b e   l i k e   b u c h o u

Echizen Ryoma wakes up to cotton sheets and feet that seem too far away. He flexes his toes experimentally against the foot of the bed and thinks, Did I grow? He feels too small for this body with its miles of unfamiliar skin, and tries to curl smaller. He tries to fill the vacant spaces in his arms and legs, but when he stands, he stumbles.

When he looks in the mirror, his hair is messy and his pajamas are blue, and Tezuka Kunimitsu is staring back at him. A blur of brown hair and sharp jaw, a hand that moves in time with Ryoma's own. He picks up the glasses that sit neatly folded on the table and slides them on, feeling dizzy as the world shifts into focus. This is what Buchou looks like first thing in the morning.

"Hn," Ryoma grunts, smoothing one large, fine hand down a flat stomach. He takes a look around this room, Tezuka’s things in neat piles on the desk and shelves, his rows of books and tennis trophies. He’s been in this room before, but the world looks vaguely different from this angle, about a thousand miles from the floor. He should feel more afraid than he does. It’s hard to be frightened in this room with its tidy categories, its order and reason.

He wonders where Buchou is.

Ryoma spends twenty minutes in front of the mirror trying to get Tezuka’s hair right, fingers and comb threading through thick hair in exasperation. Buchou’s hair is soft and smells like lavender. He can’t get it to sit the way Buchou does and he tugs at it, staring into sharp brown eyes that aren’t his own.

Echizen is silent through breakfast with Tezuka’s family and gets lost on the way to school. Upon arrival he tries to imagine what Tezuka does at school first thing in the morning: is he supposed to open up the club house or something? Ryoma doesn’t know, because he’s barely able to make it to practice on time, let alone early. When he shows up everybody else has gathered in the change rooms already and they stare at him as he walks in. He wonders what they’re waiting for and has the ridiculous impulse to assign laps.

He stares at his own body in the corner and notes the way that it seems to have been imbued with a new authority and grace: spine straight and hair neat, arms folded ominously against his chest. Tezuka’s eyes stare out of his face, which is just weird. He wants to give Buchou’s glasses back, but then he wouldn’t be able to see.

“Echizen,” he says, trying to sound stern the way Tezuka does when Ryoma is being irresponsible. “A word, please.”

For once, Tezuka doesn’t seem any more certain about what is happening than Ryoma is, and the indecision in the grim line of his mouth makes Ryoma’s stomach turn over uncertainly.

“I bet Inui had something to do with it,” Ryoma jokes, but his words sound stark and startling in Tezuka’s deep voice. He stares at Tezuka’s face – his Ryoma face, small and dark and slanted with irritation. His frustration is more evident outside the blank, straight lines of his own face, outside of his grim, flat mouth and glasses.

“I hope not,” Tezuka says, and then stares at Ryoma for a long moment. “Come here,” he says, “I need to fix your hair.”

Small hands press on Ryoma’s shoulders until he sits on a bench. His face is level with Tezuka’s chest, the word Seigaku chiselled in red across the breast of his jersey. He watches his own mouth tight with tension as Tezuka’s fingers comb into his hair

“We should play a match,” Ryoma says. His heart beats a little faster at the thought, and at the feeling of Tezuka’s fingernails scraping against his skull.


Ryoma scowls.

It’s kind of fun being Buchou during practice. He stands tall and stern at the top of the courts barking orders at his team mates. He makes Momo-senpai and Eiji-senpai run laps for laziness, and puts himself into a match with Fuji-senpai. Tezuka stands on the sidelines scowling beneath his cap, which is pretty much exactly what Ryoma would do in his position. The Zone falters once or twice beneath the weight of Fuji’s smirk.

“If you’re not feeling well, we can postpone,” Fuji says lightly, when Ryoma misjudges the distance from his shoulder to his wrist and the ball flies wildly out of control.

“I’m fine,” Ryoma barks, the way Buchou would.

In classes, Tezuka’s teachers keep holding their breath every time Ryoma speaks, and he wonders why. His classmates all sit a little apart from him, except in his mid-afternoon English period, when Inui sits at his elbow quoting statistics about the rest of the team. Inui talks to Tezuka about Ryoma a lot. He knows some things that are slightly creepy.

“Are you feeling alright Tezuka?” Inui asks as they leave the class. “You’re fifteen percent less reticent than average.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Ryoma says, then blinks. “I mean…” He tries to sound as gruff as possible, like Buchou in a bad mood. “Yudan sezu ni ikou…”

Inui stares at him, then writes something in his notebook.

That night, Tezuka stays at Ryoma’s place. They sit awkwardly through the dinner his cousin serves. Ryoma doesn’t know where to put his elbows or knees, so they knock painfully against the tabletop. After, they go up to Ryoma’s room and swap homework. They sit cross-legged on the floor amidst a carpet of textbooks. The writing in Ryoma’s biology book is even smaller and neater than his own.

“How was your day?” Buchou asks, peering up at Ryoma suspiciously.

“Inui-senpai is really annoying,” Ryoma says. “How was yours?”

“People kept buying me food.” Tezuka looks vaguely confused by this, brow crinkled in a way that is unfamiliar to Ryoma. “I was hungry all day.”

Ryoma tells him he should have taken Oishi-senpai with them. Whenever Oishi eats with them Ryoma ends up stuffed full of burgers, and dessert. Oishi hovers around him like a mother. He thinks Ryoma is too skinny.

“Everyone was afraid of me all day,” Ryoma says. “It was awesome.”

They go to bed. Ryoma takes a futon on the floor, in case his mother checks on them and notices he’s given up his bed voluntarily. All dinner she kept staring strangely at Tezuka’s politeness in Ryoma’s small body; courteous answers in Ryoma’s surly voice. Tezuka was even polite to Ryoma’s retarded father. It’s like he doesn’t know Ryoma at all.

They lie in the dark in silence. Ryoma listens to the sound of his own breathing, each influx and expulsion longer and steadier than he is used to. His shoulder aches a little. He wonders if it hurts all the time; he hopes not, if it got worse and Buchou had to quit tennis, Ryoma would be annoyed.

At eleven, Tezuka’s phone rings, jangling into the moonlit room. Tezuka and Ryoma stare at one another for a moment before Tezuka indicates for Ryoma to answer.

“Yes,” Ryoma says shortly. He knows from past conversations that Tezuka is only marginally better on the phone than he is. He’s glad, suddenly, that he didn’t bodyswitch with somebody friendly. The thought of pretending to be Eiji-senpai makes him tired. Nya.

“Kunimitsu,” Atobe purrs into the phone. “I am calling to offer you the pleasure of my company, this weekend at my cottage in the country.”

Ryoma stares at Tezuka.

“No,” he says, feeling suddenly clammy and irritable. If Tezuka goes to that cottage, he’ll be infected. Monkey king might even try to play tennis with him. “No,” he says again, more forcefully.

“Now, Tezuka,” Atobe starts, still in that cat’s voice. “Don’t you think –“

“Stop calling me,” Ryoma says, and hangs up.

“Echizen!” Tezuka scolds. It doesn’t sound as threatening anymore, with Ryoma’s barely-broken voice. “Who was that?”

“Nobody,” Ryoma lies, pulling the blankets over his head to sleep.

They’re stuck this way for weeks. After the first night, Ryoma is forced to stay at Tezuka’s place alone, in his neat room with its ordered bookshelves. Buchou’s grandfather is stern and foreboding like Buchou himself, but he doesn’t seem to like tennis. There’s no-one to play with in this house. Ryoma almost misses his father. Tezuka’s dad leaves in the morning in a suit and gets home in the evening looking tired and asking Ryoma questions about his homework. He never talks to Ryoma about porn. Ryoma doesn’t understand this family. He can’t be polite enough or respectful enough to please them. They decide Tezuka is going through a rebellious stage.

“We all go through it at some point,” his mother says, her hand curving warm around Ryoma’s jaw. “I suppose even you, Kunimitsu.”

This is actually the most courteous Ryoma has ever been in his life. He wonders how Tezuka is doing with his father.

It’s strange, but being in his body makes Ryoma miss Tezuka, even though he speaks to him every day. It’s just not tennis without Tezuka standing by the courts looking determined and annoyed. Instead, he just looks at himself all the time, scowling face and awkward slouch. He kind of misses himself, too. In this body, he can’t even do the Drive B.

For a few years now, Ryoma has been dreaming things about Tezuka. He’s never told anyone that. He used to think that other teenage boys didn’t dream about their captain’s strong hands and wet lips, but then he got to really know his teammates. Now he just doesn’t want them trying to help him. Their good intentions usually make him want to move back to America.

Sometimes Fuji looks at them like he knows.

He and Buchou start to spend a lot of time together just because it’s too awkward to be around anybody else. They never say much, beyond the basic necessities of a match. Sometimes though, after the last set, they’ll lie in the grass in the fading evening light, sweat-soaked and heavy limbed. Ryoma is getting used to this body now. He can relax inside these muscles. Sometimes he’ll stare at his own bare chest in the mirror, the firm abs, the belly button. He tries not to think about Tezuka doing the same with his own body, which is still too narrow and sharp, too little boy even as it lengthens.

“I miss Karupin,” he tells Tezuka one day. He tries not to think about what will happen if they never switch back. He wants to sleep with Karupin again, to feel the weight of his body on his stomach. He wonders if Tezuka likes cats. If he likes Karupin.

Tezuka doesn’t say anything, but he shifts a little so that their forearms brush together. Ryoma leans over and kisses him, mouth open against Tezuka’s firmly sealed lips. It only lasts a second or two before Ryoma pulls away.

Tezuka stares at him and Ryoma wishes he still had his cap to hide under.

“Che,” he says, and stands up. “I’ll see you later.”

That night, his bed is cold. He goes to sleep and dreams of the weight of Karupin’s body, the flexing of his paws as he settles down to sleep.

The next morning when Ryoma leaves for school, Tezuka is waiting on the corner. Ryoma notices that he’s taller since Ryoma left that body. He wonders if Tezuka would notice if he turned around and walked in the other direction. Probably.

They walk in silence halfway to school.

“I really thought that would work,” Ryoma says awkwardly. “In movies the couple always switch back when they fall in love.”

Tezuka clears his throat and opens his mouth, but then seems to reconsider.

“What?” Ryoma asks. He kicks a pebble with his toe, listening to the satisfying scrape it makes on the concrete.

Tezuka almost looks like he’s blushing, and when he talks his voice is low and grumbly in a way that Ryoma has never heard before. “Weren’t we already in love?”

Ryoma is so surprised that he stops walking. Tezuka keeps going, but only for a few feet before he stops and waits for Ryoma to catch up.

They’re two blocks from school when Ryoma pulls Tezuka into an alley and kisses him, mouths open and arms entwined. He has to lean down to do it, and it’s just weird until he closes his eyes and forgets that he’s really kissing himself. He wants to know what this would be like in their proper positions, him reaching up to meet Tezuka, clutching at towering shoulders. In his dreams Tezuka is strong and dominating, forcing Ryoma into small corners and tight spaces. He wants that for their next kiss, but this is nice too.

“Buchou,” he murmurs, taking off Tezuka’s cap to thread both hands into his hair.

Their first real kiss is in an alley that stinks like rotting garbage and they’re not even really themselves, but it’s kind of perfect anyway.

When Ryoma walks into practice that morning Inui and Fuji are both staring at him and smiling broadly.

“Lovely morning, ne Tezuka?” Fuji says, and Inui chortles.

“Inui, Fuji, fifty laps,” Ryoma says. Somehow he suspects he and Tezuka will be back to normal by morning.

Tezuka should have listened when Ryoma said Inui had something to do with it.

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