The Quality of Mercy

Yukimura’s reaction to his team’s behavior during his absence. Drama, I-3


The day of his return to the tennis club, Seiichi held the Regulars back for a moment at the start of practice.

Standing and watching them, arms folded, Seiichi could see the signs of release. Stifled yawns and strained eyes from late-night celebrations, or possibly hysterics; but also the relaxation in their grips on balls or racquets, the easier lines of their mouths. He could sympathize entirely.

Which didn’t change one word of what he was about to say.

“I’ve watched the video taken at Regionals,” he started, evenly. The entire team paused, as if they all held the same breath.

“I was not impressed,” Seiichi continued, letting a bite come into his voice. “Too many of those games were sloppy, and too many were aimed at cheap victories that were unworthy of you. We are Rikkai. We are the best.” His eyes narrowed. “We don’t need to win by default. Ever.”

Niou merely gave him a faint shrug, shifting closer to his silent partner, but Akaya hunched up and Sanada’s gaze flickered aside.

“Remember this,” Seiichi stated, quiet enough that they all leaned forward, “we win because we are the superior team. I will not permit anything less. I will not allow you to make anything less of yourselves, or of Rikkai. Understood?”

A subdued chorus of assent answered him, and he nodded. “Then start running some laps to warm up.” He glanced at Niou and Yagyuu. “Or, possibly, to cool down. I’ll tell you when you’re done.” A few winces met that last statement, but he could also see a wry familiarity in their glances as they turned away. A comfortable familiarity.

So much for the easy part. As the team set off he held Sanada back with a look, and set a hand on Akaya’s shoulder. “Akaya.”


Akaya tried not to flinch as his captain held him back. Getting chewed out by Yukimura-buchou was one of his personal definitions of not-fun. To be honest, he preferred Sanada-fukubuchou’s reprimands; they were over sooner and they hurt less. And even when it was a hundred laps, at least it was simple and defined and you could see the end of it. Yukimura-buchou’s reprimands were… more difficult.

But he knew that he had played too loosely, with Seigaku’s Fuji at least, and Echizen too, really, and probably deserved it. So he took a breath and straightened his shoulders. “Yes, Yukimura-buchou?”

Yukimura-buchou’s eyes were sharp. “During your match with Fuji you found something new in your own game, didn’t you?”

Akaya blinked. That was not what he had been expecting. “Yes,” he answered, hesitantly.

“Do you think you can find it again?”

Akaya thought back, and stole a look at the vice-captain, waiting silently beyond Yukimura-buchou’s shoulder. “Yes,” he said, slowly. “Sanada-fukubuchou showed me. At the start of his match with Echizen.”

“Good, then work on it,” Yukimura-buchou directed, briskly. “A technique you can call on deliberately, that doesn’t depend on you losing, is one that may actually let you win. I’m pleased to see you coming at this from the right direction, finally.”

Akaya blinked some more, opened his mouth and closed it again.

Yukimura-buchou’s mouth curled up in a crooked half smile. “Mere uninhibited play will never defeat us, Akaya. Or Tezuka.” His eyes glinted. “Or, it seems, Fuji and this Echizen.”

Now there was a motivational thought. “Yes, Yukimura-buchou,” Akaya answered, voice firm now.

“Good,” Yukimura-buchou repeated, softly. “Because I don’t want to see such inferior tactics from you again.”

This time Akaya did flinch, and ducked into a bow. “Yes, Yukimura-buchou,” he said, slightly stifled, feeling blood rising to his cheeks.

“You were chosen for this team for your strength, Akaya,” his captain stated. “I will not accept you falling short of that.” A sigh made Akaya look up again. Yukimura-buchou’s expression had softened just a bit. “Though I don’t believe it was entirely your fault, this season.” Akaya’s eyes widened, and Yukimura-buchou snorted faintly. “Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, Akaya. You’re our responsibility, still.” He gave Akaya a small push after the rest of the team. “Laps. Get going.”

Akaya took off, still feeling the sting of Yukimura-buchou’s censure, but also holding a new bit of hope. Which was fairly standard, after Yukimura-buchou was done with a person. He sighed and fell into stride with Jackal-senpai who at least wouldn’t tease him about the flush still on his face.


Genichirou stifled an unworthy desire to take off running along with Akaya.

He’d known this was coming. Euphoria had touched everyone, in the wake of the surgery’s success, and Yukimura had forgiven them easily enough for their loss to Seigaku, simply agreeing with Genichirou that they would keep their pride and focus, now, on Nationals. That, however, had been before he’d seen the videos, and Genichirou had been waiting for the axe to fall ever since he’d delivered those disks. His loss had been unforgivable, and he knew it. He stood, now, to hear what punishment the captain of his team would assign.

“I don’t believe it was entirely your fault, either,” Yukimura murmured, dryly, watching the team complete another lap. “So I don’t want you taking it on yourself to run laps until you collapse. You will keep your own training menu in balance, and focus on advancing strength, precision and endurance in step with each other, as usual.”

Genichirou nodded silently, still waiting.

“You got a bit out of control, yourself, Sanada,” Yukimura mused. “Along with Akaya. You two remind me a good deal of each other, at times. Though, with your experience, you should have known better. Whether it was distraction or too much focus, misdirected, you lost sight of why we are the best, and let yourself get blindsided by someone who remembered.”

Genichirou’s mouth tightened as he restrained the urge to ask Yukimura to get on with it, already. He stood a little straighter as Yukimura finally turned to look at him, level and measuring. And with that uncanny knack of his, Yukimura’s next words reflected the heart of Genichirou’s thoughts back at him.

“Given that, do you deserve mercy, Sanada?”

Genichirou turned his face aside. “No,” he stated, flatly.

Yukimura’s gaze, resting on him, was dispassionate. “You lost, and you know why. That is the only punishment you will get.”

Genichirou’s jaw clenched, and he closed his eyes for a breath. The message, between the two of them, was clear as morning light. Simple expiation was denied to him—it wouldn’t be that easy. “Very well,” he managed, at last.

“I want you to work with Akaya,” Yukimura continued. “He won’t be able to use the technique as cleanly as we do, but take him as far as you can.” He paused and pursed his lips. “Was it Renji’s suggestion to turn him loose against Tachibana?”

Genichirou nodded. “As soon as Renji turned up Tachibana’s history.”

“Renji will explain his reasoning to Akaya, then. There’s no excuse for leaving him ignorant of why facing a violent player set Tachibana so off his game; especially since I doubt it will work twice.” Yukimura’s mouth quirked. “Renji, I trust, is already sufficiently motivated not to repeat his own mistakes?”

“I would say so.” Genichirou could feel months of desperate tension, of sole responsibility for the unruly tangle that was a tennis team, easing out of him. If Yukimura refused to give him answers or allow amends for Genichirou’s past mistakes, at least he wasn’t making Genichirou continue to play the part of leader alone.

Yukimura nodded. “Good.” After a moment he added, “You will also come with me on my training runs in the evenings. There’s a good deal of condition I need to regain quickly; I’ll need someone to pace me.”

Genichirou bowed his head. That was the offer of his friend, more than the order his captain—the offer of time when wider responsibility didn’t bear down on either of them. That was the compassion that turned the team’s respect, which Yukimura’s ruthlessness alone would have won, into devotion. “Of course,” he said, quietly.


Seiichi shook his head a little, hiding a smile. For years he’d waged a silent tug-of-war with Sanada’s grandfather, and for years Sanada-jiisan had been winning. Sanada played tennis as with as much passion as Seiichi could wish, but he had always carried with him the strict formality and discipline of Kendo, and an air of faint disapproval for the freewheeling manners and fluid ranking of the tennis world. Seiichi had not been surprised when Sanada, having to stand as captain, had been pressed even deeper into the system he knew best.

The two players he had been proudest of, after watching the videos, were Akaya and Sanada. Akaya, for finally starting to grasp his true strength, and Sanada…

Sanada for finally leading the team, after their loss. For reaching past his personal shame to give the team a confident center and a way forward again.

He was not going to let Sanada lose that, and lean on the simple, rigid rules of tradition again. He gestured Sanada to follow him, joining the team on their next lap.

“Let’s go.”


  • Note: This was written before issue 300 came out, and should be considered Divergent Future.