A/N: It took me two years to finally write this plot bunny down. Wow. Has it been that long already? Thank you very much to Frog-Kun and fyerigurl for bearing with all my rants about this fic. You guys are the best! I still can't believe I'm finally posting this.
The first two chapters will be set two years after the original timeline, a necessary prelude before I delve into the actual story, which will be set, as promised, three years after Seigaku won the Nationals. Third years will be third years again, and lots of high school tennis is coming up.
Disclaimer: Konomi Takeshi owns Prince of Tennis.
Chapter 1: Brothers
Fuji Yuuta walked towards one of the vending machines in the Kantou tournament grounds. For the first time in years, St. Rudolph qualified for the said competition after acing the consolation matches in the Tokyo prefecturals. The team then joined the champion Hyoutei, runner-up Seigaku, and semi-finalists Fudomine and Yamabuki in advancing to the regionals.
Currently, they were facing Rokkaku in the second round. They were down by two games, as they lost the doubles matches. One more loss and they'll be out of the tournament, but Yuuta pushed this possibility at the back of his mind.
"Eto... green tea for Mizuki-san, coffee for Akazawa-fukubuchou, cola for everyone else," he said while pressing the corresponding buttons for the drinks and inserting coins to the machine. The resounding clank of metal followed one after another, indicating every completed purchase.
As the only freshman regular, Yuuta was often sent to buy snacks and drinks for his senpai-tachi. He sighed as he bent to collect the cans, thinking that a couple of months ago, he was the captain of the middle school tennis team. He was the one ordering people around.
Well, I guess it can't be helped. People grow up and go back to square one.
He was about to pick the last can when a particularly loud conversation reached his ears.
"... do you think will play in the finals? I think it's Rikkai and Hyoutei, actually."
"I think so too. Rikkai is as invincible as ever, and Hyoutei has their doubles intact in addition to the nationally-ranked Atobe Keigo."
"Yeah. None of the other teams can measure up to them now. Seigaku ceased to be a threat since Tezuka Kunimitsu and Echizen Ryoma went pro two years ago."
"Well, they still have tensai Fuji Syuusuke and the Golden Pair, so they still have a chance to reach the semifinals."
At that point, Yuuta turned around. He saw two players of an unseeded school passing by.
Two figures stood on either side of the court: one with long hair beneath a white cap, the other with a red head band to keep his bangs out of his face. Both were panting heavily, but when the umpire announced the score – four games all – their grips on their rackets tightened as they positioned themselves for another rally.
Except that it was more of a dance – a dance in the wind – with all their fluid footwork and graceful swings. Neither was leading; they were just following the beat of their rackets hitting the ball, and the ball bouncing on the court.
And just then, the tempo suddenly increased – the long-haired one, Kisarazu Ryou, charged towards the net and fired a precise forehand to the corner. Yuuta got back just in time to see the shot speeding past his teammate, Ryou's twin brother Atsushi, who was too shocked to even move an inch.
It was a match to see, Yuuta thought as he gave out the drinks. An official match between two brothers playing for different teams. Two brothers who, for the longest time, were training alongside each other, knowing every trick in the other's sleeve.
He wanted to have that kind of match too, with his brother.
Yuuta leaned on the metal railing as he opened his can of soda with a fizz, turning his attention back to the game. Atsushi served, and a baseline rally ensued. At first it was a stalemate – they were both waiting for the other to slip up – but slowly it became apparent that the St. Rudolph regular was being shaken left and right.
"Ryou moves a step forward every shot," Mizuki said, and he supplied the explanation immediately when he saw Yanagisawa's mouth opening, probably to say something stupid again, "which means, he's putting more pressure as he nears the net."
Nobody had noticed earlier, because they were all focused on the ball. But now it was obvious – the Rokkaku second year was just a few strides away from the service box.
Atsushi chased the ball in the left corner, managing to clip it with his racket for a shallow lob. Ryou took the chance – he leaped into the air and pounded the ball to the other side. The next two points he took with ease as well; the fierce rally earlier had taken its toll to the short-haired boy's stamina.
It was a decisive break.
Atsushi had his hands on his knees as he caught his breath, the beads of sweat in his forehead dripping to the court. On the other side of the net, Ryou bent down to fetch his hat which had fallen from the ground during his smash.
In the sidelines, Yuuta gripped his now half-empty can tighter, eliciting a soft cracking sound as he watched his senpai wipe the sweat on his temples with the sleeves of his white and brown tennis uniform. For a while, he had seen himself in him – Atsushi was on the brink of losing against his brother, just like Yuuta had been countless of times before.
He'd forgotten what it was like, to face defeat against his aniki. He wasn't sure if he even wanted to remember, but as he saw Atsushi heading to the bench to get a much-needed swig of water, lips set in a firm line but in his eyes a hint of a smile, a vague memory of a scowling but fired up boy came back to him.
He finished his soda.
The game continued after the players changed sides. Two aces flew past the now fatigued Atsushi, and the third serve he sent straight to the net.
It was matchpoint.
Ryou served again, and Atsushi grunted as he returned the ball with much force as he could. As soon as the ball left his racket, he bolted towards the net, volleying Ryou's shots. The Rokkaku regular lobbed the ball to break the pace, but Atsushi threw himself up to smash the ball, only to rotate his body midair to hit a backhanded drop shot.
Ryou extended his racket and dived for the ball, catching it just after the first bounce, and sent it over to the side, landing right inside the line.
"Game. Set. Match. Kisarazu Ryou!"
A hand was extended to him. He looked up to see his brother, hair a bit tussled, red head band loosened, lips curved slightly upwards. Ryou took the offered hand, and allowed Atsushi to pull him up to a stand.
"You almost got me there," Ryou said as he adjusted his hand for a proper handshake.
"I'll get you next time."
After everyone else went off their own – some stayed in the tournament grounds and watched the remaining matches of the day, some already left to catch the train home – Yuuta found himself in one of the warm up courts hitting against the wall. He wasn't able to play earlier, as he was placed in Singles Two, so he had wanted to work on a sweat for a bit before heading back.
Except that he had been hitting the ball more ruthlessly than necessary for practice swings – the truth is, he just wanted to be occupied with something to keep him from thinking about the match earlier, among many other things.
"Looks like the match has gotten to you, hasn't it?" a familiar voice suddenly said behind him.
Yuuta caught the ball with his right hand and turned around. "Saeki-san," he said, acknowledging the presence of his brother's childhood friend. He walked to the bench where he put his tennis bag, placed his racket and ball inside, and sat down.
"Mind if I join you?" Saeki asked, and the younger boy made room for him.
"Congratulations for advancing to the quarter finals," Yuuta said as he wiped his forehead with a towel.
"Ah, thank you," Saeki said tentatively, quite taken aback by the greeting. Of course, Yuuta was just being polite, but he did not come here for pleasantries. The topic though, was too sensitive for him to broach on, so he kept silent for a while, knowing that the St. Rudolph freshman had many things going through his mind right now.
When Yuuta showed no indication of opening up to him, Saeki finally decided to speak.
"You can always challenge him to a match, you know," he said with a reassuring smile, searching Yuuta's eyes.
The younger boy opened his mouth as to say something, but closed it again. He would listen to what Saeki had to say for now.
Saeki took this as his cue.
"But you want an official match, I know. You want to prove something, right? That you are Fuji Yuuta, the Southpaw Killer, not Fuji Yuuta, Fuji the genius's little brother," he paused, asking for confirmation.
"Well, don't you think you've already proven yourself? All those matches you won, all those players whom you gave a hard time. To them, and to the people who watched you grow, you are already your own person," he paused again, allowing Yuuta to think about his words.
"Maybe you are taking things the wrong way, Yuuta. Maybe... the truth is that you are just missing your brother. All those times you played tennis together."
Yuuta's eyes widened.
"Oi, Saeki!" Bane called out. Saeki turned to him. "We're going. The bus is here."
"Coming!" Saeki stood up. He turned back to Yuuta. "Well, at least that's what I think. I could be wrong, but it's up to you to decide that. Just be honest with yourself, Yuuta."
And with that, Saeki parted with him. Yuuta watched his back as he walked away, but before he left out of his sight, he stood up and called him.
"Saeki-san!" The Rokkaku junior turned around. "T-thank you," Yuuta stammered.
Saeki gave him a thumbs-up before continuing his way.
He might have said he could be wrong, but Yuuta knew there's no other person besides Yumiko who knew him and his brother well enough except for one Saeki Kojirou.
That night, Yuuta had a dream of many years ago.
He was sleeping on his brother's back, a fresh gash swollen red on the side of his forehead.
Earlier, Fuji had been practicing hitting twist kites in the street tennis courts when Yuuta joined him and eventually asked for a match. The younger boy prodded his aniki to use this new move, just so he could see it in an actual match. It was dangerous, but Fuji always had a soft spot for his brother, and soon gave in to the request, warning Yuuta to be ready to dodge the ball.
The boy only nodded excitedly, rolling the racket in his palm as he swayed left and right in anticipation to the serve. He returned it easily, and focused on his brother's form to see if the shot was coming or not.
Is he gonna use it yet?
But Fuji simply returned the ball and rallied for a few more shots. Yuuta was starting to grow impatient and hit the ball hard, and the next thing he knew, the ball was coming straight for his face. He could only shut his eyes, and soon he was knocked out.
Fuji had carried him all the way from the street tennis courts to their home. He'd heard a feminine voice fretting over at the sight of him unconscious – that was Yumiko-nee-san – before he felt himself being plopped down into the sofa.
When Yuuta opened his eyes, his brother was looking down on him with a smile that seemed relieved and apologetic; he couldn't tell exactly which one. Yumiko whisked his aniki away before he could even discern his smile. It was then that he noticed she had a pack of cotton balls, along with a bottle of alcohol, and–
Yuuta jerked awake at that point.
He touched the scar on his forehead instinctively. He hadn't remembered the events that led to that scar in a while.
It was the start of a little soul-searching.
A/N: Djokovic and Sharapova both lost in the Olympics. Eff my life.
So, review? Constructive criticism is highly appreciated.