Disclaimer: I don't own Prince of Tennis.
A/N: Inspired by a certain BL novel, and a certain doujinshi involving Sanada's hat (?). The title is a reference to Margery Williams's Velveteen Rabbit.
NOTES: Future timeline. Mecha. Fairytale elements. Externally inexpressive & internally sensitive android Yanagi. Stubborn!Akaya.
WARNING: Lousy attempt at Sci-Fi.
[BGM: Gackt - "Tsuki no Uta"]
"I want to know, if he would love you just the same if you appeared before him in a different state."
Someone implanted a warm, fleshy organ inside his cold, metallic chest cavity. That organ began pumping life through the wire veins and cable arteries running through his body. Not only that, it also programmed his character; it gave him an identity.
"So, let me see a miracle, Renji."
A hand, rough and calloused from fixing and piecing together too many machinery, pushed him forward gently as if he had been a child, encouraged to go out into the world for first time exploration.
"If God gave you a second chance, would you take it?"
His creator's lips opened and closed to those words. He allowed his gaze to travel in the direction he sent his sound vibration.
His sight encountered a youth, whose dark disheveled waves of hair forecasted to him his rebellious and reckless nature. He witnessed defiance and disbelief surface as ruby specks of light in his emerald depths when the other, his to-be owner, glanced in his direction.
The youth quickly turned to his creator beside him, his lips slanted in a cold angle.
"Then, does that make you God, Himself, with this second chance you're giving me?" He fleered. "But, you're not. You're just a sick and stupid megane."
"I am not God; I cannot create new life. However, I can use his remains to give you what you want."
"That's bull! Yanagi-senpai will never be a lifeless robot! If this is the second chance you're talking about then I'd rather him dead than replaced!"
With much argument between the two of them, the youth finally unwillingly consent to taking him home with him.
Or rather, he trailed behind the other on their way home. His owner never peered over his shoulder to make sure he was still there, to make sure he did not get lost in the crowds of people in the maze-like big city.
They returned to his owner's residence, a luxurious apartment complex complete with indoor gymnasium and pool and outdoor tennis courts.
His owner did not speak. Not when they walked home. Not when they reached home. He didn't want to.
Renji didn't speak either. Not when they walked home. Not when they reached home. He couldn't. His voice box was inactive.
"I have given you a voice. However, this function will only be activated when Kirihara-kun verbalizes his acceptance of you. He must verbalize that you are real to him."
Until that day arrived, he waited. Until that day arrived, he accomplished what he was programmed to do: the cleaning, the cooking, the washing. Though, the other who shared this home with him rarely came home to appreciate his aid.
Even when the other came home, he seldom spared him a glance. It was as if his owner lived alone, as if Renji became the invisible air whose existence went neglected and underappreciated.
Day after day, he worked, focusing on the chores of their apartment. He accomplished his daily tasks easily because of his robot configuration. He didn't get distracted. He didn't get tired. Though, such were not entirely advantages to him, for that usually left him a large gap of time to remain on standby.
So, instead, he began exploring his environment, noting every detail and compiling them into his memory chip.
He entered and explored his owner's room. He targeted the picture frame at the nightstand beside the youth's bed. From the amount of fingerprints, new and old, he detected it to be an object the other held frequently.
It was a photograph of two males, comparable in height. He immediately recognized the youth's face in the picture, grinning cheekily, with an arm wrapped around another's shoulder. He looked at the other face. His semi-transparent reflection on the glass made it seem as if it was an enlargement of the face in the photograph. The face exactly like his down to the littlest, most dismissible feature.
Except, the stranger's face carried a soft, relaxed expression. His resemblance's lips curved to a small smile. He examined the picture for an extended time period. His mechanical mind measured a hypothesis. If he smiled like his resemblance did in the picture, then there was an 85 percent chance his owner would grin at him in the same way he did in the picture.
His feet then propelled him to stand before the mirror, the piece of glass that copied and replicated anything before it. He tried to smiled the same way his resemblance smiled in the photograph but couldn't. He tried to say, "I'm real," to prove himself authentic. Yet, he assessed his lips to be more inflexible than he computed. All he observed was the grim line between his lips on his apathy-made face.
He practiced and practiced until he managed to curve his lips at a two degree angle in the corners. He could tell the difference. But he reckoned, people could not appreciate such a minimal change with their naked eye.
He was still practicing when his owner returned to the apartment that night. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the other suddenly stand paralyzed when approaching him. Pivoting around, he wanted to show the other the result of his practice, what he achieved, defying the stiffness of his metallic composition.
But the other looked at him in disbelief, that soon distorted to extreme loathe and offense as he walked up to him to snatch away the picture frame he held in his hand all this time.
"Don't think you can replace him. You won't even come close to replacing him. You're just a robot. A robot without any feelings." The other stomped off to his room, dragging his oversized tennis bag behind him. He slammed his door shut with a loud thud.
If he truly was void of feelings, then how could he define the unspeakable pain he experienced in his chest? Was it the fleshy organ rejecting the cold, metallic habitat of his chest cavity? Was he malfunctioning?
After that day's incident, his owner resorted to keeping the two bedroom doors locked. And of course, the picture that he used as a guide to his practice was locked inside the other's room as well.
He became like a patient in a psychiatric ward. Everything in his environment contained a lock, preventing his escape, preventing him from getting into places he wasn't supposed to get into.
The other didn't come home after that incident either. His system reverted to hibernation mode and Renji began collecting dust like the rest of the furniture in the abandoned apartment.
Until, one night, his owner returned to the apartment as unexpectedly as he did before.
When his system hummed back to reactivation, the other already staggered up to him in the living room, drunk and unshaven.
"Yanagi-senpai." The youth called out. He perceived, unmistakably, his owner was calling out to someone else, to someone who he bore a resemblance to, to the only one who could make him grin cheekily like he did in the photograph.
"Yanagi-senpai." The other called again, this time louder, more desperate. He dropped down before him, encircling his arms around his waist and burying his face into his chest. The sound of his heart, the only thing alive in his entire composition of dead, cold metal, seemed to delude the other to false comfort.
"Yanagi-senpai! Yanagi-senpai!" The other cried out, his voice higher, hoarser. He cried again and again and again until he squeezed the last drop of desperation from his eyes and fell asleep tired and empty in the robot's cold embrace.
Perhaps the other's liquid sadness seeped into his system and caused him to malfunction. For, he reached out then, joints squeaky from disuse, to raise a prosthetic hand to stroke at the other's hair. The only thing alive within him, the only thing that served as proof that he was no mere android, beat painfully against his metallic chest.
He could have proved himself real. Yet, unfortunately, by that time, his owner had already fallen into slumber's deep, dark abyss to witness his humanly act.
When the figure in his arms stirred, he took it as a sign, as a hint to loosen his hold on the other.
He saw the last traces of foggy sleep in the other's eyes when he pulled away, falling to a sitting position on the carpeted floor. Then, the fog dissipated when clear surprise replaced it. His owner stared up at him with wide eyes.
After 7 seconds of inaction, the youth jumped up abruptly, pulling him from his seat on the couch.
He pulled him through the crowds of strangers in the large, maze-like city. He pulled him through the quiet path leading up to the place he was as familiar with as the home he accommodated himself to for the past 53 days. The youth took him back to his creator's laboratory.
His creator accepted them into his office.
"What is this?" The man in white lab coat put down his clipboard of documents upon their entrance.
"I've had enough of your sick creation. You can have it back."
His owner referred to him as an "it." He was merely an object to him. An emotionless, inanimate object.
His creator sighed. "There is an 83 percent probability that you were just afraid you would replace the Renji in your memory with this Renji. But, have you thought of the possibility that perhaps they are the same soul?"
His owner withdrew his grasp from his wrist then, wiping his hand on his pants as if to rid himself of pollutants. "Unfortunately, they're not."
He left through the automatic double doors.
Renji pivoted around to watch his owner's back. He stared at the figure shrinking in the distance until the doors converged again, blocking his view. He never got the chance to tell the other what he had wanted to tell his reflection in the mirror previously.
But he knew, from the conclusion his calculations produced, the other would only rebut, "I don't believe you."
Soft pitter-pattering sadness dropped to the floor. It was too bad the other never witnessed this scene. It was too bad he had already departed.
He looked down at the droplets on the floor's waxed surface. He opened his palm to catch more moisture. Was he malfunctioning? He could not control his tears, or whatever they were called. It was as if the fleshy organ inside him exhausted itself, pumping out all the sadness and despair.
But how could robots cry? How could they do such a humanly thing when no one proved them to be human, to be real? Was it not a defiance of natural law?
The same hand that gave him the first push of encouragement to see the world came to rest on his shoulder. Except, this time, it offered him remorse instead. "I'm sorry, Renji."
Inui walked past the android then. He avoided looking over his shoulder when he stepped through the automatic metallic double doors. He disregarded the pieces of metal falling apart to the sound of destruction behind him.
The doors slid close again, like curtains falling down on stage to the ending of a tragic play.
Only the clicking sound of his leather shoes rang through the empty hallway until it faded away in the distance.
The sudden silence mocked his expectation. The expectation for a miracle that, after all, was impossible.