Epilogue: Sumire

Telling someone to keep work and romance separate is one of the stupidest and most pointless things you can do. For starters, if you tell a person not to do something, what do they actually do? The exact opposite of what you tell them. It's not in human nature to do as you're told. People would rather realize for themselves that something isn't good for them. They rarely do things just because they're told it's for their own good.

Besides, you can't dictate peoples' emotions. It might be the smart thing to do, but it never works, so why tempt fate?

Of course it's a bad idea to date a co-worker or a teammate or anyone in such a position like that. Most of the time it ruins things for everyone else, especially if there's a fight of the couple breaks up while still working together. That's why I never wanted to teach high school. Bunch of hormonal drama queens as far as I can tell. Junior high is still full of hormones and drama, but at least where romance on the teams is concerned, it's a lot less likely to happen. Everyone's just discovering romance. They're usually either too afraid of being teased by their friends to do anything about it or just not interested. And they get over break-ups faster, too. Better than in high school. Spare yourself the drama while you can.

But I still never say anything to my team about not dating each other. It would just be stupid. Anyone who would get sidetracked on the courts by relationship drama wouldn't be dedicated enough to advance, period, and junior high students are five times as contrary as other human beings so saying anything of the sort would just provoke them. Although it might've been a good idea to make an exception for Sakuno. As much as I love her, how awkward would it be to deal with two more years of her mooning over Ryoma?

Romance and the Seigaku tennis team didn't go together very often. Of course, things happen, and it can be a pain when they do. But there's just no point in trying to regulate emotions. Let the kids learn on their own that it usually doesn't work out to mix romance and work, and they'll stop without fighting against you. And if two people who just happen to work together that closely really do love each other, it isn't right to deny that just because of some silly regulations.

That's why when Oishi came to see me that day, I almost laughed in his face.

It was strange, but since Tezuka had left and Oishi had been made captain in his place, he seemed more nervous around me than before. It might have been his inherent perfectionism, it might have been guilt, but it always took him a little bit before he relaxed around me during meetings and he came to me with little questions more and more frequently, as if he were worried I'd disapprove of initiative. So it was nothing unusual when he came by to find me during lunch one day. It was the reason that made it hard not to laugh at it all.

"Eiji and I would like to know if you want us to stop playing doubles together."

I raised my eyebrows. "No."

It was strange. Oishi looked even more uncomfortable than before. "Ah…are you sure? We understand if-"

"I'm not splitting up my best doubles pair," I answered, leaning forward and studying him curiously. "Is there a reason I should?"

That had him looking positively mortified. "Ryuzaki-sensei, I'm not sure if you're aware of this…" He reached up to scratch at the back of his head and stopped speaking for a maddeningly long time. At last, he took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling, ears bright red. "Eiji and I are, ah, involved. In a relationship. Ah, romantically. You see."

…well, I wasn't expecting that as a possible reason. And even then, his question was so ludicrous that I almost laughed out loud. If he hadn't looked so worried and embarrassed, I would have.

Instead, I pressed my lips together and gestured at a chair. "Please sit."

When Oishi was nervous, he didn't really sit. He stood with his legs bent, just barely perched on the edge of the seat. I couldn't blame him for being nervous. I had a feeling he wouldn't even be here if he weren't so strict about details and setting an example for the team. "How long has this been going on?"

"Since…" His eyes wouldn't rise to meet mine. "Ah, since I sprained my wrist."

"So the tournament where we played Hyoutei, then." I willed him to meet my eyes with my own gaze. "That was quite some time ago."

Now he looked up, and the expression on Oishi's face held real panic now. "I'm sorry, I know we should have told you before, but I wasn't sure what to do or if it would be a problem or now and…"

I held up my hands to stop him before he got any more worried. If he didn't relax, I swore he'd blow a vessel in his head. "I haven't noticed any problems during practice."

Oishi opened his mouth, and then closed it again without making a sound.

"If things have continued this long without it affecting the team, why would I break up my strongest doubles pair?"

Now he only looked confused, but his words were still nervous. "I thought…I mean, we thought you might prefer-"

"As long as it doesn't interfere with your playing," I interrupted simply, "there is no problem. Has it?"

"Last week, there was a problem with his family and-"

"And you only missed one day of school," I pointed out with an amused smile. "Oishi, you're worrying too much. Didn't your partner tell you that?"

That stopped his protests cold again, and it took him three tries to speak again. "Well, yes. But I didn't listen. I thought it was better to ask you."

I picked up the stack of papers I had been grading when he had interrupted me and stood. Oishi followed suit, turning on the spot to follow my movements politely. As I passed him, I put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly. "Listen to your boyfriend," I advised wryly, and passed on by.

I could feel him gaping behind me, even without seeing his expression. Well, now he knew where I stood.

There's no point in dictating emotions in human beings. Far be it for me to break up the Golden Pair.

It wouldn't work, anyway.