Kunimitsu stood in the shade above a tennis court, and watched Echizen Ryouma play Rikkai’s captain, Kirihara. He was not the only spectator standing discreetly back. Sanada was here also, not too far off, come, as he had, to watch last year’s teammate play.
The two players being who they were, the match proceeded to the accompaniment of taunts and verbal jabs, smug grins and determined glares according to who had scored the last point. Kunimitsu was moderately amused by Sanada’s expression of exasperation over, presumably, his protege’s manners or lack thereof; it wasn’t as though Sanada had a great deal of room to talk on that subject. Not when he was wound up in a game, himself.
And Echizen certainly didn’t seem to mind. Quite the contrary, he and Kirihara appeared to be getting almost as much fun out of provoking each other as they did from the game itself. It didn’t distract either of them from their play, which was all Kunimitsu had ever concerned himself with. That and making sure Echizen had challenges enough to occupy him. He knew people had wondered, sometimes, about how hard he seemed to push Echizen, but he’d never seen it in that light. If it seemed that he placed insanely high bars in front of his best player, he did it with the sure knowledge that Echizen would go off in search of a cliff if left to his own devices. It was something they shared, that hunger to exceed, to exercise all abilities to the utmost. Echizen was the only person Kunimitsu had met, thus far, who he was positive could go just as fast and far as Kunimitsu himself. Except that Echizen would do it with a wicked smile, and brilliant eyes, and a companionable taunt on his lips.
A look like the one he was giving Kirihara, who had just put a drive past him.
Echizen was considerably more flamboyant then Kunimitsu. A year’s passing had done nothing to change that, and Kunimitsu thought it probable that nothing ever would. Watching, now, as Echizen and Kirihara bared their teeth at each other across the court, he thought Echizen would never employ the mantle of quiet that Kunimitsu used in his own game. But, then, Echizen’s profligacy made his intensity none the less.
That was, in fact, one of the things that drew Kunimitsu, and had from the start. It was almost a relief to him to watch it. Kunimitsu was very good at maneuver and manipulation, but it was of necessity. After helping his mother manage his father and grandfather, and their continuous sniping, steering his team and opponents presented only modest difficulties. So he was good at maneuver and manipulation, yes, but those were not what truly came most easily to him. For all that he enjoyed the elegance of understatement in his game, it was eagerness for the bright, sharp edge of confrontation that drove him. He saw the same thing, all unmoderated, in Echizen. The way Echizen threw himself into any match that looked like a good challenge reminded him irresistibly of the way he’d seen birds of prey throw themselves into the air—the same arrogance of absolute commitment. Echizen hid nothing. It was not truly strange to him, that Echizen was so open, almost confiding, with his best opponents. Kunimitsu was a little the same way with the best of his, the only people he could show so much to, and it pleased him that Echizen himself was becoming one of those.
On the court below, Echizen had won. Kunimitsu smiled to himself, and Echizen turned and looked directly at him, just in time to catch it, as if he’d known Kunimitsu was there all along. Echizen raised his chin and traded back a sharper grin. The edge of it tilted, and he tipped his head at the court, as if inviting Kunimitsu to come down and give him a real match. Kunimitsu narrowed his eyes, and flicked his fingers to send Echizen to the net where his opponent was waiting without much patience at all.
Echizen tucked his chin down and went, with a jaunty air, and Kunimitsu let himself smile again, just slightly, at his back.