Conservation of Momentum
The clubhouse at Hyotei wasn't so much a clubhouse as it was a "home away from home." It was luxurious and ostentatiously private; all the regulars were given keys, which were taken away the minute they lost their spots.
Once, his first year, someone who'd been dropped had had a copy made, and tried to sneak in after hours to look at the data books. Not only had the offender been banned from the club, but Kantoku had tried to have him expelled.
At the time, he recalled, he thought it was a perfectly reasonable outcome. Having had to hand in his own key, the metal still warm from being in his pocket, had given him a slightly different perspective. Desperation wasn't ever a good reason, he'd realized, but it was an amazingly strong one.
He set the weight back into the slots carefully, making sure to keep the bar level. He'd started on seventy kilos only this week, and by the third set his muscles wanted to tremble like a naked man in the snow. He didn't move off the bench immediately, staring up at the recessed lights as the sweat trickled down his brow. It was nearly ten in the evening, and he'd already done his endurance training earlier, but he'd come back after dinner for another round. It wasn't enough to have speed, Kantoku had pointed out, he had to have strength as well.
Having had practice trying to return a Scud Serve, he had to agree. The thing about balls that traveled very fast was that they tended to have a lot of power behind them. He remembered the bare-bones physics lesson they'd all received as freshmen: the rules whose names he could still remember if he dug for them (conservation of momentum, angles of reflection, leverage, diagrams with strange greek letters like a cross between English and hiragana).
Conservation of momentum was his favorite, because he wasn't top at physics but Kantoku had explained it in a way that was intuitive: You get out what you put in. "The weight of the ball stays the same, so the power of the hit will determine the speed. All the energy has to go somewhere," he'd said. "You want it to go where you can return it, and add some back."
Easy enough, he thought. You get out what you put in. No expanding universes, no mc squared, just knowing that a speeding ball would punch you back unless you punched it back first. It sure seemed to work for Ohtori's Scud Serve. He got up and looked at his arms critically in the mirror. The muscles seemed more defined, but then they always did, right after a workout. Besides, it wasn't the look that counted; there was no point in vanity unless it was backed by victory. But victory tasted all the sweeter when he worked for it.
Nothing, he was sure, was ever going to feel better than that ball had, smacking solidly into his hand.
He grabbed his towel from the side and mopped at his face, wondering again when the refridgerator was due to arrive. Kantoku was petitioning for an extension to the clubhouse, a kitchen to prepare meals in order to maximize their dietary benefits. (He'd heard it was a response to Seigaku's regimen, which apparently involved special supplements, some kind of vegetable juice or something.) The budget wouldn't be presented for another two weeks, but in the meanwhile they were supposed to receive a refridgerator to store drinks and the like.
The idea of giving up cheese sandwiches made him wrinkle his nose, but he shrugged off the thought. Being a regular meant honor and praise and the chance to prove that he was worthy of the top. Losing control over his stomach was hardly worth mentioning.
No fridge as of yet, but he had a sports-drink somewhere in his locker, he thought. Opening the door to the locer room, he froze when he saw that the lights were on. Then he saw that someone was sitting at the computers, typing assiduously.
"Geez, Choutarou, I thought you'd gone home," he said with some surprise, and grinned as his partner jumped and turned in one startled motion.
"I should say the same for you," Ohtori replied with a relieved smile. "You scared me for a sec."
"Sorry," he said, not feeling sorry at all. The solitude of the empty clubhouse was soothing, but so was Choutarou's company. It almost felt like he'd been given a reward for the extra workout. "What're you here for, anyway?" he asked as he rummaged his locker.
"My computer went down," Ohtori explained, turning back to the screen. "Just fritzed on me. Might be a virus or something. Anyhow, this was due tomorrow, so I thought I might as well use the clubhouse. It's a good thing I had it saved on disk."
"Sounds like it," Shishido agreed. He didn't know much about computers; they weren't his thing. "Almost done?"
"Give me another ten minutes and I will be."
"Alright, I'll wait for you then," he said. He pulled out the drink and took a gulp, then shut the locker door, throwing himself down on the couch with a settled air.
"Are you sure?" Ohtori asked. "It's ten, won't your parents worry?"
"No worries," he reassured his partner, "I told them I was going out for some training and would get back late."
"I think mine would worry," the other boy said absently as he typed.
Shishido lay on his back a moment longer before reaching one arm out to snag his bookbag. He found his cellphone easily and flipped it open, dialing home. "Hello? Mom? Yeah. I'm still there...A little while longer, so don't worry, ok? Sorry." He shut it and shoved it in his pocket, propping his feet on the couch arm. The cushions felt firm and cool beneath him.
The room filled quietly with the arythmic rattle of keys and the hum of the computer.
"So, what're you working on?" he asked after a few minutes. Relaxation and the fading glow of the workout were threatening to send him into a doze.
"Physics lab," Ohtori said with some distaste. Shishido felt a pang of sympathy; Shimeragi-sensei's labs were notoriously demanding. The man had a passion for the scientific method that few of his students shared.
"Heh, you remember that physics lecture we got from Kantoku?" he asked. "You know Mukahi actually wrote down on the laws of motion test, 'You get out what you put in, because Kantoku said all the energy has to go somewhere'?"
"Really?" Ohtori broke into a laugh. "Well, that is the idea behind the conservation of momentum, anyway. Did he get it right?"
"Don't think so," Shishido decided, "he sounded mad when he mentioned it." He sat up to take another swallow of his drink. "Don't you wish it were still that simple?" he asked, grinning.
The grin faded as silence fell, and he turned his head to look at his partner. "Choutarou? You done or something?"
Ohtori seemed to rouse, and went back to typing. "Almost. Sorry."
"Take your time," he said, closing his eyes again.
He was almost asleep, arm pillowing his cheek, when Ohtori said, "Done. Just waiting for it to print," and didn't open his eyes immediately.
"Is it always true, you think?" he heard Choutarou asking quietly.
"What?" he asked.
"Conservation of momentum. That you get out what you put in." Ohtori's voice seemed to come from closer when his eyes were shut.
"Sure," he mumbled. "It's a law of physics, they're always true. Except maybe when it comes to Mr. Moon Salute."
That didn't get a laugh out of Ohtori, and he opened his eyes. "Choutarou? Something wrong?"
His partner had swiveled the chair and was facing him with an expression that seemed somewhere between angry and sad. "Nothing's wrong," he said, and stood to take the paper from the printer. All of a sudden Shishido was wide awake, and went to stand beside him.
"Hey. Spit it out."
"It's nothing, honest. I'm tired, that's all. Sensei's labs are sadistic."
He didn't like the way Ohtori didn't want to look at him. "I know. So, what's bothering you?"
This finally earned him a frustrated look. "You're really persistent, aren't you?"
Reflexively his hand came up to scrub at short-cropped hair. "You oughta know. But it's only 'cause we're partners."
Ohtori looked like he was going to laugh, then changed his mind. "I don't think you really want to know," he demurred.
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Shishido demanded. "You know I won't give you crap for anything." He considered, then added, "Unless you've gone and done something really stupid, and then you'll catch it from Kantoku anyway."
"I don't think Kantoku would yell at me for this," Ohtori said quietly, looking at Shishido with the mixed-up look on his face. This time, it seemed as if the sadness were coming out on top.
"Choutarou, you're starting to scare me. What happened?" He eyed the taller boy apprehensively, trying to recall if he'd seemed off in practice at all.
"Nothing happened. I just...was thinking, is all," his partner said. "Let's go home, it's getting late."
He didn't budge. If he couldn't wring it out of Choutarou here, in the well-lit locker room, it would be all too easy for his partner to let the question slide away in the scattered dark of the streets. "Is it about me?" he asked, with a sudden stab of insight, and watched his partner blink with a sense of dread.
"You're sick of playing doubles, is that it? Geez, why didn't you just say so?" He forced a grin to his face, but Ohtori looked utterly taken aback.
"What? No! I didn't mean that, Shishido-senpai," the taller boy blurted out, then rubbed at his forehead, wincing. "This is going badly," he sighed.
"Sorry," Shishido said, feeling vastly relieved. "I didn't mean to jump to conclusions." He felt that he could handle any other conclusion in stride.
"It's just," Ohtori kept rubbing at his temple, as if he thought he could dislodge the problem that way. "Forget it, there's no good way to say this," he mumbled. "Look, I think I'm gay."
The whir of the processor suddenly seemed very loud.
Shishido said the first thing that came to mind after a long, stunned pause. "Are you sure?"
At this, Ohtori looked suddenly wretched. "Yes."
"How do you know? I mean, do you like guys? Or do you just like one guy, or something?"
His partner shouted, "How does it matter?" and made to walk past him.
Shishido caught his wrist in a tight grip and said quietly, "It matters to me, ok?"
Ohtori looked like he was debating the idea of trying to throw him off, then gave up and said, "I told you you wouldn't want to know," while staring very hard at the floor.
Hope started to rise in him, and he tightened his grip on the junior's wrist as he reached awkwardly into his pocket with his left hand, pulling out his phone. Fortunately, the number was on speed dial. "Hey. Mom? Sorry, something came up...no, just work...it's fine, Choutarou's here...yeah, I'll try to be home before midnight." He snapped the phone shut. This time, he was the one who couldn't look his partner in the eyes.
"Wanna sit down for a bit?" he asked, not letting go.
Ohtori was pure resignation. "Sure."
He loosened his grip reluctantly, and they sat down awkwardly on the couch, Ohtori careful to choose one end. Shishido sat squarely in the middle. "So you like a guy?" he asked, trying to keep his mind from throwing out optimistic premises, one after another.
Ohtori looked at the door as if longing for escape. "Yes," he said finally.
"And, it's someone on the team."
"Yes," the junior said, suddenly impatient. "Look, I understand if you're not comfortable with it--"
"Is it me?" It was hard to keep his hopes from rising like a flock of startled birds, but he kept them pinned down, waiting for the answer.
"...are you really all that surprised?" Choutarou's voice was quiet.
He thought about it. "Yeah, mostly," he decided, and reached over to kiss his partner. Ohtori didn't move, and he felt a shock of disappointment, wondering if he'd misheard. When he moved away, he saw that the junior's eyes were wide.
"Was that a joke?" was the first thing he heard, and it was his turn to be startled.
"Don't joke about it, senpai, please," and there was so much pain in Ohtori's voice that he was immediately furious with himself.
"Choutarou, it's not a joke. It's..." he flailed for a moment, but grew calmer when he saw that his meaning at least seemed to be getting through, even if the words weren't. "It's like...an unexpected reward, or something, is all. Like...winning the lottery." He moved forward cautiously as he spoke. "Uh...you do like me, right?" he asked as he got closer, and suddenly Choutarou's hand came up to touch his face and this time, he was sure, it was going to go right.
At some point his eyes closed and he was desperately focused, so much so that he nearly forgot to breathe, and couldn't even identify the tension building in his lungs. Kissing Choutarou wasn't exactly like kissing a girl; all the girls he'd kissed had been more experienced. The feel of the face beneath his hands and mouth was different, the nose larger and the jawbone wider. Choutarou was tall, and he braced one foot against the floor as he leaned further forward.
He stopped comparing at that point, because there was no one really to compare to. He'd had a long time to think about the long lines of his partner's back, the curve of his smile or his neck, the shape of his ears and the feel of his hair. But he'd never imagined the little sound that Ohtori would make when he kissed the spot just beneath his ear--it broke him out of his exploration long enough to pull away and feel like a bastard.
"Hey--really sorry. I got carried away," and he took his hands off his partner's shoulders quickly, wrapping them around his knees as he pulled them up to sit sideways. Ohtori said nothing for a moment and apprehension swooped in as he eyed the junior, waiting for a reaction. "Choutarou--uh--how do you feel?"
"Feel?" Ohtori looked back, his eyes still rounded with disbelief. "You--that--"
"Ikkyuu nyuu kon?" he suggested, startling Choutarou into a laugh.
"That sounds about right," his partner said, and looked so happy that the last apprehension fell off of Shishido's chest. It'd been a while, he realized, since he'd seen a look like that. Maybe Ohtori's smiles had been getting quieter for some time now.
The thought made Shishido wince. "You--want to try that again?" he suggested, half-expecting Ohtori to protest, but he didn't and merely looked back with a face full of expectation. Seeing it tied Shishido's stomach into warm knots, and he reminded himself to breathe this time.
"Man," he said when they broke apart slowly, "was I wrong."
"About what?" and Ohtori still sounded just the slightest bit worried, so Shishido tried kissing him again.
"I thought nothing would ever feel as good as catching your Scud Serve," he answered when he recalled the question. It took a while; Choutarou was a fast learner.
"Well, I was wrong too," his partner admitted.
"The law. It was true, after all."
"What?" He looked at Ohtori in confusion that lasted until he heard the explanation.
"I got out what I put in."
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