A/N: This fanfic, "Out of Defeat", is about the formation of the Silver Pair and the foundations of their partnership. So I hope you enjoy this! Reviews are, of course, greatly appreciated (and will make me dance around the room in excitement). I'm eager to know your opinion on this story.

Disclaimer: I don't own Prince of Tennis

How long does it take for a dream to end?

For Shishido Ryou, it took twelve days, one game, and one crushing defeat before he was unceremoniously booted off the Hyotei regulars.

It was his first opportunity to shine, a chance to turn around the game against (unseeded) Fudoumine. The doubles pairs lost pathetically, but he, Shishido would show them the true strength of a Hyotei regular. Sure, he was a new regular, and unproven. He had been given the Singles 3 slot, and was intended to clinch Hyotei's win. Instead, he had lost the game for his team.

By the final game he was paralyzed. He had finished panicking long ago (Long ago? How long had it been?) The balls blasted past him, one after another, to places he could not reach. Exhausted, dizzy, the only reason he could still hold his racket was that his fingers had locked around in some sort of rigor mortis. His body was dead already, without its honor. He covered his eyes, as if he could make the entire damned scene disappear.

And so, he heard Tachibana's mocking words as if through a fog, or a nightmare. He felt like he was going to be sick, right there on the court. He had caused not only his own disgrace ("Sorry, but I ended it in fifteen minutes" Tachibana was saying), but Hyotei's disgrace.

Atobe made an appearance at last, as Shishido crouched on the court in shame.

"If it isn't Tachibana Kippei," he drawled. "One of Kyuushu's two best players."

"What is he doing at the Tokyo Prefecturals?" someone demanded.

Shishido trembled as he stood across the net from Fudoumine, next to the doubles pairs with their pathetic faces, and Kabaji, impassive. And without looking up, he could feel Atobe's sneer, at a regular who had never really been a regular and now would be a regular no more.

Sweat dripped from his face, down his neck. His damp regular's jersey clung to his body, as if it did not want to let go.

"Fudoumine wins, 3 games to 0". The referee's voice seemed far away. Shishido's ears were filled with the jeers and catcalls of his team. Not aimed at the winners, he was sure, but at him.

Atobe stalked from the court, the picture of righteous anger. The defeated Hyotei team followed him. Shishido lagged behind, already separated from the others. His equipment bag suddenly felt incredibly heavy. It was dead weight—there would be no place on the team for him, not after this. Tradition dictated that a defeated regular leave the team. It would be shameful for a former regular to linger on in the club, with no hope of regaining his former glory.

Shishido, in his elation at being named to the regulars, had never expected to be defeated after only twelve days. Now, he realized that, in losing, he had lost tennis. It didn't feel real yet. It was a nightmare, happening to someone else. This must be some other person with his head bowed low in shame, because this was not how Shishido walked. He had lost tennis? What was there inside of him, except for tennis and the desire to win?

Somehow, he staggered back to the lot where the Hyotei buses were parked. For a moment, he wondered if they would make him ride one of the buses for the cheering squad (and thus condemn him to a gory death), instead of the more luxurious bus for the players. But nobody objected as he climbed onto the players' bus. Nobody said anything at all. He took a water bottle from the cooler in the front, and collapsed in the nearest seat, holding it to his forehead.

He slept. Then, when he got home, he went straight to his room, and went back to sleep. Until he woke, he would not have to face the ruins of his life.

Shishido woke from a dream of being chased by an enormous lion, to a cold and cloudy morning. At first, he sighed in relief at waking from the nightmare, but his heart sank as he realized that the other nightmare was all too real. The game with Tachibana already felt distant, but today he had to deal with its consequences.

He skipped breakfast, and sat at his desk writing his resignation letter. It war a mere formality, and didn't call for any special eloquence, but his pen refused to form the words. Half a dozen crumpled drafts lay scattered across his desk before he shoved the finished version into his pocket and set off for the tennis practice he expected to be his last.

He took his equipment bag as he was leaving the house, more out of habit than anything else. He knew that he couldn't continue to delude himself with such things—the game was over, the letter to Coach Sakaki was written—but it would have felt too awful to break the habit. He realized that his regular's jersey was not there. Someone had collected it while he slept on the bus. He was almost glad. This way, he would not have to turn it in himself. He wondered if it had been cleaned for some future regular to wear, or destroyed. Probably the latter, he decided. He imagined Atobe ordering his servants to burn it, laughing that maniacal laugh of his. Shishido would have smiled, if it had been someone else's jersey. His own had been so new, and he had taken such great pride in it.

When he reached to school, his impulse was to slink through the back door of the club building, but he decided against it. What harm could it do to walk in as if nothing had changed? If the jersey was gone, and he could not imagine himself a regular, perhaps he could pretend that he was still an ordinary member of the club, who had hopes and dreams.

Practice had already started, so the changing room was almost empty. But as he entered, Shishido encountered one of the people he had hoped not to see, the little redhead who had always treated him as if he was unwelcome and unworthy to be a regular.

Mukahi Gakuto's mouth formed an 'O' of surprise. Then, he assumed one of those looks which might have been intended as sympathy, but managed to be at once mocking, patronizing, and unconcerned.

"Shishido," he blurted. "I heard–"

"About yesterday's game?" Shishido said. "Yeah, I'm sure you did."

Mukahi frowned. "Well, really…no need to bite my head off. I was only going to say—"

"Shut up," Shishido snarled. He didn't want any false pity. His patience had been tested to the utmost for the last twelve days, trying to be civil to Mukahi, trying to act like a real regular. Now, it felt good to lash out. It was sickly satisfying to vent some of his frustration on someone with such a sense of entitlement—Mukahi had been on the regulars for a whole year, part of a successful doubles combination. He was unique, and flashy, and a valuable asset to the team. How could Shishido not resent that?

"Fine," Mukahi snapped, turning away. "Obviously you're a really sore loser. I hope whoever replaces you lasts longer." He marched out of the clubroom with his nose in the air.

Shishido felt a strange pit in his stomach after Mukahi left. His rudeness had felt good a moment ago, but he couldn't help but feel that Mukahi had won the encounter. He was glad that Mukahi hadn't seen the game yesterday, although he didn't know why he should care what that idiot thought. He was even more glad that Oshitari, Mukahi's doubles partner, had not seen him yesterday. Oshitari, who was in his class, was a regular that Shishido actually liked, and had thought of as maybe a friend.

He didn't know how things would be between them now.

Forcing such thoughts from his head, he walked to the back of the clubhouse, where Coach Sakaki's office was. The door was closed, and he heard voices from inside. The coach, of course, and also Atobe. He pressed his ear to the door.

"Shameful," the coach was saying. "We will win in the consolation matches next week, of course, and have our chance at the Kantou Tournament, but I trust you will not underestimate a team in this way again..?"

"It was my error," Atobe replied smoothly. "I believed that by placing a regular in Singles 3…Not to question your judgment, sir, but I do not believe that Shishido should have been on the regulars."

Shishido's nails dug into his palms as he heard Atobe's words. He wanted nothing more than to break into the room and give him a punch on the jaw.

"He had potential," Sakaki said. "It is good to let the pre-regulars feel that they all have a chance of being appointed, should an opening in the regulars arise. Without competition, Hyotei would lose its strength. Like you, however, I expected that Shishido would not last long. Now, to decide on a replacement…"

Shishido unclenched his fists, and backed away. He had been viewed with so little regard? He refused to hand a resignation letter to someone who had expected his failure! He would not play Coach Sakaki's games. He stormed from the clubhouse and fled, away from Atobe, and Sakaki, and his own hopeless situation.

He ran for a long time, hoping exhaustion would numb all his other feelings. Instead, the sound of his own frantic breathing reminded him of the game, and of Tachibana's mocking eyes.

The next day, Shishido claimed a stomachache, and had his mother call him in sick. It was not exactly a lie—his stomach was hurting, from the sharp pangs of anxiety he was suffering. He went back to bed for a few hours, but his sleep was fitful, and he gave it up.

He flipped through the channels and watched some anime, but he didn't pay attention to it. Instead, he cursed himself as a coward. Here he was, hiding from his entire school. In class, he would have to face Oshitari, who must have heard every detail of the fiasco. Would Oshitari be sorry he was off the regulars, and that he had to quit the club? Or would he be glad? Perhaps he, like Atobe and Coach Sakaki, had always believed Shishido unworthy. Of course, no matter what he thought, he would appear indifferent. No, spending his school hours in a room with a regular would be unbearable.

And then, after school, there would be practice, which he was obligated to attend until he turned in his letter to the coach. The letter was still in his pocket, but the longer he delayed, the more he felt that he could not bear to quit the club. But how could he possibly continue, disgraced and defeated as he was? No, he must quit. His back was up against a wall. He could see no way out of the situation.

He was only prolonging this torture by staying at home and desperately trying to think of a way to escape. These same thoughts ran through his head hour after hour, until in the late afternoon, he decided to go out to clear his head.

Out of habit, he went to a favorite spot in a nearby park, a tall cement building of unclear origin, surrounded by trees and choked by weeds. Shishido often came here, where no one else ever seemed to come, to hit a tennis ball against the side of the building. He pulled out his racket, and dug into his pocket for a ball. He was startled to realize that he was not carrying one, but only the letter of resignation.

He had a can of them in his bag, though. It was his last can, he remembered. They were good quality, too—a gift from his older brother after making the regulars. He had wanted to save them for a special occasion. Well, now seemed to be as good a time as any.

It had only been a day since he had picked up a racket, but it felt like far longer. His muscles had not forgotten, though. As he hit the ball against the wall, Shishido relaxed into the soothing rhythm and repetitive motion. It felt right to his body. This was what he should be doing, not all the worrying and thinking. This was what he was so reluctant to give up. If he quit the team, would he really also quit tennis? He couldn't imagine not coming here any longer, or leaving his racket in a closet to gather dust. The very thought made him feel cold and empty. He had poured himself into tennis since elementary school. Surely one loss could not take that away.

He was so absorbed that he did not notice the darkening sky or the first few drops of rain. Then, thunder boomed, and a serious downpour began. Shishido hurried to store his racket, and ran for cover. It soon became clear that the trees offered no shelter from what was quickly becoming a major storm. He decided that his best hope was to head home, and he set off at a jog.

Soon, he was soaked and shivering. He slowed to a walk, as the rain was so heavy that he was having trouble seeing his way. He was a long way from the park now, but even further from home. He began looking around for a place to shield him from the rain, but he was in a wealthy residential neighborhood, and there were no public buildings. He wasn't about to knock on some stranger's door.

"Oy, Shishido!" he heard someone calling from far away. He whirled around, searching for the speaker. A flash of lightening blinded him for a moment.

"Shishido!" Someone grabbed his elbow. "Hurry up and come inside."

Then, he was thrust out of the rain, into a warm entry hall. And there was Oshitari, wiping off glasses dripping with water.

Shishido blinked, and tried to think of something to say.

"I didn't know you lived here," he said, and then cringed. Damn, he sounded stupid. He was dripping all over the floor, too.

Oshitari shrugged, and led the way into a brightly lit kitchen.

"I was looking out the window, and thought you should get out of the rain. Gakuto and I were just caught in it ourselves," Oshitari said.

"Yuushi…" an all-too familiar voice whined. "What is he doing here?"

Sighing, Shishido looked over to where Mukahi perched on a high kitchen counter, swinging his legs. He was clad only in a bright red t-shirt that was many sizes too large, and clashed horribly with his damp hair.

"Make Shishido-kun some tea, Gakuto," Oshitari ordered, shoving the glasses back onto his face. "I'm going to get him a change of clothes. Luckily, I think we're about the same size."

"Um," Shishido began. "Would you mind getting Mukahi-kun some pants, too?" Looking at Mukahi's glaring face was bad enough—Shishido didn't need him running around half naked.

Oshitari only chuckled.

"I'll see if I can find something that would fit…unfortunately I'm rather larger than he is." He headed up the stairs.

"Yuushi!" Mukahi hollered upstairs. "I don't want to make tea for this guy!"

"Pretend you're making extra for yourself, then," Oshitari's distant voice floated back. A minute later, he came back down the stairs laden with clothing. He handed Shishido a t-shirt and pair of jeans, and tossed a pair of small green pajama pants to Mukahi, who scowled.

"You better not be giving me your sister's clothing again, Yuushi."

"Don't worry, Gakuto," Oshitari reassured him. "It's mine. From fifth grade."

Shishido snorted, but assumed an innocent expression when Mukahi looked over at him.

Oshitari poured the tea, and brought out some cookies while Shishido changed. Shishido joined Mukahi and Oshitari at the table, and gratefully accepted the tea. He was no longer shivering, but it was pleasant to feel the warm cup between his hands, and the tea slide down his throat. In fact, he felt pretty comfortable sitting here. But he wondered if either of the regulars was going to bring up his disgrace. It seemed unavoidable.

"You weren't in school today," Oshitari said at last.

Shishido nodded. Oshitari could obviously tell that he was not sick, and doubtless understood his reasons for staying home.

"I heard you haven't resigned yet," Mukahi said, nibbling on a cookie. "Aren't you going to?"

"Gakuto," Oshitari chided. "There's no law that says he has to resign."

Shishido choked on his tea. It hadn't occurred to him, until Oshitari had said it. He did not have to resign. Nobody could force him, if he chose to stay in the club.

"To stay would be dishonorable, though," he murmured.

Oshitari shrugged.

"You have no hope of redeeming yourself if you resign. You will be accepting your weakness, rather than overcoming it. You can still grow stronger, even if you are not a regular."

Suddenly, Mukahi snickered.

"Yuushi always says such wise things," he said. "But I think it will be funny if you don't resign. Besides, it was really Atobe's fault anyway. If Yuushi and I had been playing doubles, on the other hand…Well, I hate the fact that we usually can't play until Kantou. But now, Atobe will definitely make us play in the consolation match. So we should really thank you, Shishido, for losing for us!"

"Um, any time?" Shishido mumbled, not quite following the acrobat's train of thought.

"Atobe is trying to pull together the team earlier than usual," Oshitari said. "Like Gakuto said, the real regulars will be playing in the consolation match. He's having Sakaki bring back Jirou, who must have fully recovered from his injury by now. And then, there's your replacement."

"Have they chosen one?" Shishido asked, trying to remain calm.

Oshitari nodded.

"I met him today. A second year."

Shishido gritted his teeth.

"I'm being replaced by a second year?" he growled.

"Apparently he has an incredible serve," Oshitari replied, over Mukahi's "Hey, don't be so arrogant, Shishido!"

Oshitari leaned across the table towards Shishido. "Anyway, I think Coach Sakaki is hoping that he'll be a new doubles partner for Taki. It's good to have someone with some power to put into doubles, and Hyotei needs more doubles players anyway. Gakuto and I are really the only compatible pair right now."

"What's the new guy's name?" Shishido asked, running through the second years he knew from the pre-regulars, and not coming up with any who had remarkable serves.

"Otori Choutarou," Oshitari said. "I don't think he was part of your pre-regular group."

"Nope, never heard of him," Shishido said. He finished his tea. "Well, the rain has stopped, and I should probably go home now. Thanks very much for your hospitality."

"You're welcome," Oshitari said, walking him to the door.

"Do you mind if I give the clothes back to you tomorrow?" Shishido asked, as he left. "At practice?"

"Of course not," Oshitari said, smiling.

When he got home, Shishido pulled the soggy letter of resignation out of his pocket and tore it to shreds. He would prove that he was not weak, he vowed. He would not quit the club, or tennis, until he proved that he had been unjustly removed from the regulars. Perhaps defeating this Otori would be a suitable start.

After he returned Oshitari's clothes the next day, he walked to his former locker, one of the huge regulars' ones. He hadn't remembered to clear out all of his possessions—he still had a change of clothing in there.

But when he reached it, a tall silver-haired person, with his back to Shishido, was blocking the way.

"Oh, Shishido-san," the boy said, bowing very politely. "I'm so sorry. This must be yours?" He handed Shishido a neatly folded white shirt.

"Who are you?" Shishido demanded, even as he realized who it must be.

"I'm Otori Choutarou," the boy said hurriedly. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Shishido-san. I really admire your playing…"

"Don't mess with me," Shishido snapped at the second year, his temper snapping. Who did this kid think he was, pretending to be so respectful to the person whose place he was taking? And besides, there was something annoyingly puppyish about Otori. His eyes were large and dark brown, and his hands seemed large for his body. His light silver hair was soft and curly. Despite his height, he was probably weak, Shishido decided.

Otori was staring at him in confusion.

"Um, I'm very sorry if I offended you…" he said. "I hope…"

"Play a match with me," Shishido snarled. Then, more quietly, because he could hardly keep up anger in the face of so little resistance, he added, "We'll see who is the stronger. Unless you're afraid? Don't worry, it won't be an official match."For a moment, he wondered if the kid would refuse.

"I will play a match with you," Otori answered in a soft voice.

A/N: I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know what you think.

Edited: Several readers kindly pointed out that it is Jirou who replaces Shishido on the regulars, not Otori. Looking at the manga, I believe that I can justify my decision to have Otori replace Shishido (the main reason is that has great dramatic potential, but I think I can avoid contradicting canon as well). I have edited this chapter (the scene at Oshitari's house) to explain the situation with Jirou, but I would like to include a full explanation here for those who are interested (feel free to skip):

After reporting Hyotei's loss, Atobe says over the phone to Sakaki "And by the way, please get Jirou to come in next week."

a. Atobe does not explicitly state that Jirou is going to join the regulars (or that he was not one of them before). This could imply only that Jirou has not been practicing with the regulars--perhaps, as I mention in this chapter, he was temporarily sidelined by an injury.

b. It is Sakaki, not Atobe, who has the power to pick regulars. We see this after Taki loses to Shishido, and Sakaki appoints Hiyoshi to the team. Atobe cannot reinstate Shishido onto the regulars--he even says to Shishido and Otori something like "Why are you telling all this to me? Go tell the coach" (very loose paraphrase). Atobe must ask Sakaki to keep Otori on the regulars. So all of this makes it seem strange that Atobe would be dictating to Sakaki to put Jirou on the regulars.

And some people have suggested that it was Taki who took Shishido's place. Honestly, I can't find it, and I have reread the relevant chapters in the manga a bunch of times for this story. Taki is introduced as a regular in chapter 118 at the same time as Otori, Oshitari, and Mukahi are (before that, we only see Atobe, Kabaji, and Shishido). Hiyoshi takes Taki's place on the regulars. At no point that I can find does it say that Taki takes Shishido's place. If you can tell me where in the manga (or anime) it says that Taki replaces Shishido, I would be very grateful to you, because I am wondering why people have that impression.

So hopefully that's a clear explanation of my thought process in setting up this story. I may be quite wrong about the whole thing...but I hope you like this and the future chapters enough to stick with it.