There were no matches for Hyoutei Gakuen's junior high division during the first weekend of the tennis season; junior tennis matches always started just a little later than senior tennis did. Sometimes, Ohtori Choutarou noted as he wrapped his scarf more tightly around his throat and stuck his hands into the pockets of his plaid school trousers, it would still snow during the high school matches. He sighed gently, and his breath puffed out with a faint cloud of mist into the still-chilly air. He was the only one here today.
Their tennis club was different this year; Hiyoshi Wakashi was completely capable as a captain and as a Singles One player, and Kabaji was still there, as silent and proficient as he'd been since the day Ohtori had first met him their first day of junior high, but there were holes now, holes that the new regulars couldn't really fill. Ohtori smiled a little at that; some of that was because Atobe Keigo had moved on, and there had always been a particular tension, a particular excitement when Atobe-senpai had led them – and Atobe had always been their leader, even during his second year, when he wasn't yet the captain. But Atobe Keigo wasn't the only hole left unfilled.
Ohtori wasn't used to playing tennis alone yet. He wasn't used to playing without the intricate patterns of protection and dependence that he'd perfected with his partner the year before. Singles was difficult, and sometimes it was lonely; it was even tempting, sometimes, to say yes to Kobayashi Kenichi's offer of doubles. Kobayashi was good, he was a natural at doubles, and Ohtori knew that they would win, if they played together. Their styles were compatible, and they would be formidable on the court. But he didn't break promises.
He and Shishido had never said that they would only play doubles together; they hadn't needed to say anything like that, because they'd just known. He didn't think it would ever be like that with anyone else.
His face split in a wide grin and his eyes widened as he heard the crack of a tennis ball hitting the taut strings of a racket, and watched the blur of the ball as it flew across the net and slammed against the hard pavement.
"Game and Match, Shishido. Seven games to four."
Shishido's mouth curved in a sharp, arrogant smile and he tossed back damp, dark hair, raking his fingertips through the jagged ends. He was growing it out, Ohtori noticed, his broad grin softening to a gentler smile. It fell to his chin now, and his cap was gone.
He'd been surprised, Ohtori thought, when Shishido had casually mentioned the week before that he'd be playing in the match – the high school division was just as competitive and as driven as the junior high, and it had been unknown until that year for any first year students to be chosen for the regulars, let alone the three who had.
Then again, he mused as Shishido strode over towards him, his long legs eating up the ground between them, maybe it wasn't such a surprise. Shishido Ryoh got what he wanted.
"It was a good match."
Shishido's grin widened and he looped his arm around Ohtori's shoulders. He shrugged slightly. "It was good," he murmured as his eyes narrowed and he watched Atobe Keigo take to the court. "I shouldn't have let him take that many games."
Ohtori's lips curved in a slight smile. "Shishido-san?"
"Hmm?" His attention had already shifted from his completed match to the one playing out before their eyes.
"It was a good match."
Shishido's mouth twisted into a smirk and he flicked his long bangs out of his eyes, raising a single brow as he peered up at Ohtori. "Thanks, Choutarou."
Shishido Ryoh had begun going over to Ohtori's house to study since late spring of the previous year.
It wasn't a coincidence that these study sessions coincided with when he'd lost the match to Tachibana and his place on the Hyoutei Gakuen junior tennis team; Ohtori, for all his undeniable talent as a tennis player, had never really registered on Shishido's radar until he found himself needing someone, and Ohtori being there.
To begin with, they hadn't seen much of each other outside of school and the late and brutal practices that Shishido had insisted upon; to hone his skills and build his endurance, and most of all, to earn back the place he'd worked so hard for to begin with, and then had carelessly let go. But then Ohtori's work had suffered, even in his best classes, and badly enough that Shishido had heard Sakaki reprimand the second year over at practices.
The reason for Ohtori Choutarou's slipping grades was obvious, and Shishido wasn't the type to let someone else slip for his sake.
The tutoring had begun with purpose; as reparation for Ohtori's help in tennis, Shishido would help him in academics – and Shishido was an excellent teacher, no-nonsense and firm, but patient in a way he wasn't with most anyone else. It barely required any time for Ohtori's grades to recover from the swift dive they had taken after Hyoutei's match with Fudomine, far less time than it had taken Shishido to claw back to his place on the regulars, but even long after, even a full year after, the twice-weekly study sessions he'd initiated in June of his last year of junior high continued. They'd stopped being necessary and started becoming part of their routine.
And there wasn't nearly as much schoolwork involved as there had once been, Shishido mused as he leaned back against Ohtori's soft pillows, his dark hair spilling across the pillows. A single, slender eyebrow lifted and he pinned his boyfriend with a mock-serious stare.
"Did you finish your essay?" he murmured as his fingers reached up to tangle in Ohtori's short silver hair.
Ohtori grinned, a bright flash of white in his face as he leaned over Shishido. "Yes, sensei," he whispered back, laughter in his voice. "Do I get a reward now?"
"Maybe," said Shishido, and then nothing else as Ohtori's lips closed over his.
Shishido's hair was just growing long enough for him to pull back into a tail, but he didn't, instead letting it brush across the shoulders of his uniform's jacket as he leaned against the cool stone walls that surrounded Hyoutei Gakuen's junior high division. He hadn't been back for nearly a year, he mused as he brushed the sleek fall of hair away from his sharply focused eyes. It looked exactly the same.
The day was cold, the wind blowing in the fierce, sharp way that it sometimes did in late March, snapping against the hard branches of the sakura trees that lined the paths and making the pale blossoms flutter in the wind and fall like the snow that had covered Tokyo only a month before. Shishido shivered a little, pulling his coat around himself more tightly and crossing his arms over his chest. He should have brought his coat, he thought with a self-deprecating twist of his lips. That would have been the smart thing to do.
"You look frozen, Shishido-san," he heard next to his ear, and he grinned as he tossed his hair back and narrowed sharp, dark eyes at the tall boy smiling down at him.
"I've been colder," he said carelessly.
Ohtori shook his head, but his smile didn't fade as he shrugged out of his own coat and draped it over Shishido's shoulders. "Aren't you going to get in trouble?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "The high school is still supposed to be in class now, aren't they?"
"Sure," replied Shishido as he slid his arms into the sleeves of Ohtori's coat and pulled it around him. "But it's hardly the first time I skipped, and I said I'd come, didn't I?" He reached up and ruffled the cool gray strands of Ohtori's close-cropped hair. "It was a good speech, Choutarou."
"I liked Atobe-senpai's, last year."
Shishido's grin widened. Atobe had been their valedictorian, of course, just as he'd been their tennis captain and their student body president. Atobe Keigo never accepted being anything less than the best, at anything.
"I don't know," he murmured as he and Ohtori started their walk towards the gates. "It was good, of course. But I think yours was better. More personal."
He tilted his head to the side, peering up at Ohtori through long lashes. "Let's not tell him I said so, though."
Ohtori's laughter was rich and bright in the chilled spring air as they stepped through the gates and into the city.
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