hermiones: (pot // hyoutei)
Cat ([personal profile] hermiones) wrote2011-05-08 08:27 pm

PoT Fic: "Dark At Nine" (Inui/Ryoma)

Title: Dark At Nine
Pairing: Inui/Ryoma
Rating: R
Summary: For [livejournal.com profile] poilass for [livejournal.com profile] help_japan. Thank you so much for your bid! I hope you enjoy the fic. ♥
Warnings: Rude language, rude content.




“So, what would you say is your greatest match?” the interviewer asks, trying hard to act as though this is a normal interview when clearly, it's anything but.

Echizen is arranging rolled sock-balls in his suitcase in a way that looks banal but in actuality accords to a calculated system locked somewhere in his genius-brain. One of the many irrationalities that Inui irrationally enjoys. He's not really paying attention to the question, which is hardly surprising when its the least original in the entire world.

“Probably Cilic in 2008,” he says. “Wimbledon. That was a good game.”

Inui watches him study the contents of the suitcase, as if by studying Echizen he can learn the method. It's a habit he's struggled to break, in all the years that they've known each other.

“Well, Wimbledon 2008 is known for another great match,” the interviewer proceeds, despite the fact that he's being prioritised beneath socks. “Were you rooting for either player in the final?”

Echizen pauses for a moment, scratches his hairline at the back of his neck. Inui can't tell whether he's really thinking about his answer or whether he's just enjoying the sight of neatly arranged clothes.

“Nadal,” he says, eventually.

“Why was that? Rooting for the rookie? Most rookies aspire to become Rafa in their own time – are you one of them?”

“Not particularly,” Echizen says. “I just think he played the better game on the day.”

“That's what it's about, for you?”

“Tennis is about that one game. That one day.”

“So you don't aspire to become like the greats – you're not hankering to be the next Nadal, the next Djokovic?”

“Sure I do. But those guys just had more better days than other players. To be the best, you have to have the most better days. That's all.”

“Okay. So do you have a favourite?”

Echizen tosses out a couple of shirts, both of which Inui recognises as formal. He'll have to repack them later when Echizen's distracted. No big deal.

“No,” he says. “I'm my favourite.”

---


All in all, Inui hates documentaries. He hates journalism. Well – hate is a strong word, but both offend his scientific senses. It's not that he doesn't find either entertaining – he's been known to read gossip magazines on plane journeys – but it's different when you're surrounded by it twenty four seven.

I'm my favourite,” he teases, sneaking the shirts back into the suitcase whilst Echizen is distracted flicking through the pay-per-view menu.

“I keep thinking that at some point I'm going to become so obnoxious that nobody wants to interview me anymore,” Echizen says, crossing his feet on the bed.

Inui takes it the length of him. It's sometimes weird when people mention how tiny he used to be because Inui can't remember it. The time before Echizen wasn't an inch taller than him, with legs as long as the Great Wall of China.

“That has never worked for anyone,” Inui says. “Your naivety is nonetheless charming.”

“Never?”

“Nope.”

“No statistic to back that one up? I'm disappointed.”

“Some things are just obvious. Science would be wasted on such pursuits.”

Echizen hates the word but he still snorts. “Like the way you're ogling my legs. Again.”

“Not your legs, actually,” Inui says, airily. It's not untrue; he's moved his gaze on. Just a little bit.

“And the way you've repacked my shirts even though you know that I hate them and I'm not wearing them no matter how much soda you bribe me with.”

“You not wearing shirts will hurt me indescribably but I'll suffer through it somehow,” Inui says.

“You're the scientist,” Echizen says, sitting up and tossing aside the remote. “What do I do to make myself so unappealing to the press that they stop wanting to talk to me?”

“Stop making documentaries about yourself,” Inui says.

“Manager. Can't do anything about it. What else?”

“Stop winning so many tournaments.”

“You are completely unhelpful.”

“You asked,” Inui says. He sits down on the bed, grabs onto one of Echizen's feet. Removes sock, commences massage. Echizen veritably melts, if only slightly.

“Seriously,” he says, his voice softer. “I just want to play. I don't want to talk. I wish I'd been born mute.”

“So do the people in the room next door,” Inui says.

“Go fuck yourself,” Echizen says.

“You can't control what people are interested in. You don't get all the perks of your life with no disadvantages. No compromises. Nothing to be done. Just be boring.”

“I'm not boring,” Echizen says.

“No,” Inui says. “But you can pretend.”

---


“Thing is,” Ryoma says. “Every player has that moment. Or maybe moments, in the end. It's the sport. Some you win, some you lose. It was an old injury. I was tired out from Wimbledon that year, the back-to-back tournaments can be a killer. It's not a big mystery. I regretted pulling out for weeks. But that's the past and now, I'm back to win. A lot stronger.”

---


Echizen Ryoma: The Prodigal Son Returns... Maybe?
Susumu Itou


When the words Echizen Ryoma are spoken aloud, most people think of Wimbledon 2008 or of the French Open in 2009. Two very different moments but nonetheless crucial for the shaping of one of our finest young players. We all know the story of Wimbledon 2008, but France 2009 remains a mystery to all but a select few. The heartbreaking submission to a strange injury – the sense of a wasted opportunity is still there when you bring it up with him. But like any sportsman, he squares his shoulders and he soldiers on.


---


Inui remembers France. He remembers knowing far too much about Echizen's physiotherapist, a delightful guy called Philippe who's been around almost as long as Inui has. Philippe isn't one to be manipulated by Echizen, which is why Echizen likes him so much. And why he tends to bear the brunt of Echizen's tongue – at least when Inui isn't.

He remembers the late nights in the hotel room and the way Echizen is fighting the pain because he thinks that he can fool the guy whose speciality is the tennis player who wants to push his limits past the point where his body can follow him. Philippe is wearing a face of concern but it's nothing compared to the way that Echizen is biting his own lip to keep from making a sound – in the end, the ultimate giveaway because ordinarily he swears like a trooper.

“You're not playing,” Philippe says eventually, without sugar-coating because he's not stupid enough to think that it matters how the news is broken.

“Bullshit,” Echizen eventually spits and it's fuelled with all of the noise he's been biting back on, sharp and rumbling with anger and adrenaline. “That's not- that's not possible. It's the semis. This is the furthest I've ever gotten.”

“I know,” Philippe says. “I've been here the whole time. But your calf says no.”

“I can handle it. It's two more matches. Two. That's- that's nothing.”

“Only if you fancy the idea of permanent damage. Personally, I'd say no.”

“It's just the French Open,” Inui says. “Come on. You always said you wanted to breakthrough in the US. This is just a place full of French people. No offence, Philippe.”

Philippe gives him a look.

“I was being an idiot when I said that, obviously,” Echizen says. “What I meant was: trophies, all the time please. More trophies.”

“Sportsmen are idiots,” Philippe says.

“He means results,” Inui says, a bit defensively. It's the old, old Seigaku thing, he thinks. They all grew a little bit older watching Tezuka sacrifice his shoulder to get the team to Nationals. Echizen grew more than any of them. Probably because he had to play the game that made the sacrifice worth it.

“I know what he means,” Philippe says. “I'm saying that playing this tournament could be the last trophy he ever wins. That's some result.”

“I'm still here,” Echizen says. “I can't just drop out. I can't. I'd rather go out there and shoot myself in the head. It'll look like cowardice. It'll look like the rookie bailing because he got in too hard and too fast and-”

“Since when do you care what other people think?” Inui says.

“Since always,” Echizen says. “I just hid it better then.”

---


Then. Then. Then.

When was then?

Inui doesn't remember much about meeting Echizen for the first time. He was very wound up in Kaido, in his own issues with this and that and the other. He remembers the first moment that he recognised how special Echizen was – and that Tezuka had inevitably beat him to it.

He remembers the feeling of trying to understand their bond. He remembers the feeling of frustrated inevitability about it. Just as Inui has never understood Tezuka, he knew he'd never understand Echizen. His successes are beyond Inui's capacity to explain and there's something about the way he stands and withstands that Inui can't define with numbers, flowcharts or pie-graphs.

What he does remember is being eighteen and on the brink of university and seeing Echizen on the youth circuit, all of nearly-seventeen and precocious as all hell. Talented, to boot. But mostly precocious.

He remembers wanting, so badly and not for the first time, to have been born Tezuka.

---


What's not clear is whether this young player truly has it in him to go to the top. Others before him have failed to fall into Rafael Nadal's footsteps and undoubtedly the sport is at the highest level of competition in its history. What is clear is that all of Japan is rooting for him. But what do we actually know about him?

Those who talk of his career starting in America during 2003 are ill-informed, for tennis may well have been in his genes. Speak to Echizen about his school days and he's remarkably reticent to go into details, but the records state that he was successful even as a young child. Local newspapers spin heady frenzies about his progress within his high school team, which achieved notoriety for winning the National Japan tournament four years running (three of which were headed by Echizen himself as Captain).

Little is known of this time in Echizen's life, other than the records and the old photographs. Three weeks before the US Open and in-between tournaments, I pressed Echizen further.


---


They're in their apartment back in the US. The French Open 2009 has just finished and Inui has checked the result, just in case Echizen changes his mind about wanting to know. It's a tennis-free zone for the first time in, well, forever.

Inui is working on his PhD, scratching the space behind his ear with his pencil, when he realises that Echizen is looking at him. He's onto the windowsill and the LA traffic is raging underneath him. Inui looks up and tilts his head to one side.

“Did you never want to be anything else?” he says.

“No,” Inui says. “Like you.”

Echizen nods. “I don't know how to be the person that just sits here.”

“I wouldn't know either,” Inui says. He picks his words carefully because Echizen rarely talks about emotion. They're similar that way. Their communication is mainly non-verbal. “But I think I'm glad that you're not going to be out for good. It'll change. It's not forever.”

“I know,” Echizen says. “I'm just- I'm not even a person. I'm just...stuff. What are you doing. Can I help?”

“Not unless you're interested in spacedust,” Inui says, cheerfully.

“Not especially,” Echizen says, but he hops down gingerly from the sill nonetheless. Slinks over to Inui and right then, really, is when Inui sees what's inevitable. There's a slant in his hips, the way he dips his walk as if there's music playing in his mind – and maybe there is, it's worth investigating? - as he approaches. It's all calculated.

Inui puts down his pencil just as Echizen hops up onto the desk. Plants his long legs on the arms of Inui's chair and sits there expectantly. Inui leans back, regarding him with a raised eyebrow. Echizen flexes his toes, as if unconsciously inviting massage. But Philippe isn't here to massage the physical and Tezuka isn't here to massage the ego and it seems that Echizen is considering it, right at that moment, because he licks his lips.

And then he reaches out and he touches his palms to Inui's collarbone, sneaks his fingers into his shirt and yanks him close.

---


“So Seigaku was just a small part of your life? Not an especially big influence on you?”

“I learnt a lot,” Echizen says, cautiously. “But ultimately I was twelve and it was a long time ago.”

“You had a mentor though, didn't you? A, ah, Tezuka Kunimitsu.”

“You did your homework,” Echizen says. It's unclear from his voice whether he's being flattering or not. Inui has his suspicions.

“Yes, well, there are a lot of records out there about you! So – what did you learn from him? What kind of things did he teach you?”

“All kinds,” Echizen says. “He was a great player.”

“He got injured, didn't he?”

“Yes.”

“So your careers have similarities?”

“Not really. He got injured really young and it cost him the chance to compete. France 2009 was a temporary setback. Like I said, I'm back now – stronger. Tezuka chose not to go pro.”

“Are you in contact with your other teammates?”

“Like...?” It's a test, now. Echizen is just playing for amusement. He wants to know what they know.

“Well, Fuji Shuusuke went pro, didn't he. And, ah, there were other players from other teams – Yukimura Seiichi, Atobe Keigo-”

“Sure. I'm in contact with some of them. It was school. You lose touch with some people, you remain friends with others. We're all competitors, at the end of the day. We're not really in this to make friends.”

“Okay, so would you say that without Seigaku you wouldn't have gone into tennis? Do you owe that to them?”

“No, it was always going to be tennis. But I think I became a better player through them. I wouldn't be the player I am now.”

“And who would you say was the greatest influence on you from that era? Is there anyone who specifically...?”

“Well, you've mentioned Tezuka already, so. There were a lot of influences. There still are. That's how the sport works; every person you play changes you in a way. That's really it.”

---


“You can make me better,” Echizen asks Inui, all of three days after meeting him. “You're – everyone says you're into statistics. You can create better players.”

“I'm not an evil genius,” Inui says. It's almost a defence mechanism.

“Whatever. I need to get better. I need to be better, so I can- so. So that- I can be better. I need to be on the team. You can make me better.”

“You need a video recorder and some juice,” Inui says.

“Uh,” Echizen says. “Okay.”

---


What's certainly obvious, even if his past isn't, is that Echizen means business. It's difficult not to see the determination in his eyes even if his answers are succinct, almost rude. Whether we can credit his former team or his current manager with this ambition is unclear, but it seems inevitable now that one or another crown is going to escape him. This is a boy who's going to bring it home to Japan, and soon.

Whilst characteristically cagey and slightly tricky to deal with in person, it's hard not to feel enamoured of the young player. He's tough and engaging and his thought processes lend themselves to atypical responses to questions, remarks on other players. Around him is a collection of people he's kept since his career took off and with them, he is a different individual altogether. Though many of these individuals declined a personal interview, it's clear that the relationships he has with those closest to him are special and different.

His reluctance to disclose much about his private life is part of the appeal, part of the mystery that has teenage girls throughout the country frantically supporting Echizen all the way to this year's US tournament.

But when asked about who he looks to for support, Echizen was surprisingly candid.


---


It ends up on the floor, which is Inui's location-choice only 11 percent of the time due to a variety of off-putting factors. Carpet-burns, bone-aches, collisions with the sharp corners of the kind of irritating furniture that Echizen loves. The advantages, though, are multiple. Echizen yanks his vest over his head as he stretches his neck for more kisses – hungry and desperate and somehow human, because it's not about tennis or the moments caught between press releases and photo-shoots and interviews. It's about them, in the here and now. A Sunday afternoon in LA.

Inui pins his arms back and flattens him to the carpet, kissing down his jaw and over that glorious expanse of neck until he feels Echizen pressing up against him, the flex of him even with his arms pinned – the strength sport has given him not entirely lost. He rewards him with a bite on the softer flesh, just where he likes it, the spot that makes him all conclave with pleasure. Echizen makes a sound that sounds like a swear word, crushed under lust.

Inui laughs at him, because for all that people think he's inscrutable he's actually frighteningly predictable.

And when Inui realises that he can't hold him down and also remove his trousers, Echizen just laughs back. When he's released, he makes short work of it, wriggling out of them and kicking them off the ankle as his fingers find Inui's shirt buttons. It's neither comfortable nor dignified, but it reminds Inui of the stolen moments when they first got together – in elevators and bathrooms and god knows where else – so he goes with it, because it's positively delicious.

When they're finally fucking bare, Inui leans over him, runs the planes of his hands down Echizen's sides until they're resting firm on his hips, holding him still, looking into the expanse of his eyes and thinking, fucking thinking, always thinking. And Echizen reaches up and holds his face between his palms and he's thinking too and it's that one thought that's been plaguing them both because it needs to be said aloud and neither of them can bring themselves. But they're smiling through it because one day.

And for this day, Inui will dip his head down and he will take Echizen's hip between his teeth and he will bite and suckle along until he takes him down and Echizen will bring his knees up involuntarily, throw his head back involuntarily, yank the hair out of Inui's head involuntarily – and it will be the best day of Inui's life.

---


“Look,” Echizen says, leaning forward. He's settled now, at the table in the hotel room. The shower is running underneath his voice. “2009 sucked. It sucked. That was a bad year for me. But 2011 is my year. It's – I've been waiting for this year for a long time. Saying one day, one day. All of that. And this is my one day. I'm here now.”

“What makes you so sure?” The interview says. “I mean – all of Japan is rooting for you, but you said it yourself that tennis is a fickle game.”

“It favours a trier,” Echizen says. “I just know. Tennis is like that. Sometimes you just know.”

“What got you through 2009? Nadal talks a lot of family – we all know how he was affected that year himself, with the family troubles he had. Your father must've had advice for you, for getting through it. Being a former pro player himself.”

“That's the million dollar question, isn't it,” Echizen says.

“I think so,” the interviewer says, but he's smiling back.

“A lot got me through. It's never down to one thing. But without Inui, I'd have given up, I think. It's hard for tennis players to just be people and I've been a tennis player for a long time. He reminds me of things that don't take place on tennis courts and that's important.”

“Another Seigaku friend,” the interviewer says. “You do seem to have retained a lot of childhood friends. Would you say that that's typical of tennis stars, or sportsmen, generally?”

“Well,” Echizen says. “He's not so much a friend as a boyfriend, actually.”

---


“Boring,” Inui says, later. “Seriously. Everyone's out nowadays. Even Lance Bass. I'm not impressed in the least.”

Echizen looks at him, slightly incredulous. It makes Inui want to do terrible things to him. He can hardly keep the smile off his face.

“You cannot be serious,” he says.

“Don't get all McEnroe on me,” Inui says. “It's unbecoming.”

Echizen's jaw is almost on the floor.

“In fact, I calculated the chances of your doing this at 84 percent, after you got through the preliminaries.”

“I hate you,” Echizen says.

“You love me.”

“That too.”

“Want to do something that's not boring?” Inui says.

“Yes,” Echizen says, though he looks more like he wants to remove Inui's eyes. Which, whilst interesting, would probably be detrimental to their relationship.

“Tell me why you pack your suitcase like that.”

---


All in all, Echizen is no longer the scared sportsman we saw in 2009. He's ready to take on the world – on and off the court. And with his recent bravery in dealing with the many rumours about his private life, you'd be foolish to bet against him battling through it all for the ultimate prize. Watch out, Japan: he's going to be bringing you all a lot of better days.

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