i. messages on clementine rinds
Takao was lying face up in the grass, hands behind his head and eyes to the starry night sky.
(interlude i. we hold water with our weighted wings)
(They’d practiced much longer than they should have tonight. Miyaji-senpai the Second had reminded them all that the Winter Cup was slowly approaching and Takao and him had looked at each other and nodded while everyone else was heading for the locker rooms. They had begun to perfect their pass even more.
Their pass. It was theirs.
Shintarou vaguely remembered finding Takao alone directly after the Vorpal Swords’ match against Jabberwock and trying to make that as clear as possible to Takao. Takao seemed weirdly insistent about Shintarou not apologizing that it only made him more insistent about apologizing. He had said something mildly embarrassing like “I’m sorry. I only did it because I knew we would come up with a move even more extraordinary to win against Rakuzan next year”. He also said something extremely embarrassing like “Me and you are a team. Me and Akashi might be friends but I could never trust him like I trust you. Not even close”.
Shintarou was blanking on the exact words but he knew he’d only be asking for embarrassment if he asked Takao about it.)
i. messages on clementine rinds — cont.
Shintarou pushed up his glasses. “What is it, Takao?”
“You believe in fate, right?”
“You already know the answer, but I have a feeling that if I relay it to you, you’ll go off about sappy sentimentals.”
Takao gave a soft laugh.
(interlude ii. with you i feel grapefruit juice running in my blood)
(It was Shintarou’s favorite kind of laugh that came from him. Though, he loved his unrestrained, loud chuckles when Shintarou did something the slightest bit abnormal almost as much. And the mischievous giggles when he had done something Shintarou had not yet figured out. And the exhales out of his nose when he was trying not to laugh at his own joke. And the breathless, hysterical chortles when Shintarou made a joke for once.)
ii. let’s connect the stars
“Maybe. Just answer the question.”
“Of course I believe in fate. But not blindly. That would be foolish. I trust it to guide me once I have done what I can by my own will. Man proposes-”
“God disposes. I know, Shin-chan.”
“Hmph, why did you even ask then?”
“Do you think fate brought us together like this? Did fate make us both choose Shuutoku? Did it make us choose each other?” When Shintarou didn’t respond because he was still mentally composing an answer (and himself), Takao rephrased his question. “As partners, I mean. Do you think we would have found out how great of a pair, basketball pair, we are?”
“Ah, so I was right about the sentiment.”
Takao held in a laugh. “Shin-chan! This is a very serious question!”
“Yes, yes. I chose Shuutoku because it was fate’s decision, so it would be wrong to assume fate had absolutely no part in our relationship. Basketball… relationship.” Shintarou was getting unnecessarily flustered about this.
Takao turned his head towards Shintarou. Shintarou turned his head away from Takao almost instantaneously. “...But?”
“But,” Shintarou cleared his throat and pushed up his glasses once more. Was it getting a bit warm out? “I’m confident that even without fate as a factor, I would have inevitably been drawn to you… your basketball.”
Takao made a struggling noise as he propped himself up onto his knees. “Shin-chan! I didn’t know you were such a hopeless romantic!”
It was a joke (probably) but that didn’t keep Shintarou from coughing at the statement. Having emotions was a pain. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“When you say stuff like this, I can’t understand why people don’t believe me when I say you’re the most hilarious person alive.”
Takao giggled again. He rested his hand on Shintarou’s shoulder (and Shintarou let him).
iii. swear you’ll catch my tears
“You, Mister Midorima Shin-chan, are something else.” Shintarou rolled his eyes. He tried not to smile, he really did. He felt Takao’s grip on his shoulder tighten the slightest bit as he did.
“And you, Takao Kazunari, are a pain.”
Takao’s hand slid off Shintarou’s shoulder (much to Shintarou’s dismay. Uh. Not dismay). Takao feigned offense by dramatically placing a hand on his chest. “Aw, you wound me. I pedal you around on the rear cart everywhere and this is the thanks I get?” He crossed his arms. He looked at Shintarou with a stern look, but his squinted blue-gray eyes were smiling like they always did. “Spoiled brat.”
Shintarou shook his head, finally taming his smile (though it felt like it could crack again at any time). “Those are all your penalties. It’s your fault for not getting better at rock-paper-scissors.”
“It’s a totally luck-based game! We both know you hit the luck jackpot. And then some.”
“Or maybe that’s what you’ve convinced yourself since you’re such a sore loser.”
“Says the one who ran away to cry in the rain after our first loss last year.”
Shintarou attempted to keep his composure. “Shut up, Takao. I was not crying.”
“You totally were.”
He was failing at doing so. “I was not. It was simply raining.”
Shintarou huffed. “Was not.”
“Really? It sure seemed like it. Your glasses looked a little foggy.”
“Your eyes are surely broken.”
“Oh! I know! Maybe your glasses are broken and that’s why they were so foggy. Hey, let me see them, Shin-chan!”
“No way, fool.”
“Don’t be so stingy.” Takao inched closer to where Shintarou was sitting and reached up to take off his thick frames. Shintarou didn’t feel like putting in the effort to stop him, but tried to show his annoyance through his glare. (That urge to smile still didn’t go away for some reason, however. Odd.) “Who knows, maybe you’re actually secretly really pretty underneath these. Just kidding! You’ve got that covered already.” A joke. (Probably.)
Takao looked like he had just conquered a great king as he slipped Shintarou’s glasses off and onto his own. He (cutely) grinned and then (adorably) scrunched his nose in fake confusion.
“I think these are broken, Shin-chan,” Takao gasped. “I can’t see a thing! Not even Shin-chan’s gorgeous face. How do you live like this?” Another joke. (Probably.)
Shintarou clicked his tongue but his ever-annoying urge to laugh at Takao’s antics contradicted his urge to be annoyed at them. (And his urge to kiss Takao’s stupid face definitely contradicted something too. Shintarou didn’t know what but there had to be something.) “That’s because they’re not made for you, idiot.”
“Hm, don’t you think they suit me, Shin-chan?” Takao pushed them up in a Shintarou-esque way and gave a wide smile.
Shintarou squinted at Takao’s awfully blurry face accompanied by an equally blurry set of familiar frames. Yes. “I wouldn’t know. Give them back.”
Takao pretended to think about it for a moment. “Hm, sure. If you ask nicely!”
“Give them back now .”
“Hm, getting farther away.”
“Give them back now or I’ll take them back myself.”
Blurry Takao quirked his eyebrow. “Oh, really?” A challenge.
“If I must.” Shintarou reached up to grab them back, but Takao ducked back a little.
“C’mon, I’m not giving you such an easy victory.”
Shintarou let out a breathy laugh. He reached again. Takao dodged to the side. “Give it.”
Takao let out a hearty giggle in return. “Never.”
Shintarou kept at his efforts to grab back his glasses as Takao kept at avoiding his hands. (Being without his glasses was obviously affecting his accuracy.) Both of them kept up at their laughter as they ended up doing the teenage equivalent to two five-year-olds roughhousing over a toy that they both wanted to play with.
When Shintarou inevitably managed to take back his glasses, he quickly tried to put them back on with his left hand. However, Takao’s right reached its wrist fast enough to stop him from doing so.
Unfortunately, he had miscalculated how balanced he was while supporting himself on one knee instead of two and toppled over, pushing Shintarou down with him.
Shintarou had closed his eyes expecting a hard impact that never came. When he opened them, he found himself wishing that he had perfect vision more than ever before in his life. Shintarou had stopped laughing, but Takao had not. He still had Shintarou’s left wrist in the grip of his right hand, this time pinned to the ground. His other hand was planted next to Shintarou’s right arm, only barely touching it with the base of his palm, to keep himself stable. His legs were bent so that his knees touched the ground to keep him at a good distance from Shintarou but that only made Shintarou want to pull him down even more.
Shintarou hoped that his face didn’t look as hot as it felt. Takao didn’t seem to notice the compromising position they were in until he noticed Shintarou’s sudden lack of snark. He made a face that Shintarou couldn’t make out (both literally and figuratively) and rolled back to Shintarou’s left side with a sigh, a half-hearted sorry, and another little giggle.
Shintarou cleaned his glasses with his uniform and put them back on. He suddenly felt very childish.
They laid there in silence for a bit. Shintarou didn’t understand how people could possibly find silence comfortable because he had never felt so awkward in his life. Maybe it was the dawning realization that he would never go back to seeing Takao as simply his basketball partner and/or his best friend any time soon. Maybe not ever. He was in too, too deep.
He had tried glancing over at Takao a couple of times to see if he was holding up better, but each time he saw Takao peeking at Shintarou out of the corner of his eye out of the corner of his own eye, he froze and looked straight back up to the sky.
iv. constellate our fears with cinnamon sticks
“The moon is beautiful tonight, huh?” Takao said finally. Shintarou accidentally let out a breath he had been holding in. He tried to focus on the moon Takao was talking about but he found himself focusing on the lack thereof.
“What are you talking about, Takao?”
“The stars. I meant the stars.”
Shintarou looked again. “Sure.”
“What is it, Takao?”
“You like astronomy, right?”
“This is a very serious question, Shin-chan!”
“You already know the answer.”
Takao gave another one of Shintarou’s favorite laughs. “Answer the question, Shin-chan.”
“Well, a bit, I suppose but it’s astrology that I’m invested in. Oha Asa in particular. I sure hope you’ve at least gathered that much about me in the year we’ve known each other.”
“Well, it was longer than that for me but yes.”
“I’m aware. I meant really known.”
“Do you really know me, Shin-chan?”
(interlude iii. angels in the submarine)
(It was an odd question from someone like Takao who was unlike all others who weren’t Takao. That made it somewhat simpler too. Shintarou could be confident that it was nothing more than a question in the same way that he could be confident in Takao’s passes. In Takao.)
iv. constellate our fears with cinnamon sticks — cont.
“I’d like to think I know you quite a bit.”
“I’d like to think so too, Shin-chan.”
There was another silence. This one was a bit shorter and a bit less awkward. (Still very awkward in Shintarou’s books.)
“What is it, Takao?”
Shintarou heard Takao shift to turn to him. He pointed his left hand to the sky and moved it as he spoke. “Do you know what that constellation is?”
“...No,” Shintarou responded honestly. (He could only recognize the astrological sign constellations and he also had no idea what Takao was pointing to.)
“Cassiopeia. Those five bright stars that look like a W from the English alphabet. It was named after the queen of Aethiopia, some upper Nile region. It’s supposed to be her sitting in a chariot or something, I think. Apparently, she got punished by being placed in the stars because she thought she and her kid were more beautiful than these sea nymphs. It upset the ocean god, I guess. Seems like a weird punishment, don’t you think?”
“I didn’t know you were so into astronomy.”
“I’m not. I got that all off the internet.”
There was another beat of silence. Takao broke it again, this time with a sudden laugh. And then several more laughs. He was practically rolling now.
“What’s so funny?” Shintarou asked.
“I-” He wheezed. “I don’t know why I thought-” Another wheeze. “That would impress you!” He started cracking up again. Shintarou’s confusion only grew.
“What do you mean?”
“Astronomy has nothing to do with astrology! I wasted so much time researching this stuff even though it didn’t make sense to!” He laughed hard.
Shintarou frowned. Takao was reeling back and punching the ground. “I’m not following. Why would you want to-”
“It doesn’t even matter how I try to show it because you won’t pick it up if I don’t tell you directly. That’s how dense you are, Shin-chan!”
“Huh? About what?”
Takao laughed harder.
Shintarou was growing frustrated. “If I won’t get it then tell me.”
“H- okay! Okay!” Takao stood up at an extremely quick speed and faced Shintarou. “Midorima Shin-ch- Midorima Shin-chan-tarou.”
“I am seriously in love with you.”
“I'm kind of tired of dancing around it so. I'm, like, seriously, head-over-heels, do-dumb-things-for-love, call-you-attractive-and-pretty-and-handsome-all-the-time, think-you’re-an-oblivious-dork in love with you.”
v. our secrets speak different languages, still your whisper’s clear
Midorima-Shintarou.exe has stopped working.
“Uh, Shin-chan? Did I break you?”
“I… think I’m misunderstanding something here…” Takao is in love with me.
“Oh my god, Shin-chan. Are you serious-” Takao Kazunari is in love with me.
“I think there’s a disconnect between what I think you’re saying and what you’re actually saying-” My teammate Takao Kazunari is in love with me.
“I’m 99.9% sure there is absolutely no-” My teammate and partner, Takao Kazunari, is in love with me.
“It doesn’t really make sense-” My teammate, partner, and best friend, Takao Kazunari, is in love with me.
“I think it makes a lot of sense.” My teammate, partner, best friend, and ex-rival, Takao Kazunari, is in love with me.
“No, it doesn’t.” And I’m in love with him too.
Takao smiled, wide and unrestrained. He had seemed slightly hesitant up until this moment. The grin he bore was honest. “I like you. A lot. And that makes more sense than anything else I’ve ever known.”
“Fuck.” Takao giggled at that.
Takao looked inhumanely confident at the moment. “You said that you knew me quite a bit, right, Shin-chan?”
Words couldn’t exit Shintarou’s brain now, so he offered half of a word instead. (Though it was more of a weak noise.)
Takao looked back to the sky like it was some script he was reading off of. That had to be it after all. This was all a set-up directed, written, casted, and acted out by Takao Kazunari.
vi. maybe sometime you could teach me how to hold on to your hand
“I happen to know quite a bit about you too. I know that you’re not as cruel as everyone thinks you are. I know that you don’t put blind faith into anything, just unwavering trust. I know that you’re a harder worker than anyone I know. I know that you smile on-court when you think no one is looking and, believe me, they are looking. I know you name most of your lucky items and have grown a weird attachment to some of them, like Kerosuke the giant ceramic frog or Pingu the life-sized stuffed penguin or Señor Quakers the top-hatted rubber duck. I know that you spend practically all of your allowance on random junk because you have to be ‘extra prepared’.
“I also know that you contradict yourself a lot. You say you don’t want me to buy you yakisoba bread from the cafeteria because you forgot to bring your lunch to school but your eyes light up the slightest bit when you see that I bought you one anyway. You say you are adamant about horoscopes but refuse to talk about your emotions ever despite being a Cancer. You say you don’t need help even when it’s clear you do. I know you’re greedy. If you weren’t, Coach wouldn’t need to implement your three selfish requests into the team dynamic. I know you get overconfident in yourself sometimes and become uncooperative with others because of pure faith in your own abilities. I know that none of those are inherently bad qualities. You could say that you’re a hypocrite, demanding, and arrogant. You could also say that you’re changing, persistent, and independent. I know you’ve begun changing those things about you too. I know you’ve been trying to open up.
“I know you’ve been through some things that I still don’t completely understand, or ever will understand. I can’t understand who you were when you were at Teikou, but I do understand who you are now. And I want to keep understanding, keep knowing, keep learning about you. I want to learn who the public’s Midorima Shintarou is and who Shuutoku’s ace is and who my Shin-chan is.”
“Takao,” Shintarou sighed. He felt light in the head and heavy in the chest all at once.
(interlude iii. freeze in fear)
(What had Oha Asa said about today? Scorpio had been ranked first and Cancer second. His lucky item was the pink, Hello Kitty-themed geometrical compass that was now tucked in the front pocket of his school bag, the one that laid a bit above them next to Takao’s bag. Taka- Scorpio’s lucky item had been a night sky, much more vague and much less material than usual.)
vi. maybe sometime you could teach me how to hold on to your hand — cont.
Takao stuck out his hand and Shintarou took it. After standing up, he adjusted his glasses for no particular reason.
“I…” Takao hesitated, “know another thing. I think I do, at least.”
Shintarou didn’t make any noise this time, just looked Takao straight in the eye.
Takao didn’t look away for a second. “I think I know that you like me too.”
vii. kiss me blue
Shintarou took a deep breath and let out a deeper exhale. “You seem to know me pretty well.”
Takao’s hesitance seemed to melt away in an instant, leaving his beaming smile and another one of those laughs. (He was really spoiling Shintarou with those laughs tonight. Maybe Shintarou was a bit greedy after all because he relished every second of them.)
“I knew it!”
“You said you thought you knew it.”
“Oh my god, if you keep talking I’m going to kiss you,” Takao threatened. (Promised? Shintarou didn’t really mind either way.)
“Okay,” Shintarou agreed.
viii. many moons of waiting on a steady sun
Takao made good on that promise. After all, it was only the first of many more promises to come.