Author: Neon Genesis PM
In tennis, your goal is to break your opponent. Yukimura Seiichi is very, very good at it. Putting someone back together, he finds, is a bit more challenging. YukimuraOC.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Romance - Yukimura S. & Rikkaidai - Chapters: 5 - Words: 19,706 - Reviews: 59 - Favs: 42 - Follows: 66 - Updated: 07-19-12 - Published: 07-02-12 - id: 8279862
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: Guess who updates super fast? This kid. Guess who probably should have edited this chapter more? Go on, guess.
(Please can you tell me
So I can finally see
Where you go when you're gone)
Yukimura stared at her, this girl who wanted him to fix her game. Didn't she ever learn? Just as she had pinned all her blame on him, so too was she now pinning her hopes.
"Hasegawa-san." He shook his head slowly. "I don't think you really—"
"Please." Her gaze was intent and terribly, terribly earnest. "I know I've been too much of a burden on you already, Yukimura-san. But please. I'll repay you however I can. Just… please. Help me."
A minute ago she'd gone pale with distress, but now high color flushed her cheeks. She just kept looking at him, waiting, wishing, and for some reason he felt… umcomfortable. That discomfort, so irregularly felt, brought irritation.
"I don't exactly have a lot of time on my hands, Hasegawa-san. I have my own team to prepare."
She said nothing. Her eyes did not stray from his face.
For a moment, he could only sit there, biting down on the inside of his cheek. Stop looking at me like that, he wanted to snap at her. You are not my responsibility. I don't owe you anything. Stop boxing me into corners where I have no choice but to hurt you. You ask to get hurt. There's a reason you are the way you are.
A reason you're broken.
Then, with a small smile, he stood. His smile was not a mask, not like that insipid Fuji Syuusuke's. His smiles were tools: they served a purpose. In this case, to soften the truth. He could be honest without being brutal.
"Tennis isn't something that someone else can fix for you, Hasegawa-san." He spoke almost gently, for which she should have been grateful. Another person in his position, like Niou or Sanada, would not spare a thought for her feelings. "You should know that by now. That you haven't grasped it explains why you're struggling so. I can't help you."
He expected her to blush, to cringe, to mumble excuses or apologies. Instead she raised her eyebrows. Asked quietly, "Can't or won't?"
Yukimura blinked once.
Can't or won't? She truly had the nerve to ask him that? The gentle approach, it seemed, was not working.
He tilted his head. He was still smiling, but this smile was of a totally different nature.
"Can't," he said lightly, "for reasons I've already made clear. But since you've asked, no, I won't help you." He looked her up and down once, appraisingly. "I don't like to waste my time on endeavors that are doomed to fail."
As soon as he said it, he regretted it. She had a unique ability, Hasegawa did, to make him lose his temper. Regardless, the damage was done.
She pushed up off the ground, stood facing him. Her hands were fists, though she looked more likely to cry than to hit him. Her face had hardened, but her voice was soft when she said, "You know what? Fuck you."
Then she stalked away.
For the first time in a long time, Yukimura Seiichi did not get the last word in.
"I'm home," he said twenty minutes later, closing the door behind him and taking his shoes off.
His little sister stuck her head out of the kitchen. Instead of welcoming him home, she asked, "What's the matter?"
"Nothing's the matter."
Her eyebrows drew together. "Why did Niou-senpai have to walk me home? What were you doing?"
He brushed by her on his way to the living room. "Believe me, nothing important." Then he exhaled, turning back around. His sister's face had gone perfectly smooth, which was meant to conceal her hurt but only highlighted it to those who knew her.
"Sayoko." He reached out and smoothed her long brown hair. Trying not to be irritated by her sensitivity, he went on, "I've just had a long day. I'm not angry with you. All right?"
He was angry with himself and with Hasegawa. As to which of them he was most angry with… that was still anyone's game.
"Fine," she said stiffly. "Whatever." And then: "Were you with—what's her name? Hasegawa Anna?"
Sayoko shrugged. "I just keep hearing rumors about you spending a lot of time with her. Is that true?"
"Ah," he said. "Yes, for once the rumors actually are true." He had been spending a considerable amount of time with Hasegawa, though that trend would soon end. He started toward the living room again. "Are Mom and Dad home? I didn't see a car."
"Dad's working late and Mom's visiting Aunt Miyako," she reported, trailing after him. "She's on TV, you know."
He stopped. "Mom is? Or Aunt Miyako?"
She smiled a little. "Hasegawa Anna. The Tennis Channel is rebroadcasting last year's French Open as a leadup to this year's clay court season. Or so the announcer guy assured me."
He had to turn the TV back to the Tennis Channel—Sayoko had switched to the news—but sure enough there was Hasegawa, up three-two in the second set. She was playing the fifth seed, a German woman who had won a Major. It was the quarterfinals.
Though less than a year had passed, Hasegawa looked younger. Her hair was up in a high ponytail, and she wore a purple dress. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed, her feet always moving, moving, moving. She'd lost the first set, but would take the next two, emerging the victor.
He sat down on the sofa, folding his arms over his chest. Sayoko sat beside him, reading a thick nonfiction book. Onscreen Hasegawa slid from side to side, battering her opponent with ferocious topspin.
But her serve.
Her serve was what was truly incredible. She paid absolutely no heed to her opponent, did not utilize any strategies or tricks. She could have been playing anyone. She could have been playing a wall. She just served, tossing the ball up and bringing it down, generating such fantastic speed, such easy power.
Her serve was beautiful. Her serve was faultless.
Yukimura did not know if he could beat that girl. Not without using the yips.
But the girl on TV no longer existed. That Hasegawa Anna had been replaced by one far older and far more fragile. A girl who'd fallen apart too many times to fit back together. And, watching this match, watching her when she'd been at her best…
He realized what a shame that was.
And he would admit, privately, that her desperation for his assistance assuaged his ego. This girl had been good. Had had real talent. And if she could find it again, she'd make an excellent practice partner. Someone against whom he could test his limits.
Someone who could prepare him for when he went pro.
Can't or won't? she'd asked. He'd taken it as disrespect and ingratitude, but she probably hadn't meant to sound insolent. Had probably meant the question simply as it was:
Can't or won't?
"Oniisan?" Sayoko peered at him, meeting his blue eyes with her own. "Oniisan, are you all right? You look… I don't know. Not all right."
He smiled for her. "I'm all right. I only…" He exhaled slowly, rubbing his temples. "I only may have made a mistake, that's all."
She raised her eyebrows. "You? Made a mistake?"
His sister very rarely teased him, so he could not tell whether she was being sarcastic or sincere. He smacked her lightly just to be safe.
Anna's golf ball went sailing into the trees, knocking down leaves and branches. She winced. "Sorry, Daddy."
"That's all right." He sounded equally weary and amused. "Let's try again. Okay? Line up your shot… bend your knees… watch the ball… and swing."
She swung. The ball went nowhere, but a hunk of grass got a good bit of air-time. She yanked her sun visor down low over her eyes, groaning, "I suck. Oh, my God, I suck."
"No, you don't." At the look on her face, he amended, "Well, you do a little. Suck, that is."
They both smiled. He'd never used "suck" like that before.
It was Saturday morning, and they were at a country club midway between Rikkaidai and Tokyo. The golf course had rolling hills and clear creeks, the colors incredibly rich, as if part of a Crayola advertisement. Anna wore a windbreaker and silly plaid shorts, and was actually… having a pretty good time.
When her father had asked if she wanted to go golfing with him, she'd been miserable after a sleepless night spent agonizing over what she'd said to Yukimura. She'd never been so rude, had never said anything like that to anyone before. Never.
He just made her so angry.
Stupid Yukimura. Stupid Yukimura with his bright, mean smile and bright, mean voice. Mean, mean words. He'd never help her now. And, depending on how insulted he was, he could probably turn the whole school against her if he chose to.
Hey Dad, she thought about saying, I know I've already made you and Mom pick up your lives and move with me twice already, but I may or may not be set upon by a pitchfork-wielding mob. How do you feel about starting fresh in, say, Canada?
She had to laugh or else she'd cry.
They moved on to the next hole, really only talking when he corrected her form and she apologized for giving new meaning to the phrase "mind-blowingly terrible." Neither of them was hugely talkative, and it didn't help that she'd only seen him periodically since she was eight. At the academy she'd lived in the dorms, and he hadn't been able to travel on the tour with her because of his job.
But that didn't matter overly much right now, because the sun was warm and the air crisp, the country club busy but not overcrowded. It was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning.
Too bad she had to go to afternoon tennis practice.
Once they'd finished, her father assuring her that she'd "gotten… better," she put on her tennis uniform in the ladies' locker room. She actually liked the yellow, thought it looked nice with her dark coloring. At least it was better than plaid.
Her father was waiting for her in the parking lot, and on the way there she passed the tennis courts. On the golf course she'd gotten some lingering looks, but no one had truly seemed to recognize her. That was, she supposed, a benefit of not being physically striking, save for her height.
But here people were already nudging one another, murmuring. She'd once been the Japanese tennis scene's best hope.
Now she was their greatest embarrassment.
Yet even as she ducked her head and quickened her pace, she couldn't help but advise a little girl trying to serve. "Stand with your feet farther apart," she murmured through the chain-link fence.
The girl turned, blinked up at her. "Okay." She tilted her head. "Hey, Oneechan, aren't you—"
Anna hurried away.
When Anna's father pulled up in front of Rikkaidai, he let the engine idle. She thought, Oh, no. "Anna," he began, speaking slowly, "your mother and I have always supported your tennis. We've seen for years the toll it's taken on you, but we still thought you should end it on your own terms."
"I know, Dad, and thank you for that, really, I just—"
"And we'll let you continue it on your own terms," he continued. "You're a smart, responsible girl. You're not even eighteen and you've already had a career. If you honestly think it will make you happier…" He sighed. "Play tennis, Anna."
Play tennis, Anna. Would it make her happier? She didn't actually think that, didn't actually know. Only knew that she had to. "Thanks, Daddy," she whispered. She grabbed her bag, opened the car door.
"But be advised," he went on, smiling ever so slightly, "that Rikkaidai does have a golf team. I'm sure they'd be happy to have you."
"Um," she said. "Maybe as the girl who fishes all the golf balls out of the pond."
They smiled at each other, and then he drove off to put in a couple hours at the office. Anna hefted her bag and jogged across campus to the girls' courts, arriving just in time to join in the laps. She ran at the same pace as the other regulars, careful not to pull ahead.
Once the last panting girl had finished, Otsuka began, "All right, today we'll start off by—"
"Actually," Miyamoto said lightly, "we're practicing with the boys today. Surprise."
All at once, the girls started giggling and whispering. Otsuka rounded on the captain. "What? We never practice with the boys. What's going on? If you lost another bet…"
Miyamoto inspected a strand of her blue-black hair for split ends. "It's no big deal, Rina. Just time for a change of pace, that's all." At Otsuka's look of scoffing disbelief, she said quietly, "Yukimura texted me yesterday to recommend it. What was I supposed to say?"
"'No' comes to mind."
"Because that would have turned out well for me. Be for real, Rina. And it will be good to play against them. You'll see."
"Fine," Otsuka muttered, tapping her foot. The two were speaking very lowly. Anna, standing nearby, was probably the only one who could hear them. "But why would he want this?"
Miyamoto blinked owlishly. "Take a wild guess." They both glanced sidelong at Anna, who was too dumbfounded to pretend she hadn't been listening. Oh, God. What if Yukimura really was assembling a mob to take her down? She still had tons of frequent flyer miles left. She could make it to Canada.
"Listen up, everybody," Miyamoto called. Everyone fell silent. "We're going over there to play tennis, not to flirt. If there's any breakdown in discipline, I'll see it. And if I don't, someone else will, and they'll report it to me. Consider yourselves living in the Soviet Union."
"The point she's trying to make," Otsuka said tartly, "is that if you act like a simpering idiot, you and your simpering idiot comrades will spend the rest of the day running suicides."
"I hadn't finished my KGB analogy," said Miyamoto mildly, "but that's all right. We're already late. Let's go, guys. Bring your things."
The boys were doing all manner of exercises when they arrived: running, stretching, hitting against ball-machines. Some paid not a whit of attention to the girls, while others eyed them. There was nothing appreciative in their glances. Instead they seemed to be asking, Why the hell are you on our courts?
One narrow look from tiny little Otsuka made them direct their attention elsewhere.
Miyamoto began breaking the girls up, sending them to different courts, different groups of boys—she and Yukimura must have already arranged this—but someone approached before Anna could hear her assignment. That person was a tall brown-haired boy whose name she knew to be Yanagi.
"This way, Hasegawa-san." His voice was gentle, his eyes seemingly closed. When she only stared at him uncertainly, he explained, "Yukimura is on court one. He'd like you to warm up with him."
"He's going to kill me, isn't he?"
… Had she asked that out loud? This was the second time in less than twenty-four hours that she'd spoken out of turn. She'd always been a quiet person, always considered everything she said.
How could even the thought of Yukimura Seiichi have this effect on her?
Yanagi may have been amused or merely curious. "Why would he kill you?"
"No, no," said Anna hurriedly, blushing, "it's nothing, forget I said anything." Had Yukimura not told this boy about how she'd treated him? "It's just, I, ummmm…"
He dipped his chin. "I see. Follow me, please, Hasegawa-san." She threw an imploring look at Miyamoto, but received only a distracted Go on, go on handwave in response. Which meant she had no choice but to trail after Yanagi.
Boys watched as they walked past the row of courts, among them the redhaired boy named Marui. Anna had never spoken to him, but it was impossible to spend time at Rikkaidai and not learn all the male regulars' names. His inquisitive gaze was particularly sharp, though he was blowing a bright pink bubble.
Yukimura sat on the bench beside court one, rewrapping his racquet grip. Yanagi clasped his hands behind his back. "If it's any comfort," he murmured, "there's only a one percent chance of him ever even considering killing you. He doesn't like to get his hands dirty, you see. Not with blood, at least."
"… Oh," said Anna. "Well, that's… that's… thank you."
"Of course." He walked away.
Yukimura had not noticed her yet, so she took a moment to compose herself. If he'd orchestrated this entire practice just to get at her, he must have been really pissed off. But I'm mad at him too, she reminded herself. I'm not the only one in the wrong.
Someone needed to tell him that. He looked up, did not smile. Only stood and motioned for her to step on the court.
Anna took a deep, deep breath, as if she were about to dive into water, and did as bid. Just get it over with go on say it say it now. "Yukimura-san, I'm sorry for what I said to you. It was absolutely inexcusable. I apologize." She bowed her head.
"Apology accepted. We'll warm up short." As in, short-court.
Was that it? His tone was even, his expression impassive. He hadn't said he'd forgiven her. Maybe I don't want your forgiveness, she thought sullenly, moving to the other side of the court.
But she did. Damn it all to hell, but she wanted him to forgive her, wanted him to be her friend, whether he was harsh or not, infuriating or not. She still needed him to help her. It had to be him. Maybe because he was so calm, so composed. Maybe because he made tennis beautiful.
Maybe because he was the boy from the beginning.
Yukimura's expression was neutral as he tossed the ball over the net. Standing only a few feet away, Anna blocked it back, and he tapped it over again. They continued like that, lightly trading volleys, before moving back to the service line, letting the ball bounce before they hit it.
"We did this exercise at the academy sometimes," she said quietly. These words she had thought about, chosen. They were a test of his mood. And of his memory. "I think you would have liked it there. If you'd…"
If you'd kept your promise.
"Is that so," he replied. "Let's go back, Hasegawa-san." For a moment she thought he meant back in time, but he moved back toward the baseline. They began rallying in earnest, and Anna grew uneasy. It felt too much like a real match.
She could not read Yukimura's expression, but got the distinct impression that by standing across the net from him, she had become his opponent.
She started making mistakes, first hitting the ball wide, then not getting it over the net at all. Her pulse skyrocketed; her throat constricted. Love-fifteen. "Relax," said Yukimura. His tone may have been edged. It may not have been. "We're only warming up. Calm down."
"I can't." She caught the ball, fingered it like a touchstone. "Not when you're obviously still mad at me." He only raised his eyebrows fractionally, so she swallowed. Said, "I'm mad at you too. Just so you know." She cringed, waiting for his acid-sweet words, for his dagger-smile. Braced for them the way she would an oncoming wave of saltwater.
But he said, "Yes." His voice and expression were neutral. "Yes, I imagine you would be."
"Um. Okay, well. Well… good. I mean, not good, but…" She shook her head. "Yukimura-san, I just. You make it seem like everything I say or do is wrong. Play, don't play. Don't try to get better. Try."
"Try," he said. "Yesterday when you asked me 'can't or won't'… I may have spoken too soon." Now he spoke very reasonably, but she hadn't a clue what he was thinking. He didn't quite feel real to her, not now.
Yesterday he'd been a boy with empathy and a temper and stained glass blue eyes.
Now… his eyes truly seemed to be stained glass, so colorful as to let only light in and out. Bright, but divulging nothing. Beautiful, but offering not a glimpse of anything beyond. No understanding, no anger. Nothing but blue.
He went on, "I still don't know that I can… but I will help you. If you'd still like me to."
Anna did not know how to reply. How to feel. If this was a game, Yukimura made up the rules as he went along, and she did not yet know how to call a time-out.
She considered and discarded a number of responses. Everything seemed too silly, too sentimental. She struggled and struggled, said finally, "Thank you." She gestured helplessly, letting the tennis ball fall from her hand. "I mean it. Thank you, Yukimura-san."
"You're welcome." He tilted his head; the net was still between them. "Are you still angry at me?"
"Well." She looked down at her racquet, then back up at him. "No, I guess not. Are you still mad at me?"
A muscle in his face jumped. "Perhaps not," he said slowly, "though I don't think it will be an exchange I'll forget very soon."
She recalled his look of shock and indignation. The way his eyebrows had lifted, his mouth had dropped open… It had been—God, she couldn't even—she bit down hard on her lower lip. Tried to keep a straight face. "Yeah," she managed. "Y-Yeah, probably… probably n-not…"
He frowned. "What is it?"
She couldn't take it anymore. Started giggling, then laughing in earnest, the laughter raw and a little rough, but warm. People turned to look. "Sorry," she said through the laughter, "sorry, I'm sorry, I'm not laughing at you, I just… I just…"
His expression. Oh, God, his expression had been priceless. Like a cat who'd just had a bucket of water dumped on him. She nearly doubled over. Instead she brought her racquet up to her face, tried to hide behind it. "Really, I'm sorry… Yukimura-san, I don't… I just…" She couldn't stop laughing. Couldn't remember the last time she'd laughed this hard.
A corner of his mouth tightened. He folded his arms over his chest. Seemed to waver on the brink of irritation.
But then he smiled.
He smiled, and that smile… she wanted to fold it up and tuck it in her pocket and take it out whenever she felt sad or lost or scared. Whenever she wanted to be happy.
"You do realize," he said, still smiling, "that your racquet has holes in it. I can clearly see your face."
His smile had knocked the wind out of her, so she could no longer laugh, but her shoulders still shook and her eyes still shone. She kept the racquet in front of her face.
He laughed a little himself. "Fine," he said, stepping over the net and walking toward her, "but you'll have to lower your racquet while we work on your swing. When you get tense you tuck your elbow into your body. Did you know that? It explains all the shots you netted."
They worked on her swing for a few minutes. Sometimes he stood back and critiqued, sometimes he guided her through it. Finally he sent her back to Miyamoto while he took over managing his team.
But occasionally she would glance over and catch his eye.
They would both smile.
Not gonna lie, Anna's golfing exploits mirror my own. Sorry I suck, Daddy.
Why are there so many things one must buy for college?
Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis, or Michelle Branch's "All You Wanted" (lyrics at the top).