Title: Promise
Fandom: Prince of Tennis
Characters/Pairings: Kirihara + Yukimura, Yagyuu/Niou, RikkaiDai
Genre: A little angst, a little shounen-ai.
Disclaimer: Prince of Tennis belongs to Konomi Takeshi.
Notes: I'm not sure I'll ever stop liking this piece.


one: tennis

Tennis is the universe; they all know it. It's everything and anything, all existence. It's -- it's tennis. Sure, there are other things out there; they know that, too. Some (like Jackal and Yagyuu) know it better than others, but regardless, they know there's something else out there. It's called Real Life.

But it's not tennis. And tennis is the universe.

And if tennis is the universe, then for Kirihara, that would make Yukimura, as captain of the team, the natural center, the sun, the core. He is everything Akaya wants to be and everyone Akaya wants to beat. His gameplay is flawless and his form is beautiful; he is the perfect player.

Yukimura's obvious skill makes it only too easy to be jealous, but even after being beaten into the ground at a ridiculous score, Kirihara finds it hard to actually hate him. He's Buchou.

And with that in mind, Akaya gulps in air, trying to calm himself, trying to even his breathing, trying to stop the ache in his muscles.

"Are you all right?" Yukimura asks the boy crouched on the court before him. He barely looks winded.

"Fine," Kirihara mutters, still out of breath. "I'm fine."

He hates losing, especially to Yukimura-buchou. Hates it.

Yukimura smiles a little. "Good. I knew you could handle it." He holds out a hand to Akaya, who takes it.

"I'll beat you next time," Kirihara murmurs as Yukimura pulls him up. "I will. Next time. I swear."

This time, Yukimura laughs. "Mm. Of course."

"What? I will! Yukimura-buchou -- Hey, wait -- !"


two: alpha

And then it happens -- Yukimura collapses in the middle of the school day and the nurse calls an ambulance that takes him away. It happens so fast that their heads spin and everything seems to crumble because all of a sudden --

All of a sudden, Yukimura is sick and in the hospital and has to have surgery and they don't know what else. Sanada-san looks completely floored and Yanagi-senpai is shaking, but Kirihara can't really... comprehend what's wrong; Yagyuu-senpai tries to explain this thing to him, but Akaya feels too helpless to concentrate on the words because it's Yukimura-buchou. He's supposed to be strong -- stronger, even, than Sanada-fukubuchou.

Buchou is a demon. Buchou is Buchou.

And Kirihara can't do anything but endure that losing feeling deep down in his stomach. Again. As always. Because he's too young, because he's too clumsy, because he's too troublesome.

Because he's too weak.


three: void

Akaya hates it when Yukimura is in the hospital. He hates it because his whole world seems to fall apart, little by little.

Marui-senpai bounces frequently between acting out and trying to pretend that nothing is wrong. He tries to force his joviality, but he snaps far too often. Jackal-senpai always tries to calm him down, and usually succeeds, but occasionally he shoots back a sharp retort and they end up fighting in their own quiet way.

Niou-senpai and Yagyuu-senpai are even worse, and far more physical with their fights. They start to switch too often, to the point where Akaya starts to doubt that they even know who's who. They've just become a person called YagyuuNiou or HiroshiMasaharu. They hardly acknowledge anyone outside of their little world, but they decorate each other with dozens of bruises of varying natures.

Sanada-san changes, too. He seems to become pure, heartless steel; or if not heartless, then at least very empty. And his hands are heavier than ever. He smacks Akaya often, although when it gets too much, Kirihara bites back -- he's not enough of a masochist to just take it witout retaliating. But he fights with Yanagi-senpai, too: hissed arguments that are worse than anything else. To Akaya, it's like his parents are fighting because most of the time, they're arguing about him. How much trouble he is, how out of control he is, how much of an animal he is.

Yanagi always sticks up for Akaya, tells Genichirou to lower his voice, and only rarely loses his calm. If he does, it's just a small explosion that quiets Sanada for a bit because even he knows how hard it is to make Yanagi yell.

But even though Yanagi defends Kirihara, he's never really there. He's fanatical about his data, buried in his notebooks or scouting other teams. Akaya understands. Buchou is his best friend. It must hurt.

As for Akaya himself -- he knows that everything Sanada-san says is true. He's out of control. An animal, a demon, hardly human. But he can't help it, not that that's much of a justification. He just -- he doesn't want to feel like he's losing everything. Like the ground's getting sucked out from under him. Because now that the sun's gone, what sort of gravity is keeping them all together? There is none.

So Kirihara does things that make everyone mad at him. It's the only outlet that he has, and it just makes everything worse. He knows -- he knows that he's falling apart, too, just like the others, but he can't...

Kirihara never tells any of this to Yukimura, but Akaya thinks he might know about it anyway.

four: myth

Kirihara has always known the story about the cranes and the story about Sasaki Sadako. He's always known it, the same as any other Japanese child. He's always known what they mean, what they symbolize, and what they are.

He just never remembers. Not until his sister gigglingly sprinkles handfuls of miniature paper birds into his hair and laughs when he chases her around the house.

Kirihara doesn't believe in the story about the thousand cranes. He doesn't believe that if he wishes on slips of prettily-folded paper, Yukimura's illness will be cured and he'll have his life back. He knows they're not magical like that.

But they're something.


five: vow

The first few are clumsy, ugly; they look less like graceful cranes and more like vaguely bird-shaped things that grew up too close to a nuclear power plant.

But gradually he learns that the creases have to be sharp and clean and the angles have to be a little more precise, and it's now that they start to look better, more beautiful.

He has twelve by the end of the first week, and his pace increases little by little. Even so, he knows that at this rate, he won't have them all ready for the day of Yukimura-buchou's surgery. So he takes to doing a few in English class (because he doesn't need to know the damn language anyway), and a few during lunch, and a lot when he shuts himself in his room after dinner. He works until he falls asleep in the piles of cranes crowding his desk.

The only one he tells about the project is Yanagi-senpai, because Yanagi-senpai listens to him and understands and talks to him about it. He asks Akaya if he's really up to this sort of thing -- it will be time-consuming and frustrating, and the goal is nigh on impossible, especially with their training schedule and the upcoming tournament.

Kirihara only shrugs. It's okay if it's frustrating and time-consuming and impossible, he tells Yanagi; he's doing it for Yukimura-buchou, and he'll finish.

Yanagi inclines his head in response, and a feathery-soft smile edges onto his lips.

"I see," he says, and he does.


six: despair

But Yanagi is right. It's impossible.

Kirihara only has 313 cranes by the time Yukimura's surgery comes around. All the way to the hospital, Akaya frets.

He lost. He didn't finish the cranes. He doesn't know if Yukimura-buchou will be the same.

The emotions build up as they wait there, up until the moment that Jackal takes out his ear buds and shakes his head.

Sanada-san lost. RikkaiDai lost.

Kirihara pounds the wall and rages and cries until Yanagi kneels behind him and, his voice sternly soothing, asks him not to give up, reminds him that Yukimura is still fighting, tells him to stop.

And Akaya does.

seven: sunshine

It's just Kirihara's luck that when he goes to visit Yukimura-buchou in recovery all by himself, Yukimura is asleep -- and then he falls asleep, too, just waiting for him to wake up.

He comes around to Yukimura's fingers combing methodically through his hair, hand pushing the wild curls back from his face. He opens one eye, then the other.

"Good morning," Buchou says lightly, his voice mellow and his eyes gentle and his smile like the sunshine that Kirihara's been without for such a long time.

Kirihara blinks a little and lifts his head off the sheets, propping himself up on his elbow.

"When are you coming back?" he blurts out. "I miss you lots. I wanna play you again." A pause. "I'll beat you this time."

Yukimura looks surprised and hesitant for a moment, but when he says, "Oh, Akaya," there is nothing but amusement and affection in his tone.

eight: law

He glares over the net at Kevin Smith and promises it to himself again: He will win this match. He failed before, he lost before.

He won't do it again.

Kirihara knows that Yukimura-buchou is watching him, waiting, expecting him to win.

He. Will. Not. Lose.

That is the law of RikkaiDai.

And then he dives after the ball, hits his Phantom Shot, scores another point, and gasps when he slams into the net pole. The explosion of pain in his shoulder is blinding; absolutely blinding.

He gets up, though, and continues to play. He plays. He plays. He plays. He plays until it becomes evident how fucked up his shoulder really is, and then Tezuka-san tells him to go to the hospital.

He fights. He yells. He wants to stay, to play, to win.

But in the end, he goes.

The rest of the team meets him and Sanada-san at the hospital, Yukimura leading them and Yanagi bringing up the rear, but Kirihara just wants them gone. He hates it when they see him like this, weak and debilitated and the baby and a failure again, so he yells and throws at temper tantrum, being the little monster they all know he is.

Sanada-san slaps him for it once or twice, but he keeps it up until they leave -- all of them but Yukimura-buchou, who looks utterly serene when he tells Akaya to stop being a silly little brat.

Which hurts, just a little. Kirihara shuts up.

"You developed a new shot, I saw," Yukimura says then, his blue eyes firmly fastened on Akaya's face. "It was interesting enough. And I wonder if you could become a truly ambidextrious player."

Akaya snorts and looks away, biting his lip.

"Of course," he wants to say, but all that comes out is, "I lost," and Akaya is horrified at the way his voice shakes. "I had toforfeit and it sucks and feels so stupid and I wanted to win and I was supposed to win and dammit. Fucking dammit."

He hates the way his fist is trembling and the way his voice keeps wavering and the way he can't seem to stop choking.

"But you'll win next time, won't you, Akaya?" asks Yukimura, his voice steady.

"Of course," Kirihara spits out, feeling stupid and achy and miserable. Buchou sighs.

"Good. Now stop crying."

Kirihara glares through tears. "I'm not crying!"

And all Yukimura can do is smile and say, "Of course not."


nine: proud

By the time Yukimura-buchou can play again, Kirihara has 430 cranes.

By the time they win Nationals against Seigaku, he has 510.

By the time Yukimura-buchou passes on the captaincy to him, he has 567.

He isn't doing it for Buchou (because Yukimura is still Buchou; he will always be Buchou, even after Yukimura tells him that he is just Yukimura, no '-buchou', no '-san', no '-senpai'; just Yukimura) anymore -- folding these cranes is a calming habit by now. His hands know the motions and he doesn't have to think about the creases; his fingers are callused at the very tips.

His room is awash in color. The cranes are everywhere until his mother gathers them up and carefully strings them onto thread and hangs them around the room in an endless garland of origami.

They are beautiful, she tells him; absolutely beautiful. She is so proud of him.

It's a silly thing to be proud of, but really, Akaya is proud too.


ten: relapse

He has 699 cranes when Yukimura-buchou gets sick again.


eleven: selfish

"I'm scared," Kirihara says fiercely, squeezing his eyes shut. He doesn't want to be here. He doesn't want to see this. He doesn't want to feel like this. He wishes things were back to the way they were before.

"For me?"

A swift nod. "For you." For you, and for your tennis, and for RikkaiDai, and for me But that feels selfish, so Kirihara doesn't say it.

Yukimura turns away and looks out the window at the bitter-cold winter.

"You shouldn't be," he replies, and his voice is like a sigh of the wind.


twelve: hope

There are 753 cranes by the time Yukimura goes into his second surgery; 758 by the time he comes out; 759 by the time Sanada-san stops talking to the doctor, actually smiles, and says it's okay.

The team (because Akaya still thinks of them as The Team even though he's really the captain and they've retired already) collectively exhales, quietly thanking deities and stars and etcetera before drifting away and out of the hospital. Yukimura, they are told, will only be allowed to see family for the next few days.

Kirihara leaves with Yanagi-senpai because Marui-senpai looks like he wants to go leech food from someone (likely Jackal-senpai), and because Yagyuu-senpai and Niou-senpai have retreated into their complicated, exclusive little world again, and because he knows Sanada-san will celebrate quietly, in his own way, with an extra round of kendo practice or a few games of shogi with a relative. Sanada-san's weird like that.

"D'you think he's gonna be okay this time?" Kirihara asks Yanagi as they walk slowly down the street.

Yanagi looks at Akaya out of the corner of his eye and sees a pale, bone-tired boy who's worried himself to exhaustion. He sighs a little and reaches out to put his hand on Akaya's shoulder, before thinking better of it. He chooses his words carefully, biting down on all the things he wants to say to Akaya and pushing them away.

"I don't know," he replies truthfully, and Akaya looks up in surprise. Silly as it sounds, he's always believed that Yanagi-senpai is supposed to know everything. And even if he doesn't, he's not supposed to admit it. "We can only hope," Renji says, and shrugs.

Kirihara looks down again, at the way Yanagi is mincing his stride to match Akaya's. "Yeah." Yanagi knows his thoughts are somewhere else already. "Hope."


thirteen: promise

By the time Kirihara is allowed to visit Yukimura again, he has exactly 800 cranes, and he brings them all with him in a large brown shopping bag to give them to Buchou.

"It's not finished yet," he rushes, holding it out and sort of regretting this; maybe Yukimura-buchou won't want it. Maybe he should've gotten flowers or tennis balls or something traditional like that. "I still -- two hundred. I have to make two hundred. I -- " He stops, not quite sure what else to say.

Yukimura shoots him a quizzical look before opening the bag and looking inside -- and then his breath catches. Garlands of cranes in rainbow paper, blues and reds and greens and yellows; dragon-print and plain-print and floral-print and striped and dotted; computer paper and expensive origami paper and -- and looseleaf and newspaper and --

"Akaya -- Akaya, all of this? You did all of it?"

Kirihara nods once, sharply.

Yukimura feels his eyes prickle a little as he sets the bag down beside his bed. Then he reaches out and pulls Kirihara into his arms, holding tight and feeling Akaya do the same.

"I'll finish the rest," the younger boy murmurs, his voice muffled as he breathes into Yukimura's shoulder. "I will. I promise. I promise, I promise, I promise."

Yukimura laughs a little. "Akaya. You don't have to."

Kirihara doesn't have anything to say to that, so he just shakes his head a little and breathes.

"...Yukimura?" he begins after a while, still against the other boy's shoulder because neither of them wants to let go.

"Hm?"

"I love you."

Yukimura squeezes his eyes shut and wills his voice not to crack.

"I know," he says, because he really does; he's always known it in the back of his mind. "We'll be all right, Akaya."

"Promise?"

A little laughter. Akaya always knows how to make him laugh.

"I promise. We'll be all right."


And they are.

fin