“Hehe, you’re reading those girly books again!”
Oshitari Yuushi tugged his novel away from the hands of his cousin Oshitari Kenya and held it close to his chest with a scowling pout.
“They’re not girly,” Yuushi looked away, shuffling away from his cousin a bit as he did so. “They’re romantic, and love doesn’t have any gender, so there.” The matter-of-factly way he stated it almost made Kenya believe that it was true. Almost.
“Yuushi’s so girly and cute!” He teased, pouncing on Yuushi with a grin and making them fall backwards onto his bed with a soft thump.
“I’m not cute or girly.” Yuushi hissed out, shoving as hard as he could to get Kenya off of him with no results. He changed tactics and raised his voice to yell out into the house, “Auntie, Kenya’s being--!”
“Shh! Stop being a tattletale, Yuushi. It’s not fun if you call Mum all the time,” Kenya relented, crawling off his cousin and crossing his legs and arms in defiance. “You’re no fun to tease sometimes…”
Yuushi propped his glasses further up his nose from where they’d slipped down to. “Well, a genius knows how to defuse a situation in the best way possible. Anyway, it’s not fun when you make fun of me for having good taste in books,” he opened his book back up and began to read again.
It wasn’t long before Kenya was sliding up next to Yuushi and poking his head closer to get a better view of the pages.
“What’s so good about these books anyway? What’s so great about love?”
Yuushi sighed. Of course, his younger cousin wouldn’t understand the great intricacies that could be found in romance… He supposed it was his job to teach him, maybe it’d even teach him a thing or two for the future.
“Love is something that’s never the same for any two people and it comes in many forms. That’s what makes it fun; it’s unpredictable and new every time I read a story about it. Not that I expect you to understand, since you’ve never been in love.”
“Oh? And you have, huh?”
“No, but I’m sure I’d do a better job at it than you ever could.”
“How’d you figure that out, genius?”
“Easily. I have more experience from all the books I’ve read.”
It wasn’t as if Yuushi knew at the time that falling in love was completely different from all his romance novels. It took eight years for him to realise that, after he’d moved to Tokyo, after he’d joined Hyotei Middle School, and after he joined the tennis club there.
Oshitari Yuushi met Mukahi Gakuto in his first year of middle school. It was the day after he’d challenged Atobe to a tennis match (finally finding some worthy competition after moving away from Osaka), and during lunch.
A red haired boy came rushing over to his seat, followed by another boy who had long brown hair tied up in a ponytail that was dragging yet another boy along with him, this one having a lighter brown hair colour that came in messy curls atop his head. They looked almost familiar, and when the red head began to speak he realise where he’d seen them before.
“Hey, you, you’re Oshitari Yuushi, right? We wanted to say you were so cool going against Atobe like that yesterday, you really got him in your game together,” the boy leant over his desk, a smile across his face.
“It wasn’t like I beat him or anything,” he replied, tidying away the rest of his things.
“Maybe not, but you took a set from him didn’t you? That was impressive for a first year,” the red head continued, “you’re going to join the tennis club, aren’t you? I’m Mukahi Gakuto, and these two are Shishido and Akutagawa.”
“Shishido Ryou, nice to meet you,” the ponytail kid said, and he shrugged his shoulder jerking Akutagawa from his dozing slumber.
“Mhm, Akutagawa Jirou, nice to meet ya, Oshitari-kun.”
“Likewise,” Oshitari nodded at the two of them. “I’m debating whether or not to join the tennis club; I want to see the other clubs before I fully commit to one.”
“Wanna get lunch with us? Even if you don’t join tennis it’d be nice to have someone who can stand his own against Atobe with us,” Gakuto asked stretching his arms high above his head. Oshitari agreed since he didn’t have anything better to do and they went to the school cafeteria to get lunch.
Oshitari had heard about the commotion on the first day of school with Atobe becoming the student body president and with him declaring himself the king of the school, and honestly it was intriguing how much confidence could fit into one tiny little body. At least he backed up his claims though – the school cafeteria was much nicer than the average school (even the average private school) as were the rest of the facilities that the heir of the Atobe conglomerate had helped provide for the school.
The new little group of friends that Oshitari had surrounded himself with were obviously close. He could tell by the effortless way they all interacted with each other and he supposed it was only natural after he heard about them all attending the same primary school too.
Hyotei was one of those schools that had not only a high school but an elementary too and the majority of the student population stayed the same all the way through all three of the schools – Oshitari was the odd one out, transferring in to the middle school out of nowhere. He supposed it made him a bit more like Atobe though, both of them being transfer students and all.
It made things easier in a way though. Gakuto was more than happy to teach Oshitari about how things worked, where things were, and what sort of things went on at school.
“What other clubs were you going to look into, Oshitari-kun? Maybe we can help you out,” Gakuto offered as they were finishing up lunch.
“I was thinking about the orchestra.”
“You play an instrument?” Shishido asked and Oshitari made a kind of shrugging motion.
“A couple,” he was putting his bag back on his shoulder and standing up. “I play the violin most of the time.”
“Huh. I guess it suits you,” Shishido looked Oshitari up and down and nodded in agreement, not that even if he didn’t agree that it would make it any less true.
“Well, the coach for the tennis team heads the music department too – if both clubs go on they probably won’t be at the same time,” Gakuto noted aloud, dragging Jirou to his feet and letting the boy lean on him for support as they walked out the cafeteria. “So, you could join both!”
Oshitari supposed that made sense. He’d heard the orchestra wouldn’t be taking auditions for another week anyway, perhaps it was because of the teacher being in charge of both clubs.
It wasn’t difficult for Gakuto to drag Oshitari to the tennis club practice after school with this new information on the table. They arrived at the courts after classes had ended, and true to his word: Atobe was leading the practice as the new captain. His display of skills and techniques the other day had proven his worth as a tennis player to the coach and that was more than enough for people to accept him as their leader. Something more surprising was the way he announced that there were to be ranking matches immediately. He truly hadn’t been messing around when he said he’d turn the Hyotei tennis team on its head and redesign the hierarchy there.
The strongest would rule and stand at the top.
From what Oshitari could tell, the coach had helped Atobe sort out the blocking for the matches – with over 200 students in the club there were twenty five blocks, each with roughly eight students in which only the best twenty five would have a chance at becoming regulars. Eight becoming Regulars and the other seventeen given the status of Pre-Regulars. This would build the ranking system of Hyotei’s tennis club, at which point if you beat a person in a rank above yours in a match you would gain their rank and they would drop.
A harsh but effective way to find the strongest players. Oshitari had to commend Atobe for such a system.
The rankings would go on the next two weeks of practice and in that time Oshitari didn’t see much of the boys who had invited him along in the first place. They were in different blocks after all, so it wasn’t until the twenty five best players stood ready to be matched up that he saw them again. It seemed Gakuto, Shishido, and Akutagawa had managed to win their matches and deem them some of the top players, alongside Atobe, naturally, and another first year by the name Haginosuke Taki. Six first years, nine second years, and ten third years. The entire Regular team from before Atobe arrived had managed to make it through it seemed.
When the matches came to an end, Oshitari found himself with a solid position as a Hyotei Regular. Fourth strongest in the school, behind Atobe, Akutagawa, and the previous captain of the team, Akamèche. All of the first years made it into the Regular team.
With tennis club ranking matches out of the way, Oshitari set his sights on the auditions for the orchestra. He would spend his afterschool time at the tennis club practicing with the other Regulars and then would take off to the school’s music rooms to practice his audition piece.
Oshitari should have guessed that eventually one of his team mates would come and bother him about what he was doing and why he was leaving practice early but out of all the people he could have thought it to be, Atobe was the furthest down on the list.
“Don’t stop on my account,” Atobe said as he stood in the doorway of the music room, arms crossed and chin upwards like the haughty young master he was. Oshitari had no intention of stopping for him, but now that he’d brought it up he really wanted to. Still, it wouldn’t do well for him to go against King Atobe’s wishes so blatantly, so he rolled his eyes and turned back the pages of his sheet music to start again.
His fingers slid across the neck of the violin and he inhaled deeply, before pressing his bow to the strings and beginning to play. The violin sang out the notes he had played time and time again in preparation for the audition and filled the room with their music.
Moments later, a small pitter patter of footsteps filled the room and as Oshitari moved on to the next page of music, he glanced up into the room to see Atobe dancing the accompanying ballet to the music he had chosen. It had shocked him to say the least, to the point that he stopped playing long enough for Atobe to glare back at him, mid step. He placed his foot on the ground and put his arms on his waist.
“I thought I said not to stop on my account.”
Oshitari looked at him for a moment longer and then spoke, “I didn’t know you could do ballet.”
“I’m a being of beauty and what dance style is more fitting of I than the elegance of ballet,” Atobe scoffed. “There are plenty of things you don’t know about me, Oshitari Yuushi. Now are you going to play and let me finish or are you going to keep making pointless observations?”
“Giselle is a female role, I find it odd you know the dance for this piece,” Oshitari teased, propping his glasses up his face.
“Male, female, what does it matter? The dance is pretty so I learnt it, it’s as simple as that,” Atobe stated, and Oshitari couldn’t help but smile. He could remember saying something similar to Kenya once about his favourite books. Maybe he and Atobe would get along much better than he’d first thought. He put his hands back in position to play and with the first note Atobe stopped him again. “From the top.”
Maybe they wouldn’t get along just perfectly, but it would do. Oshitari could see their friendship being something fun already. He started from the top, playing his violin for Atobe to dance along to. The piece seemed complete with a dancer alongside it, the way Atobe twisted and turned and stepped around the room seemed to lift and compliment the music in such a way that Oshitari found himself trying harder to keep up with the added beauty that Atobe brought to the song. While it did look a bit odd to see Atobe dance while in his tennis outfit, it somehow worked, and by the end of the piece (which was short as it was anyway) Oshitari felt like he hadn’t even been keeping track of time.
“You’re pretty good, Oshitari,” Atobe smiled in that smug kind of way that he did.
“You’re not bad yourself, Atobe,” Oshitari smiled back with a smile just as smug and Atobe seemed to approve if the laugh he gave meant anything.
“Coach Sasaki will be pleased with your performance if you play that well for him in a few days’ time.”
“I should hope so.”
“If you get accepted, I expect you to play for me again. It wasn’t entirely bad to dance to live music for once,” and with that Atobe left the music room just as suddenly as he had appeared.
Sure enough, Oshitari did get into the orchestra and he did play again for Atobe, often going round to his house to accompany him during his ballet practice and in that time that he was getting closer to Atobe, he was slowly getting closer to the others on his team. The first time they would all go somewhere together outside of school practice would be when Gakuto invited the first years to watch his first skateboarding competition.
It wasn’t anything fancy; it wasn’t even a legitimate competition. Sure, there were judges and prizes but it was a street competition for fun more than anything else.
“Hey, hey, guys, over here!” A voice shouted out and a pale hand waved back and forth flagging down his team mates. Oshitari made his way over to where the voice was coming from and sure enough it was Gakuto in a garish outfit. He was wearing three different patterns all in the same outfit: a striped blue and white shirt, a black starry short sleeved hoodie, a red plaid jacket tied round his waist by the sleeves, what seemed to be his tennis shorts, and white trainers with mismatched shoelaces and socks to match. Even if Oshitari could hide his disgust at how badly put together it was, Atobe was not making it easy by picking at Gakuto’s clothing choice and stating his own distaste out loud.
“It’s not to impress you, your highness,” Gakuto stuck his tongue out as Jirou helped him strap on his safety gear. His bright blue safety gear. “It looks cool here, it’s the style, don’t you agree, Oshitari-kun?”
“Yeah, it suits you,” Oshitari replied not wanting to make Gakuto get on his case about it too.
“See, the genius understands!”
“I think you look cool, Gakuto!” Jirou assured him even more as he tightened the last shoulder pad and stepped back.
“Wish me luck!” Gakuto grinned as he rushed off to get into position to take part.
Oshitari didn’t know much about skateboarding but watching Gakuto skate was cool, even if his clothes weren’t. Shishido explained about different tricks and about what was going on since Gakuto had dragged him along to his practice before and Oshitari could see why Gakuto would enjoy something like it. There was the biggest smile on Gakuto face as he landed a difficult trick that involved him kicking the board into the air and him doing a cartwheel back on to it.
It was high energy and required a lot of skills, some that were completely opposite from tennis and in his mind Oshitari could see Gakuto on the court flipping around and jumping across from side to side to catch the balls before they slipped past him. It would make for a fierce kind of tennis play.
Gakuto didn’t even up winning, but he came third which was apparently good enough for him. The team congratulated him, Jirou getting hit on the head because he’d apparently slept through the entire thing, but there was a fun sense of camaraderie seeing them all getting along even outside of tennis. On the walk back Oshitari pulled back to walk alongside Gakuto who was skating down the street slowly.
“You’re rather flexible aren’t you?”
“My mum made me do gymnastics as a kid – got really good at it too before my dad said it wasn’t manly enough. He made me quit because he didn’t see the point it in and signed me up to tennis instead,” Gakuto explained with a bitter tone. He turned to smile at Oshitari. “I’m still the best in all of Tokyo though! Nobody can match my floor routine even if they tried.”
“Do you miss it?” Oshitari asked, noticing the smile that Gakuto never had while playing tennis. It was the same smile he had when he got off his skateboard at the end of the competition. That small smile as if he were embarrassed at being so good at it and getting so much attention for it.
“Of course. Who wouldn’t? Not like I can do anything about it now though. Dad won’t pay for the lessons and I have tennis to worry about.”
“What if you did both?”
Gakuto let out a laugh. “Didn’t you hear me? I can’t.”
“I’m sure if you put some of those acrobatics into your tennis you’d be unstoppable, especially with your serve and volley style.”
The red head pondered the idea for a moment, as if he were playing it out in his head and that smile returned to his face with a mischievous glint in his eyes this time. “It could work…” And he laughed again, riding his skateboard backwards and going in front of Oshitari. “Oshitari-kun, you’re the best!”
Oshitari could only smile along with him.
He knew his idea was a good one but it was one that’d need a lot of work too.
Over the next few weeks at tennis practice, Oshitari started to notice Gakuto spend more time on his stretches and his racket grip, swinging from all sorts of angles and getting used to them. It wasn’t until two months later that Oshitari got to see the real results of his words and Gakuto’s effort.
He accidentally stumbled across them, Gakuto and Jirou, playing a game at a street court. For one thing, Jirou was wide awake and yelling all sorts of encouragement at Gakuto who was returning their rally with a backflip across the court one way and then a cartwheel back across it and an in-between the legs shot as he faced away from Jirou and the highest jump into a lob that Oshitari had ever seen Gakuto do. Gakuto had really come leaps and strides along in his acrobatic tennis, no pun intended.
“One more time, Jirou! I wanna get this perfect for-Ah, Oshitari!” Oshitari had been stood at the side near the fence watching the two play against each other and when Gakuto noticed him he immediate bounced over to him. “What are you doing here?”
“I was on my way home but I thought I recognised someone’s loud, loud voice,” he looked over at Jirou who was scratching the back of his head and waving his racket in a ‘sorry!’ kind of way. “I could ask you the same question, why are you out so late?” And Gakuto pouted and turned his head away with a huff of air.
“He had an argument with his dad again!” Jirou called out helpfully from behind him.
“Again. He found me practicing some gymnastics in the house and got mad at me,” a pebble went flying across the court with a particularly hard scuff of his feet. “Ryou was busy tonight so Jirou’s gonna let me stay round his instead, and I thought some practice might cool me down some.” The way Gakuto say it made it sound like this was a reoccurring thing and that wouldn’t do. Oshitari felt a nagging voice in the back of his head.
“Why don’t you stay round mine instead? My older sister isn’t home at the moment so you wouldn’t be a bother.” The offer made Gakuto’s eyes light up and he turned back to Jirou who gave him a thumbs up and in an instant they were both packing their things up and getting ready to go.
Oshitari hadn’t had anyone that wasn’t related to him stay round before, but he’d seen his sister do it plenty of times so didn’t see why he couldn’t. The walk back was quiet and the house was even quieter. Only Oshitari’s mother was as home and she welcomed Gakuto warmly with the offer of dinner and Oshitari with a good scolding because he hadn’t warned her ahead of time that he’d be bringing someone back. The red head held back a laugh behind his hand and had to bite his lip to stop himself from letting it out when Oshitari shot him a glare.
“Oh, Yuushi never has any friends round other than Kenya, you must be one of the ones on the tennis club with him, right? Now, are you Atobe or Gakuto?” Gakuto seemed to deflate a little bit about being confused with Atobe of all people.
“I’m Mukahi Gakuto, ma’am, thank you for letting me stay round tonight,” he bowed to her and when she put a hand on his shoulder he raised his head.
“Don’t be so formal with me, it’s nice to see any of Yuushi’s friends since he likes to keep them all to himself most of the time,” and her welcoming personality made Gakuto feel at ease. He would have liked to talk to her more, and maybe learn something embarrassing about Oshitari if he got the chance to, but Oshitari was a step ahead of him and was pulling him along to his room before he got to ask anything about his childhood.
“Hey, Oshitari, who’s Kenya?” Gakuto asked when Oshitari brought dinner up to his room for them.
“Kenya? He’s my cousin on my father’s side. He came over all the time to play tennis with me when we were kids,” he handed Gakuto a glass of water, “it was easier back then, of course, since we both lived in Osaka.”
“Wow, another Oshitari good at tennis, huh? Is he better than you? Did you beat him more than he beat you?”
Oshitari laughed. “I can beat him in technique and skill but he’s really fast. We played doubles most of the time so we didn’t have many matches against each other.”
At this Gakuto had to swallow the food he had in his mouth immediately.
“You played doubles?!” Oshitari nodded at the sudden outburst. “This is perfect! Hey, Oshitari, play doubles with me!”
“You didn’t even think about it though,” Gakuto said, kicking Oshitari’s foot from where he sat. Oshitari kicked him back just as playfully.
“I’m better as a singles player, it’s as simple as that.” This made Gakuto drop it almost too quickly, but it obvious that the rejection had affected him since he ate the rest of his meal in silence.
Oshitari cleared up their plates and took them downstairs after giving Gakuto a pair of pyjamas to get changed into. When he returned he found Gakuto on his bed, lying on his stomach and looking at an old photo book of his.
“Hey!” He lunged forward and tried to grab it out of Gakuto’s hands only for the boy to curl up and forward roll off the bed. Gakuto pointed a finger at the young Oshitari in the picture.
“You don’t have glasses! Look at you, you’re so cute and small!” If Gakuto thought he had the advantage with his flexibility then Oshitari was going to show him that height always made up for everything else.
“And you’re still cute and small,” he teased, holding the book above his head and well out of Gakuto’s reach. “Don’t even think about jumping either, mum seems nice but she won’t hesitate to yell if you make too much noise.” Gakuto ignored him and kept on reaching up to the book, grabbing onto Oshitari’s other arm to stabilise himself. This did not work. Oshitari got pushed back by Gakuto’s insistence and they fell on to the bed with a light bounce, Gakuto taking the opportunity to grab the book again and take another look.
He rolled off from on top of Oshitari and pointed at his little face again.
“You didn’t have glasses in primary school, what happened?”
“Kenya,” Oshitari sighed, relenting from fighting back with Gakuto. The other boy would pester him about it all night knowing him. “He said they suited me and matched my genius look so I started wearing them.”
“Pfft, that’s such a dumb reason,” Gakuto laughed, turning the page to another picture. “Your cousin was right though. You look good with glasses,” and then he was off to laugh at another picture of him without missing a beat.
“You better invite me to your house so I can see your childhood photos and make fun of you for them someday.”
“Ha, yeah,” Gakuto said, no particular fun in his voice. “My dad doesn’t like me having people round after Ryou broke a window when we were kids.”
Oshitari leant on his shoulder, getting up a bit and Gakuto followed suit. “Your dad has a lot of problems with you, doesn’t he?”
“That’s one way to put it.”
“So, you argue with him often?”
“What is this? A therapy session or something?” Gakuto forced a laugh but sighed. “Yeah, he’s just got a certain outlook on how a man should act and I’m not that outlook. Doesn’t matter though, Ryou and Jirou have my back and you do too now,” he smiled at Oshitari, “right?”
“Anyway, it’s kind of fun, since he always lets me come back so it’s not like its anything serious.”
“That makes it sound like you run away on a weekly basis.”
“Ha! More like semi-weekly!”
“And yet you couldn’t even think ahead to bring your own pyjamas or toothbrush.” Oshitari tugged on the shirt that Gakuto was wearing. Gakuto swatted his hand away and hugged his own body and the shirt tight, sticking his tongue out at Oshitari.
“That’s because I have both of those things at Ryou and Jirou’s houses already. Just you wait, I’ll stake my claim and start leaving things here too!” Just as Oshitari was about to make a rebuttal, a knock came at the door. It was his mother with the futon ready for Gakuto. The two of them set it out and after getting ready for bed they turned out the lights.
In the darkness, Gakuto could swear he could make out the dark blue of Oshitari’s hair against the black of the room.
“Hey, Oshitari, you awake?” He whispered into the room.
“We turned off the lights five minutes ago.”
“I don’t know, Jirou’s usually asleep by then.”
“That’s Jirou. He sleeps through our senpai yelling at him to get up during practice.”
“Maybe if any of them were worth playing he’d stay awake!” This got a slight laugh out of Oshitari. It was more like an amused gust of air exhaled through his nose but Gakuto took it as a win. There was a pause, the ticking of the clock, some shuffling downstairs, and then Gakuto spoke again. “Hey, Oshitari, play doubles with me at practice after school on Monday.”
“Gakuto-kun, I said I’m--”
“I know, I know, but just once, so I know what it’s like and then you can make up your mind, please, just once.”
“And if you say no then I’ll leave it alone about it, I promise.”
“Yuushi-kun, please play doubles with me just once.”
“… Fine. Just once.”
“Goodnight, Oshitari!” And the way he said it made the smile in his voice so evident that Oshitari smile along with him. Maybe playing doubles wouldn’t be so bad.
And he was right.
When the afterschool practice came around on Monday, Oshitari found out that playing doubles with Gakuto wasn’t bad at all. It was fun and it was interesting and it was so different from playing with Kenya.
It was the way Gakuto naturally took his place at the net and used his acrobatics to allow Oshitari the ability to calmly analyse the court and whenever the balls came to him he was able to get a good shot thanks to Gakuto. Beyond that it was a sight to be able to see Gakuto move the way he did. With powerful leaps and turns and flips, Oshitari remembered in the back of his mind that Gakuto once told him he did street dancing as well as his skateboarding. Anyone could see the amount of fun that Gakuto had while he played tennis in his new style.
He would flit around the court like a bird spreading it’s wings, or like a feather floating effortlessly in the wind, and there was that smile again, that bright smile of joy that he had when doing his gymnastics finally seeping into his tennis games too.
For a new combination they were doing well and Oshitari didn’t find himself hating it as much as he thought he would. In fact, he didn’t hate it in the slightest.
Maybe that was what Atobe picked up on.
Upon seeing their combination working so well without as much practice together as most other doubles pairs, Atobe took it upon himself to order Oshitari and Gakuto to be his Doubles 1 pair. If they were this good together already then they’d surely only get better.
To Oshitari’s surprise it was Gakuto that spoke up in argument first.
“You can’t just decide that for us, Atobe! We should choose if we want to be your doubles pair,” he pointed an accusatory finger at Atobe who turned his head up at them.
“We’re severely lacking in good doubles pairs, and we don’t need extra singles players in the Regular team, if your poor brain can understand what I mean,” Atobe stated, turning on his heels. “I have acknowledged your talent in doubles and yet you refuse to listen to my expert advice. Come see me when you finally understand what an amazing opportunity I’m allowing you to have.”
Oshitari had to physically hold Gakuto back from going after Atobe and called out himself, “We’d be happy to play Doubles 1.”
“At least one of you has sense. Make sure you train together and perfect your combination before the next official tournament match you’re in.” With Atobe was off to his practice and to oversee the other players.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked to play doubles where Atobe could see. If I knew this was going to happen I wouldn’t have bothered you,” Gakuto apologised, bowing deeply and squeezing his eyes shut. Oshitari did the same thing to Gakuto that his mother did, he placed his hand on his shoulder and Gakuto raised his head to look at his friend and now doubles partner.
“I want to play doubles with you.” When Gakuto blinks and doesn’t say anything Oshitari repeats himself and Gakuto still doesn’t say anything.
“Whoa, how’d you break him?” Shishido comes walking up to the two of them, racket resting on his shoulder with one hand and the other waving in front of Gakuto’s face. “Hello? Gakuto? You in there?”
“You’re gonna play doubles with me!” Gakuto finally finished processing Oshitari’s words and perked up in an instant, throwing a fist into the air. He shoved his racket in Ryou’s face and grinned, “Ryou, play against us!”
“Hold on, I’m a singles player. Sin-gles. I don’t have a partner to play against you with!” The objection came as quickly as Gakuto had made the proposition and Oshitari shook his head going off to find an actual double pair to practice against.
They did find a double pair to practice against. Many doubles pairs to practice against for that matter. And while they didn’t do as Atobe instructed and perfect their combination by the time they had an official match they came damn well near close to it and each match they played only pushed their teamwork to new heights and by the time they met their end at the Nationals competitions, Gakuto and Oshitari had become one of the best combinations Hyotei had ever had.
It came at the price of hard work and training together more than anyone else but neither of them would complain about that.
Ryou, however, could and would complain about it as much as he liked.
“Gakuto, we’ve been waiting for ages, you said you’d come here as soon as you could, not whenever you wanted to,” he sighed tightening his ponytail. He had invited Jirou and Gakuto to go into town and just mess around somewhere and while he’d personally gone to get Jirou from his house, Gakuto promised he’d get there on time because he had important business to do in the morning.
“Calm down, you make it sound like I’m super late or something,” Gakuto sighed back at him copycatting him and pretending to tighten his non-existent ponytail.
“Uh, yeah, because you are. It’s been almost an hour since we said we’d meet up and Jirou got so bored he’s been napping on my lap in public,” he hissed out, bouncing his leg when he said Jirou’s name in order to wake him up, unsuccessfully as it usually was.
Gakuto pulled Jirou up and shook him by the shoulders, “Jirou, up! Up! We’re off now,” and Jirou blearily opened his eyes, smiling dopily at Gakuto, sighing out his name and then promptly falling back asleep with his head resting on Gakuto’s shoulder. “No! It’s time to get up, Jirou, I’m already all sore from practice this morning I can’t have you leaning on me all day on top of that!”
“What? You were off with Oshitari this morning?” Shishido sounded utterly appalled at the fact that should have been obvious knowledge. If Gakuto was doing anything important it was only ever with Oshitari. That was just how it ended up coming to be.
“Yeah, what’s wrong with that?”
“You literally saw him yesterday at school is what!” Shishido groaned, taking Jirou off of Gakuto and taking his turn to shake him awake. “Why’d do you spend so much time with that guy anyway, does your childhood friendship mean so little to you that you’re willing to leave us behind for him?”
“You’re being so dramatic Ryou, I just want us to be a good doubles combination and that means getting to know each other well,” Gakuto scoffed at Shishido’s childish remark. “Atobe wants us at out best and if that means Yuushi and I are gonna spend time together to perfect our combination then yeah, I will leave you two for a little while so I don’t get yelled at by Atobe when we go to practice next time.”
Shishido gagged. “You’re calling him Yuushi now? It took me three years for you to call me Ryou!”
“That’s different! We were kids and I was teasing you – I called Jirou by his name all the time,”
“Mhm, but that’s because every says Akutagawa is hard to say,” Jirou yawned.
“It is!” Both Gakuto and Shishido said in unison.
“Anyway, it’s not like it means anything,” Gakuto cleared his throat. “He just said I was allowed to call him Yuushi, so I do.”
Jirou’s eyes widened and he placed his hands on Gakuto’s cheeks. “Hey, Gakuto, your face is all red like your hair!” Gakuto shoved Jirou’s hands off and covered his cheeks with his own hands, feeling the slight warmth to them that wasn’t usually there.
“Jirou! Shut up!”
“Ehh,” Shishido broke out into a smile again and peered over at Gakuto a little closer than probably necessary. “So you’re still embarrassed about calling him by his given name? That’s not like you at all, Ga-ku-to,” he said, enunciating each syllable of Gakuto’s name.
“Ugh! It’s not the same when you do it. Get away, you idiot,” Gakuto shoved him slightly so he stumbled a step or two back and then grinned, “I thought we were supposed to be having fun today.”
“Well we can now you’re here,” Shishido replied and they set off looking for something to do to pass the time together.
It wasn’t that Gakuto was embarrassed about calling Oshitari by his given name, it was just that it made him feel closer to the other boy and that was what made him embarrassed. Even Atobe didn’t call Oshitari by his given name. Actually, Atobe rarely called any of them by their given names, except for Jirou, who Gakuto supposed was because it was easier to say more than anything else.
In their time together as a doubles pair, Gakuto had grown to like Oshitari. Really like him. And he had begun to realise only recently that really liking him meant developing something of a crush on him and that was embarrassing!
Gakuto had always known he didn’t like girls as much as he liked boys, not that there was anything wrong with girls, but boys were just more his type. They were less demanding of him and he could really feel at ease with them. He supposed it had something to do with his dad’s expectations for him kind of backfiring in a weird way but either way, Oshitari was the kind of guy that he liked and with all the extra time they were spending together…
Well, it was a surprise he hadn’t noticed his own feelings sooner.
After all, the nights he’d spent as Oshitari’s house instead of Shishido’s or Jirou’s when he ran away from an argument with his dad surely should have spurred the thought process along some, but apparently not, and now it was a case of gauging Oshitari’s reaction to various things.
He knew Oshitari liked him enough to be his doubles partner and to spend time (a lot of time) with him.
Now he had to find out if Oshitari was okay with guys liking him and if he liked him in that way.
Which was easier thought than done.
Oshitari kept to himself on the best of days and never really showed much interest in anyone outside of those that piqued his interest in some way. Usually intellectually or personality wise or in terms of skills in something he was equally interested in such as tennis or music.
So it was when they were taking a break at tennis practice near the end of the year that Gakuto got his first answer and figured out his first step to the second. Oshitari had pulled out a book that was so obviously a love story that Gakuto had to comment on it.
“What’re you reading?”
“A book,” he replied not even looking up at his partner.
“Pfft, yeah, I know that. What kind?”
“… It’s a romantic novel. You wouldn’t be interested.”
“Touchy much. Let me guess, your cousin used to make fun of you for reading them? Do you like romance novels?” He sat on the bench next to Oshitari, towelling away the sweat on his own neck as he leaned over to get a look at the book.
“Yes,” and then a pause, “to both of those questions.”
“Hehe, fifteen-love, Mukahi Gakuto! I knew it,” he laughed, leaning back after realising he wasn’t going to read much over Oshitari’s shoulder in the first place. “I know you so well, tell me more, Yuushi, why do you like them?”
Oshitari pondered it for a moment then spoke again, “I like how different it is for all the different characters. It’s always different but evokes the same feeling of fun and intrigue as to how they’ll get together in the end for the reader,” and contrary to how Oshitari thought Gakuto would react, the red headed boy merely made a noise of understanding.
“The girl always ends up with the boy, huh? Would you like some kind of story like that to happen to you in real life?”
“I…” He’d never been asked something like that before. It was new and the fun kind of different that he always got from Gakuto. He composed his thoughts clearly and then responded. “Well, first off, it’s not always a girl and a boy. Romance and love have no gender. If you fall in love with someone then that’s what it is. It is what it is and it is just love. Anyone would want to fall in love like in a story, it would be the dream, but then again it’s always just that. A dream.”
“Hey, can I borrow it when you’re done?” Gakuto asked, tilting his head and smiling at Oshitari.
“Why? It doesn’t seem like it’d be your kind of thing.”
“Yeah, but it’s your kinda thing, so I wanna try it out. Get to know you better and all. Come on, Yuushi, I’ll return it after school break and we’ll be second years with a whole new understanding of each other. At least I will. Maybe you can take up skateboarding or dancing as a hobby over the holiday!” Gakuto’s sincere smile really made it easy for Oshitari to smile along with him.
“Here, take it. I’ve read this one a couple of times already anyway.” He handed the book to Gakuto and the red head took it with both hands, running one across the hardback cover and reading the title. He looked back up at Oshitari and nodded his head in thanks.
“I’ll make sure to look after it for you until school starts again!”