1Disclaimer: Based on canon but that odd genre we like to call fanon so the owning is so not something I have.
The moment Tezuka appeared at the training camp Sanada had him in his sights. Atobe had watched as another rival for Tezuka's affections appeared. It displeased Ore-sama to be less then the center of attention at all times, and that was why he had organized that song for Tezuka's welcoming celebration. He had never expected Sanada to actually agree to sing, nor that he would have a good voice. Atobe knew when Sanada left the welcome party because Tezuka's eyes tracked the other boy after he had stood up. Later that night he had gone to have a talk with the rock-like young man. It had been filled with vague comments and misleading statements but Atobe had seen the truth. Sanada was attracted to Tezuka, and he had the power and drive to actually manage to get Tezuka if he tried.The Hyotei Diva knew that one more competitor had been added to the mix, and he should be taken out fast. Atobe challenged him that night but they did not hold their match until later.
It hadn't been till Tezuka had shown up to watch their match that both boys began playing to their full extent. They had been consciously holding back for a reason only their unconscious knew but once the prize appeared they stopped holding back. Tezuka watched them both. The match had been halted by Sakaki-sensei but Atobe knew the outcome, in all probability they would have ended up playing a tie breaker until one or the other keeled over from exhaustion. There would have been no winner.
As Sanada and Atobe shook hands over the net they both noticed a certain snarky first year turning and smiling up at his captain. Both felt a small prick of jealousy at taht.
Their rivalry over Tezuka was pushed aside for the match against the Americans and pushed aside and pushed aside until it was almost completely forgotten. Their senior year of highschool though Sanada and Atobe met each other over a net. And they remembered. The game went into a tie break which lasted for ages and could have gone on longer if both tennis players had not noticed the same thing, Tezuka had left the stands. Neither knew at the time that the other teen had left because he had gotten an urgent call that his grandfather had been rushed to the hospital, nor did they know that later that night Tezuka would hold a midnight vigil as his grandfather passed away. All they knew was the reason they were playing had left the stands.
Atobe faulted once but it was Sanada who hit his ball out.
A month after that match Sanada met up with Tezuka in a sports store. The other boy had even been willing to talk to him for a while. After purchasing their supplies they sat down at a close by café and talked, mainly about tennis. Neither was a verbose person in general but they still managed without many awkward pauses. Tezuka's cell phone had rung while they were together and Tezuka had flustered (slightly, you would not even be able to tell if you did not know how to read that type of unemotional face) and went to turn it off.
Sanada, like the fool he was told Tezuka to answer the phone. It had turned out to be prodigy Fuji Syuusuke, and after a conversation that on Tezuka's side seemed to consist mostly of 'hn' and 'aa' then an apologetic look shot in Sanada's directions. It ended with 'I'll be there,' and profuse apologies to Sanada. After Tezuka had disappeared out of sight Fuji Syuusuke, the tensai himself, appeared across from Sanada.
"He's dating Tachibana Kippei you know." Fuji commented idly before nodding at Sanada and wandering off.
Sanada remembers his words to Atobe when their rivalry first started. "There can only be one winner." Well, he might not have won but at least he wasn't the only one who had lost.
Days pass, months fly by, years disappear behind him and when Sanada looks back he realizes that it looks like someone else has been living his life. He does not feel connected to any of his achievements, not his highschool diploma, or his law degree, or the numerous court cases he has won. Sanada has no close friends, his ties from his tennis teammates have weakened in college and disappeared once he entered law school. He still gets the occasional card from Yukimura and every time his birthday rolls around a small present from Yanagi shows up at his door. No one at his law firm asks him to go out drinking or to kareoke, and there is no woman in his life to come home to.
His realization hits him when he passes a pet store and sees a cat in the window who looks vaguely familiar. The cat has wide gold eyes and almost looks like he's smirking at Sanada. Intrigued the high payed lawyer steps closer to the window. "Ah! You like Ochibi-chan?" A friendly voice asks from behind him and Sanada turns to find himself faced with a red haired smiling shop owner. "Come in! Maybe he'll let you pet him." Against his will Sanada finds his feet leading him inside. The shop owner picks up the black furred cat and holds him out in Sanada's direction. "Hoi, hoi! Try it!" Hesitantly Sanada reaches his hand out and scratches the cat behind his ears. Immediately the animal starts to purr.
"He likes you!" The shopowner cries and practically thrusts the cat into Sanada's hands, who after fumbling with it finds the cat curled up in the crook of his elbow. Ochibi is the right name for such a creature, it was a very small cat. "I was saving him for a friend of mine, but he's away over seas and I can't keep the cat if he finds an owner!" The redhead chatters on as he leads Sanada to the cash register. "But Ochibi hasn't liked anybody I bring in! He hisses and scratches and just goes 'nyao'! So I swore the first person who Ochibi liked was getting the cat. Em, you do want Ochibi-chan right?" There was the sound of a bell coming from the door being swung open and the shopkeeper glanced away from his costumer for a second. His face lit up and the hyper young man flung himself at the male who had walked in. "Oishiii!" 'Eiji' cried as he flung himself into the black haired boys arms. "I found a buyer for Ochibi!"
"Eiji!" Oishi shot an apologetic smile at him while trying to pry the shop keeper away from his body. Sanada watched with growing amusement as the young man held on like a limpet, until the dark haired one finally gave up. For the first time in a long time Sanada felt like he was connected to someone. Sighing Sanada looked down at the black cat, who was staring up at him with wide gold eyes. In that brief second that the cat locked eyes with him Sanada could swear he saw a smirk curling the cats lips and an echo of a young boy saying 'made made dane'.
"How much?" Sanada asked and the commotion of Eiji and Oishi stilled.
"Eh?" Eiji asked, as if just realizing he had a customer. "Oh! For Ochibi?" Eiji thoughts about it for a minute. "Twelve hundred yen." ((About $10, is that how much a cat costs?)) "I'll throw in a carrier for free." Sanada hands over the money while still keeping hold of the cat. As Eiji moves to put the money in the till and ring up the purchase Oishi moves towards the recent customer.
"Eiji's been trying to sell that cat for a while. He says it reminds him of an old friend." Oishi stated and looked closely at Sanada's face. "I know you right... Sanada Genchirou?" Sanada nods and then frowns slightly. Now that he thinks about it these two look rather familiar too. "Ah! It's Oishi Syuichiroh, from Seigaku." Sanada, shaken out of his daze shakes Oishi's hand with the one not holding the cat. He recognizes the other man now, and the shop owner too. Kikumaru Eiji had played on the Tournament team with him, and Oishi had been the fuku-buchou of Seigaku just as Sanada had been fukubuchou of Rikkaidai.
"Ah." And then Kikumaru was back with the carrier and chattering about the various pet foods the cat will eat and how he should buy a scratching post if he doesn't want his furniture to be demolished. As he stares at Oishi's fond expression and Kikumaru's constant movement and smile he wonders if maybe, maybe, it wasn't too late to give his old friends a chance.
Three weeks after that Sanada returns home to a snarky, golden eyed, black furred nuisance. He smiles though as he feeds Ochibi, he did not rename the cat simply because it fits the cat and no other reason, because Ochibi makes him feel that his apartments not just an apartment but a home. Sanada checks his answering machine and makes a note to call Yukimura back. Then he turns on his television to catch the news. What he does catch is a close up view of Echizen Ryoma's smirking face. The newscasters talk about how great Echizen is, and how he's just won his fifth Wimbledon but Sanada can't pay attention to what they're saying because those piercing eyes are looking right at him.
Sanada researches then. He finds out that Echizen has been winning large international tennis tournaments since Sanada entered college. When he reaches what is apparently the highlight of Echizen's pro career Sanada finds one name which knocks him back in his chair 'Tezuka Kunimitsu'. Tezuka made it to the pro circuit around the same time Echizen did and their careers circled around each other, constantly chasing the other's tail.
For the first time in years Sanada wonders what Atobe's up to.
He schedules vacation time far in advance, finds a pet friendly hotel, purchases a plane ticket and a ticket plan and waits. When the time comes Sanada packs up Ochibi and a suitcase and flies to the US Open. He attends all of Tezuka and Ryoma's games, and notices two people who are also always in the crowed. He had felt someone staring at him that first day and had turned to find Fuji Syuusuke staring at him with slits for eyes. Fuji stood with the other sports photographers, and before he turned away gave Sanada closed eyed smile. In the hallways Sanada had passed a group of rich businessmen and noticed one face that stood out in the crowd, that mole was unmistakable. As was the pompous way he spoke, even in English.
The US Open is closes with Tezuka as the Champion in Men's singles. That night Sanada returns to his hotel room to find four people sitting inside.
"We were waiting for you, you know." Ryoma says as Sanada closes the door behind him.
Much, much later, when cognizance returns to him Sanada ponders his words to Atobe those many years ago. With one hand idly tracing pattern on Echizen Ryoma's back and the other sitting on top of Atobe's perfect hair he really wonders; if there is only one winner, who won?