hermiones: (pot // hyoutei)
Cat ([personal profile] hermiones) wrote2008-12-16 06:48 pm

PoT Fic: "The Square Root of Shishido" (Atobe/Shishido) Part One.

Title: The Square Root of Shishido
Pairing: Shishido/Atobe
Rating: R
Summary: As they move from Junior to Senior High, Atobe and Shishido struggle to deal with transition - and what it means for their team.
Warnings: Sexual content, rude language, het and slash.

It starts out as a rumour on some girl's blog, the way a lot of things start at Hyoutei Gakuen. With graduation from Junior High beckoning, the only thing more exciting than the official ceremony is what Atobe Keigo plans to do to celebrate.

“His parents are hiring a yacht,” she writes, this girl nobody's heard of until now. “He's going to sail around the Greek islands. Yaah, he asked me to come too! What should I do...?”

Thirty or so comments are left. Some tell her to go for it (some meaning the trip itself, some meaning things less related), some call her names. Emoji litter the page as she thanks each and every one of her supporters.

Shishido Ryou sits, dumbfounded, scrolling downwards.

The next day, the entire school seems to be buzzing. Shishido tries to grab Atobe's attention during the first three classes (all of which prophetise doom in the shape of imminent exams) but without success. Atobe's eyes are resolutely on the blackboard at all times. He doesn't even flinch when Shishido flicks his pencil sharpener at him behind the teacher's back. He doesn't even scowl.

Shishido decides that it must be true. Everybody knows that taking a girl onto a private boat means you're going to have private times and Shishido hasn't even ever had a sniff at private times. He feels betrayed, even though everybody knew Atobe would get there before him. As the two of them get older, the gaps between them seem to widen and widen. Shishido can't seem to keep up anymore.

Looking around the room, Oshitari doesn't seem to have noticed Atobe's catatonic state. They're studying Romeo and Juliet and all Oshitari is good for is rubbing his nose and making soft exhalations under his breath. Shishido hates many things, but most prominent among them is Shakespeare. Shakespeare and, of course, Atobe Keigo.

He slumps down on the desk and is immediately reprimanded by the exhausted literature teacher, who asks him how to translate “I defy you stars” into Japanese.

“Why the fuck would you say you could defy the stars, anyway,” Shishido complains, balancing his books on Gakuto's head and reaching for his rucksack. “He should've been locked up. Hey, guys, lunch-”

Atobe is trying to escape without a solitary hint of mockery. Usually when Shishido is told off, Atobe disapproves and assign him laps, which Shishido ignores because Atobe's jurisdiction ends on the lines of the court. There's something weird about him not trying.

“Lunch,” Oshitari says, his voice light and pleased. “Keigo?”

“I have homework,” Atobe says, gruffly.

“I've heard that they're doing Kobe beef today,” Oshitari says, silkily. Atobe tilts his head in thought before starting to frown.

“Homework,” he says.

“Fucking hell,” Gakuto says. “They're going to run out at this rate. I'll see you guys there.”

The thought of the beef running out seems to spur Oshitari into action, for which Shishido is grudgingly grateful.

“Keigo,” Oshitari says. “There is beef. Beef is your favourite. Homework is not, in any universe, as good as beef. And can be done later, or during maths. I shall be your faithful homework assistant. Please don't begrudge me Kobe beef. Is our adolescent world not cruel enough?”

“There are many things wrong with you,” Atobe says, loftily. “But you have a point.”

They sit down and Atobe seems to be waiting for Oshitari to return from flirting with the catering staff. When he does, he has two whole plates of beef and an enormous smile on his face.

“It's wrong that they encourage you,” Gakuto says, mouth full. “They're perverts.”

“They are lonely,” Oshitari says. “Such is the sad life of a dinner lady.”

As usual, people in the hall are nodding in Atobe's direction, gossiping behind their hands. Most days Atobe doesn't notice it, but today he's on edge.

“Nobody is stealing my food today,” he says. “I feel uneasy.”

“I'll have some of your chips,” Shishido offers. “If you want.”

“No,” Atobe says. “Don't put yourself out.”

“So,” Shishido says. “Is it true? About the yacht?”

“What yacht?” Oshitari says.

“There is no yacht,” Atobe hisses, beginning to eat. “Stupid girl and her stupid blog. This is why technology should be limited only to those capable of using it.”

“There is a yacht,” Shishido says. “I've seen a picture of it.”

“Well, yes, there is a yacht in a physical sense, it exists, obviously, idiot.”

“Are you taking some girl on it over the summer? To Greece?”

“What?” Oshitari says. “How have I not heard about this? How delicious a piece of gossip.”

“Shut up, Yuushi,” Atobe snarls. “No, I am not. I had no intentions of doing so and if I had, I would now certainly not. Every girl in the school has been sucking up to me this morning, wanting to come with me. I am going abroad with my parents and there are no girls invited.”

“Oh,” Shishido says. “Well, good.”

“Why is that good?” Atobe says.

“Uh. She's clearly not the kind of girl you wanna date? Bad with technology and...stuff.” Shishido says.

“He's just worried you're going to pork somebody before he does,” Gakuto says.

“Please,” Oshitari pleads. “Stop using that word.”

“I am not,” Shishido says. “Worried about that, I mean. Fuck, I could have any girl I wanted.”

“Oh, really?” Atobe says. “Well, why don't we-”

“It's not a competition, that's why, so no, I won't, I have more respect for...er...girls than to put a bet on it,” Shishido stammers. “But I'm not worried about it!”

“Right,” Atobe says. “Oh, fuck, look, she's coming over, Yuushi-”

“Of course,” Oshitari says, rising to his feet so sharply that Mimi bumps straight into him.

“Ah, Oshitari-san,” she says. “Um, I was just-”

“There is no just when it comes to you,” Oshitari says, taking her by the arm. “Why do you spurn me so?”

“Huh?” she says. “I didn't know you...felt that way.”

“Those are not my feelings,” Oshitari says. “So much as the shadows of them. My feelings go much deeper. Much deeper. You are a cruel girl to torment me this way.”

“Um,” she says, as Oshitari leads her away. “I'll see you later, Atobe-san!”

“Wow,” Shishido says. “Girls are stupid.”

“Tell me about it,” Atobe scowls, pushing away his plate. Shishido helpfully scoops it up.

“So,” he says. “What are you doing this summer?”

Atobe shrugs. “My parents are going to Russia. They want to take me and teach me something of dictatorship. Similarities between running a country and a company.”

“Oh,” Shishido says. “Sounds...cold.”

“Hm. In more ways than one,” Atobe says. “What about you? No circuses to join yet?”

“Fuck off,” Shishido says. “I could borrow your yacht? Looks like Mimi's free now.”

“I didn't think she was your type,” Atobe says, bitingly. “Educated.”

Shishido leans back on his chair, watching Oshitari leave with Mimi. His eyes are downcast, scrutinising.

“With legs like that,” he says, with a grin. “I don't care what her brain looks like.”

“Urgh,” Atobe says. “Can't you think about anything else?”

“No,” Shishido says, cheerfully.

He assigns Shishido ten extra laps at afternoon practice, citing his extra food consumption at lunch. Shishido doesn't question it, which startles Atobe. He's used to punishing Oshitari, who mock-howls when given extra work to do. Atobe stays on for the extra ten and for a while, they keep a steady pace running alongside each other.

“You've upped your training,” Atobe says.

Shishido casts a glance at him. “Yeah,” he says. “I'm leaving Choutarou behind when we go to Senior High. Gotta find a new system, really.”

“Hm,” Atobe says. “What'll you do when we move over? Doubles again?”

Shishido shrugs. “Or singles. I'm up for anything, s'long as it's tennis.”

Atobe nods, doesn't say anything more. Shishido has the creeping sensation that Atobe's only asking out of polite, captainly interest, not because he's particularly invested. It rankles, a little bit, but he doesn't say anything. Unlike almost everything in his life, Shishido takes tennis seriously and if it means putting up with Atobe's attitude then he's prepared to do that.

When they jog back into centre court, Oshitari is holding Gakuto upside-down by his ankles and Gakuto is making a noise like a pig stuck in a fence.

“Oh, for God's sake,” Atobe says. “What if somebody from another school is here? Put him down.”

“That could be their new tennis formation,” Hiyoshi says, mildly. “I think it'd be more successful than their last one.”

Atobe sends him an icy look and Hiyoshi sets his mouth in a firm line.

“For that,” Atobe continues. “Gakuto and Hiyoshi, you're playing doubles today. Centre court. If you think you're so smart, Wakashi, you'll have no problem getting the best out of your partner.”

“Why am I being punished for him being a smartass?” Gakuto sneers.

“Because,” Atobe says. “Smartassery aside, Hiyoshi's going to inherit this team. You can learn from him. And he's right – your last formation? Not good.”

“Would you like Shishido and I to play them?” Ootori says, turning his racket over and over on his shoulder. He casts Shishido a look out of the corner of his eye, which Shishido ignores.

“No,” Atobe says. “Oshitari and Ootori. Oshitari, you can learn from playing opposite Gakuto for a change. Shishido, Jirou. Kabaji, I'm playing you. I need to work on my smashes.”

Shishido looks displeased at acquiring Jirou, who is in no mood for a tough game on a warm afternoon. Atobe lets it go, having had more than enough of Hyoutei's dramatics for one day. As he walks to the third court with Kabaji, he rolls his shoulders, grimacing at the grinding within.

“Have you thought about next year?” Kabaji asks. “The new team?”

“Mm,” Atobe says, thoughtfully. “It won't be my team. My decisions. I'm not sure there's much to think about, other than getting onto it.”

“How do you plan to do that?” Kabaji says. “The Senior team is – it's something else.”

“I know,” Atobe says. “I'm something else. I believe in myself. I don't think it needs anything more than that.”

“Have you considered playing doubles?” Kabaji asks. “The Senior team has a weak spot and it's the doubles' pairs. Shishido and Ootori would get onto the Senior team as they are, no problem.”

Atobe stands, turns back to look at the courts lined up. Oshitari and Ootori knocking fists on the first court, Shishido stepping up to serve on the second. He throws the ball into the air and as it turns it reflects the sunlight. When it falls it's like a star and when Shishido hits it, it smashes into a thousand pieces.

“Do you think I wouldn't be good enough for singles?” Atobe says, drawing his eyes away.

Kabaji turns, looks at him. “Honestly,” he muses, “I don't know. I really don't know.”

“Thanks for being honest,” Atobe replies, as he stalks towards the court. “But you're wrong. Trust me.”

Kabaji barely has time to open his mouth before Atobe serves; a crack that sounds like a bone splitting in two. He returns it, but only just, and as he reaches across for it they're both smiling.

By the end of their game, Jirou starts to wake up. The problem with being a doubles player is that people tend to underestimate you in a singles game.. When Shishido is beating Jirou 4-1, Jirou's eyes start to become a little clearer. By the time Jirou's pulled back two games, Shishido is yelling at himself and at Jirou.

Oshitari and Gakuto have stopped playing well; their eyes glued on the adjacent court. Ootori isn't doing much better. Only Hiyoshi seems at all capable of ignoring his teammates. Between serves, Atobe finds his eyes wandering over to the second court, taking in Shishido's passion for the game as much as the clean line of his smashes. Shishido doesn't have finesse, not the way Atobe has finesse, but he has a bullish power that's intimidating, a follow-through that makes the ground shake.

Ten minutes more and they're level. Jirou's eyes are sharp and Shishido's jaw is tight and both of them play with everything they have left. When Shishido throws the ball up it seems almost to hang, waiting to be hit. When he hits it, it seems to tremble in the air before it's gone. Neither of them make mistakes. Neither of them tear their eyes away from the net between them.

It's dark by the time they're 6-6 and Atobe doesn't want to stop them. His game with Kabaji is long over, the others having finally given up and departed for the changing rooms. Only Atobe doesn't feel that he can move. He sits down on the stands, a towel around the nape of his neck, and watches.

When Shishido loses, he makes a sound like retreating thunder. His eyes are cloudy as Atobe tries to pat him on the shoulder. He shrugs it off and stalks off towards the changing room.

He doesn't speak. Partly because he'd be talking to Shishido's back and partly because Shishido's back doesn't seem very conversational. Atobe knows the sting of losing a game you expected to win, a game the other player didn't care about until the end, a game that you put your soul into, every step of the way. He knows that feeling. Remembers it. Remembers wanting to curl up in a little black ball and to never be spoken to again.

He doesn't speak. Shishido washes his hair methodically and irritably and Atobe does his best to ignore him without offending him. Occasionally, Shishido glances at him and Atobe isn't sure what to do. Whether Shishido sees him as his captain or his friend, or some strange mixture of both.

“Tomorrow,” Shishido says. “I want to play Jirou again.”

Atobe leans his head back, warm water on his neck glorious. “Don't make it personal,” he says.

Shishido turns and looks at him. “Two words,” he snaps. “Tezuka Kunimitsu.”

A name Atobe does not need to hear in the showers. He is silent for some time.

“Fair enough,” he says, eventually. “If you want to play him, I'll assign you to him.”

“Thanks,” Shishido says. He turns the shower off with a thud of his hand.

“Just – don't make it a vendetta,” Atobe says. “Jirou's always like that. It's no slight on you. There are better players in the team for you to improve against. Don't focus on him alone.”

Shishido looks at him. “Every loss is a slight against the team. That's what you said to me.”

Atobe thinks for a minute as Shishido starts toweling his hair. “I was wrong,” he says. “About that.”

Shishido just nods, walks away. Atobe is left with a strange sense of foreboding. As he dries himself down, he decides that it must be because he doesn't understand Shishido. There are so few things in life that he doesn't understand.

It occurs to him, slowly, that it isn't that. It's that he doesn't understand why he looks at the line of Shishido's hip and thinks of the boundaries of the court; so sharp and hostile and beautiful.

Maybe Kabaji is right, about the doubles.

The next day, Oshitari is smug.

Atobe keeps looking at him in maths and Shishido is doing his best to ignore them both.

Oshitari's smugness is a kind of radiating dark force, reaching into the corners of the room. When the teacher turns his back, Atobe leans into the aisle, grabs Oshitari's chin and turns his smug little head to himself.

Oshitari grins obnoxiously at him. Shishido wants to throw something at them both.

“You did something with Mimi,” Atobe says, accusingly, afterwards.

“The square root of Yuushi is loneliness,” Oshitari says.

“Yuushi,” Atobe says, frowning. “When are you going to realise that loneliness is not cured with your dick?”

“Never,” Yuushi says, with a sigh. “Such is the life of a romantic.”

“For fuck's sake,” Shishido growls. “Do you two have to share everything.”

“Keigo didn't want her,” Oshitari says.

“I didn't,” Atobe says. “I do now.”

“That's sick,” Shishido says. “You're both sick.”

“I prefer to call it healthy competition,” Atobe says, haughtily. “All that poor girl knows is Yuushi. I feel sorry for her. Had I taken her onto my yacht, she would've known-”

“Shut up,” Shishido interrupts. “This conversation is now officially too lame for me. I'm going to go eat dirt or something.”

“What is the square root of Keigo?” Atobe muses. “Sexiness?”

“Money,” Oshitari says, so that Atobe hits him.

Shishido stalks off.

“The square root of Shishido is temper,” Oshitari remarks.

“He's pissed because Jirou beat him,” Atobe says.

“Oh,” Oshitari says. “What was the result?”


“It's better than it was in January,” Oshitari says.

“Try telling him that,” Atobe shrugs. “I don't...get him, Yuushi. Every time he achieves something he moves the bar so he can't feel proud of it. I think it's why he's so pissed off most of the time. It's like he's trying to catch up with somebody but they're always just out of reach.”

Oshitari nods. “I think you two are the same,” he says.

“I feel pride,” Atobe says. “I do allow myself to feel pride.”

“Hm,” Oshitari says. “I think you allow others to be proud of you, which isn't the same thing.”

“Oh, don't get all philosophical on me,” Atobe scowls. “You always do this after you've got some. I have Greek next – I don't need your pontification.”

“Alas, poor Keigo,” Oshitari says. “Whose life is troublesome.”

“You make it that way,” Atobe retorts. “Look, I'll see you at lunch. Try not to screw anybody before then.”

“Yes, captain,” Oshitari says. “Whatever you say.”

Gakuto hates being partnered with Shishido during history. Shishido has a habit of making lewd remarks about historical figures, giving them a background that Gakuto would rather not remember them for. He keeps telling Shishido that he should become a historical fiction writer, but Shishido just scowls at him and says that writing's for sissies.

Today, Shishido is in too black a mood to even contemplate sex, which for a fifteen year old boy is a black mood indeed. Gakuto had spoken to Jirou that morning so he knows why Shishido is unhappy, he just doesn't understand why now. Shishido has been sorely beaten in singles by almost everybody on the team. Ootori beat him first, which appeared briefly painful but Shishido declared himself used to it. Hiyoshi beat him next, then Kabaji. Oshitari was fourth. Shishido did beat Gakuto but seemed not to take any pride in it.

He wants to beat Atobe, Gakuto supposes, but if you can't beat the team you haven't a hope against its star, so Shishido's plight is kind of dire. Gakuto doesn't understand tennis the way Shishido does, the way Hyoutei is, but he tries his best to.

“It's hard to go from doubles to singles,” he says, under his breath.

Shishido looks up and his eyes are so hard and so fierce that Gakuto has to really jut out his chin to prove himself worthy of the conversation. Shishido folds. He wrinkles his nose and drops his chin onto his hand.

“Yeah,” he says. “I guess.”

“It'll take a while before you're gonna beat everybody else,” Gakuto says. “Wouldn't look good on them if you beat them all straight away, would it? And look, Ootori got creamed by Hiyoshi and Oshitari, too.”

“He beat Kabaji,” Shishido says.

“Well, they're both power players,” Gakuto says. “Makes sense that he beat Kabaji.”

“Mm,” Shishido says. “Yeah.”

“And you beat me,” Gakuto says.

Shishido looks as though he wants to say something, but he doesn't.

“You can say it,” Gakuto says, rolling his eyes.

“'Course I beat you,” Shishido says. “Shrimp.”

“Wanker,” Gakuto says. “Stop moping. You're like a girl. It's depressing.”

“I'm not like a girl,” Shishido splutters, too loudly. The teacher and half of the front row turn to him, and he shrugs down in his seat. “We're talking about Elizabeth I,” he says, miserably.

“Who wasn't a conventional woman in her time,” Gakuto adds.

“Yeah,” Shishido says. “Hardcore. I bet she liked-”

No,” Gakuto says. “She was a virgin.”

Fuck,” Shishido says. “They let a virgin run the country?”

“Surprisingly,” Gakuto says. “It's possible to focus better when you're not thinking about sex all the time.”

“Huh,” Shishido says. “I suppose you'd know.”

“You too,” Gakuto snorts.

“That's not the point,” Shishido says.

“What is the point?”

“The point is,” Shishido says. “Uh. That. Y'know, I could. If I wanted to.”

“Right,” Gakuto says. “How about you shut up?”

“Yeah, okay,” Shishido says.

Shishido ends up with orange juice at lunchtime. They've run out of apple. He scowls into his dinner plate and refuses Atobe's chips on principle.

Jirou sits down, late. He rarely joins them at lunch, prefers to be outside. Gakuto squeezes up, makes room for him. Atobe casts his eyes between Jirou and Shishido as Oshitari steals his chips.

Jirou trades Oshitari his pudding for Oshitari's apple juice and pushes it across the table to Shishido.

Shishido drinks it with a nod.

Shishido plays Jirou at practice. Atobe decides not to watch – somehow it's easier that way. He plays Oshitari, because Oshitari hasn't done any work for approximately 4.5 practices and, well. Maybe Kabaji was right about the doubles. He wants to suss out Oshitari's play and he expects it to keep him distracted. To give him credit, it does, eventually.

In the background, he can hear Shishido's game. Loud and eventful and full of stars. He wishes he could somehow turn his hearing off, shift his field of consciousness away from Shishido.

He pulls two games on Oshitari without much difficulty. Oshitari takes a while to warm up and once boiling, he makes no mistakes. Slowly, the sound of Shishido pounding the balls vanishes into the distance. Atobe's muscles begin to ache, his eyes start to burn with the glare of the sun. He can hear his heartbeat as he serves. The numbers swim before his eyes as he tosses the ball into the air. Oshitari folds down into Tsubame Gaeshi but he's one step ahead of him, always just one step ahead.

It doesn't matter that nobody is watching. It doesn't matter that it's just another game on just another day. Nothing matters but this one serve. This one chance. Jirou's eyes are so hard and so sharp that Shishido, despite himself, is nervous. In his head, he's thrown the ball into the air three times. The ball is shaking in his hand. He glances down into the other courts; Ootori playing Hiyoshi, Gakuto playing Kabaji, holy shit. Atobe and Oshitari, locked in one of their things.

He tosses the ball in the air, half an eye on Oshitari. Slams the racket into it and almost closes his eyes as it soars over the net. Jirou trips for it but it skids past, racing for the flat of the court as if there's some safe-haven there.

Atobe smashes back a return which skims past Oshitari's foot so that he collapses down after it, breathless.

He and Shishido look at each other, united for a second in victory.

They don't go to the showers right away. Atobe and Shishido lie down on the court, Shishido laughing at nothing and Atobe letting him.

“Ootori next,” he says. “I gotta beat Ootori next.”

“Just appreciate the victory,” Atobe says.

“Huh,” Shishido says. “Nah, I gotta beat Ootori.”

“Do you never stop to...feel accomplished?” Atobe says.

Shishido turns his head to look at him. His eyes are dark and his hair is soaked to his head but there's thought on his face. He pauses, enough to give Atobe's opinion weight. It makes Atobe's stomach hurt.

“Gotta keep going,” he says. “It's easy for you – you beat most people you play whether you've ever played them before or not. I need to keep momentum going.”

“You're a doubles player,” Atobe says. “It's hard to adjust.”

“Everybody says that. Only since Choutarou,” Shishido says. “Before that, I was a singles player. Fuck, Keigo, I'm a tennis player. Period. Don't make excuses for me.”

“I'm not,” Atobe says, lightly. “But allow me a moment to be proud of your progress.”

“Urgh,” Shishido says. “You're impossible. You sound like my dad.”

“Thanks,” Atobe says. “I think.”

“Are you scared? About moving schools.”

“No,” Atobe lies. “It'll be just like this one. Jump through hoops, pass exams-”

“What about losing the captaincy?”

Atobe looks at him, grinning wryly. “Temporary,” he says.

“You're a cocky little shit,” Shishido says, admiringly.

“Learnt from the best,” Atobe says.

“Echizen?” Shishido says.

Atobe scowls. “Don't,” he says. “We have to beat them next year, Ryou. We have to.”

“Signed,” Shishido says. “We need to get on that team and sort it out. But it'll be fucking weird to leave this behind.”

“Mm,” Atobe says. “I was thinking of having a send-off. Post-exams, post...everything. If I can twist my father's arm.”

“What, a party?” Shishido says.

“I was thinking of inviting everybody sailing,” Atobe says. “We have a yacht, might as well us it.”

“Not taken for Mimi, then?” Shishido says. “Private times with the lovely-”

“Say another word and you're uninvited,” Atobe says, and Shishido closes his mouth.

“I think we need to shower,” Atobe says, after a pause. “I have grit in my knees.”

Shishido nods and gets to his feet.

“Who do you want to play tomorrow?” Atobe asks, as they head back.

Shishido keeps his mouth shut, does a series of incomprehensible gestures that are, Atobe figures, supposed to represent one of his teammates.

“That makes no sense,” Atobe says. “Idiot.”

Shishido sighs a long-suffering sigh and starts all over again.

“Ryou,” Atobe says. “Just talk. You're still invited. Just stop behaving like a windmill.”

“Damnit,” Ryou says. “That was Choutarou, you moron! How did you not guess Choutarou? That was me playing the violin!”

“Ryou,” Atobe says. “You hold the violin under your chin, not under your arm.”

“Oh,” Shishido says. “Yeah.”

Once Atobe manages (thirteen days of long, persuasive arguing with the help of Oshitari's debating skills) to secure use of the yacht for two weeks, the school is soon buzzing with anticipation. Attention turns back to Mimi and girls surround Atobe during classes, hoping for him to notice them.

“Are you going to tell them that you're taking the tennis team?” Shishido says, at lunch. He and Oshitari help themselves to Atobe's food from either side.

“No,” Atobe says, stubbornly. “It's none of their business.”

“Keigo likes to court controversy,” Oshitari says.

“The square root of Keigo is controversy,” Atobe agrees.

“Like deciding to become a doubles player next year,” Oshitari says. “Controversy of the highest standard. Bravo.”

Shishido looks up, surprised, but doesn't have a moment to comment. Ootori flings himself between six of Atobe's most resilient admirers and collapses into his chair. He's late and his plate shows it. Shishido irritably heaps a lump of Atobe's rice onto it.

“Ryou,” Ootori scolds, offering Atobe his food back. Atobe wrinkles his nose and Ootori laughs.

“Hey, thanks for inviting me on your trip,” he says.

“You're the team,” Atobe says, lightly. “Of course you're invited.”

“Even though Ryou beat me yesterday?” Ootori asks, impishly.

“Mmm, thinking about it,” Atobe says. “I should've only allowed people to come if they could beat me.”

“You'd have to holiday alone,” Oshitari says. “Poor Keigo.”

“That sounds peaceful,” Atobe says.

“Peaceful's overrated,” Shishido says. “And if you want me to beat you before we leave, I will. Since when are you going to play doubles, huh? Could've told-”

“He's getting fucking cocky,” Gakuto interrupts. “Why did we indulge him when he was losing all the time? He was so much nicer downtrodden.”

“I am not cocky,” Shishido says. “You little shit.”

“Please leave Gakuto alone,” Atobe says, boredly. “He's not worth it. If you want to try and beat me, go ahead. I don't mind cocky on this team.”

“I think we've got enough cocky already,” Hiyoshi says.

“Touché,” Atobe says.

“Talk about the food some more,” Oshitari says. “The special team of culinary wizards your parents are providing. Keigo, tell me about the desserts.”

“Shut up, Yuushi,” Atobe says. “That's the fifth time you've asked today. I think you need to go to rehab.”

“God,” Gakuto says. “Is he your doubles partner? Good luck with that.”

Atobe opens his mouth to speak. “I haven't-”

“Shut up, Mukahi,” Shishido says. “Let me play you today. Keigo?”

“I haven't decided who my doubles partner is going to be,” Atobe says, quickly, managing to get a word in edgeways. “Largely because I haven't decided that I'm going to play doubles yet. It's a consideration.”

“Could've told me,” Shishido says. “You gonna play me today, then?”

“Fuck,” Gakuto says. “Can we talk about something other than tennis? We're in the middle of exams, for crying out loud. Let's make Ryou feel bad about being retarded.”

“No,” Atobe says.

“Who?” Shishido says. “Him or me?”

“No to Gakuto,” Atobe says. “Yes to you.”

Despite Oshitari's whining about tennis practices during the exam period, Atobe finds himself looking forward to the sessions. He always enjoys tennis more during exams – everything in his body feels sharper. He isn't spending his days cramming his brain full of facts but articulating himself, sculpting arguments, settling up on his knowledge. At the end of the day his brain feels lighter and tennis comes more easily to him.

Shishido plays badly when he has exams to think about. It's the pressure, Atobe thinks. Shishido works perfectly well when they're just learning, it's the practical side that seems to trip him up. Asking him to cram a year's worth of lessons into a two-hour writing session doesn't work but despite that, Atobe has never doubted that Shishido will pass. It's the way Shishido is – his knuckles may get bloody but he still delivers a knockout.

His tennis, though, is completely without punch.

His forehand slips and when it does, he scowls and swears at himself. His body is loose, too loose, his limbs don't seem to go the way he wants them to. He misses easy shots and doesn't seem to have the energy for the difficult ones. It's a bad day to play Atobe on and Atobe can't help but feel infuriated. This isn't the Shishido he knows.

“You're so much better than this,” he says. “What's going on?”

“Nothing,” Shishido smarts. “I'm just having an off-day.”

“You asked to play me,” Atobe says. “So you have to bring it. You have to have it. Otherwise we're just wasting each other's time. Come on – you can do this.”

Shishido misses the next four shots, loses the game. Chucks his racket on the ground. Atobe turns his back – as much with his own irritation as to give Shishido breathing space. When he turns back around, Shishido is sitting on the court, arms curled around his knees.

“I really wanted to beat you,” he says.

“Ryou, you have to just relax more,” Atobe says. “You can be so much better than that and you know it. You don't have to push it – it's there.”

“I can't relax with you shouting at me,” Shishido retorts.

Stung, Atobe says, “Look, I'm your captain. You were shit today. You know that I tell you that to improve you, not to bring you down. People are going to shout at you, Ryou, and you-”

“I know that,” Shishido says. “Don't you think I fucking know that?”

“Then stop asking for anything different,” Atobe says.

“Oh, fuck you, Keigo,” Shishido says. “Just take the win and be happy with it.”

“I'm not happy with it.”

“Yeah, well, maybe you should be. A poor winner's as bad as a poor loser.”

“That wasn't a win. That was you giving up.”

“I'm not playing you tomorrow.”

“Giving up, like I said.”

Shishido climbs to his feet, scowling. “It's so easy for you to say. You have no fucking idea what it's like to never be good enough. You never will. So shut your goddamn mouth and go find somebody else to push yourself on.”

They don't speak for the remainder of the exams or throughout the practices. Atobe knows that this is the mark of a bad captain – and worse, a bad friend. But at the same time Shishido's attitude grates on his nerves. The problem with people who force things that don't come naturally to them is that they force people they don't immediately understand. Shishido makes a lot of assumptions because he can't find a way to ask questions and that rankles Atobe, who hates everything about gossip.

Oshitari does his best to intervene but gives up, recognising that they're each as stubborn as the other. In the meantime, Shishido spends practices looking after his own interests. He pairs himself up with various people and Atobe allows him to do it, unsure of how else to respond. With his father breathing down his neck and the pressure of exams, somehow it's easier just to let things happen.

“What did he say to you?” Oshitari asks, after practice. He's taken to walking two blocks to Atobe's chauffeur. They both seem to appreciate the peace.

“Nothing much,” Atobe admits. “He just – he makes these big statements without thinking anything through. He assumes he knows things that he doesn't. If you did it to him he'd be pissed off but he doesn't think twice about doing it to other people.”

“I think,” Oshitari says. “That you see things more clearly than Ryou does. It's harder for him to understand things that happen around him. You have one hell of a mind, Atobe Keigo.”

“He's not stupid,” Atobe says. “I don't know why he can't see that I just want the best out of him. You know he's top of my list for doubles next year. Why doesn't he see that I'm trying to motivate him?”

Oshitari shrugs. “You both have weird relationships with pride,” he says. “Cut him some slack. He's trying. He wants you to approve of him.”

“Huh,” Atobe says. “I don't know. I don't know what he wants.”

“I think I'll be glad when exams are over,” Oshitari says. “And when tennis is over. I keep thinking of boats and chocolate éclairs. I'm glad you went off me – I'm the worst doubles partner.”

“You are the laziest glutton I have ever met, it's true,” Atobe says. “And tennis is never over. It's never been over.”

“We're going sailing,” Oshitari says. “There will be no talk of tennis.”

Atobe smiles in a way that Oshitari knows is blatant defiance.

“Fuck,” he says.

The last exam. History. Atobe's most hated subject and Shishido's favourite. They stand awkwardly outside the exam hall, Shishido thumbing his pen, Atobe looking at the ceiling. They have progressed to the exchange of small talk but not much further. Atobe prides himself on his small talk but Shishido isn't very good at it.

“So,” he says. “Henry VIII, right. Wanker.”

Atobe looks at him. Two girls who have been shifting closer and closer to Atobe also look at him. Shishido looks at them, scowling.

“Who the fuck are you?” he says. Tails between their legs, they retreat.

“That wasn't very nice,” Atobe says, in his haughtiest voice, but he's smiling and it ruins the effect.

“Yeah, well,” Shishido says. “It's fucking annoying. Can't you just tell everybody you're taking seven other guys on your boat? The rumours would make my year.”

“No,” Atobe says. “And besides, it's six. I think you uninvited yourself, you bastard.”

“I did not,” Shishido says. “Uh, you know, I mean – sorry, about that. And everything. I've been having a bad time. Think I'm failing everything.”

“You're not failing everything,” Atobe says. “Don't be stupid.”

“Failing everything except History,” Shishido says.

“Well, there you go,” Atobe says. “Everyone else is failing History so you're doing something right.”

“I'm not,” Oshitari says, sliding into the conversation.

Atobe looks at him.

“Sorry,” he says. “I just heard 'so's everyone'. It makes me competitive. What are we talking about?”

“I could've attended a normal school,” Atobe says. “Full of normal people.”

“You're not normal,” Shishido says. “Nobody's fucking normal.”

“Oh,” Oshitari says. “Are you two talking again?”

“Apparently,” Atobe says.

“Keigo can't live without me,” Shishido says. “He knows that it's true.”

“I know nothing of the sort,” Atobe says. “When I inherit the team at Senior High, none of you shall be allowed on it.”

“If I get to Senior High,” Shishido mopes.

“Yuushi,” Atobe says. “Tell Ryou he's not failing everything.”

“Ryou, look,” Oshitari says. “You once told me that History is simple. It's like those dramas you watch. There are characters and they do things, things that affect each other. They have ambitions which either make them or break them. You write about it like it's a comic book. So you're clearly not retarded. Buck up, alright?”

“Right,” Shishido says. “Did you tell me I should leave out the sex parts?”

“Yes,” Oshitari says.

Yes,” Atobe says.

The last practice before summer break-up. The last practice of Junior High. Atobe feels that he wants to get everybody in a huddle, that he wants one last moment of togetherness. He doesn't know how to say it.

He assigns himself to Shishido, who seems pleased in a gritted sort of way. He assigns Ootori to Hiyoshi – might as well, the two who'll be at the top of the new team. Jirou to Gakuto, Oshitari to Kabaji. Everybody moves without question, without complaint – they too are aware of the weight of it. The Nationals they didn't win, the games that didn't go their way. The mornings they'll never spend again running around the courts – their old routines, their old pleasures. The nights before the tournaments. The nerves and the exhilaration.

It'll all be different, Atobe thinks. He doesn't like change.

He and Shishido give it their all. Shishido is revitalised from finishing his last exam, somehow free from thoughts and worry. He plays smoother and cleaner and harder than he ever has and for the first time in weeks Atobe feels ache in his shoulders. His shoes seem to rub his feet in a way they haven't before now. He stretches for the ball and it takes an extra something to smash it back. Between serves, he praises Shishido – it comes naturally, admiration – and Shishido grins stupidly at him.

He wants it to last forever.

Shishido loses, but at 6-4 he's not complaining.

The team sits on the bleachers for a full half hour after practice, passing around a water bottle. Nobody says anything and it's completely and utterly comfortable.

The end of school feels a world away by the time they're all out at sea. Atobe stretches and feels the pleasant curl of the boat underneath him. He looks around but he can't see land – he feels removed from everything. School. The future. Exams. Even tennis. To Oshitari's delight, tennis is a banned topic onboard and so far, everything is going smoothly. The staff are rarely seen unless needed, everybody has enough food, clothing and health insurance and, best of all, the bay they're floating in has its own strip of land. Its own little town. A nightclub. Girls.

He and Ootori read the papers, which appear quite mysteriously each day via the staff. Atobe pretends to read the finance pages before Oshitari steals the paper, does the crosswords. He asks Shishido for help and Shishido supplies dirty words. He keeps staring wistfully at land, at his own chin in the bathroom mirror. Atobe doesn't understand that but he's appreciative of his company. He's appreciative of the fact that they're speaking again. Despite all his growing instincts, Shishido seems to be a factor in Atobe's happiness.

“We could go into town tonight,” Shishido says.

Atobe has a weird pang that he doesn't understand. “I wouldn't like to leave the boat in the harbour,” he says. “It is quite expensive. This isn't Monte Carlo.”

Shishido snorts. “You can stay on the boat, then.”

“We should have ground rules,” Ootori says. He's reading Shishido's textbooks in preparation for next year. “Shouldn't we have sorted out ground rules before-”

“Rules are banned,” Oshitari says. “Except the stealing of my food. That is a rule that must be obeyed. Or I shall keelhaul you.”

“Ground rules are good,” Atobe considers.

Shishido groans.

“No bringing back girls to the boat,” Atobe says.

Oshitari and Shishido groan.

“No strangers on the boat, period,” Atobe says. “Anybody I don't know should have to stay ashore.”

“Unless we seek express permission,” Oshitari says, hopefully.

Yuushi,” Atobe says.

“Keigo,” Oshitari says.

“No vomiting,” Shishido says, pointedly.

“Do it overboard,” Atobe agrees. “And no people going overboard, thank you. I don't want to have to buy out your life insurance policies.”

“Is that it,” Shishido says. “It's beginning to sound like a fucking school trip.”

Atobe shrugs. “That's it,” he says.

“I bought beer,” Shishido says, gleefully. “You didn't say no alcohol. I brought beer.”

Atobe narrows his eyes, thinking for a moment. Then, he reaches out his hand. Shishido cracks open the bottles and they lie back, drinking, feeling like men. Except Atobe who, looking at Shishido, feels a bit like a child.

Later, Oshitari is fast asleep. He isn't wearing sun-tan lotion and Ootori is desperately daubing it onto his face. Gakuto is asleep in the shade, as is Hiyoshi. Nobody knows where Kabaji is. Possibly with Jirou, leaning over the side of the boat and marveling at everything.

Atobe, a little woozy on beer, breaks one of the ground rules. “It was Kabaji who said I should try doubles,” he says.

“Huh,” Shishido says. “I thought it was your idea.”

“I hadn't thought about it until he suggested it,” Atobe says. “He thinks I might not be good enough for singles.”

Shishido shrugs. “If you're not good enough, the rest of us are fucked.”

“Thanks,” Atobe says. “I'm thinking about it.”

“S'not like you to be down on yourself,” Shishido says.

“What do you mean?” Atobe says.

“Considering doubles,” Shishido says. “Sounds like you're giving up. I should give you the pep talk you gave me, right?”

“I'm not giving up,” Atobe says, coldly, stung. “There's no need for a pep talk.”

“Okay,” Shishido says, amicably. They watch the sun sink down between the rocks. Atobe thinks about Oshitari's ramblings – about Captain Corelli's stupid Mandolin and about love and passion and all the things that occupy Oshitari's moronic head from day to day. Atobe has the oddest suspicion that Oshitari thinks of him as a delicate flower in a local Greek town.

“You liked doubles,” Atobe says.

“I did,” Shishido says. “You gotta have a rapport. Your partner – you have to trust them. You have to have that bond.” He pauses. “I guess you and Oshitari will do well.”

Atobe looks at him, trying to gauge the level of sarcasm. It rankles that Shishido has assumed Atobe wants to play doubles with Oshitari. Everybody assumes everything about Atobe and Oshitari, not that Oshitari does anything to discourage it. And, well. Atobe hates gossip.

“You think we'd make a good doubles pair?”

Shishido shrugs. “Yeah. You're close, right? You both play well. Don't see why not.”

Atobe sighs, finishes his beer. “Yeah, you could be right,” he says. “Just sometimes, I want more.”

“Yeah, well,” Shishido says. “Unless you have Nadal's number...”

Atobe stretches his hands out behind him, thinks about the fluttering way Oshitari plays tennis. The hard knocks of Shishido's serves. He's not a doubles player. He never has been. Oshitari would be pliant, succumb to Atobe's greater authority. Shishido would fight it, all the way. Where Oshitari would lack enthusiasm, Shishido would have it in spades. Where Oshitari's cool temperament would win them matches, Shishido's bullheadedness would lose them.

Maybe he should 'phone Nadal, after all. Perhaps his father could get his number.

“I think Rafa has better things to do,” he says.

“Better things than play tennis with the great Atobe Keigo?” Shishido mocks. “Surely not.”

“Who would you beat,” Atobe says. “If you could only beat one tennis player, ever. If it was going to be your last game.”

Shishido finishes his beer and drops the bottle onto the deck. It turns and collapses, a little of the bubbles soaking out. Atobe ignores it because the look on Shishido's face is so concentrated. Atobe likes that Shishido gives his questions weight. Oshitari tends to give quick, breezy answers, most of them untrue.

“You,” he says, gruffly.

Atobe hadn't been expecting that. “Fuck,” he says. “Not Hewitt, or Federer, or- I mean. You like Nadal.”

“Nadal would pulverise me,” Shishido says. “What's the fun in that? I'd want to beat you. I've always wanted to beat you.”

Atobe nods, slightly uncomfortable. “I think it'd be Nadal, for me,” he says.

“He'd pulverise you, too,” Shishido says. “I'd watch that. That'd be fucking funny. He'd squash you like a bug with his arms. Heh.”

“He would not,” Atobe says, even though he most definitely would.

“Stop talking about tennis,” Oshitari murmurs, turning over in his chair. “I can hear you rule-breaking. Might have to throw you overboard. What's on my face?”

“Pigeon crap,” Shishido says. Oshitari bolts upwards so fast his chair collapses and sends him sprawling onto the floor.

“It's sun-tan lotion,” Ootori says, miserably, as Atobe and Shishido collapse into laughter. They cackle with mirth until their stomachs ache, until Oshitari grabs hold of Shishido and dangles him over the side of the boat. Shishido, sun catching his hair and in Oshitari's grip, watches the line of Atobe's mouth when he laughs. His stomach hurts even more, but not with laughter.

They play truth or dare at night. A little drunk and a lot relaxed. In the distance, the town is lit up like a Christmas tree. There are faint sounds of revelry and drunkenness. The occasional firework sends light scattering over their faces.

“What's the biggest lie you've ever told?” Atobe asks Oshitari.

“I never lie,” Oshitari says.

“Somebody fucking hit him,” Atobe says, just as Shishido lifts his hand. “Not you,” he adds.

“I should've picked a dare,” Oshitari says, mournfully. “Oh, very well. I cheated in an exam once. Never told anybody. My parents were really proud of me and I never told them the truth.”

Atobe, surprised, asks, “Wow. When was this?”

“When I first arrived,” Oshitari says. “Hyoutei was a lot more challenging than I expected. I was scared I'd fail. It was a maths exam – I couldn't have handled failing maths. You're surprised.”

“Stunned,” Atobe says. “You were always so confident.”

“Not always,” Oshitari says. “Anyway. I'm picking Ryou now. Bet there're loads of skeletons in his closet.”

Shishido groans. “I should pick dare, right,” he says.

“I might make you drink something horrible,” Atobe warns.

“Fuck,” Shishido says. “Right. Truth, then.”

“That girl who dumped you in February,” Oshitari says. “The one who you claimed was frigid. What really happened? She was way too pissed with you to have chickened out.”

Shishido goes an attractive shade of red, highlighted by a stray firework. Atobe chuckles and finishes his beer. “Oh,” he says. “Good one.”

“Nothing happened,” Shishido mutters. “Stupid. Girl. Stuff.”

“He probably turned her gay,” Gakuto says. “He has a habit of doing that.”

“I do not,” Shishido says. “You've never even had a girlfriend. Shut up, moron. Choutarou, help me.”

“I'm not helping,” Ootori says, smiling. “You got yourself into this mess. You should've agreed to drink the drink.”

“Some best friend you are,” Shishido retorts.

“So,” Oshitari says. “What happened.”

“Enngh,” Shishido says. “Well, see, right. Right. She was all over me, right, and everything was good and it was good. There was...skirt off, right, and...shirt off, and it was good.”

“Right,” Oshitari says.

“You understood that?” Gakuto says, incredulous.

“Shut up,” Atobe says, regretting his visual imagination. The mental images are almost too much to take.

“And, er, yeah, so I'm – y'know. Kissing. And touching her, er, tits. Yeah. Because she'd been letting me do that for a while so it was allowed, and then I kinda...got a bit cheeky and started moving my hand to her. Y'know.”

“Right,” Oshitari says.

“Seriously,” Gakuto says. “What language is he speaking?”

“Shut up,” Atobe says.

“And she's still got her underwear on, so it's, uhh. I'm trying to work out how to negotiate past that without sounding like Yuushi or like Gakuto or something. Y'know, sleazy or just plain crap. So I sort of just...slid my fingers down the waistband and-”

Atobe really wishes his imagination were a little less ambitious.

“Right,” Oshitari says.

“She lets me. She fucking lets me. So it's the best day of my life, right, and I'm just touching her...y'know, and she suddenly says 'Do you think Keigo likes me?'”

Atobe begins to smirk.

“So I'm thinking, what the fuck has that got to do with anything. And I sort of mumbled something because, y'know, she's...I can feel...stuff and it's incredible and I'm trying not to come in my pants and I can't think. And she keeps asking it. Keeps talking about Keigo.”

“She clearly has good taste,” Atobe says.

Shishido glares at him. “So I say, what's Keigo got to do with it? And she looks at me like I'm dense and says, 'well, he's your friend, right?' So I said, yeah. Want him to join in?”

Gakuto groans. Oshitari looks at Atobe, who does his best to ignore it.

“So,” Shishido continues, tone furious. “She says, 'well, if you could put in a good word for me...' So, yeah, that was it. I told her to go fuck herself and left.”

“Oh,” Oshitari says. “I thought it'd be a funny story. I'm sorry.”

“S'fine,” Shishido says. “She wasn't that hot anyway.”

She was, Atobe thinks, remembering. She was gorgeous and Shishido was so pleased when she seemed interested in him. When she agreed to date him, he was over the moon. Didn't even care that Oshitari beat him that day at practice. He hurts for Shishido but can't find the words to say as much.

“You can ask me one,” he supplies, uselessly.

“Heh,” Shishido says, looking cheered. “Are you still a virgin?”

Atobe goes a vile shade of puce, but luckily no fireworks give it away to everybody else. Oshitari guffaws and Kabaji finds a reason to go and look across the water at the town for the seventeenth time that day.

“I do not believe you just asked me that,” Atobe says.

Gakuto gives Shishido a high-five. Ootori looks mortified on Atobe's behalf.

“Had to,” Shishido says. “You keep boasting about it. Always wondered whether there was any truth in it.”

Oshitari folds his arms. “Yes, Keigo,” he murmurs. “Do tell.”

“I refuse to answer that question,” Atobe says. “For clearly it is ridiculous. Of course I'm not.”

“You lying shit,” Shishido says, collapsing into sniggers.

“Well,” Atobe says. “Well. It's not like you have any experience, either.”

Shishido is laughing too much to respond.

“I wish to drown myself,” Hiyoshi says. “Who will assist me?”

“This is a disaster,” Atobe says, later, on Oshitari's bed. It's nearly dawn and Oshitari is reading Cosmopolitan of all things.

“A disaster featuring a boat,” Oshitari says gleefully. “Will your heart go on and on, Keigo?”

“I want to stab it,” Atobe says. “Just to escape this fucking- Yuushi, put the magazine down. Why do you read that shit?”

“It's educational,” Oshitari says, lightly. “Why do you think Mimi couldn't walk for three days?”

“Shut up,” Atobe says. “Look. Just shut up.”

“Okay,” Oshitari says.

“I'm sorry I lied,” he says.

“It's okay,” Oshitari says. “I kind of knew.”

“Well,” Atobe says. “Well fine that is yes fine okay.”

Oshitari smiles. “You can have Mimi, if you want.”

“No,” Atobe says. “No, I'm good. I'd rather find...somebody I really liked. And who you haven't been with.”

“They aren't mutually exclusive,” Oshitari says.

“They will be,” Atobe says. “When I find my person. You will go near her only on pain of death.”

“You do recognise that you're alarming, Keigo, yes?”

“Yes,” Atobe says. “It has been brought to my attention.”

“Oh good,” Oshitari says. “Let's do a quiz together. You can find out if you're sexually switched on or left it the dark.”

“I hate you,” Atobe says. “What's the first question?”

“What time of day are you most aroused?”

Atobe thinks about this. “I'm a teenage boy, Yuushi. Is there an option for 'all day'?”

“No,” Oshitari says. “Morning, after work or late at night.”

“Fuck,” Atobe says. “Morning, then.”

“Are you more aroused by visual stimuli or auditory sensations?”

“Why are we doing this, again?”

“Just answer the question.”

“Both,” Atobe says.

“I think we're going to discover that you're a big slutty slut,” Oshitari says.

“Continue,” Atobe says.

“Does the idea of a threesome turn you on?”


“Do you ever have sexual feelings about the same sex?”

Atobe leans over, smacks Oshitari's knee. “You're making this up.”

“I am not,” Oshitari says. “It's right here. Answer the question. Your secret is safe with me.”

“I don't trust you as far as I can throw you.”

“If you threw me that far, I would drown,” Oshitari says. “So you should trust me. I don't want to drown. Let me live, Keigo, oh let me live.”

“If you tell anybody-”

“I won't,” Oshitari says. “You know I won't.”

“Yes,” Atobe hisses. “Alright? Yes.”

“Your sexual light burns so bright others will be dazzled!” Oshitari says, cheerfully. “Shine on, you crazy diamond.”

“Joy,” Atobe says.

Grudgingly, Atobe concedes to going into town with Shishido the next day. The rest of the boys stay on the boat but Atobe, having not slept well, relishes a bit of fresh air. Shishido takes a football with him and kicks it up the hill as they walk past sleepy, hungover residents.

“Sorry I embarrassed you last night,” Shishido says.

“Wouldn't be the first time,” Atobe says. “Don't worry about it. I was an idiot to lie about it.”

Shishido shrugs, kicking the ball up and onto the side of his foot, then dropping it. “Eh,” he says. “I lied to Choutarou about it. Told him how good it was, all that – stupid but I get it.”

Atobe nods. “I'm in the mood for ice-cream,” he says.

“For breakfast?”

“Yeah,” Atobe says. “Why not? My father's not here to lecture me – you want some ice-cream?”

“Hell yeah,” Shishido says. “Chocolate. Lots of chocolate.”

“We'll have to run back down the hill or something,” Atobe muses, purchasing two enormous cones. Shishido listens to the slanting tone of his Greek, too hard, as he misses what Atobe says in Japanese.

“Oh,” he says. “What?”

“We should be training,” Atobe says. “For the new year.”

“Oh,” Shishido says. “Can we play football instead?”

Shishido has chocolate ice-cream on his face and the kind of look in his eyes that he probably had when he was five, Atobe imagines.

“Sure,” he says. “Wipe your face.”

“You sound like my mother,” Shishido grumbles, but he wipes his face on his sleeve.

They sit under a tree, looking out over the water. The boat rocks to and fro and on the deck, Atobe can see Kabaji. He's reading. Jirou is asleep in the sun. Gakuto is balancing books on him. Shishido slurps quietly and watches Atobe watching.

“Everything's gonna change, isn't it,” he says.

“Yeah,” Atobe says. “Well, not everything. And not all for the worse.”

“Why did you pick Oshitari as your doubles partner?”

“I didn't,” Atobe says. “You assumed I did.”

“Ah,” Shishido says. “Shit. Sorry. It seemed obvious to me.”

“A lot of what seems obvious to you, Ryou, is the simple stuff,” Atobe says. “I'm not being a dick, I'm just...saying. A lot of what I do and think is more complicated than it seems. You're not a mind-reader but I wish you'd just ask before you decide I'm doing something.”

“Right,” Shishido says. “Okay. Fair enough. It's just that sometimes you and Yuushi act like you have your own private...club and nobody else can share your jokes. Sometimes you have to open up to other people so they can see you better. It's hard to not assume when somebody isn't...when they're not talking to you, they're talking over you or at you.”

“You think I talk at you?”

“Sometimes,” Shishido says. “Being honest. You do it to a lot of people.”

Atobe is quiet for some time. “This isn't about Tachibana, is it?”

“No,” Shishido says. “You were right about that. I screwed up. You were right to say the things you said.”

“Okay,” he says. “So is this a tennis thing or a general thing?”

“Uhh,” Shishido says. “A general thing. I get on with you better when we're playing tennis. It's weird. You're my friend. I think you're cool. I just wish you were less you and I was more...I dunno. Refined. Or something.”

Atobe licks his ice-cream, thoughtfully. “You think I get on better with rich people.”

“Not rich people,” Shishido says. “People like Yuushi. People who're confident and who don't, y'know, get ice-cream on their face.”

“You're an idiot, Ryou,” Atobe says. Affectionate with bite.

“What?” Shishido says. “Huh?”

“I like you because you're nothing that I grew up with,” Atobe says. “You behave like a Labrador and I like that. I...am glad you're not Yuushi. One Yuushi is enough. I don't want you to change. I just want you to ask me before you assume things. I hate assumptions. My whole life is based on assumptions.”

“Yuushi doesn't need to ask you,” Shishido says. “That's why he's your best friend.”

“Yes,” Atobe says. “But Yuushi does get it wrong, too. Nobody asks me. I'm just saying.”

“Okay,” Shishido says. “Fair point.”

“And if you want, I can try and not treat you like a child.”

“Thanks. I don't always get you – mostly, I don't get you. But I'm not stupid.”

“I know,” Atobe says, with feeling. “I've never treated you like you were stupid. Just childish. Which you are.”

“Heh,” Shishido says. “Yeah, a bit. I'll try and grow up some. If you try and grow down some.”

“Okay,” Atobe says. “So we'll meet in the middle.”

Continue to Part Two.

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