I'm back with another PoT story. This one will probably be around three or four chapters. I'm working hard on it, so I hope you'll all support me, ne?
Buchou In Red
Red was Atobe's color. Everything was Atobe's color, but red especially. He thought it brought out his eyes and highlighted the subtle shades of his hair. Everyone else on Hyotei thought red made Atobe look fat, but they'd be damned if they let him know that. So, red being Atobe's color and the Christmas season rapidly approaching, Atobe did the only thing a respectable captain-to-be could do: he held a Christmas party in honor of himself.
"Kabaji, hang those streamers a little more to the left." Atobe sat on his couch, dressed in red velvet Santa pants and a white t-shirt. It was too hot in the climate controlled mansion to don his Santa coat just yet. "No, the left Kabaji, the left. Does ore-sama have to draw directions on your hand again?"
Kabaji stopped, three strands of silver garland twined around his muscled arm, and stared at Atobe. He said nothing, just looked at Atobe with calf-calm eyes. "Uhs," he replied, slowly, almost in defiance. If you were to ask Kabaji if he were slow, he would look at you with the same calm expression he was giving Atobe. It was the expression he used when talking to people who weren't worth his time. True, he wasn't as smart as Oshitari, but Kabaji knew that you didn't wear purple ruffled shirts to tennis practice. Atobe did not know this and was, therefore, excluded from Kabaji's mental list of intelligent beings.
"Go home and prepare for the party. Ore-sama will handle the decorating himself as you are clearly incapable." Atobe rose from the couch with a snort. "Ore-sama doesn't know why he keeps you around if you cannot perform even the simplest of tasks." Atobe tugged at the garlands on Kabaji's arms. "You're stretching the garlands, Kabaji. If ore-sama has to purchase new ones, he will be very displeased."
Kabaji looked down at Atobe and handed him the garlands. "Uhs." Bowing, the giant left, thankful to be out of Atobe's perfumed presence.
"Hey Gakuto, over here! Here!" Jiroh jumped up and waved at his classmate, nearly knocking over a rack of tree skirts. The cashier at the front of the Christmas novelty store shot him a dirty look, but the orange-haired volley specialist was too excited to notice.
Gakuto watched Jiroh jump a few more times before moving over. "Jiroh, you're awake. That's new." Gakuto spared a few glares for the other shoppers in the store. What the hell were they looking at, anyway? "You seen Oshitari around? He's supposed to meet me here."
"Of course I'm awake, I can't sleep through Christmas! Come look at this!" Jiroh grabbed Gakuto's arm and dragged him across the store to an ornament display. "It's a red and green tennis ball! Look! Look!"
Jiroh's grip hurt and the tennis ball ornament was ugly. "Yeah, that's…great. You seen Oshitari?" An awake Jiroh was never really anything Gakuto wanted to be around. Besides, any moment now, Jiroh was going to start talking about Atobe. You had to be as blind as Kabaji was dumb to not notice the Godzilla-sized crush Jiroh had on their soon to be captain. And, for all his Insight, Atobe hadn't noticed. Or, if he had, he was ignoring it.
"He's trying something on in the dressing rooms. It was blue, I think. So, you think I should get it for Atobe?" Jiroh was bouncing again. "I want to bring him something as congratulations, but I don't want to go overboard. It's got glitter and he likes sparkly things…"
"Jiroh, buy the damn ornament already, would ya?" Gakuto looked toward the dressing rooms. There were three stalls and two had their curtains drawn. Rats. He could kneel down and see if he found Oshitari's shoes, but then he might get kicked out.
"But there's also this other thing over here!" Jiroh took hold of Gakuto's arm again, pulling him across to the other end of the store, near a rack of "holiday miscellany." Jiroh plucked up a purple feather boa and wiggled it in front of Gakuto's face. "Think he'd like this better?"
"Oh get that one." Gakuto's eyes sparkled with barely contained laughter. The ornament was bad, but this was much, much worse. The scary thing was that Atobe would probably love it.
"Shopping for Atobe, I see." At the sound of Oshitari's deep, melodic voice, Gakuto relaxed, all of his tension immediately melting away. Oshitari was much better at handling Jiroh than Gakuto was.
"Think he'll like it?" Jiroh moved the boa in front of Oshitari's face and the tensai sneezed.
Gakuto caught a flash of the price tag and his eyes widened. "Woah. That's a lot of money to pay for a piece of cra…for that." A squeeze to the shoulder was Gakuto's reward for his discretion.
"It's swan feathers!" Jiroh clutched the boa to his chest and looked around the store. Content that no one was listening, he whispered, "Atobe likes swans, so I thought this would be doubly good."
"It will be wonderful and he'll love it," Oshitari assured, squeezing Gakuto's shoulder again, probably to keep him from saying anything. Not that Gakuto was going to say anything- he'd stopped himself from telling Jiroh what he really thought about that feathered thing, didn't he?
"Gakuto and I have reservations for lunch so we must be going. There is a wrapping station a few stores down. I suggest the number seven wrap, with the purple origami cranes. Atobe will enjoy it." Oshitari took Gakuto's arm and turned the acrobat toward the exit. "Excuse us."
"Is he really going to give that to Atobe?" Gakuto whispered in disbelief once they were several stores down from the Christmas shop.
"I believe he is. Do not ruin his gift by laughing at Atobe when he opens the package." Oshitari looked sternly down at Gakuto and Gakuto pouted. It wasn't fair, he hadn't done anything yet and Oshitari was already scolding him.
"Fine, fine. So, where are we going for lunch?" Gakuto began to jump in place while Oshitari gave him one of his mysterious smiles. If they weren't in public, Gakuto might try to kiss him, just to get the smile off his face. Of course, then Yuushi would freak out and they'd never play doubles again, which was akin to the end of the world in Gakuto's way of thinking.
"Shishido, stop pacing. It's getting on ore-sama's nerves." Atobe sat in his velvet and cherrywood chair, watching Shishido with unveiled disgust. "You're asking him out on a date, not to marry you." Atobe paused and raised a hand to his face. "There's at least two years until that'll happen."
"Shut up Keigo, before I take that Santa hat and shove it down your throat." Shishido stopped pacing, but continued to stand in his "obstinate pose." It was the pose he took up whenever he thought his stomach might jump from his abdomen. It happened a lot around Ohtori, the subject of Shishido and Atobe's recent argument. Shishido had lost and was, as a result, going to ask the first year on a date tonight. Ohtori was going to say no, so Shishido didn't understand why Atobe insisted that he ask, unless it was to watch Shishido sink into the inevitable depression the rejection would bring.
"You're pulling out your hair. Stop it." Atobe threw an ice cube from his orange-pineapple juice, hitting Shishido square between the eyes.
Shishido paused, untwining the hair from his fingers. "I'm the best looking guy on campus and I can't even get a first year to go on a date with me," he sighed, moving over to the couch and sprawling across it. He cast a look at Atobe and smiled. "At least I'm not the only dateless one. You talked to Jiroh lately?"
Atobe gripped the white fur trim of his jacket. "Ore-sama believes that you are forbidden to talk on that subject while in ore-sama's presence."
Shishido snorted. "Whatever. He's going to bring you a gift, you know. I got a call from Gakuto, warning me. Seems Jiroh's been awake all day, looking for the right gift for his Atobe-sama." Another snort. "The least you could do is give him a smile every now and then, Keigo."
"Ore-sama does not share Jiroh's affections."
Shishido let a slow grin slide across his lips. Atobe in denial was a masterwork to behold. "So you didn't keep that bunch of third years from picking on him by challenging them to a match?"
"Ore-sama was simply being a good teammate."
"And you didn't secretly send him that backpack, specially made with pillow support so he wouldn't damage his neck when he fell asleep at practice?" Shishido couldn't help but laugh at Atobe's horrified expression. Clearly Atobe hadn't known that Shishido was at the upholsterer's that day, too. "And getting it to accent his hair and complexion was a really nice touch, Keigo."
"If you tell anyone about that, ore-sama will kill you. Himself." Atobe's spine slouched a bit in his chair and he gave a weary sigh. "How many people know, Ryo?"
"Just me. Maybe Oshitari, but I doubt it. He's smart but you haven't given him any reason to be suspicious." Shishido closed his eyes and draped a hand over his forehead. "No one would care, so just make yourself happy already. It's unnatural for you to deny yourself anything."
"Ore-sama will think on this." Atobe's posture was again perfect, his nose again held just that much higher than the average mortal. Atobe picked up a bell and rang it three times. "Two more glasses of juice," he directed a servant before waiving her off. "Come Ryo, I need you to hang some garlands before the guests arrive."
"So that's why you invited me over early, you bastard." Shishido threw a toss pillow at his friend and rolled off the couch, adjusting his hair once standing.
"You didn't expect ore-sama to do it himself, did you? Now hurry, the others will be here soon."
Gakuto and Oshitari were the first to arrive. They presented Atobe's butler with a small, joint gift, a classical CD Oshitari knew Atobe wanted, and headed toward the reception area. Oshitari was not surprised to find Shishido already there, brooding in a corner. What was surprising was how nerve-wracked Atobe seemed. To the outside observer, Atobe was the bastion of calm, but to Oshitari and Gakuto, who'd been dealing with Atobe for well over a year now, the balled fists and the slight biting of the lip gave Atobe away. Beside Oshitari, Gakuto was snickering and holding his partner's arm to keep from falling down. "Gakuto. Discretion, please." Oshitari placed a comforting hand over the shorter boy's and hoped that Gakuto wouldn't say anything to incite Atobe's wrath. Atobe was edgy lately. An edgy Atobe was a dangerous Atobe.
"Oshitari, Gakuto. Welcome." Atobe bowed grandly before ringing a bell that sat beside what looked to be a giant velvet throne. "Your drinks will be here momentarily."
Oshitari really didn't know how Atobe pulled it off, but the tensai was, for a moment, drawn in by the grandeur that was Atobe Keigo. Atobe's aura was so overwhelming, whether on the court or off, that sometimes, just for a moment or two, Oshitari hated him. Atobe had a skill that no one could replicate. No amount of study or practice could make you into Atobe Keigo. Atobe Keigo was a life force sustained completely on his own hubris and charisma. Clearing his head, thanks to Gakuto's silent but warm presence, Oshitari smiled at his future captain. "Thank you Atobe. Your hospitality is much appreciated." When Gakuto didn't respond, Oshitari elbowed him gently.
"Nice place Atobe. How long did it take Kabaji to put those streamers up?" The streamers were a magnificent sight in all spots but one, which was just over the fireplace.
"The work was done quickly under ore-sama's expert supervision. Ore-sama is pleased that you enjoy the décor." Atobe's sneer plainly displayed that he thought Gakuto had the decorative sense of a herd of bison. Oshitari did not appreciate that look.
"We'll be sure to tell Kabaji he did an excellent job," Oshitari assured, noting with no little amusement how the comment seemed to sting Atobe's pride a bit. The doorbell sounded. It would probably be Jiroh.
Ohtori stood on the doorstep of Atobe's mansion, staring down at the small package in his hands. It was a stupid present. He probably should've left it at home. His senpai wasn't going to like it anyway and…
"Hoi Ohtori!" Jiroh jumped out of a white limousine and bounded up to the door. "Whatcha bring Atobe? I got him something really, really awesome." Jiroh held up a beautifully wrapped gift.
"Oh, this one's not for Atobe-san." Ohtori looked down at his gift, wrapped by hand. Now he was really embarrassed.
"What'd you get Shishido, then?" Jiroh's face was moving closer to the small box, almost as if he was seeing through the packaging. "Is it the barrettes he was looking at the other day?" Jiroh looked up from the package and smiled. "He'll really like them. His hair's always flying around while he plays."
"I-uh-I…thank you Jiroh-senpai. I did get the barrettes, but I don't think I'll give them to Shishido-san today. He probably doesn't want to bother with me right now. I took up enough of his time this year, asking for all that help with my smash technique." Ohtori's grip on the box tightened. "I really shouldn't be here. I'm the only first year Atobe-san invited besides Hiyoshi-kun and Atobe-san probably only invited me because..."
Jiroh yawned, his mouth opening and showing the undersides of perfectly white teeth. "Angst is boring Ohtori-kun. Atobe invited you because he wants you here. Now let's go before Gakuto makes Atobe mad and he's no fun!" Jiroh surged forward and rang the doorbell. While they waited for someone to answer the door, Jiroh patted Ohtori on the head. "He'll love them. Don't worry."
Shishido saw Ohtori come in and he promptly busied himself by staring at a bowl of pinecones. They were sort of fancy, he guessed. They had glitter-glue on them- expensive, high-end glitter glue- and they smelled like cinnamon. Shishido's mom used to buy things like this until the dog started eating them. Now they just put up a tree in the family room and had some day laborers come over and put lights on the house. This year Shishido's father had expanded their garden display to include an animatronic, waving Santa. Shishido's mother thought it was tacky and his father thought it was fun. Sometime during the baking of the fifth fruitcake, Shishido's parents decided to alternate the Santa. Next year, the stationary, light-up reindeer would have to do.
"Hey Shishido, you gonna go say hi to him?" Gakuto tapped on Shishido's shoulder and took a spot leaning against the wall.
"Hadn't really thought about it. Why?" Shishido was so very proud of how unconcerned he managed to sound. Too bad Gakuto knew him better than most.
"Oh no reason. I just thought you might want to ask him out before Taki does. They've been playing doubles a lot and I hear they're pretty good. Next year they're looking to become an established team. You know how that goes."
"I play singles so I don't know how that goes, and what Ohtori does to further his tennis is not my concern." Shishido wanted it to be his concern, but the truth of the matter was that, if you played singles and the person you were interested in played doubles, things got messy. Shishido was the jealous type and wouldn't be able to stand anyone Ohtori played doubles with and, while Ohtori was a strong player, his talents were more suited to doubles play. If Shishido asked Ohtori out now, and what Gakuto said about an impending Taki-Ohtori doubles team was true, Shishido wouldn't be able to stand it. He'd kill Taki. It was definitely a bad idea to ask Ohtori out now. Keigo would understand and let him out of the promise he'd made, particularly if Shishido played the Jiroh card.
"You're thinking stupid thoughts again, aren't you?" Gakuto sighed, banging his head lightly against the wall. "I didn't say it to discourage you, idiot. I said it so you'd get your ass out there and pull the kid under some mistletoe. Oshitari rigged some up in the kitchen, near the juicer. Have the kid help you get some punch and pull him under the stupid weed and kiss him."
When Gakuto had plans, they were always nice and easy. They also carried a certain amount of shamelessness. "I can't just kiss him. What if he hates it? I don't want to be awkward for year. I'm fine. We're fine. Leave it alone." Shishido turned away from his friend and Gakuto left with a huff, probably to find Oshitari and complain that Shishido was an insensitive bastard who didn't appreciate what his friends went through for him.
"We go through all this trouble and he doesn't even say thank you," Gakuto complained through a sugar cookie.
"He's nervous. Give it time." Oshitari looked at the cookie Jiroh'd given him. It was Jiroh's latest and greatest midnight diversion. It was shaped like a crest and was painted to resemble the Hyoutei pennant. Unfortunately, Jiroh wasn't as good at cookie décor as he was at tennis. The kanji were a bit garbled and the frosting was an unappetizing shade of paint-water grey. Everyone was eating the cookies, though. Unless you wanted to face Atobe's wrath, you would eat cookies until Jiroh stopped handing them to you.
"He doesn't have time. Taki's going to pounce soon and then Shishido'll get bitchy." Gakuto took a vicious bite of cookie and choked. "How much sugar did he put in these things?" He eyed the cookie warily.
"Twice the needed amount, I'm sure. Atobe likes sweet things." Oshitari took a small nibble from his own cookie. "Eat it slowly. The rest of them will be gone before you're done." Oshitari enjoyed spending time with his doubles partner, but sometimes the mechanism that was Gakuto's mind was a complete mystery. It bounced from thought to thought, never losing track of any particular strain. One moment, Gakuto would be griping about cookies, the next he'd discuss a new doubles formation, and then, just as he was talking about his mother's jam making prowess, he'd come to some startling new conclusion about the aforementioned cookies before casually resuming discussion on the jam, which somehow related back to the doubles formation.
"We should shove them under the mistletoe." Gakuto looked toward the kitchen with a grin. "I bet we could get Ohtori to get Shishido in there. Ohtori's been hiding something in his pocket all night. I bet it's a present for Shishido." Gakuto's eyes scanned the room and landed on Atobe, now seated on his throne. "When's he opening presents? I want to see his face when he opens Jiroh's gift."
"It'll be another hour yet until the gift opening." Oshitari watched Gakuto bounce, though he was still half sulking. "In answer to your first question, I do not believe Ohtori would appreciate our intrusion on his rather awkward state. We should leave things be for a while. If they haven't spoken when Atobe opens his gifts, we can construct a plan."
Hiyoshi sat on the couch, watching his teammates jostle about him. Atobe took Hiyoshi under his wing early on in the year, but failed to inform anyone else of this occurance. As such, Hiyoshi was invited to the celebration, even though no one seemed to know who he was.
"Ah, Hiyoshi-kun. I'm glad you're here." Ohtori Choutarou was, perhaps, the one exception to the rule. Ohtori always made a point of making Hiyoshi feel welcomed. Ohtori was the bright light in the dark, brutal world of Hyoutei. Unfortunately, Ohtori Choutarou was fixated on a senpai with an ego to rival Atobe's.
Hiyoshi smiled at his classmate, trying not to sound as bitter as he felt. "Atobe-senpai invited me. I couldn't say no." No, Hiyoshi couldn't say no and still maintain some hope of being a Regular next year. He knew there were 199 other players, just as talented as he, that would gladly take his spot if he fell from Atobe's favor. "It's good that Atobe invited you, too. I don't really know anyone here."
Ohtori smiled and took Hiyoshi's arm. "I'll introduce you to Shishido-senpai. He's really nice. You'll like him."
Under the brilliant, searing light of Ohtori's smile, Hiyoshi was unable to express that the very last person he wanted to come into contact with was Shishido Ryou. Shishido wasn't dumb. He saw the way Hiyoshi looked at Ohtori and, on more than one occasion, Hiyoshi had been the unhappy recipient of one of Shishido's colder stares. When Shishido didn't like you, he had no qualms about letting you know, and quickly. Luckily, Hiyoshi was saved as Jiroh dove between him and Ohtori, thrusting cookies at them.
"Ohtori, Shishido is looking for you. Hiyoshi-kun, can you help me arrange Atobe's presents. The table looks all wrong." Jiroh grabbed Hiyoshi's wrist and began to tug him away from a blissfully oblivious Ohtori. "Be careful Hiyoshi-kun; Shishido was watching you."
"I…er…thanks, senpai." The solemn look that passed over Jiroh's face just before Hiyoshi gave his thanks was frightening. It spoke of an alertness, a vast intelligence that Hiyoshi had never thought to accredit to the sleepy volley specialist. He would not make that mistake again.