Oh my god, the final chapter, it's here! I'm happy to be done, but also really, really sad it's over. It has been seven months, and I've received over a hundred reviews. Thank you to everyone who has read, reviewed, and written to me. I've enjoyed meeting you all, and I hope you'll continue to read my other fanfiction.
When I first conceived of the idea, my original outline called for four chapters, and it had a very straightforward plot. As I began writing, and the words poured out, it took on a life of its own, and I think I am mostly pleased with what I have been able to show. Before I started writing Out of Defeat, I thought I was a Seigaku writer, who was taking a small detour. Hah! Shishido, and Otori, and Oshitari, and Gakuto, and Atobe proved me very wrong.
So, thank you so much for all your support and kind words. Without them, I never would have been able to finish this project! As a special epilogue gift for you all, I have posted a one-shot from Oshitari's POV, called Towards Victory. It tells a bit of what was going on in Oshitari's head during the story (for those of you who have speculated), as well as a brief snatch of what happens afterwards.
"All right," Atobe said, gesturing for the regulars to be quiet. "Let me awe you all with my perfect line-up for tomorrow's match against Seigaku."
They were gathered around the dinner table at Oshitari's house, picking at the remains of a once-impressive pile of food, which had consisted of everything from roast beef to pizza to sushi—Oshitari had instructed everyone to contribute to the meal, and they all had vastly different ideas of what made a good dinner. Of course, except for Atobe, they ate pretty much indiscriminately.
"You realize we already pretty much know what the line-up is going to be?" Mukahi asked, through a mouthful of chips. " Yuushi and I are in Doubles 2, Shishido and Otori are in Doubles 1, you're in Singles 1, Kabaji is usually in Singles 2 or Singles 3."
"So you're intelligent enough to anticipate my brilliance," Atobe said coolly. "Kabaji will be in Singles 3, na, Kabaji?"
"Jirou will be in Singles 2. Jirou, did you hear that? Jirou?" He prodded the sleeping regular with an elbow. "Well, make sure that someone tells him that by tomorrow."
"So I'm the alternate?"
"Yes," Atobe said. "Any problems?"
Wisely, Hiyoshi decided not to press the issue.
"Good. So," he continued. "You all know that we're playing Seigaku tomorrow. We beat them last year, and I have no doubt that we can do it again. However, there are a few players that bear watching. Their doubles is generally weak, although they do have the 'Golden Pair', Oishi and Kikumaru."
Mukahi hissed, and Oshitari kicked him under the table.
"Chances are they'll be in Doubles 1," Atobe said. "So, Otori, Shishido, we're counting on you."
Otori and Shishido exchanged looks, and nodded. Shishido felt a rush of excitement.
"The one to watch out for is Oishi—he controls the game. You're used to playing Mukahi, so Kikumaru's acrobatics shouldn't be a problem. Now, the only other challenge I anticipate is Tezuka."
"He beat our captain last year," Oshitari commented. "But if anyone can win against him, it's you, Atobe."
"Thank you for the vote of confidence," Atobe said dryly. "Well, other than those three players, I don't anticipate much trouble. But they have been playing well this season, so I expect you all to be in top form. We're aiming for the nationals this year. Clear?"
"Yes," they chorused.
"Good," he said. "Now, let's have the cake." He snapped his fingers, and two servants wheeled in a cart laden with a…monstrosity.
It was white, three layers high, surrounded by strawberries and crinkly white frosting. The entire top was decorated in flowers and gold leaf and marzipan, beautifully arranged to represent the Hyoutei crest. On top of that was set a model tennis ball and racket, also edible.
"At least it isn't decorated with a statue of himself," Shishido whispered to Otori.
"Well, I'm sure it will taste good," Otori said, eying it nervously. "I'm just a little scared of eating something that looks like it came from a museum."
"All right!" Jirou said, having woken up at some point during the discussion. "No one's going home until the whole thing is gone!"
"And if you make a mess in my dining room, you aren't going home until the whole place is clean," Oshitari muttered.
The weather was good, their spirits were high, and everything seemed to be going according to plan until the Hyoutei regulars received word that Seigaku's Oishi was injured, and would be unable to play.
"Kikumaru, the other half of the Golden Pair, has been moved to Doubles 2, along with a second year, Momoshiro," Atobe announced. "I think that's the obnoxious one we met at the street courts the other day. He should be no trouble. He's not even a Seigaku regular right now."
"Hear that, Yuushi?" Mukahi was bouncing up and down on his toes. "I'll finally get the chance to show that Kikumaru who's acrobatics are best!"
"Don't get overexcited, Gakuto," Oshitari said. "I'm sure we'll win with no trouble against a makeshift doubles pair like that. By the way," he said, turning to Shishido. "What's with the hat?"
Shishido reached up to feel the back of the blue cap, on his forehead.
"It's for luck," he said. Behind him, Otori smiled.
"Let's go warm up, Shishido-san," he said.
When Shishido saw the Seigaku players, his first thought was that Atobe and Oshitari had underestimated them.
They didn't look that impressive, but there was something in their eyes that made Shishido feel that they had hidden strength. It seemed like they were players who could put everything they had into a game.
It was going to be a good match. He was looking forward to it.
He wasn't surprised that Oshitari and Mukahi lost. He and Otori weren't there for the whole game—they had their own match to prepare for—but he could tell that they weren't focused. Mukahi was wasting his strength on a pointless acrobatic challenge, while Oshitari was playing around and failing to take the game seriously.
Afterwards, Mukahi looked furious, while Oshitari seemed to be taking the loss calmly. Shishido knew that he must be seething inside as well. It wasn't clear that Sakaki was planning to drop them from the regulars, but it was certainly a possibility. And if he didn't, it was still unlikely that they would play doubles together again this season.
He'd only been playing doubles for a week, but he would hate to be separated from Otori.
"There's no way we're going to lose like that, Choutarou," he said.
"Let's play our hardest."
"No," Shishido said, giving him a gentle shove. "Let's win."
"All right," Otori said, grinning. "Let's win."
Here it was, their debut. After weeks of training, and suffering, they were about to begin their first test. It was a beginning.
The last time Shishido had stepped onto a court as a new regular, he had failed, and his dreams had been crushed. But those had been foolish dreams. Now, he was learning how to play for himself, and how to be part of a team. He knew what he really wanted.
"You ready?" he asked Otori.
"Yes," Otori said.
Shishido picked up his racket. As he stood, he thought he felt Otori's lips briefly brush against his forehead.
"Then let's go."
He stepped onto the court, with Otori just behind him, balancing his racket on one finger. All around them, the air was filled with murmurs from the Hyoutei tennis club, subdued at the unexpected loss. Well, that was no good.
"HEY!" he yelled, tilting his head back and feeling his voice lift up towards the clouds. "You aren't giving up, are you? Hyoutei's going to win, right?"
"Then use your voices to support us, morons!"
The cheers began, first tentative, but growing louder and louder until they became thunderous.
"The winner will be Hyoutei! The winner will be Hyoutei! THE WINNER WILL BE HYOUTEI!"
He drank in the energy, reveled in it.
Loss was always a possibility, but for them, there would be no more defeat.
From now on, they were moving, together, towards victory.