Notes: Since I've been wanting to write Atobe and Tezuka for a while but wasn't sure what to write about my friend prompted me with 'Tezuka playing with the short hair both because he likes it and because it annoys Atobe'. Obviously the story spiraled out of control from there.
Tezuka felt uncomfortable as he watched Echizen prance happily across the courts, a razor pulled from seemingly nowhere. Atobe had made a horribly stupid and arrogant boast but Tezuka doubted it was sincere. Even if Atobe had won, he was sure that Atobe would not have made Echizen shave his hair. It was much more likely that Atobe would have made it seem as if he were doing Echizen a favour because he was so benevolent and kind by not shaving his hair. But surely, having to listen to Atobe prattle on about his greatness was a small price to pay to be saved from such a humiliating display. He was also sure, that even if Atobe had won and demanded Echizen's hair, he would have let Echizen do it on his own time in good faith and not have gone at him with an electric razor on the court.
Atobe couldn't even defend himself, still standing on the court in an unresponsive state. Echizen didn't seem to care about that, or about rest of Atobe's team looking on in horror and yelling at him to stop.
Tezuka wanted to call Echizen back or reprimand him but this was one fight that wasn't his and he doubted anyone in Hyoutei nor Atobe would thank him for it later. He would, however, have to try and speak with Echizen about behaving appropriately after winning. He knew pranks and taunts could get heated during a match but this was just unsportsmanlike.
Frowning, Tezuka kept his eyes focused on Atobe and Echizen, even as members of his team cheered him on or looked away as if not to be witness to this. Though Tezuka noted that they were all still in a good mood and buoyed by advancing into the top 4. He couldn't blame them for that. Even as he felt embarrassment and annoyance well up in him due to Echizen's actions, he also felt great relief, pride and joy at winning over Hyoutei. He was also impressed by Echizen's continuous evolution. He had known that Atobe would be able to draw out even more of Echizen's potential and would have to thank him for playing such a good and strong game against his first year.
As dirty blonde strands, fell to the court, Tezuka looked up at Atobe who was still in a daze and then at Echizen who seemed to be finished with his hairdressing experiment. Tezuka supposed he should be thankful that Echizen had just sheared off the longer locks and not gone for a real close shave. But Atobe would certainly have to clean up the hack job that Echizen did before he could be seen without people laughing.
Despite his mix of feelings, looking at Atobe now, made Tezuka want to tug on the uneven strands and see what reaction he would get. Not something he could do in public, and certainly not a distraction he needed before their afternoon match.
"Let's go," Tezuka called out to the team as Echizen finally returned. He made sure to give the freshman a stern look and Echizen tugged the brim of his hat down as he walked over to get his bag. He could tell Echizen didn't regret his choice but it seemed that Tezuka's dislike of the action was understood.
Seigaku walked off the courts, and as Tezuka gave Atobe one last look, he saw his teammates rush out to help him. There was no standard after match handshake and the officials didn't seem to notice nor care. So Tezuka led his team out of the court area and towards a picnic area.
Leaving their things there, he remembered that Fudoumine was still playing against Shitenhouji and made his way over with Fuji and Oishi. It would be a nice distraction from the previous matches and would also give them an idea of what they were in for for their afternoon games. Whoever won between Fudoumine and Shitenhouji would be their next opponents.
A part of Tezuka wanted to go and find Atobe during the break before the match against Shintenouji started. But he knew it was unwise to let himself become careless and distracted before an important match. Especially since, for some unknown reason, he was being assigned to play doubles.
Even if he had wanted to go and see how Atobe was doing, it would have been impossible to lose Inui who kept wanting to discuss data and doubles tactics with him. Tezuka wasn't sure what to be more offended by, the fact that everyone seemed scared to be assigned to play tennis with him or that everyone thought he was incapable of playing doubles.
It would also have been hard to escape Oishi and Fuji's presence for any noticeable length of time, too. For some reason, they seemed to think he needed a pair of guard dogs while at competitions and rarely left his side. It was true that he tended to attract more than his fair share of people coming up to him to either challenge him, fawn over him or try and intimidate him but Tezuka rarely let it bother him. Though he had to admit that Fuji made a surprisingly good deterrent for most troublesome people.
When Chitose had approached him for a talk, he saw Fuji and Oishi ready to step in, Inui had his pen poised in his notebook. Tezuka only nodded to Chitose's request and Fuji and Oishi must not have sensed any danger from the tall Shitenhouji player as they backed down and let him go off to talk. He doubted that they were all that far away from him; His team had a horrible habit of spying on people. That was another reason why going to Atobe now would be bad. He did not need odd rumours and Inui mumbling about data just because he was seen talking with the Hyoutei captain.
At least Chitose proved a reprieve from his thoughts on this morning's match even if it was an annoying one. He dismissed the other as quickly as he could and returned to his team to get ready for his doubles match.
In the end, his doubles match ended up being a parody of one, likely only furthering speculation that he could not actually play doubles. He would have preferred a straight singles match to what he had played against Chitose and Zaizen but at least Zaizen and Inui were wise enough to not interfere.
He hadn't noticed anything going on off of the courts as his attention was completely focused on his techniques and Chitose. It was only after the game that he heard the other regulars talking about Atobe having been there and commenting on his hair.
Tezuka looked up into the stands, as discreetly as he could but didn't see anyone from Hyoutei there.
"Looking for someone?" Fuji asked a smile on his face. Tezuka felt he was in a good mood for having lost but knowing that they were still advancing to the finals had to have helped. Also, it was sometimes hard to peg exactly how Fuji was feeling about something. he could be smiling but that didn't mean he wasn't plotting ways to dispose of Shiraishi.
"Not particularly," Tezuka answered non-committally.
"Saa, I wonder," Fuji said. But he thankfully stepped back and allowed himself to be distracted by Eiji who was going on about the greatness of yakiniku.
Ryuzaki had offered to treat them to bbq'd meat if they won and as they had three days off before they faced Rikkai again, Tezuka could see no faults in the plan.
When they left the stadium later, after Kintarou and Echizen's odd one point match, Tezuka looked at his phone and noticed a missed message.
From: Atobe Keigo
To: Tezuka Kunimitsu
Congratulations on entering the finals. I expect you to win against Rikkai. You don't want Hyoutei to have lost to the runner-ups of the Nationals, do you?
I expect you'll be training hard and unable to respond immediately.
Tezuka blinked down at the message and then hit reply.
From: Tezuka Kunimitsu
To: Atobe Keigo
Subject: Re: Nationals
My team is well prepared for the finals. We will be taking the night off for yakiniku.
His phone flashed a returned email before he could even put it away.
From: Atobe Keigo
To: Tezuka Kunimitsu
Subject: Re: Nationals
Yakiniku? A splendid idea. It's important to recharge after a long day. But remember, Tezuka, don't let your guard down.
Tezuka wanted to let out a sigh, Atobe had a way of making him want to do things like that and to roll his eyes. Instead, he kept it bottled and just silently replied. It would be no good to give Inui anymore data than he had today and he wouldn't want to make Fuji anymore suspicious than he was.
Tezuka, fortunately, knew how to handle Atobe when he got like this and so it didn't take him long to reply.
From: Tezuka Kunimitsu
To: Atobe Keigo
Subject: Re: Nationals
It's only yakiniku...
How's your hair?
He didn't want to know why Atobe thought he should keep his guard up while eating a meal with his teammates and wasn't about to offer any insights to Seigaku's training plan for the next three days which included recuperation and personal training either. Seigaku had now beaten Hyoutei twice and Tezuka felt they didn't need to take training advice from Hyoutei.
There was a delay in the response and Tezuka smiled internally as he slipped his phone away and continued on with his team back toward the school to drop things off and then on the way to the yakiniku shop.
When they arrived at the restaurant, Tezuka once again looked at his phone and noticed an email from Atobe.
From: Atobe Keigo
To: Tezuka Kunimitsu
Subject: Re: Nationals
Be prepared to be amazed by my hair, Tezuka.
Tezuka had no chance to reply or wonder what Atobe was up to because his team was now doing the toasts and meat was quickly being added to the grill. As was the case with most outings, there was soon bickering between certain members and then a debate about the best methods. He would never have pictured Oishi to be so forceful with the 'proper' way to eat meat. But even he didn't dare go against his friend when he was in such a mood.
However, the semblance of tranquility didn't last as they soon noticed that they weren't the only ones at the restaurant. And last to arrive with the most dramatic entrance were Hyoutei with Atobe leading the way.
Tezuka was certainly surprised to see Atobe's hair looking like it had the day before but he wasn't sure he would say he was amazed. He wanted to ask Atobe about it, but there wasn't a chance as their quiet celebration party quickly became an eating battle. One that Tezuka was determined not to lose because he had tasted Inui's drinks before and knew how loathsome they really were.
Several loud screeches woke Atobe from his hazy state. It took him a second to realize it but his face was pressed up against the scratchy material of a cheap school uniform. He had thought it was a Seigaku top but as he opened his eyes he noticed it was Higa and the body belonged to Tanishi. At least that explained the softness of his unexpected pillow. Going to sit up, he had to push several limbs belonging to his own and other teams off him before he could fully extricate himself from the pile. His body felt lethargic and like its limbs were made from lead but he was standing and moving and for now that would do.
"What's going on?" He asked casually as he looked at the coaches standing in front of him. As he waited for a response, he tried to fix his uniform and raised a hand to subtly check on his wig, which was fortunately still in place.
"It seems you gluttons have eaten everything in the store and set some sort of hazardous material on fire smoking you all out," Ryuzaki said, her eyes never leaving the bill in her hands.
"Ahhn, I do recall something like that." He was quite sure that Inui was to blame for most of the horrors they had faced that night. But as the Seigaku creep would surely be unable to pay for even a quarter of the bill, he didn't bother to blame him.
Instead, Atobe scooped the bill from Ryuuzaki's hand and looked it over. It was high, but considering the number of plates they ate and the damage they likely caused, it was reasonable. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet and then a black credit card. "Sakaki-sensei," Atobe addressed his captain and music teacher. "Will you take care of this for us?"
Sakaki gave a nod and then went towards the restaurant owner to sort things out and make sure that there wouldn't be any embarrassing after effects for Hyoutei's and Atobe's reputation.
Atobe then reached for his phone and called his butler. "Michael, I need you to send several cars and to get the address of the hotel that the National teams are staying at. Yes, right away." He hung up and then looked at the coaches. "I assume you know the addresses of your students?"
They gave a nod, seemingly too shocked or awed by his greatness to protest him taking charge. "My drivers will be here shortly to help make sure everyone gets home. Leaving them here like this would be unseemingly." He looked over and spotted Tezuka on the edge of the pile looking quite the worse for wear. It seems that not even the great pillar of Seigaku was immune to his team's disasters.
Orders issued and sure that cars would soon be coming, Atobe sat on the curb of a parking spot and tried not to nod back off. It was only through sheer willpower he had forced himself to move earlier and he wasn't sure he could do it again if he nodded off once more. He also didn't want to appear weak in front of the others who were now starting to show life of their own.
Tezuka didn't quite wake with a groan but it was a close thing. His head felt horrible and murky and it took him a few minutes to be able to open his eyes. He stretched out and as he did so without hitting a wall or the edge of his mattress he realized that he wasn't in his own bed. He sat up quickly and looked around but the room was blurry. He reached over automatically to the bedside table and was thankful that his glasses were there. He slipped them on and then looked around.
The opulent decorations and the size of the room made him believe he was at Atobe's. But the last thing he remembered was the yakiniku challenge and the horror of Inui's juice. Perhaps he had drunk some and had a bad reaction? He didn't think his teammates would let Atobe drag him off so easily, but if they were mostly juiced as well, it would have been easy enough for Atobe to take control over the situation.
He slid to the edge of the bed and slung his legs over the side, noticing that he was nearly naked. He blushed slightly at the thought of someone undressing him down to his boxer briefs. At least he didn't remember it and he could hope that whoever did it was someone he wouldn't have to face anytime soon.
Looking around the room to make sure he was indeed alone now, Tezuka stood and gave a stretch before walking over to a nearby wingbacked chair. lying across the back of it was his uniform pants and shirt. He reached to put the shirt on and then saw the package that was on the chair. He frowned a little but picked up the package that held a new pair of underwear. The pattern was atrocious, leopard print was not something he would ever choose for himself. But they were clean and in his size and Tezuka would prefer that to what he'd been wearing since yesterday.
Once again looking around to make sure he was quite alone, he slid his old boxer briefs off and into the new ones. He'd have to make sure to get rid of them before his mother could find them in the laundry and comment on them. Speaking of his mother, once he was dressed, he'd have to make sure that his parents were informed of where he'd been last night.
Finishing with his clothes, he spotted his tennis bag propped up near the door and was thankful to see it. He slid his dirty boxers into it and then dug out his phone but decided it would be best to wait and see if his parents were called last night before he did so now. He'd like to know what his parents had or hadn't been told so he'd know if they'd be panicked or calm. He looked at the door for a second and then decided to take a look out of the window. The view of the marvelous yard with swimming pool and private tennis courts left no doubt that he was at Atobe's home.
Going back to his tennis bag, Tezuka slung it over his shoulder and opened the door. He looked down the long hall and wondered just where he was in the house and where he should head to find someone.
Neither way offered any hints and he couldn't hear any voices either. He eventually went with left and only made it several steps down the hall when a servant exited another room and saw him. "Good morning, Tezuka-san," she said pleasantly, her momentary look of surprise masked quickly with manners and good training.
"Ah, good morning." Tezuka wasn't used to dealing with servants and wasn't sure quite what the proper protocol was, especially since he wasn't sure how exactly he came to be here. "I was looking for Atobe…Keigo," He added on the last part after a slight pause as he realized there was undoubtedly more than one Atobe around in Atobe's home.
"Of course. He's just gone down to the breakfast room. He said we should let you rest as long as you wanted," She said. Tezuka felt like there was more she wanted to add but instead she opened the door to the room she had just come from and said a few quiet words to the person or people still in there and gestured for Tezuka to follow her. "I'll bring you there now if you're ready."
Tezuka just nodded and then followed the servant along the hall, down the stairs and past several rooms that Tezuka was sure were bigger than his whole house. they finally arrived at what Tezuka assumed to be the breakfast room as she servant paused and knocked courteously on the door before opening it. "Keigo-sama, your friend is here," She announced and then gestured for Tezuka to come in.
Tezuka looked around the room which was smaller than most he walked by and was filled with light from the full floor to ceiling windows and the doors that lead to the back porch. "Atobe," Tezuka said in greeting as he took in the Hyoutei captain. He was sitting at the table in the centre of the room, an iPad beside him and a full spread of Japanese breakfast foods in front of him.
"Tezuka. Have a seat," He said with a smile and gestured to seat. The servant, sensing she was no longer needed, gave a bow and left.
Tezuka set down his tennis bag by the wall and settled himself into the chair and looked a little more at the fancy decor, the plants and again at the food in front of him. "I would have thought you'd prefer western style," Tezuka said.
Atobe gave a light chuckle and leaned forward in his chair, "You'd be right. But I assumed you'd be more comfortable with Japanese style and I would hate to confuse you anymore than you must be feeling already."
Tezuka said nothing and just continued to look at Atobe and wait for him to expand his thoughts. He obviously knew what there was that would be confusing to Tezuka.
"Don't look at me like that. Everyone was incapacitated from your data specialist's atrocious concoctions. I managed to pull myself together enough to arrange transport home for everyone but I admit by the time it came to drop you off, it had gotten quite late. So I rang your parents and they agreed that letting you stay at mine was the better solution." Atobe leaned back in his chair with a satisfied smile and waited, as if expecting Tezuka to praise him.
Tezuka had to resist a long sigh at both Inui nearly killing everyone - again - and Atobe talking to his parents. At least they had been called and wouldn't be worrying about his disappearance. And manners dictated that despite the weird way in which Atobe did things, he should still be thankful and appreciative to his host.
"Thank you for looking after everyone," Tezuka said.
"It was no problem. I could hardly leave my own team like that and it would be far too selfish to help them and not everyone else. And please don't be shy, the food is all quite delicious." Atobe pushed a few dishes closer to Tezuka to encourage him and even started to serve some things onto his own plate to show that he would be joining in, too.
"That's very kind." And it was and while Tezuka rather thought the prospect of spending breakfast with Atobe to be a nice one, he was feeling a bit off balance by waking up at Atobe's so suddenly and felt it might be best to leave soon. "But I feel I've used up too much of your hospitality already and should head home." Atobe's hand had reached out to lay over his before he had even pushed his chair back.
"Tezuka. It's early still and there's no need for all of this food to go waste."
Tezuka's eyes trailed from Atobe's arms up to his face and then to the dirty blonde hair framing Atobe's face. It was still odd to him to see it fully back despite having witnessed Echizen cut it off. His thoughts were mostly on the mystery of Atobe's hair but the fact that it would be rude to waste Atobe's staff's effort, especially since Atobe had confirmed himself that he preferred Western over Japanese made Tezuka give in with a slight nod.
Reaching with his free left hand, he started serving himself some food. Only then did Atobe release him and go back to his own food.
"After breakfast, I've arranged for my favourite masseuse to come to the house to work on us," Atobe said as he poured them both tea.
"Well, yes. You've only just recovered and the last two days have been quite strenuous on your arm. I thought it best that a specialist come in and make sure everything was okay and help ease your muscles."
"Atobe," Tezuka started not sure exactly where to begin with that. "It's a bit much."
"Nonsense. I was partly to blame for encouraging your reckless stupidity during the Kanto match and I can hardly have the team that beat Hyoutei lose against Rikkai."
"It wasn't your fault," Tezuka said automatically. Atobe and him had talked about this several times before.
"I said partly. I agree now that most of the blame lies with you and your odd sense of duty to your team. If you have aspirations to play beyond school tournaments you need to think more about yourself and your body. You won't always be able to heal so smoothly." Something flashed through the depths of Atobe's blue eyes that made Tezuka pause with his tea cup part way to his mouth.
"Were you injured yesterday?" Tezuka asked. He hadn't thought that Atobe had done more than exhaust himself but something that appeared minor at the time could manifest into something worse.
"No. I'm fine. Thank you for your concern," Atobe said and gave Tezuka a small smile. "So will you stay for your massage?"
"It's a kind offer but I must decline. I need to get back to training."
"Tezuka, you have three days before you face Rikkai and you just finished two intense matches. You should take at least the first day off to relax and recover."
Tezuka hesitated. He could see the wisdom behind Atobe's words but even if he was taking care of his body, just lying there made him feel like he was wasting his time.
"If you're a good boy today, I might even agree to play a light match with you on my courts later."
Tezuka glanced sharply at Atobe. That was not playing fair and Atobe knew it. He also didn't appreciate the other's tone or words, they were far too playful and condescending. "Fine. Though I'd like to be home for supper." He assumed that if he didn't stipulate that now then Atobe would keep finding ways to keep him here later and later.
Now that Tezuka was settling into his breakfast and feeling more at ease, he didn't feel quite the urgency to leave but he still didn't think he could afford too much time spent on distractions before Seigaku faced Rikkai. And Atobe was most certainly a distraction.
"I suppose I can accommodate you, though you'll be missing out on a lovely dinner," Atobe said. Tezuka suspected that he was already planning to keep him here down to the last moment before supper.
"Perhaps a dinner invitation after Nationals," Tezuka suggested hoping to appease Atobe and get home a little earlier. It wasn't that he didn't want to spend time with Atobe, it was that he didn't want to spend too much time with him now when he should be thinking about nationals and his team and how to best beat Rikkai. Yukimura was an opponent not to be underestimated. And just because they beat them at regionals didn't mean anything now. Rikkai would have been training just as hard, if not harder, than his own team had.
"Tezuka, I can tell just by looking at you that you're thinking about tennis. For the rest of the morning. I forbid you to think of anything but me and how gracious a host I am," Atobe said.
Tezuka frowned in his direction. Tennis made up the majority of both of their lives. True, they had interests outside of tennis and there was homework - which Tezuka realized he was falling behind on - but at this moment, Tezuka would be hard pressed to expand his world much further outside of tennis.
"You forbid?" He asked.
"Yes. You need a physical and mental break from tennis. It can't be easy opening all those doors of wisdom and what-not." Atobe waved a hand as if to dismiss what were some of the most powerful and difficult skills to acquire.
Tezuka was tempted to point out that Echizen had beat Atobe with it. But it would be a low blow.
"Ah," He said and focused on his breakfast. He was sure, even with Atobe forbidding it, their conversation and their thoughts would move back onto tennis. And it would be easier to let Atobe think he won even when he hadn't.
Predictably, Atobe gave him a hard look, as if trying to use his court skills at the breakfast table to see if Tezuka was lying and then turned to his own breakfast. He poked at his iPad occasionally and Tezuka, curious, leaned over.
"You're reading the news in English?" He asked. He knew that Atobe had spent most of his childhood in England, so perhaps it was no surprise he preferred reading his news in English. It may, for all Tezuka knew, be Atobe's first language.
"Yes. It keeps my English skills up. I also read the news in German when I have time."
Tezuka nodded. He was impressed at not only Atobe's language skills but his commitment to them and to being an informed citizen. "Anything interesting, today?"
"Mostly the usual political dramas. Would you care to read?" Atobe asked. He held out his iPad to Tezuka. But Tezuka held up his hands to decline the offer.
"I'm afraid my reading level isn't quite that high." He was sure with a dictionary and time he could make his way through the news articles but he had a feeling that Atobe would lose patience with that long before he finished.
"Hmmm I suppose news articles are a bit more challenging than a standard conversation or modern novels."
Tezuka nodded. He tried to study English every morning before school and felt that his skills were improving immensely but while he could probably handle a young adult novel, all be it slowly, some things were still too advanced for him.
"Perhaps we should declare it English hour and only converse in it to help you practice," Atobe suggested.
Tezuka was curious to know what sort of accent Atobe spoke with when speaking English but wasn't sure an English hour was wise. He was confident in his skills to converse and understand the usual conversations but he was sure that Atobe would use the time to get him to agree to various things by wording them in confusing ways. He did not want to leave himself quite that open to Atobe's games today.
"Another time," Tezuka counter-offered.
"Does that mean I can expect your company again sometime soon?" There was a teasing drawl to Atobe's voice but his eyes were honest and eager.
"Yes. But only after Nationals."
"I think I can find a way to wait 4 days for you, Tezuka."
Tezuka knew that Atobe was talking about more than English when he said that and was glad to hear it. Even if such thoughts made his cheeks heat up and would not help him with staying focused on tennis for the moment.
Tezuka adjusted the front of his robe as he stood after his massage. It had been extremely relaxing and as he rotated his left shoulder, he realized it was also more beneficial than he had anticipated. His shoulder rotated smoothly and when he stretched his arms in front of him there was no soreness just the feel of a good stretch.
As the masseuse finished collecting her things, Tezuka gave her another thank you and bow and watched her leave. He was tempted to go into the hall himself but he wasn't sure he'd be able to find the room that Atobe had all but thrown him into to change or even where he might find Atobe. He felt it would be better and safer to just stay and wait for Atobe or a servant to find him. He had no desire to wander around lost in Atobe's house in a white spa robe, especially if there was a risk of running into his parents.
He was standing in front of the window, looking out at Atobe's impressive garden and still stretching his arms when he heard the door behind him open. He turned and noticed that Atobe was in the same style robe as himself and that his hair was back to the cropped look it had been after Echizen had gotten to it. No, Tezuka mentally corrected himself, it was still cropped short but a stylist had been through to fix the rough edges and give it shape. Tezuka found he rather liked it.
"Atobe," He said and gave his host a polite nod.
"How was your massage? Feeling better? I know I am. Your brat tired me out more than I would have expected," Atobe said. He crossed the room to join Tezuka at the window.
"He does that," Tezuka said. He looked back out the window as Atobe came beside him, able to make out the barest hints of Atobe's reflection in the glass. "And the massage was nice. Thank you for arranging it for us."
"It was my pleasure. I knew you'd enjoy it once you stopped being stubborn. Aren't you glad you agreed to stay the day."
"Yes. You kidnapping me worked out quite well," Tezuka said and turned just enough to see Atobe's reaction.
"Kidnap?" Atobe asked looking shocked and annoyed at the accusation. "I think that's a bit strong."
Tezuka nearly smiled at Atobe's reaction, it was predictable and fun. "Ah, I suppose you did inform my parents where I was. And you haven't demanded a ransom…"
"Hmph, an Atobe doesn't need to demand ransoms to get what we want, Tezuka. Please do your best to remember that."
"Of course," Tezuka said. "Though I suppose other underhanded tactics are not beneath you."
Tezuka expected Atobe to continue being annoyed but instead, he just turned to face Tezuka more fully and smirked at him. "Of course," Atobe said.
It was safer not to start asking what underhanded methods Atobe liked to use. If Tezuka wasn't aware of them already, he'd prefer to stay in the dark and also not risk encouraging Atobe to use more against him.
"I notice your hair keeps changing lengths," Tezuka said instead.
"I'm afraid that is what happens when your first year brat gets his hands on a razor."
"You did make the bet," Tezuka pointed out. He had been upset at Echizen for following through with it at the time but Echizen was still a member of his team and he could not allow Atobe to fault him without taking any blame for himself.
"It was nothing I planned on following through with. It was just for the thrill of the crowds. It's no secret I enjoy a bit of showmanship."
"I recall" Tezuka could easily remember standing in the centre of the courts, waiting for Atobe and his cheering squad to finish their show before they could start their match. He knew that lesser players had crumbled under such a show but not Tezuka. It had just steeled his determination while at the same time amusing him.
"Well, yes. It seems that the brat did not. So here I am with my new hair cut." Atobe brought a hand up to his hair and smoothed his fingers through it.
"And having your normal hair back is?" Tezuka asked. He assumed now that it must have been a wig but why would Atobe bother?
"A wig. I have appearances to keep up and this new shorter style does not send the message I want to my adoring public."
"I like this style." Tezuka meant to ask what message it was that Atobe wanted to say but his mouth and brain betrayed him. He turned back to the window. Were those sunflowers he saw in the distance?
Even with his attention forcefully scrutinizing flowers in the distance, he could feel Atobe's eyes on him. But he refused to give in and look his way or say anything. He was supposed to be avoiding distractions, not encouraging them.
"Why don't we change and I can give you a tour of the grounds since they seem to have caught your interest."
Tezuka nodded and when Atobe turned to leave, he did, too and followed him back to where his clothes were.
"Atobe. These aren't my clothes," Tezuka said as he looked at the chair where his bag was sitting but his school uniform was no longer resting on.
"It's your day off, Tezuka. Surely you don't want to wear your uniform all day. I had my staff run some errands and pick you up something."
"Atobe…" Tezuka said looking down at the jeans and shirt on the chair.
"They're nice and normal clothes," Atobe said.
Tezuka couldn't argue that, they certainly lacked any frills, sequins or other flashy accessories that would make Tezuka shy away. He then looked at the label on them and frowned slightly as even he recognized it as an expensive brand. But in Atobe's world, they were probably cheap compared to other things he bought and owned. "Thank you," He said finally. The only reason to win this argument was stubbornness as providing clothes for an unexpected night guest was fairly common. Most people would just lend something from their own wardrobe and Tezuka supposed this was just Atobe's equivalent to that.
"Excellent. I'll be just across the hall and one door down. Come find me if you finish first," Atobe said and then moved to the door.
"Yes?" He paused and looked back at Tezuka.
"Perhaps you can leave the wig."
The corner of Atobe's lips quirked up. "Perhaps." And then he left.
Tezuka smiled to himself as he changed into his new overpriced clothes.
As they walked through the garden, Atobe would stop to point out some interesting plants or design feature of the garden. Tezuaka's favourite part was probably the large pond surrounded by gardens filled with British wild flowers.
Somewhere along their walk, Atobe's hand started to brush against his, Tezuka looked over at Atobe and shifted a little to the side but Atobe's hand was soon brushing against his again. He figured that Atobe might be trying to hold his hand but thought it might feel a little silly doing so when just walking around Atobe's grounds. He brushed the back of his hand against Atobe's to hopefully show he wasn't offended by the touches but made no move to try and hold Atobe's hand or let the other take his.
They eventually reached a bench under a shady arbour that overlooked the tennis courts and they sat down, a little closer than perfectly polite but not so close as to feel uncomfortable. They sat there in silence for a moment, just enjoying the sounds and sights of a late summer morning at Atobe's home.
"I will be thoroughly disappointed in your team, Tezuka, if they beat me but they can't best Rikkai," Atobe said finally, looking over at Tezuka.
Tezuka nodded at that, he'd be disappointed to come so far and to stumble at the last hurdle, too. "Seigaku will win."
Somehow Atobe took this as permission to impart all of his wisdom onto Tezuka and while Tezuka found a few details useful he was sure Inui would have appreciated this information more. Tezuka knew all he needed about Rikkai and while Atobe was a strong player and captain, he didn't want nor need Atobe's strategies on defeating Rikkai as his team had their own.
While listening to Atobe talk, his eyes drifted from his face to his hair that was still odd to see so short. He angled a little more towards Atobe and then raised his left hand to Atobe's hair. He gave the cropped strands a light tug before combing his fingers through the styled hair.
"Tezuka?" Atobe asked, his stream of hints on beating Sanada's moves stopping suddenly.
"We know how to beat Rikkai," He gave another light tug. The longer hair probably would have been easier to toy with but Tezuka rather liked the feel of the shorter strands gliding along his fingers as he combed his hand through it.
"It never hurts to have extra advice. And may I ask why you are petting us? We are not some petting zoo animal, Tezuka."
For all of his big talk, Atobe didn't really sound nor look that upset by the hand in his hair so Tezuka didn't rush to remove it.
"Are you sure?" Tezuka asked giving one of the strands a final tug before taking his hand back.
"Quite," Atobe said with a huff. He ran his own fingers through his hair, probably to straighten out any of the ruffling, Tezuka's petting had done to it.
Tezuka just gave a nod that was ambiguous enough to neither confirm nor deny if he agreed with Atobe's assessment.
"Shall we finish our walk?" Atobe asked eventually.
Tezuka stood from the bench and looked out toward the tennis courts, wanting to play but knowing it would be unlikely for Atobe to give in so easily. "Where are we going next?"
Atobe stood and looked off in the direction Tezuka was looking at and slowly started walking down the path, expecting Tezuka to follow him. "While I want to play you, I still think it best you rest today. Your arm may be fully healed but there's no reason to push it."
Tezuka was a little disappointed since he thought Atobe would be a nice challenge to further hone his skills on, but could reluctantly understand Atobe's logic anyway. "If I agree to tomorrow will you not hold back?" He asked, once again surprising himself with his words.
"You want me to go all out? I suppose you would have another day to rest before Rikkai if you had to. Though I wonder if we should keep it friendly and not keep score, especially if you don't want me to hold back."
Tezuka nodded at that though he knew they would both be keeping count in their heads anyway.
"Is there a reason you want to play me?" Atobe asked and then added on, "Besides wanting more of my glorious company."
"I want a chance to sharpen my skills and while my team is strong, none of them really play the strong straight forward tennis styles that Rikkai tends to favour. You have your flashy moves but you mostly play a strong offensive game," Tezuka explained.
He knew that after playing Echizen for himself, that Atobe could see the problems with Tezuka trying to use Echizen to better his own tennis. Right now, the first year was at the stage where he was still evolving and discovering his own tennis and as his captain, Tezuka needed to lead him, not rely on him for his own improvement.
Fuji, another strong player, was also not suited for the task as Fuji focused on defensive counter techniques. And in some ways, Tezuka's skills were also more defensive than offensive and he did not want to get into a match with Fuji that would pit their techniques against each other. There was also the larger problem where Tezuka stilled owed Fuji a match between them and he didn't think that either of them would hold back once it started. It would be unwise to play such a match before nationals even if it might help push Fuji further. Tezuka would just have to hope that Fuji's match with Shiraishi would be enough to motivate Fuji through the finals.
The only other option was Inui who could, using data, match enough of his skills and techniques and force him to excel past the data. But after all of the new data that Inui had got during the Shitenhouji match and then the subsequent yakiniku disaster, Tezuka wasn't sure that Inui would have had time to compile new data and strategies against him. And right now, he wanted Inui focused on Rikkai's data and not his own.
So the natural conclusion, especially since he was with Atobe would be to ask him to help with practice his tennis skills.
"Just sharpen? No new techniques to unveil and surprise us all with?"
"Just sharpen. While Echizen asked about creating a Tezuka Zone in reverse, I don't see it worth pursuing," Tezuka said. He still wasn't sure if Echizen understood his explanation on why it wouldn't work, or at least why it would be too tiring and difficult to sustain but he was sure Atobe would get it.
"A reverse? You mean that you'd put enough spin on the ball to force it out?"
Atobe stopped in their walking and looked at him, or more specifically his arm and shoulder. "The strain wouldn't be worth it. You'd be using at least twice the force of the Tezuka Zone."
"And it's still something you'd consider."
"No. As I said, Echizen asked about it. I realise the difficulties involved and the dangers. I'm not sure it could be done even if I wanted," Tezuka explained.
Atobe gave a nod seemingly satisfied for now. "Then I'll free up some time for a friendly match tomorrow. Perhaps I can discover some of your weaknesses before Rikkai does."
"Perhaps. But I don't intend on letting Rikkai discover any," Tezuka said.
"That's rather confident of you," Atobe said. He started walking along the path toward the house so Tezuka turned his back on the pristine looking tennis court and followed him.
"It is." Tezuka didn't think that Atobe, who oozed confidence while near and on the courts, could judge him for being confident in his own skills and was curious to know what he thought about it.
"I approve. You Seigaku players have a tendency of projecting such underdog qualities about you. Not your first year player of course, he makes it a habit of overreaching."
Tezuka chuckled lightly at that. It may have been true about some of his players at the start of the season, but Tezuka rather thought that all of his team displayed a confidence that suited their undefeated record. As for Echizen, it was true that he didn't lack confidence though Tezuka still held out hope that a little modesty might be instilled in him.
Atobe looked back at him, possibly at the sound of him chuckling, but then turned back to continue walking. "Shall I give you a tour of my music collection before lunch?"
Tezuka, hoping that Atobe was not a secret fan of visual kei groups or most current pop groups, politely nodded his head and let Atobe lead them back into his house.
Tezuka had been pleased to discover that Atobe had a healthy collection of classical music and a fondness for German composers. Though Atobe's preferences seemed to lean toward the bombastic epic operas of Wagner while Tezuka himself rather enjoyed Beethoven. They had had an intense but fun debate about the merits about both and various other aspects of classical music and for a time Tezuka was able to forget about the looming match against Rikkai and that he and Atobe were supposed to be rivals before all else.
When there was a knock on the door, Atobe gave it a look of annoyance before reaching for the remote to turn down the music they were listening to. "Yes?" He called.
Atobe's butler, Michael, came in and bowed lightly to Atobe and him. "Sir, your lunch is waiting for you."
Tezuka glanced at the clock in the room and was surprised that it was well after one o'clock. He suspected that the staff had waited as long as they could before coming up to retrieve their young master. "Now that it's mentioned, I am quite hungry," Tezuka said before Atobe could express any of his obvious disappointment at being interrupted as he was trying to convince Tezuka on the merits of Wagner.
"I suppose it is late. And I'd be a poor host if I let my guest perish from hunger," Atobe said. He stood and moved to swoosh back his hair but nearly missed his shorter strands all together with the move.
Tezuka turned his head so that Atobe wouldn't be able to see the amusement on his face.
"Thank you for letting us know, Michael. We'll be right down."
Michael gave a nod to Atobe at his words and quietly left the room.
"Come, Tezuka. Let's get you fed and then I will show you the wonders of my great movie collection and home theatre. You may never want to go home after that."
"We'll see," Tezuka said. He knew he would be back to visit - they did have a tennis date for tomorrow - but he was sure he would leave when he said he would. Right now he was the pillar of Seigaku and he had to lead his team to victory over Rikkai. To do that, he had to go home and prepare mentally and physically without the distractions Atobe's home and the man himself offered.
Atobe paused in walking and looked back at him with a smile, "So we will," He said and then kept walking.
With a small shake of his head, Tezuka followed Atobe towards lunch and decided that until he left, enjoying the distractions presented wouldn't be too detrimental.