Plotless. Ohtori POV, except it's, er, in the second person. I'm not sure what to call it.

Much inspired by a song of the same title, performed by Cousteau. Also, by the recently translated Hyotei profiles emailed to me by a friend, where it's said Ohtori doesn't find himself falling in love with another person first. :) Just had to take potshots at that one...

After the Fall
by MorphailEffect

You don't know how it happened.

Thinking back, you can only guess it started at around the time he cut his hair.

But it doesn't make sense. How could everything about a guy change in another person's regard, just because he cut his hair?

Your memories of him from before -- with "before" meaning his long-hair days -- are still rather fresh and vivid. You remember thinking of him as insufferably vain. When you heard that beautiful name, "Shishido," the past you immediately thought peacock feathers, pungent fragrances, combs and gels, rich dark hair cascading down narrow muscular shoulders, an arrogant turn of the head.

You thought "slender," you thought "sassy" thought "weak."

The present you no longer thinks this way. But used to be, there were just some things about him you had trouble putting up with. For example, it wasn't that his presence irritated was just that he could get so. Damned. Loud. Every time he entered a room, you had to look at him, if you wanted to know what was thundering toward you.

And if you'd managed to ignore his loud -- not really unpleasant, but god where's the volume control -- voice, he would still find some way to catch your attention. He would go so far as to plant his hands on your broad shoulders from behind while you were sitting somewhere reading in peace. And then he would lean forward so his entire weight was on you as he looked down at the book in your hands.

He would bend down and the tips of his long hair would fall like a curtain down around your face and brush across your cheeks. He took really good care of his hair and you gotta admit, it smelled and felt nice, but still...what kind of guy likes being that close to another guy? All that work just to call your attention. Honestly.

You wouldn't move and would answer his questions as casually as possible. You wouldn't mind his weight, after all it was like he was barely there.

He would flash you a smirk like he knew you thought he was pretty, and if you didn't, you damn well should. And he would dance away, or so it seemed, his steps light and airy, without a care in the world.

He used to fit your every definition of the word "prat."

Sometimes you wonder why he seemed to like pestering you...even if you know you are popular on your own merit. Everyone likes you and you know it. Sure it's largely due to your baby face and your constant eagerness to do things better than everyone else...but you also know you have your own cool. It isn't an "in your face" cool like Atobe's or even Oshitari's -- you really don't know how to classify it, but you know it's there.

And you've never had a problem with it, either. While you don't really have any close friends, upperclassmen like Shishido are friendly toward you, girls flock to you. You are bombarded with gifts during your birthday and all those "choco days" you've come to dread. But the annoyance is only ever minor. You just say "I'm sorry, but I don't feel the same way" and the fawning eyes would fill up with tears and go away and stop bothering you.

Good riddance.

It comes to you now and then that maybe the world will get back at you for all those hearts you've broken. But you know you're made of tougher stuff.

Few things get to you. You've had friends fall head over heels, forgetting everything, forgoing all their goals, for the sake of this thing called "love," which you don't think you can really grasp, and you don't think you want to. It's not for you to bother with. People either fall for you or fall for someone else.

You're never going to fall, at least not that hard.

Not if you can help it.

Though it wasn't that you've ever had to stubbornly resist before. You've certainly been attracted to girls, but not one of them has ever occupied your mind day and night. Not the way other boys your age profess they should, at any rate. (Actually, you're not sure you understand those boys...they act like total idiots most of the time and contradict nearly everything they say about the experience of falling in love. "She makes me so happy," "She treats me like shit" ; "She's like an angel," "She's such a bitch" -- and other mundane expressions you really would rather not waste time with.)

And that's why it's so strange...

You were there when Shishido cut his hair. While you were watching, dumbstruck, you were sure you felt nothing inside. But when you look back at it now, you remember the incident with an undertone of feeling. You think it's compassion, pity, or something else, something worse....

You see Shishido on his knees and your breath catches a little in your throat. That proud head held high, those shining eyes hard, those long-fingered, well-worked hands steady as the scissors went SNIP, SLASH, all strike a chord within you. You aren't sure what it means. For a moment you think the nagging feeling is guilt, because you knew you could have stayed his hand if only you'd stepped up.

...But you also know you couldn't have done a thing. Shishido would have done it anyway, even if you weren't around. That was how serious he was about tennis.

You'd been there to practice with him; you know that despite his slight attitude issues, his dedication to the sport is almost as intense as your own.

Truth be told, you're lately coming to think he's actually more serious than you are.

All you have is your invincible attack, "One shot to the soul" -- the scud serve. You're the one who delivers that shot. You're never on the receiving end of it, because it's something no one except you can do.

But while Shishido can't launch the scud serve, he seems capable of much more than that. He keeps finding new ways to use his body, and his obsession with his own potential fascinates you.

You've never admired anyone, really. Not like this.

Indeed, a lot of things about this new-look Shishido have started to surprise you. For another thing, his presence no longer seems invasive. He asks for favors from you the same careless, haughty way he used to, but this time you find yourself paying attention.

"Uh, you sure you want us to go practice tonight, Shishido-sempai? Didn't you tell me this morning that you have an exam at first period tomorrow?"

He frowns at you and you are stilled because each time that happens, it feels like he's never frowned at you before.

"What, you think I can't take it?" he challenges. And something inside you coils up.

"Sempai, I didn't mean that! I'm just worried -- "

"Lemme worry about myself, okay, Choutarou? Just tell me if you want to come with me tonight or not."

You sigh and shrug and the worst you can manage is "I'm fine with anything you want."

One other thing that surprises you is that he doesn't seem as loud as he used to. The thought ...appeals to you, in a way. But you're not sure if it's just your imagination, because sometimes during breaks when he's hanging out with other boys from his class, you hear his grandiose voice corridors away, ringing vibrantly the way it would "before."

Maybe it's just that you've started to spend too much time with him (and you're not sure how that happened either. One day it was just you and him together for lunch, then for tennis club, and finally going home, and it's been that way every since). You've come to notice that he actually sits silently for long stretches of time, staring out the window, or out at anything else that would make sure you couldn't see directly into his eyes, even if you're sitting right in front of him.

You find yourself wondering what he's thinking about.

You find yourself wondering about a lot of things.

To kill the time, the two of you talk. You don't know how it came to pass, but you now know more about him than you would imagine one guy should know about another. You know his fantasies, his dreams, his worst fears, his nightmares, when his first pet died, how it was buried, what exactly he feels when people break their promises to him.

When breaktime rolls around he seeks you out, one hallway down, and pulls you aside just so he can tell you about this neat TV show he watched last night, what happened at home, and what he's looking forward to that weekend.

You don't know what happened.

All of a sudden you find yourself looking forward to his presence.

Missing the loudness of his voice, the scent of his hair, the same as it was "before," yet in some way different...

From time to time, wondering if he would ever lean his weight on you again.

When you're out buying your own clothes and personal things, your gaze falls on something and you think "That would look great on him" or "He'd like that color," and it wouldn't feel strange at all. You would either buy it for him or tell him about it and of course you would be right about the item you'd found -- as if it's only natural you'd know.

It wouldn't feel strange at all.

What does feel strange, though...

Is that sometimes you catch a warm flush rising up to your cheeks, and it's rarely you could tell what placed it there. Sometimes he would say something completely innocent -- so innocent in fact that you can't even remember it a few hours later. And then you'd be blushing. You're not sure if he knows, or could see, but you know your own body better than anyone else.

No one else knows, or would be able to understand, the sharp tingling that creeps along your spine sometimes when his bare skin brushes against yours by accident. It could be from a gesture as guileless as a hand on your shoulder, or from something less likely but equally unforeseen, like him pressing up against you briefly, thigh to thigh, while reaching for the towel hanging close to your head.

It makes you draw in breath sometimes. You tense up, and he notices. He looks deep into your eyes and smirks, tells you "Hey Choutarou. Loosen up." And you do.

Because he says so.

The tingling, the warm flush, all these alien sensations haunt you while he's away.

When have you ever depended on anyone else like this?

Sometimes it's so comfortable, you don't even want to think about it ending.

Sometimes it's so distressing, you want to break something just to change the way things are.

You know he needs you, and it keeps you steady.

You know you want more, yet you know you're not ready.

And you think that maybe this is the first time you were on the receiving end of somebody else's "one shot to the soul."

You never knew before now it could be so powerful.

The End

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