Chapter 1: Chapter 1
“I just don’t understand,” Semi mutters under his breath. He’s talking to himself, Kenjiro thinks.
Semi shouldn’t be in the gym. Neither should Kenjiro, for that matter—Washijo isn’t going to let them take too much time off from practice, but they have a week’s reprieve after losing to Karasuno. Kenjiro found his way in the gym anyway, using his new set of captain’s keys.
He wasn’t going to practice. Not really. There’s not much a setter can practice on their own. He just needed some quiet, and knew no one was in the gym. He certainly didn’t expect Semi to bust in twenty minutes later, demanding to know what he’s doing there, and badger him until Kenjiro is forced to say he’s leaving.
Kenjiro closes the gym behind them. He takes his time locking it. “You aren’t a member of this club anymore,” he reminds Semi. “You don’t need to understand. Or even be here. Shouldn’t you be studying for entrance exams?”
“That isn’t what I mean,” Semi says, exhaling loudly. “I just—I don’t get you.”
Kenjiro doesn’t turn to face him. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t understand what happened to you,” Semi says. “You’re a stubborn piece of work, and you’ve got one of the strongest personalities out of every bonehead I know, and I just don’t understand why you changed.”
“You aren’t making sense,” Kenjiro tells him. He pulls the strap of his bag higher on his shoulder. “Maybe forget studying for the rest of the day. Excuse me, I have to go.”
Before Kenjiro can take more than three steps, Semi says, “I saw you play in middle school.”
Kenjiro stops, turns, and stares at Semi. They’ve been on the same team for two years, and Semi’s never mentioned middle school before. Why bring it up now, when it’s too late to matter? “So what?”
Semi waves his hands in the air, searching for the words. “Just—you were there. You were assertive. You were starting to develop your own style. I don’t understand why you changed into—what you are now.”
“To win,” Kenjiro says. Duh. Of course. What a stupid question. “Why do you care? No matter how I play, it still wouldn’t have guaranteed you a spot as a starter.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Semi says again, irritation written plainly on his face. “I don’t care about what happened in the past, Shirabu. My volleyball career’s done with. But I still want Shiratorizawa to win.”
“We’ll handle it,” Kenjiro says evenly, despite how nervous he’s getting. He doesn’t like where this conversation is going. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Semi doesn’t even let him turn around this time. “Shirabu, just let me ask you one thing.”
Kenjiro sighs heavily. “Fine.”
Semi looks to the side, at the collection of past Miyagi championship trophies, sitting in a glass display. It looks a little sad in the empty hallway, with a blank spot intended for that year’s trophy. “You changed your setting style for Wakatoshi. Don’t bother denying it, that doesn’t matter anymore. What I want to know is, what are you going to do without him?”
“I have no reason to doubt my abilities,” Kenjiro tells Semi. He means it. He does. “Or anyone else’s, for that matter. Every year the third years leave. And every year Shiratorizawa pulls together.”
“I guess you’re right,” Semi says, but it doesn’t look like Kenjiro’s answer has satisfied him.
Which isn’t Kenjiro’s problem. “Are you going to let me leave now?”
“Fine, but—” Semi sighs again. “Shirabu. You don’t have to do everything Washijo says, if it doesn’t make sense.”
Kenjiro levels him with a look of utter disdain. “That didn’t get you very far, did it?”
Before he can react, before Semi gave give him yet another lecture about being rude, Kenjiro turns and marches away. As he rounds the corner he allows himself one glance backwards. Semi is standing in the same spot by the gym doors, arms crossed, frowning at the floor.
If he didn’t know any better, Kenjiro might think Semi was actually concerned for him. He puts it out of his mind and walks back to his dorm.
He doesn’t think of that conversation again. It certainly isn’t on his mind that night, as he finishes his homework. Nor does he remember it when practice resumes in a week.
Goshiki goes into a slump, and he doesn’t think of it. Taichi sprains his ankle, and it’s still far from his mind. They lose their first practice match, and the next, and the one after, and it never occurs to him.
No, Kenjiro doesn’t think of it at all.
It’s May. Preliminaries for the Interhigh are a few weeks away.
Kenjiro’s dorm is dark, blinds blocking the setting sun, the only light coming from the lamp on his desk. He sits with his head in his hands, chewing on his lip, trying to keep his breathing steady.
Dimly, he notices a strange sound. Ringing. Something is ringing beneath his head. He opens his eyes, and finds his phone, lying on his desk. Calling someone. He must have dialed a number without realizing it.
The line connects, and Kenjiro scrambles to pick up his phone.
“You never call me,” the person on the other end says. There’s a lot of background noise—is he at a party? “Are you, like, dying or something?”
“Semi,” Kenjiro says. “Semi, I—”
Thinking of what to say is overwhelming, so he stops trying.
“Whoa, hold on,” Semi says, sounding genuinely shocked. “Just hold on a second, let me go outside—” He must take his phone away from his face, because his next words sound distant. He says a quick goodbye to some unknown people, and then there’s a rush of air, and the background noise changes from chatter to wind.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“It’s fine,” Semi says. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t be stupid,” Kenjiro says, strangely upset. “You shouldn’t stop what you’re doing just for me. Go back to your party.”
“Don’t call me stupid. And I said it was fine.”
“I’m hanging up.”
“Shirabu.” Semi sighs. There’s the Semi he’s used to. Kenjiro annoyed him so often when he was at Shiratorizawa, he can perfectly picture Semi’s irritated face. “It wasn’t a party. I was at dinner with some classmates. We go out to eat all the time. I’m not missing much.”
“You’re missing dinner,” Kenjiro points out.
“No, I ate. We were about to go to karaoke. Why so concerned about me, all of a sudden?”
Kenjiro yanks his phone away from his ear. His thumb hovers over the End Call button. He should press it. He doesn’t know why he called Semi. They’re not even friends. Hell, he used to try his hardest to avoid Semi because he was so sick of his so-called friendly advice. He should end the call, block Semi’s number, get over himself, and go back to normal before practice tomorrow.
“Shirabu,” Semi says again, but this time his tone is gentle. “Did something happen?”
Kenjiro doesn’t answer. He doesn’t end the call, either.
Semi exhales, and Kenjiro hears some movement—probably Semi taking his phone away from his ear to make sure the call didn’t disconnect. “Listen, I know we weren’t close, but you can talk to me.” Semi’s voice gets a little smaller. “I won’t tell anyone. Promise.”
Kenjiro groans. He drops his phone on his desk with a clatter, followed by his head. “Fine,” he mutters, mostly to himself, as he switches his phone to speaker mode. “Fine. You win.”
“This isn’t a competition, Shirabu.”
He sighs, burying his head in his arms. Semi might not be able to hear him, but he doesn’t care. “Coach kicked me out of practice.”
There’s such a long pause, Kenjiro starts to wonder if the call did get disconnected. “Are you serious?” Semi says.
“He said I couldn’t come back until I get my head on straight.”
“I can’t believe this. You’re the captain, why would he—” He stops, as if he just realized what’s going on. “Shirabu, are you okay?”
“Yes.” No. Maybe. He isn’t sure. “Do you remember what you said to me last year?”
He’s deliberately vague. Despite their tenuous relationship, Kenjiro often found himself stuck in conversation with Semi. Most of these conversations weren’t pleasant, but still—he’s hoping Semi will ask him what he’s talking about, because he’s hoping to lie.
To his surprise, Semi answers, “I do.” He continues, shocking Kenjiro further: “I should never have said that to you. I’m sorry.”
“I’ve been thinking about that a lot, actually,” Semi continues. His words come out in a rush. “I wanted to apologize for it ages ago, but we never really got along, so I figured you might just laugh at me. I didn’t mean to doubt you—and I especially didn’t want you to doubt yourself. So, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Kenjiro sits up and stares at his phone. For the first time he wishes this conversation were taking place in person. If he could see Semi’s face, he could tell if he’s joking or not.
“I—I don’t know why you’re apologizing,” Kenjiro manages. “You were right.” His voice catches on the last syllable.
“I wasn’t,” Semi insists.
“Yes you were!” Kenjiro shoots up from his seat. If he doesn’t start moving, he’ll start shouting, and he doesn’t want the rest of the students in the dorm to hear him. He paces the length of his dorm and back again, waving his arms to emphasize what he’s saying to someone who can’t see him. “I don’t know what I’m doing! I can’t sync up with anyone, I keep flubbing my serves, I’ve gotten more net touches this month than I have my entire life —I just—I keep getting things stuck in my head—I’m no good at this!”
“Okay,” Semi says. “Okay. First of all: am I on speaker?”
What the hell does that have to do with anything? A spike of irritation runs through Kenjiro’s spine. “So what?”
“If you’re going to pace, the least you can do is take your phone with you. I can’t hear you otherwise.”
“I wasn’t pacing,” Kenjiro grumbles as he stops pacing. Still, he picks up his phone.
“Okay, you weren’t. Second: that doesn’t mean I was right. It just means you’re having trouble adjusting. That’s fine. It happens to everyone.”
“I’ve had six months to adjust!”
“And only a month and a half with the new first years,” Semi points out. “And Interhighs are soon. Everyone gets nervous.”
“I’m not nervous,” Kenjiro snaps. “I’ve never been nervous before a tournament before.”
A pause. Semi must have been walking this entire time, because his breathing is getting a little labored. “Are you worried because you’re the captain?”
“Ushijima never had this much trouble,” Kenjiro replies. He sits down heavy on his bed.
“It’s not fair to compare yourself to Wakatoshi. He was a... special case.” There’s a quiet click on the other end of the line. Kenjiro imagines Semi licked his lips, like he does when he gets nervous. “Besides, Jin did most of the work. Can you talk to Kawanishi about dividing up responsibilities more evenly?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“You don’t have to do everything, Shirabu.”
“Ugh. You don’t get it.” Calling Semi was a huge mistake. Now he’ll probably be calling him every day to ask how he’s feeling. Kenjiro is annoyed just thinking about it. He flops down on his bed and scowls, dropping his phone by his head.
“How’s practice going?”
Why is he still trying? “It’s the same.”
“Then do something different.”
“That’s not how Shiratorizawa works,” Kenjiro says, irritation slipping into his voice.
“That’s not what I meant,” Semi says, sounding even more winded. “If setting and blocking isn’t work for you, practice something else for a while. Receives, or serves, whatever. That’ll help you get over your block.”
Kenjiro squeezes his eyes shut. “Why do you sound out of breath?”
“What? Don’t change the subject!”
“You’re practically wheezing in my ear, am I supposed to ignore that?”
“How can I be wheezing in your ear if I’m on speaker?” Semi says. He can’t seem to keep all the exasperation out of his voice. Kenjiro is surprised to realize Semi’s been trying to be reasonable this entire conversation. Usually all it takes is a few words and Semi’s ready to go off. “It’s a half hour walk back to campus, okay?”
“Why did you go to a restaurant half an hour away from campus?”
“I’m allowed to be a stupid uni student sometimes,” Semi grumbles. “We took the bus to get here. And you definitely changed the subject.”
“You haven’t even been at uni for two months. Are you seriously out of shape already? ...Wait. Wait a minute.” He remembers something else Semi said during their conversation last October. Kenjiro sits up. “Semi, are you still playing volleyball?”
“...Ah.” Semi exhales. “No. I’m not.”
“Your university doesn’t have a team?”
“No, they do... They don’t compete, though. It’s more a hobby team.”
“Then why aren’t you playing?”
“I just...” Kenjiro imagines Semi’s gesturing with his free hand as he searches for the words. “I need time away from playing.”
Kenjiro feels his brain crawling along, trying to figure this out. “I don’t understand,” he says. “I thought you loved volleyball.”
“I do, I guess I just—need to figure out who I am without it.”
Kenjiro stares at his phone, watching the seconds on the call timer tick up. He doesn’t understand.
Semi laughs nervously. “It sounds kind of dumb when I put it that way,” he says. “But that doesn’t matter. We’re not talking about me.”
“What are your classes like?” Kenjiro asks.
“Shirabu, we’re still not talking about me.”
“Please,” Kenjiro says, which probably shocks him more than it does Semi. “I want to talk about literally anything other than the volleyball club. Just—just help me get my mind off it, okay?”
The sound of rushing wind dies down—Semi must have stopped walking. “Oh,” he says, sounding as bewildered as Kenjiro expects him to. “Well. Okay. Uh, I don’t think my classes are that interesting, really. They’re just the basic, entry-level ones all first years have to take.”
Kenjiro rests his arms on his knees. “Are they all in lecture halls?”
“Only a couple. One of them is Japanese Literature—it turns out we went over most of the course requirements at Shiratorizawa, so half the time I’m bored to tears. And I still don’t like that class.”
“What a shock,” Kenjiro says, though he had no previous idea that Semi wasn’t a fan of Japanese Lit before. “I suppose it’s safe to say you’re not majoring in it.”
“Nah. And before you ask, no, I have no idea what I’m going to major in. What about you?”
“I’m not sure,” Kenjiro admits. His brain is having trouble adjusting to talking about the mundane, so he says the first thing that pops into his head. “I guess I’ll end up going into medicine. If I have to be brilliant, I might as well help people.”
To his surprise, Semi laughs. “I see captaincy hasn’t made you any more humble,” he teases, which doesn’t hurt like Kenjiro thinks it should. “That sounds like a noble goal, though. Helping people.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Kenjiro mumbles.
“Yeah, well.” There’s an odd shuffling sound on Semi’s end of the line. “Oh, before I forget. It was your birthday recently, wasn’t it? Happy belated birthday.”
“Thank you,” Kenjiro says, a little numbly. The surprises keep on piling up. Since when did Semi know when his birthday is?
“Eighteen now, huh?” Semi says. The comment makes him sound like an old man.
“Yes.” Duh. “That makes us the same age.”
A second of silence. “Oh god, it does,” Semi mutters to himself. Has he seriously never noticed? Then, louder, he adds, “Man, it’s hot out today. Looks like summer’s come early, huh?”
“Now who’s changing the subject?” Kenjiro asks. He feels an odd sensation in his cheeks, almost like he’s about to smile.
“Hey, Shirabu, do me a favor and look up to see if there’s any ice cream shops near my university.”
“What? No. You do it.”
“If you’re going to eat up my phone battery, it’s the least you can do.”
Kenjiro sighs, exaggerating his displeasure. He picks up his phone. Normally he wouldn’t, but—if Semi, someone he never had an easy relationship with, can make him feel better, then giving him directions to an ice cream shop is the least he can do.
That doesn’t mean he’s going to pick one nearby, however. Have fun walking another twenty minutes, Semi.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
thanks for the feedback on how the text messages look! hopefully they're still look good once i get to the group texts in this fic, yeesh.
It’s hot outside, but Kenjiro still opens the window in his dorm room. He can see the orange glow of the setting sun behind the tree line, all the way across campus. And around him, he hears the drone of cicadas.
He sits at the window and unlocks his phone. It opens on the last text message he viewed, a simple Good luck today from Semi. Above that he can see the end of their conversation from yesterday. Kenjiro had described how Shiratorizawa beat Karasuno, and Semi had offered his sincere congratulations. Somehow he and Semi have become the type of people who text every day. He’s still pretty sure they’re not friends.
That isn’t going to stop him from talking to Semi today, though. He sends Semi, Can I call you right now?
Semi’s reply is almost instantaneous, but it makes Kenjiro frown. Hold on. Ugh. He would have preferred a yes or no. Waiting by the phone is not his ideal way to spend his evening.
Still, he waits. And not five minutes later, his phone rings. He answers with an irritated, “Finally.”
“Sorry,” Semi says, sounding out of breath. “My roommate’s studying tonight, I didn’t want to disturb him.”
Kenjiro can hear cicadas singing on Semi’s end of the line, too. “So you ran all the way outside?”
“Yes. Shut up. I saw the results of your match.”
“Yeah, well...” Kenjiro leans on the window sill, looking outside. “It was inevitable. I’m surprised we got this far, actually.”
“Are you okay?”
“I am.” Surprisingly, this is the truth. “We didn’t deserve to win. I’m just pissed Aobajousai is going to nationals.”
“I don’t even remember the last time they went to nationals,” Semi says. “I wasn’t exactly paying attention to them my entire life, but I do know they didn’t go while I was in middle school. And not in high school, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Kenjiro repeats, deadpan. “They looked like more of a mess than us, though. They just barely won most of their matches this year. And their captain is annoying.”
Semi snorts. “I’d think anyone’d be an improvement over Oikawa.”
“Imagine Oikawa, except not as scary good and more likely to start yelling over nothing, but also stupidly competent in clutch situations. That’s Yahaba.”
“He really got under your skin, huh.”
“He asked me for my number as we were leaving!” Kenjiro grits his teeth. “He wants to arrange practices matches. I told him we didn’t have time between matches with university teams and walked away. And somehow he still got my number!”
“Wow,” Semi says, at a loss for words.
“I bet Taichi did it,” Kenjiro grumbles. “He probably thought it’d be funny to harass me like this.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll get your revenge on Kawanishi somehow,” Semi says. “Are you sending angry texts to this Yahaba guy yet?”
Kenjiro looks at the long chain of texts from earlier in the day, mostly consisting of him telling Yahaba to shove off. “...No.”
“I see,” Semi says. He sounds like he’s smiling.
“He’s just—so annoying. His setting is pretty average, and I don’t think he gets along with his ace very well, and he aimed his serves at me the entire damn game.”
“Serving at the setter is a pretty common strategy,” Semi points out.
Kenjiro frowns. “Still. It was annoying.”
Semi, Oikawa, Kageyama, and now Yahaba—Kenjiro has played against so many setters with a killer serve. He wonders if he misplaced his own priorities.
“Aww, it sounds like Shirabu has found himself his first rival,” Semi says with laughter in his voice.
“No. Shut up.”
“C’mon, this’ll be good for you,” Semi adds. “You’re both setters and captains from rival teams. Why not?”
“It just doesn’t make sense. I’ve been playing volleyball since elementary school. Yahaba can’t be my first rival.” Kenjiro turns from the window and leans against the wall. “Besides, wouldn’t it make sense if you were my rival? Then he obviously can’t be my first one.”
Semi doesn’t answer for a while. The only reason Kenjiro knows he’s still on the line is because he can hear the cicadas. “I didn’t think you thought of me as a rival.”
Kenjiro’s heart thumps heavy in his chest. “I never said that I did,” he says casually. “Just that it would make more sense.”
“Mmm, you’re right,” Semi says with the same casual air. “It’s pretty clear you only thought of me as an annoyance.”
It’s obvious bait, but Kenjiro isn’t sure if Semi’s angling for an argument or more teasing, so he doesn’t rise to it. “What about you? Was I your rival?”
Semi exhales slowly. “Maybe at first,” he admits. “But eventually... Well, I wanted to win.”
That’s something Kenjiro understands all too well. “That’s around when you started seriously practicing your serves, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Semi says. “I wanted to help out in whatever way I could. That includes giving you advice you never listened to, by the way.”
“Thank you for all your useless advice.”
“You’re very welcome.” Semi laughs, though it seems a little bitter. “It never mattered in the end, anyway. You always did well without me. You really are the better setter.”
Kenjiro bites the inside of his cheek. “Maybe,” he says. But he can’t help but wonder if Semi’s flexibility and boldness would have beaten Karasuno last year. He certainly seems like the kind of setter who could have responded to Seijou’s newfound unpredictability. And honestly—Semi did mesh well with Ushijima, so there’s no reason Kenjiro can think of to keep him off the court as much as Washijo did.
“Well,” Kenjiro says, pushing himself off the wall. “Tournament or not, I still have homework to get to.”
“Of course,” Semi says. “Text me whenever.”
Kenjiro closes his window. “Sure. Goodbye, Semi.”
“Talk to you later.”
Kenjiro ends the call and pulls out his laptop. He already finished his schoolwork. His plans for the evening consist of watching volleyball videos, and hopefully he’ll be able to learn something from them.
The first sign Kenjiro gets is when Yunohama, collecting volleyballs on the other side of the net, freezes. And Kenjiro, being an idiot, decides to go forward with serving. He can always aim on the other side of the court, he reasons. Never mind that this is only the fourth or so time he’s tried a jump serve. He has unfounded faith in his ability to not to behead his teammate.
He tosses the ball, and is halfway through his approach when Coach Washijo booms, “Kenjiro! What are you doing?”
He stumbles, but thankfully avoids tripping. The volleyball falls harmlessly to the ground and rolls away. Kenjiro takes a breath before he turns and finds Washijo is standing right behind him. Since he didn’t shout from all the way across the gym, this means only half of Kenjiro’s team has stopped to stare instead of everyone. He spares a moment to glare at them until they look away and pretend to be busy.
“I’m practicing,” Kenjiro answers. He clasps his hands behind his back.
“Practicing what? You’re supposed to be practicing spiking with Tsutomu!”
Three months ago Kenjiro would have bowed his head and apologized, but today he meets Coach’s eyes. “Since the Interhighs are over for us, I think now would be the best time to learn something new. Exploiting every possible advantage seems to be the best way to victory.”
There’s no telling what will and won’t set off Coach Washijo, and today Kenjiro thinks the only reason he doesn’t start shouting is due to pure surprise. “What your job is right now is to make our spikers look good,” Washijo reminds him. “If you want to practice jump serves, do it on your own time. And if you can’t master it, don’t use it in official games!”
Satisfied, Washijo stalks back to the bench. Kenjiro frowns at his back. Balancing extra practice with the extra practice he already does with Goshiki and on top of maintaining his grades is a daunting task. The unfairness of it all burrows under his skin.
Yunohama ducks under the net and clasps a hand on Kenjiro’s shoulder. “Sorry, man,” he says.
“It’s fine. Keep practicing serves if you want, I have to go.”
Yunohama fidgets, and Kenjiro can’t say he doesn’t know why. He was only a pinch server last year, and while he was a starter in the Interhigh—well, Kenjiro knows all too well that being a third year doesn’t mean you won’t get replaced on this team. “I’ll try to practice with you when I can,” he promises.
“Thanks,” Kenjiro says, finding himself genuinely touched. They weren’t close the past two years. Apparently Yunohama found him intimidating, like Taichi insists most people do. Semi said a few weeks ago that captaincy had changed him, and maybe he was right. “Make sure your grades don’t slip.”
“Yes, Captain,” Yunohama says with a touch of sarcasm. The corners of Kenjiro’s mouth quirk up. Then he goes to interrupt Goshiki’s attempts to impress a few starry-eyed first years for more practice.
The train pulls away from the station as Kenjiro dials Semi’s number for the second time. Sure, he’s never called him this early before, but Semi either answers right away or texts him with a better time to call. Kenjiro’s a little annoyed.
This time the call is picked up on the third ring. “Hello?” Semi says, his voice thick with sleep.
“It’s me,” Kenjiro says. He puts his free hand on his hip. “Were you seriously still sleeping?”
Semi groans. “Shirabu, of course,” he mutters. His voice is muffled, like his face is in a pillow. “What time is it?”
“It’s—it’s 9:37 you liar .”
“‘M allowed to sleep in,” Semi says, in anticipation of what Kenjiro might say next. “It’s Sunday. And I was up last night.”
Kenjiro narrows his eyes. “You were working on your essay for Japanese Lit, weren’t you?”
A pause. “Maybe.”
“You said you were going to finish it last week!”
“Well, it’s done now, so it doesn’t matter.” There’s a creak of a mattress as Semi sits up. “The hell are you calling me so early for, anyway?”
“I’m at the train station.”
“...What train station?”
“The one on your campus.”
“You’re where?! ”
“I’d go to you, but I don’t know where your dorm is.” Kenjiro shrugs, even though Semi can’t see him. “You need to come get me.”
“Hold on, just—you’re here ? Why?”
“Hurry up, Semi,” Kenjiro says dryly. “It’s hot today. I might get heat stroke, and it would be all your fault.”
Semi must have dropped his phone on his bed, because the scratchy sound of fabric moving over the microphone accompanies Semi’s frustrated, muffled scream. Semi better hope his neighbors are already awake, Kenjiro thinks. A male voice Kenjiro’s never heard before says something, and Semi replies, “Can it already!” His roommate, Kenjiro assumes. Then, louder, because Semi must have picked up his phone: “I’ll be right there. Don’t. Move.”
Before Kenjiro can reply, Semi hangs up.
Kenjiro laughs through his nose. He guesses it’s the least he could do to stay put. He picks a shady part of the station and waits.
It’s a sleepy Sunday morning, it seems. Not that many people pass Kenjiro on the station. The hot July air is still and humid, making Kenjiro uncomfortable even in the shade. At one point a train stops, and Kenjiro thinks about how mean it would be if he got on one of the air conditioned cars and left.
Fifteen minutes after their call, Kenjiro spots Semi coming up the station’s stairs. Kenjiro stands up straighter and steps out into the sun. “I can’t believe you!” Semi starts as soon as he sees Kenjiro. “Would it have killed you to call me before deciding to take a train all the way out here?”
Semi flicks Kenjiro’s forehead. “Dumbass.” He frowns. “Why are you here, anyway?”
Kenjiro makes a show of rubbing his forehead, even though it didn’t hurt. “I want to ask you a favor.”
“A favor you couldn’t ask me earlier.”
“Yes.” Kenjiro shifts his weight from foot to foot, painfully aware of his own reluctance. But he wants to win. “Can you teach me how to jump serve?”
Semi blinks at him. “Oh,” he says. “That’s why you’ve been bugging me about them.”
Kenjiro nods, and waits.
Semi doesn’t ask why he isn’t getting help at Shiratorizawa. He may be a busybody, but Semi’s always had the impressive ability to read between the lines. Kenjiro is learning that he also knows when to push and when to leave things well enough alone.
“Alright,” Semi says. He looks thoughtful. “I guess I could give you some pointers. I can’t promise much, though. I’m not a coach or anything.”
“I am aware.”
“Already pulling a tone on me, I see.” Semi huffs. “But fine. We should be able to get into the gym easily. It’s a shared gym, so there might be people playing basketball, fair warning.”
“I don’t mind.”
Semi pulls out his phone to check something. “First, you should buy some breakfast.”
“I’ve already eaten.”
“I didn’t mean for you, ” Semi says. He looks Kenjiro in the eye, daring him to protest.
“...Fine.” He guesses it’s only fair.
Semi smiles, obviously proud of himself. “Let’s go. I know a good place to eat.”
When he turns to go, Kenjiro notices something odd about the design on the back of his shirt. “Semi, wait. Is your shirt on backwards?”
Semi stops short. He pulls out his collar to check for a tag, and lets out an exasperated groan. “Damn you, Shirabu,” he grumbles, pulling his shirt over his head in the middle of the empty train station. “This is all your fault. Thanks for nothing!”
Kenjiro turns his head to hide his grin. Semi putting his shirt on backwards in his rush to get to the station is funny, sure—but maybe next time he will give Semi more than five minute’s notice.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Kenjiro is treated to more of a campus tour than he expected, because they need to take a detour to Semi’s dorm so he can get his volleyball gear. Semi’s university is so neatly integrated into the city that Kenjiro is surprised at what buildings are part of the school and what aren't. It isn’t unpleasant, he supposes.
What doesn’t surprise him is how messy Semi’s dorm is. He’s always been a lazy cleaner. Semi’s roommate’s side is similarly messy, but said roommate left the room before they got there. Kenjiro is only mildly disappointed he can’t embarrass Semi in front of someone he has to live with for the rest of the year.
On the way to the gym, Semi’s eyes are glued to his phone. Kenjiro isn’t sure how he feels about that. “Okay,” Semi says finally, pausing outside the gym doors. “It looks like he shouldn’t be here.”
“Tendou, of course.”
“What? Why would Tendou be here?”
Semi gives him a look. “Because he goes to this school too. How do you not know this? He wouldn’t shut up about it once he found out.”
Kenjiro resolutely avoided Semi after that conversation outside the Shiratorizawa gym, a fact Semi is well aware of. It’s a tad egotistical of him to think Kenjiro would have paid attention to him and Tendou being loud. He’ll be nice and not mention it.
Semi opens the gym door and ushers Kenjiro inside. There are, in fact, a few people playing basketball on the far side of the gym, who ignore them when they walk in. They make their way into the locker room and quickly get changed. Kenjiro gives Semi an innocent reminder to put his shirt on the right way, which Semi ignores.
The supply closet is behind an electronic lock, Kenjiro is surprised to find out. He thinks that sounds like a good way to prevent lost keys. He hasn’t lost any, but Ushijima misplaced a set or two last year.
Semi checks his phone again. “I asked someone to text me the code,” he explains, punching in the numbers.
“No, of course not. Someone else from the volleyball club.”
“The volleyball club you’re not a part of.”
Kenjiro rolls his eyes, which Semi also ignores.
They work together through the familiar routine of setting up the volleyball net. There’s a stark difference in quality of equipment from what he’s used to at Shiratorizawa. The volleyballs look like they’ve seen better days, while the net has been obviously repaired a few times. They’re serviceable, at least.
They warm-up by tossing the ball back and forth at first, quickly moving on to Semi hitting balls over the net for Kenjiro to receive. As always, physical activity sharpens Kenjiro’s focus. The rhythm feels good, even when Semi makes him run from one side of the court to the other. It helps alleviate, but not eliminate, the strange anxiety he feels from asking his former upperclassmen for help.
“Okay,” Semi says once Kenjiro’s worked up a sweat. He ducks under the net to join Kenjiro. “Let me see what you’ve got.”
Kenjiro passes one of the nicer looking volleyballs from hand to hand. If this ends with Semi laughing at him, he’s going to beam him in the head, he swears. But there’s no point in not moving due to nerves, so he tosses the ball, runs forward, jumps, and—as soon as his hand makes contact with the ball, he knows it isn’t going to go well. His feet hit the ground, and he watches as the ball hits the net. He frowns.
“That wasn’t that bad,” Semi says.
“You don’t have to sugarcoat it for my sake.”
“No, I mean it. I didn’t expect it to go that well.”
“Oh, so you thought I couldn’t do it?”
“I just can’t win with you, can I.” Semi shakes his head. He doesn’t look mad, though, and that makes Kenjiro feel ashamed for being so defensive. “Do you know what went wrong?”
“I didn’t hit it with enough power,” Kenjiro says, working backwards. “Because my approach was off. I think I didn’t toss the ball high enough, which is what threw off my approach. Right?”
Semi nods. “I think that’s right, yeah. Have you gotten any instruction at all?”
“No. I’ve watched a lot of videos, though.” He picks up another volleyball from the pile and spins it in his hands.
“Videos of who? Professionals?”
Kenjiro glances at him. “I don’t see how that makes a difference. A serve is a serve.”
“Of course it makes a difference,” Semi says. “You need to watch stuff for beginners.
Kenjiro shoves the volleyball at Semi’s chest. “Perhaps I’ll learn better through example.”
Semi snorts, taking hold of the volleyball. “It’ll still be difficult for you to break down. I’m too good.”
“Stop bragging and do it.”
Semi mutters something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like ungrateful brat. He takes a moment to stretch, bounces the ball on the ground to get a feel for it, and serves.
Kenjiro immediately recognizes the huge gap in skill between them. If Semi isn’t a part of the volleyball club, that means he likely hasn’t served once in the past eight months, but his confidence in his ability hasn’t wavered. He doesn’t overthink any step, doesn’t waste a second on unnecessary movement. He still has that boldness Kenjiro finds himself increasingly jealous of.
That doesn’t mean his serve is without flaws, however. Semi uses too much strength, and the ball flies in a beautiful arc, landing several feet out of bounds.
“Ooh, so close.”
Semi bristles. “I’m out of practice, okay?”
“I can see that.” Kenjiro shrugs, ignoring Semi’s offended sputtering. He looks over the court, dotted with volleyballs from their warm-up, and thinks. Shiratorizawa is exempt from the first preliminaries for the Spring High, giving him to late October to master a jump serve. “How long have you practiced jump serves?”
“I started learning when I was a third year in middle school,” Semi answers, unphased by the sudden change in subject. He’s still frowning, but he picks up another volleyball, and does a second serve. This one also lands out of bounds, but barely.
“I thought I was supposed to be the one serving,” Kenjiro comments, though his mind is elsewhere. There’s no way he can catch up to a skill grown over four years in less than four months.
“I guess I missed it more than I thought.”
“If you miss it so much, why don’t you join the—”
“Nope. Not doing that.” Semi tosses a volleyball to Kenjiro, then takes another for himself. “We’ll do three more, then clean up the court. After that we’ll do sets of ten. Sounds good?”
“Laps around the gym between sets?”
Having a training plan, however simple, makes Kenjiro’s shoulders feel lighter. Knowing Semi won’t be watching him the entire time is even better. “That works for me.”
Several hours later Semi breaks his concentration by saying, “I’m starving. Let’s go get lunch.” Kenjiro suddenly realizes how hungry he is, and becomes aware the people playing basketball left some time ago.
They clean up quickly, locking the supply room behind them. Changing into fresh clothes is a welcome relief. Walking into the summer sun, however, is not, and Kenjiro is left wishing he stuck his head under the cold water tap like Semi did.
“There’s a place nearby that does good soba,” Semi says. “Is that okay with you?”
“Sure,” Kenjiro says, because he honestly doesn’t care. “Why do you always go out to eat?”
“Do you have to judge everything I do?” Semi shoots back.
Semi sighs. “I don’t know why I asked,” he says to himself. His hair is already drying in the heat. Kenjiro can see his roots growing in. He always knew Semi bleached his hair, but he never paid enough attention to it before.
The restaurant Semi takes him to is a small hole-in-the-wall, run by an older couple. They greet Semi with so much familiarity Kenjiro wonders just how many times he’s been there in the few months since school started. It’s packed with other students. After placing their orders they luck into a small table along the wall. Kenjiro feels awkward sitting across from Semi, so he looks around the room instead.
The place is quaint, but what ends up surprising him is the diversity of the students there. He hears a few of them speaking Korean, and a couple more speaking English—American, probably?
“My university has a big international program,” Semi explains when he notices where Kenjiro is looking. “I applied to get an English-speaking roommate, but they’re in high demand, apparently. I’m stuck with a regular Japanese guy. And his English sucks.”
“Why English?” Kenjiro asks.
“I like it,” Semi admits. He looks a little bashful. “I was always pretty good at picking up languages. English is useful.”
“Maybe that’s what you could major in.”
“Maybe,” Semi says. He doesn’t look convinced.
They start to lapse into an uncomfortable silence. Although the restaurant is loud, the awkwardness grates on Kenjiro. “I’ve never thought about international universities,” he says lamely.
Semi doesn’t seem to notice. “It’s pretty cool. The only thing that’s annoying is when people assume I’m an international student too and try to give me directions or talk real slow.”
“What? Why would they do that?”
Semi gives him a confused look. “Shirabu, I’m only half Japanese.”
Kenjiro’s face heats up, but he’s saved from stuttering over his embarrassment by the arrival of their food. Semi thanks their server, and Kenjiro starts shoveling soba in his mouth. It’s not like he never noticed Semi was mixed race—it was just another one of those things he never thought about before.
Thankfully, Semi doesn’t mention it. They eat in silence.
Kenjiro calms down with a full stomach, and he starts to get impatient with the crowd. “When does the gym close?” he asks.
“What do you mean?”
“I want to know how much more practice I can get in before I need to leave.” He checks the time on his phone. “I’ll have to take the train no later than four if I want to get some studying in before dinner.”
Semi takes another bite of soba before he answers. “Practice is over for today.”
“I have three hours,” Kenjiro says.
“How many days this past week have you practiced? I bet it’s all seven.” Semi shakes his head. “That’s not good for you, your body needs a break.”
Kenjiro stares at him. Who is he to decide when he should practice? “Well, fine. I don’t need you.”
Semi raises his eyebrows. “Don’t you? What’s the code to the supply room?”
Kenjiro fights down the urge to throw his chopsticks at Semi’s smug face. He knows as well as Kenjiro does that the gym at Shiratorizawa isn’t open on Sundays without special permission, which Kenjiro will not get on short notice. He might be able to get the code off Tendou, but he does not want to talk to Tendou. Unless he goes out of his way to find a public gym he can use without a membership, he’s done for the day.
“I hate you,” Kenjiro says, for lack of any other coherent thought.
“No you don’t.” Semi sets his chopsticks down. “If you don’t want to go back just yet, you’re welcome to hang out until four. I don’t mind.”
Why on earth would Semi want to spend time with someone he just screwed over? “No thanks,” he says cooly. “I might as well do something productive with my time.”
Semi shrugs. “Fair enough.” He stands, stacking his and Kenjiro’s empty plates. “We’re supposed to take these up to the counter. After we pay, I’ll take you back to the train station.”
Kenjiro follows him, frowning. At least he’ll be free from the noisy restaurant, he guesses.
It isn’t until that night, long after Kenjiro has showered and starts wondering if he’s stayed up too late again, that he stops feeling angry with Semi. In fact, he almost feels bad about how the day ended. Semi did help him out when he didn’t have to, even after Kenjiro woke him up and proceeded to be rude to him the entire time he was there.
He doesn’t expect an answer, but Kenjiro sends Semi a text anyway. Thanks for practice today.
He gets a reply a mere minute later. No problem.
Well, that settles that. Semi must not be that mad at him. Kenjiro flops down on his bed. At least that’s one less thing on his mind for the following week.
He’s about to roll over to go to sleep when his phone chimes once more. He’s surprised to see it’s another text from Semi. Same time next week? A second text comes in as he’s reading the first. But only if you take an actual day off.
How can he refuse when Semi asked so nicely? Fine, I will, Kenjiro texts back. He bites his lip. See you Sunday.
He isn’t sure why sending that felt like a huge risk.
See you :), is Semi’s reply. Kenjiro flips his phone over in disgust.
For some reason, it takes him longer than usual to fall asleep.
The rest of July passes uneventfully. Summer break comes and goes, along with the brutal training camp Washijo always puts them through. That’s the only week Kenjiro doesn’t spend Sunday practicing with Semi, which has become as oddly routine as it is to talk to Semi almost every day. If someone told him last year he’d be spending this much time with his least favorite upperclassmen, he would have laughed in their face.
It’s early in August when Kenjiro gets off the train and finds Semi frowning. “We’ve been found out,” he says.
“What?” Kenjiro tries to control the sudden onset of panic. He doesn’t have anything to be afraid of, right? Washijo shouldn’t care if he’s going off to practice on his own.
“Tendou,” Semi grumbles. He crosses his arms and glares at the ground. “He was always annoyed whenever I would tell him I couldn’t hang out on Sundays, and I guess he heard from a friend of a friend that I’ve been playing volleyball without him—well, he wasn’t very happy.”
“Okay,” Kenjiro says, heart rate calming. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but so what?”
Semi sighs. “There’s no way he isn’t at the gym right now. He probably dragged poor Moniwa with him, too.”
Kenjiro has no idea who Moniwa is. “That doesn’t matter to me. I’m still going to practice my serves.” He adjusts the strap of his bag and starts heading to the station’s stairs.
After a few steps he notices Semi isn’t with him. He stops and looks over his shoulder. Semi is still frowning at the ground.
“Are you coming?” Kenjiro asks, trying and failing to mask his impatience. He doesn’t need Semi to walk him to the gym, anyway. He’s long since memorized the route.
Semi lets out another, more frustrated sigh, and runs a hand through his hair. After a second, he falls into step with Kenjiro.
“You know,” Kenjiro says, knowing full well how this conversation is going to go. “This could be a good thing. There’s no reason you shouldn’t—”
“Join the volleyball club, yeah, yeah, I get it,” Semi finishes for him. Kenjiro doesn’t need to look at him to know he’s rolling his eyes. “Would you just drop it already? I don’t know why it bothers you so much.”
That makes two of them. Normally Kenjiro would push some more, but today he stays quiet during the entire walk.
Tendou is, in fact, in the gym when they get there.
“Semisemi!” He chimes cheerfully. “I thought you were going to chicken out! Glad you showed up!”
“How many times have I told you not to call me that?” Semi snaps. Tendou ignores him, as usual.
The net is already set up, and there’s a couple more people with Tendou who are dressed for playing volleyball. One is a nervous looking guy with curly black hair. The second is a girl, with her hair pulled into a messy bun and a lazy smile. Kenjiro is surprised at first, but then realizes a hobby club might as well be co-ed. There’s a few more people on the other side of the gym, who look like they’re setting up for badminton.
Tendou throws an arm over Kenjiro’s shoulders, pulling him away from Semi and further into the gym. “Come, let me introduce you!” The other two walk closer, curious.
Kenjiro doesn’t wait for Tendou. He inclines his head, acting like he’s going to bow but actually ducking out of Tendou’s grasp. “Nice to meet you,” he says, seamlessly stepping away. “I’m Kenjiro Shirabu, captain of the Shiratorizawa volleyball club.”
He feels a twinge of pride when he says it. Hell, one might say he’s bragging. He’s liking the way the words sound more and more. It’s obvious the other two know Shiratorizawa’s reputation by the looks on their faces. It’s possible Tendou has told them, but, for some reason, Kenjiro has a feeling they would have known regardless.
“Morning, Shirabu,” the girl says, giving a little half-wave. “My name’s Yukie Shirofuku.”
“I’m Kaname Moniwa,” the guy says. Kenjiro instantly knows how Tendou was able to convince Moniwa to give up his Sunday to ambush him and Semi. There’s no way this guy wouldn’t bend after a few minutes of Tendou whining. “Nice to meet you.”
“You were supposed to let me introduce you,” Tendou complains. Semi snorts. “I’ll forgive you just this once, Shirabu. If! And only if! You tell me why you never told your favorite upperclassmen you were getting in secret practice with Eita.”
“I didn’t know you went to this school,” Kenjiro answers truthfully. He leaves out the part where he found out months ago.
It works. Tendou’s attention shifts to Semi. “Semisemi, how could you?”
“I told you not to call me that!”
With the two of them thoroughly distracted by a pointless argument, Kenjiro drops his bag on the bench and starts changing his shoes. He’s been dressing in his practice shorts and a plain tee before he leaves in the morning, because he figures there’s no point in wasting time changing. He has regular clothes folded neatly in his bag, where he places his street shoes.
“So why are you coming here for practice?” Shirofuku asks. Kenjiro is evidently a curiosity. “Doesn’t Shiratorizawa have university teams coming in for practice matches all the time? Why here, then?”
Kenjiro shrugs. “I’m just practicing my serves,” he says. He knows he could do that anywhere, if he wanted to. He’d easily get permission to use the gym at Shiratorizawa if he asked. There are even other, better, people he could ask to coach him. But he finds Semi’s unwavering confidence in him too reassuring to consider it. Still—that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t look for help elsewhere. “Are either of you good at jump serves?”
“Not really, no,” Moniwa says.
“I’m a dreadful player,” Shirofuku answers with an odd sense of pride. “But I used to help Bokuto practice his serves. I’m a pretty good critic.”
He wonders if Shirofuku’s Bokuto is the same Bokuto who played for Fukurodani. That would be an incredible, and lucky, coincidence. He finishes tying his shoes and stands. “I wouldn’t mind your critical eye,” he tells her.
“I’d be happy to help.” Shirofuku smacks his back in an overly familiar way. “You don’t seem like the type to get depressed and mope on the court, anyway.”
Kenjiro nods. He has no idea what that means.
It’s around noon when Kenjiro has to take a break because his phone keeps beeping with new text messages. He snatches it out of his bag, wishing he’d remembered to put it on silent.
“Wow, someone’s popular!” Tendou says. He’s laying flat on his back, looking at Kenjiro upside-down. The members of the volleyball club at this school don’t seem to have a lot of drive to practice.
“Not really,” Kenjiro says. He unlocks his phone and scrolls quickly through the text backlog, checking to see if there’s anything important before he ignores it all. “It’s a group message. Ennoshita and Yahaba are always bickering in it.”
“Who’s Ennoshita?” Semi asks, grabbing a water bottle and sitting between Tendou and Moniwa. He’s the only one, besides Kenjiro, who’s worked up a sweat.
“Karasuno’s captain,” Kenjiro replies casually.
“Right. So. How did that happen?”
Kenjiro senses he’s not going to go back to practicing any time soon. He sits on the ground next to Shirofuku and opposite Semi, forming a loose circle. There’s still volleyballs scattered about they need to clean up, and more people have joined the badminton game. “Yahaba’s fault. I don’t know how or why he knows all these people.”
“Would someone please tell me who Yahaba is?” Tendou implores, still on his back.
That makes Tendou sit up. “Sheesh, Shirabu. What happened to team loyalty?”
Kenjiro shrugs. He’s still scrolling through the group chat. God, these two are chatty. There’s casual conversation about movies interspaced with their typical trash talk, punctuated with about two dozen blurry pictures of Yahaba’s new cat. That thing is so huge and mean looking Kenjiro’s surprised it hasn’t scratched out one of Yahaba’s eyes yet.
“I mostly ignore them.” A lie—he can easily be dragged into petty arguments with Yahaba if he’s bored enough to respond. Yahaba just really likes to argue with people, Kenjiro thinks. “Besides, these two aren’t that bad. At least not when compared to the other guy in the group. He’s mad because we don’t have to participate in the preliminaries, so he’s been ignoring the chat. It’s been fucking blissful, let me tell you.”
“Let me guess,” Semi says. “Another Miyagi captain?”
“From Datekou,” Kenjiro confirms. He feels annoyed just thinking about him. “His name’s Futakuchi.”
Tendou, Semi, and Shirofuku all look at Moniwa at the same time. Kenjiro feels like he’s missing something.
Moniwa sighs miserably. “I thought the responsibility would mellow him out.”
“Oh,” Kenjiro says, feeling dumb for not recognizing him sooner. “You went to Datekou?” Moniwa nods. “And I’m guessing he was always... like that.”
“You have no idea.”
It must suck, going from being on a team with Futakuchi to being on a team with Tendou. Kenjiro might feel sorry for the guy, except he mostly feels sorry for himself right now because the texts are still rolling in. He’d consider telling them to take it into a private text, but knows from experience if he makes his presence known, Yahaba will try to get him to take his side.
Shirofuku’s stomach decides to change the subject and growls loudly. “Guys,” she says, as if they haven’t heard that, “I’m real hungry.”
Tendou claps his hands in glee. “We should all go out to lunch together! It’ll be fun!”
That doesn’t sound very fun to Kenjiro, and judging by the expression on Semi’s face, he’d rather not spend any more time with the volleyball club than necessary. Shirofuku, on the other hand, lights up like that’s the best idea she’s ever heard. “There’s so many of us, we should go out to get a hot pot!”
“But it’s boiling hot outside already,” Semi points out. “Why would you want a hot pot?”
Unfortunately for him, the idea has already taken root. Tendou and Shirofuku start chanting, “Hot pot! Hot pot! Hot pot!” Moniwa smiles and shrugs, as if to say, What can you do?
Semi looks at Kenjiro and raises his eyebrows. Kenjiro realizes that Semi is leaving the choice up to him. He’s also clever enough to know that Semi expects him to refuse.
“A hot pot sounds nice,” he says.
Shirofuku and Tendou cheer. A few people playing badminton look over to see what the noise is about.
“You two get the net,” Moniwa tells them. “The rest of us will pick up the volleyballs. Then we get lunch.”
Miraculously, they get up and bound toward the net. Kenjiro is shocked to learn that someone who looks so anxious is the de-facto leader of their little group.
Semi is frowning deeply. “Don’t think I don’t know why you did that,” he says.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kenjiro says innocently. He then stands and turns away from Semi, because he has to hide his triumphant smirk.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
At practice in mid-August, things are normal. And normal includes the building headache behind Kenjiro’s eyes.
“Goshiki,” Kenjiro says through gritted teeth. “What are you doing? Keep your arms together when you block! You should know this!”
For his part, Goshiki looks suitably ashamed. “...Sorry, Captain.”
Kenjiro almost misses the days Goshiki never called him Captain. He’s still no Ushijima, so the extra respect feels odd. “And you,” he says, rounding on Taichi. “Why are you over there? You should be the one lecturing him!”
Taichi takes the most agonizingly long drink of water before he answers. “I’m taking a break.”
“Like hell you are. Get back over here until I say you can take a break.”
“Yes, Captain,” Taichi says mockingly. Kenjiro sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.
“Uh, Shirabu,” Shibata, a second year wing spiker, interjects, hovering like he isn’t sure he should be risking it. “It’s fine. Stuff like this happens all the time, right? It’s spiking practice, so I don’t mind...”
He doesn’t let his irritation with his so-called best friend affect his leadership. “No, he should be doing his hardest to block you. Both blockers should be doing their best,” he adds, glaring at Taichi, who pretends he doesn’t see. “You should hone your skills against the best, so you can break through anything.”
Shibata is good, but not Shiratorizawa great. Not yet, anyway. Kenjiro wants to be able to set to as many members of his team as possible, and he’s already concerned over who will take over after he graduates, so this practice benefits both of them. It should be simple—have a first year throw a ball in the air so Kenjiro can set to Shibata, who can get around one blocker alright but struggles with two or three. If only his blockers would do their damn job, it would be good practice.
It doesn’t seem like Shouta, first year setter, is having this much trouble on the other court. It probably helps that he’s practicing with third years who aren’t Taichi. Shouta is a fantastic setter for a first year—not a genius like Karasuno’s Kageyama, but no one is—and Kenjiro already knows he’s going to be a starter next year.
“Alright, let’s reset and do a few more,” Kenjiro says. “And stop running away after you fail at blocking, Taichi, or I swear I’ll bench you.”
Taichi rolls his eyes. He knows Kenjiro is full of hot air.
He’s not sure why he looks over at the balcony-level stands. There’s almost always a couple people watching practice, usually more, and Kenjiro ignores them. Today’s no different. A small cluster of female students sit at one end, mostly talking among themselves and sometimes cheering when one of their boyfriends does something they think is cool. An old man in riding boots dozes in his seat. And Eita Semi is leaning against the railing, watching carefully.
Semi raises his hand in greeting when he notices Kenjiro gawking. The nerve.
“Shouldn’t you be in class?” Kenjiro demands, abandoning all pretext of being focused on volleyball. He stomps off the court and closer to the balcony, so he doesn’t have to shout.
“It was cancelled,” Semi says conversationally. “The professor sent an email saying she wouldn’t be there.”
Kenjiro’s aware the teammates he was practicing with are all staring at him. He ignores them. “But why are you here?”
“What, I can’t come watch my old team practice?”
“Non-students aren’t supposed to be here.”
“Eh, no one’s going to stop me.”
“You’re going to get kicked out.”
“No I won’t.”
“I'll get you kicked out.”
“No you won’t.”
They might continue this pointless conversation, except they’re interrupted by the arrival of Coach Washijo. “Eita!” he barks. “What are you doing here?”
Semi blinks like he didn’t expect Washijo to see him, for some reason. “Hi, Coach. I have the afternoon off and decided to drop by.”
“If you’re going to distract my players, the least you can do is get down here and pull your weight!”
Semi stares at Washijo like he’s lost his marbles, and Kenjiro is not much better. Semi joining practice is the last thing Kenjiro thought would happen today.
But when he takes the time to think about it from Washijo’s point of view, he starts to understand why it seems like a good idea. Kenjiro has been off all year, to put it kindly. Last year he was extremely consistent, including that one time he had to play with a cold. This year he’s incredible when he’s on top of his game, if he says so himself. But when he isn’t—which is more often than he’d like—then he isn’t up to the caliber of a Shiratorizawa setter.
That begs the question: what’s different this year? Kenjiro doubts Washijo would blame the pressure that comes with captaincy. It’s more likely he thinks Kenjiro is getting complacent. Shouta isn’t good enough yet to replace him, so he feels too secure in his position as starter. Last year there was a third year setter on the bench, with the skills and talent to easily take Kenjiro’s spot if he slipped up. Without that threat, he’s floundering.
Kenjiro thinks that reasoning is stupid. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t light a spark under him. Washijo is giving him the perfect opportunity.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Semi is saying. “I’m out of practice. I might hurt myself, or someone else.”
“That’s a terrible excuse,” Kenjiro says.
Semi’s eyes snap to him. Kenjiro can see the gears turning in his head, trying to figure out what his game is. “Excuse me?”
He isn’t going to mention the weekly practice he and Semi are putting in, not in front of Washijo. He doesn’t want to make Semi feel caught in a lie. “I think you’re just afraid I’ll beat you again.”
“What are you talking about? I’m not afraid of—” He cuts himself off and sighs roughly. “Shirabu. This isn’t a competition.”
“How many matches have we played against each other?”
“That doesn’t matter!”
Kenjiro doesn’t look at Washijo, who he’s sure is staring at him. He doesn’t turn around to ask Taichi for backup like he normally would, because Taichi doesn’t know how often he talks to Semi these days.
“Just one match,” Kenjiro says. “A three-on-three. Then you can go back to being on the sidelines.”
Semi isn’t stupid. There’s no way he doesn’t know Kenjiro is asking him for a favor in a roundabout manner. He’s also competitive and hot-headed, and no one gets under his skin like Kenjiro does. Kenjiro isn’t surprised when his hands tighten on the railing and he says, “You’re on.”
“Then what are you standing around for? Go get changed!” Washijo says, waving his hand to dismiss Semi. Semi picks up the bag Kenjiro hadn’t noticed at his feet, and stalks off. Washijo turns to Kenjiro. “Don’t waste this opportunity.”
Kenjiro bows his head. “Yes, Coach.”
Satisfied, Washijo leaves to go sit on the bench, or find more students to yell at, or something else Kenjiro couldn’t care less about right now. He looks back at the court he just abandoned, where his teammates are looking at him with disbelief.
“Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back,” he tells them. He takes a step, stops. “Goshiki. Do me a favor.”
“If Taichi tries to walk away, sit on him.”
“Uh.” Goshiki looks between Kenjiro and Taichi, who crosses his arms and shakes his head. “Okay?”
Goshiki isn’t going to say no to his captain, but he also isn’t going to be able to keep Taichi from leaving. Kenjiro just has to hope Taichi’s curiosity overrides his need to make life as difficult as possible.
He has to jog to catch up with Semi, who’s still on the second floor. “You should have expected this,” he calls up to him.
Semi scoffs. “You’re right, you just love to goad me.”
“You of all people know Washijo won’t let former players in his gym without using them,” Kenjiro says. Semi reaches the stairs, and Kenjiro has to exit the gym and go into the hall to keep talking to him. “Why waste talent?”
Semi jumps the last few steps. “Don’t blame this on him when you did his dirty work.”
Now that they’re on the same level, Kenjiro is reminded that Semi is taller than him. God, he wishes he would grow just a little bit more. “He might have a point.”
Semi rolls his eyes. “Oh, yeah?” He pushes the door to the locker room open, but doesn’t hold it for Kenjiro. He has to catch the heavy door to keep it from smashing it into his nose.
The locker room is, thankfully, empty. Everyone should be out in the gym, but sometimes one or two players will sneak in for a breather. Semi doesn’t have a locker anymore, so he just drops his bag on the bench that runs the length of the room.
“You’ve cultivated this skill for years. It’s a shame to let that go.”
Semi groans and runs his hands over his face. “Of course. Of course. I should have known. It shouldn’t bother you that I’m not playing anymore! It doesn’t affect you at all!”
Kenjiro is quiet. He watches Semi yank at his shoelaces. “I just think you shouldn’t have to give up something you were so passionate about.”
“It’s still none of your business.”
“Suit yourself.” Kenjiro clasps his hands behind his back and tries to look at innocent as possible. “You obviously came here prepared to play volleyball, though.”
“Yeah? How do you figure?” Semi snaps.
“That’s the same bag you use every Sunday,” Kenjiro says, gesturing to it. “You keep it packed and ready to go, correct?”
Semi stares at him. Kenjiro maintains eye contact, raising his eyebrows. “You’re a huge asshole sometimes,” Semi concludes. The irritation is gone from his face. “You know that, right?”
“See you on the court,” he tells Semi, and he leaves him to finish changing.
“What the hell was that?” is Taichi’s greeting when Kenjiro rejoins practice.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kenjiro answers. Goshiki hovers, curious and probably happy he didn’t have to sit on Taichi. Shibata is still there, too. For some reason Kenjiro expected him to leave.
“Coach told us we’re going to play a three-on-three with you and Semi!” Goshiki says.
Kenjiro nods. “You’re on my team.”
“Coach said that too!”
“Seriously Kenjiro,” Taichi says, getting impatient. “Since when do you care about beating Semi?”
“I always have,” he lies.
“Uh-huh. Okay. Right. I totally believe you.”
“We’re friends. Kind of.”
Taichi stares at him blankly. “The first one was more believable.”
“Forget it, it doesn’t matter. We’re playing a match. That’s all we need to know.”
Semi enters the gym at that moment, drawing attention from those nearby. Taichi watches him approach thoughtfully. He says, as if he’s had a grand revelation, “Well Kenjiro, consider this: bye.”
Taichi walks away, grabbing Shibata by the back of the shirt as he goes, ducking under the net to the other side of the court. Semi greets him with a laugh and a high five. Shibata gives Kenjiro an apologetic look, but doesn’t seem eager to come back to Kenjiro’s side.
“Fantastic,” Kenjiro says under his breath. He should have expected this sort of betrayal from the guy who gave the world’s most annoying volleyball player his number.
“There’s only two of us now, Shirabu,” Goshiki says.
“Yes, I’ve noticed.”
Kenjiro skims the gym. Everyone is pretending they’re not paying attention to what’s happening at this court. He’s positive they’ll all end up watching this match. Who could he ask to play with him, under that sort of pressure?
He spots Yunohama nearby, looking like he wants to volunteer but can’t quite work up the courage. Kenjiro motions him over. This would be good practice for him, since what he lacks is confidence.
“Ready?” he asks Yunohama and Goshiki.
“What, no speech?” Yunohama asks. It’s a good sign that he’s comfortable enough to be a smartass, but that doesn’t mean Kenjiro won’t give him a flat look.
“I’m ready!” Goshiki says.
Like Kenjiro predicted, the rest of their team starts gathering around the court. Washijo drops a chair next to the scoreboard, where he orders a couple first years to keep score. Saitou, the other coach, steps up to referee.
“Then let’s win,” Kenjiro says.
Semi’s rusty. It’s painfully obvious from his delayed reaction time when receiving, and the slight hesitation when he sets. The only problem is he’s too damn good for it to be much of a hinderance, especially with Taichi and Shibata on his side. And Kenjiro is positive his serves are more powerful than ever, as evidenced by the burn on his arms after he receives one.
That doesn’t mean Kenjiro’s side is struggling. They keep up point for point, though they lag behind by one. There’s a frustration building up in Kenjiro as he plays. He isn’t satisfied with what he usually does—high tosses for the ace Goshiki, quicks with Yunohama, and observing the other side for weaknesses to exploit.
They go through two full rotations. The second time Kenjiro does a standard serve, Shibata gets it, Semi sets it, and Taichi scores. Semi meets Kenjiro’s eyes, and raises an eyebrow.
Washijo said not to jump serve in matches unless he mastered it. Right now, Kenjiro can’t bring himself to care.
The next time it’s Kenjiro’s turn to serve, he backs up. Yunohama, the only other person who’s seen Kenjiro jump serve, nudges Goshiki. “Cover the back of your head.” Goshiki’s confused, but he does it.
Toss, approach, hit—the ball sails over the net. Taichi reacts too slowly to get in position. Semi, despite training with Shirabu for months, can only touch it before it ricochets out of bounds.
The crowd around them cheers. Goshiki is beside himself, leaping in the air and shouting, “I didn’t know you could do something like that!” Even Washijo sits back in his chair with silent approval.
He probably won’t get an easy service ace like that again, now that the element of surprise has worn off, but that doesn’t matter to him right now. Semi is looking at him with pride in his eyes, and Kenjiro feels amazing.
Someone passes him another ball for his second serve. He aims for the corner, and jumps.
“Want to watch a movie?”
Kenjiro gives his phone a disbelieving look, as if somehow Semi will know he thinks he’s an idiot. To be fair, he probably has an inkling. “We’re supposed to be doing homework.”
“If I have to sit still and stare at equations any longer my head will explode.”
“You asked me to make sure you focus on doing homework,” Kenjiro says slowly. “So no. We’re not watching a movie.”
Semi lets out a frustrated sigh. “You’re so not cute.”
Kenjiro will do him a favor and ignore that weird comment. He checks the time on his watch, because he doesn’t want to look at his phone and see how long they’ve been in a call. “It wouldn’t work anyway. Curfew’s in less than a hour. That’s hardly enough time to catch a train, much less watch a movie.” Honestly, Semi.
A pause. “Have you never streamed a movie or TV show with someone before?”
“Uh, yes. My parents rent and stream movies all the time.”
“That’s not what I meant.” There’s an unceremonious shuffling of papers on Semi’s end of the call—Kenjiro doesn’t need to see him to know he just shoved his homework to the corner of his desk. “There’s websites that will let you stream something for others over the internet. It’s pretty cool. You’ve never heard of it?”
“Usually if I want to watch a movie with someone, I go to their dorm room,” Kenjiro says, irritated. “Stop trying to distract me. Do your homework.”
“You and I both know I’m not going to get it done tonight, so you might as well turn your computer on.”
“And don’t act like you aren’t done yours. I know you. You probably got it done right after school ended cause you were so bored without practice. You’re reading ahead for your classes, aren’t you?”
Kenjiro glares at his textbook. “No,” he lies.
It’s Thursday, and the volleyball club doesn’t meet on Thursdays. And now that he’s making good on his promise to Semi to not get in extra practice if he’s going to practice on Sunday—well, he’s a little annoyed Semi managed to figure out how he spends his time.
“What about your roommate?” Kenjiro asks. Normally Semi avoids making too much noise in the evening out of courtesy for his roommate.
“He’s out with his girlfriend tonight,” Semi says. Kenjiro has met Semi’s roommate a couple of times, and, to be frank, he’s surprised someone so plain has a girlfriend. “I’ll email you the link.”
Kenjiro sighs loudly so Semi knows how he feels about his distraction. That doesn’t stop him from waking up his computer and checking his email. He does it out of pure, scientific curiosity. There’s an email from Semi with no subject line waiting for him. He clicks the link in the body of the email, and watches the new tab load.
He can see the Netflix homepage on the screen. “I think it worked?”
“You don’t say,” Semi replies, his voice coming from both Kenjiro’s phone and his computer. That’s obnoxious. Kenjiro goes to end the phone call, only to find Semi’s already done so. “Got any requests?”
“Not particularly.” Kenjiro might as well admit he’s curious to find out what kind of movies Semi likes. He pulls his laptop closer, and—wait, what’s that movement in the corner of the screen? Is that him? “Semi, what the hell? Why can I see myself?”
“It has a video chat feature,” Semi says, graciously not adding how obvious that is.
“Why can’t I see you?”
“I turned my webcam off.”
Kenjiro stares at the website, not absorbing any of it. “How do I turn off mine?”
“You know, I forgot,” Semi says, amusement evident in his voice.
“Semi. Tell me how to turn it off.”
“Sorry, I have no idea. I guess you’re stuck with it on.”
Kenjiro grits his teeth in frustration. He’s sure he could figure it out after a couple minutes poking around the website, but fine. Two can play at that game. He yanks open his desk drawer and pulls out a roll of tape. Then he grabs an index card from his desk organizer and folds it in half.
“What are you doing?” Semi asks. Kenjiro takes the opportunity to flip him off. “Hey!”
Kenjiro puts the index card over his laptop webcam and tapes it down. “That’s better.”
“Ugh, fine. You win. Turn it off by hitting the video icon over where your webcam feed is.”
Kenjiro feels like an idiot for not figuring that out immediately, but he will never, ever admit that. “Was that so hard?” he asks innocently as he switches it off. The index card proceeds to fall off his laptop.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Are you ready to watch a movie yet?”
“I’ll be nice and let you pick.”
“I wasn’t going to give you a choice anyway, for being rude.” Semi types something in the search bar—the stream quality dips too much for Kenjiro to read it—and picks something from the results. The stream quality returns, and Kenjiro is surprised to see it’s a campy, black and white sci-fi movie from sixty or so years ago.
“Not all of us are fluent in English, you know,” Kenjiro comments dryly.
“Calm down, I’m turning the subtitles on. And I’m not fluent.”
Sure he’s not. Kenjiro’s only seen him hold dozens of conversations with English-speaking students at his university. His English is better than their Japanese, every time.
But Kenjiro doesn’t argue that, just like he gave up on arguing for Semi to do his homework. It’s not his fault if he fails. “I’m surprised you picked this kind of movie,” he says instead.
“Why, don’t want to watch it?”
“No, I actually love these shitty old movies.” Kenjiro props his chin on his hand. “Taichi won’t watch them with me. He says they’re stupid and boring and the effects suck.”
“But the effects are what make them fun.”
“That’s what I said, but that’s not good enough for him, apparently.”
Semi chuckles. “Well, now you have someone to watch these movies with. If you want.”
“Sounds good,” Kenjiro says, keeping his tone mild. He feels a strange warmth in his chest from learning he and Semi have something in common. He honestly never thought it possible.
When Kenjiro gets off the train next Sunday, Semi frowns at him. “Let me see,” Semi says, holding out his hand. Kenjiro hesitates, then gives Semi his right hand. Semi inspects the tape he has on his fingers. “I thought you said it wasn’t that bad.”
“It’s not,” Kenjiro says, feeling uncomfortable. “This is just precaution.”
“Hmm.” Semi lets go of his hand. “Be more careful next time.”
Kenjiro is really starting to regret telling Semi he hurt his finger playing a practice match a couple days ago. The nurse told him he’d be back to normal in a few days, and Washijo told him not to practice, under any circumstances. He’s been on the sidelines since then, and it’s driving him nuts. Semi’s constant concern hasn’t been much help. Kenjiro suspects the reason Semi told him to still come today was so Semi could make sure he doesn’t sneak in some practice.
“Are we going back to your dorm?” Kenjiro asks, rubbing his hand. Hopefully it’s cleaner than the last time he saw it.
“I mean, we could, but I figure watching movies all day will be boring.” Semi shifts, shoving his hands in his pockets. There’s an early September morning chill in the air. He must have gotten cold while waiting for the train. “There’s a museum nearby I haven’t gone to yet. It’s free for students. Interested?”
Ah, so they won’t be meeting up with any of Semi’s friends, then, if Semi’s leaving the choice up to him. “I’m not really interested in art.”
“It’s a science museum.”
Kenjiro shrugs. “Sure. Why not?” They walk away from the station, dodging young families as they go. “What sort of exhibits are there?”
“You did hear me say I haven’t been to it, right?”
“I only listen to about half the things you say.”
Semi rolls his eyes toward the sky. “Of course you do.”
They walk in silence for a moment, but something is bothering Kenjiro. “When you said the museum is free for students,” he starts, “do you mean any student or just from your university?”
“We’ll find out,” Semi says mildly, which doesn’t sound fun at all. “We can always pretend you left your student ID back in your room. Maybe they’ll let that slide.”
Kenjiro stops walking, forcing Semi to stop and look at him. “That’s your plan?”
“What, would you rather pay the admission fee?”
He doesn’t think he’s ever lied to get in somewhere before. “Well, it would be a shame for me to stop you from being financially responsible,” he says.
“Thanks for looking out for me. Now hurry up.”
Semi starts walking again. Even though he can’t see it, Kenjiro makes a face at his back.
An hour later Kenjiro finds himself watching a simulation of the tides around Japan. It’s a plastic reproduction of all the mountains and valleys and ocean trenches of Japan, with artificially blue water rising and falling every few minutes. The electronic display on the side shows how things like temperature, pressure, and currents change depending on time of year, the cycle of the moon, and a bunch of other different factors. It’s fascinating, but the thing Kenjiro wants to know most is how they gathered this information.
Semi grew bored of the simulation quickly. Kenjiro’s learned that his eyes glaze over whenever he sees a ton of data he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t wander far, though. When Kenjiro glances up, he finds him studying an exhibit detailing the life cycles of different kinds of sea creatures.
The museum is nice. It’s smaller than either of them expected. There’s other students wandering around, but no one Semi knows. Which Kenjiro thinks is just as well because they did, in fact, have to lie to get him in for free. He’s a little paranoid the museum employees will find out somehow and kick him out.
Semi spots him looking, and wanders back over. “Do you understand any of this?” he asks, motioning to the tide simulation.
“Mostly.” Kenjiro shrugs. “I think I’d understand it better with more context, though.”
Semi shakes his head, and Kenjiro swears he hears him utter the word nerd under his breath.
“What about you?” Kenjiro challenges. “Having fun learning about how shrimp reproduce?”
“Not at all,” Semi answers. “I think I’ll never eat a shrimp again. You know, I was kind of hoping this would be one of those museums with a giant skeleton hanging out somewhere. Isn’t there a museum somewhere with a megalodon skeleton like that?”
“Don’t ask me, I’m not a museum encyclopedia.”
“Too bad. Giant dinosaur sharks sound cool.”
Kenjiro leans against the glass of the tide simulation casually. “There’s actually some living species of sharks that have been around since the dinosaurs were alive. One of them lives around Japan.”
“Really?” Semi perks up. “Which one?”
“It’s called a goblin shark. They’re pretty cool, you should look up a picture.”
Poor, unsuspecting Semi takes his phone out of his back pocket. “Goblin shark, you said?”
“That’s the one.” Kenjiro has to turn to face the opposite wall so Semi can’t see his face. He hopes it looks like he’s interested in a nearby display and not like he’s anticipating Semi’s reaction.
For one long, terrible moment, Kenjiro waits. Semi types something on his phone, pauses. Scrolls a little. Pauses longer. Then, a ragged sigh. “Shirabu. This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
“You should see how they catch prey—their jaw unhinges and their mouth shoots forward and grabs their prey like a venus fly trap—”
“They do what? ”
Kenjiro catches sight of the disgusted look on Semi’s face and bursts into laughter.
Semi flushes red to his ears, but he doesn’t look particularly mad. “I should have known better. It’s called a goblin shark, of course it’s ugly.”
“They’re hideous,” Kenjiro agrees, calming himself down. “But they really are ancient. They’ve been around for over 100 million years.”
Semi shudders. “Yeah, I think I’m done learning about all the shit that lives in the ocean. Maybe there’s something else in this museum you can ruin for me.”
“Gladly,” Kenjiro says.
He lets Semi pick the room they wander into next, and they end up in an exhibit about atoms. Basic stuff, really. There’s an electronic display showing how electrons circle the nucleus of an atom, a breakdown of how the number of protons and electrons change depending on the element, and other things Kenjiro already knows.
His attention is drawn to the other people in the room. They’re speaking a language Kenjiro doesn’t recognize, so he assumes they’re international students. It reminds him of something he’s been wondering for a while. He ponders it as he walks the room.
“I have a question,” he says to Semi. “About a conversation we had before.”
“You’re going to have to be more specific,” Semi comments dryly. He’s found an interactive display with magnetic water molecules, and is sticking them together randomly.
“It was at the soba place. The first time I visited. Remember?”
“Oh, you mean the day you decided to take the train all the way from Shiratorizawa, without telling me first?”
“You really need to get over that. It’s not a good look.”
Semi laughs through his nose. He drops the nonsense chain of water molecules back into the display, and faces Kenjiro. “What’s your question?”
The focused attention makes Kenjiro nervous, but he ventures on. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” he says. “You were talking about international students, and how sometimes people think you’re one because you’re half Japanese, so I was wondering—why are you laughing? ”
“Oh my god,” Semi wheezes, his hand covering his mouth in a poor attempt to hide his laughter. “It took you months to ask!”
“It didn’t seem appropriate!” Kenjiro says, his face heating up.
“Tendou asked me the first day we met! I never thought you’d be less brazen than Tendou, of all people.”
Kenjiro wishes the display was full of real water instead of magnetic molecules so he could drown Semi in it. He settles for crossing his arms. “I’m not Tendou,” he grumbles.
“Aw, jeez.” Semi has to clear his throat to keep himself from laughing more, but he’s still grinning from ear to ear. “I’m half Filipino, on my mom’s side.”
“Oh,” Kenjiro says, because he can’t think of anything else.
Semi does something odd—he ruffles Kenjiro’s hair affectionately. “You are allowed to ask me about myself, you know.”
Kenjiro frowns. He tries to smooth his hair down, but without a mirror he’s sure he’ll miss a spot Semi won’t tell him about. “I don’t want to overstep boundaries.”
“Shirabu, literally nothing you do to me will be worse than making me look up goblin sharks.”
He smiles faintly. “That’s true.”
Semi smiles back. “Are you ready to go? I’m getting bored of this place.”
“Sure,” Kenjiro says. “Do you have any more rule breaking planned, or are we finally going to watch shitty movies?”
“How about both?” Semi asks, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “We could always pirate movies.”
Kenjiro’s face falls flat. “No. Absolutely not.”
Semi laughs once more. “Relax, I was kidding. We’ll stream movies legally.”
He tries to keep an unimpressed expression on his face, he really does. But the corners of his lips turn up, and he can’t help but feel light as he walks out of the museum with Semi.
Kenjiro isn’t stupid. He knows why. But he thinks that he’ll ignore it, for just a little longer.
sharks! this chapter took a while to write because i ended up in a wiki crawl for sharks and living fossils. all in a day's work.
so, semi mentioning a megalodon skeleton is actually because of my sketchy recollection of seeing one. i thought it was in a photo or something. when i looked up megalodons, it turns out i was remembering a recreation of a megalodon's jaw bone--which is in the national aquarium in baltimore. aka my local aquarium. i remember looking at it last time i went there and thinking, "oh, that's neat." ah, i love being a dumbass.
goblin sharks are, in fact, ancient and known as living fossils. they also are genuinely hideous and i wouldn't recommend looking up the gif of one shooting its jaws out to eat a fish if creepy undersea creatures freak you out.
fun fact about goblin sharks: apparently goblin shark is a translation of their old japanese name, tenguzame. i guess with their awful long snout they do look a bit like a tengu, but i mean, i wouldn't call a tengu a goblin...?? i guess it's kind of the closest thing western cultures can use to understand what a tengu is. i guess. i'm not really sold but alright.
anyway those are my shark facts, thanks for coming to my TED talk.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
One evening, Kenjiro decides to take a walk.
Semi always takes walks in the evenings. At first Kenjiro thought it was because Semi didn’t want to bother his roommate when talking on the phone, but he learned that Semi does it most days anyway. Kenjiro didn’t understand why he does it so frequently. Eventually he began to feel envious, and the irrationality of it all annoys him.
Finally, for a combination of reasons—a cool September evening, excess energy he didn’t burn off at practice, writer’s block for an essay he doesn’t care for—Kenjiro throws on a sweater, snags an apple from the common area, and leaves the dorms.
There are a few other students milling about, enjoying their last few hours of freedom before curfew. Kenjiro waves to a few he recognizes from his classes, but he doesn’t stop to chat. That’s not the point of a walk.
He wanders past the main buildings, down closer to the horse trails. He spots a couple riders, but keeps his distance. He never took the opportunity to take a course on horseback riding. Horses are huge and kind of intimidate him.
Kenjiro turns away from the pastures. He makes his way to the hilly clearing behind the school buildings, where students eat lunch on warm days and try to sled down when it snows, even though they aren’t supposed to.
There’s no one else around. He already feels more relaxed. Kenjiro raises his apple to his lips, and he’s about to take a bite when his phone rings, startling him. He has to scramble to not drop the apple.
Thoroughly annoyed, Kenjiro yanks his phone out of his pocket and answers the call. “What do you want?”
“Hello Shirabu, nice to talk to you again Shirabu,” Semi says sarcastically. “What’s with the attitude? I told you I’d call you around now.”
“Did you? I don’t remember that.”
“You texted me in class,” Semi says. He sounds strained, like he’s trying not to get worked up.
Kenjiro takes his phone away from his ear to check his texts. Oh. So he did. Semi’s reply is garbled with typos, though. “My apologies. I couldn’t really read it.”
“I had to text under the table! You try doing that, it’s not easy.”
Semi lets out a long sigh. “Stop being a brat for one minute, would you? I want to tell you something.”
Kenjiro’s traitorous heart beats more quickly in his chest. “What is it?” he says in a perfectly neutral tonel.
“You’re not allowed to gloat. You got that? I don’t want to hear any I-told-you-so’s.”
“I’ll do my best,” he says, rolling his eyes. He sits down under a nearby tree and takes a bite of his apple.
“I joined the volleyball club.”
“You did?” Kenjiro sits up straighter. “That’s fantastic.”
“Honestly, half of the upperclassmen thought I was already a member, since I’d gone to so many meetings recently.” The tension leaves Semi’s voice. “Tendou and the others were excited, though. We’re going out to dinner to celebrate.”
He can imagine. Tendou, Moniwa, and Shirofuku haven’t practiced with them every Sunday, and not all of them show up at the same time, but they’ve been enthusiastic about getting Semi to join the club. “I suppose this is one case where going out to eat is appropriate,” Kenjiro says.
“Thanks, I’m glad to have your approval.” He sounds like he’s smiling. “I’m surprised. I expected you to be more smug about this.”
“Oh, sorry. Let me try again.” Kenjiro clears his throat for effect. “It sure took you long enough. I’ve been telling you to join the club for months, you should have listened to me sooner.”
Semi laughs. Kenjiro never realized how good it felt to make him laugh. “Yes, as always, you’re right about everything.”
“Damn straight,” Kenjiro says. He takes another bite of his apple.
“What’s that sound?”
“What sound? I’m outside right now.”
“That explains the crickets, I guess,” Semi says. “What about you? How are you doing?”
“Pretty good. Okay, no, that’s a lie. Really good. I’m finally satisfied with how cohesive the team is, and Washijo’s stopped giving me looks whenever I jump serve. We’re ready for the tournament next month.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Semi says.
Kenjiro allows himself a grin. It’s strange to feel so comfortable, sitting alone on the roots of a tree in the darkening afternoon, but he finds he doesn’t want to move. Absently, Kenjiro bites into the apple.
“Oh God,” Semi says with dawning horror. “Are you eating? ”
“Uh, yeah. I’m hungry.”
“While on the phone? ”
Kenjiro takes another bite just to be contrary. “So what?”
“Don’t eat in my ear, that’s gross and rude.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” he says petulantly.
“Ugh, fine. If you’re going to be like that, I’m going to mute you until you’re done.”
“Oh, don’t be dramatic. It’s a shitty apple, I’ll just toss it.”
Kenjiro checks his phone. The call hasn’t been ended. “Semi?” he tries.
“Asshole,” he mutters. He considers the chance Semi is just pretending he’s muted him to be a jerk, but quickly dismisses that idea. Semi’s not that kind of person. Well, fine. He’ll just have to see who gets the last laugh.
Kenjiro watches the sky turn orange over the trees that border campus. He eats a little more of the apple, just in case Semi is listening to him. After a sufficient amount of time has past, he sends Semi a text. I’m done now, if you’re done being obstinate.
A second later, the sound of shuffling paper startles Kenjiro. “I wouldn’t call it being obstinate,” Semi says. “I’d say I was being reasonable.”
In response, Kenjiro takes one final, excessively loud bite.
“Shirabu!” Semi sputters into the phone. “What the hell!”
“You started it,” Kenjiro says around the apple in his mouth.
“No, you know what? I’m not dealing with this. Good-fucking-bye.”
The call ends with a click.
Kenjiro snorts. Serves him right.
He’s getting cold, even with a sweater. He stands, brushes leaves off his pants, and tosses the apple core into a nearby trash can. He then calls Semi back because, dammit, he’s not done teasing him for joining the volleyball club.
“So.” Tendou kneels in front of Kenjiro, a volleyball in the crook of his arm. “How are things?”
Kenjiro takes his time unscrewing the cap of his water bottle. “Fine.”
“Practice going good? Is Akakura over his anxiety about block follow-ups yet? Has Taichi finally stopped being lazy?”
“We’re fine,” Kenjiro says. He takes a long drink of water, hoping Tendou will get the hint and leave.
Predictably, he doesn’t. Tendou plants himself on the bench next to Kenjiro. “Oh reeeeally?” He leans in close to study Kenjiro. “No disasters? No one’s tried to run away yet? I bet Washijo’s making you guys practice until like two in the morning.”
“Give him some space, Tendou,” Semi says from across the court. A string attaching the net to the pole snapped earlier, and he’s trying to replace it with Shirofuku.
“Jeez,” Tendou says, sitting back. “He’s always doting on you, huh?”
Kenjiro’s noticed the same thing. He isn’t going to mention it. “There’s nothing bad to report,” he says simply.
“The Spring High playoffs are mere weeks away!” Tendou says. He presses a hand to his chest dramatically. “Can you blame me for being concerned about my old team?”
“Yes, I could.” Kenjiro closes his water bottle and sets it aside, ignoring Tendou’s offended gasp. “You don’t need to be concerned. We’re a winning team.”
“Well, good!” Tendou jumps up, a wide smile on his face. “Just remember, you can come to me with any problems you have! Don’t be a stranger!”
“...Right,” Kenjiro answers.
The four of them are the only ones using the gym. It’s almost eerily quiet with none of them playing. So when the door bursts open, Kenjiro is embarrassed to admit he jumps in surprise.
“Sorry I’m late,” Moniwa pants. The strap of his bag is sliding off his shoulder.
“Glad you made it!” Shirofuku says. Her deft fingers finish tying the new string to the net. “What’s the news?”
“They’ll be by in about an hour,” he replies. “We’ll have enough to play six-on-six!”
“Are you guys playing a match?” Kenjiro asks, perplexed. As far as he’s aware, the volleyball club never plays against other schools.
“Surprise!” Shirofuku says. “We decided to do something fun for you, since the Spring Highs are so soon! Moniwa here was just asking a few club members if they’d play with us.”
Kenjiro blinks. “They want to play with us?” He’s met some of the older members of the volleyball club before. They were nice enough, but didn’t seem keen on hanging out with a high schooler, much less putting in extra practice.
“We pulled a few strings,” Semi says, grinning.
“By that he means we told them Shirofuku would be making cupcakes for our next meeting,” Tendou interjects.
Shirofuku laughs. “I do like baking! I end up eating a lot of batter, though...”
“Oh,” Kenjiro says, stunned. He never imagined they’d go out of their way for him. He always assumed they were using his practice as an excuse to hang out.
Semi puts his hands on his hips. “What’s with that look? I thought you’d be excited to have a chance to beat me again.”
“Teams are planned already?”
“I mean, it’d be a little weird having three setters on one team, wouldn’t it?” Semi says, looking at Moniwa.
“I don’t mind what team I’m on,” Moniwa says.
“Noooo,” Shirofuku says, throwing one arm around Kenjiro’s shoulders and the other around Moniwa’s. She’s the type of person to always find a way to touch her friends, and Kenjiro’s learned to tolerate it. “We started this, we’re all gonna be on the same team, got it?”
“You just want to be on the winning team,” Tendou says.
“Shh, they don’t need to know that.”
Kenjiro almost feels bad for the poor person who’s going to be the sixth member of their team. “It sounds like fun. Thank you.”
“Sorry, what was that?” Tendou cups a hand around his ear. “It sounded like you thanked us! I can’t believe you’re the same rude kid Eita always complained about.”
“Rude? Me? Never.”
Semi scoffs, and Tendou cackles.
Shirofuku releases Kenjiro and rounds on Moniwa. “Alright. Spill. Who’s coming? We gotta use our time wisely to form strategies.”
Kenjiro almost rolls his eyes at that. He doesn’t think they need strategies, not if they have two former and one current Shiratorizawa player. But Shirofuku said it was for fun. Maybe this can be fun, too.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
this chapter is all texting. i'm sorry if it gets annoying to read so much in a tiny 300px box! you can turn creator styles off and it'll just be script style.
my intention was to figure out how to put emojis in the creator style too, but my eyes glazed over so no one in this fic ever uses emojis, apparently. this is the least realistic part of this fic but i just. cannot. be bothered. i wanted futakuchi and tendou to use them but whatever. we're all going to suffer in an emojiless world.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that hard work doesn’t always end in victory.
Kenjiro learned this a year ago, when Shiratorizawa lost to Karasuno, and they did not go to nationals for the first time in years. He remembers it vividly as he watches Yunohama fail to receive a spike from Karasuno’s ace, the loud baldy, and knows it means they’ve lost once more.
Karasuno explodes into celebration. Kenjiro watches the exhaustion on Ennoshita’s face give way to elation. He’s angry and jealous that he can’t experience that feeling anymore, but squashes it down deep, deep within him.
“Shirabu,” Yunohama says, panting heavily. “I’m s—I’m sor—”
“Don’t be,” Kenjiro says. “We all made mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up because yours happened to be the last one.”
He looks over at the rest of his team. They’re all tired, disappointed, upset—Goshiki is already in tears, and Kenjiro expects he won’t be the only one. He won’t be able to indulge. He’s still the captain, and he has a role to play.
“Line up,” he calls above the din of the crowd. “And don’t forget to project.”
They all line up on the court, bow, and shout their thanks at those who came to cheer them on. Kenjiro doesn’t spot Semi in the stands, but he feels his eyes on him anyway.
The rest of the afternoon goes by in a blur. The bus ride back to campus is solemn. Washijo orders his usual punishment of doing one hundreds sets of something, this time flying falls. They walk numbly back to the gym, where Kenjiro and Taichi go over the plans for passing on the club to the current second years. They’d finalized it a few days ago, but Kenjiro thought they’d have more time before they had to execute it. He can hear the frustration in Taichi’s voice as he names their successors.
Last year, Ushijima gave each remaining member parting remarks with advice for the following year. Kenjiro considers doing the same. He looks at the face of each of his now-former teammates, from the next captain Goshiki to the next setter Shouta, and finds he can’t think of a single thing to say to them.
Well, that’s a lie. Individual advice he can’t do. But he does have one nagging thought, one that’s been building inside of him since the moment they lost.
“Before we go,” he says, stepping forward. “I just want to say, you’ve all done well this year. I’m proud of your achievements. And—thank you for making my last year here memorable.”
“So sappy,” Taichi remarks, but he smiles and pats Kenjiro on the shoulder.
“He isn’t wrong, though,” Yunohama says.
There’s a palpable sense of relief as the remaining first and second years bow in thanks the third years. Then, with formalities over, everyone breaks into small groups to say more personal goodbyes. Predictably, Goshiki makes a beeline for Kenjiro.
“Capta—” he starts, then he corrects himself. “Shirabu! Listen, I—not that I’m not grateful or anything, but—you, and Ushijima, you both—I don’t know if I can do it!”
“You’ll be fine,” Kenjiro says, and he means it. “Ushijima knew what you’re capable of when he graduated last year. So do I.”
“But...” Goshiki waves his hands around, as if to illustrate the point he can’t articulate.
“Goshiki,” Kenjiro says with finality. Goshiki stops moving and looks at him. “Your job is to become the coolest ace in Miyagi, got it? Beat that annoying shrimp from Karasuno and come out on top.”
If Kenjiro’s learned anything over the past two years, it’s that the easiest way to get Goshiki to cooperate is to appeal to his desire to shine. This time is no different, and a fire lights in Goshiki’s eyes. “I will! I’ll do my best!”
Kenjiro grins. “Good.”
Last year the third years participated in the punishment for losing the tournament. Kenjiro thinks about doing the same. He thinks it will be a good way to end his time in the club, and knows physical activity always calms his mind.
But then he spots Shouta. Shouta was already taller than Kenjiro when he got to Shiratorizawa, and already knew how to communicate with teammates. He learned from Kenjiro how to study the opponents, and, from Taichi, how to anticipate their next moves. He gets along well with Goshiki and seems close to the other first years. He also lacks the defiant streak that lost Semi his starting position, and the stubbornness that plagued Kenjiro his entire high school career.
In short, Shouta is the perfect, moldable setter needed to prop up Goshiki and rise him to new heights. All Kenjiro can think about is when he was in Shouta’s shoes—and how long it took him to feel comfortable stepping out of Ushijima’s shadow.
Kenjiro touches Shouta’s arm to get his attention. “Can I have a word?”
He leads Shouta away from the group, and away from the coaching staff. “What is it?” he asks. He looks eager, like he’s anticipating Kenjiro is going to give him world-changing advice.
“You have my phone number, right?”
“Huh?” Shouta blinks. “Yes, I do.”
“Good.” Kenjiro takes Shouta by the shoulder and looks him in the eye. “Listen to me. If you ever need anything, or are having any sort of problems or doubts—you contact me, okay? I don’t give a shit if it’s two years from now and we haven’t spoken once, you call me. Understand?”
Shouta stares at him, wide-eyed and confused. “Um, okay.”
“I’m serious, Shouta. Promise me.”
“Uh, sure, I promise.”
Kenjiro will just have to trust he will. He glances over his shoulder, at Washijo, who is sitting on a chair, eyes closed, while the rest of the team prepares for flying falls. “And be careful,” Kenjiro says, quietly, “he has a habit of ruining setters.”
Shouta is a clever kid. He follows Kenjiro’s gaze and his face becomes a mask of calm. “Ah. I understand.”
With that, Kenjiro makes a decision. He leaves Shouta to join the others, and walks straight out the door. The other third years look at him with surprise, save for Taichi, who falls into step with him.
“Where are we headed?” Taichi asks casually, just as Washijo learns they’re missing and shouts for them to come back.
“I want to pay a visit to the administrators office,” Kenjiro says. They pass by the trophy case, where the same empty spot from last year is waiting to be filled. “The principal should still be here, right? We were supposed to win, after all.”
Taichi hums. “And why are we going there?”
The hallway is empty, and the sounds from the gym fade into the background. No one has run out to get them. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m going to recommend they encourage Coach Washijo to think about retirement.”
At that, Taichi laughs. “You’re incredible, you know? I never thought that’s how I’d end my day.”
“You don’t have to come with me.”
“You kidding?” Taichi says, sounding uncharacteristically serious. “The two of us together will be more convincing. And besides, you’re not the only one leaving unhappy.”
Kenjiro opens his mouth to tell Taichi that he isn’t unhappy, but he stops. He thinks of Semi losing interest in volleyball, and knows how close he came to doing the same.
They stop outside the closed staff room door and exchange a glance. No further discussion is needed. Kenjiro knocks on the door.
Semi picks up on the fourth ring. “Hey,” he says. He sounds out of breath again.
“Hi,” Kenjiro replies, then says nothing else. He lets the awkward silence sit while he stares out his dorm window. The glass radiates cold.
“Is, uh,” Semi starts. Kenjiro imagines he isn’t sure how to deal with the situation, even though they did the same thing in the summer. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes,” Kenjiro says, once more giving a one-word answer.
“Well, then—” There’s a fumbling sound, and then the sound of a heavy door opening. Then, wind. “Listen, about the match, I’m sor—”
No. He isn’t allowed to say that. “Did your friends have fun?” Kenjiro interrupts.
“Your friends. They came with you, right? Did they like watching the match?”
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, they did.” Semi pauses as he moves behind something that blocks the wind. Kenjiro thinks he’s just the slightest bit stupid for going outside when it’s so cold. “They said it was exciting, and asked me a million questions. I think they want to go to a college match next.”
“You could take them to see Ushijima’s team play,” Kenjiro suggests.
“Maybe,” Semi says. Kenjiro has not distracted him enough, because he continues on to say, “Shirabu, I’m sorry that your—”
“Would you stop that?” Kenjiro snaps. “Stop trying to apologize. None of this is your fault, I don’t want to hear it. Especially not when you— you’re—” His hand closes into a fist, which he weakly bangs against his window.
“I’m not finished!” Kenjiro takes a ragged breath, immediately regretting his tone. “All I wanted to tell you—the reason I called you—I just wanted to say... thank you.” Talking becomes increasingly more difficult, with his eyes stinging and his throat constricting, but he powers on. “You’ve done more for me than you know. Thank you.”
All the frustration and sadness he suppressed from earlier that day come flooding to the surface, and to Kenjiro’s great shame, he starts crying while still on the phone. Dimly he hears Semi trying to reassure him, going, “Hey, Shirabu, it’s okay, you don’t have to cry, Shirabu—” over and over, but it doesn’t help at all. He can’t stop the tears now that they’re here.
He isn’t sure how long it takes him to calm down. Eventually his breathing slows. When he looks up, Kenjiro realizes he’s moved from the window to sitting on his bed. His phone is on the table. Judging by how distant Semi sounds, he wasn’t in the frame of mind to put it on speaker, which he now does. “Sorry,” he says, voice hoarse.
Semi takes a deep breath. Kenjiro imagines he’s relieved. “Are you feeling better?”
“Okay. Good. Do you have water? Maybe a cold compress isn’t a bad idea if your eyes are puffy—”
“I’ve got it,” Kenjiro says, cutting off Semi’s fretting. He knows Semi’s only doing it because he’s too far away to get Kenjiro anything himself, but that doesn’t mean Kenjiro is going to let him worry.
He has a stash of water bottles in his closet—room temperature, but he guesses he can’t be picky—and he desperately wants to wash his face, but doesn’t want to go to the bathrooms with his eyes and nose still red. He slowly sips water, wipes snot off his face, and waits until his heart calms.
“Semi?” he says after a moment. “You aren’t going to tell anyone about this, are you?”
“God no. You’d kill me.”
Kenjiro manages a small smile. “You’re not wrong.”
“I thought so,” Semi says quietly. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I’m fine. Besides, you sneaking into the dorms just to fuss over me would be an unnecessary stress.”
“I wasn’t going to—okay, maybe it was just going to be a suggestion —”
Kenjiro snorts. “Right. Just a suggestion.” His head starts to throb, and his body is feeling heavier by the moment. The physical exhaustion of playing five full sets is catching up with him. “I am getting tired though, so...”
“Of course, you should get some rest.” A pause. “And, hey, Shirabu?”
“You were incredible.”
The next morning, Kenjiro is uncharacteristically nervous as he watches the scenery pass by the train window. He was so tired that morning he didn’t realize until halfway through the train ride that he never confirmed with Semi if they’re going to continue hanging out on Sundays.
There’s a very real chance the train will stop and Semi won’t be waiting for him for the first time in months. He can’t bring himself to text Semi about it, either. If he’s not there, Kenjiro will get on the first train back and not mention it. That seems easiest.
So he waits. Fidgets in his seat. And watches wordlessly as Yahaba spams the group chat picture after picture of his sleeping cat from different angles. Honestly, he doesn’t get what Yahaba sees in that thing.
Kenjiro’s stop arrives before he realizes, and he has to scramble out of his seat to make it to the doors. He jumps onto the platform like a harried idiot, where a couple sleepy students glance his way to see what the ruckus is about. But Kenjiro doesn’t care about that: he quickly spots Semi leaning on the wall, and a weight lifts from his shoulders.
Unfortunately, Semi ruins it by laughing at him.
“Did you fall asleep?” Semi teases. He pulls himself off the wall and joins Kenjiro on the platform.
“No, fuck you,” Kenjiro replies automatically. He frowns, both at himself and at Semi.
“I almost didn’t expect you to show,” Semi says, ignoring Kenjiro’s rude behavior for once. “But I came here just in case—I’m glad I did.”
“Yeah, well.” Kenjiro shifts his weight from foot to foot. He feels unprepared without his volleyball bag. “Old habits, and all that.”
Semi ruffles Kenjiro’s hair. He’s been doing that a lot lately. Probably because Kenjiro stopped complaining about it as much. “So, hey, the drama club is putting on a play today. We could probably still catch the morning show. You wanna go?”
Warmth blossoms in Kenjiro’s chest. “Yeah,” he says, happy his tongue still knows how to form words. “That sounds fun.”
“Cool. But, uh.” Semi shoves his hands in his pockets and bounces on his heels. “The thing is? We’re probably going to have to run.”
“We’re what? ”
“C’mon, it’ll be fun,” Semi says, and Kenjiro knows running across campus in the cold will absolutely not be any fun.
Well, maybe. Doing something stupid might be the thing he needs right now. He sighs. “Fine.”
“Great, let’s go!” Semi takes Kenjiro’s wrist, pulls him down the stairs, and then they’re off.
i'll keep this brief, because i don't wanna bother talking too much about washijo. i guess it's pretty obvious by now i don't like him. if i think to much about him, i become furious about how terrible of a coach and a mentor he is.
i've said before this fic is entirely self-indulgent. i put in plenty of headcanons i've had for ages but otherwise haven't done anything with, and even added in my favorite next gen captains rarepair. oh, and yukie's in here too. i adore yukie. sweet, darling snowy owl child. but this fic isn't just frivolous fluff. i almost gave up art in high school because the art teacher who was supposed to act as a mentor would make me cry. i managed to find a way to enjoy drawing again. i wanted to explore something similar with shirabu. naturally semi would follow, because they have the same root problem.
i'll admit i'm not an expert on volleyball, but i don't think shirabu would ever have an amazing jump serve. that isn't the point of them, though, not in this story. sometimes you need to learn something new, something all your own, in order to move forward. ultimately, it's just high school volleyball. he gave it his all, has no regrets, and in a year he'll look back and be glad he did.
one chapter left to go! chapter 10 is my favorite, along with chapter 6 because i'm a terrible person and wanted people to google goblin sharks. thanks for sticking with me so far!
“What the hell is that?”
Semi has the gall to act confused. “What the hell is what?”
“That thing in your ear!”
He’s causing a bit of a scene in the middle of the street, but Kenjiro can hardly bring himself to care. It’s bitter cold in the wind, he almost missed the train here, and once he boarded, his phone blew up with texts while Futakuchi and Yahaba argued viciously over what type of instant ramen is the best. The metal bar he just noticed in Semi’s ear saps the last of his sanity.
Semi’s hand goes to touch his ear. “Oh, it’s an industrial.”
“It’s a what? ”
“I can see that,” Kenjiro says impatiently. “What I want to know is why .”
“I’ve always wanted one. Obviously I couldn’t get it done in high school, so why not now?”
“Because it’s awful?”
Semi gives him an offended look. “Good thing I don’t need your approval, then.”
“I can’t believe you did that to yourself,” Kenjiro says. He tilts his head and leans in, as if it’ll make the bar going in one part of Semi’s ear and out the other look any less painful. Or stupid. What is he going to do if he needs to wear glasses? “Do your parents know?”
“This was my birthday present from them, actually.”
Kenjiro recoils. “Eeugh. Why?”
Semi rolls his eyes. “Weren’t you listening? Cause I’ve always wanted one. Now stop gawking, I’m freezing.”
Kenjiro allows Semi to tug at his arm to get him to start walking again. He can’t help but notice how many casual touches Semi manages to sneak in these days. “Did it hurt?” he asks.
“It hurt like hell,” Semi replies. “What do you want to do today? Another museum?”
“Not really. I need coffee. How long does it need to heal?”
Semi redirects Kenjiro down a side street, which he thinks he remembers going down before. Probably to the cafe they went to that one time. “It’ll most likely take six months,” Semi answers. He frowns. “Though...”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Kenjiro says.
“I’m starting to regret having it done in November. It’s just—so cold. And it’s only going to get colder. It’s not like I can wear earmuffs or anything.”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t have—”
“Nope, you are not allowed to say that.”
“I still think it was stupid.”
Semi studies him. “Alright. If I buy you your coffee, will you promise not to be a little shit about it for the rest of the day?”
A few months ago that offer wouldn’t make Kenjiro feel like his face is burning. He forces himself to breathe evenly before he answers. “I can promise you a few hours. After that, all bets are off.”
Semi chuckles. “I guess I can’t hope for anything better.” He then stops Kenjiro from walking clear past the small cafe, and holds the door for him.
It doesn’t mean anything, Kenjiro tells himself. But then he catches sight of the way Semi smiles at him, and, well, maybe it does.
Semi, predictably, spent too much money on coffee and going out with his friends the night before, and can’t afford to go out for lunch. The only other choice they have is the school cafeteria. Semi manages to use his meal credits for both of them, but the place is so crowded they end up taking their food out into the common area.
Unfortunately all the chairs are taken there as well, forcing them to sit on the ground to eat. It isn’t that bad, Kenjiro thinks. The place is clean and they managed to snag a spot on the wall with an outlet. His phone is in desperate need of a charge. The food’s okay, maybe a little worse than what he gets at Shiratorizawa. The building is warm, and taking off his coat without spilling his food is a challenge.
Semi unwinds his scarf carefully to avoid hitting his ear. “So much for today,” he sighs.
Normally Kenjiro would reply with something sarcastic, like perhaps, Maybe we should go back to playing volleyball so you stop spending all your money , but he just isn’t feeling it. “I don’t mind,” he says. “I’ve been curious about the cafeteria.”
Semi studies his face. “Yeah?”
Kenjiro can’t handle maintained eye contact right now. He shrugs and pretends to focus on his food. “I like it here.”
“I don’t know why, but I’m glad you do.”
Ridiculous. He should not be so affected by Semi saying stuff like that. Kenjiro forbids himself to talk until he can keep his cool.
They eat in comfortable silence. Kenjiro finds his eyes keep being drawn to the light reflecting off Semi’s new piercing, and that’s how he notices Semi has recently re-dyed his hair. It looks like he hasn’t had time to dye his tips, though. Or maybe he doesn’t want to risk it with new holes in his ear?
Semi starts fidgeting. He keeps reaching his hand up like he’s about to touch his piercing, but then thinks better of it. He does this the entire time they’re eating. “It looks like it’s getting redder,” Kenjiro informs him.
“Damn.” Semi sighs. “I need to clean it soon anyway. Do you mind if we swing by my dorm?”
Kenjiro doesn’t know what cleaning a piercing entails, and is a little afraid it might be gross. “Clean it? Is it infected?”
“I have to clean it so it doesn’t get infected. What’s with that face? Weren’t you talking about being a doctor because you’re so brilliant, or whatever?”
Semi remembers that? “That was a short-lived and ill-advised fantasy,” Kenjiro says.
Semi laughs. Kenjiro has to look away again.
“We never talked about it,” Semi says. They’re almost at the train station. “If you’re going to continue playing volleyball.”
“Well,” Kenjiro starts, and then he’s quiet for a while. Semi seems to understand, and waits for Kenjiro to speak. “I don’t think I’ll continue competitively,” he finally admits. “I think it was good for me to do so in high school. But I don’t want to give it up completely. I’ve learned there are... more important things than winning.”
Kenjiro isn’t sure if that makes sense, but if anyone can understand, it’s Semi.
“So you’re going to do what I do, then,” Semi says. “Join a hobby club?”
“Yes.” They climb the stairs onto the station platform. It isn’t crowded, per se, but there’s more people milling about than normal. “Maybe even the same one.”
A beat passes as Semi absorbs what Kenjiro just said. “You want to go here? ”
“I like this school,” Kenjiro says simply.
Semi stares at him, bewildered. “You don’t want to go to a more prestigious school? You could go practically anywhere.”
Kenjiro shrugs. “Like I said, I’ve learned there’s more important things in life.”
His heart pounds in his chest. In an unspoken agreement, they stand away from the crowd. They end up with their backs pressed against the wall with the overhang Kenjiro waited under the very first time he came to visit.
“Let me know if you do,” Semi says finally. “I signed up to be a resident assistant next year. Maybe you’ll be on my floor.”
Semi grins. Kenjiro looks at the electronic display with arrival and departure times. His train will be there momentarily. He thinks, if Semi can do something monumentally stupid like stick a metal bar in his ear, then he can do something just as difficult.
“Semi,” he says before he can lose his courage. “I need to tell you something.”
“What is it?” Kenjiro can hear Semi push off the wall and face him, but he refuses to look.
“I...” He takes a deep breath and stares at his feet. “I like you,” he says quietly. “A lot.”
Semi inhales sharply. “You—you do? Oh, wow, I. Wow.” Semi laughs nervously, but it’s muffled, like his hands are covering his face. “I—like you too, Shirabu.”
Kenjiro can’t help but smile. “I know.”
“You’re kind of obvious.”
“I am? ”
Kenjiro looks at him then. Semi is staring at him, aghast, red coloring his cheeks. “Don’t worry,” Kenjiro says, though it probably isn’t reassuring with the shit-eating grin on his face. “I think the only other person to notice was Tendou.”
Semi frowns. He opens his mouth to reply, but is cut off by the sound of a train approaching the station.
The two of them stare at it. Kenjiro doesn’t want to board. But he has to, or he won’t get back to the dorms before curfew.
Semi acts before Kenjiro has the chance to decide to do something stupid. He glances around to make sure no one is looking their way, then leans over to kiss Kenjiro on the cheek. Kenjiro has never been more flustered in his entire life.
“Call me when you get back?” Semi says.
Kenjiro nods furiously. “Sure, I—” The last call for boarding chimes. Kenjiro swears under his breath. “I’ll see you next week!” he says, walking backwards onto the train.
Semi has a stupid smile on his face. “See you,” he says.
Kenjiro manages to find a seat before the doors close. He turns to the window. Semi spots him and starts waving. He feels a little silly, since they’ve never bothered waving goodbye before, but Kenjiro returns the favor.
The train pulls away from the station. Moments later, Kenjiro’s phone chimes with a new text message. He shakes his head and smiles.