Title: Lonely No More
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Some people might believe that Atobe was secretly a kind, caring person on the inside, but Jirou doubted it.
Some people might believe that Atobe was secretly a kind, caring person on the inside, but Jirou doubted it. That wasn't to say that Atobe didn't care about people, because he did care about the tennis team. He was the center of the team, the sun that held them all in orbit with the gravity of his power and ego.
Jirou always made sure to stay on his buchou's good side, but he was also careful not to get too close. Just as with a sun, drawing too close would only result in being burned by flames; and Akutagawa Jirou was smart enough to know better than to go and inflict harm onto himself.
...Even if he did crave the warmth of that sun.
Atobe Keigo had come close to kicking a certain perpetually sleeping individual off the tennis team more than once. Of course, in truth it was Sakaki-sensei who had the power over who was or was not a Hyoutei regular, but Atobe knew that he could influence the coach's decision, and had almost called in that power more than once when it came to Akutagawa Jirou.
First off, he was always sleeping through practices. Atobe knew that Jirou practiced -- he had to, because otherwise there was no chance he could keep up with the mainstream of Hyoutei's highly competitive tennis team -- but it irked the captain that Jirou didn't even seem to care that while everyone else was sweating and working hard, he was napping.
One of Atobe's first impressions of Akutagawa Jirou was that the latter had no style to speak of. Hyoutei was a prestigious school, famous for its many charismatic characters, leaders of the coming age. They all had a certain aura that seemed to have just passed by Jirou. While sleeping anytime and anywhere did make some girls giggle and swoon, it did not count as an endearing trait in the eyes of the general public. It was laziness, for heaven's sake.
His tennis was exceptional because Jirou possessed flexible wrists, and was able to utilize them in his net play. Still, his tennis had no style either. It was surprising, certainly, for an opponent who didn't know him and thus was expecting and easy win from the sleepy player, but surprise and awe were two very different things.
All in all, as far as first impressions went, Atobe Keigo was not impressed with Akutagawa Jirou.
However, Jirou remained on the team because he knew how to win a game, and did so more often that seemed strictly fair, in the eyes of those teammates who worked many times harder than he did. Atobe held his tongue, and just put Jirou down as one of those extraneous variables of life.
He never expected to discover that Jirou was unexpectedly cute when he was asleep. It was like watching a kitten curl up in the sun, and fall fast asleep with a secretive little smile that no one could quite understand, but found adorable anyway.
Maybe, Atobe thought, just maybe, Jirou did have his redeeming qualities, after all.
Jirou honestly hadn't noticed Atobe sitting on the bench beside him. Seriously. He jolted awake from a half-daze when he felt his head come into contact not with the bench, as he curled up for a nap, but with the material of a tennis jersey.
...But Atobe didn't seem to mind. Surprisingly. The captain stiffened slightly in surprise at the unexpected contact, but then relaxed again, as if people fell asleep against his shoulder all the time, right in the middle of practice.
Jirou decided that it was pretty comfortable, actually. Atobe smelled nice, and his jersey was comfortably warm from the sun and body heat.
So he just snuggled closer, and fell asleep with a small smile.
.four/ pet peeve
Atobe never did like it when someone one-upped him, even if it was in the smallest of matters. In his opinion (which was the only opinion that truly mattered) all the members of his tennis team should look up to him and only him. Their captain.
What was so special about that pink-haired, gum-chewing, bubble-popping punk from Rikkaidai anyway? So he could do some cheap ball tricks that would have been more in place at a circus than on a tennis court; it didn't make him a good tennis player. Jirou's attention was wasted on Marui Bunta.
Atobe Keigo didn't appreciate being second in anything, even if it was something so petty in the world's eyes. Marui Bunta couldn't hold a candle to Hyoutei's captain, and yet, for reasons unfathomable, Jirou was chasing after him instead of Atobe.
Atobe Keigo was not fighting for anyone's affections; rather, this was a matter of pride and simple logic.
And no, Atobe Keigo did not wallow in denial.
"Ne, Jirou, you like Atobe, don't you?"
Jirou blinked sleepily at the red-haired blob bouncing in his field of vision. He shrugged, the very picture of feline laziness. "Sure. He's a good captain."
"No, I mean, you like him, right?"
"Huh?" Jirou yawned again, and shifted until he was curled comfortably on the grass in the dappled shade of an oak tree. Lunchtime was going to be over in twenty-minutes, and he wanted to take a nap. And make his friend, Mukahi Gakuto stop it with the interrogation already.
But said friend wasn't giving up. "Jirou." He leaned closer, as if on the verge of revealing a huge conspiracy, and whispered, "Ne, Ryou told me that he thinks Atobe has a thing going for you. You know..."
There was no response to his gleeful bit of gossip. Gakuto poked the sleeping form on the grass beside him. "Hey, hey! Wake up! Jirou!"
There was only a soft snore in response to his pestering. Gakuto got up with an annoyed sigh, and stalked off to find Oshitari. At least Yuushi listened when Gakuto had something important to say.
Jirou listened for Gakuto's light footsteps to fade away before turning over onto his back. His eyes were half-open as he gazed up at the confused sunlight flittering between the oak leaves.
It was lucky, he mused, that Gakuto never had the patience to learn his sleeping habits, and therefore didn't know how to count the seconds between each breath to see if Jirou really was asleep, just faking, or actually listening intently with a quickened heartbeat.
.six/ denial: it ain't just a river in Egypt
"Shishido, you do know that gossiping is not a fetching habit, ne?"
"If you made me stay after just to talk about manners, I'm leaving."
"Ore-sama is merely giving you a warning. If word should ever again reach Ore-sama's ears that you have been talking about Ore-sama behind Ore-sama's back, there will be trouble. Are you clear on that?"
"What did I do? If this is about what Mukahi said--"
"Why yes, this is about what Mukahi-kun said. Namely, repeating the gossip that you, Shishido Ryou, told him about Ore-sama."
"Stop being such a prick about it, Atobe. What the hell, it's hardly a secret that you have a crush on Jirou."
"Language, Shishido-kun. And for the record, Ore-sama does not have a...'crush' on Akutagawa-kun, as you put it."
"Yeah, sure. Keep denying it."
"Huh. Whatever happened between you and Ohtori to make you so testy today, Shishido?"
"Stay out of my business. ...Besides, it's not what you think."
"I don't like Chou--...Ohtori. All right?"
"Of course you don't 'like' him. In fact, you're quite smitten with your doubles partner, and have been for some time. It's a wonder you two still have not made any progress. Being quite the gentleman, aren't you?"
"Shut up! I'm not like you."
"And what, exactly, do you mean by that statement?"
"Just because you want to sleep with Jirou doesn't mean everyone else is just as horny as you."
"Watch your tongue, Shishido Ryou."
"Oh, give it up, already. You like Jirou. I've seen you staring at him during practice, or when he's sleeping, when you think no one notices. God, Atobe, do you think we're all blind?"
"Ore-sama believes this conversation has gone on for quite long enough. You may go, now, but remember: no gossiping."
.seven/ between the lines
Contrary to popular belief, playing doubles with someone did not automatically make you that person's significant other. However, it was true that some doubles pairs formed or possessed strong bonds, and at times, were closer than usual. It was necessary, to a point, since doubles was about trust and being able to read and coordinate yourself with your partner.
"Ne, Atobe, have you ever considered playing doubles?"
Atobe found it more than a little amazing that Jirou was actually awake enough to initiate conversation, especially when it was such a warm, cozy afternoon, perfect for napping on the sun-warmed bench.
"Ore-sama's magnificence does not mesh well with the presence of someone of a lesser potential," he replied.
"Hm." Jirou smiled, then yawned, and snuggled comfortably against the bench -- and Atobe. "I couldn't imagine you playing doubles anyway," he mumbled.
Atobe blinked slowly Jirou, who had already fallen asleep in the space of a second. He wondered if he should be getting a hidden meaning from Jirou's words, and if he should be worried that he couldn't decipher any such meaning. The statement had been simple and straightforward -- Atobe didn't play doubles. Period.
Doubles... People worked together in doubles, supported each other.
Atobe didn't use Insight on Jirou; it was cheap, he thought, to use Insight on a matter like this. And, though he would never admit it, Atobe was somewhat...afraid to find out just what it meant. Only, Atobe Keigo did not work in terms of adjectives such as "afraid."
The sleepy net-play wonder-boy was sending some rather mixed signals. Jirou had been getting closer and closer to him, maybe not as buddy-buddies, but the physical proximity certainly had taken leaps and bounds. The fact that Jirou was snoozing comfortably on Atobe's shoulder, in broad daylight, was a testimony to that.
But now this, a statement that could mean much more than it seemed. What was Jirou trying to tell him? Was Jirou even trying to tell him anything? He could just be overreacting, only the great Atobe Keigo did not fall to such petty weaknesses as overreacting.
Reading between the lines? Atobe shouldn't have to read between the lines. Atobe was used to seeing right through people, learning all their hidden motives at a glance. Only, it didn't work with Jirou, and he couldn't figure out why.
.eight/ nothing to lose
Jirou told himself that he had absolutely nothing to lose by sleeping with Atobe. It wasn't as if he had anything to prove by protecting his innocence like some girl from sappy romance stories. They weren't great friends to begin with, so there was no love to be lost there. Maybe interactions later on, as team members, would be somewhat awkward. Jirou could always sleep through it.
Besides, he knew Atobe could overcome anything with his overwhelming confidence, and put it all aside with help from his ego.
Nothing to lose, Jirou repeated to himself.
But even through the alcohol-induced haze in his mind, Jirou found himself shaking as he was pushed back onto the bed. Somehow, he felt vulnerable, suddenly, as Atobe kissed him again, and began undoing the buttons on Jirou's shirt.
He had nothing to lose. There was no emotion attached here, just a mutual need. Lust, and nothing more.
Nothing to lose. Why should it matter if Atobe didn't really care about him, and only wanted his body? It wasn't as if Jirou was...it wasn't as if Jirou really liked Atobe, anyway, or cared about him.
...So then, why did his heart ache so painfully as he tried to convince himself that it really didn't matter?
.nine/ sleeping beauty
Atobe woke up as the first glimmer of false dawn lifted the veil of night. The first thing he noticed was that there was someone beside him in bed, and that someone was Jirou.
So early in the morning, with the pale, blue-gray light streaming softly through the window, Jirou was art incarnate -- like a painting, or perhaps a Greek sculpture. Only, he was better than art, because Jirou was a living, breathing person, warm and comfortable. He was real.
Atobe couldn't resist leaning over and brushing a light kiss on his cheek, lingering close just to listen to Jirou's soft breathing, close enough that he could sense the steady rhythm of Jirou's heartbeat.
He fell asleep again with Jirou in his arms, and everything as it should be.
When Atobe awoke the second time, the sun was struggling to shine through a veil of stratus clouds, and Jirou was gone.
.ten/ too far
"What-- Hey, stop... Stop it--nnf!"
Jirou's protests were cut off as Atobe's lips descended on his, somehow managing to claim a long, sweet kiss despite Jirou's best efforts to wriggle out of the other's arms. Atobe only pulled back when a jolt of pain danced across his lower lip. Jirou had bitten him.
"Leave me alone!"
Atobe licked his lip slowly, knowing that it was now more than just slightly swollen. "Why?"
Jirou squirmed as Atobe's hand slid along his leg in a way that couldn't be taken as anything but suggestive. He suppressed a shiver, his skin was suddenly hyper-sensitive to the touch.
"Stop molesting me," he hissed, trying not to let on just how breathy his voice had suddenly become.
But Atobe noticed anyway. He smiled, "It doesn't count as 'molesting' if you're a willing participant," and leaned in for another kiss.
Jirou wrenched his arms free from Atobe's grasp, and pushed him away violently.
"Don't touch me, Atobe!"
The recipient of his sudden violence only paused a moment before moving close again, observing with a small smile, "You're shaking, Jirou. What's the matter?"
"You're being a stupid jerk, that's what's the matter!"
Atobe froze. No one -- no one -- called him a jerk. And more so, no one threw in such adjectives as "stupid" to describe him. It was beyond insult; it was practically sacrilege.
"Never," he said coolly, "say that about Ore-sama."
"Well, it's true! You're a jerk, Atobe, and you know it!"
Atobe's entire posture had gone rigid, and there was a hardness to his gaze, cool as ice, sharper than the finest blade. Jirou only glared at him. Then, suddenly, he leapt up and ran past Atobe and out of the clubhouse. He didn't even stop to slam the door shut, but just let it swing half-open in his wake.
Atobe listened to the sound of Jirou's running footsteps, at first so loud, then quickly receding. But it became confused with the sound of his own heartbeat and the sudden pounding in his head.
Only then did it register to him -- all too late -- that Jirou had been crying.
.eleven/ it takes a village
Shishido crossed his arms. "Atobe, we need to talk."
As if he hadn't figured that much out already, their little plan for a "talk," that is. Did they take him for an idiot?
Walking into the clubhouse that afternoon, Atobe noted that all was not normal, nor well. For one, only the Regulars were present in the lounge area, and glancing toward the lockers, the captain of the tennis team noted that everyone else seemed to have abandoned ship in favor of the courts.
Any last doubt of what this could possibly be about were wiped away by the murderous look in Mukahi's eyes -- and the fact that he had both arms around Jirou in a protective gesture. Of course, that in itself would just have made Atobe wonder what their relationship really was, but since Oshitari was not currently formulating any plan to get rid of the blonde boy attached to Mukahi, it turned his reasoning to another direction.
Observation done after a mere moment, Atobe turned his attention back to Shishido, and the rest of the team. "And why, pray," he said calmly, "do all of you feel obliged to be here to talk to Ore-sama?"
"Shut the hell up already, Atobe." Mukahi looked ready to spit nails. "I don't care how overblown that stupid ego of yours is, you have a lot to apologize for and you'd better--"
Oshitari laid a restraining hand on the red-head's shoulder. "Gakuto."
That was all it took. Yet somehow, no one was surprised. Mukahi's glare told Atobe that he was not even close to being cleared in the former's eyes, but the acrobatic player did shut up. For the moment, at least.
"You should all be at practice," Atobe stated lazily, but with a pointed look at Shishido, especially. "Might I remind you that our next match is coming up soon?"
"Practice can wait."
Atobe threw a look at Oshitari, who let it slide over him, unfazed. He glanced at the rest of those present, wondering when they were going to put in their own two-cents' worth, and regretted it when his eyes fell on Jirou again.
Yes, he was settled -- or stuck -- in Mukahi's embrace. Yes, he was not protesting the condition any.
"You made Jirou cry, you bastard," Mukahi hissed. "Apologize."
...And yes, Jirou did look worse for the wear, as if he'd been crying. And not getting enough sleep.
Atobe felt his heart twist slightly, but squashed it down and crossed his arms, managing to look down his nose at all of them, at once. "Might I remind you, Mukahi-kun, that you do not order Ore-sama around?"
Then, Shishido was in his face, gripping him firmly by the shoulders and shaking him. Nobody shook Atobe Keigo and got away with it.
...Except, it looked like Shishido was determined to make history by doing just that. And hell be damned if he even gave a damn.
"Cut. The. Crap. Atobe." Shishido punctuated every word with a rough jerk, nearly making Atobe's teeth rattle. "You're not solving any problems by standing there, wallowing in your denial and acting as if you don't know what's wrong!"
After some moments of this humiliation, Atobe finally managed to shrug off Shishido's grip on him. He glared. "I wasn't aware of this 'problem' that you all seem so fixated on," he said coolly, "and if there was a problem, which there isn't, you would not be needed to help Ore-sama solve it."
A dead silence fell over the assembled Regulars at his words. Or perhaps it was the effect of his decidedly icy tone, accompanied by a gaze that was no less fierce.
"Ten laps around the school grounds for attempting to skip practice, all of you," he snapped. "Now."
There was a pause. Then, Hiyoshi got up and walked out the door with slow, deliberate steps. Atobe ignored the glare Mukahi gave him as the rest of the players trooped out. He also ignored Oshitari's meaningful Look. Ohtori's saddened expression. Shishido's barely concealed anger.
Atobe didn't meet any of their eyes, merely stood by the door until the clubhouse was empty, and he was the only one left with the silence. A silence punctuated with the sounds of receding footsteps, as the others began their punishment laps. A silence haunted by his teammates' words, and the echo of someone's tears.
Tears that accused him, condemned him.
Atobe Keigo could not believe he had just been smacked upside the head with Mukahi's stupid little plastic megaphone.
"You idiot," the redhead was now fuming at him. "And they all say you're smart, with good people skills, and-- fuck, I just can't believe you."
Atobe took a deep breath, and tried to remember just why he was subjecting himself to this humiliation.
"Mukahi," he said coldly, "I did not come speak with you in order to bear these petty insults."
"You deserve them!" Mukahi glared at him. "Tell me, Atobe, are you Hyoutei through and through, ice-cold heart and everything, or are you really this stupid and have no idea what happened?"
"What are you talking about?" Atobe growled.
"Jirou, duh! Bastard. Do you even care about him?"
"That should be obvious," was the testy reply. Atobe never was comfortable when it came to talking about his own feelings.
"But did you tell him that?"
"I saw no need. Jirou should have known, otherwise--"
This time, Atobe had enough sense to duck as the plastic megaphone flew at him again.
"Forget your presumptions for a sec, okay? Because you should have told him first thing before screwing him over -- repeatedly." Mukahi huffed indignantly, looking all too much like an angry schoolgirl. Atobe shook himself mentally. Not a good comparison to be making right now.
Mukahi went on, "But since you didn't, in all your magnificent idiocy, Jirou went and jumped to his own conclusions. He thinks you just want him for some casual sex, and that's all. He doesn't want to be used that way, Atobe. That's why he's avoiding you."
.thirteen/ heart to heart
Jirou hadn't meant to fall asleep after practice. He just meant to lie back on the bench for a while, take a bit of a rest. He hadn't been sleeping well lately, and it was beginning to tell on him.
He was startled from a sleep he hadn't realized he'd fallen into by the sound of the clubroom door closing.
His eyes flew open, and something close to panic overtook him as he realized that the only people still left were him, and...
He watched warily as the other boy walked closer, and sat up on the bench he'd been slumped over. Jirou had every intention of getting up and walking out right now. He didn't need this; the last thing he wanted to do right now was be in a room alone with...with him.
He opened his mouth to say as much, but found himself hindered as Atobe clapped a hand over his mouth.
But then, his eyes widened in shock as the boy before him suddenly dropped down to one knee.
If it hadn't been for that almost heartbreakingly sincere expression, Jirou thought he would've slapped Atobe for trying something as lame as this.
But Atobe's unexpected action was nothing compared to the impact his next words.
"I love you. I thought you knew that, but if you didn't, then know now. I love you."
Suddenly, Jirou forgot how to breathe.
.fourteen/ mirror mirror
"So those two finally worked it out." Oshitari Yuushi smiled to himself. "Took them long enough."
Beside him, Gakuto poked at his lunch (asparagus, again) and made a face. "Tell me about it," he complained. "What a load of trouble for nothing."
"It was all blown out of proportion! Jirou was a wreck all week, and Atobe looked like he had a stick up his ass the whole time." Gakuto picked up a piece of asparagus, but couldn't quite bring himself to eat it. He decided to build a small fort with the stalks instead. "Anyway, they're taking this way too seriously," he concluded.
Oshitari picked up a piece of fried shrimp from his own lunch and fed it to Gakuto. "You really shouldn't play with your food." Taking advantage of the silence while Gakuto chewed, he added, "Don't you think love is worth taking seriously?"
"Huh? Well...yeah, I guess."
Gakuto suddenly looked uncomfortable with the topic of their conversation. "Well, I mean...we-- they, uh, they are still in junior high, you know. It'd be weird to get all serious now."
"Oh? I thought you were the one who told Atobe to go confess."
Gakuto squirmed. "I just didn't want Jirou to get depressed okay?" he said defensively. He sulked for a moment, turning away from Oshitari to open a bottle of fruit juice. "Why are you interrogating me anyway?"
"Have you ever been in love?"
Gakuto nearly choked on the juice. "Eh? What--" He blinked, suddenly finding his words being displaced by a piece of chocolate. And Yuushi's fingers were lingering at his lips, for just a moment too long, and he was smiling that smile and...
"You know I love you, right, Gakuto?"
He tried to reply, but the words were stuck in his throat. Or maybe it was just the chocolate gluing his tongue to the roof of his mouth.
Then Yuushi was kissing him, in broad daylight, at school... But it was just the two of them, sitting there beneath a blue, blue sky, surrounding by warm spring sunshine and a faint scent of blossoming flowers. Gakuto felt a pleasant warmth suddenly flooding through him. There was a sweet taste that had nothing to do with chocolate, and everything to do with the way Yuushi was kissing him, so softly...
It was like tasting the very essence of...love.
Maybe...it was okay to be this serious, after all.
Atobe used to find it annoying when the sun was still perfectly, cheerfully bright at the end of a school day. It was too bright. All the more so on the days when he forgot his sunglasses at home.
But how, he blessed it silently, seeing that same brilliant sunshine sparkle around Jirou as the blonde-haired boy greeted him with a smile. A smile that was more radiant in his eyes than the sun could ever hope to be.
He began to love how the breeze picked up the sakura petals, swirling them through the air to come to a gentle rest on Jirou's shirt, as the sleeping boy reclined against a bench during practice. The blushing petals drifting shyly about him, softly caressing that sweet smile as he dreamt.
Everything about Jirou was wonderful. His faults could be forgotten in a moment of perfection, moments that lasted to make everything that much more beautiful.
Now, instead of waking up suddenly to an incessantly beeping alarm clock, Jirou drifted out of sleep to the sound of soft breaths close to his ear.
Instead of waking to find the blankets all tangled around his body, Jirou found himself gathered into a loose embrace, warm and protective.
Instead of wishing for just "five more minutes" of sleep, Jirou opened his eyes with a soft smile, turning his head slightly to let his gaze fall on Atobe's sleeping face.
With the muted sunlight glowing softly behind velvet curtains, the room was filled with a muffled silence. It was a setting that seemed to take away all the sharp edges of the world, leaving behind only dreams soft as the rosy dawn.
But Jirou knew that this wasn't a dream, because everything was perfectly tangible. He could feel Atobe's body pressed close to his own. If he lifted his hand, he could touch his beautiful hair, watch as each strand lingered and fell from his fingers.
In his dreams there was never any sound, but right now he could hear Atobe's soft, steady breathing. And when he rested his head against Atobe's chest, snuggling close with a contented sigh, he could hear the soothing rhythm of his heartbeat.
Jirou fell asleep again with a faint smile on his lips. In his dreams there was only the sensation of being out at sea, smiling as each wave gently rocked the small boat that held him. The only sound he heard was his own heartbeat, and in the background, the echo of another, beating in sync with his.
"Ne, Keigo, do you love me?"
"I already told you, didn't I?"
"...Enough to go ask Mukahi for help when you were ignoring me. And endure getting hit by that plastic megaphone of his when he lost his temper with me."
Jirou laughed. "Did you regret it?"
Atobe drew Jirou into his arms, smiling. "Not one bit."
Jirou smiled, sinking into the warm embrace. "You know I love you too, right?"
Atobe brushed a light kiss across his cheek, his fingers lightly stroking Jirou's soft curls.
There were some things that didn't need to be said out loud. Because, after all, emotions speak better than any mortal words.