Title: Win or lose

Pairing: Sanada/Oshitari

Rating: PG-13

Genre: drama, romance, slice of life

Summary: Sanada gets consolation he didn't think he wanted – needed – from a very unlikely person. Oshitari knows what he is feeling.

'I don't need pity.'

'And I offer none.'

A/N: This fic is my fourth attempt at this plot. I knew what I wanted it to be like, yet I couldn't write it well enough. But this time, I'm satisfied. I hope anyone who happens to read (despite my crack pairing which I love to death), will also be satisfied!

Win or lose

Sanada didn't need pity and, frankly, nobody offered him any. Even Yukimura knew there were much worse things in the world than coming second in the Junior High National Tennis Tournament. It seemed that Rikkai had no regrets as a team, since all of them did their best in order to win – and the opponent simply proved stronger, luckier or a combination of both.

Looking at his silver medal, Sanada wasn't sure what he was feeling, though. During the awarding ceremony, he had been intent on looking self-confident, strong and devoid of any doubts. But now? What was he feeling now, when all was said and done, and he was all alone at the street courts in Tokyo, with the useless piece of silver hanging around his neck? The medal felt so heavy all of a sudden. So heavy and oppressive, strangling him, stealing away his life. How should he feel? He didn't know.

All efforts had gone to waste. All that hard training, all the good and bad memories, the moments of shame and glory – as a team, as individuals – were now lost in the aftermath of that ultimate failure. And among them, only one thing was as clear as it had been before: he had thrown away his pride, and he had done it in vain.

'Do you know that feeling when everything is over, Sanada?' He heard a voice he barely recognised. That so-called genius of Hyoutei, Oshitari Yuushi; what he was doing at the street courts so long after sunset, Sanada didn't ask. After all, it was him more than anyone that shouldn't have lingered in such a place, so far away from home, away from his team that was having a small celebration back in Kanagawa. But going back, defeated... he didn't want to face it just yet. He had nothing to celebrate.

'What is it about?' He asked the other boy, although he was far from interested in what Oshitari had to say. He had his own problems to think over. His own conclusions to make. The question of why Oshitari was there didn't even cross his mind. He didn't care.

What was he feeling?...

'About being the winner despite losing. Or the other way around. In the end, it doesn't matter, does it? You forget about your pride, yet you still end up defeated. Doesn't that hurt?...' Oshitari asked. Sanada looked over at him, somewhat confused. But the genius wasn't looking at him at all. He was staring at the courts, expressionless, emotionless – the poker face fighter. Cold.

'I don't need pity,' muttered Sanada, mildly aware that he was misinterpreting Oshitari's words. He wanted, for a reason he couldn't explain for now, to cause a reaction from the other boy. He wanted to see that Oshitari wasn't as dead inside as he seemed, not yet – because maybe that could mean that he, also, wasn't bound to die inside.

'And I offer none,' said the genius, still indifferent, still unfeeling. Sanada had a sudden urge to tell him to go away, to leave him alone. He remained quiet. 'Pity can only be offered by those who don't understand. I do understand, Sanada.'

Sanada wondered how Oshitari could claim to understand him, when he was certain he didn't really understand himself. It was easy to stand there, looking at nothing with empty eyes and pretend that the world was as simple as winning or losing a tennis match. Because that was what it was all about. They didn't even know each other. What was the point of this conversation?...

'You can't understand me,' said Sanada, shaking his head. He turned his back on the other boy, as if to leave. He wasn't about to go anywhere, though. There was no place that welcomed him that night.

'Can't I?' Oshitari asked softly. Sanada could tell he was smiling, yet he found nothing funny in what was being said. 'Oh, but I do understand so much. I have been there, just like you are now, at the brink of the same insanity. Do you know what awaits you once you fall? Bitterness. Resentment. Regret. Loneliness. You learn to blame those close to you for robbing you of your moment of glory. You learn that you can no longer face them, but that's okay, since you can't face yourself, either. Stripped of your precious pride, having defeated the opponent that stood in your way to long-awaited victory, you feel cheated and disappointment eats at you. You despise the idea of being part of a team, you crave freedom and independence, not once realising that alone, you are worth even less. You won't show it to anyone close, but believe me – once you fall into that madness, it will only get worse.'

It made no sense, Sanada thought, but he knew he was wrong. Everything Oshitari said, every word of it, described what he was feeling better than he would have wanted. The bitterness was there, the feeling of having been let down by the other members of Rikkai's tennis club, the helplessness at the unfairness of it all. How could Oshitari know it so well? How could he understand?

'You won your match,' Sanada stated in sudden realisation. Oshitari answered with a nod, looking at him for the first time. His eyes were still empty.

'Against Seigaku's Momoshiro. It was my perfect revenge for the previous match. I have thrown away my pride, I have paid the highest price a player can pay, to be able to battle against Seigaku again. I did everything I had to. I won. And yet, in the end, I was the loser, because my team wasn't good enough, or wasn't lucky enough, again,' the genius said, looking away again. 'We played as guests in that tournament, Sanada. It was humiliating to hear the comments of how low we have fallen. I won and thought I was above that, I thought I have recovered my lost pride. And then it was taken away from me again,' he slowly shook his head. 'I haven't played tennis once since then.'

And Sanada was struck by how similar their situations were. Having lost against Seigaku once before, Sanada had been ready to do anything to win his match against Tezuka, to lead Rikkai to victory; for that, he had thrown away his pride, he had given up on the true battle, on his title of the court's Emperor. Had the team won, the title, the pride, everything would have been returned to him. Rikkai lost. Humiliation prevailed.

'I won't stop playing,' He promised – to Oshitari, to himself? It made no difference at that moment. The oath was solemn and true.

'I know,' replied Oshitari. 'For me, tennis is but another hobby. A sport I happen to be good at. It's not my life, it has never been. To you, it's your life. That's what sets us apart. You will overcome this insanity, Sanada. You haven't been defeated yet, Emperor.'

When the last words had sunk in, Sanada found himself acting before thinking, as he did rather often and wasn't usually proud of it – he crossed the few steps that it took to come face to face with Oshitari, and forced the other boy's head up to look into his eyes. He needed to see what he was feeling. A voice inside his head was telling him that he was going crazy, but he couldn't bring himself to care, because Oshitari, in his surprise or confusion, forgot about the mask, about the poker face, and his eyes were filled with emotions. There was pain, and loneliness, and longing, and sadness, and there was softness, and vulnerability.

Sanada kissed him on the lips.

It felt weird. The impact of lips on lips was painful, and the angle was awkward, and Oshitari's glasses were digging into his cheek. Sanada didn't even know what to do next, so he kind of moved his lips, and Oshitari did something similar, and it was still weird, but good at the same time. Nice. Soft. Deciding he liked it, Sanada did it again. And again. And each time was better than the last.

'Play against me,' he said much later, when it was already completely dark, and he and Oshitari were still at the street courts, standing next to each other. The night was warm, or maybe it was chilly, but the warmth Sanada felt came from elsewhere.

'No,' Oshitari refused. He sounded amused, and there was definitely a lazy grin adorning his face, Sanada was sure of that, even though he could barely see him. 'Not now.'

'When?' Asked Sanada, feeling himself smile back, albeit less noticeably. His lips hurt, he wanted to sleep, his team only came second in the National Tournament and Oshitari was teasing him, but he didn't mind any of this.

'Soon,' promised Oshitari. 'If we played now, you would defeat me. I would be able to get maybe four games out of you. It's not enough to satisfy me,' he shook his head, at least Sanada thought he did; it was hard to say in the darkness, and it didn't really matter. 'I will play against you when we're equals.'

Sanada couldn't help but laugh. It was short and rather hoarse, but it was something. He hadn't really laughed in a long time. 'And you say it's going to be soon?' He asked, wondering why he was in such a good mood. Was it the kissing? But kissing a boy, a boy he barely knew, shouldn't make him happy. Yet, again, he didn't care.

'Of course,' Oshitari replied, his tone meaning he thought it was obvious. 'I'm a genius, after all.'

So Sanada kissed him again, and it still felt kind of weird, but very, very good, and he knew he found another thing, apart from tennis and maybe kendou, that he wanted to devote his time to. He wondered if it would be okay to come to Tokyo everyday for the remainder of the summer holiday. He wondered if it would be okay to invite Oshitari to visit him. He wondered many things. All of them were rather nice. They both still had their issues to work out, but that was okay.

What was he feeling?... He didn't know. But something undeniably changed. The world hadn't ended, even though Rikkai hadn't won the Nationals. How could he care about win or lose, when it was the game itself that should matter? Tomorrow, he was going to train with Yanagi. Or with Akaya, who would surely need it, were he to lead Rikkai to victory next year. Or both of them.

He needed to be in top form to play against Oshitari later. The other boy was a genius, after all.