With one week to go before the last few matches of Nationals, it was clear that both Rikkai and Seigaku would be advancing. Seiichi was sufficiently pleased by this to give his team a little latitude when they acted up. He accepted that they needed to ease their anxiety, quite present, however concealed, before they could focus properly. As long as they didn’t start any riots, or send his vice-captain into actual apoplexy, Seiichi was willing to be tolerant of their strutting and poking at opponents.
For Akaya to be completely missing when they were preparing to leave the tournament grounds was less acceptable.
“I can’t find him anywhere,” Yagyuu reported, the last of the team to regather after scattering to seek their errant junior.
Seiichi ran an impatient hand through his hair, wondering if Akaya had wound up on some other team’s bus, which had happened a time or two when he was especially caught up in some debate with another player and failed to notice his surroundings. The amusing thing, after the fact, was that the other players failed to notice that they had someone else’s team member in their midst. Akaya, when he was fully engaged with something, just seemed to lock attention that way. It had been one of the first signs Seiichi observed that Akaya had the potential to stand among the very best some day.
Sanada, having evidently followed Seiichi’s line of thought, flipped his phone closed. “There’s no answer,” he said, though with an undertone of exasperation, because Akaya not answering was far from conclusive evidence that he was away from his phone.
“…can’t find him anywhere, I’m afraid,” a familiar voice said, behind them. “It isn’t like Echizen to leave on his own.”
Seiichi turned to see Fuji rejoining his own team, not too far off. “Echizen?” he murmured. He could almost hear Sanada’s teeth grinding, beside him.
His doubles players exchanged looks. “What, again?” Niou wondered.
“It’s Akaya,” Marui shrugged.
Seiichi sighed, and called over. “Do I take it that your youngest player is missing, also?”
“Also?” Tezuka repeated. Seiichi nodded, ruefully.
Kikumaru flopped back against a tree. “Again?” he asked the leaves overhead.
“It’s Echizen,” Momoshiro pointed out, grinning, “you know what he’s like.”
“Not the concourse,” Jackal put in.
“Not the east courts,” Oishi added.
Renji tilted his head. “Sadaharu?” he inquired.
“Mm.” Inui adjusted his glasses, thoughtfully. “Kirihara chose their location last time, correct?” Renji nodded. “Then I expect Echizen steered them to the last court at the back of the grounds; I recall him remarking that it wasn’t used at all, today.”
“Well, let’s go, then,” Sanada growled, the look in his eye boding no good to Akaya for putting them all to this trouble.
Both teams trailed in the wake of their captains, and, sure enough, found their missing members playing a lively game against each other.
“Akaya!” Sanada snapped, pushing the gate open. Akaya started, missed his step and then missed the ball. He scowled at the ball, lying against the fence behind him, planted his hands on his hips and scowled at his vice-captain, too.
“Sanada-fukubuchou, that was game point, and you made me miss it!” he said, irate. Then his eyes actually focused on the teams, gathered and watching, and widened. “Ah.” He edged a step back from the glares of his teammates. “Is it that late, already?” he asked, a bit weakly.
Echizen was less obvious about it, but his tug on the brim of his cap reminded Seiichi irresistibly of a turtle, beating a quick retreat into his shell. The two truants shared a speaking look, and returned, reluctantly, to their teams. Akaya slipped by Sanada hastily, cast an eye over the others and apparently decided Renji was least likely to pummel him over this affair, because he sidled behind their data specialist. Echizen, for his own part, seemed resigned to being pummeled, but chose the source by moving quickly into Momoshiro’s orbit. Seiichi was interested to observe the similarity of reactions, between his team and Seigaku’s. Really, it wasn’t all that surprising that their junior players had so much in common.
“Akaya…” Sanada started, pausing when Seiichi touched his arm.
“Wait, Sanada,” Seiichi said, looking over at Tezuka. “They caused us some inconvenience, but the idea isn’t entirely without merit.”
He could see the calculation running behind Tezuka’s eyes. “Nor entirely without precedent,” the other captain noted, in return. Seiichi smiled. This would be useful for everyone.
“I’ll call you about schedules, later, then, shall I?” he asked. Tezuka nodded, and fished out a scrap of paper on which he scribbled a number.
“Yukimura, are you serious about this?” Sanada asked, softly. His brows rose when Seiichi looked around at him and smiled, bright and hard.
He and Tezuka decided that holding this particular training exercise at Seigaku would be best. Tezuka’s team was still a bit… tense where Seiichi’s was concerned, and, if they wished to take the edge of hostility off that tension, giving Seigaku the comfort of their home courts would help.
Seiichi didn’t explicitly suggest that Tezuka arrange for his non-regular players to be absent, but was very pleased to see, when they arrived, that his hints about over-reaction and unfortunate senses of humor had been taken anyway. All the moreso, as Niou had been bouncing, subtly but bouncing all the same, all day, and Fuji looked dangerously cordial.
“You’re sure you don’t mind giving your opponents such a close look at your play?” Fuji inquired, solicitously.
Niou rested his racquet over his shoulder and bared his teeth in a gleaming grin. “Ah, but that only goes for some, doesn’t it? What do you say, Fuji? A match between the unpredictables should be fun, shouldn’t it?”
“Possibly,” Fuji returned, less cordial and more level. Echizen shot him a very sharp look.
Seiichi tilted his head, considering, and didn’t interfere. Fuji had a history of taking rather extreme revenge on anyone who injured one of those Fuji cared for, and Kikumaru certainly fell into that category. But he invariably did it within the parameters of the game. Niou had watched Seiichi push Fuji all out, and would not be surprised by him now. Nor was he likely to mind the score all that much, since his goal, to judge by the glint in his eye, was to prod Fuji rather than to win. Seeing how Fuji responded to that could tell Seiichi a good deal about Fuji’s current mindset within the game.
Yagyuu, however, seemed to have other ideas. “Niou-kun,” he said, stepping forward.
Niou looked at his partner, brows raised. Yagyuu made a small gesture with one hand.
“Oh, come on,” Niou responded, tone scoffing. Yagyuu lowered his chin just a bit, not taking his gaze off his partner. Niou looked at him, at Fuji, back at Yagyuu. “You seriously think…?” he trailed off, staring intently at Yagyuu.
“Yes, I do,” Yagyuu answered, quietly.
Niou pursed his lips and bounced his racquet on his shoulder a few times. “All right,” he declared, at last. “But only,” he stepped closer to his partner, “if you take him instead.”
Now Seiichi wondered whether he should interfere. When Niou looked at Yagyuu with that shining intentness he was asking his partner to become very dangerous. And Yagyuu rarely refused him. On the other hand, Fuji was likely the only member of Seigaku, short of Tezuka himself, who could deal with Yagyuu when he really let go. If Yagyuu didn’t mind showing himself like that, Seiichi decided, he would let it happen.
Yagyuu’s lips quirked with amusement. “Very well,” he agreed, and looked over at Fuji. “If that’s acceptable?”
“Either will do,” Fuji answered, a glint of intent in his own eye.
Seiichi suppressed a smile. Fuji was likely about to get a better workout than he expected.
“Well, I suppose he isn’t the only tricky player Seigaku has,” Niou observed, “is he?” and his gaze locked on Inui.
One of Inui’s brows lifted over his glasses. “Interesting,” he murmured, and stepped forward. Niou tipped his head and gave Inui a lazy smile.
“Though I’d like to watch their match first,” he added, nodding at Yagyuu and Fuji. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Quite,” Inui agreed, easily, and the four of them moved toward the courts.
Seiichi felt Renji, beside him, quivering with suppressed chuckles. Seiichi couldn’t blame him. Clearly, to use Niou’s own phrase, Niou had Inui’s number.
Seigaku’s vice-captain stirred, looking after the departing players with a tense line between his brows.
“Shouldn’t someone…” he started.
“They’ll be fine, Oishi-senpai,” Echizen interrupted.
“The way those two set each other on?” Oishi said, sharply. His junior gave him the look of someone with a great deal to say who can’t quite decide where to start.
Marui snapped a bubble. “You don’t get it, do you?” he observed. “Kind of strange, considering you work the same way.”
“What do you mean?” Oishi asked, tightly.
“Sure, they set each other on,” Marui shrugged. “But they also hold each other back. You really don’t want to think about what they’d be like apart.”
Oishi’s mouth thinned. He didn’t reply, though, and one of the other players stepped in.
“I was right, wasn’t I,” Momoshiro said, looking intently at Marui. “You’re the analyst. You don’t act like it very often.”
Marui traded him a narrow look back. “You should talk.”
Momoshiro opened his mouth, closed it, and grinned crookedly. “You want to see about it?” he offered, jerking his head at the courts.
Marui blew a contemplative bubble. “Sure.”
“Speaking of your dynamics as a pair,” Renji said to Oishi, as another two players headed for the courts, “would you be interested in playing a doubles match against Genichirou and I?”
Interesting, Seiichi thought. Renji implied that Oishi and Kikumaru participated far more equally to create the pace of their games than their reputation suggested. On the other hand, Kikumaru’s expression, at that offer, was not the expression of someone who left all the strategy to his partner. He looked, in fact, rather like a cat who’d seen something interesting moving in the grass. After a final, dour, look in the direction Yagyuu and Niou had taken with their opponents, Oishi agreed.
A brief competition of demurral ended when Kaidou managed to defer to his senior and sent Kawamura off with Jackal, following to take the second match, leaving only the captains, Akaya, and Echizen unemployed. Akaya and Echizen, Seiichi noted, were eyeing each other sidelong, and edging away from their captains. He stifled a laugh, and glanced over at Tezuka to see a spark of amusement in his eyes as well. Tezuka looked at Akaya, then back at Seiichi, lifting a brow. Seiichi smiled, glancing at Echizen, and nodded.
“Kirihara,” Tezuka called.
Akaya looked around, blinking. “Tezuka-san?” he answered, surprised.
Tezuka picked up his racquet. “Come play a match,” he directed.
Akaya’s eyes widened, and he looked a question at Seiichi. Seiichi came and gave him a small push in Tezuka’s direction, setting his other hand on Echizen’s shoulder.
“Go ahead,” he said, gently. Akaya’s eyes picked up a glitter of excitement, and he nearly skipped off in Tezuka’s wake. Echizen shifted under Seiichi’s hand.
“Do you want to watch them before we play?” Seiichi asked.
Echizen looked up at him from under the brim of his cap. “If it’s all right,” he said.
Seiichi smiled down at him. “I admit to some curiosity myself.”
So they stood at the fence and watched. Seiichi noted that Akaya, used to the more vivid playing styles of his teammates, and of Seiichi in particular, had a difficult time adjusting to the deadly understatement of Tezuka’s game. Akaya knew what was happening, Seiichi thought; he just couldn’t quite wrap his intellect around it sufficiently to plan. But the pressure Tezuka was putting on him, at least, was familiar, and Akaya answered it without thinking.
“That won’t last him very long,” Echizen muttered, in the tone of someone who had reason to know.
Akaya seemed to come to the same conclusion after three games, standing still and looking across the net at Tezuka. Seiichi could see him wavering, wanting to reach for his own newfound strength but hesitant to engage it with a strange player. Seiichi sympathized; it was an intimate and precarious thing, to play full out in a practice match, and Tezuka did not make a show of being receptive to it. Ironic, Seiichi reflected, considering that Tezuka was actually one of the most passionate players he had ever met. From this distance, Seiichi couldn’t swear to it, but he thought Tezuka’s eyes softened in recognition of Akaya’s dilemma.
“Come,” he ordered, quietly, and Akaya responded to the familiar sureness, even in an unfamiliar voice. When he served to start the next game, heads turned across the courts, and Seiichi watched Tezuka’s expression take on the fierce edge of a serious game.
“Not bad,” Echizen murmured. Seiichi glanced down to see a bright grin hiding under his cap.
By the end of the match, Seiichi was sure Akaya had recognized what Tezuka was, had touched the searing fire hidden under the coolness. Tezuka’s word of mild approval, as they shook hands over the net, painted the quick blush that Akaya hated across his cheeks, even as his chin came up, proud and challenging.
“Shall we?” Seiichi asked Echizen.
Momo and Marui leaned against the fence, watching the show two courts over. Momo smiled to himself.
“Just like Echizen, to nab a match with the best,” he commented. Marui snorted.
“It’s really no wonder he and Akaya keep after each other; I think they have a lot in common.”
Momo cast his erstwhile opponent a thoughtful glance. “You know, Marui-san,” he said, slowly, “all of you are acting really different, today.”
Marui cocked an eyebrow at him. “Of course we are,” he responded, easily, “Yukimura’s back.”
Momo blinked at him. That went beyond dependence, all the way to psychosis, in his opinion.
“He… means a lot to your team, then,” he hazarded, a bit uncomfortably.
Marui’s exasperated sigh produced a particularly large bubble.
“Look, Momoshiro,” he said, seriously, “you’ve had a taste of what it’s like to have your captain be gone, right?”
“Well, try this,” Marui continued. “Imagine for a minute that, before that, he’d spent months in the hospital, on life support, and no matter how often anyone said that whatever was wrong wasn’t fatal, none of you could quite believe it, looking at him. And then he was gone for more months, recuperating, supposedly, only you could see him breaking up because it was going so slowly. Just what,” Marui stabbed him in the chest with a finger, “do you think that would do to your team?”
Momo did try to imagine it, and had to fight down a sick shudder at the thought of Tezuka-san unmoving on a hospital bed. Marui, watching him narrowly, obviously caught it anyway.
“Exactly,” he said, leaning back against the fence. “I’d bet that vice-captain of yours would snap from the pressure, and that Fuji at least, and probably Echizen too, would go off the deep end, and no one would be able to control either of them. Because, in some ways, the composition of our teams isn’t all that different.”
Well, Momo had known Marui had an eye for analysis, and he’d certainly hit all of that dead on target. He swallowed a few times before he could speak.
“I’m glad for you,” he said, softly. “That he’s back.”
Marui directed a one-sided smile across the courts to where his captain was serving.
“Believe me, I’m glad for us, too.”
All right, so Masaharu had to admit that his partner might have had a point. While it would have been a lot of fun to prod at Fuji while he was in the mood to take heads, it was also possible that Masaharu would have managed, by doing so, to incur a much longer-term wrath than would be convenient to deal with. Yagyuu, on the other hand, was letting Fuji take out his snit and providing Masaharu with an absolutely beautiful spectacle in the process.
The scritch of a pencil beside him made him grin. He wasn’t the only one enjoying the show, of course.
“Your partner demands more of Fuji than I expected he would,” Inui commented.
“Yagyuu is a strong player,” Masaharu replied, giving nothing. Whatever this counterpart of Yanagi’s could extract from watching the flaring, prismatic brilliance of Yagyuu’s destructiveness slipping around and between the colder edge of Fuji’s he could have. But Masaharu didn’t share that well, and wasn’t about to freely add anything to that notebook.
As the game in front of them ended, Inui tucked away his pencil. “Shall we, Niou?”
Yagyuu, facing them across one of the benches, nodded over their shoulders with a smile. “Yukimura-san is playing,” he told them.
The heads of both Seigaku players swiveled as if drawn on one string. Masaharu grinned with delight. Yagyuu was in excellent form, today. Dangling a choice between observing Masaharu and observing Yukimura in front of these two was the kind of casual teasing Masaharu indulged in himself, as an alternative to, say, chewing his nails.
It was nice to know he was a good influence on his partner.
When Inui drifted across the path to lean on the fence of the other block of courts, the others drifted after him. Inui, Masaharu noted, was drawn to the greater power.
Yagyuu laid his hand on the fence, and Masaharu watched his mouth soften. “It’s good to know he’s back,” he murmured.
“It is,” Yanagi’s voice agreed, from beside them. The four who had been playing doubles one court down from them had also emerged to watch Yukimura’s match with Seigaku’s prodigy.
“Provided he doesn’t get too carried away,” Sanada added, and Masaharu thought he was serious despite the smile lurking under his cool tone.
Of course, considering what he and Marui were fairly sure had happened the last time Yukimura had gotten carried away, Sanada probably had good cause for a little purely personal caution.
When Yanagi gave Sanada an inquiring look, though, their vice-captain nodded toward Tezuka. Yanagi pursed his lips.
“You have a point,” he admitted.
Ah, so it was Yukimura’s competitiveness Sanada was worried about. Fair enough, all three of them were insanely competitive. Which made Masaharu watch with a rather ironic eye as Sanada and Yanagi strolled in the direction of Seigaku’s captain, presumably in order to restrain their own. Nor could he quite hold back a snort when Fuji, after contemplating the conversation for a moment, followed them.
“So, Tezuka burns hot, too, does he?” he commented.
Oishi stiffened. “Tezuka,” he answered, rather pointedly, “doesn’t need anyone to govern his actions.”
Masaharu cocked his head at the other.
“Someone’s holding a grudge,” he noted, mouth tilted. Oishi rounded on him, eyes flashing.
“You nearly sent my partner to the hospital, do you expect me to just let that pass?”
“We all know the risks of the game we play,” Masaharu shrugged. “Or, at least,” he added, eyeing Oishi, “I would hope we do.”
“That was an irresponsible game!” the other player snapped.
“You be responsible for yours, and I’ll be responsible for mine,” Masaharu told him, bluntly. For a moment he thought Seigaku’s famously even tempered and moderate vice-captain was about to take that simple truth as a challenge.
“Niou-kun,” Yagyuu spoke, quietly, one hand coming to rest on Masaharu’s shoulder. “There’s a point in what he says. The match played out that way because of my loss of control.” He looked at Kikumaru, watching the exchange with dark eyes, and then back toward Yukimura. “I believe I can assure you that it won’t happen again, though.”
“Really?” Inui asked from the other side of them, sounding merely curious. Yagyuu chuckled.
“There is a difference between losing control and setting it aside,” he pointed out.
Oishi was still glaring at them, but Kikumaru stepped in front of him and put a hand on his chest.
“Oishi. It’s all right. Not,” he cast a sharp look over his shoulder, “that I appreciated being woken up every hour that night. But I understand.”
“But…!” Oishi started.
Kikumaru thumped him in the chest. “And so would you, if you thought about it for a second,” he said, briskly, glancing at Yukimura. Oishi followed his eyes, and his mouth tightened.
“That isn’t an excuse.”
“Didn’t say it was,” Kikumaru pointed out. “I just said I could understand. Now come on. I want to play their other pair.”
Oishi, after one last moment’s resistance, gave in with a sigh and a slight smile, and let his partner drag him off.
“They’re kind of cute,” Masaharu said, placidly, and stretched. “So, Inui, you ready to play?”
Judging by Echizen’s expression, he was less pleased by this match than their last, and Seiichi cocked his head, inviting Echizen to say whatever was boiling behind his eyes.
“I thought you agreed no holding back, last time,” Echizen muttered, at last.
“I did,” Seiichi agreed. “And I wasn’t.”
Echizen gazed up at him, skeptical, and then considering, and then his eyes widened, shocked.
“It was bad,” Seiichi admitted. “And extremely frustrating; you’ll find out the first time you’re seriously injured.”
He felt the shiver Echizen suppressed through the hand that still clasped his. Echizen shot a quick look at his captain before he looked back at Seiichi and nodded.
Seiichi was rather amused at Echizen’s preoccupation, sufficient that he didn’t seem to notice when he took the other half of the same bench Akaya was recovering on. When he did notice, he merely nodded.
“Good target you have,” he commented.
“Mm,” Akaya agreed. “Yours, too.”
Seiichi choked down a laugh, seeing it’s reflection in Tezuka’s eyes. And then he had to stifle a surge of impatient desire. These were just practice matches, he knew that. He was sure Tezuka knew that, too. And he knew they really shouldn’t play each other here, because once they got started he wasn’t at all sure they would be able to stop. But he wanted so much to test himself against this one, and there was no guarantee they would play in competition, and he could tell from the shift in Tezuka’s stance that he wanted to play too…
Genichirou and Renji came up on either side of him, and Genichirou’s hand was on his back, calling for his restraint. Seiichi sighed.
“I know,” he murmured.
He could still feel Tezuka’s focus pulling on him, though, until Fuji moved, unhurriedly, past and brushed a hand over his captain’s arm.
The others called them both back, back to being captains rather than purely competitors. Seiichi didn’t resent it, and he didn’t think Tezuka did, either, as the subtle tension eased back underneath his smooth surface. But he did wish, wistfully, for a chance to have it otherwise.
“So,” Renji said, calmly, “if you’ve finished revealing Yagyuu for Sadaharu’s edification, would you care for a match against me, Fuji?”
Fuji stiffened, as if at a threat. Seiichi supposed it had been, considering what long effort Fuji had put into concealing his style and his strength.
“Renji,” Sanada admonished, “stop teasing him.”
Renji raised his brows, as if to inquire what on earth Sanada meant. Seiichi shook his head.
“Come, now, Renji, where’s your patience?” he asked. “If you can deal with Akaya you should be able to deal with Fuji.”
Fuji gave him a downright indignant look. Tezuka, behind him, had a hand over his mouth. Sanada gave Fuji a long glance, and turned a hand up.
“Perhaps you’d care to play me?” he suggested, shooting a quelling look at Renji.
Fuji only hesitated a moment before agreeing.
“Excellent coordination,” Tezuka remarked, blandly, as they watched the two depart.
“Mm,” Seiichi agreed, pleasantly. “It’s often useful.” Renji merely smiled, satisfied with their successful triple-team of Fuji.
Tezuka checked his watch, and called to the two on the bench, “Echizen! Kirihara! B court.”
Akaya blinked, looking surprised at his own prompt response. “Even sound the same,” he muttered, as he and Echizen collected their racquets. Echizen glanced at Seiichi on their way by, and gave Akaya an eloquent look of disbelief.
“Wait till you hear it,” Akaya snorted.
Seiichi laughed, quietly. He couldn’t quite tell whether that had been a warning to him, not to stray too far into the habit of controlling Tezuka’s people lest the favor be returned, or simply a return on the favor of caring for Tezuka’s people. Or possibly both; that sort of efficiency would be like Tezuka. He watched Sanada starting to drive Fuji with the pleasure he always felt watching the very best show their mettle. And watched Fuji taking out his frustration in an unusually straightforward fashion with the pleasure of accomplishment. Frustration was not, however, a very sustainable motivation.
“I can push him over the edge, Tezuka,” he said, not looking at his counterpart, “but he will need you to catch him when he falls. After so long refusing to fly, he’s afraid of the sky now. Afraid to fly for his own sake.”
“I know,” Tezuka answered, and Seiichi winced a little at the pain lodged in that deep, even voice. Renji’s fingers brushed his wrist, gently, supporting. Reminded of his friend’s presence, Seiichi looked around at him.
“Did you actually have someone else in mind?” he asked, knowing Renji would follow his veer back to the subject of match partners.
“I expect Momoshiro to go looking for Niou soon; Sadaharu will be free then.”
“Momoshiro and Niou?” Seiichi echoed, intrigued.
“Momoshiro has been showing a steadily increasing tendency to seek out other analytical players to measure himself against,” Renji explained. “I believe he’s beginning to know his own strength.”
“And Inui, hm?” Seiichi added, with a twinkle up at his friend. “Does he begin to know his own strength, too?”
“Yes,” Renji answered, softly, giving him a direct look back.
Having heard Renji’s opinion, past and present, about Inui’s greater facility as a singles player than a doubles player, Seiichi nodded, satisfied. It wouldn’t do Renji any harm to remember that side of his own strength, so often overshadowed by Seiichi and Sanada.
“And there we are, right on time,” Renji said, looking up. “If you’ll both excuse me.”
“You know,” Seiichi mentioned, under his breath to Tezuka, “I’m starting to wish for a tape of today.”
Tezuka’s mouth quirked up.
Seiichi considered the day a productive, if tiring one, and his team was relaxed and easy with their opposition when he gathered them back up to depart. Better yet, Seigaku was considerably more relaxed as well, and he exchanged a nod with Tezuka.
Of course, that increased ease had side effects.
“So,” Echizen interjected into the parting pleasantries. “If he’s the Emperor,” waving a hand at the startled Sanada, “what does that make him?” indicating Seiichi himself.
“Echizen…” Oishi sighed, exasperated. Sanada looked like someone fishing for the right words to express his outrage.
Niou, however, blinked slowly at Echizen, mouth curling.
“Why, Kami-sama, of course,” he answered, quite matter-of-fact.
Now Sanada looked like someone trying to decide which target to char to a crisp first. Renji, however, was overtaken by a coughing fit that was in no way convincing. Inui and Fuji were both snickering, despite Tezuka’s stern look, and Echizen was grinning. If it weren’t for Sanada’s ire, and the sudden, knotted tension in Oishi, only defused by Tezuka’s quick hand on his shoulder, Seiichi might have let it pass; but the vice-captains were clearly neither of them in the mood for Niou’s antics. So he touched Sanada’s arm, stopping whatever explosion that deep inhalation was the preface to, and pinned Niou with a sharp look.
Niou blinked at the touch of steel in that order, and raised his hands placatingly. Seiichi nodded, accepting. He turned back just in time to catch the mildly impressed look Echizen threw at Akaya, and the ‘told you so’ grin Akaya returned.
There were days when Seiichi wondered whether he ran a tennis team or some kind of home for incorrigible boys.
“We’ll see you this weekend, Tezuka,” he said, and herded his team in the direction of their bus.
“So,” Akaya said, smugly, as they filed aboard, “do I have good ideas, or what?”
Half the team pounced on him.