The Joyful Scourge



 

It’s the end of the game day after Akutsu had been trounced by Echizen, and Taichi’s bouncing around Akustu trying to cheer him up. But Akutsu is fine, happy even, as he’s been waiting for someone to finally come along and beat him. Taichi is persistent, though, always has been, and it isn’t until he starts professing admiration for Akutsu that Akutsu puts a stop to it. He tells Taichi to admire and emulate Echizen, not him. Akutsu is a horrid role model, not only in tennis, but tennis is what Taichi is referring to this time so Akutsu steers him in a much better direction. Taichi looks sad, but he agrees and off he thankfully goes to bounce around Echizen.

Taichi takes Akutsu’s advice to the extreme, and within a short time he’s mastered Echizen’s Twist Serve. He continues to master Echizen’s other signature moves with joyful enthusiasm - Drive B, COOL Drive, Twist Smash – until Echizen begs someone to make Taichi go away. Inui volunteers. Inui is a data player, which Taichi started as and therefore it’s easy for him to understand Inui’s strategies. When Inui’s had enough, he slyly slides him into Kaido’s realm by pairing them up and escapes when Kaido’s not looking.

Kaido is gruff because he’s shy, unlike Akutsu, who’s gruff because he hates everyone and everything. Kaido can’t say no, and he grunts and mutters under his breath about Taichi’s ardent clinging and teaches Taichi every Snake shot he knows. Oishi’s mothering instinct eventually kicks in and Kaido is rescued, and soon Taichi is playing a new form called Triples with Oishi and Eiji until Tezuka puts a stop to it. A mistake on Tezuka’s part, because Taichi finds him fascinating and is always underfoot. Taichi learns Tezuka’s Drop Shot and Zero Shiki Serve, and Tezuka thinks Taichi is using Muga no Kyōchi until he talks with Fuji, who informs Tezuka that no, Taichi is only an extremely enthusiastic emulator whose powers come from a pure happiness and heart. Tezuka does not believe Fuji, but he sics Taichi on Atobe at Hyōtei because it’s hard to stay serious surrounded by so much of Taichi’s joy.

Atobe adores Taichi’s adoration until the winner is Taichi – a fluke, Atobe had a cold – and Taichi is banished from Hyōtei completely. Taichi returns to Seigaku, intent on taking his place back Echizen’s side, but is waylaid by Momoshiro, who refuses to claim jealousy and sends Taichi to Rikkaidai instead.

Taichi descends upon Rikkaidai with guileless glee and gratitude. Two of the Big Three embrace him readily. Renji teaches Taichi more data tennis, as he was taught by Mitsuya and he has also taught Inui. Yukimura shows Taichi how to return a shot with the butt of his racket. Sanada develops a twitch, and bodily deposits Taichi back at Yamabuki.

Word gets around the middle schools of Taichi’s brand of heartfelt terror. He is banned at the gates, and has trouble finding peer matches at the public courts. He’s mastered many signature moves and everyone knows it. Those beneath his level are afraid to play him, and those above his level are afraid they might lose to him. Taichi is relegated to playing against a tennis ball launcher.

Akutsu finds Taichi at the park, playing by himself, and even with Taichi’s bright greeting, Akutsu can tell he’s sad. This pisses off Akutsu, and so does Taichi’s tennis. Akutsu had sent Taichi off to emulate Echizen as an all-around player, not to learn specific moves. Akutsu grabs one of Taichi’s extra rackets, shoves the ball launcher out of the way, tells Taichi he’s not allowed to use a single one of his new moves until he can return all of Akutsu’s volleys.

Taichi returns four shots before he misses, then two, then three, and back to four. Akutsu isn’t trying hard, only hitting the ball to different parts of the court, making Taichi move and use both front hand and backhand swings. Akutsu berates him mercilessly for his poor playing. Taichi didn’t learn how to play better tennis, he learned tricks, and Akutsu is furious about it. He keeps going at Taichi until Taichi is an exhausted puddle of sweat unable to stay on his feet.

Akutsu throws down the borrowed racket next to Taichi and glowers at him. Akutsu’s anger is still palpable, and he snaps at Taichi that they’d be meeting every day after school until he could prove he could play real tennis. Taichi’s face brightens like the sun after a rainstorm, and he launches from the ground into a hug around Akutsu’s middle. Akutsu growls, more at himself for liking the hug than for Taichi doing it, and he shoves Taichi away after a prolonged moment.

Akutsu jams his hands in his pockets and stalks from the court. Taichi scrambles to cover his rackets and hurries to catch up. He pulls a green headband from the outer pocket of his bag and tugs it on, all the while joyfully bouncing around Akutsu and talking non-stop. Akutsu still thinks he’s a horrible role model, but he’ll put up with it for Taichi’s sake.

Akutsu later learns that Taichi’s earned a nickname, the Joyful Scourge, and it’s so appropriate that Akutsu doesn’t stop laughing for days. Taichi shrugs guilelessly in response, and smiles.

 

End