Extra – The Fairest

The new year begins and Kirihara suffers a bit of culture clash. Drama, I-3

First day of tennis club practice for the new year.

Akaya wasn’t precisely nervous, but there was no room in his mind for any thought but that one, running in echoing round. The ramifications of that thought occupied him even more than they had three years ago; this time he knew what was waiting for him.

Despite his preoccupation, he was aware that Hiiyama had probably chosen deliberately to walk ahead of him and clear people out of the way. At least, that was the effect he was having on the other students around them, and Akaya thought Hiiyama was likely wearing one of his Irresistible Force looks. They weren’t glares, but nevertheless managed, in a very deadpan way, to convey the idea that the recipient could either move or be mowed down.

They had changed and were almost at the courts before Akaya thought to say thank you, though.

Hiiyama snorted, looking up at Akaya from the corner of his eye. “Go on and get it over with,” he ordered, gruffly.

Akaya smiled and reminded himself to breathe. Why was he so wound up about this? He’d played his senpai dozens of times before. Busy thinking about this he paid even less attention than usual to the run-of-the-mill senpai around him, and started when one of them suddenly blocked his way.

“Where do you think you’re going? First years are gathering over there.” The obstruction jerked his chin toward the growing cluster of Akaya’s yearmates.

Akaya eyed the interloper up and down. Not someone he recognized. “Yes, I noticed,” he drawled, in answer, and didn’t budge.

The other player’s eyes narrowed. “Who do you think you are?” he growled.

Before Akaya could decide just how to answer that, a familiar laugh came from behind him.

“Making trouble already, Akaya?”

Akaya glanced back. “Niou-senpai, who is this?” he asked, pointing his racquet at the player in front of him.

“Saizen Tadahisa, second year,” Niou-senpai waved in a vaguely introductory manner, “meet Kirihara Akaya, first year.”

Akaya tapped an impatient foot. “So is he any good or not?”

“Not too bad,” Niou-senpai said, judiciously, while Saizen-senpai gaped at them.

“That’ll do,” Akaya decided, and turned back. “If you’re not to scared to take a challenge, senpai, play me a game and I’ll show you who I think I am.”

Niou-senpai was right; Saizen-senpai was fairly good. He kept two of his service games.

“Thanks senpai,” Akaya said, when they were done. “That was a good warm up.”

“And what is it that you needed to warm up for?” asked the voice Akaya had been waiting for, from the side of the court.

He breathed in and out, carefully, stomping on the shiver that tried to wind up his spine. “Yukimura-buchou.” He turned to see all three of them there, Yanagi-san looking discreetly amused, and Sanada-san looking, for him, only mildly disapproving. Yukimura-san …

Yukimura-san’s eyes sharpened as they met Akaya’s, and his gentle smile turned bright.

“Please,” Akaya said, quietly.

“Of course. One set.” Yukimura-san paced to the other side of the net, Saizen-senpai nearly scuttling back out of his way.

The sound of the club members watching, which had been a mixture of amusement and grumbling, changed tone. No sooner had he noticed, though, than they faded from Akaya’s attention. He had occasionally wondered, during the past year, whether his perception of Yukimura-san was simply a matter of inexperience—whether it would be different now. And in a way it was different; Akaya no longer felt completely out of control as they played.

But Yukimura-san’s brilliance was still enough to burn everything but the game, the now, the collection of movement that was the net and the ball and the two of them, from Akaya’s mind. Still the thing that could draw him further than he thought he could go and leave him rushing madly to keep his own balance.

In the end, Yukimura-san took him six games to four.

As Akaya hauled himself upright the sound of the club around them returned to his ears. Now it was a soft, incredulous buzz. He would have laughed if he wasn’t panting so hard for breath.

Yukimura-san was laughing for both of them, softly, just a bit breathless, as they met at the net. “Soon,” he said, and then added with a teasing gleam in his eye, “So, did you want to keep up your first year tradition with the other two? You should start getting used to multiple sets, you know.”

Akaya contemplated this. “Ten minute break, first?”

“To start with,” Yukimura-san agreed.

Before he could accuse Yukimura-san of developing sadistic tendencies they were interrupted by the last person Akaya had expected. “I see that my suggestion of some matches to fit the first years into the current rankings has been pre-empted.”

“What are you doing here?” Akaya exclaimed, wide eyed.

Suzuoki blew a stream of smoke at him. “The coaches drew straws to see who would stay with each division this year. I got the short one.”

Akaya tried to remember some of the French swear words Marui-senpai had taught him one slow afternoon at the Cafe. He snatched a quick look at Yukimura-san and winced. His captain’s eyes were cold. Suzuoki didn’t normally say things that stupid …

Oh, hell.

Akaya drove a hand through his hair and growled under his breath in frustration. “You,” he pointed at Suzuoki, “cut it out. And yes, I’ll do it,” he answered the slightly elevated brow, “so get lost for a little.”

“Of course.” Suzuoki smirked and strolled away, waving his clipboard in a careless farewell.

Akaya spun back to put himself square in front of Yukimura-san. “Yukimura-buchou. Please.” He made himself not back up as Yukimura-san’s eyes tracked back to him. Instead, he talked fast. “Look, on the one hand, there are times when I hate his guts, and today looks like it’s going to be one of them, but, on the other hand, he’s a good coach. He can see what people need to do, and he can get people to do it.”

Yukimura-san was silent for a long moment. “Can you give me an example, Akaya?” he said at last.

Akaya chewed on his lip. “Well … like right now, for example, when I’m pretty sure he provoked you to make me speak up.” He looked down. “Even if it isn’t quite what you want to hear.” And Suzuoki, that bastard, knew part of Akaya had been hoping to go back to the way it had been, hoping to relax again. So much for that. He sighed and raised his head again. “He can be useful, Yukimura-buchou. Even to you.”

Finally Yukimura-san’s eyes warmed again and his lips quirked up. “I see. You make a convincing argument. I’ll consider it.” The faint smile became a broader and more mischevious one. “Now walk around some so you don’t stiffen up to much for your match with Sanada.”

He raised his voice to assign exercises to the club, most of whom had gathered to watch by now, and Akaya tried to discreetly shake the trembling out of his legs while he moved and stretched obediently. From now on, he swore, Suzuoki was on his own with Yukimura-san. He snorted.

Short straw, indeed!

The club spent the rest of the week hammering out rankings. There weren’t many surprises, and the quiet time gave Akaya a chance to get reacquainted with how his senpai played tennis and find his feet and relax some.

He should probably have known better.

Thursday afternoon his match against Marui-senpai was interrupted by the suddenly raised voices of Furuya and Tsunoda. Akaya blinked at them, as Tsunoda, for once, abandoned his cool attitude to yell back and Furuya rocked forward on his toes like he was about to jump on his teammate. He’d been expecting something from Furuya ever since this morning, when Chiba had turned up absent, but not this!

“Furuya! Tsunoda!” he snapped, without thinking. The yelling stopped, but they still looked five seconds away from ripping eachother’s throats out. “Excuse me for a moment, please, senpai,” Akaya said, abandoning his match. “Tsunoda,” he said, quietly, coming between them, “go get a drink and calm down.”

Tsunoda closed shadowed eyes for two long breaths before he spun on his heel and walked away. Akaya let his own breath out.

“All right, what was that?” he asked. Furuya didn’t look at him and Akaya fought down the urge to grind his teeth. “Damn it, Furuya, I know you can still control your temper when Chiba isn’t around, why aren’t you?”

Furuya rounded on him, and Akaya found himself on his own toes, ready to move, because he recognized that tension—that snap that was ready to aim at someone. Furuya met his eyes and froze.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Akaya murmured, “remember who you’re talking to.”

Furuya’s hand flexed around his racquet. “Mamo is in the hospital,” he ground out at last.

Akaya’s tension redirected itself at once. “What happened?”

“I don’t know!” Furuya yelled before stifling himself again. “All I know is he was out with his little sister and got into a fight with some kids who were teasing her, and now … ” he broke off, lips pressed into a pale line.

“Go find out, then.” Akaya sighed when Furuya blinked at him. “You’ll be worse than useless around here until you know. I’ll take care of things. Go.”

Furuya’s shoulder slumped. “Thanks,” he said, softly, and nearly ran for the gate.

Akaya planted his hands on his hips. “What a mess.”

“What mess is that, and where is Furuya going?” Sanada-san asked, suddenly at his shoulder.

“I need to talk to Yukimura-buchou,” Akaya answered, distracted. Tsunoda was already edgy, separated from his partners, and if Chiba was seriously injured that would both suck in its own right and make Furuya unmanagable. He really didn’t need this …

Akaya’s thoughts jerked to a halt, as he remembered that he was not their captain this year.


He glanced up at Sanada-san warily. A hint of surprise looked back at him. “Yukimura is coming,” was all Sanada-san said, though.

Indeed, Yukimura-san was arriving. “What’s going on?”

Akaya bit his lip, guiltily aware that he had seriously overstepped his authority. Really very seriously. “Furuya’s partner, Chiba, is in the hospital; Furuya hasn’t had a chance to find out why or how bad it is; he was distracted and upset enough to be a problem during practice, so I told him to go see Chiba.” He bowed, which had the added benefit of hiding the flush of embarassment he could feel in his face. “I apologize for my presumption, Buchou.”

After a pause long enough to make him squirm, Yukimura-san spoke. “I trust your judgement, Akaya.”

Akaya straightened in surprise. Yukimura-san smiled at him. “Just make sure you tell me about it, when it affects the club,” he added.

Akaya had to swallow a few times. “Yes, Buchou.”

Yukimura-san nodded in a that’s settled, then manner and moved back toward the matches he had been overseeing. Akaya stared after him for a few moments before looking up at Sanada-san who was still beside him.

Sanada-san wore a thoughtful look. “You’ve grown,” he said, at last.

Akaya’s eyes widened; Sanada-san moved off as well, touching his shoulder in passing. Akaya stood, rather dazed, until Marui-senpai came to collect him so they could resume their match.

And here he’d thought this year would be simpler than the last.