Notes: Sharon at fault again… Spoilers for episode 112… kinda


Fair Trade
by Arithion


Ohtori was frustrated. They'd won their game, sure, that was a great accomplishment, but still. He just wasn't happy with his performance. His scud serve had failed, well not failed as such, but failed in the respect that when he'd needed the points the most, its strength became his weakness. The fact that he couldn't completely control a serve that was that amazing was down right irritating.

Oh people would say that Ohtori Choutarou wasn't the type to get irritated, but to be honest, he got irritated when anything he was serious about didn't go right. So it came to be that he was sitting right in the middle of one of the courts of his school, just staring at the racket and ball in his hands.

There had to be something he could do about it, there just had to. With a sigh, he stood, brushed himself off and decided to head back to his dorm. He was probably going to get into trouble for coming in so late anyway, not that it really mattered. An idea struck him, and he knew that all he had to do was have he guts to ask… because he knew that person wouldn't say no. Now all Ohtori needed to do was work up the courage to ask.

He didn't realise that someone had been watching him the entire time; he didn't know that someone else was going to get in trouble for coming back too late. If he had, he might have realised that things were going to be far easier than he thought.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, and Ohtori's determination, and raw need to improve the weakness of his serve, crystallised with it. The only thing was, he needed to find out a way to improve it. He went through the day at school in a slight haze, not really paying attention to anything, or anyone. And tennis practice was almost a disaster. His concentration was shot, and he couldn't seem to regain it. All because of that damn serve. He glared at his racket while packing it away, and failed to see someone sit down next to him.

It wasn't until Shishido spoke that the other's presence broke through to him. Ohtori looked up abashedly. "Sorry?"

Shishido smiled slightly. "You've been distracted all day. What's wrong?"

Ohtori smiled, and shook his head, determined not to bother someone else with his own problems. "Oh, it's nothing."

The older boy frowned. "Bull shit it's nothing. It's been affecting your game all day, been effecting our doubles. I think that's something. Tell me."

And he wasn't sure how it happened, but his worries came pouring out. All Ryou did was sit and listen to him, occasionally nodding. When his tirade came to an end, Ohtori felt better, just for having shared it. He stood, and was about to thank the shorter boy, when he felt a hand tug at his arm. Not really knowing what else to do, Ohtori followed wherever it was that Ryou had decided to lead him.

When they started to leave the school grounds though, Ohtori dug his heals in and stopped, causing Ryou to stop and turn to look at the younger boy. He raised an eyebrow, and spoke. "What?"

"Where are we going?"

Shishido gave him a blank look, before laughing slightly, a little ruefully. "Well, I figured I'd help you with your control issues."

Ohtori felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, and he smiled, not quite daring to believe his senpai. After all, the other boy was older, and didn't have to do anything to help him. "You'll really do that?"

Ryou shrugged, as if embarrassed by the question. "Sure, why not. Just follow me."

So Ohtori followed his Senpai in silence, not quite sure what he could say that wouldn't make him feel stupid in front of the older boy, because that was the last thing he wanted to appear. Not that Ryou would try and make him feel like that; it was just that Ohtori sometimes felt so young in comparison. He wanted to excel, to prove that he was worthy of the other boy's time. Just when that need had arisen, he couldn't tell, but it was there, and didn't seem to be going away.

They arrived at what seemed to be an old warehouse, and Ohtori couldn't help but feel a little nervous, but Shishido showed him around. It suddenly became clear why they were there. In the ruins that were inside the building was a large clear area, except for a large side of concrete, with a hole in it. The hole was about twice as big as a tennis ball, and the perfect height for him to serve through to the other side.

It made Ohtori smile shyly, but he was still a little uncertain. He wanted to press the fact, just to make sure. "Is this really okay?"

Ryou answered with another shrug of his shoulders, voice dropped into a matter of fact tone. "Yeah, come anytime." There was a pause, as if remembering something he wasn't entirely proud of, but still wouldn't change if he could. "I asked you to help me last time. I'm just returning the favour." He turned, facing Ohtori in receiving mode. "Now come."

That same steely determination rose in the younger boy yet again and he resolved to fulfil his senpai's faith in him. The first serve didn't work, but then the junior hadn't expected it to. He filed Shishido's 'don't twist your wrist' advice inside and let it filter into his stance.

"One more time." Called the senior, but Ohtori didn't really hear it, as focused as he was on simply proving he could be what everyone expected…that he could achieve what he wanted to.

And as the light began to face, it didn't deter him. With Ryou standing there, urging him on, encouraging him…lighting a fire within, Ohtori didn't even contemplate stopping. Not even when the city lit up with the night lights, nor when the rain began to batter down on the rest of the area. All of his focus was directed to the racket in his hands, the ball he aimed for that hole, and the boy he wanted to reach out to with more than just his tennis. Tennis would have to do for now.

His entire body ached, and he didn't think the rain outside was helping, but still, Ryou came to him, encouraging him, holding him. Not in that way, just guiding him, and how he should position himself to get the most from his serve. Singling out his right wrist, showing him how better to hold it, imploring him that without that wrist being held in the right way, he would have no control.

It wasn't the physical touch Ohtori got from it, nor was it the actual words. All it was, was the tone, and the timbre, soothing him, pushing him on, heartening him even when all he wanted to do was collapse into a boneless puddle on the floor and give up. He fought against it, because he wasn't fighting alone. Every step of the way Ryou challenged him, daring him to give up in the face of what he could achieve if he didn't.

He'd pushed his body so far, the ache had receded to numb, and still he served. The light had come once again, heralding a new day, and all he wanted to do was fall down and sleep without dreams.

A harsh, sleep deprived voice broke through his panting breath, reaching him, chastising him, giving him back his determination.

"What's wrong? Are you done already?" Ryou stood with his hands on his hips, obviously only awake through sheer will power.

It was the push Ohtori needed. There was no way that he was going to give up, not when someone believed in him enough to endure through it all with him. Not when someone believed in him enough to push him to his own limits. And certainly not because that someone, was the person that Ohtori needed more than he'd ever realised before that moment.

With energy he didn't know he still possessed, Ohtori served once more, chanting his battle cry through parched lips. The ball exploded from the force of the racket… and sailed cleanly through the hole.

Had he had a camera at that moment, Ohtori thought he might have taken a photo of his own face, since he knew he looked shell shocked. He'd done it…he'd really done it.

A whirlwind bounced towards him, grabbing him by the shoulders and jumping up and down. Shock still embedded into his mind, Ohtori looked at Shishido's happy face… happy for him, barely registering the words. He'd never known the older boy could look so… beautiful.

As the senior then let go and ran back to the other side, Ohtori finally registered that he should not forget that form, and that he should take aim again. So he did, and he got it. Over and over again he hit the ball through that tiny hole, his mind replaying the joy apparent on Shishido's face the first time he'd managed it.

He didn't realise he'd stumbled to his knees. Vaguely he heard something calling to him, but his head was too tired to register it properly.

"Choutarou?" A hand shook his shoulder lightly. "Choutarou?" This time his shoulder was shaken a little more insistently, and Ohtori blinked blurry eyes so he could see the boy crouching next to him clearly.

"Sorry, Ryou. I…think I'm a little tired." For a moment, Ohtori could have sworn he saw a little guilt pass over the senior's face, but he thought he might have been hallucinating, considering the state his mind was currently in. Without really thinking about it, he reached out, tugging at Shishido's shirt, and pulled him into a hug. "Thank you…so much."

Overcoming a slight hesitance, Shishido hugged the junior back, tightly, almost as if he was afraid to let him go. "Don't thank me. It was a fair trade."

Ohtori just smiled, thankful that the hug was warm, reciprocated… and didn't appear to be ending any time soon.




The End

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