The balls hit the court so hard that they resound in Ohtori's ears like something final but endless and not repetitive at all. His fingers are long, almost tender looking when they grip his racket; with flesh pressed against the worn tape and slick with determination.
Forward, side step, turn of heel, Ohtori completes a succession of movements that seem too quick and agile for him to accomplish. His thought process travels beyond the periphery of his own limits, while his forehead gleams with sweat as if it is a cup of water that sits out on the deck for too long; liquid condensing from the line of his hair and down. It drips into his eyes and clings to his lashes, like beads of rain threading along his skin, and he thinks he can hear it drumming against his ears like his heartbeat in slow motion; like the balls which pound almost rhythmically to its staccato beat.
His body moves of its own accord, feet slapping against the court as he wears down the automatic machine with steadfast motions of his arm, while the rest of his body follows thereafter like a chain reaction. Somehow, he finds time to laugh between the blurry balls shot his way; quick and full of mirth, vibrating in his throat and slightly shaky with too much movement; slightly off because of how much his muscles ache.
It's a good ache; it speaks of progress and moving forward and tells him that all he has to do is try.
All the while, Shishido watches with careful eyes; narrowed and set as they focus on the way Ohtori's shoulder blades work against the damp fabric of his jersey. They resemble butterfly wings seen through a chrysalis because of the intricate patterns stitched into the brand name shirt and, for a moment, he thinks that he will be the only one to watch Ohtori climb the ladder and become one of the best. He thinks he will be the only one who sees Ohtori strip the jersey off of his limber form, like the end of a metamorphosis, and see those same shoulder blades move underneath flesh like a working art in motion. 'It's so stupid,' is what he says in his head and even in his head he sounds gruff and merciless, too hard with not enough soft edges; too sharp and never like the way Ohtori sounds.
"I did it."
Three words, three syllables that would don't sound berating because Ohtori is the one who says it and it's almost a relief because it sounds like Ohtori and no one else.
Tennis balls, yellow bright and tinged with neon green, they are spread about the court like pinpricks of hallucinogenic stars against the backwards sky of the court. The sun makes their shadows grow and Ohtori is set in the backdrop of it all, shining at the edges because the sun lurks behind his figure while his shadow meets Shishido's. Growing and, maybe, never looking back.
"Yeah," and Shishido pauses because his voice sounds too mechanized, too over-said and over-done. He coughs and clears his throat before finishing off, "Yeah, you did it," and he smiles because it's so much easier to smile at Ohtori instead of saying words that clink out of his throat like a gumball machine. The smile reaches his eyes and softens them enough for Ohtori to see that he means it; that he isn't just saying it and that he isn't just giving empty words that he doesn't know if he means or not.
There is a sigh and Shishido watches it all as if it is in slow motion; he watches as Ohtori falls to his knees and then falls backwards like a broken marionette puppet with all strings cut loose. Ohtori looks broken as if he has collapsed within himself and Shishido worries until-
"Oh god, water," gasps out Ohtori as his adams apple works against his throat because he is too busy trying to suck down as much spit to quench the desert that lurks in the back of his mouth. His fingers hurt and his legs are so numb that they shake when he props them up into 70-degree angles. He has to close his eyes because the sun is too bright, his lids are too heavy and, already, he can hear the sure footfalls of Shishido walking towards him. They sound like the tennis balls he has just finished hitting, but heavier and filled with more purpose; briefly, Ohtori wonders if his own feet will ever sound like that.
Ten seconds later, water dribbles against parched lips and splashes up Ohtori's nose, causing him to splutter furiously against the liquid onslaught because, for a second, he thinks he is drowning. He blinks tiredly, lashes wet against the pale of his cheeks, and sees the blurred outline of a bottle held above his head. The nozzle is directed at his mouth with Shishido sitting next to him and holding it in the air. He blinks again and sees the grin on Shishido's face; it looks old and tired, like the old men he sees playing chess in the park, but edged with enough of a smirk to tell him that he is still a teenager.
Still young enough and close enough for him to reach.
"Shishido-san!" it comes out almost plaintive, if not for the frown tugging Ohtori's lips in a downward curve that Shishido thinks he can follow with more than just his eyes.
"Ryou. Ry-ou," replies Shishido, lips moving slowly as if Ohtori is deaf and can only tell what he is saying by the minute movements of his mouth. He squeezes another waterfall from the bottle to shut off any indignant objections and it works because all Ohtori can do is gurgle out a few mangled words before he gratefully chugs the water down.
When the water is all gone, Shishido carelessly throws the bottle over to their bags and turns his attention to the kids that linger outside the entrance of the court. The sun fades from both their vision and leaves behind a watercolor mirage that melts into the sky and the clouds; until nothing but the fence stands out against it.
It's odd, the memories it brings to the surface; they both remember being small and having their own childish fingers grip fistfuls of wire and fence into their palms. They both remember staring at teenagers that loomed way too tall and over their heads, like giants to their proverbial world of legos and kickball, as they hit a ball back and forth. Almost like ping-pong, except that every time the ball managed to hit the sweet spot of both rackets, their teeth used to ache in an answering call as if drenched in sugar.
Most of all, they both remember staring at their own hands and tracing the imprints left along the tender paths of their lifeline; with too soft fingers and eyes wide and bright against their small faces.
'It's only the beginning for us' echoes through both their heads like a distant memory; it sounds like such a far cry from back then, when it was singular and not plural; and so very unlike the way their hands slowly intertwine over the white border that lays between them.
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