Archivist's note: this was written for the "Innocence" challenge.
Doing, Trying, Knowing
by Tk DuVeraun
Shishido Ryoh was a good sempai. Or at least, so his kouhai said. He helped Choutarou with his Scud Serve and he practiced their doubles techniques regularly, so what more was expected of him? What else were his duties to his doubles partner? Well, recently, they seemed to include keeping Choutarou's day relatively fangirl-free and jealous-boy free. Being a Regular on Hyoutei's tennis team was a badge of honor and a sign of popularity, even if said Regular didn't care about popularity. Really, sometimes Ryoh thought that Choutarou didn't care about that at all.
Not that Ryoh had a problem with Choutarou not being stained by the same vanity that had once cost him his own spot on the team, but really, it was almost painful to watch how oblivious Choutarou was to the workings in the social society of Hyoutei. Actually, if he had to bet, Ryoh would say that Choutarou didn't even know that there were two factions within the school. Those that supported the tennis team and those that didn't.
Those that did were from the richer class and looked to Atobe as their leader, as their parents looked to Atobe's, it was just how the world worked around Hyoutei. Money was power and skill was of little impact on everything else. That Atobe Keigo happened to be skilled enough to be the rightful captain of the tennis team was just a bonus.
Those that didn't… Well, they were closer in financial status to Ryoh himself. Attending Hyoutei on some scholarship or other, they depended on their own merit to pull them through classes and club activities. Instead of buying their way in, they broke through with skill to try and make things work out for themselves.
Unfortunately, even though Ryoh should have been one of them, his place as a Regular left him out and made him not an enemy, but not an ally either. He was safe from their wrath, but he was given no favors beyond that. They couldn't have cared less if the faction that supported the team and Atobe hated him and tried anything and everything to get him to quit, leave or get dropped from the team, but he was used to it. He had always fought for everything he wanted and fighting for his rightful place wasn't too much of a deviation from his typical battles.
Even now and then he would receive some support from the other Regulars, who depended on him to double with Choutarou in the Doubles One spot, but those were few and far between, so Ryoh didn't depend on them. What he did depend on was his doubles partner Choutarou to be completely oblivious to it all. The refreshing absence of tension and knowing silences helped Ryoh keep himself focused and on task. It was no time to lose concentration and get dropped when he'd fought so hard to get back on.
"Shishido-san, we're supposed to playing against Gakuto-sempai and Oshitari-sempai now." Choutarou's light shake brought him out of his brooding.
Shishido shook the hand off and suppressed a blush. Really, the factions weren't the only thing Choutarou was oblivious to. He picked up his racket and braced himself mentally for playing against Mukahi. Really, that brat was the most annoying creature to walk the planet because for all that Choutarou was clueless, Mukahi knew and saw everything. Ryoh could feel his eyebrow twitch in anticipation. He walked onto the court beside Choutarou and looked over at the corner to avoid meeting the acrobat's knowing looks.
He was still staring into nowhere two minutes later when Oshitari coughed to get his attention. "You're serving first, Shishido."
Shishido blinked a few times, his eyes coming back into focus. He looked across the net and saw Oshitari and Mukahi standing in their normal positions, as if everything were fine, but he didn't miss the blue-black bruising around Mukahi's eye, nor the tightly wrapped bandage around Oshitari's leg. He reeled mentally for a few moments before tossing the ball up and serving.
The whole match, his mind was on anything, but the game. Who would've had the gall to attack Oshitari and Mukahi? It was ridiculous. There were often sub-regulars that were beaten up, but no one had dared to lay a hand on an actual Regular, just the thought was stunning. When practice was over, Shishido took a good long look around the locker room to see if anyone else on the team had been fighting recently. His eyes narrowed, there it was, two of the newly promoted sub-regulars also sported bruising and some bandages.
He frowned as he put his things back in his locker with one hand and attempted to tie his tie with the other. Finally, he gave up and shut his locker, leaving his tie just hanging around his neck. He looked over at Choutarou and tried to clear his mind, he had promised that they would practice today and the over achievers getting nasty was no reason to break his promise. He cleared his face of most emotion and opened his mouth to tell Choutarou he was ready to go, when Choutarou's expression changed for the slightest instant before flashing back to his usual smiling self.
Choutarou came over and put a hand on his shoulder, "I'm sorry, Shishido sempai, but something came up, I can't practice today. I'll be sure to make it up to you next time." Shishido mentally froze from the shock. Before he had a chance to pull himself together and respond, Choutarou was already gone. He stood in the same place, blinking in confusion for what seemed like ten minutes, before Oshitari put a hand on his shoulder. Shishido was sure that he must have jumped three feet in the air.
"What was that for, Oshitari!? Huh?! Don't startle me like that!" He ran a hand through his messily cropped hair to try and alleviate some of his embarrassment.
Oshitari just looked at him with a calm and blank expression on his face. "It'd be best if you didn't get involved this time, Shishido. You know that talking to them won't do anyone any good. You might even incite their wrath on more of the team. Don't try to go play the hero; you're too selfish for it to work."
In the few minutes that it took for Shishido to make sense of what Oshitari had said, the tensai had also left, along with the rest of the team, leaving him alone in the locker room. He sighed and put his head on the cool metal of his locker.
"I wasn't going to play the hero. Why risk my skin when they're just being jealous brats, anyways?" But still… They were injuring the team, maybe he should go talk to them, just to find out what was going on…
With a new conviction, Ryoh threw his bag over his shoulder and walked out of the locker room, heading toward dorms, where he knew he would find the leader of the "against the team" faction.
"We aren't doing anything you guys didn't do to use, Ryoh. Not only was the first-year's scholarship revoked, but someone ran the boy's father's store into the ground. They can barely afford to send him to school anymore, let alone have him play tennis with all of the fees. On top of that, his two friends, who were second-years, both got beaten up so badly they're still in the hospital. They were told to let the kid fend for himself under pain of the beating they received. That shouldn't have happened to them just because they were trying to help a kid out." Isshin Shiba pushed his glasses up his nose, looking down at Shishido.
"Before this, affiliated parties were never injured, but-"
"How is that an excuse!? You can't just go around attacking Regulars. Oshitari and Mukahi probably didn't have anything to do with this. Why would they care about some loser on a tennis scholarship, they're already Regulars!"
Shiba narrowed his eyes at Ryoh, "You don't have the right to know how we picked them. Until you can clearly state which side you're really on, we can't tell you anything. You don't even deserve the explanation that you got. You come in here yelling and screaming about "How could you?" and you expect to be given all of the answers? With the way you're acting now, it's not too much to assume that you've finally decided to side with them completely."
"Well, what if-"
"Don't start that line of thought, Shishido-san, once you've said the words you can't take them back and your poor financial status will no longer save you from what everyone else gets. If you're one of them, you're one of them. If you're with us then-"
"How can you expect me to choose otherwise? They're my friends; I can't just let them get beaten up like that without at least trying to help." Ryoh slammed his hand on Shiba's desk. The gall of that guy…
"I see then. Well, you can expect to not hear anything else from me. If you've decided, then you'd best get away from here. Word spreads fast, and we're harboring a grudge." Shishido turned around and stalked towards the door, all too happy to comply. "Just think about it carefully, Shishido-san, just who will still be your friend if you get dropped again? They sure dropped you fast enough the last-"
Ryoh slammed the door shut on Shiba's words; he wasn't going to listen to anymore of that. "He'd never stop being my friend!"
He stormed out of the building and back towards the dorm shared by most of the tennis team. Regulars, sub-regulars and everyone else, all together under Atobe's annoyingly insightful eyes.
Ryoh was nearly pulling out his hair in aggravation. The earlier incident with Shiba had riled him up so much that he couldn't concentrate on his homework and had also caused him to stare at the same blank page for the last five minutes. "Oh screw this, I give up!"
He threw his pencil down on his desk and grabbed his coat off of the back of his chair. Shiba wasn't the only thing bothering him though. He was full of extra energy that he typically worked off during extra practices with Choutarou and it only served to further distraction, which, in turn, sealed his idea to go and walk off some of his frustration. He didn't bother with his typical cap, what was the point now anyways; he'd made a big enough ass out of himself already today, his pride could sit on the shelf for now.
Though the words had slipped by unchecked when he was still pissed off at Shiba, he'd practically gone and admitted his feelings for Choutarou. Not that he hadn't already acknowledged them himself, but anyone who had heard and who knew him would make the connection with very little effort; not that he was hiding it, but still, now that he'd switched camps, in a sense, there was no space to be fooling around like that. Fuel for the fire…
He let out a breath into the cool night air and his eyes flickered on the little cloud it left as he walked on through it. The night was colder than it should have been, but it didn't matter too much. He didn't plan to stay out long, just enough to wander the grounds a bit and relieve some… stress or whatever it was. He ran a hand through his hair distractedly.
What was with Choutarou and canceling their practice? It was the only time that Ryoh got to be alone with the kid and then he'd gone and canceled it. It wasn't like he knew…right? The kid was too naive to notice the rest of the team's relationships, so tat meant that he had to be too naïve to notice Ryoh's growing… infatuation, right? He felt a slight blush come up to his cheeks before he could check his reaction.
His eyes strayed over to the empty and now dimly lit courts. He was walking along the fence, without consciously thinking about it, when hushed voices made him stop in his tracks.
"That's him, isn't it? Mister Too Good For Us Priss. Ay least he's not shaming us anymore with that girly hair of his."
"Not that the cut shrunk his ego any. Treating Shiba-san like so much trash just because he's Regular."
"Damn snobs, the lot of them, thinking that they can get away with anything because of their status in the school. Well, they can't be that skilled if they lost to those weirdoes over at Seishun."
Ryoh resisted the urge to look towards the three voices. Every instinct ingrained within him was screaming run, but for all of his reaction time training, he couldn't make his muscles move the slightest. How could things get so bad so fast? Shiba said that it was three kids. Well, there were four on the team that were already down, what more revenge did they need right now? Couldn't his trouncing wait for the next-
Despite the situation, Ryoh was able to stop his train of thought. Had he just been thinking..? No, that was impossible. He'd gone to Shiba to help the rest of the team, I he'd been as selfish as that, then he wouldn't have said anything at all, right? Or, what if he'd only-
His thoughts were stopped a second time, but instead of Ryoh breaking it off himself, it was a punch in the dead center of his back that crashed his train. His reaction was torn between flinching backwards to curl over the pain and falling forwards away from it. "Ungh…" He eyes flickered and he tried to turn to face his attackers, but found he could hardly stay standing.
The next hit came before he was able to fully regain his balance and after his side hit the hard ground everything started to fade. I don't know what I was expecting, talking to Shiba, but this sure as hell wasn't it. If I could think right now, it would only be to regret my stupidity. Really, I jumped in both feet first and almost ended up getting myself killed and it's not even certain that I won't. And for what? A meaningless ideal that only existed in my own mind. If there was ever a time to wish that I hadn't gone to Hyoutei and gotten mixed up in its twisted politics, this is it.
After what seemed like hours engulfed in blackness, colors slowly began to return to Ryoh. He instinctively reached for his head, but something, no, someone held his right arm.
"Shishido-san, it's very late and we have practice tomorrow, perhaps it's time to go to sleep." His eyes opened wearily and Choutarou slowly swam into focus, the naïve smile and calm expression still there on his face. Moving only his eyes, his head hurt too badly to move it just now, he saw several large people holding down three or four others, probably the people that had attacked him…
Choutarou moved the hand that wasn't holding Ryoh's arm, and signaled or something to the others. Ryoh's eyes followed the movement and then the actions of the others. The attackers were carried away swiftly and soon it was just the two of them on the ground near the courts. Despite the pain that roiled everywhere within his body, Ryoh's face still flushed at being alone, and so close, to Choutarou.
Choutarou, for himself, seemed unaffected and leaned down and kissed his forehead. "You shouldn't worry about those things, Shishido-san. You're just too innocent to understand how these things work."
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