Rating: PG for mild language.
Summary: An unexpected encounter on the street courts, and the promised match.
It'd become a bad habit, Kirihara realised, as he found himself getting off the bus stop at Seishun Gakuen. Summer break was nearly over, and as he reflected over how he'd spent the past few weeks, it was evident that he'd spent a disproportionate amount of time travelling to Tokyo, for no obvious reason whatsover.
He'd visited this area so often, his feet were taking him almost instinctively towards the street tennis courts, where, as he'd found out a couple of months ago, the Seigaku and Fudoumine regulars occasionally hung out. Kirihara had discreetly sat in a secluded spot, and watched the Fudoumine players hold matches there several times, usually accompanied by Tachibana Kippei's bright-eyed little sister.
Although Hikari hadn't decided to come with him today, Ayato still found the street courts near her house with relatively little trouble. He'd only gotten turned around twice, which he felt was a pretty good accomplishment for being on his own. When he finally arrived, though, the courts were pretty quiet; there weren't many people playing, and none of them really looked like they needed a partner... He was heading for the wall, figuring he could at least get some precision work in by himself, when he spotted another lone player looking around - well, at least, he assumed they were interested in playing, as he had a tennis bag slung over his shoulder and was looking around curiously.
Shrugging, figuring he might as well ask, Ayato approached the stranger - he was kind of tall, though maybe on the average side of it, with curly brown hair and very sharp eyes. "... were you looking for someone to play with? Or waiting for someone else? I don't have anyone to practice with, so if you're interested..."
Kirihara raised his brows; now this was interesting. "You'd like to play?" he said, noting the fresh red scar that ran down the side of the boy's face. Not as gentle as his greeting suggested, then. "I assume you're part of the St. Rudolph tennis club?"
“Yeah,” Ayato said, made a little self-conscious by the other's interested look. "I figured I'd get some practice in before school tomorrow. And yeah,” he continued, nodding, “I am on the team at St. Rudolph. Singles three,” he said, grinning; it looked like he'd be keeping that spot for now, too, since Takayama had gotten singles two and they had two decent doubles pairs at the moment. “Uh... are you on one of the teams around here? I'm afraid I don't really know much about the teams other than my own”
"A regular? Really? I thought you looked a little young, but then," he waved dismissively, "so did that Echizen brat. Seems like you're serious enough to do extra training, anyway. I'm captain of the Rikkai team in Kanagawa. Kirihara Akaya's the name." He studied the boy's face, waiting for the reaction when it came; wondering if the boy would retract the offer to play. It had happened once or twice; while Kirihara was bemused that his reputation had spread that far, it could be annoying. After all, what was the point of reforming, if everyone continued to treat you like anathema?
“I'm a third year,” Ayato offered, if a bit flatly. Well, he supposed he couldn't fault this guy for doing it too; he was sure that any new teachers he had tomorrow would probably tell him to get back to the first year classes too. And if only the other had any idea of the extra training Ayato did to make up for things... well. “Yeah, I train a lot but I haven't gotten too many real games in outside of practice.” Well. That's what he got for... having to avoid his ex-doubles partner as of late. Though Takayama seemed... better, he supposed.
Wait. He blinked. “Kirihara-kun? Right, from Rikkai, I talked to you in my journal. Um. Terada Ayato,” he said. “We're supposed to play a practice game anyway, huh?”
Not a lot of things caught Kirihara off guard these days (which was to be expected, with his walking asylum of a team and that brat Kenta as vice-captain, a decision Kirihara hoped he wouldn't live to regret). This time, though, he was definitely surprised. "Terada Ayato. Well," he said brightly, "how remarkably convenient!" He swung his tennis bag off his shoulder. "Would you like to warm up first, or are you good to start?"
Well, it looked like he'd get his practice game after all. Ayato nodded; it was awfully convenient that he'd run into the one person he knew he could get a game with. Luck seemed to be with him this once. ”I think I'm pretty good to go.” He'd never been one for warming up much; cooling down seemed more important, and he'd just walked here after all. He set his bag on the ground, stretching out his shoulders a few times, leaning over to touch his nose to his knees once, and the squatted to pull a racked out, trying not to dump all the books that lived in the tennis case on the ground in the process. “Guess we don't have to worry about finding a court.”
"Certainly not," Kirihara said, pulling out his own racquet. He could almost hear Sanada's admonition ringing in his ears, about the proper way to train, but the walk here had warmed up his muscles, and he was confident that his current partner wouldn't push him anywhere close to his physical limit. "Remember what I said about not being boring."
“Right, right,” Ayato said, pulling out a canister of tennis balls to bring with him as well. “There look good?” he asked, heading for the nearest empty court and hoping Kirihara would follow. “Who wants to serve first?” He pulled a ball out, bouncing it gently on his racket a few times. “And yeah, I did promise no boring, so I'll do my best.” He had a few tricks up his sleeve, even if this Kirihara was a captain and likely very, very good himself. Ayato's precision had improved greatly, though; even he could tell - and he could twist serve and smash nearly 100% of the time he tried, now. Summer training on his own had paid off, even if he'd lost his last practice match to Takayama.
"Your serve," Kirihara said lazily. He felt his focus narrow, the way it did whenever he stepped onto a tennis court. "Unless you'd prefer for me to go first."
“Nah, I'll get it.” Ayato took up position at his end of the court, waiting for the other to drop into receiving stance. He bounced the ball a few times, figured he might as well go for truly not boring, and aimed a decent twist serve to bounce ten centimeters from Kirihara's face - he supposed hitting his practice partner square in the jaw would be just plain rude, though he also supposed that, given Niou-san's abilities, Kirihara could possibly return the serve anyway.
Kirihara studied the ball as it came speeding towards him. Not a bad serve; Kaede could possibly learn something from it. But there was far less spin on it than on Echizen's. He stepped back, aimed, and slammed the ball back across the court.
Well - yeah, this guy was good. Not that it was very hard to return twist serves, but he'd done it without blinking and with a hell of a lot of force. Ayato was just glad he'd done all that weight training, as well as the sprints - he got to the ball and returned it with no problem, but knew that he was in for a more than slightly challenging game. He was fast, sure, and could return Kirihara's shots without much problem, but scoring was going to be another story altogether, he thought, as Kirihara took the first point.
Kirihara was mildly impressed with the other player; not that he was a match for Kirihara himself of course, but he was better than he'd have expected from a singles 3 at SeiRu. Counterpuncher player: quick on his feet, with a precision to his returns that only came from training. He could have given Amano Yuki a good game, although Kirihara thought the Rikkai regular still had the edge. Kirihara himself was getting a rather good workout from this, as the kid got a point off him in the first game, and then the second, and managed to take the third game with that dogged persistence of his. Of course, Kirihara wasn't going all out in this practice; nor did he intend to, in front of a rival player, unless absolutely necessary. Especially since it looked like SeiRu was stronger this year than he'd thought.
Okay, this guy was definitely good. But Ayato had to admit, he had to get used to playing people like this if he was going to get any better. Just because he'd been the best at his old school meant little - practically nothing, really - here, and even if it didn't look like he'd win this match, he'd taken a game. And there had been no love games. He resolved to make sure there weren't any in the future; it looked like he was at least giving Kirihara a decent run for his money. Ayato wasn't the only sweaty player on the court.
Kirihara took the next game, but the one after that (though long) was Ayato's in the end. Kirihara was stronger, though, and more accurate. Returning the ball helped him delay the inevitable, but Ayato had to find a better way to score. He concentrated on looking for holes in the other's game, but he'd never been good at such a tactic and it was harder to concentrate on the rest of his game that way. Kirihara took the game.
Relaxing into the pace of the game (it wasn't the fast, brutal tennis he preferred, but his obstinate kouhai were rapidly teaching him alternate ways of playing), Kirihara began to focus on Ayato's own playing. Like he'd noticed earlier, Ayato was definitely strong at defense, although Kirihara was curious about how long-lived that endurance was. Certainly his power could use some work - but Kirihara had been wearing wristweights everyday for the better part of two years. The thing struck him the most, however, was the lack of obvious strategy in his game; quite a change from last year's data-heavy St. Rudolph. The kid was quick enough on his feet and had such an excellent instinct for the ball that this wasn't showing up as an obvious disadvantage, but if Kirihara chose to step up the pace....he went for a ground smash, one with a fair bit of power, curious to see how Ayato would react.
That ball was coming in fast - Ayato blinked, then grinned - this was actually something he could work with. If it bounced high enough… It did, and he skidded behind it, hitting his own smash back - a ricochet smash, which he could put significantly more spin on than his serve. It hit the other side of the court and skidded sideways, flying off at nearly a ninety-degree angle. Ayato grinned - it had worked, and well, at that. Though his arm was still vibrating a bit… Damn. That Kirihara could hit hard.
Kirihara blinked. What the hell was that? he wondered, and as he realised what had just happened, he found himself grinning. It looked like this wasn't going to be boring. That smash had just sealed game point; as they changed courts, he pointed his racket at Ayato: "Oi, chibi. That wasn't too bad."
Still grinning, Ayato nodded at the praise. That felt… really good. He certainly didn't get that when he played with Takayama. "Thanks," he said, moving to the other side of the court. "You're pretty strong." He really did admire Kirihara's strength - as well as the accuracy he could put behind it. This was a really good game - he was glad he'd decided to come to the street courts this once before heading back to school tomorrow. The score was evening out, now, and he bounced on the balls of his feet, waiting to see what else Kirihara would try.
This was a good game; the score was getting awfully close, though Kirihara had no doubts about the outcome. "Your twist serve...," he said, bouncing the ball a few times before casting it up in the air, "....it's coming right back at you!"
Ayato blinked, and barely had enough time to try and remember what to do to return a twist serve - he was so rarely on the receiving end of one, though he did know what to do. The return was clumsy, though, without as much force behind it as one more intentional, though he did sigh with a bit of relief as it cleared the net by a few cm. He tossed a wry look in the other's direction. "Nice serve."
Kirihara was too busy dashing to the net to reply; damn, he hated it when people hit good shots through sheer lack of technique; he barely managed to avoid giving the other boy a chance ball. But the match remained in his control. In the third point he couldn't resist doing another ground smash, just to see that interesting smash of Ayato's; it was obvious that it couldn't be returned once it touched ground; but if he attempted something like what he'd done with Fuji's Tsubame Gaeshi, last year--
Another smash, huh? Ayato set up another ricochet, glad that he was at least getting the practice. Though he wasn't entirely sure that smash of Kirihara's hadn't been on purpose - did he have something in mind? Dammit, Ayato wished he had more intuition about what people would do; it made it harder to use any sort of strategy while playing because he just… never know what his opponent was thinking. Even when it was supposedly obvious. Must be why he mostly failed at being social, too - that lack of being able to read people well didn't go away when he left the court.
Ayato's smash was as fast, and as lovely as ever, but this time Kirihara was ready in position, and he'd already figured out how to counteract the spin. He met the ball straight on; grinned as it sailed back across the court.
"Damn," Ayato muttered, barely getting to the ball in time - and then watching as his return sailed out of bounds when the spin on the ball was not what he expected. So Kirihara had gone to return the smash before it hit the ground; good strategy, and probably one of the only ways to hit it back. 40-0. He grinned across the court and shook his head, mostly in admission that the move had been sealed. For now, at least. He'd have to figure something else out, he supposed.
For his part, Kirihara was wincing; returning that smash had hurt a lot more than he'd expected. Damn, he must be out of practice; the thought of Niou-sempai dispassionately recounting all the weaknesses in his current game made him shudder. He took the next point, and three out of the next four; but his mind was distracted now. He hadn't really been expecting St. Rudolph to make it to Kantou, but this kid was making him revise his opinion. Still, Rikkai had plenty of cards left up its sleeve, and Kirihara had no intention of deploying them until the Kantou finals, at the very least.
Kirihara was looking a bit distracted - and even though he'd gotten a few points, Ayato managed to take the next two with fast returns to the side of the court opposite wherever Kirihara was standing. It was odd, but Ayato wasn't about to start complaining now - the game was in deuce, now, and he had to admit that he was rather pleased with that. Not that he could afford to let his guard down now, of all times. He dropped into receiving stance, aware that his breathing was heavy and he was tired, but refusing to admit that the heat was getting to him. Not now - not when he could turn this match around.
Somewhat alarmed that he'd actually managed to lose concentration in a tennis match, Kirihara snapped back into action. Twenty-five minutes to finish a match; that was almost embarassing for him, really. But the kid could be good. With training, he might even be Rikkai-level good; if he could survive Rikkai-level training, of course - that was a talent in itself. But it was time to finish it. He took the next point quickly with a smash, advantage receiver, match point. But his eyes widened as the kid managed to hold on to the final point, bringing them back to deuce. Okay, some determination.
Come on, come on - Ayato wanted this game, because if he could take it, he'd have a chance at another. But Kirihara had sharpened up again - almost like they hadn't been playing for the past however-long they had been, fresh as new, and Ayato was really starving by now. He hadn't eaten for at least two hours. It was back to deuce, but Kirihara was looking much more determined now. Ayato wasn't sure if he'd be able to hold this game - but he had to try. They smashed the ball back and forth, but the volley was shorter than the previous ones and Kirihara came out ahead again. He had one more point to take the match. Dammit; Ayato bit his lip and prepared to do whatever it took to even the score again.
He liked the obstinate glint in the boy's eyes. But you couldn't defeat people by determination alone, he remembered Sanada saying, over and over again. Kirihara sent the ball to the far corner of the court, watched as the boy dashed to catch it - still speedy and accurate as ever, but his endurance was definitely taking a hit - and finished the match with a drive volley. Kirihara was smiling, but in appreciation, rather than triumph, as they went up to shake hands. "You're definitely not boring," he said. "Good game. But, you know, next time, give me a reason to take these off. And he held up his left hand, to reveal the wrist weights he'd been wearing. "And I definitely want to see you perfect that shot until I can't return it."
Damn, he was so hungry. Running for those last few shots did him in; Ayato shrugged to himself as Kirihara took match point, and went up to the net, grinning and trying to bring his breathing back down to a normal rate. "I did promise not boring," he said, shaking the other's hand. "And yeah, you too - thanks for playing." He blinked at the wrist weights - huh. Well. Maybe he should... start using some too… He nodded at the last comment. "Heh, well, I will. Though I'd just gotten it that good... damn, glad I moved here." Sometimes he certainly wasn't, but then he got to play people like this at tennis, and then he was. "You guys have a good team, I'd wager, if you're any indication." And though Niou-san wasn't on the team anymore, he had been, and if that was the level Rikkai held itself to… yes. Ayato should definitely look into some wrist weights.
"Well, you'll have to find out for yourself, won't you? Tell Fuji Jr. I'm looking forward to seeing his team at Nationals, and that if he's interested in setting up practice matches, Rikkai is ready to go." The other boy seemed to be eyeing the wristweights - "If you start training with weights straight away, the difference should be noticeable by the Kantou tournament. Last year's champions Seigaku tended to use ankle rather than wrist weights; there's always the option of using both, but if I did that, I wouldn't get out of bed in the mornings," he said with a wry grin. "I expect you to put in a halfway-decent showing at the Kantou tournament; try not to disappoint me, okay? I'll see you around," he said, as he went to gather up his things.
Hm... ankles too, huh? Might not be a bad idea… Ayato tried not to think of what his mother would say, but she was gone again and he so rarely valued her opinion anymore that it was moot, anyway. "Yeah, I'll let him know. Practice matches would be cool." He grinned. "And I'll be sure not to disappoint you, then." Hm. Tomorrow he'd get a few books and see what couldn't be done about making the ricochet smash better. Or maybe just invent something new - there was always that option, too. Kirihara went for his things, and Ayato did the same. "Thanks again for playing - really appreciate it." And now he was so ready for some food. Followed by more food. Yeah. That sounded good, he thought, packing up his racket and slinging his bag over his shoulder. He hoped there were still those leftovers from the other night - because if they were in the fridge when he got home, they certainly wouldn't be much longer.
Kirihara yawned. Definitely time to head back to Kanagawa. He waved farewell to the SeiRu kid as he left the street courts, feeling oddly satisfied. It had been a good day.