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It’s hockey night in Seasoning City—hockey night for the Seasoning City Spicers in their big arena in the Paprika district, hockey night for the minor league team away in Kyoto, and hockey night for the school leagues, too. There’s only one game in the school circuit tonight, and Shou has a feeling walking into it; a good feeling. It keeps him on his toes as he laces up his skates in the locker room, and he grins at nothing in particular as he skates out for warm ups. His teammates think he’s lost his mind, but that’s just normal Tuesday shit. Shou’s pretty sure he was born with his brain missing from his skull.

There’s nothing outstanding about the Salt Ice Complex. It’s kind of tiny, everything a little gray and clearly on the older side, but it’s clean and freezing and the boards are a nice shade of white, a nice shade to get some blood on. It’s a night for checks, for rule-breaking, for a few minutes in the penalty box because Salt Mid, while not particularly physical players, are all pretty good. From what he’s heard, they’re steady and consistent and fond of fake-outs, but Shou’s fast enough that he knows he can slam them into the boards and rattle them a bit. That’ll give them a good advantage, and that way they can get their victory. But Shou’s out for more than a victory tonight—he’s out for a massacre.

Like always, he spends more time looking at the other team instead of paying attention to his own warm ups. He likes looking at them; it gives him time to strategize, makes sure that he can have their whole game figured out before they even line up for the first face off. It’s convenient. Helpful. If his teammates weren’t such wimps and would actually show some damn initiative and ask him about what he was seeing, maybe they it would be helpful for everyone, but as it is, it’s only Shou who benefits.

Their offense isn’t much to write home about. Their passes are good and they can get past any defense with no problem, but they don’t have much in the sense of aim when it comes to actually getting the puck in the goal. They just shoot and hope without putting any sort of skill into it, which is damn shameful. It’s the shooting of someone who shoots knowing that they’re probably not going to get it in. A confidence problem, then.

Their defense has no such confidence problem. They’re solid and muscular, a certifiable brick wall, but they aren’t half as fast as Shou is. He can’t slip by them as easily as he normally does, not with the fake outs that the Salt offense likes to use. They’re used to that left-right switch, have practiced against it for months. No, he’ll have to cat-and-mouse it, lead them in circles around the whole Salt side before he can slip past. And once he can slip past…

Their starting goalie is a first-year. Controversial, definitely, but their third-year goalie got some improbable injury that knocked him out for the season. There’s locker room rumors that new guy is the one that caused it, but Shou knows bullshit when he hears it. He figures that half of them were, if not directly spread by him, encouraged by the replacement himself for an intimidation factor. Shou admires the cleverness in that and oh yeah, this is going to be a fun game because new boy is a hell of a goalie. He stays close to the net, guards it like it’s his first-born child, gives a skin-slicing glare to anyone who dares to come close. He knows when to stand up and occupy that space, knows when to drop down and stop the puck directly, knows false shots and wrist shots and high flyers when he sees them and he stops everything, everything that comes his way. He isn’t afraid to dive for the puck, keep it out of his space, and he isn’t a big goalie, but he’s got this sort of feeling about him. This aura. Defensive. A little spooky. Come closer and I’ll skin you alive sort of vibe. Shou’s into it, into him, and he has no shame about it. His mask is plain and undecorated, nothing like the bright purple crime against humanity that Hanazawa puts over his head every game, because this guy knows that his game is the real thing to be looking at, not some fancy paint job. He’s practically half-performer in that goal box, and Shou is a more than willing audience.

“Suzuki! Off the ice!” His coach barks from the bench, breaking him out of his trance, and Shou skates off after another second of staring.

He’s off giving his motivational speech again, the same one he gives before every game, and Shou takes that time to look into the audience to see who’s there. His mother isn’t, obviously, but he sees his father there and typing away at something on his phone. He’ll probably leave before the first period is done and Shou wonders if he can get a puck over the glass, into the audience, and straight into his face in that twenty-minute time frame. There are also some of Hanazawa’s adoring fans, some kids from the yearbook, other parents, Salt’s student section, and even a scout or two. Shou hopes one of them is for him, but they only ever come for third-years, those bastards. He wonder who, if anyone, is there for the goalie, and then he stops wondering that because that’s a stupid thing to think about. Goalie doesn’t exist off of the ice. Goalie barely even exists on the ice: it’s not like Shou knows his name.

Shou’s on left wing tonight and he’s more than a little pissy about it, but he understands why. He isn’t exactly fond of sharing or passing, and so putting him in the middle isn’t the best idea. Still, it’s the starring role and instead of him, it’s going to Kobayashi, their captain, who normally plays right wing instead.

The game starts and they get the puck first, which means he can glide right over to Salt’s side. The defensemen who’s covering him is gigantic, more muscle than human being, but he seems too friendly for this sport. He doesn’t look like someone who will throw him into the boards.

First shot on goal. It lands into goalie’s glove like that’s what Kobayashi was aiming for. Closer, Shou can see some of his face beneath the mask. It’s a nice one, unbleshmed except for a scar by his temple, and more than any of the features, Shou likes the expression. It’s hungry, starving for something, and the ice is where he seems to think he’ll get it. Shou wonders if that look is right and, for some dumb reason he doesn’t understand, finds himself hoping that it is.

Kobayashi to Ito, shot two, blocked fearlessly by a good dive. The puck hits his shoulder and bounces off. Goalie doesn’t wince until he thinks that no one is looking. Cute.

Salt gets it back, and for a while, it’s back-forth, back-forth, back-forth in the middle of the rink, far from goalie boy or from Hanazawa, who looks to be just about dying of boredom. Then Salt fully takes it, Hanazawa gets to block some shots while girls with too much mascara cheer his name like they think he’s listening, and Shou gets to be annoyed by life.

Shou gets the first check of the game. He’s smaller than Salt’s assistant captain by at least six inches, but no amount of height advantage can beat his pure momentum when he slams him into the boards and gets the puck back. After the past five minutes, Shou thinks that gets him the status of a certifiable hero. A quick glance into the audience sees no one cheering for him.

Well then.

He doesn’t pass the entire way up the ice and he gets close, close as he can without getting himself fouled. The goalie is even nicer to look at when Shou gets closer, and all of the energy of that intense gaze is centered right on him. He’s looking at Shou like he’s the only person that exists and the lights of the rink are in his eyes, make them look blood red instead of brown. Shou wonders if he’s some sort of demon when he shoots.

Blocked.

Again.

Blocked.

Again.

Blocked.

Again.

The goalie doesn’t look smug because Shou reckons he’s gotten closer than anyone has in at least a week. He passes it to Ito and actually plays proper hockey for a while, with passing and being a team player and all of that good shit that he hears the pros talk about in their neigh incomprehensible interviews, and he thinks that someone somewhere might be proud of him. Might be.

When their tenth shot on goal gets nothing, Shou decides that he’s going to fight this goalie. He’s never actually fought a goalie, but he thinks that it’s the best thing to do. It’s the only expression of affection he knows, and Shou adores him, adores his style and his skill and his pretty face. It makes him feel a little dizzy, like when he skated in circles for too long as a kid and then suddenly stopped. Plus, it’s hockey. This is the only place he can fight without Pops reading him the riot act, as if he wasn’t the one who taught Shou that power is vested in who can hit the hardest and hit first. It’s the perfect plan.

First period ends 0-0, and the energy radiating off the ice is electric. Everyone wants that first goal and no one seems able to get it, but Shou knows that he will.

“Think I’ll break the record for most shut-outs from a Black Vinegar goalie tonight?” Hanazawa asks in the locker room.

“I dunno.” Shou tells him, splashing water on his face. “And I don’t care.”

Hanazawa’s offense to his remark is hysterical, and it gets even funnier when Shou tacks on a quick “To be honest, I don’t think you care, either,” but it’s true. Hanazawa doesn’t care which record he’s breaking, so long as it’s a record, and as his only actual friend, Shou knows that more than anyone. Somebody oughta knock that out of him one day, but Shou doesn’t care to do it if only because that would get his ass kicked off the team, and hockey is one of three things he actually likes. He’ll let Hanazawa figure it out on his own.

Second period starts and eight minutes in, the puck gets stuck in the far corner of Salt’s zone. It would be useless for Shou to put his stick in that mess, and so he lingers by goalie. From here, he can see the characters of his last name: Kageyama.

Kageyama looks up at him (he’s resting on his knees, typical goalie defensive position) with a glare. Shou returns it with a grin and then leans on the goal post.

“Get off of my goal.” He hisses, voice just barely above a whisper.

“The hell makes you think this is yours?” Shou asks, putting more of his weight on it. “This is mine. I’m just lettin’ you borrow it for a bit.”

“Tell that to your wrist shot last period.” Kageyama rolls his not-brown eyes and bats at Shou’s shins with his hockey stick. Not so much of a fighting move, but one designed to swat him away, like Shou is a particularly annoying gnat.

Shou swipes back at him, laughs when he flinches, but he doesn’t actually hit him. The puck is freed from its little corner and comes towards Kageyama. He stops it again, neat and nice, and Shou keep creeping closer and closer, desperate to get one goal on him. Just one.

His opportunity comes later, when the second period is about three minutes from ending. While Kageyama can block just about anything, he’s a little weak on the ones that go high up, and so Shou aims for the back left corner of the net, and with some difficulty, it sails in.

There’s a lot of cheering and playful punches on the shoulder from his teammates and Shou’s smiling, glad to be the hero of the moment. Before they get everything set up for another face off, he skates over to Kageyama and pats the goal.

“Told you this was mine.” He says, and the anger in Kageyama’s glare could set whole cities on fire.

“The only reason you think this goal is yours is because that center position isn’t.” He notes, and Shou is in awe of the fact that not only did he pick up on that (must’ve been some clue in how he was playing, even if Shou can’t find it), but that he’s not at all afraid to throw it right in his face. Kageyama has guts, and Kageyama also has fighting words. It’s the perfect pretext, and judging by the stony set of his face, Kageyama knows it, too.

He drops his stick, grabs Kageyama by the edge of his jersey, and pulls him up. Kageyama’s taller than him by at least two inches and he figures out what’s going on immediately. Kageyama puts up his arms to defend his face, leaving his stomach wide open.

Shou hits him hard and he doubles over, making it easier for Shou to knock off his helmet and get a proper look at his face. It’s even better without the helmet blocking it, and now he can see Kageyama’s hair. It looks nice. Very soft. He must have a good taste in conditioner. That’s what he’s thinking of when he puts his fist right in that pretty face. Kageyama’s conditioner.

Kageyama collects himself enough to make a few good swipes at Shou. Nothing extraordinary, though. Goalie fights are rare, and so he doesn’t have much of an idea of how to go about them. Still, he drops his gloves and he tries his damndest, and there’s already a little bit of swelling under his left eye from that second hit when he manages to catch Shou in the throat.

All the air goes out of him at once, but he stays on his skates, coughing like mad as he shoves Kageyama against the boards. The refs have more than taken of them now, but there’s a fight to finish and he’s not going to let them get in his way, and they hesitate to get in the middle of this mess. Kageyama might hit them because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, after all—and Shou might hit them because he knows exactly what he’s doing.

They’re close to the Black Vinegar bench and Shou gets an idea. They’re still fighting, a little aimlessly on Kageyama’s part, and he doesn’t notice where they’re going, too focused on trying to figure out how best to fight. Shou manages to get his hands on Kageyama’s chest and with a grin that gives away nothing, he shoves him backwards, sending him over the boards and right onto the bench next to their reserve players.

It’s funny. It’s really funny. Shou’s laughing when Kageyama gets up and pounces on him like a tiger. He’s laughing less when Kageyama punches him square in the nose, but he’s still laughing. He sees the referees getting closer, hesitating less, and knows that he only has a few seconds, and so he uses his seconds wisely.

He goes to flip Kageyama over so that he’s on top and thus can get more hits in, but halfway through, he’s aware that Kageyama has no helmet and that if he hits his open head off of this ice, he’s screwed. He’s out for the season. The most interesting player Shou’s seen in years, out for the season. Maybe out for forever. It’s unacceptable. And maybe all of this is unacceptable: Shou knows that most people don’t communicate admiration by fists to the face, but he has no idea how else to do it; not until the second that his hand cradles the back of Kageyama’s head and his knuckles smash against the ice instead of his skull.

Shou doesn’t do anything. He makes no swipes at him, just drops the grin and looks at Kageyama with something unguarded and open that he can’t even begin to understand. Shou stares at him with that look shamelessly, and then he flicks Kageyama’s bangs out of his eyes. They’d fallen there at some point, which Shou figures is a damn shame. Kageyama’s expression, now that he can fully see it, is a little lost. A little curious. Clearly startled by what’s happening, and that look hits Shou harder than his fists ever did.

The refs pull them apart before either one of them can get their senses back and continue fighting. They determine that Shou started it, which he guesses is half right, and they cart him off to the penalty box. It’s isolated enough that his coach can’t scold him from there, and it gives him time to look around. Salt’s coach pulled Kageyama and seems to be running him through a concussion test, and he’s fussy about the whole thing, adorably fussy. Shou doesn’t have to hear him to know the words he’s saying, the insistence that he’s perfectly fine and should be put back on the ice as soon as humanly possible. He’s seen a thousand players do it, but this one is different. He doesn’t know what it is about him exactly, but Kageyama’s got this something. This something that makes Shou pay attention, this something that makes dumb stuff seem charming and magical and a little out of this world. Shou likes it. He likes it a lot.

Kageyama’s pretty quick to pick up on the fact that Shou is staring again. Shou waves once, and Kageyama rather eloquently flips him off. Shou guesses that the feeling he gets is the same one people get when their lovers blow them kisses. It seems about right.

“What was that?” Kobayashi asks him as soon as Shou escapes from their coach’s lecture and shimmies his way down to the locker room, skates half unlaced.

“Oh, you know. Just some conversation.” Shou shrugs and then glances at himself in the mirror. The part of his throat that had Kageyama’s fist in it is bruised, there’s a scratch on his cheek, there’s dried blood under his nose, he feels distantly like he was run over by a freight train, and his knuckles are every color of the rainbow. One, he spots, is definitely dislocated. He flexes his hand to see if it hurts, and oh yeah, it’s brutal. “Wanted to see what he was made of.”

“Your curiosity let Salt get a goal.” Hanazawa chimes in.

“No, that was you being a shitty goalie.” He doesn’t mean it because, without even paying attention, Shou knows that it was most likely their defense being dumbasses, but it offends Hanazawa enough that he audibly gasps, and so it’s worth it.

“Suzuki!” Kobayashi scolds him, giving him a smack on the top of the head that’s more like a pat than anything. “Seriously, get your head on straight.”

Hanazawa says nothing, steaming like broccoli in a pot, and it’s kind of funny. It’s less funny when he very kindly offers to bandage up his knuckles, and Shou accepts because he doesn’t want to seem like a weakling and Kobayashi is the sort of captain who trusts them and thinks that they’re actually genuinely trying to help each other. With Hanazawa and Shou on his team, he should know better, but Shou allows him his naivety and allows Hanazawa to tear up his hand while fixing it.

He starts wrapping the bandages around Shou’s knuckles, making a point of poking at that dislocated one without fixing it. “So, I’m a shitty goalie, huh?”

“Damn, dude, your ego is really that fragile?” Shou raises an eyebrow at him, not wincing when Hanazawa shoves the knuckle part of the way back into place, but not enough to actually help it. “You know you’re a good goalie. You sure don’t need me to tell you that. Somebody’s just gotta remind you that you ain’t the best in the world. I figured it’s my job to.”

“And who is the best? That one you fought?” Hanazawa puts the knuckle the rest of the way back, and when mentioning Kageyama makes Shou’s whole face light up, his eyes widen. “Oh my god. You really think he is.”

“Yeah, duh. Did you see him? He’s got more talent ‘nd potential than he knows what to do with. And there’s just this feeling about him. This vibe. I don’t know man, you saw it, right? That sorta way he has. It’s like, in his face. When he looks at you. It’s like you’re the only person in the world.” With one hand wrapped, Shou takes it back and holds out the other. He finds himself restraining a sigh as he thinks about Kageyama and his demon eyes, but not an exasperated one. It’s one closer to the sighs that come from the student section when Hanazawa does just about anything.

“You have a crush on him.” Hanazawa’s analysis is quick and to the point. As if Shou didn’t quite get the gravity of that statement (or, most likely, to get the attention of more people around them), he repeats it. “You have a crush on him.”

Shou thinks about it. He hasn’t really had...any crushes, now that he thinks about it, but it’s been described like this, and so he nods. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

“...So why did you fight him?” Hanazawa seems like he’s forgotten the earlier offense, far more interested in the potential of drama. Shou tries very hard not to laugh at him.

“I dunno. That’s what you do, ain’t it? I mean, I don’t know what else you’re supposed to do when you like somebody and you’re playin’ hockey with ‘em.” Shou shrugs and Hanazawa looks mortified.

“That’s...That’s not how this works. At all.” He finishes up wrapping that last hand and then dramatically throws an arm over Shou’s shoulder. “Listen here, little brother. I’m about to give you some priceless, priceless advice.”

Now that he has someone to condescend to, Hanazawa’s mood has lifted straight up into the sky, and, well, Hanazawa’s pretty popular with girls and guys alike. He might say something not totally useless. Shou puts on the airs of half-listening when he’s really more like three-quarters listening and lets him go.

“When you like someone and you’re trying to get them to like you, you’re supposed to be nice to them. Not in a way that’s obvious or insulting, but you’re supposed to be kind. Respectful. Buy them things and hold open doors and be charming and whatnot. Now, you’ll never be as good at it as me—I’m a master, after all—but you can use a few tips. Talk to him, tell him how good of a goalie he is, find some excuse to hang out with him more, make the fight seem like a joke. Brush it off, and I promise he’ll follow. Maybe invite him to go skating with you. Show off. Be your best self, because I have utter and complete faith in your ability to make that boy like you.” With the hand that’s not around Shou, Hanazawa makes wide, sweeping gestures, as if they make his vague comments make perfect sense. Shou’s surprised he doesn’t smack someone in the middle of his performance. A few people have listened in, maybe for tips but also maybe to pick up on the fact that Shou’s picked up a crush on the opposing team’s goalie.

“Thanks.” Shou says. “You sure do know how this is done.”

“I sure do.” Hanazawa smiles, and Shou thinks about if he’ll actually take any of his advice. The nice shit doesn’t seem like a horrible idea, as long as he can think of something nice to say that he actually means, but brushing off the fight? Why would he do that? Besides, he’s got bruises and Shou’s got lips. He could more than offer to kiss them better, and then everybody’s problem is solved. Maybe Hanazawa needs to be taking some tips from him, but he can think on that later. There’s still hockey left to be played, after all.

Third period, Salt has their reserve goalie in, and they tear him to shreds. Or, Kobayashi and Ito tear him to shreds. Shou helps and spends time watching Kageyama slowly grow more and more furious at his replacement. He doesn’t look very concussed, but he hears whispering. Apparently he’s had one before, and so they’re all cautious. Careful. Like he’s made of glass and not the steel and bone and magic that he actually is.

The game ends 4-1 in Black Vinegar’s favor, and they all line up for handshakes. Shou says “Good game” so many times that it stops feeling like words, and he can’t stop looking at Kageyama, there at the end of the line, and the fate of civility that approaches both of them like a goddamn freight train.

Their hands touch, but it’s not really a handshake. Just a hold. There’s a callous where Kageyama holds his hockey stick, but otherwise, his hand is soft and unnaturally cold, like he touched the ice just before touching him. He looks at Shou with such intensity that he forgets to speak. All he can do is stare back, unflinching and equally intense. They pass each other silently and then move on, silent as ghosts.

Shou’s hand feels like it’s on fire as he changes into his street clothes. He lingers in the locker room, rehashes their victory, and then goes out to find Kageyama, wherever he could be hiding. A quick look out the window reveals that he’s not out in the parking lot, and he doesn’t seem like he’s among his teammates that are heading for the door. He pulls his duffle along behind him and makes his way to the snack bar, and there! There’s Kageyama, sitting at a table by himself. He’s got a popsicle pressed over his one eye to keep the swelling down, and with his other hand, he’s texting someone. Judging by his facial expression, it isn’t someone he wants to talk to.

Kageyama’s back into street clothes, and he’s got this plain sense of style that doesn’t really fit with everything else on him and about him being so bright, but Shou appreciates it. One more thing might blind him. Shou takes the seat across from Kageyama and slings his bag over the back of his chair. Kageyama drops the popsicle onto a napkin and blue raspberry-flavored water is running down his face where the popsicle once was.

“What are you doing here?” He asks, and the shitty neon lighting and the bruises on his face make him look a little intimidating, but only a little.

“Nothin’. Just wanted to talk to ya. The name’s Suzuki Shou.” Shou holds out his hand and smiles and Kageyama considers it carefully, squinting like he thinks Shou might be hiding a blade, and shakes it.

“Kageyama Ritsu.” He says, and Shou likes that name. He doesn’t know why, but he likes it. It just has a nice sound. “Now, what do you want?”

“I already told ya, I just wanted to talk.” Shou fakes being exasperated, fakes it so much that it’s clear what he’s doing is a joke. Ritsu doesn’t laugh.

“About?”

“How you’re the best goalie I’ve played against since…” Shou pauses, tries to think of a name, and then fails. “Since ever, actually.”

He looks flattered for half of a second, and then it falls back into suspicion. “You’ve certainly played against shut-out goalies before.”

“Yeah, but they don’t have your...Your thing.” Shou gestures to his whole being, helpless to explain what he sees. “You know what I’m talking about, don’t ya? It’s like you know where the puck is going before somebody even shoots it. Like you just know. Like it’s in your blood. A lot of times, shut-outs are just because of shitty offense. I’ve seen it before on TV and whatever, but I ain’t ever played against someone with that. Not until today.”

Ritsu falls silent. His gaze drops to the table. More of that blue is running down that face and Shou swipes it up with one finger on an impulse he only half understands himself. Ritsu jumps, startled, and now Shou has popsicle on his finger and he doesn’t know what to do with it, so he just pops it in his mouth. Ritsu’s got a good taste in popsicles, he thinks a little idly. Something about this whole situation has made a blush rush to Ritsu’s cheeks and Shou thinks that it’s cute as hell, even if he doesn’t really get it.

“You also had popsicle on your face.” He points out.

“I see.” Ritsu manages, and then he clears his throat like there was something caught in it. “And thank you. For your words. It’s...kind of you to say that.”

“No problem.” Shou waves it off and then gets an idea. “Hey, you want one ice cream to actually eat? I’m craving some.”

He considers it for a minute, and Shou can see the cogs in his brain turning frantically, trying to figure out what Shou’s endgame is. “Sure.” Ritsu decides, sounding very far from sure, and then he starts digging through his bag, presumably for money. Shou grabs his wrist quickly, but not nearly hard enough to bruise. Not even enough to hurt.

“No, I’ve got it! I’ve got more cash on me than I know what to do with. Might as well spend it on you.” Shou shrugs and he can feel all of the fluttering tendons in his wrist and the edge of his bones and his pulse beating quick but steady, and he lets go of Ritsu fast, like that gentleness burnt his fingertips and was going to burn the rest of him if he didn’t move his hand away that second.

“...Alright.” Ritsu relents and then gets up and Shou realizes that oh, they’re going to walk to the snack bar together. Neat. They place their orders a little clumsily, not familiar enough with the other’s speech pattern to figure out who will speak first or what their pauses exactly mean, but they stumble through it and Ritsu ends up with plain chocolate and Shou gets mint chocolate chip.

As soon as they sit down, Shou bites into it, and Ritsu looks at him with raised eyebrows, completely scandalized. “You bite ice cream?”

“Uh, yeah. Course I do.” Shou knows that it’s not normal and that him pretending like he thinks it is might not be totally honest, but he delights in Ritsu’s casual horror as he bites into it again. Ritsu sighs and then focuses on his own ice cream, which seems to cheer him up. A sweet tooth. Adorable.

They say nothing for a good while, just eating in each other’s company. They’re both bruised by each other’s hand, but that was on the rink. This is off of it. Off the rink, Shou can eat ice cream with him, and it’s so normal and stupid and new, and he likes it more than he could have ever dreamed.

“You guys got good ice cream down here.” Shou comments.

“We do, but no one ever gets it. They don’t want something cold after being on the ice.” Ritsu rolls his eyes at the very idea of not liking the cold, which Shou more than understands.

“Cowards.” Shou adds, which brings a little bit of amusement to Ritsu’s face. His intense glare is just as alluring, just as charming as this.

“They really are.” He agrees and continues eating his ice cream, looking at something a little above Shou’s head. He looks up but doesn’t see anything there.

“Mhmm. You’re the only one of ‘em that isn’t scared of a fight.” Shou says, and that brings Ritsu’s gaze back to him. “Was that your first one in net?”

“It was.” Ritsu tells him, and Shou appreciates that he tells him the truth because he could’ve lied pretty easily, even if Shou would’ve known the truth. “And I’m going to guess that it wasn’t your first time fighting?”

“Hell no!” He tells him. “Fightin’s half the fun some days. But only some of ‘em. Anyhow, you did good for a first fight.” Shou keeps his tone light, his compliments there but said like he doesn’t think too much of them.

Ritsu looks like he’s about to say thank you, but then he gets a thought and Shou can see it hit him, can see how his face changed. “Were you trying to goad me into a fight that whole time?”

“Course I was. It’s what I do when I see someone interestin’ on the ice.” He shrugs and takes a final bite of his ice cream. His teeth sting with a familiar, comforting cold and there’s a nice ache in his bones that comes from a good game and life is nice here. It’s good here.

“Why?” Ritsu asks, leaning in towards Shou. He looks like a detective on one of those cop shows that’s looking for a lead, for some thread of logic to hold onto in the dark. He doesn’t think Ritsu’ll find it in him.

“I dunno. I just do. Plus, I don’t think you minded the fighting all that much.” Shou stops to grin and sees that Ritsu looks away for half of a second, just about proving him right. Then, he continues on, struck with an idea that he’s not going to ignore. “I think we could go places if we ever worked together. Like, practicin’ or something. You look like you need someone to shoot at you that actually can aim, and god knows what I’d give for a goalie who can save who isn’t Hanazawa. Love ‘im to death, but ugh, you saw him. His personality is just like his helmet, all you need to know. But yeah, it’d be constant improvement. Benefit for everybody. We wouldn’t even have to beat the shit out of each other all the time if ya didn’t want to.”

Ritsu considers it, frowning at nothing in particular after his brief struggle with not snickering at Shou’s comments about Hanazawa. He’s looking at it logically, looking at it from the standpoint of Shou being good at what he does, and he wants that glory and that challenge. Shou sees it, and so he knows most of what he’ll say before it even comes out of his mouth. “I see your point, and I agree. but it’s not like Black Vinegar and Salt are particularly close to each other.”

“You’re worth the walk.” He says, absolutely shameless and enjoying how Ritsu says nothing to that with his mouth but says everything to it with his eyes, says that he thinks Shou and what he offers might be worth the walk, too.

“We also both have to practice with our teams. How would we find a time for it?”

“We’d just do it late. Real late. Like, midnight.” Shou throws the suggestion out and Ritsu continues eating his ice cream.

“And what rink is letting us in at midnight?”

“They’re not. We’re breaking in.” Shou grins and then grabs his bag. Some digging, and he pulls them out. “Black Vinegar Ice Complex keys, one set, courtesy of my coach and his inability to put things back in his pockets.”

Ritsu stares at the keys, wide-eyed and curious. He takes them from Shou’s hands gently, as if they’re sacred objects. He flips them over in his palms, taking delight in the cold metal on his skin. He’s completely enchanted by them, and Shou’s enchanted by his enchantment.

“What do you say?” Shou asks, holding his hand back out. Ritsu gives him the keys back, and the tips of his fingers linger on his palm a little longer than he expected them to. It tickles.

“Where should we meet? What day? Will they have a goal out?” Ritsu drops his voice to a whisper as he gives his answer without the word yes, and it makes him feel like they’re planning something that’s life-or-death important. The level of drama makes him feel giddy.

“I’ll text you. Let you know when I know. You got a pencil or something?” Shou doesn’t have one on him. He never does.

Ritsu produces a pen from his hoodie pocket and scribbles a number onto one of the napkins. Shou takes it, admires his handwriting (a little sloppy, like his hand can’t keep up with the whirring in his brain), and then enters the number into his phone as he finishes up the ice cream he actually got to eat.

Shou goes to text him, but then he gets a text from his father that the car is out front and his driver is waiting, and he sighs loudly enough that someone working the snack bar looks over at them. “I gotta run, but I’ll text you later.”

Ritsu nods and before he goes, Shou picks up that blue raspberry popsicle and presses it over his swollen eye. His other hand brushes his cheek and when Ritsu fits his hand under Shou’s to hold the popsicle there himself, their fingers brush again. He stands there a minute longer and then he goes, heart full of something like hope.

***

Later, he does text Ritsu, and they come up with a date and a time: tonight, midnight on the dot. Ritsu’s got allowance money to cover both of their tickets there and back that he insists on using after Shou paid for the ice cream. As for their meeting spot, it’s at the Kageyama house, a plain place among the plainness of every other place surrounding it. It’s comforting, sort of, to see something so ordinary. He likes that it’s so normal, so out of Shou’s own realm, and he spends a good time staring at it before going around the back like he was told.

When Shou gets there, Ritsu is already on the balcony, duffel bag over his shoulder, waiting for him to arrive. Once he spots him, Ritsu lets his bag fall to the ground and then he jumps after it. He sees that Ritsu has tied a rope made of bedsheets to his balcony so that he can climb back up when all is said and done. Clever.

Shou smiles at Ritsu, at his bruised face beneath the moonlight and the budding victory that’s blooming in his eyes. That good feeling from earlier hasn’t faded, but it only grows stronger, and Shou wonders if it’ll swallow him whole.

Ritsu smiles back.