Backstage – Part Two

Tezuka and Atobe meet while out fishing, in the Spring of their third year of high school. Conversation, verbal jousting, poetry, philosophy, angst, dramatics and humor ensue. Drama with Budding Romance, I-3

Kunimitsu had started approaching his favorite fishing spot a little warily since his schedule and Atobe’s had fallen into synch this spring. Today, however, his caution appeared unnecessary. Atobe was not waiting, with his usual edgy words and mocking smile only slightly blunted by the peace of water and silence.

Instead, he was sprawled out with one arm thrown over his eyes, looking rather rumpled. He hadn’t even set his line yet.

At the rustle of Kunimitsu setting up, he raised his arm for a moment and muttered something that might have been a greeting. Kunimitsu considered his companion as he sorted through his hooks. Atobe was a showman, even when he was relaxing. If he was showing exhaustion, he probably wanted to be asked about it.

“Are the fish particularly tiring today?”

“The fish are the very souls of courtesy,” Atobe informed him. “They’re waiting for me to recover before taking up negotiations.”

“Ah.” Kunimitsu waited, curious to see whether Atobe’s obvious desire to talk about it would win over his habit of misdirection.

“I think some of my team may fail to graduate this year,” Atobe mused. “I’m going to kill them first. Mukahi decided today was the perfect day to provoke Shishido, and told him it was a good thing he was so persistent, as it almost made up for his lack of talent. To which, predictably, Shishido replied that that was better than having a useless talent and no staying power, and becoming a drag on his partner. Which, of course, made Mukahi angry enough to resort to fists over words. You’ve never seen such a catfight.” Atobe ran a hand through his hair. “And that got their partners into it, and thank God both Oshitari and Ohtori have level heads and managed to pull those two apart. Except I’m reconsidering whether Oshitari can really be said to have a level head any more, because he decided the best way to shut Mukahi up would be to kiss him. Not that those two are anything but an open secret, but there’s such a thing as style, not to mention discretion, and I’m just thankful Hiyoshi had the good sense to chase off most of their audience before that.” Atobe sat up at last and reached for his water.

Kunimitsu found himself having to stifle a chuckle at the indignant tirade. The expressive flex and swoop of Atobe’s voice, when he was in full swing, was as good as anyone else’s extravagant gesticulation.

“Did you ever consider theatre as a hobby?” he inquired. Atobe shot him a sidelong look for the apparent non sequitur.

“Not really.”

“You would have been quite good at it, I think,” Kunimitsu told him, blandly. “Aristophanes would suit you. The Thesmophoriazusae, perhaps.”

Atobe choked, and snorted water out his nose.

If Kunimitsu were honest about it he would have to admit that Atobe wasn’t the only one who liked provoking people now and then. It was merely that Kunimitsu restrained himself, while Atobe made an art of flamboyant unrestraint. This place was where they relaxed, though, and perhaps they met in the middle, Atobe less artful and Kunimitsu less restrained.

“Your timing is as good as your humor is terrible,” Atobe rasped, recovering. Kunimitsu let a faint smile show. He didn’t think he had to say out loud that Atobe had no room to complain.

“Your team has stayed remarkably cohesive over the years,” he observed instead. Atobe waved a dismissive hand.

“It’s the doubles pairs that have been stable. Neither of them could be pried apart with a crowbar. Shishido wasn’t a Regular again until Ohtori caught up. Though I doubt Oshitari and Mukahi will continue with tennis after this year. They’re the second rank doubles team, again, and I doubt they can improve much more. At least,” he added, lip curling, “not unless Mukahi gets it though his head that contempt for his opponents won’t automatically let him win.”

“A very bad habit,” Kunimitsu agreed.

Atobe glared at him. He was very easily provoked today, Kunimitsu noted. And, apparently, more out of sorts than was immediately evident, because he declined to rise to the bait.

“In any case, I could say the same of your team. You have that mouthy little brat of yours back again, don’t you?”

“Of course.” And Arai had been deeply irate to be ousted from the Regulars by Echizen’s arrival, despite, or possibly because of, everyone else’s sure knowledge that it would happen. Tezuka shook his head. “Though you could say he never really left. He’s been practicing with us right along.”

Atobe slanted a look at him. “Ah? I wouldn’t have thought you’d bend the rules like that. Some favoritism creeping in, Tezuka?”

“It was in everyone’s free time,” Kunimitsu returned, serenely. Atobe really was off his stride today.

It wasn’t until Atobe jerked his line too hard and lost a fish that Kunimitsu thought it might be something serious. Lack of control was not normally one of Atobe’s problems, even when he was angry. Now, though, he saw a very fine trembling in Atobe’s hands, the kind that might translate into a series of bruising smashes if he had held a racquet instead of a fishing pole. He waited, patiently, for whatever was wrong to emerge.

“What are you planning to do when you graduate?” Atobe asked, at last.

“To play professionally.” Caution made Kunimitsu’s voice expressionless. Where was this going?

“Ah. Has anyone ever told you the odds of good junior players succeeding professionally?” Atobe’s voice was almost as even as his own, but the expression that accompanied it was a subtle snarl.

“No,” Kunimitsu answered quietly. The snarl was becoming less subtle, and Kunimitsu found himself a little concerned what might happen if Atobe gave his rage free rein outside of the court. He considered the problem.

He had observed Atobe interacting with his coach a few times. It was clear they respected each other, and he had thought at the time that Atobe must not be very familiar with support if he responded so warmly to such a cold trainer. He had an increasingly firm idea that someone in Atobe’s family was the source of the frustration and anger that seemed to drive Atobe’s game.

So…

“There’s supposed to be something more important. Something of higher worth,” he stated, cool and certain. Atobe stilled. “But it isn’t the same, and it isn’t enough.”

“Business,” Atobe nearly spit the word.

“Kendo,” Kunimitsu offered in return.

“They don’t understand what it’s like,” Atobe said, low and soft, staring over the water.

Kunimitsu thought about his brat , as Atobe named Echizen. He remembered the morning Momoshiro had come to practice, after finally prying the initial source of Echizen’s tennis obsession out of the boy, and proceeded to hit balls through the fence until Ryuuzaki-sensei had yelled at him.

“That may be for the best, in the end,” he pointed out. Atobe looked at him as if Kunimitsu had suggested he dye his hair orange, and he couldn’t decide which scathing retort he wanted to use first. That was more normal, and Kunimitsu relaxed again.

“That’s better,” he said, turning back to his line. Atobe arched a brow at him.

“What’s better?”

“Your temper. Not that it’s anything to boast of at the best of times, of course.”

Atobe scowled at him before turning away to fiddle with his line. At length he muttered a thank you almost as indecipherable as his earlier greeting had been. Kunimitsu smiled, amused.

“Really, you’re the highest maintenance rival I’ve ever had,” he told Atobe, deadpan.

After one blank moment Atobe laughed low in his throat and lounged back by his rod.

“As it should be,” he declaimed.

TBC

A/N: The Thesmophoriazusae is a play by the Greek comedic playwright Aristophanes; it’s full of low humor and crossdressing and sexual innuendo.