Taido (Attitude)
by Monnie


"You better call me!"
Like always, it's a command..
"Wait for me," you yell.
They're the only ways you know
To tell me that you love me.

(And can I add just how much I love using this tanka for the ShishiTori relationship? ^_^)

The teasing just never stopped.

He should have been used to it by now, maybe--in the beginning, it had been over just how tall he was, and how, freshman year, his serve had been just as likely to go into the court next to his as the carefully delineated little white lines of the court he was supposed to be playing on. In those days, maybe some part of him had thought that he deserved it, a little, because, well, they teased him about things that were true. They weren't nice, but they were, well, true.

And then he'd practiced until he'd almost dislocated his shoulder, over and over and over again--reaching for his serve like he reached for the sky when he stretched, and maybe it had been a stretch, maybe it had been impossible--but he'd made the cut, the team, the Regulars. The teasing had stopped then, too--well, mostly. The Regulars jostled each other around, of course, and Ootori couldn't count the number of times he'd seen them poke and snap at each other, Mukahi-senpai so full of energy and Jirou-senpai so full of...well...sleep, while Oshitari-senpai chuckled behind his glasses and Atobe-buchou...and Atobe-buchou just mostly ignored them all, with his head high. And Shishido-san, he....

Ootori had really thought that the words that cut at him and left his skin whole would stop, then, and for awhile--they had.

Oh, the non-Regulars still yelled "Get it together, Ootori!" "You suck!" when his wrist snapped too far forwards when he aimed for the right, and his serve bowed into the net rather than streaking into the opposite court--and the words tugged, tightened his mouth, just a little, but he stood on that court as a Regular. They could try and hurt him however they wanted--they wouldn't stand in his place, not if he had anything to say about it.

Shishido-san had teased him, too, before--but he'd always followed it with a grin, or a light punch to the shoulder, or a smirk as he twirled his racquet over his palm in a twisting nebula of green and strings. He said "Get it together," but it...it had always been with a hand on his wrist to show him how to, and no matter how rough his tennis-callused fingertips, the grip was always as smooth and unexpected as one of Shishido-san's dashes.

Shishido-san had never, ever shoved in another comment afterwards, never made the little soft patch into a wound. He'd just grinned, and...nudged, maybe, with a hip, or a grin. "You're nowhere my level, Choutarou, but you're not too bad. Gotta practice."

And rather than shoving too deep, it...it made Ootori laugh, too.

It had felt so utterly wrong, somewhere that had been shocked with the seas parting and the earth stopping in its relentless spin, to watch Shishido with his face streaked with sweat and something that might have been the beginning of defeat crawling onto the stern set of his mouth.

Was that why Ootori had, even for a moment, not regretted his words when he'd seen Shishido-san bowed in front of him on his knees, hands pressed flat to the ground with his head down and his hair almost brushing the ground in slow silk flicks...?

"I don't mind," Ootori had said.

He'd seen the hurt, the scars, the determination that ran like sweat over Shishido's face. Was it because it had been--what was it? A moment of softness, of weakness, in his himself--because he'd felt in his gut, in his overstrained shoulder, how hard Shishido-san had worked, watched the blood snarling from the corner of that mouth as he spat it away and yelled, "Again. Damn it, Choutarou, again..."

Had it been weakness on Ootori's part, or had it been strength? He never knew. He could never tell, with himself, and sometimes the two twined together like fingers--like a no-control serve that was the fastest in the junior circuit.

'I'll give up my place for you,' he hadn't said. 'You're worth it.'

But in a team like Hyotei, nothing was ever a secret.

"Hey, Ootori, where's your partner?" the words were more than a sneer, and Ootori's back was tense and hard as he reached into his locker. He'd stand on the court with Shishido-san today, they'd win, and there wasn't anything that could make him ashamed of that. "Awww, are you lonely without your Shishido-san, Ootori?"

It wasn't that. He knew better than to respond--knew better than to turn away from the locker that was blurring to a smudged fawn before him though the dulled and dulling plastic of it was still solid under his fingers, and let them see the truth or falsehood of it in his gaze. (Why hadn't he ever hearned to lie with his eyes?) He knew that it was only going to get worse, and nothing he said could possibly make it any better--there were some people who had the gift of twisting and turning words until they beat back in quick surgical strikes against those who attacked them, yes, but...but his words had always been an offering, not...not a weapon. I don't mind, he'd said, and maybe he'd have minded, if he'd known, but...he didn't regret it.

Ootori didn't listen to what they were saying. He didn't have to. His father had always told him that teasing hurt less if he could just...just let the words wash over him like fire over a still pool, but it didn't help when the words were stones and sticks, and they broke past his calm and sank too deeply--he didn't...he wasn't...no!

Without any of the other Regulars in the clubroom, the tone of the teasing was always the same, nowadays--more variations on the same mocking hurt, over and over as they dug at him with filthy words, filthier things he'd never, ever wanted to know about any boy, about anything boys did together. Did everyone think that he'd stood up for Shishido-san because he was gay and he wanted to sleep with him? He wasn't like Gakuto, or Oshitari, he wasn't--and even if he had been, that hadn't been why he'd done it at all.

Did they all think he was so shallow?

"Does he fuck you up the ass? Aww, but he's so little next to you, isn't that weird--"

"Choutarou, you're taking forever." The singsong mocking that tangled into a web of silence in the clubroom but sang through his head in a loop that almost never left him nowadays was slashed to trailing, dangling ends by that harshly toned, impatient voice. It was almost welcome--almost, and Ootori froze as the stillness washed past his ears and into his mind, too static. Shishido hadn't heard. Maybe he hadn't...

Shishido looked around, and yanked off his cap to run a hand through his short, short hair, eyes narrow slits filled with elegant blue. "What the Hell's going on in here?"

Shishido hadn't heard--he wouldn't have asked, if he had, would he?--and relief was as bright and stingingly hot as the tears that Ootori suddenly realised had gathered on his cheeks. When had they...he hadn't...he scrubbed them away with the back of one hand before he turned away from the cubbyholes, trying for a smile, or at least anything but what he felt stretched over his face, taut and bare as a mask around his eyes. "Nothing, Shishido-san. I'm sorry I made you wait." He dipped his head, a little. "Let's...let's go."

Ootori tried to brush past, his face raised, chin high so that--that maybe Shishido-san wouldn't think he was so weak, not when he'd seen just how strong Shishido could be--what was the pain of a few words when silhouetted against the sharp sting of a ball hitting into flesh, the noise of it as hideous as a scream, when...when his Shishido-san had climbed back to his feet and said again? Couldn't Ootori even...couldn't he even stand in a locker room, and say 'Again, again,' until the words were balls, and he could catch them, too...?

Shishido studied him, and his eyes went too deep, too blue, Ootori couldn't even hide from them even behind his eyelids. "The Hell, Choutarou. You crying?"

No. Yes. He wasn't any good at lying, but he couldn't have been crying if he didn't remember the tears that streaked the back of his hand. Ootori's hand strayed up to his cross, and this time, he felt the rasp of it against his fingers, clenching too hard, when he spoke--"Shishido-san, it's nothing, don't--"

But Shishido had always been faster than he was--he'd already wrenched away in a rush that would have whipped his hair across Ootori's arm if he'd still had that hair that Ootori remembered falling about a proud, bowed face that had never defended anyone, and never needed to. He never wanted to see Shishido bowed like that again--and it sent a pulse through his back, sweet and sour, to see that chin tilting upwards towards the scattering of pre-Regulars. "What the fuck have you bastards been saying to him?!"

"Why?" it was Tamura-senpai who sneered the words, just one side of his mouth twisting--he wasn't always the one who started it, but...but he was always the one who never let it end. Ootori forced himself to look at the boy--he was so much shorter than he was; how could Tamura-senpai be so...so angry? "Fuck, Shishido. What the Hell. You admitting you're gay, too?"

Ootori closed his eyes. Oh, no. Oh, no. "Stop," he whispered, he wanted to--but his voice was knotted in a braid of tears and wouldn't leave his throat. They were going to start on Shishido-san now, and it'd be his fault because he couldn't keep them from seeing how much the words hurt him, and they shouldn't have hurt him, they were only words, just that...but they struck too sharply, because...because...

The team couldn't hurt him by telling him that he was too tall, that he didn't have any control with his serve, not anymore...but they could hurt him by driving away his Shishido-san. Why would Shishido want to stay doubles partners with him if...if the rest of the team was going to subject him to the same thing that they always put Ootori through...?

The silence was quiet, and dangerous, liked the echo of white noise that burned down his throat, he had to say something to break that awful, awful hush, like not even the others in the clubroom could believe that Tamura had said something like that, but Ootori's mouth was as empty of words and bloodless as his face...

"Yeah. I'm gay. You got a problem with that?" Shishido snarled, and the silence was full of the roar in Ootori's ears. "Choutarou's not. Leave him the fuck out of your sick jokes."

That tone...that inflection, the way the words throbbed too low in that smooth throat, was too similar to the way Shishido growled on the tennis court when he was just about to take a point--and even if no-one else on the team ever liked to hear that sound, well, it had always sent just a little shiver up Ootori's spine. That was normal, wasn't it? Nowadays--nowadays, Shishido-san was his partner, and even if everyone else hated it, that sound meant that it was a point on their side.

The locker room was very, very quiet, but it wasn't the same snappingly hurtful hush, and Ootori felt like maybe his jaw was wobbling somewhere in the vicinity of the bubble of...of something curious and warm and richly right, flowing like chocolate in his throat.

Because...because everyone else might have thought that Shishido-san was joking, or saying something like that, well, just to shut them up, and maybe he had, but...

But Ootori didn't think...he didn't think Shishido-san ever lied...

"You're...you're fuckin' kidding, right?" Tamura-senpai's eyes were wide--too wide, their whites swallowing the sneer as his mouth sagged. "You're--you're not--"

Shishido just grinned, and ran a hand through his short, short hair before flipping his cap back on with a single twist of his wrist--and twirling his racquet on his palm with what looked like cavalier pleasure at having shocked the entire locker room into total silence. It really was very, very much like him. "C'mon, Choutarou. Let's get out of here."

It took more than one try to clear his too-warm throat before a stupid--oh, God, it really was so very stupid, but Shishido-san was waiting for him--grin welled up on his lips, and Ootori bobbed his head, and felt the day's first genuine smile fill his eyes with wonder. "Hai!"

The End

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