For Sharon, who has patience beyond the lot of mortals, and has been very encouraging while waiting for this fic for a very long time. Thank you, Sharon!
Part One - Shishido: Shot to the Heart
[spoilers for ep 36; set during and after the flashbacks in ep 57-58]
When Shishido was thrown off the regulars, he decided right away that somehow, someway, he was going to get back on the team. He knew he could be good enough, strong enough, could get better enough to win back his spot somehow. He never once thought about just accepting the failure, taking the fall and being just another faceless member of the tennis club. He was going to beat the system, and take back his place. There was no way he was going to let one loss beat him for good. Not like that.
He started watching the regulars, analyzing the ones who were still regulars and why. The ones he watched the most were Atobe, naturally, because Atobe was impossible to ignore. Although Shishido understood the dramatic displays, the arrogance and the reasons behind it, he had very little patience for it. And Ohtori. He'd never really noticed Ohtori before; Ohtori was good, or he wouldn't be a regular--but he played doubles, and Shishido had never been interested in doubles.
Now, though, he watched in fascination the sheer raw force in Ohtori's play. That awesome serve. He'd known about the scud serve of course, everyone did, but it had never before held any meaning for him other than as one more weapon in the team's arsenal. One more way to ensure they never got beaten. But now he had been beaten, and what he was looking for was something to sharpen his edge against, something or someone that would force him to become better than he'd ever been, to go to his limit and beyond it. He knew, looking at that serve, he had found it.
Sure, Atobe would push him too, but the captain was just that--the captain, and Shishido had no illusions about the likelihood of help from that quarter. He knew, somehow, that Atobe would not be what he needed. Partly his pride prevented him from asking the captain for help, and partly it was just that Atobe would kick his ass and challenge him, and defeat him, true--but Atobe's style of play would not force him to become better, to go beyond his limits and draw on that specific speed and strength he needed, the goal he was aiming for.
No, the one who could help him was Ohtori, and he had known instinctively as soon as he'd started watching Ohotori play--that was what he needed. That was it. The key to improving his game, the key to getting back on the regulars, the key to the training he was going need--it was right there, on the court, in the form of a tall, softspoken junior named Ohtori Choutarou.
So Shishido had turned to Ohtori and his incredible serve, knowing that he was going to be pummeled and bruised within an inch of his life, and hoping that the fire Ohtori played with would be enough to overrule his soft heart. He was relieved to find that Ohtori understood what he was asking--he might not like it, but he wasn't pulling his shots, either.
Funny thing was, he didn't remember ever really noticing that phrase Ohtori muttered or shouted when he served. Every single time, whether playing a match or a practice or just serving balls at Shishido until he was black and blue, those three words echoed across the courts until Shishido thought they were burned into his brain the way the bruises and abrasions burned into his body.
Ikkyuu nyuu kon!
Shishido didn't know when that phrase had changed meaning for him. At first, it had simply been what he deserved, coming at him over and over as he stood across the net and watched Ohtori make that blistering serve. It meant pain, it meant blood; it meant atonement and a chance at salvation. "Straight to your soul!" Indeed. And somehow, at some point, it had in fact done so.
It had come to mean forgiveness; it came to mean hope. It meant victory, and absolution. It meant Ohtori smiled at him when he caught it, beamed at him when he returned it. It came to be a part of him the way Ohtori's shining face became a necessary part of his day. Training wasn't over until he saw the grin that meant he had done it, that the shot to his soul had turned his game into speed and fire and returned it in a blaze of accomplishment.
It meant that part of Ohtori became part of him, a give and take woven into a seamless game of tennis, shot and return, strength that burned into his heart and made his own fire rise to meet and match it. A promise, a dedication, an inspiration that became as much a part of his game as the racket in his hand. Across the net, there was Ohtori, and his smile was proof that Shishido had succeeded in turning his game from a flashy show into a solid, fierce attack.
It was proof that the determination in his heart was not unfounded, it was validation of his dreams and his belief that he was good enough. With Ohtori's help, he was. He came to look forward to the shine in Ohtori's eyes when he made the serve, the light that his presence made when he stood, ready, waiting for Shishido to return the shot as if he had no doubts.
The shot went straight to his soul, and brought Ohtori's soul with it, the faith and pride of his smile that had become as necessary to Shishido as breathing. Ohtori had become something that he needed.
Ikkyu nyuu kon, over and over, and somewhere along the way, the shot to your soul had gone straight to his heart.
Part Two - Ohtori: Scarred
[sometime after the flashbacks in ep 57-58 and before ep 112]
Ohtori hated his serve sometimes.
It was fast, true, incredibly fast, like a missile shooting at his opponent, and hence the name. He was proud of it, enjoyed doing it, liked being able to put his entire heart into it and just hit it for all he was worth. He was a very controlled person, usually, a quiet person who measured his actions and responses. It was rather a relief to have one thing he never had to hold back on, one thing he could just pour his soul into without restraint. It was cathartic and satisfying, and best of all, it was unreturnable. But he had very little control over it.
It scared him sometimes how fast, how powerful it was. He was afraid it might really hurt someone, one day. Every now and then, he had nightmares that the shot would hit someone hard enough to knock them out of the game. Injure them severely, maybe a concussion, maybe worse. He didn't want to win by default. He didn't want to be known as the kid with the killer serve.
It hadn't always bothered him as much as it did now. He never used to use the serve often, only when he played someone who was good enough that he would lose if he didn't. It used to be just a vague, uneasy feeling, a wariness of something he knew was a little out of control. It surfaced only in his nightmares, and the faint butterflies in his stomach when he had to use it.
But it had been that very speed and power which had drawn Shishido-san to him, which had caused him to look for Ohtori to help him win back his place on the regulars.
Ohtori wondered sometimes if Shishido-san knew how much it had cost Ohtori to do that. How much it had cost him to serve that shot at Shishido over and over and over, all the while watching scrapes, bruises and abrasions collect on that pale skin. All the while seeing concrete proof of the damage his serve could do. That was when he had begun to almost hate the serve. He couldn't hate it completely, couldn't wish it never existed, not when Shishido owed his place on the team to his training against it. But it had hurt, almost a physical ache, to send his missile shooting straight at his friend and watch another cut, another bruise, another fall. He still winced inwardly now whenever he saw bruises on Shishido, even if he hadn't been the one who caused them.
His nightmares now were more personal, sharper and more intense, seeing Shishido-san again standing across the net from him, and he would serve that killer shot. It would knock Shishido down, but unlike in his memory, in the dreams Shishido didn't get back up.
That brutal training had left Shishido with scars and bruises all over his body, left him black and blue and bleeding in places, but Shishido wasn't the only one with scars. Ohtori had them too. For each scarred red line or darkened bruise he had left on Shishido's fair skin, for every drop of blood and patch of skin scraped raw by the rough surface of the courts, Ohtori carried a scar in crimson and black slashes of guilt and marks of pain in his memory. They made him wince when he caught sight of Shishido with his shirt off in the locker room, made him grit his teeth harder whenever he launched that almighty serve at an unsuspecting opponent.
The scars were the reason his dreams were haunted now, by might have beens, and could bes that were too awful to contemplate. The training had scarred him as badly as Shishido, were the truth known. But no one did know--Ohtori's scars were on the inside, in his mind and memory, on his soul, where no one could see them...not even Shishido. Ohtori rather preferred it that way. He didn't want anyone, least of all Shishido-san, to know at how high a price that training had come.
It didn't cost him his serve, not really. He still hit it with all his heart and soul, shouting 'ikkyu nyuu kon!' and sending it shooting at his opponent in an unreturnable streak. But it had cost him the freedom of letting go, the release of throwing himself into it, an attack with no restraint--the one thing he had no desire to hold back on. It still looked the same from the outside, but the sheer enjoyment of abandon was gone.
Now, he almost had to force himself to let go, to give it everything he had to make the shot. The sheer release of the serve had been ruined for him.
Even when he held nothing back....he wanted to.
The one thing Ohtori was glad of, was that it had shown him how truly strong Shishido-san was. Ohtori had seen him fall and get up and fall and get up again a hundred times, and still remain standing with his mouth set in a determined line, waiting for the serve.
When he finally caught it, finally returned it, Ohtori felt like his smile was as bright as the sun. 'You did it!' he exclaimed, not that he had really doubted that for awhile now. Shishido-san was like that. When he made up his mind to do something, he did it, no matter how hard or how impossible it looked. No matter how many times he fell, he got up again and stood there looking ready to tell the world to bring it on. Just bring it on.
Ohtori loved that. It was dynamic and attractive and defiant, all at the same time, and it fascinated him how much there was in Shishido-san that he had never guessed. He was proud that his serve had given Shishido the key to unleashing that fiery resoluteness that he possessed. He felt almost as if it were his own accomplishment, when he saw Shishido-san standing there with a pleased smile as if to say, that's more like it. He could feel his own smile shining back, and suddenly all the doubts, all the scars, didn't matter anymore.
When Shishido-san gave him that fierce grin and corrected him, saying, 'We did it, Choutarou,' he felt suddenly warm inside, like he could do anything if it meant that Shishido would give him that conspiratorial look of joy and satisfaction. Just us. We did it. We beat everyone, you and me.
Ohtori decided that the scars, both seen and unseen, were worth it after all.
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