He Never Knew
Disclaimer: I do not own Tenipuri and make no profit from writing this.
Summary: After losing his memories during Nationals, Ryoma never gained it back.
Notes: This chapter was written for the extra theme #1 the rush of a thousand heartbreak from lovefujitez's theme set for 31days_exchange on livejournal. Contains spoilers for the end of the manga. This is an AU take on canon events.
Chapter 1: What was Tennis?
He stopped. That was his name. Or so he had been told. Was she someone he had known too? Someone close enough to call him by his given name...
"Um, I heard that you lost your memory...I, I was taught how to play tennis by Ryoma-kun... and I started loving tennis a lot..."
He turned around. She had her hands clasped in front of her, her head lowered. He was going to disappoint her too, just like how he had disappointed all of those kind players who had gone out of their way to help him. They had been so fired up, so eager and optimistic, never doubting that he would remember the sport they loved, the sport that he was supposed to love, the sport that connected them all. They had tried to reenact matches they said he had played with them, their eyes full of hope, challenging him to rise up to their expectations, to remember what they had shared.
But the racket had felt foreign in his hands.
And their shots had been frightening, impossible to touch.
He had not met their expectations.
Instead, he had watched as the hope in their eyes dimmed, their shots turning sluggish until they stopped altogether.
Because it was apparent he wasn't going to remember in time, if ever. Whoever they were expecting, he was clearly not that person.
"I'm sorry," he said. He didn't know who he was apologizing to. Himself? The girl in front of him? All those players who had tried so hard to help him remember? There were too many. He was confused. He didn't know them. He didn't even know himself. He certainly didn't know tennis. As they had come at him one after another, all because of tennis, he had wondered. Why were they forcing him to remember by slamming balls at him? Weren't there other, safer methods?
Was tennis that important?
Had tennis meant that much to him?
The tall, spiky-haired boy who had wanted him to call him "Momo-sempai" had fallen to his knees when tennis didn't resonate for him no matter what they had tried.
Seeing their efforts made him want to find out. What was it about tennis...
His apology hung in the air. The girl stared at him. She was biting her lips. She shuffled her feet and clenched her hands tight. "No... don't apologize, Ryoma-kun. It's not your fault. You... don't usually apologize."
"Sorry..." he said before he could stop himself from apologizing for his apology.
The girl flinched. He wanted to apologize again, but he could see the discomfort his apology had caused her. He closed his mouth. Instead of apologizing, he looked towards the stadium that he had been pulled away from.
"Are you...playing, Ryoma-kun?" the girl asked timidly.
He looked back at her. His gaze alone told her his answer.
When he entered the much-too-quiet stadium, he told everyone he still didn't remember a thing. Everyone, even those at the other team's bench, had their attention on him, hanging on to his every word.
"You are Seigaku's pillar of support," the tall, thin boy with glasses said even after those words. "We're depending on you."
Depending on him? When he didn't even have a clue what was going on?
"But Tezuka," started the boy next to him. He was the one with strange hair, whose face looked frozen with worry. "We shouldn't force Echizen on the courts when he doesn't even remember anything! That's-"
Ridiculous. Absurd. The same as losing.
"We're not giving up," the first boy said, his voice still level but holding an undertone of fierceness. "He would not give up either, not when we've come this far."
The tall boy stopped and gestured towards the court where one lone player stood, jacket hugging his shoulders. "Echizen would never leave a challenge unanswered."
But he was only Echizen Ryoma in name. He was not that confident player they had known. He was not that person who rarely apologized, who was cheeky and disrespectful and could get away with it all, from what everyone had told him about who he had been. He didn't know how to be that person. He didn't know if he wanted to be that person either.
He gripped his racket and took in his teammates' expectant gazes.
Still, he would try. Because he was curious.
Even when he knew he would be letting them down.
On the courts, the captain of the other team shook his head, his amused smile dropping from his face. The arms of his jacket fluttered in the wind behind him, like the mantle of a lord.
"What do you think you can accomplish in that state, boy?" he asked, his voice deceptively soft despite his hardened gaze.
He didn't know. He suddenly had the urge to hug his racket close to him, but that would only made him look vulnerable.
"Give up now, before you regret it."
He gripped his racket tight and took a deep breath. Although his golden eyes were not piercing or cocky but rather troubled and hesitant, he had already made up his mind.
"I'm sorry, but I'm not giving up."
They began. He ran after the balls. His knees scraped across the ground. He was already panting and gasping for breath. He hadn't been able to return a single shot. Struggling, he pushed himself off the ground.
What was this?
He looked up at his towering opponent who stood against the sun before him.
This was... tennis?
This was nothing like the matches his supposed rivals had tried to play with him. Their shots had been challenging, prodding at him to remember, tickling his memories, pulling forth feelings of fragmented joy, small bursts of contentment that had hinted at a time when tennis had been thrilling and fun. He had wanted to remember even when their shots screamed past his ear because they had offered him a connection.
But this, this was frightening.
This was impossible.
He couldn't answer him. His opponent wasn't trying to reach out to him. His opponent was trying to crush him completely without a hint of mercy.
He cringed when he missed yet another shot.
And then darkness took over his world.
They yelled for him to stop. He wanted to stop. He couldn't even see anything. Was he blind? What was going on?
"Now will you give up?"
That deceptively soft voice wanted him to give up too.
"What is tennis?" he asked through labored breaths..
That deceptively soft voice answered.
He swung at the ball wildly. He thought he heard the ball bounce near him.
He missed again.
And then silence took over his world.
He strained his ears, but even that deceptively soft voice could no longer be heard.
What was tennis?
He could still feel the racket in his grip, but it was useless. He could not play.
He dropped the racket and felt it clatter against his feet without a sound.
Tennis was not fun.
And so, Seigaku lost.
to be continued