I was troubled by the fact that there were no Tokugawa fics on this site, so here you are!
Alternate Universe because… it doesn't fit with Shin Prince of Tennis.
SHOGUN AND SAMURAI
~ kittykittyhunter ~
His school suggested the tournament, even though it only lasted a week. Kazuya agreed, partially because he had never been to the United States and was a little curious, but more because the tournament coincided with a History test he wasn't looking forward to.
(Kazuya had never enjoyed studying the Edo period.)
They told him that it would be cold, that he should remember to pack plenty of jumpers and jackets. It was October, after all. Kazuya nodded. He wasn't the type to worry about weather conditions.
Nanjiroh sighed theatrically and Ryoma knew that he would dislike the next words to fall from the old man's mouth.
"We came back to America to help you improve," began the old man affectedly. "All you've done since September is attend school and play catch with your cat."
"I do not play catch with Karupin." Honestly – it was like his father got stupider by the day.
The old man yawned and rubbed the back of his head with the heel of one hand. He spent most of the day wandering about the house dressed in a dark robe. Who was he to be complaining about other people's lack of activity?
That was another thing Ryoma hated about Nanjiroh: the old man's voice went from whiny to serious without any warning. "If you continue to play such one-dimensional tennis," Nanjiroh went on, "you'll never make progress."
The twelve year old glared. He had only wanted to sit down and enjoy his bowl of rice (which, now that they were back in California, had turned into a rare treat). But Nanjiroh insisted on being annoying, and since Ryoma's mother was at work and Karupin was having a nap, the boy was the old man's sole victim. "I'm not one-dimensional," grumbled Ryoma. "I was pretty creative at the Nationals, wasn't I?"
"You've still got a ways to go," sang Nanjiroh. He slapped a flier on the table. "How's this?"
Ryoma gave the sheet a cursory glance before returning to his rice. No way. Absolutely no way.
He arranged for a short sabbatical, judging that it would take three days to adjust to the change in climate and deal with the potential culture shock.
He had no issues on the flight and no problems with the hotel. He tidied his belongings and called his family to tell them that he had arrived safely. Then, since it was fairly early, he called the event organisers, deciding that it would be advantageous to have more information.
Then Kazuya encountered his first problem.
He had travelled all this way for a doubles tournament?
Real men played doubles.
Ryoma remembered the words too well. His debut in the middle school circuit had been in doubles, where he was partnered with the (overly) tall Momoshiro Takeshi, one of the loudest teenagers that the freshman had ever met. Unfortunately, Ryoma had proven hopeless at teamwork – a fact that his captain, Tezuka Kunimitsu, confirmed during a (rather scarring) volleyball competition.
But – Ryoma dashed across the baseline to receive Nanjiroh's sloppy backhand – his captain would insist that the boy extend his horizons and overcome his weaknesses. If he were in the vicinity (Ryoma glanced over his shoulder, fearing the apparition of those hawk-like eyes), the third-year would suggest, no, command Ryoma to take part, especially since his father had been called upon by a few friends. Still – Ryoma grit his teeth and ran forward, sending Nanjiroh's serve straight down the line – it was doubles. It wasn't as though the captain of Seishun Gakuen could boast that he was a specialist: the last time Tezuka had been in a doubles match, he had booted his partner off the court and proceeded to continue playing all by himself.
Wait a minute.
Nanjiroh's smash whistled over Ryoma's shoulder. The boy was standing still, trembling. "What now?" yawned Nanjiroh. "Don't stop boy – we only have fifteen minutes before your mother comes home."
The boy wasn't listening. He was making a list, ticking off names.
He had never seen his captain play doubles.
He had never seen the captain of Hyoutei, Atobe Keigo, play doubles.
The same went for Yukimura Seiichi and Sanada Genichirou, the two strongest players at Rikkaidai.
If Ryoma played doubles, if he was a success at doubles, it would just be another way of surpassing them all.
"Old man," Ryoma called, adjusting his hat with a sweep of his hand, "tell me about this tournament."
He could never let his rivals know about this. They would laugh forever, revelling in his mistake. Kazuya groaned as he re-read the flier for the fifteenth time. How was it possible that no one, no one at all, had noticed the tournament's terms?
He chewed his way through his nutritional breakfast sullenly, thinking of all the homework he would have to catch up on, the essays he would have to write, the assignments he would have to complete… and for what? He scowled at the poster. It wasn't an ordinary doubles tournament, but one with a twist: the pairs would be comprised of one high school student and one middle school student. Great. It didn't matter that Kazuya would never trust his tennis reputation in the hands of a whiny brat – he was supposed to find someone out of the blue, and an eligible participant, at that.
There was really no use in complaining. He left the café, stepping aside to admit an elderly couple.
He had a good sense of direction. He familiarised himself with the streets of Los Angeles and located the tennis centre after asking only two people for assistance. As he gazed at the building (a complex of glass and whitewashed walls), he wondered why he had been dragged across the continents. Surely there were enough local players for the tournament to proceed without overseas talent? Not that Kazuya was bragging, particularly, but he was one of the better high school players.
Kazuya glanced over his shoulder, hearing muttered Japanese. He saw nothing, so he looked down. A scrawny child stood a few metres away, assessing the building. "It's not the Forest of Arenas, but it's alright."
"You've seen the Forest of Arenas?"
The boy tilted his head. He had green hair and hazel eyes. His features were insolent. "I played at the Forest of Arenas," the boy smirked, "this summer."
Summer. The middle school Nationals had taken place in Tokyo that year – and at the Forest of Arenas. "That's nice," said Kazuya. He began to make his way down the steps.
Behind him, the boy started. He asked, "Who're you?"
Just like his seniors back at Seigaku, that blue-haired guy with the cool eyes was tall, way too tall. Ryoma glowered at Tokugawa's shoulders, thinking that he could have at least asked who he was talking to. It was only polite.
No matter. Ryoma shrugged, studying the facility. He had made it all the way here (at his mother's quiet suggestion that it would be a good idea to get to know the tournament's location). He could easily check it out.
Soon, he was walking alongside Tokugawa. Without a word, the high school student took longer strides.
Now Ryoma was annoyed. He couldn't keep up with the guy without resorting to jogging – and he was not going to embarrass himself by doing that. So he walked at his usual pace.
Tokugawa arrived at the front door. He turned and scowled, holding it open
Sheesh. This guy would even deter Kikumaru Eiji.
There was no protocol for requesting a doubles partner. Kazuya sighed inwardly. Since the kid was at the facility, and since he claimed to have played at one of Tokyo's most prestigious courts, the signs pointed to the same conclusion: the minuscule brat was taking part in the tournament. But it was likely that he already had a partner, in which case – there was no point in humouring the kid.
A smiling receptionist sat behind the desk, typing rapidly. Her expression did not change as she looked from the monitor to the pair of students before her. She raised her fingers from the keyboard. "Can I help?"
Then the kid took over (it was still surprising that he was old enough to be in the twelve-to-fifteen bracket). He explained something to the receptionist, who nodded. The boy said, "Ryoma Echizen." He grinned triumphantly.
Right – given name, then family name. "Kazuya Tokugawa," he said quietly.
The receptionist made a brief phone call, and soon, they were given a tour. Every so often Echizen translated what the guide was saying – Kazuya mentioned that it wasn't necessary and that he was following the guide's explanations just fine, but Echizen was determined to repay Kazuya's earlier slight. After a while, Kazuya tuned out both the guide and the boy, snapping back to reality when he heard Echizen announce, "We're a team."
Kazuya said coolly, "You can't decide that."
"Che." Echizen smirked. "Have you got a partner?"
It took care of his problem, but it was the brat's victory.
The facility's cafeteria was nice. Ryoma loaded his plate and sat at Tokugawa's table. The high school student seemed resigned to the freshman tagging along for the day – as Ryoma drew out a chair, Tokugawa didn't even raise an eyebrow. Ryoma said, "I shall gladly receive," before ploughing into the food. Tokugawa made a slight sound of derision, which Ryoma ignored.
"Take it easy," said Tokugawa after a few minutes. "You're not doing your body any favours."
Ryoma slowed down. Tokugawa was one of those guys who had to be prodded into conversation. With tennis players, there was never a happy medium: they either rambled for eternity or were as expressive as brick walls.
"Are you good at doubles?"
Tokugawa speared a pasta shell. "I haven't had much doubles experience. You?"
Ryoma grinned, broadly. "I'm the worst." Tokugawa looked ready to use his fork as a weapon, so the freshman hastily added, "Well – not the worst. But I'm like Tokugawa-san: I haven't had much practice."
"Losing is not an option. If you're a liability, stand back. I can handle the court on my own."
"That's my line," grumbled Ryoma.
It took effort, but eventually Ryoma found out that Tokugawa didn't live in the city at all – he had flown all the way from Japan to take part in the tournament at the recommendation of his school. Ryoma's own story was shorter – "My old man made me do it."
Then Tokugawa asked something that made Ryoma blink.
"Is your tennis any good?"
"I'll show you."
Kazuya followed the scrawny kid to a public tennis court – the boy had mumbled something about not wanting to pay at the facility. Kids. They demanded the flashiest gadgets as gifts – and then couldn't ration their money for bus fares. Kazuya wondered what he would say when he next saw his friends.
"This will be a one set match –"
"No," cut in Kazuya. He took his place on the court, racquet in hand. "Ten minutes."
Echizen scowled. "You'll be crying when –"
Kazuya served. Echizen shut up.
As the minutes progressed, Kazuya decided that the kid had some potential, though it was wasting away under a lousy attitude and a lack of discipline. Echizen was too eager to discard his play style, switching from technique to technique to keep the teenager guessing. But it was a waste of energy. If Echizen had real talent, he would spot the holes that already existed, instead of trying to rip tears in apparently seamless armour.
His returns were strong, for a twelve year old. And he had good stamina.
But he was worlds away from Kazuya's level.
One minute more.
Echizen sprinted to the net. He played a precarious shot – it swerved around Kazuya entirely – it was heading to the doubles alley –
Kazuya didn't need to see the result. He could read the outcome in Echizen's face. "Out," announced Kazuya. He straightened. "Your ten minutes are done."
He zipped his tennis racquet back into his bag, preparing to leave.
The boy was breathing heavily. "D-doubles," Echizen choked. "We need to practice."
Kazuya clenched his fist. "Fine. Meet me here, tomorrow, at four thirty. I won't wait for a minute."
Rinko was slipping hangers through Ryoma's shirts, placing them in his cupboard. Even from his desk, he could smell the fresh perfume of detergent. It always soothed him, even at moments like this, when he was puzzling over homework.
"Does it bother you?" the woman asked gently. "I'm impressed that you found a partner so quickly."
Ryoma sighed. No, it didn't bother him. The old man was right: if Ryoma didn't learn more about doubles, someone would come along and exploit his weakness. Losing to Tokugawa – that was the lame part. "He's strong," conceded the boy. "And he doesn't smile at all."
"You could smile a little more."
Rinko was finished with the shirts. She edged closer and glanced at Ryoma's paper, spotting in an instant where her son had gone wrong. Ryoma was always grateful that, though he had a dumb father, his mother more than made up for it. He thanked Rinko, who patted his head and said that they would be having noodles for dinner.
Part of Kazuya wanted to throw the racquet – no, both racquets – in Echizen's face.
The brat was disagreeable, darting around the court while greedily pursuing points, constantly forgetting that he had a (much taller and more able) comrade. And he hated taking criticism, constantly saying, "No, not yet."
No, not yet.
What did that have to do with anything?
Worst of all, Kazuya received phone calls from home, asking how he was. He danced between the truth and a fantasy – he said (correctly) that the tournament hadn't started yet and that, at the moment, he was still preparing.
He failed to mention the part about doubles.
On the second day, Echizen proffered a can of Fanta, perhaps as a peace offering. "That stuff will rot your organs," said Kazuya. The boy promptly turned away and downed his own soda.
"I played in the Nationals," said Ryoma.
He observed Tokugawa, but the teenager remained silent. Ryoma frowned. Why was this guy incapable of starting a conversation? "I played Rikkaidai's Yukimura-san at the Finals."
"Yukimura." Tokugawa recalled the name. "He was in that band of first years who led Rikkaidai to victory."
"So what?" Tokugawa shrugged. "That's in the past."
Ryoma sighed. Even if Tokugawa wasn't exactly friendly, the truth shone clearly: they were both growing accustomed to each other's styles. Alright, so the high school student was – slightly – ahead of Ryoma, but the difference in strength wasn't that huge.
"Hey, Tokugawa-san." They were taking a break to eat some fruit. Tokugawa was strict about meals, a trait which Ryoma didn't mind at all. "How come they called you all the way out here?"
He thought that the question would go unanswered. To his surprise, Tokugawa replied, "They asked for a few overseas players. It's part of a cultural exhibition."
"Huh. Sounds like hassle."
"Since you're not the host, you have no right to grumble."
They were facing a European pair. The younger player was about thirteen: he was tall, blonde. His partner was a bulky brunette with a gentle face – an aggressive baseliner.
Echizen sipped his water and turned back to Kazuya. "Hey," began the younger boy, "you're not nervous, are you?"
Kazuya ignored the question. "You're finally being responsible," he said, nodding at the water bottle. "Your current eating habits will destroy any chance you have of becoming a pro."
Echizen frowned. He straightened his hat. "Let's go."
They shook hands with Jones and Westwood, their first opponents. Kazuya was amused to find that Jones had a stronger handshake than his older teammate. Then, the four players took their places. Echizen would be serving.
The younger boy launched a tennis ball into the air and fired.
Kazuya frowned. A twist serve. Not bad, for someone so short. The only problem was that Westwood was ready – he returned the serve with ease, and the ball went flying over the net.
It was well within Kazuya's grasp – but Echizen had to intercept the point.
"Brat," hissed Kazuya. The younger boy swivelled. "What did we discuss?"
"I told you," Echizen shrugged, "you can guard the baseline. Leave the rest to me."
Kazuya didn't argue.
The next few points were difficult: Echizen found himself sprinting across the court more than he had expected. Jones hit deep shots – which Kazuya only returned if he didn't have to move his feet – and Westwood could play from a variety of angles. What was more, Echizen had allowed the reality of doubles to slip from his mind: the court was larger, meaning that points could be harder to win.
After the boy had battled to hold onto his service, he scowled at Kazuya. The older boy hadn't broken a sweat, though Echizen was already perspiring. "Are you just going to stand there?"
"That's what you wanted."
Echizen exhaled. He swallowed, hard – "Real men play doubles."
Echizen's eyes were gleaming. For the first time, Kazuya realised what he found strange about those bright eyes: they were large; the irises were surrounded by too much white. "I want to win," said the boy.
"Follow my lead."
Tokugawa was strong, there was no questioning that. From the moment he had stepped into the match the plays had taken a turn: he was like the vice-captain of Seigaku, Oishi Shuuichirou, able to dictate the game's flow. Tokugawa's reach was long and it was rare for him to miss a shot. A few points sailed past him – Ryoma privately felt that Tokugawa was neglecting the points as some sort of gift.
They were changing court, so it was time for a slight recess. Ryoma drank more water, scanning the crowd. The facility wasn't an exhibition hall so it wasn't teeming with people. Even so, there were enough spectators. This tournament was the first of its kind, and Ryoma guessed that if the matches were interesting, another one would occur in the future.
He wasn't enjoying himself.
Tokugawa still wasn't being pushed. It was likely that he was used to longer matches, more than a single set. He probably wanted to get the first day over and done with. If they advanced at this stage, they only needed to defeat two more pairs to be crowned the victors.
Ryoma thought of the trophies and medals in his room, all a jumble, except for one.
"Ah great," the boy mumbled. His had spied a familiar sight: an old man in dishevelled clothes and sunglasses, loitering in the front row.
"What is it?"
Ryoma shook his head. "Listen," he said dully, "let's finish this quickly. And don't do anything – awesome."
Tokugawa frowned. "Quickly? We're tied at three games apiece."
"Right," nodded Ryoma, "but we're holding back. If we step it up, those other guys will fall behind."
"Why are you in a hurry?"
There was no way he was explaining. No way. "Please?"
Tokugawa grimaced and stood up.
The opponent served – Westwood or Jones, Ryoma barely cared anymore – and before a rally began, Ryoma slid across the court on his heels, sending the ball down the line with Drive B. The sphere bounced twice and the umpire called, "Love-fifteen!"
The next few points passed like that, with Ryoma now relying on his seniors' techniques: Westwood's mouth fell open when he was bested by a Boomerang Snake, Jones lost out to a Jack Knife (Tokugawa scoffed in the background: Ryoma knew that his power was measly compared to Momoshiro's and Kawamura's) and neither of the European players could counter the Zero Gravity Drop Shot. The umpire declared, "Four games to three!"
Ryoma's heart was thundering, his chest rising and falling rapidly. All of this without the Pinnacle of Self-Actualisation… it would be a bad idea to tap into that now. He was already tired.
Was he sick? He glanced back at Jones and Westwood. At best those two were at Kantou level: they looked strong, but on the court itself… it didn't explain why the boy was exerting so much energy, why this battle was such a struggle.
Was that the nature of doubles? He looked back at Tokugawa, already prepared for the next game. Ryoma was used to pressure: he was, after all, Seigaku's pillar…
But in doubles, there was an immediate concern, one that could not be understood by spectators.
He couldn't disappoint his partner.
Ryoma smiled. Perhaps even doubles was fun. "Hey, Tokugawa-san," he called, "I'm counting on you!"
Unbelievable. The boy stopped being a hassle.
He read Kazuya's movements, watching the shots' trajectory – in fact, he could track the faster serves and slices. Echizen beamed through the next two games, beads of sweat flying from his fingers as he leapt, dashed, crashed – and did not miss a single point.
"Game, set and match – Tokugawa and Echizen Pair!"
They shook hands with their opponents and then returned to the bench. Echizen towelled his face, still grinning as he patted his eyes. Kazuya realised that he should probably say something: Echizen had managed to turn around during the second half of the match. He began, "You did well –" but was cut off by a new voice.
"What did I tell you, boy?" A strange man was leaning across the back of the bench; he spoke with a drawl. "Even you're not completely useless."
Echizen scowled. "Go away."
The stranger didn't listen, chuckling instead. He suddenly focused on Kazuya. Though the old man was wearing sunglasses, Kazuya felt he was being scrutinised.
Then the man gave his verdict. "With names like that," he sang, "they'll be calling you the Edo Pair!"
Even in America, he couldn't escape that damn History test!