This wasn’t a problem five years ago and now that it was, Kota didn't know how it had ever not been.
Yes, he was younger back then, but Kenny was too, and so far his partner had been nothing less than perfect which was the root of the trouble.
"Ibushi-san, stay with me okay?"
It wasn't fair. Kota might have scowled at him, but he couldn’t be sure. Everything was blurry, the information from his body coming in spurts and gasps, the world in front of him swimming. He tried to keep focus on his partner's face, lined as it was with worry.
"What happened to your eye?" Kota asked, failing to stop the words from slurring. It looked nasty, red and swollen skin threatening a bruise to come.
"I think it was your head." Said Kenny with a grim twist of his lips. "It's not so bad, I can see at least." Kota didn't think that had been his fault. He hoped it hadn’t. "Do you want water?"
Kota didn't. He might have thrown up already except that he hadn’t eaten in the tense hours before the match. An insidious sickness oozed through him, but it was nothing to do with food. Just the body’s shock response to getting the life beaten from it. During the backstage interview, Kota was left alone in the first aid area, being asked hard questions by people who poked him awake. Now Kenny was back things were easier. They sat on a bench as Kota recovered. People rushed past them this way and that around the backstage area.
"Do you want ice? Hello? Ibushi?" Kenny was cute when he was worried. His eyes wide and frantic and so blue they were almost supernaturally so. Kota was caught in them. "Ibushi answer me or I'm taking you back to the doctors." How cruel.
"I'm here." Kota reassured him, swaying slightly to the right as he spoke. Kenny shot a hand out to catch his shoulder. What reflexes. Kota swayed the other way. Kenny caught him with his other hand. He swayed back to the right.
"Stop doing that." Kota stopped. Kenny took his hands away and Kota shivered without them. He knew better than to take the sharp tone to heart. That was just how Kenny's fear showed itself. He didn't mean to scare him, but it so was hard to see straight. The fluorescent lights were buzzing right through his skull. He closed his eyes to get some relief.
"Hey don't do that."
"Don't do this. Don't do that. So bossy." Kota teased weakly. Kenny didn't smile but his shoulders relaxed and when he spoke again the irritation was gone from his voice.
"I'm sorry you got hurt."
"It's not your fault." Kota rushed to say, although it was a bit. "During the match, I wasn't focused enough."
"Neither was I." Kenny admitted. "We won, but it wasn’t what I wanted." He sounded so tired. You don't win people by winning matches, Kota could have told him that. Not the people who really matter. Actual talking was necessary. Taking the risk of putting your heart out there for the other person to stamp on. A higher risk than any jump.
After watching Kenny from afar for so many months, hanging off petty words and accidental looks to keep his starving hope alive, just sitting casually with him was overwhelming. When Kenny smiled in his direction, all thoughts were blown from Kota’s head. It made him feel like such an idiot. Every time he looked at his partner he was left out of breath and dizzy. It was more than his heart could handle.
"I should apologize. I made a lot of mistakes during the match."
"It's to be expected." Kenny said kindly. "We haven't done these moves in years, we were lighter then."
It's my move, Kota wanted to say. You didn't even mess it up. It's my move.
The real problem was that right before, Kenny had flashed him a smile that lit a fire in his chest. He couldn't think about anything but how much he wanted to grab him and kiss him and never let go. It made doing anything considerably more difficult. Never mind a moonsault. Yes, they were friends again, yes, they were a team. But to get back what they had before was another mountain ahead. Kota wanted to start climbing it, couldn't hold himself back much longer without breaking.
"Please don't beat yourself over it Ibushi-san." Kota had completely forgotten what they were talking about. Kenny's mouth was so lovely. Kota watched it move with interest, but the words didn't process.
“Okay that’s it I'm going to take you back to medical."
"What?" Kota shook his head to try and clear it.
"I'm taking you back to the doctors."
Ibushi scoffed. "What are they going to do? They already know I’m hurt."
"I know! But I don't know what else to do with you!"
Hold my hand. Kiss me. Be with me. But Kota couldn't ask that of him. He just sat on the bench miserable and aching to be touched. Desperately aware of Kenny next to him, the warmth of his body and the brush of his elbow against his own. The noise of the room was already going back to its normal volume and the sickness would soon pass.
"I'm better now than I was half an hour ago."
"Really?" Said Kenny disbelieving.
"I don't feel nauseous anymore." It was the truth.
"Let me look at your eyes." Kenny shuffled closer, his knees knocking against Kota's. "Your breathing is fast." He put his hand on Kota's chest. "Like really fast. That wasn't happening before was it?" Kota bit back a choke of frustration. "Your heart is racing." How could someone be so dense?
Kota wanted to make the jump so badly. To close the last distance and feel Kenny's lips on his.
Getting back together as team wasn't the same as being lovers again. In doing one he couldn't take the other for granted. It was doomed to get messy. They were still only just getting comfortable working together. He should wait until their team was stronger before taking another risk. On the other hand, it wasn't the moves that were hard for him, it wasn't weight or lack of practice. Kenny's presence burned white hot in his mind and thinking of him threw everything else off balance.
Kota put his hand over Kenny's where it still lay over his heart, interlocked the fingers and decided to tell the truth. "When I'm with you, it always does." Kenny’s eyes softened, and he kissed Kota once on the head. It wasn't enough. Kota could see the apprehension in his eyes.
"I don't know if I'm ready for that right now." Kenny admitted in a small voice. Kota’s heart sank but he had already known it. If they rushed this, there were so many ways for it to go wrong.
"We don't have to. It can just be like this if that's what you want."
"I don't want to do anything stupid. I don't want to mess this up."
Kenny was right. It would be too much too fast. That didn't stop him from wanting it. Kota was glad one of them was capable of being cautious. He was even more glad when Kenny wound his arms around his waist and held him tight.