Finishing Without Regrets

A Prince of Tennis Fanfic

By Jaelle


Disclaimer: Not mine


**

Part One: Rematch


**

After the Nationals the team starts to slump a little in practice. The tennis season is coming to an end and issues of exams and the incipient loss of their Captain weighs heavily on the team. Kamio tries to keep everyone on track, but the depression is starting to get to him too, and he wonders why Tachibana says nothing about their lacklustre training sessions.

When Seigaku's Echizen, Fuji and Tezuka show up a week later, his question is answered.

"Individual training today," Tachibana tells them cheerfully. "Or you can feel free to watch."

They don't wait for another invitation, each of them scrambling for good seats as Tachibana and Echizen spin a racket. Tachibana calls rough and wins the first service.

"What do you think this is all about?" Ishida asks him quietly.

Kamio shrugs, feeling a bit hurt that Tachibana hadn't filled him in.

"It's about finishing without regrets," Fuji's soft voice informs them, and they both turn to the other player.

Kamio feels the unspoken pressure from the rest of the team to find out more. "What do you mean?"

Fuji turns to regard them with a gentle smile and calm eyes, "It's not something official or talked about, but after the Nationals and before the end of the year, while everyone is still in top condition, a lot of unofficial games take place. Usually they're between those who haven't had a chance to play a certain person, or who want a rematch."

There were a few cautious nods and Fuji continued.

"There are a few unspoken rules. You're not supposed to organise a match between people you're likely to play next year, which is probably why you haven't heard about it before now. It's mostly the third-years who are setting up the matches, because we're graduating and this might be our last chance to play someone. You never know who's going to move away, or who might give up the sport to concentrate on their studies, so you don't want to miss your chance. Other than that, as long as the other person is agreeable, it's fine. You can set the games up privately, or ask your Captain to organise it. You don't HAVE to ask your Captain about the games, but it's considered polite to at least let them know you're setting up a match."

"I see, so that's why Tachibana is playing Echizen and not Tezuka," Shinji says, gazing into the distance. "Because he's graduating and they might not get a change to play again for two more years, and Tezuka and Tachibana already played at the Nationals so they don't need to play again."

"Exactly," Fuji interjects smoothly, before Shinji could really get going. His eyes glint, "In fact, Echizen ASKED if he could play Tachibana..."

There was a brief explosion of outrage at the nerve of Seigaku's brat before Fuji's lips curve in a smile. "Oh? I thought you'd be pleased," he says innocently. "Tachibana is the ONLY person Echizen has requested a match with, although a few other captains have asked to play HIM."

Fudoumine collectively consider this and allow themselves to be mollified.

"So... if we wanted to match against someone, say one of the third-years on YOUR team..." Ishida asks nervously. "We could just ask?"

"I'd be delighted to forward on any requests," Fuji says cheerfully.

Ishida fidgets. "It's just that, well, I heard that Kawamura's retiring...?"

Fuji nods, "Yes, he is. But I'm sure he'd be glad to play you again. I could ask him tonight and let you know tomorrow if you like?"

"That wouldn't be too much trouble?" Ishida asks anxiously.

"Oh no, I have to drop by anyway," Fuji's eyes gleam dangerously.

"It's MY turn to play Tachibana then."

**

Kamio goes home with his head buzzing and a sense of relief loosening the anxiety that's been building in his stomach. It WASN'T over yet. There were still matches to play and watch, they could hold onto the feeling for a bit longer. No regrets.

Lying on his bed, he considers the people he'd played and seen play this year, and is grateful to Fuji and Tachibana, and even to Echizen who indirectly showed them that it wasn't over yet. Who do I regret not matching against? Who do I want to play again?

When the phone rings and a cheery voice greets him as "Rhythm-boy!", he has his first answer.

"It's KAMIO," he growls in response. "Akira Kamio! Remember it!"

"Sure, sure. So Rhythm-boy, what are you doing this Sunday? Want to go out?"

Kamio twitches, and then smiles like a shark. "I'm sorry, but I'm supposed to be beating some annoying guy from Yamabuki at tennis that day."

"Oh? Are you sure it's not the other way around?"

"Quite sure."

"I look forward to seeing that then. Shall we say 2pm? If the street courts are full we can come here, I have the spare key."

"Yamabuki's fine," Kamio says haughtily. "You're gonna need all the home court advantages you can get."

Sengoku is still chuckling when Kamio hangs up on him.

**

It's a tough match, and Sengoku's teasing doesn't make it any easier, but Kamio perseveres. The other boy is stronger than him, but he's faster, and they both give it everything they have.

Sengoku's improved a LOT since the last time they played and Kamio is hard-pressed to return his shots. His arms are screaming in pain by the time they reach the final game, and he decides that maybe it's time he took up some strength-training too. He's mostly been working on his footwork and speed since the Junior Senbatsu training camp and he feels kind of weedy next to the older boy.

Not that he'd admit that, of course.

"Good game," Sengoku grins as they shake hands. "I'm glad to have had the chance to play you again, Rhythm-boy."

By this point Kamio's given up on correcting him about his name and just sighs. "Yeah, it was pretty good," he agrees. He fidgets, unsure if he's allowed to ask about Sengoku's future plans. Are you going to keep playing? Where are you going to high school?

"It should be interesting next year," Sengoku muses out loud, a faint smile playing across his face. "I hear high school tennis is a whole new level of play. Ah, it'll be strange being a freshman again, and not being allowed to play on the school team. What a pain!"

Kamio relaxes minutely. This wasn't a farewell then, there will be other times, other games.

Sengoku grins at him and claps him on the back. "Come on, let's get cleaned up and changed and go out for a snack. Sempai treat!"

"You're not MY sempai!" Kamio yells, shrugging loose. "I don't need to be paid for like a girl!"

"Now, now, don't get all touchy Rhythm-boy!" Sengoku laughs. "I'm the one who asked you out after all, so I should pay."

They argue all the way to the ice cream parlour, and split the bill.

**

Part Two: A New Challenge

**

The days after the Nationals get busier. Training picks up again and Tachibana drives them relentlessly, trying to hone their skills further before he leaves. Ishida has his match with Kawamura and returns bubbling with ideas for developing his game. Mori and Uchimura ask for and get a rematch with the Golden Pair, and are then surprised to be telephoned by Rokkaku's Saeki/Itsuki pair, looking for a game. Shinji gets an invite from St Rudolph's Akazawa and (much to everyone's surprise and secret envy) Rikkai's Yukimura. They all attend that particular match, and watch in astonishment as Shinji's monologue grinds to a halt after the third game, to be replaced by a determined look in his eyes and a rapid increase in power. Afterwards, Sanada and Tachibana play a breathtaking game that stuns EVERYONE silent for the bus ride home.

Kamio himself has only had the one game against Sengoku, but doesn't find himself worrying about it. He has no regrets.

Tachibana holds him back after practice on Tuesday.

"Do you think you can hold on to your temper at a private away match?" He asks quietly. "I'd like you to be there, but my opponent can be... a little annoying."

Stung, Kamio opens his mouth and pauses, thinking carefully before answering. "I'll do my best," he says finally. The approving gleam in his Captain's eye sends a warm feeling shooting through him.

"Excellent. Meet me outside our school gates on Sunday, 1pm. Don't be late."

For the rest of the week Kamio wonders who the match could be with. By Saturday he's formulated several theories, but none of them seem likely, and he resigns himself to finding out when they get there.

The stretch limo that arrives to pick them up on Sunday is a dead give-away however.

"Not that Atobe jerk?" He asks, shooting a look at Tachibana, silently pleading with him to deny it.

His Captain's lip twitches in a faint smile. "He IS very good. Almost as good as he thinks he is."

Kamio sulks all the way there.

When they arrive however he adopts his best manners. Tachibana wanted him to be here, and he won't let him down.

Atobe greets them at the courts politely, and even condescends to recall Kamio's name. He also introduces them to a second year who he refers to as "the next Captain of Hyoutei" and Kamio and the other boy exchange assessing stares. Yes. We will meet next year.

The group make small talk for a while before Atobe and Tachibana head for the courts. The second-year, Hiyoshi Wakashi, is apparently going to referee, and directs Kamio to the best places to sit on the bleachers.

"You can be bench coach if you want," Tachibana tells Kamio before he leaves, and he is about to accept when he realises that Atobe doesn't have anyone bench coaching for him. Probably because he doesn't think anyone as wonderful as himself needs it, but it makes Kamio reconsider his decision anyway. This IS a private match after all, he shouldn't get involved. He can be supportive just fine from the bleachers, and it's not like Tachibana really needs his advice.

So in the end he declines and finds a seat with a good view. It's a little odd being the only member of the audience, and the opulence of his surroundings makes him acutely aware of his non-elite status, but he shoves both those concerns aside. Damn it, they'd EARNED the right to play here, to be invited. Fudoumine had made it to the Nationals after all, and Hyoutei hadn't. They DESERVED to be here. So he relaxes (a little) and enjoys the game.

The score is even when someone settles in behind him. "I didn't even know Atobe COULD play without his cheering squad," a low voice growls. "Wonders never cease."

Kamio starts briefly at this apparent conversation gambit, but keeps quiet. A poke in the back ends his decision to ignore the other guy, and he turns, scowling. "Hey, I'm trying to watch the game."

"They're taking a break. Who wants to watch them drink water?" The other boy points out. "You're Kamio right? Fudoumine's speed guy? I hear you're supposed to be FAST."

Kamio picks up the challenge in that comment and his scowl deepens. "That's right. Who are you?"

"Ryou Shishido, third year," the boy lazily introduces himself. "I'm the speed receiver on our team." He gazes at Kamio assessingly. "We were at the Senbatsu training camp together. But I mostly played doubles then."

Kamio's gaze flickers across the bleachers and spots another boy sitting nearby, watching them intently. Oh yeah, hard to forget that face. The shy guy with the silver hair and the killer serve, Choutarou Ootori, which means that this was...

"Oh yeah, I remember you. Didn't you already lose to us once?"

Shishido growls low in his throat. "I got careless. It won't happen again."

Kamio feels uneasy, and moves to protect his Captain. "Tachibana is here to play Atobe, not you."

Shishido shrugged. "YOU'RE not doing anything now."

"What kind of way is this to ask for a match?" Kamio demands in annoyance. "You Hyoutei jerks..." he strangles the insult in his throat, glancing down at the court.

Tachibana is watching him from the bench, a faint smile curving his lips. "If you want to, feel free to play a game Kamio!" He calls and Kamio flushes.

"Of course not!" He yells back. "Leave me alone," he hisses at Shishido. "I'm WATCHING!"

"What's the matter, not man enough to accept a challenge?"

"We're not kids! I'm not giving in to such a stupid ploy. And I'm TWICE the man you are!"

"After they're done then."

"Shut up!"

"Kamio..." Atobe calls, pausing in his serve. "Shishido is perfectly capable of whining until you give in. Why don't you two settle it on the courts and stop distracting other people from watching me play?"

Kamio bites back a scathing retort. Shishido doesn't bother keeping his thoughts to himself. "What other people? Your fan club seems to have something more IMPORTANT to do today!"

He stands up and grabs Kamio's arm. "Come on, we're only encouraging him. We'll use the court down the OTHER end." Calling for Ootori to referee for them, he half-drags the other boy away.

"You're annoying!" Kamio complains. "I wanted to watch that game!"

"I've seen Atobe play before," Shishido says, "And I'm going to be stuck watching him play for the next three years, since we're once again going to the same damn school. I swear I'm going to beat him over the head with a desk before the first term is out if we wind up in the same class again."

Next to him, Ootori shoots the befuddled Kamio an amused look. "They're always like this," he explains.

"Isn't he your teammate though?" Kamio asks plaintively. Other teams are WEIRD.

"There's no rule that says I have to LIKE my teammates," Shishido growls. "Are we playing now or what?"

The game begins and ends in a whirling dervish of terrifying speed. Kamio's never played someone who can keep up with him, and he's amazed at Shishido's ability to get to the ball, no matter where he hits it. Suddenly he can sympathise with the gape-jawed opponents he's left in the dust all year.

Despite their similarities, their tennis is not identical. Shishido tends towards sudden dashes, while Kamio keeps his rhythm going constantly. Their game spins and blurs as they race around the courts, finally leaving the pair of them flat on their backs, exhausted and unable to move.

It's only when Atobe comes over and nudges at Shishido's prone body with his foot that the two find the strength to get up.

"Next time I want to play YOU," Shishido manages to tell Tachibana as Ootori helps him up. "I owe you for last time."

"I look forward to it," Tachibana says as he helps Kamio to his feet. "But I think we're done for today."

Kamio's too tired to think rude things about being driven home in Atobe's limo (and the expression on the face of the snobby woman from the house next door who always makes snide comments to his mother when it lets him out at his gate is enough to make him forgive any number of class insults that Atobe delivers). But probably the most interesting event of the day is the comment Ootori makes while Shishido is changing.

"Thank you for accepting his challenge. Shishido doesn't want to admit it, but he's been worried lately about going back to singles next year."

Kamio feels confused and it shows on his face, so Ootori tries to explain. "I've always played doubles, and Shishido always used to play singles. This year he switched exclusively to doubles. You play both, so you know the differences, but it's different when you're playing one or the other all the time. You... fall into mental patterns, and they can be hard to get out of. But now he knows he can still play competitive singles, even though he specialised this year. It's a huge relief for him. I guess that doesn't make much sense."

Kamio tries to imagine what it must be like to play only singles or only doubles. It eventually occurs to him that this must be one of those weird mental boxes that are only obvious to the people outside of them.

That night he thinks about singles and doubles and people who can play both.

**

Part Three: A Different Side

**

Kamio's been thinking about the match that he wants to play for days now and he has the distinct feeling that time is running out. It's not that he's afraid of asking, it's just that he's aware that this request borders on the edge of breaking the unwritten rules, and he feels... uneasy.

The unofficial games that have been going on over the past few weeks are gradually becoming fewer as old scores and curiosity are settled. So far Kamio's just played the two games against Yamabuki's Sengoku and Hyoutei's Shishido. But both times, he's been the one challenged. This last game is going to be one he has to ask for and that makes him nervous, more so because while he knows one of the people involved well enough to not mind asking, he's never had any contact with the other.

Finally he decides that he'll regret it more if he doesn't take the opportunity while he can. It's about finishing without regrets, he reminds himself, and calls Shinji at home. After getting his agreement, he calls Tachibana.

"There's a match I want to play."

Tachibana hears him out and points out the obvious flaw. "These matches are supposed to resolve unanswered questions, to leave no regrets. They are not supposed to be played against people you will likely be matching up against next year."

"This is different," Kamio argues. "It's not the person, it's the pair." He struggles to explain, finally giving up and saying, "It's a doubles thing."

Tachibana, for all his skill and brilliance, has never really played what Kamio would consider to be "proper" doubles. He doesn't understand that it's not about the individual people involved, but what they can do together, how they work as a team.

No two doubles pairings are ever the same.

"I'll ask," Tachibana says finally. "But they may not say yes."

An hour later Kamio's phone rings.

"Where and when?" A quiet voice asks.

**

It's an odd pairing, Kamio thinks. He's always thought of Kaidou as big and aggressive, but he seems smaller and meeker standing next to his sempai.

"Inui, thank you for agreeing to this match," Kamio begins nervously. "I realise that uh, that it's a bit odd and we're all second years except you, but..."

"You wanted to play the Inui/Kaidou pair while we are available," Inui says calmly. "I understand."

And Kamio realises with a sense of relief that he really DOES understand. Playing against Kaidou next year, even in doubles, wouldn't be the same as playing Kaidou/Inui NOW. Different personalities, different styles, different approaches.

No two doubles pairings are ever the same.

Inui smiles slightly as the younger three relax. "It's a doubles thing," he says quietly.

**

The match gets off to a wobbly start. Kamio is used to playing against louder, more aggressive people, and Inui's calmness is confusing. Kaidou, usually easily roused to anger, is also much more relaxed in this pairing than he is when playing singles.

Oddly enough, Shinji is also thrown off at first, apparently by Inui's occasional mutters of calculation. It's a very different game to any they've played before, with the sole exception of the match against Yanagi and Sanada of Rikkai. But that's good, and Kamio feels himself rising to the challenge. They needed this match, he realises. Although it was primarily because he wanted, needed, to understand Kaidou a little bit more before they matched against each other again, the tennis Inui plays is fascinating in its own right. He's so different to most of the opponents Kamio usually goes up against. There's no clash of personalities at all. Inui absorbs the emotions flying around like some sort of vacuum. No, not a vacuum, more like... like pebbles being thrown into a pond. Frustration, anger, rage, they just leave tiny ripples as they impact on the surface and are swallowed, leaving nothing behind but a cool surface.

Or maybe not a pond, Kamio thinks, as a return shot whistles past his ear, and he sees Inui straighten in satisfaction. More like the ocean...

And the tide is about to come in.

Despite the fact that by the end of the game Kamio is willing to promise almost ANYTHING in order to avoid having to play against "data tennis" ever again, he's satisfied.

"Good game," Inui compliments him as they shake hands. "I enjoyed it."

"Thanks. Me too. But you know, that data tennis is REALLY annoying," Kamio responds.

Inui smiles at him. "Yes. I do know."

Behind him Kaidou breaks his good kouhai exterior and rolls his eyes, a long-suffering expression on his face. Kamio grins. Both of them have themselves firmly back under control by the time they shake hands though.

"So, I'll be seeing you next year I guess," Kaidou says, clearly awkward but feeling that, as future captains, they should make SOME effort to converse.

"I'm looking forward to it," Kamio acknowledges. "I want a rematch."

"You'll get it," Kaidou promises, his eyes glinting menacingly. "One way or another."

Kamio matches him glare for glare and a fierce smile spreads across both their faces.

If not on the way to the Nationals, then afterwards.

"Good opponents make for good tennis," Inui says quietly, watching the byplay. "And that makes for good data." He flips open a notebook and starts writing in it, oblivious to the exasperated sighs of the second years.

**

Epilogue, Part One: We'll Have No Regrets...

**

The weeks have flown by, and it's graduation day, a day of bittersweetness for the tennis team and the one who is leaving them. There's a minor squabble over Tachibana's jacket buttons which is finally resolved by An, who removes all of them (over her brother's strenuous objections) and strings them on a ribbon, which is then tied around a group photo of the team at the Nationals.

"There, now you'll always be together," she says, satisfied.

Tachibana sighs, "I'm only going to the high school half a mile away, not to America."

"Oh shut up niisan, it might as well be America for us," An looks suspiciously misty. "You'll still visit, right?"

"An, we LIVE in the SAME HOUSE!" Tachibana says in the exasperated voice that one can only be driven to by a sibling, before looking at the faces of his woebegone team and melting. "Yes, of course I'll visit."

Kamio's not sure who starts the group hug, and doesn't care that it's unmanly as the team mobs their Captain, refusing to let him go until he promises to visit, take care of himself, stay in touch and not get into any fights until they can get there to back him up.

"Which of us is taking care of which?" Tachibana finally says, voice rough with emotion. "I'll be fine. You don't have to worry about me." He pats a sobbing Mori on the back gently. "You all know where I live. If you start to worry, just come by and visit, alright?"

Kamio gets the feeling they'll all be visiting him quite regularly.

"Now, why don't the rest of you grab your things, and we'll go out to get something to eat?"

Later that evening, Tachibana pulls him aside.

"They're in your hands now, Kamio," he says, his hand a warm reassuring presence on Kamio's shoulder. "Remember what you've learned this year. Look after each other."

"We will," Kamio promises, choking slightly and trying not to cry.

"You can do it Kamio. I believe in you."

"We won't let you down."

**

Epilogue, Part Two: ... Because It's Not Really Over

**

The new school year feels bland and empty, and the whole team is in a slump.

"Come on! Get your feet moving!" Kamio yells as they start some smash practice. "What would Tachibana say if he could see you all moping like this? No regrets!"

"You're moping too," Sakurai mutters to him in passing, and Kamio winces.

"Well, aren't I allowed to?" He asks sullenly.

"Nope. Cos you're the Captain now."

"And YOU'RE the vice-Captain!" Kamio points out, and Sakurai nods, smirking. "Which means I get to stand behind you and look supportive, Captain."

Kamio reigns in his temper and reminds himself that Sakurai's right about ONE thing. He IS Captain now, which means he can't blow his top all the time. Even if he really, really wants to.

"Excuse me?"

"Yes?" Kamio turns to regard the small group that has wandered over to the courts. "What is it?"

The boy who spoke turns nervously to regard his comrades, who make encouraging motions. "Um, is this the tennis team?"

"Yes."

"Uh... where do we sign up?"

Kamio blinks. "You... want to join?"

The boys nod with varying degrees of enthusiasm and the original speaker bursts out, "Is it true that this team went from being totally unseeded last year to playing in the Nationals?"

"Yes," Kamio responds, his mind whirling. He'd never thought about new players.

"See? I TOLD you!" The boy swivels triumphantly to face one of the others, then back to face Kamio. "I'm Keiichi Tarou, second year, and I just transferred here. My family moved from Osaka last month and my old captain told me that Fudoumine was good and I should join up."

Tarou continues to rabbit on about what he's heard about Fudoumine's team (mostly accurate) and his own tennis skills (probably overly-optimistic) and Kamio lets the dialogue wash over him while he observes the rest of the group (mostly first years, many with tennis bags, at least one of which looks fairly well-worn, always a good sign). Thinking frantically, he spots Sakurai looking just as dumbfounded as he feels. An evil smile crosses his face.

"I see," he interupts hastily. "Well, my name is Akira Kamio and I am the Captain of Fudoumine's Tennis Team."

"CAPTAIN!" The entire group immediately bows. "Please accept our hard efforts this year!"

Kamio reels briefly and continues on with only a slight pause, "And this is Masaya Sakurai, the Vice-Captain, and he will take your names and classes and other information. Sakurai, I'm counting on you."

Nodding majestically he leaves Sakurai gawking after him and rapidly being surrounded by the newbies, and makes his way over to where Shinji is practicing.

"Yo Shinji, pick up the pace," he mutters at his best friend, who shoots him a confused look.

"I feel the rhythm coming back."

End.

Author's Notes: The leaving out of the game scores was done deliberately, because often I couldn't bring myself to pick a winner (I love them all! Well, not all, but too many to pick favourites). So people can choose for themselves who won.

I SO wanted to write a Momo/Kaidou vs Kamio/Ibu pair match in this story, because I had the perfect title for it: Three Arguments and a Monologue. Unfortunately when I laid out the rules for the games I realised that this meant I couldn't do it, which is a shame.



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