~ kittykittyhunter ~
At four years of age, Tokugawa Kazuya is little over eighty centimetres. The nurses say he'll grow up to be tall. Kazuya hopes so. At the moment, he has to drag the chair closer to the cabinet when he wants an apple from the fruit bowl.
He's in a sports store with his father. There's an event coming up at the senior Tokugawa's workplace – he's informed the boy that they'll be playing tennis together. Kazuya isn't too worried about the details. He's satisfied with examining the aisles, picking up racquets. He tests a few swings. His father chuckles and says, "Take your time, Kazuya." But then he checks his watch, so Kazuya stops at the next option: a racquet that's as blue as his irises.
The man nods. Their Father-Son Hour is done.
Kauzya, they boast, is a prodigy.
The coaches use a lot of words to describe the five year old to his parent. The boy's more interested in dashing after the ball. Tennis is fun! Kazuya leaps towards the volley, whacking the head of his racquet against the sphere. The shot flies down the middle of the court. Elated, the child punches the air. He swivels towards the benches.
His father is on the phone.
It's summer. Kazuya's wearing designer shorts and a branded T-shirt. He's drawn a blanket around his slight shoulders.
Watching Samurai Nanjiroh slides a chill down Kazuya's spine.
The man's brilliant: the best Japanese player in all of history. Samurai Nanjiroh's tennis is flawless. His serves and smashes and swings are incredible.
Once the Samurai has claimed three straight sets, seven-year-old Kazuya looks away from the screen.
In two days, Samurai Nanjiroh will play another match and if he – Kazuya's hero – is victorious, he'll be crowned the best in the world.
The next morning, national newspapers scream the same headline.
SAMURAI NANJIROH ENDS PRO CAREER.
They're on a family holiday.
Foreign mothers tut and coo at him, as though he's a chubby toddler instead of a cool eight year old. He has an English tea with his parents, complete with cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey. Despite enjoying the taste, Kazuya keeps his face smooth, an ironed shirt. Then, he excuses himself.
It doesn't take long to find an opponent. The older boy has orange hair and a nose that's off-centre.
Kazuya wins the match.
On his ninth birthday, his aunt takes him out on a yacht.
Kazuya leans against the stern rail. The water sways ever so slightly; he's glad that he doesn't get seasick. Not that they're on the sea… he frowns, wondering if he wants a different term.
There's a tinkling giggle. "Kazuya-kun," calls his aunt, "smile!"
He grins and she shields her eyes, claiming he's brighter than the sun.
Beneath the water's surface, fish are swimming in schools, keeping each other company. If he becomes a pro, he'll stop being bothered by loneliness.
He's been at the same club for half his life. It's prestigious, so there is always warm blood. Regardless, Kazuya knows he'll have to leave the country to seek better players.
He purchases a Japanese-to-English dictionary and starts applying himself in school. For years, his teachers have complained that the boy feasts on tennis. Now, the languages master remarks on his progress.
(No one else does.)
Before going to bed, Kazuya beams at the mirror. He'll give a fluent, inspiring speech. He'll declare that he's grateful to have triumphed at Wimbledon.
He takes a beating from a Spanish girl. They shake hands across the net.
In a few months he'll complete middle school. Then, he can focus. Kazuya has been strict: he is glued to training regimes, stapled to athletic diets. As he had suspected, the teens at the European base surpass the players he's defeated in Japan – the Russian counter-puncher, the French aggressive baseliner, the Bulgarian defensive baseliner – they are all more talented than the Asian southpaw.
When his opponent smiles, Kazuya barely manages to incline his head.
He adores his gleaming motorbike, a present he bought himself for returning to Japan. For weeks, he's been touring Canada.
He passed the test on his first attempt. Sixteen years old – and the roads are his to peruse.
Kazuya deserves the treat. He's won eleven matches in a row.
He's been invited to an Under-17 camp. Will it offer a challenge?
Apparently, the high school Nationals were dominated by a behemoth.
Kazuya's lungs are searing. Stubbornness forces him onto his feet. He rests his gaze on Byoudouin Houou.
The junior scoffs, "Get lost." Then he walks away, ignoring Kazuya's outstretched palm.
His pride has been trampled.
Along with a string of others who lost their shuffle matches, Kazuya sits on a bus that will see the adolescents home.
They're dumped in a clearing.
Coach Saitou breaks from the cover of trees. Behind him is an immense cliff.
"Why don't you climb it?"
Kazuya's hands are red. Raw. His trainers keep slipping. There are a few advantages to being six foot two: his reach is long – except he never knew his limbs were so heavy.
He is the first to the summit. He discovers an old man, snoring.
Though Coach Nyuudou's speech is slurred, his curses slice through Kazuya with every lost point.
"Piece of trash," sneers the old man. His pauses and takes a long swig from his flask. He spits on the uneven ground. "That's what you are." He indicates the wad of phlegm with one toe. "Useless."
Kazuya raises his racquet.
They squat on small tricycles and struggle uphill. They hang upside-down from trees, lurching after each other's serves. They rally in the rain without waiting for sunrise.
One night, Coach Nyuudou takes Kazuya and two others aside. They're all freshmen.
The Coach assigns them a Special Mission.
Observing the complex, Toriyama sniffs. "I'm not doing it. Have you seen the cameras around here? We'll die!"
"Yeah," Nomura concurs. "We're too clumsy. Tokugawa – you'd better do it."
"We'll cheer you on!"
Kazuya glares at his peers. They silence.
He could not have guessed that he would return to the facility so soon – even if for a stupid reason. Kazuya sighs and stands. The idiots follow. They keep to the shadows, and locating the soaps, shampoos and conditioners is no trouble. What remains is the other operation: stealing into the buildings and refilling Coach Nyuudou's supply.
First, they're faced with a corridor of cameras.
Nomura's jaw unhinges. "That's it. We're DEFINITELY dead."
"No doubt about it," agrees Toriyama.
"Should just go home."
Kazuya steps onto a square marked on the carpet. Glancing over his shoulder, he explains, "Blindspots."
Toriyama and Nomura quietly applaud.
Kazuya soundlessly seethes that he wasn't given adept companions: Nomura and Toriyama's combined skills are whining, whinging – and wheezing unexpectedly. At one point, Kazuya scowls so severely that the pair shudder.
Finally, they come to another passageway.
This one has lasers.
"We're doomed," chorus Nomura and Toriyama.
Kazuya approaches the bright beams. The walls are aglow with pink light. This, he decides, is simple.
Taking the first step, he finds he is too tall. He swivels towards his teammates.
"What do you suggest?"
Simultaneously, they cup their chins in their hands, tilt their heads to the right, and shrug. Kazuya returns to the lasers. The path to acquiring Coach Nyuudou's approval, to becoming the strongest, is visible.
Lowering his shoulders, Kazuya inhales.
A laser moves and he recoils.
He tries again. He manoeuvres his right leg and swings his left arm. He crouches on the floor. He spins on the spot and jumps over a bar of light. Toriyama's and Nomura's cheers are mounting. Kazuya prepares for the final hurdle.
His elbow scrapes a laser.
He flattens his arms by his sides. The alarm is booming from every surface, alerting the whole of existence that Tokugawa Kazuya has failed.
He lifts a hand to his mouth to smother a laugh.