Notes: I adore Ohtori because he's a music boy re: 20.5 profile. Therefore, this included, all my ToriShishi to date have music-related titles, because I am a dork and I like being a dork.

Especially for Sharon from Shi Lin, Christmas 2004



Duet: Andante
by Shi Lin


The bus ride back is like all Hyoutei bus trips they take: cool, comfortable, and quiet, especially since Mukahi isn't there to quarrel with Shishido. Ohtori sits beside the latter, who gets the window seat by tacit acquiesence, and they pull out of the parking lot at Atobe's languid command. Hardly a word is spoken, and from the speakers the rolling melodies of Atobe's CD (the Pastoral Symphony from Handel's Messiah, Ohtori recognises) are a constant stream of sound that fills the silence. A good amount of the music Atobe likes is almost embarrassingly baroque, but this is pleasant enough, and Ohtori lets his mind drift with the full, lilting euphonies, absently tapping out the rhythm on his knee.

Shishido falls asleep ten minutes into their journey; Ohtori is made aware of this by a small rustling noise that precedes a soft thud as Shishido's head hits his shoulder. Ohtori blinks, stifles a yelp, and regards his slumbering senior with in amazement. In all the time he's known him, Shishido-san never naps on buses. Perhaps it is the music.

When Ohtori glances up he catches Oshitari's gaze from across the aisle, bright and amused behind wire-rimmed glasses, and he quickly looks away.

Ohtori surreptitiously studies the rise and fall of Shishido's chest; his sleep-softened features, the oddly vulnerable air he acquires in the absence of his cap. The gelled strands of Shishido's dark hair are already drooping, begining to be rumpled. Memory surfaces, then: a concert by their school's piano society, which Shishido attended only to make Ohtori stop nagging (in his words); a hall black except for the brightly-lit stage, and a replay of this scene twenty minutes into Satie's Nocturnes. In a fit of exasperation he'd prodded Shishido awake, ruthlessly crushing the tactile recollection of warm breaths gusting over his skin in the cold air of the hall (Shishido's head had been closer than it was now, his lips just grazing Ohtori's collarbone) and the fresh scent of mint deodorant.

(Choutarou, Shishido-san later swears, having by superhuman effort managed to stay awake for the rest of the three hour-performance, you are never dragging me into another concert hall for the rest of my life. Never.)

He pictures this same person with eyes blazing at him from the opposite court - such a strange position - and he recalls Seigaku's Kikumaru Eiji, brightly telling him that a doubles partner makes the best rival, nya, Ohtori, don't you think? Ohtori watched him walk off with an arm over Ooishi Shuuichirou's shoulders, both of them laughing, and now he flashes back to the half-embarrassed smile he exchanged with Shishido-san after that match, gripping each other's hand so tight Shishido-san had winced.

The bus jolts slightly when it stops at a red light. Ohtori exhales, presses his back into the velvety fabric of his seat so that the subdued rumble of the bus engine chatters through his bones. Clarinets trill out arpeggios in the background, and Ohtori closes his eyes, thinking of lines and spaces. Of expansion.

Shishido sleeps on a perfectly still shoulder for the rest of the trip back.

----

"Choutarou," Shishido says after they've been dismissed, "let's go for a run before going home."

He consents - there is very little Shishido-san asks of him that he does not agree to - and they change, stuffing their duffels into their school lockers. They leave the Hyoutei grounds and head for the nearby park, saying little as their sneakered feet drum out a dull rhythm on the concrete paths: one, two, one, two, quick and steady as a heartbeat. On their third round a couple of girls in the Hyoutei uniform have appeared on a bench some distance away (two of Ohtori's yearmates, in the class next to his). They wave; Ohtori waves back, and they giggle shyly as Ohtori and Shishido pass them. Shishido adjusts his cap, saying nothing, and Ohtori flashes a quick, apologetic smile at the girls before they fall out of view.

"Friends?" Shishido eventually asks.

Ohtori glances at him. "Yearmates," he clarifies. "I hardly ever talk to them."

Shishido nods, looking fleetingly abashed, and they continue jogging in silence, their sneakers hitting the path in unison.

One last round, a turning out of the park, and then they are back in the Hyoutei compound, sweat-soaked from the unseasonable heat. Shishido scrubs his face with the front of his shirt, but Ohtori makes for his locker, digging his towel out of his duffel. When he looks up a can hurtles towards him, and he yelps, barely managing to prevent it from smacking him into face.

"Shishido-san, honestly." Ohtori clutches the can, cold and beaded with moisture, and shoots his senior an annoyed look.

"Is that all the thanks I get?" Shishido asks dryly, popping the tab on his own drink. "Come on, it's too hot to hang around here."

They wander out to the shade of the steps in front of their tennis club's personal gym. Shishido sits down, stretching out his legs with a contented noise, and Ohtori follows. There are a couple of birds trilling in the distance, but other than that the place is deserted: they are alone here; everyone else has left. Ohtori takes a mouthful of lime- flavoured isotonic liquid, swirling its salty-sweet taste around his mouth. Beside him, Shishido gulps the last of his drink and puts his empty can down with a hollow clunk, sitting back on his palms.

"You've been weirdly quiet lately, Choutarou," Shishido finally remarks.

Ohtori studies the silver-and-green of the can in his hands, and does not feel surprised.

"Have I really?" he asks, but they both know it is an empty question.

"Yes." Shishido sits up, snatching off his cap and running his hair back with an impatient sigh. "Since that match."

"Oh."

"Choutarou." And there is something in Shishido's voice that makes Ohtori turn, stifling the urge to avert his eyes.

"I thought we settled everything on the court that day," Shishido continues, pinning him with a straight, sharp gaze. "You did enjoy yourself, didn't you?"

Ohtori exhales carefully. "I did."

"Then what's the problem? I did too." Shishido picks up his can again, crushing it in one hand, and Ohtori winces at the grinding creak of aluminium being flattened. "It was a good match. We should practice against each other more often."

I know, Ohtori wants to say. I know. You're right, and Tezuka-san was right, too, when he broke us up. I accept that, and it was a good match, you against me and me against you one hundred percent, but...

It is hard to explain to Shishido-san something that he isn't sure of himself. Ohtori is aware that a post-game rush of endorphins will make things seem simpler, clearer, better than they might actually be; Ohtori only knows that things have changed, might continue changing, and if they both haven't made it to the Junior Challenge this time, plenty of uncertainties remain. The season is drawing to a close. He does not allow himself to dwell on the subject of the third-years' impending retirement, but as the days pass it becomes harder to forget, it becomes difficult to concentrate on more important things (but that's important too, a rebellious voice insists at the back of his head, of course it is.)

Ohtori focuses on the realisation that Shishido-san thinks of him an equal, a joy equally fierce and quiet. Next year, he knows, he will ask not to be a doubles player. Not in his last year; not in the remaining time he spends as a Hyoutei member, at least.

"You know," Shishido says after a pause. "You should stop thinking so much."

Ohtori's head snaps up, startled out of his reverie. "I - Shishido-san?"

Shishido jams his cap on backwards and stands, dusting off the bottoms of his baggy sweatshorts. "Choutarou." He squats, picking up the twisted husk of metal at his feet. "You're my doubles partner. I don't care who else you or I play with next time. You're with me now, and tomorrow can do whatever it wants to." His back is facing Ohtori, and on the ground his shadow is long and blurred in the reddening sunlight, his left elbow bobbing up and down as he vaguely tugs at the hem of his T-shirt.

"That's all you need to remember," Shishido adds after a pause, a rare note of embarrassment colouring his voice. "Well, I'll...make a move first."

Shishido starts to walk off, hands shoved into his pockets. And almost before Ohtori can think he is on his feet, the half-finished can getting knocked over in his haste and spilling fizzy green liquid over the steps. And then he has closed the distance between them, and Shishido-san squawks in utterly undignified manner when Ohtori grabs hold of his wrist, whirling him around so hard his nose slams into Ohtori's collarbone.

Ohtori closes his eyes, and contemplates the simplicity encapsulating the word trust; of how precious, how real it is, here and now in his grasp.

"...Choutarou," Shishido mutters, his voice muffled by Ohtori's shirt, "Let go, you idiot, you're hurting me."

"I - I'm sorry!" Ohtori yanks his arms down to his sides like they've been scalded, his face on fire. "Shishido-san...I -"

He blinks; Shishido's warm palm is suddenly pressed over his mouth. His partner, Ohtori notices, is looking anywhere but at him.

"Whatever it is, it's okay," Shishido mumbles, an bright streak of red highlighting his cheekbones. "Leave it, Choutarou. I know."

(And there is nothing else to do, really, except to smile against those rough, familiar fingers, and then to laugh, their voices echoing bright and clear in the evening air; nothing to say but we'll play tomorrow, and to remember what it means: a statement, an appointment, a promise. And that is, indeed, okay.)




The End

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