1. We fell apart, let's make a new start

«Conceal. Don't feel. Don't let them knoooooow!»

«I beg you to stop». Jackal looked up to the sky. «It's already a dull day».

«That's good. Because I won't let it go. I'm hungry. The hell I'll let it go». Marui dug through his bag, looking for gums. He was damn sure he had a new pack just there.

He had stopped chewing for weeks. While studying for admission test for High School, chewing had gone from an innocent habit to a real obsession. He was chewing all the time, even at night, and started feeling like one of these drug addicts he watched in his dad's favourite criminal dramas. He would've became green like Violet Beauregarde became blue for his blueberry-cake's gum, for fuck's sake.

No-one believed the abstinence could last, though. It was a good day to make an exception anyways. Skipping lunch made him deserve a whole pack of gums.

And he was finding none.

«We'll stop at Mister Donut after practice», Jackal shrugged. «Jesus, Bunta. Tell your stomach to shut up».

«You will be remembered as the worst friend ever», Marui gave up his quest. No gums. Fuck the world. «They will carve it on your gravestone. No-one will bring you flowers».

«I'll trade you a slice of cake, if you shut up».

«...except me. I will bring you sunflowers all the year. I'll clean the snow from your stone».

«If you shut up», Jackal repeated, but he was smiling.

Marui yawned. He should have brought some snacks from home, but there were only two Snickers left and he gave them to his brothers. He had no time to inspect the pantry to look for some long lost potato chips or whatever. He was already late.

«Just remember to bring your lunch from home tomorrow», Jackal added.

Marui mumbled. He would need to stop by the convenience store while heading home. They were also out of milk, Naoto had told him. He also needed the ingredients to cook dinner. He hoped he had enough money. His stomach grumbled again. Thinking about food wasn't the best idea.

«The courts are this way».

Marui stopped in the middle of one step. «And what are those?»

«Girls' courts, I guess». Jackal adjusted the bag on his shoulder. He was the only one Marui knew who put that weight on his dominant arm. He claimed it as part of his training. Marui just wanted to put down his bag as soon as possible.

«Yanagi told me the boys' courts are behind the gym», Jackal added. «No, not that way».

«Why are they always the farthest ones from the building», Marui's stomach grumbled again. He wished there were vending machines somewhere in the campus. He needed at least a damn coke, or else he would faint in the middle of the practice. It was a sunny day, and it started to get warmer outside.

A cup of hot chocolate. Two spoons of sugar. And marshmallow.

«Stop thinking about food, Bunta. It won't help».

«Do you read minds?» That, or he had begun to drool. He checked his mouth. Luckily not.

«I don't need superpowers where logic suffices». He pointed out a building in front of them. «Seems to be the locker room».

«Sure it is the tennis club?» Rikkai did not like to diversify. Practice uniforms were basically the same for almost every sport club. «And why aren't you hungry? And now don't claim you don't have superpowers».

Actually, it had been all Jackal's fault he had skipped lunch. "Let's meet here at noon. Then we'll look for the cafeteria". And then the dumbass arrived twenty minutes late and when they finally reached the cafeteria they were out of everything, and there was no time left to look for some bakery shop outside school.

His stomach was trying to play Gangnam Style with grumbles, apparently.

«You'll be surprised to know that some people can be hungry without complaining about that all the time», Jackal answered. «And since I can see people carrying rackets and tennis balls, I'm pretty sure we're in the right place».

Rikkai High uniform was the very same as Junior High's. Marui bought a brand new one in January - his old one was far too short - and he was glad he could keep using it.

Soon they were surrounded by the familiar yellow-and-black.

«I can already hear the buzz».

«Please». Jackal headed towards a table right outside the locker room's door. «Come on. We need to get the forms».

«Riiight». Marui scratched his neck. He was starting to sweat. «Can you do it for me?»

«Move your ass», Jackal replied.

Once obtained the forms, they were told to get changed and get ready for warming up. Marui pushed the paper deep in his bag.

The locker room was fairly bigger than the one they had back in Junior High. They found Niou in there.

«Tell me you have snacks», Marui reached him in two steps.

Niou bowed his eyebrow. «Do I look like a vending machine?»

«Hope is last to die».

«You must be desperate». Niou wore his tennis uniform, the jacket half opened, his weighted wristbands already on. «It's been two years from the last time you asked me for a snack».

«I'd accept a snack that tastes like cardboard. I'd accept a snack full of poison, as long as it is food».

«Some bully stole your lunch?»

«No food left in cafeteria». Jackal put his own form in a notebook. «He's going drama queen since then».

«You really suck at Hunger Games». Niou scrolled his smartphone, then shut the screen. «There's an apple in my bag. You can have it».

«I love you in a very homosexual way». Marui smashed on Niou's bag, finding the apple like a truffle dog. Green apple. The sweetest. All the gods should have blessed Niou Masaharu.

«Good for you!», someone shouted.

«Mwaiournbowna».

«Don't talk with your mouth full». Jackal narrowed his eyes.

«Yeah, you should definitely swallow, Marui», a voice came from backwards.

Marui recognize the one - former club member, quite a fucker, awful player - and decided he didn't worth his time.

«Whatever». He took another bite. «At least the apple is really good. Worth it». A blessing for his stomach. Maybe he wouldn't die during practice. Maybe.

«Have you seen the others?», Jackal asked, putting out his uniform. «The Captain, Yagyuu?»

«He's no longer Captain», Niou put his back on the wall. «Bet he's enough pissed off about that. They're already on the courts. They were here five minutes ago».

«He isn't Captain yet», Marui corrected him. He only needed like two weeks to became captain in everything but the name, back in Junior High. He didn't see why that time things would be different. «Jackal, have you seen my wristbands?»

«Right under your nose».

Marui looked down and found them. «Wish I could eat them», Marui sighed. «They look like licorice».

He ate the last bite of apple. His stomach grumbled again.

It would be a very long day.


«75% of them. For what you're going to ask, Genichirou». Yanagi smiled.

Sanada's gaze wandered around the courts. When he was vice-captain, he recognized every member of Rikkai Tennis Club. He didn't remember their names - who cares about the names, anyway? They say nothing about people - but he knew their faces and had pretty clear idea of their skills. The most part of the people wandering on the courts, though, they were... strangers. He didn't recall to have seen them anywhere, not even at school.

«According to Rikkai website, the High School students' corp is 63% bigger than Junior High's», Yanagi added. «This is due to both its sport club reputation and its medium-high level. There's a program for sport scholarships and higher probabilities to access directly to Rikkai University».

Yukimura knelt down to do up his shoe, put a strand of hair behind the ear. He said nothing.

He didn't need to; his gaze was as attentive as Sanada's, and the boy knew exactly what his friend was thinking.

Yukimura stood up. «What do you know about the regulars?», he asked Yanagi.

«Not much». He pulled out a notebook. He was a brand new one, with strawberries on the cover. «Do you like it? Seiichi's sister gave it to me. It would be very regrettable not using it». Sanada shook his head. So typical of Yanagi. «Actually, just their names. I've been focused on our tournaments until fall, and then I've been busy with finals and study for the admission test. I figured out the best idea was gathering their data by watching them play. Anyway, only two of them are regulars since last year».

«How many of them were also in our team?», Yukimura asked. They started walking through the courts. All the other freshmen were gathering there; only few of them already had their Tennis Club uniform.

«One».

Yukimura gazed at Yanagi, who nodded. «Mouri Juzaburou. He's one of the two second year's regulars. All the others are third years».

«I remember him».

Sanada remembered him too. He wasn't vice-captain at the time, unfortunately, unless he would have kicked Mouri out of the club within few weeks, upperclassman or not. He was indeed a good player, but he didn't recall to have ever seen him at morning practice, and he barely showed at the afternoon's too. The former captain overlooked his lack of discipline in favour of his talent, but Sanada wouldn't have.

Hard work came in first place. Rikkai needed no-one who didn't care enough to attend practice, being him the most talented player in Japan.

And he was pretty sure Yukimura felt the same.

«Is that a new cap, Sanada?», Marui appeared from behind a guy who was wearing a quite disturbing bright-violet suit. «Ohi! Found them!»

«I swear he has a cupboard full of those caps. An entire row of identical caps». Niou and Jackal approached too.

«Yeah, like Donald Duck's sailor jackets», Marui nodded.

Sanada glared at Niou. «The fact that I can't make you run laps doesn't mean I can't slap you». Or punch in him the face. Or kill him.

«You wouldn't», Niou put the hands in his pockets. «Because if you do, I'll slap you back, and when it degenerate in a fight you would ruin your hat. And that'd leave you with only sixty-seven left».

«Enough», Yukimura raised his hand, but he was smiling. Sanada wasn't amused at all. One day he'd lose control and strangle Niou Masaharu once for all.

Marui was playing with the chords of his racket. «I'm still hungry». He yawned. «You guys think we'll have practice today, or we will just get some crappy introduction speech and then can leave?»

«You will do what you'll be told to do», Sanada replied.

«Did I give crappy introduction speeches too?», Yukimura asked.

«Sure you did. But at least you kept them short», Marui laughed. «Geez, I'm bored. I'm hungrier when I'm bored».

«Try to smash your head over the net. Very good to kill time».

Marui's answer to Niou would have costed him at least a thousand laps if Sanada were still vice-captain. He should at least check and enter the school Disciplinary Committee. It was only the first day and he already felt like the parent of very annoying and disrespectful children.

«You better don't say that out loud, Marui-kun», Yagyuu appeared from behind. «Vice-captain is over there, and may not appreciate such terms within the courts».

«Who is him?», Yukimura asked.

«Asou Jinpachi, third year, puncher». Yanagi gazed towards the court. He pointed to a tall boy with his chin. He was speaking intensely with a couple of first years. «I recognize him from the photographies. Along with the Captain is the only one among the regulars who won Kantou Championship last year».

«Did you need to ask him something?», Jackal looked at Yagyuu.

He shook his head. «I met him outside the Captain's office. I walked there a classmate. She needed to see the Captain».

«She?», Yukimura arched an eyebrow.

«Apparently, she wants to become manager».

«That's good!», Marui clapped his hands. «We never had a manager. Football club's one used to bring chocolate pie every friday. I tried it once. It was delicious. Moreover...»

«Whatever», Sanada cut it short. There was a reason they never had a manager. They never needed a manager. Why would they, when they had Yanagi? «Did he tell you something?»

Yagyuu adjusted his glasses. «Only to reach the courts and wait him there. I guess he'll give us a speech».

«The Vice-Captain?», Yukimura asked. «Not the Captain?»

Yagyuu shrugged. «I haven't seen him».

Yanagi opened his mouth, probably to inform them about the Captain's data.

«All the freshmen, here. Please come closer».

«That is Asou, the Vice-Captain», confirmed Yanagi.

Sanada looked at the guy, while everyone started to approach him. Standing near the fence, he was probably taller than Yanagi, with the body-shape of a rugby player.

«Good. Make it short».

«Quit it, Bunta».

«Everyone, welcome to Rikkai High School Tennis Club». His voice was loud enough to be heard, but he wasn't screaming. His tone was calm.

«If you haven't done it yet, get your admission form at the desk outside the locker's room. You have a week to submit it to the Captain. Please be careful that once we ordered your uniforms you'll need to pay for that even if you decide to quit the club».

«And shut the hell up when your Vice-Captain is talking!» A slim guy appeared next to Asou, yelling to a group of first years who started chatting in the front row. He looked like a first year himself, if not a middle schooler.

«Hongo Yasuaki, third year. One of the new regulars», Yanagi muttered.

Third year? Sanada found it hard to believe.

«That's enough, Hongo-kun», Asou said coldly. «Nevertheless, I ask you to listen in silence. The moment for questions will come later».

Hongo crossed his arms, a sly smile on his lips.

«You need to take the admission seriously», Asou continued. «Even if you don't want to compete in the Tournaments, you're not allowed to skip practice or slack off during it. Morning practice is compulsory from spring to fall for the regulars and for whoever aims to compete for Championships. Afternoon practice is compulsory all over the year, for everyone».

«Blah, blah, blah». Marui scratched his ear. «I'd give you that, Yukimura. Yours were funnier».

«Like you ever bothered to listen», Jackal said through his teeth.

Sanada looked at Yukimura. He was listening in silence, his arms crossed, studying Asou like a cat in front of the mice's burrow. Sanada could easily guess what he was thinking. He learned to read his expressions ages ago, though there was something in Yukimura that always remain hidden. You could see it was there, but couldn't understand what it was, like something sparkling underwater.

Yanagi wasn't missing a single word. He once told Sanada that observing people on the court was only the top of the iceberg. How they were outside the court and how people react to them, was what really mattered.

People were all listening carefully. Asou's speech was the usual - rules, behavior-codes, practice schedules - but everybody was paying attention.

«Today practice will consist in basic training. The details are on the board outside Captain's office. Hongo-kun here will be observing you; if you have any questions, feel free to ask him whatever you want». Asou turned towards Hongo and said something in his ear; nothing flattering, according to Hongo's annoyed expression.

«Thank you for your time», Asou turned to the crowd again. «I'll see you at the end of practice. Good luck with your work».

«Nothing else?» Yukimura moved to look at Yanagi while Asou was leaving. People started to chat around them. Sanada heard someone's asking if the one who talked was one of the regulars. People's capacity to hear words without listening a single one of them never stopped to amaze him.

Yanagi shrugged. «I guess we will figure out».

Hongo was already yelling at people for being too slow. «Come on», Yukimura called his former team. «We better go».

Just do what we are told to do, Sanada reminded himself. For now.


The streets at sunset were like the beach in winter's heart. The noises were louder, the scents stronger, and being alone brought a sort of relief.

Marui turned the corner, a shopping bag swinging from his hand. His right shoulder hurt a little, and his knees started to feel heavy. Sleep pushed from behind the eyelids.

Practice had been boring as hell. Swings and run and exercises suitable for grade schoolers. That Hongo guy had been observing them all the time from the bleachers, like a vulture waiting for his preys to fall down. And someone did fall; actually, the former regulars were between the few still standing up when they'd been finally allowed to go home. A couple of guys lasted less than an hour, the most of the others gave up without finishing half of the assigned laps.

Sanada's disappointment was palpable. It had been weird to see the three of them obey among all the others. He couldn't recall the last time in which Yukimura has followed orders instead of giving them. Once or twice he had seen him chatting with Yanagi in a corner.

He has already a battle plan. Marui grabbed the bag with the other hand, the milk carton inside hit his leg. He crossed the empty street. No-one was around; he could hear the distant sound of the flood-tide.

A cold wind rose; Marui speeded up his pace. The street were full of food scents. Oden. Ramen. Pizza. He had just had three muffins and a milkshake, and still he was hungry.

He'd need to wake up earlier the following day, and prepare bentos. He'd probably need to change the alarm tone on the phone again; he was already used to the current one, soon he'd start to not hear it at all.

Marui made the shopping bag slide to the crook of his arm, and started exploring schoolbag for the keys. He found everything but them and ended up ringing the doorbell.

«You're late», Naoto was still wearing his Rikkai Junior High uniform. He probably had just come home too.

Marui didn't answer and moved towards the kitchen. «Dinner», he explained, showing the shopping bag. «Mom?»

Naoto shrugged. «Not here. Tetsu arrived two hours ago. He's studying now», Naoto narrowed his eyes. «Third grade homework. Serious stuff».

«What about your homework?», Marui asked, putting the milk in the fridge. They would also need cereals, and butter, he figured out. He put out paper and pen and started to make a list. «What do you want to eat?» They were also out of meat. Marui didn't have enough money for that. «We could have spaghetti and salad. There's some sauce left». He opened the jar and sniffed; the smell was good.

«I'm okay with that. Are there lemons? I want lemon in my salad».

«I've seen them in the pantry». Marui added cheese to the list. «Ask Tetsu, can you?»

Naoto peered out in the corridor, screaming towards the room he shared with his younger brother. It would have taken him five seconds to get there; Marui narrowed his eyes. There were a couple of dishes abandoned in the sink. He squeezed washing-up liquid on the sponge.

«Whose are these?», he asked his brother, as he came back in the kitchen.

«Tetsu said it's okay», Naoto leaned against the doorjamb, looked at the dishes. «I think mom came for lunch. Dunno».

Marui checked the counter, looking for a note. There was nothing, neither there nor on the fridge. Nothing that would say if his mother was coming for dinner or not. He would leave a dish for her in the oven.

«It's your turn for clean up?» He threw Naoto the towel. «Help me here».

His brother checked the schedule on the fridge. «Tetsu's». Naoto began to mop the dishes up. «Tomorrow's mine. Have you bought cereals?»

«You didn't ask. But they're on the list. I'll leave it here for mum».

«Milk with nothing is awful».

«I've bought cookies. They're in the pantry».

«Chocolate ones?» Naoto put the dishes back in the cupboard.

«Chestnut and honey».

Naoto shrugged. «Okay».

Marui dried his hands and filled the pot with water. He left it on the stove. «I've stuff to do, now. We'll eat in two hours, that's okay?»

«Fine for me».

«And do your homework».

Naoto snorted. «Let me live, Bunta».

«I'll check for them later», Marui warned him. «If you need me, I'm in my room». He didn't wait for his brother's answer.

For first he changed his uniform for T-shirt and sweatpants. He switched the phone from silent to loud. No messages from mum neither there. There was an e-mail from Jackal.

"Bring food tomorrow". Thanks, mommy. "Meeting on the rooftop at lunch break. Captain asked".

Yukimura was captain no more; Marui sneered, wondering if they would have the time to get used to that before Yukimura became Captain de-facto once more.

He chose a stupid, extremely loud dance song and set the alarm for the following day. His room was a mess. Marui grabbed some clothes from the floor, dropped a word to his brothers to check if they have stuff to wash.

After powering up the washing machine, his phone rang again. A mail from mum.

She wouldn't come home until late. Don't wait her for dinner. Check his brother's homework.

As usual. He texted her back "okay", and headed to the kitchen to start making dinner. He wasn't even hungry anymore.


...


I can't believe I just posted it for real.

By the way, hello, and thanks so much for reading. I don't want to babble too much here, so I'll just say a couple of things.

This story takes place in High School, a few months after the ending of Prince of Tennis, and it doesn't count all the New Prince of Tennis plot (I may borrow some characters from that, like Mouri, but that's all). The main characters will be the regulars, but you should expect OCs too. I'll try to introduce them gradually instead of all at once, but a couple of them will make their debut probably next chapter. Second, I'm not a reliable writer. I have stuff to do at the moment and writing fiction helps me to relax and avoid anxiety, but even if I'll try to do my best, I can't guarantee a regular update. Forewarned is forearmed.

Every criticism in always welcome - and if you find some typos or grammar mistakes, PLEASE TELL ME.

I'm trying to improve my language skills too, every feedback is useful and gladly accepted.

Have a nice day!

Fanny.

Prince of Tennis belongs to Konomi Takeshi.

We fell apart, let's make a new start [Avenged Sevenfold - A Little Piece of Heaven]