By request for Sharon.

The Hidden Side
by Miko no da

The first time Shishido was treated to a glimpse of his partner's true nature, it caught him completely by surprise.

He trailed into the locker room at the end of a long practice and found that Oshitari had cornered Ohtori, lecturing him about some of the basic principles of doubles play. Kantoku had split up the pairs for this practice, forcing Shishido and Mukahi to play against Oshitari and Ohtori. The idea had been to make the two net players work on their baseline game, and vice versa for the two baseline players. Nationals were coming up fast, and they needed to push their games to a whole new level if they expected to win.

It had been a good game and a good practice, and Shishido was satisfied with his victory even though he had to share the triumph with Mukahi instead of Ohtori. The way Oshitari was talking to the younger boy, though, you'd think it had been a crushing defeat instead of a very narrow loss.

"You can't afford to let your guard down even - no, especially - if you're playing against someone you're accustomed to working with," Oshitari was saying in that painfully slow drawl of his, the slurring of the kansai-ben accent making his tone seem even more patronizing than it already was. "And you need to spend more time working on your ground strokes. You may be a serve and volley specialist, but there's more to the game."

To Shishido's annoyance, Ohtori simply nodded and replied meekly, "Yes, Oshitari-san. Thank you. I'll definitely take everything you've said into consideration."

If there was one thing that really irritated Shishido about his partner, it was the junior's placid demeanour. The tall boy was a favourite target for teasing because he never seemed to realize when he was being patronized or made fun of. He just smiled and murmured something polite and accepting, and never fought back or stood up for himself. There was no evidence of the fierce determination that he showed on the courts, the will to succeed that had won him a spot on Hyoutei's Regulars in his second year.

Well, jumping to the boy's defence would only get Shishido teased for being overprotective or something stupid like that, but there was nothing that said Shishido couldn't help get the kid out of the situation. "C'mon, Choutarou, we're burning daylight," he said impatiently, throwing his gear into his locker and changing quickly. "Let's go grab burgers or something."

"Sure, Shishido-san," Ohtori agreed, with exactly the same bland politeness he'd shown to Oshitari. Wondering if the younger boy even wanted to go out or if he was just agreeing to a demand by a senpai, Shishido rolled his eyes. He really needed to help the kid grow a backbone of some kind.

Ohtori grabbed his bag and waited by the door for Shishido to finish, and they walked out together. Waiting until he was sure they were safely out of earshot, Shishido finally opened his mouth to give Ohtori a lecture of his own about not taking shit from people just because they were senpai.

To his shock, Ohtori beat him to the punch. "The nerve of that guy," the junior exploded abruptly, his tone packed with more irritation and annoyance than Shishido had ever heard from him. "Who the hell does he think he is? Honestly. I don't care if he is a tensai, he's got no right to talk to me like I'm some kind of raw beginner. Which of us is the doubles one player, exactly?"

Gaping at the younger boy, Shishido realized Ohtori was actually scowling in fury, an expression he couldn't remember ever seeing from him before. Fierce determination, yes. Raw anger, no.

"You'd think it was entirely my fault that we lost," Ohtori was continuing, clearly working up to a genuine rant. "I don't freeze up just because I'm playing against you. I got over that back at the senbatsu selection camp. I mean yes, I made some mistakes. And I know my ground strokes need work, that's why I spend so much time practicing them! If I only relied on my serve, I'd never have made it even into the sub-Regulars."

Obviously frustrated, Ohtori kicked at a wall they were walking by hard enough to make Shishido wince at the sound of the impact. "I swear, one of these days I'm going to tell Oshitari exactly what I really think of him, and it's not going to be pretty. Damn it. I'm so sick of him patronizing me."

Finally catching sight of Shishido's stunned expression, Ohtori paused and blinked, the anger melting into confusion in a heartbeat. "What?" he asked curiously. "Why are you staring at me, Shishido-san?"

As if it was perfectly ordinary for Hyoutei's ultimate 'nice guy' to burst out like that, and it shouldn't have surprised Shishido at all. Slowly, the senior shook his head. "I was starting to think you didn't have a temper to lose," he confessed, a little awed. Ohtori in a near-rage was a bit scary, to tell the truth. There was something about the sight of a six-foot-plus guy who looked that angry that made you really want to be somewhere out of his way.

Laughing in surprise and embarrassment, Ohtori ran a hand through his hair. "Are you kidding me? Why do you think I developed the Scud Serve in the first place? It's much more satisfying to use your serve to attack imaginary people who've irritated you when it's fast enough to actually do some damage."

"You didn't seem to like using it on me much," Shishido pointed out, wincing at the memory. That serve did a lot of damage; he would probably always carry some of the scars from the gruelling practice he had demanded Ohtori put him through.

"That's different!" Ohtori said, shaking his head. "I don't enjoy hurting people. But taking out my frustration on imaginary people isn't the same thing at all."

"But you never say anything!" Shishido protested, reeling from the sudden abrupt alteration in his mental picture of the younger boy. "You just let people walk all over you, and you smile and nod like you're fine with it. Why don't you just bitch at them like a normal person?"

Shrugging, Ohtori turned back to continue walking, his hands shoved in his pockets. "My parents raised me to always be polite. Father taught me that it's much more effective not to let people know when they're getting to you, because then they see it as a weakness they can exploit. He wants me to follow in his footsteps and be a lawyer, you know, and that kind of thing can make a big difference in the courtroom when you're arguing your case. Besides," his smile turned a little impish, another expression Shishido had never seen from him before. "It bothers them a lot more that they can't get a rise out of me."

"You do realize the entire team thinks you're a total push over?" Shishido asked, staring at him again. "Doesn't that bother you?"

"Why should it?" Ohtori asked, looking back at him curiously. "It just means they underestimate me when push comes to shove. That's how I got onto the Regulars in the first place; nobody really believed I could be a threat, so they didn't start taking me seriously until it was too late. The people whose opinions actually matter to me know differently. At least," his expression turned slightly hurt, "I thought so. Don't tell me you bought into the whole 'nice guy' thing too, Shishido-san? I thought you knew me better than that by now."

"So did I," Shishido muttered, still trying to absorb this entirely new facet to his partner. This... actually explained quite a few things about Ohtori that hadn't made sense to him before. Though it left some things even more of a mystery than they had been before. "So why did you offer to give up your spot on the team for me?" he demanded, more puzzled than ever. When it had happened he'd been utterly unable to comprehend why anyone would ever do something like that for someone they barely knew. He'd finally chalked it up to Ohtori just being the kind of guy who was too nice to want to see someone else suffer when he could do something to fix it.

Apparently, that theory had been a bit naive of him.

"Because you'd earned it, Shishido-san," Ohtori said, still sounding as if he thought all of this should have been obvious. "After everything you'd done, how much you'd suffered to improve... well, if Sakaki hadn't let you back on, then being a Regular wouldn't mean anything."

"How do you figure that?" Shishido asked, startled. Not mean anything? To be one of the top eight people in a team of more than two hundred, where the competition was so fierce other schools shuddered in horror at the mere mention of their selection system?

"If you weren't allowed back even though you'd improved so much you were better than most of the Regulars, then being a Regular wouldn't mean you're one of the best," Ohtori explained with a shrug. "It would just mean you were part of a group of elitist snobs who are so busy patting themselves on the back for never losing that they never bother to learn and grow and improve. But if I'd had to lose my place in order for you to come back, then it would have been worth fighting my way back onto the team again. Just like you did."

"You've really put a lot of thought into this, haven't you?" Shishido said, regarding the younger boy in a whole new light. "I'm sorry, Choutarou. I underestimated you."

"That's all right, Shishido-san," Ohtori assured him. "Most people do, and now you know better. Come on, let's get those burgers. I'm starving."

After that, Shishido was regularly treated to Ohtori's unedited and often scathing opinions of the other Regulars when they were in private. It stopped being completely shocking after the first few times, but Shishido never totally lost his sense of wonder when he witnessed his partner transform from a polite, unassuming 'push over' to a bright, strong-willed and fiercely competitive boy.

"Who does he think he's impressing?" the junior asked one day after watching Atobe work the crowd of fangirls and non-Regulars into a frenzy of cheering before a game. "I mean sure, Atobe's got the adoration of the sheep that make up ninety percent of any group, but what good does that do him? Most of the people who really matter think he's a posturing idiot, and lose a little more respect for him every time he plays up to the mob like that."

Another time, after watching Mukahi verbally tear one of the first years to pieces when the boy made fun of him falling on his ass while trying to learn a new acrobatic manoeuvre, Shishido discovered just how little Ohtori thought of the other doubles player. "If Mukahi is so insecure about his playing style that a little teasing about something that is funny gets him that worked up, then he should find something else to specialize in," Ohtori muttered to Shishido as they stretched out together in the next court over. "Look at Jirou, he doesn't let people's teasing get to him; he just laughs with them and keeps right on going, and he's the second best singles player on the team. He doesn't waste energy reaming out every nobody who says anything derogative to him."

"You really don't think much of most people, do you?" Shishido finally asked him in bemusement one fall afternoon, as they lay sprawled out over Shishido's bed studying. The seniors had retired from the team once Nationals were over, but Shishido had offered to tutor Ohtori when he'd discovered that the younger boy's worst grade was in History, so they still saw each other regularly. Ohtori had been tearing into a couple of his classmates who had tried to bribe him to let them copy his assignments.

"You're just now realizing this?" Ohtori asked. His voice was wry, but he blushed faintly and ran a hand through his hair in embarrassment. "Then again, I think you're the first person to ever realize it, so maybe I should be surprised you got it so quickly instead."

"Hey, you can't blame people for not figuring it out," Shishido told him, chuckling. "They don't get to see you except when you're being all polite and meek. How come I get treated to the uncensored version, anyway?"

"I'm sorry," Ohtori apologized, blushing brighter and looking uncomfortable. "I never really thought... do you want me to stop? You must get tired of listening to me go on like this all the time."

"Stupid," Shishido smacked him on the back of the head, hard enough to sting but not enough to hurt. "What kind of totally uncool friend would I be if I expected you to hide your honest opinion of things? I kind of like being the only one who knows what's really going through your head when you're smiling politely at people."

"All right," Ohtori agreed, though he still seemed a little sheepish. "If you're sure you don't mind."

"I do have one question," Shishido said, tapping his fingers absently on the textbook they'd been working from. "If you're gonna call me Shishido behind my back, can't you just do it when I'm around, too? I keep telling you that you don't have to use 'san' with me."

"But I always call you 'san', Shishido-san," Ohtori replied, puzzled. "Whether you're around or not."

"You mean I'm the only person who gets to see you like this?" Shishido asked, surprised. Surely Ohtori must have other people he felt he could be this open with, or he'd have gone crazy from bottled up emotions long before he ever met Shishido.

"Of course not!" Ohtori laughed at him. "My family knows what I'm really like. But I refer to you as Shishido-san to them, too."

"But you call everyone else by just their name, unless someone else is around to hear it," Shishido insisted, frowning.

"Manners may dictate that I call people that in public, but why should I use a term of respect in private for people I don't respect?" Ohtori asked scornfully. "They haven't done anything to earn it."

It was then that Shishido realized two very important things. The first was that he was Ohtori's best friend, the only person outside his family that the younger boy trusted enough to show his true self to. That humbled him a little, and made him privately swear not to ever do anything to lose that trust.

The second thing was that he didn't actually mind it if Ohtori continued to always call him 'san', not if he knew his partner actually meant it. When he thought about it that way, knowing he was just about the only person Ohtori thought truly rated the title of respect, it was almost more meaningful than if he'd finally managed to convince Ohtori to call him 'Ryou'.

So the next day at lunch when a couple of jealous classmates were implying that the other boy must have done something to suck up to Sakaki in order to have such a high position in both the orchestra and tennis team, Ohtori just smiled blandly at them while Shishido watched with a sense of poorly concealed amusement.

Passing by, Atobe paused next to Shishido and studied the scene for a moment before shaking his head and sighing. "Such a promising tennis player, but he really needs to develop a backbone if he expects to get anywhere in life," the senior declared loftily.

Shishido promptly burst out laughing, and wouldn't explain why no matter how much Atobe demanded to know. Some truths other people were better off not knowing.

The End

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