Shirabu has always considered himself a smart person. He’s the only one from the entire team who made it into the school with academic scores alone, and even with the amount of time practice and captaincy takes away from him, he’s still at the top of the class.
Why, then, is he attracted to Goshiki Tsutomu of all people?
Denial only brought him teasing from his roommate and so-called best friend. Anger only brought him guilt after taking his frustration on Goshiki after losing a match. Bargaining only brought depression faster. He’s already gone through most of the stages of grief and all there is left is acceptance.
At least his old crush on Ushijima was understandable—and shared with most of the team, probably. This crush on Goshiki? Makes no sense. He’s too loud, too proud, and he can never, ever stay away for too long. It doesn’t matter how much Kenjirou tries to avoid him, Goshiki is somehow always there.
Like now, when even while on opposite sides of the cafeteria, Kenjirou can still hear his every word. Maybe if he were just talking Kenjirou wouldn’t find it so annoying. But Goshiki is laughing, smiling as he chats to the group of girls surrounding him.
With Ushijima gone, there’s no shadow hiding Goshiki’s light, and oh, how he shines. He’s undoubtedly the star of the team, reliant ace and miracle boy.
If anyone asked Kenjirou, he’d say that’s the only reason he’s gotten so popular. It has nothing to do with that dumb smile when he gets excited, the fiery glint in his eyes, or those ridiculous, not-cute-at-all bangs framing his face.
Kenjirou isn’t proud of the time he’s spent studying him. He’s even less proud when Goshiki looks towards the table he’s sharing with Kawanishi and catches him staring. The moment their eyes meet, Goshiki’s smile grows so much Kenjirou almost worries he’s going to hurt himself. Cheeks on fire, he looks away. He hates it when this happens, and he hates that this isn’t the first time. What he hates the most is what happens next.
He doesn’t need to look his way to know Goshiki is running to their table, immediately forgetting the girls surrounding him. Kenjirou tries to pretend it doesn’t give him any satisfaction.
Ignoring Kawanishi’s elbow to his ribs, he looks down at his food. He’s been so distracted he’s barely eaten anything. Catching movement from the corner of his eye, he counts. Three, two, one—
“Shirabu-san! Kawanishi-san!” Goshiki plops down in front of him.
“Got tired of your fans?” Kenjirou asks over Kawanishi’s lazy greeting.
“Th—they’re not my fans!” Goshiki’s whole face goes red. It’s stupid how adorable he looks when he gets all flustered. “They just wanted to wish us luck for tomorrow’s game!”
“Yes, I’m sure they were thinking about the whole team.” Kenjirou is almost relieved Goshiki is so dense.
Goshiki looks confused, Kawanishi snorts. Kenjirou ignores them both.
“Stop fooling around and finish your breakfast,” he barks. “I won’t go easy on you if you’re late for practice.” He won’t go easy on him if he’s early, either. If there’s something Goshiki has proven during his second year, it’s that he can keep up no matter how demanding practice might get. He’s always ready for whatever Kenjirou throws at him, always sharp and reliable and focused.
Except for today’s practice.
Kenjirou fails to understand what’s happening. Goshiki seemed fine during breakfast. Louder than usual, but fine. Now he’s botched pretty much every pass Kenjirou sent his way, mumbling nonsensical apologies. Kenjirou couldn’t care less about apologies, he wants results. He wants to win tomorrow’s game or he’ll lose his last ticket to Nationals.
Halfway through practice, Washijou calls it a day and orders everyone to rest. Annoyed and frustrated, Kenjirou slumps down on a bench, glaring daggers at the back of Goshiki’s stupid bowl-cut as he leaves the gym.
“Did he really have to choose today of all days to be weird?” he asks when Kawanishi sits next to him.
“Are you seriously implying he’s not weird every day?”
“He’s not—” he stops halfway realizing he’s about to defend Goshiki.
Kawanishi’s grin tells him he knows exactly what he was about to say. “Guess you’ll have to take one for the team and stay with him for some extra practice.”
“Why do I have to be the one to help him?”
“You’re our setter and captain, Shirabu-san.”
Smacking a volleyball to Kawanishi’s face has never sounded so tempting. “You’re perfectly capable of setting to him… Why don’t you help him, vice-captain?” he asks instead. “It would give you something useful to do with your time.”
“First of all, fuck you,” Kawanishi says, his tone completely unbothered. “And second, I don’t want to,” he shrugs. “Good luck fixing our ace.”
Kenjirou finds Goshiki after class, right where he knew he’d be: the gym.
He’s practicing his serve and doesn’t even flinch when Kenjirou approaches him, as if he knew he’d eventually come looking for him. When did he become so predictable?
Without a word, Kenjirou drags the cart closer to the net. All it takes is for him to grab a ball for Goshiki to get in position. Kenjirou’s toss is flawless. So is Goshiki’s form when he hits it. Kenjirou sets again. And again. And again.
A full hour passes before either of them speaks.
“You didn’t fuck up a single pass,” Kenjirou says, hating how Goshiki refuses to meet his eyes. “What was this morning all about?”
“I’m your captain,” he insists. “I have to make sure my teammates are in top condition. Don’t give me a reason to ask Washijou-san to bench you tomorrow.”
Goshiki looks hurt that he’d even suggest that. “I—” he purses his lips. Kenjirou is definitely not thinking about kissing them. “Please, don’t! I promise I won’t let you down!”
Feeling his walls crumbling down, Kenjirou sighs. “I know you won’t,” he says. “Is that what you’re so worried about?”
“I know how much you want to win tomorrow.”
“I want to win every game.”
“Well… yeah,” Goshiki shrugs. “But if we don’t win tomorrow we’re not going to Nationals.”
Kenjirou doesn’t need a reminder. It’s all he’s been thinking about this week. Now, though, there’s something that bothers him even more. “We’re not losing tomorrow,” he says. “But even if we do, it’s not the end of the world. You still have next year.”
Goshiki looks like he wants to say something else but doesn’t dare to. It doesn’t take too long for Kenjirou to realize what it is: ‘But you don’t.’
“Why do you care so much about me going to Nationals?”
All Goshiki does is look at him, face flushed.
Of all the things Goshiki could’ve said, he says the one Kenjirou less expected: “I just want to make you happy.”
Kenjirou blinks. His heart starts pounding against his ribcage. How stupid, he thinks, getting his hopes high when Goshiki’s words don’t mean what he wishes they meant. “Why?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
He can think of many reasons why Goshiki wouldn’t want him to be happy. First and foremost: Kenjirou doesn’t deserve it. “I don’t need to go to Nationals to be happy.”
“What do you need?”
‘You,’ his mind wants to scream. Ugh. Why is he turning into such a sap? “You really don’t know?”
For the second time, Kenjirou blinks in confusion. “Huh?”
“Don’t you have a crush on Ushijima-san?” Goshiki’s voice has never sounded smaller.
“I have a crush on you.” The words are out before he can stop them.
Yes, what? He wasn’t supposed to say that! Ever!
“You have a crush on me?” Goshiki asks when Kenjirou stays quiet.
“But—but you just said you do!”
“Well, it’s stupid and we’re never talking about this again.” Shirabu turns to leave with the little dignity he has left but Goshiki grabs his wrist. Shirabu stares at his hand. It feels warm against his skin and—
“Shirabu-san?” Goshiki asks. It’s a good thing he lowered his voice—it’s easier to deny this is happening if no one else can hear what he says next. “Do you really have a crush on me?”
“What part of we’re not talking about this did you not understand?”
“I like you too.”
“I never said I like you, I said I—” Kenjirou’s brain freezes once it finally processes what Goshiki just said. “Wait, what?”
“What part of I like you too did you not understand?” Goshiki asks with the smuggest grin he’s ever seen on his face.
“I swear to God Goshiki I’ll get you benched for the rest of—”
“Can I kiss you?”
Slightly squinting as he studies Goshiki’s face, Kenjirou fails to find any sign Goshiki might be just playing with him. His whole face is red, his hands are shaking, and he seems to be about to pass out. “Yes,” Kenjirou breathes, turning to face him and taking a step forward.
Goshiki takes another and meets him halfway.
Kenjirou’s never been kissed before, but he’s pretty sure he doesn’t need any experience to know this is a terrible kiss. For starters, he doubts their teeth were supposed to clack, and why is Goshiki still trembling?
He pulls back to look at him. “Why are you so nervous?”
“I’m not!” Goshiki squeaks. “I just—I didn’t think you’d like me back…”
“Would I be kissing you if I didn’t like you?” he asks despite having denied it just a minute ago.
“Maybe I just wore you down.”
Kenjirou hates how much his heart aches seeing him like this. “You did,” he sighs. Goshiki deflates even more. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt being honest for once. “But it has nothing to do with this.” He hooks a finger under Goshiki’s chin to force him to meet his eyes. “I’m only going to say this once, so listen up.”
It’s unfair how adorable Goshiki looks when he gulps and nods, his bangs bouncing against his forehead.
“You’re the most annoying person I’ve ever met,” he starts, and Goshiki immediately opens his mouth to protest. A glare is enough to shut him up. “You’re also the most hardworking person I know. You care about everyone. You’re passionate. But that’s not why I like you.” He pauses, expecting Goshiki to try to interrupt again. He doesn’t. “I like you because you put up with my shit. You didn’t give up on me. You make me want to be better, try harder. Even when I’m being an ass, you stay and listen and follow my advice and—” he sighs, letting his hand fall to his side. “If anything, the real question here is why would you like someone like me.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“You’re smart. You like to pretend you don’t care but we all know you do. You’re always adapting to the team’s needs. You push us—you push me to work harder. You make sure I’m resting and eating and you’re a lot nicer than you—”
Before he can keep talking, Kenjirou covers Goshiki’s mouth with his hand. Fuck, this is embarrassing. “Okay, okay, I get it!” he protests, but Goshiki’s lips move against his palm. Kenjirou will deny for the rest of his life the shiver that runs down his spine. He pulls back before it happens again.
“Can I kiss you again?” Goshiki asks. Confidence has taken over his face and there’s nothing Kenjirou wants more than to kiss that stupid smirk off his face.
“Nope.” His lips curve into a smirk of his own at Goshiki’s evident disappointment. “You’ll get another kiss if you play well tomorrow.”
Goshiki is brilliant the next day. Everyone is. So is the opposing team.
They still lose. Kenjirou has no energy left to think about why, what went wrong, what they could’ve done better. None of that would change the fact that they’re out of the tournament.
What he can change, though, is how Goshiki takes it. He’s the only one who didn’t cry when the game ended or when they dragged themselves to the bus. He’s being extra cheerful on the ride back home, promising they’ll make it next year.
Kenjirou knows him well enough to read right through him.
Waiting until everyone else is asleep, Kenjirou heads to the back of the bus. When Goshiki smiles at him, he finds he doesn’t like this smile so much. It doesn’t make his knees weak or his cheeks warm. If anything, it makes him feel cold.
“You can drop the act, you know,” he says, sitting down next to him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Alright then,” Kenjirou leans back on his seat, closes his eyes, and waits.
Not two minutes later, he feels Goshiki moving, lifting his feet to his seat to hug his knees. “What kind of ace am I if I can’t even take my team to Nationals?”
Holding back a sigh, Kenjirou tilts his head to look at him. “Do you think losing our last match last year was our ace’s fault?”
“No! Ushijima-san couldn’t have won that game by himself…” Goshiki’s eyes go wide as if he can’t believe what he’s asking. “Karasuno just played better than us.”
“Why can’t you say the same from today’s match, then?”
Goshiki opens his mouth only to close it back again.
“Losing is not the end of the world,” Kenjirou says. “Now you’re just gonna have to take them to Nationals next year. Can you do that for me?”
After staring at him for a minute, Goshiki nods. “Yeah…” his eyes are still glassy but there’s a new determination in them. “Yeah, I can do that.”
“Good.” Even if he doesn’t make it, Kenjirou will still be proud of him, but he doesn’t need to know that. Eager to leave this gloomy mood behind them, he leans against Goshiki’s side.
It doesn’t seem to be enough for him. “Do I still get my kiss?”
Shirabu huffs. As much as he’d love to deny him, he’s been waiting for this since Goshiki asked yesterday. Besides, he did promise him a kiss if he played well… But Goshiki looks so sure he’s already won, Kenjirou decides to make him wait anyway.
“Nope,” he says, crossing his arms and resting his head on Goshiki’s shoulder. He’s been wondering for too long how it would feel to use him as a pillow on their way back home from a game, and today is his last chance. “You’re taking me to dinner first and maybe then you can have your kiss.”
Goshiki’s protest wakes the whole bus.