Ohtori's dorm window faced the tennis courts.
Most people wouldn't consider that to be a spectacular view, by any means, especially at Hyoutei, where the competition included views of the Tokyo skyline and the semi-large lake on school grounds.
Ohtori liked being able to look at the tennis courts, though, especially at night. They were peaceful. Looking at them helped him think.
He'd needed to think a lot the past couple of days, every since Hyoutei's disastrous loss to Fudomine at the tournament the weekend before.
He'd never seen Shishido-senpai so pale before, and his sardonic smirk was conspicuously absent.
Shishido had been missing for two days, and Ohtori was getting worried.
He had only really met Shishido this year, but he had first seen him on the first day of tennis practice his freshman year.
Shishido had, Ohtori recalled, been walking past the crowd of first-year students with Atobe and Kabaji, and his hair had been pulled back in a silky ponytail.
The ends of it had brushed lightly against Ohtori's arm as the second-year student had sauntered by. He had wanted to hold it, to see if it was as soft as it looked.
He didn't do that, of course. It wouldn't have been appropriate.
But every day after that, Ohtori had spent a certain portion of practice watching his senpai. The other club members had teased him when they noticed, and Shishido had aimed an amused smirk in his direction, but he hadn't cared, much.
Ohtori sighed softly. Shishido hadn't been at practice for two days, and he rarely saw the third-year players at school.
He wasn't ashamed to admit that he missed his senpai.
Ohtori stared pensively out at the courts, not really seeing them as he wondered what he could do about this situation. He lost himself in his thoughts, and it was a few minutes before he realized something. The tennis courts weren't empty, even though it was past nine.
Shishido-senpai was out there.
Ohtori's lips parted slightly, and his eyes widened before narrowing a little in thought.
"I'm going out to the courts," he said abruptly to his roommate, as he grabbed his jacket from the hook.
Yunokawa raised his eyebrows as he looked up from the French textbook he had been studying. It was a little late, in his opinion, to be playing tennis. But he didn't play the game, and knew nothing about it, except that his roommate was unusually serious about it.
As far as he could see, the only things that Ohtori really pushed himself for were tennis and the violin.
He opened his mouth to reply, and then snapped it shut.
He would have been speaking to an empty room.
Shishido was hitting tennis balls, and no one was returning them. He wasn't used to that anymore.
His father had given him his first tennis lesson, when he was six, but after that, he hadn't had time to teach him. So he'd practiced by himself, for the most part.
He hadn't had to do that in years.
He'd shown talent for the game, early on, and there were always people who wanted to play him.
He could defeat most of them; enough of them that he was cocky and confident anytime he played a game.
It was, he thought with a bitter smile, an attitude that was practically asking to be crushed.
Shishido drew back his arm and forcefully hit the ball back across the court. It traveled in a brilliant yellow blur, and landed on the other side with a satisfying thump. Shishido's mouth tilted at the corners in a mockery of a smile.
He was good, but he wasn't good enough, it seemed.
"Shishido-senpai," came a hesitant, familiar voice from behind him.
"Ohtori," acknowledged Shishido. "Shouldn't you be in your dorm room?" he asked, turning his head, and giving the tall junior an imperious look.
Ohtori shrugged sheepishly. "Yes," he stated, "but my window faces the courts, and I saw you playing."
"Oh?" Shishido raised his eyebrows. "Well, you should go back inside. I'm sure you have work to do."
"I'd rather stay here," Ohtori returned quietly.
Shishido fixed Ohtori with a glare. "I don't need you here," he said coldly. "When I return to the regulars, I'll have done it myself."
Ohtori didn't speak for a minute; he knew what the policy at Hyoutei was, and he knew that Shishido was even more aware of it.
There was no real purpose in pointing out the obvious, that once a regular spot was lost, it wasn't regained.
"Can I play with you?" he finally asked. "I need to work on my serve anyway."
Shishido stared at the younger player for a long moment, and finally shrugged. "Fine," he said. "Do whatever you want."
"Thanks!" Ohtori said as he bounded around the fence. "I'd work on it more with my doubles partner, but he dove to the ground the last time I sent one over the net."
Shishido smirked. "Taki did? Surely it can't be that bad."
Ohtori smiled sheepishly as he took up his position on the other side of the court. "Well, it does tend to go wild. I can't manage to get it to land where I want it most of the time."
"Ah," said Shishido. "You need to work on your aim."
Ohtori nodded. "Thanks, senpai," he said as he tossed the ball lightly up in the air.
It was nothing more than a flash of neon yellow when it crossed the net.
Shishido turned his head and stared at where the ball had landed. "Fast," he murmured to himself. He turned back to Ohtori. "Has it been clocked?"
The junior nodded as he picked up another ball. "It was at 92 when we checked it yesterday." He slammed another ball across the net.
Shishido dove after it, but missed. "Damn," he muttered. "I'm not fast enough."
Obviously, he continued bitterly to himself. He hadn't even been fast enough for Tachibana, and Fudomine's captain had certainly not had anything like this up his sleeve.
His weakness was also his strength; Shishido was a little faster than average players, and he'd used that to his advantage throughout his tennis career. But he wasn't fast enough for it to make much of a difference to the strong ones. He needed to get faster. He needed to reduce his reaction time.
He couldn't do either of those things by himself, Shishido realized as he pulled himself up off the hard surface of the tennis court. He needed someone to help him.
Specifically, he needed Ohtori.
He gave the junior a crooked smile. "I have an idea, Ohtori," Shishido said. "Will you help me?"
Color rose in Ohtori's cheeks. Shishido didn't often smile, he thought, and he'd never smiled directly at him. "I'd like to help you, Shishido-senpai," he said, running a hand through his hair. "What's your idea?"
Shishido turned his back on Ohtori, sliding his racket carefully back into his bag. He walked back on the court. "Hit the ball at me."
"Hit the ball, Ohtori. This is how you can help me."
When Shishido opened his eyes the next morning the first thing he saw was his own arm, dark with bruises. He groaned.
He was stiff, and sore, and he did not want to get up.
But he would, he thought. Soon, because if he didn't make it to class, he would not only have someone at his door that afternoon with his assignments and a written reprimand from the homeroom teacher, but he'd likely have a panic-stricken Ohtori, as well.
The junior had winced every time one of his serves had hit his senpai. If Shishido stayed home from class, then Ohtori would certainly not agree to "practice" again. The other player was, in his own way, as stubborn as Shishido was.
Shishido needed Ohtori's help, so he would have to make the effort to go to class.
"Hey," came a voice from next to his bed. Shishido shoved his hair out of his eyes and scowled at his roommate.
Izumi was a short blond in student government, and they'd been roommates for the better part of three years now. That said, they had learned early on that it was best to keep contact at a minimum.
Izumi had a tendency to want to smack Shishido during the tennis player's more self-involved moments, and Shishido found his roommate to be way too earnest.
So it was surprising to see Izumi's large brown eyes looking at him with concern.
"Are you getting up?" continued the little blond.
Shishido shoved himself upright. "Yeah," he said. "I'm getting up."
Izumi didn't say anything else for a moment, instead watching as Shishido tossed the covers back and staggered to his feet. Then he turned and grabbed something off his desk.
"Here," he said, tossing the bottle of aspirin at his roommate. "I think you'll need this if you intend to walk around all day."
Shishido raised his eyebrows at Izumi, who was being unusually helpful. "Thanks," he said gruffly.
Izumi shrugged, and went back to knotting his tie. "It's nothing. I play soccer sometimes, and we get bruises. Next time, you might want to take some before going to bed. You won't be so sore."
Shishido blinked at Izumi's bent head. "Thanks," he said again.
His roommate waved a hand negligently at him. "Whatever," he said. "I've got to get going - committee meeting this morning."
For a while after the door had closed behind Izumi, Shishido stared at it. He wondered if Izumi had suddenly gone through a personality change, or if he was the one who had changed.
Upon reflection, he figured it was probably the latter.
Morning classes were a fairly painless endeavor. He'd gotten a lot of double takes of course; he was covered in bruises, but no one commented.
That would have been different, probably, if he had been in class with Gakuto and Oshitari. Mukahi, in particular, was cocky and didn't know when to leave something alone. Oshitari rarely said anything, but his smirk rivaled Shishido's own. It was infuriating.
As it happened, the only two tennis club regulars in his class were Atobe and Jiroh. Atobe had just looked at him silently. And Jiroh…well, Jiroh had slept through most of his morning classes.
In any case, Shishido made it to lunch without having to snarl at anyone, which was generally a sign of a superior day.
But then lunch came. And Ohtori.
Later, Shishido would wonder why he bothered flipping his head around, when it was perfectly obvious who the shout came from. Who else would shout at him from across a crowded cafeteria?
He waited patiently as Ohtori jogged across the crowded room towards him.
"Are you okay, Shishido-senpai?" began the junior in a rush. "They look painful; I knew we shouldn't have done that last night. Did you put ice on them?"
"Ohtori…" started Shishido, but his partner was undeterred.
"You have to be careful, Shishido-senpai," he continued. "Doing things like that is dangerous. I don't know how I let myself be convinced…"
"Ohtori," Shishido said again, in a firmer voice.
"You know, my mother swears by aloe vera; she says it's very soothing. You should try putting some of that on. Oh, and are you coming to practice today? You should come back to…"
"CHOUTAROU!" Shishido's voice was very exasperated by this point.
Ohtori blinked down at him. "Huh?"
"I'm fine," said the Hyoutei senior.
"Oh." Ohtori blushed. "Sorry."
Shishido shook his head in amusement. "It's okay. Come on, let's go eat lunch."
"Okay!" said Ohtori brightly.
They walked in silence for a time, before Shishido plopped down under a tree and unwrapped his lunch.
Ohtori spoke again, hesitantly. "Um, Shishido-senpai…"
"Hmm?" said Shishido as he pulled apart his chopsticks. "And you can stop calling me senpai now, I think. My name's Ryoh."
Ohtori blushed. "Okay, Ry - Shishido-san." He gulped.
"I suppose that works, too," Shishido said with a small grin. "Were you going to ask me something, Choutarou?"
"Uh, yeah," said the junior. "Are you going to come back to practice today?"
Shishido gave Ohtori a long look, and then shrugged. "Yes," he said. "I suppose so."
A bright smile lit up Ohtori's face. "Good," he said. "I worried about you while you were gone. So did everyone else."
Shishido snorted lightly. "Sure," he said skeptically, forestalling the junior's protest with a wave of his hand. "Eat your lunch," he ordered. "Or we'll both be late for our classes."
Ohtori nodded. "Yes, Shishido-san," he said. He ate in silence for a few minutes.
"This is nice," he said, speaking again. "Quiet. Do you eat out here often?"
Shishido sighed. "Lately I have." He gave Ohtori a sidelong glance and shook his head. The junior was ignoring his food in favor of watching his senpai.
Normally Shishido would have enjoyed the attention - accepted it as his due. But for some reason, it wasn't that important to him anymore.
"Eat, Choutarou," he said. "Or you'll just be hungry later."
Ohtori smiled and ducked his head. "Yes, Shishido-san."
The rest of lunch passed in a reasonably peaceful manner.
Neither of the two boys noticed the figure leaning against a tree a few yards away.
That was just the way Atobe Keigo liked it.
End of Part 1
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