In the Forest of the Night

Takes place in Current Tenipuri Year. Ohtori reflects on the pair he’s found himself a part of. Drama With Romance, I-3

Choutarou couldn’t remember precisely when Shishido-san had started calling him by his given name. It had been some time during those first, grueling, late night training sessions. He did remember being surprised by it. A number of things had surprised him, right around that time.

He had never, before that, given much thought to the cutthroat system of Hyoutei’s tennis club. It was just the way things were. Well, he had noticed that it seemed to make for astonishing rudeness among the pre-Regulars, but that didn’t have to affect him. Choutarou had been raised to show courtesy; Otou-sama always said it was one of the best ways to disarm an opponent. So he was polite to his peers and his seniors, both, and lent a hand wherever one seemed needed, and devoted every bit of his strength to working his way up the ranks. It hadn’t taken long. The grumbling of people with less dedication had little meaning to him. By the same token, it was pleasant, the mass support that Atobe-buchou’s hand with the club placed at his back once he was a Regular. But Choutarou never deceived himself by thinking that his performance rested on anything but his own will and effort. The shape of the system that went on around him didn’t matter.

And then Shishido Ryou had come to him, after his sudden defeat at Fudoumine’s hands, and asked for help with some training. Choutarou had agreed, as he always did, though the help Shishido-san wanted had been a bit out of the ordinary. He had watched Shishido-san drive himself to catch an unreturnable serve with his bare hands, night after night, and seen something he hadn’t expected.

After very little observation, during his first year, Choutarou had decided that no one among the Regulars shared his own dedication, with the exception of the captain. They were all very talented, but also flippant and careless, not devoting anywhere near the concentration that Choutarou thought the game called for. Under the floodlights, though, in the burning of Shishido-san’s eyes, in the scrapes and bruises and blood on the court, in his voice with every snarl of Next!, Choutarou had seen drive and will to match his own.

That was what had driven him to break his usual reserve and plead with Sakaki-sensei to reinstate Shishido-san. And when their coach’s threat had brought home, for the first time, the cold finality of Hyoutei’s system, it was that recognition of kinship-at-last that had driven him to lay his own position on the line. He would certainly have regretted it, if he had lost his place. But if Hyoutei’s system had no room for the pure determination and burning edge that Shishido-san had reached, then perhaps Choutarou truly didn’t and couldn’t belong there, either.

Not that he hadn’t been extremely relieved when Atobe-buchou had stepped in.

And when Shishido-san had finished trading insults with Atobe-buchou, and it had taken some time for Choutarou to figure out that this might be Shishido-san’s way of thanking their captain, he had turned to Choutarou and called him by name. That was the first time Choutarou really remembered, though at the same time he had recalled an increasing number of Choutarous slipping in among the Ohtoris during the weeks they worked together.

No one else at the school called him by his given name.

Choutarou wondered, sometimes, if Atobe-buchou had seen it starting then. It would explain why he had immediately thrown them together as a doubles pair. It was the kind of thing that he, long acquainted with Shishido Ryou, might well have seen at once.

It took Choutarou somewhat longer to realize that, when he had given Shishido-san his support, he had gained something in return, tossed in his path as easily as Shishido-san might toss him a towel after a long practice.

Shishido-san’s loyalty.

Choutarou was friendly with many, but friends with few. It was the way he had always been. Shishido-san didn’t seem to care. He breezed through Choutarou’s public manners as casually as he elbowed past Atobe-buchou’s arrogance. Ohtori Choutarou was now his partner, and his friend, and that was that.

Choutarou had been stunned.

He had never known someone who would so freely grab his arm to get his attention, grin at him to share an inside joke, yell at anyone he found giving Choutarou grief about his control and then turn around and lecture Choutarou himself about the same thing. He had certainly never known anyone at Hyoutei who matched his focus on the court without hesitation or complaint. But Shishido-san did all of that, now. And, for the first time since he had entered the tennis club, Choutarou had relaxed. As part of a pair, his success was no longer purely dependant on his own effort and will; but Shishido-san’s fierceness left no room for anxiety or reluctance to depend on him.

When they had beaten Oshitari-senpai and Mukahi-senpai at doubles, Choutarou had returned Shishido-san’s brilliant grin with a smile so open it felt strange on his face.

Shishido-san’s determination for him, and pride in him, when it came to defeating Choutarou’s own weaknesses, had, for the first time, given Choutarou more than his own will to support him.

Shishido-san’s spendthrift energy and warmth had drawn Choutarou in until he found it hard to imagine living without them. But in another half a year…

A cold, dripping waterbottle against the back of his neck pulled Choutarou out of his introspection with a yelp.

“You’re miles away, Choutarou,” Shishido-san chuckled, dropping onto the bench beside him. “What’s up?”

“I was just thinking,” he said, taking a sip of water to cover his confusion.

“About what?” his partner prodded, leaning back. He waited while Choutarou gathered his thoughts.

“This spring, mostly. Graduation,” Choutarou answered, finally. “I… don’t really like the thought of playing alone again.”

“Who said anything about alone?” Shishido-san asked, sharply. Choutarou blinked at him. “Just because we can’t play together in the tournaments for a year, that doesn’t mean a thing. We’re a team, Choutarou. The Shishido-Ohtori pair. Got it?” Shishido glared at him, the one that meant he thought his partner was being dense.

“Of course,” Choutarou said, slowly, “but it will be two years before we can play as a pair again.”

“Bullshit,” Shishido-san pronounced. Choutarou opened his mouth and closed it again. He contented himself, at last, with raising his brows at his partner. Shishido-san grinned, teeth gleaming.

“First class doubles pairs are hard to find,” he said, “especially at the really competitive schools. They’ll let us play. You’ll see. Atobe likes to win.”

Ah. Shishido-san did have a point. And Choutarou had no doubt that Atobe-buchou would have a good deal of influence, even as a second year.

“So,” Shishido-san continued, “the only thing you have to worry about next year is keeping Hiyoshi from trying to take over the entire world.”

“Shishido-san, he’s not that bad…” Choutarou began, a smile starting at the corners of his mouth.

“I imagine I’ll be stuck as the one who gets to try and keep Atobe’s ego from gaining any more mass, than, say, Jupiter,” his partner continued, blithely.

“Shishido-san…” Choutarou was laughing now.

“And we’ll have to get together often to blow off steam about what a pain they are to deal with, and since we’ll be together we might as well get in some match time while we’re at it, right?”

“Yes, Shishido-san,” Choutarou agreed, once he caught his breath.

His partner nodded at him, firmly.

“Don’t you forget it, Choutarou.”

“I won’t,” Choutarou promised.