They were both in high school, in their third year of tennis partnership.
There was no feeling of overwhelming victory or obstacle conquered, but just a sense of satisfied relief. After all, everything in the past three years had led up to this moment. Quite frankly, if things hadn’t turned out this way, not only they, but the entire Hyoutei regulars team, people who had come to know them like family over the years, would have paused to question the sanity of the world.
And then they embraced tightly for a few long minutes. Shishido moved his arms about Ohtori’s back in pure happiness, breathing deeply as he felt their chests rise and fall together. He could feel one hand in his hair, the other pressing against the small of his back, the chin tucked over his shoulder blade, and a warm methodical flutter of air.
They broke apart, and not much was different. There was still a mutual trust, friendship, and love.
But it was Ohtori’s birthday. A special not only for him, but for everyone at Hyoutei. Gakuto smirked happily (having just secured 5000 yen from various bets), Yuushi adjusted his glasses, and Atobe himself couldn’t hide a small smile. They had been expecting this day to happen for 2 years now and it was just as satisfying as they had imagined. Fangirls looked on in shock, still clutching homemade chocolates and cards, but quickly surrendered their hopes to the inevitable.
The moment was broken by Gakuto’s cry, "Okay lovebirds! It’s time to get home and find a bed to—" At that moment, Yuushi clamped his hand over the other’s mouth and proceeded to drag him away.
Shishido turned to Ohtori, with a huge embarrassed grin to match the other’s, and offered him his hand. Ohtori blushingly accepted and they walked off amidst cheering and clapping, for practice was over and they had all the time in the world to enjoy themselves.
”Um, Shishido, I just wanted to thank you for my birthday present...”
"Actually," Shishido began, steeling himself, "I meant it more as a Valentine’s present."
"I mean... err... as the couples... the gifts... um..."
A slow smile started creeping it’s way across Ohtori’s face. He was seeing Shishido, Shishido-senpai of all people stuttering for his benefit, and in public.
"I was actually just wondering if—"
"Of course, Shishido-senpai."
They had been officially dating for two months. As of yet, neither one of them had to courage to make a physical move—in fact, Ohtori was so shy that they could barely hold hands in public. Shishido was of a much different mindset, and was currently trying to break through their first small boundary.
"Ry-ou. You can say it Choutarou—"
"Shishido!" At least he had dropped the "senpai". "That’s so embarrassing, not here."
Shishido paused to take a bite out of his burger. They had been at this game for six days now, and only two days ago had Shishido managed to truncate the honorific.
"Please Choutarou, look how easy it is when I say yours."
It was increasingly pleasing to Shishido how each time he would use the other’s first name, a brilliant flush would spread across the bridge of his nose. It was times like these that even he could forget his hunger and just stare timelessly at the boy across from him.
"But it’s not the same—you’re different," he protested.
"I’m hungry, let me eat," and he buried himself into his food.
Shishido sipped from his shake and studied the silver fluffy top in his sight. He already loved the time he spent with the other but wouldn’t call it love yet. They were still so young after all, and they were certainly going nowhere unless somebody decided to use first names.
Finally Shishido was out of patience. He grabbed Ohtori’s shoulders and pushed him back out of his fries.
"Say it. Ry-ou."
"No, I really can’t..." he stammered.
Shishido sighed in mock frustration. And then in one swift move he leaned forward a slight more and brushed his lips softly across the other’s forehead.
"Now can you?"
Ohtori looked up in amazement, eyes wide, "... Ryou..."
And Shishido leaned back into his chair, job accomplished, with a cocky grin.
It was Valentine’s Day again—or Ohtori’s birthday, whichever way you chose to look at it—and it was now one year from that day. But Hyoutei still had practice and the tennis team was training early. Hyoutei high school was strict in its advocation of year-round practice for any club to ensure its reputation.
At least they were comfortable enough to change together without stammering, blushing, tripping, and other minor accidents. But they still had not even kissed.
Shishido and Ohtori emerged from the locker rooms with identical tennis bags slung over their shoulders and signature casual clothes. They discussed mundane topics, but there was tension underneath their talk. It was Ohtori’s birthday and Shishido had not made any move to give him something or surprise him so there was clearly something to come later.
And Shishido had been invited to Ohtori’s house for dinner to celebrate. He had been in Ohtori’s room many times before, from studying as friends to watching movies with shy handholding.
The first time they kiss is engraved in Shishido’s memory forever.
After a futile frantic shopping trip for Ohtori’s birthday, Shishido had resigned himself to a handmade card the night before. Shishido still couldn’t quite understand why, but Ohtori was thoroughly impressed. Somehow, that handmade sentiment had roused Ohtori to break past his usual shyness, throw his arms around Shishido, and then out of a sudden impulse, to kiss him.
And it was so shy at first, lips firmly closed but inviting, as they simply experimented with the feel of soft pressure and slight movement.
But maybe it was the fact that they had pent up all their physical affections for a year now, that they did not stop there. On their second kiss, it was Ohtori’s mouth which was parted slightly from an intake in breath, and everything else seemed to follow naturally. They shared and touched muscle with muscle, and there was no fight for dominance, just a mutual exploration into hot wetness.
So maybe it was not the first kiss. Those first series of kiss were forever engraved in Shishido’s memory.
It is senior graduation and Shishido only has a couple months left before college.
Ohtori is there in the audience, smiling and clapping and cheering as Shishido steps up for his diploma, and quickly he catches on camera a picture of Shishido in that ridiculous gown.
And then later in Shishido’s room, Ohtori is crying.
"I... I’m going to miss you so much..."
"No Chou, we’re still really close to each other okay?" He ran his fingers soothingly through Ohtori’s hair and rubbed circles in his back.
"But... you’ll be in college... with so many new people..."
"NO!" Shishido exclaimed fiercely. "I’m not going to dump you for some stupid guy in college... you don’t understand Chou... I love you so much..."
Surprisingly, it was the first time either of them had actually declared their love.
Shishido embraced Ohtori tightly in comfort, hoping that he could communicate his devotion to the other and ease him of all pain.
They never really knew what happened next, or who started. Just that were sharing a kiss, and then someone’s shirt was off, and then there was bare skin, and then the next morning came.
They are in college. Different colleges, but very close. Shishido has chosen one for its strong sports program and Ohtori another one for its music. It was inevitable they diverge in main interests someday.
"You take chamber music? What is that?"
The Starbucks located almost exactly between their dorms is their favorite place to meet. And then maybe they’ll both go to the park, a movie, or one of their dorms.
"Small ensembles of musicians, almost any variation. Last semester I had a cello quintet with another violin, a viola, and two cellos. Now because of a scheduling problem I’m in a duet with another girl named Maryana. She moved from Russia and is quite good."
"What does she play?"
They find it hard to talk about their studies sometimes, because they are so different. Talking about Shishido’s tennis is always easy, but Ohtori’s world is filled with so much that is foreign to Shishido.
Sometimes he feels like he is losing a little part of Ohtori to that world everyday.
The phone rings and Shishido answers.
"Um, I’m sorry, but I can’t play tennis today."
Shishido isn’t worried. It happens, and he does not control Othori’s life.
"No problem. What do you have?"
"Maryana told me today that she bought us tickets to see Kyung Wa Chung—you know, my idol violinist? They’re so rare and a chance like this never comes up!"
Shishido’s heart stops for a second. There is a brief hurt every time he finds that music has taken precedent over Shishido again.
"Okay. Go enjoy yourself. I’ll see you later for dinner?"
"Yup!—oh no Ryou... Maryana also wanted me to try this really good Mexican place. I’m sorry, but if it’s good I’ll take you there next week. I really have to go now, love you!"
"Love you too..." Shishido responds into a dead tone.
He feels like something is vaguely pressing down on his chest. Nothing big—although it never used to be there. Maybe it wouldn’t be there at all if this were the first or second time, but it’s the sixth time in the past four weeks that Choutarou has canceled on him for Maryana.
It is always on this day every year that Shishido finds himself nostalgic. Choutarou's birthday, the birthday that started everything.
His memory over the years has faded, but he still holds onto a few precious memories, and some that are not so welcome. The scenes are becoming shorter, and the gaps longer, but those crucial, defining moments in his relationship he always remembers.
He wonders what would have happened if they had remained friends. Perhaps those awkward meetings over the last couple decades that dwindled down to nothing would not have been so uncomfortable.
He wonders what if Ohtori’s parents were just a bit more lenient. They had waited until college to truthfully inform his parents of their relationship, and the response was not happy. Maybe if Ohtori hadn’t suffered from the parental pressure they would still be together. Maybe Ohtori would not have considered that life as a respectable, straight man would be easier.
Maybe if Shishido had refused Ohtori contact with Maryana then they would not be married. Maybe Shishido wouldn’t have experienced the pain of sitting in one of the last pews, head down, listening to the love of his life bound to another woman.
Shishido still looks around and sees the discs he has collected over the years—Ohtori’s Bach Partitas and Sonatas, the Paginnini Etudes, concertos by various composers—and winces at those few featuring Ohtori and Maryana on the cover, in blissful duet.
Sometimes Shishido still can’t fully comprehend what he lost all those years ago. It is hard for him to understand how such a strong relationship could have fallen apart with the merest push.
"Shishido-senpai, I’m so sorry, but I’ll be seeing Maryana now."
"See... I... "
"There’s just been so much pressure and..."
"I love you Ryou. Thank you for the last 6 years."
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