Shuusuke had had his suspicions, but he hadn’t been entirely sure. Not one hundred percent. Not until he walked out the front entrance of the school, listening with amusement to Eiji’s enthusiastic explanation of why Betta fish were fascinating, and spotted Atobe leaning against the wall, waiting. Waiting for him.
Then he was sure.
“Atobe,” he greeted, as Eiji’s exposition cut off in surprise.
“Fuji.” Atobe pushed off from the wall. “Mind if I walk with you for a ways?”
Shuusuke thought about where he was headed today. Not normally someplace he would take company like Atobe. But… yes, it might be a useful illustration. He nodded and touched Eiji’s shoulder.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Eiji.” Eiji gave him a long look, and Atobe a longer one, before he nodded in turn.
“Ok. Have fun, Fujiko-chan.” His friend winked and strolled off humming, and Shuusuke stifled a laugh. Eiji knew him very well.
Atobe fell in beside him as he turned toward his own destination, and Shuusuke spoke softly.
“There was something you wanted?” A pleasingly double edged question to start off with.
Atobe was quiet for a few moments, and when Shuusuke looked at him his expression was edgier than usual.
“You’re Tezuka’s friend, as well as one of his team members,” he said at last. Shuusuke waited for him to do something besides state the obvious.
“Has he told you that we are,” Atobe paused judiciously, as if seeking just the right words, “seeing each other?”
“Not in so many words,” Shuusuke replied, and left it at that, waiting to see what Atobe would make of it. Atobe’s answering chuckle was warmer than he had expected.
“Ah, yes. We are speaking of Tezuka, after all. I should have said, has he indicated. Well, that makes things easier.”
“How so?” Shuusuke asked.
“There was a… precautionary question I wanted to ask you,” Atobe said, glancing at him, sidelong. Shuusuke waited, keeping his expression bland, and Atobe’s expression took on a slightly disgruntled edge. “Well, I suppose I didn’t expect you to make it easy,” he snorted.
Atobe took a deep breath, and when he let it out his bearing changed, less flippant, more focused, closer to the way Shuusuke had seen him at times when he thought he had a worthy challenge on the court. And, yet, more hesitant than that. When he spoke, Atobe’s voice was quieter and more even then Shuusuke had ever heard it before.
“Anyone with the slightest pretense to a brain knows that you’re dangerous, Fuji.” He glanced over, eyes dark. “And I have to say, that smile only makes you unnerving as well as alarming. If you’re actually trying to hide it, I recommend a different tactic.”
So, this was going to be a serious conversation. Shuusuke knew from observation that Atobe didn’t like to speak seriously or let on how much he saw or knew until he could use the information to his advantage. So. Shuusuke let the smile fade, unveiling his eyes from behind his lashes. Judging by the sharp half smile that crossed Atobe’s face, he appreciated both the threat and the compliment of that honesty.
“Anyone with eyes also knows that you’re very possessive,” he continued, quite matter-of-fact. “Your team, your friends, your family,” a pause, “your captain. Anyone who harms any of those comes in very quickly for an extremely unpleasant experience of some sort.” For a moment his expression was typically mocking again. “I imagine Jirou’s delight with your little lesson to him came as a bit of a shock.” A sigh. “But I’m not like Jirou, so it seemed wise to find out now if you have any objections.”
“And if I did?” Shuusuke probed.
“If you objected I would expect it to be because you thought I was a threat,” Atobe said, elliptically. “And if you thought I was a threat, I would expect you to carve my heart out and never lose that smile while you did it.”
Shuusuke gave him the smile he didn’t usually show, the dangerous and delighted one, enjoying this opportunity to show the danger clearly to someone who seemed to respect it for what it was. This was turning out to be very interesting.
“You would be right,” he murmured.
“I didn’t doubt that I was,” Atobe shot back, calmly.
“Didn’t you?” Shuusuke prodded. “What makes you think you really understand that kind of protectiveness?” Atobe snorted again, with more disdain than exasperation this time.
“It’s true I tend to make friends who can take care of themselves, but there have been one or two. One or two pure hearts.” He looked at Shuusuke full on, eyes glinting. “And I know that if I thought you were a serious threat to his peace… I’d carve your heart out with a smile.”
Shuusuke considered. He didn’t really have any particular objections, and, if he had, that last sentence would probably have laid them to rest. But it would be nice to have confirmation, and, after all, Atobe had offered this game. So he let his expression stay cool and sharp.
“What is Tezuka to you?” he asked. Atobe tilted his head, and gave him a question back.
“Do you love him?”
Shuusuke understood that Atobe wanted his credentials to ask such a question, or hear the answer, and he did want to hear it, so he replied as accurately as possible.
“Tezuka is very dear to me.” That seemed to suffice. Atobe’s eyes softened, and Shuusuke was fascinated to see that they actually lightened, turning the color of deep water under a clear sky.
“He is silence that hears,” Atobe said at last, sounding far more casual than he looked. “He is a hand to catch my balance on. He is a drive that matches mine and a mind that can argue against me.” He fell silent, and Shuusuke decided to try drawing out the still unsaid things hinted at by a faint smile that looked remarkably like one of Tezuka’s. He was reasonably sure there was more to this than what could have been a description of a good doubles pair.
“Is that all?”
But, apparently, that was as forthcoming as Atobe was willing to be. His eyes shuttered again, and he raised a sardonic brow.
“Did you really want me to mention the part about an incredible body and hands that know exactly where to touch?” he asked. Shuusuke’s mouth twitched. An excellent deflection.
“Perhaps,” he returned slyly. Both Atobe’s brows went up, and he looked a bit askance at Shuusuke, probably trying to gauge his seriousness.
And here they were, with perfect timing, at the park where Kippei was waiting for him, standing now from the bench he’d occupied and looking rather surprised at Shuusuke’s company. And also, perhaps, to see Shuusuke without his public face.
“Shuusuke?” he asked, coming to stand close in a silent offer of support if it was needed. Shuusuke smiled, softly, up at him.
“Tachibana,” Atobe acknowledged, casually. And then he looked twice, suddenly eyeing the distance between Shuusuke and Kippei. More precisely, the lack of distance. And then he looked very narrowly at Shuusuke, who gave him an amused look back.
“Tezuka isn’t a man who can be possessed,” he noted, by way of explanation.
Atobe was very still for a moment, and in that moment Shuusuke was sure Atobe understood. That he knew Shuusuke had accepted his company on the way to see Shuusuke’s lover in order to flaunt the ease and closeness of their bond. And also to assure Atobe that Shuusuke would not contest him for Tezuka out of jealousy. And to imply that, if Shuusuke did object, it would be because he recognized a good relationship and didn’t think Atobe could supply that.
Shuusuke was, actually, somewhat impressed with the extent of understanding he read in Atobe’s face. And then he was rather surprised when Atobe flung back his head and laughed.
“Ah, very nicely done,” he said, recovering himself. “Perhaps, the next time Kunimitsu compares me to you, I’ll take it as a bit more of a compliment.” And he nodded to Kippei and continued on his way, still chuckling.
“Kippei,” Shuusuke said, gazing after Atobe with pursed lips, “please remind me that I need to have a talk with Tezuka.”
“About what?” Kippei asked, curiously, brushing Shuusuke’s hair back with a soothing touch. Shuusuke looked at him, keeping a tight grip on his outrage.
“Did you hear? Tezuka has compared me to him.” He glared at Atobe’s retreating back. “I have never been that unsubtle!”