This chapter is a monster because I wanted to keep it as one section. As always, thanks Lucathia for your help in beating this thing into submission.
( Yanagi wanted him to increase his reaction times, and had him scheduled for a session that included padding him up and having Sanada aim the ball machine at him. Kamio gulped but nodded. Strange practice techniques weren’t unusual for Rikkai. Unfortunately, neither was being injured. )
“Hey little one,” Sengoku said cheerfully, ruffling Dan’s hair.
“I did, desu!” Dan’s eyes sparkled. “It arrived this morning with a Hyoutei player. It looks interesting! I think it’s a wonderful idea for a charity event!”
“You gonna try Singles then, Taichi?” Muromachi asked curiously.
“Actually, I want to try Doubles,” Dan said thoughtfully. “You guys never let me play Doubles for the school events.”
“Because we have two decent pairs and you’re great at Singles,” Sengoku said. “But this ain’t a school event, so I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“Will you be entering?” Dan asked Nitobe, who repeated his answer. Dan’s eyes brightened. “Kita, I’ll play with you!”
Kita chuckled. “Sorry Tai-Tai. Nitobe and I are still getting our rhythm together. I don’t wanna mess it up by playing with someone else.”
Sengoku rolled his eyes and mouthed, ‘good one’ in his direction. Kita gave a short bow.
“What about you, Sengoku-san?”
Sengoku shook his head. “Sorry kiddo. I’ve never been very good at Doubles. Besides, there’s bound to be a few people in the Singles arena I haven’t had the chance to test myself against. This is the perfect chance to try.”
Dan’s lip quivered. Sengoku almost felt himself crack. Then he whirled around, and Sengoku breathed a sigh of relief. “Muromachi-sempai!” Sengoku snickered at the deer-in-the-headlights pose Muromachi suddenly froze in. Dan’s eyes had widened to impossible sizes, and Muromachi was helpless in front of them. Sengoku knew the feeling well. “Muromachi-sempai, will you be my partner, please?”
“But I…” Muromachi wavered, looking at Sengoku for help, glaring when Sengoku shook his head with a grin. “I play Singles!”
“But you’ve played Doubles before too,” Dan countered. “You’re very good at it too. Please, Muromachi-sempai? I’ll work hard, I promise!”
Muromachi sighed and then gave Dan a small smile. “All right, all right. I’ll play Doubles with you.”
Dan practically yipped with excitement, and then zipped out of the room, no doubt to go and fill out the application form before Muromachi had a chance to change his mind. Sengoku broke down laughing, and Nitobe and Kita weren’t far behind. “You sucker,” Sengoku sniggered.
Muromachi glared at all of them. “Oh shut up.”
Tezuka raised an eye as the red-faced Hyoutei student bowed profusely to him and thrust an odd-looking poster into his hands. The student dropped the fliers on the desk and then backed out of the room, bowing all the while. Reaching the door, he turned and ran. Fuji, sitting in a comfortably padded chair the coach had allotted to Tezuka –a chair much nicer than the one Ryuuzaki-sensei had had to deal with in middle-school - apparently high schools had a budget set aside for ‘comfort’ -, looked amused. “That was interesting.”
“Indeed.” Tezuka gingerly held out the poster, turning it over for himself. For once, he was speechless.
Fuji cocked his head to the side, much like a dog listening to a whistle no one else could hear. “What’s that?”
“…apparently Hyoutei is having a tournament,” Tezuka replied, handing the poster to the tensai.
Fuji inspected the brightly colored poster, and a grin spread across on his face. “Hyoutei, or Atobe?”
“Exactly what would be the difference?” Tezuka asked dryly.
“Mmm. Good point.” Fuji read the poster carefully, and then set it down on the desk. “It sounds like it should be interesting.”
“Or tiresome,” Tezuka muttered. “Anything involving Atobe usually is.”
“You’re getting cynical in your old age, Tezuka.”
Perhaps he was. Tezuka knew it was futile to point out that he was only three months older than Fuji, and so he nodded at the poster. “Are you going to enter?”
“Possibly,” Fuji said. “It depends.”
“On whether Saeki does?”
Fuji smiled at the mention of his other half. The two had come out as a couple a few months before, and the furor still hadn’t quite died down. It had been easy to ignore until Saeki had magically appeared at Seigaku to see his partner, and then all the gossip and chaos had flared up again. “Not necessarily.”
Tezuka sighed and picked up the poster again. “I’ll go hang… this in the clubhouse then. Regardless of what you or I choose, everyone else deserves the right to decide for themselves if they want to participate.”
Fuji looked pointedly at the clock on the wall. “You’d better hurry then. Class will be starting in fifteen minutes.”
Tezuka frowned. He had never been late to class in his life. Fuji, on the other hand…“Go to class Fuji.”
“Maa, would I skip class?”
That angelic smile didn’t work on Tezuka. “Fuji…” he let his voice trail off warningly.
Fuji held out his right hand for the poster. In his left, he held up a roll of tape pilfered from Tezuka’s desk. “Give me the poster,” he said. “I’ll go hang it up.”
Tezuka would have rolled his eyes, except that would only encourage Fuji. Instead, he gave the tensai a curt nod and handed it over. “Be quick,” he instructed.
Fuji smiled serenely. “Of course.”
There was a very ugly poster on the gym wall. Uchimura noticed it as he and Mori entered the gym. Well, actually, they noticed the bubble-gum pink and neon-blue heads of the resident super-twins, Youhei and Kouhei first – hair like theirs simply stood out. But the blindingly bright purple and silver – and sparkly? – poster on the wall was an easy third place. Youhei twitched as they approached and turned his head. That freaky hearing, I swear…Uchimura raised his hand in greeting. “Yo!”
Mori frowned at the poster. “What’s that?”
Youhei shrugged. “Looks like Hyoutei’s running a tournament. But if you ask me…”
“…it looks a little suspicious,” Kouhei finished. “Even if volunteer work is mandatory.”
Mori blinked, and then moved in to study the poster closely. “Really? Sounds like fun to me, actually. Tournaments are tournaments.”
Uchimura nodded – and then grinned. He actually knew something Mori didn’t. This had to be used. “Come to think of it, I heard about this yesterday – An-chan’s entering with Fuji Yuuta from St Rudolph.” Having dropped the bomb, he waited for the inevitable explosion.
It didn’t take long. “An-chan’s entering? With Yuuta!” He resembled a fish out of water, jaw agape and arms flopping in shock. Then he went very still, cocking his head to the side. “Does Kippei know?” His eyes widened. “Does Kamio know?”
“Funny, that’s what Ishida and I asked.” Uchimura said with a snicker, and turned to the twins. “You guys gonna enter?”
“Maybe,” Youhei said slowly.
“It’s possible,” Kouhei shrugged. “Are you going to enter?”
Uchimura looked at Mori. “What do you think? Wanna try for the Doubles?”
Mori nodded, though he was still looking wide-eyed from Uchimura’s little bombshell. “You know I’m always in for a good match. “He paused. “Hey, you think Kamio will enter?”
“Now that we know An-chan is? With a boy? He’ll enter on general principle.”
“And threaten Yuuta’s life, no doubt.” Mori rolled his eyes. They were all protective of An-chan, but Kamio seemed to treat her the same way Kippei did. Uchimura figured it had something to do with the fact that Kamio had sisters too, and all older brothers had the same sort of mind set in that regard. “Seriously though, you think he will?”
“Well, it’s practically a given that Kirihara will – that guy never turns down a chance for a fight.” Uchimura coughed. “And I mean that figuratively, of course.”
“If Kirihara does, Kamio probably will.” Mori smiled. “It’d be really good to see everyone out there.”
Uchimura couldn’t agree more. They did try to all get together at least once a month or so . Even though they’d gone to different schools –he, Mori and Sakurai to Jyousei Shounan, Kippei to Higa, Shinji, An and Kamio to Rikkai, and Ishida to Seigaku, - the bonds that had forged between them during their middle-school days were tough to break. Even if they couldn’t meet up – sometimes two or three months would go by with only some of them seeing the rest – at least they kept in touch by text messages and emails. An was still trying to order them all to sign up for Facebook Japan.
It had been a while since they’d last had everyone together. This tournament seemed like a good chance.
“Will Kamio-“ Youhei started.
“-and Kirihara play doubles?” Kouhei finished.
Mori snorted. “Doubtful. Kamio is a good Doubles player, but Kirihara is pretty much Singles-minded all the way. ”
“Hey guys! What’s up?”
The four of them turned to see Sakurai walking in. Uchimura high-fived him when he got there. “Hey Sakurai. Hear about the tournament?”
“Tournament?” Sakurai blinked. “What tournament?”
Youhei pointed at the poster, and Kouhei and Mori began discussing who else might participate. Uchimura stepped back a bit, and pulled out his phone. He’d ask Kamio if he were going to enter. And Ishida. Sakurai was likely going to play Singles – that was his strength now, and he hadn’t played with Ishida in over two years, but maybe Ishida would come out anyway and hang with them, for old times sake.
There was a poster on the white board in the clubhouse. It was bright purple, very sparkly, and had a large picture of Atobe in the corner. Oishi had heard about it from Tezuka – apparently Hyoutei was hosting a charity tournament, and one of the first year high schoolers had dropped off the flier in the coach’s office before class had started. He moved closer to read the details, aware of Kikumaru behind him, likely doing the same thing. “This is definitely not something I would have expected Atobe to choose for his community service project, and yet, it fits him.”
Kikumaru hmm’d. “A charity tennis tournament.”
Oishi looked up from where he was examining the luridly colored poster. He could see the definite interest in his partners’ eyes, the habitual chewing of his lower lip Eiji always did when he was contemplating something, and he smiled. “Shall we enter it?” To Oishi’s surprise, Kikumaru didn’t immediately shout an affirmative, or bounce around excitedly. Instead, he continued to stare at the poster.”Eiji?”
His partner looked up, and Oishi could now see the hesitance creeping across his face. “Umm...”
It was fairly obvious Kikumaru badly wanted to say something. Oishi smiled reassuringly and took a seat on the bench in front of the white board. “What’s wrong?”
Kikumaru dropped on to the bench next to him. Then he popped back up and began pacing back and forth. Oishi merely waited, knowing Kikumaru was collecting his thoughts. Then Kikumaru spoke, still pacing, and without meeting Oishi’s eyes, “Do you remember our first year of middle school? Joining the tennis club for the first time?”
Oishi blinked. “Of course.”
Kikumaru sent him a small smile. “What do you remember?”
Oishi cast his thoughts back six, nearly seven years ago. “What are you asking me to recall in particular?”
Eiji stopped pacing and stood with his back to the white board, arms folded. “I remember Oishi being really good at tennis.” He grinned, bigger this time. “Remember how Ryuuzaki-sensei put you in that group that got special Singles training?”
He did remember. That particular group had consisted of himself, Tezuka, Fuji and Inui. Apparently Yamato-Buchou had seen something in them and had singled them out for special training. Eiji had been with the remainder of the first years. “Yes.”
“Oishi was always better than me,” Eiji said slowly. “I mean, I wasn’t angry about that at all, but I remember...” he trailed off and looked away.
Oishi was starting to get concerned. “What’s wrong Eiji?” he repeated, a little louder.
“Why did we start playing doubles, Oishi?”
“Huh?” That was a shot out of the far court he hadn’t been expecting. “What do you mean?”
Eiji chuckled, the sound of it reassuring Oishi a little. “You were tagged to be a good Singles player. You still are a good Singles player.”
“I prefer Doubles,” Oishi said firmly. “You’re my partner, Eiji. I like working with you.”
That earned him a brilliantly warm smile. “Me too.”
“So what’s the problem?”
Kikumaru sighed and flopped back down on the bench. “I once heard Yamato-Buchou saying I wouldn’t make it as a Singles player. That’s why he started me off in Doubles right away during our first summer session.” He looked at Oishi and gave him a grim smile this time, much darker than the one from a moment ago. “Remember how many partners I went through in those first few months?”
Oishi did in fact remember. His best friend had the worst luck in partners back then. His first one, whose name Oishi couldn’t even remember, had asked to switch partners only two weeks into their training. Eiji’s next partner lasted one week. The third had lasted a bit longer, but he’d spent most of his time yelling at Eiji to stop jumping around like a damn rabbit and to play properly. Eiji’s enthusiasm for tennis had begun to dim. It wasn’t long afterward that Oishi had gone to the captain and had requested to be Eiji’s partner. It was a decision he’d made that he had never regretted. “That’s just proof that you were simply waiting for the right one.”
“Too true, too true.” Eiji winked at him. “But it’s always bothered me.”
“O-i-shi-i-i!” Kikumaru groaned. “No. Idiot.” He tapped Oishi lightly on the head. “What bothered me was everyone assuming I wasn’t good enough to play Singles. That I could only play tennis if I played Doubles.”
Oishi frowned. “That’s not true, Eiji. You’re a good Singles player. Not to mention you’ve been chosen for the Senbatsu camp twice in a row.”
“Yes. And look at where they stuck me,” Eiji grumped. “Doubles. Every time.”
“I don’t know what you’re saying, Eiji,” Oishi admitted, a little bit frustrated, and a whole lot of concerned. “If it makes a difference, I’ve never thought of you as a weak player, Doubles or Singles. You’re one of the hardest workers on the team. You managed to overcome that stamina problem of yours all by yourself and not because you were told to, but because you wanted to better yourself as a player. You’ve only gotten better in high school.” Oishi smiled. “Didn’t I tell you how proud I was?”
“Yep!” Eiji leaned over and bumped shoulders with him. “Ever since our first Nationals, and we achieved that... whaddaya call it, that thing Tezuka-Buchou keeps muttering about, I never remember that word—“
“Synchro,” Oishi breathed.
“...Yeah.” Eiji smiled softly. “And why we call it in English when I can never remember it, I’ll never understand. But yeah, Synchro. That’s the first time I felt proud of myself.” He lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “I managed to Synch with Oishi. My best friend and the best partner. It felt better than anything else in the world. Singles was too lonely for me. ”
Oishi leaned back against him. “I felt and still feel the same way,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine ever being on the same wave length with anyone else. Every time we hit that level in our matches now, it feels like the first time.” There had to be an amazingly deep level of trust and respect in any tennis partnership to be successful – but it was even harder to achieve synchronization, the ability to almost read your partner’s exact mind and react as naturally with each other as breathing. “I prefer playing Doubles too.”
“Well, I wanted you to know that,” Eiji said suddenly. “So you won’t get angry when I ask you something.”
Oishi frowned. “I would never get angry at you for asking me something.”
Eiji looked almost guilty. “You might.” He took a deep breath. “I want to enter the tournament, Oishi. But I want to--”
“—play Singles,” Oishi finished with a smile. “Okay.”
"I want to play Singles."
Eiji gaped. “H-huh?”
Oishi had pretty much guessed what had been coming. All that talk about Singles, and well, he did have a knack for reading his partner’s mind. “I understand, Eiji. It’s okay.”
His partner looked timid for a minute. “You’re not mad?” he asked quietly.
“Of course I’m not mad. But if you decided you prefer Doubles, why are fixating on Singles again?”
Ejij frowned. “Part of me still feels weird about it. I know I’m a good Doubles player, and I love playing Doubles with Oishi – but maybe this time it would be different. “ He looked back at Oishi, twitching his nose. “In school competitions, I want to play Doubles. We’re stronger together, I know that. But this isn’t a normal tournament. It’s just for fun,, so..” his voice trailed off sheepishly.
“You want to see if Singles feels different now?”
“Yeah!” Eiji nodded. “Is that weird?” He looked worried. “Are you sure you’re not mad?
Oishi chuckled and leaned forward, bracing his arms on his knees and looking back up at Eiji. “Did I answer your question?”
“You asked me why we play Doubles,” he paraphrased. “Did I ever tell you?”
“No.” Eiji blinked. “I figured it was because we were best friends.”
“That’s a part of it,” Oishi agreed. “But actually, it’s all Fuji’s fault.”
“Fujiko?” Eiji’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Really.” Oishi could remember that day all too well. Kikumaru had been on his third partner, and was barely able to play for a full match, his energy and enthusiasm flagging heavily. Oishi had been almost frantic with concern when his group had finished training, and he’d seen what was going on. Eiji’s partner was constantly berating the smaller redhead, and telling him what to do. Eiji would listen, but never seemed to hit back anything strong enough to win a point. He remembered his hands tightening on the wire mesh of the cage surrounding the courts, his fingers turning white from strain.
“What’s wrong with him?” he murmured out loud. Eiji was a much better player than that.
“He doesn’t have the right anchor,” came a smooth voice.
Oishi had turned his head to see Fuji watching the match with narrowed but open eyes. Fuji was Eiji’s other best friend, though Oishi was still getting to know him. “What do you mean?”
Fuji had turned his head slightly to look him in the eye, and then nodded back to the train wreck on the court before them. “Eiji’s partner isn’t the right one for him.”
“That’s fairly obvious,” Oishi sighed ruefully. “But what did you mean about an anchor?”
Fuji smiled faintly. “People are like ships at sea. Some of them chart a smooth course and follow the straightest and narrowest course. They live life by their maps and charts, adhering to schedules and never allowing themselves to drift off course.” He pointed at Eiji. “Other people throw out their maps and see where the winds take them. They sail freely, going to new places, letting the winds and the waves take them wherever they want.”
Oishi could sort of see that. “And the anchor?”
“Every ship needs an anchor, Oishi.” Fuji’s eyes crinkled shut as he smiled. “Even the most free-loving ship on the sea needs a safe place to rest, something they can trust to keep them from floating away and getting lost.” He pointed at the boy calling himself Eiji’s partner. “He is a cargo ship. He has the weight of his dreams in his hold, and only by adhering strictly to the rules and the clock on the wall can he reach his port of choice. Anyone who tries to steer him off course or slow him down is seen as a hindrance, and he loses his patience. Instead of working with his partner, he’s insisting his partner follow his lead, so they can get back on track.”
Oishi watched the young man order Eiji to the net. “....I see that.”
“Eiji is like a sailboat,” Fuji continued. “He goes where the winds take him and plays with the waves. He’s not concerned about schedules and rules, because he’s having fun, and he trusts he’ll get where he needs to be, when he’s ready to spread his sails even further.”
They watched silently for a moment. Eiji missed a shot that crossed behind him, and his partner groaned, shaking his racquet. Eiji apologized – again – and trudged back to the net. “It looks like it’s hard for one boat to work with another,” Oishi remarked, finding it easy to fall into Fuji’s analogy.
“Mmm,” Fuji agreed. “But he still needs an anchor to keep him from drifting away.”
The match had ended a few minutes later, and Fuji disappeared. Oishi had watched as Eiji’s partner admonished him for not taking the game seriously, noting how even Eiji’s hair seemed to droop with every finger wag.
The next day Oishi had gone to Yamato-Buchou and had asked to be Eiji’s partner. He hadn’t looked back since.
“Fujiko said all that?” Eiji’s voice was a little dazed.
“He did,” Oishi confirmed.
“And you became my anchor?” Eiji’s voice was teasing but his eyes were warm.
Oishi nodded. “As your partner, my job is to support you, Eiji. This is just another aspect of it.” He smiled. “I think we all question ourselves from time to time, and feel the need to test our growth as players. I wouldn’t be a good partner if I tried to hold you back.” Which was true - supporting Eiji had come to him as naturally as breathing. From their very first match together, letting Eiji run and jump with the freedom to explore new ways of playing at the net, he had been behind him all the way, protecting the baseline and steering his partner away from the obstacles that would try and trip him up; being a solid foundation so the wind could move freely around it.
...Okay, so he didn’t have Fuji’s way with metaphors, but it didn’t matter. Eiji understood him, and he understood Eiji. That was the most important thing. Which meant he had to back his partner up, not stand in his way. There was only one thing to do. “Can I at least be your training partner?” Oishi asked, holding his hand out.
Eiji looked at his hand, looked at him, and then yanked him to his feet, wrapping his arms around him. After a minute, he pulled back, his eyes shining with gratitude. “You’re gonna be my training partner and my bench coach,” he declared. “Okay, Oishi?”
“Okay, Eiji,” he agreed, watching the animation return to the redheads eyes. “It’s a deal.”
An loved dropping in at the street courts at random. She never knew who was going to be there, and it didn’t much matter. All the regulars knew who she was and welcomed her as one of them. She had played in practice matches with almost all of them over the past few years and tended to think of them as part of her extended family, though not in the same class that she did her old Fudomine team.
As she approached the half-empty courts, she scanned them automatically, searching for familiar faces. She smiled when she saw the broad form of Momoshiro waving his racquet wildly as he tried to argue a technicality of some sort with his opponent – Echizen again. It was so cute how those two just had to do everything together. She smirked, thinking of another pair that was content to snipe and yell at each other while threatening death to anyone that tried to split them up. There really was something in the water that seemed to affect only tennis players.
A flash of familiar grey caught her eye, and she turned to see a stranger wearing a Hyoutei uniform walking along the edge of the court, heading for the clubhouse. He was carrying a rolled up sheet of paper – laminated, by the looks of it, and was carrying a roll of packing tape. An narrowed her eyes, frowning. While she had forgiven the brash and snobby actions of Hyoutei’s arrogant captain from three years past, it was still suspicious to see a Hyoutei jersey in their part of town. Not to mention she knew all the top Hyoutei players and this guy wasn’t one of them.
About to follow him, she saw someone else watching just as suspiciously. She recognized the St Rudolph jacket – it was Fuji Yuuta. An smiled and adjusted her plan accordingly. After all, spying was more fun when done in pairs.
Fuji Yuuta – who, incidentally, hated being called that – had been waiting for his chance to step in and play a round of street tennis. He’d rallied with the lug from Seigaku until his sarcastic, Ponta-drinking shadow had arrived, and then Momo had seemed to forget Yuuta existed. Oh well. He was about to go find a wall to practice against to keep his muscles loose when he saw a student in a Hyoutei jersey marching primly along the outer rim of the courts. His eyes narrowed at the sight.
Every time those rich snobs came around, they brought trouble. Or they started it. And this one was carrying something. Yuuta was no hero, but he didn’t like the idea of stuck-up brats coming to his side of town to lord over them as though they were somehow better just because they had pockets deeper than most strip mines.
About to go over and ask what the kid was up to, he was halted in his tracks by a clingy octopus wrapping itself around his arm. He froze and looked down into a familiar face. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be An-chan from Rikkai, formerly known as An-chan from Fudomine. He gave his arm a tiny shake but was unable to dislodge the An-topus. “Umm... hi.”
“Hi Yuuta!” she chirped, perpetually cheerful as always. Cute girls – particularly cute girls who were smiling at him and not his brother – made him slightly confused and more than a little nervous. The only thing he could do was blush and mumble ‘hi’ again before cursing himself for not being able to say something else. “I see you noticed our little spy.”
“Huh?” Yuuta followed her gaze back to the Hyoutei kid who had paused outside the clubhouse and was unfurling a large sheet of shiny paper. “Oh, you mean him?”
She nodded. “I noticed you were about to commence capture and interrogation,” she told him sagely. “I am here to offer my assistance.”
Capture and interrogation? “I was just gonna find out what he was doing here,” Yuuta protested mildly. “If he’s here to play, fine, but I’m a little sick of rich kids coming here to cause trouble.”
“Same difference,” An said gaily. “C’mon, before we lose our prey!” With that, she started for the clubhouse, tugging determinedly on Yuuta’s arm, who was forced to either accompany her or trip over his own feet. An was actually quite strong. For a girl, he supposed.
The interloper was struggling to hold the large poster against the wall while trying to manipulate the roll of packing tape at the same time. Watching him struggle for a minutes was amusing, but then Yuuta found himself stepping forward. “Can I help you?”
The kid – a first year, by the looks of it – squeaked and turned around, looking up at them timidly. “Don’t hurt me! I’ll pay you!”
Well, if there had been any doubt in their minds about which school this guy was from, they were now erased. Yuuta rolled his eyes, while An giggled. “I guess that’s a ‘no’ then?”
An stepped forward and snagged the tape from fumbling fingers. “Give me that,” she said loftily. She stripped a piece out and used her teeth to tear it off in one easy move. “Put the poster up,” she ordered, and the flummoxed young man jumped to do her bidding. There was no reason not to assist, considering the clubhouse was host to numerous fliers and posters for various events. An continued to pull off tape, three more pieces in total to cover each corner, and directed the young man where to put them. Finished, he nodded, and then scampered off to a large black car that was parked at the other end of the court. A very expensive and flashy-looking black car. Yep, definitely Hyoutei.
“What was all that about?” Momoshiro suddenly stuck his head over Yuuta’s shoulder, making him jump in surprise. Ryoma tagged along behind silently, looking completely bored with the world.
Yuuta ignored the yellow-eyed demon-child and focused on the idiot attempting to give him a heart attack. “Momoshiro!”
“Call me Momo, Yuuta, Momo,” he chided, and tapped An-chan with his racquet. “Oi, what’s up?”
An was studying the poster intently. “Looks like Atobe’s running a tennis tournament. For charity. ”
“Charity?” Yuuta repeated. “Atobe?”
“Well, Hyoutei,” An admitted. “But his picture is on the poster, and the edge is trimmed in purple. You tell me.”
Momo and Yuuta exchanged a look. “Sounds like Atobe all right,” Momo chuckled.
“A charity tennis tournament? Sponsored by Hyoutei?” Yuuta wrinkled his nose. “Somehow I can’t see them being altruistic.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” An said scanning the paper eagerly. “A fun tournament, no pressure. And all the proceeds go to charity.”
“I want to enter,” Momoshiro declared suddenly. He tapped the poster and then whirled around, pointing at the diminutive first year. “And I want to play doubles. C’mon Echizen, enter the doubles tournament with me.”
“I don’t want to.” Ryoma pulled the brim of his cap down. “You know I hate doubles.”
“Because you suck at them,” Yuuta chuckled. “I don’t blame you.”
Echizen glared at him, a glint lighting his eyes. “Excuse me? I can play doubles better than you.”
“That’s the spirit!” Momo cheered. He draped his arm over Ryoma’s shouders. “C’mon, Ryoma, it’ll be fun! And you can kick Fuji-junior’s ass!”
“Fuji-junior?” Yuuta’s face went bright red and he took a step towards the Seigaku regular. “The hell, Momo?”
Momo ‘eeped’ and ducked behind the dubious wall of safety that was Ryoma’s 5’2” frame. “Don’t get angry! Save it for the tournament.”
Yuuta huffed and rolled his eyes. “You idiot. I’m a singles player. I don’t have a partner!”
An suddenly popped up next to Yuuta, latching on to his arm. “I’ll be your partner!”
“I’ll be your partner!”
Three pairs of eyes instantly went as wide as dinner plates. “Ehh?!?”
Momo chuckled. “You’re joking, right?”
An’s eyes narrowed in response. “What?” she asked defensively. “I’m a second year Regular on the girls' team at Rikkai now, and I spent the last two years of middle school practicing with the Fudomine team. Are you saying I can’t handle it?”
Momo flailed his arms back and forth. “I didn’t say that!”
“You’d better not.” Pulling her pink racquet out, An aimed it in Momo’s direction. “I held my own against you a few years ago, don’t you remember?” She looked pointedly at Yuuta. “I did pretty well against you too. Are you going to say I can’t play?”
It was true enough. An had played almost everyone at the street court at one point or another, and Yuuta had been impressed by her the first time he’d faced her in a match. He’d won, but she’d made him work for it, and harder than he’d anticipated. Yuuta nodded his head up and down furiously. “Not me. But uh, you know…” his voice trailed off, and he raised one hand to scratch the back of his neck. “You’re a girl.”
It was An’s turn to roll her eyes. “Well, thanks for telling me. I might have forgotten for a minute.”
“Is there even a part for mixed doubles?” Ryoma asked idly, eyes hidden beneath his hat, but his lip twitched in a poorly-hidden smirk.
Momo scanned the paper intently. “Nope. Just singles and doubles.”
“But it also doesn’t say ‘no girls allowed’,” An said triumphantly, pointing at the listed rules. She turned to Yuuta. “So, do y’wanna be my partner?”
Yuuta looked at Echizen – who looked bored – and Momo – who looked gobsmacked – and then finally shrugged, laughing wryly. It wasn’t like it was a school tournament after all. “Why not?” He grinned at An who pumped her fist in the air, and then held her hand up for a high-five. Slapping it good-naturedly, he looked back at the others. “Looks like it’s a deal.” He turned to look at the other boys. “Well?”
“Ryoma?” Momo looked hopefully at his best friend with eyes that could only be described as ‘puppy dog.’
“Go ask Kaidoh to be your partner.”
“If he plays – and he will, damn snake can never resist a challenge - he’s gonna get Inui. You know that.” Momo tapped Ryoma’s hat. “Pleeeease? It’ll be fun!” He clasped his hands under his chin and batted his eyes. Yuuta found it rather disturbing, even more so than the puppy dog eyes.
Ryoma rolled his eyes, apparently knowing he was beaten and deciding to give in somewhat gracefully. “I guess I have no choice.”
Yuuta turned his head to see two familiar people coming their way. One was wearing a Seigaku high uniform, and the other was wearing what looked like a Jyousei Shounan jacket. “...Ishida, right?” He asked, a little uncertain, but then An gave a squeal and zipped past him, launching herself into the arms of the muscular teen.
“Tetsu, Tetsu, Tetsu!” she chanted happily. Then she hopped down and threw her arms around the disgruntled looking – and much shorter – teen next to him. “Uchimura!” She squeezed him so tightly Yuuta actually saw the smaller boy gag for air and he was about to suggest she let go when she did so on her own. “It’s so good to see you guys! Email and instant messaging just isn’t the same!”
“I agree,” said Ishida. She hugged him again, and he picked her up, twirling her around once before setting her back on her feet. “You look wonderful as always, An-chan.”
“Looks like Seigaku agrees with you,” An returned, still smiling fit to burst. “Uchimura, that Jyousei Shounan jacket looks pretty good on you too.”
Kyousuke Uchimura blushed. “Thanks, An-chan.”
An peered around them eagerly, apparently looking for someone else. “Is Mori coming? And Sakurai?”
Ishida shook his head. “Sakurai’s staying for extra practice. Didn’t he tell you? He finally made it as a Regular the other day during their ranking matches – he’ll be playing third singles in an exhibition match next week.”
“That’s great!” An clapped her hands. Yuuta could tell she was genuinely happy for her friends. “And Mori?”
“His mom bribed him into babysitting his little cousin today,” Uchimura said, shaking his head. “Even I wouldn’t turn down the chance to make some cash AND have free reign of the fridge.”
“You’re Fuji Yuuta, right?” Ishida lifted a hand in belated greeting. “What’s up?”
Before Yuuta could answer, Momoshiro stuck his nose in, pointing with his racquet at the sign the Hyoutei student had hung on the wall of the street court clubhouse (also known as the unisex bathroom, changing facilities, and with a shuttered window that was sometimes used during the summer as a food stand to sell chips and drinks through). “We’re all gonna enter the tournament Atobe and the Hyoutei tennis team are running.”
“All of you?” Uchimura blinked.
An grinned and stepped back to Yuuta’s side, winding her arm through his. “Yuuta’s gonna be my partner!” she declared. Outwardly, Yuuta gave a weak smile.
Internally however, Yuuta gulped. There were stories, lots of stories about the over-protectiveness of the ex-Fudomine kids towards the baby sister of their former captain. Scary stories he put on a level with his big brother’s revenge plans, which were their own level of disturbing. Still, he was hard-pressed to remove her arm from his, finding her penchant for clinging easier to handle than his siblings' teasing. He only hoped the ex-Fudominites would be able to act maturely.
He took in the surprised and wary looks on their faces. Nope. He was doomed.
Then Ishida switched from wary to surprised. “Wait, Atobe’s running a mixed doubles tournament?” His tone was almost identical to the level of incredulousness Yuuta had managed to infuse into his own voice earlier.
An shook her head and pointed at the poster. “Nope. But the rules don’t say I can’t play.”
Uchimura suddenly scowled at Yuuta. Despite being over a foot taller, Yuuta couldn’t help but watch him warily. He’d once seen a Chihuahua chase off a German Shepherd by trying to gnaw its ankles off. He wasn’t about to let his guard down around any player that had once been a part of the team known collectively as the ‘brawlers’. “What?”
“Are you dating An-chan?” Uchimura stepped forward, still scowling. “Does Kippei know?”
“Forget Kippei,” Ishida chuckled. “Does Kamio know?”
An stuck out her tongue. “Yuuta is not my boyfriend. Yet.” She sent a wicked smirk and a quick wink to the flabbergasted Yuuta. “But he is going to be my doubles partner.”
There was a tense moment, and then Ishida shrugged. “Better you than me, bro,” and shook Yuuta’s hand solemnly. Uchimura nodded.
This was unexpected. Yuuta was confused. “Wait, what?” He looked at An-chan. “I thought you were a good player. I mean, you are a good player,” he added as An suddenly aimed a scowl of her own at him. “I’ve played you, I should know.”
“Oh, she is,” Ishida assured him. “She’s also the result of what happens when a perfectionist marries a drill sergeant. “
“Who have both descended from harpies,” Uchimura added with a snicker, and then squawked as An smacked his rear with her racquet. Hard.
“Watch it mister,” she warned.
“So, like I said, Fuji-kun, have fun.” Ishida saluted him with his own racquet.
“Call me Yuuta,” Yuuta told him. He shot An a small smile. “And that’s fine. I’m kind of a hard worker myself. It takes a lot to scare me.”
She softened her scowl to a smile that made Yuuta’s heart skip a beat.
Then the moment was broken. “You guys wanna rally a bit?” Ishida asked. “I have an hour to kill before my study session and I haven’t been on a court in two weeks. I’m getting out of shape.”
Momo brightened, popping back into the discussion. “I’m in.”
An grinned. “Sounds like a good idea. Yuuta and I can get in some practice against you and Uchimura.”
Uchimura rolled his eyes. “How do I keep getting involved with these kinds of things?”
“Quit complaining,” Momo said amiably. “Ryoma and I will play the winners, right Ryoma?”
Echizen shrugged. “Looks like it.”
Kawamura Sushi House
It was getting close to 9pm when the door to the shop opened with the usual tinkling of bells and a familiar face stuck his head in. “Yo, Kawamura!”
Kawamura looked up with a grin. “Hey, Ishida. Your usual, coming up.”
Ishida Tetsu saluted him, sitting in a seat at the end of the sushi bar where he could talk to his friend while he worked. “Thanks. I’m starving!”
Kawamura set a mug of tea on the counter. Ishida stopped in after his tutoring sessions three days a week, since the class took place at a cram school only a block away from the sushi house. Ishida’s parents were determined their sons were going to be the first people in their family to go to University. He couldn’t speak for his brother, but Tetsu wasn’t arguing. His decision to go to Seishun Gakuen High after middle school had been a surprise to his parents, but a welcome one.
Like Kawamura, Ishida had been forced to retire from competitive tennis. His arm couldn’t keep up with the strain of all the practice involved, and his parents couldn’t afford the treatments to have him heal up properly (it was, reflected Kawamura somewhat ruefully, not every family that could afford to send their child to another country for rehabilitative surgery for a sports injury). Kawamura had dropped tennis upon his entry to high school as well, preferring to focus on his dream of becoming the proprietor of the best sushi house in Japan. The two heavy hitters had become good friends after Ishida had stopped by for a drink after cram class – and found Takashi working behind the counter. “Hard class?” Kawamura checked the time again to make sure it was right. “You’re late tonight.”
“Mmmm.” Ishida drained the cup in seconds, smiling guiltily as a laughing Kawamura refilled it. “Long day too. Class got bumped back because the teacher had an appointment or something. Since I had an hour to kill, I stopped by the street courts and wound up rallying with Uchimura, and An-chan. Yuuta, Momo and Echizen were there too.”
“Sounds like fun,” Kawamura said, a tad wistfully. “I haven’t gotten out to the street courts in weeks.” He may not have played for the school anymore, but he still liked to have a pick-up game once in a while. The problem was finding time that meshed with everyone else’s. “How’s Uchimura?”
“Doing well. Apparently Jyousei Shounan agrees with him and Mori. Sakurai’s apparently been taken under the wing of the coach there – he’s going to be playing Singles 3 at the next exhibition match.”
“Tell him I said congratulations.” Kawamura set a plate of crab-filled onigiri in front of Ishida. “Dig in.”
“Thanks.” Ishida popped a rice ball into his mouth. After swallowing it, he cocked his head at Kawamura. “There was a sign posted at the street court. Apparently, Atobe and the Hyoutei tennis team are putting together a charity tennis tournament as part of their community service towards graduation.”
“Figures Atobe would keep it to tennis,” Takashi chuckled.
“Nearly anyone can sign up,” Ishida continued. “It’s not set for school participation.”
“What do you mean nearly everyone?”
“According to the rules, you have to be on a tennis team in high school – or Atobe has to recognize you.” Ishida laughed. “What a weird guy. But anyway, I was thinking, how would you like to play in the doubles match with me?”
Kawamura blinked. “Play doubles?”
Ishida rolled his eyes. “C’mon, ‘Mura. You know I can’t play singles. I was always a doubles player.”
“I am way out of practice,” Kawamura warned him.
Ishida waved his arm dismissively. “So am I. That’s why I figured we’d make a good pair for it. If we lose, we can’t blame each other because we’re both out of it.” He grinned widely. “So, you in?”
Kawamura looked doubtful. “I don’t know... I stopped playing for a reason.”
“One tournament – played for fun, by the way – is not going to kill you. Besides, you’ll get to spend a day or two hanging out with your old friends, and isn’t that something to look forward to?” His voice became more cajoling. “It’ll be fun.”
“Go ahead, Takashi,” inserted a new voice from the kitchen. The two turned their heads to see Kawamura Senior standing there with two plates in his hand. He handed them off to a server, and focused back on his son. “When you said you were giving up tennis, I didn’t think you were going to cut off most of your contact with your friends too. You almost never leave this place anymore.”
“I want to be helpful,” Kawamura protested. “And I still have a lot to learn.”
“And the restaurant will be here for you to learn it,” his dad finished. “But you’re still young and I’m not gonna begrudge you taking some time off to enjoy it. Go play in the tournament, Takashi.”
“There, you see?” Ishida grinned. “Are you gonna ignore parental endorsement?”
Kawamura grinned back. “Guess not. All right, I’ll play doubles with you.”
Ishida whooped and held out his hand for a high-five. Kawamura obliged him. The more he thought about, the more he was looking forward to it. It would be good to see everyone again, and even better to play.
Kawamura made a mental note to dig his tennis gear out of his closet that night and then got back to work.
End Chapter 3
End Notes: If you are enjoying this story, you might wanna check the link on my profile to read it on LJ/DW with illustrations.
Feedback is very encouraging. I get the feeling only about 5 people are reading this – are there so very few Kirikam fans in the world? Ah well. Regardless, I’ll keep posting this monster. We’ll get those Kirikam numbers up yet.
Also, I have a few ideas for more fics in the LGo-verse but I can always use more inspiration. Feel free to let me know if there’s something you’d like to see written.
Thanks for reading.