Title: Tennis Teens for Charity, Chapter 7/9

Author: Stormy1x2

Word Count: 11,200 /60,000+

Notes: Lucathia worked her magic again - special thanks to her for all her help! We're winding down now - only 2 chapters left! Hold on to your hats!

Chapter 7

With the first round finally and completely over, the second could finally begin. Marui left first, his match with Yagyuu starting at 2:15. Kirihara started warming up around that time - he had to face Kikumaru at 2:35. Kamio would have watched it except his match with Kaido started ten minutes after that. He decided to warm up with him instead and then take off to court D. Shinji and Sengoku were part of the last wave - they had time to watch the start of at least two matches before having to do their own warm ups.

An and Yuuta were playing the pair from Rokka - Kurobane and Davide - at 2:25. Ishida, having been knocked out during his first round as well, joined Uchimura and Mori as part of the de facto cheering squad with Sakurai, and Kamio's sisters. Michiko told Sakurai in no uncertain terms that she wanted to cheer for her brother but she would stay for the start of Akaya's match first. Sachiko wanted to watch Akaya's too - but only until Sengoku's match started. She adored him and Shinji equally and had decided she would cheer for them both. Ishida offered to be her escort and Kamio agreed.

With that decided, the group began wandering to their designated areas. Well, some wandered.

"Let's go," Michiko ordered Sakurai with an imperious look and a quick tug on his shirt. She turned around and looked back at him over her shoulder. "Up."

Sakurai blinked and automatically moved to pick her up, swinging her over his head so she could sit on his shoulders.

"Dear lord," Kippei said, awed. "And I thought she had Kamio and Kirihara trained,"

"Shut up," Sakurai muttered, ears turning red. "You set up there, kid?"

"We can go now," Michiko informed him, kicking her heels lightly against his chest like a jockey would to his horse's flanks. "Giddy-up!"

"Yippee and yahoo," he droned at her in response, and moved off to find D court.

Atobe looked over the numbers recently submitted by the Hyoutei first years regarding the amount raised thus far. Over two thousand people had shown up for the first round, and there were still entry tickets being sold to late-comers who had either only wanted to see the finals or likely had those trivial commoner concerns to worry about (like work, for example) and had only been able to get away in the afternoon.

Gakuto had been in charge of the numbers and since he and Yuushi had been given a bye (thusly their first match hadn't been until the middle of the afternoon), he'd had plenty of time to collect the stats from the gates. He had also been to each of the official donation drop boxes where the money was taken out every hour regardless of how much had been donated. It was then counted, the amount notated, and then taken to be stored in a locked vault inside the sports complex - escorted of course, by a member of Atobe's private security. If the numbers were correct - and Gakuto, twit though he was at times, was never wrong regarding mathematics - then not only would Kamio Michiko's procedure and after-care be paid in full, but they would likely have some left over for another case. Granted, it would be a smaller donation, but he'd let the hospital worry about who needed it most.

"Atobe!" Jirou's glee-filled voice called out as he skidded to a halt in front of the small tent near the podium Atobe had set up as his own personal headquarters. "Wanna go start warming up?"

"We have thirty minutes until our match, Jirou," Atobe replied briskly, sliding the papers back into their manila folder. "I trust you will be ready and awake at that time?"

"I never get sleepy when I have the chance to play with Atobe!" Jirou grinned. "And it's gonna be fun! I can't believe you and me-"

"You and I," Atobe corrected him absently.

"-are gonna play Sanada and Yukimura!"

Atobe couldn't believe it either. He smirked - he didn't know about fun, but it was certainly going to be interesting. Yukimura was a phenomenon that almost - almost - surpassed himself, and Sanada... well, Atobe was very much aware of what Sanada brought to the courts. They had been partners only once at the Junior Senbatsu Invitational Tournament, but they'd played Singles in the Senior Invitational twice now. Atobe was fully expecting them to be members again this year, if Yukimura held fast to tradition and declined the camp invitation. "I will be at the court shortly, Jirou."

"I'll wait," Jirou said, shrugging and plopping onto the bench lining one wall of the tent. "S'no fun warming up alone. Besides I can help."

"Of course you can." If Atobe were guilty of acting like his subordinates - particularly Gakuto or Shishido - he would have rolled his eyes. Instead, he looked back at the folder and silently counted down from thirty. At the five second mark, he heard the familiar soft sounds of a sleeping Jirou; he looked up, amused to see Jirou slumped sideways on the bench, head resting on the pillow-backpack he'd had custom-made for the boy after he'd woken up one too many times complaining of a stiff neck. Permitting himself a small smile, he returned to the paper work at hand. Jirou could nap for ten minutes while he finished up and then they would go to the court and start warming up. His eyes hardened slightly at the thought.

It would never do to face two of the Rikkai Demons unprepared.

Momoshiro/Ryoma vs Silver Pair

Momoshiro glanced at Ryoma but the brat had his hat tugged down over his eyes again. Momo rolled his own eyes and looked back across the court at their opponents. Just their luck they were facing the Silver Pair. Momo shook his head. Sheer dumb luck - and the fact that their opponents had been worse at doubles than they were - had gotten them through the first round, but this was the real thing. A genuine doubles pair. An experienced doubles pair. The only way they'd win this was if one or both of the Hyoutei pairing were sick or injured, but unfortunately, they both looked to be in the peak of physical conditioning.

Momo didn't really care about winning really. Oh sure, he'd like to and he'd give it his all. But he'd come to have fun today, as so many other players had, and he was just grateful that Ryoma's father wasn't their referee for this match too. As much fun was it was to see Ryoma actually wound up and showing emotion for a change, he had the distinct feeling his partner was one step short from erupting like a miniature volcano on his old man. Time had proven again and again that Ryoma played his best when he was challenged and having fun against a worthy opponent. However, his playing went right into the gutter when he was mad. Yamabuki might have been able to eke out a win had they been any better at functioning as a pair just due to Ryoma's loss of temper alone - funny as it had been.

Shishido and Ohtori had won the spin and Ohtori was serving first. Momoshiro remembered all too well just how powerful Ohtori's serve had been in middle school. Now that he was in high school, he had no doubt smashed the two-hundred-kilometer-per-hour mark a long time ago.

Momo's fingers flexed around the worn grip tape on his racquet as he crouched low, eyes narrowed. Slightly in front and to the left of him, he saw Ryoma do the same thing. This is it, he thought determinedly. Game on.

Marui vs Yagyuu

Marui waved at Yagyuu across the court. "Hey Yags!" he yelped. "Any chance of you taking it easy on me, just a bit?"

Yagyuu adjusted his glasses in his familiar way so as to catch the light of the afternoon sun, causing them to glint in an almost menacing fashion. A small smirk played about the corners of his mouth. "Come now, Marui - would you truly be happy with a victory I allowed you to have?"

Marui shrugged. "You never know until you try," he replied. Being the tensai he was, he naturally won the spin and chose to take the first serve. He pulled a tennis ball from his shorts pocket. "Let's get this party started then."

"Let's," the Gentleman agreed, and then there were no more words.

Gakuto/Yuushi vs Tezuka/Fuji

In a sharp contrast to Marui's affable outlook on his matchup, Gakuto positively shot daggers across the net at he and Yuushi's opponents. "What is with all the Singles people trying to play Doubles?" he seethed angrily. "Doubles isn't a fad, something to be tried because you think it's easy."

As Yuushi had been listening to his shorter partner rant about that very subject for the better part of the day, he was extremely unsurprised to hear him start up again. In a way, he understood. Doubles was actually harder than Singles. Instead of relying on yourself, you had to put your faith into someone else and hope they could get the job done. Even if you got assigned a pairing that just clicked, you still had to put in the practice hours to make yourselves come together like a well-oiled machine. It took work, dedication and trust to make a good Doubles team. According to Gakuto, all these wanna-be teams were taking it as a joke. As an elite Doubles player, he took that extremely offensively.

Across from them, Tezuka and Fuji appeared unfazed by the redhead's scathing remarks. Fuji seemed rather amused, actually, though Yuushi was not going to point that out to Gakuto. Fuji had also won the right to the first serve and he seemed a bit more determined than usual. He'd started out with the same underhand serve he'd used on Jirou back in middle-school. Was he really taking them that seriously? Was he that insecure in his abilities against an experienced pair? That couldn't be true - while Tezuka was an unknown Doubles factor, Fuji was accomplished at pairing up with a variety of teammates.

The ball flickered past Gakuto, who let loose a string of colorful curses. Across from them, Fuji ignored the verbal barrage - and turned to smile at someone in the crowd. Yuushi followed his gaze, wondering - and then rolled his eyes as he took in the wildly applauding form of Saeki. The white-haired idiot from Rokka. Fuji wasn't worried about his performance. He was showing off for his boyfriend. Yuushi's lip curled ever so slightly.

How incredibly... common.

Kirihara vs Kikumaru

Kirihara took his racquet out of his bag, ignoring the foolish gibbering he could hear coming from the other bench. Apparently, Kikumaru hadn't matured much in the years since middle school (though truthfully, he'd seen enough of the Seigaku team in recent tournaments to know that anyway). He sounded kinda like Michi and Sachi when they were being denied something. At least, he thought with a withering look in the redhead's direction, they have the excuse of being young. Kikumaru's seventeen, for fuck's sake.

Oishi was murmuring soothing things in his partner's ears no doubt, all but pushing the other onto the court. In a direct contrast, Kirihara strode out like he owned the damn place and stood by the net, tapping his foot impatiently. "Any time now!" he yelled.

Kikumaru finally walked over, a resolved look on his face. "No tricks, Kirihara," he said in what Akaya was sure Kikumaru felt was a firm voice.

Akaya scowled darkly at him. "If I gave a shit about your opinion, you'd have hurt my feelings," he growled. "You know damn well I haven't played like that in fucking years."

Kikumaru looked unconvinced but was apparently willing to drop the matter. "Call it," he said, spinning the racquet.

"Smooth!" Akaya barked in an imitation of Sanada, and watched with glee as Kikumaru flinched. Smooth it was, and Akaya whipped around, stalking towards the baseline. Part of the fun was riling his opponents up beforehand, and if he could get the acrobatic Kikumaru off guard, that would only make his match easier. As much as he hated to admit it - and he never ever would - Kikumaru was a solid Singles player, nothing like that idiot Akazawa, and he wanted to have the advantage right away.

Across from him, Kikumaru was looking unusually serious, probably expecting Akaya to come blazing out of the starting gate with a Phantom ball. Akaya had no intention of being predictable however, and served regularly, a clean, straight drive that Kikumaru was able to return with ease. Akaya smirked and leaped forward, bringing his racquet around hard and slamming a point home in the opposite corner. The good thing about Kikumaru, he reminded himself, was that he took a while to get really rolling with the acrobatics when he was unnerved.

He licked his lips, narrowed his eyes - and watched with poorly-concealed amusement as Kikumaru seemed to pale by two full shades, no doubt recognizing the behaviours as a precursor to his old playing style. He was definitely going to have a hard time controlling his laughter, he decided, and then got down to business.

Yukimura/Sanada vs Atobe/Jirou

Sanada wasn't one for changing his expressions at the drop of a hat, but if he were being honest with himself - and he always was - he had to admit he was looking forward to this match. He had no doubts he and Yukimura would win, of course. Atobe was an excellent opponent and were it just the two of them, Sanada might admit to being just a little concerned. But Yukimura was playing, and, unless he decided otherwise, at full strength and vitality Yukimura simply did not lose. At the very least, he would not lose to the tag team combo of Atobe and Jirou. Atobe was a worthy opponent, but Jirou was at best, at Marui's level. He was hardly a worry to either of them.

They won the right to choose, and Sanada opted to serve first. They had discussed this. Hyoutei's strength was well-known to them. Yukimura felt that Atobe and Jirou merited them playing their very best from the start - now was not the proper time or place for playing games. Sanada agreed, and so when he stepped up to serve, he paused and closed his eyes, drawing his strength and visualizing the win to come. The ball soared high into the air. He focused all his strength, all his power - and all his control - into the strike, opening his eyes at the impact.

It had begun.

Marui vs Yagyuu

"Geez, you could pretend to take it easy on me," Marui complained. Laser after laser had been fired past him, and they seemed to be getting stronger with each one. "I am so going to tell on you to Yukimura."

"Tell on me?" Yagyuu paused before serving. "Regarding what, exactly?"

Marui glared. "This! This whole 'cream Marui with lasers faster than anything you've ever shown in practice'. That's what!" He scowled for a minute, and then gave him a wry grin. "Very sneaky, Yags."

"I'm afraid I have no idea what you're referring to," Yagyuu said politely. "I'm going to serve now." And so he did.

Marui returned his shot to the far side - if Yagyuu had to run to the ball, he had no time to set up a proper laser. Unfortunately, this particular trick only worked some of the time - Yagyuu was very good at guessing which way Marui was going to hit it. Some of Niou's power of observation had obviously rubbed off on the Gentleman over time. He guessed wrong this time however, and returned the hit with a backhand. Marui took the opportunity to bounce a ball off the post for a point. "Finally!"

Yagyuu smiled and adjusted his glasses. "Well done, Marui."

Marui grinned - and then froze. "Aw man, don't even tell me you let me have that one," he protested. "You didn't, did you Yags?"

"I really don't understand why you persist in questioning me about things I know nothing about," Yagyuu replied innocently.

"You did! Damn it Yagyuu!" Marui stomped back to the baseline, yanked a fresh piece of gum out of his pocket, ripped off the wrapper, and snapped the gum in half with his teeth. "Play seriously!"

"But you were just insisting that I should be going easy on you," Yagyuu pointed out in a reasonable tone. "That seems to be a bit of a contradiction."

This was why he hated playing against Yagyuu. And Niou too, but at least you knew the silver-haired bastard was going to mess with your head from the start. Marui snarled, threw the ball in the air, and served it as hard as he could. As gracefully as a trained dancer, Yagyuu moved across the court and sent a Laser return to the baseline corner, one millimeter inside the line.


The ref made the call. "15-love."

Marui was never playing against Yagyuu ever again.

Kaido vs Kamio

Kamio had a healthy respect for the infamous Snake of Seigaku. He could still clearly recall one of his last matches in middle school before the Nationals - he'd been playing against Sengoku and had been so sure he was going to lose. But Kaido had been there, watching him with a fierce intensity that had jolted him even from a distance and without even thinking, he'd put his hand down to the court surface, the movement pushing him forward just enough, giving him just the right bit of reach he needed to return that impossible, game-winning shot from Sengoku. He didn't think he'd ever forget that moment - the first time he'd truly gone over his body's limit, shutting out the feeling he had of wanting - no, needing to collapse, and pulling out that reflexive action that helped garner him the win.

Kaido had a similar response to tense games. He had a look of determination on his face, a set grimness about his shoulders, and his eyes held a focus that reminded Akira of Kippei. He resembled a soldier going to war, determined to bring the spoils home to Seigaku.

Kamio was very aware of what Kaido was capable of bringing to a match. He grinned reluctantly - he had a feeling he wasn't going to win this one, but that didn't mean he was going to lay down and die. He was going to make sure Kaido earned his victory.

He had the lead by one game, for however long he could hold on to it. Kaido had scored the first point, but Kamio had rebounded on his next serve, almost blurring across the court to hit a shot past the snake to steal it back. The look of surprise on Kaido's face had been worth the energy expenditure so early in the game. "This ain't over," he breathed, grinning widely. "Not by a long shot."

A faint smirk appeared on Kaido's lips; he obviously agreed. Kaido threw the ball in the air and slammed his racquet forward. Kamio lunged for it – an easy enough return – but then he saw Kaido's stance shift into a familiar pose. 'Snake-shot' his mind shrieked, and he backed up and to the right, trying to calculate the angle he'd need to catch it. Then he blinked as Kaido changed in mid-swing, gentling the strike and dropping an easy lob a few inches over the net. Drop shot. Kamio blinked in disbelief at having been so completely faked out. Then he grinned, shaking his head. "Tricky," he breathed.

Kaido smirked. "This ain't over," was all he said.

Kamio rolled his eyes and got ready to receive.

Sengoku vs Shinji

Sengoku didn't bother starting off slow like Kirihara. He wasn't much for psych outs, and he knew exactly what Shinji was capable of. Nope, he was bringing his A-game to the table and starting off with his Tiger Bombs from the get-go. His special serve had gained even more power and speed over the years thanks to his boxing training and his foot work was even faster than Ryoma's original half step.

Shinji was no slouch though, and he met Sengoku's challenge readily. Within seconds, the feel of the ball passing between them had changed; Sengoku narrowed his eyes and focused on reclaiming the spin of the ball. The last thing he wanted - or needed - was to fall prey to Shinji's Spot technique.

He already knew how he was going to do this. For all of Shinji's tensai skill, Sengoku still had the advantage. He wasn't a single-skill player. He had Ishida's power, Kamio's reflexes, and footwork that was faster than any other player's in the Kanto circuit. Then of course, he added on mentally, there was the fact that he wasn't going to let himself slip up like he had so many times in the past. Not with Banji's special training behind him.

Sengoku's blue eyes blazed with a fiery determination. According to the Chinese calendar, it was the Year of the Tiger, Sengoku's signature animal in spirit. His luck was burning bright and he wasn't quite ready to stop just yet, this far in the tournament. He didn't know if he was going to win the whole thing, but he knew he was going to beat Shinji. He just knew.

Sengoku exhaled, tossed the ball high, high into the air and leaped after it, racquet extending like cats claws, a yowl tearing free from his throat at the moment of impact like the cry of his chosen predator. He didn't hit the ball so much as he struck it with all the strength he could muster, and the look of astonishment on Shinji's face as it swept past him with hurricane force was testament enough to the truth of his belief.

Pulling another ball out, he sent a quick mental apology in Shinji's direction, and served again.

Momo/Ryo vs Silver Pair

Shishido cursed as he accidentally lobbed the ball up. He'd caught Ryoma's return on the edge of his racquet, sending it up nice and high. Wincing, he called out to his partner. "Watch out!"

Sure enough, across the net Momoshiro had already left the ground, powerful muscles propelling him higher than Shishido had seen him pull off before, slanting inward. His arm swung down hard. Just as he made impact, Shishido could hear someone scream out (rather predictably, he thought nastily), 'There it is! Dunk Smash!'

To his partner's credit, he tried to catch it. Ohtori sped across the back, lunging hard and managing to get his racquet underneath it. For all the good it did. The ball tore through the strings like they were made of tissue paper, hurtling into the ground before spinning up and away over the barrier and into the crowd. Ohtori froze, and then slowly brought his racquet up. After a minute, he turned and looked at Shishido through the hole left as a result of that ridiculously powerful hit. Shishido could feel his eyebrows racing for his hairline, and he turned, gaping at Momoshiro who crouched on the tarmac, looking unbelievable smug. "You are a freak, Momo," Shishido said, shaking his head. "But that was a fucking beautiful shot."

Ryoma actually let out a laugh at that, and Momo blushed, turning red. Shishido rolled his eyes and strode over to join Ohtori as the silver-haired boy walked to the bench and pulled out his spare racquet. "Sorry about that, Choutarou."

Ohtori grinned at him. "He's getting stronger every year," he said with admiration. Then he jabbed the round end of his racquet lightly into Ryo's stomach. "So no more setting him up!"

"It was an accident!" Ryo protested.

Ohtori ignored him except to tug on his arm once, dragging him back on to the court. "Let's go, Shishido-san," he said. He waggled his finger in mock-warning. "And remember, no more set ups."

"It was an accident! Geez!"


Akaya had to hand it to the Seigaku player - he hadn't expected Kikumaru to put up such a fight. The redhead had gotten over his initial nervousness far earlier than Kirihara had anticipated. Then again, with Oishi both coaching and encouraging from the side - not to mention most of the crowd throwing their support solidly behind the redhead - Kikumaru had rebounded quickly, showing off his high-flying abilities that made Akaya think Kikumaru was taking a page out of Gakuto's book.

Oh well. Akaya was always up for a challenging match and he wasn't afraid of back flips and somersaults. At least, he thought absently, he's cut down on those freakin' cat sounds. And he had to amend his thoughts slightly - amongst the throngs of people cheering for Seigaku (despite the tournament supposedly being free from high school affiliations), he could make out the familiar sound of Sachiko cheering for him from the front row where she stood with Ishida. Before his next serve, he took a moment to look her way and flip her a quick salute.

For all of Kikumaru's improvements as a Singles player, he still wasn't quite in Akaya's league, and it didn't take much longer to finish up. Akaya gave his watch a quick glance as he drove home the final point; it was just after three. Still time to see the rest of Kamio's match - he doubted Kaido would be such a pushover that Kamio would have him beat already, nor did he think Kaido was capable of shutting Akira down inside of twenty minutes.

He ignored the sounds of Oishi consoling the sad-faced Kikumaru, gathered his things up and moved over to the stands to pick up the still-wildly cheering Sachiko. Ishida nodded at him. "Good game."

"It was okay," Akaya allowed. He snorted. "For Seigaku." He was still holding out for a more challenging match though - hopefully his next opponent would be a worthy one.

"Let's go see 'Kira-nii," Sachiko demanded. "Please." Akaya and Ishida exchanged amused looks before moving to obey.

An/Yuuta vs Kurobane/Davide

Kurobane had shaken his head in disbelief when he'd learned who he and Davide's opponents were, but he was starting to re-evaluate his initial assumptions. His perception of female high school tennis players was not a very good one but he blamed that on Rokka - most of the females there had joined simply to either A) view the guys' team or B) date members of the guys' team. While Aoi was completely in favor of their strategy and was constantly offering private one-on-one training sessions as a way of rewarding them, 'Bane found them to be an unwelcome distraction. That, and they just weren't very good. If there was a budding Venus or Serena among them, he'd be a lot more interested.

Tachibana An however, was in another class altogether. He should have known the younger sister of Nationals-level player Tachibana Kippei would be a strong opponent, but he hadn't thought it possible. That was, until An nearly took his head off with a Kick Serve - a serve she'd either learned or stolen from Shinji, no doubt. As for Fuji Yuuta, he'd played him before in Doubles at the street court when he and Davide had tagged along with Saeki on a visit to that prefecture. His partner had been Mizuki, and they'd been astonishingly good. Apparently, Yuuta had a knack of melding with a variety of different talents to play Doubles.

Next to him, Davide had an openly admiring look on his face, watching An with love-struck eyes. Kurobane frowned. If he wasn't careful, they could lose simply because his partner was incapable of focusing on anything other than the flip of An's skirt as she leapt for the ball. Shaking his head, he shot Davide a warning look. "Would you focus please?"

"She's amazing," Davide sighed. "An amazing Amazon."

Kurobane whirled around and leveled his partner with a side kick. "She's our opponent! Drool over her later!"

Davide blinked, and then blinked again. Then he stood up, shook his head, and then shook himself all over. Blinking hard one last time, he glanced at Kurobane and smiled. "I think that did it."

Kurobane was confused. "Did what?"

The wild-haired redhead smirked. "That concussion of pain over-rode the addiction of my brain."

"Do you want me to hit you again?" He clapped his hand over his mouth as he belatedly realized he'd just contributed to his partners idiotic rhyming. Davide's eyes lit up.

"Now now," he practically purred. "Not in public, 'Bane-chan." He winked, and then strolled a little further over on his side of the court.

Kurobane was left standing there with his mouth dropped open, and probably would have remained there in shock had An not reached over the net with her racquet to tap him lightly on the shoulder. "Wakey, wakey," she chirped.

"We're ready," he blurted out, whirling back around to stare at her with eyes that still felt as wide as saucers. "Who's serve?"

An gave him a pointed look. "Yours." Her eyes glinted with unhidden amusement.

Kurobane blushed and scrambled back to his spot.

Kamio vs Kaido

Kaido snarled and lunged for the ball. His opponent had sent a speed-shot to the far corner - expecting to wear him out, no doubt. He wasn't falling for that. He had done that very thing to Shinjou already - his stamina had increased so much he could probably do full out sprints and low crouches throughout the rest of the match and not feel strained. It was only a one-set match after all.

He returned the ball with his snake shot and watched with grim satisfaction as it sling-shot its way around the post, inches ahead of Kamio's reaching arm. That put him one game ahead, 5 games to 4. He knew better than to celebrate though - every time he got a lead, Kamio caught back up. The redhead was fighting just as hard as he was.

Sure enough, Kamio - apparently pulling out all the stops - did a fair imitation of Kirihara's Phantom Ball, tricking Kaido up (Hell, I didn't know Kamio could do that serve). The next three points were Kamio's until Kaido finally solved the mystery of the shot (it wasn't a true Phantom yet, lucky break) and managed to stop him, but the damage was done - the score was tied once again at 5-5.

Kaido grinned reluctantly. He always did enjoy a challenge.

Gakuto/Yuushi vs Tezuka/Fuji

Saeki was always up for watching a good match. He was especially up for watching any and all matches involving Syuusuke, and this was no exception. It was easy seeing Fuji as a Doubles player - he had a naturally flexible style that easily meshed with many different players - but it was just plain weird seeing Tezuka in the same role. It was obviously throwing the Seigaku captain off - every now and then he'd get himself into a zone and forget that he had a partner out there. The Tezuka Zone was simply not meant for Doubles. Fuji would remind him with a simple word, and Tezuka would glower at the ground (his portrayal of flustered, maybe?) and then start over.

Meanwhile on the Hyoutei side, Gakuto looked like he'd been sucking on a lemon throughout the entire match. His style, always flamboyant, had taken on a new turn - the redhead looked to simply be defying gravity, flipping himself around his part of the court and slamming home hits that were harder than usual. There was none of his usual banter and needling either - he was tightly focused. And, Saeki mentally added, righteously pissed off.

Saeki looked from Gakuto to Yuushi. The blue-haired teen had an indescribable look on his face - one part bland neutrality, one part admiration - and at least one part concern. His playing was excellent as always, but he had one definite eye on his partner, as though he were wondering if Gakuto were about to lose his mind. Saeki muffled a snicker at that - Hyoutei, being a school full of definite divas, was no stranger to temper tantrums. Watching the acrobat throw a hissy fit would likely be vastly entertaining.

Gakuto snarled out loud as he whirled around and struck the ball at an impossible angle - by all rights it should have gone straight into the net. But at the very last second his wrist twisted to a near-impossible degree - holy shit, it looks dislocated! - and he used the full force of his body to propel the ball into the side box, brushing the net as he did so and causing it to drop neatly for a point one step ahead of Fuji. That, Saeki decided, reluctantly applauding with the rest of the crowd, was impressive.

In a fluid movement, Gakuto straightened, turned, and stalked back to his spot, ignoring the accolades from the crowd. Saeki gave a low whistle - this was definitely something one didn't see everyday. Gakuto was so upset over...whatever it was that he was almost like a completely different person. And that was playing havoc with Tezuka and Fuji's already precarious strategy.

"C'mon Syuusuke!" Saeki muttered. Either Syuusuke or Tezuka had to turn this around or they were going to lose. With that miracle shot of Gakuto's, they'd managed to tie it up 5-5, and Gakuto looked like he was only getting warmed up. Yuushi had obviously opted out of battling him for the spotlight long ago, so at least the redhead's temper wasn't affecting their teamwork. But Tezuka and Fuji still hadn't found a balance, and the whole thing was nearly over. Saeki had to grin. If the Golden Boy of Seigaku and the Prodigy lost to Gakuto and Yuushi, Hyoutei was going to have a whole new set of bragging rights.

If nothing else, the potential look on Tezuka's face was almost worth cheering for the Dirty Pair.

Sengoku vs Shinji

Shinji wasn't used to being pushed quite so hard.

Okay, he was. Rikkai's training regime was more like a military boot camp designed to weed out the wimps, and he'd never buckled under that. But Sengoku was more than just hard hits (like Sanada) or flashy moves (like Marui) or high-speed shots (like Kamio). He was also managing to avoid Shinji's Spot technique, somehow countering each spin Shinji put on the ball. It was almost like playing against Seigaku's Fuji - except Fuji didn't hit that hard. Sengoku had managed to increase his ball control, something he'd never been able to do before.

Shinji had once compared Sengoku to Ishida; he'd thought the star of Yamabuki was a talented power player but not much more. His decision to incorporate his boxing techniques into his playing style only seemed to emphasize that. But Shinji noticed that Sengoku had whittled down some of his muscles and was sleeker than he had been, faster too - but he still retained every ounce of power he'd gained.

Sengoku leaped into the air for a smash - almost a Momoshiro-level smash, Shinji noted absently - and slammed it down, twisting his wrist at the last second, sending it to the opposite side that Shinji had guessed it to land. That brought Sengoku ahead two whole games, four to two. Shinji frowned. He was losing. Badly.

Across from him, Sengoku sent him a quick, apologetic smile - but his eyes were focused, his movements quick and tight with no wasted effort. Shinji narrowed his eyes - Sengoku was playing seriously. Dangerously seriously. And somehow, he had managed to miss that, thinking the redhead from Yamabuki was trying to keep him off-balance. The fact that he'd realized that so late in the game was somewhat disheartening - his odds of mounting a comeback were slim, particularly since Sengoku was only getting stronger.

The high toss. Punching Tiger Bomb. Shinji grit his teeth and swung hard; the racquet ricocheted out of his hand as it came into contact with the ball, skittering across the green-top. Flexing his fingers in irritation, he glared at the offending racquet for a minute, then turned and glared at Sengoku who was grinning somewhat abashedly, one hand behind his head. "Lucky me!" he called out, shrugging.

Shinji forced the scowl from his face and went to retrieve his racquet. It would never do to throw a tantrum on the court, especially when he knew Tachibana was somewhere in the audience.

Momo/Ryo vs Silver Pair

Momo shook his head and whistled after Ohtori's shot spun the racquet right out of his hand. "That was payback for that Dunk Smash a while back, wasn't it?"

Ohtori blinked and smiled innocently. "I don't know what you mean."

"Sure you don't," Momo chuckled. He and Ryoma were getting their asses kicked but at least it was interesting.

"Here." Ryoma held out Momo's racquet. "You keep dropping it, Momo-sempai." His eyes glinted with amusement - Momo was glad to see that Ryoma had finally calmed down from his earlier confrontations with his father, and was having fun again. "Maybe you need better quality grip tape."

"Bite me," Momo responded cheerfully. "You could help, you know. I don't see us winning here."

"But I do see that I've scored most of our points," Ryoma pointed out. "Are you getting lazy, Momo-sempai?"

"LAZY?" Momo glared. "You are so lucky I happen to like having you around kid, or I'd shove this racquet up your-"

"I'm serving now!" Ohtori interrupted. He looked like he was hiding a grin. Momo squawked and shoved Ryoma back over to his own side.


"Move, move!" The serve came in and blasted past both of them, just managing to clip the inside corner of the box. "Aw crap!"

"That was yours," Ryoma said blandly. "In case you were wondering." There was a slightest wobble in his voice. Momoshiro tried to glare again, and then broke down laughing.

"Okay, okay!" Still snickering, he faced Ohtori who was watching them with blatant amusement this time. Shishido was rolling his eyes so hard Momo wouldn't be surprised if they got stuck in the back of his head. "Sorry guys."

"Ready to lose now?" Shishido asked wryly.

Momo grinned. "Not without one hell of a fight!" he declared.

Ohtori laughed. "That's the spirit, Momoshiro-san!" he cheered, and threw the ball up. Another lightning-fast serve whistled by. Momo swung - and missed.

"Hmm. Strike three. That would be 'batter out', right Momo-sempai?"

"Shut up Ryoma!"

Gakuto/Yuushi vs Tezuka/Fuji

Fuji was mildly impressed. It had been a hard-fought battle, but the team of Gakuto and Yuushi had managed to capture a win over himself and Tezuka. It had been close and it was, of course, not without its consequences; Gakuto was doubled over, gasping for air so hard he could be heard wheezing from where they were standing. Yuushi was right there with him, however, and he had something in his hand - yes, it looked like an inhaler. Fuji couldn't recall ever seeing Gakuto using one before, nor did he ever hear of any rumors regarding his need for one, but he concluded it must be for emergencies only. A half-smile crept onto his face at the thought - he and Tezuka had given the pair quite the little workout.

Speaking of Tezuka... Fuji's eyes slid sideways, watching his partner for a minute as he toweled his face off before turning his head to face him fully. "It was a good match."

"It could have been better." Tezuka frowned and slid his glasses back onto his face. "It seems I need to work on my sense of teamwork."

Fuji choked back a laugh. Of all the things Tezuka could be accused of, a lack of teamwork was not one of them. "Tezuka, it's a simple case of an experienced and talented Doubles pair beating a couple of talented Singles players in a Doubles match. Unless you plan on entering Doubles competitions regularly, I don't think you need to make it your top priority."

"How can I call myself an all-rounder if I can't remember to share court space with my partner?" Tezuka was still frowning, his brain obviously stuck on a replay of the match. His eyes were starting to glaze over as he watched his match from a vantage point only he could see. Fuji tapped him on the shoulder to bring him back. "What?"

"It was a good match," he repeated firmly. "They are an experienced Doubles pair and we are not. Don't make it out to be more than it is."

Tezuka didn't agree outright but he didn't argue either - at least not yet. Fuji was more than willing to drop it and call that a win in his book.

"Syuusuke! Tezuka!"

Fuji looked up and smiled when he saw Saeki casually jogging down the center stands. He had to dodge quite a few people as he did so - there seemed to be a mass exodus occurring. Their match was over so everyone was leaving - and they all seemed to be heading in the same direction.

"Good match you two," Saeki said, grinning at them both and leaning in to give Fuji a quick congratulatory peck. "Gakuto looks like he's about to keel over."

"I might too," Fuji chuckled. "They put up a good fight." He gestured with his chin at the crowd. "What's going on?"

Saeki's eyes gleamed. "Atobe and Jirou are still playing Sanada and Yukimura," he informed them. "Interested?"

Tezuka paused, adjusting his glasses again. Fuji's eyes lit up. "Let's go."

Sengoku vs Shinji

Sengoku wanted to smile as he won another point against Shinji but he stopped himself. Getting cocky was what caused him his greatest losses during middle school, and his first year of high school. He liked to think he'd learned his lesson at some point. Being ahead by two games meant nothing when his opponent was a tensai from Fudo-Kai (and yes that was his own word for the ex-Fudomine kids now at Rikkai, thank you very much, credit goes here) - he'd seen Shinji and countless others like him come back from worse.

Shinji moved with a sudden speed that was unexpected, and the ball shot back to the far corner, too far for Sengoku to reach. He winced. Case in point. Shinji didn't smile either - simply nodded, and then walked calmly over to the baseline to get ready for his serve. It was a Kick Serve. Sengoku hated Shinji's Kick Serve as much as he hated Ryoma's Twist Serve. Anyone with a decent face would hate having it threatened. Still, thanks to watching Yuuta play against Ryoma years ago, he knew what to do with it; moving forward quickly, he got to the serve just after it hit the ground and hit a hard straight directly back at Shinji who barely got his racquet up in time. The return was weak as a result, and Sengoku pounced. A modified version of Momo's jackknife secured him another point and gave him back his serve.

Three more and the win was his. Sengoku could taste it already. Throwing the ball into the air, he attacked again.

Momo/Ryo vs Silver Pair

"Good match," Momo said, still breathing hard. He shook Shishido's hand and then Choutarou's and then stepped back to let Ryoma do the same. "That was fun!"

"Not bad," Shishido agreed. "But no offence guys, stick to Singles. You're both better at it."

"Che," Ryoma huffed. "I tried but this idiot wouldn't let me."

"Is that any way to talk to your sempai?" Momo glowered.

"It's the truth, Momo-sempai."

Choutarou grinned and nudged Ryo as they watched the two Seigaku players bicker their way back to the bench. "Do you see what I see?"

Shishido snorted. "Oh, you gotta be kidding me. Those two?" He shook his head. "They'd kill each other."

Choutarou didn't say anything else, but the smile he wore on the way back to their own bench refused to leave his face.

Kamio vs Kaido

Match point finally came and went.

Kamio stumbled off to the side, shaking his head. There was no shame in losing that match fourteen points to twelve in the tiebreaker, not after that battle. A quick look to the side saw Kaido collapsed onto the bench. He was gratified that he'd at least managed to wear out the stamina champ.

"Loser," came a derisive snort, and Kamio chuckled hoarsely.

"Love you too."

Kirihara tossed a towel over Kamio's head, shoved a water bottle into his hands, and then began pulling him away from the bench. "C'mon lazy, no sitting. You'll cramp up."

"Kaido gets to sit," Kamio whined half-heartedly, but Kirihara jerked his thumb in the Seigaku player's direction. Inui had joined Kaido at the bench and was pulling the younger teen to his feet, much like what Kirihara was doing. "You're both sadists."

"And you just spent an hour and a half in the hot sun flailing like a dying man," Akaya retorted. "You're a freakin' runner; you should know better. Walk, drink, cool down and then you can collapse. An is sitting on top of the girls to keep them from rushing down here to comfort you, and if they see you shaking like this, they'll start screaming."

Kamio raised his hand. Sure enough, it was trembling violently. If he'd needed any additional proof that this match had been harder than his one with Hiyoshi... He raised the water bottle and nearly choked in surprise at the mild sweetness. Not water this time. Gatorade.

"Electrolytes," came the answer to his unasked question. "Sip it."

"How'd you do with Kikumaru?"

"I won."

Kamio snorted. "I know that. You wouldn't be in this good a mood if you'd lost. I meant, what was the score?"

Kirihara made him raise the Gatorade again. "Six games to three. Sip."

He sipped. "When's your next match ?"

Kirihara checked his watch. "Five-o'clock. I got thirty minutes." He grimaced. "I'm playing Yagyuu."

"Yagyuu?" Kamio whistled, finally having the breath to be able to do so. "That's gonna be an awesome match. How do you think you'll do?"

There was a pause as Akaya considered his question. "I've beaten him during practice matches," Kirihara said after a minute. "Problem is, I don't know if he's ever gone all out against me. Completely, you know? He's never cared who on the team beats him as long as it's not a non-regular, so he's kind of tricky that way."

"Let me think if this surprises me," Kamio said sarcastically. "I blame Niou. His trickiness has corrupted Yagyuu."

"Dude, that happened back in middle school. You're just figuring that out?"

"Shut up."

"How's your hands?" Akaya glanced behind them absently.

Kamio held them up. "Better," he said, the trembling having lessened considerably.

"Good, 'cause we're about to be ambushed."

Kamio opened his mouth to ask what he meant, but then he was tackled from behind by an eight year old missile. "Whoa there!"

Michiko's eyes were shiny, as though she were two seconds away from letting loose waterworks the likes of which the world had never before seen. "'Kira-nii, you lost!" she wailed.

"Yep. It happens, kiddo, you know that." Kamio dropped a hand on her head, and saw Sachiko watching him. "What's up?"

"Are you sad?" she asked, remarkably carefully for a ten-year-old. "Or upset?"

Kamio shook his head, giving her his most reassuring smile. "Nope. It was a good match."

Kirihara nodded. "A really good one. Hell, it impressed me."


"What, I can't be proud?"

Kamio grinned, leaning against his boyfriend. Sachiko was still studying him intently but the concern had started to fade. "C'mere, Sach." She obediently moved forward and leaned into him, much like he was doing to Akaya. He ruffled her hair and she rolled her eyes, letting him get away with it. "Nobody wins all the time," he continued.

Akaya butted in with his two cents, naturally. "Except me, of course."

Kamio shot him a quick look. "Need I find a copy of the video of you facing Fuji in middle school?" he retorted. "Inoue-san must have it on file from his partner somewhere." Akaya stuck his tongue out. "And what was that you said earlier? Something about not sticking that out unless you planned on using it?"

"Curses, you've foiled my dastardly plot," Kirihara said cheerfully. "I accept my loss and my punishment like a man. Kiss me."

Sachiko giggled and pretended to cover her eyes as Kamio leaned over and did as his boyfriend requested. Michiko, already bored, broke it up by tugging on Akaya's shirt. He looked down at her with a mock glare. "What do you want?"

"You gotta play against Yagyuu-nii?" she asked curiously.


"You'll win," she predicted.

"There, you see?" Akaya picked up Michiko, settling her on his hip and turning a superior look on Akira. "Confirmation of my greatness."

Kamio shook his head in disbelief. "We really need to work on building up that flagging self-confidence of yours, 'Kaya," was all he said to that.

"Can we go see An-chan and Yuuta?" Sachiko asked suddenly. Her head was turned to the side, her eyes following the match she could see from a distance. "They're still playing."

Kamio's eyes lit up. "Let's go check it out."

Atobe/Jirou vs Sanada/Yukimura

A larger crowd than usual had started to gather around the court. Atobe only noticed it because he noticed everything. That didn't mean he was surprised. Why shouldn't there be a crowd? Was he not one of the competitors on the field?

Sparing a quick glance, he could see a few diamonds among the rough; was that Tezuka? Fuji was likely nearby as well - probably tracking down his own errant paramour from Rokkaku. And that ridiculous orange mop - that was Yamabuki's Sengoku, looking particularly sweaty and disheveled. He'd obviously just finished a match of his own and was now no doubt hoping to glean away a few tidbits to improve his own performance. Ah, the things he did for his fans.

An/Yuuta vs Kurobane/Davide

"They're losing too," Sachiko said, disappointed. She squinted at the scoreboard. "It's almost over, isn't it?"

Tachibana nodded as An returned a hard hit from Davide. Things were starting to wind down - it had been a hard-fought match but it was almost over now. Match point in the Bronze Pair's favour - not that An and Yuuta were just going to hand the win over, of course. Kurobane and Davide had just been tough opponents. A good experience for An, he decided. "Yep, kiddo. It's about to wrap up."

"Wish I could'a seen the whole thing," Kamio said, shaking his head.

"Remind me to make Atobe give us a copy," Akaya said, nudging his partner and pointing out the cameraman filming the whole thing from a far-corner vantage point.

Kurobane leaped into the air in a move that seemed to mirror Momoshiro's Dunk Smash but with only some of the power. Still, it was more than enough to get past Yuuta's defense, and that ended the game, six games to four. All four of them were breathing hard - and all of them had smiles on their faces as they walked up to the net. He watched them talk for a minute, heard muffled laughter, and then Yuuta and An were walking back towards the bench.

"An-chan doesn't look sad," Michi observed.

"That's 'cause they played a good game," Akaya said gruffly. "And all of 'em suffer from the same fatal social disorder."

"What's that?" Sachiko asked curiously.

"Good sportsmanship." Akaya pretended to shudder in disgust. He leaned down, snatched Miki's arm and swooped her up, settling her on his hip again. "Shall we move on?" He jerked a thumb in their friends' directions. "They're gonna go cool down, and I really, really wanna catch some of 'Mura-buchou and Sanada-fukobuchou's action against Hyoutei."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Kamio said, perking up. "That's gonna be good."

"What is?" An asked. Yuuta began packing his racquet away, pausing to hand a towel to An. "Thanks Yuuta."

"Yukimura and Sanada against Atobe and Jirou." Akira tapped his foot looking impatient. "Coming or staying?"

"I'm not missing that!" An grinned.

"Me neither," Yuuta agreed.

"Count me in." Kippei chimed in, having apparently made his way through the stands to join them. "I just saw Tezuka and Fuji heading in that direction too - seems to be one of the last matches still going."

"They probably did that on purpose to give everyone time to go over and watch," Kirihara declared. "And it worked. Let's move!"

Atobe/Jirou vs Sanada/Yukimura

Atobe glared across the court at Sanada. The blistering shot he'd just smashed past Jirou had made scorch marks on the greentop, caused Jirou to slip, and left the blond almost giddy with enthusiasm. If Sanada thought he was going to allow a mere Rikkai-denizen break the arms of his serve-and-volley specialist, he was greatly mistaken. As he awaited Sanada's next serve, he ignored the amusement on Yukimura's face and smiled out at the crowd to reassure his legions of fans. Naturally, there were many of them who were upset over a point being lost for them. He raised his hand, and the crowd - primarily the females overloading the upper rows of the stands - went wild.

As he acknowledged their devotion, his eyes flicked to the lower stands which had been reserved for the actual tennis players who wanted to view matches. The one for whom all this was for - and he had no idea - was settling himself in the front stands with his boyfriend. Atobe's eyes skimmed over Kamio and settled on the youngest redhead perched on Kirihara's lap. It was easy to identify her as Michiko even without using his Insight; the large black headphones secured around her ears was a dead giveaway.

Sanada cleared his throat, and Atobe turned his gaze languidly back to Sanada. His eyes narrowed. The shot came in hard and fast, as always - but Atobe moved even faster and mimicked Sanada's own kendo stance as he returned the ball with the same technique he'd used on Jirou. Yukimura was caught off-guard and watched with bemusement as matching scorch marks decorated the greentop exactly kittycorner to the ones made by Sanada.

"Wow, Atobe!" Jirou was almost speechless with excitement, dancing in place as he tried to convey his apparent like for the shot with all four limbs flailing wildly.

Atobe brushed the hair out of his eyes with a careless flick of his hand and smiled.

That was impressive. Atobe had returned a shot that Tachibana noted - with no small amount of amusement - was an exact replica of what Sanada had just scored with. He was obviously in a mood not to be outdone. Well, either that or he was pissed off that Sanada had risked injuring Jirou with that cannon shot. Regardless, it was hilarious - he didn't know Atobe had any kendo skills, and going by the wide-eyed look that existed for mere seconds on Sanada's face, neither had the Emperor of Rikkai. Kippei couldn't help himself. He nudged his sister. "Hey An? Doesn't that remind you of that musical we saw the other night? That guy and the girl with the gun?"

An blinked – and then her eyes lit up. She began to sing, loudly in English. "Anything you can do—"

Tachibana laughed and joined in. "—I can do better!"

They grinned at each other, and then froze as Oshitari's smooth – and loud - baritone finished it off two rows ahead of them. "I can do anything better than you!" It figured that Hyoutei's own tensai would both speak English at their level, and be able to reference an obscure musical. Gakuto, Shishido and Choutarou were standing beside him, laughing hard. Gakuto was doubled over with the giggles.

An grinned and cupped her hands around her mouth. "No you can't!"

Oshitari winked and called back. "Yes I can!"

"No, you can't!"

"Yes I can, yes I can, yes I !"

Howls of laughter erupted from courtside. The players with decent English marks – and the few who didn't but did watch American musicals – were in hysterics. The non-English speakers who didn't get the reference shrugged and laughed anyway.

On the court, Atobe – who naturally spoke impeccable English and had a substantial collection of musicals hidden in his private cinema - rolled his eyes. "Oh, shut up."

Jirou wiped tears of laughter from his streaming eyes and tried to focus back on the match.

Momo frowned and pushed at Ryoma's shoulder. "I don't get it," he whined. "What are they saying, Ryoma?"

Ryoma grinned.

Kamio was snickering into Akaya's shoulder. Akaya was not as amused. "Oh come on, 'Kaya."

"It's not natural," Kirihara scowled. "How the hell are there so many musical fans in the tennis world? It's weird!"

"I think a better question would be how you understood it was a musical they were quoting," Kamio said with a smirk. He poked a finger into Akaya's ribs, watching as he flinched and turned red at the same time. "Anything you wanna share?"

"I don't watch musicals!" Akaya hissed and then resolutely turned back to the match. Kamio kept laughing.

The match continued, fast and furious. Yukimura had gone on the offensive this time, and Jirou, eager to play such a high-level opponent, was having a ball. Well, sort of. Yukimura was obviously not playing his hardest, but he was playing at a level Jirou had only seen in players like Atobe or Tezuka from Seigaku. Even his idol Marui was light years away from Yukimura's ability. Yukimura sent the ball back with a deft, fluid sweep of his arm, the confident look on his face making it look like his every move was the easiest thing he had ever done. It was strange, playing against someone who didn't look like they needed to think about what they were doing. There were no outward hints, no grunts of effort, no squeaky shoes spinning on a dime, and no rushing to get back into position. He was nowhere and everywhere, completely at ease. It was freaky. It was totally weird.

Jirou didn't know whether to drop to his knees in worship or squeal like an overly-caffeinated fangirl. He was starting to understand just why the Rikkai players held their captain in such awe.

Atobe interrupted their rally and served towards Sanada who actually had to lunge just a little to hit it back. It went back to Atobe who then changed pace and aimed it at Yukimura. That made Jirou smile - obviously Atobe wanted to show that he could handle both of the Rikkai demons. Yukimura smiled and then flowed forward so fast it was like time had stopped and he just blinked into existence at the net, sending the ball in Jirou's direction.

Jirou leaped for the ball, but he was thrown off; his spatial sense was all messed up thanks to Yukimura's admittedly freaky tennis style, and the path curved even more than he'd anticipated. The ball struck the ground directly under the path of his incoming feet, and he had a moment where no doubt everyone in the audience could see the 'oh shit' going as clearly across his face as it did through his mind. Then his foot came down on the ball.

There was a weird squeaking sound; his foot shot out from underneath his body, crumpling to the side. He fell hard - his right arm had let go of the racquet as he tried to catch himself, his left flailing wildly. His hip struck the ground first, then the right side of his torso up along his right arm. Like an afterthought, his head tapped almost lightly against the court grounds, his momentum absorbed by the previous impacts.

He lay there on the ground, stunned, breathing hard through the pain that was currently spiking through his hip and shoulder. Dimly, he could hear a roar as though from very far away, and he realized belatedly it was the crowd exclaiming about something. He blinked - and then blinked again as something settled into his field of vision - a swirl of grey and purple and white. "A-Atobe?"

"Lie still a moment, Jirou," his captain commanded him. His tone was softer than it had ever been, and if Jirou didn't know better, he'd think that was something akin to worry in his eyes.

"What?" Jirou shook his head lightly, dismissing the tiny flare-up of pain that tingled at the base of his skull, and slowly pushed himself up. The pain was ebbing down, most of it being from the actual impact itself. He had no doubt his shoulder was going to be bruised - he did bruise rather easily for someone who was always falling - but he was used to that sort of thing. His hip had a sharp heat running across it, but it too was dying - nothing broken or fractured. All in all, it had just been a bad tumble. He could recover from this. "I'm okay, Atobe. Just ask Nanjiroh-san to give me a minute to catch my breath. We can still play."

Atobe raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow at him. "You are injured, Jirou."

Jirou stuck his chin out, staring back at his captain with as much conviction as he could muster. "I've had worse falls in practice," he insisted. He had. He was not going to be the reason Atobe lost so quickly at his own damn tournament! "Help me up. I can walk it off."

Across from them, Yukimura was standing right up at the net, eyes actually open and full of the concern that Jirou had rarely seen the other display for anyone outside his team before. "Jirou? Are you okay?"

Atobe snorted derisively, but Jirou shot him a pleading look and then turned back to Yukimura. "It's okay, Yukimura." He smiled gamely. "I have a habit of tripping over my own feet. I misjudged the ball this time." He gave a self-depreciating chuckle. "It's not like I haven't fallen before."

Yukimura's eyes narrowed slightly, as though trying to ascertain the truth from him. Then he seemed to relax visibly, a small smile creeping back onto his normally calm face. "True enough."

"Will you continue the match?" Sanada's low voice asked practically. The brow of his cap was pushed up just enough to let Jirou see his calm gaze assessing him. "Or will you forfeit?"

"We'll play," Jirou snapped. Where Yukimura looked genuinely concerned, Sanada looked almost bored, and Jirou suddenly felt the urge to show him just what he was capable of. He pushed himself up, shaking his head at Atobe who had actually lowered a hand to aid him in regaining his feet. A slight wave of dizziness washed over him as he stood completely upright, pain fritzing through his body like an outlet with crossed and broken wires - no connection anywhere, just random sparks of ow, ow, OW - but he shook it off and sent a triumphant stare in Sanada's direction. "See?"

He was surprised to see an approving look in the Rikkai player's eyes. Sanada nodded once. "If you're sure."

"Yes." He turned to look at Atobe. "Ready?"

Atobe was giving him a chillingly calm stare of his own. Then he gave a curt nod and turned around, walking to the baseline. "One chance, Jirou."

Jirou pouted, but truthfully, it was more than he had expected. He leaned over to pick up his racquet, ignoring the flare in his hip, and settled into a low, relaxed stance.

Yukimura had stepped back from the net, and Sanada returned to the baseline. Nanjiroh looked down, first one side and then the other, before rolling his eyes. "Continuing at 5 games to 4. Sanada to serve."

Sanada threw the ball up high and struck. Like a canon from a high-seas ship, the ball hurtled across the court in a streak of green light. Atobe caught it easily, returning with a wicked front hand swing. Yukimura backhanded it in Jirou's direction, and Jirou made his move.

At least, he tried to.

Lightning surged up his arm as he swung the racquet, tendrils of icy hot flickering across his shoulder like a web of pain suddenly cast. He managed to return the shot, but it was a fraction of his usual strength and he knew he'd blown it. Yukimura almost lazily struck back his shot and Jirou turned to see Atobe let it go past him without even looking at it. His eyes were locked on Jirou, and he couldn't help but cringe in the face of his captain's displeasure. "A-Atobe, I-"

"We forfeit," Atobe told Nanjiroh crisply, giving a short, courtesy bow before striding over to Jirou. "Come, Jirou."

Hot tears, a mix of both pain and embarrassment, wanted to escape Jirou's eyes as he lowered his head. He had shamed his captain, shamed Hyoutei, and Atobe would never play doubles with him again. "Atobe?"

Nanjirou gave a low whistle, capturing his attention. "Listen to your captain, kid," he advised.

"It's okay, Jirou." Atobe's voice was lower, gentler. Jirou looked up quickly and saw compassion in his captain's eyes. Just for a second, just long enough for him to see. Then it was gone, and Atobe was nodding briskly at the side of the court where the tournament EMT's were patiently waiting to check him out. "Let's see what damage you've done to yourself this time, ahn?"

Jirou blinked back the tears and managed a tremulous smile. "Okay, Atobe." He looked across the court where Yukimura and Sanada were talking softly together as they gathered their things. "Oi, Yukimura?"

The Rikkai captain looked over, giving him a questioning look. "Yes?"

"I want a rematch one day, okay?" He gave his best smile, flashing his dimples for all he was worth.

It apparently worked. The other boy's jaw worked for a second, as though trying to stifle a laugh, and then finally he nodded. "Very well, Jirou. I wish you a speedy recovery."

"Aw, I'm fine," Jirou repeated, and then winced. "Ow, OW! Atobe!"

His captain was dragging him by the arm. "The paramedics, Jirou. Now."

"Okay, okay..."

End Chapter 7

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