Balance

Eriol visits Hyoutei and makes Atobe an offer. Humor, I-1

Hiyoshi noticed the stranger first, and decided that he’d regret it for
the rest of his life. This was especially true since the last time a stranger
had appeared on the courts, Jirou had run off with him and there had been
some business about an antichrist, the explanation for which Hiyoshi was
determined to ignore.

The stranger seemed to hover innocently by the side of the courts, but it wasn’t
a hovering Hiyoshi was used to. Fans came and watched Atobe or, occasionally,
one of the others with rapt attention. Scouts came and watched with a measuring
sort of concentration. While the man did seem to be weighing Atobe as the boy
played a rare game with Oshitari, Hiyoshi thought that there seemed to be too
much of an edge of amusement for a scout.

Hiyoshi marched over to the interloper. “Can I help you?” he asked
politely.

The interloper eyed Hiyoshi for a moment, then smiled a bright, unnerving smile.
Hiyoshi backed up a step before he could stop himself, even as the man said, “Oh,
I’m sorry. I’m here to talk with your captain…that boy playing,
correct?” He inclined his head towards Atobe.

Hiyoshi nodded reluctantly. “You’ll have to wait until the set is
over.”

The man strolled over to settle himself on the bleachers. “Then you can
come and talk with me.” He patted the seat beside him.

Hiyoshi settled there uncertainly, painfully conscious of the fact that it would
be rude to leave an elder alone, particularly one who seemed to have business
with his captain. “Talk with you?”

The man smiled brightly. “Oh, yes, of course. You see, I think that you’re
a very observant boy and can therefore answer some of the more pressing questions,
like whether you noticed that your coach is an angel, or that one of your fellow
students is possessed.”

“…well…everyone found out just recently,” Hiyoshi said.
“The person inside Jirou ran off with him.” Hiyoshi twitched at the
sudden gleam of interest in the man’s eyes, and had to suppress another
twitch as the man very deliberately set the interest aside to continue.

“I expect, though, your being brought up in a proper home as you were, you
noticed something beforehand,” the man went on blithely. “Now, I understand
your not coming to me over it, but I still find it terribly disappointing.”

Hiyoshi scowled and eyed the man. “I…you…”

“Exactly,” the man replied. “But I forgive you.” Hiyoshi
listened, more or less, for a few more minutes as the man went on. He was lost
enough, in fact, that he didn’t notice when Atobe came over to glare at
them.

“Excuse me, but I’m afraid we don’t allow visitors during practice,”
Atobe interjected. The man looked up at Atobe with an expression of polite disinterest
that Hiyoshi recalled from Atobe’s own repertoire.

“Of course,” the man said. “You know, I thought you’d
be more entertaining.”

Atobe hmphed and lounged against the air. “I’m eminently entertaining
at all times.”

Hiyoshi felt a spike of terror go through him as the man’s look turned thoughtful.
“Of course, Atobe-kun,” the man said smoothly. The man’s smile
was the brightest Hiyoshi had seen him give yet. “I have a modest proposal
for you.”

Atobe straightened to give the man a hard look. “I especially cannot tolerate
scouts interrupting practice,” he said coolly. “While I sincerely
appreciate your interest and will be willing to talk to you should you come at
another time, my first responsibility is to ensure the well-being of my team,
which means that practice should not be interrupted.”

“Of course, Keigo-san,” the man replied, rising. “I only intended
to offer my assistance in this rather confusing times. I could prevent incidents
like, say, the one that occurred with Akutagawa-kun, but I understand if you’d
rather take the risks that you’ll be facing in the Nationals on your own
power. I certainly admire it.” The man turned to walk away.

“…wait.” Atobe stared hard at the man, and Hiyoshi noted that
his captain’s mouth turned down in a rather sour frown usually associated
with Jirou running off the court to tell Atobe something interesting. “What
risks are you talking about?”

The man waved expansively. “Oh, Archangels backing up Fudoumine and Seishun
Gakuen, and a high level demon adopting Rikkai. You’ll be pleased to know
that Seigaku’s archangel has taken care of ’Mitsu-kun. That’s
Tezuka Kunimitsu.”

Hiyoshi noted that Shishido, who had just walked over with Ohtori, looked as if
he wished he had a camera to catch the appalled look on their captain’s
face. Atobe’s mouth worked silently for a moment before he said, “Do
you know him, then?”

“’mitsu-kun?” the man said. “Of course I know him. He sent me
out of concern that the matches would be unbalanced with the support you have.
Kunimitsu is very concerned with fairness, as I’m sure you know.”
The man returned Atobe’s suspicious look with unbelievable innocence. “In
any case, should you wish for my assistance, you’ll find my card behind
the photograph by your bedside.”

“You’ve been in my room?” Atobe asked, frowning. “You
shouldn’t have been able to get in.”

The man nodded. “I wasn’t able to get in, Keigo. And if you don’t
wish to contact me, my card will not be there. It will only be there if you do
wish to contact me.” The man turned again to walk away.

“What’s your name?” Shishido asked him, as Atobe didn’t
seem inclined to speak to the man again. The man smiled sunnily at Shishido and
inclined his head to him.

“Hiiragizawa Eriol, at your service.” With that, the man disappeared
in a cloud of cherry blossoms. Shishido dashed over to where Eriol had been standing
and looked around, but Hiyoshi was already turning back to Atobe, who suddenly
looked thoughtful.

“Hiiragizawa,” Atobe murmured.