For all that Sekikawa had all but told him he was forgiven, Shinjo didn't really feel like everything was all right between him and the Futago centerfielder. He had put Sekikawa's head through a window. At the time, it had seemed reasonable, even right, to do so, but now it filled him with guilt. He only hoped he could make up for—everything—when they played baseball together, working for their dreams.
So when Sekikawa tried to get the guys together for a trip to the arcade, Shinjo found something else to do—penance, he thought, and besides, he never actually got invited by name. Okada or Yufune normally mentioned when it went through the group, and Sekikawa never once mentioned it unless Shinjo was in with a whole group of them.
About a month into the baseball season, they had a free Tuesday afternoon. Faculty meetings were sporadic, but even Kawato knew he couldn't miss those, and so cancelled practice like all the other club moderators. Thus, the Futago baseball club members found themselves with a whole afternoon to themselves, and no idea of what to do with it. They couldn't stay on campus, and with their next game in a week and a half, even Mikoshiba didn't think they needed to search like madmen for a practice lot they could use for a single afternoon.
Sekikawa's brain went to the thing he liked best after baseball, running, and an increase in his allowance: video games. So when he declared, after afternoon homeroom, that that was where he wanted to go, no one was surprised. But...
"Dude, no, not again," answered Wakana, "you always clean me out, and I need my damn lunch money this week."
Hiyama mumbled something about watching his niece; Okada and Yufune offered excuses with the strange fact that they had scored dates with a pair of girls from the tennis team. Hiratsuka was in full Toko-stalker mode, and even Sekikawa knew you couldn't separate Imaoka from Hiratsuka during anything but baseball practice.
Mikoshiba froze, when asked, and finally stammered, "m-my sister needs help at the shop this afternoon, so I can't—I'm sorry!" Then, glancing everywhere but at Sekikawa's face, he gathered his stuff and left. Sekikawa was confused, but he didn't see Wakana glaring and shaking his head through the window behind him.
Aniya's raised eyebrow over his magazine was enough.
Sekikawa's mind ran through his other friends: then he realized he didn't have any other friends. Shinjo couldn't even look at him too long, let alone spend an afternoon at the arcade with him, so he figured he wouldn't bother. He sighed as he looked forward to a long, boring afternoon at the arcade by himself ((or else face tea parties at the hands of his 6-year-old sister. Never again would he go home before 5, that was for sure)). He gathered his school bag and turned to go.
Shinjo had seen Sekikawa's eyes flash toward him and away; he let himself hope, and finally spoke.
"…I could go," he said quietly.
Sekikawa turned, face splitting in a grin. "Seriously?" he asked.
Shinjo shrugged. "Sure," he replied.
"Finally!" hooted Sekikawa, "someone who's actually a challenge! All these dickheads suck at Tekken, you have no idea. Let's go!"
Bemused, Shinjo followed a chattering Sekikawa away from the school and through the gates, his brow furrowed. He had always assumed that Sekikawa had never been crazy about inviting him when he arranged these little outings, and that was why he had never been invited, but maybe he had been wrong. Maybe they did want him—
"Dude, stop it," snapped Sekikawa suddenly, whirling and staring, hard, up at Shinjo's face. Shinjo's eyes widened, and he looked away.
"You're doing that thinking thing you do again. If I didn't want you to come, I would never have bothered telling the guys to invite you."
"….wait, why didn't you just invite me?"
"You always like you want to commit seppuku out of guilt whenever you talk to me, moron!"
Shinjo looked away again. "Sorry, I just-I couldn't-I'll try not to anymore."
"The man sees reason!" rejoiced Sekikawa, rolling his eyes.
Shinjo snorted, and the two started off again.
It was no surprise that the fast-talking, quick-witted Sekikawa was good at video games. Shinjo, however, tended to surprise people with his skill. His naturally fast reflexes and his long hours alone at the games made sure of that. In all honesty, the two were about equal. They could go for hours at all the games in the arcade. ((Except DDR. Shinjo had tried once, and the incident was never to be mentioned again, for fear of re-traumatizing Mikoshiba.)) Both Shinjo and Sekikawa had had the top score on every machine in the place at one point or another, and were often coming up with ways to beat the other out by just one more point.
Shinjo enter the arcade first and skipped the Tekken series, all lined up in a row; he ignored the lure of Time Crisis, for once, and kept even his eyes away from Deer Hunter. Any of those games could quickly frustrate them both, and leave them with no money in their wallets.
"There's a new record on the pinball machines I haven't beaten yet," he said mildly.
Sekikawa grinned sharply. "There's going to be a new new record when I'm done with the damn thing!"
Shinjo answered, "not if I beat you both."
Sekikawa laughed. "Not on your life!"
Two hours later, they'd both gone through 15 games—and their combined allowance—but were little closer to defeating Kantoku's record.
Sekikawa kicked the pinball machine—with care, as he really didn't want to break the thing—and groaned. "I wish I knew who this bastard was so I could beat the shit out him, and then steal his secrets!"
Shinjo laughed. "I'd help you, but no one knows who he is."
Meanwhile, Wakana was hissing 'hush, you stupid bastards!' at his chatting fellow team members. The whole band of them was huddled behind the Tekken machines the errant Futago boys had passed earlier. They'd been there since the two had arrived, in fact—as insurance. The 'Shinjo and Sekikawa Thing' ((as Hiyama had dubbed it with a bit of grumbling)) was really making things more strained then either of the two had realized.
"Well, at least it looks like they're finally comfortable together," observed Mikoshiba. Then he stood up to leave.
He was abruptly pulled back down by Imaoka's hand on his sleeve. He bit back a yelp, and instead hissed, "what was that for?!"
"You have to wait until they leave, or they'll know," said the shorter boy reasonably.
Mikoshiba rolled his eyes. "I'll just go out the back entrance!"
The whole group turned hawk-like eyes on him at once. It was really kind of creepy.
"What?!" he asked.
"…there's a back entrance here?" asked Aniya quietly.
"And you never told us?!" hissed Wakana.
"You know, you guys are really loud," said Sekikawa conversationally from around the Time Crisis 4 game.
"Good job, guys, you screwed it up," muttered Okada, who had been too busy playing Cooking Mama to talk at all anyway.
This started a clamor of yelling, and Shinjo cleared his throat to calm them down.
"Thanks for the help, guys, but really, did you have to follow us?"
"And do you know who Kantoku is?!" demanded Sekikawa.
"No clue, dude, we just followed you here," answered Hiyama.
Across the city, Kawato sneezed.