Fandom: Prince of Tennis
Pairings: Kisarazu Atsushi/Yanagisawa Shinya, Kisarazu Ryou/Saeki Kojiro
Summary: Atsushi has always been compared to his twin brother Ryou, and he's always fallen short, always been overshadowed. But not this time.
Being "the other twin" sucked.
Ryou had better grades and more friends. Ryou was more confident, more outgoing, more everything. When they had been in grade school, it was almost always Atsushi being mistaken for his older brother and not the other way around, so sometimes Atsushi thought it was like Ryou was everything he should have been, but wasn't.
They were twins and they loved each other in that grudging sibling way. They were both afraid of the creepy barber that their parents tried to take them to, so Atsushi called Ryou a "loserface pansy" before shoving him into the dirt, and Ryou said Atsushi was a "wimpy dumb crybaby" before putting him into a headlock. Then they yanked on each other's hair, which was way too long and girly even back then, but was a them sort of thing that those outside of the twin bond wouldn't understand.
Yeah, sure, things were fine when it was just the two of them, but Atsushi was perceptive enough. He knew what it meant when Mom would wrinkle her brow as she smiled at him; what it meant when Dad would sigh and pat his head. Poor Atsushi, is what they were thinking, always in the shadow of his brother.
It was Atsushi who loved playing tennis, though - really loved it. From the first time he saw a Rokkaku tennis team practice, he knew he wanted to join them someday. The first time he held the small racket Ojii made for him, he knew he'd found his life's passion.
Ojii was always at the park where all the kids hung out after school because that was where the Rokkaku tennis team held most of their practices. Saeki Kojiro and Fuji Shuusuke were the next to be roped into the "early recruitment program", as the middle school kids jokingly called it. "Babies with rackets" is what they really were.
Fuji was a genius, no doubt about it, and Saeki was the most popular boy in their class because, besides being ridiculously nice, he was also ridiculously athletic and could do just about any sport he put his mind to. It was no surprise when he proved to have natural talent in tennis, too.
Atsushi dragged Ryou to the courts so they could play doubles against the Fuji-Saeki pair. It was awesome, and he and his brother made a great team. They were twins, after all, so they had an advantage in that "Teamwork! Synchronization!" stuff that Ojii yelled at the Rokkaku doubles pairs. Atsushi and Ryou were equals on the court, which made him happy, because that was all he'd ever wanted.
It also helped that they regularly beat Fuji and Saeki into the ground.
But it was only a year into their new routine when everything shattered. He watched Saeki cry as Fuji's car drove away to Tokyo. At least half an hour, maybe an hour's train ride from Chiba, it was too far for them to see each other daily, or even weekly, or even monthly...
"I feel bad for Saeki," Ryou said. "We should do something to cheer him up."
Atsushi absentmindedly agreed, but his heart wasn't in it. He felt worn and heavy with his own problems.
Tennis had been Atsushi's hobby before it was Ryou's, but after a year's worth of practice, it was obvious that no matter how much Atsushi loved the way the wind blew through his hair as he ran across the court, or how his heart always thumped right before the ball connected with his racket... he could still never measure up to Ryou. Because while it was Atsushi who loved playing tennis more than anything in the world, it was Ryou who was better at it.
"You won't ever leave me, will you?" Ryou asked.
Atsushi's mouth went dry. He couldn't tell the truth, but he couldn't lie to his twin, either, so he didn't say anything at all. He just took his brother's hand and let Ryou make of it what he would.
And when Atsushi came back for the first time after his transfer to St. Rudolph, things weren't much different. They didn't talk about why he left. There was no point in bringing it up because everyone already knew. Instead, Atsushi pulled on Ryou's hair, and Ryou pulled on Atsushi's new red ribbon.
"So... How was St. Rudolph?"
Atsushi looked up from his cup ramen to see Ryou hovering overhead with hands in his pockets. He was the very picture of the protective older brother, and Atsushi didn't miss the way Ryou's eyes kept flicking to his neck where his hair now ended, and down his back along the path of the curling red ribbon.
"Fine," he said. He leaned down to slurp up another mouthful of the noodles.
Ryou nodded. "How are the dorms?"
"Didn't we already talk about this on the phone?"
"A little bit, but it's not the same as in person. Tell me again."
"Dorms are fine, food's okay, classes are going well, I like my teammates, and my roommate is nice. Was that all?"
"Ah, yeah... sure..."
It wasn't like Ryou to be so timid. There was something more that his brother wanted to say, maybe something important. Actually, probably something really embarrassing, from the way Ryou's cheeks lit up.
"So? What's up?" he prompted.
And that was when Ryou could contain it no longer. He flopped next to Atsushi on the couch, and the words just spilled out. "It's strange, isn't it? That I'm not interested in girls?"
"Ryou, we're..." Atsushi dropped his head in his hands and sighed, trying to find the right way to say things. There was a reason why he was most often silent - because he wasn't so good at saying the right things. Atsushi was not the encouraging type; he was, more often than not, the brutally-honest-rip-your-heart-out type. But Ryou knew that, and maybe that's just what he needed.
"Ryou, we're gay. We're gay and you know it, so stop denying it."
"But what does that mean?" he whispered.
"You know what it means," Atsushi countered. "Aren't you Rokkaku's analyst? It might not seem like it, but Ojii doesn't pick team positions at random. You're the most observant. I bet you knew before I did, but you were just afraid of admitting it to yourself, because then that would make it more real."
There was a silence in which Atsushi fiddled with his chopsticks, and then Ryou said, quietly, "You've changed, Atsushi. You're a lot braver now."
"Nah, not really. SeiRu's just really, really gay. It makes things easier."
They looked at each other, and though it was unsaid, the thought that ran through both of their minds was Mizuki.
"It's the environment," Atsushi added. "Like college lesbians. Everyone's a little gay at an all boys boarding school, so there's no point in even trying to deny what I am. Especially when I spend all my waking hours with those guys."
Tennis and training had nearly consumed Atsushi until nothing else existed. If he wasn't playing, or thinking about how to play better, he was doing team bonding exercises or having study sessions with the team. It was intense, and even though SeiRu wasn't the best in the rankings, it was with no shortage of pride that Atsushi thought they were the best anyway. Seigaku didn't have to smell their teammates' morning breath. Hyoutei didn't fall asleep to their teammates' snoring. No other teams lived together. No other teams were family in that way. (Because, face it - you weren't family until you bitched each other out for hogging the bathroom, and you weren't family until you accidentally found each other's porn and were scarred for life because then you also figured out why the bathroom was in such high demand.)
The experience was so intense that life outside of the daily SeiRu grind felt surreal. Sometimes it was hard to remember that he had another family waiting for him out there, and that his brother was just his brother, not Rokkaku, whom we will destroy in the next tournament.
"That's not all, though," Ryou said. "I have someone I like, and I thought you should be the first to know."
"Oh." There was a slight twisting in his gut. Atsushi didn't like the idea of someone else coming between them to drive the rift even deeper. It was hypocritical, yeah, because he'd been the one to split them apart in the first place. Still, he wondered who it could be to have caught serious, elegant Ryou's eye. And all he could ask was, "He play tennis?"
"Yeah. You know him already."
It was a teammate, then, and Atsushi's mind immediately flew to that boy, that childhood friend whom Ryou's eyes always lingered over while they were on the courts. That boy, who was always out of Ryou's reach. That boy who was always just friends with the twins because the position of best friend, no matter how Ryou coveted that role, had already been filled.
Ryou sucked in a nervous breath. And nodded.
It was no surprise, really. Everyone had been drawn to either Fuji or Saeki or both. Saeki was cool; Atsushi thought Fuji was kind of creepy. He much preferred Fuji Yuuta, who was understandably bitter about being in the shadow of a "perfect" older brother, just like Atsushi himself (though Yuuta's case was much worse since his brother was a creep). It was morbidly funny to see his own "perfect" older brother so nervous over a crush.
"Are you going to confess to him?"
"How could I? How would I deal with the rejection?"
"Well, it's Saeki. At least we know he won't be mean about it."
"That doesn't help."
Atsushi shrugged. "You'll still be friends. Saeki's still the most popular guy in school, right? I'm sure he gets love confessions every day, but I bet he's never made anyone cry."
"That's even worse."
"He keeps getting love confessions because he never accepts any of them. Never. There's no way I could be the exception!"
"Wow, insecure much?"
"It's not really insecurity so much as it's... Fuji."
Ah, and there was the elephant in the room. Fuji, the squinty-eyed bastard who was already pretty much the bane of all SeiRu, was now making his brother's life difficult. Atsushi found himself hating Seigaku's genius just a little bit more, childhood friendship be damned.
"...Right. I'll ask Yuuta. Y'know, to see if his brother's interested in Saeki or not." Probably not, but this he didn't say. Ryou didn't need to worry about his rival in love having a raging brother complex, thus calling into question Saeki's tastes if said love interest were into creeps with raging brother complexes... Or maybe just guys with brother complexes. Did Ryou have a brother complex?
"You don't have to..."
"No, it's fine." He waved it off. "Yuuta's an open-minded guy. Unless you insinuate that his brother's better than him, he's surprisingly cool about this kind of stuff."
Mizuki, they said with a shared look. Lord have mercy on any homophobes who got in Mizuki's way. Bones would be broken, dreams shattered, and balls crushed with purple silk and hair twirling. Mizuki was frighteningly ruthless like that.
"I... Thanks, Atsushi." Ryou's smile was small, but sincere.
Atsushi let his brother have a few breaths to compose himself. He absentmindedly poked at the dregs of instant ramen clinging to the styrofoam cup and hoped that, once Ryou had gotten it together, they could switch topics to something a little less chick flick.
Alas, it was not to be.
"What about you?" Ryou asked.
The first thing that popped up in his mind - and caused him to crush the empty ramen cup - was Shinya's duck lips opening up and letting out an obnoxious "daaa~ne". Atsushi quickly whipped his head to the side and bit his tongue to stop himself from laughing.
"What about me?"
"Atsushi~" Ryou's little smile turned sly, and he jabbed Atsushi in the ribs. "Atsushi?" When there was no response, the cold, bony finger changed direction and poked Atsushi right between his shoulder blades.
"No!" he blurted out. "There's no one like that! I mean, I don't have much time outside of tennis practice, and the guys on my team, even though I think they're all gay, like, even more gay than the rest of the school, they aren't, um, aren't exactly boyfriend material. Not that I've thought much about what I'd like in a potential boyfriend yet."
"None of them? None at all?"
"None of them! What, you think Mizuki's my type or something? I like my balls intact, thank you very much. Or Captain Bakazawa? No. Hell, no. Not even going there."
"Sure, sure... You keep telling yourself that, baby bro."
Atsushi elbowed him in the gut in revenge. They ended up tumbling off the couch and accidentally kicking a table lamp to its demise.
Yanagisawa Shinya was not a good looking boy, most vehemently not. His hair and eyes were drab in their coloration, and his facial features were all off in their proportions. He had duck lips and beady eyes. His nose was crooked from having broken it as a kid. And, judging from the way he broke it ("I was into extreme sports for a while, da ne. But the pavement didn't like my face, da ne.") he was also somewhat lacking in the upstairs department.
There wasn't a lot going for him, to be honest. He got mediocre grades, and while he sometimes had flashes of brilliance, most often he was just... just Shinya. Shinya the duck. Quack quack. He was almost SeiRu's mascot, except Bakazawa Bakazaru ("Hey! Why does no one respect the captain?!") won that one by a single vote.
Really, there was no reason for Atsushi to be so enamored with such a person, even if he was kind and generous and hard-working and fun to hang out with and had a sweet smile and knew to get the miso soup without tofu for Atsushi when he was sick. Really. It was just Ryou's stupid conversation that had gotten him thinking about inappropriate things like making out with his roommate.
"Y-you're staring, da ne."
"Your lips. I'm wondering how soft they are."
Shinya quacked and died.
Gods, he was so fun to tease!
Atsushi frowned when he realized that Shinya was avoiding him. He hadn't counted on his flirting to be taken so seriously. He thought they'd be able to laugh it off.
Another, deeper part of him was hurt by this turn of events. Because wasn't it Shinya who'd started sneaking glances at him almost as soon as they'd met? Wasn't it Shinya who'd get that dazed expression on his face after a game? The one with the goofy grin and the sighing when Atsushi's back was turned...
Well, whatever. Let him sulk about having his affections returned, then. Atsushi had plots to put into action and other people's love lives to mess with. Saeki was coming by to drop some things off for Yuuta, and they were going to have words.
Later on, he was told that it had gone something like this:
"Uh oh. Looks like Yanagisawa's got competition."
"Saeki, da ne?!"
Just when he thought things were going well, Shinya had to ruin it by being all sensitive and self-deprecating, and looking for misunderstandings where there were none. Saeki had been summarily chastised to "stop dicking around and just ask Ryou out before he cries on me so much that he turns my life into a badly written shoujo manga".
Shinya would have to be dealt with after this phone call.
"Hello?" Ryou called out from the other end.
"Hey, it's me. I fixed your love life for you. You can thank me later."
And even though it wasn't technically true, he also added, "Oh, and I'm going out with Shinya now. Bye."
It was weird to see his brother in this state. They were both fairly laid-back, but Ryou was supposed to be the calmer and more sensible one. Now he was the one wringing his hands like a schoolgirl.
It wasn't right, so Atsushi reached over and yanked on Ryou's long hair, pulling his head back until it hit the back of the chair.
"Ow! You little bitch!"
"I did it for the good of mankind. You were getting gross and schoolgirl-crush-y."
"Oh, and you don't get that way over Shinya~?"
"Hell no. That would be gross."
"What, you're not in love with him then?"
"Uh, no, dumbass, that's not it. I'm in love with him. I'm just not gross about it like you are. Shinya and I are cooler than that."
"So tell me what it's like, then."
Atsushi shrugged. "He's... my best friend. I dunno what else to say."
"How do you feel around him? What things do you do?"
"We goof off, we play pranks on our teammates, we..." He paused, bringing his head down to chuckle at the realization. "We never stop playing doubles even when we get off the court. That's what it feels like."
"I think that's what I'm missing."
"If Saeki hurts you, I'll ruin his pretty-boy face."
"You can't even beat him on the courts. What makes you think you could beat him in a fist fight?"
"Uh, one: I can beat him."
"He beats me and I beat you, so... No."
"Two... I wouldn't punch him."
"I'd squirt acid in his face with a super soaker."
"Okay, I'd probably just put pink dye in his shampoo."
Their parents had always been open-minded. Not so much that their brains were flying out, but they were intelligent people who listened to reason. When the twins had both refused haircuts way back in the day, their parents had thought, "Oh, what the hell. Let them have their hair, it's not a big deal."
Dad had been a philosophy major before he gave up and became an accountant. Mom had hung around the art crowd before she settled down as a nurse. Dad debated utilitarianism on internet forums. Mom read medical journals and talked to them about the links between healthcare and social justice. Societal expectations didn't have much weight with them unless they made sense.
So it wasn't much of a surprise to Atsushi when he tried to have the "Mom, Dad, we're gay" conversation only to be met with, "We know, honey, and it's okay."
Or, in their dad's case, "I still want grandkids, so one or both of you is going to have to adopt or find a surrogate."
And in their mom's case, "I've always wanted to talk to my kids about boy troubles, and now I can!"
This latter response had proved very... troublesome. For Ryou, anyway. Atsushi had so far managed to avoid the grilling, if only because he was usually off at school. It was too bad that his luck had run out.
"That's not fair!" Ryou said, "You always ask about me, Mom, but Atsushi has a boyfriend, too!"
"Oh really? Atsushi..."
Atsushi sighed. "Yanagisawa Shinya. My doubles partner. He's that friend I told you about before. We're together now."
"And does your boyfriend have a nickname, too?"
"...Duck? Who calls him that?"
"I call him that."
"Do I want to know why?"
"Because he looks like a duck and he quacks like a duck, saying, 'da ne, da ne' all the time just like Daffy Duck."
"You paint a very unflattering picture of your significant other."
"I'm aware of that."
"He makes you happy, though. You're happy with him."
"Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"
Sensing that she wasn't going to be getting much more out of him, their mother patted his hand. "Well, bring him over for dinner sometime."
Ryou was such a mama's boy. He was probably all 'Saeki this' and 'Saeki that' and 'Saeki's so great' all the time. Atsushi was selfish; he wanted all of Shinya's good parts to himself, protected and secret, clutched close to his chest. If no one else knew how wonderful Shinya was, no one would steal Atsushi's ugly duckling away.
"That's your brother's boyfriend, da ne."
"Uh, am I really going up against that guy...?"
"It's not like it's a beauty pageant."
"But your parents are totally going to compare us and I'll lose big time, da ne! They won't approve of our relationship, da ne!"
"They didn't approve of me transferring to SeiRu, but I did it anyway. It's okay. I'm officially the evil twin now, so they'll let me do whatever." Atsushi had to reign in the urge to wriggle his fingers ominously at 'eeevil', though he did so in his head.
"B-but I'm... You and your brother are both so pretty - but I think you're prettier, of course - and if his boyfriend looks like a model, then you deserve so much better, da ne! You deserve a model too, da ne!"
"Shinya, are you calling me shallow?"
He shook his head.
"Then shut the fuck up."
Atsushi was always being compared with his older twin, and he was always falling short. It had been a long time since he had felt this good about himself. But this time, even though he knew his mother would wrinkle her brow as she smiled at Shinya, and his father would awkwardly laugh as they shook hands... Yeah, it was true that most people would think, "Poor Atsushi got the short end of the stick again," but he didn't mind anymore.
He gave a soft snort of laughter, pulled Shinya into a surprisingly deep kiss, and dragged his stunned boyfriend along before he could recover. Shinya's duck-lips flapped unattractively, which Atsushi thought it was the cutest thing ever, like how naked mole rats are so ugly that they're absolutely adorable.
It really didn't matter what anyone else thought as long as Atsushi knew he'd lucked out this time.