Shirabu was slowly heading back to the locker room, after the coach had kept him a few more minutes after workouts to talk to him. The door was ajar and he could hear various pieces of conversation, a mixture of shouting and rather awkward silences.
"...I hate it! It's all his fault! "
What the heck they were talking about? Or perhaps they were fighting? Shirabu gets closer to the door, leaning against the wall but without entering, not wanting to disturb the discussion between his senpais.
He could tell apart the voices of Ushijima, Satori and Reon, but he just couldn’t understand who was the main topic of the conversation.
"I don’t want to play anymore." exclaims the voice that he still hasn’t recognized but, in a few moments, it turnes out to be Semi Eita, the team’s second setter. Did he not want to play volleyball anymore? Why?
Shirabu pressed closer to the door, but didn’t dare to enter because of the palpable tension in the air.
"SemiSemi, what are you talking about?" asks Satori with a much more serious tone than usual, accompanied by Wakatoshi with a questioning stare, who is rather confused by the setter’s statement, clearly not knowing how to react.
"You want to leave?" the captain repeats the words that Eita just said.
"There is no place for me on the team, not when he's here. Not when he took my place like it was nothing, like all my hard work up to this point didn’t mean absolutely anything."
And oh, suddenly Shirabu understands: they’re talking about him. He has always had the fortune of being the only one that could anger the setter that much without really doing nothing. The realization kind of stings, and without noticing his breathing gets heavier. He’s not going to cry, because he doesn’t cry in front of other people, that’s just letting them see his weaknesses and giving them an advantage on him. But then the voice rises again, and maybe he should’ve left already, should’ve just gone home and forgot about it, tough it’s too late now, he can’t unhear the words that are coming.
“Shirabu ruined my fucking life! Can’t you all see it? Or am I just a useless puzzle piece now that I’m not a part of it anymore?”
It’s enough to send him in a panic, clouding his view and no longer feeling the environment around him, spiralling into his own personal despair. His fault, his fault, his fault... because that’s what it always comes down to, this vicious circle that never ends. The problem is him, always has been and always will be. He thought he was appreciated for his qualities and actions, but maybe that was too selfish? He just didn’t expect to hear those words from Eita, the person he looked up to the most, always strong willed and always ready to fight with everything he’s got... or maybe he got it all wrong? Semi never really talked to him, but that was a given with their current teaming situation, but he also never outright said that he hated him, so maybe he got it all wrong?
He doesn’t have time to ponder on that thought, because the door opens suddenly and Shirabu moves away just in time to see Semi Eita running out of the locker room with tears in his eyes and a devastated look on his face. He can feel his chest tightening, pain blooming inside of it like a disease spreading into his body, the guilt haunting him, but also the feeling of empathy toward a friend and teammate who’s suffering. And maybe that’s what snapped him out of his dazed state:
It this how he really wanted it to end?
The next day at morning practice, Shirabu avoids making eye contact with his teammates or talking to them entirely, for the record, only playing alone against the wall in a corner of the gym, and putting the least amount of effort into everything else he is forced to do. No one says anything, partly because they’re all still in shock over the news of Semi leaving the team, and partly because that’s normal Shirabu behaviour on a bad day. How can he blame them?
They know him too well, at this point, and he hates the thought of letting people this close to himself, but he never stood a chance against Tendou Satori and his remarkable talent of knowing everything about everyone and never minding his own business.
The pain in him increases just for a moment, reminding him of the sleepless night spent trying to make that feeling of emptiness fade away from his body. He still has the signs of it on his hands, palms tender with half-moon shapes of his nails imprinted inside of them, raw from the constant pressure, but it’s a small scrape compared to the hurt he’s feeling inside his chest.
The school day hasn’t even started and he already wants to go back to his dorm, bury himself under his covers and just try to make the guilt go away, together with Semi’s word that kept resonating in his head as a reminder. But he keeps going on as he normally would, because he has to, he doesn’t have the luxury of slacking off, not with how important being on the team is for him.
It’s not a surprise when afternoon practice gets cancelled, but he still goes to the gym to do some exercise and possibly hoping to catch Semi one last time. He may be considered arrogant and rude by an outsider, but he’s not the type of person to leave things unfinished, which paired with his sense of responsibility and a little bit of pride, leaves him with no other choice but to go the subject in question directly.
So that’s how he finds himself knocking on his senpai’s door instead of studying or doing something more useful. He knows Eita’s roommate isn’t in, no one usually is in their dorm this early, but he still feels anxious waiting for someone to open the door, absently playing with his hands and biting his lips until they start to lightly bleed (but this is not a problem for now, he reminds himself, he will deal with it later). Which is kind of a ridiculous reaction, considering there’s not an ounce of shame in his body about speaking with people and telling them what he really thinks of them, to the point of being mean and not regretting it.
The door finally swings open and he focuses immediately on the head peeking out of it, looking for a reaction. Semi does not look the same cheeky boy he always is, he has dark circles and bloodshot eyes, a tired look on his face (or maybe defeat?) and trembling fingers under bandaged hands and knuckles. Was he crying? Was he sleeping? Did he even eat today? A lot of questions cross Shirabu’s mind, but he still keeps his mouth shut waiting for the other boy to speak first.
"Go away." The ex-setter murmurs without any emotion on his face, ready to go back and hole up in his room.
"I told you to go away"
"Go back to practice, Shirabu, please."
There’s silence in the air, until Eita's face contorts into an expression full rage.
"What the hell do you want? Here to make fun of me? To remind me you are and always will be better than me? Spit on me, while you’re at it...!"
Shirabu instinctively steps back, apparently frightened by his reaction, but he instantly goes back to the door watching his senpai slip down to the ground, the open door forgotten, clutching his knees to his chest while hiding his face between his legs, tears falling before the older boy can stop them. Kenjirou stays silent, but he lowers down to the ground, trying to catch a look of the others expression. They stay silent for a while, both full of different emotions but the same regrets, before the setter speaks again.
"Semi senpai… I want you to come back!"
"Come back? Why? I don’t want to be reminded of my failure, thank you very much"
Semi’s voice is raspy when he finally speaks and it looks like it hurt him saying that, so Shirabu just sighs, moving closer to sit in front of his senpai, putting his hands on both sides of his face to make him look right at him.
"Eita, listen, you have to keep fighting. I hate myself for making you feel like this, you have to believe me, the guilt is eating me alive even if it was coach’s decision, but this isn’t the end. You have to keep going! We’re equals, you and me, so just because I’m the setter right now it doesn’t mean I’ll always be, and as such please move forward, fight for what you want. "
He tells him all this in one breath, trying to use the calmest and most comforting tone he can manage. Now he is the one on the verge of tears, his eyes shiny and his expression sincere. He hasn’t been this open with anyone, never in his life has he managed to talk openly about his feelings. It’s kind of relieving, after keeping everyone coped up for so long.
"Do not give up ... if not for me, do it at least for yourself"
And with that he moves back to sitting next to the older boy, who is looking at him speechless, but at least his crying has stopped. They spend seconds, or possibly minutes, that seem like an eternity staring at each other, the raw truth sitting heavily beside them, but it’s sort of cathartic if you think about these two.
"You are stupid"
Murmurs Semi with a tone much firmer than before and Shirabu can see a hint of a small smile on his face, the atmosphere finally changing between them.
"You're a fool, and I am even more stupid than you, for even thinking about quitting. Heck, I don’t even resent you, you disrespectful kohai, more like the opposite, actually"
Eita’s cheeks light up with a dust of pink, but he doesn’t look regretful and his expression is simply serene, though Kenjirou’s too busy blushing and shifting his gaze elsewhere to notice.
"So you’re no longer angry, senpai?"
"I wasn’t angry from the beginning, Kenjirou"
To hear his given name pronounced by the other makes him blush even more, if that was humanly possible, and he doesn’t feel pain anymore, only an odd positive feeling making room in his stomach. He knows what it is, and for once he doesn’t try to run away from it.
He finds the courage to name it seconds later, when he feels chapped lips pressing gently against his own, but it’s over a second later. They both have dopey smile on their faces, and they hesitantly join their hands together tightly before getting up from the floor and returning to their initial positions beside the door.
"Do you want to stay here tonight, Kenjirou?"
"...sure Eita, you dumb setter!"
No one says anything the next day when they come into the gym holding hands, but the wink Satori sends their way speaks louder than words.