Yukimura, a bit troubled over Kirihara, talks first with Tezuka and then with Suzuoki. Drama, I-3

Seiichi didn’t come out to Makuyama Park very often. The harshness of the landscape didn’t generally appeal to him. But today he needed to remind himself of a few things, and Makuyama suggested itself. In January there were few other people there, and Seiichi wandered among the plum trees, thinking.

He was troubled over Akaya. He wanted to give his successor all the time he needed to get his feet under him. But the way Akaya was still shying away from him worried Seiichi. On the other hand, he couldn’t very well interfere when he himself seemed to be the problem. That fact still annoyed him greatly. Renji teased Seiichi about being possessive, but Seiichi didn’t think he was. Not the way Renji meant, at any rate. Seiichi chose a sunny shelf of rock to settle on, and looked up at the spray of branches that hung over it. This one was almost ready to blossom, lavender buds showing brighter rose at the edges as it prepared to unfurl.

“You don’t care, do you?” he asked, reaching up to touch a branch. “Not that you’re growing on volcanic rock, not that it’s winter. You just keep growing.” He sighed and smiled, a little crookedly, at the tree.


Seiichi looked around to see, of all people, Tezuka standing near. “Tezuka,” he greeted, a little surprised to see him out here. “You’re rather early for the tourist season in this park.” He was amused to see how much distaste a single shrug could convey.

“I’m not fond of tourist season.”

“I’m not either,” Seiichi admitted. “I wonder if they mind.” He stroked the branch, lightly.

Tezuka tilted his head, consideringly. “They seem to keep growing, regardless,” he said, at last.

Seiichi had to laugh. “That was why I came out here today, actually.” He leaned back on his hands and gazed out across the trees. “Sometimes, when one of the plants in my garden isn’t doing well, and I can’t figure out why, I come out to one of the parks. It reminds me that plants are a lot tougher than most gardeners like to think they are. They survive just fine on their own.” He took a deep breath and ordered the tightness in his chest to go away. “I do wonder, sometimes. If my plants could talk to me, would my seedlings tell me I’m jostling their roots, and to stop fussing over them?”

Tezuka didn’t answer, but he didn’t move off, either. When Seiichi glanced at him, he was simply waiting, a little the way Genichirou did when he knew Seiichi wanted to talk about something. Only less patiently. Seiichi chuckled again. Tezuka’s presence was a silent offer to keep listening, but the crossed arms and faintly quirked brow said that obscure whimsy would not be tolerated. Genichirou tended to be amused by such things, and would reflect them back as poetry if Seiichi caught him in the right mood. Somehow, Seiichi doubted Tezuka wrote poetry. Which made his implicit offer a bit of a mystery. Maybe he was feeling a little bereft, too, without his own team.

And perhaps it would help to talk with someone outside his team, Seiichi reflected. More than that, to talk with another captain. So.

“Do your seedlings ever cause you worry, Tezuka?” he asked. “Momoshiro. Echizen.”

“Sometimes,” Tezuka said, brows raised. “We both had rather willful teams this year, Yukimura.”

“Now there’s an understatement. I find myself worrying more, now that I have to leave one of them behind.”

“There will still be someone there to oversee the ones I’m leaving,” Tezuka said, slowly. “It helps. Ryuuzaki-sensei is a good teacher. If I’ve gotten them to start on their own paths, I can trust she’ll see that they keep going. A good coach provides a great deal of continuity.”

“A good coach,” Seiichi repeated, hearing his own voice chill. From the watchful expression on Tezuka’s face, he knew his had probably turned hard and cold. “I found those in short supply, and declined to have any interfering with my team. Though one has found his way to Akaya.”

“Is he any good?” Tezuka asked, calmly.

Seiichi felt his fingernails scrape against stone and forced his hand to unclench again. “I have no idea. I’ve never dealt with him; he worked with the high school division until this fall.”

Tezuka was silent for a long time, which was probably just as well since Seiichi was busy trying not to snarl at the thought of the tennis club’s faculty advisor taking the same tone with Akaya he had once presumed to take with Seiichi.

“Yukimura,” Tezuka said, at last, “do you trust Kirihara?”

Seiichi blinked. “What do you mean?”

“Even if Ryuuzaki-sensei wasn’t there, I don’t think I would be afraid for Momoshiro or Echizen.” Tezuka waved a hand at the plum trees surrounding them. “They’re strong. I know that. So do they.”

Seiichi felt something in him relax. Not all the way, but a little. It helped, to hear the logic that had drawn him here today stated in someone else’s voice. “I do trust Akaya,” he answered, softly. And perhaps, he thought, ruefully, Akaya would trust himself more if Seiichi could offer a better example of confidence in his own teaching. And then he smiled up at Tezuka. “I suppose Echizen never has accepted any fussing over himself. But, then, that doesn’t seem like a mistake you’re prone to.”

“It isn’t something he’s ever complained about, no,” Tezuka agreed, in a dry tone. “The only regular complaint they make is of overly vigorous pruning.”

Seiichi stared at him for a long moment, before he laughed with genuine delight. Perhaps he’d been right, and Tezuka was in the same place he was, missing the connection of a team collected around him. He couldn’t imagine many other things that would bring such a reserved person to trade metaphors with him. He clasped his hands around one knee and leaned back against them.

“I think next year will be difficult,” he said. “For all of us. Our teams this year … were something special. And now we’re broken apart. Nor am I at all sure our senpai will be pleased to see us again.”

Tezuka’s eyes were shadowed, as he looked down at Seiichi, and Seiichi decided he had, indeed, been right.

“Will you be there, next year, Tezuka? You and Fuji?” Something to look forward to; something to keep him going.

“Yes.” Iron rang in Tezuka’s voice, the tone of someone who had never backed down from any challenge.

Seiichi closed his eyes, and tipped his head back to feel the sun against his face. It was simply warm, now; but come summer it would be bright and hot and dangerous. Yes. He would look forward to summer. “Good. We’ll be there, too.”

The one question Tezuka had asked him that Seiichi hadn’t been able to answer nagged at him over the next few days. Was Suzuoki a good coach? He didn’t know. And Seiichi was aware enough of the irrationality of his prejudice that it made him uncomfortable.This was what had led him to one of the halls he didn’t normally frequent.

Seiichi knocked on the frame of Suzuoki’s door. The man barely glanced up.

“Yukimura-kun, I was expecting you sooner. Come in.”

Points for observation, Seiichi noted. He also filed away the thought that Suzuoki was the sort who liked to unnerve his opponent. Well, then, bluntness in return for bluntness—Seiichi hooked a chair around to face Suzuoki and seated himself without waiting for an invitation.

A thin smile crossed Suzuoki’s face as he took his cigarette out of his mouth. “Was there something you wanted to talk about?”

Seiichi considered for a moment. Clearly, this one would not be susceptible to the same kind of intimidation that had worked in the past. Suzuoki knew what this confrontation was about, and was prodding Seiichi to show his hand first. A cautious approach seemed called for.

“I was wondering,” he began. “I hear you’ve been working with the high school division for years. Was there a particular reason you switched, now?”

“It would certainly have been interesting to stay and deal with you, instead, Yukimura-kun,” Suzuoki allowed, smoothly. “But both rumor and results say that you have all the help you need. The junior high division, however, is losing that support. As a coach, it behooved me to offer some help to the new captain.” He paused, and snorted. “Who actually accepted it, to my increasing surprise the better I get to know him.”

The abrupt shifts from bluntness to reticence and back were enough to set even Seiichi off his pace. Caution, definitely. “Surprise?” he probed.

An eyebrow lifted. “You have a reputation as a perceptive young man,” Suzuoki noted. “It can’t have escaped you that Kirihara-kun is a spitfire. To put it mildly.” And then sharp eyes glinted. “Or perhaps it did escape you.”

Seiichi kept a firm hold on the flare of anger that answered that suggestion, that he might not know the measure of one of his own team. He felt his focus start to narrow, as it did when he faced a good opponent on the court, and answered Suzuoki’s provocation with the waiting poise that had swallowed so many challengers before. “I am familiar with Akaya’s temper,” he returned, coolly.

Rather than pressing in, though, Suzuoki eased off. He blew out a long breath and leaned back, shaking his head. “No wonder the kid’s so tangled up.”

Seiichi’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I’ll bet my next pay packet that he’s spent two years being overshadowed by you,” Suzuoki answered, apparently not affected at all by Seiichi’s increasing sharpness. Suzuoki flicked his fingers, trailing cigarette smoke through the air. “It isn’t always a bad thing. But he’s always had your control to rely on, hasn’t he?”

“Akaya has learned to control himself, or I wouldn’t have made him the next captain,” Seiichi returned, firmly.

Suzuoki blew a stream of smoke at him. “I’m not surprised you don’t see it. He’s probably too close to you. You defined the edge of acceptable temper for him, Yukimura-kun. Your self control is the pattern he’s blindly followed; it’s obvious in the way he relaxes when he’s with you. Now he’s having to find that stopping point for himself, and relaxing is the last thing he can afford to do.”

Well, this certainly answered Seiichi’s questions about the quality of help Akaya had attracted. Suzuoki was right, and Seiichi did, in fact, know it. That left only one question outstanding, and answering that one would require different tactics. So Seiichi relaxed, disengaging from the focus of confrontation, and smiled.

“I trust Akaya’s strength,” he said, quietly.

A momentary pause, followed by a one sided smile, said he had caught Suzuoki by surprise. Seiichi waited, holding off his tension, for the response.

Suzuoki’s smile gained ground, though it was still rather tilted. “Actually, so do I. At least,” he added, “I think he has the potential. I’d rather like to see him succeed.”

It really was amazing, Seiichi reflected, the variety of people Akaya managed to capture without seeming to intend it. “Would you?” he asked, teasing just a little, now that he was more sure Suzuoki was on the right side.

Suzuoki gave him a narrow look. “I have to have a very good reason before I’ll put up with the kind of mouthiness that kid gives me on a regular basis,” he stated, dourly.

Seiichi bit back a laugh, but knew his amusement was probably showing anyway. “Akaya is a good reason,” he said. “Thank you for taking care of him, Suzuoki-sensei.”

Suzuoki’s look turned sardonic. “Thank you for leaving him alone, this year, Yukimura-kun.”

“Hm.” Their glances practically rang off each other. One pass made it quite clear that, just as Seiichi had no intention of leaving Akaya wholly to his new coach, Suzuoki had no intention of backing down. “Well enough,” Seiichi said, softly, and turned toward the door.

Seiichi was not, after all, the only one from the old team who was interested in Akaya’s welfare.


Seiichi turned from closing the door to see Akaya standing in the hall, looking startled. His glance flicked from Seiichi to the office he’d just come out of and back, and widened. Seiichi laughed.

“Everything’s all right, Akaya.”

Akaya examined him for a moment longer, and nodded, relaxing.

And visibly caught himself back.

Seiichi tipped his head to one side, contemplating his protege. Akaya had a little over a year to settle this thing for himself. Would that be enough? Seiichi knew Akaya was phenomenally capable, when he needed to be. Look how far he had come in a year and a half, starting from the simple decision to overcome Seiichi and Genichirou and Renji.

Seiichi thought about that.

“Akaya.” When Akaya looked up at him, Seiichi smiled the way he did when inviting Akaya to play a serious game against him. “I’ll be waiting.”

Akaya’s head came up, sharply, and his eyes focused, darkened. “I’ll find you, Yukimura-san,” he answered.

“Good.” Seiichi took himself off, and only barely caught the exchange behind him.

“You look like you’ve been standing in a fire,” Suzuoki commented.

“Did I ask?” Akaya snapped back, irate and fearless, before the door closed.

Seiichi chuckled all the way down the stairs. Yes, he believed that Akaya would do fine.


Last Modified: May 15, 12
Posted: Feb 27, 05
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    1. branchandroot Post author

      *bounces* The captains are so much fun to play with. I have yet to decide whether I should leave Suzuoki for the next generation, when Kirihara graduates, or toss him into the mix at high school. Decisions, decisions…

      1. written-in-blue

        Damn those tough decisions.

        [would love to see Suzuoki and Yukimura butting heads]

        [also, has been staring at the cover of the tenipuri calendar, with the top row of Atobe-Yukimura-Tezuka, and contemplating a buchou trio]

        1. branchandroot Post author

          Watch me be convinced to transfer Suzuoki along with Kiri-elf. He’s making a few noises about drawing straws with another coach to see who gets which school. He’s also muttering about wondering just what constitutes the short straw. This should be fun, supposing I ever get to that end of the damn timeline.

          A captain’s trio? What a wonderful idea, why don’t you do that? *innocent look*

          1. written-in-blue

            [snerks] Mmmmmmmmmm I love it when strong personalities run into each other. ^______________^

            (Thinking about it, coming up with nothing, absolutely nothing, in the way of plausibility.)

            1. branchandroot Post author

              “Plausible” is not the first word that springs to mind, no. Hm. You’d almost have to set it forward in time. Perhaps throw them all onto the same pro team.

  1. solaas

    I shall now quote the kitten currently sprawled all over my upper body, resting its head on my shoulder: “Prrprrprrprr…” I love this story!


  2. lady-readwolf

    oh! oh! oh!
    this was just— {gushes}

    I adored the bit with Tezuka and Yukimura in the beginning. Lovely bit! but—ne, what’ about poor Kaidoh? No one’s too worried about him going off-course, eh? {grins}

    Have I mentioned how happy I am to see you continuing this story line?

    1. branchandroot Post author

      Thank you, dear!

      Maa, Kaidou is someone else’s pet project. Momo and Echizen are Tezuka’s.

      *grins* Kiri-elf is happy I’ve come back to it, too. Boy is a champion nag.

  3. maeran

    *hyperventilates* Sei-chan. Gyah.

    *pets the coach-san* I like him. A lot, in fact.

    I can’t get over how adorable Akaya-chan is around Sei-chan. ^__^ Just. Adorable. Captain interactions, though… *falls over* Sei-chan alone is enough, thank you. Throw in Atobe and Tezuka, and I’d just kind of really die. Really really die.

    Good grief, do I ever love your fics to pieces. *hugs the fic* (And listen, my ever-helpful playlist supplies “Shijitsu” to celebrate the moment.)

    1. branchandroot Post author

      Sei-chan rocks the world, yes he does.

      I am having huge fun with Suzuoki; I always kind of thought RK’s Saitou liked to teach, and that was all the inspiration needed.

      Thank you, my dear!