Ki wo Mite (Seeing Trees)


He'd been in worse situations before.

Shishido glanced over at the way his partner was—very carefully—not looking at him.

He was sure if he thought about it hard enough, he'd come up with something worse… but right now, with Choutarou pretending that one Shishido Ryou was blending into the walls, and people who'd missed the evolutionary train chasing after them, it was not looking like it would turn out to be a good day.

Even on a very good day, Shishido would not have wanted to blend into the very ugly, very girly, baby pink walls. Even on the best of days, he wouldn't have wanted his doubles partner ignoring him like that. And he knew his partner was mad when Ootori reached over to casually fiddle with the menu lying on top of a small table edged with plastic roses—flipped it open—and didn't say anything when he flipped it closed again.

Though his eyes were, for a moment, the size of Easter eggs.

"Look, Choutarou," he pulled off his cap and raked a hand through the short, wet spikes of his hair—damn it, he was sweaty from the way they'd been running. "It's not a big deal. I mean… they can't follow us in here." And it was lucky that his brother had a membership punch card for this particular… um… place. He'd really meant to give the thing back to his stupid aniki, but after the idiot just left the card on top of the TV, right where their parents could see it… well, when he figured out that it was missing, he could have it back. What were little brothers for, right?

He couldn't even imagine the level of trouble he'd have been in if Choutarou hadn't been able to see that the punch-card belonged to Shishido Ryuutarou, rather than to Shishido Ryou. Not that Shishido's sex life (well, if he'd had one, anyway) was any of Ootori's business, but best friends told each other things, and they spent almost all their free time together. He could almost see the fuss that that little incident would have kicked up, if his partner thought that he'd been keeping huge secrets. Was that why he was so mad, or was it just him being, well, prudish?

Shishido had to admit—he wasn't sure he'd have liked it if he'd found out that Ootori was taking some girl to a love hotel. But then, he wasn't sure that he'd have believed it, either.

Still, it was kind of interesting, even given the circumstances. Shishido'd heard stories of love hotels—who hadn't?—but he definitely hadn't known that everything in the reception area was automated. Hey, it figured, what with the whole privacy and love hotel thing, but it was still kind of creepy how they hadn't seen a soul, coming in. They'd just had to follow a set of lights to find the room that Shishido'd punched in at random: it'd been hard to miss, though, considering that it'd been the only door in the entire hallway that'd been standing open.

Then again, he'd almost stopped at the door and taken his chances with the gorillas outside, the moment he'd realised what the room looked like.

Shishido dumped his racquet bag to the floor and flopped onto the bed. Yeah, it was pink, and he couldn't believe anyone would want to have sex on the thing… but having someone trying really hard not to look at you got really tiring after awhile. And, on top of that, they'd played five games, and run gods-only-knew how many blocks in their crazy dash from the street courts. If Choutarou wanted to be stubborn and stand, he could stand. "Okay. We'll just camp out for awhile. The security in these places is supposed to be pretty good, right?"

That got his partner looking at him… but for all that Ootori Choutarou had a face that Shishido had heard all the fangirls calling 'pretty,' the look on it right then wasn't pretty at all. It made him remember all-too-well that for one, despite all his courtesies and his sweetness, Ootori Choutarou actually did have a spine of steel… and two, Ootori Choutarou had the fastest serve on the high school tennis circuit, and the muscles to match it.

Before today, he wouldn't have actually been able to imagine his sweet-as-pudding doubles partner taking a swing at him—but then again, he wouldn't have thought that ducking into a love hotel to get away from goons would have gotten Ootori so mad, either.

Shishido groaned aloud. "Ah, Hell, Choutarou, can you just… not? Yeah, I know I've got my bro's card, but it's not like I've been taking anyone here." Ootori gave him a glance that was just short of abject disgust, and Shishido winced—for a kid so sweet, he really did have the dirty look down pat. Okay. Maybe it wasn't just the love hotel. But what the Hell, no-one, especially not some know-nothings from an unknown school, got off on badmouthing Hyoutei's Doubles One pair. They could have probably said what they wanted about Doubles Two, though, and no matter how dirty it was, it was probably at least half-true… but not D1. "I mean… yeah. Ah, Hell. Fine, I lost my temper. I'm sorry, okay?"

That stung. But it didn't sting as much as the first couple of times he'd had to say it.

"This isn't the first time this has happened, Shishido-san," his partner finally sighed, and sank down into a chair—as far away from the bed as possible. The thing was tiny, and white, with an arched back and those useless little swirly armrests—and it looked frickin' uncomfortable. It would have probably been too small for Shishido himself, and Ootori wasn't as skinny as he looked: at almost two metres in his stocking feet, he'd have had to be built like a concrete block to look really proportional. "I'm just getting very tired of it."

This was an improvement. Thank all the gods, he'd warmed right back up this time. Having Ootori mad at him kind of felt like drowning in a vat of dry ice—prickles and pain and cold burning. Playing with Ootori mad was like playing with an ice pick pointed at his head… and when he really got his back into it, his partner could be mad for days.

Shishido'd learned how to say sorry really fast when he knew he was wrong.

He raked a hand through his hair and pushed himself upright, pulling his legs up to cross them. The bed was as ugly and frilly as the white chest of drawers and bedside table that matched the chair—who thought of these things?—but at least it was comfortable. "Yeah, I know, but… they just kept on saying stuff, you know?"

"There were six of them, and they were all bigger than the both of us!" Ootori was being nice—the goonies had been big, but they'd been bigger than Shishido—not bigger than Ootori. "We have a tournament next week—what if one of us had gotten hurt?" Ahhh, hell, he hadn't thought of that—but he hadn't thought of much of anything before he'd dived in swinging.

He had to hide his hint of a smile—he'd gotten in a few good shots, too. There were at least a couple of those bastards who were going to be breathing through their mouths for the next couple of weeks.

But at the same time… he really was trying to be more responsible, these days: he wasn't the only one who got screwed over when he screwed up. "Yeah… I know, I know." He did know how much it sucked to play injured; he really did. Unlike Ootori, he actually had played tennis through bone-deep bruises, and broken fingers… but that was one of those things that Ootori Choutarou wasn't supposed to know.

How the Hell it could possibly be his fault, considering that Shishido had been the one to ask him to Scud Serve right at his body, over and over and over… but he was sure his partner would find a way to feel guilty about it. Even almost three years later. Choutarou was sweet and stupid and noble like that.

Ootori, luckily, couldn't see the thoughts going right through his head… this time. It mostly only happened when he had a topic between his teeth. "Besides. Shishido-san, we're varsity tennis players. It's not an unfair assumption. How many do you know who aren't…" but despite the height and the cool and the serve, Ootori still blushed like a fanclub girl holding a love letter. "…you know."

Shishido had to smile. That blush… he wasn't into guys, but it was cute. Cuter than most girls, in fact. "We're not," he pointed out.

His partner met his gaze, and raised both silver eyebrows. "Thank you, Shishido-san. I think I know that."

He had to laugh—anyone who thought that Ootori didn't have an attitude obviously just wasn't close enough to him to get hit by the sass. His sense of humour wasn't loud, or high-school stupid, but it was there, wry and grave. "Doesn't it… you know, bother you at all?"

"That a person I don't know might have doubts about my sexuality?" Ootori tried to lean back in his chair, then grimaced, and leaned forwards to rest an elbow on his knees. That looked really, really uncomfortable. "No, Shishido-san, not really. I'm more secure than that."

Shishido didn't doubt that. Sometimes it was damned embarrassing how frickin' secure Ootori was—his music, his grades, his looks… wait, Hell, what did he have to be insecure about? "Seriously? Even in middle school?"

"Well… maybe a little, at first," he admitted, ducking his head. Well, that made Shishido feel better. A little. "And then… I was angry in the locker room, and I woke up Jirou-san by accident." Geez, he must have been pretty damned angry. So much for it bothering him 'a little.' "He said something like 'If it doesn't bother Atobe, why should it bother you?'"

Well… he could kind of see the logic of that. Team captain being an example for them all, and all that nonsense. Except for one thing. "Why the Hell should it bother Atobe?" he demanded, lips curving in a wry smile.

Ootori pursed his own lips, and raised both those silver eyebrows. "Atobe-san can be self-absorbed sometimes, Shishido-san, but there are quite a few things that bother him. I imagine that something that could be considered slander probably would."

His partner wasn't naïve the way people sometimes thought he was, but he could be pretty damned silly when the need suited him. Atobe, of all people? That was kind of like saying that Atobe didn't have all the arrogance of a cat. "Yeah, if it weren't true. Remember, I grew up with him? Of course he's gay." He couldn't help his brief chuckle. "And Jirou, of all the people on the damned Hyoutei team, would know that."

Jirou, it seemed, wasn't beyond poking fun at Ootori now and again, too.

"Really? Why would he…" Ootori blinked at him—then, as Shishido raised both his eyebrows—surely Ootori had to know what went on in the clubroom after everyone left—his eyes widened, and he almost toppled right out of the chair he was cramping himself into. "Oh."

Or maybe not. He was not going to laugh at his partner. He was not going to laugh at his partner. Even if Ootori Choutarou looked like someone had hit him with a really, really big clue-by-four. Grinning at him was okay, though. "Gonna need to find a new reason not to get mad?"

"Thank you, Shishido-san, that's very helpful." But despite the sour tone of his voice, Ootori was smiling again, too, wry and slow and chagrined. "Still… Atobe-san aside. If you know you're straight, and you're confident about it, why should some idiots who don't know you bother you?"

Because being surrounded by so much out-and-about gay on a daily basis made him wonder sometimes if he was only straight by comparison to everyone else? He'd never say it, but that kind of went for Ootori, too: Ootori was pretty damned male—he'd have made an extraordinarily weird-looking girl—but he wasn't macho the way Shishido was used to sports guys being. And what with his attachment to that violin of his, well… "You really don't get it, do you, Choutarou."

"Are you really so sensitive about it?" Ootori's eyes were tilted and curious. "Is there any way I can help?"

That sounded wrong in many, many ways. And also a lot more suggestive than he thought his partner actually meant. Especially since they were sitting in a love hotel. "They're not saying that I'm gay. I mean, I don't much like that, but… whatever." Shishido heaved a deep breath, and tried really, really, really hard not to blush. It wasn't that he thought of Ootori that way, but… this was like all those rumours about what girl was dating which guy—except maybe like a million times more awkward. "They're saying that we're fucking. You. And me. That's what that meant."

Then he waited. He was pretty sure it'd take a second before the words parsed.

"Oh." Pause. "Oh." There was that blush again—this time, a full-face one, dull scarlet all the way down to the little dip of collarbone where Ootori's cross rested, scratched silver. Ootori's eyes took a little time to catch up with his circulation—but when they did, they went wide. "Oh. But… oh no. You're joking."

How it was that Ootori could stand and smile and let all the gay jokes and snide insults about any member of the team—himself included—slide off those straight shoulders… but the merest suggestion that he was actually gay with someone made him blush like an eggplant… sometimes, his partner just amazed him.

"No joke," he confirmed. "And yeah, it kind of makes it personal as all Hell, doesn't it?" Frankly, some of the things that people sneered—about which of them was top or bottom or whatever—were pretty damned crude. He hadn't thought it'd get bad enough to involve Ootori—even people who didn't know Ootori Choutarou liked him—and Shishido was smaller and meaner anyway: he'd had people trying to pick on him for years. He could take it—and he could give back as good as he got.

But when people started making comments like that in front of Shishido's partner… oh, if Choutarou started thinking too hard, and thinking that maybe there was truth to what people were saying, it could really mess up their combination, really fast.

Which was probably the point of the comments, anyway.

It wasn't that Ootori was oblivious, necessarily. He normally just didn't let most things bother him… much. Shishido didn't know if that was because Ootori Choutarou was just sweet and steel all the way through, but… either way, it made for a damned fine combination on the tennis court. And, well, off it, too—there was a reason they hung out even when tennis had nothing to do with it.

Though… now that he thought about it, that probably wasn't helping the rumours.

"Shishido-san…" now that he'd gotten his blushing a little more under control—it was just around his cheeks and his ears, rather than all the way down his neck—Choutarou was eyeing him with infinite patience, and just a little amusement. Shishido really hated that look, it made him feel like he was even younger than his partner—and it was just wrong that Choutarou could be pointing it at him when he was still red in the face. "…you do realise that you dragged us into a love hotel, don't you…?"

"That's different!" he protested, with a groan, looking upwards... then back downwards. Fast. Oh, geez, he couldn't imagine anything that would put anyone less in the mood than that white lacy canopy—no wonder Ootori hadn't wanted to sit on the bed. "I was trying to keep us from getting killed."

His partner heaved a long huff of a sigh, and tried to shift in his chair. "I doubt it looked any different to the people chasing us." When he raised his head, there was that twinkle again, like amber in those eyes. "It almost didn't look any different to me, and I know you."

For a second, he almost managed to convince himself that that was why Ootori had been so pissed when they'd gotten into the room… but no. That… that was an extraordinarily bad joke. "Ahhh, fuckit." Damn it. Damn it, Ootori was right, though. Shishido hopped off the bed—he always thought better when he was pacing, and as annoying as most people found it, he had to be dead tired to sit still for very long. "It's insulting, that's all. Our combination doesn't come from… from sex."

"Well…" they'd both tried to get Ootori to stop nibbling on his thumbnail, but sometimes he just did it anyway. "Oshitari-san says that, um, it does make the combination better. Maybe it's a compliment, in a way?"

It was hard not to smile, even with how annoyed he was—only Ootori would be able to come up with a way to turn a really mean, snide insult on its head like that.

And Shishido definitely wasn't going to admit that he'd wondered about just that—sex was supposed to be about trust and bringing people together and all that nonsense. But they had trust, and they hadn't needed… nope, not a bit. "Oshitari also says that sex makes homework go better, Choutarou."

Ootori's eyes were very brown, very ordinary, but when he laughed his husky, startled laugh, Shishido had noticed that his irises caught light—like expensive chocolate. "But he does get straight As."

That sense of humour honestly was going to kill him one of these days. Seriously, with that earnest face and sweet, rare smile, who'd have every thought? "Yeah, but Mukahi doesn't," Shishido pointed out—before he grimaced, and swiped a hand over his face. "God, can we just not talk about anyone's gay sex life?"

"I agree," but Ootori's eyes were still glittering with laughter, and with his head tilted like that, smile lingering, he looked… glossy, kind of. Maybe that was the word—fine, and shiny, and new.

Ahh, Hell, this room is getting to me. Shishido slid to the floor, his back to the wall, and squeezed his eyes closed. The floor was carpeted in cream, but at least it wasn't the canopy-bed… and after a moment, he felt the warm line of Ootori sitting down beside him. That chair had probably been too much for him. "When do you think we can get out of here? This pink is just… I think it's burned into my eyeballs." Not to mention that he was pretty sure that if he got bored enough to go looking through the drawers of that dresser, he wasn't going to like what he'd find.

"You chose it, Shishido-san." There was a long sigh, a shift beside him, and the sleek print of Ootori's legs stretching out beside his. "I wonder what the decorator was thinking. It does look… strangely like a little girl's bedroom, though, doesn't it? Why, there's even throw pillows on the bed."

Shishido smoothed a hand over his mouth to hide his smile. If his sweetheart of a partner didn't know, then he wasn't going to be the one to inform Ootori that that was probably the whole point.

It was about fifteen minutes later that Ootori spoke up again—they never had problems being quiet together, and Ootori never complained about the way Shishido started jiggling his leg after a few moments of sitting still. "Have you ever… wondered?"

Shishido cracked open one eye, and glanced over at his partner's thoughtful, clean-lined face. "About little girls' bedrooms?" the thought made him want to gag. "Hell, no!"

"No! Ugh, that's awful, Shishido-san, why would you even say that?!" when Shishido looked over at his partner, Ootori looked like he was caught somewhere between laughing and nausea. He grinned—it was fun to try and get Ootori to make faces like that. And with them sitting on the floor like this, they were almost the same height—most of Ootori was in those criminally long legs of his. "No. About… you know. Guys."

He could have pretended that he had no idea what Ootori was talking about… but the synchronicity thing went both ways, most of the time. Shishido groaned. "I really thought we were off the topic of gayness."

Ootori was also very damned good at ignoring things when he had something in mind. "It's just… it doesn't seem like most of it would be any different, that's all."

"Yeaaah, I don't know about that," he retorted, dryly. "If you were built with a different set of parts than I was, I don't want to know about it, Choutarou."

"Shishido-san!" but Shishido could feel those shoulders shaking with silent laughter beside him. "I'm being serious. I mean the kissing, and the dates, not the… other stuff."

It took conscious effort sometimes, Shishido thought, not to laugh at his partner. There weren't many sixteen-year-old boys that he knew who would think of kissing and going out on dates first, before… other stuff. It wasn't that Ootori didn't know about that kind of thing—but it was kind of endearing. "Choutarou, do guys even go on dates? It's not like you'd want to ride on the Tokyo Disney couples rides with another guy, or go see a chick flick, right?"

"Well, no, of course I wouldn't," he had to grin, this time—Ootori almost sounded insulted. "That's what I mean. I don't see why men going out together would be any different from the things guys do together normally, Shishido-san. I mean… without the kissing."

He wasn't sure when the conversation was going to go from being normal to weird. Actually, he didn't really know why the conversation still didn't feel weird… because as sure as Hell, this wasn't normal. "You know, I really think it's the, uh, other stuff that makes it different." He shrugged. "The kissing didn't feel any different to me."

He wasn't entirely sure why he said that—but he was sure that a moment later, Ootori was turning to stare at him, as if they'd both realised what he'd just said.

Yup. There was the weird.

"Shishido-san!" Ootori sounded shocked and amused and so close to laughter that Shishido was just this close to clocking him one. "You didn't."

Ahhh, fuck. "What's the big deal?" Hunching over to bury his face in his knees would be way too obvious—ah, damn it, he could feel himself blushing, he definitely hadn't meant to say that. "I mean, I was just curious, okay? It was a long time ago. And no," he shot his partner a deadly stare, when he could practically hear Ootori's mouth creaking opening beside him. "I'm not telling you who."

For one… old friends or not, Atobe would kill him.

"Besides," he hurried on; Choutarou was a little too smart for his own good, and he really didn't want to give him time to think about it. "No biggie. I mean, I bet you've tried it."

"Well… no, actually," Ootori replied, slowly, and Shishido winced. Damn it, he'd been afraid of that answer. Shishido'd known that he was straight, after that particular little experience—but he knew that there were probably a lot of guys out there who didn't really feel the need to test it the way he had. Apparently, his partner was one of them.

They'd been best friends a long time, and partners even longer… and oh, Hell, Ootori was starting to give him that look. That contemplative, slow, 'hmmmm' little look.

"No." He'd have back-pedalled, but he already had his back to the wall—and this wasn't bad enough yet for him to be scrambling sideways like a crab. "Nuh-uh. No way, Choutarou. This room's getting to you, too?"

"Haven't you ever wondered?" And there really had to be an off switch on the way they could almost read each other's minds most days, because… oh, geez. That wasn't just any random guy that Choutarou was asking about. The room was definitely getting to him, if he thought there was a spark of curious wistfulness in his partner's lilting voice.

Yes. Well… sure, he thought about it… just… now and again. Not all the time. It really wasn't his fault—when Ootori just came off the tennis courts, his lips did look really, really soft, glistening with sweat. It was normal, really. "Nope." Shishido shook his head, and edged just a hint away. Screw dignity. "Why the Hell would I think about kissing you?"

But there wasn't really anywhere he could go where that soft little laugh couldn't reach him—and there was a little rough edge to it that just grabbed him, low and deep, and tugged. Yup. Definitely the venue. "Now you're lying, Shishido-san."

His partner always could tell. Stupid synchronicity.

"What does it matter? It's just an experiment." Ootori gave a long look around, and tilted that sassy little silver eyebrow at him. "You're my senpai, and you've done this before. It's no big deal, right?"

And there were his own words, right back in his face. There was definitely lawyer blood in Ootori Choutarou. "But…"

"And besides…" when Choutarou got started, there really wasn't any stopping him—it was a lot like getting mowed over by a six-foot-some, silverhaired freight truck with a ridiculously sweet face. "You did get us into a fight, and then drag us into a love hotel. You owe me one, Shishido-san"

Ahh, bastard, he knew exactly how much Shishido hated owing anyone a favour.

Shishido snarled, and pushed himself off the wall, reaching an arm over to plant a hand on Ootori's shoulder. It was almost insulting how amused his partner's eyes were—amused… but… curious, too. Maybe it was a phase that straight guys who hung out around the gay crowd just went through, and maybe Ootori was going through it just a little later than most. "Okay, fine. One, and just 'cause I got you into this." He growled again. "But if you regret this, you're taking responsibility for it. And move your knee over—I'm not sitting on your lap."

Ootori rolled his eyes, mouth quirking in a hint of a smile, but he moved his knee. And, at Shishido's insistence, closed his eyes.

It really wasn't a big deal—Atobe'd been a bit of a control freak about it all, and Shishido would have had a hard time saying that it'd been a nice experience, but Atobe was Atobe, after all. He'd kissed enough girls afterwards to learn that the mechanics were just the same, no matter what. And if he kissed Ootori—just a quick one—it wasn't really going to be any different.

But the first thing that he found himself thinking when he brushed his partner's soft, parted mouth with his, his own eyes open, was that it wasn't really the same at all.

The smells were different—Ootori smelled of sweat and detergent, faintly sweet-and-sour, not the perfume stuff that smelled so nice, but sometimes made Shishido sneeze when girls sprayed it in their hair. And his lips… they were just as soft as he'd thought, warm and plush, but he tasted of salt and mint and warmth, without any waxy lipstick or sickly-sweet lip gloss.

There were some bigger differences, though—when Shishido felt himself slanting deeper, his eyes drifting closed, Ootori's big hands framed his hips, digging hard when he tugged him closer—and he'd definitely never had a girl leave bruises over his hipbones in the middle of a kiss.

But he didn't think he'd ever felt anything quite so sexy, either, as the hard strength moving underneath his fingers when he leaned closer and braced his weight on his partner's shoulders, and the way Choutarou's soft, deep voice vibrated all the way down his body when he made a quiet little sound. Not a single girl he'd kissed—and he'd admit that there'd been a lot more than a few—had ever matched his angles, the flick of his tongue over theirs, the pattern of pulling tight and drawing back for breath before sliding in again, the way Choutarou did. He and Atobe had fought at kissing—Ootori yielded, then came back to give just as good as he'd gotten until Shishido found himself yielding, too. Oh… man…

Shishido had just one odd instant of thinking—with the spicy mints that they'd shared after the last game… his partner tasted… like he probably tasted.

But when he finally pulled back, the room was swimming in pink and ruffles, that had definitely been Ootori's tongue in his mouth, that had definitely been Ootori's mouth his own tongue had been in, and it was a damned good thing that no-one was sitting on anyone's lap.

And he was very, very, very sure he'd just intended to come in, press his lips against Ootori's for a second or two, then get the Hell out of there.

Fuck, that'd been… that'd been… oh, fuck.

If that hadn't been the best kiss he'd ever had, he'd eat his hat.

"What the Hell… is going on?" Freakin' A, even his own voice sounded gaspy and hoarse and strange.

And it just about killed Shishido that when his partner's tongue came out to swipe over that soft, kiss-puffy mouth, all that he could think about for a second was the way that clever, teasing little tip had felt on his own lower lip.

Ootori looked nearly as surprised as he felt—and, to his gratification, had to swallow twice before his voice would come out even close to normal. "Maybe it is in the water."


Start: April 28, 2007
End: April 29, 2007

Oh, man, talk about spastic stories. -laugh- I really do apologise to anyone reading this... apparently neuro really has made my brain leak out of my ears. And I know that this is probably not what meant when she said that she wanted a Prince of Tennis Love Hotel fic... but it's been a long time since I wrote any Prince of Tennis at all. -wince- It's all I've got, I'm afraid. -sheepish-

The proverb that this particular title came from is "木を見て、森を見ず", or "Not being able to see the forest for the trees." I think you can figure out why. -grin-