FANDOM: Prince of Tennis
CHARACTERS: Akazawa-centric, featuring Mizuki and pretty much the entire SeiRu ensemble
GENRE: gen, friendship
RATING: PG to be safe
SUMMARY: Everyone has a way of dealing with change. (2200 words)
NOTES: This was written for readerofasaph via the strudy_exchange.
The winds of change are a fickle entity. There are times when they blow softly, a spring breeze full of promise, invisible fingers willing you on with the slightest touch, a teasing pull. There are times when they blow strong, resolute, guiding you forward with a needless shove – this is your path to follow – and prematurely revealing what can only ever be imagined, a crashing prelude of what is to come.
There are also times when they are barely there, suggestively hiding beneath the shell of your ear, whispering honeyed words of encouragement and all the things you might want to hear, of a road so wide, so vast that many are the possibilities.
Akazawa, if anything, has had his fair share of encounters with the latter. He has come to know that change is a discreet occurrence as well as an imbalance; an unwelcomed visitor, sometimes calling, sometimes waiting on the other side of your front door without prior notice (wrapped dango in tow), always knowing nevertheless that if a final choice is to be made, it would not be of its own. Change, after all, also ironically suffers from the twisted fate of never being able to decide whether to agree, disagree, or to allow the consequences that follow – it is all inevitable.
And strangely, it does not ever seem to be bothered by this either. Leave that to the mortals.
It happens carelessly, brushing his hair away from his face, arms decidedly tense. And who would question him? The cogwheels have just begun to turn as he has been named next year's captain. His palms are sweaty, his brow furrowed in concentration. He finds himself insanely restless, not knowing what else to do but grip his racket with a force meant to break. And for a few short seconds, he thinks he can actually convince himself that there's nothing to it.
Only by the end of the last second does he remember that he does not have the money to purchase a new one, and the action would thusly be deemed quite idiotic. But it is so overwhelming that not even Kaneda's congratulating can pull him out of his stupor. He sees nothing, hears nothing, processes nothing.
That is until he catches the eye of their team's manager, an eerie glow.
Akazawa has never actually spoken to him before, not like this (not even close), not outside club activities or whenever he would be advised a better training regimen. He rarely sees the boy in the hallways or at the cafeteria; they move in different circles. But there is something about the boy's smile just then, a kind of balm on an open wound, that prickly yet therapeutic burn, a coiling sensation in his stomach, twist, untwist. It is a cunning, calculating smile that reminds Akazawa of the mythical kitsune; a wily fox spirit plotting his demise.
This is just as well probably the way he will describe the whirlwind that is Mizuki Hajime, if asked.
Mizuki is a combination of uncompromising gusts and deathly hisses. As if to contradict, there are also those faint moments when Akazawa tells himself that he's seen the semblance of a flutter in the data specialist's purposeful strides. But knowing full well that Mizuki is this unpredictable frightens him beyond reason. You simply cannot know what to expect from him. And his words and actions can equate to something else completely, deviating from their initial purpose. No other player rattles him quite like his manager does, this is a fact, set in stone; though Akazawa neither admits nor dismisses this notion openly.
However, in the months that follow, the boy thankfully does not give him any trouble. Mizuki is, in fact, a solid guard next to his budding foundation as future captain. There is no question as to where the boy's unwavering loyalty lies, and in that Akazawa finds a strange sort of comfort.
The offhandedly suspicious comments, he realizes, are one of Mizuki's many habits which he has promptly grown to look forward to. (“Nfu, have you heard of Seigaku's legendary tensai, Akazawa-kun?”) Nevertheless, this does not mean that he readily displays his interest to further encourage the boy either. And for good reason.
This is when the air turns cold.
Kisarazu Atsushi, with his recently trimmed hair and somewhat valiant red ribbon, is one of Mizuki's initial conquests; Mizuki has said not to refer to it as anything else, and he personally does not know how else to describe their odd relationship. All the more when it is found to be a rather fortunate mistake. To which again, Mizuki reiterates that he would not like to discuss it, not anytime soon.
Towards himself, Atsushi is cordial, a curt nod, a small, almost pretty smile (if he thinks about it) – a stray wind that carries quivering sakura petals in its wake. Mizuki, on the other hand, persists to point out that the boy is still a little rough around the edges and that “Chiba has not done much for his disposition at all – which is why he will be perfectly at home here”.
Akazawa, at this point in time, truthfully only cares about what is to be described as “Kisarazu-kun's graceful swings and perfect serves”. And as if to punish him, he is later assigned the impending task of bringing Atsushi his new white gloves. It is a stylish contrast to his ribbon, Mizuki adds without fail.
All he remembers is Shinya's snickering.
The winds have stilled, readying for the new season, by the time Nomura mentions that Mizuki has found a new obsession. None of them know what it is exactly but Kaneda has made his few guesses; Akazawa refuses to place his bet.
Atsushi has rounded on Shinya at quite the same time, and has decided that they are better off playing doubles than against each other. And Mizuki, for once, has agreed – though this is probably because the normally docile player would have murdered their team chatterbox if not. As always, their manager looks for compromise. The very same way he has already planned their lineup for the prefecturals.
Curiosity only begins to eat at him some weeks later, when Akazawa notices that Mizuki leaves just as their practices end. For Shinya, perhaps, such behavior is not so unusual. (“I don't care, dane! The new Zombies VS Vampires game is coming out today at the arcade – Atsushi, I know you've been meaning to see it, too.”) However, as Mizuki is often the person who reminds them to complete at least five more laps to “cool off” after training, even the spectators have begun to wonder.
It is after being discreetly coerced by the rest of the team that Akazawa finally concedes. He makes sure to give them all pointed looks – longer, pressing ones specifically to Atsushi and Shinya who are then playing another set as if to innocently cover up the none too gentle mind-shoving – just as he shuts the court gates, a slow chill traveling up his spine. Akazawa barely even notices.
The same subtle chill, however, wraps around his body the following day, when Mizuki waves to him from behind the barbed fence of their courts. A wayward tennis ball zooms into the wires as he strides towards his manager, racket swinging, muscles tense, jaw set, eyes directed forward. He knows that he cannot intimidate Mizuki, but it is enough to keep the rest of the team quiet. Likewise, the data specialist does not point him out.
They fall into an easy conversation, updating each other on the lineup, filling in the blanks for what the other may not know. A seemingly uncomplicated dynamic to outsiders, yet it is, in fact, another one of Mizuki's mind games. It is something that Akazawa is already accustomed to; letting the other boy have his fun, trying to decide how long it will run until they both decide to give up. Though he probably already has himself. For that is the only way to win.
And just like clockwork, Mizuki throws away the defenses (albeit with a swish of his hand) and announces his grand move. A checkmate: he has managed to convince Fuji Syuusuke's younger brother to transfer to their school, the paperwork having just been finalized. There is a pause before Akazawa realizes that he isn't as surprised as he should be. Mizuki, on the other hand, simply beams – again, something he is not at all surprised about.
Now, this younger brother, Fuji Yuuta, scars and piercing eyes and wildly raw technique, is ironically a calm; an unsure, equally unpredictable magnet for trouble, yet an undeniably valuable asset. He is, without a doubt, Akazawa frowns, a calm. At least until the hurricane begins.
Yuuta, with an almost unbelievable mark of innocence hiding behind his facade of blind courage, is a marker that things will only get worse, and then probably much worse. And then there is of course Mizuki, who does not seem at all disturbed by it. Even though Akazawa is sure he knows of the consequences. But there is nothing they can do about it, not now. And not ever. After all, he clenches his fist, the boy must be aware of what he is doing, what it means to be here, and what it will mean when the season kicks off.
As proof, training becomes a battlefield soon after. And by then, no one is surprised anymore. They are all covered in sweat and blood beneath their pristine white tennis jerseys, not even Atsushi's ribbon is spared, dyed a richer crimson from a fall he took with one misstep.
Mizuki, in contrast, is as confident as ever, observing the chaos with an all-knowing smirk and a silken twirl of his hair. Almost like a god amongst mortals. He is thriving in the pandemonium, and it takes nearly all of Akazawa's inner strength to keep himself from marching right over and grabbing him up by the collar. Kaneda's firm hand resting on his shoulder is probably another safeguard, he does not care to admit.
And with as much insanity as this, it is probably a wonder then that their team manages to match up to Seigaku in the qualifying rounds. So far as to say that their hard work and Mizuki's “Reinforcement Program” have paid off. However, Akazawa can tell, as early as the day of the announcement, that it isn't part of Mizuki's calculations (at least not yet), although the latter tries to hide this. He later considers approaching their manager about it, but has not gathered enough solid reasoning why he should. After all, if Mizuki wishes to act unaffected then it is supposedly not his place to ruin the illusion.
By the time he realizes his mistake, Akazawa blinks, he is already standing on the court, the sun blazing down on them and cheers erupting from all around them. And despite the heat, as obvious as it is, he cannot help but compare the situation to a thunderstorm instead, with harsh winds and barely enough sky, everything covered in foreboding gray clouds, heavy and maddening.
He and Kaneda successfully capture their game, the clap of thunder and the bright haze of lightning guiding them down their path when it ends; but the next matches prove futile, as if the winds of change have become hellbent on swatting them into place. And who in his right mind would even think of accepting such a notion? Akazawa is sure that he would not, which only pales to consider how everyone else would take it.
At three games played, Mizuki's the deciding climax to a possible turnabout or to a complete loss, Akazawa is gripping the fence, the metal crippling beneath his fingers. Somewhere, in a place he would have liked to ignore, he has predicted the outcome. And the knowledge of this does not make it any easier. With the damage done to Yuuta's shoulder or at least what appeared to be something close to it, with the opposing lineup (which would undoubtedly lead Seigaku to even more victories), and with Mizuki's own opponent being none other than Fuji Syuusuke himself... a part of him would rather not watch.
But, he glares, mouth drawn into a thin line, he has to. He has to watch – he has to finish this, he has to see (to really see) as a captain, as a player, as well as for his teammates, for Mizuki, and for himself.
This is why once the game ends, Akazawa waits behind the gates patiently. He waits as Mizuki kneels before Fuji Syuusuke, waits as his manager pulls himself up again and slowly drags his feet (for the first time) towards him, waits as Mizuki stops, stares at the ground and frowns to himself some more, waits as Mizuki looks back up to him, waits as he crashes and burns. And then Akazawa waits after he has laid a hand on Mizuki's shoulder, waits after he squeezes.
And in that span of time, he is almost certain that an ironically welcoming breeze has lifted a stray strand of hair away from his face and that somehow, someway, the sun has come out again.