Eleonora (lumelle) wrote,

PoT: Up to Me

This was originally supposed to be my subrosa_tennis entry, but as I got futher I realised that if one were to make comparisons, it'd be rather clear that the style, pairing and fanon are mine. Therefore, as my second attempt reached 4,000 words in one night, I decided to make this one into an ordinary fic.

Title: Up to Me
Fandom: Prince of Tennis
Pairings: Implied AkuDan
Rating: PG-13 for violence
Summary: As the next year comes around, Dan struggles to earn his place in the tennis team. Fortunately, he's not entirely alone.
A/N: Because Dan deserves more love, not that anybody's going to read this. And have I ever mentioned I suck at writing long fics? >.>

Nagoya Seitoku had won. Yamabuki had lost.

This was a fact they had no choice but to accept. Their way at the Nationals ended here. They would go no further.

Sengoku had his hand on Muromachi's shoulder, trying to comfort the younger boy as he cried. Of course, it did little good – nothing could really help after the humiliating loss.

The mourning, though, was soon turned into semi-amused if not rather teary comments. They'd done their best – there was nothing to regret. They simply hadn't been good enough.

Dan stood a little ways from the rest of the team, fighting against tears himself. They'd worked so hard, yet it hadn't been enough. Was it his fault? Had he not been good enough a manager? Maybe, if he'd managed to convince Akutsu to return to the team, they might have been able to win...

"Dan-kun," Sengoku's voice suddenly called for him. Dan looked up, surprised. What did the vice-captain have to say to him?

There was no hint of the usual smile on the red-head's face as Sengoku looked at him now, perfectly serious. Similar expressions were on the faces of the other regulars, too, as they all looked at their little manager.

"Next year," Sengoku said, "it's up to you."

For a moment, Dan just stood still, staring at his senpai. The tears he'd been trying to keep away now welled in his eyes, not about to go away. Then, the tears finally rolling down his cheeks, he forced himself to summon up as cheerful a smile as he only could manage.

"Yes desu!"

It was up to him now. And he wouldn't disappoint his senpai-tachi.


In the end, Dan didn't stop being the manager, figuring that if other managers could be players too there was no way why he couldn't do it. Nobody ever disagreed with him, and as he seemed to be successful enough in the end nobody even remembered he had once told he'd give up managing. It just came naturally to him, trying to take care of everything and getting others to help when he couldn't do it.

When Akutsu heard of this, he said, "Fucking overachiever," and Dan just grinned and didn't say anything.

That day, Akutsu played against Dan and won ridiculously easily. It was the first time they played against each other, but it was far from the last.


Although Yamabuki did hold ranking matches, they weren't even nearly as earth-shattering in importance as those at Seigaku, and in the end Banji's opinion was the deciding factor on who became a regular and who didn't. This meant, naturally, that there were always some protests about the line-up, everybody believing themselves to be more deserving of belonging to the team than those who had actually made it there.

Never before, however, had the line-up caused such a commotion as it did now, the new team being announced at the older students' retirement from the club to prepare for their entrance exams.

Now, nobody was surprised to see Muromachi continuing on the team – after all, he had showed himself very well capable of both playing and winning at a National level. Just as few were surprised by Kita's leave – while an excellent player in doubles, he wasn't very special without his partner, and Nitobe was going to graduate. The rest of the new team was made up of current non-regular second and first years, all known to be strong players, many of which had been guessed ahead of time, like the captain Tomoe Hiroshi.

Still, there was quite a lot of noise as the club members were gathered in front of the noticeboard, where the team line-up was set. So thick was the crowd that it was practically impossible for Dan to get through them to see whom he was going to be managing in the future.

"Oi, step aside," Sengoku said with a cheerful voice as he noticed the little boy's difficulties. "Can't have the manager not know the team, right?"

Somewhat grudgingly, the club members made way to Dan, the chatter intensifying as the small boy made his way towards the notice board. Then, however, they fell silent, all watching as Dan's eyes flew wide.

"...Sengoku-senpai desu?" Dan asked after a moment. "There's a mistake on this list, right desu?"

"No mistake at all," Sengoku replied with a grin. "I'd say we're quite lucky to have such a strong team next year!"

"But – it has to be a mistake desu!" Dan protested. "There's no way – just no way desu –"

"There's no way what?" The red-haired player smiled at him. "That you'd be made a regular?"

At this, all Dan could say was a quiet, "...Desu," as he stared at the list and his name on it.


Dan fell down to the ground, close to tears. Looking up at Akutsu, he saw the other boy's sneer, knowing it was caused by his miserable defeat.

"You're an embarrassment to the whole school," Akutsu spat. "I'm ashamed to have ever belonged to the fucking team if you're actually a regular member now."

Dan fell silent, looking down at the ground. "I know that desu," he muttered. "I'm not big and strong like Akutsu-senpai or just talented like Echizen-kun. But I'm going to try my best desu!" Now, he actually dared to look up at the older boy, determination lighting up his eyes. "I'm going to train until I don't bring shame to anyone desu!"

The corner of Akutsu's mouth twisted in something not entirely unlike a smile. "Che. Well, get up, then." His gaze hardened. "We're going to continue the match."


"...And Singles One will be Muromachi-kun," Banji finished. "Is that all right?"

Everybody agreed, Dan most enthusiastically. He was again the reserve, he was always the reserve, but he didn't mind. If he had played, he would have most probably lost. It was better for him to stay aside, everybody knew that.

In the meantime, though, he would practice as hard as he only could. If at some point he actually got to play, he didn't want to disappoint anybody, least of all Akutsu-senpai.

He had caused enough disappointments to Akutsu-senpai already.


Dan fell to his knees, panting hard. It seemed Akutsu had gone even harder on him than usual today. He was absolutely exhausted.

"Weak, weak, weak," Akutsu growled. "The team must be in a very bad pinch if they actually have you as a regular. Not that you ever play, though, do you?"

"No, Akutsu-senpai," Dan muttered, trying to catch his breath enough to form a complete sentence. "I'm just the – reserve desu. That way – I can't lose."

"But you can't win, either." Akutsu glared at him. "How do you think you'll ever be anything but the reserve if you just give up?"

"I'm not giving up!" Dan replied fiercely. "I won't ever give up again before the match is over desu!"

"Then get up." The older boy's gaze was absolutely indifferent as he pointed his racquet at Dan. "We're still not done. One more game, and I'll have won... again."

Dan drew a couple of deep breaths, then glanced around for his racquet, which had fallen from his hand a moment before. Grasping on it, he slowly pushed himself up with shaky knees.

"I'm ready, Akutsu-senpai," he said.

"Great." Akutsu smirked almost evilly, except it couldn't be that because Akutsu-senpai wasn't evil. "This will be your most spectacular loss ever."


"What have you been doing, Dan-kun?" Furitsu asked curiously from the younger boy. "You are completely black and blue!"

"Hey, that's true," Kimoto noticed as well, glancing at Dan's badly bruised arms. "What did you do, wrestle with a bear?"

Dan froze momentarily, only now realizing just how many bruises he had on him. He usually had at least some new ones every time he trained with Akutsu – the older boy never went easy on him – but the day before had been particularly bad. Most of them were for things like falling and landing badly – he really was very clumsy – but some were from being hit by the ball a tad too hard when he failed to return the shot.

"It's – nothing," he muttered after a moment. "I just fell with a bike."

"As expected of you," Furitsu said with a leer. "It's a wonder you ever learnt to walk."

The others laughed, and for a moment Dan found himself missing his former senpai-tachi – while they had sometimes laughed at his eager clumsiness, it had never been never nasty laughter, not like this. Even though he had only been the manager back then, he'd been more of a member of the team than he was now. Only Muromachi and the captain weren't nasty to him, because Muromachi was one of the old senpai-tachi and the captain hardly even noticed him most of the time.

Ah, well, it couldn't be helped. And he really was clumsy, wasn't he? He was of no use to anyone. Even as a manager, he was a failure, even if it was the only time the others actually listened to him.

But he wouldn't stop trying, that was for sure.


Walking home after practice was a somewhat lonely affair. The few friends Dan had at the tennis club all lived in the opposite direction, and thus he never had anybody to walk home with. This time the practice had been stretched particularly long, and it was getting dark already.

Now, Dan may have been somewhat naive and overly trusting, but even he wasn't an idiot. Thus he knew that three unfamiliar older boys suddenly blocking his path most likely meant trouble.

"You are Dan Taichi, aren't you?" asked one of them with an evil grin. "A Yamabuki regular?"

"I am," Dan replied warily. He didn't like the way the boys looked. "Can I help you somehow desu?"

"It depends," another boy said. They were all older than him, probably high school age. They were tall, too, though not bigger than Akutsu-senpai. "We want you to quit the team."

Now, Dan's eyes flew wide. What on Earth was this? "Huh?" he asked somewhat stupidly. If Akutsu had been there, he doubtlessly would have told Dan not to be such an idiot. Then again, if Akutsu-senpai had been there, the boys probably wouldn't have dared to talk to him. For some reason Akutsu-senpai had that effect on people.

"You heard us," the third boy said. "My cousin said you are keeping him from the team. Why are you a regular if you never even play, huh? You useless brat."

"It's no wonder they don't let him play," the second boy said with a nasty tone. "Just look at him! I bet he'd fall over if we looked at him too hard."

"You bet," the first one laughed. As Dan took a step backwards, though, he threw an angry glare at Dan. "Who said you could leave, huh?" he asked, then slapped Dan's face.

It hurt. Dan winced, raising a hand to his cheek. That was sure to leave a bruise. "I'm sorry desu," he muttered quietly, a part of his mind wondering whether it would hurt more than this if Akutsu-senpai ever hit him. That was a useless thought, of course – Akutsu-senpai never hit him, no matter how stupid he was.

"You'd better be," the third boy said. "If you know what's the best for you you'll quit, understood?"

"But I can't," Dan said quietly, slowly, as though explaining something to a child. Didn't they understand? "I promised I'd become a player desu..."

Apparently they didn't understand. The next thing Dan knew was somebody hitting him again, this time with a fist, hard right at his face. If he had reacted a bit faster, he might have managed to prevent the fall. As it was, though, Dan found himself falling towards the ground, too stunned in his pain to even try to prevent it before it was too late.

His head hitting the pavement, Dan lost his consciousness.


Akutsu wasn’t sure what made him leave his usual route on his way home that day. Had anybody told him it was anything like fate, he’d have called them an idiot, for he didn’t believe in such things. The fact remained, though, that he turned a corner where he usually wouldn’t have, and then another.

Then, on a street he usually never walked as he went home, he found Dan. Dan, unmoving, with a few boys around Akutsu’s own age apparently finding it very funny to kick the fallen little boy.

Now, Akutsu wasn’t the nicest person in the world, and he would have been the first one to admit it. However, there were some things he just wouldn’t allow. While he did occasionally enjoy a bit of senseless violence himself, well known for kicking the fallen, this was something he wouldn’t stand for. After all, this was Dan Taichi. Nobody was allowed to hurt this particular brat.

"You have exactly five damn seconds to get away," he said coldly, cracking his knuckles as he walked closer to the boys. "If you're still here after that, you'll wish you were him."

In any other situation, the boys might have trusted their ability to handle the sole opponent with their clear advantage in numbers. However, one gaze at the enraged expression and cold glare convinced them otherwise. Alone or not, this person was very much capable of making them all regret ever coming to his sight.

With one last glare at the now fast retreating boys, Akutsu then glanced at Dan. The younger boy lay still on the ground, apparently unconscious. With a muttered curse, the crouched, picking the smaller boy up into his arms.

It wasn't a long way anymore.


Dan slowly came to, blinking as he tried to make some sense of his surroundings. The last thing he could remember was falling and hitting his head. This, however, was not the street; it was a strange room he'd never seen before.

"Oh, good, you're awake!" The cheerful voice drew his attention to the doorway. "I had just made up my mind to call a doctor if you didn't wake up soon, even though you were breathing just fine. How do you feel?"

Dan blinked in confusion, trying to remember if he'd ever seen this young woman before. "...It hurts," he muttered after a moment, since it did.

The woman clicked her tongue. "I can imagine," she said. "Such horrible bruises! I'm glad Jin found you before those awful bullies could do any more damage."

Now, Dan was more shocked than anything. "Akutsu-senpai found me?" he asked. Of course, somebody must have brought him wherever he was, but...

"That's right!" The woman smiled. "I am Jin's mother, just call me Yuuki-chan. And you're Dan Taichi, aren't you? Jin's told me a lot about you! You are playing for Yamabuki now, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am," Dan admitted. "But I'm no good at all..."

"Oh, I think you'll do just fine when they finally let you play!" Akutsu's mother said. "Now, do you think you can stand up yet? We'd better show Jin that you're all right already!"

"I can see that just fine." The dry voice from the doorway signalled Akutsu's arrival. "Che. What kind of an idiot are you, Taichi, getting yourself beaten like that? Can't you even stand up to yourself for a bit?" He glared at Dan.

"I – I'm sorry, Akutsu-senpai," Dan muttered. "There were three of them. Next time, I'll try harder desu!"

"Next time, you'll get beaten just as badly," Akutsu snorted. "Why'd they attack you, anyway?" he then asked.

Dan cast his eyes down. "They don't want me on the team desu," he told. "One of them said his cousin would be on the team if Banji didn't keep me there, and I'm useless because I don't ever even play desu!" he said miserably.

Akutsu muttered a curse under his breath, gaining a slightly reprimanding gaze from his mother. Then, he said aloud, "They are idiots, anyway. When Banji hears of this he'll make sure that stupid cousin will never make it to the team – if he manages to stay in the club."

"But how desu?" asked Dan miserably. "I don't even know who that cousin is!"

"Idiot. I recognized their school uniforms," Akutsu said. "I'm sure that if I ask around I'll know who did it, and from that it's not a long stretch to finding the cousin."

"You don't have to do that, Akutsu-senpai desu," Dan said weakly. He felt so relieved, in a way, that he didn't even bother telling Akutsu not to "ask around" in his usual manner. Not that Akutsu would listen to him anyway, but at least he would have felt a little better about it...

"Of course I don't," came the sharp response. "What are you, an idiot? They just annoy me. If somebody's so pitiful they'll beat people up just for the sake of a stupid game like tennis they deserve to have some sense beaten into their heads." Akutsu turned his gaze away. "And while I am at it, I'll tell Banji to let you play at least once. I'm not about to waste my time trying to make you suck a bit less if you never get to show the results to anyone."

"Thank you Akutsu-senpai desu."

Akutsu glared at him briefly. "Che," was all he said before he strode out of the room.

Dan looked after him for a while. Then, he turned to look at Akutsu's mother, finding her smiling at him.

"I'm glad Jin has somebody like you," she said, sounding genuinely happy. "He wouldn't do that just for anyone, you know."

"I know," Dan replied happily, then yawned. Suddenly he felt very tired. "Akutsu-senpai is so great – I want to become just like him!"

"You'd probably better not," chuckled Yuuki-chan, wiping a lock of hair aside from his face. "I'm sure Jin likes you best just like you are. And now, sleep for a bit," she said with a somewhat commanding tone.

Dan obediently closed his eyes. However, he still managed to sigh, "I wonder..." before sleep claimed him.


Akutsu-senpai didn't return until late that night. He told Dan he'd called his parents "so they won't call a police or something" and told him he'd better not be such an idiot as to walk around alone after dark anymore.

Dan told Akutsu he wouldn't and resolved not to ask about the three boys and what had happened to them, now or later.

When a third-year was kicked out of the tennis club the next week for a reason known only to Banji and the captain Dan told himself it was just a coincidence.


Dan kicked his feet to and fro, wondering why he even had to be present. The line-up was going to be the same as usual, he was sure; he would end up as the reserve and that was it. As nobody was yet to fail to appear to the match or somehow make themselves incapable of playing, he wouldn't get to play. Even now he could have been playing with Akutsu-senpai instead of simply listening to what he knew was going to be the standard line-up.

Furitsu glanced at him and he looked away, ashamed. He still bore the bruises of the attack, which he had again tried to explain away as results of his clumsiness. Thankfully, nobody seemed to have any problem with believing him. He wasn't that bad, was he?

...Well, maybe he was.

"Yes, yes, we know," Hiyashi said impatiently as Banji announced the same old, well-tried doubles combinations. "And Singles Three will be Yashiri-kun, right?"

"Ah – I think we'll try something different this time, actually," Banji said cheerfully. "The doubles will indeed be as usual, but as for Singles Three..." Suddenly, he looked at Dan, smiling at the bewildered player-manager. "What do you think, Dan-kun, could you do that?"

Dan looked at him for a moment. Then, he nodded firmly. "I'll do my best desu!" he announced.

As soon as they were dismissed he called Akutsu and thanked him. The older boy just muttered a curse or two, but he never said there was nothing to thank him for.


This was bad. Bad bad bad bad. In fact, this was even worse – so bad Dan almost felt like crying. Only by biting his lip did he manage to keep the tears from falling.

Yamabuki's doubles teams had both lost their matches. One of them, might happen, yes, but never both. Doubles had always been Yamabuki's strength. This simply couldn't happen!

Now, most of the time, they could still save the situation with the singles. However, as luck would have it, Banji had chosen this particular day to actually let Dan play. And, unfortunate though it was, this change of the standard line-up would mean the loss of Yamabuki.

Dan could feel the other regulars' eyes on himself, could hear their whispers. Only Muromachi dared to approach him, half-heartedly telling him to "do his best". Dan promised he would do so, already knowing his best would hardly be enough.

As though to make sure it couldn't get any worse, he had just glimpsed Akutsu-senpai in the stands, too.

Heading towards the court, he almost wished he hadn't survived the beating.

Dan faced his opponent extremely nervously. He was going to lose this match, he just knew it. After all, everybody agreed with him, so it had to be true. He would lose, and Yamabuki would lose all its hopes of victory.

The opponent looked very strong. Dan probably couldn't even return his shots, his racquet thrown away every time. This was not going to end well.

Ah, well. If Banji kicked him from the team because of this, at least he wouldn't get beaten up anymore. Akutsu-senpai would be disappointed with him, though.

The game started, and Dan felt silent relief. Now, it was just him, his opponent, and the ball. Sure, the audience was there too, and among the audience the rest of the team, but just for now, he could ignore them, shut them out of his consciousness. He'd doubtlessly hear what a useless idiot he was after the match, but that wasn't now. Now, he would at least stall his loss for as long as possible.

...Hey, what was this? He'd been told the opponent was very good. Sure, he wasn't bad – they were in the Kantou tournament, after all – but he wasn't even nearly as good as Dan had feared. Akutsu-senpai was much better, not that Dan wondered about that. Akutsu-senpai was one of the best players ever, after all.

Although it took some work, he found that he could actually match the other's pace, returning the shots. All the time he heard Akutsu's voice in the back of his mind, barking orders and insulting him whenever he made a mistake. This made him even more determined to do his best, knowing how bad he would look in Akutsu's eyes if he just gave up. He would probably lose, but at least he wouldn't go down without a fight.

He prepared to return the ball, Akutsu's instructions clear in his mind as he corrected his form. The shot was strong, but not as strong as Akutsu-senpai's. This one, Dan could return relatively easily. Aiming it at the farthest corner of the court, just like he knew Akutsu would have done, Dan then froze as he heard the referee's voice. That couldn't possibly be right... could it?

Surely he hadn't just actually won a game in an official match?

Well, it had to be a fluke. The opponent had been going easy on him; nothing else could explain such sloppy playing at this level. The shots still weren't strong enough to keep him from returning them as he had feared beforehand.

To his great confusion, though, the level of playing didn't change much. The shots still weren't too strong to return, the speed still wasn't too fast for him to match, the moves still weren't too difficult for him to counter. True, his opponent got some points, but so did he. And, somehow, he managed to win another game.

And, after a while, another.

It was somewhere halfway through the fourth game that Dan realized the opponent was not, in fact, going easy on him at all.

Now, this confused him even more than the flow of the match until then. How could this be? He always lost humiliatingly against Akutsu-senpai, didn't he? And in the practice matches, too. Everybody knew he always lost to the other regularss; why the coach still chose to have him in the team was a total mystery. Sure, he could sometimes win a match against a non-regular, but he wasn't good at tennis. Not like Akutsu-senpai.

...Was his opponent truly this weak? Of course he hadn't expected anybody like Akutsu-senpai – there were so few like him, after all – but at least he hadn't expected to be actually leading by almost four games to love. This was a ploy, it had to be. There were some players who lost games on purpose to look better for winning in the end, weren't there? But then why did he get the feeling the other boy was indeed playing for real?

Well, he shouldn't ponder on that now. Akutsu-senpai was watching.

He still couldn't understand why anybody would be feared for their speed when they were this slow, though.


"What's with Dan-kun?" Furitsu asked, his eyes wide. "That's – that's completely different from the way he usually plays!"

"He's faster than usual," Yashiri noted, looking equally stunned. "And since when has he been able to return such shots, anyway?"

Their coach smiled a bit. "It seems Dan-kun has finally convinced himself to play for real," he said. "He's not realized it even himself, but for a while now, he's been holding back at the practice. Most probably he's believed so strongly that he will always lose that it's become a self-fulfilling prediction of sorts."

"You mean, he has been playing weakly because he believed he is weak?" Tomoe asked, receiving a nod in confirmation. "Then what has made him forget about that?"

"Well," Banji replied, smiling, "I believe the person responsible for making him stronger might have the answer to that question."

"Huh?" The team in its entirety – aside from the one fighting on at the court, of course – gave their coach puzzled glances. As he pointed a finger towards somebody at the stands, they all turned to look.

In the direction Banji pointed at, a tall boy with wild silvery hair stood watching the game. As though feeling their curious gazes, he momentarily turned to look at them, the gaze turning into a hostile glare.

"Ah, yes," Banji said, apparently entirely unaffected by the glare that had most of his students drawing away in fear. "I see Akutsu-kun hasn't changed at all."


Dan wasn't entirely sure how it had happened. Most probably, it was a dream. Yes, that it had to be. Something like this only happened in dreams, after all.

Perhaps there had been some confusion, like somebody marking him as the opposing school's player. Nothing else could explain the fact that the referee had just announced his name as that of the winner.

He looked at his opponent, who was looking at him with a shocked expression that fairly well portrayed Dan's own feelings about the situation. The opponent had been good, Dan supposed. Still, he had been nowhere near Akutsu-senpai's level.

Thinking about Akutsu made Dan glance towards a certain spot in the stands. There was nobody there.

Ah, well. So he had imagined it after all.


Dan wasn't surprised as he found Akutsu near the street courts. After all, they had to practice, match day or no match day. At least today, he had some news to bring.

"Akutsu-senpai!" Dan shouted as he ran closer, breathless in his excitement. "Akutsu-senpai, I won my match desu!" Eventually, with the victories of their captain and vice-captain, Yamabuki had proceeded to the next level at the tournament, but that seemed trivial now. What was more important was the news of his own success.

"Che." Akutsu glared at him ."You'd better have, or I'll decide training with you is just a waste of my time."

"It's not!" Dan said firmly. "It's because of all that training with Akutsu-senpai that I won desu! Please continue training with me, Akutsu-senpai!"

For a moment, the older boy glared at him. Finally, though, he just snorted. "Make it worth it for me, then."

"Yes desu!" Of course, Dan knew he hardly could win, not against somebody like Akutsu-senpai. However, at least he would put up a fight, however pitiful it might be. He couldn't disappoint Akutsu-senpai, after all.

And thus, when he later fell to the ground after his miserable defeat, thoroughly exhausted, he wasn't upset. After all, Akutsu-senpai had not only called him an idiot, he'd also told Dan to do better next time.

As long as there would be a next time, Dan was happy.


Of course, it was only natural. As they advanced in the tournament, the opponents they had to face were also more competent. Therefore, although he had won his last match without too much of a problem, it was only natural he was now struggling to keep his ground.

The problem was the serve, he knew. His serve was too weak, easy to break for a skilled opponent. It didn't matter if he could break his opponent's serve if his own got broken every single time.

"Taichi," said a quiet voice behind him. Turning around, Dan saw Akutsu's eyes on him. Quiet though it was, the grey-haired boy's voice carried perfectly well into his ears even over the noise of the audience. "Why don't you use the Twist serve, you idiot?"

Dan blinked. Now, he hadn't even though of that. That serve, while he could do it, was still somewhat difficult, and he was hesitant to use it in an official match as he might just fail spectacularly. However, it seemed he had nothing to lose anymore. With this in mind, he prepared for his next serve.

He heard some people starting to talk as they saw his stance, but he ignored them. If he started thinking on it too much, he'd just fail. Just concentrate, he told himself, concentrate and do as Akutsu-senpai has taught.

The first time he used the serve, the audience was amazed, gasping in surprise. His opponent was less amazed – of course, the fact that the ball had made a perfect curve for his face and then hit it rather powerfully might have had something to do with that.

Dan looked at his opponent, then shrugged. It was time for another serve.


By the time the match was over – ending with Dan's victory – Akutsu had disappeared from the stands. Dan missed half of Tomoe's match as he went looking for his senpai.

Afterwards, as the team went celebrating, Dan excused himself almost right away, claiming he had something else to do. This, of course, was true, as Dan would have never lied.

Nice though it would have been to celebrate their victory, Akutsu-senpai was waiting for him.


The National tournament was over.

Well, in actuality, it was still going on. However, for Yamabuki, it was over. They had failed to proceed, falling prey to another school's strength, and they would go no further this year.

This made Dan's mood rather unhappy as he slowly made his way where he knew Akutsu would be waiting for him as usual. He had no idea how to tell the news. Akutsu-senpai would be so disappointed in him...

"Well?" The sharp voice shook him from his thoughts. "How badly did you fuck it up?"

"I'm sorry, Akutsu-senpai," Dan muttered, his eyes cast down, not daring to look up at the other's expression. "Even though I won, we couldn't bring victory to our school desu." He had indeed won, but that seemed trivial in retrospect after their captain had been humiliatingly defeated.

For a long while, Akutsu was quiet. Finally, he snorted. "...Che. As though I care if the stupid school wins or loses."

With this, the older boy turned away, striding towards the courts. After a moment of standing in stunned silence, Dan hurried after him, adjusting his headband.

For some reason, Dan had a good feeling about today. Who knew? He might even win a game.


"It would be the best if Yashiri became the vice-captain next year," Tomoe said, looking at Banji seriously. "He is responsible enough and has lately showed signs of getting the occasional nastiness under control. Don't you agree, Muromachi?"

"Indeed." The vice-captain nodded. "He would be the best choice."

"I have to agree with you both," Banji said, smiling a bit. "Yashiri-kun will make a fine vice-captain." He glanced at the papers spread on his table, each with a person's name and several stats on it. "And as for the captain... I think we all agree there is only one option for this one."

Tomoe and Yashiri glanced at each other, then looked at the coach again and nodded.

"Most other teams, like Fudoumine, will lose most if not all of their players to graduation now," Tomoe said. "With our strong younger players, Yamabuki will definitely stand a chance of a National title next year if we work hard enough."

"However," Muromachi continued, "it's only possible if the team has a captain capable of leading them there."

"There is no arguing with the facts." Banji nodded. "And we all know there is one person on the team who just might manage to do it."

Nodding as well, Tomoe wrote a family name next to the word "Captain" on the paper he held.

There was only one kanji character in it.
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