This is my first time making use of a first person perspective, and I know how awkward that sounds—I personally rebel against it, but now I can't, since I started writing in first person AND second person…oh self-justifications never fail to amuse me, har har.

As always, thank you for all the reviews (whether guest or logins) that you leave on my writing! Hopefully I replied to everyone (I don't know how to do that if you're a guest status, but thank you for all the lovely words nevertheless :3) since I'm isolated in the countryside right now reading…and reading….and more reading. Meditating, urgh.

Criticism is welcome!


"Oh, holy Father, Pope Urbain,

Who canst bind and loose as well,

Now save me from the evil one,

And from the pains of hell!"

Sadly the Pope upraised his hand,

And sadly began to speak:

"Tannhäuser, most wretched of all men,

This spell thou canst not break.

The devil called Venus is the worst

Amongst all we name as such.

And nevermore canst thou be redeemed

From the beautiful witch's clutch.

Thou with thy spirit must atone

For the joys thou hast loved so well;

Accursed art thou! thou are condemned

Unto everlasting hell!"

-Heinrich Heine, Tannhäuser: A Legend.

/

I have been nurtured by beauty and had reveled in beautiful things. My mother was beautiful; she was a fine figure with a slim face and deep eyes, and her smile was subtle, coy; even as a young child I felt the appeal of her feminine charms work into the ways of my father and male guests present. To me, she had always directed a softer touch, a mischievous smile that whispered to me, so what fun shall we have today, my dear child? I had watched her eyes glitter over the years that would, unfortunately, fade with age and weariness. My father too, was a fine figure, if not of fine character, but he meant the best for me, and had love me, I suppose, in his own way, or precisely, in a way that he was brought up to be loved.

I have never told this to any of you, for you took no interest in such trivial talk. The conversations of our family histories had never much mattered: what I knew of yours, I knew of your father's fame and your claim of a hatred I personally never found. What you knew of me…well, what everyone knew, I would assume. You did not know that my mother was half-Japanese, and it was from her that I inherited my blue-grey eyes; you did not know what my father did, or wonder why you have never seen him in the years you lodged at my house. In short, you knew nothing save for the name of my dog, Charles. You had loved him at first sight and he in turn, loyally barked whenever you graced your insolence within the walls I lived.

You attracted me in my own adolescence because of the beauty I was raised to detect since I was a child. You were beautiful in your own way: at twelve, you were destructive and rash. You lacked manners and you were drunk with your own heroism and cockiness. Such a confidence intrigued me: it is how we feel when we see an array of ants marching despite the glaring sun, determined to carry their share of food into their lodgings. A goal, a mark. Such a determination is endearing because to us they are insignificant and yet, in their own little world, they feel they are contributing something grand. You were those ants back then, and I left you to your grandeurs instead of squashing you, as some children are adept to do. Kirihara comes to mind. Because that grandeur of yours, no matter how crude, is what made your worth shine and deceit those around you that you were beautiful, that you were perfect. I would not be ashamed to admit that I was but one of the many.

You are twenty-two, and I would ask, is this what you envisioned in your future? And perhaps you would reply, in your childish charm, well duh, what do you expect? As if you could not have thought of anything better. I envied that about you: a clear goal that was simple minded that once deluded me into thinking you were also simple.

You're poking me now: "You have that look," you say, and you frown, "Contemplating look. Stop it, it's weird."

We are in Berlin after your Wimbledon games, and you have barely managed to scrape through second place. So you have failed to achieve the Grand Slam; yet, you do not look disappointed. Is that a sincere carelessness, or a pretense?

I deign to answer, and a moment later, you poke me again and lapse into silence. Berlin is cool, rainy. It is where I made my weekend trips while I was at Oxford and refined my previously pretentious German. Berlin for you means beer and a stroll in Tiergarten, and across Unter den Linden we walked, silence our mode of conversation. An hour ago, you had two bottles of beer, but your walking is careful, sober. You face is sullen, but it is because you are tired. This I know, because last night you had not slept, because we had fought, and you had ran out the hotel room and the hotel doors, and I had not followed. You returned today at lunch, where I waited in feigned calm, and we greeted each other with glares and biting remarks. It is where we are now: pettiness and grudges. We pretend nothing is amiss, and therefore nothing is.

You are as beautiful as you are when you were a boy; if there is a difference, it is because now you understand your own worth and therefore, your limitations. Losses and defeats have hardened you: losses, because you were careless, and defeats because you were not enough. That is a bitter thought, is it not? In your youth, you have not considered a limit to your rather mediocre abilities. If I were to point this out to you, you would snap and turn away. I was better, you'd sneer, better than what you could have ever been. I do not agree on the obvious, and so I resume my silence.

I snipe and disdain you privately, but in truth, I am fond of your childish confidence. I wish to protect it sometimes, allow you to maintain that façade and innocence. Your whole acceptance of the world as a straightforward line in a clear black-and-white begs to be protected. I wish for your insolence to grow, and so sometimes I humor you. I look away on your weaknesses and hubris, I indulge in your taunts and manic glees. In turn, I assume, you too tolerate what you perceive to be my weaknesses. My pride, and my hubris: to cite a few of your many examples. But, mein lieber, I have no such faults.

/

We walk for a time, and your sullen countenance lifts somewhat. You have seen a cat leaping across the bench; few strays scatter here in such a huge road, and you stop, stare. A fond smile threatens to break away your blankness, and I know you are thinking of your own cat. I only spare a brief glance at the cat, which is shabby and dirty, not even worth brushing with a finger, and study your face. It is the subconscious; you would never poise such a delight on your face intentionally. You are stopping in the middle of the road, and so I too, stop. You stare at the cat until it lifts its hideous hind legs and its horrid face (from the corner of my eyes it irritates me with its movements) and jumps off the bench. It soon scats off, into the bushes that lead to the roads of the inner grass areas of Tiergarten.

You start after the cat has gone, and you are embarrassed. "Er," you say, and cough. It's endearing, and it has broken the ice that we both were determined to ignore. "Karupin'd loved this park." Your words are a peace treaty, and so I smile and take your hand; I do not point out that a park (designed for the public) and a garten (designed for kings and their hunting grounds before it became public) are two very different things, because you do not appreciate nuances and history. Instead I simply reply, "We could bring him here next time."

"If he passes customs."

You take my hand and we walk in cordial silence, in a desired companionship. You are endearing in these times, because you care not for the eyes of others but your own contentment.

"Are you upset about Wimbledon?" I ask, in a moment of passing.

You shrug and your hand lifts with your shoulders, and so my hand naturally follows. "Maybe. Meh. It was fun. Couldn't have won anyway, a lot of good players this year." You enjoy playing, like all those years ago, when you had taunted a boy who was nicknamed the Child of God, and even then I had secretly smirked at the ridiculousness of it. A king can make a god, and a god can have many bastards, and a child of God is but a pagan. But here I am digressing.

"You won the French and Australian," I point out, and you shoot me a wry look for pointing out the obvious, "Some would consider those two Grand Slam titles up your sleeve."

"I want the Grand Slam," you say, bright eyes and a hard smirk adorning your boyish face. The light is sudden. Your face is gaunt, your lips chapped. I know better than to argue and instead walk on, and you follow side-by-side, ambitions whirling inside your mind, no doubt.

"Maybe I'll skip the States," you finally venture out, after another beat of silence between us, "I mean. America's just tiring." You are saying this for my benefit, I know: I had never liked Los Angeles and New York, and other cities fly out of my mind because they are riddled with pretentions of something that is plebian. So I allow myself to feel a bit pleased, but my answer is dry. "Your manager wouldn't like that."

"You could threaten to cut my funds," you counter, and grin. "I can't play without a sponsor."

"I'm but one of many." But still, it's touching, so I squeeze your hand, just a tiny fraction. "New York isn't so bad in August."

"You've never seen New York in heat," you mutter. You turn away; this consideration of yours has embarrassed you and you feel demoted. I note this, I file it away mentally and it stays there: many films I store that show an eccentric side to your rather simple approaches.

Sometime later we walk with our hands loose, but that is because the streets are now crowded and you are too busy studying the ground and I am too busy studying you.

/

Today I abhor your face. Your lips are thin, stubborn; your eyes are filled with fervor and obstinacy. Any other time I would have teased you gently for it, laughed at your bluntness. Today it unnerves me, as I stare at you and your eyes stare right back.

"I thought you were joking," I say.

You shrug; finally, your eyes slide down to the floor, and it is at this horrid red carpeting you direct your glare to. "I was serious. It was a good season, I can't win all four titles anyway, so yeah. Basically."

"You're an American," I point out, and my voice, I realize, is transforming into the voice I reserve for lowly clients, pesky consultants who are fresh graduates like myself who have none of the privileges I harbor. You notice this, and your frown digs deeper into your skin.

"So? That doesn't mean I have to play the damn Open," you say, and your own voice is honed to people you deem insignificant and boring. I bristle at that inwardly, but all I do is press my lips tighter.

"They would like to see you play," I say, and I would have taken on a consoling tone. I realize that the blow in Wimbledon has taken quite a toll on you than I had previously realized, and you are licking your wounds. You need time to heal, and I should suggest rest, a respite. All great men have their fallbacks, and though you are hardly a man, you too, will have your great mishaps and this will be but one of them. What does not kill us makes us stronger. Instead, I am pointing out to the love of the masses and the expectations of the public, none of which you care and will never care. Who is the ambiguous "they" that I claim? I change my tactics. "I would like to see you play." And foolishly, I believe, that you would care enough for me, would deem my thoughts and feelings worthy into your consideration.

Instead, your eyes jerk back towards mine, and I am surprised at the amount of anger I see in your hazel orbs. "Wow. Seriously? Even you can't get that egoistical and selfish. Fuck." You curse frequently, I do not like such obscenity, and so you usually curb your tongue. But today you do not even grant me that small kindness. "Fucking hell. You're such a selfish asshole. I don't want to play. I'm tired. It was good and everything, but I don't want to go on till September. Why can't you get that?"

It is a diatribe, a rush of sentences. You spew on words and bile when you are upset, and it is a tantrum for a child, and so I should rise above it. I tell myself this every time and every time my resolution fails, and this is also such a time. I also fail to resolute myself calmly in front of these situations. But I stay silent; I allow my eyes to seep out the hatred I feel of this situation and we are now a standstill.

/

Twilight is sublime in its colors; I have yet to meet a writer who can adequately describe the various hues that stretch out to the very brinks of human vision. It is at this boundary between twilight and evening I am standing now, alone; observing the pedestrians, I wonder if a drink would numb the headache I feel coming up.

I wonder if I ask too much of you. You have, since the day you met Tezuka, been engrossed in a story of heroism that I find rather tiring and the world cannot comprehend. You believe in tennis: to be more precise, in the essence of tennis, and by doing so, you fail to look beyond the core of what tennis is. Tennis is, as you say, a sport, fun, and play; but tennis is also business and sensation. Tennis is not merely an art form, but it is something you do well; it is your career, it is no longer a dalliance. Money and fame is how you afford to play tennis. Sometimes, I suspect your version of tennis and your abilities derive from the childish delusions you hoard over middle-school competition. Am I so cruel as to shatter that illusion?

Or are you still a child? Is that your own dilemmas of your future? But I am a realist, I'm afraid, and I see no other path that would open to you once you tire of the sport. Where would you go? Would you, like your father, live off on previous fame and money for the rest of your life? You are too young to do that, but unfortunately, you are too old to give everything up that had once been your life. It is not a matter of disliking or tiring of the sport, but the fact that you play well.

I should say all this to you, I know, but you would sulk at the first few lines I would deliver. I am not a child, you would sneer, and turn your back towards me, and I would be left, standing there weary, for that is hardly the point. We all act like children sometimes, and even I too, have my bouts of pettiness. But you claim you are aged, and deny all fits of such indulgences, and by doing so you do us both a great disservice to your intelligence. I wonder how I can, indeed, transfer all these thoughts to you when even I cannot understand what I want you to do. I wish for you to love tennis while I can make play without exterior hassles. Yet I also want you to understand the prices of playing a sport that is now outside the realms of middle school. It is an unsettling beauty, your innocence in a sport that is riddled with corruption and gambles. You play with fire and ice; you play with not a care in the world; you play as if the world is about to decimate.

Do you endear me because of such innocence? Do I love you because of such pretense? In other words, would I still love you were you to shed your childish petulance and grow up?

/

You find me at a bar (so I assume, somewhere in my monologue, my steps led me to a place to contemplate morose thoughts) and you are wearing my faded grey shirt and jeans you have not washed for three days. I point out that you need to do your laundry, and play with my cup of beer. You decline to answer to this, and sit down, also declining anything to drink, a muttered, "Nichts, danke." You are uncomfortable in another language, but you held a strong rebellion against German. Because I had revered it in my adolescents? Or is that assumption too centered, you would mock, deluded with the notion that your acts and choices revolve and influence around my own?

"You're not stoned yet," you observe, and your voice lacks surprise, anger, feelings. Your tone is numb, nothing, yes, nichts. You always sound like a flat baritone, and so I learned to read you through your eyes. I raise my head and look at them now, and they hold the world's tiredness onto them. I feel a surge of irritation. Why must you play the martyr? Why must you act as if you're consoling the child?

" People hardly get drunk with one beer," I say, and my voice is just as flat. I seep out any feelings I myself would feel, and empty my eyes. You raise an eyebrow and notice but do not point out the obvious. We are geared for a battle.

"You don't drink beer," you say.

"An occasion required it."

"You don't even like bars."

"Again, in simpler terms, I felt like it."

You sigh. You must admit, you learned this long-suffering sigh from me, I, who had to indulge your frivolous nature day by day and pretend such endeavors were normal. "You're being an idiot."

I do not rise to this bait, but my sullen silence speaks for itself.

"No, really. A huge idiot. I'm the one playing the games—don't I have a choice?"

Your voice drops; it hints at a plea. I deign to answer this as well, and I am aware, my eyes are glazed to suggest I have no wish to discuss such matters here. You, predictably, ignore it, because you want to talk, and want me to listen.

"I can't win the US Open anyhow. Isn't that what you always said, don't play if you can't win?"

At this my lips twist; an ugly smirk, I am sure. "Pray don't pluck out my words and arrange them to disaster. I meant business deals, not tennis. Completely different."

You lapse into silence. Good, that is how I wish it, god knows, it's been a long time since I've been granted that. I have divided your world against mine. I had proclaimed our differences, our hopelessness, our disaster of a future. You are stunned into silence, or perhaps, sulking in silence, and hopefully, thinking of the words I shoved inside your thick head. I gulp down another beer.

I hate you because I love you and my feelings are disabled into a bipolar state of mind. I am hardly the first; a fine British writer had written a novel that began with hate and ended with his doomed love (1). Love is revolting; for me, my love for you is not that of denial or can be dismissed by a mere blush and a rolling of eyes, although you do that often enough. Is it to be embarrassed about, a declaration of sentiments? And when I often sneer at you and my sentiments of my feelings by mucking them with hate, your eyes flare and you sneer back your own hatred. Your hate and love are parallels: they do not meet. I envy that simplicity; I wish I had half that boundary you line.

But perhaps this is another delusion. Do I love who you have become or am I clinging onto ideas of what you could have become? Do I love a phantom that you shed out long ago, or do I love a phantom that did not exist in the first place?

You break the silence—again. "I don't know why you're being so morbid," you mutter, and here, you straighten out your back and words. You choose your lines carefully, sleek, polished words. "It's not your future, it's my debut in the tennis world. I'm not worried about the results, and it's been nice. Touring around. It's not that I'm tired of playing, but…" you hesitate, and your fingers drum. You are searching for the right words. Soul-searching. Why do you play? For the sheer adrenaline? The desire to defeat opponents? To save the day of another one of your doomed team matches?

"I'm not morbid." I feel the beer working through my veins and my head feels light. Alcohol has never resonated well with my body. "I'm…exasperated, I suppose. It would seem to the media that you're sulking by not appearing to the final Open. And no matter what you may say, the public can ruin your career or make it."

We bicker too much, I realize, over pointless matters that I decorate with our differences in philosophy and backgrounds. We fight and pretend nothing is amiss: a rift is never mended. We fight and walk away, and now, I feel, we fight for the sake of fighting because nothing else is left.

You think upon those words, or at least, your head is bowed. When you look up, your eyes look sad in the light. I have a strange feeling that we are dwelling on the same conclusions. "I guess," you say. You do not offer anymore. I finish my beer and stand up. You do not follow and I leave alone. Berlin in the summer nights sneak upon a chill that is mislead; I wish I brought a jacket. I look back: you are hunched alone, and you look very much a child in such a pitiful state.

/

Alone, I take my leave to London, and I do not inform you of my decisions. This is the end, I decide, and my decision is resolute. We will part without words and I will see you next year, or I will see you never. I rush back to the hotel in a haze, I pack my suitcase, and I stumble around. I am dizzy, I think, laugh. My legs are weak, so I sit, taking in my surroundings. Out hotel room is nothing grand, but it's adequate, private. Your side of the room is strewn with clothes and your bags are always half-open. My side is clean, closed; I could just pick up my bags and leave in a minute; I haven't unpacked yet.

I ask for a cab, I ride my way to the airport, I wait. For some crazy reason I attribute to hallucinations and the power of alcohol, I imagine you have somehow found out about my whereabouts after the bar, and you will come, bursting through those airport doors and find my flight and gate. I imagine you will run, your eyes wild, until you find me. That is such an uncharacteristic image of you that I let out a chuckle. People glance at me and quickly look away; I have now become the person who laughs at the thin air.

I imagine you becoming angry instead of sulking, sobering, muttering. I imagine you screaming and crying, I imagine—I don't know, some emotion, I hope. So that it would open a floodgate to us and we could talk and we could tie knots and make amends. So I could understand you.

The moment they announce boarding I stand up and immediately show them my ticket. If I call you a child, it is only fair I condemn myself as a hypocrite.

You cannot accuse me of being trite and simple; perhaps you have rubbed off me. With you, I cannot let go of the notion of you glowing in a spotlight that you were destined to be—but who am I to ordain such destinies? I am no God to your life; I am merely a dalliance. But I wish for you to happy. You are happy by winning and proving yourself. Do you not understand this simple equation?

/

Days pass. With you my memory is a lapse in time; I handle my heir-to-be training well with a practiced smile and a nod. Father asks me where I have been; I answer that I have met old friends in Frankfurt and he accepts such a blatant lie.

I do not hear from you; but after all, this is not the first time I have run away after a fight that you have failed to resolve. I am not justified for my actions, as Oshitari has always kindly told me, but if we talk in nothing but circles about trivial banter, there is no need for me to lounge and make myself the victim. In this world that I know: Oxford, London, Father—I walk around people and drink myself to the people and noise, and I erase you as a fog of a memory. I have met my obligations before I had met you, and such is not to change. I repeat such folly to myself every day, and with time, I convince myself of my own faith. Oshitari sees differently, as always.

"You look awful," is what he tells me. I merely roll my eyes and summon the waiter for another menu.

He had seen me in my usual spots I frequent, a secluded café in the heart of bustling Piccadilly Street, where, ironically enough, no tourists are present. He sits without invitation and that is the first greeting he offers me; he has a long way to go in learning British manners.

"When was the last time you slept?" He is insistent, and such is not like him, He is serious: another oddity. Usually, you and I both know, he is frivolous, elusive in his horrid fake glasses, a dramatic Shakespearian. Were he not so adept in numbers I daresay he would have applied his hearts to the theater.

"I am fine," I say. I stress my goodness and health by raising an eyebrow at him. "You look disheveled."

Oshitari sighs. "You look awful," he repeats. Really, has he grown dumb as well? "And don't give me that look Atobe, you look awful and Echizen isn't here with you. The last time I saw you, you were heading to Berlin together."

I shrug. "Change of plans," I say. I convey with my entire body I do not wish to speak of it. Who am I to delude—my dearest friend who is an utter annoyance chooses to ignore this.

"You were going to New York together after that. You're supposed to be in New York right now."

"Yes, well. Again, change of plans."

"Where is Echizen?"

I let out a small sigh of annoyance. "I'm not responsible for his whereabouts, am I? He's not a boy."

He falls silent. Ah, genius of my school years, he guesses the story, pieces out the puzzles.

"You didn't just leave him in some foreign city alone, did you?"

I finger the brim of my cup. My annoyance develops into a cruel pique. "And why shouldn't I? As I am countlessly repeating myself today, I'll do so again: he is not a boy."

"Was the argument worth it?"

"If you want to continue in pointless babble," I snap, "You can leave."

He falls silent. Was it worth it? Of course it wasn't worth it—how do you measure irritation and a sense of hollowness that you could not fill inside me? How do I explain the remoteness I felt as an observer as I captured your hunched image of solitude, the last image I hoarded of you in Berlin?

The menu comes, and he reads over the choices, and silence falls us for another minute, two. At last he opens his mouth, quiet, intense.

"Why can't you accept that Echizen isn't as ambitious as you want him to be?"

I hold out silence from my end. My tea is cooling; I should take a sip, but the buzz around my ears distracts me from this peaceful ritual.

"He likes what he's doing. He's doing damn well for his age, I should say."

"He can do better," is my reflective response. I scowl immediately. Oshitari pauses before letting my betrayal of feelings sink in. When he speaks next, his voice is weary.

"Don't be such a child, Keigo."

Weariness—did I inspire such weariness in you? While we were in Berlin, no, even before then, did I drive you to a state of tiredness that I have seen that night?

"I'm not being a child. I'm facing the facts."

"The facts of tennis?" Oshitari conjures up a wry smile out of nothingness. "Echizen won't go down in history because you demand him to. He's playing because he likes it."

"And that isn't childish of him?" I cannot help but ask this, what levels I degrade myself to, comparing your acts to mine, as if they are comparable. But Oshitari gives my question some thought before he answers.

"Maybe. He doesn't have to though. He can afford to play and he knows he can because…well, he has you." He gives me another wry look, attributing my worth to you: a sponsor, a shield, a believer. Such symbols are completely bizarre that I snort.

"He doesn't account any of that," I say shortly. I take my neglected cup and take my tea in silence. My eyes must have betrayed a warning, for Oshitari takes the hint and changes the subject, veer it naturally to other light-headed banter.

I wish to ask you, were you here, of a niche in our conversation before we fell apart. You had, with fire in your eyes, claimed you wanted the Grand Slam—that is, the traditional four titles clasped under your belt. A day later you mumble like a child that you care not for the last title you could earn this season. Where does your fickleness end? Is there no conclusion for your decisions and folly?

My mind fluctuates with desire to see you and irk at your behavior. It is not too late, I know, to head back to Berlin and pretend that a business matter had kept me away suddenly. You would not believe it, of course, but you are too prideful to point out my absence and excuse. You would accept it, and this fight, like so many of our differences, would be shoved under the shadows and haunt us.

This, London, Father, is my world. I repeat this like the faith I never had. With you, I feel as if I am fourteen again, wanting something that is eventually to collapse and decay, wither. I cannot bear to see that pass, and so, I justify myself now, I have ended something that would stay intact in my memory.

/

August comes and almost goes. You have not called and I am wondering, even playing, with the idea that you are depressed in my absence. What utter blasphemy.

My flat is cold amidst the summer heat. I dare not hope, but today the line-ups are announced, and so I deliberately boil my water twice, search for the perfect tealeaves—yes, I am dallying for a hope that is not even there. You would laugh, or smirk, whatever you may have it. I miss the mocking presence that you bring. I crack two eggs and deliberately burn them; I scrape them out and crack another two, this time perfectly enveloping them in warm bread. I take out my plates and dare not open my laptop, my papers, nothing. I eat, slowly, and leisurely I open the sports sector of the news.

Your name is listed.

At first I feel as if I am hallucinating. That my eyes have geared into a state where it can even delude my physical surroundings. But no—your name is in black print, in fine black print, and yes, your photo is blurred but it is there. You are enlisted; you will compete.

A smile blooms before I can stop it. My sourness of the past weeks dissolves immediately; I feel as if I could discard my pride and phone you, even console you. Apologize for my abrupt departure and the betrayal I have imposed, but surely, in the light of things, I am assuming, it was all for the best: you have come to your senses, you are playing, and I will fly to America to watch you play.

My euphoric state slowly ebbs, though, as I see you closely. The newspaper does not do justice for your face: you look gaunt and solemn. I turn on my laptop and search for the latest news: yes, your face is sharper, haunted. For a moment I feel a small guilt envelope me: did I cause that dislocated look you have? You look unreserved, and such off-guard moments that emphasize your distance do not resonate well to your fans. Yet I blow off those notions at once. You do not care for my actions enough to let them influence you, I am sure (and have since bitterly been resigned to this fact) and as for the media…well, let them try to touch you. All at once, I feel my old surge of protectiveness around you, a desire to cover you against the coldness of the world while you laugh carelessly without consequence. I call father and lie about a meeting I am interested in New York and say I will be indisposed until September.

"Do as you wish." There is a slight pause in the line. "Would this have to do with the upcoming tennis tournaments, Keigo?"

His voice is deceptively light, and so I answer with my own light voice. Yes, I will be planning to watch a couple of games. Yes, Echizen is currently enrolled under my sponsorship. Yes, I would watch him play.

"He has a clean form, I've heard." Another pause. "You will come, of course, after the matches are done?"

I assure him I would.

"Very well. Do try not to overexcite yourself." He understands the feeble lies I must maintain to fly away, and I must maintain my own mirror of deception that he is deceived. What a psychological price one must pay to get a little rest.

/

How to describe your face when you see me? You are not surprised, for one: there came my first astonishment. My second comes with your face, which I remark upon after an awkward silence has passed between us.

"You look horrid."

And you do: fatigued, pale. Unlike what your profession requires of you; any lack of glow and robust health that tennis allows you to develop is sapped away with your cheeks. Your eyes too, hold the same haunted look I had previously dismissed as a mere unflattering angle of the camera.

You don't bristle at my insult as I expected you to—the third unsettling observation. "I've been practicing indoors."

"Ah. I see." I pause; I try to search for the right words. "Have your fans been annoying you?"

You shrug. "They always annoy me." Another silence; one, I realize, you don't care to break. You revel in silence, as you were never a speaker, it would be up to me to coax our conversation into steady waters. I figure, I owe you at least that much.

"I'm sorry I left so abruptly last time. I was…indisposed."

I expect you to smirk and drawl a dismissal. I was better off alone anyway. I expect, at least, a roll of the eyes and a mutter. Typical, wouldn't be the first time. And it isn't the first time I have left you; I leave, and you wait, in the secure knowledge that I would always come back, because it is both in my abilities and desire to do so.

What I do not expect is your bitterness, and your smile that deadens your eyes. "You must think me really stupid."

I stop short of my prepared speech. I look at you: it is the same tiredness that Oshitari emitted, one that you have shown in Berlin. It is, I realize, a constant fatigue that I have seen for a long time.

"Ryoma." Your name is unfamiliar on my lips. I do not often say it. Do I feel your name to be sacred? No; I do not particularly cherish playing around with your name on my lips; your name does not tease or tap my teeth as an infamous name had once drawn lust out of a despicable man (2); my tongue hovers midair as I utter your name that leaves the taste of stale air inside my mouth. But you barely react to this inner turmoil, you do not even lift your eyes to meet mine. A terrible silence descends, as your hand comes up to rub off some of the dread I see in your eyes. When your hand lifts, your eyes reluctantly meet mine.

"Sorry. Shit tired." You ghost up a smile that is even more terrible than your words. You are playing off your feelings that do us both an insult: a blatant lie, and one that shrivels inside me, for I know you expect me to play along. I, in turn, summon up a smile.

"I shouldn't have intruded on your busy schedule then." I pointedly look over at your room that is distraught with clothes, magazines, god knows what. You follow my gaze and shrug.

"Yeah, you really shouldn't have." But your poise and language is one that I am familiar with; even your customary drawl is back. "But since you're here, you can take me out for dinner. I'm starving."

I have already arranged a charity dinner on my way to you, but your eyes do not look up for a public meeting; and besides, your look, your fake smirk, unsettles me. I nod and conjure up my phone, making a show of reserving your favorite restaurant while canceling the public dinner. You get dressed, and I have a feeling you know what I am really up to. But neither of us mentions it.

The drive is silent, as is the dinner. You play with your food, eat when I look, discard it when I pretend to look elsewhere. I study your face in mere glances; you in turn, hardly look my way, but only acknowledge my existence as a shadow. In the end, it is I who again delve into deeper waters.

"What made you change your mind?"

I want to ask, of course, about your endless contradictions. Your desire to be the best, your desire to merely play, your desire to quit. I am befuddled by your indecisions, and I hope such a question would lead us there. But your answer throws me off.

You stab your steak with your fork, and your form, hunched in the candlelight, reminds me of our own Berlin night. You are silent, as if mulling over my question, but your answer is so abrupt that I feel it's instinctive. "You."

I open my mouth to laugh it off: the very ridiculousness of it—but suddenly your head jerks and I find myself looking into your face and the fake chuckle dies off in my mind. Your face is twisted into a wry smirk. Your face is devoid of sarcasm and irony. "Figure you'll pull out your funds and my manager'll go berserk. Can't have that."

"I would never," I manage, after a stunned floundering of words. I am hurt by such a callous dismissal; are we not more than causal business acquaintances, more than monetary transactions? But you shrug to dismiss my hurt.

"Yeah, but, you know. Didn't want to take chances."

I realize, as I look down my plate, you are in your own way, heartless. Your callousness comes like a child; a child does not think of the words he would throw out, merely what he thinks. Yet as soon as I justify your actions in such terms, your weariness comes to mind. I suppress a shiver.

"Are you that upset over Berlin?" I finally ask. It is a question that I am both dreading and anticipating an answer to. That is after all, where our problem lies: our pettiness—or yes, my pettiness—that led us here, to a dream that I believed a month ago we both envisioned for yourself. If you say yes, I would apologize; promise it would never happen again. If you shrug and say no, then we would resume in cordial silence and I would take your hand and you would allow me to.

Instead, you confirm neither deny, but laugh and roll your eyes. "It's not like it's the first time, monkey king." Another coolness enters my veins: it had been such an answer I was expecting a few hours ago; you have even added an old endearment of an insult with it. Predictable, such a predictable answer that I would have predicted.

I look at you. Uneasiness is a foreign feeling with you, I would say something: but as open my mouth, words die on my lips. You look at me, traces of the hollow and empty abyss gone. You gesture to my plate.

"Your soup's getting cold."

Slowly, I take my spoon and swirl the utensil around the broth. As I do, your hand comes across the table, slowly. It is an inexperienced hand that grasps my free one: your touch is light, deceptive. I allow your warmth to seep in, and my own fingers grasp your own; my grip tightens, my fingers enclose around your own. I greedily take what you have hesitantly offered.

I turn my eyes to you, and your eyes meet mine. Your lips twitch, a sad shadow of a smile, and this time, I am the first to look away and concentrate on my soup. My grip unconsciously grows tighter, but you do not protest.

/

A/N: I usually don't include anything in my author's notes, but I felt I owed justifications and apologies to what I usually shy away from. It's going to be long and rambling, so feel free to skip it! Actually, since the following writing is going to be subjective and completely from my point of view and therefore a limited viewpoint, please skip it lol…..I just needed to rant while I was writing this.

I really don't like first-person narratives in literature, much less in fanfiction. I feel that the "I" is misleading, it can turn self-centered, and the only ones I like this perspective is when the narrator is unreliable (the person "I" for instance, is a complete psychopath pretending everything's good and jolly), not books that are about teenage girls whining about teenage life when there is basically nothing to whine about (you know what book I'm talking about—sorry, couldn't resist).

But here I felt I needed to use the "I" for Keigo's part partly because I felt some..er.. limitations of what I wanted to write if I were to write with third perspective and everything would start off with "Keigo thought—but actally, no, Keigo had it all wrong because he's a self-delusional child." I never wrote Keigo in this light. Bastard? Sure. Mentor? Sure…questionable, but sure. But a Keigo that is more self-delusional than Ryoma? Er…really hard to pull off, mostly because Ryoma is a self-delusional dick himself. I'm not making my case clear here, am I (facepalm).

I would think, realistically, one, if not the only reason, Keigo would ever fall for Ryoma would be because Ryoma is good at tennis. The end. There is nothing else that would attract him: looks? Meh, everyone's hot in this world. Brains? Again, in this world everyone's a superhero, they learn to read foreign languages by middle school, except Ryoma who's terrible at kanji. Etcetera? Basically, Ryoma lacks everything except for the fact he plays tennis pretty freaking well considering his age. That's it. Maybe later, Keigo would like him because Ryoma resembles a lot of ideals that Keigo has, and yes they're alike, blah blah blah, but in this fic Keigo isn't mature enough to figure and sort that's shit out. So Keigo likes that part about him, and because Keigo is obsessed about German and English references, of course he would elevate his mere fancy to a Victorian love story, because he named his serve after a legend that talked of earthly woes and love (kudos to Konomi for that). Since this is from his perspective, I figured he'd want a dozen or so literary references to his deluded fantasy, but unfortunately, Victorian literature aren't famous for their fucked up love stories, so my citations are contradictory as well, surprise surprise. Keigo self-deludes himself that Ryoma is a tennis-obsessed genius out to rule the world, and Ryoma plays up to those dreams because, yeah, well, he is a genius who can actually rule the tennis world. Only that really isn't his desire, but, sure, why not. And if Keigo is torn between liking a boy two years younger than him and condescending the shit out of him, that's another one of Keigo's vices I adopted in this fic. Keigo is hard to write, because I can just imagine him reading Victorian literature and talking in convoluted language and I would want to roll my eyes and shove some Hemingway down his throat. Urgh. Sigh.


1 "When I began to write our story down, I thought I was writing a record of hate, but somehow the hate has got mislaid and all I know is that in spite of her mistakes and her unreliability, she was better than most. It's just as well that one of us should believe in her: she never did in herself."

― Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

2 "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

-Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita.