Warnings: Language (thanks, pissed-off Koutan).
Summary: After a particularly challenging game (omg tennis!), a temperamental Kouji and an exhausted Ayato are sent away from the courts and ordered to "cool down". Among the discussion topics: future tennis strategy, family, and the inherent weirdness of girls.
'Go calm down,' Fuji-buchou had said. 'Go take a walk.' Takayama Kouji was more than glad to do both of those things, since taking a walk meant he could get the hell away from the court and his stupid opponents and the stupid St Rudolph team.
He'd lost. He knew he wasn't suited for doubles, but Fuji had thrown him in with Terada – as though they didn't have to deal with each other enough, being roommates, now they were stuck playing doubles, too. Damn it all, anyway; didn't they understand he was meant for singles? Did they hate him that much? He knew it wasn't even a matter of seniority – Terada was a senior himself, and most of the team was made up of second-year students. If they'd put him in singles he wouldn't have lost, and he wouldn't have lost so – so damn gracelessly.
So he took the path behind the courts, a cold towel wrapped around his neck, stomping off with very little dignity and even fewer words, to go 'think it over'. There wasn't anything to think over – his loss had not been his own fault, and that was that.
Terada Ayato was concerned with two things: his waterbottle and the way he wanted to die when he thought about the way Fuji-buchou had spoken to them. As he alternately tried to drink his water as fast as possible without choking and keep up behind his obviously furious doubles partner, he thought about what their captain had said. Nothing *mean*, really, but he'd been very obviously angry and disappointed - and with good reason.
Ayato was nearly dizzy just trying to follow Takayama-kun off the courts and away from the action; they'd been told to "take a walk" and were doing just that. It was hardly surprising - even with the ground threatening to lurch out from beneath him, Ayato could tell from the pounding pulse in his head that he needed to walk his exertion off. Exertion that he wanted to blame on his partner, but couldn't really find a way to pin down on him one hundred percent. It was just as much Ayato's fault as Takayama's that they'd lost, and he was sure both of them knew it.
"Hey - wait *up* a sec, will you?" he panted, finishing the last of his water and deciding to take this chance to talk to his partner regardless of how angry he was. Ayato was just a bit angry himself, though who it was he was angry with… was still unclear.
Kouji paused in his tracks, but didn't turn around, letting Terada catch up to him – even if he didn't want to wait for very long, because he knew if he stopped moving, cooling down would be that much more difficult. As soon as he heard the footsteps pounding closer behind him, he started walking again, taking the same brusque strides that had gotten him there in the first place. His breath was coming easier now that he was walking, and the clean air felt good in his lungs.
Great. It seemed like Takayama-kun was pretty angry. Ayato sighed as soon as he could get enough air into his system, and tried to keep up with the taller boy as he continued to head away from the courts with legs much longer than Ayato's.
"Look. I'm sure you're angry," Ayato said shortly, wiping his forehead, "but what the hell was that all about back there anyway? That was…" He paused, but it needed saying. It had needed saying during the game, but he hadn't had the nerve, not with the team right there, not to mention their opponents. He hadn't said a thing, and that had gotten them into this mess in the first place.
"That was really pretty stupid. You're a lot better when you're not trying to put the ball through the fence on the other side."
"Fuck off," Kouji muttered. "I don't need you telling me what to do, too." He kept walking, keeping his eyes trained on the path ahead of him. He was pretty sure there was a vending machine somewhere around here…. Where the hell was it? He hoped he wasn't going the wrong way … "Especially you," he added, letting his eyes slide to the shorter boy at his side.
Ayato felt himself flush, partly with embarrassment, partly with anger. He'd never felt that he had the right to tell anyone what to do, regardless of whether they were younger than he was or not. And to top it off, because he was so short he never felt like anyone *was* younger than him in the first place - he was still mistaken for a first-year occasionally, and not just by the other students. He'd gotten into the habit of thinking that way himself, and seldom spoke up unless he felt the matter was extremely important.
But this *was* important. *Something* had happened out there, and even if it had been Ayato's fault, he still needed to know what had been going on. "I'm not trying to tell you what to do," he said quietly. "Are you okay?"
"What do you think?" If it wasn't obvious that no, he wasn't okay, there was something seriously wrong with Terada. Not that there wasn't something seriously wrong with him anyway…
Kouji knew Terada's play style was erratic – he was good at actually reaching the ball when it seemed like the other team was about to get the point, but he lacked control or any kind of finesse – which is exactly what Kouji prized in his own play. He could scarcely believe that someone like Terada had even made it onto the regulars … but he didn't expect much better at a crappy school like St Rudolph.
"Okay, so it was a stupid question," Ayato conceded, feeling himself flush even deeper, definitely with embarrassment this time. "So *what's* wrong? Can I help? Should I have yelled at you during the game or something? What do you want me to do?" He was exasperated - Takayama-kun had been nothing but hard to talk to since they'd stepped onto the court together, and that undermined everything Ayato knew about doubles, even with the admission that he'd always played singles himself and was probably less than perfect at meshing with a partner, even after all their practices together.
Kouji bit back his first instinct – to yell at Terada to leave him the fuck alone, to get out of his face, to tell him in not so many words that he had never asked for a doubles partner. And that split-second pause may have been to his benefit, because in it he realized that this was Terada he was talking to – the same guy that had covered for him when he needed it, that took his joking in stride, that he'd decided really wasn't so bad after all.
"I don't know," Kouji sighed. "You could have won, maybe. That would've helped."
"Oh. Well, if *that* was all…" Ayato stared at Takayama-kun, wondering if even now he realized they'd been playing doubles. "So first you decide to hit as hard as you can, until you can't return what a third-grader could've hit at you, and then I'm supposed to win?" He tried not to sound too sarcastic, even if that was how he felt. It would do neither of them any good to get Takayama-kun much more riled up than he already was.
"Maybe you should've told me beforehand, then, 'cause I would've told you how bad an idea *that* was. I'm sorry… I'm not good enough to win it like that for you," Ayato admitted softly, even as he tried to think of a new training schedule that might let him do just that, if Takayama pulled this again. If they were allowed to play again. "We were doing fine early on."
But had they really been? Kouji wasn't so sure. "Even if we were doing okay to start with, later on we weren't. I had to do something -- what else was I supposed to do? You sure as hell couldn't save us from some of those returns." In truth he didn't really know what he was doing – just trying to win at any cost, he supposed, even if his desire to win drove him into a blind rage. He didn't think when he was like that, and even if he knew that now, that sure didn't change what he had been doing on the court.
"Well, you could've done something a little less… drastic, maybe," Ayato tried to temporize, knowing that he couldn't have saved the game, but still, the truth hurt sometimes to hear it from someone else. He hadn't been strong enough to save the game, but Takayama had only been making things worse. It was like he'd completely forgotten who he was, and how he played, and had been only trying to hit the ball with more force than their opponents could have returned.
"You just… that didn't suit you at all," Ayato said, finally beginning to work out the situation in his head as he spoke. "I mean, you're really good at pinpoint shots, and then it kinda… seemed like you forgot that. I… need you to be accurate, because I'm sure as hell not. You know that - so we need to think of a better way to come back. Without the dying, please?" He was still a bit lightheaded, and glanced around, hoping for a water fountain. Or a bench.
"Alright, so what do you want to do about it?" Terada seemed to have all the answers today, and from his comments seemed to have paid better attention to their game – maybe he fancied himself some kind of strategist, especially since there was no coach and their captain had told them only to go calm down. "Since I'm obviously not as good at plans as you are. You think you can come up with something that we can both manage?"
Thankfully, Kouji spotted the vending machine he'd been looking for over the next hill. He'd been sure it was around here somewhere and was glad to see that he hadn't been wrong.
Oh, great - now Takayama wanted him to be the strategist? Ayato had never, not once in his life, been good at strategy, and he knew that was his weak point. And he also knew that if he didn't work on it, and soon, the raw talent and reflexes he'd been relying on up to this point would run out and he wouldn't make the regulars next cut.
And even better, now Takayama was leading them up a hill towards a vending machine. Ayato concentrated on making it up the hill - and he'd actually been feeling his pulse begin to slow, before - and leaned heavily on the machine once they'd reached the top while his partner made his beverage choice.
"I'll try to think of something if we can sit down," he finally said as Takayama eyed the drink selection. "But I promise no miracles, and you'd better help."
"Fine," Kouji replied, "on both counts." He waved towards a nearby tree, casually indicating that Terada should have a seat on the grass beneath it. After feeding some loose change to the machine and making his selection, he looked over at his partner, who really didn't look as though he was recovering very well. "You want anything?"
"Water?" Ayato asked, pushing himself off the machine. "I have some change… here." He dug into his pocket, shoving a few coins into Takayama's hand before collapsing beneath the nearest tree. He knew he should be fine by now… it must be because he'd been sick earlier in the week. Or because he'd been nearly playing a doubles game without a partner for a good chunk of time at the end of the set. Or both.
He set to work trying to devise a reasonable strategy so as not to let this happen again. Takayama-kun had gotten mad, and he'd stopped hitting accurately - and starting hitting hard. That obviously needed to not happen in future games. And when Takayama hadn't been able to hit any more, Ayato had had to take over, which had been just as bad an idea. So they needed to work on relying on his reflexes and Takayama's accuracy, instead of trying to be power hitters. Because obviously neither one of them was any good at that.
"How likely is it that my asking you not to go crazy like that in the future is going to work?" he asked as the other boy came over.
"Long as the other teams don't piss me off." Kouji shrugged and handed Terada the bottle of water, cracking open his own can of juice as he sat across from him in the shade. He took a long drink, the cool liquid only helping him calm down. "Guess that's too much to ask, though. I dunno. It's not like it was intentional."
Ayato gulped down the water, finally beginning to feel better once he'd neared the end of the bottle. "Well, if it wasn't intentional, then you need to intentionally *not* get angry, it seems," he said. "I mean, you have no control over the other team, so you've got to control yourself."
"Alright." He could try his damndest to try and keep control over his emotions, but couldn't promise anything – and he knew better than to tell Terada that right now. "Fine. What about you?"
"Well… I mean, I can't play the whole game for us, 'cause we saw how well that worked out. But I can get to the ball faster than you, and I'm gonna work on my nonexistent accuracy. If I can get to the ball *and* hit it where I want it to go, I bet that'll help you out a lot." He sighed. It looked like he'd be training a lot - and harder - than he had been, and while he did enjoy it to a point, he hated accuracy work (probably why he was bad at it). "I guess I'll keep working on my endurance too," he added, a little sheepishly. "I'm… sorry I have so much to work on. I'm kinda not used to this."
Kouji downed the rest of his juice and set the empty can aside. "I thought you were on the team at your old school, too," he pointed out, though he still didn't think it was really possible. But Terada wasn't the kind of guy that would just lie about something, especially something important like that. "They didn't train you there?"
"I was," Ayato insisted, "but they didn't train me like this. Er, well, *for* this, I guess I should say. It wasn't a very competitive district. That's why I moved here." He sighed. "Well, that and I stood no chance at Seigaku, and I wanted to stay in Japan." His old school really had been nothing like this one, in any respect, though he knew that half of that was probably his own point of view. But the tennis had definitely not been so challenging; he wasn't one to ever mention it, but he'd been singles two on his old team. He knew he wasn't *bad*, but he also knew he didn't really measure up to the standards of this type of team yet, and that was why he'd been working like crazy to bring himself up that high. He liked to think he'd been getting there, but then he knew he still had a long, long way to go.
Terada certainly had his work cut out for him. "Yeah, you mentioned." Kouji dismissed the subject, stretching out on the cool grass. Even though they both seemed pretty cooled down, he didn't want to go back just yet – this was as good an excuse as any to be away from the rest of the team, if not better, because it was basically ordered. "So you'll train and I'll try not to get pissed," he concluded, even if he had a feeling that would be pretty futile on his own part.
Ayato nodded. "All right. That sounds like a plan to me." He laid back against the tree, eyeing Takayama-kun as he laid out on the grass. He didn't seem like he wanted to go back just yet, and Ayato certainly didn't blame him. They'd both gotten into enough trouble for one day - a little more time spent away from the team didn't sound like a bad thing. Besides, now that his temper had obviously burned itself out, Takayama-kun was being more reasonable and a little less exasperating to be around.
"At least here we train every day with the team," he muttered. "In America we only met three times a week, and I had to do the rest of the training on my own. So I guess I'll try to come up with something to make me better faster than what I'm doing now."
"America?" Kouji repeated, looking over at Terada but not sitting up – stretching out felt too good after the rough game, and he didn't have any inclination to move any time soon. "I thought you were from Osaka."
"I am," Ayato replied, "but I spent a year in America right before junior high because my mother was transferred there. My sister and I were too young to stay in Japan, and my father wanted to go with her, so we went too. Sports were completely different over there." He didn't quite feel like mentioning how dismayed his mother had been when he'd wanted to join a sport - he'd played tennis before, but the year they spent in the US had been the first year he'd actually be on a school team. It hadn't really been much of a team in the first place, but he'd further disappointed his mother by training on his own every day they didn't have what passed for an organized school practice.
"Huh. Guess you get around." Kouji hadn't meant the remark to be insulting, and wasn't sure if it'd be taken as such. Instead, he continued, almost out of unconscious self-pity. "Must be nice to get out of here," he said, examining the back of his hand instead of looking at Terada when he spoke. "I mean, my sister got out, but they don't hate her."
Ayato glanced at his partner, not really sure whether he was being insulted or not. It was hard to tell with Takayama-kun; though he sounded too content for the remark to have been malicious. And it certainly sounded like he wished he could go abroad himself.
"I dunno, I was only 11, and it wasn't like I got away from my parents or anything. It's much nicer now that my mother isn't in the same country anymore." Ayato sighed - maternal calls, while exasperating, were much less so than actually living with his mother. "What about your sister? I… actually don't know anything about your family, other than your parents since I talked to them on the phone."
Kouji rolled onto his side, propping his head up with one hand and facing Terada more directly, but still preferring to remain mostly horizontal. "My older sister's the one who got to go – she's in high school, and there was some kind of exchange program. We didn't get anyone in return, thank god, but I guess she had a good time over there … she just got back this past weekend." Absently, he picked at the blades of grass in front of him, letting them fall back to the ground after they'd been uprooted. He wasn't sure what else to say about Sayoko … she was different, these days, and Kouji suspected it wasn't just because of her time spent overseas. "Got a younger sister, too, but we don't talk much. They love her, too."
"Oh, so it's just you they hate?" Ayato couldn't help but smile a bit in amusement at his kohai's exaggerated view of things. "I think you and my little sister'd get along great - she thinks our parents hate her and love me." The smile thinned. He wasn't so sure his sister was right - or that she would be in the future. "Do you get along with them, at least? Your sisters, I mean."
"I guess," he said, rolling onto his back again. It was his own fault that they were talking about this, but he didn't mind so much – it wasn't really talking about himself, he supposed. "Used to, kinda, with my older one. Dunno what happened. I guess maybe she's still kinda cool but she's kinda … weird, too. Younger one not so much. Don't get what she's talking about half the time." He almost wanted to stop himself from saying more; admitting that he didn't understand his younger sister was a great fallacy, and he wished he could take it back as soon as he'd said it.
But Terada wouldn't exploit him. He wasn't like that.
"I think that's what they're for," Ayato said with a bit of a laugh. "Being weird. I don't think I know of a sister that isn't. I mean, I get along okay with mine, and Hikari-chan says she wants to start cosplaying, so maybe there's hope, but I guess I still don't understand her either." Rei was… well, very different from Ayato in a good number of ways. The first and foremost being that she craved the attention that Ayato would just as readily do without - it was something he definitely didn't understand, and was pretty sure he never would.
"Girls are weird," Kouji said decisively, though he wasn't sure that being cursed with brothers would be any better. Any siblings of his would likely turn out more like his parents than he did, regardless of gender. It wasn't just his sisters, either – any girls he'd encountered in his classes had been very near impossible to talk to.
"… Right," was all Ayato said. After all, he couldn't really disagree with Takayama-kun. His own friends were all boys here, and had been mostly boys at his old school as well. They were just… easier to get along with. And made more sense some of the time.
Ayato blinked. "Oh! And I just remembered - Hikari-chan… she's my cousin, and she's my age, and she kind of wanted to visit tomorrow. She was going to bring some bentos, and she said you could get in on 'em if you wanted. I didn't want to say you would without asking you, but it's free food… And she's pretty easy to get along with."
Although Kouji wasn't likely to turn down free food, particularly if it wasn't the product of any cafeteria system, he still hesitated in responding. "… I guess," he finally agreed. As long as Terada didn't expect anything from him that he wasn't liable to get. "What's the catch?"
"Uh… catch? I mean… there isn't one, unless you count maybe actually talking to my cousin a catch. She's not that bad - I mean, I got her to watch Gundam," he said, grinning. "And she might not be the greatest chef in all the world, but her food isn't bad at all. And it's loads better than my other cousin's - Megumi-chan should never, ever be allowed near a stove. Again. Unless it's to help some chemist figure out how to spontaneously create life."
"You don't have to come. I just thought I'd offer, since she did."
Kouji shrugged, as best as one could while lying in the grass. "Fine with me," he said. Out was out, after all, and as long as his family had nothing planned for him – which wasn't entirely likely in the first place, except that Sayoko was home now, and he could never be too sure what they'd want to do under the pretense of being a normal family that cared about all its children. If nothing else, he could use it as an excuse, and they'd be thrilled that he was making new, respectable friends, with good, upstanding morals.
"Okay." Ayato nodded. "I'll call her tonight and tell her to be sure to bring enough, then." He glanced at the sunlight wafting down through the leaves of the tree he was beneath. "You think maybe we should head back to the courts now?" The shadows had definitely moved a good amount since they'd first been banished from the courtside with orders to cool off, and heading back might not be such a bad idea by now.
It wasn't a truly horrible suggestion, but Kouji had been putting off going back partly out of a sinking suspicion that he'd be ridiculed upon his return. Maybe if it was late enough, they'd've forgotten about his loss and subsequent exile. Maybe.
Or maybe not, but he knew he couldn't stay away all day. Reluctantly, he stood, collecting his empty juice can as he rose, and brushed the wayward blades of grass off his uniform. (The brown and white really looked so damn plain, he thought idly; out of all the schools that had placed in the tournament this time around he was sure St Rudolph had the most boring colors.) Wordlessly, he headed down the hill, tossing the can into a nearby trash receptacle, and waited for Terada once he reached the sidewalk.
Ayato dragged himself upright using the tree trunk, very aware that he was going to be sore later on in the evening, and probably well into tomorrow morning. He made his way down the hill, upending the bottle of water to catch a few more drops before following Takayama in tossing his garbage and finally coming to the sidewalk, where his partner stood waiting for him before starting off with longer strides for the courts once Ayato had reached the cement.
They made their way back through the park towards the tournament, Ayato hoping along the way that maybe their defeat had been forgotten in the heat of the games that followed it, and that Fuji-buchou would be too busy or distracted to send any more disappointed glances their way.