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The first time is in the spring of their third year. Atobe is sitting in the club room, reviewing requests for friendlies and waiting for Kabaji to bring his school bag.

He doesn't look up when Oshitari comes in; Atobe knows him by the sound of his gait and the trace of cologne that kisses the air around him. The effect is nearly subliminal, a subconscious awareness of his presence, and Atobe admires his subtlety even if he prefers to be more conspicuous himself.

"Should we accept Nashikari? You wanted to play Tomoda last year."

Then Atobe does look up because Oshitari is standing in front of him, too close for either conversation or civility. Looming might be a better word if it didn't suggest a lack of elegance and Oshitari is always elegant, even when he's violating Atobe's personal space.

"What are you doing?" Atobe asks. "Think carefully before you answer." There's tension on the air now too, delicate as Oshitari's cologne and just as inviting. Atobe lays down his tablet and pointedly crosses his arms.

"If you haven't already seen through me, you're not the man I thought you were," Oshitari says.

"I'm not interested in what you think," Atobe says. "Or what you have to say." He puts one hand on the tablet again but his eyes are on Oshitari. Challenging him, as though that's really necessary.

"But you are interested," Oshitari raises his eyebrows a fraction, just barely discernible behind his glasses.

"Right now, I'm bored."

"Even better." And Oshitari steps in between Atobe's splayed legs, grips the arms of the chair, and, finally, leans down and kisses Atobe.

It's not just the first time with Oshitari; Atobe has been waiting and, actually, had planned to wait a bit longer. But he allows it because this is something he needs to learn. And because he wants it.

Oshitari's lips are warm and dry, touching Atobe’s in one long press. Atobe doesn't hear music in the air, his blood doesn't ignite with passion. But it's nice enough and when Oshitari pulls back and straightens up, Atobe stands too and steps in close.

"Again," he commands and meets Oshitari's smile with his most disdainful stare.

Oshitari waits and Atobe waits, looking at each other like they're on opposite sides of the net, that long challenging moment before they take their places for first serve.

Finally Oshitari laughs. "You win." But when he steps forward and slides his hands down Atobe's arms, he catches Atobe's wrists and pulls them tight behind Atobe's back, standing so close Atobe can feel the cushion of air compress between them.

"I'll always obey your orders," Oshitari says. He brings his mouth down on Atobe's and Atobe finds himself tipping his face up to meet Oshitari, regally but with a thudding heart.

He lets Oshitari part his lips, but not far, just enough for their mouths to cling together and part again, as mannered as any of Oshitari's gestures. Deliberately, over and over, while Oshitari strokes Atobe's trapped wrist with his thumb.

And Atobe does flare up, not an unfamiliar heat, but stronger, darker than he's felt before and he regrets the necessity of turning his head to the side. But he does. "We're done," he says and waits for Oshitari to release him.

"Too much for you?" Oshitari tightens his grip.

"My time is tightly scheduled." Atobe doesn't test Oshitari's grip. He just stands, loosely, and after a few seconds, Oshitari's hands fall away.

"Set up the match," Oshitari says.

"Work on your backhand," Atobe says. "Or you'll lose."


Two weeks later, Atobe lets it happen again. He's standing in the middle of the club room, surveying the team like they're passing by him for review. When they empty out, he nods at Kabaji to go and wait for him. Oshitari is still primping, setting his hair just so. Atobe looks over and their eyes meet in the mirror.

"Oh?" Oshitari says. He runs a last careful hand through his hair and turns.

He's been manoeuvring around Atobe for days, with long looks and pointed words. And Atobe has noted every one and turned his head away until just now, because it's his timetable they're following.

Atobe walks over, three measured strides, and takes Oshitari's face in his hands. He's in no mood for teasing and he sees the trace of surprise in Oshitari's expression before he leans in and they kiss.

Oshitari keeps his arms at his sides so that the only points of contact are Atobe's hands, Atobe's mouth. Atobe starts with short kisses: barely moving apart before the next one, the tip of Atobe's tongue just touching Oshitari's lips.

It fires Atobe more then he remembered. That thrill along his nerves. The way Oshitari's whole body tenses. The way he tries to hide it.

Atobe pulls away but doesn't drop his hands. He's not trying to hide anything; why should he? He slides one hand back and curls his fingers into Oshitari's hair, just enough so Oshitari will wonder when he'll pull.

"Have you been practising?" Oshitari's voice is studied, disinterested, but Atobe can hear the undertone of desire and it's more arousing than the kisses.

Atobe hasn't been practising; this is the practice. And there are more skills to learn then he has planned for. The physical, yes, but the game of it is only half-familiar and he wonders if Oshitari is the one who practises that aspect before he tries his moves on Atobe. "Your backhand is still terrible," he says and moves back in.

This time Oshitari's arms go around him, one hand on his back, the other sliding down and stopping at the base of his spine; not lazily, like so many of Oshitari's actions, but firmly, with intent. Atobe makes the decision, before his body makes it for him, and lets Oshitari hold them together. He lets Oshitari open his mouth, kiss him deeply. Turn them both around and press Atobe back against the wall.

They move together and Atobe thrusts his hands up into Oshitari's hair. He won't mark Oshitari, he won't let Oshitari mark him. But this is enough, this small disarrangement, to let Oshitari know they're playing the same game.

Oshitari's mouth is on Atobe's neck when Atobe realizes he's not prepared to tumble further today, much as he wants to. He's well-versed in overcoming the pleas of his body and he moves Oshitari away, no more forcefully than he has to.

Oshitari lets him go without comment, but Atobe can see his shoulders rise and fall with his quickened breath. When Oshitari straightens his glasses, his eyes flick over Atobe and his face shows what he surely doesn't want Atobe to see: the flush on his cheeks and the flare of his nostrils.

It's almost enough to make Atobe reconsider. But instead, he takes pleasure in the way Oshitari turns to the mirror, undoing the violence to his hair and purposefully taking his time.

"Your own backhand could use some work," Oshitari says and then he turns his back and leaves.

Atobe takes a moment to smell Oshitari's cologne on the air before he follows.


The next time, Atobe lets Oshitari come to him. He enjoys watching Oshitari challenging him with a direct gaze, then, when that's ineffective, flickering glances, some deliberate, some instinctive. He brushes by Atobe in the hallways. Stretches a little taller on the courts. Looks away when Atobe heads his way.

When it's time, Atobe lingers in a practice room, playing Chopin's Impromptu No. 1 and working on his fingering. It's not long before the door clicks open behind him and a hint of cologne wafts into the room.

"If you're here for a duet," he says, "I hope you brought sheet music." He plays an idle arpeggio, modulates a semitone, then another.

Oshitari sits down on the bench, straddling it, and leans in until his face is breath-close. He draws one finger down Atobe's cheek. "I know it all by heart."

Atobe plays a few bars of Chopin, eyes closed, as Oshitari's touch shivers through him. Oshitari takes Atobe's chin firmly and turns Atobe's head towards him. His mouth presses hard against Atobe's lips, his hand runs down Atobe's back, then up under his jacket, over the thin fabric of his shirt.

Ten days of waiting has Atobe so ready, he's stretched and vibrating like a string on Oshitari's violin. His fingers still on the keys and he turns into the kiss, opening his mouth and letting Oshitari bend him back. He puts his hand on Oshitari's neck, thumb brushing up under his jaw and pinky slipping just inside his collar.

Oshitari pulls him closer and Atobe twists, one knee up on the bench, pressing in. Forgetting that they're practising, forgetting everything except the heat of Oshitari's mouth and the discord of his elbow on the keys.

A knock on the door makes them spring apart. Atobe recovers his presence of mind enough to exult in how Oshitari has lost his, all his deliberation turned to clutching hands and staring eyes.

Atobe climbs off the bench and wipes his mouth. He runs one hand through his hair and straightens his jacket. Oshitari is still sitting, blinking, only just now raising a hand to straighten his glasses.

"I forgot to book the room," Atobe says and opens the door.


Atobe has been sitting under the tree for twenty minutes when Oshitari arrives. He stands there, blocking the sun and not speaking. His back is straight as always, his head as high, but there is something in his posture that seems regretful.

"Your backhand was fine," Atobe says, as though he can remember. The matches were just a few hours ago but all he can recall right now is standing on the court with Tezuka and that just with his body, not his mind.

He looks away, not down, but past Oshitari, seeing nothing that's in front of him. He's not regretful. But he isn't satisfied. And now he never can be.

Oshitari holds out his hand. Atobe grasps his wrist and pulls. Tired as he is and sore as his arm is, he still has the strength to bring Oshitari to his knees, crouching on the grass in front of him, fresh and manicured as though he had never played at all.

The summer air moves lazily around them and a cicada whines in the tree above. They look at each other, but all Atobe sees is the match, stretching out and out, and the season, cut too short. Atobe turns away and Oshitari sits beside him, legs stretching and toes turned out so that their shoes are nearly touching.

"Atobe," Oshitari says. He moves his hand and lays it over Atobe's, pressing it down into the cool grass. "It's—"

"Shut up." It's blank: Atobe's vision, the match calendar on the club room wall, the space inside his chest, all blank. He hates it. Hates it. He stands up and staggers because his legs are cramping. "Come with me."

He takes Oshitari to the club room. Unlocks the door. Pulls him down onto the floor. Digs his fingernails into Oshitari's shoulders and bites his lip until Oshitari kisses him, raking Atobe's back and twisting his fingers into Atobe's hair.

He lets Oshitari put a suck mark on his chest, dark and purple just below his collar bone. Then he pushes him away and stands. He drops the keys to the room on the table and leaves, head high and back straight.


Atobe spends a week at home hitting alone with a ball machine. He sends his pro away and forbids the servants to watch him. Just Kabaji waiting for him at the side of the court, wrestling with Beat when he tries to chase the balls.

He sets the speed as high as it will go, hammering returns without finesse. A ball slams into his shoulder like an angry fist and knocks him flat. He pushes Kabaji away and gets up again, hitting while it stiffens and bruises.

He starts calling people to hit with him. Shishido complains but he play, swearing when Atobe gets too serious and eating an unseemly amount of cake when they're done. Haginosuke seems pleased to be asked but he's lacklustre; the sidelines have taken away his edge.

Atobe doesn't bother asking Akutagawa, just has Kabaji bring him over. He'll only respond if Atobe goes all out. Atobe is happy to oblige with a punishing rally under the hot sun until Akutagawa flops onto the court, complaining that Atobe still won't use his best moves.

"I'm hitting with Yuushi," Mukahi says when Atobe stops him in the hall. Atobe doesn't ask him again.

He calls OBs over to play, finds their weaknesses, knocks them all down. He runs for kilometres on the treadmill, all the screens off, playing Chopin in his head so he doesn't have to think.

He stalks through his days at school, irritated by the crowds that swirl around him, and bored in all his classes.

And every time Atobe turns around, Oshitari is looking at him. In the hallways between classes, lounging in the music wing. At the gates when school is over. Sometimes they even exchange a few words — hello, the weather, homework — courteous and banal and filled with tension. Sometimes their gazes meet and Atobe is the one to look away.

On Oshitari's face is the question before the the question: If I speak, what will you say?

After a few weeks, Atobe thinks Oshitari is about to skip that step and just push him into a practice room, back against the wall and arms pinned. But they move around each other at a distance, no closer and no further, the earth and the moon.

Atobe is done practising.


Sunday morning, Atobe steps out to play; the outdoor court, even though the heat is already oppressive. But instead of Shishido complaining about the early hour and the humidity, there's Oshitari across the net.

It hits Atobe like that ball to the shoulder and he feels like he's crumpling, dull pain blossoming through his chest. But he keeps his face from showing it and walks out with measured steps, stopping at the net and canting his hip to one side as he stares across. "I didn't invite you," he says.

Oshitari's arms are crossed around his racquet and he shakes his hair back, so deliberately casual. Atobe wants to get his fingers in there and pull until Oshitari loses his composure. "Two sets and a tie-break."

"We won't need a tie-break," Atobe says. "Which?" His racquet clatters on the court and they take their places for Oshitari's serve.

It rattles past before Atobe can swallow down the tightness in his throat. But it's the only ace that he allows. Every point stretches out into a rally and they're at deuce so many times, Atobe loses count.

The sun climbs higher as they play, bleaching the ball to nothing with its glare and baking the hardcourt under their feet. They wipe away perspiration after every point and down sports drinks on the changeovers, facing away from each other under the canopy.

Atobe can't see Oshitari, not properly. He's opaque to Atobe's insight, a blur of heat and emotion obscuring him. All Atobe can do is return the ball, construct his points blindly, dash the sweat out of his eyes, hit and hit and hit.

He takes the first set. But he knows it's luck he broke at all, a shank that just grazes the tramline while Oshitari skids to try to catch it.

The second set is brutal. If anyone else were here, they would try to pull them both off the court and herd them inside. But they're alone. Alone and stumbling to the baseline, breathing hard before each toss. The balls are slowing but they don't change them out. Atobe thinks they'll wear bald before the match is over.

Then Oshitari breaks him. It happens in slow motion: Oshitari's cross-court backhand, the ball swimming through the air towards Atobe, right for him, he can't miss. He meets Oshitari's eyes across the court.

He feels the break, the crack inside him, the unforced error shaking his arm as the ball bounds away. He drops his racquet and walks to the net.

"The set's not over," Oshitari calls but he walks up too.

"You win," Atobe says.

"What about the tie-break?" Oshitari's hair hangs lank and wet, plastered to his forehead and neck. His face glistens with sweat. He smells like hard work on a hot day.

Atobe holds out his hand.

Oshitari looks down at it, then at Atobe's face. A line creases between his eyebrows. Then he takes Atobe's hand.

"We're not playing a game." Atobe holds on, his palm perspiring like he's nervous and anticipation throbbing in his throat. Then he leans across the net.

When their lips touch, Oshitari's fingers tighten and the rest of him relaxes; Atobe can sense it in his breathing and the shift of his stance. After they move apart, Oshitari smiles, a flash of something real and unrehearsed, and Atobe feels the same smile lift his own face.

"Let's go inside," he says, "before we die."

Their hands stay linked all the way off the court.


"Schubert." Oshitari hands the sheet music over, Leise flehen meine Lieder, and they play through it together a few times.

"Stand where I can see you," Atobe says and flicks his eyes over to Oshitari's fingers on the strings, the movement of his arm with the bow. The hair falling over his face as he sways with the phrasing.

Atobe stumbles over a chord and Oshitari looks up. When their eyes meet, he lays down his violin and puts his fingers under Atobe's chin.

"We'll never be at performance level if we don't prepare." But Atobe lets Oshitari tip up his face and kiss him, slowly, while the metronome ticks relentlessly on the piano.

"We have months to practise," Oshitari murmurs and Atobe pulls him down onto the bench.


Next week, Hyoutei get the call.