Fandom: Prince of Tennis
Pairing: AtoJi flavoured, but third-person perspective
Challenge: "With One Look" (but very deeply buried)
Disclaimer: the Prince of Tennis boys are Konomi-sensei's; Mari, however, is mine. ^^;
Notes: This did not turn out at all as I wanted it to--and, in fact, is rather a rather HUGE jump from my normal style--but oh sigh, these things happen. This is part of my Hyotei Roommates series, but can be read alone, I think. Also, I ran out of time to edit, so there are probably horrid typos in this. ^^;
She had to admit--Jirou really was adorable when he was asleep: cuter than a puppy (though admittedly, that was perhaps because she didn't really bear any particular fondness for puppies.) With that little body of his curled onto his side, his mouth open even with one loose fist tucked underneath his chin, and his other hand stretched out to rest his fingertips, almost protectively, on the tennis bag stretched out on the grass beside him... well, it was hard to remember sometimes just how energetic he could be, really. No doubt, the tennis bag--if it had actually cared--would have been grateful that it wasn't in the process of being used as a pillow, considering that Jirou used virtually everything as a pillow, but then again, it was a little unusual for him to be in a position that was both stretched out and curled up... he was normally fairly consistent in picking one.
Mari had to smile when she realised that Jirou's left hand wasn't--quite--tucked under his chin--his fingers were resting on the slim golden collar that Atobe had given him for White Day (in return for a picture for Valentine's that Jirou had come to her to have framed, in exchange for a description of Atobe's reaction,) with delicate fingertips brushing over the small crimson garnet teardrop that hung directly into the shadow of Jirou's collarbone.
Really, Atobe's fondness for his roommate was probably the one thing that gave Mari hope that one day, Atobe Keigo might become a bearable human being. Not a decent one, perhaps, because she wasn't in the habit of asking too much of the world in general, but bearable.
Well, that wasn't strictly true--or, at least, not anymore. She'd actually quite gotten to appreciate some of the arrogant bastard's better qualities--anyone who had a monstrous hundred-headed fanclub, even if it had once been led by a puling creature who'd fainted whenever her Atobe-sama so much as looked at her, and who had been at the forefront of the girls clogging the hallways outside Atobe's, and thus Mari's, classrooms... well, she'd reasoned, he had to have something good about him other than the fact that he was reasonably attractive.
She'd come to the conclusion, in the nine months since she'd taken control of the fanclub for the express purpose of being able to organise the fangirls and thus be able to get to class on time, that most of those girls really were attracted to him because they found him a monstrously sexy beast (no, she really did not understand her own gender, most days) but Atobe was... tolerable. Sometimes. Mostly because she'd realised that there actually were things that he gave a damn about.
Well, besides himself.
Student council--it'd really surprised her that he took that seriously. Or, at least, even if he thought it was as much of a waste of time as she did, he did his job, he did it well, and kept the rest of the airheads who'd gotten in on a popularity contest in line and working--and how was it that the idiot could sit around in the student council room and read papers for hours when he couldn't even be bothered to do his own shopping most days...?
No doubt if she'd ever bothered to ask him, he'd have looked down his nose at her and said something about Responsibility. Which really was laughable coming from the one guy who was so popular he probably could have gotten away with murder.
Then there was his tennis team--really, it was almost charming how he honestly did worry over them, even though he'd never have admitted it. Muttering about Shishido's falling grades, excited about Oshitari winning some kind of science fair competition, going to Ootori's concerts and claiming that it was simply because he appreciated classical music... yeah, it was almost cute. She'd have called it mothering, or fathering--except for the fact that if Atobe was a parent, he most definitely was a temperamental, abusive control freak of a parent, and she really did hope to whatever being was out there that he never tried to reproduce, because dear gods his kids were most definitely going to need a whole lot of therapy.
And then there was Jirou--sleepy, silly Jirou who Mari had predicted Atobe would kick out of his room in a week. She wasn't the betting type, but she knew her... 'boss,' so to speak, for what he was: a selfish, vain, marginally beautiful boy who was a dab hand at tennis, had every single one of their teachers wrapped around his middle finger, and who thought too much of himself and too little of everyone else around him. Even if taking Jirou into his life had been for the tennis club--from what she'd heard, Kantoku (the only person she'd ever met who was more of a control freak than Atobe) had told him to make sure that Jirou was going to morning classes so that he wouldn't be kicked off the tennis team on academic probation, and Atobe had done it by making sure Jirou was sleeping in Atobe's room--there wasn't any way he'd put up with someone disrupting his perfectly scheduled existence as much as someone who slept twenty hours out of the day, no doubt, would.
She'd been wrong. Nine months later, Jirou was still living with him. No doubt still being a pain in Atobe's perfect arse, but still living with him.
And three fourths of the time, whenever she dropped by Atobe's room, Atobe was lounging on the sofa with a book, or some papers (which was normal) with Jirou's head pillowed on his lap (not so normal) and Atobe's fingers playing casually with a few of Jirou's curls (no, most definitely not normal Atobe Keigo.)
Mari didn't squeal--the sound of it hurt her ears, and Valentine's Day and White Day were just so very painful most years--but really, the first time she'd seen it happen, it'd been... just so damned cute that she might have been tempted.
She'd suspected pretty much since she'd transferred into Hyotei that Atobe was gay--and seriously, if gay was contagious, she really wondered which of the tennis club Regulars had started the epidemic--but she definitely hadn't expected him to be so gentle with a kid who was asleep three fourths of the day and hyper enough to run a monkey off its feet for the other fourth of it: she'd had afternoon literature class with Jirou one year.
The tennis team thing, Mari could deal with. He took care of his tennis team because he wanted Hyotei at the top. The student council thing... well, student council was mostly a waste of time anyway; that was what they had class and club representatives for. Those weren't good reasons to like an egotistical ass who generally couldn't see past the point of his own aristocratic nose. How good he was to the little sleepy boy who he'd virtually adopted into his life, though... funny, how she'd expected him to be as much of a bastard in love as out of it, and he was, but--a bastard who made time in his schedule to read to Jirou, from what she'd heard, and talk to him seriously (unlike everyone else, who seemed to think that the fact that Jirou slept and bounced like a puppy meant that he was a puppy) and, yes, cuddle him when Jirou wanted cuddling.
Then again, every time Mari was teetering on the dangerous ledge of actually beginning to like Atobe Keigo, he did something really, really stupid to Jirou that made her realise, once again, that Atobe did not know he was in love with his roommate, and shoved her happily back into rolling her eyes and wanting to bash his very hard head into the most convenient wall.
Like today. Yes, he had a student council meeting. Yes, he wanted to make sure Jirou ate and didn't just sleep through lunch until his growling stomach had everyone looking at him in last period. Yes, Mari had time to wake Jirou up and sit with him. Cute, yes, that he'd ask her. Or tell her. Whatever.
Rationalising it by saying with his nose in the air that he didn't want Jirou to use his stomach as an excuse for losing so miserably to Atobe at practice this afternoon.
Especially since it made Mari wonder if he was dense enough to say things like that to Jirou's face.
Of course, this wouldn't have been a problem if Mari hadn't been able to tell, with one look, that Jirou had fallen very much in love with Atobe, too (and Jirou was probably the one person from whom that sentiment was actually, well, believable) and, more importantly, the little blonde nutcase knew it.
She'd always known that Jirou was smart, but there was smart... and then there was dumb-smart, like being able to babble off most of the genpei monogatari by heart--and falling for the most self-centred creature on the face of Japan's tectonic plates.
It took a few shakes to wake Jirou up--she wasn't Kabaji, to pick him up by his ankles, and really it was adorable how all Atobe ever had to do was put a hand on Jirou's shoulder to get him ready to face the world--as well as dodging an outflung arm when Jirou stretched out and yawned, but she was used to these things by now. He'd been so cute and sorry the first time he'd clocked her with a fist, stretching, and, well, being Atobe's fanclub president meant that she had to be around Atobe (and thus Jirou) enough that good reflexes were a good thing. Being hit by a ricocheting tennis ball because she'd come onto the tennis courts at a bad time had not been the most fun she'd ever had. And she had kicked Atobe in the shin when he'd commented that it had been her fault for standing behind Jirou's side of the court rather than Atobe's, because of course how could his smash fail...?
Jirou sat up with a muzzy blink at her before his chocolate eyes shot open wide, and he turned to her, looking alarmed. "Mari? Mari, is something wrong with Atobe?"
She laughed and crouched beside him to poke his nose, grinning as he went cross-eyed to watch her finger. Atobe wasn't particularly likeable, no. Jirou, on the other hand, had quickly become one of her favourite people in the world--and that was saying something, considering that Mari didn't really much like people, in general, most days... Who in the world would've thought to worry about Perfect-sama himself? Not even she bothered to do that, for the most part, and it was her job to. "No. Why would you think that?"
"Had... oh, had a weird dream," he rubbed one eye with a knuckly fist, before grinning at her--almost shyly, and he really was an endearing little thing. "Dreamed... weird, was about... Atobe playing, but it wasn't good tennis, or something." Well, no doubt that would very much contribute to Jirou's conception of 'something' being 'wrong' with Atobe; it really made her grimace sometimes just how around tennis their lives revolved. "Sorry." Jirou scritched the back of his neck, and peered up at her through his lashes. "Am I in trouble? I missed class?"
Mari cuffed him gently, where the curls started their swirl on the back of his head, and sat down on the grass, folding her skirt underneath her. "No, but someone needs to get you a watch with an alarm." She'd have to mention it to Atobe. He'd probably think it was his idea, anyway. On the other hand, he'd probably hate it, because wouldn't that mean he wouldn't get the chance to pet his Jirou awake? Maybe it would be good for him to be denied a little...
"Doesn't work," he replied, but his grin was sweet and full of warm-edged slumber. "Everyone just gets mad at me 'cause it doesn't turn off. Can I go back to my nap now?"
She chuckled again, and laid the carefully wrapped pair of bentou boxes down beside him, unfolding the neat cloth wrapping and handing him one of the lacquer cases. The one good thing about this particular duty, even if she hadn't enjoyed being around Jirou, was that Atobe always had his cook prepare her a bentou, too, so she didn't have to eat in that ridiculous cafeteria. "No, I don't think so. Atobe told me to make sure you didn't miss lunch again."
Jirou pouted at her playfully, but he took the box. "Didn't miss it yesterday," he pointed out, in protest.
"Because Atobe sat with you," she reminded him, laughing, taking out her chopsticks. "And, I'm told, you had a nap in his lap afterwards. Tell you what--I'll teach you a game, after, all right?" She did have two apples with her, didn't she?
"A word-game?" she'd noticed that he enjoyed those--it really was a surprise how quick Jirou was on his mental feet when something caught his interest.
Mari poked him with the back of her chopsticks, and grinned as he squeaked in indignance. "No, sleepy boy. But I think you'll like it. All right?"
Apparently, Atobe must have been paying attention to Jirou's preferences, because there really wasn't any way to explain how Jirou squealed, happily, "My favourite!" before diving in; broiled hamachi with ponzu sauce and uni rice really wasn't the most common of dishes in the world, and though she was well aware that Atobe often had exceedingly artsy pretensions, this didn't seem likely to be one of them.
It did not pass her by that there was a piece of wrapped milk chocolate in both of their boxes, either. Jirou hadn't mentioned the kiss and chocolate to her when he'd told her how Atobe had liked the picture, but being Atobe's fanclub president meant spending an inordinate amount of time with the Regulars--and dear gods, those boys gossiped more than anyone she'd ever met.
To her surprise, though, Jirou lingered over the piece of chocolate--breaking off tiny crumbs of it, licking them off his fingers with little flicks of his tongue, dipping fingertips into the truffle centre to scoop up a little bit of softness before exclaiming over it with artless pleasure--and she had to grin again. She might not have been able to see her lunch companion through her boss' eyes, but it didn't take a great deal of knowledge about teenage hormones to know that Jirou probably drove Atobe to distraction.
"Okay!" he finished up with one last lick, before grinning at her, awake. Yes, chocolate did do that to him--perhaps there was more sense in Atobe's head than she'd previously given him credit for. "What's the game?"
Mari rummaged in her backpack, and reached for the apples. "I learned this when I was living in Hawa'ii," she handed him an apple--her father had received a box of them as a late oseibo gift, large firm rounds as big as two of her fists together and so lightly streaked with gold and red that they were as pretty to look at as to eat--and a small knife. "You think you can take the peel off the apple so that it doesn't break? Just one long line?"
He peered at it--his hands really were delicate, so small that the apple looked enourmous in them--before blinking back up at her. "I... I think so. Why, though?"
Mari gently reached over and tucked some of his wayward curls back behind his ear. "Well, then you toss the peel over your shoulder. And when it lands, you look back at it, and it'll form the first letter of the name of your one true love, and when you look over your shoulder, you'll know they love you, too."
It was like sunset, sometimes, to watch Jirou's face fall, his eyes tumbling to the apple in his hands as he put the knife that he'd set to the surface back down. "Oh. But..." he cocked his head at her, and his mouth was a soft shadow of his previous grin. "But... that's not fair. "
She'd certainly heard people call the game stupid, but it was certainly the first time she'd heard anyone call it 'unfair.' "Why?" she cocked her head at him.
He put down the apple, holding it in both hands, and his eyes could have gone right through it, he seemed like he was thinking so hard "Because. Well, we're in Japan, but... so it'd have to be the romanji first letter, right? Since you can't make kana with one piece of peel."
Well, yes, she'd learned this particular practice living in Hawa'ii. "Yes?" she blinked.
He tossed his chin, eyes agitated and sad as he looked at her. "So... but aren't there some letters you just can't make with one piece of string, or something? Things... they just..." his shoulders tightened as he hunched down, the apple in both hands. "I mean, it's easy for Shishido, or Ootori, right, because the peel's curly? It just falls like that. It's different... it's different for..."
He didn't finish his sentence.
Poor little boy. There weren't many who would have thought that, she was sure. Not many people played with knives and apple peels who already knew how they felt.
Mari smiled back at him, and reached out to ruffle his hair reassuringly. "It's always easier for some people," and easier for those like Ootori and Shishido, always, who saw each other clearly; Jirou hadn't chosen an easy path to fall in love along, "but there's always a way, silly. Do you think I'm mean enough to teach you a game you can't win?"
He blinked at her, and his eyes were painful with hope. Silly little boy, to think that Atobe didn't feel what he did, but... then again, what did it matter how Atobe felt, if Atobe didn't know it...?
Mari reached into her bag and pulled out her notebook, writing in the angular points and slants of a capital A. There wasn't any need to pretend with Jirou that she didn't know what he was talking about, and his eyes didn't flinch as he looked up at her. "This is a capital A, and yes, it would be impossible to make this with just one piece of apple peel, but... this is a lowercase a." It seemed like forever since she'd written English script, but her pen traced out the fat, full bowl of a body, with its little curling trail outwards from it on the right. "See? You can make that shape with just one long strand of peel, right?"
He blinked at it, reaching out to press his finger onto the notebook to tilt it towards him. "That's an A, too? But..." he blinked again, and there was something in his eyes that almost looked like trust. "I guess... I guess that's possible, but... it has to be just like that? With that little tail and all? It'd be hard."
Hard, yes, but not impossible. Mari stood up and reached out to pull him to his feet, brushing off her skirt, and smiled, wistfully, thinking of quiet bronze eyes, a stern mouth that didn't gossip with the rest of the Regulars, and such grace on a tennis court or a dojo's wooden floor. Impossible, indeed, to make an H with one long bit of apple peel. At least, a capital H.
She picked up the knife, and slipped it into her bag as she took a bite out of her own apple and smiled, slinging an arm gently over Jirou's shoulders to give him a squeeze. She knew better than to play her own games. "Then I guess you keep trying, right?"
Date: April 17, 2004
Hm. That didn't at all end--or progress, for that matter--the way I expected it to. *laugh* Ah, well, random story for a Saturday morning, I guess I really shouldn't complain. ^_^ Oseibo, incidentally, is a year-end tradition in Japan where once gives gifts to the people one is obligated to. Just random. But they often do give fruits.
Incidentally, I really wish there was a better way to portray the lowercase A that I was talking about, but I was running out of time, and don't have any way to embed pictures. Basically it's the lowercase A in fonts like Comic Sans Ms--like a flattened 'O' with a tail. ^^;