This (rather short, I am sorry to say) oneshot is a present for my friend Si, because she's awesome.

Um. I've taken liberties with the technical terminology. Eh.

I hope that you enjoy the story~


Z TO A! OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT

~ kittykittyhunter ~


And now Hiyoshi Wakashi was an umpire.

It had all begun perhaps an hour earlier, when the regular had the misfortune of running into Amane. For a few moments the two second-years passed terse conversation (in all fairness it had been terse on Hiyoshi's part – Amane didn't mention that he had defeated half of Hyoutei's tennis club). Then, nodding at one another, they had resolved to part ways.

Life was not so straightforward. Who should come wandering out of a nearby store but Zaizen? Courtesy had forced Hiyoshi and the genius to exchange pleasantries about the Oshitari cousins. Amane remained soldered to the ground, trying to work out how he recognised Zaizen. Hiyoshi was obligated to begin introductions.

Amane's eyes lit up. The trouble began.

"Heh," chuckled the junior. "We're both Hikarus! Let's see which is stronger."

For some peculiar reason, Zaizen agreed. Hiyoshi was given the role of umpire. He felt like he had been picked to take part in a school play after deliberately missing auditions.

"This will be a one-set match," said Hiyoshi, leaning his elbow on the armrest. They were at an indoor tennis court; it smelt vaguely of gym socks and perspiration. Hardly the sort of place Hyoutei usually frequented, if Atobe had anything to say about it. At such short notice, it would have to suffice. "This match is between Amane Hikaru –"

"My nickname is Davide –"

"And Zaizen Hikaru. Zaizen, to serve."

The junior took position, rubbing one heel on the floor. He prepared to throw the ball, and Amane called, "We're on opposite sides of the alphabet. We're also on opposite sides of the court. You're the prosecution, and I'm the defendant."

"And I'm the judge," interrupted Hiyoshi. Amane grinned. Zaizen said nothing, arm folding into motion. Hiyoshi noted that Shitenhouji's second-year was left-handed.

Zaizen served.

Amane advanced. He was tall, he was brawny, and that racquet – Hiyoshi wasn't surprised to find himself announcing, "Love-fifteen."

"I see," Zaizen nodded. "That racquet extends your reach." He rolled one shoulder. "This time, I'll be ready."

He kept his word. Amane bounded across to receive the serve, swinging – his opponent tracked the return shot's trajectory with a critical gaze. Hiyoshi quickly realised that he was in the best location to learn the juniors' secrets: for an umpire, the court was similar to viewing a garden from a balcony. The raised chair was close to the players yet far from the crowd.

Perfect.

"Fifteen-all."

Zaizen served again, a deeper shot. Mistake. Amane returned the serve with one hand – it whistled past Zaizen and grazed the baseline.

"Fifteen-thirty."

The game progressed. Both teens were warming up, maintaining a few rallies to assess each other's skill. Zaizen hit meticulous shots – once or twice the ball missed Amane's racquet altogether and bounced near the junior's shoes, or so close to the net that Amane had to slide forward to make contact. He couldn't be ignored; the aggressive baseliner cared little for his appearance: he ducked and dashed and waved his racquet wildly, all the while driving Zaizen further and further back, forcing lobs and volleys with declining power.

"Game, Amane," Hiyoshi said. "Change court. Amane, to serve."

Zaizen grimaced; no player liked for his serve be broken – especially not the opening game.

They could have performed the changeover at either end of the net; apparently, Amane wanted to cross paths. He said, "If you're famous for your intelligence, then Hikaru's tennis has to be bright."

Hiyoshi groaned. It was bad, even by Amane's usual standards. Zaizen replied, "I'll show you how bright my tennis is," and went to the service box. Amane shook his head. He had to be reminded to get to his place.

It was Amane's turn. He flung the ball upwards with his left hand. His arm swung and the ball went rocketing at Zaizen. Fast – but the serve was nothing compared to what Hiyoshi was used to seeing from Ootori.

There was a critical difference: Ootori was taller than Amane, yet Hyoutei's regular launched the ball a short distance, moving into the Scud Serve with his elbow at a practised angle; Amane, who played with the longest racquet Hiyoshi had seen in the middle school circuit, hurled the ball higher – he needed time to accommodate his swing.

Judging from Zaizen's smirk, he had already discovered the habit. Amane's serves had less variety than his returns: Zaizen ran back to conquer the deep shots, striking the ball while it was on the rise, when its speed was dwindling.

Hiyoshi broadcasted their progress, enunciating clearly to avoid being silenced by the squeaky court. (Why did indoor courts have to be so noisy?) 0-15, 0-30, 0-40… if Zaizen stole the next point, Amane's pride would take a beating.

"Today I came to Tokyo for hair products," boomed Amane. "Instead of shampoo, I found a net."

Zaizen shifted his weight. He placed the head of his racquet on the ground, resting the handle against his leg. "That right there," he began, "was that supposed to be funny?"

"I made a joke," Amane said. "Bane-san doesn't always appreciate them… you have the blandest reaction I've ever seen."

The other shrugged. "I don't really understand jokes," he said. "If you've been making puns all this time… I find that sort of thing difficult. Maybe you'd have a future at Shitenhouji."

Amane twitched. "You didn't get that I've been telling jokes?"

"Nope."

The next point was a service ace.

Hiyoshi battled with the urge to snigger – he couldn't decide whose expression was more comical: Zaizen's confusion or Amane's disappointment. The umpire pinched his skin to contain the chuckles. Though Amane strove towards a counterattack, Zaizen was leading, and the second game concluded with another broken serve. The match was at 1-1.

The games continued. Hiyoshi wondered if he would make a good data player – he scrutinised every point, storing away the valuable knowledge. His calls were not contradicted. Amane and Zaizen were soldiering on: 2-1, 2-2… soon they were at 4-4, breathing heavily. Zaizen had responded to Amane's power with precision. Amane had replied to Zaizen's precision with power. Their ideals were at war, and it was difficult to tell who would emerge as the victor. There was little Amane could do to retaliate against Zaizen's smashes, which bruised the court furiously. Nevertheless, Amane's two-handed returns were devastating: Zaizen managed to reach the shots – never with sufficient energy. The ball would smack the gut at a peculiar angle, flying off and landing in the doubles' alley, or missing the court altogether.

And all the while, Amane fired joke after joke.

"If you wish to reign as the victor, you have to avoid sunny weather!"

"Whatever!"

"Bearing with my jokes is turning you into a panda!"

"I'm not impressed!"

"The best music at Rokkaku is rock!"

Zaizen returned with terrifying accuracy, yelling: "That was TERRIBLE!"

Hiyoshi could feel his restraint eroding. Only the discipline he had learnt from years of training prevented the boy from abusing his power and declaring Zaizen as the victor. Amane was in the lead: he had won five games while Zaizen had won four. As much as he wished to, Hiyoshi couldn't discriminate on the grounds that Amane had a dumb sense of humour.

Back to Amane. Hiyoshi had never seen the junior look so sour. He stood with dark authority, as though Zaizen's refusal to laugh contradicted everything about Amane's existence. "I respect you as my rival," said the taller boy. "Instead of a cracked rib, I find that you've got a splintered humerus."

"Just play," growled Zaizen.

Amane served. The points were long, each rally lasting for three or four minutes. Both were exhibiting their tenacity: Amane was ploughing on, trying to clinch victory. Zaizen, meanwhile, was fighting to remain active in the game.

Deuce. Advantage. Deuce again – then Amane's advantage. He served. Zaizen ran forward and parried a fluid shot that crossed the court; Hiyoshi sensed the breath dry up in his throat. There was no way Amane would reach this

Amane twisted his right arm, elbow pointing upwards. He cursed as he manoeuvred his body, hunching his shoulder: he had to play a backhand, and the time it took to slide his palm to the racquet's base would cost the boy. Yet, the gut twanged as it was tapped by the ball – and there it went, cruising over the net –

Zaizen dashed and crashed. He raised his racquet and it struck the ball, but it was the second bounce.

"Game, set and match, Amane Hikaru, six games to four," said Hiyoshi. He wiped the hair from his face and slid off the umpire's chair. Then he advanced towards the two rivals; they were on their feet once more and shaking hands. Then they shook Hiyoshi's hand, and he said, "Remind me to never umpire for either of you two again."

He was astonished when they both laughed. After a moment, Hiyoshi laughed too.