The first time Ryou found himself admiring his partner’s body, he chalked it up to hormones and went on from there. He’d read his mother’s old human biology textbooks, and knew he was at the age where these things were supposed to start happening. It wasn’t the first time he’d caught himself looking at one of his teammates, either.
After a few months, though, he started noticing something.
When he looked at Choutarou the appreciation wasn’t colored by his usual awareness that he’d sooner sit through a makeover with his brother’s girlfriend than let the person in question within actual arm’s reach. And half the time it wasn’t precisely Choutarou’s body he was appreciating. Of course, Choutarou was striking to look at; the contrast of silver hair and large, dark eyes got lots of attention. But what caught Ryou’s attention was the poise of that tall figure; the straightness with which he always held his shoulders; his habit of running a hand through already rumpled hair, making it glow as it feathered down again; the way his eyes brightened and warmed, like chocolate melting, when Ryou complimented his technique.
By the time Ryou figured out that he was genuinely attracted to his partner, and it probably wasn’t going away, he had it pretty bad.
Some people, especially a certain other, really annoying, Hyoutei doubles pair, might have said it was a perfect setup. Ryou knew better. For one thing, he had no idea what Choutarou liked. His partner’s reserve made him one of the most asexual people Ryou had ever known, short of Hiyoshi. And while Choutarou was a lot nicer about rebuffing advances than his yearmate, everyone who made one to date had still been turned away.
Ryou had no intention of screwing up their combination by coming on to his partner if Choutarou wasn’t interested. He and Choutarou were already as close as siblings, without the disadvantage of having annoyed each other all the while growing up. Ryou valued that very highly. His hormones could damn well go sit on ice. He stared out his bedroom window at the light dusting of snow glittering on the trees and houses. It was certainly the right season.
Well, spring would be here soon, and Choutarou would graduate, and they would be in the same school again. He could always keep an eye out, and see. He was pretty sure that, when Choutarou made up his mind what he was interested in, it would show in spite of that reserve. For one thing, Choutarou tended toward the intuitive the same way Ryou tended toward the analytical. With him, everything just was. Which was an occasional drawback when it came to finding and training out his technical weaknesses, but that was what partners were for. For another thing, Choutarou let a lot of his reserve go with Ryou.
Ryou grinned up at his ceiling, remembering his absolute shock, that day he’d heard Choutarou put his position on the line for the sake of Ryou’s. That had been the first day he’d seen a hint of the shy, friendly brightness beyond the steel determination that was Choutarou’s trademark as a player. That, as much as Choutarou’s genuine respect for him in his hour of disgrace, had reconciled him to playing as part of a doubles pair.
“Shishido-san?” came his partner’s quiet voice from across the room. Ryou rolled over to see him stacking his books, papers neatly tucked away.
“Do you think all doubles pairs are this close?”
Ryou blinked, startled once again at how closely their thoughts matched sometimes.
“Where did that come from?” he asked. Choutarou drew his knees up and rested his chin on them, looking thoughtful.
“My History and Society course is talking about how chance influences events, and it just started me thinking. It was really chance that we wound up as a pair. But we work together really well in doubles, because our styles and personalities fit. And that made me wonder about what it is that makes doubles in general work. All the really good pairs that I’ve seen seem… very close. I wondered if that personality match is necessary.”
Ryou regarded his partner. Was Choutarou’s reserve starting to rebel against that closeness? It didn’t seem likely; Choutarou had always seemed pleased, almost relieved, that he and Ryou were so in synch. Still.
“We’re closer than just a personality match would make us,” he observed. “Compatible personalities can happen even with people who have barely met.”
Choutarou nodded, solemnly. No clues yet.
“I think the best pairs probably are all close like this. It would take kind of a strange mind to share so much understanding in a game and then just drop it when the game ends,” Ryou said, carefully. “Do you mind?”
Choutarou blinked at him, brown eyes wide.
“Oh! No, that wasn’t what I meant, Shishido-san,” he assured his partner. Ryou relaxed again, mouth quirking.
“You sure?” he asked. Choutarou smiled, and Ryou savored more of that brightness that Choutarou didn’t show to anyone else.
“I’m sure,” Choutarou affirmed. “I was just wondering about what that means for a pair like Inui-san and Kaidou.”
Ryou thought about it for a long moment, and then almost fell off his bed laughing at the mental pictures.
“Shishido-san,” his partner admonished, but Ryou could hear the edge of suppressed laughter in his voice.
“I just,” he gasped, “had this image of the two of them griping over Tezuka, the way we do over Atobe and Hiyoshi…” He dissolved again, and this time Choutarou was laughing too.
When they calmed down again, Ryou felt satisfaction displacing the uncertainty of his earlier thoughts. As long as he was the one who made Ohtori Choutarou laugh out loud, the rest of it was almost beside the point.