A/N: I dedicate this fic to Yuuki, whom I promised a birthday fic. I apologize if it's super duper late, I was stuck with two ideas and thus I just decided to scrap them altogether and write another one. You did say you like Rikkai, so I hope this is okay. Happy birthday and Merry Christmas!
Disclaimer: Konomi Takeshi owns Prince of Tennis.
First, it is Echizen Ryoma. The boy is talented and smart, the super rookie who has surpassed a lot of strong players in the junior tennis circuit.
But Yukimura is the Child of God; he is Rikkai, and he will win. And so when the boy makes his jacket fall off from his shoulders, he shows his true form – he takes Echizen's senses off one by one, until there is nothing left.
The boy can no longer play, and Yukimura Seiichi already wins.
But Echizen pulls off the impossible. The boy stands up miraculously, tells him that tennis is fun,and comes back to defeat him.
And at that moment, he knows. He knows that the boy achieves perfection, that he is the one who has opened the door for him. By stealing Echizen's ability to play, Yukimura makes the boy realize how much tennis means to him.
He has made his own downfall.
He has been training like hell all these years just to be what he is now, and yet it only takes the boy to say tennis is fun like magic words to reach his full potential.
No, Yukimura refuses to believe. The Pinnacle of Perfection, the final door of the State of Self-Actualization, cannot be just about having fun.
That Shitenhouji boy must already have unlocked the seal a long time ago if such is the case, so should that Hyoutei guy who is obsessed with Marui.
But Tooyama Kintarou and Akutagawa Jirou have not.
The Kansai rookie fights him, just like Echizen, and forfeits. The boy drops his racket and shivers, and the Pinnacle of Perfection does not appear.
Just what is it that Echizen has and everyone else has not?
What is it that the Child of God himself lacks?
And then, there is Tezuka. The bespectacled boy surprises them all one day in the U-17 camp, and reveals he has already achieved perfection during that match with Yamato Yudai.
Yukimura has been one of the first people to know that Tezuka Kunimitsu has opened the first door, the Pinnacle of Hard Work. He plays the boy when they are in grade school and experiences first-hand the doubled spin and doubled power of the ball.
It makes more sense for Tezuka to have opened the door, he decides. It is certainly not an overnight affair, unlike Echizen, but he realizes that the two have more in common than what meets the eye.
Tezuka too, knows the feeling of inability to play tennis, when he injures his left arm. But so does Chitose Senri, one of the two Wings of Kyushu, when he injures his right eye. Chitose has opened the second door, the Pinnacle of Great Wisdom, but has not opened the final door to this day despite his research.
What makes the difference?
What is it that Tezuka and Echizen have?
A year passes, and he receives news that Kirihara has achieved perfection as well. In fact, the junior ace is the only one on his team who does.
Akaya has changed a lot, Yukimura thinks. He suspects it has to do with the challenge of tending to captain duties, the pressure of reclaiming Rikkai's lost throne, and the desire to not disappoint his senpai-tachi. But that is only to be expected.
There has to be something more.
And more there is.
He owes it to Tachibana's little sister, changing Kirihara.
Yukimura knows he is the one responsible for throwing his kouhai onto the devil's lair once more, all for the sake of winning, of Rikkai's victory. He is the one who has crafted that plan of drawing out Kirihara's potential, instructing his teammates to lose their matches against Nagoya on purpose.
And he succeeds. The boy's eyes turn bloodshot, red as the blood oozing from his forehead. His curly black hair turns white, the streaks of the sticky liquid becoming painfully visible. Kirihara has become the devil once again, and defeats the guy who has crucified him.
Sometimes, Yukimura wonders, maybe it is he who is the real devil between them.
It is he who puts Akaya in the dark, sells his soul to evil.
And it is Tachibana An who saves his kouhai for him, from him, again.
Yukimura hears it from Niou. Akaya's bus naps have frequented, making the boy miss his stop, and for some reason he always ends up in Tokyo.
The boy says he is just beaten up from training like mad in order to defeat the three demons, but they all know better.
Akaya visits the spirited girl.
Sanada tries to slap the junior ace for slacking off, but Yukimura stops him. No words are said; only their eyes, blazing blue and hard hazel, talk.
And the Emperor understands.
It is An who guides Akaya to the light, and eventually, to perfection.
Two more years pass, and this time it is Atobe who opens the final door.
It comes unexpected – Atobe Keigo has never used the State of Self-Actualization, has opened neither of the first two doors. But the King achieves perfection anyway, shatters Yanagi's, Inui's, and Chitose's calculations.
Sanada does not say anything when he learns of it, just walks away. But Yukimura sees the change in his eyes, knows that he pushes himself to his limits in training.
His vice-captain has always been competitive.
But so is he.
How come Atobe has opened the final door? The King has always been a special case – he is able to copy techniques in one glance without losing himself in a trance, without losing stamina, without the State of Self-Actualization.
And most strikingly, Atobe returns all shots of a Muga user with ease. Just like Yukimura.
What is it that has made him achieve perfection?
He has never felt the pain of losing the ability to play; he does not have a devil in himself to conquer.
Just what is it that Atobe, Kirihara, Tezuka, and Echizen have?
Yukimura thinks it through, and finally understands.
He is right – the Pinnacle of Perfection is not just about loving the sport and having fun.
It is about aiming to be the best, just like what everyone wants. Playing without a goal will lead to nothing, and that is why he creates the Law of Rikkai. He instills discipline and seriousness on his team, just like Seigaku's ranking selection matches and Hyoutei's hierarchical system.
He allows Sanada to shout You're too relaxed all the time, just like Tezuka's Don't let your guard down and Atobe's The winner will be Hyotei cheer.
But Rikkai has one flaw – the very same law that Yukimura has created.
By imposing that winning is the only option, that losing is unforgivable and must be punished, he realizes that he stunts the growth of all his teammates.
And Sanada Genichirou, the person who lifts the team up when Yukimura himself is unable to move and is confined in the hospital bed, is his greatest victim.
Among his teammates, it is the Emperor who obeys him faithfully, unquestioningly. Sanada reaches the point of no turning back – he obeys the Child of God, even if it means slapping the very person who has created the law he has taken to heart.
Sanada will never achieve perfection, Yukimura knows.
And it's because of him.
But perfection is not just defined by merely having fun and having goals – he knows there must be more.
He thinks of Tezuka, Echizen, Kirihara, and Atobe again, searching for a common denominator. And he finds it, and is quite surprised why he has not realized sooner.
They all have the pressure and responsibility of leading their respective teams to the top.
Tezuka and Echizen are the pillars of Seigaku. Yukimura passes Rikkai's captainship onto Kirihara. Atobe takes over Hyoutei himself.
They carry their teams on the shoulders, all saying For Nationals under their breaths.
Yukimura especially understands Kirihara – the boy has to rebuild the team and uplift Rikkai's glory once more.
He watches by the bleachers as Tezuka sacrifices his arm in that match against Atobe during the Kanto Tournament.
He witnesses Atobe's unconscious but upstanding form in that match against Echizen during the Nationals.
He sees Echizen's fingers slowly moving as Seigaku cheers the knocked out boy during their match.
Having goals and responsibilities – this is what separates each of them from Tooyama, from Akutagawa, from Chitose, from the multitudes of young tennis players in the world.
And lastly, having fun. This is what sets the four of them apart from the hordes of strong players.
Yukimura makes Echizen himself. It is in their match that the boy realizes. It is he who makes the boy realize.
Tezuka does it himself. Keeping a promise and overcoming the pain in his left arm and shoulder – those are what have made him.
Akaya has An, and it is she who teaches him how to have fun again. It is she who wards off the evil in him, like a priestess with prayer beads dressed in a kimono.
And then there is Atobe. Thinking it through, Yukimura realizes that the King is probably the closest person to achieving perfection all along.
All that's left is a perfect blend of the three – having a goal, having a responsibility, having fun.
But in the end, Samurai Nanjirou is right.
Having a goal and a responsibility, those things come naturally in the realm of tournaments. But the Pinnacle of Perfection, the feeling when one first touches a racket and hits the ball, the feeling when people realize how much tennis means to their lives – that is the most difficult thing to search for.
And with the way he plays, Yukimura realizes that he has the key to unlocking those buried feelings, to opening the final door, to achieving perfection.
He creates a situation in which he takes away everything – the sights, the sounds, the senses – leaving only the memories behind. And through it, through losing tennis, the players are able to be true to themselves, finally crossing the thin line between perfection and imperfection.
Yukimura is the guardian, the gatekeeper of the fortress called Pinnacle of Perfection. But at the same time, he lives with the curse that he is forbidden to enter it, that he cannot let himself in.
Why, he asks no one in particular. He aims to be the best, which leads him into believing that there is no such thing as a ball that cannot be returned. He has the responsibility to bring Rikkai's third consecutive championship.
And yet, no matter how much he knocks, no matter how much he screams, the door won't open for him.
(Perhaps, this is atonement for his sins. He has wronged Sanada; he has wronged Kirihara. He has wronged each one of them – Yanagi, Marui, Jackal, Niou, Yagyuu. He has wronged them all.)
Creating the situation of inability to play tennis, that is something he cannot do for himself.
But he is wrong.
He, of all people, knows how much it hurts not being able to play, not being certain if he will ever be able to play again at all. Unlike the others, who merely experience the illusionary yips he induces, Yukimura suffers the Gullian-Barre Syndrome.
Yukimura Seiichi faces the possibility of losing tennis and his life for real.
The truth that he cannot escape.
But he survives, and he comes back.
And here he is again, standing outside the gates of the fortress with a racket in his hand and a ball in his pocket.
Just what is it that he still lacks? He has already realized that tennis is his life a long time ago. What is it that still needs to be done?
He suddenly remembers something his little sister has asked him, and Yukimura finally understands.
Onii-chan, are you happy?