Challenge – Chapter Six

Niou has an idea for a trick. Drama with Peculiar Romance, I-3

Pairing(s): Yagyuu/Niou

Sanada was being a bear.

And a bear with a sore paw, at that. Masaharu was seriously considering doing something to loosen him up a bit. The only thing holding him back was trying to plan how to remain alive afterwards.

Rather to everyone’s surprise, except, possibly, Yanagi’s, and he had warned Sanada, Sanada had lost a game to Hyoutei’s new ace, Atobe Keigo. Sanada was now bound and determined to even the score. If they didn’t come up against Hyoutei at Nationals, Masaharu suspected Sanada would ask for an unofficial match just for his personal satisfaction.

His suggestion that Sanada now had two excellent opponents to play against, and wasn’t that nice, had been met with such a glare he’d sworn he smelled singed hair in its wake.

Yukimura, standing behind Sanada, had raised a hand to cover his grin.

Those two were currently playing, and to Masaharu’s eye it was now Sanada who could use a little extra control. He wasn’t pacing himself well at all. Sure enough, he dropped the last game faster than usual, and Yagyuu, standing next to Masaharu, shook his head.

“That, Niou-kun, is why I will not let you draw me out as often as you would like,” he commented. “One of us must keep a relatively cool head or we will lose in exactly that manner.” Masaharu raised his brows at his partner.

“You think I couldn’t?” he asked, slightly offended. It wasn’t as if he were out of control. Well, not seriously. He caught the glint of a sidelong look from behind Yagyuu’s glasses, and his partner’s mouth curved subtly.

Could you stay cool while you watched me let go?” he asked, softly.

Well, all right, Masaharu admitted, as a pleasant shiver tracked down his spine, that was a point. Still.

“If I really had to,” he answered, seriously.

Yagyuu tipped his head to the side. “I’ll remember that, then,” he said. Masaharu smiled; that sounded… promising.

Sanada tossed his racquet onto the bench in front of them, and his empty hands clenched, convulsively.

“Sanada,” Yukimura said, setting a hand on his arm. His voice was low, close to commanding but also soothing in its very evenness. Masaharu watched Sanada’s fists loosen, and was impressed once again by Yukimura’s fine touch with his team.

“Yukimura,” Sanada started, an apologetic edge to the deep voice. Yukimura’s hand tightened, stopping him.

“You will win,” he said with certainty. Sanada looked down at him, expression lightening, and dipped his head slightly. Yukimura raised his voice again. “Yagyuu, you and Sanada are up next.”

Yagyuu moved forward, fingers trailing ever so lightly over Masaharu’s wrist in passing. Masaharu suppressed his reaction, sternly, but couldn’t hold back a grin. Who would have thought that Yagyuu would be an incorrigible tease? Yukimura came to stand next to Masaharu, and eyed him closely as the next match started. A breath of laughter escaped him.

“So, he finally caught you, did he?” he asked, eyes sparkling.

Masaharu, caught flatfooted, had to grope for an answer for several moments. “I would have said it the other way around,” he managed, at last.

“He’s been after you since late spring,” Yukimura told him, conversationally.

Masaharu blinked. He had? Thinking back over it, though… he had instigated things, yes, but Yagyuu had incited him to do so. Yukimura tugged on the slim tail of hair that Masaharu kept expressly to annoy the daylights out of the uniform sticklers at school.

“Has the Trickster been tricked?” he asked, with a warm smile to take the sting out of the question. “There was a reason Yagyuu accepted you as his primary partner, Niou. You make a good pair. But your partnership won’t last if you underestimate his penchant for misdirection.”

“Mmm,” Masaharu agreed, fighting down a flush.

“Ah, now I’ve embarrassed you,” Yukimura said, sounding penitent. “But the two of you work well together, Niou. I don’t want you to fail; either on the court or off it.”

“We’ll try not to,” Masaharu assured him, relaxing a little as he reminded himself to respect his partner’s depth of sneakiness from now on.

The Perfect Gentleman, he supposed, would, after all, be indirect about getting things he wanted. What mattered was that he wanted Masaharu, and, by extension, the things Masaharu led him on to do. A grin resurfaced.

Knowing that Yagyuu wanted unrestraint would definitely help in future plans.

Masaharu lazed in a pool of autumn sunlight feeling remarkably at peace with the world.

Rikkai had taken Nationals, as per expectation, and Sanada had gotten his chance to even the score with Atobe. Which only meant that now they both had a reason to stalk each other, but that was Sanada’s concern, and he seemed pleased enough.

The third years had retired, and Yukimura Seiichi was finally captain in name as well as fact. As Akaya had brashly, if accurately, put it, “It’s about time!” Relaxed from the tension of the tournament season, the team was consolidating.

And best of all, at least right at this moment, Yagyuu had just taken a great deal of pleasure in running his tongue over every especially sensetive area of Masaharu’s skin. Quite slowly. The net result being that Masaharu was lying in the sun, in a tangle of white cotton sheets, with no desire to move any time in the near future. How Yagyuu mustered the motivation to get up, even for a shower, was really beyond him.

His partner returned, toweling off his hair. Masaharu chuckled to see it so unaccustomedly ruffled, and spiky with moisture.

“What’s amusing you now?” Yagyuu asked.

“Your hair looks better messy,” Masaharu told him.

“You, of course, would think so.”

Some thought was tapping Masaharu’s shoulder. Something having to do with Yagyuu. He found himself recalling past observations or occasions.

…practicing Yagyuu’s particular shots…

…understanding his revulsion of authority…

…accepting that his underhandedness equaled Masaharu’s own…

…noting that their height difference was due to posture…

…drowning in sharp, ice colored eyes, the same color as Masaharu’s…

Masaharu’s grin widened, notch by notch, as the outline of a superb game blossomed in his mind’s eye.

“Niou-kun?” his partner asked, sounding a bit wary. Masaharu looked at him with glowing delight.

“Yagyuu, I have the best idea,” he declared.

The only real sticking point was hair color. Light to dark was easy enough, but the other way around wasn’t, and Yagyuu flatly refused to bleach a single strand. In the end, Masaharu found a yearmate whose brother’s best friend worked with someone who knew something that would do it. Masaharu considered the expense worth it, and swore his fellow student to secrecy on pain of Masaharu’s ingenuity.

“You’re sure this won’t be permanent?” Yagyuu pressed.

“The guy promised the enzyme base, on it’s own, won’t do a thing,” Masaharu explained, patiently. “It requires the reactant, and once the neutralizer is applied, that’s that, nothing else happens.”

Thus it was, a few days later, that Masaharu packed up an exceedingly well-pressed uniform and the non-prescription glasses with reflective coating. Apparently that was a somewhat unusual combination to request, since the optometrist’s assistant had given him a slightly odd look. He and Yagyuu left their houses early and met at the house of the yearmate who had put them in touch with the obliging makeup artist. When they emerged, half an hour later, their grinning fellow waved them on ahead. He had sworn up and down not to come near them all day, lest he give the deception away, in return for which he was permitted, tomorrow, to brag about having been in the know.

Masaharu drew himself up very straight, which made the walk come on its own. He glanced at the figure slouching insouciantly along beside him and compressed a grin into Yagyuu’s faint smile. Yes, he thought this would work. ‘He’ might be a bit tamer than usual, today, but the glint in those narrow eyes would definitely pass for the genuine article. As they walked he dusted off the manners that one teacher after another had tried, with ultimate futility, to get him to use, greeting the occasional classmate with cool courtesy.

The best part would be seeing all their faces, when the switch was revealed.

Classes started without incident, Masaharu opened the day’s first book, and nearly strained himself suppressing hysterical laughter. Tucked in between the pages they had been assigned to read was a postcard.

An extremely explicit postcard featuring two naked individuals in the middle of an extremely personal act.

A postcard which, unless he was greatly mistaken, came from the book he had slipped into Yagyuu’s bag early last year, hoping to disconcert him. He never had returned it, had he? He glanced over to see his partner leaning back in his chair, hands tucked in his pockets, and a downright evil grin on his face. Schooling his own expression carefully, Masaharu tucked the card into his bag.

Yes, this was definitely going to work.

He went through the day feeling like a hunter behind a blind, the blind of Yagyuu’s impenetrable manners. From that vantage he finally had the inexpressible delight of seeing his partner point out to their literature teacher, shriveled old prune of a martinet that he was, that the love poems of the Man’yoshu centered on distrust, not faith, and that he should really stop trying to convince them of such romantic drivel. For one glorious moment, Masaharu thought Sugawara-sensei would have heart failure on the spot. After a long look at the razor sharp smile ‘Niou’ was sporting, the teacher chose to ignore the insolence and move right along.

Ah, the benefits of a reputation, he thought, looking on Yagyuu with fondness concealed by the glasses he wore.

It wasn’t until one of the most loud-mouthed of the second-year tennis club members discovered that the new roll of grip tape he was bragging about over lunch had been replaced with an equally long roll of super sour bubble gum that Masaharu had to excuse himself to the bathroom where he could indulge his laughing fit unnoticed. When he returned, he passed his partner’s desk.

“Are you finished for the day, Niou-kun?” he inquired, mildly. Yagyuu stretched like a cat, mouth quirking.

“For now, I suppose,” he allowed.

Masaharu made sure to incline his head in reassurance to the grateful looks he was collecting from their classmates.

Then came tennis practice. They had both wondered whether it would be possible to fool their teammates. Masaharu now thought it would be, and when Yagyuu raised a brow at him he nodded in return.

Well, it was possible to fool some of their teammates. Marui, Jackal and Sanada clearly didn’t suspect a thing. After the first hour, though Yanagi and Yukimura were giving them curious looks. Akaya joined in not long after. Masaharu had expected Yanagi, at least. When it came down to it, he simply wasn’t as strong in Yagyuu’s shots as Yagyuu was, and there was no real way to hide Yagyuu’s bone-deep awareness of where his partner was on the court, which was not characteristic of Masaharu.

It was a fascinating exercise, all the same. Yagyuu was often their game-maker, and standing back in the way his partner normally did suddenly gave Masaharu a new perspective on their teammates. Marui, for instance, was clearly the game-maker for his pair, something Masaharu had never quite noticed while playing in close to him, up at the net. Now he thought he understood why Yagyuu kept such a close eye on their volatile “genius”. Masaharu found himself slipping, almost unawares, into Yagyuu’s pattern of play, watching and waiting for the crushing chance, rather than pressing in and harrying their opponents. As, in fact, Yagyuu, in his position as ‘Niou’, was doing at this moment. Quite enthusiastically.

When Yanagi moved over to Yukimura and leaned down to say something in his ear, Masaharu thought the game was up, but Yukimura smiled, slowly, and looked over at them. He shook his head and replied to Yanagi, without looking away. Yanagi shrugged. Neither of them said anything, and for once Akaya seemed reluctant to stick his neck out.

Masaharu had always known Yukimura had a fine sense of humor.

The next day, Masaharu felt, strongly deserved a gold star on his calendar. Their accommodating yearmate had spread the word as fast as gossip could travel, and Masaharu strolled the halls, savoring the utterly pole-axed expressions on at least half their denizens. It took a little while before anyone got up the nerve to ask if it was true.

“Why, whatever do you mean?” Masaharu returned, smiling innocently.

Rumor galloped on twice as fast after that.

Yukimura was chuckling when they got to practice, and clapped a hand on each of their shoulders.

“You do have a talent for creating disruption,” he noted. Sanada rolled his eyes, exasperated, and Akaya just about pounced on them.

“It was! I was right!”

“Enough games, though,” Yukimura ordered. “We have work to do. Everyone on the courts!”

“I was right, too, you know,” Masaharu murmured to Yagyuu as they dispersed.

“About what?” his partner inquired, cool as ever behind his precision and glasses.

“You are magnificent when you let go.”

“Narcissist,” Yagyuu accused him, lightly, fingertips brushing Masaharu’s hand.