It was the first time in perhaps a month since the last time Ohtori and Shishido hung out, just with each other, outside of the tennis club.
Ohtori had forgotten when it happened, exactly. Shishido and he had always gone for movies together, at least once a week, if anything interesting was playing at all. It was just a break from school and tennis, which they felt they needed. Sure, sometimes he would invite Jirou along. Sometimes he would even attempt to drag Hiyoshi or Taki along, even if that tends to annoy Shishido. Ohtori felt that Hiyoshi, at least, would never relax unless he was forced to. But in the end, it was mostly just Ohtori and Shishido.
Until Akita Michiyo came along.
Apparently Shishido and Michiyo had met through their parents. Definitely some lame-assed matchmaking attempt, Shishido had told Ohtori with a wry grin. Ohtori knew that his senpai wouldn't have actually gone through with it if he hadn't actually liked the girl. Michiyo kept her dark hair long, and tied it up to a ponytail when she was studying. She wore her glasses only when reading or watching something, even though she looks just as cute with them as she was without. She is generally a nice girl, even if she was a klutz when it came to tennis. When Shishido teased her about it she would huff and challenge him to a game of pool. And she'd win.
The reason Ohtori knew all this was because he was there with them, all of the time.
Well, most of the time. He didn't know if Shishido and Michiyo met each other at other times as well, but he figured that Shishido wouldn't have that much free time.
The first time Ohtori saw Michiyo was when he bumped into the couple - and it felt weird seeing his partner as part of a pair that didn't include him - at the mall, and he had just blinked at them in confusion. Then, as Shishido just scowled at him, he realized what was going on, his face reddened and he uttered a quick greeting before turning away. However, Shishido just grabbed his arm and asked, "Choutarou, wanna come along? We're just about to have lunch."
While Shishido was getting their drinks, Michiyo gave Ohtori a strange look and just asked, "Do you make a habit of crashing his dates?"
Ohtori, not knowing what to say, just shook his head until his mind caught up with him. "I hope that I am not bothering you, Akito-san," he had said quietly.
She had just laughed, told him that it was fine, and for him to call her Michiyo.
And that was that.
Now, whenever they went out for a movie, Michiyo would be invited. After a while Ohtori found it hard to even think that there was a time when it was just Shishido and him.
Except that it was just the two of them, today.
Michiyo was studying for a test and couldn't go out, and there wasn't anything interesting showing at the cinema. So the two of them just sat in Shishido's room, listening to music and reading tennis magazines, or recently bought manga in Shishido's case. Shishido's brother just went - he had said something about a "hot date" - and both his mother and grandmother were out visiting a family friend. Normally, Ohtori would be bored out of his mind on an evening like this, but today he just felt content.
He looked up from the magazine he was reading. Shishido was lying on his bed, lost in the world of whatever manga he was obsessed with this time. Ohtori smiled a little. The first time he had visited Shishido he was a little surprised at the amount of manga in his partner's room. When he flipped through one of them and noticed that the main character had hair exactly like Shishido's, he almost laughed out loud. Still, he thought, it wasn't the first time something about Shishido took him off guard. Ohtori remembered the look in his senpai's eyes as he waited for Ohtori's serve, with nothing to protect him save his hands. And Ohtori remembered that Shishido's shoulders were shaking, just a bit, as his hands raised to cut his precious hair.
Personally, Ohtori was just a little glad that Shishido had cut his hair.
Sure, he was glad that he wouldn't be disqualified as a Hyoutei regular, but it was more than that. Ohtori had learned, from all the time that he had started to spend with his senpai, that sometimes Shishido's beauty was too startling, too distracting. It wouldn't do for Ohtori to catch his breath every time Shishido's hair moved against the wind, the way the older boy grinned at him every time he managed to return a ball that seemed too far out of reach, with that look that almost said to him, you made this possible. It wouldn't do for Ohtori to want to run his hands through his partner's hair, because it wasn't his right to do so.
It was Michiyo's.
Not that Shishido looked any less distracting now, Ohtori thought as his eyes came to Shishido's face. He remembered his mother describing a sunset she saw while on vacation with his father - "It was so beautiful, that it hurt." And he understood that his mother had meant that literally. Shishido was like that, too; so beautiful that you actually feel your heart break if you looked at him for one second too long.
Or maybe it's just me, he thought ruefully. He smiled softly and went back to his magazine, when Shishido suddenly spoke up.
"Ne, Choutarou. . ."
He flinched a little, as if Shishido could read his mind. "What is it, Shishido-san?"
"Is something wrong? You've been acting a little weird today." Shishido put down his manga and propped himself up to sit down next to Ohtori.
"It's nothing. I just realized that this was probably the first time we hung out like this in a while."
Shishido's lips twisted into a teasing smile. "Are you saying that you missed me, Choutarou?"
"You know, sometimes you remind me of your brother," Ohtori said, chuckling, which made Shishido scowl. "You have the same smile."
"I am not like that idiot. And he looks stupid when he smiles."
Ohtori just smiled and went back to his magazine.
"Hmm?" Ohtori looked up again with a questioning look that faded into confusion as Shishido seemed to struggle with what he wanted to say.
"Do you . . . like," Shishido paused, taking a deep breath, "Michiyo?"
"Huh?" Ohtori gave Shishido a strange look. "Of course I like her, I mean, she's . . . really nice, and all. . ." he faltered. And you like her, so how could I not?
"No." Shishido drew back a little, frustration written on his face. “I mean, do you like her, like her?"
"You mean -" Ohtori frowned. "No! I don't like... any girl... like that... Shishido-san." He looked down and realized that the magazine he was reading was lying on his lap.
"Are you sure?" Shishido asked him. "Because, if you do . . . I don't mind. And the two of you seem to get along really well. So. . . yeah."
Ohtori's head snapped up to look at Shishido in shock. His partner, however, refused to look back at him. "Shishido-san. . . you don't - you can't mean that."
"So you do like her," Shishido bit out, still not looking at Ohtori.
"Shishido-san, I really like Michiyo-san, but not the way you mean," Ohtori said softly. "Really."
He looked up and saw nothing but the ceiling. "Today's been a nice day, ne?" he murmured suddenly.
"Oh, hasn't it," Shishido replied sarcastically. Really, the way Ohtori's attempt to change the subject was so obvious. Definitely not cool.
Shishido pondered about his partner as Ohtori continued staring into space. Even sitting down next to each other like this, he felt distinctively shorter. Somehow it had stopped bothering him long ago. At the moment he was too busy studying Ohtori's face to care, anyway. Ohtori was pretty. He didn't know when he had first thought that, but Michiyo had commented about it when they were talking on the phone, and he had taken it as a matter of fact. And he suddenly realized that he'd been noticing things about Ohtori more and more lately - the way Ohtori laughed at Michiyo's jokes, Ohtori's patience as he tried to coach Michiyo so that she could play a somewhat satisfactory tennis game against Shishido, the cute way he blushed when she was excitedly tugging at both Shishido and Ohtori's hands. And then there was that day when Shishido left them alone and came back to see them sitting next to each other on the park bench, sharing the takoyaki that Michiyo had bought earlier. They had looked so perfect together that Shishido had gritted his teeth and tried not to snarl at Michiyo to stop getting so cozy with his partner, and that shocked him. That he felt Michiyo was taking Ohtori away from him, rather than the other way round. It had been troubling him ever since.
Shishido was relieved that Ohtori denied liking Michiyo romantically, because even if he had said it was okay, he knew it wasn't.
He noticed that Ohtori seemed relaxed, even if the expression in his eyes were still a bit troubled. And the soft smile that he had been wearing before was gone. A breezed stirred Ohtori's silver locks. Shishido had forgotten to shut the windows.
"Choutarou," he said, the third time that evening, getting on his knees and leaning closer to the other boy.
When Ohtori looked up at his partner, Shishido was already so close that their foreheads were touching.
"Shishido-san? What. . .?"
The two of them just looked into each other, eyes wide with fear of the unknown, hearing nothing but the rhythm of their breaths growing slow and heavy, rising and falling in unison. Shishido's hands were trembling he cupped Ohtori's face, and Ohtori let out a small sound as Shishido's lips descended on his -
"Aha! I knew there was something going on between the two of you!" An annoyingly loud and unfortunately familiar voice boomed, causing Shishido to jerk backwards and Ohtori to blanch. The two of them looked up to see Shishido Ryusuke leaning against the doorframe, grinning at them. Shishido cursed.
"Aniki, what the hell are you doing here?" he growled, ignoring the fact that both he and Ohtori were positively scarlet with embarrassment. It was actually pretty interesting how Ohtori could go so pale and then so red in such a short time, but it was something that only Ryusuke was in a position to appreciate.
"Why, is that how you greet your older brother when he comes back early to make sure his little brother is okay?" Ryusuke asked with a mock pout.
"Aniki, get the -"
"I'm sorry, Shishido-san... senpai, I think - I need to go home now. My mother will be worried if I get home too late," Ohtori interrupted as he scrambled off the bed, grabbed his belongings, and practically ran out of the room.
"Wait a - hey, Choutarou!" Shishido called out and went to go after him, but his brother stopped him at the doorway.
"I think he needs some time alone," Ryusuke observed. "He's a pretty shy kid, and it must be mortifying for him to be walked into like that."
Shishido turned to his brother, glaring. "And what the fuck were you doing, waltzing into my room like that, anyway?"
"Hey! You were the one who left your door open. Which is so uncool, by the way. A word of advice from your Nii-san - if you want to have make-out sessions with your doubles partner, close the door. Better yet, lock it. Don't want to give Kaa-san or Obaa-san a heart attack, do you?" Ryusuke asked cheerfully. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. "Anyway, speaking of Kaa-san, she told me to get you and Choutarou-kun something to eat, since she's running late." Ryusuke held up a plastic bag full of take-out food enough to feed ten. "Hmm. Since your Choutarou-kun ran off, I guess that leaves more for me, huh?"
Shishido resisted rolling his eyes. "I'm going out." As he stalked past his brother, he muttered, "And he's not my Choutarou-kun."
"He-hey, Ryou!" Shishido ignored his brother as he walked away. "If you leave now I'll eat your share, too!"
Shishido was already out of the house.
Choutarou hadn't gone back home. Shishido had dashed all the way to the younger boy's house, just to find out that he was not there. "Wasn't he having dinner at your place, Ryou-kun?" Ohtori's mother had asked with a concerned frown.
There was only one other place Ohtori could be, Shishido figured, and started to run again.
The courts where Ohtori had helped Shishido train.
And sure enough, when Shishido got there, out of breath, he found that sure enough, Ohtori was there. Standing in the middle of the court, with a strange look on his face. As if he didn't know how he got there.
Ohtori looked at him blankly. "Shishido-san? What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you, idiot," Shishido muttered, still panting a little. He walked towards Ohtori and stopped right in front of the boy. "Why did you run away?"
"Shishido-san, I'm sorry. It's just -" Ohtori sighed. "Can we talk later? I just need to be alone right now."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Somehow, Ohtori knew that Shishido was talking about him running away, and not about his request to be left alone. "I mean. . . it's strange, don't you think?"
"Is that it? You think it's weird for guys. . . to be like that?" Shishido's eyes narrowed.
"No!" Ohtori swallowed. "I don't think that. Well, maybe it's a little weird, but I don't care about that." He looked away, embarrassed. "But I can't."
"Stop shifting your weight around like that; it's annoying," Shishido muttered, before asking quietly, "Is it because of your religion?" He looked at the cross that lay in the hollow of Ohtori's neck.
Ohtori smiled a little before letting out a little laugh. "No. Shishido-san, I'm not Christian."
Ohtori's hands reached up to the cross, fiddling with it. "This - I wear it for luck more than anything else."
"Oh." Not knowing what else to say, Shishido just shrugged. "Then why?"
"I think I've always liked you, Shishido-san. In that way. And you have Michiyo-san, so. . ." Ohtori trailed off and breathed in a few times, trying to soothe the hitch in his voice. "And I haven't really admitted it to myself yet, because I do like Michiyo-san, but right now it just hurt to be around you. I mean, I don't know what you meant by that, but you're always teasing me. . ." He saw Shishido frowned, and said quickly, "It's not your fault, Shishido-san. It's just that I need to be by myself for awhile."
They both stood in silence, staring at each other. The sun was already starting to set, and Ohtori wondered vaguely if they were going to stare each other down until night falls. Then Shishido spoke up, his voice rising in wonder.
"You really are an idiot, aren't you." Ohtori blinked at him.
"Do you seriously think that I would make a move on you if I wasn't serious about it?" Shishido reached out for Ohtori's collar, pulled him closer so that they were face to face. "Think again, Choutarou."
Ohtori's eyes widened as the meaning of what Shishido said sunk in. This time, when their lips met, he would be ready to meet it.
It was funny, he would think later as Shishido walked him home, how Michiyo was the only one who didn't feel that three was a crowd.