Categories > Anime/Manga > Prince of Tennis

Of Friendships and Mild Sanity

by dreamwhisperer 0 reviews

'The mental states of all the Rikkaidai regulars were ultimately Yukimura-buchou's fault.' A list of everything about Rikkai, with toppings of Niou/Yagyuu and implied Sanada/Atobe. Manga continuity...

Category: Prince of Tennis - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Angst, Drama, Humor - Characters: Niou Masaharu, Sanada Genichirou, Yagyuu Hiroshi, Yukimura Seiichi, Other - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2006-07-17 - Updated: 2006-07-17 - 3755 words - Complete

The mental states of all the Rikkaidai regulars were ultimately Yukimura-buchou's fault. Yukimura liked playing with fire, and liked collecting interesting people who played brilliant tennis (Yukimura didn't know the existence of mediocre tennis, or even good tennis. He only acknowledged brilliant tennis) or had the potential to. It was a fortunate (or is it unfortunate?) coincidence that every single person in his tennis team had less sanity than the ocean had pure water.

When the Troika first met, a couple of years ago, (two years, nine months and seventeen days, Yanagi said, and smiled quietly when the others stared), Sanada thought Yukimura to be weak, and girly, and found Yanagi's predictions to be freaky. Yanagi smirked and remembered their pictures in the tennis magazines and recalled Yukimura's wins. He silently watched while Yukimura beat Sanada to the ground, six games to four, before offering him a hand with a smile and asked to be friends.

Sanada stared, took the offered hand, and never underestimated Yukimura again.

For the record, Sanada still thought Yukimura as 'girly', and Yanagi still freaked him out with his predictions on a regular basis. But he had gotten used to it now, because they're his /friends/. And that made all the difference.

Niou and Yagyuu's first meeting was nothing as drawn out or as dramatic as the Golden Pair, or any other pair, really. Niou had, on a fit of calculated stupidity, insulted Yagyuu's play and imitated his Laser Beam. He figured that Yagyuu wouldn't do anything, being the good 'gentleman' that he was.

However, nobody was actually very surprised when Yagyuu, eyes narrowed behind reflective glasses and jaw clenched, punched Niou straight in the face in front of the whole club, breaking his nose. But every single member of the club was shocked when Niou, instead of getting mad and punching back, as everyone expected him to do, grinned and challenged Yagyuu to a tennis match.

They played until sunset, six games to six, tiebreak stretching to the thirties and none of them showing any signs of stopping. Yanagi stopped their match half-way, thirty-six to thirty-five in Niou's favour, and asked them, quietly, if they mind playing doubles with each other.

They accepted.

Up until today, nobody knew exactly why the two of them had accepted Yanagi's offer. When asked, Niou smirked and slung an arm around Yagyuu's shoulder and Yagyuu adjusted his glasses and smiled politely, evasively. Both of them refused to answer.

Yukimura, who was watching the match from the sidelines, simply nodded, and smiled.

Marui Bunta was next, after Sanada and Yanagi and Niou and Yagyuu, to be added to Yukimura's future team. He has an easy smile and a casual lilt to his voice whenever he spoke, but Yukimura saw the competitive streak, and mentioned casually to the captain that Marui would be a good choice for the Newcomers' Tournament.

The captain nodded, and sent Marui without argument. He wondered, briefly, just why he was obeying a first year's wishes, but he knew the answer. He just refused to acknowledge it.

("The captain doesn't have any power now that Yukimura's in the club. Everyone listens to Yukimura now." Marui said, honest and open and cruel.)

Marui Bunta met Akutagawa Jiroh at the Newcomers' Tournament, and gained a name amongst Hyoutei and most of the Junior High newcomers as a 'Genius Volleyer'. He took the name like fish took to water, and thanked Yukimura (not the captain, /Yukimura/), when he returned.

Yukimura smiled, and asked him if he wanted to join the Regulars' team next year.

Jackal was the seventh, and was meant to be the last, of Yukimura's 'set' of players. He stood out, with his bald head and dark skin and seemingly endless stamina. Yukimura was intrigued, and persuaded the captain to let Jackal and an upperclassman, famed for his stamina, play a match.

The senpai won, seven games to five, and Yukimura smiled and thanked the captain. He watched Jackal stand up, panting slightly while the senpai gulped big, heaving breaths. Yukimura walked over and asked Jackal if he wanted to join the Regulars next year.

He smiled, pleased but not surprised, when Jackal said 'yes'.

Yukimura was made Captain in his second year, sending the coach and most of the third years into an uproar. They complained even further when, instead of choosing any third year to be his Regulars, Yukimura picked four of his year-mates. They accused him of nepotism.

Yukimura's smile was ice when he reminded the detractors just who (the three first years, the Exalted Three, the /Troika/, not the captain, not anyone else) had helped them win the Nationals last year when Rikkai hadn't seen a Nationals title in over seven years. The coach stammered and bolted, and the rebellious third years quitted, chilled by the frozen smile on Yukimura's lips. They knew they would never get a chance to join the Regulars.

The new Captain simply smiled again as he surveyed his new team. They're perfect. They'll help him and Renji and Genichirou to win the Nationals (again) this year, and the year after that.

But he knew that something was missing.

Kirihara Akaya was a hurricane that swept in during the new year and turned the club upside-down.

Yanagi Renji had already heard of him, of course. He had scouted the elementary schools the previous year, and Kirihara was already half-famous, having won quite a few tournaments around the region. Reporters described him as 'wild', Yanagi remembered, but nothing could have prepared him for the sheer reality of Kirihara Akaya.

He strutted to the courts, arrogant smirk in place, a freshman without even his club /uniform/, and started to shout for the most powerful person.

"I will defeat you!" Yanagi remembered Akaya's shout, the fierce, challenging light in his eyes as he stepped up to the court.

And he remembered defeating him, six games to one, and Genichirou wiping the floor with Kirihara, six games to love, not even one point gained. Yukimura completed the triangle, and finished the match barely ten minutes later, six games to love.

Kirihara knew perfectly well that Yanagi only lost one game to him because Yanagi lets him get the four points, just to collect his data. Yanagi-sempai, Kirihara soon learned, is very cruel this way.

But he knew that Yukimura-buchou, with his soft voice and gentle smiles, was far more cruel, so he pledged, panting, half-crying, half-shouting, that he would defeat them, defeat the Three Demons, the Glorious Three, one day. And he would be the /best/.

Yukimura looked, truly /looked/, at Kirihara once, and saw the determination and ruthlessness and ambition burning in his eyes.

Then, Yukimura smiled and offered him a hand up. He found his missing puzzle piece.

Once, when they were bored on a bus ride to god-knows-where, (practice matches with Kabuto, Yanagi said), they tried to match an image to each of the team.

They agreed that Sanada was a volcano, immovable with fire burning under the surface, Yanagi a river, graceful and poised and destroying everything in front of him. Niou was a kitsune (not a fox), unpredictable and mischievous and elegant, while Yagyuu a mamba snake, sleek and beautiful and deadly poisonous. Jackal was designated as a horse, steady and reliable and loyal to a fault, while Marui a hummingbird, small and flitting with a viciously territorial streak. Akaya was a leprechaun, the pot of ambition and ruthlessness hidden behind large, adorable eyes and a pouting smile.

They couldn't agree on what Yukimura was.

"A steel dagger sheathed in silk." Sanada said, softly, tired of their arguments.

Everyone quietened, and agreed.

Yukimura smiled, for his team-mates knew him well, and he, of course, knew his team-mates very well.

During the autumn of Sanada's second year in Rikkaidai, the teachers hired a psychiatrist, and made it compulsory for every student to book an appointment, three hours, to 'check on their mental health'.

It took barely three days before a folder the thickness of Jackal's wrist was delivered to the clubhouse, smelling of newly printed paper and ink. Yukimura picked it up, and choked on his mineral water before he had finished reading two lines.

Yanagi had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Yukimura read, breath caught in his throat due to trying to stifle his laughter. Sanada had Anger Management Issues, and Marui had Attention Deficient Disorder, and was deprived of attention as a child. Yagyuu and Niou were budding cases of schizophrenia, and had, according to the 'psychiatrist' the worse case of overdependence he had ever seen. Yagyuu was also emotionally repressed, and Niou was possibly neglected as a child. Kirihara, according to the report, was a masochist and had self-esteem issues and violent tendencies. Jackal, in fact, was also a masochist, and 'far too easy-going' and had problems asserting himself.

The whole team, the report continued, was a classic case of social interdependence and overdependence. The report was followed by pieces of paper stating 'preventive measures' and 'suggestions'.

The team stared at the file for a moment, before bursting into loud, raucous laughter.

"They took three hours of each of us to tell us shit we already know or simply bullshit. What a complete waste of time. Do they think we're blind or stupid or whatever the fuck you can think of? We could've used it to practice. Don't you agree, Sanada?" Niou smirked, and Sanada refused to answer to the bait.

Yagyuu produced a lighter from a pocket and handed it to Niou without Niou asking him to. He watched, impassive, as Niou ripped the pieces of clean-white pieces of paper off the file.

The team cheered as they watched the pile of papers go into flames, laughing with their arms around each other as they mocked the psychiatrist. Yagyuu smirked slightly, and didn't scold Niou.

Yukimura, strangely, could not find the energy to smile.

Yukimura collapsed in the middle of tennis practice one winter morning, when the sun was bright and the wind was cool. Yukimura collapsed just when the Nationals were over, when Rikkai was celebrating its second National title. For a moment, nobody knew what to do, but suddenly, there was people shouting and half-screams and cries of "buchou! Buchou! Are you alright, buchou!"

Akaya could hear Yanagi-sempai call an ambulance, could see Sanada-fukubuchou pick Yukimura-buchou up, and he couldn't understand why this was happening. He could only stand there, and watch his idol and his goal being whisked away in a white-red ambulance, the sirens' wailing grating on his ears.

"Sempai," he said, because he wasn't sure which sempai he was asking, "Sempai, is buchou going to be alright?"

Niou-sempai answered him, and, somehow, Akaya was glad, because Niou-sempai didn't lie or sugar-coat his words.

"I don't know, Akaya."

Yukimura-buchou collapse on a sunny winter day, and the Rikkai Tennis Club had its solid ground replaced by quicksand.

"Guillian-Barre", the doctors said, and Yanagi Renji did not understand.

Yagyuu's calm, knowledgeable voice filled the air, and Renji felt that it should be his voice somehow, and not Hiroshi's. His voice caught in his throat as he watched Yukimura, no, /Seiichi/, being wheeled into the hospital, and his heart clenched so hard that he forgot to breathe from the pain.

Beside him, he could feel Genichirou's burning gaze, and heard his voice when he promised Seiichi that they would wait for him, and they would not lose.

/'There is a ninety-eight percent chance that the promise will not be broken'/, he wanted to say, but couldn't find his voice. Behind him, Akaya shook like a leaf, confusion and hurt and worry plain on his face.

Renji tried to smile as he placed a hand on Akaya's shoulder, squeezing slightly. He forced his voice through his throat, and hoped he didn't sound too desperate: "Seiichi will be alright, Akaya. He's strong, he'll be fine."

For a moment, he didn't know who he was trying to convince, Akaya or himself.

The day the doctors announced that: "Yukimura-kun would need to be on the respirator from now on. I'm afraid you can't talk to him", Niou saw the tension along Yagyuu's shoulder, recognized the shaking and the feelings of helplessness pouring out of his partner in waves. That day, he decided to become Yagyuu, so that Yagyuu could become /Niou/.

It was possible, he knew. Yagyuu and him were almost the same height (he slouched, Yagyuu stood and sit straight), with the same brown-black eyes. The only difference was the hairstyle, the hair colour, and the conditions of their shirts. Those are easy to change, and Yagyuu was even easier to convince. Niou had a reputation, and people expected tricks and insolence from him.

He spray-dyed his hair brown before school, in Yagyuu's house and in Yagyuu's bathroom, standing beside his partner who was spray-dying his own hair white. He picked up the pair of non-prescription, frosted glasses and slid them on his face as he combed his hair down. He helped Yagyuu with the gel.

In just a few minutes, Niou almost thought that he was standing in front of a mirror. He smiled, pleasant-like, and Yagyuu smirked back, and bared his teeth.

During school that day, Yagyuu, dressed as Niou, talked back to the teachers, slouched, swore and cursed and played small, meticulously planned pranks on the students. He threw food, and picked a fight with a sempai and /won/. Niou, dressed as Yagyuu, apologized for his partner's behaviour, sat up straighter than a ruler, spoke politely and apologized, again, to the victims of his partner's pranks. He escorted the injured sempai to the nurse's office, and accidentally-on-purpose closed the door on the boy's foot.

They fooled everyone/, for Sanada and Yanagi weren't there, having been invited to the Junior Senbatsu training camp. They knew they probably would be given laps for the switch when Sanada return, but Niou didn't care, for he saw the tension almost literally /flew from Yagyuu's shoulders, and patted himself on the back for having a brilliant idea.

Yukimura was asleep when they went to visit him, but Niou liked to think that he would smile if he had seen them.

When Sanada came back from the Junior Senbatsu training camp two weeks later, Yukimura had been tentatively taken off the respirator. The Captain listened as one of his best friends ranted and raved about his roommate, a certain Atobe Keigo, and how arrogant, fussy and bratty he was. Plus, Sanada went on, he wasn't even that talented, even though he did have the Hametsu e no Rondo, but it wasn't as if it couldn't be beaten, and...

He went on for three hours while Yanagi, sitting besides the bed, traced two sentences over and over in Yukimura's hand.

'There is a 99.9% chance that Genichirou has a crush on Atobe and is in denial. That remaining 0.1% is just my optimism.'

Yukimura smiled, and his shoulders shook. It was the best approximation of a laugh he could manage right now.

When Yukimura announced that he would be going for surgery, and said surgery was scheduled during the day of the Kantou finals, and there was a 40% chance of relapse and 7% chance of the surgery being fatal, the team looked at each other, once, and nodded.

'They would not lose.' If they lost, even once, Yukimura wouldn't survive the surgery or he would have a relapse. They promised not to lose, just so Yukimura would /win/.

Marui and Jackal encountered difficulties, Niou knew, but that was because they still had their power wrists on. He adjusted his glasses and did not smile when it was their turn, for Niou was Yagyuu and Yagyuu was Niou. He heard Yagyuu the Trickster refuse to take off his power wrists, and allowed a sharp smile a crack across the Gentleman's polite façade.

He knew that Yagyuu didn't like to knock Kikumaru out so early in the game, but they still had one more match to go, and Yukimura's surgery was in less than an hour. It was for the best, but he couldn't help but feel relieved when Kikumaru stood up again, and was ready to play. As he was the Gentleman, he spoke his thoughts.

It wouldn't do for the prey to be defeated this easily.

When he used the Laser Beam, he heard Akaya gasp, and saw Yanagi's eyes open, just for a moment. Niou the Gentleman smiled, sharper than before, for his team didn't take very long to know that they weren't playing at their best because Yagyuu was the Trickster and Niou was the Gentleman. Niou smirked as he purred the words, telling Yagyuu to be ready to switch back

"I want you to stop playing, Niou-kun. /Playtime's over/."

Yagyuu frowned, and Niou knew that he would be doing Yagyuu's bidding for at least a week, for Yagyuu disliked to have his fun taken away. Niou didn't mind. The faces that the famed Seigaku's 'Golden Pair' made when they switched back, when Yagyuu was the Gentleman again and Niou was the Trickster, was worth anything. They won easily after that.

Niou never expected Yanagi to lose, never expected Akaya to lose, and nobody ever, ever, expected Sanada to lose.

When they announced the results, that Seigaku was the Kantou champion and Rikkai had lost for the first time in /fifteen years/, Niou wondered, half-dazed, how much of a verbal beating they would get from Yukimura.

He supposed they would find out soon enough.

Explaining to Yukimura about the broken promise and the fact that Rikkai had lost the Kantou championship for the first time in over ten years had to be the most nerve-wrecking and excruciating thing Sanada had ever experienced.

They waited outside the surgery room, Sanada clenching and unclenching his fists. Akaya was pacing, and looked as if he was on the verge of tears. Renji was too quiet, even for him, and Sanada felt the crushing guilt even from across the room. They were the three who had lost, who had broken their promise to Yukimura, and they were the three Yukimura trusted most.

Sanada felt fear radiating off every member of his team, and remembered the silent other-promise they made, that if they lost, Yukimura, too, would lose and /die/. He clenched his fists even tighter, until he felt his nails cut into his skin. He didn't know how long they waited outside the surgery room, he only knew he repeated 'He will not die, he will not die' in his mind thousands of times, as if it would give Yukimura strength.

The light above the room went off, and Yukimura was wheeled out, unconscious. The doctors told them, smiles bright and relieved, that the surgery would successful, and the risk of relapse had gone down to less than five percent. They told Yukimura's team that their Captain would be able to return to tennis in three days, although he was supposed to take it easy and build up his strength slowly. And, oh yes, you can see him. He should be waking up by now.

All of them ran into the hospital room, just in time to see Yukimura open his eyes and sat up, slowly. Sanada was the first to spoke, and he forced his voice through a throat closed by self-hatred and no little relief.

"Yukimura... we... lost the championship."

Yukimura's eyes were just as sharp as they were, before the surgery, before Guillian-Barre. He scanned his team, and picked up on Akaya's fascination of the floor and Renji's refusal to meet his gaze.

"Did you play your best?"

Akaya and Renji nodded, resigned, for they knew that they had tried their very best but it still wasn't enough. Yukimura turned his gaze to Sanada, who fidgeted slightly, even if he tried not to.

"No... I underestimated my opponent. I won't repeat that mistake a second time."

Yukimura's gaze grew even sharper, "... I see. Did you play your best, Jackal? Bunta? Hiroshi? Niou?"

They nodded, slowly. Yukimura's gaze didn't soften, however. He knew that his doubles pairs' definition of 'playing their best' was different from his own.

"I suppose I would be the judge of that. There are videos of the matches, aren't they?" The Captain straightened without waiting for an answer.

"We will win the Nationals this year." His voice was soft, but firm. It was a voice that didn't accepted disagreements.

It was as much of a forgiveness that Yukimura would give, and his team stood straighter, and looked him in the eyes.

"Yes, buchou!"

The Nationals, Singles One, Yukimura was dancing in the courts with Tezuka, as graceful as a waterfall and just as deadly. He won; of course, nobody thought that Yukimura would lose. Seven games to six, tiebreak hundred-seventeen to hundred-fifteen. Seigaku looked crushed, horrified, as if they, too, had never expected their Captain to lose.

When the announcement came, "Champions of the Nationals: Rikkaidai Fuzoku Chuu!", Akaya screamed with joy and clung to Yukimura-buchou, laughing and half-crying, dragging Yanagi-sempai together with him into a mad dance to a rhythm that only he could hear. Sanada smiled, slightly, as he watched them, and looked up to see Atobe, watching him with that infuriating smirk again. Just once, Sanada smirked back, and mouthed "I told you so".

Atobe laughed, and Sanada smiled.

Marui was hugging Jackal, bouncing up and down with adrenaline and sugar high, half-strangling his doubles partner. It was their second win, but it was no less exciting, no less /exhilarating/. Jackal grinned and hugged back, trying, and almost failing, to hold Marui back on the ground as he bounced around.

Niou smirked at Yagyuu, and Yagyuu nodded to Niou. They came closer to each other, one step at a time, but suddenly they were in front of one another, pressed up against each other and neither of them could tell exactly when did they get there. Niou smirked, again, and Yagyuu knew, at the back of his mind, in that separate section he had named 'Niou', that it was Niou-kun's (/Masaharu's/, his heart said) default setting. He let Niou pull him down in a kiss while cameras flashed around them and half the stadium watched them. At that moment, Yagyuu the Gentleman kissed back, and gave the metaphorical finger to the world.

Yukimura laughed, and danced with Akaya and Renji and let them spin him around. He laughed as he watched his team, the team he had worked so hard to create, and let the tears fall.

They were joyful tears.

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