Point of Pride

By Mizu

It used to be that Shishido Ryoh would brush his hair a hundred strokes every night before bed, until it hung around his face in a glossy black curtain. He would stare at his reflection in the mirror, at a face that just stopped short of feminine, before smiling a little, tossing back that dark fall of hair and sliding into bed.

He knew he was beautiful, of course, with the kind of face that made both men and women turn to stare, and it had gotten to be that it was a point of pride with him.

Tennis was a point of pride as well, of course; he was a member of the Hyoutei regulars, a singles player, and few could defeat him in a match. He was alarmingly fast, with a style that hit his opponents and defeated them while they were down, and it was an ability that set him apart from the dozens of other boys at Hyoutei Gakuen and made him a part of the elite circle that so many envied and few could ever aspire to join.

Then he'd fallen, and he'd fallen hard, and it felt the way it felt when skin slammed against pavement after a long tumble - hard and rough and achingly bruised - except it was his pride that was so injured. Shishido hated that feeling, hated the idea that he had allowed himself to be weak enough to fall from a place he'd worked to earn.

Shishido Ryoh hated weaknesses, and he hated them most of all when there was no reasonable excuse for them, and he found it impossible to forgive when that kind of weakness was inside himself.

His entire family played tennis, but none of them played it the way he did; nothing was as intense for them as tennis was for their youngest child. Shishido's father was a fourth grade teacher at Hyoutei Elementary, a cheerful smiling man who looked nothing like his son, who was the image of his beautiful mother. He'd taught his son tennis when Shishido was only seven, when he was barely old enough to hold a racket, and Shishido was almost immediately good at it, and it wasn't all that long before he was better than most everyone else, a beautiful little boy with a fall of silky hair with an uncanny ability to read the game and change it in his favor.

Shishido Ryuichi recognized it for what it was - his son's recognition of the small details at work, letting him see the little things that could be used to shift the game in his direction - but Shishido himself never realized it; he thought it was merely his peculiar speed that allowed him to react and move faster than anyone else, that allowed him to change a game's course before his opponent could realize what had happened.

But then Shishido stagnated, and his skills stopped growing in the leaps they had throughout elementary school. He was still good of course, and he still was better than most everyone else that he played against, but he wasn't changing his game. His tennis was becoming like the hundred strokes through his hair every night, methodical and unchanging, a routine that was too comfortable.

When something became too comfortable, too familiar, Shishido Ryuichi remembered thinking, one night when his son sauntered in from a late practice; when that happened, it broke. And when it broke, he knew, Ryoh would find that unacceptable, and he would remake himself into someone who was stronger, sharper, and infinitely more formidable; he would become a better player, a stronger person.

Ryuichi knew it would hurt his son first, and it had - there had been a dozen nights when Shishido had come home with dark bruises covering his face and deeper bruises shadowing his eyes, with his usually beautifully sleek hair tangled and damp down his back, and he'd wave vaguely at his family before tumbling exhausted into his bed. There had been times Ryuichi had wanted to stop what his wife and his parents called Ryoh's dangerous nonsense, because it might be hurting his youngest son too much, but he never had.

For Ryoh, the pain and exhaustion were important; they were going to earn him back what he lost, but they were important in their own right - proof, in a way, that he was stronger than most people thought. Ryuichi wouldn't take that away, no matter how much Ryoh injured himself.

The dark blue and purple bruises scattered across his son's previously flawless skin were a point of pride in and of themselves.

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