Choutarou had learned years ago that a cool response was his best revenge on hecklers. So, when one of the second years suggested that Shishido-san must have done some extraordinary favors for Atobe to have arranged for the Shishido-Ohtori pair to play, despite Choutarou only being a first year, he didn’t twitch. He wanted to feed the smirking bastard his own racquet, but he knew that wouldn’t help anything in the long run.
For one thing, he knew no one actually believed any such thing. Shishido-san’s… discussion with Atobe-senpai had been quite vehement and perfectly public. Half the club had hung around while Atobe-senpai had arranged for Choutarou and Shishido-san to play a match with the current Doubles Two pair. Their resulting win didn’t count toward team rankings, since it had been after actual club practice time, and theoretically their coach was not aware of it. But Choutarou was quietly permitted to play as a pair with Shishido-san again. He had known there would be resentment, as they advanced, even without Atobe-senpai’s silent warning just before their “trial” match began.
“If you think we aren’t strong enough to be candidates for the Regulars, you’re welcome to try proving it, Senpai,” Choutarou suggested, calmly, now. The smirk turned into a grimace, which made him feel a little better. What he spotted over the heckler’s shoulder made him feel a great deal better.
“That Shishido…” the second year spat, only to be cut off by a razor sharp voice behind him.
“Yeah? What about ‘that Shishido’?”
Choutarou couldn’t help a tiny smile as the heckler and his two friends whirled around to see Shishido-san leaning against the fence.
“You have a problem with me?” Shishido prodded, pushing away from the fence and advancing. “Or my partner?” he added, eyes narrowing.
He watched their disorderly retreat with a gleam of satisfaction, before sighing.
“It’s fun to watch ’em run, but there are times I wish I had your cool, Choutarou. Furokawa’s going to be a pain for weeks after this.”
Choutarou bit back his initial response, but then thought again. This was Shishido-san, after all. His partner. So.
“I’m glad you don’t, Shishido-san,” he said, quietly. Shishido-san turned toward him, one winged brow lifting.
“Why not?” he wanted to know.
“It’s… a cold way to be,” Choutarou explained. “You’re not a cold person.”
Shishido-san’s expressive mouth twisted, wryly.
“And you are?” he asked smacking Choutarou on the shoulder with the back of his hand. “Don’t give me that, Choutarou. Maybe you can fool the rest of them, but I know you better.” Choutarou ducked his head.
“Yes. But you’re… you’re very passionate, Shishido-san. I’m not like that.”
They walked in silence until he turned toward the classroom buildings.
“You have something else today?” Shishido-san asked, surprised.
“I wanted some extra time to practice with the piano this week. The tutor said it would be all right for me to come in late, as long as I lock up behind me.”
“Yeah?” Shishido-san tipped his head to the side. “It bother you to have an audience?”
Choutarou was startled. Shishido-san had heard him play before, but usually by coincidence. He’d never asked to listen.
“It won’t bother me,” he said, at last, “though I’m afraid you’ll be bored.” Shishido-san’s mouth quirked.
“Doubt it.” He fell in beside Choutarou again.
All right, so Shishido-san didn’t look bored, as he slung himself into one of the chairs in the second music room while Choutarou started working through his warmups. That was good. It made it easier to slip into the music when he started practicing for real, listening, feeling, for the moments when the flow hitched, places he needed to go back and smooth. When he snuck a look at Shishido-san, between pieces, he looked relaxed and contemplative, eyes half shut. It was a rare look for Shishido-san to wear, but Choutarou had seen it enough to know it wasn’t boredom. In the end, he was comfortable enough to wrap up with a run through one of his own rare compositions.
He had written this one last year, trying to catch a moment in the music. It was a day he and Shishido-san had been playing each other, on one of the courts near Shishido-san’s house, and a storm had driven them under cover. Shishido-san had stood at the very edge of the pavilion, staring raptly at the sky and laughing with each especially impressive crack of thunder. He had leaned into the storm, the way Choutarou had seen him lean into a good opponent. The idea of playing a storm had taken Choutarou’s fancy, and he’d tried to sketch out, in music, what it might feel like.
He took a deep breath and let it out as the last chord slid through his fingers. The stillness just after was one of the things he played music for, the peace after the rush. When he looked up, he was almost surprised to see Shishido-san still there, eyes burning into him. Shishido-san stood, without speaking, came to Choutarou’s side, gripped his shoulder and shook him, gently.
“And you think you aren’t passionate? Choutarou, for a smart guy, you can be really dense sometimes. Just because you don’t show it in many ways doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” he said, seriously. “I haven’t seen you underestimate yourself very often. Don’t do it now.”
To hear that from the one person whose judgment Choutarou was willing to trust as he would his own laid peace over him as deep as the stillness after a good performance.
“Thank you, Shishido-san,” he murmured. Shishido-san smiled down at him, the small smile that meant something was going their way. The thought flickered across Choutarou’s mind that Shishido-san was close enough to kiss him.
He almost swallowed his tongue in startlement. Where had that come from?
“Choutarou?” Shishido asked, looking concerned. “You all right? You looked kind of odd for a second, there.”
“Yes, I’m fine,” Choutarou assured him, automatically. “I think I just spaced out for a minute; it’s been a long day.”
“You can say that again, Mr. Two Club Overachiever,” Shishido-san teased. “We’d better get you home before you fall asleep on your feet.”
Choutarou laughed and agreed, but when he finally went to bed that night he didn’t go to sleep for a long time.
It was not news to him that he was powerfully drawn to his partner. When he had spoken of Shishido-san being passionate he had left out the parts about how it infused everything he did. Every gesture practically glowed with it, like the corona during an eclipse. It fascinated Choutarou, and all the more for the contrast it made with his own reserve and containment. Their complementary natures were as much what made them an outstanding doubles pair as the similarity of their drive and will to succeed.
Choutarou had thought that was all it was.
He decided to test it with a little thought experiment, of sorts. He closed his eyes on the dark room, and cast his mind back to himself sitting at the piano and Shishido-san standing beside him. How would he have felt if Shishido-san had closed that last distance, run his hand up Choutarou’s neck to tangle in his hair, leaned down and touched his lips to Choutarou’s…?
Tingling heat shot through him, curling low in his stomach. Choutarou’s eyes snapped open to stare at the darkness, breath fast, heart pounding. All right. So. Yes. He really was attracted to his partner. Fine.
Now, what on Earth was he going to do about it?
Choutarou’s thoughts insisted on running in circles, and they were starting to make him dizzy. The most reasonable thing he could do was decide whether he thought Shishido-san shared his attraction or not, and either tell him, in the first instance, or do his best to ignore it, in the second. The problem came in step one.
Shishido-san sought him out, even when they weren’t practicing. Shishido-san used a language of expressions that was just between them. Shishido-san acted like Choutarou’s wellbeing was an extension of his own, and cared for it as matter-of-factly. Those were things that Choutarou had seen established couples do. But it could easily be that Shishido-san did all that because they were a team, and friends, without being at all attracted to Choutarou. Then again, he touched Choutarou far more easily than he did anyone else. But, then again, it could just be…
Around and around.
And underneath it all, the intuition that he should just speak up, pushing against the fear of damaging what they already had.
The court was one of the few places he could put it all aside, because a game was a game and training was training, and nothing interfered with that. But Shishido-san was starting to notice his distraction whenever Choutarou stood still for more than a minute. There were a few things about which Shishido-san could show great patience, but his partner holding out on him did not seem to be one of them. It only took a few weeks before he cornered Choutarou while they were packing up after practice.
“All right, Choutarou, give. What’s got you so wound up, lately?” Shishido-san didn’t look up from zipping his bag, but his tone was not casual. Choutarou bit his lip.
“It’s nothing, Shishido-san, there’s just been something on my mind.”
“Yeah, I got that part. You’re throwing yourself into games like you don’t want to come out the other side.” Shishido-san blew out an exasperated sigh, and stood directly in front of Choutarou. “C’mon, what’s up?”
Choutarou couldn’t quite bring himself to look Shishido-san in the face when he was so close, and contented himself with examining his partner’s shoes instead. “It’s nothing. Really,” he murmured. He could hear the frown in Shishido-san’s voice, when he spoke.
“Choutarou, you’re starting to make me nervous, here. Come on, look at me.” When Choutarou didn’t look up, his voice lowered, half an order and half an entreaty, “Choutarou…”
That tone, and Shishido-san’s hands closing over his shoulders, drove Choutarou’s head up. Shishido-san was leaning forward, barely a hand-span away. His breath caught, and a shiver sheeted over him before he could stop it. Choutarou was sure his eyes were as wide as an animal’s caught in oncoming headlights.
Shishido-san was his partner, the one he willingly shared his mind and heart with when they played; he knew Choutarou. Choutarou felt apprehension, but no surprise, to see Shishido-san’s expression changing, the frown of irritation and concern giving way to surprise, to inquiry, to a thoughtful examination that finally faded into a look almost as wide-eyed as Choutarou’s own.
“You’re kidding me,” he said, softly.
Choutarou wanted to look away again, but since he couldn’t give himself a reason for doing so, any longer, besides cowardice, he swallowed hard and kept his eyes on Shishido-san’s. His partner was very still for twenty heartbeats; Choutarou counted them. And then one of Shishido-san’s hands rose to his chin, thumb settling against his cheek. Choutarou’s breath stopped entirely.
“You sure?” Shishido-san asked, tone gentler than ninety-eight percent of the tennis club would probably ever credit. Choutarou remembered Shishido-san asking him the same thing, the first time they had talked about just how close they were becoming. Warmth started in his chest, unlocking his lungs.
“Yes,” he whispered. Shishido-san’s thumb brushed over his mouth, and he had to close his eyes for a moment. When he looked up again, Shishido-san was smiling, crookedly.
“Is this what you’ve been so knotted up over?” he asked. When Choutarou nodded, Shishido-san shook his head.
“My partner, the brilliant idiot,” he said, mock-disgusted. “Even if I didn’t want you too, did you think I’d be upset about it or something?”
Choutarou felt a flush rising in his cheeks, and glanced aside as far as Shishido-san’s hand would let him.
“You should know better than that, by now,” his partner admonished. “And, anyway, if I’d had any idea you felt like this I would have done something about it a lot sooner, believe me.”
Choutarou looked back at Shishido-san, ruefully.
“Actually… I only realized a few weeks ago,” he admitted. Shishido-san leaned over him, laughing softly.
“Choutarou,” he chuckled, before his lips covered his partner’s.
It was… Shishido-san. Impulsive, and casual, and impatient. Sharp and sleek. Warm and open. And Choutarou relaxed into that warmth, the way he always did.
“Well,” Atobe-senpai murmured to Shishido-san, as practice broke up two days later, “that’s certainly one way to increase the effectiveness of your combination.”
“One more comment like that, Atobe, and I’m gonna see if that mouth of yours is big enough to fit your racquet into,” Shishido-san growled back.
Choutarou steadfastly made as if he hadn’t heard a thing, as Atobe-senpai strolled off, laughing low in his throat. He was deeply grateful that no one else seemed to have noticed anything; he really didn’t feel that it was anyone’s business but his and Shishido-san’s. As they headed toward Shishido-san’s house, it being his turn to host homework and snacks, Choutarou couldn’t help asking, though.
“Shishido-san, why are you and Atobe-senpai like that? I mean,” he hesitated, “you’re… friends… aren’t you?”
“Yeah, well,” Shishido-san snorted. Then his mouth quirked, reminiscently. “It goes back a long way. Atobe and I were in the same class almost from the start, and it was hate at first sight.” He glanced at Choutarou, with the tilt of brows that meant he was just a little embarrassed.”We’re both kind of attention hogs; even Atobe admits that, though he has different words for it, of course. I forget what we were even arguing about, actually. I do remember that he made one smart remark too many, and I hauled off and socked him one.” Shishido-san grinned, showing a lot of teeth, at what seemed to be a happy memory. “I also remember being surprised that he gave as good as he got.” The grin twisted. “Atobe has always fought dirty, unless he has a reason not to.”
Yes, Choutarou had noticed that. He’d spared a moment to be glad, every now and then, that being one of Atobe-senpai’s team was apparently sufficient reason.
“Well, one of the Elementary teachers had probably just been to a developmental psychology seminar, or something,” Shishido-san continued, a bit tartly, “because they shut us up in a room together to cool down.”
“Um,” Choutarou commented.
“Yeah. Thing was, in a way it worked. We didn’t spontaneously become buddies or anything like that, but we did agree that, while we hated each others guts, we were even more pissed off at the adults who thought we would fall for a set up like that.” Shishido-san shook his head. “The older I get, the more I understand why Tou-san says they couldn’t pay him enough to teach at Hyoutei. But it’s been like that ever since. We have enemies in common, goals in common. And he doesn’t try to wrap me around his finger, and I always give him straight answers.” Shishido-san shrugged. “It works out.”
Maybe, Choutarou reflected, as they made their way up to Shishido-san’s room, they had both needed someone to be open with. Really open.
They shed their bags, but Shishido-san stopped him before he could pull out his books.
“You have anything that needs doing right away?” he asked. A tingle danced down Choutarou’s spine.
“No,” he answered, softly, taking a small step toward his partner.
“Good.” Shishido-san smiled, slow and pleased, sapphire eyes darkening as he ran a hand up to the nape of Choutarou’s neck and tugged him down to a kiss.
Choutarou pressed a little closer to Shishido-san’s body, opening his mouth as the tip of Shishido-san’s tongue skated over his lower lip. Shishido-san seemed to take the hint, because his lips curved against Choutarou’s, and he pulled his partner down to his bed. Choutarou let out a tiny laugh when Shishido-san planted an elbow on either side of his head and just looked down at him with the glowing smile he gave Choutarou when they won a hard game. Choutarou reached up, and Shishido-san’s smile curled in just a little at the edges as Choutarou ran his hands through the brush of thick, silky hair. It was soft against his palms.
“You’re just going to look, Shishido-san?” he asked, moving one hand to touch his fingertips to his partner’s mouth. He gasped when Shishido-san captured one, delicately, between his teeth, touching back with his tongue.
“Mmm,” Shishido-san purred, letting go. “You mind if I touch?” His voice made Choutarou shiver, lower and huskier than usual, and the spark in his half-lidded eyes suggested just what kind of touching he meant.
“I don’t mind,” Choutarou whispered, a little breathless. He wasn’t entirely sure, himself, how far he was ready to let this go, but he wanted Shishido-san to touch him. He wanted to add the warmth of Shishido-san’s hands to the warmth of his partner’s simple presence and smile.
“The Student Council are sadists,” Shishido-san said, conversationally if a bit muffled against Choutarou’s throat, as his fingers worked their way down Choutarou’s shirt buttons. “They design these uniforms to be taken off, and then expect us to keep our minds on studying.”
Choutarou’s chuckle unraveled as Shishido-san’s hands stroked down his chest, brushing his shirt aside. His breath escaped on a soft aaaahh when Shishido-san slid down him to trace the muscles of his stomach with a warm tongue. His insides felt shivery, uncertain, as if he’d stepped into a fast elevator down. When Shishido-san bit down, gently, it felt like a static shock, and Choutarou arched up off the bed with a sharp sound.
His partner moved back up to kiss him, pressing him down with the comforting weight of his body.
“Too much?” Shishido-san asked.
“I…” Choutarou actually couldn’t make up his mind about that. He certainly didn’t want to stop. So he asked something else, instead. “Shishido-san… would you mind? If I touch?”
Shishido-san grinned, and rolled them both over, taking Choutarou above him. “Feel free,” he said.
The shirt was, as Shishido-san had pointed out, quick work, and Shishido-san made small, appreciative noises as Choutarou explored his chest with light fingers. It was when he got to the pants that Choutarou hesitated, glancing up at Shishido-san to make sure this would be all right. Holding Choutarou’s gaze, reassuring him more by action than any words could, Shishido-san reached down and unfastened the button and zipper himself before leaving it to Choutarou again. Choutarou had to tear his eyes away from his partner’s before he could continue.
Seeing Shishido-san lying naked on a bed was a very different matter than seeing him changing into or out of uniform, and it stopped Choutarou again, all his attention taken up with tracing the lines of Shishido-san’s body, dark against the white sheets. A soft laugh drew his eyes up to Shishido-san’s face, and his wicked smile, as he stretched like a cat, muscles shifting and flowing under his skin.
“Like what you see, Choutarou?” he asked, teasing.
Choutarou swallowed, and nodded, and came to him, touching his partner with something like wonder. Shishido-san’s skin was fine-grained, smooth as he stroked across it, and his partner sighed and stretched again under his hands. A pleased smile curled Choutarou’s own lips as he glanced down and noticed just how much Shishido-san was enjoying this. Slowly, hesitating a little, he reached down and curled his fingers around Shishido-san’s length.
“Choutarou,” Shishido-san breathed, harshly. “Oh, yeah.”
Choutarou stroked him, gently. He hadn’t quite realized, touching himself, how soft this skin was, and feeling the heat of someone else’s arousal against his palm was… very different. He was breathing almost as fast as Shishido-san. Small things lodged themselves in his memory: the flex of Shishido-san’s moan; the line of Shishido-san’s leg as he drew one knee up; Shishido-san’s hands fisting in the sheets, not trying to return anything yet, leaving this moment to Choutarou; the arch of Shishido-san’s throat as he threw his head back, suddenly voiceless, hips thrusting up into Choutarou’s hand; the way Shishido-san was still hot to his touch when he finally fell back, panting.
Choutarou was just starting to wonder about the mechanics of cleaning them up when Shishido-san slitted his eyes open and laughed. He fished around the headboard of the bed without looking, and extracted a box of tissues. When Shishido-san had applied those and tossed them over the side, he pressed Choutarou down and kissed him slowly.
“So, can I return the favor?” he asked, his tone playful but his eyes serious.
“I’d like that,” Choutarou said, softly.
“See? I told you you were, so, passionate,” Shishido-san observed as he stripped off Choutarou’s remaining clothing. “Or maybe I should just say aggressive.”
“Shishido-san,” Choutarou laughed, feeling a blush cross his cheeks.
“Hmmm.” Shishido-san covered Choutarou’s body with his own, drawing a quiet gasp from Choutarou, before he spoke again. “You know, all things considered, it’s probably all right to be a little less formal now.”
Choutarou blinked up at him for a moment before he actually understood. The formalities were so automatic for him… But his partner had a point.
“Shishido,” he essayed, a little shyly. His partner’s bare name in his mouth somehow felt more intimate than the bare skin against his own.
“Mm. Better,” his partner purred, nudging Choutarou’s head up so he could lick teasingly at the tender skin under his jaw.
Choutarou closed his eyes. If what he wanted was the openness that his partner offered him so freely, it was only right… And this was his partner, he was safe here…
“Ryou,” he whispered. He heard his partner’s breath catch, and then he was being kissed, hard, caught up against Ryou’s body so tight he almost couldn’t breathe, though he didn’t miss it just then, kissed again and again.
“Choutarou.” His partner’s voice was rough against his ear.
Choutarou was still a bit dazed when Ryou slid down his body, but Ryou’s fingers stroking him hard focused his attention. The hot, wet slide of Ryou’s tongue licking up his length, delicately as he might an ice cream cone he wanted to make last, knocked him back again. He shuddered at the soft, quick touches, moaning when the heat of Ryou’s mouth finally closed around him. That heat raced through him, snatching him up like a wave ready to throw him to shore, and the speed of it might have frightened him without Ryou’s hands to steady him, remind him of who was with him. Choutarou closed his own hands, hard, on Ryou’s arms and let the wave of heat and pressure and pleasure take him, lift him, cast him forward and out of himself.
Ryou was holding him when the tremors running through him finally relaxed, and he turned his head into his partner’s shoulder, shaken but pleased.
“All right?” Ryou asked, quietly. Choutarou nodded, and a thought struck him, prompted by the knowledge in his partner’s voice when he asked.
“You’ve… done this before.”
“Yeah; a fling here and there at the seminars and camps,” Ryou answered, shrugging.
“I think I’m glad for that,” Choutarou murmured, wrapping an arm around Ryou’s waist. His partner chuckled.
Choutarou lay, thinking about how comfortable Ryou’s arms around him, and Ryou’s hand rubbing his back, were. Comfortable, comforting, warm and natural. Intimate. He stirred.
“Ryou?” he started, still shy with his partner’s name.
“Mm?” There was a happy, satisfied grin in that small noise, and Choutarou smiled before biting his lip.
“Will you mind if I call you by your family name, at school, still?” he asked, softly. “It’s… this is…”
“Personal,” Ryou finished for him, holding him tighter. “Of course I won’t mind.”
“Thank you.” Choutarou settled a little closer, into peace deeper than he had ever felt, even with his music. Clearly, he thought, smiling to himself, the closeness and the touching hadn’t been just because Ryou was his partner.
Clearly, there was no “just” about their partnership.