In which there are tennis matches, and denial and attraction lasted over three years. Sanada/Atobe, slight Niou/Yagyuu implications. Manga-anime hybrid canon, related to Of Friendships and Mild San...
"Fuck you, Keigo."
"Get a better pick-up line, Genichirou."
Sanada's first introduction to tennis was in elementary school. He never thought about it much, being far too focused on kendo. But, once, he saw two men playing tennis, a simple yellow ball being passed around. Sanada saw the utter ridiculousness of tennis, for it's nothing more than beating balls around with a racquet (that was what he thought, at that time), and decided to try his hand with it. He lost miserably the first time he played against another boy, older than he, and vowed to keep playing until he won.
He won, four games to two, he remembered, but, somehow, he discovered that he had come to love the sport, love the sheer thrill of being able to hit a ball with a stringed metal /paddle/, and couldn't quit even if he wanted to.
/Atobe first met tennis when his parents, utterly frustrated with their son's refusal to take up any sport, shoved him into a sports centre and asked him to choose one. It was imperative that the son of the Atobe Empire knew how to play sports, and excel in it, for the Atobe Company specialized in /sporting equipment, for god's sake. Atobe sniffed at volleyball, turned his nose up at basketball, looked haughtily down on football. He decided that nothing was challenging enough, for all those sports were to be played with a team, and nobody was magnificent enough to play with Atobe Keigo.
That was when a tennis ball came crashing towards him, and nearly knocked the not quite seven-year-old out. Atobe looked at the ball, looked at the two opponents standing on each side of the court, and smiled.
"Father, I want to play tennis."
The first time they met, Sanada wondered which god he had offended to gain so much bad karma, and what must he do to get rid of it. He glared across the room towards his new roommate.
"Kindly remove you dirty, smelly feet from my nightstand. If you please." He gritted out.
"You should be honoured that ore-sama is rooming with you Sanada, much less my feet being on the nightstand. Also, my feet aren't dirty and smelly. I believe those adjectives fit your feet better." Atobe smiled, and bared his teeth.
"I don't fucking feel honoured here with your goddamn feet on my nightstand, Atobe. Off." Sanada wrinkled his nose, pushing at the aforementioned feet.
Atobe's feet, Sanada admitted mentally, didn't smell, really. Not in the way one would expect, at least. They smelled like perfume. Who the hell use perfume on their /feet/. Atobe. Right.
"Also, Atobe, when are you going to give me my shirt back?" Sanada continued, and gestured with his nose at the too-large black T-shirt Atobe was wearing.
His hands, of course, continued in their quest to push Atobe's legs off his nightstand.
"I like this shirt, so it's mine now. Sanada, stop pushing at my feet. I know they're perfect and everything, but please restrain yourself." Atobe sighed deeply (/'dramatic bastard,'/ Sanada thought), but he did remove his feet.
Sanada blinked, and then nearly fell out of his bed as his hands continued to apply pressure at something that wasn't there. He managed to catch himself on the bed's edge, shoving himself back on.
"/Yours/...? Never mind," he sighed in frustration, "Thanks, by the way."
Now it was Atobe's turn to blink. "Whatever for?"
Sanada turned, and then glared at the offending feet that had reappeared back on the nightstand. He turned the glare to the owner of the feet, who only blinked innocently back at him.
Sighing, Sanada dragged a hand over his face. "Nothing. You're an annoying bastard, you know that? I'm going to sleep now. Maybe when I wake up you'll just be a nightmare. A very irritating nightmare."
He switched off the lamp on his nightstand, deftly avoiding Atobe's feet. He turned away and pulled the covers over his head to hide from the light coming from Atobe's own lamp. It wasn't long before his breath evened out and he fell asleep.
Behind him, Atobe pulled his foot from Sanada's nightstand with a smirk. Switching off his lamp, he burrowed under his own covers and turned away from Sanada.
'This shirt,' he thought with a yawn, already half-asleep, 'is really comfortable to sleep in. I'll have to take more from Sanada later.'
"I had the worst roommate ever. He's boring, and wears the same damn cap every single hour of the day. It's not hygienic. I told him, but he doesn't listen. He's good, I admit, and he's really, really fast. His Fuurinkazan isn't all that it's said to be, though. Fire and Wind are easy to break. Mountain poses a challenge, yes, but..."
"He's the most conceited/, /annoying person I have ever come across. He complains about everything. The food, the soap, and even my cap! There's nothing wrong with my cap! I happen to like my cap. And he's always bragging about his 'beautiful skills'. True, he's good, that Insight of his is scarily accurate, and he has his Hametsu e no Rondo. But it's not as if those things would defeat me. I beat him, and yet he's still behaving as if he won..."
In two different parts of Japan, two very different teams tried, on varying degrees of success, to stop laughing as their team-mate ranted on and on and /on/...
"What are you doing here? Isn't this a little far away from Rikkai?"
"This is a music store. I'm holding a CD. Form your own conclusions."
"Impolite bastard, move. You're blocking ore-sama's way. I want that... hey, give me that."
"Haven't anyone told you it's impolite to snatch things away from people?"
"I want this one."
"So go get one from the damn shelf and give me back mine."
"It doesn't have your name on it, and I'm the one who's holding on to it right now. By all rights, the CD is mine now. So get your own."
"Do you get some delight in stealing my things?"
"You should be glad that the esteemed ore-sama has deigned your things to be worthy of him, Sanada."
"Someday, Atobe, your ego will grow so big that it'll explode and tear you into tiny pieces. I hope I'll be there to watch."
"You have an absolutely disgusting imagination, Sanada. And... here."
"Ah? Hey, where did you get this?"
"I thought you might like it, since you're staring at it on the shop window for so long and all. Aren't you going to thank me?"
"Wait a minute, you paid for it already."
"Well, of course. Did you miss the huge 'PAID' sticker in front? Are you blind?"
"Why are you buying me things all of the sudden?"
"Think of this as compensation for the shirt and /take it/, for god's sake. I hate owing people things."
"The Lord of the Rings trilogy that cost over a ten thousand yen isn't the same thing as an old T-shirt, Atobe. And, if you had forgotten, I hate owing people things too."
"Hey, don't insult the T-shirt. I actually like it. Plus, I got one too. See? You owe me nothing. Just take it, for god's sake."
"Okay, you idiot nag. Grab that CD on the top shelf for me. No, not that one. The one by Rufus Wainwright. Yes, that. Thanks. Now you don't owe me anything."
"What the hell, Atobe."
"Half of the CD is paid by your T-shirt, the other half is paid for by you getting these two CDs for me. Happy now?"
"You have ridiculous ways of making people pay for things."
"Ore-sama is never ridiculous. Now hurry up, aren't you going to pay for that."
"You are a presumptuous little bastard, aren't you?"
"I resent that comment. My parents have been married for over three years before I was born, Sanada. Now are you done?"
"Yes, yes. Who is the 'idiot nag' /now/, Atobe?"
Akaya looked, wide-eyed, as Hyoutei's captain brought his whole tennis club to silence with just a snap with his fingers. However, his mouth didn't fall open until he heard Sanada-fukubuchou's remark.
"As expected from Atobe."
It wasn't the words themselves, per se, but Akaya could distinctly hear the note of amusement in fukubuchou's voice. Turning, Akaya could only stare bug-eyed when he saw his vice-captain's reaction.
His captain looked amused, open and /relaxed/.
It wasn't an expression seen very often. In fact, Akaya hadn't seen that expression since Yukimura-buchou had first been sent to hospital. He nudged Yanagi-sempai.
"Yanagi-sempai, who is this Atobe guy?" /And why does fukubuchou look so relaxed?/, he didn't ask, but he knew his sempai heard anyway. Yanagi-sempai was like that.
"He's one of the members of last year's Junior Senbatsu camp," Yanagi-sempai said, calm as a river. Akaya felt Yanagi-sempai's hand grab his, and traced a message that nearly made him break out in a fit of giggles.
He's also the boy that Genichirou likes. The one Seiichi mentioned to you.
Akaya grinned, and watched Sanada-fukubuchou watch Atobe-san. His vice-captain was still wearing that small smile, even though it was hidden under the cap. He snuck a glance at Yanagi-sempai, and saw that he was smiling too.
Sanada-fukubuchou was seriously going regret letting Akaya come along with him and Yanagi-sempai to watch Hyoutei and Seigaku's Singles One match, especially after Akaya had gotten the word of this to Yukimura-buchou.
Atobe never expected Sanada to lose.
Atobe had lost to Sanada once, a fact that his team-mates had never let him live down, and so Sanada wasn't suppose to /lose/.
His hands clenched into his fists, and, leaning forward on the balls of his feet, he barely restrained himself from shouting at Sanada.
'Where is that Mountain of yours, now? Where's that Forest that you're so proud of? Why don't you fucking show the rest of your Fuurinkazan, Sanada! You're underestimating Echizen, and that's the worse mistake that you'll ever make!'
Atobe narrowed his eyes into slits, biting his lips as he screamed mentally at Sanada not to lose. He couldn't lose, for he had won against Atobe once. He couldn't lose.
Sanada lost. Seven games to five to Echizen Ryoma. Rikkai had lost the championship.
Atobe had the strangest urge to storm up to the courts and punch Sanada in the face.
Sanada had been half-expecting Atobe's visit to Rikkai (Hyoutei had gained a ticket to the Nationals, after all), but he was still couldn't help but to be surprised when Atobe, dressed in casual clothes and not even his Hyoutei uniform, came straight up to him and challenged him to a match.
He couldn't refuse, and he didn't want to. Slipping into his cold, on-courts mode, he smirked and proceeded to completely slaughter Atobe on the courts.
He was completely immersed in the game, blocking out everything except to annihilate the opponent in front of him. He forgot about his opponent's identity and his face. There was nothing except him and the person across the courts without a face.
Sanada was forcefully jerked out of the mode when Atobe gained a point on him, hitting the ball to the blind spot that nobody should have known about. Seiichi stepped in front of him, and his barely heard Atobe's challenge and Akaya's shout above the roaring in his ears.
This is a good opponent, someone worthy. This is someone that I would have a difficult time defeating and...
What is Yukimura saying?!
He wasn't allowed to play Atobe?!
Sanada growled. "What is the meaning of this? Why did you interfere?"
"If you two had continued, the one who would have lost would have been you, Genichirou."
I know that, Sanada wanted to say, but he knew he couldn't, not in front of everyone like this, I know that, and I don't give a damn. I want to play him, Seiichi. He's grown stronger, and he'll be a challenge, maybe even a far better challenge than you.
But he kept silent, and watched the red of Atobe's shirt as it faded away.
Sanada didn't expect Atobe to lose. He had almost expected to face Hyoutei, not Seigaku, not Shitenhouji, /Hyoutei/, at the Finals.
Atobe was the man who could have defeated him, who almost /did/, who had the ability to. Atobe was the new challenge that Sanada didn't have the chance to face. That challenge shouldn't be beaten before Sanada could face it, damn it!
He watched, tense, fists clenched in his pockets as Echizen and Atobe played the most amazing tiebreak he had ever witness.
'Win,' he thought, gritting his teeth, 'Win, Atobe. Win so I can face you again!
Renji placed a hand on his arm, and he shook it away. His eyes were the darkest black, focused completely on the match in front of him.
When Atobe stood, his voice ringing clear throughout the courts, Sanada narrowed his eyes and focused on Atobe's eyes.
They were glazed.
He knew, then, that Atobe had tried his very best. He knew that Atobe had put everything into his match with Echizen. Right then, Sanada hated Echizen, hated that it was him that forced Atobe to go this far, hated that it was /him/. Sanada wanted to be the first who would be able to force Atobe to abandon that defensive tennis and attack full-out, and now...
He wanted to scream, wanted to scream until his throat is raw for Atobe to /wake up, wake up goddamnit you aren't defeated yet/. He didn't know exactly why he was so passionate about this, when Atobe wasn't a member of his team or even a friend. He didn't know, and he didn't care.
All he wanted, right then, was for Atobe to /win/.
When Echizen sent the Twist Serve over and Atobe didn't move an inch, his usually bright eyes glazed and his grip on his racket slack, Sanada abandoned all hopes that Rikkai would be facing Hyoutei in the Finals.
"Game, set match, Echizen! Seven games to six!"
Sanada saw the electric razor and Echizen's smirk. He felt Seiichi's sudden anger beside him, and heard Seiichi's voice, soft but utterly commanding, echoing throughout the whole stadium. He didn't turn his head.
"That's enough! You have already won. It is utterly degrading to yourself if you dare attack a defenceless opponent this way. Is this how Seigaku do things, /Tezuka/?"
A hush fell over the stadium, and Echizen stopped, the razor inches away from Atobe's head. The razor went away, and Seigaku and Hyoutei suddenly noticed their presence
"Hey... isn't that /Rikkai/?"
"It's the Three Demons! What are they doing here?"
Renji spoke. "Aren't you going to rescue your captain before his hair gets attacked by Echizen again?"
Atobe's team-mates scrambled up to the courts, and the large second year grabbed hold of Atobe before dragging him off the courts. Seigaku stood, entranced, as Yukimura's eyes pinned them down. When Atobe was completely out of reach of Echizen, still unconscious, Yukimura nodded once, and then turned around.
"Let's go, Renji, Genichirou."
It was only when he felt Seiichi and Renji's hands on his sleeves that he tore his eyes away from Atobe, and followed them.
When they exited, he heard the stadium roar with whispers, but his attention wasn't on that.
Atobe, you bastard, you better not lose again.
"And then, and then, that Yukimura guy is so /sugoi/! He just stared at Seigaku and they couldn't move at all! Of course he's /sugoi/; he's Marui-kun's buchou, so of course he must be amazing! Atobe, he /rescued your hair/!"
Atobe pressed the towel towards his face, letting it soak in the sweat. He had awoken just to find out that he had lost, /lost/, against that Echizen brat. And he had almost been shaved, and would have been if not for /Rikkai/.
Really, it would be the most humiliating moment in his life if he could feel anything other than bone-deep exhaustion right now.
"Here." A sports drink was shoved under his nose, and he looked up through lidded eyes.
"Ah. Shishido. Thanks."
He took it and sipped at it slightly as Jiroh continued rambling.
"And that Sanada guy never took his eyes off you /once/! He's, like, super-staring at you throughout the whole thing! But Yukimura is still so /cool/! He..."
Atobe tuned him out. Sanada was staring at him throughout his whole match? Suddenly, he felt a lot worse. He lost in front of Sanada after he had challenged that man. Goddamnit. This really was the worse damn moment in his life.
"Ah...?" He looked up again.
"One of them left you this." Oshitari had that infuriating smirk on his again. That smirk that said he knew something that Atobe didn't. He hated that smirk.
He took the note, unfolding it in slightly shaking hands (he lost; Hyoutei lost and could never face Rikkai in the Finals now).
I'll meet you at Junior Senbatsu, Atobe. We can finish our match then.
Atobe folded the note carefully, placed it beside him, and laughed until he felt tears streaming down his face. His team stared at him, wondering if he had gone insane. He shook his head, wiping away the tears. Ohtori wordlessly handed him another towel.
That /idiot/. Whoever was thinking of a rematch right now?
But Atobe couldn't help but feel the thrill of anticipation, and smiled.
Well, something had gone right today, at least. He had been thinking about scheduling a rematch, after all.
Atobe wasn't very surprised when Rikkai won the Nationals. In fact, he was smug, for he had just won a bet with Oshitari, Shishido and Ohtori. He knew for a fact that Rikkai would win the Nationals.
Sanada had told him so, barely a month earlier.
He noticed Sanada looking towards him from under that detestable cap of his. Atobe twisted his lips into smirk. He was surprised when, instead of frowning or ignoring him, Sanada smirked back, and mouthed "I told you so".
He threw his head back and laughed, and saw the barest hint of a smile on Sanada's lips. He mouthed back, "Gloating already?"
"Of course," Sanada said with his eyes, glittering with rare humour.
Raising an eyebrow, Atobe stepped down the steps, navigating his way through cheering Rikkai students. A Sanada in a good mood was a rare thing to see, and Atobe wasn't going to miss it for /anything/. Besides, they still have that match to discuss, after all.
Behind him, out of his current line of sight, Oshitari high-fived Mukahi, and both held a hand out towards Shishido, who sighed. It wasn't really his luck today, losing two bets in a single day...
Atobe cursed his luck, and simultaneously gave his thanks to the gods before turning around to face his current roommate.
"It seems that we're roommates again, Sanada."
Sanada snorted, pulling the bill of his cap down as he tossed his duffel bag towards the bed on the right.
"Aah. And even in the same damn room too."
They stared at each other for a moment, and then turned away as both tried, and almost failed, to hide a smile.
Really, it's nice to room with someone who already knew one's habits and quirks. That was the only reason why they were smiling.
Meanwhile, in another room, Yukimura and Oshitari entered their shared room together. They turned to each other, once, before Yukimura smiled.
"Just so you know, my fukubuchou has a crush on your buchou."
Oshitari smirked. "Just so you know, my buchou still have that shirt that he'd filched from Sanada a year ago. And he still wears it to sleep."
Yukimura chortled softly. "Does Atobe change the subject whenever Sanada is mentioned?"
"No, he just pretends not to hear the conversation. Except when it's about tennis, that is."
The two new roommates stared at each other for a moment before breaking out laughing. Yukimura was the first the get his voice back.
"They're so in denial."
Oshitari nodded, and adjusted his glasses before he replied. "We have to help them, don't we?"
They shared a smirk.
Well, it was inevitable that this would occur, Niou thought, but do they really have to have this much sexual tension?
'Akaya's looking far too curious and innocent. He's up to something'
"Hey, hey, Niou-sempai, why are they staring at each other like that? You don't look at each other like that during /tennis matches/, sempai." Akaya was staring at him with large, innocent eyes. Yep, definitely up to no good.
"Staring at each other like what?"
"Like they want to throw each other on the courts and fuck each other's brains out."
Yagyuu choked on his water, and Marui bit down on his tongue.
"Damnit, Akaya! You timed that, didn't you?!"
Akaya blinked, and smiled. "I don't know what you're talking about, sempai."
Niou smacked his forehead with his left hand, his right currently busy thumping Yagyuu on the back. "You're definitely spending far too much time with Yukimura, Akaya. Hey, Hiroshi, are you okay?"
Yagyuu nodded, then nudged Niou's attention back to the match. "They're starting."
Niou smiled slightly and slipped a hand around Yagyuu's shoulder before turning back to the match.
He had seen many brilliant matches. One couldn't be in Rikkai and around the Troika without seeing some really spectacular tennis, but he thought that this one truly took the cake, the trophy, and the whole damn /cabinet/.
Sanada was approaching the match like he would approach a life-and-death battle. He was deathly serious, and Niou could already see the faint glow of the State of Self-Actualization gathering around him already. Atobe's face was clear and completely blank, his eyes bright and stark blue against his face.
Niou wasn't exactly sure how to describe the match. It wasn't just tennis/. Atobe was /burning/, his eyes twin flames of blue. Sanada, surprisingly, wasn't. He was cold, calm, like a volcano before it erupted, like the ground before a quake. Niou lived in Japan, and he knew the dangers of earthquakes /very well.
He was faintly aware of Yagyuu's sharp intake of breath beside him, of Yagyuu's hand gripping his. He was also aware of the two coaches, of Yukimura and the other captains coming to watch. This wasn't an approved match, he knew. The two of them were in the same group. This match wasn't one that was /allowed/, but, right now, he doubted that anyone /cared/. He doubted that anyone could, or wanted to, stop them now.
He supposed he underestimated Sakaki.
"Game, Atobe! Three games all!"
All heads turned towards Sakaki's voice, low and reasonable and authoritative, as he spoke.
"Sanada, Atobe, the two of you are chosen for the Junior Senbatsu team. You have shown us enough."
Sanada jerked, and Niou knew that he was hazing his mind again. He knew for he had done it himself every time he played a match. It was only during a match that he cleared his mind completely, or the world would be far too stark to live in. He and Atobe bowed towards Sakaki, once, in unison before walking off the courts. Niou could see Atobe shaking.
"Masaharu." Yagyuu's voice, soft and almost unheard.
"We have to get on the team." /A team with people like that is worthy/, Niou heard, and felt the hardness of Yagyuu's voice, harder than steel. He nodded.
"Aah. We /must/."
Atobe wasn't really surprised when Sanada ambushed him after the match. He had barely managed to close the door behind him before he was pushed against said door, and his mouth being invaded by Sanada's tongue.
He wasted no time in kissing back, fingers digging into the front of Sanada's shirt, pulling his roommate ever closer to him. The adrenaline, the utter rush from the match made his blood roar in his ears. He closed his eyes, and pulled a hand free to drag it through Sanada's hair. His hand found the cap, and the tugged it off and dropped it to the floor before burying his fingers into Sanada's hair.
"What..." he panted, when they broke apart minutes later, "What brought that on?"
Sanada didn't answer him, and Atobe didn't expect him to. He was pressed against the wall again when they had both caught their breaths. Sanada's teeth nibbled on his lips, and Atobe couldn't help but gasp as he opened his mouth.
"You've had prior experience of this, don't you?" He spoke when they backed away from each other again, panting for breath.
"Yes. And Atobe, you are so much sexier when you shut up. Don't talk so I can kiss you again."
For the first time, Atobe obeyed.
When Yukimura heard about the kiss, he sighed in relief and smiled to himself, thinking that he hadn't needed to interfere after all. Until Sanada opened his mouth again, that is.
"Of course, it was all due to after-match tension. And I was happy about getting on the team. I don't like Atobe that way."
'Sanada,' Yukimura thought, '/was an /idiot.' In fact, he greatly reminded him of a certain river in a certain country in Africa.
He did need to interfere, just for his friend's happiness, after all. Slowly, an idea crept into his mind and his eyes lit up. Sanada didn't notice, only choosing to ramble on. Yukimura snickered mentally.
Oh yes, he did have the perfect idea.
And that was how Sanada and Atobe ended up playing Doubles Two, even though the two of them didn't know it.
They were playing against a team of brothers, Tom and Terry Griffys, if Sanada remembered correctly. Sanada knew that their skills were inferior to his and Atobe's, and yet the Japanese team was losing.
The reason was obvious: their combination /sucked/.
Sanada silently cursed the person who gave Sakaki the idea of setting them up as Doubles Two. Atobe looked half-tired already, having used the TannhaÃ¼ser serve for two consecutive games. Sanada gritted his teeth in frustration and anger. Their opponents were far too flashy, and didn't seem to be taking them seriously.
The ball shot towards them, and Atobe missed. Sanada, without thinking, ran forward and returned the ball, even though it was clearly Atobe's.
"That was my ball, Sanada."
"You can argue with me after we've won, Atobe. First, we have to defeat these two."
Atobe looked startled, then nodded. Somehow, during that single moment, /they connected/. He heard comments, afterwards, on how they were 'dancing on the courts' and he thought that it probably looked like that to the audience. He knew that it looked the same to him too. Sanada couldn't help but follow the music in his mind, knowing without looking or asking that Atobe was following the same music too.
"Game, set and match, Sanada-Atobe pair! Six games to four!"
They looked at each other, standing on the opposite ends of the same court. Atobe smiled, and Sanada saw his arm shook ever so slightly. He walked forward and shook the brothers' hands, exchanging pleasantries before grabbing Atobe's arm and pulling him back towards the changing rooms.
"You overstrained your elbow."
Atobe gave a one-armed shrug, as his right arm was still accosted by Sanada.
"Probably, but I'll be fine."
Atobe watched as Sanada rifled through his own bags before pulling out a small spray bottle. "Use this. It works better than the perfumed shit you use."
Atobe raised an eyebrow, but took the bottle and popped the cap open. "Don't expect me to thank you when you just insulted my things, Sanada."
"I don't do things to be /thanked/, Atobe." Sanada growled, half-frustrated.
However, he stayed and watched while Atobe sprayed the muscle relaxant on his elbow and visibly relax as the throbbing pain went away. When Atobe tried to hand it back, Sanada shook his head.
"Keep it. And spray it on your elbow every three hours. I have more, and you need it more than I do right now."
Atobe sighed, "Yes, yes. Thanks, Sanada."
"I told you, I don't need to be thanked. Are you coming? Niou and Yagyuu's match is coming up next."
Atobe nodded and stood, pocketing the little spray bottle as he did.
"Let's go, then."
How's high school life? Are you a regular yet? I am; Hyoutei's high school policies are apparently different from Junior High, but this coach is truly incompetent. I remember Rikkai not having a coach, how did you accomplish that? Ore-sama may deign himself to try that method.
How the hell did you get my email address? Never mind, I don't want to know. High school life isn't all that different from junior high life. I'm already a regular, I'm sure you know. Congratulations to your own regular's spot, I suppose.
If you want to chase away the coach, just do what Yukimura did: show that you're a way better coach to the regulars. But I'm sure that'll be far too hard for you to do.
Are you underestimating ore-sama? A task like that would be easy; I'm already in charge of most of the regulars' training menus anyway. I'm the only first year in the team, but I guess you can't say that much for yourself. Still following in that Yukimura and Yanagi's footsteps, Sanada?
They let the first year on the team take charge of the training menus? Is Hyoutei really that incompetent? And no, I'm not the only first year on the team. Yukimura, Yanagi and Yagyuu are on the team too. I expect Niou to usurp some poor regular's spot sooner or later. Marui seemed to have lost interest in tennis now that Jackal had returned to Brazil... Why am I telling you this?
I don't 'follow in their footsteps', Atobe. I walk beside them. That's why friends do, but I'm sure you won't understand that.
When a first year is as good as ore-sama, it is only wise to entrust important things such as training menus to him. That's just logic, Sanada. And who are you to say whether or not I know about friends? I understand perfectly what you just said, Sanada. If that was supposed to be an insult, you failed miserably.
By the way, do you have the book 'The Little Prince'?
I don't want to argue with you any more. It's just a waste of time.
You concede defeat?
Is your copy a Japanese version or the original French one? I need the latter for a project, and I can't find mine for some reason.
No, I just agree to disagree with your views. It's a tie, Atobe.
I have the French one. And if you aren't going to buy another copy, I can lend it to you. I don't need it anyway.
A No-Game, then?
Mine is a first edition that is lost somewhere in the family library. I still have it, so I'm not going to buy a new one. Meet you at the music store in Tokyo this Saturday?
You can call it that, yes.
That's fine with me.
It was in the middle of practice when Sanada's phone rang. His team-mates watched, amused, as he scrambled for the phone.
"Hundred yen that it's Atobe," Niou murmured.
"I'm not going to let you win a hundred yen so easily, Niou. Who the hell else could it be?" Marui popped a bubble and shrugged, walking away.
Niou stared after him. "He's gotten a lot bitchier since Jackal left, eh, Hiroshi?"
"Stop baiting Marui-kun, Masaharu."
Sanada ignored his team's chatter as he picked up his phone.
"Sanada." he barked.
"I'm Captain. I told you that I would be Captain before third year, Sanada." Atobe's voice, smug and filled with barely concealed excitement, came from the phone.
"Atobe, I'm in the middle of practice." He sighed.
"I know. So am I. I just defeated the old Captain. Be glad that you're the first person that ore-sama decide to grace this news with, Sanada.
"Right. Whatever. Anything else? I have to get back to practice sometimes today, you know."
"Kantou's coming up soon." Atobe sounded deceptively casual.
Sanada nodded before mentally slapped himself when he realized that, no; Atobe couldn't see him through the phone. "I know. Rikkai's going to win again this year, Atobe."
"That's because I didn't get to play during the Finals last year, Sanada. But to get to the point... Tezuka's Seigaku's vice-captain this year. He's going to play Singles Two. I can play him this year, Sanada, and I will win."
Sanada frowned. "You are still obsessing over Tezuka? Whatever, I don't care. But Atobe, remember that Tezuka isn't the only person that you have to face. There'll be even stronger opponents."
Like himself, for example. Sanada felt unreasonably irritated that Atobe was only focused on Tezuka. Rikkai was going to win the Kantou Regional, and given Hyoutei's results this year, there's a very good chance they were going to be facing them in the Finals. Sanada barely repressed the roar of excitement and adrenalin at the thought of being able to face Atobe, the much stronger Atobe, on the courts.
Atobe seemed not to have heard his comment, murmuring half-coherently into the phone. "Hyoutei will be facing Seigaku in the semi-finals... I'll have Tezuka for my opponent again... The Tezuka Zone is a problem..."
"Look, Atobe. I don't really care about Tezuka or his Zone. That Zone of his is based on ball control. Who was the one who kept bragging to me that his ball control is quote, "beautiful, magnificent and perfect', unquote, Atobe? If that doesn't work, just hit him balls that won't spin or something. You have a brain, Atobe, use it. I'm sick of hearing you talk about Tezuka."
Sanada hung up, feeling irrationally angry. What he said was true, and was part of his strategy to beat the Zone one day. Tezuka was a worthy opponent, after all.
'But not one as good as Atobe,' a small voice in his head said. He silently agreed.
"Genichirou, is your phone call over? You're slacking off!" His head jerked up, and he saw Yukimura's teasing smirk.
"Tarundoru!" Akaya chirped beside Seiichi.
Sanada narrowed his eyes. "I'll show you 'Tarundoru', Akaya."
On the other end of the line, Atobe held the phone to his ear, hearing nothing except his mind frantically trying to piece the information Sanada had just given him. His lips slowly twisted into a smirk, and he forced down a chuckle.
'Thank you, Sanada.'
Sanada wanted desperately to laugh.
Atobe was playing Tezuka, Singles Two. It was a rematch of the match in Junior High, and there were whispers everywhere about how Tezuka was going to win this time, to take revenge on Atobe for ruining his shoulder.
'Fools,' Sanada thought. 'Atobe is completely controlling the game.'
And he was. Tezuka's infamous Zone was sealed as Atobe hit shot after shot without a single spin. Tezuka had tried to make Atobe hit cord balls without avail, for Atobe had known, instantly, what Tezuka was trying to do.
'That Atobe...' He had known exactly what Sanada was thinking of in just two sentences. He had taken Sanada's strategy and improved on it.
"Game, set, Atobe! Seven games to five!"
Atobe just had to win one more set. Atobe was smiling, wide and open, when Tezuka activated his Pinnacle of Hard Work. His arm glowed faintly, and Atobe laughed.
"Finally you face me with your full power, Tezuka!"
Sanada watched, entranced, as Atobe lured Tezuka further and further into his trap. The sole weakness of Tezuka's Pinnacle was that the player wasn't thinking, and was only mirroring his opponents' moves. What Atobe was doing was dangerous, almost suicidal, but Sanada was confident that if anyone could do it, it was Atobe.
Atobe was measuring his shots so precisely that when Tezuka hit it back with two times the power, the balls go out. Every, single time.
"Game to Atobe, three games to one!"
The stands were full of whispers now, and the Seigaku regulars were looking extremely worried. 'They should be,' Sanada thought. 'Their vice-captain is going to be defeated.'
Tezuka seemed to realize what Atobe was doing. Sanada smirked, wide and amused, as Atobe suddenly went on the offensive. He seemed to have stopped controlling the ball, and sent it haphazardly everywhere. The balls still have no spin. They were flying all over the court, and Tezuka had to keep running just to get them. Atobe was doing this on purpose.
"Tezuka's game relies heavily on his ability to read the game. Atobe is changing his play styles so fast that Tezuka can't predict his shots. Atobe is in full control of the game now." Renji's voice, soft and almost awed, came from his right.
"Atobe has control right from the start. Tezuka is going to lose." Seiichi said, confident. "You knew about this, didn't you, Sanada?"
He shook his head. "I know he's going to win. He's been obsessing over defeating Tezuka for over two years, so there is no way Atobe is going to lose. I just didn't know /how/."
"Game, set and match, Atobe! Six games to four! Hyoutei will advance to the Finals!"
Behind them, the voices of the Hyoutei students rose into a roar. "Atobe! Atobe! Atobe! Hyoutei! Hyoutei! Hyoutei!"
Sanada blocked their voices out and caught Atobe's eyes. He saw the glint of the challenge there, and knew his own eyes were answering the challenge better than anything else could. Words spilled out of his mouth before he even thought of them:
"Seiichi. Put me on Singles Three. Please."
Seiichi nodded, a faint smile on his lips. "Of course. I won't have it any other way."
He couldn't wait.
'Sanada,' Atobe thought, 'is going at full power at the very start.'
Atobe had placed himself on Singles Three. He wasn't underestimating the abilities of his team, but he wanted there to be no chance that he won't be able to play Sanada at the Kantou Finals. Sanada was standing on the opposite court, tall and dark and straight as a rack. His racquet was carried like a sword at his side.
Atobe exhaled, calming his heart down as it suddenly decided that beat extremely fast.
'Finally, finally, we can finish our match.'
"Best of three sets match! Hyoutei service play, Atobe to serve!"
He wasn't going to use the TannhaÃ¼ser serve at the beginning. He knew better than that. The serve would just tire him out unnecessary, plus it wouldn't be good if he's too dependant on it.
He served, and the match began.
Atobe could barely remember what had happened. He only remembered that roar in his ears, of his heart beating so fast he thought it was going to burst out of his ribcage. His remembered the excitement, the utter thrill of playing Sanada. He remembered the ball. He remembered Sanada's Mountain and Forest and beating them to the ground. He remembered his own TannhaÃ¼ser being sent back towards him and smiling as he returned it. He remembered Sanada's smirk and completely open expression as they played. He remembered losing the first set, then winning the second.
He had never had so much fun in his life, not even when he was playing Tezuka. His blood was singing, and he was fighting to breathe, but he knew he couldn't stop, not now, not when they were at the climax, not when this last set would determine the winner.
It wasn't about Hyoutei or the Kantou Championship any more. It was just him and Sanada, the green asphalt courts, the yellow ball and the feel of the racquet in his hands. He could vaguely hear his team-mates' comments and his club screaming his name, but those are inconsequential things.
It wasn't about winning any more. It was just about /tennis/, just purely tennis, and the joy of playing the game.
Atobe laughed, and saw Sanada smiled in return. They were soaked with sweat, but Atobe didn't care.
"Game to Sanada! Six games all! Tiebreak!"
'This,' Atobe thought as he sent a TannhaÃ¼ser over and saw Sanada returned it with Atobe's own move. 'This is what tennis should be.'
When the referee called out: "Game, set and match to Sanada! Seven games to six!" Atobe didn't feel a single drop of remorse for losing. He didn't mind losing, and that had never happened before. This match had taken almost two years to finish and it was all worth it.
So what if Hyoutei was just the runner-up at Kantou? They will defeat Rikkai at the Nationals. And Atobe and Sanada would be able to play against each other again.
That was how it should be.
Atobe laughed, and Sanada smiled.
"You don't look like you mind losing to Sanada." Oshitari commented as they walked back to the bus.
Atobe shrugged. "I don't."
"That's not like you."
"The match is the best that I ever had. So what if I lost? I'll win against him in the Nationals."
"You want to play him again?" Oshitari's voice sounded odd, like he knew something Atobe didn't, and was being extremely amused by the knowledge.
"Of course I do."
"Atobe... Other than Tezuka and now Sanada, you never wanted to play against the same person more than once. And you don't talk about playing Tezuka now, after you've defeated him. Is that match with Sanada that special?"
"Stop asking stupid questions, Yuushi. I told you, that match was the best one I ever had in my whole damn /life/."
"Including the one with Tezuka?"
"Yes, including the one with Tezuka."
Oshitari grabbed his shoulders, and placed himself straight into Atobe's line of sight. "Do you even wonder /why/?"
He blinked. "Should I?"
"For god's sake, Atobe, I saw you while you were playing Sanada. You had never looked like /that/, not even when you played that match with Tezuka that you've ranted about for /two damn years/, Atobe. You look happy, really, really happy. Like you just found the other part of your soul."
"You sound like a romantic sap."
"I am a romantic sap, but this isn't about me. Keigo, how long have you known Sanada? Who is the one you called first when you were named Captain? Who have you been emailing for almost two years? Whose shirt do you still wear to sleep? Who is the only person you call by their given name and who isn't part of the team or related to you? Are you an idiot?!"
Atobe blinked. He stared at Oshitari, who was still gripping him by his shoulders, and blinked again. Two years of unconscious actions, of errant thoughts, of habits that he didn't even know of suddenly came together. Atobe's mouth fell open.
"Oh /fuck/, I have a crush on him."
"Try again. Be more honest with yourself this time." Oshitari ordered, his eyes boring into Atobe's.
Atobe took a deep breath, let it out, and took another one. He exhaled explosively.
"Oh /fuck fuck fuck/, I'm in love with him."
"Good. Finally you admit it." Oshitari let go of his shoulders and started to walk towards the bus again, leaving Atobe behind, still slack-jawed and staring.
"Oh, and Keigo? I think he's in love with you too. Yukimura told me. He's in as much denial as you are. I suggest that the two of you call each other and meet up sometime this week. The whole team is sick of your denial, and his team is sick of his."
Atobe nodded numbly, mind running in overdrive trying to make sense of the situation. Sanada was in love with him. Okay, fine. He had expected that. Sanada was in denial. Believable, yes. Yukimura told Oshitari... wait a minute.
"Yuushi! When the hell did you and Yukimura ever talked?!"
"We bonded over you and Sanada's denial and stupidity during Junior Senbatsu two years ago. Aren't you glad?" Oshitari grinned, and his fake glasses glinted in the sunglass.
Atobe glared. "Oshitari!"
They were on the very back of the bus, riding back to school. Sanada was still on adrenalin high, and thus didn't notice how the rest of the team was in front, and was trying inconspicuously to listen to their conversation. Obviously, they weren't very successful.
"Genichirou, you have the worse case of denial I have ever seen."
"What?" Sanada blinked.
"I /said/, you are in love with Atobe, and is in very deep denial about this." Seiichi explained slowly, patiently.
"I'm not." Seiichi raised an eyebrow. "Really, I'm not!" Seiichi raised the other eyebrow.
"I mean, just because I call him everyday, that's because he calls me, by the way. I reply to his emails twice a day for over a year, meet with him in places I don't even go to every week. I call him by his given name, yes, but that doesn't..." Sanada trailed off.
He suddenly realized that he remembered every single thing he had ever done with Atobe. He saved every email, didn't delete his messages and voicemails. He realized, with a jerk, that a phone call from Atobe cheered him up, and he had came to expect said phone calls, and worried when Atobe didn't call. He had Keigo on his speed dial. He called him by his first name and he wasn't part of the team. He enjoyed his conversations with Atobe, enjoyed the arguments and the debates and pointless bickering.
"Oh /fuck/, I think I have a crush."
Yukimura had run out of eyebrows, so he stood and leaned against the back of the seat in front. "Wrong, Genichirou. Guess again, and be more honest this time."
Sanada's eyes widened.
"Oh /holy mother of god oh fuck/, I'm in love with Atobe."
"Bingo." Seiichi smiled, and looked as if he might just burst into applause at that moment. "Atobe's in love with you too, and is also in denial. You two are more similar than you would think. Oshitari told me that, by the way, so the source is legitimate. As your Captain, Genichirou, I order you to call Atobe sometime this week and talk to him. We are all sick of your denial."
Sanada stared into space, nodding silently to Yukimura's words. Call Atobe by this week... wait a second.
"Seiichi! Today's already Friday! What do you mean this week?!"
"I mean today or /tomorrow/, Genichirou. It's long past time that you two should resolve this."
Sanada could only nod.
In the front of the bus, Niou burst into laughter and had to bury his face into Yagyuu's shirt. Marui bit his fist in an attempt to keep quiet. Yagyuu was chuckling softly, and Yanagi's usually serene expression was broken by the twitching of his lips. Akaya howled in laughter, not even bothering to be quiet, trusting his Yanagi-sempai's hand over his mouth to muffle his voice.
"So, Genichirou, I have been informed by Oshitari that I am in denial. Also, I have recently come to the conclusion that I, in a moment of stupidity, have fallen in love with you." Atobe stated calmly, balling his fists and stuffing them into his pockets. His hands were shaking.
"Really, Keigo? Because Yukimura told me that I am in denial too, and I have also came to the conclusion that I, in an even worse moment of stupidity, have fallen in love with you too. How coincidental." Sanada replied, and kept his hands behind his back to hide them from Atobe.
Atobe laughed quietly, soft chuckles that seemed that echo around them. He had invited Sanada to his home, again, today, and they were strolling through his gardens. The flowers weren't really what his attention was focused on, however.
"We really are idiots, aren't we?"
"Really, two /years/?" Sanada chuckled, cautiously wrapping an arm around Atobe.
"Do you really think I'm sexy?" Atobe's lips quirked into a smile. Sanada raised an eyebrow.
"Mmhmm. I still maintain that you're sexier when you shut up, though."
"Ore-sama's voice is perfectly sexy; you just don't have the necessary ears to hear it, Genichirou." Atobe turned his nose up, looking away from Sanada in mock-anger even as he pressed himself closer.
Sanada rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes. Whatever you say, Keigo. But, really, you are much sexier when you're quiet."
Turning Atobe around suddenly, he pressed the shorter boy to the tree. Any reply was lost as he bent down slightly and kissed his new boyfriend, who immediately kissed him back.
A few minutes later, Sanada pulled away, smug grin in place as he placed a chaste kiss on Atobe's lips.
Really, he should have expected that kick to the shins.
"So... uh... we're together now. Officially."
Hiyoshi blinked. "Wait a minute, you mean you two weren't together before?"