NOTE: I do not own these characters. Also, my apologies, it has been awhile since I've written for The Prince of Tennis, so I'm a bit rusty. Thank you for reading.
The smiles we would share.
Everything still stained my mind of the years that were far gone.
How many times did he call my name?
I've lost count even though his voice still lingers there.
I didn't want to hear it anymore.
It was still there.
It would always be there.
This morning was the same as the morning before, and the morning before was no different. My eyes shot open from my screaming and my body was covered with sweat. Pulling at my hair, I quivered and looked around. The air was cool and the sky was just barely lit by the rising sun. Sighing, I let myself out of bed and went to my closet. Searching for my school uniform, I snickered and pulled it from the hanger. I remembered when I wore a uniform that was light and brown… just like he still wore. Now, the colors were faded grey and nothing that made me stand from a crowd. The slacks were tight around my thighs as I buttoned them at my waist after tucking in the white shirt I threw on. Debating on the jacket that matched, I stuck my arms through the sleeves and touched the crest with my fingers. This was just another thing proving to the world that I was a coward. I kept running from my fears, and I still don't even know how to handle them. Is this what happens when you take risks and grow far from youthful years? If I couldn't, I wouldn't return to the days when I was a first year at Seishun Gakuen. Doing that would just mean reliving the painful moments I wanted to forget.
Taking steps out of my room, I stuck up against the wall when other students ran across the halls. I had to move into a dormitory in order to go to a high school further away from home, but I didn't really know what kind of life it would give me. Those that participated in sports were often lively in the morning and running about. They would yell and laugh and wake up others that would rather still sleep. I didn't mind being woken up or the early morning anymore. The thing that really bothered me was seeing those with tennis rackets leaving for the courts. With the change of schools, I decided to leave behind much of who I was. Tennis was something that was given up. It hurt. The two things I ever held close to me were lost. I couldn't return to one and the other would never come back either. Thinking about it squeezed at my heart. I was weak.
"Echizen-san!" a high voice called for me.
"Hmm?" I turned to see a boy that stood a few centimeters shorter than me. His dark hair fell into his face despite the sweatband he always had around his forehead. Cheerfully, he smiled and waited for more of a respond. "Morning, Dan-kun."
His cheeks glowed and the smile that painted his face grew larger. "What are you doing up so early? Decided to finally join the team?"
"But with someone like you, our school would really have a chance."
"Oh, well how about you come by the art room after classes?" he clung to a sketchpad in his hands. "It could be fun."
"I'll think about it," I rolled my eyes and tugged at the bag that rested on my shoulder.
"That means you're not going to. I was hoping to use you as my model."
"You could have just asked instead of trying to con me into going some other way."
"You'll come then?"
"Sure. I'll meet up with you in the club room."
"Thanks! Echizen-san, you sure are great," he giggled and ran off only to trip onto his face. Without help, he jumped up and kept going.
Letting out a sigh, I leaned up against the wall and shook my head. There was a short time that I became giddy over little things and plans. Would he just fall apart and runaway when he could no longer smile? Even when we first met, I knew Dan would turn into a fragile person that would always hide behind a smile. He was the reason I came to this school out of all the other ones. No one knew the reasons I ran from the memories and shameful actions other than Dan, because he had once ran to me in tears. Filled with pain, he told me how he was only used by the senpai he had loved. Hidden behind his smile, he still grasped onto the back of Akutsu's shirt. Dan was stronger than me though. He admits to his flaws. He knew that the past couldn't be changed. To him, all the motions he went through were for a reason. For me, I just blamed myself for being too stupid to not know when to let go. I didn't know when I could once again smile as if I didn't care about a thing around me. Even after these years that have gone, I hung onto the nothingness that was there. The memories I wanted to go stayed with me because I was too scared to not have them anymore. They were all I had left of him.
At the end of the day, I gathered my bag and dodged the couple of girls that tried to approach me. I wasn't interested in their chatter or so-call love confessions. Most of them had never talked to me before, and it was just annoying to think that someone could think they're in love with a person they didn't even know. Shaking the thoughts away, I headed to the lower level of the school where the art room was. Dan was humming as he waited outside. When he saw me approaching, he straightened up and smiled. No words came from his mouth as he grabbed for my wrist and pulled me through the door.
"I thought I would just do pencil sketches for now," he fumbled around with his bag before placing his pencils on the ledge of the easel. "Maybe if you let me draw you again I'll work with oil paint. Ah, but I left that in my room. Silly me."
I looked around and saw that the others just whispered among themselves. "Sure, but I've never posed for a painting. I only ever posed for actual photos."
"It's okay. Akutsu-senpai let me paint him once. He wasn't good at staying still, but I think the painting turned out well," Dan quickly rubbed his hands up against his eyes. "L-let's get started. You can just pull up a chair and sit whatever way you feel comfortable."
I took the chair and sat with my arms leaning up against the back. Looking out towards the window, I could hear Dan's pencil scratching at the paper. Listening to the sound, my body kept as still as it could. Dan was hiding his pain when he said he had painted Akutsu. I, too, hid pain when I uttered words about posing for pictures. When Fuji had moved onto high school, he joined a photography club and often asked for me to be his model. At first, I was against it, but it gave us a way to stay close. The closer we became, the worse the photography became. When I decided to go to the same high school as Fuji, everything moved in a forward motion so fast that I couldn't handle it. Still, there were memories that were grand. He was kind and warm. Then, the warmth became cold. The love that had formed became bitter. Unlike with what Akutsu did with Dan, Fuji never once used me as a toy. It was just a sudden realization from him. After a year and some odd days of being together, he looked at me with a smile and shattered every dream I had. He took away my smile and my youthful days. In the end, Fuji was no longer attracted to me. After I gave myself to him, he realized that he wasn't interested in males.
It was fun while it lasted, Echizen.
It can only be fun to the person who was actually playing the game. A pawn never has fun when he is thrown aside in the last move.
"Echizen-san," Dan's soft voice pulled me from my thoughts. "I think this is the best I can do."
Standing up, my feet moved me to the other side of the easel to see what he had done. There, staring back at me, was an image that reflected how I felt. How was Dan so easily able to pick up every emotion that I could never express? No friend I ever had could understand what I felt, but Dan could read me better than anyone. Was it because he knew the hurt that tore at my very being? I reached out my hand and grabbed him the same way he had when he pulled me into the room.
"Come with me," I let just a hint of a smile cross my lips before dragging him out of the room.
We left all our stuff in the club room without thinking, but I didn't care. I just wanted to run as far as I could. Just go and go until the two of us fell to our knees with the need of more oxygen to our lungs. When we both collapsed into the grass by the tennis court, there was laughter that came from both of our mouths.
"Are you crazy?" Dan turned onto his side and stared at me. "What were you thinking?"
"Not sure," I rested on my back.
"Echizen-san, you're crying again."
I bit at my lower lip. "I know. I've been fighting them for so long that they just sort of won't stop now."
"It's okay. Crying lets you be able to smile later on. It lets all the sadness drain."
"Is that why you're able to smile all the time?"
"Mhm," Dan nodded as he pulled himself up into a sitting position. "But Akutsu-senpai and I had a different relationship than you had. After awhile, I knew what was going on, but I still kept going because I admired him so much. Even now, I wonder if I'd run back to him for a night if he asked me to."
"I would… if it was Fuji-senpai…"
"That's different, though. He loved you. I know he did. Akutsu-senpai never loved me. He only loved what he could do with me. It's depressing, thinking how much I gave to him."
"Dan-kun, you're a lot different than you were when we first met in junior high."
He smiled and rocked back and forth. "Not really. I'm still trying to find who I am. It's just, now I'm willing to take the time to figure everything out. I'm not going to rush into things anymore. For once, I want everything to be my style… one hundred percent!"
"You really have matured," I maneuvered my way to rest my head in his lap. "Maybe I should just date you."
"That would be weird," his face lingered over me, and he didn't bother to hide his rosy cheeks.
I sighed. "Ah, you're right. You're too girly looking for me anyway."
"Wh-what's that supposed to mean?" he jumped up and let my head hit the grass.
"Mada mada dane~"
"Echizen-san! You're the worst!"
There were still things that haunted me and woke me in the night. The words that lingered and the love that was left unfinished still squeezed my heart. Still, I wanted to continue to walk from day to day. Even if it hurt, I could still look towards the future. I didn't know what was going to happen or if I'd ever be able to let go of the memories I had shared with Fuji. I still had hope that he'd return and admit to his mistakes, but I couldn't stay in the same place and wait forever. Together, Dan and I looked towards the horizon of a new day. I could always lean on him when I was falling, and he knew he could do the same with me. For now, that would have to be enough. One day at a time, I was learning to smile again.