plan. Things just seemed to flow smoothly, and neither of them had any doubt that the party would be a success.

Indeed, the party was a success. Oishi was truly surprised and had gone bright eyed when Momo had made a little speech about him. Though the two schools were a bit wary of each other at first, having only faced one another across a tennis court, everyone was getting along by the end of the night, and Atobe and Momo were both pleased with the outcome.

Momo had overheard a few comments on how well he seemed to be getting along with Atobe, and had smiled slightly each time. They were getting along, he realized, although he still wasn't sure if he would consider Atobe a friend. He also wasn't sure if Atobe considered him a friend - and he certainly wasn't about to ask.

The party wound down after a while, and people drifted off in twos and threes. Oshitari was practically carrying Gakuto - he and Eiji had somehow ended up in an acrobatics competition in the middle of the living room, and had eventually ended up lying on the floor, exhausted. It had been declared a tie by the amused bystanders.

Momo waved goodbye to Inui and Kaidou as they left and turned to look back at Atobe. Oishi was cleaning up the pile of wrapping paper next to his chair, and Eiji was stretched out on the couch, yawning. Atobe was standing near Momo, finishing a glass of sparkling apple juice.

"Do you need any help cleaning up, Oishi-senpai?" Momo asked.

"No, thank you. You can leave off the 'senpai' now that we're no longer in school together, Momo," Oishi answered, looking up at Momo. "And thank you again for planning this. You too, Atobe."

Momo blushed a bit.

"It was no problem, really," he answered. Atobe echoed his sentiments.

"Well, thank you both anyway. I'm glad that everyone got along tonight, and I think that was mostly due to you two."

Before Oishi had a chance to continue, Eiji interrupted him.

"Yeah, thank you~nya. Sorry I couldn't be more help, Momo," the red-haired boy said, sitting up and draping himself over the back of the couch. He stifled a yawn and Momo smiled.

"It was fun, Eiji-senpai," he answered. "We'd better take off now, it's getting late. Happy birthday, Oishi-se...Oishi!"

"I'm glad you enjoyed the party, and I hope you have a happy birthday," Atobe added as he followed Momo to the door. "See you in school."

Momo took a deep breath as he and Atobe strolled down the walkway. It was a cool, clear night, and the air had the smell of spring in it. He nodded goodnight to Atobe at the end of the walk, and they headed in opposite directions.

Sunday came around, then Monday, and then it was Tuesday again, and Momo found himself missing the white hot chocolate at the coffee shop - and, though he was unlikely to admit it, Atobe's company as well. He counted the change in his pocket and decided he'd head over to the coffee shop anyway. Even if he couldn't afford the white hot chocolate, he could probably afford a small pop or something.

The waitress spotted him as he walked in the door, and she hurried over with red cheeks.

"I'm so very sorry for last week," she said, bowing to him. "I shouldn't have made that assumption."

Rather than the embarrassment he'd felt at the time, Momo now found the entire misunderstanding rather amusing. He laughed and assured the waitress that she was forgiven.

"Oh, good. I was so worried for a while when you didn't show up today - he's already here waiting, and I thought that maybe your absence was my fault."

Momo's eyes widened in surprise as the waitress said that Atobe was already here. Apparently he hadn't been the only one who had missed the hot chocolate, he thought. He thanked the waitress and once again reassured her that nothing was her fault before walking over to the usual booth.

Atobe was indeed waiting for him, with two cups of white hot chocolate and a rather amused smirk.

"I was wondering when you'd show up," the Hyotei captain said, pushing one of the cups across the table to Momo's waiting hands.

"How did you know I'd come?" Momo asked as he picked up the cup. It was slightly cool, but still warm and delicious.

Atobe laughed.

"It's the hot chocolate," he said, gesturing to his cup, "It's addictive."

Momo smiled at him. He still wasn't sure what to think of this date - not date, he corrected himself quickly - this meeting, but somehow the day wouldn't have seemed right without it. He'd gotten used to seeing Atobe once a week, as strange as that seemed.

He didn't think he could explain this to anyone, if they asked. It was just that, well, Atobe was actually kind of nice to be around. They still annoyed each other every so often, but most of the time they got along. Atobe had a biting sense of humour that often surprised Momo, and Momo found himself thinking of Atobe as a friend more and more often.

Their weekly meetings continued, although as the weather got warmer, they often had lemonade instead of hot chocolate. Momo had once managed to drag Atobe out for bubble tea, which Atobe had never tried before. His expression upon first encountering a tapioca bubble was well worth the smack to the head that Momo got for laughing, the Seigaku player decided.

Although they often discussed tennis, they only played a few times - both considered their not-dates to be breaks from playing. They never ran into anyone they knew while they were at the coffee shop, something that both were quietly thankful for. Somehow, Momo felt, anyone finding them would take something away from these meetings.

Months passed, and summer vacation came and went without much of a change in their routine. Atobe's family had gone to their summer home in Hawaii for a week, but that was the only date they missed that summer. School started again, and they were both more likely to bring homework, but they still met up almost every week.

Often, when one couldn't make it, the waitress - Mei-chan, as she had introduced herself to Momo one day - would come and sit with the other. She was nice, if a bit ditzy at time, and somewhere along the line she also became their messenger.

Over time, their conversations changed. At first, they'd stuck to neutral subjects - tennis, mutual friends, the weather, etc - but after the first month or two, their conversations shifted onto more personal stuff, like school, and home. Momo hadn't noticed this slight change until Atobe mentioned something about his parents wanting him to get a girlfriend.

"It's rather stupid, really - I think they want me to settle down, get married, and start working as soon as I can," he said, looking annoyed. "I don't think they get that-"

Momo looked up from his pie - he'd had a bit of pocket change that day - and wondered why Atobe had stopped.

"They don't get what?" he finally asked, when Atobe didn't seem to be planning to continue.

Atobe remained silent for a second.

"Nothing, I just don't see myself settling down with a girl," he finally said.

Momo blinked, wondering if he was interpreting Atobe's statement correctly. It wouldn't surprise him if he was - the other boy had a fan club filled with pretty girls that he practically ignored - but he still wasn't sure.

"Anyway, enough about that. I heard from Tezuka the other day," Atobe said, then stopped for a second, unsure if what he was about to tell Momo was a good thing or not.

"Oh? Buchou? How's he doing?" Momo asked. Even though Tezuka had stayed in Germany and was no longer the captain of the tennis club, most of the old Regulars still referred to him as "buchou". It was just too weird otherwise.

"He's doing well, I think. He had some news I thought you might want to know," Atobe said, "Apparently Echizen's coming back to Japan for a while."

Momo, who had been about to take a sip of his lemonade, promptly dropped the glass and went pale.

The lemonade spilled all over the table, but Momo didn't notice, even as Atobe quickly grabbed some napkins to clean it up with. Echizen was coming back - right when Momo had finally gotten over the pain from his absence. He didn't know what to think. On one hand, it would be nice to see his former best friend - boyfriend - whatever they'd been. It had been a long time, and they hadn't really talked since Echizen had left. On the other hand, he really didn't know what he felt for the other boy any more, but he knew it would hurt like hell to see him again.

Realizing that Atobe was still talking, Momo forced himself to snap out of his thoughts and pay attention.

"...playing in an international tournament here in Tokyo next month. I thought you should know, as..." and Atobe trailed off.

"As?" Momo asked, amazed he could still get his voice to work.

"I don't know what you two were to each other, but judging by your reaction the one time I asked about him, it was more than just team-mates. I thought it would be better for you to hear it from me, rather than run into him on the street or something," Atobe said, looking at Momo.

Momo nodded blankly, his mind still whirring incoherently. Atobe was right, of course, to tell him. Still, it was a shock, and not a good one.

They both went home after that, as Momo wasn't exactly in the mood for conversation. He walked home in a daze and barely heard his mom welcome him home. After dropping his stuff on the floor, he collapsed on the bed, wondering if there was some way he could go into a coma for the next month or so.

Echizen. Back in Tokyo. It didn't seem possible, somehow. When he'd left, Momo had waited and waited for him to return. Time passed, and somehow, Momo realized, he'd stopped waiting. It just seemed like Echizen was gone, permanently. Maybe it was easier to think of it that way, rather than to face the idea of Echizen coming back.

Still thinking in circles, Momo slowly drifted off to sleep and, a while later, woke with a start as he fell off the bed, landing none-too-gently on a pile of CDs on the floor. He could remember dreaming, vaguely, something to do with Atobe and Ryoma, and feeling highly uncomfortable the entire time. Climbing back into bed, he wrapped the blankets around him and stared at his clock, which was happily telling him that it was 4:46 am.

Being awake at this time of the morning really sucked, Momo decided as he watched the numbers on the clock tick by one after another. There was nothing to keep him from thinking, however incoherently, about the past and present and future. Oddly, he found his thoughts focussing more and more on Atobe, when he fully expected to think about Ryoma instead.

But, no, it was Atobe he was thinking about. Momo still couldn't define their relationship - even thinking about it as a relationship struck him as strange - as he was sure it wasn't, exactly, friendship. Being with Atobe was nothing like being with Eiji, or any of his other team mates and friends. It wasn't like being with Echizen, either, when they'd been just friends.

Being with Atobe wasn't comfortable, exactly. He enjoyed it more than he was willing to admit, but it wasn't comfortable. There was always a bit of a challenge there, a slight, well, thrill. It was partly the fact that their meetings almost seemed like sneaking around - no one else knew about them, as far as Momo knew, and they both seemed to be intent on keeping it that way. It wasn't that they felt embarrassed by it, although Momo was sure that Eiji would enjoy teasing him if given the chance. It was just that it was something private.

That wasn't what made it thrilling, though, Momo thought. It wouldn't have been the same if it had been anyone else, because they wouldn't be Atobe. Momo knew his thoughts weren't making much sense, but he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to think about any of this too clearly. As it was, he was getting a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach.

He tried to think about anything else - tennis, hamburgers, the test he'd had in math the week before - but always ended up back at Atobe.

"That's it, I'm going back to sleep. This is ridiculous," he said to himself, rolling over and burying his face in the pillow, "I'm acting like my sister does when she likes a boy."

With that, Momo finally fell back asleep, hoping he didn't have any more unsettling dreams. His night had been bad enough as was.

The next few days at school were torture, as he wasn't sleeping well and couldn't concentrate during class. Inui noticed it first, which didn't really surprise Momo, and asked him about it during practice.

"Er, nothing's wrong, really," Momo said, not entirely sure he was telling the truth, "I've just been having weird dreams recently."

"Maybe you should ask Yumiko-neesan about them," commented Fuji, who seemed to have the uncanny ability to appear out of nowhere, "She's quite good at interpreting dreams."

Momo jumped a bit, then thought about it. He really didn't feel like talking to Fuji's older sister - the entire family struck him as rather strange, and he couldn't really remember any details from his dreams anyway.

"Thanks for the offer, but I can't remember anything," he said, hoping they'd just let the subject drop. He didn't particularly feel the need to tell them about Atobe letting it drop that Echizen was coming back. They'd probably want to know details, and having to explain about his weekly not-dates with Atobe was not something Momo wanted to do.

Luckily for him, some of the first years came up to ask some advice, and he got out of answering any annoying questions. He went back to his own practice, forcing himself to focus on what he was doing and not his thoughts. It worked better than he'd expected, and the end of practice seemed to come quickly.

He showered and changed back into his uniform, planning to bike home and possibly start on the history assignment he had due next week. Of course, he thought as he packed up his stuff, he was more likely to end up playing DDR, but it didn't hurt to consider homework.

His phone trilled at him as he turned it on, letting him know he had a text message waiting. He expected it to be from his mother, as she often asked him to pick up groceries on the way home, but it was from Atobe instead.

"If you're not busy this evening, call me," read the message, in a nice no-nonsense font.

Momo stared at it for a moment, blinking. That was unusual - aside from their weekly meetings, they didn't usually talk. For Atobe to message him now, and with something that sounded oddly like it was going to turn into an invitation, was, well, really weird.

Still, he called Atobe as he walked towards the bike racks, glad that no one was around to overhear his conversation. Atobe answered on the second ring, as usual, and Momo smiled a bit as he heard someone that sounded like Gakuto in the background ask Atobe who was calling him. Apparently Hyotei's practice had just ended as well.

"Afternoon," Atobe said, apparently leaving the changing room, as the background sounds faded out.

"You wanted me to call?" Momo said, leaning against his bike and waving to Arai and Kachiro as they left.

"No, I just sent that message to mess with your head," Atobe answered, then continued, "Actually, I was wondering if you'd like to do something today."

Momo rolled his eyes at Atobe's first comment, although it didn't piss him off nearly as much as it would have a few months before.

"Something? Like what?" he asked, refraining from commenting on how strange this was.

"I'm not entirely sure yet. My mother's having a dinner party and, very politely, told me to go away. I decided it would be rather more interesting with company," Atobe replied.

Momo nodded, then blushed a bit when he realized Atobe couldn't see him. He could understand Atobe's reasoning, but, still, "Why didn't you invite one of your team mates to do something?" he asked without thinking.

There was a pause on the other end, and Momo mentally kicked himself for the question.

"If you're not interested, I'm sure I can find someone else," Atobe said smoothly.

"No, no, I am interested. I was just...never mind. So, what are we going to do?" Momo asked, hoping to distract Atobe from his question.

"As I said, I'm not entirely sure yet," Atobe replied, and Momo could just see him shrugging as he answered. Atobe's shrugs, he thought, were nothing like the quick, jerky movements that other people called shrugs. Atobe's shrugs were fluid and elegant, conveying far more than just a lack of answer. "We could go for food, or see a movie, something like that."

Momo blinked and shot a curious glance at the phone, as if it could answer him. Although the way Atobe had phrased it made it seem like a casual meeting, the things he suggested were, well, almost date-like. Not that it was a date, Momo quickly reminded himself. It was

"Er, sounds fine," he said, realizing Atobe was waiting for some sort of reply.

"I'll meet you at the usual place at 6, then," Atobe said, and hung up without waiting for an answer.

Momo looked at the phone for a minute, then shrugged and tossed it in his bag. No matter how much it sounded like one, this wasn't going to be a date, he told himself firmly, ignoring the little voice in the back of his head that was wondering what it would be like to go on a date with Atobe. It was just hanging out, like they always did. Even if, he thought, it did happen to be a movie instead of hot chocolate. It wasn't that much of a difference, right?

Still, five o'clock found Momo staring at his closet, wondering what to wear, and wondering why he was wondering what to wear. It wasn't as if Atobe was taking him to some fancy restaurant or anything, he told himself. It was just a movie. It didn't matter what he wore. That decided, he pulled out a t-shirt and pants, comfortable but not overly casual. He was wondering if he should ask his sister's opinion when he realized he was obsessing again.

"What is it about Atobe that makes me do that?" he wondered out loud as he looked around for a clean pair of socks. It always felt like he needed to prove himself to the other boy. He finally decided it had something to do with Atobe's family or something, found a pair of socks, and left the house, yelling a quick goodbye to his parents.

He arrived at the cafe at quarter to six, much to his amazement. While he was rarely as late as Ryoma, he'd only been early a couple of times before. He chalked it up to good luck with the buses and settled down to wait. Mei-chan skipped up a couple of minutes after he sat down, setting down a glass of lemonade in front of him with a smile.

"Oh, thanks, but we're not having anything today," Momo said, a bit embarrassed.

"That's okay, it's on the house," she said, and slid into the seat across from him. "I was wondering what you were doing here today."

Momo sipped his lemonade for a bit before answering.

"We're just meeting here before heading out somewhere," he said, half-watching the door as he spoke. Somehow, he knew Atobe would be early - he always was.

Right on cue, Atobe walked through the door and looked directly at Momo, who stood up and said his goodbyes to Mei-chan.

"You're early," Atobe said, not bothering to say hello first.

Momo shrugged a bit and nodded.

"I had good luck with buses," he replied as they left the café. "So, have you decided where we're going yet?"

"Well, dinner first, because I'm hungry and I highly doubt you had time to eat a proper meal after practice," Atobe answered, setting off at a quick walk down the sidewalk. He was still a bit taller than Momo, but they matched paces well, and Momo felt comfortable walking next to him. Neither of them talked as they made their way towards the restaurant, but the silence was one of contentment, not awkwardness, Momo felt.

They reached the restaurant after a few minutes of walking, and Momo was relieved to see that it was more of a family place than a businessman place. The waitresses were all perky young women, and the customers all seemed to be enjoying their food. Momo's eyes lit up as he spotted hamburgers and ice cream at various tables in the place, and he heard Atobe laugh beside him.

One of the bouncy young waitresses showed them to their table and handed them their menus before disappearing. Momo flipped to the hamburger section and spent the next few minutes debating between the double hamburger and the bacon cheeseburger, while Atobe looked at the real meals.

"So, what was so bad about this dinner party that you escaped?" Momo asked after the waitress had come by to take their orders and collect the menus.

Atobe looked slightly annoyed.

"My mother throws very fancy, high-class dinner parties about once a month. She usually tries to convince me to go to them - you've heard my opinion on them before - but, due to my, hm, lack of proper behaviour last time, she's planning on exiling me every time she throws one," he answered, smirking slightly.

Momo raised an eyebrow. "You? Lacking proper behaviour? What did you do, use the wrong fork?"

"Actually, I told Nakaguchi-san that not only would I not date her daughter, I would pity the man she marries. I suppose adding that my dislike of her daughter had nothing to do with the fact I don't like women didn't help the situation either," Atobe explained without changing his expression.

Momo blinked as he absorbed this information. While Atobe's sexual orientation had never really come up in conversation, he'd always assumed Atobe was straight. There had been that one time that Atobe had mentioned something about not settling down with a girl, but he'd just written off as something he'd misinterpreted.

Actually, he thought as Atobe paused, it was more surprising that Atobe had actually said that to someone. He'd seen Atobe during some rather ugly moments, but he'd never seen him be anything less than polite to people he was supposed to respect. It was kind of funny, once he thought about it.

"I can see why your mom wasn't too happy about that," he said, looking rather amused. "I almost wish I'd been there to see the reactions."

Atobe laughed slightly and nodded. "The reactions weren't really worth watching," he replied. "Just a few shocked looks and a lot of whispering."

He paused and took a sip of his water, absent-mindedly nudging the lemon along the rim as he did so. Momo watched him, suddenly aware that he was sitting across the table from Atobe Keigo of all people, and discussing dinner parties. It seemed rather surreal. Surreal and almost hypnotizing, he thought as he watched Atobe's fingers on the glass. The were lovely fingers, long and tapered and elegant, as he expected them to be. Still, there were calluses from the years of tennis, and one nail was chipped slightly. Momo smiled when he saw that.

"Is my water really that fascinating?" Atobe drawled, causing Momo to snap his head upward and blush slightly. Atobe looked like he was about to ask another question, but changed his mind and just looked amused instead.

"Er, yeah," Momo answered, rubbing the back of his neck and willing the red to fade from his cheeks. He didn't know why he was blushing, but he didn't like it.

"So, that's the reason behind this dinner outing," Atobe said when it became apparent that Momo wasn't about to elaborate. "I'm rather hoping mother decides I'm not fit for any dinner parties whatsoever." He looked at Momo, blue eyes holding a hint of amusement in them. "I hope you don't mind a few more spontaneous dinner dates."

"Er, no, I don't," Momo answered, trying not to stare back. His stomach felt fluttery for some reason, but he put it down to hunger. He was pointedly ignoring Atobe's use of the word "date" in reference to their time together, as he was sure Atobe wasn't intentionally implying anything.

"As long as you're still paying," he finished with a grin. Atobe rolled his eyes but nodded, then focussed on something over Momo's shoulder.

"Our food is about to arrive," he announced, moving his glass over to the side. Momo did the same, and a few seconds later the waitress placed his bacon cheeseburger in front of him. Atobe thanked her as she put down a platter of some sort of fancy spaghetti in front of him.

"Itadakimasu," Momo said quickly, wanting to get to the eating part as soon as possible. He half-heard Atobe echo him as he dug into his burger, which was hot and juicy and quite possibly the best cheeseburger he'd ever had. He could see why Atobe liked this place.

They ate in companionable silence, Atobe occasionally shooting Momo annoyed looks when Momo got a little too voracious in his eating, and settled back contentedly when they finished.

"Thanks," Momo said, unsure if he'd thanked Atobe for taking him out for dinner yet.

Atobe smiled and Momo's stomach did the fluttering thing again. He frowned slightly, wondering if he was coming down with something, but was distracted when Atobe started talking.

"I'm not sure if either of us have room for dessert," he said, eying their mostly empty plates, "but this place has wonderful cherry pie. I suppose we could always get some to go, but it wouldn't be as fresh that way."

Momo perked up at the words "cherry pie". He loved desserts, and if Atobe considered it good, it had to be good. Atobe had incredibly high standards, after all.

"We could share it?" Momo suggested without thinking. He realized a second later that it could be taken in a slightly suggestive manner and was about to continue with some sort of reasoning when Atobe nodded.

"I hadn't thought of that. Of course, we'll share a piece," he decided, lifting his arm to summon the waitress. She walked over and Atobe ordered one piece of cherry pie a la mode, with two forks, please.

The pie was wonderful, as Atobe had said, and even if Momo found it a bit strange to be sharing dessert with him, it was certainly worth it. If he stared a bit longer than was strictly necessary at Atobe licking a bit of stray ice cream off his fork, he certainly didn't notice, although Atobe may have.

Wiping the last bit of ice cream off his lip with a napkin, Momo sat back in the cushy booth and sighed, stretching slightly. He was warm and full, and was feeling rather content with the world at large. The strange feeling in his stomach had faded and he'd forgotten about it, preferring instead to focus on how good the pie had tasted. Atobe, too, looked rather content - but then again, Momo thought, Atobe often looked rather content. He just looked a slight bit less smug about it this time.

After a few minutes of contented digesting, Atobe glanced at his watch and raised an eyebrow.

"What?" Momo asked, sitting up slightly from his sprawl. His own watch had been thrown in the wash by his little brother and hadn't survived the experience.

"It's later than I realized," Atobe answered. Momo blinked and looked out the window, surprised at just how dark it had gotten over the course of their meal. He slumped when he realized this meant he had to walk a lot longer than he liked in the dark, as one of the buses he usually took had stopped running by this time.

Atobe noticed his slump and quickly figured out its cause.

"I'll get my driver to take you home," he said, pulling out his cell phone. "It's not much of a detour."

Momo was a bit taken back by the offer, but managed to nod and thank Atobe anyway. Atobe made a quick call and they were picked up a while later, just as Atobe finished paying the bill. Momo was slightly intimidated by being in a car driven by a chauffer, as he was used to bussing and biking everywhere, but he certainly wasn't about to complain.

He said his goodbyes as the car pulled up in front of the house and hopped out, hoping neither of his siblings had noticed. They'd definitely be full of questions if they saw him getting out of a fancy car, especially since he'd just said something about dinner when he was leaving.

Luck was not with him, it seemed, as Rie and Kenichi were waiting for him in the entranceway, practically bouncing with excitement. They bombarded him with questions as he tried to take his shoes off, and only stopped when Momo's mother walked out of the kitchen, yelling at them.

"Leave your poor brother be for a minute!" she said, shooing them off to wait in the living room. Momo thanked her quickly and tried to sneak off to his room, but was firmly told that he'd better answer his siblings' questions or he'd get no rest.

Rie was the first to pounce on him when he trudged into the living room. She bounced off of the couch and over to stand in front of him, looking entirely too perky for it to be good. It took all of Momo's courage not to turn tail and run - he loved his siblings, he really did, but that didn't mean he wanted to be interrogated by them.

"So, does niisan have a rich girlfriend he's not telling us about?" Rie asked, ignoring Kenichi's mumbled protests about asking boring stuff.

Momo raised an eyebrow at her. "No, and why would you think that?" he asked in return.

"Well, you went out for dinner, and you dressed nicely - for you, at least - and you got driven home in a fancy car. If it's not a rich girlfriend...then maybe it's a rich boyfriend! Am I right?"

Momo squawked and turned bright red. It had been bad enough when Mei-chan had assumed that, but his little sister doing it was even worse. "No! Not a boyfriend either! Why do people keep assuming that?" he said, ignoring the weird looks his mother was giving him from the doorway.

"Maybe because you go on dates with him?" Rie suggested. Momo was starting to wonder if she was doing this just to make him squirm. It wouldn't surprise him.

"They're not dates," he said, trying not to twitch. "It was just dinner. His mom kicked him out of the house for the evening, okay?"

"Then why did he invite you? He could have eaten on his own, right?"

Momo was starting to wish he was an only child. He wasn't dating Atobe, even if the Hyotei player had called them dinner dates, and even if his sister's arguments almost made sense.

"Would YOU want to eat dinner on your own?" he countered. "It would have been boring!"

Rie paused for a moment, then switched tactics.

"Well, if it wasn't a date, why did you actually put effort into your outfit? I saw you, you know. You had half the clothes from your closet on your bed," she said, grinning at him.

"I-- That's-- No fair!" Momo finally said. "I didn't know where we were going, okay? I wanted to look decent!"

"Right, sure, I believe you," Rie said, her grin widening. "Niisan's got a boyfriend, niisan's got a boyfriend!" she chanted, then paused and smirked. "Have you kissed yet?"

Momo was saved from having to answer that by Kenichi running over and interrupting the teasing.

"Rie-neechan asks boring questions. I wanna know about the car! It looked like an import! Was it? Did it have a driver? What colour were the seats?" he babbled.

Momo opened and closed his mouth a few times, looking rather like a guppy, then turned to his mother with a rather stricken expression.

"Help?" he said, ignoring the continuing chanting and questioning coming from behind him.

His mother looked entirely too amused with the situation, but she looked at Rie and Kenichi and called, "Okay, you two, you've tortured Takeshi long enough. It's time for bed."

They whined for a bit, but went upstairs anyway, with one last taunt from Rie that made Momo's blush return full-force. He collapsed on the couch, feeling rather like he'd just been in a battle - and lost. His mother gave him a few minutes to recuperate, then shooed him upstairs to finish his homework.

Apparently Atobe's mother had, indeed, decided to ban her son from any further dinners, as Momo started getting calls every couple of weeks. He got a few strange looks from team mates, and Eiji in particular seemed curious as to who kept calling him, but he somehow managed to change the topic every time. Rie was harder to put off, but he continued to protest, correctly, that Atobe was not his boyfriend and that she really needed a new hobby.

Momo's life was getting busier by the day, with school, tennis practice, dinners out, and all the other things that came up, and he'd almost forgotten that Ryoma was going to be in town in the next few days. He was harshly reminded when Inui brought it up at a club meeting the week of the tournament.

"I'm sure you're all aware of the big tournament this weekend," he started, ignoring Momo's sudden look of shock, "and I assume you're all planning on going. What most of you probably don't know is that Echizen's going to be in it. I was hoping we could make this a club outing - it would give us a chance to see him, as well as being a chance to see some of the world's best tennis players."

Momo was sure he'd gone pale when Inui had started talking, but everyone else who'd been on the original Seigaku team was too busy talking to pay much attention. He saw Fuji glance over at him, unusually serious, and forced himself to smile. It didn't fool Fuji, he knew, but he hoped it would work well enough on everyone else. He really didn't want to deal with their pity right then.

Inui dismissed them all, and Momo walked to his bike, breathing a sigh of relief that he'd made it through that without too much difficulty.

"Momo?" Fuji asked from right behind him, causing Momo to jump a bit.

"Fuji-senpai! You surprised me!" he said, turning around and grinning a bit sheepishly. He was always slightly disturbed when Fuji did that.

"Will you be alright?" Fuji asked, not smiling for once. Momo didn't have to ask what he was talking about.

"I'll be fine," he said shortly, then smiled apologetically. "Don't worry about me. It's nothing, really."

Fuji gave him a look that clearly said that he didn't believe him, but refrained from any further comments on the subject.

"Give Atobe my regards next time you see him," the prodigy said as he walked off, leaving a rather stunned Momo behind to wonder how, exactly, Fuji knew he still saw Atobe. He finally decided that Fuji had some sort of magical powers that extended past tennis and into other things, as there was really no other explanation.

Momo spent as much time as possible playing tennis up until the tournament. It was an easy way to avoid thinking about Ryoma, and something he enjoyed as well. The tournament itself, however, was unavoidable, and Saturday afternoon came with no convenient apocalypse, much to Momo's disappointment.

He met up with the rest of the Regulars at the tennis park's entrance, and wasn't really surprised to see Inoue and Shiba there as well. They'd kept a close eye on the players they'd followed through junior high, and Momo greeted them politely.

As they walked towards the courts, Momo saw a few familiar faces from his years of tennis. Fudomine was there, and he greeted Ann-chan warmly, much to Kamio's annoyance. Ann subtly kicked her boyfriend in the shin before he could start a fight, and the two schools merged into one group as they arrived at the fence around the courts.

The matches were amazing, Momo knew, but he just couldn't concentrate. He was torn between wanting to see Echizen and wanting to leave before anyone noticed, so he wouldn't have to deal with it. The latter was quickly winning out as the hours passed. Momo knew, somehow, that this wouldn't - couldn't - end happily, and he really didn't want to get hurt all over again. He had been happy right up until Atobe had mentioned Ryoma's impending return to Japan.

Atobe. Momo surfaced from his thoughts and looked around. Hyotei had to be here somewhere, they wouldn't miss a tournament like this. Momo wouldn't have been surprised if at least one member was playing. Atobe had been invited, but had declined due to his already busy schedule. Even if Hyotei as a whole wasn't there, he expected Oishi to show up, if only to see Echizen.

If Hyotei was around, Momo decided a few minutes later, they were either somewhere out of his sightlines or doing a very good job at blending in with the scenery. A few other teams had joined them, including St. Rudolph's, much to Fuji's joy. He was currently standing next to his brother, happily discussing the matches. Momo was a bit surprised to see that Yuuta, while not looking overjoyed, seemed to be a lot more comfortable in the situation than he would have been a few years back. He supposed time changed everyone.

Momo was about to wander off and get a drink when he heard Inui call out, "Ah, Echizen, we're over here!"

He froze in place, unwilling to turn and look towards Inui and, presumably, Echizen as well. While he couldn't see him, his former boyfriend's voice came through loud and clear.

"Yo, senpai-tachi," he said, sounding older, but otherwise the same.

Some little voice in the back of Momo's mind was praying that this was all some kind of screwed up dream and that he was really still in bed after hearing about this from Atobe. He knew it was real, though, no matter how much he wished it wasn't. Slowly, he turned around.

Echizen hadn't changed much in the last year and a bit. He was still short, something that Momo knew annoyed him, and he still looked bored with everyone around him. Momo watched distantly as Eiji glomped onto "o-chibi-chan", babbling happily, and was hauled off by an amused Inui. Everything seemed almost normal, for a few seconds, until Echizen turned to look at him with the same even glare he gave everyone else and Momo's stomach sank to his shoes.

"Sorry I never called or anything," he said, shrugging a bit. "I was busy. You probably were too. Anyway, it's not like it mattered much, right?"

"'s okay," Momo heard himself reply, wondering how he was managing to say this when it felt like the world had just crashed down around him. He'd always known that he was the one who was pushing the relationship, but he'd never known just how little Echizen really thought of it. "I have been busy. Don't worry about it."

With that, he turned and walked away, ignoring the confused look Eiji was giving him, and the annoyed hiss from Kaidou. Fuji just looked at him seriously for a minute before turning around to start a conversation with Ryoma and get everyone's attention back.

He'd been really stupid, Momo thought, wandering aimlessly across the park. He should have known that the relationship didn't mean anything to Echizen. It wasn't tennis. That should have been enough for him to notice. He'd tried so hard, though, and fallen so hard that he was blind.

All that time spent hurting, and it was all for nothing.

Momo collapsed under a tree, not noticing his surroundings, and tried to think about anything other than those painful words. "It's not like it mattered much," indeed, he thought bitterly. It mattered enough to me that it broke my heart.

He was so absorbed in his own distressed thoughts that he failed to notice Atobe's presence until the other boy actually waved a hand in front of his face.

Momo yelped and jumped, then stared up at Atobe with wide eyes. For a second, he didn't recognize him as the Atobe he knew, but rather saw the Atobe of junior high.

"What the hell do you want?" he snarled, and then buried his face in his hands as Atobe visibly recoiled.

"I'm sorry - I'm...sorry. You caught me at a bad time," he said, not looking up.

He felt Atobe sit down next to him and unconsciously moved towards the warmth.

"I noticed," Atobe said dryly, looking over at Momo with a worried expression. "I take it you ran into Echizen, then."

Momo nodded, folding his arms over his knees and resting his chin on them.

"You could say that," he replied, still not looking at Atobe. "I was stupid. I should have... I shouldn't have ever thought it meant anything."

Atobe raised an eyebrow. He'd never seen Momo like this, not even when he'd first mentioned Echizen's return to Tokyo. It worried him.

"Obviously it didn't. Why would it have? He probably just went along because he didn't have a reason not to," Momo continued, practically forgetting that Atobe was listening, "He didn't care. Why would he? Why would anyone?"

He was quite literally pulled from his thoughts when Atobe reached out and turned Momo to look at him.

"You're being stupid right now, Momoshiro," he said, staring at him with piercing blue eyes. "Of course it meant something - to you, if not to him. You shouldn't belittle yourself this way. It's not becoming."

Momo blinked at him, then paused, then blinked again as the absurdity of the situation hit him full-force. Here he was, being depressed because of something that had happened years ago, and getting sympathy from Atobe Keigo of all people. It was insane, he decided, and started laughing. He kept laughing even as his laughs started to sound precariously close to sobs, and it took Atobe's arm reaching around him and pulling him close to snap him out of it.

He looked up, a puzzled expression on his face, as Atobe held onto him, his arm warm across Momo's shoulders.

"A...Atobe?" he asked, seriously confused by this development.

The fluttery feeling he'd started to associate with Atobe returned, stronger than ever, as he looked up into Atobe's face. The other boy was only a few centimetres away, so close that Momo could feel his breath on his cheeks. He was comfortable here, Momo realized with a shock, almost disturbingly so. He didn't want to think about why he was - not yet, not right then, not this soon after Echizen, but the little voice in the back of his head was trying ever-so-hard to tell him something and he almost listened.

"It's okay," Atobe said, smiling a bit and rubbing Momo's arm lightly. "I meant it, though. You're being stupid. Assuming that no one will ever like you just because one relationship went wrong - that's stupid. You're missing what's right in front of you and you don't even know it."

Momo looked even more confused at this, and Atobe sighed, then closed the space between them and kissed him.

The kiss wasn't amazing or spectacular or any of those things. It was awkward and slightly confused, and ended quickly, as Atobe couldn't keep his neck in that position. Still, it was a kiss, and, if nothing else, got the message across to Momo's rather frazzled brain.

He stared up at Atobe for a good minute or two before finally saying, "Oh."

This certainly wasn't what he'd been expecting when he'd woken up this morning. Oddly, all he could think at the moment was that Atobe tasted like lemonade, like the lemonade they'd had every week since it got warm out. It was almost comforting, once he got over the fact that Atobe Keigo had just kissed him.

Atobe Keigo had just kissed him.

"So?" Atobe asked, waiting for a response past "Oh."

Momo just blinked at him, his mind stuck on the fact that Atobe Keigo had kissed him.

"Momoshiro?" Atobe said, waving a hand in front of Momo's eyes once again.

"Wow," Momo finally said. "That was...unexpected."

Atobe looked rather amused at his answer.

"That's because you're, how should I put this, completely oblivious," Atobe replied.

"Am not!" Momo protested. "I just didn't notice!"

"Exactly," said Atobe, smiling at him, "You're oblivious."

Momo pouted, then smiled. Atobe was right, he realized. He was oblivious. He'd been so wrapped up in his failed relationship with Ryoma that he'd completely missed the fact that he was falling for Atobe, and fast. The butterflies in the stomach, his reaction to Rie's teasing - he really should have known, he thought. He'd just been so used to avoiding thinking about those emotions that he'd forgotten what they were like.

He looked up at Atobe and grinned. "Thanks," he said, "For everything, I mean. I was being stupid, you were right."

Atobe smiled back. "Of course I was right. Am I ever wrong?"

Momo rolled his eyes and stood up, offering a hand to Atobe. "I'm sure even the great you has been wrong at least once," he replied as Atobe took his hand and stood up. "I'd better get back before someone sends out a search party for me."

Atobe brushed off his clothes, shedding bits of grass. "I should do the same," he said, then looked up with a serious expression. "Are you going to tell them?"

Momo looked surprised. He hadn't thought that far ahead. His friends were open-minded, he knew; at the same time, though, there was a limit to their open-mindedness, and he had a feeling they'd be more than a bit uncomfortable with his dating Atobe. Many of them hadn't quite forgiven the Hyotei captain for Tezuka's shoulder, and almost everyone was still a bit annoyed with Hyotei.

"Not yet," he finally decided, giving Atobe an apologetic smile. "I don't think it would go over too well."

Atobe nodded, his expression neutral. "It's up to you. I'll stay silent as well, then," he replied, then smiled again and kissed Momo quickly before walking off. "I'll call you later."

Momo stood there for a minute, looking after him in shock, before smiling and shaking his head. Today was certainly a very strange day, but it was a good day. He turned and walked back to where Seigaku was standing, and was promptly jumped by an overenthusiastic Eiji, who was babbling about Echizen's match and "why weren't you here?! You missed it!" When Momo just smiled at him, Eiji promptly declared him possessed and ran off to find Oishi.

As his friends chatted around him, Momo stood still, smiling. He finally felt that the world made sense again.
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