Categories > Anime/Manga > Prince of Tennis


by Celrevia 1 review

Niou can see twenty steps ahead. Yagyuu can not. In which Niou does not quite court Yagyuu and Yagyuu's prescription needs adjustments. One-shot. D1.

Category: Prince of Tennis - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance - Characters: Niou Masaharu, Yagyuu Hiroshi - Published: 2005-05-11 - Updated: 2005-05-11 - 10284 words - Complete

Prince of Tennis


per·spi·cac·i·ty : /n. /Acuteness of perception, discernment, or understanding.


When you are little, your sister waddles into your room and shoves books into your hands. You are made, through pouts and sighs and long angry looks, to read them to her.

She likes the classical fair, she likes stories about rags to riches, but she is also a Yagyuu and that means she likes facts.

"How do they make slippers out of glass?" She asks you, rubbing at her eyes.

It has been a very long first-day-at-school for her, and you lead her by the hand to her room and nudge her in the direction of her bed. You flick the night light on for good measure.

"First, there is stone. It is broken into little pieces over a long time by weather and wind and rain. It crumbles and becomes sand. When it is sand it is taken and put under high heat, pressure," you tell her, tucking the blanket under her chin, "and that makes into glass."

"That's impractical, right? To have slippers made of glass? It would hurt if they broke. You'd get cut from the glass."

"Yes. Yes you would."

She is asleep before you can explain about fairy tales.

Nobody trusts Niou Masaharu because he has the devil's grace.

He can be all smiles and politeness, can hold doors for girls and carry books for them too, and can act the perfect gentleman.

But it is acting, and it is Niou, after all, because as soon as the girls are walking up stairs he is bending down to peek up skirts.

If he gets slapped, he laughs, wicked and uncontrollable. If teachers catch him smoking, he just spits at their shoes. If he gets caught disrupting the flow of normality, he leaves halfway through the reprimand. Somehow, he ends up in most of your classes.

He is, in a way, worse than Kirihara, if only because you have to deal with him every day.

You remember him putting ice down your back in first year. He stuffed your locker full of fish in second. Set fire to all your books in third. You have no reason to trust him or to even listen to him. He casually attempts to make a fool out of you every day. Sometimes he tries to do it twice.

You will not let him. You will not let Niou Masaharu win this, because you are a sore loser and always have been. If you have one vice, maybe it is this; but you figure, if you must play, then you play to win.

There are many possibilities, though. Other possibilities, possibilities that must be put into consideration, when playing to win.

You notice it after he notices it, after he comes up to you, slides up to you, and when he looks at you and into you... You know. It is inevitable. It is fate.

You played doubles with him once, in first year, and that was enough. Both of you were horrible at it, but he knew when you looked up and you knew when he cast a glance your way. You missed the smash. He fell to his face trying to save the game when your sempai had made a drop shot.

It was a miserable loss, for the other team, when you both realized what you were doing; what this look means, what this touch means, what position to go to.

He read you seven steps forward, in your first game, and you looked at him and knew. Suddenly feet were moving and you were in the right place and he was in the right place and it fit. Tab A into Slot B. It was like finding gravity.

He stuck a saliva-covered finger in your ear, after the game, and called you four-eyes. You ignored him, swabbed out your ear, and told him your name.

That was the start.

You work well together, surprisingly. This is a fact. He is good at what he does. This is a fact. You trust him in tennis. This is a fact.

Maybe that is a mistake. Maybe it will backfire. Maybe that will be your downfall. There are many 'maybes'.

You are a Yagyuu, and subsequently, only interested in facts.

Niou has many bad habits, one of which is picking at his lips.

Niou does not seem to believe in simple things, essential things. He talks so fast and so loud and with such constancy that you wonder as to how he breathes at all, sometimes, because he seems to exhale more than he inhales. Maybe it is the lack of oxygen that makes him the way he is.

Niou also doesn't believe in drinking water. He will drink sports drinks, anything with sugar, and anything with caffeine. He hates tea, though. The fact that he is never properly hydrated leads to the fact that he has severely chapped lips, which Niou picks at constantly.

His lips peel in all weather. Dry days, humid days, be it winter, spring, summer, or fall.

They never get better and Niou does not seem to believe in chapstick or lip balms.

Niou throws away the medicated lip balm that you leave in his shoe locker; it's prescription and you stole it from your father's work place. You find the unopened box of medication at the bottom of his wastebasket in his room, while you are working your way through the better part of his math homework.

He has worked most of his bottom lip raw. It must be in part because Niou has always been an agitator.

He picks at them constantly and in front of people. When talking, his fingers fly to his mouth, and suddenly, skin is tugged and there is blood pouring down the crease in his lips and he is licking it away and tugging at more of it, until all the new skin is exposed.

There is nothing but scabs, raw skin, and un-picked skin covering his lips. They form strange and startling shapes and it is difficult to watch him when he talks without staring at the battlefield left.

It is disgusting.

You try to tell him that it is not in his best interest to pick constantly. If it gets infected, you half-heartedly warn him, then tennis will be delayed. Things become troublesome with infections.

Usually he doesn't listen you; he's too busy with his cellphone game or with unwinding the fabric in his sleeve.

Sometimes he stops, midway through peeling back and exposing the raw flesh of his lip, and smirks at you. He doesn't stop, however. Not quite, at least. He always goes back to picking away as soon as you look down, or away from his eyes.

He does it mindlessly. He keeps picking until it bleeds.

Last year, Niou stole all of your Valentines chocolates. He burnt all the love letters and confession notes that had been stuffed in there. And then he denied that he had done it, with chocolate smeared at the corners of his mouth and ash on his fingers.

You thanked him for it because you never really cared, but asked, politely, if he would stop breaking into your locker.

He refused, not very politely, and asked what exactly you had stuck up your ass because didn't you two share everything anyway? Weren't you doubles partners? And that, besides, Yagyuu-kun never really seemed to keep anything interesting in his locker.

You got a new lock, but told him the combination so he wouldn't have to break it with bolt-cutters the next time he wanted in.

He breaks it anyway.

You spend a great deal of money buying replacement locks over the next months.

Your first kiss is from a quiet girl in a dark classroom. She brushed your lips carefully with her own, chaste, and since then you have only seen her twice. She does not talk to you.

You don't tell him that, though, when he asks you whether you've ever been kissed.

It's not something that you would divulge to him. After all, you spend your days talking to Niou about tennis, and what you are going to do after school, and why exactly you're not going to switch with him now. You try to keep him from all of your personal affairs, if only because it is improper on the part of the young lady in question. You have a horrible feeling that Niou would do something about, or to, her.

But he persists. And you deny. And it becomes a game until he is wheedling and calling you /Hiroshi-chan/, instead of Yagyuu, because he knows that you hate that.

You nearly fall over when he catches you against the wall and smashes his open mouth to yours.

Because it is Niou who is doing this, he misses, and manages to nip your nose with his teeth, tries to send his tongue up one nostril. He has breath that smells like Bunta's gum.

It's so horrible that you choke violently on your own spit. You want to throw up, if only because the feeling of someone's tongue sliding up the bridge of your nose is disgusting and you can't quite think that this is the most unsanitary thing that Niou has ever done to you. You slide down the wall, ducking under his arm and nearly fall over yourself as you clamber away in shaky jolting moves. You spend a whole three seconds dry-retching against the side of the sink before beating a hasty retreat.

When you push out of the bathroom, wiping your nose with the hem of your sleeve, you can hear him laughing as the door swings open and shut.

"Gentlemen don't kiss and tell!" He yells at you after you're halfway down the hall.

You ignore the stares from the few stray onlookers.

He laughs loud and long and the sensation of his mouth, impressed on your memory - rough, crushed against your skin - sends violent shudders through you as you walk away from that laugh. Away from Niou.

This is not quite the worst thing he has done to you, you tell yourself as you round the corner. He will undoubtedly do worse.

Unlike your first kiss, it is not long until you see Niou again. And you keep seeing him.

Niou is a narcissist.

You know that the white hair and those dark eyes are just lures.

The white hair draws attention from the angular lines in his face, a face that could cut. His pointed chin is softened by pale hair, the unkempt look adds to the appearance of something entirely animalistic. The braid is just for effect, something about admiration for old Chinese kung-fu movies. The smile he puts on at school, for girls, is different. It is wider, and a bit softer than what he usually shows you.

The effect he has mastered to make himself look like that, like a glittering viper, is a lure for many of the girls in your class.

They can't quite resist his pull, and he must have had a lion's share of the girls who were too scared, to slow, too stupid, to pull away before they realized what they had gotten in to.

When you dye your hair white, you can look at your face and see Niou's. The softening affect makes you look like an angel, Niou-who-is-you says.

He watches you with those sharp eyes and that sharp tongue wags on and on about how you two can make this better, with a little more practice. And the way he watches you, when you are being him, is the look of a man who has fallen in love with his own reflection. Niou watches you, predatory, and tells you how to stand, how to stare, how to laugh.

Niou has not yet dyed his hair, so in the reflection of the mirror there are two Nious watching each other.

Niou's hair falls on Niou's face and Yagyuu who is you, who is Yagyuu being Niou and not quite completely Yagyuu, looks like an angel with that white hair softening his features.

You know that Niou is anything but soft. That is a fact.

Niou is called many things.

He is Trickster, Daring, Dangerous, Devious, Devil, Heartbreaker, Damned... He is a lot of people, really. He has the ability to be a lot of people for anyone who needs him to be someone to them.

You stick with the basics.

It is Niou when you refer to him at tennis club, when you are alone with him, or when you are thinking about him. It is specifically Niou-kun at school, in front of others, or when you decide to play his game. It is only Masaharu-kun when you don't want to play his game.

"Have you lost weight?" He asks, as he tugs at your pants.

You are in the boys' bathroom, the one on the second floor, close to the gymnasium. This is a favored switch point because others know better than to go to a haunt of Niou Masaharu's.

"This may make things a bit more difficult. Just like you," he sing-songs, undoing your belt, "/Hiroshi-chan/."

There is an edge in your voice when you address him. He is ignoring the polite coughing sounds, is too busy playing The Game.



"I do not think it is prudent to make a switch right before physical education class. We will be late."

He looks at you when he pulls your fly down and lifts up the hem of your shirt. He knows quite well that you will not stop him. You can't stop him. He tugs down your pants and you step out of them, knocking off your shoes at the same time. He runs his tongue over his dry, chapped, lips and smiles at you. You look him back in the eye and tug your tie off.

"It's unfortunate that you think that way, Hiroshi-chan," He purrs as he slips out of his own pants, "As I am going to have to do extra training to lose the weight if we want to get this just perfect."

You come out of the bathroom wearing his face. He comes out of the bathroom wearing yours. There is the ghost of a smile lingering there.

Fifteen. Love.

He bends your glasses in his hands; it is a visible warp in the light titanium frame. He tries to unbend it, and it springs back the way it originally was, but just a little bit off.

"My bad," He says.

You sigh, as you put them back on, "It's nothing. I'm getting new prescriptions in the spring, anyway."

"The spring is still a long way off," he says, eyes glinting, "You're going to have to live with that bend in the frame. It looks kind of weird."

"And whose fault is that?"

"My bad." And he shrugs.

You share a Psychology course with him in your third year.

Niou is the Id. He is all of those desires rolled up into one physical embodiment. All he wants is to win, win, win. All he wants is all he can get. He is bottomless. He is desire, need, lust, greed. He is a ball of dark flickering things that you can ignore, if you want to.

You are the Superego. You hold him in. You are years of straight-backed walking, sitting up, looking straight ahead. You are stone cold.

Tennis is the Ego. It is what pulls a compromise between you two.

"That class is so full of shit," he tells you, as he flicks his cigarette ash in your face, "Freud is full of shit."

Now, as you look into his face, your face, as you lean against the side of the school building, you flick the ash of your cigarette - his cigarette - onto the ground.

"You're so full of shit," Niou tells Yagyuu. Yagyuu tells Niou. In essence, it is the same either way.

"This is so full of shit."

The teachers seem to think that you hold sway in Niou's court. You wish you could tell them otherwise.

"You skipped maths today," you say to him as he volleys the ball back to Bunta, "Sensei caught me on my way to physics. I have all your homework in my folder and the class notes that someone took for you."

You bring your arm back as Bunta runs forward and just catches the ball in time, the shot is lucky yet still controlled. They are getting better.

You repel the shot back to Jackal, who returns it without fail. Niou bends down to tie his shoes and talk to you, leaving the better part of the court to your care. A thin sheen of sweat is already forming on your back, you hope that Niou is not going to spend the entire match playing around. The doubles two pair seems to be particularly formidable today.

"It's a good thing that you take such good care of me Yagyuu-/kun/. I don't know what I'd do without you."

You can feel your mouth tighten into a long thin line as he says this, barely dodging the shot aimed at your face.

Niou lies down on the court, hands behind his head, and stares up into the sky.

He says it to you, using your face, "I hate you."

You are wearing his, which is why you are smiling. You purr at him, you grin at him, you are him.

"I know," you tell him back, leaning in to him a little too closely, a little too much like Niou, "But I don't hate you."

He hits you and you laugh.

It ruins the switch, but it makes everything alright in the end.

There is a bruise on your cheek. There is the sun breaking through the trees. And there is tennis.

He is looking at you, calculating, as you raise the ball with one hand and get yourself into the proper positions for a serve. Bend your knees, be careful with the toss of the ball, and give it just the slightest of spins for better speed and precision; give a bite to the serve.

There is depth in those eyes, those knife-eyes that cut at you, the way he looks at you is calculated and sends a message. This is the look that says, 'we are going to win because we are made to win and winning is what we do', which is nonsense talk, really.

Niou emits a long sigh for each second that ticks by, when there is an artful play at rallying and the other team, faceless and nameless and merely standing statues when faced with the force that is you and Niou and tennis.

You can see the back of his head as he moves from one side of the court to the other. He is careful and calculated, in control -- he is so uncontrollable off the courts that he has to make up for it in tennis, you believe -- and you know he has already had the last move in mind before the game had even started. He has already cried 'checkmate' before you had a chance to shake the other players' hands.

There is a look that you can see, when he runs to one side of the court, and you catch it out of the corner of your eye and you know, instinctively, to back up and get into position. Suddenly, there is a point for your side and you're already reaching in your pocket. You let the ball fly up and send it, suddenly, speeding away, faster than the speed of light, to land on the other side.

This is about instinct and this is about power - somehow you are made to play this game and he is made to play it with you and, in a way, you are made for each other.

"Forty. Love."

This is tennis.

Friday nights he comes over, always uninvited. Your parents have become used to irregular and often inconvenient visitations; as always, your mother is more than happy that you have a friend, someone to rely on, and your father is silent, concerned, but remains blissfully unaware of the havoc that Niou Masaharu inflicts.

It is on Fridays that Niou comes through the door, dressed to kill in the things that he wears to go out to god-knows-where. He always stays for exactly an hour and a half, most of which is spent wolfing down your mother's cooking while brushing your knee with his fingertips under the dining table.

If dinner is over quickly, he will follow you to your room, plop down on your bed, and spend the remaining time watching you.

"You can go," you tell him, as he buries his face into your pillow, "I am quite aware that you have other activities that you'd much rather enjoy doing than staying here with me. I will only be doing my homework for the next twenty-eight minutes, anyway."

"Have you changed shampoos, Yagyuu?" He asks as he breathes in your pillow and stares at you from behind half-closed eyes. "You smell really good, recently."

Claustrophobia is not normally something that you experience, but when you are in a room with Niou it occurs frequently. Sometimes you must take measures to ensure that you do not start clawing at the walls. It would not do to show him a weakness.

You spend the next seven minutes working on maths problems; shift this numeral to here and add this and suddenly you will get the answer. A well-formulated equation has always been something of elegance.

"Hiroshi-chan," he purrs into your ear, "how come you never come out with me? We could have so much fun."

His hands, you have often noticed, are things that can't quite hold still. He is always working with them; tapping fingers against hard surfaces, drawing patterns on your arms, swishing a wrist or an arm in an imitation of a tennis move when he talks.

It has taken nearly a year to train yourself to ignore them, these subtle movements, if they wander around your shoulders or if they wrap around your waist and tug you forward. You have yet to master the ability to completely ignore Niou, who persists in playing his own set of games with you.

It is typical Niou, who does not believe in personal space. You think that it is because of the switch, which has made you so close to him, which has made you into him; it becomes so natural to think that you are him, and he is you, and maybe, you believe, that is why he can't quite refrain from reaching out. It must be, you think, that he believes that your personal space is his personal space, that your body is his body.

"If I refrain from being whisked away by you to go on any exciting adventures, Niou, it is because I value my life."

If anything, the best you can do is ignore him when he starts to advance. You can fend him off very well, with practice and patience and time, but he only persists. Like his tennis, he can read many more steps ahead than you can, which you at times resent, but there is nothing that you can think of which you would want to trade for his type of genius.

If anything, his type of genius has made him into this being, one that will play games with his prey before he feasts. It is rather unsettling.

If anything, he only leans further into you until he is near breathing down your neck. You can almost feel his frown against your ear.

"You have number seven wrong, Yagyuu-kun. For a very smart guy you can be really dumb, sometimes."

Today, he retracts. Pulls back his claws and leaves you alone. He leaves two whole minutes early, which is surprising. But, as most things with Niou, it is only a matter of expecting the unexpected.

He leaves your bedroom door open, but you don't check to see if he is gone. The slamming of the front door is always an indicator. It is his way of saying that he will be back next week to eat your mother's cooking and pester you into doing something with or for him.

But, as it happens, you are you and he is Niou and these sort of occurrences are expected. You don't quite know when things will change, when things will become unexpected, but you expect it to happen because it has before. It is Niou, after all, so there must logically be a change from the norm, something unexpected on the rise, something he will catch you in.

One day he will come to your house, and eat your mother's cooking, and sit in your room. He will leave, one night, and not slam the front door, you think, and then you will really start believing that you are you and he is Niou and that the lines do not cross between these facts.

When you check your homework, half an hour later, you find that Niou is right.

Number seven is wrong, if only because you forgot to get to the roots of the problem.

He is a sore winner.

He rubs it in when he wins, he laughs and jokes, prods people in ribs with his bony elbows, smiles and laughs and taunts. You have never known him to lose when he's with you. Not in tennis.

He looks up at you, bright and smiling. This is a war, he tells you with eyes.

You are a sore loser. You bottle up the emotion in you, take it out in your next game of tennis and have the drive to win win win. You aren't quite sure what you are fighting for, yet, but you still want to win.

You have never lost before. Not in tennis.

Before your second-to-last game of fall tennis, he sends you flowers.

They're all assorted lilies, though you aren't quite sure he managed to procure them this late in the season. They are fragile things, white and yellow. You ask him about it the next day.

"White lilies?" You ask, while changing out of your uniform. The backs of your hands itch.

"It's heavenly to be with you."

You frown at the thought, and neatly fold your uniform, "Yellow lilies?"

"Something to do with being false, and walking on air," He replies while warming up against the wall, smirking, "Figured that you were into that whole language of the flowers thing. It's very Victorian, very proper, very you. You're all proper like that, Yagyuu-kun."

It takes about three minutes for the stragglers amongst the first years to set up the nets. It takes ten, for everyone to finish stretching. There are a good twenty minutes before practice really starts. Buchou makes everyone do laps, while this occurs. You are on your third, when you deign to respond to his comments.

"And you would know?" You ask, breathing steady, ignoring the itch of your arms.

"My good Yagyuu-kun," He replies, equally as steady, "I know everything about you."

You frown at the comment, and stop mid-lap to pop two pills into your mouth at exactly 3:00 PM, as prescribed by your father, to counteract the after-affects of the lilies.

"So you do," you tell his back, as he gets ahead.

He spins back, jogging backward, to laugh in your face. You breathe steady.

You win the last game of fall tennis, of course. But not, in reality, The Game.

You allow him to drag you off to a post-victory 'celebration' and he manages to get you both to a topless bar. Typical Niou, really. You should have seen it coming, really.

There are many beautiful women around you. Intoxicating things. They have all of his money pinioned to their bodies and much of yours, too. How Niou manages to steal your wallet from you while you are watching him like a hawk is a mystery, but money doesn't really matter to you. Money is dirty, it carries a lot of diseases. Money is something you don't need to worry about.

The girl in front of you, who Niou has paid for, leans in and you flinch violently. If she notices, she doesn't comment. She continues to sway slowly. It is supposed to be erotic, but you are rather bored. The music is not horrible, so you focus on that while he pays the girl more.

"Hiroshi-chan," he says in your ear, nearly falling over drunk, "You're cold. And beautiful. Dangerous and beautiful. Do you know that?"

He has his hand on your thigh and he seems to be intent to breathe right in your left ear, loudly. You hate it. He does it often, and you hate it. He knows.

The girl gyrates closer, she smiles for you, leans into you. You slip her money and tell her that she can leave. The fade of her smile is much better than her dance.

The other girls around you are all very pretty, in the conventional sense, wide eyes and pretty mouths, and they fill the blank space the jilted girl leaves in front of you very quickly. Such well paying customers, they must think.

He has already asked you if you were enjoying yourself and waved you off as 'no fun' when you gave him the truthful reply.

He does not care for any of your ideas, but he likes your tennis. You keep this in mind when he slips another crisp note into the bra strap of another nameless girl.

Just another face that moves for Niou. Niou, who is not paying attention. Niou, who is very close to putting his tongue in your ear, again, and you are very close to shoving him out of his chair. You are very close to pouring your ice water, the only thing you have ordered, into his lap. It would be inappropriate to do so, so you hold still.

The girl in front of you is in her own world, she slides down the pole and arches her back. You are in your own world. You arch your back, too, and remove the wandering hand.

"No," You say to him, as the other hand moves higher up your thigh and he slumps against your shoulder, "I am afraid not."

You push him away. Give him your water. Tell him he's going to de-hydrate and push a series of well-memorized digits on your cellphone in order to get a cab. He nearly smothers you trying to prevent you from making the call. He accidentally falls in your lap twice, and you calmly push him off. He purposely falls into your lap once and you push him off with a vengeance. He laughs.

It takes half an hour for the cab to arrive.

Niou just sneers when you slam the yellow taxi door in his face and leave him to deal with his hangover. He leaves you with the scent of beer on your coat.

You find two primroses taped to your desk the next day. One is the typical kind that you have seen in buchou's garden, and the other is an evening primrose, the kind that buchou had asked you to find seed packets of, for when you visited him in the hospital. They are half-wilted.

When you sit down for lunch and drop your books heavily on the table you don't feel sorry for Niou, who seems to be suffering from a horrible hangover. His moans are piteous, to say the least.

"I can't live without you and inconsistency." You place the two offending flowers in front of him with a snort, before pushing a bottle of water in his direction.

"At least you're not allergic," he replies while drinking the bottle in one long gulp.

You spend winter vacation at Niou's house, at the request of Niou's mother. Your parents take your sister out to inspect various foreign boarding schools, some of which she might properly excel in. Of course, that means that you would be alone for the holidays, which Niou insisted would not do at all, and you found yourself staying at the Niou household.

Niou's mother bakes both you and Niou cookies in abundance as well as traditional foods. You have never been one to enjoy sweets, but you find that the thought is very warming.

A great majority of the time that you and Niou spend together is in his room, listening to his music.

Niou has horrible taste regarding music. He always chooses bands that play a little too loud, singers who sing a little too ragged, lyrics that are a little too offensive. But, then again, it is Niou, so everything from the sound, to the singing, to the lyrics must be a little more than anyone can really take. His mother runs in more than once a day to tell him to turn it down, and he rarely obliges.

You listen without words, watch him make bad air-guitar impressions wherein he seems to strum away and scream with the music. He would, you think, make a very good rock star.

"Why do they," Niou's mother asks, regarding the posters of various bands in Niou's room, "have to hold their instruments so low?"

"The better to accentuate the crotch," Niou replies with gusto, while pretending to go into a mind-bending guitar riff.

His mother, affectionate, slaps him on the arm and returns to check the kitchen, to make sure nothing is on fire.

He grins at you, wicked as always, when you look up from your book. Strums a bit lower, and proceeds to throw pillows at you for half an hour before you finally relent, let the book fall, and hit him square in the face with one of his magazines.

The ensuing leap that Niou takes from his bed knocks the wind out of your lungs and nearly breaks one of your ribs. Niou is the only one, you think, that you can do this with. Niou is the only one would invite you to his home if only to tackle you down and nearly kill you.

In a way, it all works out.

For Christmas, Niou gets a guitar and spends the next three days plinking along.

"You're out of tune," you tell him, "And you have to relax your shoulders a little."

You pick the guitar right out of his hands, apologizing whilst doing so, and proceed to show him how to at least hold it so as not to look like he's about to break it in half.

It's not long before you slowly start to pick out the melody of one of Niou's favorite songs. It takes you a total of seventeen, maybe eleven, minutes to learn how to play the guitar. Classical violin and piano lessons have helped, in a way.

In revenge, Niou uses your toothbrush to scrub the toilet that night.

There is always an underlying current in the strange relationship that you have with Niou.

How, exactly, things work is a mystery that you seldom think to dig into. You don't want to know how it works, or why it works, it just does work and that's all that really matters.

There are times when you can't piece together the normality in all your actions that involve Niou.

Tennis is a simple structure of which to look at your partnership with him.

You are doubles partners, thus obligated to work with each other. Simple. Clean. Straight-cut. It is a reasonable thing to understand.

If Niou, who is the genius behind your tennis partnership, thinks that it is the best interest of the team to do something, you will do it whether this is allowing him to stick to your side like burr to mimic you or whether it is a week of practicing serves, volleys, and shots for maximum efficiency. He calculates and you follow and somehow, through the strange ways in which Niou can see a flick of the wrist as an indication of weakness, it all falls into place.

The same talents that Niou has on the courts is, surprisingly, rarely let out in to the private works of your camaraderie.

Niou will see the flick of your wrist and not comment. He will not tell a soul what weaknesses you have or what to do about it. He sees twenty steps ahead, but does not comment if it regards your personal lives.

Niou, for the most part, will let you choose how things work outside of tennis. He lets you set the pace, he lets you tell him what is right and wrong. This doesn't mean, of course, that he will follow everything, because he always finds loopholes somewhere, but it does mean that he will stay out of most trouble.

You have never personally questioned how it works, you just know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Your restrictions on Niou, however, are very loose. Even looser, as the years go by.

You will let him play pranks on you, and others, as long as these pranks do not end in violence. You'll let him set fire to any number of your things, but not anything that would endanger someone else or destroy another's property. You will stop him if he steals. You will tell him to play nicely with others, and though he may not listen all the time, he will make a half-decent attempt when you are around.

You have let him do as he pleased for as long as you can remember because you have never needed to really stop anything drastically, with one exception.

There are rules to the games that you play. And there are rules beneath those rules. And beneath that, there is just you and Niou.

The sun rises in the east.

Niou has an... odd sense of humor and it shows when he starts leaving you poems.

You find one in your pocket, as you leave for school. There's another, underneath your pillow. You locker is stuffed full of them, all typed out.

There are haikus, sonnets, some are in random languages that you can read and some in Japanese. They are all horrible love poems.

When you find a French couplet stapled to your desk, you leave him your own poem in his Chemistry book. It's in English. It takes him nearly the whole lunch period to finish it. He's always been very bad at English.

"Never offer your heart
to someone who eats hearts
who finds heartmeat
but not rare
who sucks the juice
drop by drop
and bloody-chinned
Like a God."

"That sounds nice," your sister tells you sarcastically, reading over your shoulder, "what is it about?"

You don't really hear her question, but you reply with your usual answer.


He calls you. It is 3:28 AM.

You can tell it is Niou because he is the only one that knows your cell-phone number and calls regularly.

He is a prankster, it is expected.

He is a delinquent, it is expected.

You can imagine him in front of you, breathing loudly, eyes wicked and sharp and bearing into you. His eyes remind you of knives, they catch everything eventually, cut into people, shine bright and metallic. If he were here he would be staring into your face and breathing just as loudly as he does now. He knows you hate it.

He is the kind that does not say a word until you are just ready to leave, and because of this you listen to breathing for a solid ten minutes.

"I think you have me," he sneers into the phone, just as you are about to snap it shut, breathing possibly louder and pausing often, "confused with Bunta."


Past the glare in your window you can see well onto the other side of the street where he is standing with his cell-phone, looking into your room. He raises his hand, flashes a smile, and leaves.

In the glare of the window you can see your own reflection, which normally looks nothing like his.

You go to bed. It is 3:28 AM.

It has somehow become a tradition.

Most people would be surprised to know that Yagyuu Hiroshi does not study except to cram on Sunday nights. But you do, it is just another well-kept secret.

He comes through your window, with coffee. It is a tradition that you can't quite remember the beginning of, but it has been going on for quite some time. He is always there on Sundays, which is not a surprise because he's always been there in regards to you, and is always prompt, which is a surprise.

In winter, he tracks in snow and slush. In fall, it's soggy leaves. In spring, it's mud. In summer he comes in barefoot and leaves Niou-sized footprints all over the sill. Your parents have never ventured to wander into your room, so they never seen the irreversible damage that Niou Masaharu has inflicted.

"It's almost romantic," he says wistfully to you as he leans over your shoulder, "I climb through your window and we spend the night together." He misses a beat as he drums his fingers on your shoulder. "Someone told me yesterday that we should get married, we're that close."

The pencil in your hand snaps accidentally. Too much pressure. Perhaps you need to buy a pencil-grip, for more comfort.

"How about it, Yagyuu-kun? I've always liked the idea of spring weddings." Another beat, and then he is rubbing his cheek slowly against yours, like a lion.

The two pieces of pencil land in the wastebasket and clatter in its empty gut before you roll your chair away from him and retrieve a new pencil from a carefully labeled shelf.

"This is horrendous coffee," you say to him evenly, the only way you know how, "I don't know where you manage to buy a cup of acid. Only you, Niou."

"Only you," he echoes, "Hiroshi."

The sound of your name causes you to stiffen, because it's always been Yagyuu personally, when not playing the game; Yagyuu-kun when at school, when playing the game; or Hiroshi-chan, if Niou is feeling playful or particularly peeved. There are rules to the name game that you follow, and this is unexpected, a deviation.

He has never called you by your first name like that, not in that low growl.

You have moved all the furniture in your room, recently, and the thought is a pleasant distraction. The books on the bookshelf have been organized into sections, one of which is labeled "Niou-kun", because Niou leaves magazines in his room all the time. There is a new poster of the table of elements covering a large crack in the wall from where Niou had once tried to put his fist through. The bed is now against the window and there is already snow melting on the covers. The window is still open.

"Spring, then." He playfully bats at your sleeve as you go back to writing. Playing with his prey, you think, before dismissing the thought all together. "It's a promise, /Hiroshi-chan/."

Niou is, in many ways, like a house cat.

He casts the shadow of a dangerous beast, but purrs serenely, curls into your lap, and digs his claws into your knees. He likes to conquer ones attention, and it is annoying when he does.

You think, it's not so much that you own the house cat that is Niou, it is more like Niou owns you, in a sense, because he can do whatever he pleases and you won't lift a finger or voice to indicate that he is being /bad/. He can make you do whatever he wants, essentially. There is no stopping him.

It is near impossible to punish a house cat. They balk if they feel threatened. They hide in corners and hiss, lift claws up and scratch, cause your arms and hands to come out bleeding and bitten and too tired to attempt anything.

You can unhook the claws from your knee, and push it off your lap, and walk away. You can do it without a word.

Or, the creature can just walk away and not turn around to look, just leave you with coldness as it sits sedately at the window, grooming itself.

Somehow, though, you find yourself leaving bowls of milk out, and the creature will come back to you, purring. He will crawl back onto you and touch his nose to yours, lap at your fingers with a sandpaper tongue, and kneed sharp claws into your leg.

You have always been violently allergic to cats.

No one can quite match Niou's thought process. No one can quite think like Niou because Niou is one of a kind, besides being, as Bunta had once eloquently stated, psychologically warped beyond repair. The fact is that Niou's thoughts are his own, and no one can think at the same level.

That is why he is Niou, and you are Yagyuu, and Niou is ten steps ahead. Always.

But there is a catch, because, while one can not think exactly like Niou, one can be Niou. It is not a difficult process to become Niou. You are particularly good at it, if only for the practice.

You are sitting in class and you are Niou and Niou is Yagyuu and Yagyuu is sitting in front of you - and, in a way, it is like an out of body experience - and you who is Yagyuu being Niou is leaning over and blowing a hot breath into the ear of Niou who is being Yagyuu and you know that Niou who is Yagyuu is hating the feeling because it is something that Yagyuu would hate.

"Hey," You who is Yagyuu who is Niou says into the ear of Niou who is Yagyuu, "Tomorrow starts spring training for tennis. We gonna beat the living shit out of everyone, or what?"

Niou who is Yagyuu who is you is looking up and snorting and saying, in the tone of Yagyuu who is you, "Of course it is spring, Niou-kun, but will you please cease and desist with the breathing? It is quite uncomfortable."

You who is Yagyuu who is being Niou knows that it is uncomfortable, of course, but you also know that Niou who is Yagyuu who is you enjoys it immensely, and continues to do it anyway until Niou who is Yagyuu who is you makes an irritated sigh and runs his fingers through his hair.

So, you who is Yagyuu who is being Niou looks out the window and sees the skeletons of trees that are coming alive, slowly, and Niou who is actually Yagyuu is grinning like a Cheshire cat.

And it is spring.

Niou has awful insomnia and he has been, over the years, passing it on to you through long , drunken, phone calls at the worst possible hours of the morning.

Both of you come to school with bags under your eyes and a tired expression. It is all you can do to stay awake through the first class and occasionally nudge Niou in the back, to wake him, because of the fact that he is not supposed to be in your class or asleep.

By lunch time, he is half-slumped across the lunch table, taking up a majority of one corner and a great deal that spans the spot where you are sitting and trying to do your maths homework.

It is a good thing that the table is empty except for you and Niou and your textbooks, half-covered by Niou's arm.

You remember, about a month ago, that people had long stopped sitting with you two, because a girl from one of your classes had sat next to you at the table once, to ask a question, and Niou, who is insane, had pushed down on one edge of the table hard enough to cause it to go flying up and catch her right in the jaw.

Niou had ended up breaking her nose when the table came down equally as quickly as it had gone up, and she had lost a tooth and subsequently had gone to the hospital where his father had treated her, and people had stopped sitting at the table, leaving a ring of open space around them.

You didn't say anything at all to him, just carried the girl in your arms all the way to the nurse and dried her tears and told her it was okay and dropped her tooth in milk, to preserve it.

You ignored the look that Niou had directed your way as you carried the girl off, like some majestic knight, while he had flashed a wicked smile. You had looked at him, hurt, and tired. You had wished that you could rein him in and tell him to stop, but you can't, you couldn't. And that is a fact.

Niou leans forward and nips at your knuckles. Mouths one bony knuckle with his rough lips before biting the thin skin covering it, makes it bleed.

"Yagyuu-kun," he says to your closed fist, "you really hate to lose. Don't you." It is a statement.

It goes without saying.

Normality is not a word that often flows into your world of tennis and Niou.

Niou does strange things all the time. You have seen him, personally, kiss fukubuchou on the lips, have seen him spray paint a penis on the back of Jackal's head, and have seen him jump on Kirihara's back. You have, because he is your doubles partner and it would be a pity for him to die by the hands of his own teammates, covered for him.

Why Niou does any of the things he does is a mystery that few people understand.

People whisper about his behavior in halls, and he is often a source of gossip in Rikkai Dai.

When the both of you walk down halls, with one of his arms lazily draped over yours and half of your books stacked precariously balanced on his head, people turn to stare.

You walk with your back straight, perfect posture, and look ahead. He walks leaning in to you, nearly walking you straight into the wall.

Why Niou does what he does is a mystery, but he does it anyway.

Spring is a time of love and birds and bees and the words that pass between two people that mean something to each other.

Niou gets a locker full of chocolates, confessions, and love notes. You do not even bother to open your locker. You already know that nothing is there.

Niou eats all the assorted chocolates, except for the ones with coconut filling, which he gives to you, and reads the best of the love poems aloud. You sit by, listen, and eat the chocolates because you aren't one to care about taste. You do not tell Niou that it is ironic that he spends his spring days mocking the bad poetry of others', when his own literary choices, delivered only two months ago, were absolutely horrendous.

Niou, who spends winter times fighting off cabin fever by setting fire to things, spends spring unleashed and free. If anything, the spring makes him come more alive and more dangerous, and he is more bent on conquering the whole student body and will flirt, cajole, and grope anything in sight. Including yourself.

You ignore him when he drops butterfly kisses down one ear during a maths class and don't move until the teacher calls you forward to solve a difficult trigonometry problem. When you return to your seat, Niou resumes licking the shell of the outer part of your ear, pressing two fingers to the back of your neck.

The teacher does not comment, the teachers in general have learned to ignore the strange things that Niou does on a daily basis. Bunta gives you a weird look, from across the room, and whispers something to Jackal who nods, but you aren't quite paying attention.

You are thinking about how tennis is going to start soon, really soon, in about two days. You are thinking about what it will be like to be on the courts again, knowing all of Niou's moves and him knowing all of yours, and how you have perfected each other.

For the first time, you look outside and really see the leaves unfurling to a bright spring day.

A sleepy part of you, the part that spends its winter passing exams, dreaming of long tennis matches, and making sure Niou does not break anything too important, stirs a bit to the feeling of Niou roughly lapping at your ear.

It stirs and is ready to wake.

"Are you done yet?" He asks you, exasperated, for the fifth time as you smooth out the creases in your school jacket after morning practice is over.

"Patience is a virtue," you remind him absently, "You would do well to try it one day."

Today Niou is on edge, from what you are not quite sure. You hope that it is little more than a prank gone awry, because you don't know if that means that Niou will resort to anything drastic. He fidgets blankly as he tugs at his tie. You have to reach out and stop that hand, before he rips the silk.

"Sometimes I think I want to just give up."

The statement bursts out of his lips. You look up, startled.

"Are you... quitting tennis?" You ask, and a small part of you is suddenly stepping forward, hand clenched as he lets out an exasperated sigh.

"Not everything is about tennis, Hiroshi," Niou says, without laughter.

You lean back, slowly, against the lockers and make first your shoulders, then fingers, relax. Before you know it, Niou whips right around and launches one tight fist in your direction, before putting a sizeable dent in the locker to the right of your head.

"Sometimes I think you forget that," he says evenly, "there is something outside of this. There's more to this. Makes me want to give up sometimes." He barks out in laughter, slumping forward to rest his head against your shoulder and shakes with laughter. "You make things so hard, Hiroshi. You know that?"

"What do you want, Niou?"

You watch him straighten up, pull his tie a bit to make it hang loosely. The smile sets back into place and he looks, you think, as normal as Niou can ever be normal.

"I want you to think about it," he replies, waving you off and walking toward the door, "Get back to me. Shit, maybe you never will, but I figured that you could understand it, if you could be me."

The door swings open and shut.

Halfway through the day you are dismissed for an hour to go to the optometrist to pick up your new pair of glasses, which you have needed since Niou had it in his mind to play with them last fall.

The new pair are just the faintest bit thicker, and you can see things just the faintest bit clearer. Maybe that is all you need.

When you get back to school, it is lunch time and Niou is sitting outside, surrounded by a gaggle of girls. Many of them are the quiet type, you notice, but they all have Niou's marks against their necks. They are all demure things, studious things, except for the purpling marks, these are the girls that are quiet and who want to run with someone who is bad.

It's odd, you think, how Niou always goes after the good girls and when he gets done with them they end up not being quite the same. Not quite good anymore, more like Niou, more flirtatious and more desperate for a little of that danger. A little more of Niou.

You think about it during the beginning of practice, while thoughtfully tying your shoes. Niou has this affect on people because, you reason, Niou takes and takes and wants and wants and when he gets something he can't but help break it, or twist it up like he did to your glasses, and returns them just a little /off/.

Perhaps, you think as you backhand the ball to the other side of the court, it is the new glasses that are making you see clearer and you can look at Niou and see every different action means something. You can see the slouch of a determined shoulder, the sway of confidence, the slightest hint of pride - and it is strange, how you both work together, about how things are not discussed but rather known.

When you look at Bunta and Jackal, who are playing doubles against you, you know that they certainly don't have the same thing that you and Niou have. Jackal, for instance, does not breathe loudly into Marui's ears, does not stand in front of Marui's house at night, and does not send Marui very bad poetry. Renji certainly does not do any of those things. Neither do Sanada or buchou.

While one could say that the tennis club was not, exactly, normal, there were levels of normalcy that were relatively expected. Normal doubles teams, like Bunta and Jackal, did occasionally do things together, like go for ice-cream or help each other study, but they didn't switch identities. Or let the other live their life. They didn't take the punches and laugh. They didn't fight with fists and teeth and anger, hot anger and cold anger. Normal doubles pairs didn't give so much to the partnership, not like you and Niou do.

You and Niou, says Yagyuu who is Niou who is Yagyuu in your mind, aren't a normal doubles pairing and you don't treat each other as such.

It is the glasses that make you see clearly, make you see the twitch in Niou's hand that indicates that he is about to sprint forward, but like with the many things that involve Niou, it seems that you already knew.

You automatically reach for the ball and send it flying across to land a point.

"Thirty. Love."

Isn't it strange, says Yagyuu who is Niou who is Yagyuu in your mind, how he always has all those pretty girls around him with all those pretty marks around their necks and he never has any on his own? Isn't it strange, Yagyuu who is Niou who is Yagyuu thinks, how he never lets anyone mark him in quite the same way?

And you look up to the spring sky and see it, looming, and you think about what is normal for you and what is normal for everyone else, and how Niou has always made everything a little bit off.

Niou is just like you.

He is a sore loser. He is well educated. He enjoys tennis. He can be distinctly cold and unfeeling. He can get lost. He can think for himself.

He can be lots of things for lots of people that need him to just /be/.

He knows about winning. What it means. He knows about tennis. What it means. He knows about playing by the rules. What it means.

Maybe, you think, he's known it all along.

He is twenty steps ahead. That is a fact.

"What are we doing?" You ask Niou when he is at the baseline, except you aren't quite asking about what position you have to go in to because you never have asked before.

He drops the ball neatly on the other side of the court.

"What kind of dumb question is that?" He snorts, setting up again, but you think he knows what you're really asking, "We're winning."

You forgot, when you were younger, to tell your sister about fairy tales.

If you could break all the laws of physics and nature, you would go back and, right before tucking her in, would tell her all about the nature of fairy tales.

You would tell her, as you brushed the hair off her forehead and as she drifted off to sleep, that fairy tales aren't always rational, don't always seem plausible, and are often horribly mistaken with many hidden lessons that are usually very nasty. Fairy tales, you would tell her, are full of lies. So it's a good thing that we are of the Yagyuu family and concerned with only the truth.

You can't break the laws of physics and nature, though, and go back in time. You certainly can't tell her now, about fairy tales, because she has outgrown them.

You could say the same about yourself.




Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis.

Author's Notes: It's finished. Done. Finite. NEVER AGAIN. Lordy, a total from title to finish of 10,100-something words. Longest thing I've written in a while (I like writing in very short pieces), and it spans about 22-23 pages. The reoccurring themes just about killed me dead. And it actually has a semblance of a plot, or at least some linear train of events... I think.

1. The poem that Yagyuu sends Niou is by Alice Walker and in reality has nothing to do with the topic that I set it up to be about
2. I looked up the stuff on the language of flowers a while ago, for another fic that I never did finish, and decided I liked it enough to include here
3. I never said I was sane
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