Mizuki reflects on their defeat and has an epiphany. Drama, I-3

Hajime leaned back in his seat on the bus, staring into the vanishing point of space, deaf to the murmurs of the St. Rudolph team around him.

They had lost.

He wasn’t quite sure what to do with that. That maniac from Fudoumine could say what he liked about starting over again, but Hajime had known from about the age of six that failure was failure; it meant you weren’t good enough, and that was all. Your inadequacy was laid out in action for all to see and remember. And besides, Hajime wasn’t sure there was anything to start over with. He felt much as though he had spent a long time building a fortress, balancing the weight and load of each stone against the others, making a marvelous flying sweep of interlocking tension that would stand against any pressure.

And Seigaku had come along and kicked a few blocks out of it and the whole thing had collapsed in a rattling heap and he couldn’t even tell whether any of the blocks were unbroken.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Akazawa and Kaneda had both come through the match well; he was even, a bit grudgingly, impressed with the way Kaneda-kun had gotten Akazawa to play actual doubles. Well enough to take a match from Hyoutei, no less. Hajime hadn’t thought it would be necessary, or he’d never have put Akazawa there in the lineup. He hadn’t thought a lot of things would be necessary.

Clearly he’d been indulging in unforgivably wishful thinking.

Most of the club looked as angry and depressed as he felt, after being beaten down twice in a row. Yuuta, though… Yuuta seemed downright cheerful, despite having lost even worse to Akutagawa than he had to Echizen.

Hajime wasn’t sure he understood Yuuta any more.

Of course, Yuuta had, by today’s work, inherited the team. He had another year to train, and, if his brother would be gone from the next tournament, it seemed Yuuta had found other players to interest him. Whereas Hajime would be retiring from the club, now, and studying for exams, and going to St. Christopher high school, the best of St. Rudolph’s affiliates, where there was no tennis club. If he wanted to keep playing at all he’d have to—

Hajime’s eyes widened, and his lips almost moved with the force of the realization.

He’d have to start over.

He could, if he wanted, start completely over.

The sudden thought felt like a door being unlocked, like walls falling out around him and opening on empty horizons. Hajime took a slow breath in and let it out, eyes fixed on the possibility of nothing. “Akazawa,” he murmured, barely noticing how the conversation around him quieted at the sound of his voice. “It was St. Sebastian you were thinking of attending for high school, correct?”

His classmate turned in his seat, elbow resting over the back, to look at Hajime. “You know I am; we’ve talked about it. They have good athletics programs.” His brows lifted as Hajime met his gaze.

“Think about St. Christopher.”

Akazawa frowned, though his eyes were suddenly sharp and steady on Hajime. “They don’t have a tennis club, do they?”

Mizuki smiled slowly. “No. They don’t.”

After a moment Akazawa smiled. “All over again, huh?” He looked out the bus window. “I’ll think about it.”

“Do that.” Hajime crossed his legs and leaned back, sorting through fallen blocks in his mind. He didn’t know, yet, which he might keep. But the ground had been cleared for something new; surely it would be a shame not to use it.