The Stages of Courtship
by Jain


I: First Meeting

Niou rattled the bathroom door impatiently. "Did you get them in yet?" he demanded, his voice muffled by the layer of wood separating them.

"Be patient," Yagyuu said. He blinked waterily at his reflection. The right side of his face was clear, while the other was a shapeless blur. He brought the other contact up to his left eye and took a breath.

Another aborted attempt. He was increasingly grateful for his foresight at insisting that Niou remain outside until he'd put the contacts in; he couldn't imagine how humiliating it would be to suffer this trial under the mocking gaze of his doubles partner.

"Yagyuu!" Niou called. "Do you need me to put them in for you?"

"No," Yagyuu said firmly. The day he let Niou poke his fingers into his eyes was the day he had himself committed.

He dripped more solution onto the contact and then pulled up his eyelid for yet another attempt. This time, he was left with an odd sensation on his eye, as though someone had gently blown a bubble onto it, and he drew his hand away carefully. He blinked once, twice and the contact settled into place.

He leaned a little closer to peer at himself. He could see the faint outline around his iris, but his new contacts were undetectable except at very close range. Much more noticeable was the distinct redness of his eyes; he didn't quite look like Kirihara yet, but it wasn't very pretty.

He washed his hands and dried them on a towel, then opened the door to let Niou in.

"Finally!" Niou exploded. He tilted his head to look at Yagyuu. "Was it really that hard to put them in?"

Yagyuu shrugged. "Hard enough."

"They look good, though."

"Thank you."

Niou stared at his face for a long moment, and Yagyuu looked back at him calmly, pretending that he couldn't feel Niou's gaze crawling over him like spiders. Besides, he sort of enjoyed the sensation.

"Okay, we ready to do this?" Niou said at last. He hefted the shopping bag onto the counter and looked Yagyuu over. "You should really take off your shirt. Even a drop of bleach could ruin it."

"Of course," Yagyuu murmured and pulled his shirt over his head. He hung it up on the rack nearest the door.

Never one to be outdone, Niou whipped his shirt off, as well. "We should do you first, since you'll take so much longer," he said. "Get your hair wet."

Yagyuu turned on the shower and stuck his head inside, scrubbing his fingers through his hair to make sure it was completely wet. Niou handed him a towel when he emerged, and he dried his shoulders and back with it.

Meanwhile, Niou had created some bluish gloop that Yagyuu assumed was soon to be decorating his head.

"Are you sure it's supposed to be that color?" he asked.

Niou rolled his eyes at him. "How long have I been dyeing my hair? The blue's to keep your hair from turning orange. It'll look good. Trust me."

As if Yagyuu had a choice. He sat down on the toilet lid and closed his eyes in preparation for Niou's assault on his hair. Niou's hand brushed across the top of his head, and Yagyuu tried to relax even as the sharp smell of the bleach made him wince.

"You're lucky you've got me to do this," Niou said conversationally. "It's really easy to miss spots when you're bleaching your own hair, and then you have to do it all over again."

"Does that mean that I'm going to have to do this for you, next?"

"Nah, I can handle it."

They lapsed into silence after that. Yagyuu let himself enjoy the touch of Niou's hands in his hair--Niou being oddly gentle in his ill-fitting plastic gloves. Finally, Niou wrapped a plastic bag over Yagyuu's hair and tugged off his gloves.

"Okay, you're done. Go find a TV program or a video game or something; this is going to have to sit for a long time."

"How long?" Yagyuu asked suspiciously.

"Oh, you know, two or three hours."

Yagyuu didn't have to look at the mirror to hear the wicked smile in Niou's voice. "Maybe I'll just start a nice book," he said. Niou hated being ignored.

Still, he didn't put up a fuss this time, for reasons that became obvious when he stayed in the bathroom to dye his own hair, then joined Yagyuu in his bedroom for long enough to watch exactly one talk show, before he was back in the bathroom washing out the hairdye.

Yagyuu remained in his room and tried to focus more on the words before him than on his scalp, which had been itching at that point for close to an hour.

"You hungry?" Niou asked when he returned from his shower, as casually as though it were his home and not Yagyuu's.

All things considered, Yagyuu thought it only right that Niou should cook for the both of them. He was better at it, anyway. Yagyuu's culinary skills started and ended with boiling water for ramen, but Niou had been taught to cook by a mother desperate to find something harmless to occupy her son. Yagyuu wasn't sure that playing with both knives and fire truly qualified as harmless, though it was true that Niou hadn't yet caused himself--or anyone else--lasting damage with either.

After they'd finished eating, Niou said, "Your hair looks like it's done. You can go ahead and shower, and make sure you use a ton of conditioner."

Yagyuu hadn't realized that there was quite so much effort involved in the style that Niou wore so carelessly. He went into the bathroom and showered, and then Niou knocked on the door bare seconds after he'd toweled himself off, demanding to be let in so that he could see.

"Just a moment," Yagyuu said and pulled on his underwear and jeans. Then he opened the door and Niou's face lit up.

"That's perfect," he said. "Do you have a comb in here?"

Yagyuu took one out of the cabinet and handed it to Niou, who ran it through Yagyuu's hair in a haphazard fashion that left his hair looking as though he'd just rolled out of bed after a particularly vigorous night. Or, in other words, just as Niou looked every day.

Niou then turned his attention to his own reflection, combing his newly-dark hair until it lay smoothly against his scalp.

"Impressive," Yagyuu said.

"Just wait," Niou said, and pulled a pair of glasses from his pocket. He slipped them on, and Yagyuu stiffened in surprise. Looking at Niou like this, Yagyuu felt as though he were seeing him for the first time. Or perhaps it was himself that he was finally beginning to recognize.

Niou grinned at him. "This is totally going to work."

"Yes," Yagyuu said, "I expect that it will."


II: Stepping Out (in Style)

Rikkai's loss to Seigaku was frankly devastating, even as the success of their ruse might have been cause for some measure of self-congratulation. Niou responded to both by becoming ever more outrageous.

"I think you're wearing my underwear."

Sanada turned his head sharply to look at Niou, and then he scowled. Kirihara stared at the two of them with wide eyes. "Wait, do you mean that Yagyuu-senpai is really wearing your underwear? Or do you mean that he's wearing the rest of your clothes, but he's still wearing his own underwear?"

Even Jackal seemed to be interested in Niou's answer. Niou's eyes were alight with gleeful mischief at the minor commotion he'd wrought.

"He probably isn't wearing any," Marui said, and Yagyuu made a moue of distaste.

"Nope, that's me," Niou said. "Remember, I couldn't find mine?" and the locker room erupted into groans and catcalls that weren't silenced until Niou relented and pulled down his pants to display several inches of blue and yellow cotton.

Which did, in fact, belong to Yagyuu. He made a note to watch Niou more carefully whenever he invited him home.


III: Intimacy

They went to Yagyuu's apartment together afterwards to switch back.

"Do you think I should keep my hair like this?" Niou asked, posing in front of Yagyuu's bathroom mirror. "Just for a couple of days."

"Is confusing your teachers worth the tears when your mother realizes that the change was only temporary?" Yagyuu asked dryly.

Niou turned his head from side to side to better admire himself. "...Maybe?"

Yagyuu hid his amusement behind a bland mask; Niou really could be adorable at times.

"How about you?" Niou asked. "Do you fancy a couple more days as a blond?"

"Not at all," Yagyuu said.

"It could be fun. You could take my history exam for me."

"You could fail my classical Japanese exam," Yagyuu murmured.

"I could get a better score on your math than you could manage with a month of studying," Niou shot back, though he was still grinning.

"Very useful," Yagyuu said. "Except for the fact that I don't have any math exams scheduled until the week after next."

"Right," Niou said in a resigned voice.

Yagyuu snorted and started to work at the thread wound around the braided extension in his hair.

"I can do that," Niou said, and slapped his hands away.

Yagyuu opened his mouth to say So can I, when Niou's fingers tightened in his hair and he kissed him. There was a momentary impression of soft and wet before Niou pulled away again.

"What was that?" Yagyuu asked, not able to see the joke but certain that there was one.

"Haven't you ever wanted to..." Niou trailed off, and then he looked at Yagyuu's face. "To kiss yourself?" he finished quickly.

"I can't say that the idea ever occurred to me."

"Oh." Niou looked unaccountably disappointed at this confession.

Yagyuu shook his head, because, whimsical as Niou's fancy might be, there was a huge difference between being dressed as someone and actually being him. "Niou, I'm not you."

Niou's cheeks burned red so quickly that it seemed as though an invisible hand had just slapped him. "I know that," he said, stepping back another step. "I just... I'll see you later," he muttered, and darted out of the small bathroom.

A minute later, Yagyuu heard his front door slam. He thought briefly about calling Niou, even going so far as to take out his cell phone, but then put it away again. Then he took out the box of brown hair dye and sat down to read the instructions carefully. If he somehow screwed this up, Niou would certainly comment on it. At length. In front of the entire tennis team, plus any convenient passersby.


IV: Commitment

Niou was early to tennis practice the next morning, as was Yagyuu, who'd anticipated Niou's promptness. Sanada changed quickly and left the two of them in the locker room with a glare at Yagyuu which made clear that he expected Yagyuu to be on babysitting duty. Sanada could be surprisingly tolerant when it came to Niou, but he didn't tolerate pranking teammates.

"You dyed your hair," Yagyuu pointed out unnecessarily, just for the pleasure of having Niou roll his eyes at him.

"So did you," Niou said, a bit less unnecessarily.

Yagyuu smoothed a hand over his hair. "It feels different now."

"Yeah, that happens," Niou said. He finished tying his shoelaces and picked up his tennis racket, already on his way out the door. Yagyuu grabbed his wrist before he'd taken more than a step or two. "Hey, wha--" Niou began, when Yagyuu kissed him.

They stood together in the center of the locker room, barely breathing. Niou's mouth was soft and warm against his, and Yagyuu could feel his pulse beating rapidly in his wrist. And then Niou made an incoherent sound and shoved him away.

"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded, staring at Yagyuu with wide eyes.

Yagyuu looked blandly back at him. "Haven't you ever wanted to kiss your doubles partner?" he asked.

There was a long silence as Niou's mouth worked soundlessly, and then he muttered, "Oh, you fuck, I don't believe you," in a purely delighted tone before hauling Yagyuu back against him for another kiss.

Yagyuu slid his arms around Niou's waist, and Niou clutched the front of his tee-shirt tightly with both fists. There was a strong chance that Sanada would return to the clubhouse to see what was keeping them--in fact, Yagyuu suspected that Niou was hoping for just such an outcome--but this was more important.


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