Title: Joushou Hyoutei

Rating:PG-13

Pairing:Sanada/Shishido, Past Atobe/Shishido implied

Disclaimer:Prince of Tennis and its characters are owned by Konomi.

Summary:Sanada is transferred to Hyoutei for his first year of high school; how will he fair?

Notes: Originally written for a Tenipuri fic exchange on livejournal.


Sanada adjusted his tie and then loosened it. His new school didn't wear their ties tightened, which in Sanada's mind defeated the purpose, but he would conform to the school policies. It was important, not only in making a good impression with his teachers, but also his fellow classmates.

Normally, in the first year of high school, everyone would be new students and while you may know some classmates you wouldn't know them all. But this was an elevator school, one that started all the way back from elementary school. The majority of the people in his grade would have known each other for years. While he wouldn't be the only new student, they would be the minority.

However, he wouldn't be entirely unknown in the school. Though as he walked through the front gates of Hyoutei high school and the gossip started spreading out from around him, Sanada didn't know if his reputation preceding him would be a good thing or not.

-0-0-0-0-

Having heard the news, Shishido headed to the student council president's office. It didn't matter that Atobe was only a first year and that the high school already had a student president. When Atobe arrived; the president, likely to save face, had abdicated his position and nominated Atobe. The rest of the council had agreed to it and that had been that. Clearly, Atobe expected his dominant (and annoying) reign over Hyoutei to continue even through their high school days.

When he arrived at the decadently decorated room he didn't bother asking if Atobe had heard the news already. Atobe always knew all of the news, even when he had no right to know it. "So, why's he here?" Shishido asked. There were of course advantages to Atobe knowing everything, even things he shouldn't.

"Family moved," Atobe said not even looking up from the papers he was reading.

"So? He could've stayed in the dorms. I know Rikkai has them," Shishido said. He stepped closer to Atobe's large desk to try and get his attention properly.

"I won't presume to know the inner workings of the Sanada household but I suspect there was one or multiple reasons that made that option unappealing. Same with commuting," Atobe said cutting off Shishido's next question. Their eyes met for a moment as he did that and Shishido found himself annoyed at being so easily read by Atobe, too.

"Where's he living?"

"Chiiba. So if you'd ever like to spend two days at Tokyo Disney but can't afford the hotel, I suggest asking to room with him," Atobe drawled, a teasing smirk lifting the corner of his lips.

"You're being a bigger prat than usual today. What's up?" Shishido asked flopping down into a chair.

"The first days are always hectic. It's important to establish dominance and I can't be seen slacking off. It doesn't matter if the majority had already succumbed under my superiority in junior high school. This is a new playing field and those that slack off and assume they'll win, fail. Don't you agree?"

"Yeah, yeah... I get it. I won't slack off either." Shishido knew that Atobe was alluding to his failed match with Kippei, But he also knew that Atobe was in fact talking about himself. He hated to admit it, because praising a guy like Atobe just seemed unnecessary. But Atobe was an even harder worker than him and didn't take things for granted. Well, not everything anyway. And Shishido could grudgingly respect that.

"Good. In that case, help me carry these files down to the office," Atobe said as he gestured to half of a large stack.

"Fine. But you better tell me what else you know as we go. I want to be able to act all superior with my knowledge around Oshitari."

"But of course."

With that, Shishido grabbed the heavy stack and waited for Atobe to take his own before they walked to the teacher's room. Atobe was pretty good to his word and by the time the folders were delivered, Shishido was sure he was one of the most informed about the Rikkai transfer student in the school.

-0-0-0-0-

He had only just made it to his assigned homeroom and already he was getting tired of the constant whisperings around him. Perhaps Rikkai was more polite or at least more subtle but he couldn't recall such a circus of gossip back there. He suddenly felt a keen longing for Rikkai and the idiotic teammates he called friends.

However, he was a Sanada, and Sanada's didn't give up or into suck weak desires. So he steeled himself to ignore the chit chat and went to the front board where a seating list was posted. They were arranged in alphabetical order with the rows alternating between boys and girls – a standard approach. Noting the name behind his, Sanada gave his first small smile of the day.

"Shishido," He said in greeting to the man who was seated at the desk behind his and making small talk with some of their other classmates for the year. The teen looked much as he did the last time Sanada had seen him at the U-17 training camp though his hair looked a bit longer and shaggier. Perhaps he was growing it out? Or perhaps it was some new style that was trendy that Sanada didn't have time for.

"Sanada," Shishido said wrapping up his conversation and waving them off. "Welcome to Hyoutei. Gotta say, a lot of people are surprised to see you here."

"I'm rather surprised myself. But circumstances meant I had to choose a new school," Sanada said, keeping his voice low. There was no point in making it too easy for the gossip hungry mob around them.

"That sucks. But why Hyoutei? Seigaku's got a pretty solid sports reputation," Shishido said. And Sanada wondered slightly if that was Shishido's way of saying he would have fit in better there than here. But as he recalled, Shishido was a rather straightforward man so he trusted that if that was what Shishido thought than he would just come out and say it.

"While Seigaku does have a wonderful sports program my parents and I wanted a more well-rounded school. And I liked the openess of Hyoutei's curriculum." Sanada had been a bit shocked at just how open it was. He knew that in high school you had some choices in classes but Rikkai would still have limited them and the options wouldn't have been nearly as plentiful as they were here. Though what someone was supposed to do with Greek or Philosophy were beyond him.

"Yeah. Hyotei's pretty cool that way. I wanted to focus on all the history and geography courses but both my mom and Atobe were pretty appalled by it. So I had to change it to be more well-rounded." Shishido dug in his bag and pulled out an already surprisingly wrinkled paper from it and held it out to Sanada. "Are we sharing any classes? I can help you catch up if you need it."

Sanada blinked for a moment at the friendly offer and the schedule under his nose before pulling out his own from a clear file that kept it in pristine condition. "It seems we share English, European History I, Calculus and P.E.. It seems we'll be seeing a lot of each other."

"Really, that's cool," Shishido said as he double checked their schedules. "Oh, Oshitari has this class so you can borrow his notes from last year if you need them to catch up. And Atobe and Jirou is in this class with us." Shishido went on explaining to him what tennis members were in which class and hearing that there was only one class where he wouldn't know anyone instead of all of them like he feared, Sanada felt himself relax a little.

Sanada couldn't say he was particularly close to any of the Hyoutei members though he did develop a certain bond with Shishido while they were doing their mountain top training. He respected his desire to persevere even if he could be a bit loud and hot-headed about it. But he supposed he could be, too.

"You'll be going out for tennis, too, right?" Shishido asked as he handed back Sanada's schedule.

"Yes. Is Atobe planning a coup again?" It was well known that Atobe had stormed into Hyoutei and took it over as a freshman in junior high school, much like Yukimura had with the Rikkai tennis team. At least, in that small way, things wouldn't be too unfamiliar. Though he suspected that Atobe would not be as appreciative to have Sanada by his side as Yukimura was.

"Probably. He doesn't have the patience to put up with people who are less skilled than him bossing him around. Even if they are our sempai."

"Ah. I can understand. While I try to respect those above me, it can be difficult when they haven't earned it."

"Yeah, well... don't encourage him too much. He doesn't need it," Shishido said. "Let's head out together to the courts after the final homeroom."

Sanada gave a nod and was about to ask a few more questions when their homeroom teacher appeared and called for the class to pay attention.

-0-0-0-0-

"Geeze, you really waste no time, do you?" Shishido said to Atobe as he returned to the bench Shishido was sitting on that also held his towel and water.

"There's no point in letting our sempai believe they have the right to be in charge of the great me. It's kinder to put them out of their misery swiftly," Atobe said wiping the sweat off of his face and neck.

"I guess. But you were pretty systematic about it." He'd watched Atobe play a lot of tennis over the years, which was one of the reasons he respected him as a captain and player most of the time. But he rarely saw Atobe go through the motions so mechanically and without much joy. Either Atobe was having more of an off day than their encounter in the president's room suggested or their sempai had really let themselves go and deserved what they got.

"They didn't deserve any more of my time." A stock answer really and not one Shishido paid much attention to.

"You need to play someone who will challenge you. Why don't you try Sanada. He wants to join," Shishido pointed towards the former Rikkai player who was sitting beside a sleeping Jirou. Apparently Shishido wasn't the only one who was bored by watching Atobe play today.

"Another time. I have more important things to do right now than indulge in silly games," Atobe said and then turned to head to the change rooms.

Shishido just shook his head at the newly minted high school tennis captain. Even if he didn't want to play any of them, he was still sure they'd all find spots on the team. And with Hiyoshi, Ohtori and Kabaji still in the junior high school division, there would be more than enough space on the team for Sanada without causing any issues. At least for this year.

"Looks like practice is over. Who's up for ice cream?" Shishido called to the others as he stood.

Jirou perked up a little at that and Gakuto cheerfully claimed he'd come if Shishido would treat him like he did Ohtori.

"Fine. Just to shut you up. What about you Sanada?"

Sanada looked uncomfortable for a moment, probably still trying to adjust to being Hyoutei now, before giving a nod.

-0-0-0-0-

It was the first official tennis practice and they were all dressed in their new high school uniforms, even Sanada. While the design was different, the colours were still the icy blue and Sanada had to admit that it felt weird to be dressed in it instead of the yellow of Rikkai. He tried not to fidget after he zipped up the jacket and grabbed his racket to head out to the courts.

Spotting the regulars he knew, he headed over to the small circle they had made.

"I hear Atobe's going to make us do practice matches today," Gakuto said as he jumped up and down to get his legs warmed up.

"Better than laps. Do you think we're doing singles or doubles?" Shishido asked from the ground where he was stretching his legs. "Somebody lend me a hand?" He gestured to his back and Jirou sleepily moved from his lounging position on the ground to half sleep on Shishido's back, pressing him further down and giving him a deeper stretch.

"Too afraid to play singles against us anymore, Shishido?" Yuushi drawled. Sanada was starting to realize that it didn't matter what the man said, it either sounded like an insult or a pick up line. Most often it sounded like a mixture of both.

"Tch, you wish," Shishido said though his bravado sounded a little false to Sanada.

"Do you normally switch between singles and doubles?" Sanada asked as he set his equipment down and started doing his own stretches. In Rikkai, they had often switched between singles matches and doubles matches. Of course, in doubles, they would rotate through their partners so they could find the best combinations and learn to be well rounded players. He wasn't sure if Hyoutei was quite that dedicated to keeping all of their options open when it came to singles and doubles though he didn't think they were as weak at doubles compared to Seigaku.

Even Atobe had proved he could play doubles at the U-17 even if the method in which he did it made Sanada frown a little. Niou was reckless at times but even he shouldn't have let Atobe push him like he had.

"Normally it's pretty mixed. At least it was last year," Shishido said.

"But last year you and Ohtori were attached at the hip. It's not like Atobe was going to make you two play singles," Gakuto chimed in. He then switched floor stretches showing quite a bit of flexibility as he did so.

"Singles is more fun," Jirou said sleepily as he slid off Shishido's back and into his own stretching pose. Shishido obliged after a moment by turning and pressing down on Jirou.

"I bet you'd play doubles with Bunta or Fuji," Shishido said.

"Don't forget Atobe," Yuushi added.

"Yeah... but I'd really rather play against them and master all their moves or how to break them," Jirou said. The enthusiasm he held for these players was seeping through his voice and Sanada couldn't help but wonder why it was these opponents that got Jirou excited and not some of the stronger players out there. Maybe Jirou was drawn in by flashy players.

"What do you prefer Sanada?" Yuushi asked turning his steady gaze to him.

"Singles but I can play comfortably in doubles, too. It's important to be a well-rounded player with no weaknesses," Sanada said seriously.

"I agree. Though some people are just better suited to one or the other." Oshitari's gaze shifted to Gakuto and Shishido before looking off to the entrance of the courts where Atobe was now.

"Are you finished with your warm ups?" Atobe called out and then signalled for them to gather around which everyone did quickly, even those who were in the second and third years listened to Atobe's commands.

"Today, we're going to break into three groups. One will start with endurance training, another with racket techniques and the third will do practice matches. We'll rotate after 45 minutes. I want to see everyone putting their all into it as myself and the coach," Atobe paused to gesture to the man off to the side with a clipboard, "Will be assessing your performance. At the end of this week we will post a list of regulars and sub-regulars. Don't assume you'll make it. Work for it." Atobe's gaze moved across the crowd but Sanada noted that it paused on Shishido and Oshitari a bit longer than the others.

"Any questions?" Atobe asked and when no hands went up carried on, "The lists have been posted by the gate. Practice starts in ten minutes." He dismissed them with an over the top fancy hand gesture and pose and it took a lot of effort for Sanada not to roll his eyes. He walked over with the rest and saw his name listed in the endurance category first. That was fine. He had no doubts about his skills in any areas of tennis. He just hoped Atobe would be mature enough to not hold him back because of past grudges.

-0-0-0-0-

"Wah, I'm exhausted," Gakuto said after the third day of training as he stumbled back from his endurance run. He all but collapsed onto the bench next to Jirou who had finished his practice match a while ago and had been napping there since.

Even Taki's normally well groomed hair was looking wilted under the third day of intense training as he came to the bench to get water after the run.

"At least you guys finished. People have been dropping out for the last 15 minutes or so," Shishido said . He'd been practicing his swings so he'd easily been able to watch those returning from the run without completing all the required laps. "Atobe wasn't impressed at all."

"Has Atobe been impressed about anything this week?" Yuushi asked as he came back from his practice doubles match.

He'd been paired with a third year against two second year boys. They'd won but only thanks to Yuushi's moves and the third year deciding to finally stop showing off and play properly. Shishido thought it was pretty funny to see Yuushi get more and more annoyed after each failed shot by his partner. And he thought Yuushi had a high tolerance for idiocy considering he partnered with Gakuto so much.

"He nearly smiled when he saw the renovations to the club room," Taki said as he pulled a mirror out of his bag to try and fix his hair.

"He told me that the first week was the most important. So he's probably trying to claim is territory and stop any rebellions before they can start," Shishido said turning his hat around to keep the sun out of his eyes as he looked over the courts.

"Uh-oh," He said as he spotted the distant court and what was happening on it. "Let's go." The others looked to where Shishido was watching and nodded. Grabbing his towel and water bottle, Shishido headed over to the far court with the others beside him.

"What's he doing? He hasn't played anyone since ousting the former captain," Gakuto asked.

"Claiming his territory," Yuushi said with a smirk as they reached the fence of the courts.

In front of them, Atobe was starting his serve to Sanada. There was an unsure looking second year acting as their referee and Shishido didn't envy him that job at all. He wouldn't want to make line calls on these two.

"Do you think Sanada would challenge him?" Shishido asked as Atobe's serve was returned with brutal force and speed.

"He did lead Rikkai for a while. Maybe he enjoyed being the captain," Taki suggested.

"He was just doing it for Yukimura. The whole circuit knew how loyal and obsessed the guy was for his captain." Gakuto's snarky input was a little too loud as Atobe's eyes darted toward them before his next serve.

"Maybe Atobe wants that loyalty but thinks he has to beat Sanada to get it," Jirou said, his voice half obscured by a yawn. Though Shishido saw that he was watching the match intently, even if he was still half asleep.

"Jirou may have a point. It might be hard for Atobe to trust Sanada and accept him," Yuushi said much more quietly than Gakuto had spoken earlier so that they couldn't be overheard by the people they were talking about.

"That's lame. Sanada's part of Hyoutei now. As long as he does what Atobe says, and he has been this week, there's no reason not to put him on the team. We could use him." Shishido liked to believe that Hyoutei was strong, but he knew that having one of Rikkai's strongest players now playing for them would be a big advantage this season.

"Just because we know that, doesn't mean Atobe's pride can accept it." Yuushi turned to look at him, "You should know all about the follies of pride, Shishido."

Shishido scoffed and turned his full attention back to the game. They were now tied at 3-3 though Atobe was close to breaking Sanada's service game.

The rumblings around them were growing as more and more members of the club saw what was happening and came to watch and Shishido realized just how important this match was becoming and why Atobe was doing it now, at the end of the final day before he announced the regulars.

Atobe wanted to judge Sanada's strength before playing him, to make sure that he could edge forward enough to win. And confident that he would, he challenged him when he knew everyone would be free to come and watch. They would see two teens desperately battling each other with all their passion for the game bared and it would help to fire the team back up after three gruelling days.

And if Atobe was correct in his insight and he could beat Sanada, it would give the team another reason to respect him as their captain. It wasn't everyday someone won against one of the demons of Rikkai.

But what would happen to Sanada after he lost. Would he still be accepted onto the team or would Atobe be lame and use it as an excuse to put him on the sub-regulars?

Shishido looked over and shared a look with his friends and they seemed to communicate wordlessly, as if all thinking the same things before looking back.

4-3. The crowd around them grew noisier as they talked about Atobe taking Sanada's service game.

"You're getting sloppy Sanada. I expect more from the emperor."

"Heh, you haven't broken all my moves yet," Sanada countered with words and with his return as it sunk far into the corner out of Atobe's reach.

-0-0-0-0-

"6-4, Atobe," The second-year said. He was slowly inching away from the net and towards Atobe side, as if he was afraid that Sanada would attack him for accurately calling the score. But Sanada wasn't upset. At least not upset at their referee. He wasn't even that upset at Atobe, though he knew the game the other was playing at was below them both.

No, he was upset at himself and that after so much dedicated practice, Atobe was still able to find and exploit his weaknesses.

He stormed to the net and waited for Atobe to saunter up to it, his rival and now current captain, was taking a moment to bask in the applause and cheers from his team. Sanada found himself gritting his teeth. It didn't matter that those cheers were directed at the team he belonged to, they still annoyed him.

"Atobe," Sanada said to get the other's attention and bring him to the net.

"Good game, Sanada. But I can see why Yukimura didn't hold onto you. You've grown complacent," Atobe said, pitching his voice to not be heard beyond them.

Atobe took Sanada's hand and Sanada had to remind himself to not crush it. He would accept defeat gracefully.

"Then I'll work hard to fix that. Though I noticed you only played me after I've been practicing for two and a half hours," Sanada said. He wasn't as graceful in defeat as he had hoped but at least he didn't call Atobe out completely on his this idiotic exercise of pride or worse, punch him right in his charm point.

Atobe laughed "You didn't lose because you're tired. You lost because you left your passion at Rikkai."

Sanada let go of Atobe's hand before he really did crush it. He had to remind himself that this was just what Atobe was like; it was his job to play it up for the crowd. And besides, he might be annoyed at the way Atobe went about things, but it was his own inability to defeat Atobe that made him angry. And perhaps the fact that Atobe might be speaking the truth also irked him.

"Practice is finished. You're dismissed for today. Tomorrow we find out who the regulars are," Atobe called out to the watching crowd. Sanada gave a nod and turned to walk away and collect his belongings. He saw Shishido and Gakuto try to approach him but he shook his head and walked off quickly.

There was no shame in losing a hard fought battle, he didn't have a promise to Yukimura to keep. But he didn't want to hear teasing or worse, kind words, from his new Hyoutei teammates just yet.

Wondering if coming to Hyoutei and trusting Atobe to treat him fairly was all a big mistake he headed to the station for his long commute home. If he got a seat, he could do some homework, if not, he could contemplate his troubles and try to think of what he could do. Perhaps Yanagi would be free and he could mail him.

-0-0-0-0-

Atobe looked at the list in front of him, written in his exquisite hand. There was only one name left to be added and he wasn't sure where to put it. Yesterday had been a bit of a cheap tactic. He had wanted to square off against Sanada's strength fairly to test them both out and push them further. But as he told Shishido, the first week was the most crucial and to lose to Sanada, a seen rival, would not help cement his place as leader. He had to defeat him, even if it mean underhanded tactics.

Sanada had been right to call him on it, and while Atobe appreciated that he did so without everyone hearing he still wasn't sure what to make of him. Rikkai and Hyoutei were bitter rivals and Sanada had been an antagonist to him for three years. But suddenly, they were supposed to work together.

Atobe knew that if he could put his pride to the side and find room for him on the team than it would grow in strength and the would have the real potential to make Nationals. But would Sanada be willing to defeat his former teammates? And could he be satisfied playing second fiddle to Atobe?

Atobe considered the members he was considering and their positions. Atobe would be singles one, the position of glory and leadership, despite what Tezuka might think. Jirou needed to be singles, too. His pace was too irregular to make him a dependable doubles partner and Atobe didn't think he'd compliment either Gakuto or Shishido's play styles either. Gakuto and Shishido needed to be doubles players. They might be weaker than most top single players out there but teamed with a good partner, they were some of the best on the doubles court.

Oshitari was versatile and Atobe knew that he could partner well with both Gakuto or Shishido but he also knew it would be limiting Oshitari's abilities. He could play doubles but he could really shine in singles, especially against the right opponents that could push him out of his shell of nonchalance.

Would Sanada be satisfied with doubles? Could he partner with Gakuto or Shishido without strangling them in the process?

Could he handle Sanada being on his team?

His pride was battling with his common sense and he didn't like it. Atobe sighed and looked out the window.

He spotted Shishido doing his lunch break racket swings and smiled a little. Shishido might be a brat to him at times, but he liked his determination.

His smile faded a little as he noticed another person join him, Sanada. They started swinging together, talking and laughing. Atobe knew that they were in the same class and likely sitting near each other. He just hadn't expected Shishido to warm up to the former Rikkai player so quickly. But Shishido's attitude was straight forward and simple a lot of the time, so he normally had no problem connecting with others as long as they didn't annoy him.

Knowing that Shishido and Sanada apparently had some type of bond forming made Atobe's decision even more difficult. To put off the Sanada conundrum, he checked the other names on his lists to make sure they were accurate. Along with the regulars on his team last year, he had selected a second year and third year student to round out the team. They both seemed versatile and their play styles would compliment Gakuto or Shishido's more net based ones. He just hoped Umeda and Kariya would follow through with the potential they showed during the last week and not disappoint him.

Taki, no matter how much he wanted to put him on the regulars, was going to the sub-regulars until he could correct the amount of faults his new serve technique was giving him. He also wasn't sure where he'd place him on the team as he didn't think Shishido and him could partner well together and Taki wasn't quite a strong enough base liner to support Gakuto's acrobatics.

Atobe hated this feeling of being unsure and doubting his decisions so not wanting to put it off any longer he picked up his pen and wrote Sanada's name on the corresponding list.

There would be a fallout and consequences to this but even with lingering doubts – which he was choosing to ignore – Atobe was sure this would play out how it should.

-0-0-0-0-

"You put Sanada on the reserve list? What are you thinking?!" Shishido asked Atobe as he cornered him inside the new club room. He had been pleased to see his own name listed on the regulars along with many of his friends but to not see Sanada had been a shock. "If you're worried about him challenging, he isn't going to."

"And you know this how?"

Shishido rolled his eyes. "Because I talked to him you idiot. Have you bothered doing that at all since he got here or have you just read your files on him?"

"I've talked with him enough. And I'm not worried about him stealing my position of captain. Now do you mind stepping back, you're crowding me," Atobe said giving Shishido a light shove so that he was no longer completely backed up against the wall.

"Then what are you so cranky about? Whatever is pissing you off has you even taking it out on me. Because I know for a fact that you like me crowding you," Shishido said and stepped in close again, but this time without such an aggressive stance.

"Liked, Shishido. And this has nothing to do with you. If Sanada has a problem, he can come talk to me himself."

Shishido didn't fully buy it. Atobe was hiding something. The guy often was when he was using his 'insights' to be a manipulative jerk about things. It was one thing to do that to opponents or even random members of the club but Shishido might have to punch Atobe if he was doing it to him. "What are you up to?" He finally asked as he stepped back to give them both some space.

"Do you really think I'd tell you that easily even if I was up to something?" Atobe asked as he crossed his arms and casually leaned back against the wall.

"You should. I could help." Shishido and Atobe may not always get along 100% of the time but they were friends and Shishido did have enough respect for Atobe most days to want and support him.

"The only way you can help is by doing exactly what you're doing." Atobe pushed off from the wall and walked closer to him.

"And that is?" Shishido asked crossing his own arms and giving Atobe an annoyed look.

"Being your stubborn self, of course. Now if you'll excuse me, Shishido, I have a school to run," Atobe said with a slight smile. As he walked past, he gave Shishido a pat on the shoulder and then left the room.

Shishido cursed at Atobe becoming an even more insufferable prick during the school break and then headed out himself. Maybe he could still catch up to Sanada before he caught the train.

-0-0-0-0-

"Sanada!" Shishido yelled getting weird looks from people around him as he continued to run after the tall, black hat wearing man. "Sanada, wait!"

Sanada could hear Shishido yelling for him but he refused to look back. He didn't want to talk right now.

"Sanada!" Shishido called again. Sanada had to admit the guy was determined but it certainly wasn't an admirable aspect today. Especially when Sanada hit the red light and couldn't keep escaping him. Though with how determined Shishido seemed, he wouldn't put getting on the train with him past the other.

"Didn't you hear me?" Shishido asked as he came to a stop beside Sanada.

Sanada looked over at him and gave him a rather stony stare. It didn't get the reaction he had hoped for but he supposed after dealing with the members of Hyoutei for several years you would become immune to all sorts of things.

"Look, let's talk."

"About what?" Sanada asked. He looked over at the other light, gauging how long he had until he could escape.

"What do you think? Atobe's just being a jerk about this. He's plotting something but I know if you don't give up you can get on the team," Shishido hurriedly explained.

"I don't want to play his games, Shishido. I thought I could endure it, but I can't," Sanada had spent a good deal of timing thinking about tennis and Hyoutei and Atobe as his captain. He thought he might try to endure if he had been made a regular but a sub-regular was just too insulting and not worth it.

"What? You can't give up. I know his games are lame but there's usually a point to them," Shishido said.

The light turned and Sanada started walking, Shishido of course stuck close to him, bumping into him on occasion so they wouldn't get separated in the growing crowd as they neared the station. Did the other really plan on following him all the way home?

"It's not giving up. I had been considering a switch to kendo since transferring to Hyoutei. I thought I would give tennis a try but we seem to be incompatible."

"Kendo?"

"Yes. I practice it daily at home. It's one of the reasons why the dorms would be a bad fit for me at Rikkai," Sanada said, sharing more than he really meant to with Shishido. But he wanted the other to understand that he wasn't giving up tennis to pursue something but random but instead to devote himself to another love.

"It's still giving up. You haven't even give the tennis club a full week."

"I doubt things will change that much in the next few days to keep me there, Shishido." Sanada said and then pointed to the ticket gates. They had arrived at the station. "I'm going home. I'll see you tomorrow." He turned to head through the gates. There were constantly the beeps of people using their train passes as they passed through the gates around him but somehow he knew the one directly following him in his gate was not some stranger.

Sanada turned and saw a stubborn looking Shishido. Sanada had to admit, a grumpy and determined Shishido was sort of adorable. Like a puppy.

"You're following me home?"

"Yeah. Got a problem with it?" Shishido demanded before heading to the stairs that would take them to the Sobu line.

The train was pulling into the station as they arrived at the platform so they dashed onto it and after seeing no free spots moved to a free spot to stand, shoving their tennis bags up on the rack.

Sanada didn't bother answering Shishido's question from earlier. It wasn't as if he could stop Shishido from getting on the public train with him and it was too late to argue with him now. In fact, Sanada was a little impressed that people from Hyoutei knew how to use public transit. Though that wasn't really fair. Not everyone was as rich nor sheltered as Atobe and it wasn't polite to judge the whole school on the best known member of the student population.

Sanada nearly smiled as he thought about Atobe trying to ride a train. He was going to ask Shishido if he'd ever seen Atobe use public transit but when he looked over he remembered what they were talking about and tugged his hat down instead.

"I don't suppose you know the point of this game Atobe is playing?" Sanada asked.

"Nah. He's being an ass about it. I'm sure there's a reason for it besides his ego though."

Sanada looked at him from under his cap. "Really?"

"Well I called him on it but he didn't react. Normally if I call him on his bullshit and it's true he'll try to justify it or at least acknowledge." Shishido gave a shrug and then turned to look out the window as they pulled into the next station.

"I think he was worried about you at first. But he already proved himself in front of the team. He took out the third year captain and the Emperor. I think his ego's satisfied," Shishido added on once the hurried shove and push of people getting off and on the train had stopped and they were moving again.

"Then why put me on the sub-regulars? Hyoutei could use my strength," Sanada questioned not understanding why he wasn't a regular if Atobe apparently wasn't worried about him challenging his authority.

"Don't know. Did he say anything to you after your match? He always likes to gloat over people and share his iwisdom/i at the end of matches." Shishido made an air quote on the word but it was clear by his voice that he didn't have much faith in Atobe's wisdom.

"No," Sanada said. He didn't want to mention that Atobe had said he had lost his passion for tennis, especially when it might be true. In Rikkai he knew why he played tennis, here, he wasn't so sure. But Sanada doubted that Atobe and his stupid little games were meant to help him find this passion so much as it was to send him running. He was still a formidable opponent, with or without an unwavering drive.

"That's weird," Shishido said.

They stood in silence for a couple stops as they contemplated things and were jostled around in the crowded train. Finally, as a large group of people filed off, two seat beside each other opened up and seeing nobody who would have priority to them, quickly grabbed them.

"Are you sure he didn't say anything?"

"Yes," Sanada said wondering when Shishido was going to give up on this and get off the plane.

"And you really think you'll enjoy kendo more?"

"The kendo captain already spoke with me and unlike Atobe, actually wants me on the team."

"Hey, I think Atobe actually wants you on the team. He's just being stupid about it right now. You have to give him some time to get it together."

"Why should I give him a chance when he didn't give me one?" Sanada asked his voice rising enough to get a few looks from people around them.

"Look, I'm always saying he's an ass and he goes about doing things in his own dumb arrogant way. But even if he takes the lame way to get there. He does make some pretty good observations." Shishido stood and grabbed his bag.

"I thought he really had cut you out of some sort of jealousy or spite or something but after talking to you. I think I'm with Atobe. You're not regulars material yet if you're not even going to stick around and fight for a spot."

Coming from Shishido, a player who had fought tooth and nail to get back on the regulars after being booted off, those words stung a little.

"I'll see you at practice tomorrow... unless you take the coward's way out."

Shishido had timed it so that he was out the doors and off of the train before Sanada could even form a proper comeback.

Would Shishido see him at tennis practice tomorrow? And what would he have to offer Atobe and the team that he didn't last week?

Maybe he'd try calling Yukimura. His former captain was unlikely to be sympathetic to his woes and plights but Sanada didn't think sympathy was what he needed so much as a good lecture.

-0-0-0-0-

Despite the distance, and the soft tone of Yukimura's voice over the phone, Sanada's ears felt thoroughly abused. It was what he needed but it didn't mean he had to like the medicine he took. Yukimura, despite being the captain of a now rival team, told Sanada quite a bit of what Shishido had said but much more succinctly and had summarized with telling him that he would shame his legacy at Rikkai if he couldn't even make it onto the regulars at Hyoutei of all places.

So, still not quite sure what he was going to do but knowing that running away was not an option, Sanada had packed his tennis bag and not his kendo bag and headed out the door in the morning.

He had half expected to see Shishido waiting at one of the train stations on the way, ready to judge him but somehow he was spared that. No, it was Jirou who found him on the train, or perhaps he had found Jirou.

Sanada couldn't help but wonder how Jirou had ended up in Chiba city asleep on the train but that's where he found him. He pushed his way through the crowd to stand in front of him and nudged his foot with his own. "Akutagawa," Sanada said.

Jirou mumbled and stirred a little but didn't show any sign of really waking up so Sanada nudged him a bit harder, it was more like a kick really. "Akutagawa. You shouldn't sleep on the train in your uniform," Sanada said sternly. Hyoutei was a prestigious school and they had a duty to uphold the school's many rules and codes of behaviour.

Sanada felt that Jirou often failed at these but he could understand why he might get out of trouble most of the time. He was good friends with Atobe and Sanada believed that many people would find his sleepiness or exuberance quite cute. It was a bit like a less evil Akaya in Sanada's mind.

"Sanada?" Jirou asked sleepily, rubbing his eyes lazily. "Is Bunta with you?"

The question was a bit muffled around a yawn, but Sanada understood. "No. He's in Kanagawa, at Rikkai."

"Oh, right. You're Hyoutei now. I forgot. You still give off such Rikkai vibes. Where are we?" Jirou asked turning to look out the window and elbowing the businessman beside him in the process. He got a grumpy look but he didn't even seem to notice.

Sanada apologized for him instead and then thought about where they were. "About 15 minutes from Tokyo. Why were you in Chiba?"

"Was I? Atobe won't be happy."

"Why won't Atobe be happy?" Sanada asked. Talking with Jirou was proving to be quite an adventure in its own way.

"I promised I'd play a match with him this morning and that I could get there all on my own and that no, I didn't need a car... but I must have fallen asleep on the train," Jirou rambled off. "I should email him." He dug out his phone, elbowing the old lady on his other side.

Sanada apologized again, Jirou was in his own little cellphone world.

"When were you supposed to meet?"

"At 6:30." That seemed a little early but Sanada supposed that if they wanted to get a good practice in, they would have to start then. Though it was after 8 now and that meant that Jirou had been napping on the train for around two hours.

"I told him you found me. He doesn't seem as mad as he could have been. You saved me." Jirou gave him a blinding smile and Sanada just nodded. It was actually a little embarrassing to be on the receiving end of that look and he wondered how Bunta put up with it so often. But then, Bunta did have a fairly large ego that enjoyed that sort of attention.

"It was nothing."

"No way. I could have slept all the way to," Jirou paused to look around Sanada and up at the board that was displaying the final stop, "all the way up in Yokohama! I'd have been in so much trouble from the school."

"I only did what anyone from Hyoutei would have done," Sanada said trying to defuse Jirou's gratitude.

"That's right. Because you're Hyoutei now. You better not forget it. You might miss out on some fun times if you do."

Sanada wanted to dismiss Jirou's words as just friendly silly phrases but he found that the look in Jirou's eyes were quite serious and the opposite of what he expected to see. Sanada knew that there was more to the sleepy Hyoutei member than met the eye. He was quite a skilled net and volley player despite sleeping through nearly all of the practices. But he hadn't expected this sort of insight.

Whey they arrived at their station and parted ways at the school gates, Sanada couldn't help but wonder if Jirou had really fallen asleep on accident or if he had wanted a chance to talk to Sanada alone without everyone else around.

-0-0-0-0-

"Shishido, I need your help," Sanada said as soon as homeroom ended.

"I'm listening," Shishido said.

Today, Shishido had been a little frosty towards him compared to previous days but it had thawed a little when he saw that Sanada had his tennis bag and not a kendo bag. Still, there was a hint of it still in Shishido's voice. It seemed he lost respect quite quickly for people he considered quitters.

"Can you show me where to find some nearby street courts." Sanada knew that Shishido often practiced tennis after school at various street courts and he figured he'd be able to suggest the best ones.

After thinking about it, Sanada decided to prove to Atobe, and himself, that he still had the passion and drive for tennis then he would need to practice more. He had to push himself further and redevelop his signature moves to be stronger and faster to help reduce his weak points. And most importantly, he had to do this with Hyoutei now in his heart and not Rikkai.

Though Sanada could admit, that Yukimura saying that failing at Hyoutei would ruin his reputation and history at Rikkai did help.

"Really? You want to go to the street courts?" Shishido asked sounding a bit more like his usual self from the surprise.

"Yes. Will you take me to one?"

"Yeah. I can do that. Want to play a game while we're there?"

Sanada would not class Shishido into the same level as Rikkai players, at least not while playing singles, and had to wonder how much of a challenge he could give him. But any assistance would be appreciated and if he wanted to find his drive, it was important to bond with the Hyoutei members as well.

"Sounds good. But don't expect me to go easy on you," Sanada warned and Shishido just grinned in response.

"I wouldn't expect anything less. Now come on, we have to get our butts down to the courts." Shishido grabbed his bags and headed out of the classroom only pausing at the door to make sure Sanada was following.

Sanada wasn't sure how his first day on the sub-regulars would go but he was resolved to stick to it. He wouldn't run away. At least not without a hard fight, first.

-0-0-0-0-

Shishido brought Sanada to a street court that wasn't that far from the train station that would take him directly into Chiba just in case they ended up staying later than expected and he had to dash home. Unfortunately it was one that preferred people to play doubles if it was busy. Shishido never minded, he was often there with Ohtori or if he wasn't, he found partnering up with others would help with his adaptability.

Walking through the gate and into the court area, Shishido could tell immediately they were doing doubles today and looked back over at Sanada. "You okay with doubles?"

Sanada gave a silent nod as he looked over at the assembled players.

Shishido had noted that Sanada had been rather subdued if determined since their talk after the final homeroom today. He had shown up to tennis practice and had done all of the sub-regular practice strokes and drills without complaint. Shishido hadn't missed the rumble of gossip going around about if Sanada would throw a fit about being placed in the sub-regulars and lead a revolution against Atobe or all kinds of other crazy ideas.

Shishido couldn't say he knew Sanada completely but he knew him well enough to know that all those rumours and whisperings going around were completely lame. And he was sure Atobe did, too.

"Great. Come on. I'll go put our names on the list so we can play," Shishido said and led Sanada to some empty space by the fence where they could drop off their stuff. They'd come straight from practice so they were still in their Hyoutei tennis uniforms. Shishido normally liked to avoid wearing them because sometimes people could be jerks about it, but he knew that Sanada had limited time before having to head back so it was worth the risk of a little smack talk from idiots to save time.

After setting down his things, Shishido walked up to the guy who looked to be in charge of the playlist today. Fortunately it was someone he knew and had played with and against more than a few times in the past.

"Hey, Makuhari. Think you can put me on the list?"

"Shishido? Been a while. New school year being tough on you?" Makuhari asked as he looked over Shishido in his new uniform.

"No more than usual. Atobe's being a bit lame though. Says he has to set the standards from the start so he's been putting us through some gruelling training." Shishido's love hate relationship with his captain, Atobe, was fairly well known with Makuhari as he'd shared more than a few stories, both good and bad, about Atobe with him.

"He captain again? Geeze, that guy sure is ambitious."

"You don't know the half of it. Anyway, about getting to play?"

"Need a partner?" Makuhari asked and then looked past Shishido and obviously spotted the other Hyoutei player. "Is that Sanada Genichirou?"

"Yeah."

"In Hyoutei?"

"Yup."

"No way. That's really going to give you guys an edge this year, huh?"

"We'll see," Shishido said with a shrug. He didn't want it spread around that Sanada wasn't on the regulars even if Shishido was hoping it would be a temporary thing. If people heard Sanada was with Hyoutei now and got freaked out even before stepping on the courts that would give them a big advantage and Shishido was happy to take it.

"Playing doubles together?" Makuhari sounded a bit surprised by this but Shishido didn't call him on it."

"Yeah. But we're in a bit of a hurry. How soon can you fit us in?" If the wait was too long then they might have to find somewhere else to practice but they'd lose a lot of time that way.

Makuhari looked over at Sanada and then at the courts. "After these guys are done if you'll be ready," He said.

"Cool. Who are we playing?" Shishido asked surprised that Makuhari was being so accommodating. Makurhari usually treated him pretty well but he was expecting to have to wait for at least one more match before they could get on the courts.

"Me and Inage."

Shishido grinned. That was why they had been given a court so quickly. Makuhari wanted a chance to test his skills against Sanada. Well, if it got them the courts faster, Shishido didn't care.

"Sounds good. See ya on the courts."

They parted ways and Shishido went back to Sanada to let him know they'd be playing soon and to get ready.

"I prefer to play closer to the net so can you cover the base line?" Shishido asked as he pulled out his racket.

"Heh," Sanada said with a smirk. "That won't be a problem."

Shishido looked at him as he bounced his head against his racket strings to test them. Sanada was seeming pretty confident about his doubles skills and despite never really seeing him play doubles, Shishido decided to trust in it.

"Anything I should know?"

"Not really. But if there's any shots you don't think you can return, just clear the way. I'll send them back."

Shishido nodded. He had seen how strong and fast Sanada's counters and shots could be and he didn't fancy getting any of those to the back of his head.

"Alright. Let's do this," Shishido said as he saw the game on the court starting to wrap up.

-0-0-0-0-

Sanada looked over at Shishido and grinned, this was more fun than he thought it would be. They worked better as a pair than he thought they would. Sanada placed most of the credit on Shishido who was surprisingly flexible and good at reading his partner despite his boisterous personality.

Shishido also seemed to know when a shot was too much for him and it would be best to let Sanada take it which Sanada appreciated. Having weaknesses weren't such a bad thing when you could admit it and let your partner cover for it. And having Shishido at the net and trusting him to take a number of the shots allowed Sanada to focus more on his special moves.

"One more set and we'll have it," Shishido said. "I don't even think they know what's hit them. Can't believe Makuhari wanted to play you." He was smiling and his eyes were filled with passion and pleasure for the sport and Sanada couldn't help but feel the same. Shishido's enthusiasm was contagious.

"Heh, they should know better than to go up against Ri-Hyoutei so easily," Sanada said. He hoped Shishido wouldn't comment on the slip, he knew it would be useless to hope he hadn't noticed it. But at least Sanada was learning, all be it slowly, what team he was on now.

"Exactly." He took a sip from his water bottle and then tossed it at Sanada who easily caught it.

Sanada took a long drink of water before putting it down on the bench. "Okay. Let's go."

The gave each other a friendly fist bump and walked back out onto the court, prepared to break Makuhari's serve and settle the match with a score of 6-2.

-0-0-0-0-

"Up for a match today?" Shishido asked as he was towelling off his sweat after a tough practice match against Gakuto and his new partner, Kariya. His own new partner, Umeda was off chatting with some girl that was always hanging around the courts and watching the practices.

Shishido was surprised that Atobe hadn't shooed her away yet but maybe he just hadn't gotten around to it. Atobe's to-do list wasn't one he envied. He was also surprised that Atobe wasn't over there questioning his lousy performance against Gakuto and Kariya.

It wasn't like Shishido wasn't trying. He just wasn't clicking with Umeda and wasn't sure how to fix it. Normally Atobe was pretty insightful when it came to pairing off people be it with them or against them but Shishido was positive he missed the mark this time. He much preferred playing with Sanada on the practice courts despite Sanada technically being a singles player.

Sanada was by far easier and more enjoyable to share a court with and Shishido wondered if Atobe could be convinced to kick off Umeda and give Sanada a doubles spot. It woudn't threaten his singles position and would nearly guarantee a win for Hyoutei in each match since Shishido doubted that any other team could match their combination.

"Shouldn't you be practicing with Umeda?" Sanada asked. He was retaping his racket and was only giving Shishido the occasional glance from under his hat.

"Probably. But he has a date and you're more fun to play with anyway." Normally he wasn't the type to put fun over training but since he was still practicing his tennis with Sanada, it wasn't like he really was.

"A date?" Sanada raised a brow at that.

"Yeah. Haven't you noticed his cheering squad?" Shishido asked as he gestured toward the girl and Umeda without trying to make it look too obvious.

Sanada followed the movement and nodded. "Ah, I've seen her around. I thought she was one of Atobe's many admirers."

Shishido laughed at that, "Nah. They're crazy organized and have some strict rules of conduct. This one is definitely Umeda's girlfriend... or trying to be."

"I see. Well, I don't mind playing doubles as long as we can find a challenging pair."

Shishido nodded and then thought for a moment. "If you don't mind going a little further out from your place we can challenge Fudoumine's doubles pairs." They were third years at junior high school but they were a spirited team and had some interesting moves that would challenge them more than the usual players they encountered. They were also a team that Shishido knew used the street courts regularly so was sure they would catch them.

"Fudoumine? Are they any challenge without Tachibana there to lead them?"

Shishido tried not to make a face at the name. He was over his rather embarrassing defeat at Tachibana's hands, really. But it still didn't mean he wanted to be best friends with the guy... or that he'd pass up the opportunity to pay him back. "Nah, they're still good. I heard Tachibana still goes over to coach them on his club's rest day anyway."

Sanada nodded at that, focus once more on his racket. "I'll go then."

Shishido smiled and gave him a hard pat on the back before tossing his towel at his bag and heading back out onto the courts to grab Umeda to do some cool down exercises together. He wasn't quite ready to give up on some partner bonding for the day.

-0-0-0-0-

Shishido was playing Line Bubble on his phone on the train when the screen froze. He was about to curse when the display switched to show that Atobe was calling him. Thankful that it was on silent so it wouldn't bother the other passengers when ringing, he also knew he couldn't answer it without being rude.

Fortunately they were nearing a station and despite it being one before his own, Shishido decided to get off. He answered his phone just before the doors opened to make sure he didn't miss the call and then got off as soon as they were open. The next station was close enough to this one and a bit more exercise wouldn't hurt. Better than missing a call from Atobe, anyway.

"What?" He asked when he was off the train and could speak on his phone.

"Courteous as always, Shishido," Atobe said.

"Uh-huh. So what did you call for? You're not going to make me go to etiquette classes again, are you?" The first time around was hard enough, he didn't think he could survive a second time.

"No. You're safe this time. In fact, you may just be even beyond my help when it comes to proper manners and sophistication."

Shishido didn't care if it was an insult as long as it meant no more lessons on table manners and cutlery. "So, what's up?" He asked as he started making his way up the stairs to the ticket gate.

"I've notice you've been spending quite a lot of time with Sanada lately..."

That wasn't quite a question but he knew that Atobe still expected an answer. Shishido just didn't know what kind of answer Atobe was looking for just yet. "Yup. And?"

"While I admire your dedication to tennis and practicing, wouldn't it be better to do so with your current partner?"

"Umeda's too busy with his girlfriend. 'sides, you have to have seen that we aren't getting along," Shishido said. He didn't think much got past Atobe, especially when it was happening on his courts at school but sometimes these things still had to be pointed out to him.

"I have noticed you aren't getting along as well as Gakuto and Kariya. But I was hoping you would be able to sort out your differences." There was a pause and Shishido could hear fabric shifting around as Atobe moved. "His dedication to his girlfriend concerns me. I don't want to ban dating from the team, Oshitari might attempt to throttle me for one, but I expect a certain amount of focus from my players."

Shishido gave a snort at the thought of Atobe being strangled by Oshitari and thought that the Osaka player would probably go for something more subtle than that when he was ready to strike for revenge. "Maybe just try banning dates from hanging on the courts?" It wouldn't help him and Umeda get along better but it might help Umeda stay a bit more focused which would help.

"Perhaps. But will it help?" Atobe asked as if reading Shishido's mind through the phone.

"It can't hurt?" Shishido shrugged and nearly elbowed someone on a bike who was trying to zip by him. Whoops.

"You and Sanada are building quite the reputation as a doubles pair on the street courts. Your record is impressive."

Another question that wasn't a question but still needed answering. "Well he was the emperor of Rikkai and despite what you've seen with Umeda, I've turned into a pretty kickass doubles player so of course we're gonna be awesome."

"Ahnn, I see. And just how did you convince Sanada to play doubles with you in the first place?"

"It was nothing special. He wanted me to introduce him to some street courts. We ended up at one that has a doubles rule and things just happened from there. He didn't seem to care if it was singles or doubles as long as he was playing," Shishido said. He had gotten the impression that Sanada would have preferred singles but was just as capable of enjoying doubles and being really good at it.

"Well as long as you keep putting effort into your assigned doubles pair, I suppose I can't argue about two of my tennis club members playing tennis, now can I?" Atobe asked and there was something in his voice that made Shishido wonder what he was up to.

"Yup. Guess not. That at all?"

There was another pause and he would have thought Atobe had hung up on him but he could still hear signs of him on the other end.

"What is it?" He asked after getting bored of listening to Atobe breathe.

"You and Sanada have gotten quite close recently..."

Shishido rolled of his eyes. Of course it would be that. "Don't be lame. We're just friends."

"Are you sure? Sanada does seem to have a rapport with you that he doesn't share with the others."

"We're in the same homeroom and now we've been playing doubles. Of course we're going to get along better than he does with the others." Shishido was getting annoyed. He just didn't get Atobe at times. He was usually so cool and put together and then he would have moments of jealousy. And this time, he wasn't even sure who he was jealous of.

"Look. If you want to date Sanada, stop dicking him around with the team and ask him. If this is about me, then you need to just stop. We tried the whole dating thing, remember? You dumped me when I got kicked off the team and tried to pawn me off on Ohtori, who's straight by the way, and then still got jealous when we grew close," Shishido said. He just didn't get Atobe at times.

"I wasn't thinking any of those things, Shishido. You have such little faith in me. And as I keep saying, how was I to know that Ohtori's little puppy crush on you was just some disturbing hero worship thing. I'll admit this only to you, but even my insight seems to be flawed at times when it comes to love matters."

Shishido wondered if Atobe was speaking only about the Ohtori debacle or also about their failed and rather short lived relationship together. Really, it didn't matter. He was over their thing, as much as one could ever be over Atobe when he consumed so much of your life. And despite what he might say or feel at times, he trusted Atobe to make solid decisions as a captain without his feelings or things getting in the way.

"Good to know. That all now?"

"Yes, that's all since you seem so eager to be rid of my glorious presence in your life."

That was the Atobe Shishido knew and he smiled at it. "Well, as long as you aren't going to talk about lame things, I guess I can give you a bit more time. Gonna be another twenty before I'm home."

"Well, in that case, have you heard about the new racket model that Yonex is releasing?"

-0-0-0-0-

Sanada had managed to survive his first month at Hyoutei and a month under Atobe's rule on the sub-regulars. He wouldn't say he loved the last part but being a part of Hyoutei was growing on him. He wasn't sure he found the same passion for Hyoutei as he had for Rikkai but he no longer slipped and said he was a member of Rikkai or talked about how things were done at his previous school.

He supposed he had Shishido to thank the most for helping him though pep talks from his former teammates and his new had helped as well. Though it was Shishido he was planning on heading to the courts with after official practice had ended.

They hadn't managed to get to the street courts much in the last week so they were planning to dash there right after practice to maximize their time. Or had been until Atobe had caught his attention just as they were dismissed and waved him over.

"That sucks. Want me to wait?" Shishido asked.

"This shouldn't take long." Sanada didn't even know what Atobe might have to talk to him about other than promoting him to the regulars and that wouldn't take long. And if it wasn't that, their conversation should be even shorter. "Go on and get us on the list."

"Yeah. Good plan. We don't want to miss out again like last week." Last week their usual court had been busier than expected and by the time they had been able to play, Sanada had needed to head home.

"I'll see you soon," Sanada said as he gave Shishido a nod. He grabbed his tennis bag and headed over to where Atobe was standing off to the side surveying the equipment being put away.

"Atobe," He said as he approached the Hyoutei captain.

"Sanada." Atobe gestured for the members to keep working and walked off a little, Sanada following, for a little more privacy.

Sanada didn't say anything since he knew that Atobe would speak when he was ready, probably after a decent dramatic pause.

"Your game has improved lately."

"Thank you," Sanada said out of politeness though he didn't really care what Atobe thought about his game other than proving to him that he belonged on the team.

"And you've been proving yourself adept at doubles."

Sanada looked at him more seriously and frowned. "Have you been watching us?"

"Us? I approve of you already thinking of you and Shishido as a team. And to answer your question, I may have caught a match or two while wandering past a street court." Atobe gave a casual shrug as if it wasn't a big deal.

"Of course." Sanada had to disagree as he doubted Atobe willingly set foot near a street court unless he had a reason to be there. For being so busy, Atobe sure did find a lot of time to interfere with the lives of his teammates and opponents. Still, it was probably not wise to start a fight with Atobe if he could help it, at least not until he was firmly situated as a regular.

It was clear Atobe was waiting for Sanada to say more and they ended up waiting each other out for a moment before Atobe gave a dramatic sigh and flipped his hair back. "I hate to say it, but Umeda isn't working out. He's more focused on his girlfriend than on tennis and that's something I can't condone as we head into competition season."

Sanada nodded to show that he was listening and agreed. It was one thing to have a girlfriend, it was another to let that take your concentration away while playing.

"And while you still haven't completely recovered your passion for the game, I can see that it's improving and surprisingly it's stronger when you're playing doubles with Shishido than practice singles matches."

"And?" Sanada was a little surprised to hear that his play style was visibly different, at least to Atobe, when he was playing with Shishido compared to when he was playing on his own. While Rikkai prided themselves on being well rounded players, he still considered himself a singles player first and than a doubles. Perhaps Hyoutei, or more specifically Shishido, was changing him more than he realized.

"If you can keep it up, I'm going to demote Umeda to a sub-regular and promote you to a regular as Shishido's doubles partner. Could you handle that?" Atobe asked giving Sanada a stare that likely meant he was assessing him for lies.

Sanada had to think a moment if he would be content playing doubles while watching Atobe, Jirou and Oshitari play singles and he found that yes, he would be. "I can handle it. When do I start?"

"Tomorrow," Atobe said and then gave him a small smile. "Now go find your new doubles partner Sanada. I want you two to be undefeated when we go to Nationals."

A 'yes, sir' nearly escaped his lips but Sanada managed to hold it back. As much as he was coming to see Atobe as a reliable and fairly knowledgeable captain, he still couldn't give him the same respect he had Yukimura. Perhaps in time, but for now he just gave a nod and a quick goodbye before heading off the courts.

Tomorrow on, he'd be a regular again. He felt like his steps were lighter and his shoulders straighter as he walked down the street. It was weird, he hadn't realized how much being a regular had meant to him and found it hard to believe he had actually contemplated giving this up.

-0-0-0-0-

Shishido cursed as a punch landed against his side. He was stunned for a second but then managed to return a countering blow.

He had rushed off to the street courts that Sanada and him preferred still in his Hyoutei uniform and had immediately run into trouble. Makuhari and the usual group of players he and Sanada usually played with weren't there yet but a few guys from a lesser known high school were. They recognized the uniform as belonging to Hyoutei and either through jealousy or stupidity thought they should teach the 'spoiled and arrogant rich boy' a lesson.

But this spoiled and arrogant rich boy really wasn't any of those things and Shishido had stood his ground and gave as good as he got. He might have still been over powered since it was three against one but Makuhari and a couple of his friends had shown up turning their little scrap into an all out brawl.

"You think you're so much better than everyone, Hyoutei. But just you wait. We'll get you on the courts," Hissed one of the other guys as he wiped blood from his lip.

"Yeah, whatever. We'll see how lame you really are then." Shishido wasn't looking much better than them with a rapidly developing black eye, his hat missing and breathing pretty raggedly.

Shishido wasn't sure if the guys were about to retreat or try for a second round, it was only 3 against 4 so the odds weren't to against the idiots when Sanada showed up.

"What's going on here?" Sanada barked in his most authoritative voice. Everyone looked over at him and seemed a little nervous.

"You three. I haven't seen you around these courts before. Did you want to test your skills against the Emperor?" Sanada was walking slowly towards them, a predatory look on his face that Shishido hadn't seen since Sanada had worn Rikkai yellow and was playing in the nationals.

There was hasty and not so quiet whispers amongst them. About it being Rikkai's Sanada but him wearing Hyoutei and how they couldn't stand up against him. It was pretty amusing and Shishido had to try really hard not to laugh at them. Bursting into laughter would have really ruined the bad ass mood Sanada was projecting.

"If you have no business here, go. Or else I'll find business for you."

The words were barely out of Sanada's mouth before the three had grabbed their rackets and bags and were running as fast as their bruises would allow them off of the courts.

Sanada stayed in his stern pose until they were out of sight and ear shot. Then he turned to survey those left on the court.

"Makuhari," Sanada said causing Makuhari to jump a little though Shishido was impressed that he was able to keep his passive yet stern look in the face of Sanada's barely contained rage. "What happened here?"

Shishido was a bit annoyed that Sanada hadn't asked him directly but if he wanted to pester other people that was fine with him. He spotted his hat a few feet away and went to retrieve it. He was a little annoyed at how stiff he was already starting to feel but he tried not to show it. He could feel Sanada's eyes on him as he moved even as Makuhari told him about what went on.

"Those three guys were picking on Shishido because he was Hyoutei and when we showed up, we jumped to his defence. Nothing really to tell." Makuhari and his two buddies weren't that roughed up. They'd have a couple bruises to show for their good deed but Shishido knew it wouldn't stop them from continuing their practice.

"Understood," Sanada said and gave them a nod of thanks. He then turned towards Shishido and grabbed his hand.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Shishido asked as he was firmly pulled away from the courts by Sanada. "I'll see ya around Makuhari. Thanks," He called back as he taken from the courts.

"You need to be treated. Your place or mine?" Sanada asked as he kept a firm grip on Shishido's hand.

"What? I'm fine. Let me go," Shishido said and gave his and a tug but Sanada's steel grip just tightened on him. Great.

"You're bleeding and don't think I didn't see how stiff you were."

Shishido huffed but didn't argue. He couldn't when the proof of Sanada's words were so visibly on display.

"My place..." Shishido finally muttered out and then pointed in the direction it was. It wasn't that far a walk to his place, the other train station was closer but it was lame to take the train one stop when it was just as easy to walk it. Even if he was a bit banged up.

-0-0-0-0-

"Go sit," Sanada said once Shishido had unlocked the door of his place and let them both in.

"You don't know where anything is," Shishido argued. He didn't need Sanada running around the place messing everything up and getting them both in trouble when his parents finally came home.

"Show me."

"Come on. I'll show you. I have a kit just for these sorts of things." Shishido led them further into his home through the empty living room and towards his room.

"You get into fights often?" Sanada asked sounding surprised.

"Nah. Just my training can get a bit intense. I have my own first aid kit." Shishido opened a bedroom door and stepped in and dropped his bag in the corner and gestured for Sanada to do the same while he opened a dresser drawer and pulled out a good sized kit. "Here or the bathroom?" He asked.

Sanada set his bag down and then took the kit from Shishido before considering his friend and what they might need. "Might as well go the bathroom."

Shishido nodded and led them to the bathroom. He sat down on the side of the tub and pulled off his jersey and waited for Sanada to fuss over him to his satisfaction. After partnering with Ohtori, Shishido was used to letting his partner have his way bandaging him up. It was just easier to go along with it than bickering about it.

"It sounds like your training gets more than just intense if you need all of this," Sanada said as he riffled through the bag.

"Yeah well... we all show our passion for the game in different ways. And I had a lot to prove last year." He gave a shrug and then winced a little as a bruised muscle was pulled in an odd way.

"And this year?"

"Not so much... but I don't want to become complacent again. That's what did me in last year."

Sanada nodded and gave a small smile that Shishido thought was in approval. Rikkai was known for taking things to the extreme, including always pushing themselves to deliver their best.

Sanada worked mostly in silence, just a few quiet questions about if things hurt or warnings before he touched opened cuts. Shishido tried to keep quiet, too but a few hissed breaths and noises escaped as he was poked, prodded and bandaged up.

"That should do it," Sanada said after some time.

"Thanks. I'm sure it will look better tomorrow."

"Except your eye. We should get some ice on that." Sanada reached out to carefully run his fingers along the tender flesh. Shishido didn't want to know what it looked like. It was already getting hard to see out of it properly.

"I think my mom has some frozen veggies in the freezer," Shishido said and then stood up abruptly.

Sanada and him were chest to chest and Shishido felt a little flutter of something go through him. He pushed away the weird feelings and thoughts and quickly moved to the kitchen.

-0-0-0-0-

Sanada had been feeling those little sensations of butterflies in his stomach since he had first started treating Shishido's bruised body. He'd seen the other teen in various stages of undress before but he'd never really looked that closely other than to consider muscle tone and training that they might do to improve it. But as he had moved his hands over the warm skin to check for injuries he couldn't help but think about how nice it felt and good Shishido looked.

It was a little ridiculous and Sanada let Shishido leave the bathroom for the kitchen while he took his time sorting out the first aid kit and tidying away everything. He was heading back to Shishido's room to put away the kit when Shishido appeared, still topless, covered in various bandages and holding a mixed veggie bag in a cloth to his eye.

"Want something to drink?" Shishido asked.

If Sanada had been the type, he would have laughed at Shishido being injured and still trying to be a good host. "I'm okay." He still had a full bottle of cold tea in his water bottle that he hadn't drunk yet. "How are you feeling now?"

"Okay. I'm pretty stubborn. Takes more than this to beat me."

"Good to know. But some aspirin and rest sill won't hurt," Sanada said.

"Yeah yeah," Shishido said. "Sorry about messing up our plans. Think we can blame this on Atobe holding you back?"

Sanada gave a small chuckle at that. "Actually, I think we can. But it was for a good cause."

"Oh yeah?" Shishido flopped down onto his bed and after sitting a moment shifted to stretch out on it.

"Yes. He told me he was demoting Umeda to the sub-regulars." Sanada looked down at Shishido for a moment before joining him by sitting on the edge of the bed. "And I'll be taking his place." He didn't think Shishido would have a problem with that considering how little he had managed to improve his and Umeda's doubles dynamics.

"What? Really?" Shishido looked like he was about to sit up so Sanada laid a hand on his bare chest to keep him down.

"Yes, really. We're an official doubles pair now."

Shishido grinned up at him and Sanada couldn't help but return it with a small one of his own. He was rather excited to be part of the real team and to seriously practice doubles moves with Shishdo.

"You happy about this?" Shishdo asked after a moment.

"Yes. I think we can go undefeated." He didn't bother mentioning that Atobe all but demanded it as part of him being made Shishido's partner. He didn't need Atobe to give him that motivation, he had his pride to do it.

"Yeah. Me, too."

Shishido was starting to sound a little sleepy despite the obvious excitement he had at the news so Sanada thought it was probably time to go.

"I'll let you rest. We can talk more tomorrow," Sanada moved his hand to Shishido's hand gave it a gentle and reassuring squeeze. He was about to let go when he felt Shishido give a squeeze of his own.

"Yeah... tomorrow. Hey, can you go to the bathroom and find some painkillers in the mirror?"

Sanada gave a nod and let go of Shishido to head to the bathroom. The mirror opened easily to display various toiletries but also several clearly labelled bottles. He picked up the aspirin and glanced at the instructions before getting a pill from the bottle and returning to Shishido's side.

"Here."

"Thanks," Shishido said and took the pill and swallowed it down without water.

"Will you be okay now?"

"Yeah... I know I was a bit of a jerk, but thanks for your help."

"It was no problem. You'd do the same for me." Sanada felt the desire to run his hand through Shishido's hair or to push the frozen veggies aside and give him a kiss but he ignored those desires and stepped away from the bed.

"You bet. We're partners now. We gotta look out for each other."

"Indeed." Sanada hoped they were more than just tennis partners but perhaps in Shishido's mind real partners were even closer than friends.

"See ya," Shishido said before his eyes drifted shut.

Sanada worried that he might be hurt more than he let on but after watching Shishido for a few minutes as he laid there comfortably, Sanada decided that he'd be fine. He knew from talks with Shishido that he didn't sleep much each night and with the amount of training and homework he did on a normal day added with the stress and strain of a fight, he could see how Shishido's body would take this chance to catch up on all the rest it could.

Whatever they had to discuss could wait until tomorrow when Shishido was feeling better and more well rested. And maybe by then these weird desires would be under control once again.

-0-0-0-0-

Shishido was still a little stiff and there was no hiding that black eye the next day at school but for the most part he was able to avoid any difficult questions about it and brushed off most people's concern easily. He noticed that Sanada tended to hover nearby more so than usual but it wasn't overly annoying so he didn't comment on it.

Another reason he didn't comment on it was because even their polite morning greetings had seemed a bit awkward and strained and while it was sort of nice having Sanada nearby he didn't really want more awkward conversations.

So school went on fairly normally, even if the homeroom teacher asked to talk to him and he had to make up some excuses about it but of course, there was no ignoring Atobe's questions on the incident. He'd barely taken two steps onto the court when Atobe called him over.

"I finally give you a partner you can play with and you go and get yourself beat up?" Atobe asked.

"Like I asked for this? Don't be lame. Some idiots don't like your prima donna ways and took it out on me."

"You didn't run?"

"I'm not a coward." Shishido knew that Atobe would point out, quite logically, that there was no cowardice in knowing when the odds were against you and opting for a stealthy retreat so he added, "and there were three of them. They snuck up on me before I figured out what was going on."

Atobe nodded, seemingly satisfied that Shishido wasn't just being stubborn about not running but was unable to. "What school did they belong to?"

"They weren't wearing their uniforms, but one of them had a badge on his bag saying it was Katsushika," Shishido said. He wouldn't want to be the tennis team at that high school right now. He had a feeling that Atobe would get revenge on them somehow. He could be a prima donna and annoying but he was also ridiculously over protective of those on his team and people he considered friends. He just showed it in weird ways sometimes.

"I see. Well please take more care in the future and try not to go wandering alone and meeting unsavoury people."

"I was supposed to be with Sanada. But somebody wanted to talk to him yesterday..."

Atobe showed a moment of surprise at that before his mask of showy captain slid back into place. "Well it's your fault for not waiting," Atobe said easily.

Shishido couldn't help but wonder how much Atobe might beat himself up over holding Sanada back for so long to just deliver a simple message. Not that Shishido wanted Atobe to be distracted with guilt or anything lame, so it was best to brush it aside and focus on other things.

"Yeah yeah, I get it. So, can I play or what?"

"I don't know. Can you play?" Atobe was looking Shishido over using his insight and Shishido hoped he didn't see anything dire. He felt stiff and sore but no worse than he had when practicing with Ohtori.

"I'll be fine once I stretch out. Might not be breaking out the fancy moves but at least I can rely on Sanada to back me up unlike Umeda."

"Since when do you have fancy moves?" Atobe teased and Shishido figured they'd be okay.

"Ha, very funny. Hey, how'd Umeda take his demotion?" He didn't have any great feelings of loss about losing Umeda as a partner, it was more that he didn't want to have to worry about Umeda trying to get his spot back later on.

"A little upset but not nearly enough. It was just another example that proved this was the correct decision. So don't disappoint me."

"Got it." Shishido gave Atobe a mock salute then headed over to where Sanada was hovering to do some stretches with him.

That awkward air around them was immediately back but they managed to help each other stretch without too much incident and even managed some friendly, mostly tennis related conversation.

"First practice match as a regular, you ready?" Shishido asked as they walked to their assigned court to play against Gakuto and Kariya.

"More than."

"Good. Let's do this and show Gakuto and Kariya what a real doubles pair can do." Shishido grinned over at Sanada and was pleased when Sanada returned it with one of his own. As an opponent that look would be terrifying, as his partner, it made a thrill of anticipation run down Shishido's spine.

They took their positions across the net from Gakuto and Kariya and started with Sanada's serve and easily won that game.

The next was Gakuto's serve and with some difficulties, managed to win it, too. But things weren't going quite as smoothly as they should have, even with Shishido's bruises. It was like their dynamics wasn't quite on point today.

It was more chance than skill that won them Shishido's serve as they seemed to be stepping around each other's spaces and shots and not communicating properly. They lost Kariya's service game and just before Sanada was going to serve, Atobe called a stop to the game.

"Kariya, Gakuto, go practice your serves. Sanada, Shishido, come here."

Shishido waved a goodbye to Gakuto and Kariya and headed over to Atobe where he was watching from the bench by the stands. "Were you two satisfied with that performance?" Atobe demanded.

Sanada and him both shook their heads no. They hadn't even played that badly their first time together.

"Good. Because that was horrible. I didn't put you two together to make a mess of things. Your dismissed from practice. Go try and sort things out. Your communication is horrible and you're acting like- Well, I'm sure you'll figure it out," Atobe said.

Shishido was curious to know what Atobe was going to say but changed his mind about but before he could ask he was already up and walking away.

"Let's go," Sanada said after a moment and Shishido agreed. After getting changed in more awkward silence in the newly built locker rooms, Shishido waited by the door for Sanada to finish up.

"Want to go to my place?" Shishido asked thinking that there was no point in playing more tennis until they sorted this out.

"Yeah," Sanada said.

The walked mostly in silence, only breaking it to talk about homework or how lame Atobe was. Though Shishido talked more about the latter than Sanada but even if he didn't speak, at least he seemed to agree with the sentiments.

When they entered Shishido's place, he went to his room to set his tennis bag down and then turned around to ask Sanada if he wanted a drink. He was startled to see Sanada right in front of him, for being such a large guy, he sure could move quietly.

"Shishido, I think I know what's wrong with us," Sanada said in that serious manner that Shishido had grown used to. It was weird, Sanada could be so strict and serious but he also had a fairly dorky side that could make Shishido laugh. Any mention of the family stone was sure to send Shishido into a fit of a laughter. But he didn't think now was going to be a laughing matter.

"What is it?" Shishido asked looking up at Sanada.

-0-0-0-0-

Sanada wasn't about to say 'sexual tension'. That just wasn't something he was able to communicate verbally. And he wouldn't even have thought to bring it up except that yesterday had clearly changed their awareness of each other and was threatening the dynamics of not only their friendship but of their tennis partnership. That was just unexcusable.

So, not being able to verbally portray what he was sure to be the problem, Sanada leaned down to kiss Shishido's lips.

It was likely not the most romantic kiss in the world, both of them started with their eyes open and arms hanging limply at the side but they managed to not bash noses or teeth so Sanada felt he hadn't fared too badly.

After they had stood there, eyes wide and mouths pressed together for a moment, Sanada pulled back and looked at Shishido. He knew that with the other, a reaction would be immediate and loud.

"What was that?!" Shishido asked.

"A kiss," Sanada answered and tried not to chuckle at the fairly predictable reaction.

"I-I-" Shishido blustered for a moment and Sanada couldn't help but wonder if the next words would be good or bad and if he should brace for a punch. "I've had better kisses from my dog!"

Sanada laughed; he couldn't help it. And he didn't even know if it was the bad insult to his kissing techniques or Shishido's immediate reaction to look embarrassed and blush over admitting something that sounded much more perverted than he meant it to that pushed him over.

Shishido huffed but managed a few chuckles, too. And then someone, Sanada couldn't say if it was him or Shishido or both together moved and they were kissing again. This time with eyes closed and mouths moving and it was everything that first kiss should have been but failed spectacularly at being.

When they pulled apart again, they both had dopey smiles on their faces and lust filling their eyes. "So... I guess that's that sorted," Shishido said. "Think we'll play better tomorrow?"

"Definitely. But just to be safe..." Sanada leaned back down to kiss Shishido again and it wasn't until his mom called out her greeting when she returned some time later did they stop.

-0-0-0-0-

Atobe watched as Sanada and Shishido played against Gakuto and Kariya with none of the awkwardness that had surrounded them yesterday. In fact, that evening away from tennis had made their partner work even stronger than Atobe had seen it on the street courts.

He suspected what it was that was getting in the way of their combination yesterday and had a good idea of how they had solved it. The obvious love bite on Shishido's neck left little doubt to either, really. Sanada was never for subtlety on the courts and it seemed like even less so when off of them.

He was strong enough to admit to himself that it stung a little to see Shishido working so well with someone else both on and off the courts. But Atobe was also pragmatic and he appreciated having a strong doubles pair that would likely even surpass the Shishido Ohtori pair from last year.

"Shishido," He called when the doubles match had fished with a 6-1 result for Sanada and Shishido.

"What?" Shishido passed his racket to Sanada and jogged up to him still sweaty and out of breath from his game. Atobe thought this is when Shishido looked the most desirable, all fired up from a good game and ready for more.

"I see you worked things out with Sanada," Atobe said. He tossed his spare towel at Shishido who was about to use his shirt to wipe away sweat.

"Yeah, well... it wasn't that hard... I mean... well... we talked and stuff..." Shishido didn't blush but he was certainly close to it in Atobe's opinion.

"And stuff, indeed," Atobe said with an amused smirk playing over his lips. "Did you know Sanada left his mark on you?"

"Huh?" Shishido said.

Atobe pointed to the side of his own neck and Shishido's hand flew up to his own but on the wrong side . Atobe pointed out the mark on Shishido's neck this time while chuckling.

"That bastard..." Shishido muttered as he carefully draped Atobe's towel around his neck to hide the mark. Though it was far too little too late as Atobe was sure the whole school had noticed it by now.

"You're not angry or anything lame are you?" Shishido asked once his anger at Sanada had died down along with Atobe's laughter.

"Perhaps a little. But not enough to do anything about it. I've come to realize I'd rather have you as part of a nationals ranked doubles pair than in my bed," Atobe said. He leaned back on the bench he was on, a skill he perfected that made it look like he was lounging while not toppling over the back of it. "Certainly a sign that we weren't meant to be, ahn?"

"Yeah..." Shishido said. He took his hat off and turned it around so the brim was facing the proper way and obscuring some of his face. Shishido was never good at talking about feelings and emotions. It made Atobe wonder just how him and Sanada sorted things out; he couldn't imagine Sanada being much for talking either.

"You make a better captain than a boyfriend, that's for sure," Shishido added. "Though you didn't totally suck at that either."

Coming from Shishido, that was probably the best compliment he could hope for. "Good. Then we're sorted. Just don't let things affect you like they did with Umeda, got it?"

"Tch, like I'm that lame? You've got nothing to worry about when it comes to me and Sanada, got it?"

"I got it. Now go before Sanada gets jealous and tries serving tennis balls at my head."

Shishido laughed but nodded and headed back to Sanada. Atobe could see Shishido pulling back the towel and pointing at his neck while obviously lecturing Sanada. Sanada was merely chuckling, a sign that Shishido certainly had his hands full.

Atobe shook his head and turned away from the scene and started heading back to the club house. His team was as odd as ever but also stronger than ever before. He was sure that this year, Hyoutei would take Nationals.

- End -