Title: El Alma del Tango

Author: Kiarene
Pairings: Sanada / Atobe

Rating: G
Summary: No other dance connects two people more closely than the tango.

Published: 22nd November 2005
Disclaimer: I would love to own Atobe-sama and gang but I dont.

 

A/N: This is where the story deviates from canon.

 

 

El Alma del Tango

 

3rd Dance

 

It was overcast the Sunday of our match, but we both showed up. The sky was heavily overcast, the clouds thick and dirty gray. I knew it would rain, but the thought of calling the match off never occurred to me.

 

Sure enough, a while into the game, it started to drizzle. A light sprinkling that was initially refreshing in the heavy summer heat. We ignored it, played on.

 

When the score tied at 22, it abruptly started to pour.

 

We cant play in this weather! Atobe yelled from his side of the court. He straightened up, still clutching the tennis ball. The rain was coming down in fat drops now, faintly warm from the hot summer weather.

 

I can! I grumbled, wiped the rain from my face, but it was useless I know. Lowering my racket, I also ran for my bag and together, the two of us sprinted to take shelter under the rail tracks.

 

The rain pounded around us, the concrete above us muffling it to a steady, dull thrum. Atobe tried to squeeze the water from his jersey, but as he was still wearing it, he didnt get too far. His fine hair hung limply and the ends curled around his eyes. He looked like a bedraggled kitten, I thought, and chuckled.

 

Atobe scowled at me, almost pouting. I didnt bring a spare shirt. And Im cold.

 

Neither did I. Take off your shirt and wring it. I took off my cap and started stripping.

 

Im *cold*, Atobe repeated, shivering. He eyed my just-wrung shirt. The lycra material was the type that dried quickly. Give me your shirt.

 

Wha Oh all right, I rolled my eyes and handed him my shirt. Atobe quickly peeled off his shirt and passed it to me. I couldnt believe his gall. And I couldnt believe me too.

 

After he pulled on my drier shirt, I held out his, intending to pass the dripping shirt back to him. That spoiled brat actually looked at me expectantly. Wring it for me.

 

What?

 

Please? He smiled charmingly. And without waiting for my answer I knew he was sure I would do it he turned and fished out his towel from his bag.

 

Sometimes it was just easier to indulge Atobe, rather than argue with him. Sighing, I wrung his shirt. Anything else, sir? I asked sarcastically. Of course it slid right over him.

 

Yes. Dry my hair please, Atobe held out his towel expectantly.

 

No. I had limits. Atobe frowned. Heres your shirt back.

 

Im not taking off my shirt now; Im freezing, Atobe said petulantly as he started drying his hair. My shirt was a little large on him and he looked a bit cute actually, even more like a kitten now.

 

*Your* shirt? Growling, I pulled on his shirt, but only because I was starting to feel cold. I was reminded of the other time he stole my shirt during the Junior Invitation Camp as well.

 

Of course his shirt was too small for me. It was taut across my shoulders but the material was slightly stretchy so it wasnt too uncomfortable. Looking down, I noticed Atobes name stitched discretely on the left breast.

 

Atobe glanced at me. You look good. Maybe you should keep my shirt.

 

I thought about wearing a Hyotei shirt. I thought about wearing Atobes shirt. All right. You can keep *my* shirt too. I wanted to add that he looked good in it as well.

 

I got out my own towel and started drying my hair. Imagine what our teammates would say if we showed up for training in a rival schools jersey.

 

Atobe stared at me, and then laughed, bright as a bell. I stared at him and he waved his hand. Nothing. You do realize that we havent finished our match yet?

 

I shrugged. Theres always another day.

 

Atobe rummaged through his bag, fished out a bar of chocolate and waved it at me. Want some?

 

I shook my head. We sat down on a large rock and watched the steady fall of rain, waiting for it to subside.

 

~

 

We had a good time in Hokkaido. Surprisingly, Akaya and I got along well with the other Hyotei players. Atobe taught us how to fish and Oshitari taught us how to cook them. I realized Ohtori had the most obvious crush on Shishido, who was either extremely oblivious or extremely cruel. But it was none of my business.

 

Of course we played tennis, but Atobe and I didnt finish our match. He didnt suggest it and I was oddly reluctant to do so. It was private.

 

Atobe had a pool near the courts and as we trooped past it one particularly sweltering day, hot and sweaty after several games of tennis, rackets swinging lazily, we stopped and stared. The sun glinted off the water surface. The temptation was great.

 

Pool tennis was a lot harder than it seems.

 

Even though the pool was smaller, the sheer resistance of the water was stupendous. We played doubles because one person couldnt run far, even triples, and still missed many easy shots. With all the low shots and volleys useless, we ended up smashing most of the time. Akaya, that brat, kept yelling, Dunk Smash! or Super Momoshiro Dunk~e Smash Spe~cial!

 

I will never be able to play against Momoshiro now, I told Akaya.

 

I cannot believe the inelegance of his naming, Atobe complained, as we pulled ourselves out of the pool to flop on the tiles, panting. But I guess we all cant have my brilliant wit. The rest of us rolled our eyes, but it was true. Atobe had the best names for his techniques, provocative and elegant.

 

Atobe can christen our techniques next time, Oshitari said dryly.

 

Will you be the next godfather of my technique-baby? Shishido told Atobe with a straight face.

 

Atobe smirked, eyes lingering on Shishidos stomach suggestively. I didnt know you were due. He glanced at Ohtori, who suddenly flushed red.

 

Shishido scowled when the others burst out laughing, and even I smiled. He tossed back his hair, which he started growing back. Im glad youre not partaking in this tasteless humor, he told Ohtori.

 

Ah, n..no, of course not, Ohtori stammered. His eyes strayed briefly to Shishidos taut belly before snapping away, cheeks reddening again. Shishido didnt notice as he was too busy glaring at Atobe.

 

Atobe leaned towards me, sotto voce. Shishido is quite a tease, prancing around Ohtori in that skimpy speedo.

 

Look whos talking. Admittedly Atobes speedo wasnt quite as skimpy as Shishidos, which were cut so low the dip of his hipbones could be seen.

 

My fashion sense is perfect. Shishidos just slutty, Atobe said haughtily. I looked at his purple speedo; at least it didnt have ruffles. And yours is boring.

 

Hey, what are you two whispering about over there, Akaya yelled. His lips curved, pulling higher on one side of his mouth, an accessing glint in his eyes.

 

Bucho stuff, Atobe said smoothly.

 

Underlings like you wouldnt get it, I said without missing a beat. We glanced at each other in a moment of accord and smirked.

 

You are both not captains, Oshitari pointed out.

 

Once a bucho, I started.

 

Always a bucho, Atobe rejoined. Everyone groaned.

 

~

 

We never got to play against each other the official matches that year, so after our first High School Nationals ended, I emailed Atobe.

 

[Same place, Sunday, 4 oclock.]

 

Of course Atobe knew what I meant. When we met up, Atobe was sniffing slightly. Are you sick? I asked.

 

No, just some dust in the air, Atobe said irritably. Lets warm-up.

 

But mid-way through our first game, I could tell Atobe wasnt playing at his best. His movements were a little sluggish, his shots weaker. I lowered my racket. Stop.

 

Why? Atobe strode up to the net angrily.

 

Because youre obviously sick. You should be resting.

 

I am not He sneezed.

 

I do not want to play against you until you are completely well and at your best. Surely you can understand that, I prudently stepped away from the sick boy.

 

Atobe looked disgruntled, but he shrugged. Another day then.

 

Ill send you home.

 

Im not a girl, Sanada. Atobe said dryly. He packed away his racket and picked up his bag.

 

Doesnt mean you have to be a girl. Truthfully, I was a little worried. Atobe didnt look too sick but you never know.

 

My chauffer will pick me up, Atobe reminded me. He grinned. But if you just wanted to be awed by my house, just say so.

 

I rolled my eyes, picked up my bag and followed him. The limousine that picked us up was impressive, his house even more so. He handed his bag automatically to the butler at the door and told the man to prepare some refreshments. He led the way upstairs to his room, pointing out parts of his house along the way. The library was a well-appointed room with plush carpeting and polished dark woods. I looked at the large tables in the library, wondering why a personal family library needed so many.

 

The team comes over to study after school, Atobe told me, seeing the question in my eyes. I smiled a little at that, knowing Atobes generosity.

 

Ive quite an extensive collection of books. Feel free to ask me if you should need any, Atobe said casually, running long fingers over lightly over the spines. There was a small stack of musical scores tucked in at the side of the shelf. I knew he played the piano but Ive never heard him play. I wondered what his piano looked like.

 

I personally have an interest in classical literature and languages. My father insists I study economics rigorously as well.

 

Many of the books were hard-covers, some leather-bound even, and the number of books truly was astounding. There were also current magazines and periodicals, neatly arranged by date. I was quite used to Atobes extravagant display of wealth by now so I simply shrugged. Ill remember that.

 

We left the library and went up to his room, or suite of rooms. The house was very quiet; and despite the servants around, it felt empty. I remembered Atobe telling me once about how he was an only child, and thought he must be rather lonely. No wonder he welcomed his adoring fans.

 

We entered the first room, which had a sofa and an expensive looking hi-fi. The television and X-box are in the entertainment room, Atobe said loftily. Of course. And here I thought Atobe would be so crass as to have a complete entertainment system in his room.

 

In the adjoining room, I could see his bed, a huge monstrosity swathed in grays and purples. There were a few other closed doors; I guess they lead to his walk-in closet or bathroom or something. No wonder he always looked so put out during the Junior Invitational Camps.

 

So, Sanada, Atobe teased. Are you not awed by my room?

 

No. I sat down on the sofa. A maid came in quietly and left a tray of drinks and biscuits on the side-table.

 

Atobe picked up a remote, turning on the hi-fi. I recognized the album we both bought a copy the last time we met up at the music shop. He sat down beside me. Relax Sanada. Appreciate the music.

 

I looked at him, arms outstretched along the sofa and head tilted to one side, eyes closed, a slight smile on his lips. The album didnt sound as good on my own hi-fi back home.

 

We never did get to finish our match, I said mildly, wondering what it would be like to reach out and run a finger along the long curve of Atobes neck. Would he be ticklish?

 

So we didnt, Atobe laughed softly, eyes still closed. Im beginning to think were jinxed.

 

The music swelled around us; we had no more talk of tennis for a while as we let the fast-beat, yet sensual strains of tango wrap around us. It brought back memories.

 

Atobe, I whispered. It was a crazy idea. Maybe I shouldnt say anything at all.

 

This year, when we get onto the Senior Invitational team, lets play doubles.

 

So sure we would make the cut. He turned to look at me, eyes heavily lidded and lips tugging up in a smile.

 

Arent you?

 

Atobe laughed again. Of course.

 

I hummed to the catchy music, wondering why Atobe hadnt answered my original question yet. Maybe it was better this way. I never play doubles, except that one time with Atobe. Atobe and I were singles players, our egos too big otherwise. It would never work

 

Are you free Friday nights for practice? No more winging it this time, Atobe nodded decisively.

 

Aa.

 

~

 

We didnt speak further of finishing the match between us. Instead, we concentrated on building up a cohesive partnership. It was easier than we expected. Ive watched Atobe for years in anticipation of the day where I would play against him; I knew his moves, his strengths, his weaknesses. Apparently, he knew me as well.

 

With his ability to read the game, Atobe works well in the baseline. With my speed, I like to play up close to the net. We worked on honing the speed of his volleys and having seen the advantage of a good serve, we worked on increasing the speed and power of my serve. Of course we didnt have to doubles partners covered for each others weakness but we recognized a good training opportunity when we saw it. How often does one get to train with the top player from rival schools?

 

He had, of course, improved his Tannhuser serve. His control of the ball had tightened; it now went exactly where he wanted it to go, and he no longer tire as easily, though he still couldnt use it throughout the match, especially not if he was playing singles. I studied his form as he practiced, watching the flex of muscles ripple across his torso and limbs, and noted that he has bulked up a little since last year. He had grown taller, though he was still shorter than me, and his muscles were more defined now, sleeker, harder.

 

Unlike Fujis Tsubame Gaeshi, theres no way for the other side to seal the Tannhuser because it was a serve. I daresay it was perfect and quite non-returnable. When I played against him, he almost always wins his service games. Id managed to return his Tannhuser but only because Im used to it and because of my speed. The trick is to catch it before it hits the ground because after that, it wont bounce. Of course that is also when the ball is traveling at its fastest; I myself am hard-pressed to catch the exact timing.

 

If you ever manage to increase the speed to Ohtoris Scud serve, your Tannhuser will be virtually unstoppable, I commented as another ball clinked against the fence.

 

Atobe turned to me, breathing heavily. I know. He bounced the ball he was holding. But it takes all of my effort just to get the correct amount of spin in. Tossing the ball up, he inhaled, tensed, concentrated once more.

 

I watched as the ball spun across the net again.

 

~

 

You two planned this from the start, Oshitari stated after our match, which we won of course.

 

As predicted, we made the Senior Invitational team. When we privately requested the Doubles 1 position, the coach considered for a moment, and then nodded his approval. He had seen our doubles match last year.

 

This time, our teamwork was flawless from the first stroke and we won easily.

 

Ma How long have you and Atobe-san been practicing together? Fuji asked me mildly. I merely smiled.

 

You and Atobe move well together. Maybe you and Atobe should consider going into a more permanent partnership, Akaya teased, pushing his curls back with one hand.

 

Trying to reduce the competition for singles, Kirihara? Atobe appeared beside me and tossed me an isotonic drink.

 

I dont need to do that, Akaya tossed his head arrogantly. He grinned. But you and Genichirou look really good together.

 

Were not in the same school, I pointed out. I wondered what Akaya was insinuating.

 

And of course we were brilliant, it doesnt matter doubles or singles, Atobe said haughtily. His lips curled humorously. You *are* awed by our prowess.

 

Akaya groaned. Echizen strolled away, muttering sullenly about getting juice. Fuji and Oshitari chuckled. Now that was a doubles pair I hadnt been expecting. What was Coach Sakaki thinking?

 

Their skills overlap enough that I thought it becomes redundant. Still, the two so-called tennis prodigies worked well together, both seemingly laid back and good humored. No sparks though. I think the best double combinations are between two wildly different players, where the strengths of one can cover the weakness of the other. I looked thoughtfully at Atobe was that why we work well together?

 

Atobe gave me a quizzical look at my scrutiny but I merely blinked and turned away. Its just the way I am.

 

I knew he wouldnt be offended, nor would he be expecting an explanation. Its just the way he is.

 

~*~

 

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