Title: These Wounds
Fandom: Tennis no Oujisama
Characters/Pairing: Yagyuu/Niou in a really bizarre way idek
Warnings: Vague-ness, tons of OCs. Also I know very little about Yagyuu and Niou, so if they seem OOC I apologise orz
Word Count: ~1900
He knows this person like the back of his hand.
Some familiarities, once they have taken roots, are difficult to get rid of. The left corner of his lips still knows an old twitch that makes a lopsided smirk, still knows how it feels on his face. His shoulders still recognises the right angle to form a casual slope that is both defiant and relaxed, unerringly so. His hair is perhaps combed too tidily, as his profession dictates, but nothing a few careful minutes in front of the mirror cannot correct.
In his new apartment, empty but for the ghost of his parents, Yagyuu stands before the full-length mirror and strips himself of everything Yagyuu.
The first day is hard.
Every muscle in his body itches to return to everything correct and stiff. His hands are not supposed to be hidden deep in his pocket Even worse are the clothes—they do not fit him. They hang loose, as they have always hung loose around Niou’s frame, and Yagyuu hates it.
The new city gives him some measure of anonymity. When he resigned, his decision shocked nearly every colleague of his—from plastic to brain surgery to radiology—but not one lamented his leaving outside of his professional capacity. Such a bright young surgeon. Such a huge loss to their hospital.
Now the world passes him by in colours and noises, sometimes vague shapes of smiles and faces bent to a frown. Yagyuu notices; Niou alternates between seeing and ignoring.
He stops walking and closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. Stability is his life, and Niou was once balance, the other side of the coin—and now balance is the exact thing he has lost since the fire that burned his parents to death and robbed him of every sense of stability.
Yagyuu continues walking, and alternates between seeing and ignoring.
The second day proves an even more terrible hell.
His first thought is of snakes; shedding one’s skin does not seem to be a pleasant process, even to animals. The physical unfamiliarity is chafing enough, but what makes Yagyuu nearly backtrack to his old life is the fact that he has a full day ahead of him and absolutely nothing to do.
This new city is quieter in many ways. The streets are less crowded, the people less hurried, and the atmosphere less constricting. These novelties, however, wear out fast enough and soon the streets are just streets where his feet always tread and the air is simply air he breathes every day. He used to look down people who idle their day away, but that sense of judgment is now all jumbled and messed up; when a grimace is a smirk, then maybe up is down and right is wrong—Yagyuu is not so sure anymore.
At the end of the day, he reaches a decision: he needs to find a job, but not one that suits Yagyuu.
The third day finds him washing dishes in a traditional Japanese restaurant.
His appearance brings a frown to the okami’s face, but hair colour of her employees is the least of her troubles today. She tells him to do his job well, not make any trouble, and they will decide by the end of the week; and then she dismisses him in favour of more important matters, which leaves him in the care of a stern-looking head waitress.
Washing dishes will not be his only job, Hinode-san says firmly as she gives him a tour of the restaurant’s property. There is firewood to chop, vegetables to nurture, harvest, and prepare, not to mention a long expanse of wooden floor to clean at least twice a day. Discipline and good manners are paramount, she impresses on him, since they cater to the city’s finest and richest. For a restaurant of such long-standing history and eminence, it is important that all their employees, down to the lowliest servant, reflect their worth.
His hands are a doctor’s hands, careful hands that hold scalpels and perform miraculous operations; now they are stiff from washing too many dishes under continuous stream of cold water, but Yagyuu doesn’t stop to wonder what Niou will do, what Niou will think.
He doesn’t have to.
On the fourth day, he makes one of the serving girls laugh.
She is a pretty little thing in a blue kimono with her dark hair gathered neatly at the nape of her neck. A small blush rises to her cheeks when she realises that he is staring at her—in wonder, in frank appreciation as if her laugh were a thing of marvel.
Yagyuu does not make people laugh; he makes them cower in fear or bow in gratitude. He makes them see that life is always a bit darker than they think, a little bleaker.
But this girl laughed at an offhand comment he made, no darkness or bleakness, and now he wonders what stability means.
The fifth day brings him his first lesson about food.
The head chef is a middle-aged man still deeply rooted in tradition. While he may not look upon Yagyuu’s bleached hair favourably, he belongs to a generation who believes that younger people nowadays are careless about what they eat, and his fatherly nature does not permit him to turn a blind eye. Every Tuesday, he allows some time to teach the staff how to cook proper Japanese cuisine and most of them, aspiring chefs or food enthusiasts at least, are eager to learn from his vast knowledge.
For the first time in his life, Yagyuu finds out how to make a proper fried egg—the heat, the correct measure of dashi, the suitable degree of sweetness. The taste reminds him to his grandmother’s cooking, a house that always smelled of good food and a happy life, and for a moment he relives the past long gone, before everything.
“Thank you,” he says, the rich taste lingering on his tongue, and the head chef smiles.
He almost gets fired on the sixth day.
Among the guests today is a group of important-looking men: politicians, lawyers, doctors, all striving to look more imposing than the man next to him. They eat and drink far into the night, and when it is finally time to leave, nearly all are swaying on their feet, trading slurred words, laughing at the smallest things. If one of them suddenly stumbles and finds his support in the person standing nearest to him, then perhaps it is a coincidence.
The serving girl, Chiyo, stands rooted to the spot as his hand brushes her backside, saying nothing; she is taught to endure, to prioritise. The man is only drunk, but she may lose her job if a scene occurs.
Yagyuu would have waited, would have opted for a subtler retribution; he would have prioritised. But Niou steps forward, eyes narrowed, and pushes the man away with enough force to make him fall to the floor, blind to everything else but the utter disrespect of it all.
All hells break loose. His arms are twisted behind his back and another hand forces his upper body to a deep bow as the okami apologises in profusion. The man is helped to his feet and Yagyuu seethes in silence as names and insults rain down upon him. Niou would have fought, would have broken free and strode toward the exit at once; he would have stood firm.
Yagyuu endures—only because he almost can see himself in that man, twenty, thirty years in the future, a haughty, successful surgeon who treats a lower-class person like dirt—and disgust stays his hands.
The seventh day is uneventful.
Hinode-san watches him like a hawk, always ready to snipe at him for every little mistake. Yagyuu tells himself that it is to be expected, after what he did yesterday, and wills himself to forget her and focus on the task at hand. There are the vegetables, the firewood, the floor, and of course the dishes, all in heaps and waiting for him.
These are all hard, menial work that—as he has quickly discovered—requires none of his expertise and yet most of his concentration. Yagyuu still aims for perfection, but he does not miss the slight change of mood in his surroundings. The other servants are now eager to talk to him as they sit together peeling radishes and sweet potatoes. The waitresses offer him their best smiles when they deliver the dirty plates and bowls to the kitchen. Even the assistant head chef, Shimazu-san, mentions the incident last night with a grin and a pat on the back, and if a sudden generous portion appears in front of him at lunch, it isn’t difficult to guess why.
He survives yet another day, shoulders aching, muscles protesting—but oddly content.
On the eighth day, Shimazu-san invites them all to an after-work karaoke.
The man does not earn much from his job, Yagyuu can easily tell from his clothes, but a birthday is a special case. Only the head chef and Hinode-san decline attendance; the rest of the staff, most still young and energetic after a full day’s work, are brimming with excitement.
All but Yagyuu.
He is never fond of karaoke; singing and drinking are two things he can never indulge in, but he wasn’t able to decline with Shimazu-san’s arm firm around his shoulders. The first few songs come and go—still tolerable—as well as the first few drinks. His smile is stiff as he sits in stony silence at the end of the long table, determined to survive the night unscathed.
Until Shimazu-san demands a song from him as a present and Chiyo pulls him up by the arm, laughing in a way that makes him smile in return. For a moment, he isn’t really sure if it is Niou or Yagyuu who cannot say no.
In the end, he steps forward and chooses a song.
On the ninth day, he receives his first salary.
The okami summons him into her small, neat office at the end of the day. At night, she almost looks her age, the tired lines finally showing through layers of cosmetics and practised charm, but her voice remains level as she begins with a list of all of his shortcomings. The colour of his hair is mentioned, as well as his short temper and strangely fluctuating mood. But then she admits that he does his job well, better than any of the junior staffs who have worked longer. The incident a few nights ago aside, she is willing to offer him an opportunity to stay.
Niou rises to challenges and new adventures, always has and always will. Yagyuu knows this, knows Niou like the back of his hand—so well that there are times when he loses sight of the palm.
And he says yes.
Yagyuu keeps track of days, hours, even minutes; Niou lets them pass, all rolled together into life’s colourful parade, watching with a smirk. He knows Niou, he knows everything about Niou. After a few months living with a bleached hair and a smirk that feels more and more seamless with each passing day, he is more Niou than Yagyuu.
The man who stares at him is more Yagyuu than Niou. He sits with a group of lawyers, himself perhaps a junior assistant of some sort, with hair perfectly in place and a pair of glasses which reflect the world and Niou-who-is-Yagyuu. Even surprise is muted on that face—like him, once, everything constrained, shackled.
“Hello, Yagyuu-kun,” Niou speaks, his voice deep and controlled, and Yagyuu can only stare as the rest of the illusions—now facts, truth, right in front of him—fit into the mosaic that is his current life.
Balance, he remembers, is a circle.
Note: I debated whether to include the epilogue or not, as it seemed to raise more questions than providing some answers. But it just felt right if Niou also underwent some drastic change and became ‘Yagyuu’… idk orz