Yukimura apologizes to the teams his own injured, and picks up a challenge on the way. Drama, I-3

Yukimura Seiichi paced through the grounds of a school not his own, toward the practice area of a rival team, and reflected that his current errands in Tokyo would probably make a splendid case study of social interdependence. His illness had affected his entire team, and the pass-along effects had been substantial, to say the least. His return called on him to tie up far more loose ends than he would have expected.

Seiichi sighed to himself. Genichirou had wanted to come as well. Or, at least, he had said that he should come. But Seiichi could see the soul cramping discomfort in those level eyes, and had told him it was Seiichi’s duty as captain. And then dropped a word to Renji to try and keep Genichirou busy while he was gone.

When Seiichi came to the edge of Fudoumine’s tennis courts, he stood under the shadow of the trees and simply watched for a moment. The contrast to his own home courts was pointed. These were well kept, and the players on them energetic and dedicated. But there were only seven of them. No other club members played, or watched, or cheered. No coach stood beside the tall captain, watching from the sidelines.

Well, Seiichi reflected, with a self-deprecating smile, the official faculty advisor for Rikkai’s tennis club didn’t come anywhere near their practices, either, but from what Renji said Fudoumine’s captain had chased theirs off far more vehemently than Seiichi had his own.

He had been aware that Tachibana Kippei was an excellent tennis player. Watching the team he had put together with no one’s authority or guidance or support but his own, Seiichi was prepared to call him an excellent captain, too. It made the offense committed against him bite all the sharper, that it had threatened, not only a good player, but an entire team who were worthy of respect.

Interdependence. Without superb opponents, where was the point in being the best? If he could teach that to his little fire-eater before the year’s end, Seiichi might call himself a good captain, as well.

At last, he sighed and stepped forward, calling out, “Tachibana!”

“Yukimura,” Fudoumine’s captain acknowledged, surprised. The heads closest to them snapped around, and Tachibana’s vice-captain took a few quick steps closer. Seiichi stifled a sigh.

“If you have a moment free, I was hoping we might speak,” he said.

Tachibana’s brows twitched up, but he nodded. “Of course.” He waved his team back to their practice, and stepped a little away from the fence. “You’re recovered, then?” he continued.

“Yes,” Seiichi answered, pleasure warring with remembered pain and current annoyance. From the shadow that passed over Tachibana’s eyes, he saw all three. Seiichi smiled, just a touch wistfully; he would have liked to be present to have played this one. “And you?” he asked.

Tachibana’s expression stilled. “Completely recovered,” he said.

“That was actually why I came, today,” Seiichi told him, quietly. “The actions of my team were unacceptable; both that Akaya would do such a thing, and that the others would not stop him.” He bowed. “I apologize for them.”

He was uncomfortably aware of Tachibana’s surprise; it confirmed what he had suspected about the general behavior of his team while he was gone. It was a moment before the other captain managed to speak.

“It’s well,” Tachibana said, at last. “Please…”

Seiichi straightened, aware of the Fudoumine team, frozen on the courts until Tachibana cut a stern look at them.

“A dedicated team can sometimes let their determination lead them too far,” he said, voice raised just a bit. Seiichi was rather amused to note the suddenly red faces of about half the Fudoumine team, as they all turned quickly back to work. He was sure there was a story behind that little admonition.

“Indeed,” Seiichi agreed, with a tiny smile, answered by a wry glint in Tachibana’s eye. “I’m glad you recovered in good time for Nationals. We hope to meet you again, there.”

Tachibana’s sudden smile was like sunlight after dark weather. He held out a hand, and Seiichi was pleased to find his grip sure and strong.


Yes, this was a good opponent.

An approaching rustle culminated in a sharp exclamation of, “Rikkai!” A girl, about their age, was standing beside the courts, looking at Seiichi like she had found him under a particularly loathsome rock. If this was the younger sister he understood Tachibana had, he supposed he couldn’t blame her too much.

“Ann!” Tachibana said, in almost exactly the tone Seiichi used when calling Akaya to order. Her growl had much more in common with Sanada, however, albeit in a higher register. Renji had mentioned that she was extremely protective of her brother and his people. Seiichi firmly suppressed a chuckle, as she stalked a little further down the fence after a last suspicious look at him, fairly sure she would bite him if he let it out.

“I should be going,” Seiichi said, a bit regretfully. “There are other errands I need to run while I’m in Tokyo.”

“Of course,” Tachibana said. “I hope we’ll meet again soon.”

Well, that was the warm-up, Seiichi thought, as they parted with pleasantries on both sides. Now for what was likely to be the harder part.

Seigaku’s courts were much livelier, and they spotted him coming. His name and Rikkai passed among the club members like wind through tall grass.

One distinct similarity, however, was the speed with which the players responded to the captain’s dark look.

He and Tezuka were more familiar with each other than he and Tachibana, and Tezuka gestured Fuji over and received Seiichi’s apology to them with no surprise. Fuji was, predictably, somewhat harder to read.

“Please, think nothing of it,” he told Seiichi, with a very bright and entirely insincere smile. “Truly, I was pleased to be so instrumental in such a dramatic awakening as Kirihara-kun’s. Though I’m sure I can’t take too much credit. It must have been building for some time.”

Seiichi’s eyes narrowed. He had come here to render an apology, but he’d be damned before he stood still to be a source of entertainment for Fuji Shuusuke.

“I was equally pleased to see your own efforts finally become serious,” he returned, tone even but clipped. “I trust it will not be merely a temporary advance.”

Fuji’s burning blue gaze was suddenly much more direct. If Fuji had implied that Seiichi’s team was undisciplined and ill-trained, Seiichi had just come within two breaths of calling Fuji a coward.

Fuji had frustrated him at a distance for years. They had met several times, in the Elementary circuit. Powerful opponents were the heart of the game, to Seiichi, and it had been clear that Fuji could be very powerful. His elusive profile, however, had spoken to Seiichi of how little Fuji understood the exaltation of playing with everything one had. He would flash out with some gem of skill or discovery, and then refuse to follow it up. It had absolutely infuriated Seiichi, and after they started junior high, when his forlorn hope that Fuji would either shape up his game or withdraw had been dashed, Renji and Genichirou had had to listen to several extended tirades on the subject. He had itched to add Fuji to what Renji called his collection; had gone so far as to suggest that Fuji would find a place waiting for him if he chose to transfer. Seiichi had been sure that he could draw Fuji’s real strength out. But Fuji had chosen to stay with Seigaku, and with Tezuka, and Seiichi had no choice but to grit his teeth every time he saw Fuji play, and accept it.

Nor could Seiichi say, now, that Fuji had been wrong to do so, watching the almost-glance he flicked toward the captain he had chosen.

“It will not be,” Fuji answered, light tone gone from his voice, head high. A ripple of surprise ran through the Regulars who had edged close enough to hear the exchange. Tezuka’s eyes, though, held only a bright, hard pleasure that showed nowhere else in his face or stance.

Perhaps that was the key, Seiichi reflected. Perhaps Fuji had needed the quiet of Tezuka’s demands and the stillness of his brilliance rather than the blaze that Seiichi knew was his own when he set it free.

“We will all look forward to seeing it, then,” he said, still a challenge but a gentler one. Fuji nodded, silently, and they both relaxed again.

“You have returned to play, then?” Tezuka asked, gathering the conversation back up with his trademark economy and grace.

“Good as new,” Seiichi confirmed, and exchanged a look with Tezuka that glinted with anticipation. They had both, Seiichi rather thought, had enough of convalescence.

“Well,” a new voice put in, “if you’re all better, will you play a game?”

A muffled laugh escaped Fuji, as Tezuka’s brow arched and his vice-captain, nudging back the other Regulars, clapped a hand over his eyes. Seiichi examined his challenger, who was unmistakably Seigaku’s first-year prodigy, Echizen Ryouma. Sanada had had a good deal to say about him, mostly about his unquestionable talent and his stunning determination. Akaya, on the other hand, had said very little; merely that Echizen was really annoying, almost as much so as Fuji. Akaya’s opinion took on a new edge, in light of Echizen’s expression. It was familiar: cocky, assured, eager. Seiichi had seen one just like it last year, when a first-year had challenged the three best players in the club.

“Now I see why Akaya picked things up from you so easily,” Seiichi murmured. “You remind me a great deal of him.”

Fuji’s laugh was no longer quite so muffled, and Echizen gave his senpai a look of Very Limited Amusement before he turned back to Seiichi.

“So?” he pressed.

Seiichi smiled, slowly, letting his focus settle on this one, letting the world narrow and sharpen. From the fire in his eyes, Echizen saw or felt that preparation, and leaned forward. Yes, this one was good.

“If your captain permits it,” Seiichi agreed.

Echizen’s expression, as he looked up at Tezuka, held neither a plea nor a demand—only the absolute certainty that his captain would understand. It was, Seiichi noted, far more effective than either of the other things would have been. A corner of Tezuka’s mouth curled up, slightly, and he nodded.

As they set themselves on the court, Echizen called out to him.

“No holding back, all right Yukimura-san?”

“Of course,” Seiichi answered

His first serve sang past Echizen’s ear.

Echizen had very expressive eyes; even from across the court, Seiichi could see them widen, and then gleam. Echizen’s stance shifted, and he was in time for the next ball. The corners of Seiichi’s own mouth quirked up in answer to the delighted grin the boy shot him.

Sanada was right, Echizen was extremely fast, and remarkably strong for someone that small. Seiichi could hardly wait to see him on the high school circuit. More than that, he gloried in the game. Seiichi could feel the crackle of Echizen’s awareness and excitement lacing into his own as he raised the level again and again, and Echizen gathered himself each time to meet the new challenge. The first time Echizen took a point, with that curious double-bouncing drive of his, Seiichi laughed out loud, and the sparkle in Echizen’s wide, bright brown eyes laughed with him. Seiichi forgot care and convalescence, prudence and measurement, let himself go, and played full out, in love, for the space of the game, with the blazing spirit across the net.

Echizen lost three games to six, but his arrogance was undiminshed as he hauled himself to his feet and looked up at Seiichi, gaze as straight as his back. Seiichi offered his hand across the net.

“Next time you’ll do better,” he said. A goad, an invitation, a compliment. Echizen clasped his hand.

“Of course,” he stated.

Seiichi became aware of the silence surrounding them, even the Regulars standing rather wide-eyed, except for Fuji, who looked reflective, and Tezuka, who gave Echizen a nod of approval, and Inui, who was writing. Seiichi realized that the skritch of pencil on paper was so familiar he hadn’t even registered it. He sighed to himself; Renji would likely have a few words to say about playing full out in front of Seigaku’s data specialist.

Seiichi found he didn’t care in the least.

“I’ll walk you out, if I may,” Tezuka offered, nodding his team back to business. Most of them descended on Echizen first, who looked downright surly about the fact. Seiichi chuckled as they turned away.

“I take it you still have some reconditioning to do,” Tezuka observed, as they walked.

“Mm,” Seiichi agreed. “Quite a bit, I’m afraid. This was very useful though; thank you.”

“Echizen needs good opponents to teach him,” Tezuka said, quietly. “It was as much a favor received as a favor given.”

“Perhaps,” Seiichi answered. Names hung, unspoken, in the air. Akaya, driven, first by Echizen and then by Fuji, to reach past his easy strength to something truer; Sanada, reminded by Echizen of why they played this game; Fuji, roused at last from his detachment by Akaya’s rage; Echizen, now given another goal to chase. Seiichi did not underestimate the need for and value of that last, especially for someone of such outstanding skill. The thought made him smile, though.

“You know, I think you’ve been replaced in Sanada’s affections, Tezuka; he’s very focused on evening the score with Echizen, just now,” Seiichi mentioned, a bit mischievously.

Tezuka gave him a bland look that declined to rise to the bait. “Should I expect him in Singles Two, then?” he asked.

“Probably.” They stopped at the school gates, and Seiichi gave Tezuka a direct look. “We can leave them to it, I think. It’s time you and I met in a real game, Tezuka.”

The shift was subtle, but distinct; the look Tezuka returned carried a pressure like deep water, and a knife of focus that cut away everything else in the world.

“Indeed,” the other captain said, softly.

“…was not a well thought out choice, Seiichi,” Renji concluded. “Sadaharu is perfectly capable of projecting your likely progress in the time before Nationals, and you don’t really need to give Tezuka any advantages.”

“Oh, come on, Renji, I was there to ask them to forgive the uncivil behavior of my team. Refusing a polite request would have undone half my work.”

Renji gave him a long, steady look, leaning back in the desk chair. “And you couldn’t resist the lure of a talented and passionate player,” he sighed.

Seiichi smiled at his friend, entirely unrepentant. “And I couldn’t resist the lure of a talented and passionate player,” he agreed.

“It’s a lost cause, Renji,” Genichirou said, from the bed behind Seiichi’s shoulder. “You know what Seiichi’s like when comes to a good opponent.”

“Yes, I do. And you’re almost as bad,” Renji pointed out, dryly.

“Renji,” Seiichi said, softly, turning the other’s face back to his. “It was magnificent.” He drew Renji down to a kiss, seeking to share some of the exhilaration and joy Seiichi found in matches like today’s. He thought he might have succeeded when Renji shivered under his touch and a choked sound caught in his throat.

“A difficult argument to refute,” Renji murmured as Seiichi drew back.

“Then stop trying,” Seiichi directed. “We’re going to play them at Nationals. I’m sure of it.”

He gathered up the other two by eye, calling silently for their fierceness to answer his, and when they did Seiichi smiled, content with the world.


A/N: I am no longer at all convinced that Yukimura would feel called to apologize for these injuries, any more than Atobe apologized for Tezuka’s shoulder. The opponents chose to take the risks they did, even after seeing clearly what Kirihara was capable of, and I actually think Yukimura would consider it lessening his opponents’ dignity to apologize. This was my best guess about him at the time, though, and I let it stand as such.