He knew that no one among his peers was credited with greater insight into his opponents than Atobe Keigo. It was a justified reputation. But Atobe concentrated on the physical, and tended to ignore the signs of character that the ball wrote on the face of a racquet. It was the weakness in his strength, because those signs were the ones that told whether a player would or could go beyond his physical limits.
He found it strange that Atobe ignored this when he was one of those people himself.
But, then, Atobe had had years to get used to the idea that he didn’t need to know, that it would never matter, that no one could overtake him no matter how they drove themselves. Old habits were hard to change. No one had driven Atobe, or shown him in the language of his own body how much it could matter.
No one until himself.
And, to his credit, Atobe did watch him for those signs of the intangible, now, when they played. Not that he made it terribly difficult, he supposed. Nothing was very concealed when he played Atobe. When they faced each other the fronts ripped away, Atobe’s affectations and his own reserve both burned to glittering ash in the heat of their contest. He knew it was what kept them both coming back for another unofficial match every few months, carefully stepping around ever having to inform their coaches, for almost three years now.
Sometimes he wondered if Atobe realized just how much of himself he showed, when they played.
Perhaps it still didn’t occur to Atobe that his opponent would see. He knew his own style was somewhat deceptive. It appeared that he forced the game onto his terms, that it was simply the fine extent of his control that caused each ball to come to him as if called. But it was more than control; it was also understanding. He learned the language that the ball spoke to his racquet, and spoke it back, and the ball heeded. But the ball was only a carrier, in the end. The language he had to learn each time, listening through his hands, was that of his opponent.
Atobe’s language was both raw and sleek. There was fury in the power of his techniques, and malice in the way he held his hand until the most overwhelming moment so that he could crush those who dared stand against him, those who dared try to stop him. He used his strength as a bludgeon, and his speed to confuse, and his arrogance to infuriate. Where some balls sang against the strings his screamed.
And when someone sent that scream back, proved that he had heard it, Atobe’s eyes brightened and his smile turned hungry and true.
Tezuka Kunimitsu knew why he kept coming back. It was to hear a desperation and hope and frustrated rage that matched his own.
Sometimes he wondered whether Atobe saw that, too.