FANDOM: Prince of Tennis
PAIRINGS: Kirihara/Hiyoshi; mentions of Ootori/Hiyoshi, Yanagi/Kirihara and other snippets in between
RATING: PG-13 (bordering on R)
SUMMARY: The pain in having to forget takes on many forms – all terrible, all unbearable, and all inevitable. Sometimes all you have to do, however, is find the strength within yourself to ride that tide of emotion and see where it takes you. (3600+ words)
NOTES: Originally written for meggiebaby81 via potcrackxchange. Special thanks to lyuna for the hand-holding.
I. Because you don't want to.
There is a kind of pain in having to forget which Hiyoshi understands very well. In junior high, it first makes its appearance with a pang, a shivering touch that quickly travels through his body as he finds himself frozen in the doorway of their clubroom. What greets him therein, in particular, is a sight which he vows to forever lock away in the far reaches of his mind; a living, breathing painting of blonde hair against full chest, tangled limbs and soft snores. Hiyoshi is entranced to say the least, an invisible ball and chains hold him in place, not a breath, not a blink. Not until the center of his universe – the focus of that beautiful painting stirs and stretches, and suddenly those irresistibly gorgeous blue eyes are directed right at him. Surprised and then knowing, smirk included.
Hiyoshi remembers sputtering, lots of it, as he finds himself at a complete loss. He isn't sure if he should walk in and grab his satchel as fast as he can like he had planned to, or just leave then and there and let the horrible memory end at that. He cannot even bring himself to match that searing gaze, until its owner chuckles, one full of dark promises Hiyoshi can only ever imagine (and this situation proves it, he notes ironically).
Finally, he decides to turn away and shut the door, and then to run like he's never run before, to get home and hide beneath his warm covers and maybe give in to the need to masturbate – because at the very least, Hiyoshi knows that he is a healthy, growing boy. He also knows that, despite the guilt and those mocking eyes, these feelings are his own and that he is entitled to them. No harm, no foul. Just embarrassment, disappointment, and misery from knowing that his first love is very much unrequited.
What follows the encounter is a string of destined occurrences. As the tennis season ends quite early for their team, the Hyoutei seniors begin to clean out their lockers – some are already empty. And while this is happening, finals for the underclassmen and entrance exams for high school take place. It is a whirlwind of emotion for both senpai and kouhai, no one is spared.
Hiyoshi has seen Ootori hide in the shower rooms as Shishido starts to bring in his boxes, the silver haired boy only emerging minutes later when he is certain the older one is gone. It isn't a quarrel, more of an avoidance. And Hiyoshi doesn't want any part in it. But he sees Ootori during training, and sometimes in the hallways, and the need to find out if the other boy is alright gets harder and harder to resist.
On the seniors' final day, after Hiyoshi is handed the key to the clubroom as well as the title he has always coveted, Atobe invites the entire team for a party at his mansion to celebrate the end of the year. Hiyoshi knows that Ootori would rather not go, sees the boy about to shake his head to decline. But the hand that follows atop Ootori's shoulder and Shishido's discreet prodding are enough to keep him silent, and soon afterwards he inevitably agrees. Hiyoshi himself is one of the first to nod his attendance and walk out the door; Jirou's hand inching across Atobe's waist the last thing he sees as he hears the soft click.
The second time such a treacherous pain eases up Hiyoshi's spine is during his stint as Hyoutei's reigning captain. This time it travels slow and steady. With their senpai-tachi gone, Hiyoshi brings it upon himself to pick up the pieces, broken or otherwise. Kabaji, for one, is a mere shadow without its light, and while Hiyoshi knows that he can never truly replace the awe-inspiring Atobe Keigo, he tries to with all his might anyway.
Years of practicing Kobujutsu have taught him discipline, an art which endures. And Hiyoshi uses this discipline, in turn, to offer guidance to Ootori, who is not so much a shadow but a hollow shell instead. Without Shishido to bark out his faults, taking the lead but knowing how to be gentle, Ootori is left at a standstill, not knowing if he can improve or not. He has told Hiyoshi as much, with a letter of resignation hidden in his pants pocket.
With time though, Hiyoshi slowly puts the pieces back together, forming something much stronger than before. Where Kabaji had always been silent and unable to speak his mind, Hiyoshi puts himself in a position to listen. Where Ootori had always waited to be lead, Hiyoshi teaches him that he too can take initiative in his own humble way. Where the team was once rough around the edges (cocky and trying to tumble itself on end), Hiyoshi resolves to smoothen it out, weed out the troublemakers, find compromise in between, and to push it to victory with both determination and a pint of induced fear in his arsenal.
Hiyoshi does all this while trying to block from his mind the encouragement Hyoutei's former captain would have supposedly offered him, he tells himself he doesn't need it anyway. He works against blood and sweat while trying to block away that afternoon, and somehow, somehow he convinces himself that he's alright.
It isn't surprising some months later when Hiyoshi wakes to find himself in Ootori's room, lying against soft sheets, his fingers entwined with Ootori's own. They are both fully clothed, nothing has happened, nothing has changed, not to the point that Hiyoshi would have wished, because frankly, he knows they are still too young. But this is a space that was nevertheless meant for Ootori's precious Shishido-san. And he can only imagine how the older boy would react if he knew.
At the same time, Ootori holds him where Atobe would not. Ootori kisses him where he'd only ever dreamed that Atobe would. And sometimes, on those particularly difficult evenings, Hiyoshi imagines that the boy at his side is not as tall, not as sweet, and is certainly not as caring. Hiyoshi has always secretly pegged himself a masochist, and only then does he realize how true the notion is.
Like clockwork, however, such a comfort zone only stretches up until a certain point, a breaking point. And then the pain in having to forget resurfaces, clutching Hiyoshi by the throat, robbing him of air, telling him that he cannot be happy, that he is not meant to be. And that instant happens when they find themselves readying for high school.
Hiyoshi reasons out that he really should have known better. Ootori and Shishido are soulmates after all, tied together by that magical red string of fate. And he envies them (he finally admits), infinitely so, for finding each other again and leaving him all alone. It's not so much about the person but about the general concept. And in the end, Hiyoshi finds that he has no one else to blame for it but himself.
II. Because you can't.
There is a kind of pain in having to forget which Kirihara would rather not try to understand. It is a torturous strain of letting go and having to hear those obligatory farewells. It is forcing himself to watch the seven most important people in his life walk out the clubroom door and not look back. It is knowing the truth, that he was left behind because he had to be – because he was their legacy. It is also the responsibility of having been trusted to lead the next team to victory, however knowing in his heart that he won't ever be able to do as good a job as Yukimura-buchou. It is the end of his world.
Between the shuffle of rackets and the chase towards that little yellow ball, Kirihara often imagines that someone will eventually thwack him on the head one of those days and bellow out “Tarundoru!”, only to turn around in disappointment because not even the swish a familiar cape-jacket remains. When he closes his eyes, for a second, he can see that brooding, all-knowing nod, and hear the scratch of pencil against notebook – and feel flattered knowing that that one person is studying him.
Everything remains so vivid to Kirihara. The words he could not say, the feelings he could not show. He wonders if he would change all that if he had the ability to turn back time, and finally, resolutely decides that some things are better off unknown. Even lost love can't stop him. He was left with a mission, and it is something he will see through to the very end. Because that is the only thing he can do, for them, for himself, for love.
When Rikkai Dai makes it to the final round at Nationals just as it did in the previous year, Kirihara pumps his fist in the air and then wordlessly turns away, his footsteps heavy and (some even say) overwhelming on the court. He is silent, but proud, steeling himself for that last match. He is also a defined leader to his team, a player with more control over his technique, more than before; and he figures that this is what they would have wanted.
His reward is seeing them on the battlefield that day, as Kirihara Akaya – their little demon takes flight, a haze of dark feathers and feral grins. Ultimately, he does what he'd set out to do; he bags the title they had lost. And afterwards, everything is a pleasantly intoxicating blur.
It isn't just the warmth of the hand on his head and Jackal's congratulating. It isn't just Marui's nuzzling and the familiar smell of strawberry-flavored bubblegum. It isn't just because of Niou and Yagyuu and his head swirling because now he can't tell who's who, their voices, snickers, hands are everywhere. It isn't just because of that beaming smile Yukimura bestows to him – a gift from a god, or because of Sanada's gruff patting, Kirihara might tell himself that he's disgusted.
If he were honest with himself though, he might say that it was all about that barely noticeable tilt of Yanagi's head and the affectionate tap on his chin, the light words, ones of praise, all he can hear, everything else pales in comparison. If he were honest, he would tell his senpai the truth – I love you. I'm in love with you. I've always been. And if he were truly honest, he'd allow himself to kiss his senpai and just throw caution to the wind, come what may, with all the spectators and their old teammates watching.
But the thing is, he isn't. He isn't honest and he doesn't want to be. Which is why he contents himself to having that hand inches away from his own, barely touching, almost there, but not quite, and never will that distance be met.
High school is another saga, where Kirihara is reunited with his senpai – but for only a moment. It isn't long before he realizes that they have left him behind yet again, only this time, for a whole new reason. Sanada calls it “growing up” (the rest dejectedly agree because they aren't sure how else to explain it), but Kirihara grits his teeth and retorts back brokenly, “No, it's giving up.” His former fukubuchou doesn't even have the heart to hit him; Kirihara, however, would have preferred it that way.
Only Yukimura chooses to keep his lips sealed. And unknown to the everyone, most of all to Kirihara, Yanagi feels a piece of him shatter and break.
It isn't true about time being able to heal all scars, Kirihara thinks. Because he would rather not allow it to. No, the hurt is still fresh and he suspects it always will be. Even when they have all gone off to college and he is signing his first professional tennis contract. Forgiveness isn't part of that equation. Like the farewells, it is a staple. And part of him knows that despite the anger and frustration, there is just nothing he can do about it. Remaining friends, that's the only choice left to him and he would rather not waste it.
Niou has once joked that it's a sign of little Akaya's growing up – “You're moving further and further away from us, kid. Someday, it might be us trying to keep up with you.” Strikingly though, it hits home and their little Akaya is the only one who doesn't notice. It all happens too soon, and in the end, not even their fingertips can touch him. Unconsciously, they'd brought it on themselves, Yanagi reflects. And still then, Yukimura chooses to say nothing. Like he'd predicted it all along.
III. Because it's meant to happen.
There is a kind of pain in having to forget which Hiyoshi persists to gloat about understanding, and which Kirihara, on the other hand, defiantly prefers to ignore. It is a numbing sensation of lips against lips, tongues lashing against each other, fingernails running down sensitive skin, and bodies furious and wanting. It is a head-first collision of force against force, piercing green against burning honey, carnal against controlled, hurt against hurt, want against need.
It begins during their last summer as high schoolers, on a sunny day in August. Kirihara, who took a short trip to Tokyo to pick some things up for his mother, has just heard two boys talking in a convenience store about a certain Inui Sadaharu meeting another familiar data specialist for a friendly game at a nearby tennis court; and his curiosity is instantly piqued.
No, it couldn't be, he initially shakes his head. But the desire to confirm if the information is correct pulls at him until he's out the door and searching for that court.
Minutes later, he arrives at a particularly clean street court and a few amateur players are practicing there. But there is no Inui Sadaharu and no familiar data specialist for that matter. Kirihara frowns before swishing the parcel in his hand around and preparing to leave on the next bus. That is until he sets his sights on a boy his age, wearing a very distinct gray-blue jacket. It is then that he licks his lips and finds himself thinking that the day has just gotten all the more interesting.
It doesn't take long for Kirihara to goad the Hyoutei captain (he presumes) into playing a friendly game with him, and the other boy does not disappoint, he is surprised to admit. In the back of his mind, Kirihara remembers meeting him before, recalls a Newcomer's match and denying that he had found it challenging enough. But the fact remains that during his time as Rikkai's captain, he never did get to play against the boy again. Not even during high school.
The game ends (7-5, in favor of Kirihara) and they leave on neutral terms after, shaking hands, eyes directly meeting if only briefly. He doesn't ask the other boy's name and the latter doesn't do anything to make him think that he's been recognized. It isn't hard to though, he tells himself. And as he trails off, he swears that there is a chance they will meet again. Kirihara doesn't even know how that's possible.
Hiyoshi gets home that evening to lie atop the cool wood of their family dojo, his hand is still trembling and his eyes are focused towards the ceiling, though seeing nothing in particular. He wonders what that zing is, what that excitement is all about. Because it's been a year since he'd given up on his tennis and it was only by chance that he'd decided to go out for a morning run that day, pulling up the stray jacket lying on his bed, not realizing sooner just which one it is.
Kirihara Akaya. He hasn't changed much. Still as self-assertive, as overly confident, as damn cocky as ever. Hiyoshi never knew him, never wanted to, and never really cared. But he cannot help the twinge in his chest nevertheless, recalling a certain pair of deep blue eyes and a self-satisfied smirk and the thrill of hearing a command from that velvet tone, “You will meet Ore-sama on the court in five minutes. Don't be late, Hiyoshi.”
And it's all Hiyoshi can do to keep from touching himself, to keep from sliding his hand down his thigh, to keep from groaning out that make-believe lover's name, to keep from embarrassing himself, and pushing himself into more of that miserable delusion. In the end, what he oddly finds resolve in are a pair of wild green eyes and a mop of messy dark hair, “Have a match with me – see if you can beat me. It'll be fun.”
Hiyoshi tells himself to attend the finals at the National Tournament a few weeks later, forces himself to pick his body up and witness for a probable last time what he has decided to throw away. And the feeling isn't quite what he expects it to be.
He sees a myriad of familiar faces, some tearing up, some holding their heads firm. And he actually feels himself break out into a smile. Hyoutei and Rikkai have never been comrades, the closest thing would be rivals. But as Kirihara takes to the courts that day, Hiyoshi pictures his chest swelling with pride. Because that is what a tennis player is supposed to be, that was once his manifesto, his Gekokujou. Kirihara is an embodiment of it, and for a moment Hiyoshi is even put to shame with that thought in mind.
Kirihara is a blinding force, both fearless and expertly careful. He is still reckless and persistent, but firm and molded beautifully, knowing the rules, playing on that controlled plane, yet wrecking it completely, defying the boundaries, and living in his own world. A world that draws everyone in, a world he would have wanted for himself. Kirihara is an earth-shaking tornado of fierce determination and raw energy, taking down whatever is in its path and replacing all the negatives with his own diametrical charge.
Hiyoshi finds himself on the edge of his seat, following every movement, every motion. Until those sharp eyes, those hard unrelenting, passionate eyes meet his. And he knows then that he is broken, that they can see right through him. And Hiyoshi hates Kirihara for it.
The tension has surrounded them since their match, a dark cloud of thunder and lightning that keeps everyone else away, and it heightens even more so when they face each other again outside the washrooms. Kirihara is leaning against the door frame, arms folded against his chest and leg propped against the other. He studies Hiyoshi from the corner of his eye when the latter bends down to take a sip from the drinking fountain, notices the bead of sweat trickling down the boy's neck, the smooth touch of his fingers against steel.
Hiyoshi isn't to be outdone however, tipping his chin up to meet that gaze, challenging it in turn. Questioning, wondering, serious. Kirihara chuckles at the prospect of not backing down; it's a silent fight to the death for them both, what he lives for. More impending than any tennis match he has ever played. And finally, suddenly he remembers the boy's name.
“Hiyoshi Wakashi.” It slips off his tongue in such a fluid manner that he wonders if there's really such a spark to the boy's eyes. The heat, the flames, they call out to him like nothing else can. They are unlike Yukimura's concern or Sanada's worldly advice, or even Yanagi's solid touch. They are a force that pushes against his own that it is also like a breeze of fresh air – like a breeze of fresh, unmatched, untamed air. He can already hear himself growling it out again.
IV. Because it is what it is.
There is a kind of pain in having to forget which they have both learned to succumb to. It is a whisper against warm skin, that feather-light touch of tracing slow circles to calm – Don't worry, I'm still here, that anger and frustration and the fact that they still don't know where they're headed. It is the prospect of remembering that one was betrayed and the other never had the chance to be. It is the consolation they find in each other.
“Play with me,” Hiyoshi says without preamble, his racket already in hand. He knows that he cannot win, not here, not with this. Especially not against a world-famous professional tennis player like Kirihara Akaya. But it is the challenge that prompts him on, and he is at least certain that it is the same for his lover. (The title slides off his lips like a bitter-tasting drug; he doesn't quite want it but finds himself addicted to it all the same.)
Kirihara smirks at him in reply, opens the door of their apartment and shoves him against the frame, sliding his tongue across Hiyoshi's bottom lip, nibbling at the edges. Hiyoshi hisses and bites him for good measure, the taste of blood almost as satisfying as having to wrestle with him in bed. He doesn't notice that the idea still makes him redden – a lovely shade of pink. Kirihara does though.
“There are other games we can play,” the dark haired man sing-songs, running his arm around Hiyoshi's waist, giving him one quick grind before tumbling out the door to Hiyoshi's loud cursing. It isn't much of a contrast to his boyfriend's incessant moaning (“God, Akaya, st-stop it. Wait, no, not there!”) and he happily makes certain to mention so as they are rallying balls on the court.