Sap-ish. Also, strongly inspired by Monnie's version of ShishiTori, not having one of my own to go by.


Spineless
by Aki


Ohtori needs to grow a fucking spine. You can't believe the way he sucks it up, the way he ducks his head and just...endures the way the seniors on the team beat on him. They order him around, shove him off the courts when he's trying to practice, and laugh at his serve even though it's got to be at least twice as fast as theirs, and he just does something with his eyes so that it looks like he's smiling. Holy crap. It'd be kinda heroic if it weren't so pathetic. It makes you want to puke, so sometimes when you're around you tell them to shut up. Since you can kick all their asses even though you're a second-year, they usually say something dumb and then slide away, looking for another target.

Hyotei kinda sucks like that, and Ohtori doesn't get it. He thinks that if he just keeps being nice back they'll eventually get tired of making his life hell. You don't know why the teachers keep saying dumbass things like that, because it wasn't true in elementary school and it damn sure isn't true now. The only way you've ever found to get someone off your back was to kick his ass. Ohtori would probably flip out if you even suggested it. What a waste of muscles. Sometimes you feel like asking him for those extra inches; it's not like he's using them.

He's got potential, though, even if no one else seems to see it. You're kinda hoping that he doesn't fix that serve anytime too soon, because there are only going to be three new Regular spots after this September, and every one of them has about a jillion people lined up behind it. Not that you have anything to worry about; your spot's as good as won.

************

You've lost your spot. You can't believe it but it has to be true because you're still feeling so shitty that you think you just might lose your mind, too.

You lost and it wasn't even close, wasn't even a match. It was just ugly. It was so much worse than you've ever thought it would be because you've just never really thought about it before.

You think you know how you can get it back, though, and it doesn't matter that no one's ever gotten it back; you can do it. But you need him to help.

Predictably he says something nice and useless, and you grit your teeth and don't shout "Grow a fuckin' spine, Ohtori!" because you do need his help. And he's nice but he's not that dumb and he has to know that you'd break every bone in your body if it meant getting back your spot on the team, he has to. There's no way he'd say no unless--shit--unless he was trying to get revenge. By not helping. But no, that doesn't seem like the kind of thing he would do.

He says yes and inside you're collapsing with relief, but your face just gets harder and says, "Great. Let's start now."

And after a little bit he says yes to that too.

*************

The first couple of times you wonder if he's going to be able to make it over the net, much less into the service box. You start to get impatient and after the third try you say, "Come ON, Ohtori!" and he just nods and tosses the ball up, bending deep in the knees and then--

So this is what it's like to have the wind knocked out of you. You didn't think it would hurt like that but it does, a tennis ball that turned into a train. Ohtori drops his racket and comes running, vaults over the net even as you wave him back. Get back, you want to say, except that you can't breathe and you can't even get up yet. Do it again, you try to scream, but it comes out in a wheeze that he doesn't even hear. "Shishido-senpai!"

"I'm fine," you finally manage to say. "Do it again, and hit harder this time."

Get up, you fucking loser, you scream at yourself.

Ohtori is biting his lips and looking down at you and it only makes you madder. You uncurl yourself with rage more than anything and say, "Don't be so spineless, just do it."

His lip drops from his teeth in shock and before you even have time to feel bad he's back over the net, picking up his racket. And you don't have time to think about it again, because the ball's just there already and it clips you on the shin, fast enough to burn.

At the end of the session not even rage can get you up and he says quietly, "Come on, senpai, we can try this again tomorrow," and you pull back your hair with a shaking hand and start to say "We can try it again now." But you stop, because he's doing that thing with his eyes, where he tries to look like he's smiling.

****************

You know, somewhere deep down inside, that what you're doing isn't...really...nice. You're making him help you, and it takes up his time and energy. Sure, you tell him that it's helping his serve and his control too, but he could practice that on his own, without having to hear you swear every two minutes, without waiting for you to recover.

It takes up something else in him too. He doesn't like hurting people, and you know he's pushing himself every time he slams another ball across the net, trying not to hold back because you yelled at him and told him not to. He just doesn't know how to say no to people, and that's going to get him killed here. You talked to a senior once who'd gone on to a public high school and asked him how it was out in the "real world." He'd stared and said, "Are you kidding? The real world's _nice_ compared to Hyotei." Ohtori isn't going to last on this team, because someone's going to take away his spot and he'll just be too spineless to fight back.

It might even be you, and somehow that makes you feel...even less nice. And if you didn't want your spot back so bad, you might have even cared.

*****************

The only way you know for sure that you're getting better is by looking at your bruises. At first they don't even have time to heal, they just layer up, swollen red patches that turn black-blue overnight.

One day you notice that they fade to greenish-yellows and colors that remind you of the water left in a cup for paintbrushes. But you never get to see them fade completely because there are always new ones. Sometimes, though, you can move out of the way, and the ball just barely nicks you, or at least hits you in a different spot. You get bruises in some really strange places and your mom keeps worrying that someone's going to call the police. You tell her not to worry and that you need a jock cup.

Ohtori's finally stopped apologizing for every shot.

A week later your feet move even before your mind can and you reach out a hand, feeling something smack into it so hard that it knocks your whole hand numb. But you don't care, because your fingers are closing around victory.

He's saying something from across the court, and you fling your stinging hand up with a whoop. You can barely hear him over the voice in your head saying that you did it, you did it!

Now you can get your spot back for sure.

*****************

It isn't going to work, it isn't going to work, and maybe three weeks ago you never would've had that thought but that was three weeks and maybe six hundred Scud Serves ago. Your head feels really weird, too light and cold and it still isn't going to work, the bastard, and you're just about to start yelling when Atobe saves you.

You're so grateful to be saved that even the fact that it's Atobe can't make you regret it. It's only when he nods towards Ohtori and you re-realize that this is Hyotei, that this is how things work here and that only Ohtori didn't see this coming, that something starts to break through the relief. Wait a minute, you want to say. It doesn't have to be him, does it?

When you hear the word "doubles", you regret having had the thought.

****************

He's a lot faster at learning to play doubles than your hair is at growing long again. His baseline play is steady and strong, even though you are now and will probably always be quicker on your feet. It feels crowded most of the time, having to think about two bodies in a space where there should only be yours. But when it's his turn to serve you like watching a little fear flit across your opponents' faces. That's when it feels pretty good, being on the other side of the net.

He never holds back now, and he never apologizes. At least, not out loud. When the two of you win, and you win a lot, he straightens up and smiles at you, but with a real smile. You like the way it looks on him. It makes him look...less spineless.

***************

You call him Choutarou by accident, and it embarrasses the hell out of you. He looks up at you, startled, and it makes a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, because you wonder if he knows how much you think about him.

Then he smiles. "I like it when you call me that," he says, and you get even more embarrassed.

***************

Your own hair is just starting to stick out from under the cap, tickling your ears, when you touch his hair for the first time. It's as soft as it looks. Softer than yours.

***************

You reach over to push his head gently. "Hey, Choutarou, hand me the water bottle." He hands it to you, and you stretch out and drink.

Gakuto passes the two of you, sitting against the chainlink fence already, and makes a face. "Slackers."

"Slacker yourself," Ohtori grins, making a face back. "We finished our set already."

"Don't let Atobe catch you napping," and Mukahi does a lazy backflip, waves in the buchou's direction.

"Don't worry, we'll just say we're keeping Jirou company," and your partner winks across the court as Atobe turns to stare.

Now your jaw drops, because, okay, Atobe's just not the kind of person you go around winking at. And maybe Atobe's surprised too, because he just kind of stares back for a second and then turns back to the match he's watching Hiyoshi play.

**************

"Hey--Choutarou?"

He turns to look at you and smiles. "Hai, senpai?"

"Uh. Nothin'."

He stares at you a bit curiously, but then the smile overruns his face again. "Okay."

You tell yourself that you're fucking pathetic. But somehow it doesn't make you feel all that bad, because he's still right there beside you, on the court and off.

You don't really think he'd be mad, or even all that surprised if you did say something. You're learning not to underestimate him. But you can't bring yourself to do it, somehow. Everything's just so awesome the way it is now, you're scared to change it even a little bit. And saying something would probably mean changing it a lot.

So you just kind of look at him instead and try not to smile too hard or anything lame like that, and try not to have retarded daydreams where you tell him everything and still get to see what that cross looks like against his bare chest. It's bad enough that you get them at night, and you're never going to say anything because, shit, what if he thinks that's really gross?

He'd probably forgive you and go on being nice, because he's just like that. He could probably forgive you if you kicked him in the nuts, because he'd just make himself, the way he made himself hit those serves.

Ohtori Choutarou definitely doesn't need to grow a spine.

But you kinda wish that you could.




The End

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