A/N: First time writing for this series so please forgive for such things like people calling others with the wrong honorifics (or lack thereof) and grammatical errors, wherever they may be. Oh, and I must issue a serious OOC warning. Tis' essential for the story, see. Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer: Prince of Tennis and its' 14-year-old-tennis-stars-who-look-more-like-they're-in-college (c) Konomi Takeshi.
Curse of the Jacket
"It is one of the Seishun Gakuen Junior High tennis team's most well guarded, well hidden secret urban legend. This story is passed down from every senior to every junior in the tennis club. They whisper in hushed tones in the locker rooms or mutter about it in low voices after a match-"
"Horio, we all know the Legend of the Jacket. Quit playing Drama King."
The freshman deflated, looking up at Inui in agonized frustration. His fellow freshmen exchanged amused looks. They'd been waiting around the tennis courts as per usual for their seniors to arrive for practice. Horio had been entertaining, if it could be called that, them with horror stories and other miscellaneous stories, most of which absolutely needed to include Horio's Two Years of Tennis Experience ™.
"So do YOU know the legend of the jacket, Inui-sempai?"
The originator of the most lethal liquid known to mankind, Aozu, pushed up his glasses and stroked his chin. "Well… the legend goes like this: you all know that every Seigaku regular receives a jacket, correct?"
The 'K Brothers' nodded in unison as Horio muttered about Inui stealing his spotlight.
"They say that should any regular lose or give that jacket away to anyone but their teammates, bad luck starts happening to the rest of the team. There was once, about five years ago, I believe, that one of the regulars gave his jacket to his girlfriend. The next morning…" The glasses glinted ominously.
"The captain got stung by bees, the vice captain fell down an open manhole, the singles players failed Chemistry and World History while one of the doubles' players twisted his ankle. The other one fell down the same open manhole the vice captain did. And then the entire tennis team got punished for disturbing the peace when they tried to get the jacket back and had to stand out in the sun, carrying buckets. It was only after the girlfriend returned the jacket did everything return back to normal."
An exchange of frightened looks was followed with a soft "Kowai…"
Inui nodded gravely. "That is why there is a strict yet unwritten rule: "You Must Never Lose or Give Away Your Seigaku Regulars Jacket."
"That legend again, Inui?"
Everyone turned to see Oishi coming up with a doubtful shake of his head and a smile. He looked meaningfully at the younger members. "There's no such thing. Your luck doesn't depend on the presence of a jacket."
Inui raised an eyebrow. "Doesn't depend on the jacket? Where have you been?"
Oishi rolled his eyes. "There's no such thing and you know it, Inui."
"Right. And pigs will fly."
Kachiro spoke up rather timidly. "I'm pretty sure Oishi-sempai's right… there can't be such a thing like a piece of clothing controlling our luck…"
Oishi had beamed happily while Inui muttered something about "gullible, impressionable kids" when suddenly…
Jumping, everyone stared at Horio first in shock then in annoyance.
"Horio, what're you screeching about?"
They turned to see the tennis prince walk up to the clubhouse to change as per normal then back at Horio.
Katsuo raised an eyebrow. "Have you lost your memory or something? So that's Ryoma-kun."
Horio turned and clutched Katsuo by the shoulders and nearly shook his brains out. "RYOMA-KUN DOESN'T HAVE HIS JACKET!"
In the midst of being shaken like a rag doll, he ventured a suggestion. "M,m,may,may,b,be he j,just for,forgot it, o,or some, something!"
"Echizen Ryoma DOESN'T forget the jacket! He can't! It'll be like forgetting the baseball cap!" exclaimed Horio hysterically. "The curse of the jacket will be upon us!"
Oishi threw Inui a look – the annoyed 'Look What You've Done' expression. The data collector of Seigaku however was too busy going into cardiac arrest to pay attention. After a long minute of watching Ryoma enter the clubhouse in utter silence, he whipped around and intoned gravely with utmost seriousness:
"We are all DOOMED unless Echizen gets his jacket back."
Oishi slapped his forehead in exasperation as Horio started wailing incomprehensibly. The other two looked uncertainly at Inui. He didn't look different from his usual face but that tone of voice had struck fear into their hearts. It was very odd since the reason he usually instilled heart-stopping fear into their little souls was when he whipped out anything remotely liquid from his bag and announced its name in a proud voice.
"Inui, all a missing jacket is going to do is just give Echizen the flu if it gets too windy or cold. There are no such things as curses!"
"…besides that kind of cursing," finished the vice captain with a wince. They turned to see the pit viper yelling obscenities about something and scraping his shoe on some wayward (and unfortunate) grass with an expression of disgust and fury. It was rather unnerving to see him so vocal besides the arguing fests with Momoshiro.
Everyone knew exactly what had happened but just to clarify it, Oishi called out. "Kaidou! What happened?"
"#&$$# DOG POO! $#!"
Inui looked at Oishi. "No curse?"
Oishi looked mildly annoyed as Kaidou stomped off towards the clubhouse, scraping his shoe against the ground all the way and still cursing. Horio was taking down notes on certain words. "That's just a coincidence, Inui."
Inui didn't answer as he spotted another newcomer and raised an eyebrow. "That's also a coincidence?"
Oishi and the other freshmen turned to see Kawamura Takashi emerging onto the tennis court like a corpse with slightly more colour. Hurrying over, Oishi and Inui quickly helped the regular before he fell face first onto the courts.
Oishi took one look at his ashen face and cringed. "Taka-san, you look terrible! Who did this to you?"
"Yes? Kawamura Sushi?" urged the alarmed vice captain as he and Inui led Taka-san to the clubhouse to sit down.
"Otousan…said…sushi…no…good…no need…to help…anymore…" Taka-san went cross eyed and nearly fainted were it not for quick thinking Kachiro who splashed a bottle of water in his face to keep him awake.
Highly alarmed now at the fact that Takashi's father had apparently fired his own son, Oishi just took him inside where Ryoma and a still raging Kaidou were. The vice captain had just sent Ryoma to get a can of Ponta for stricken (and rather wet) Takashi when from outside, the freshmen called out for their sempai with a frantic tone.
"Kaidou, make sure Taka-san doesn't do anything stupid."
There was an unintelligible grumble, no doubt still about his ruined sports shoe as Kaidou plunked himself down beside Taka-san who seemed to be in a coma with his eyes and mouth open. Some water droplets dripped from his hair and chin.
When the two dashed outside, the wail of agony and misfortune sprinkled with a generous amount of anguish broke through. Oishi looked up to see his doubles partner Eiji slumped on the court, wailing incomprehensibly to the three juniors who had absolutely no clue what to do. This must have been the first time he saw Eiji so distraught.
"Eiji! What's wrong?" asked Oishi as he went up to Eiji.
"Oishi!" cried Eiji with a heart breaking tone. "I studied my heart out for that English test nya! I made sure I knew my pronouns and adjectives and prepositions nya! Oishi, you helped me study! You SAW how hard I studied, how little sleep I got nya! You SAW! Fuji also SAW!"
"I did, he did!" affirmed Oishi trying to calm Eiji down. Inui muttered a suggestion of tranquilizers, which the vice captain just ignored. "Eiji, you studied hard, yes. Don't tell me you got so bad results for it that you have to react like this."
"I failed the ENGLISH TEST!" bawled the normally cheery boy.
Oishi felt very disturbed when Eiji began to howl unintelligibly. Failing was a bad thing, yes but when a fourteen-year-old male started to throw something resembling a tantrum, it just didn't help matters. "Eiji, come on. You'll just have to try harder next time… or maybe you can ask Hiragiza-sensei to check it over or something, just to be sure… c'mon…"
The wailing did not recede. In fact, it just got louder. Oishi looked helplessly at Inui.
"…I don't think it's just about the English test," suggested Inui, with the tones of one who was foreshadowing darker things. Oishi gave him an annoyed look then turned to Eiji.
Inui's remark somehow got Eiji's attention as he raised his head again and started to talk very quickly about something Oishi couldn't make heads or tails of.
A little way away, Ryoma, who had just arrived with Taka-san's can of Ponta, looked up, saw the yowling Eiji-sempai and decided he had better stay out of this. He headed onwards to the clubhouse.
On the courts, Eiji was still babbling hysterically over something until Inui helpfully mentioned that he had a new batch of Akazu he'd like to try on Eiji. The boy quieted enough for Oishi to ask what else was wrong.
Apparently, that day seemed to have been fine until recess. It was then that bad luck seemed to attach to happy-go-lucky Kikumaru Eiji like a puppy.
He'd discovered he had worn his sister's pair of Hello Kitty trimmed socks by mistake. He'd tripped over at least two flights of stairs, he'd forgotten his lunch, his hair was drooping, he had failed the English test, nearly went into the girls' bathroom by accident were it not for an alert Takashi (before he found out he'd been fired) and to put icing on his misery cake, his tennis racket strings were all coming loose. He just couldn't understand why he had such bad luck!
Inui shot a meaningful look at Oishi who groaned. "Inui, I am NOT about to believe that Echizen-kun's missing jacket is the cause of all this."
Eiji looked up wide-eyed, distress instantly ceased at the speed of light. "Ochibi's JACKET is MISSING? No wonder!"
Oishi stared in disbelief. Whether it was more at this sudden change of mood or at the reaction to the curse, was uncertain. "You believe it too?"
"How else do you explain my bad luck nya?" He jumped up. "We have to find that jacket nya! We need to go ask Ochibi where he put it! Otherwise this whole team will be in danger nya!"
Oishi felt like roasting Inui and Eiji alive all of a sudden. "For the last time, there is NO SUCH THING as a curse! What do I have to do to convince you?"
At that precise moment, the fire alarm went off and the hissing of the automatic fire sprinklers could be heard in the school building. Teachers, staff and the principal ran out before their very eyes with students.
Inui looked up. "…I don't think you have to convince us when you see that."
The vice captain turned around and instantly deflated. "No WAY…"
There was smoke coming out from the open window in the lab where Inui did most of his concoctions - dark smoke that were the signs of a fire or an experiment gone awry. A student was at the window hacking away.
"I'm sorry! I messed up some chemicals and…"
The kid's explanation cemented Inui's guess on what had happened to his beloved concoctions, all lovingly and painstakingly stored in one of the cupboards. That day, he'd taken them all out and placed them on a lab table just to check on them. He'd forgotten to replace them in the cupboard but figured that they wouldn't mess with his experiments. Word went around very quickly in Seigaku, particularly about hazardous objects such as his 'poisons' as they were rightfully nicknamed.
Every single beaker containing things from Hyper Ultra Juice Special to the Aozu been spilt to the floor over one misread lab experiment.
Oishi and Eiji prudently took one step aside from Inui. "You see, Oishi? We need to get Ochibi his jacket back and quick! Otherwise something WORSE is going to happen nya!"
The vice captain's expression was one of disbelief. He shook his head vigorously. "It can't be. I mean, how does a jacket dictate one's fate? It's GOT to be a coincidence!"
Eiji stared at him as if he'd just suggested Seigaku lose to Hyotei on purpose and take up knitting. Before the normally cheerful boy could strangle his doubles partner over his lack of action though, Inui seemed to recover. He looked at Oishi, glasses somehow conveying the idea that Inui's eyes had hardened. "You still don't think this is part of the curse of the missing jacket?"
Oishi rubbed one temple. "Inui, you're supposed to be scientific. I highly doubt that science cannot explain this apparent 'curse'. It's all just a series of unfortunate coincidences."
"I may be scientific but I am not stupid. There are some things science cannot explain… for instance," Inui whipped out his book. "Why can I never find enough information on Tezuka or Fuji? And why will no one withstand my Aozu? And then there's your haircut."
"What's wrong with my haircut?" asked Oishi a little testily. He was always very sensitive when it came to his hair. He liked it the way it was but did anyone care to figure that fact out? Nooo…
"It's unexplainable by science, that's what's wrong."
Oishi had been about to say something about Inui exaggerating when Eiji gasped. "Momoshiro! Stop! What're you doing nya!"
Apparently, the lab accident had distracted the rest from noticing the sophomore. The red haired boy bounded over to where Momoshiro sat, apparently trying to cause major hemorrhaging in his brain or at least deplete his IQ by several hundred levels via tennis racket.
"Inui! Keep his arms down nya! Oishi grab the racket nya! Quick!" yelled Eiji as he sat on Momoshiro's legs. "The rest of you, keep him from moving nya!"
There was a brief scuffle as Momoshiro resisted his well-meaning seniors' and juniors' attempt to extricate the racket so he wouldn't kill himself or turn himself into a vegetable before the Nationals. Finally, Oishi managed to wrench the racket from his junior's fingers and keep it safe and away from the obviously insane Momoshiro.
"Momo-chan-sempai, what are you thinking?" demanded Horio as he got off Momoshiro's stomach alongside Kachiro and Katsuo. Eiji and Inui still held onto his legs and wrists respectively though.
The boy finally spoke after his wordless self-mutilation. "Let me go! Let me go into a coma to escape the pain and misery! I need to say goodbye to this cruel life!"
"Inui!" and "Inui-sempai!" resounded.
"Momoshiro! Think about what you're saying!" said Oishi trying to calm his stricken junior down.
Normally laidback Momo-chan suddenly began to sob with much feeling. "She rejected me! She… said I'd… I'm only a worthless loser who can only play tennis! Can you imagine (sob!) when the love of your life suddenly says such harsh words! She, she was my first and only love! How can I live? Where will I go? I…I…! OH, sempai, what do I DO?"
Oishi had no clue whatsoever who 'she' was but he had a feeling that mentioning names would just drive Momoshiro to the roofs with the tennis racket. "Uh, there, there will be others, Momoshiro…"
"NO! Never! She was, she IS my one true love!" Momoshiro's tears streamed down his cheeks, much to his friends mixed feelings of sympathy and discomfort. Eiji helped him sit up.
"There, there, Momoshiro nya… Oishi's right. There are other fish in the sea nya…"
"If Echizen got his jacket back, he wouldn't be in this mess."
Momoshiro's head jerked up. "Echizen's JACKET is missing? Is THAT why the one and only angel I fell in love with at first sight rejected me with such cruel words!"
"Momoshiro, it can't possibly be because of Echizen-kun's missing jacket. It's-"
He was cut off by Eiji's yelp as the acrobat-in-training dove for Momoshiro's legs. Apparently the sophomore been about to go and tear Ryoma's head off for causing him such heartache by losing his regulars' jacket. It took another minute of roaring, swearing, more cursing and a whole bottle of mineral water in Momoshiro's (and along with him, Oishi, Inui and Eiji) face to calm him down enough to make him sit down. Outside the clubhouse though since Ryoma was inside and goodness knew what would happen if Momoshiro were to see him face-to-face. There probably wouldn't be enough Ryoma left to even make a cat toy for Karupin.
And before Eiji and Inui could resume trying to convince Oishi to do something, a wayward baseball hit Horio.
He hadn't even enough time to sit back up when Kachiro was felled by a flying basketball coming towards him at 50 km/h.
Katsuo then completed the set of broken noses and bruised eyes by having at least three ping pong bats in his face with two more ping pong balls.
This was something of a mystery since the table tennis, basketball and baseball teams weren't even within ten feet of the tennis courts.
Inui looked at Oishi with a sigh as the vice captain tended to the unusual and extremely sudden injuries. "Now will you believe me?"
Eiji looked at him pleadingly. He'd seen Taka-san (who was still in a state of coma-level shock) and Kaidou (who was cursing every single dog by breed in alphabetical order). "Oishi, the only ones left now are Fuji and Tezuka-buchou nya. And BELIEVE me, I DON'T want to be around when Fuji gets bad luck nya. OR Tezuka-buchou." He shuddered, as if for emphasis.
The equally pleading looks on Horio, Katsuo and Kachiro's bruised and now-plastered/bandaged faces made Oishi's high level of patience begin to fray. He shut the first aid box with a determined 'click'.
Oishi felt like a very small fishing boat in the midst of a large roaring ocean and stormy weather; a boat that was about to drown in this sea of ridiculousness. But he was determined not to.
"Listen, this is all co-in-ci-dence. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing supernatural about this. We're all just having an off day, that's all."
"You're only saying that because you haven't been affected yet," said Inui darkly. "And I really don't think you should wait until you do."
There was a ringing tone and Oishi whipped out his cell phone from his pocket.
"Moshi moshi. Ah, imouto, what is it? Uh huh… wha- WHAT!"
Eiji winced, Inui shook his head and Horio began to make out his last will and testament in the background. Kachiro and Katsuo saw the look of hysteria on their vice captain's face and wondered if it was too late to sign up with the basketball or baseball clubs. Even the sumo club seemed more appealing right at the moment. Momoshiro pretty much didn't care, what with him still pining for his beloved.
The pallid colour on Oishi's face as he ended the call with a shaky "Thanks" and "Take care" was met with a tentative venture from Eiji.
"O-Oishi? Something wrong nya…?"
Oishi turned to him, hysteria now turning slowly into horror. "M, M, My fish…"
Inui grimaced in anticipation. Horio bit his lower lip so hard, he could taste the familiar metallic flavour, so to speak, of blood.
"H, half… they're all… they…"
Eiji fanned him with a hand. "Oishi, calm down nya, take a deep breath, Oishi …"
"Half of them are swimming upside down," said Oishi in horror-struck tones as he stared at everyone in turn.
Inui had the grace not to say anything resembling "I told you so". Instead, he kept silent for a minute before speaking.
"Shall I go get Echizen?"
Oishi numbly nodded, his brain only thinking of his beloved fish all on the brink of going to that big aquarium in the sky. Eiji patted his shoulder sadly as did Kachiro and Katsuo. Horio maintained a respectful silence which, when you remembered this was Horio, was a very big thing.
They were all trying to figure out what to do when Fuji stepped up just as Inui and a very bored looking Ryoma came out. Taka-san who had finally come out of his stasis state and Kaidou, who had nearly finished cursing every single dog breed on Earth, also followed. They too knew the curse of the jacket and were just as anxious to end it. The freshmen trio immediately held Momoshiro who had scrambled to his feet, back from throttling Ryoma.
Eiji immediately saw that the smile on the tennis prodigy's face, normally pleasant and calm, deceiving all to the evil mind behind it, was strained. He gulped.
"Uh, Fuji-kun? Anything wrong nya?"
"I don't suppose any of you have lost your jackets…? Because for some reason," Fuji's smile became more obviously forced. "My cacti, as reported by my sister, have all mysteriously wilted and died. Not to mention… my tennis racket has been broken by accident this morning."
Everyone but Momoshiro, Inui and Ryoma had taken at least three steps backwards, backing up against the clubhouse wall.
Inui cleared his throat. "Echizen here is missing his jacket."
Ryoma, his expression unchanging, raised an eyebrow. "…so?"
"So," began Kaidou with a dark look. "Where is it?"
"And make it quick before I try and strangle you," growled Momoshiro.
Ryoma raised his eyebrow higher as he sipped the Ponta that Taka-san hadn't touched. "Why? It's just a jacket."
There were gasps. This was obviously an Echizen Ryoma clone. The real prince of tennis would have never uttered such a sacrilegious comment so flippantly.
Still, Inui's hand on Ryoma's shoulder tightened slightly. "I take it we haven't told you the Legend of the Jacket, have we, Echizen?"
Fuji's smile slipped an inch. "The one with the moral that goes "You Must NEVER Lose or Give Away Your Seigaku Regulars Jacket"…?"
Any sane person would have instantly had a moment of recollection there and then, regardless of whether they'd heard the story or not.
It seemed that on that day, Ryoma was not particularly interested in maintaining his existence on Earth for much longer than twelve years and six months, give or take a week.
Eiji quickly cut in. "Well, to cut the story short nya: where's your jacket, Ochibi?"
Oishi, whose little fishing boat of logic had finally capsized, recognized the look of stubborn silence on the youngest regular's face and grimaced. "Echizen-kun, we just want to know where it is…"
He crossed his arms without words. "…"
Taka-san tried pleading with his softer side. "Please, Echizen? If you don't get it back, we're all just going to get more bad luck!"
Ryoma was chiseled out of limestone apparently as he stubbornly remained mum.
For once in agreement with each other on something, Kaidou and Momoshiro were about to simultaneously pummel his head in. Only the restrains of the freshmen, Taka-san and the Golden Pair kept Ryoma from becoming the exact texture of a puddle. Inui may have just force-fed Ryoma both Aozu and Akazu at the same time were it not for the fact that it'd been all spilled and it took at least three day and a half to make a new batch of each. Fuji would have probably helped Inui if he weren't so distressed over his cacti and his racket.
Kachiro tried to make a friendly suggestion as he kept Kaidou pinned to the clubhouse wall. "Ryoma-kun, it would really be a good time to listen to the sempais and tell us where-"
Momoshiro struggled and exclaimed, "Where's your thrice damned jacket, Echizen!"
And the prince of tennis maintained his silence, only drinking his grape flavoured Ponta with a slurp.
Tezuka stared at his test paper.
Well, more like he glared at it with his eyes just a quarter of a centimeter wider, but still that was considered staring in Tezuka Kunimitsu terms.
It was well known that his favourite subject in school was World History. This usually meant that even if one also did well in other subjects, one tried one's best and did better than normal for the favourite subject.
However, the captain of the tennis team was convinced that there must have been some mistake in the entire marking scheme when a supposedly well constructed and written essay on Japan's role in forming the world's economical system by Tezuka Kunimitsu, got a miserable mark of 1. (1 in the Japanese marking system using numbers, means E just so you know).
Now, Tezuka wasn't what you called conceited. But he did allow himself to pride himself on using his complete strength in some things. History was one of them.
Tezuka Kunimitsu did not fail World History.
The problem was, even though he had asked his teacher to re-examine his paper, which the teacher had done after an intimidating yet polite request, he just ended up with a 2 for reasons he himself thought were just too damned stupid.
There could only be one explanation for this.
Folding the paper into his bag, he strode purposefully out of the class. As he made his way towards the tennis courts, he happened to come across Ryuzaki-sensei and her granddaughter having a conversation in the corridor. His sharp eyes suddenly narrowed at something.
He should have known.
By this time, every single member, even shy Taka-san to the patient Oishi, was prepared to just beat snot, liver and bladder with lungs out of Ryoma.
It was a good thing that Tezuka made his appearance then otherwise all hell would have broken loose.
Then again, that was probably preferable to the look on their captain's face.
Everyone had the sense to keep quiet as Tezuka came up to the whole team with a look of simmering fury being restrained by years of self taught control and rigid discipline. He took a little time to regain his control of speech over his anger and cleared his throat.
Ryoma looked up, slightly unnerved himself by the captain's expression and his very controlled tone of voice.
"The next time you want to offer Ryuzaki-san something warm to wear on a windy day…" Tezuka shoved a familiar blue, red and white jacket to the boy. "Use a different jacket. Am I clear."
Tezuka nodded then looked at the rest. "All of you: 20 laps round the school, NOW."
They took off without complaint, Ryoma included. Anyone with a working brain and a functional central nerve system would have wanted to get as much distance as was possible between Tezuka and them. And the Seigaku boys were quite healthy. Possessing questionable mental capacities at times, perhaps but still healthy nonetheless.
As they ran though, everyone's dark moods seemed to lighten because of two things.
One, the fact that since the jacket had been returned, their bad luck would reverse.
Two, the fact that Ryoma had given Ryuzaki Sakuno his precious, treasured and prized Regulars jacket.
When he had refused to admit it, Ryoma had been inadvertently hinting that he was anxious to keep this a secret thus the implication it was important to him. To the others, there was no hinting or implications. This was out and out obvious.
To the prince of tennis, he finally believed that urban legend of the cursed jackets. After all, was it or was it not bad luck to be subjected to this kind of torture?
"So Echizen! When's the wedding?" called out Momoshiro with an evil grin.
Eiji whooped. "I wanna be the best man nya!"
Horio had a smirk on his face. "Aww, wasn't it sweet the way Ryoma-kun gave his jacket to Sakuno-san?"
"He has always been very considerate, our Echizen," said Fuji, 'out-eviling' Momoshiro's grin.
Kaidou hissed in an unusually pleased manner. Katsuo and Kachiro tried to restrain their snickering but failed miserably as did Oishi. Taka-san was grinning uncontrollably.
Inui smirked, whipping out his data book even while he was running. "Let's see… Echizen Ryoma, age 12, year 1, has a crush on Ryuzaki Sakuno, made his first move in the month of June…"
"Look! Look! Ochibi's BLUSHING nya!"
Ryoma had just one thought in his head:
You Must NEVER Lose or Give Away Your Seigaku Regulars Jacket.