Author's Note: Wow. This will be the first major new piece of fan fiction I've done in a VERY long time…everything else is still on hold, but I've had an itch to write something for a while now, and so I figured….why not? I can't guarantee this will be any good, but regardless…I DO appreciate feedback and reviews. I encourage all feedback, including flames, because at least then I know people are reading and I have incentive to keep writing and get better at it. Anyway…enjoy!
Chapter One: Easy Conversation
Anyone perfect must be lying; anything easy has its cost
Anyone plain can be lovely, anyone loved can be lost
What if I lost my direction, what if I lost sense of time?
What if I nurse this infection? Maybe the worst is behind…
If I'd been Echizen, I probably would have winced and told him to shut up. Then again, maybe I wouldn't have. This was Eiji, after all.
"Oishi." A hand landed on my shoulder, and I glanced back, curious.
"Oh. Momoshiro. What's up?"
"I was gonna ask you." Momo followed my earlier gaze. "What are you starting at? It must be interesting."
The lie slipped out easily enough. "Echizen. I was just wondering if you two have coordinated your games yet."
Momo winced, and his face fell. "That's low, Oishi."
I flashed him an easy grin. "I'm kidding, Momo. Nervous?"
He grinned back at me. "Not at all." He started to speak again, then winced. "Er, see you later then!"
I glanced back in the opposite direction as my teammate jogged away, and grimaced in sympathy. Inui was following, notebook in one hand….juice in the other.
Good luck, Momoshiro…..
Somewhere amidst the background noise, I could hear it: swoosh, clap, pause, swoosh, clap, pause, swoosh, clap….I didn't have to look to know what it was. If you asked me to pick Eiji's steps out of the entire team's warm-up, I could. If you asked me to pick out his breathing, I could probably even do that.
It wasn't that weird that I recognized all of my friend's habits even by sound….was it? We played together, of course I could pick out the sounds of his warm-ups, his footfalls, that fun, completely endearing racquet flipping trick I could hear right now. It made sense, didn't it? It wasn't that unusual for me to be able to pick out my partner and friend no matter where he was….right?
I let out a yelp of surprise and jumped what felt like a good three meters into the air. I blinked, startled, and sighed. "Eiji, you scared me."
Guiless eyes stared at me with amusement. "I noticed."
He wasn't that far away…just in front of me, in fact. That was what had startled me. I'd been too lost in thought to notice when he's left Echizen and returned to my side of the court. "What were you talking about?"
"Hmm?" Eiji sat next to me on the bench. "Oh, our ochibi-chan? Just asking him about his fan club. No real reason, though. I just didn't feel like leaving yet."
"Curiosity killed the cat," I commented, not at all serious.
Eiji winked, a wide smile on his open face. "That's the challenge, nya!"
I leaned back and watched as the remaining players finished cleaning up. Echizen was talking to those other first years that were always around him--well, talking or ignoring, depending on which side of the conversation you were on. Kaido was already heading out, racquet slung over one shoulder, walking sedately and solo away from the courts. Inui and Momoshiro were nowhere to be seen. I doubted Momo had succeeded in escaping.
Simple, every day scene. It happened every time practice ended. Tezuka watched from the sidelines. Fuji joined him once he was finished. Taka was already gone--he'd left early to help with a shipment at his father's restaurant. The other club members were packing up, picking up balls, chatting with one another as they left. And Eiji and I sat there, together, the Golden Pair, never really separate in anyone's eyes…Kikumaru and Oishi, always together.
Well, Eiji gets his due as himself. I'm just part of the duo. I'm the complement. Eiji's the acrobat. Eiji's the star.
I glanced over at my partner, studying his profile, the bandage on his cheek, the way the light reflected bleeding glory off his hair, the amused smile on his face as he watched the others.
I most definitely do not mind being his complement.
Eiji turned to me. "Hey, Oishi? Wanna get something to eat on the way home?"
Did Echizen have a perpetual stick up his ass? "Sure. Got an idea where?"
We shot ideas back and forth with equal ease and humor as we walked. I could've had this conversation in my sleep. As it was, I wasn't even thinking as I spoke. It was all autopilot, the rapport we seemed to have had since we met. I loved every moment, felt brighter with each word we exchanged, but I was still elsewhere.
No, I'd never want to be anything but his complement.
===================================================="…whatever he puts in there, I'm not even sure those are legal!" Eiji shook his head to emphasize his point, mouth still half full. "You've tasted them, Oishi, they're toxic!"
I set down my drink. "I really think we're better off not knowing what he puts in there."
"You're not even curious?"
"Not really. It probably is illegal. It's bad enough Inui makes us drink that stuff, I don't need to know what it is I'm drinking, too."
Eiji looked at me thoughtfully, and swallowed. "Well, maybe."
Easy conversation is a lot rarer than people think it is. I've listened to people talk, even close friends and couples, but only sometimes do they have this kind of rapport, these conversations that flow effortlessly and never pause unless both of us want to. There are always tense moments, times when you can sense that someone's not saying what they really want to because of a fear of it being something bad, or words that seem to have an ulterior motive to them no matter how well concealed. I can't think of many times that's happened with me and Eiji. We've had our fights, sure, but even when we're just talking about nothing, everything just goes so smoothly. Light and easy, with no loaded words or questionable motives.
"So when do we get our own fan girls, huh?"
Questionable taste is another issue.
I smiled teasingly at Eiji. "Why? Jealous of Echizen's popularity?"
"They follow him like a rock star," Eiji pointed out, half annoyed and half amused. "Who has the best reflexes in Seigaku, huh? Who always has the easiest wins? Who looks best out there, hmmm?"
Maybe the lack of loaded questions isn't so…lacking.I answered exactly what I thought, not even bothering to omit anything. "You're confident. And so modest, too. Ego much?"
"I'm just saying we deserve fan girls, too." Eiji grinned, ignoring my words. "I don't hear anyone talking about how they're not sure the Seigaku first doubles team can win a game."
"Not much, anyway."
"So we need fan girls. Preferably older ones."
"No first years."
"I knew you had to have a reason for talking to Echizen about them"
"Ah, Oishi, that's mean."
I grinned and took another drink. "Anyway, they're the whole team's fan club now. There's not nearly as much screaming of 'Echizen, Echizen!' as there used to be. It's mostly, 'Fight, Seigaku!' now."
"Yeah, that's--you're missing the point!"
I gave my friend a measuring look. "I am?"
Eiji's gaze turned inward for a moment. "Well, no. It seemed like the thing to say." He popped another set of fries into his mouth and chewed in silence. It wasn't an awkward silence, or even a thoughtful one. It was just a pause, one that didn't need to be filled with chatter because of the promise in the air between us. I took another bite of my burger and shifted in my seat, pushing my bag a little further under my chair with my foot.
"We're out here so much," Eiji commented after swallowing. "They should start giving us a discount. Between the two of us, we eat more than Momo does during any given visit."
I took another quick sip of soda to help wash down the food faster. "That's not possible. Momo eats more in one sitting than the entire team does in a month."
"Nah. Not here. He stops by here every once in a while. We're regular staples, like that couple over there." Eiji gestured with his burger, then raised his eyebrows. "Oishi? What's up?"
I quickly schooled my face back into casual interest, and wondered how much of my startlement he'd caught. "Nothing. What makes you say that?"
Eiji's gaze was penetrating, curious, and I got the distinct impression that the confusion in his eyes was a complete sham. "Uh, it's true? We come here at least once a week. It's a regular thing. We should be getting couple's discounts or something...Oishi?"
I couldn't even imagine what my expression was at that moment. I certainly felt like someone had dropped a live fish down my throat. Luckily, we've never had to worry about saying the right thing around each other, even with small salmon wriggling somewhere around our larynxes. "Eiji, why do you keep saying things like that?"
"Why not?" The confusion in his eyes was definitely false. Or maybe it just wasn't due to what I thought it was. "Are you all right, Oishi? You look funny."
I rubbed a hand over my face, and around the back of my neck. "I'm fine. You just startled me."
"Oh. Well, okay then." Eiji reached into the pile of fries and munched on a few more. He held one out with his free hand. "Want one? I'm almost full."
I took a moment to really look into my partner's eyes. There was nothing there other than cheerful companionship. But was there a flicker behind those eyes, something I'd missed before?
No. That was ridiculous. Eiji's heart was right out on his sleeve. He never hid anything from anyone. I wasn't even sure he could.
I reached out and took the fry, flashing a quick smile. "Thanks."
A lifetime of understanding and friendship had gone by in the years that Eiji and I had been friends. I couldn't imagine not having him around any more. It was like he'd always been there.
I mentioned it to him between classes. "Do you remember what you did with your free time before coming to Seigaku, Eiji?"
He stretched out his legs over his desk and leaned back in his chair. "Of course. I practiced so I'd get on the team when I got here!"
I raised my eyebrows. "Really?"
"Well..." Eiji flashed me a wry grin. "Not all the time. Only the last couple of years. I did play a lot, though."
Eiji smiled so much. His teeth were almost too white. Once, when we were first years, I'd bought him a three-pack of toothpaste as a gag gift. He'd been thrilled. I'm not sure he knew it wasn't meant to be a serious gift. "Hey, Oishi, what did you do?"
I thought about it for a moment. It wasn't that long ago, but my memories of the past three years were much more vivid than those before. "Mostly studied and practiced. Sometimes I went out with my friends."
"What did you do with them?"
I shrugged. "The usual stuff friends do together. Nothing really sticks out."
"Yeah, me neither." Eiji let his head fall back over the back of his chair. "How boring things must've been before you met me, nya!"
I smiled and let out a short, long-suffering laugh. "You have no idea."
"It sounds more boring than my life before you!"
I looked at him, startled. Eiji sounded completely serious. "Eiji?"
The one-person circus of Seigaku was still stretched out with his head back so I couldn't see his face. "Hmm?"
I frowned, and shook my head, more to myself than in response to him. He couldn't even see it, after all. "Never mind. I don't know what I was going to ask."
Eiji popped back up with almost disturbing ease. "No, ask!"
I shook my head again. "It must've been nothing."
"Oh." Long legs swung back onto the floor, and the redhead leaned forward onto his knees. "Then can I ask you something?"
"Of course. Go ahead."
"Wanna get something to eat with me tonight?"
I had to smile at that. "Still hoping for a discount?"
"Nyaaaaa, Oishiiii! I'm serious!" Eiji's mouth twisted into a near pout, and his eyes were focused in the way that I associated with something of dire importance, or a really serious match. "Yes or no?"
I raised my eyebrows. "Well, yes. Why is it such a big-"
"Yes to grabbing a bite with a friend or yes to going out on a date with me?"
My jaw unhinged. "W-what?"
Eiji's face was painfully earnest, but he hardly seemed to realize what he was asking. "I like you, Oishi. Really, really, reeeeeally like you. So, wanna go out with me tonight?"
My face should've been flaming. As it was, it felt like my jaw was still scraping the floor. For the first time in a long while, I had no idea how to respond. What was I supposed to say to that? This went way beyond the realm of friendly conversation.
Or maybe I did know how to respond.
Eiji's face split into a wide, ecstatic grin. He sprang out of his chair and pumped his fist in the air. "All right!" The other students in the room started to turn at his cheers. "I got a yes! I win!"
I looked around, panicked. "Hey, Eiji, people are-"
Any protests were suddenly silenced when Eiji flung himself at me, toppling both the two of us and the chair. I let out a startled yelp, but Eiji seemed totally oblivious. He laughed and fell against me as we hit the floor. I tried to push him away. "Ei-"
That was when he kissed me, and all the words fizzled away in surprise.
My eye darted around, part of my fully aware how this looked and exactly how many people were staring at us with varying expressions. Eiji's lips pressed against mine more insistently, and suddenly it didn't matter. He was so close to me...it was hard to breathe. My head felt too light, my chest too tight, the light was too bright...I had to close my eyes against the glare, and opened my mouth to try and get in a deeper breath.
But Eiji's mouth fit over mine so perfectly...breathing suddenly seemed much less important.
I pushed myself up onto my elbow, trailing my other arm up along Eiji's back before settling my hand at the base of his neck, pulling him closer. He pulled gently at my lower lip, sending a flash of heat through me, and let out a small, breathless laugh. I smiled back through half-lowered lids, and stretched up to meet his lips again. I couldn't remember where we were, or what we were supposed to be doing. I just wanted to feel that thrill again, taste the salt of his lips, feel his warmth around me, everything that sent those bells ringing in my head.
I sat up, alarm clock in my hand, stunned. It was only habit that had me mechanically moving to turn the clock off. The rest of me was completely still. It was like I wasn't even there, save the frantic chattering in my head.
In all the time we'd known each other, I'd never kept anything from Eiji...except for this.