Makishima Yuusuke, beloved rival of Toudou Jinpachi, the one who inspired him to be the best cyclist he could be, the one- the only one who could truly made Toudou’s blood burn with excitement and the thrill of competition-
Makishima turned at the sound of Toudou’s voice, stared, and then quietly, awkwardly, shuffled to duck behind the larger boy at his side.
“Ahaha!” As he strode up to the Sohoku Cycling Club Building, Toudou carefully kept his laugh airy and light to hide his annoyance. “Maki-chan, you’re such a card! You always say you’re so bad at jokes and stuff, but then you go ahead and do stuff like try to hide-” And here Toudou could not hide an irritated note from entering his voice. “When I can clearly see you.”
The other boy… Tadokoro scratched his head awkwardly, looking to Makishima, then Toudou. “Uh. Hey.”
Even irritation couldn’t win against The Toudou Family Brand Decorum. “Hello,” Toudou replied, with a polite nod at the sprinter. He didn’t move his eyes from the spot of green he could see behind his shoulder.
After an awkward beat, Tadokoro turned back to Makishima. “Hey, uh, I’m pretty sure you’re not gonna get out of this one by hiding, buddy.”
A pause, and then a scraggly head peeked from behind Tadokoro’s back. “...Jinpachi.”
Toudou clapped his hands together with sarcastic delight. “He speaks!”
Makishima sighed. “Okay. I guess… you’re probably a little annoyed.”
“Aha! And why would I be annoyed, Maki-chan? Just because we haven’t had any time to get together since the Inter-High-”
“And just because I checked and double-checked that we would both have free time today, on a day with good cycling weather-”
“And just because on the night before, I got a two sentence text telling me ‘something came up’, and I didn’t get ANY response as to what had happened- why would all THAT make me annoyed?”
“...well when you say it all like that, it makes me sound like a big asshole.”
“Funny how that works, Maki-chan!”
Toudou waited as Makishima shuffled awkwardly and looked like he desperately wanted to duck back behind Tadokoro for safety.
“...okay, look… I’m sorry it was so sudden, but something really did come up.”
“And you couldn’t have taken ten seconds to tell me what it was?”
Makishima cringed, before rolling his eyes and letting out a tsk. “Does it matter ?”
Toudou felt his smile go tight at the edges. “Well, Maki-chan , it sort of matters when I have no idea what could have happened, if I assume the worst and wonder if something bad happened to a relative, o-or to you-”
Makishima’s eyes went wide, Tadokoro’s eyebrows flew up, and Toudou cursed the slight stutter in his words. He dug his teeth into his bottom lip and looked down for a brief instant, willing the slight sting in his eyes to go away.
“J-Jinpachi...” Makishima stammered. His eyes met the ground as he scratched his chin. “I… of course I would have told you if it was something like…”
He trailed off, and he took an awkward half-step towards Toudou, sort of raising his arms as if he was about to-
“Anyways!” Toudou stepped backwards, and with a grand flourish he turned around, shrugging dramatically. “Clearly my worries were for nothing. My rival is fine, and everything’s fine. I’ll take my leave, and you’ll be free to go do whatever was so important to you.”
With his back to them, Toudou waited.
“...Tadokorocchi, we should probably get going if we want to get there before-”
“HE’S going with you?!” Toudou sputtered, spinning around.
“What does it matter?!” Makishima sputtered in return, brow furrowing. “You said it was fine!”
“OF COURSE it’s not fine! You’re supposed to stop me from leaving and apologize!”
“If you want me to apologize then say so!”
“How could I make it any MORE obvious that that’s what I want!!!”
“You could just tell me what you want me to do, instead of this weird mixed-message crap-!”
“A-HA ! 'Mixed messages'??? Makishima Yuusuke, you are THE LAST person on Earth who should be lecturing me about mixed messages -!”
“Okay!” As if materializing out of nowhere, Tadokoro stepped between the two climbers. One of his hands flew to Makishima’s shoulder, the other to Toudou’s. “Okay. You know what, Makishima, why don’t we… invite Toudou to come with us!”
“Huh?!” The sound came out of both their mouth almost infuriatingly in-unison.
“T-Tadokorocchi, let’s think about this-”
“What’s to think about?” Tadokoro’s usual booming laugh was tempered with what sounded like a nervous undertone. He sounded less like a meathead jock and more like a preschool teacher trying to reign in a couple of squabbling toddlers. “He wants to spend time cycling with you, we’ll be doing plenty of cycling, we could both use extra ‘moral support’-”
“Tadokorocchi, pump the brakes! Jinpachi doesn’t even have his bike-”
“Yes I do.”
The other two paused to look his way.
“Not that it matters, or that I’d be so rude as to tag along on whatever little friend-ride you two have planned,” Toudou said in a clipped tone, looking away. “But I do have my bike. I parked it at one of the racks at the front of the school.”
“That’s- it’s not a ‘friend-ride’- Jinpachi, did you BIKE here all the way from Hakone?!”
“Of course I didn’t! Do you think I’m so desperate I would have done something that stupid?!”
Tadokoro and Makishima glanced at each other.
“...well I didn’t!!!”
“...I took a couple of buses and rode the rest of the way.”
“D-” Tadokoro’s eyebrows raised, and he dropped his weird kindergarten teacher tone. “Toudou, did you skip school today to get here?!”
“What do you care?!” Toudou’s voice was embarrassingly close to a squawk. “It doesn’t concern YOU ,” he pointed to Tadokoro, “HE clearly doesn’t give a damn,” he pointed to the-man-who-was-currently-demoted-to-’he’, “and whatever little event you two have planned, I’m not going!!!”
The sun was pleasant on Toudou’s skin. The sky was blue. It was a perfect day for cycling.
“U...uh.” Just over the buzz of their wheels, an awkward voice spoke up. Just past Tadokoro’s bulky shoulder, Toudou could see an awkward face lean out. “Ju-just so you know, Jinpachi, the whole trip will take at least four hours.”
“It’s, uh, forty-five kilometers there and back.”
“...don’t you, uh, want to know where we’re going?”
“If it’s that far, you should stop talking and save your breath,” Toudou said stonily. “It’s hard to believe you were all able to win the Inter-High chattering on as much as you do.”
“Wh…” Girls in cosplay and costumes. “Wh…” Posters of colorful anime characters. “Wh…” Glasses, backpacks, and otaku, otaku, otaku everywhere you looked. “What the hell?!”
Makishima sighed, but it seemed like he was biting down a laugh. “I asked if you wanted to know where we were going…”
“Akihabara?!” Toudou spun to face the other climber. “This?! THIS was what was so damn important?! This… anime nonsense?!”
“Hey, now,” Makishima chuckled, looking infuriatingly amused. “You can’t say stuff like that here. You wanna get your ass kicked by a nerd?”
“Full name’d again…” Makishima put his hands up as if defense. “Look… It’s a long story, and if you really want, I can explain it to you, but we’re already running late and we need to hurry.”
“Hurry for what?!”
Makishima turned to Tadokoro, who had just finished securing his bike on the rack next to theirs. “Er. You wrote it down on your phone, right?”
Tadokoro started. “H-huh? Why me? I told you I’m not good at saving notes and stuff!”
Toudou folded his arms and waited as the other two frantically clicked through their phones.
“O-okay, we’re looking for an ‘Animate’ cafe…”
“They’re ALL anime cafes!!!”
“Well what’s the address??”
The two of them stared at each other for a moment.
“G...girls!” Tadokoro sputtered, snapping his fingers. “The last time we were here, those cosplay girls were handing out flyers and stuff for cafes- we can ask one of them!”
“R-right! Good thinking, Tadokorocchi!”
The two stared at each other again.
“Uh… so, go ask.”
“Y-you go ask!”
“Are you kidding?!” Makishima hissed. “I hate asking for directions! YOU’RE the big social butterfly guy! You ask!”
Tadokoro’s entire face was a bright, burning pink.
“I… I’m not good with those cosplay girls.”
“Oh for the love of-!” Toudou threw his hands up. “I can’t listen to this anymore- if the mere act of talking to a girl is so hard for you two, I guess I’ll have to do it.”
Under his exasperation, the truth was Toudou almost felt like dancing a jig. This was it! This was his chance! He’d be the star, he’d save the day, and Makishima would practically be in tears with gratitude. Puffing his chest out, Toudou marched triumphantly to one of the girls on the street handing out posters. He tapped her on the shoulder, putting on his best fanclub-grin. “Excuse me, miss-”
Boy, that neckline was low.
“Yes? Did you want a poster?”
W… why was her skirt so short?
“S… sir? Are you alright?”
W-What kind of cafe would given innocent women like these such scandalous uniforms?! Why was that cute bow so specifically placed to draw attention to her… her…
Toudou returned meekly to the other two, hands empty and face bright red.
After a few minutes of furious debate, it was agreed that Makishima was, against all odds, the only one among them that could manage to pull this off. This left Tadokoro and Toudou standing together, blushing, awkward, and silent.
For someone so close to Makishima, Toudou didn’t really know much about him. Big, loud. Sprinter. Shinkai and him were on friendly terms, and they must have been for… a while? They knew each other before the Inter-High, Toudou figured, but he didn’t know for how long and where they met.
Come to think of it, that was a pretty odd pair- sure they were both sprinters, and everyone knew sprinters were meatheads, but Shinkai was a pretty mellow, laidback guy. It was kind of weird that out of anyone from Sohoku, it’d be him and Tadokoro who ended up being pals.
But then, Toudou had always thought the same thing about him and Makishima, and look at that. Toudou frowned. From what Toudou had seen, Tadokoro seemed like a pretty chummy, handsy guy. Always slapping his teammates on the back and what not. And sure, Makishima often seemed to roll his eyes at that- but just as often, he seemed to like it. Sometimes, he’d even kind of do the same thing back to Tadokoro- in his own, languid, Makishima-sort-of-way.
...must be nice.
Toudou started. Tadokoro was looking at the sky, scratching the back of his neck with a guilty expression.
“I, uh… I’m sorry about… all of this.” He gestured vaguely with the other hand. “Makishima kind of came up with this super suddenly, and he’s not really… spontaneous, you know? It surprised me, so I guess I didn’t really question it as much as I should have.”
Somehow, for some reason, Tadokoro trying to be mature about all this made Toudou even more annoyed. Why was he trying to be the adult? “It’s, uh... fine. It’s not like Maki… shima is your responsibilty or anything.”
“Yeah, but he can be kind of…” Tadokoro gave a weird gesture with both his hands, as if he were kneading the air. “...you know? I mean, he’s not a mean guy or anything, but he can do…. Mean things, on accident, sort of? Without thinking? Like…” He laughed awkwardly. “Well, I guess I don’t have to tell you.”
“No, you don’t.”
For some reason, the somewhat hurt silence that followed stung worse than anything had that day. Toudou felt like swearing. God! It wasn’t even just The Toudou Family Brand Decorum- no matter how petty or jealous he felt, Toudou just couldn’t bring himself to be rude to this- this great big hulking meat man!
“But,” Toudou said smoothly, slipping easily into the polite language he’d been taught since he was a boy. “I appreciate the sentiment. And I appreciate your attempts in trying to smooth things between us, even while you had to see a, um… unpleasant side of me. Thank you… Tadokoro-san.”
Tadokoro looked a bit startled at the sudden change, before letting out a bark of laughter. “H-hey! You don’t have to be all formal about it!” Toudou let out a WHUFF of air as Tadokoro slapped him MUCH harder on the back than he was expecting. “We’re all pals here, you know? Any buddy of Makishima is a buddy of mine!”
“M… mm.” Toudou sniffed. “Right, of course.”
“And look, don’t worry about all that back at the school, okay? I love the hell out of Makishima, but sometimes I feel like yelling at the guy too, you know? I get it.”
“Haha, yeah. Right.”
“And I mean, if I had a boyfriend and he pulled a dumb stunt like tha-”
Tadokoro’s voice died in his throat.
Toudou slowly turned to look at Tadokoro. Tadokoro currently was clenching his eyes tightly together.
“Shit,” he muttered.
“He told you?!” Toudou was trying to shout, but the words came out more like a weird screech. A couple of people passing by gave him odd looks, like they were expecting him to turn into some sort of large bird. “He- he fucking-!”
“Okay, okay, okay!” Tadokoro sputtered, waving his hands like he was trying to contain a fire. “Okay, look, listen, I know this… probably seems kind of bad?”
“Yeah, it kind of does!” Toudou’s fists were clenched at his sides. “He- Makishima- HE was the one who wanted to keep it a secret!”
“I know! And he did!” Tadokoro groaned, dragging his hands down his face. “Look- I found out on accident, okay?”
“How do you ACCIDENTALLY find out something like that?!”
Tadokoro said something, but it was muffled by his hands.
After a moment, he reluctantly lowered his hands enough to peer at Toudou.
“A few days ago…” He sighed. “We were just talking about the Inter-High, and he talked about, you know, that race you two had together. On the first day. He was…” He moaned. “He sounded really happy and he looked… I dunno, different, than usual? Like...soft?”
didn’t say anything.
“Like, dreamy-like, like it was a really nice memory for him, and I was just fucking ribbing him like usual, and I said something like ‘well when’s the wedding?- and not in an asshole way!” Tadokoro added hastily. “I just, that’s just how I joke! I seriously didn’t mean it in a bad sort of way!”
Toudou was distantly aware of Tadokoro scrabbling to assure him that he wasn’t a homophobe. He didn’t care. He was thinking about Makishima describing their race. He was thinking about Makishima describing their race, like it was a really nice memory for him.
He was thinking about Makishima being soft.
“And… I dunno! Makishima sort of freaked out and said ‘how did you know?!’ and I said ‘haha, know what?’ and then it just… kind of went on from there,” Tadokoro finished lamely. “ So that was it. It just kind of slipped out. He wouldn’t have… you know. He wouldn’t have just let out something so important on purpose. Especially… you know.” Tadokoro flushed, scratching his cheek. “When it comes to you.”
And Toudou said
After a few seconds of silence, Tadokoro coughed. “Look, it’s not like I’m gonna… tell anyone, okay? Makishima’s probably told you I’m a real loudmouth, but like, I can take this stuff seriously. And… and he takes it seriously too. Like… you know…” He looked down at the ground. “He cares a lot about you.”
Toudou looked at the ground too. “He sure has a damn funny way of showing it sometimes.”
And of all things, that’s what made Tadokoro laugh like his usual self.
“Ha! Well, yeah. But that’s the part of him you can’t help but love, right?”
And against all odds, Toudou smiled.
“Okay! Okay, I finally got the address from one of those girls.... Why are you two smiling like that?”
“Welcome home master~!”
Miraculously, the sparkly-eyed maid girl who greeted them as they walked into the cafe was wearing socks. Thigh high socks that accented her-
Drew the eyes towards her-
In any case, the uniform was just modest enough for Toudou to manage to squeak out a ‘table for three’ after several seconds of awkward silence.
Surrounded by tables of otaku, the three of them gulped their water practically in unison, partially due to a desperately needed hydration after their long bike ride, and partially in an attempt to not feel so desperately out of their element.
“Maids,” Tadokoro muttered, face still a little pink from their encounter at the door. “Why’d it have to be maids?”
Toudou sighed, putting down his glass. “Okay, so now that you dragged me all the way to Akihabara-”
“Dragged you?” Makishima asked, thin eyebrows lifting.
“And brought me to this… this den of degenerates, and made me order… what was it, that little cookie confection?”
“I told you, I’m gonna pay for everything…”
“Now can you tell me what all of this was all about?”
Makishima sighed, resting his chin on his hand and giving Toudou a wry little smirk. “Isn’t it obvious by now, Jinpachi?” He gestured with his other hand to the decorations of the cafe- little bug-eyed cartoon characters from some anime Toudou didn’t know. “Why do you think I’d ever come anywhere near a place like this?”
Toudou stared coolly at Makishima. “The waitresses and their uniforms, probably.”
Makishima flushed. Tadokoro actually let out a bark of laughter. “Haha! He’s got your number, Makishima!”
“I-I’m not some pervert, you know!”
“You aren’t?” In spite of everything,Toudou couldn’t help a smile from slipping on his face. “That’s news to me.”
“The anime characters, Toudou.”
“Thank you for waiting~!”
The waitress set their orders in front of them, and as Toudou looked down at his dish- at the cookies arranged to look like a vaguely familiar little bug-eyed thing, at the little keychain that had been set at the side- and everything clicked.
“Oh, for-” Toudou actually let out a little laugh. “Four-Eyes . I should have known.”
“This Manyu Manyu show… Sakamichi loves it, and he mentioned this cafe holding an event today.” Makishima gestured to the cafe at large. “One of those limited-time things where they give out little doodads and whatnot. Sakamichi was gabbering on about how he really wanted this limited Black Manyu, this special one that would only be at this event, and…”
“And Makishima wanted to do something nice for the little guy,” Tadokoro interjected, a big grin on his face. “Because he got him a gift after the Inter-high.”
Makishima slouched. “Oh, come off it, Tadokorochii.”
“Because you’re his favorite,” Tadokoro said, in a voice that was probably supposed to sound sticky-sweet but mostly just sounded fond.
“I just wanted to pay him back!”
“Because you’re such a good senpai~”
“Ugh!” Makishima cringed, as if being told he was a good person was the most disgusting thing he could imagine. “Jeez…” He sighed. “Anyways, the only reason I did this all on such short notice was because it was a one day thing. I invited Tadokorocchi to come with me because I figured if we both got something, we’d have a better chance of getting the specific keychain Sakamichi wanted. And…” Makishima grumbled, looking at the table. “And I didn’t tell you what I had to do because it was embarrassing, okay? That’s it.”
Toudou looked down at his plate. He didn’t say anything.
“C… come on Jinpachi, you’re not still mad, right?”
“Nah,” Tadokoro laughed. “He’s just weirded out cuz the old Makishima wouldn’t have ever done anything like this.”
“Give it a rest already, Tadokorocchi…”
Toudou’s brow furrowed as he looked at his plate.
“It’s just sweet, you know? Seeing how far you’ve come. Stepping out of your comfort zone to do something nice for your kouhai.”
“You’re acting like this is my redemption arc or something…” But Makishima was laughing.
“Your evolution towards being a good senpai!”
“My first step to being a decent human being!”
“I don’t get it.”
Tadokoro and Makishima looked back at Toudou, who was still frowning at his plate.
“Eh? Get what?”
“Four-Eyes loves this show, right?”
“Right,” said Tadokoro.
“And he wanted this super rare keychain thing that you could only get from this one place on this one day, right?”
“Right,” said Makishima, cocking an eyebrow.
“And he comes to Akihabara all the time, right?”
Tadokoro and Makishima started to answer at the same time, and trailed off at the same time.
“So,” said Toudou, “why didn’t he come try to get this keychain on his own?”
Tadokoro and Makishima didn’t say anything.
“...you DID stop and think of the possibility Onoda was going to try and get it himself… right?”
Tadokoro and Makishima didn’t say anything
and in the silence that followed, a skinny boy with round glasses at a nearby table turned in their direction.
“Eh? Did someone say my name?”
“-but to think I’d run into all three of you here!” Onoda was still babbling as the four of them left the cafe. He was practically sparkling, high off the glow both of attending a limited event and of a half-hour’s worth of recounting last night’s episode to the older boys, and if they happened to look absolutely exhausted he was none the wiser. “If I had known you were such a fan of Manyu Manyu I would have invited you, Makishima-san!”
“Y. Yeah,” Makishima said blankly. “Can’t get enough of those... Manyus.”
“Which character’s your favourite?”
“R. Red!” Toudou piped up, shuffling up to Makishima’s side. “Red… Manyu, right, Maki-chan?”
“Y… yes?” Makishima said, the word sounding more like a desperate question than anything.
“Ah, right!” Onoda nodded, and the other three boys let out a simultaneously sigh of relief. “I can definitely see you as a Red Manyu sort of person, Makishima-san.”
“The keychain I got today was actually the Red Manyu one!” Onoda brandished it proudly, but as he looked at it, his face grew a little wistful. “I was actually hoping to get Black Manyu… but I’m still happy getting something like this, of course!”
“Ah? Black Man-yu?” Toudou’s words were loud and stilted. “Eh? Ma-ki-chan, is that not the key-chain you got?”
“Eh?” Tadokoro asked.
“Eh?!” Onoda sputtered.
“Eh?! ” Makishima practically hissed. “Jinpachi, what are you-?!”
Behind their backs, where Onoda couldn’t see, Toudou took the keychain he had received in the cafe and gently shoved it into Makishima’s hands.
Makishima’s eyes widened.
“-er. Yes, I sup-pose you’re… right, Jinpachi.” Makishima hesitated, turning back to Onoda. “Er. Sakamichi, would a trade be out of the question?”
The younger boy’s smile looked like it could have lit up the entire district.
“I’m an idiot,” Makishima mumbled into his hands.
“Hmm,” Toudou said primly.
Not too long after saying goodbye to Onoda (who had practically skipped away), Tadokoro and Toudou were now watching Makishima try not to collapse under the weight of his own ineptitude.
“Of COURSE he was going to come to the stupid cafe,” said the voice behind Makishima’s fingers. “He was the one talking about it. Why didn’t I take two seconds to put a thought together in my stupid, idiot brain.”
“H-hey, come on Makishima,” Tadokoro said, patting his shoulder awkwardly. “I didn’t think about it either. We were probably just so excited because it seemed like a nice idea that we sort of… got ahead of ourselves.”
Tadokoro looked helplessly towards Toudou for assistance. He sighed, placing his hand on Makishima’s other shoulder.
“Look, Maki-chan… no matter how it happened, Onoda got what he wanted, and you got to make him smile. Isn’t that what’s most important?”
“Because he was going to come to this stupid thing anyway!” Makishima moaned. “He would have gotten a limited keychain no matter what I did! This wasn’t special at all! I wanted...” Makishima slumped. “I wanted to do something for him, to get him something special in return for what he gave me, and because I’m going to-”
Makishima’s eyes darted between Toudou and Tadokoro for a brief moment.
“Going to… be graduating soon… I don’t have a lot of time.”
Toudou blinked. “Geez. You’re actually really torn up about this, aren’t you.” He looked back at Tadokoro, who simply shrugged. After a moment, Toudou sighed. “Okay, look Maki-chan.” He took Makishima’s shoulders in his hands to bring them face to face. “If you really want to get Four-Eyes something special, you have to think about what you, and only you, can offer him.”
Makishima paused, taking a second to mull over Toudou’s words. “What… what only I can offer? You mean like… cycling experience? My dancing technique?”
“No, I mean your family’s stupid-huge amounts of cash.”
Within four minutes, Toudou got the name of another anime Onoda liked from Tadokoro, googled it on his phone, and found a nearby shop selling limited stock versions of a pricey statuette based on the show’s main character. Within ten minutes, the three of them found themselves standing in the shadow of a storefront decorated with anime girls.
“You’re a genius, Jinpachi,” Makishima muttered.
“That I am!” Toudou said, flipping his hair. “That being said, even an idiot could have put this together, Maki-chan.”
“En.” Makishima buried his hand beneath his hair, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well then, I guess I’ll go-”
“You know what!” Tadokoro said, sounding both sudden and weirdly stiff. “Makishima, why don’t I go get it for you.”
“W… what?” Makishima stared at Tadokoro, looking about as bemused as Toudou felt. “Tadokorocchi, what are you talking about? I’m the one getting the gift-”
“Yes, and you will! And it will be your money!” Tadokoro abruptly dropped his hand on Makishima’s shoulder. “But why don’t you let me do this for you so you can take a breather!”
“‘Take a breather ?’” Makishima repeated, eyebrows lifting. “Tadokorocchi, what are you talking about? It’ll take five minutes, I don’t need a ‘breather’-”
“You could use the time to relax-”
“I don’t need to relax!-”
“Maybe spend the time CHATTING A BIT with Toudou here!”
Makishima’s voice trailed off.
Toudou looked up just in time to catch Makishima glancing at him, before he flushed and jerked his head back towards Tadokoro.
“...I guess if I gave you the money it’d be fine.”
With that, Tadokoro walked past Toudou and into the store... but not before aiming a clumsy wink and pointed thumbs-up at him.
Toudou sighed. Okay, Tadokoro was a pretty nice guy. He just needed to learn to be a little more subtle.
...And suddenly, Toudou and Makishima were alone.
A silence lingered between the two of them for a few moments. Toudou could hear Makishima shift slightly in his spot a few feet away. Toudou looked at the sky. The sun was beginning to sink… they’d probably have to leave as soon as Tadokoro came back if they wanted to avoid spending most of their ride back to Chiba in the dark.
“Um.” Out of the corner of Toudou’s ear, he could hear Makishima clear his throat. “Thanks for the idea, Jinpachi. I, uh, really mean it.”
“Like I said, it’s no big thing! Anyone could have come up with it.”
“A-and thanks for saving me with the keychain back with Sakamichi… you uh, actually kind of saved that whole thing from being a total disaster.”
Despite himself, Toudou allowed himself to swell with well-deserved pride for a few moments. “Hm. Well, you’re welcome.”
Makishima let out a big huff of air.
Toudou didn’t look at Makishima, but he could hear him step closer.
“I… I sort of… owe you an apology. Like, a real one.”
“Oh? Do you?” Toudou said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Makishima sighed. “Yeah, I do. I’m sorry for canceling our plans like that out of nowhere, and I’m sorry I didn’t really explain-”
“...keh.” Another sigh. “Right. I’m sorry I didn’t... explain at all… and I’m sorry for making you worry.”
Toudou kept his eyes on the sidewalk. The shadows were slowly beginning to grow longer, he noticed.
“Well, thank you for apologizing.”
Neither of them spoke for a few moments. When it became apparent that Toudou wasn’t planning on adding anything else, Makishima shuffled nervously. Finally:
“Look, Jinpachi- I’m an awkward guy, you know? I’m not like you, or Tadokorocchi- I don’t do well with talking and stuff, I never have been-”
“Yuusuke, cut the crap.”
Toudou finally allowed himself to look at Makishima’s face. For a few precious seconds, he couldn’t help a small bout of gloating at the other boy’s wide eyes and slack jaw.
But it only lasted for a moment. Toudou soon sighed, finally turning to his boyfriend.
“When you say that kind of stuff… ‘I’m so awkward, I’m so bad with other people…’ it’s like you’re not even trying to improve that part of yourself. As if you're just resigning yourself to be this kind of person forever.” Toudou looked firmly into Makishima’s eyes. “And if I know one thing, it's that Makishima Yuusuke is not a person who doesn’t try.”
“A-and that’s the thing that pisses me off, Yuusuke.” Toudou swallowed. “I know you. You try , you try so hard when you race, you try even when you feel like all the odds are against you- and I know you always say otherwise, but I know what my eyes tell me.”
“You try so hard when you race… so why don’t you try with me?” Toudou’s voice was cracking, and he hated it. “You’ll go ages without replying to me, and I have to act like that’s just ‘Typical Maki-chan’… you act like I’m a nuisance when you’re all buddy-buddy with your teammates, and I just have to act like you’re playing hard to get…” Toudou swallowed. “And I know that’s just how you’re like, how we’re like, but… but sometimes it just drives me crazy! It just makes me wonder if I’m the idiot here, if you’re just humoring me-”
“I’m not just humoring you!”
“Well how am I supposed to know that?!” Toudou snapped, whipping his head towards Makishima. “Everything’s always so up in the air with you! It’s like you couldn’t care less if I was with you or not-!”
Toudou’s voice cut off with a gasp as a pair of bony arms suddenly wrapped around him.
“Don’t ever say that.”
It felt like time had frozen. In broad daylight, in public, in a place where there was plenty of passerby, Toudou was in Makishima’s embrace. Makishima’s low, husky, voice was almost trembling in his ear.
“Don’t you ever,” -and Makishima’s breath huffed out hot on the shell of Toudou’s ear- “say something like that ever again.”
“I’m an idiot.” Makishima’s thin fingers grasped Toudou’s shoulders tightly, bringing him closer into his lanky frame. A curtain of hair tumbled against Toudou’s cheek. “I already knew that, but I’m a bigger idiot than I ever could have imagined, if I’m making you feel like I wouldn’t care less if you were with me or not.”
“I… dammit, Jinpachi, I…”
Makishima’s head jerked backwards as Toudou took him by the shoulders, stepping back and roughly inserting a foot of space between the two of them. Hot, heaving gasps of air made Toudou’s shoulders jerk up and down as he looked firmly down at the ground, doing his best not to hyperventilate. “For the love of…” Toudou watched drops of sweat roll off his cheeks and splatter on the sidewalk. He knew without a doubt that his face was tomato red. “For the love of…!”
“E-eh?!” Makishima sputtered, suddenly looking about the same way Toudou felt. Whatever that bout of suaveness was from a minute ago, it was nowhere to be seen now. “Why are you- I thought- isn’t this what you wanted?!”
“I wanted you to say something, I w-wasn’t expecting you to hug me!!!” Toudou hissed. He had been instructed from boyhood that holding hands in public was scandalous enough, but a hug… a hug…!!
A heavy flush stained Makishima’s cheeks. “W-well what was I supposed to do?!” Makishima blurted.“You looked like you were about to cry!”
The two of them panted heavily for a few seconds.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” Makishima finally said.
“It… it’s fine…” Toudou muttered. He pushed his bangs out of his face, feeling a strong heat still there even as he regained his bearings. “It’s not like… I didn’t like it…”
“Y… you know…” Toudou’s shoulders bunched up, inching towards his ears. “It was… nice.”
Slowly, their breathing returned to normal.
“I… aggggh….” Makishima groaned, ruffling his hair. “Why the hell is all this so damn hard?” He pulled his hands down his face, eyes peering at Toudou from between his fingers. “Jinpachi… y-you know how I feel about you, right? You’ve always motivated me to be a better cyclist… a-and a better person, I guess.”
Toudou sniffed. “Not always successfully, evidently.”
“And I know I act a lot like you nag- and partially because you DO nag, for the record- but… but it was nice… it’s nice when I get messages from you, and stuff… it’s strange, knowing someone wants to talk to me, and give me reminders to take care of myself, and stuff- it’s strange to know someone cares that much, but… but it’s nice.”
Toudou watched Makishima watch the ground.
“I… sometimes I take it for granted, I guess, that you’ll always be bugging me no matter what I do.” Makishima scratched the side of his chin. “And… and I guess that’s pretty shitty of me. No- it is. It definitely is.” He let out a sigh in a slow hiss of air. “I’m… I’m sorry Toudou. I never thought to stop and think how it seemed on your end.”
Makishima paused, and slowly, haltingly, reached out for Toudou’s hands.
Once again, Toudou felt his face go bright red. He could see his hands shaking in Makishima’s.
“Jinpachi.” Makishima’s voice was soft. “I’m sorry. I know I just keep saying that over and over, but I really mean it. I want to treat you better. You deserve to be treated better. It’s just…” Makishima’s grip tightened around Toudou’s hands. “It’s hard. It's always been hard. Trying to talk honestly with you, especially now… now that…”
“N… now that what…” Toudou swallowed. “...Yuusuke?”
Makishima looked up into Toudou’s eyes.
“...Jinpachi… the truth is, I’m go-”
As if materializing out of nowhere, Tadokoro stepped between the two climbers. Makishima and Toudou both squawked in unison and staggered backwards, their hands separating. “Well, I’m definitely done being in there!” A bag dangled from Tadokoro’s hand, and his face… was red and oddly sweaty.
“T… Tadokorocchi, are you okay?”
“Ha! Hahaha! Of course!” There was a weird strained quality to his usual grin. “I got the figurine, just as planned!”
“Haha! Hahaha!” It was then Toudou noticed Tadokoro’s blush seemed to be full-body. “There were A LOT more pictures of naked girls in there than I was expecting!!!”
“O-oh…” Makishima winced. “T… thanks… and sorry.”
“Hahaha!” Tadokoro’s eyes were distant. “I’d like to go home, right now!”
As the three of them began the walk back to their bikes, the sun started to dip lower and lower. Toudou and Makishima trailed behind Tadokoro, watching as he shook his head and slowly regained his bearings. After a few moments, Toudou turned to Makishima. “Maki-chan… what were you about to say back there?”
“You were saying, ‘it’s hard trying to talk honestly with you now that…’ now that what?”
Makishima’s mouth fell open slightly, but he hesitated. His eyes lingered on Tadokoro’s large back for a moment.
“...now... after the Inter-High and everything…I thought things might be kinda awkward.”
“...Makishima Yuusuke!” Toudou knew he sounded exactly like his mother at that moment, and he didn't care. “Is THAT what all this has been about?! Did you really think I was that much of a sore loser?!”
“...uh, yeah?” Makishima aimed a wry grin at Toudou from under his hair. “That’s kind of your thing, Jinpachi.”
“Oh-!” Toudou’s cheeks puffed up, but he couldn’t help a grin. “Well, forGIVE me! I suppose second-place commoners such as myself shouldn’t be disturbing the most noble kings of Sohoku-”
“Oh come on, Jinpachi, it’s not like that-”
“But need I remind you, Maki-chan! Your team may have won the competition, but *I* won our race!” Toudou practically shoved a finger in Makishima’s face. “And winning team or not, *I* know which score *I’m* keeping, and *I’m* currently still beating you!”
“So you are.” And even as Makishima spoke around gritted teeth, Toudou could hear the fondness in his voice.
“So I am!” Toudou’s voice reached the usual cheery volume he had seemed to lack all day as he swung an arm around Makishima’s shoulders. “So what do you say, Maki-chan?”
“We’ve got at least two hours of biking back to Chiba! Wanna try evening the score, 8 to 8?”
“The entire way back?!” Makishima sputtered. “Are you kidding?! It’s nothing but flats- it’ll be torture!”
“Wahaha! And what kind of talk is that from one of the New Kings?!”
Makishima shot a wry grin back. “Excuse me, I’m just worried if the delicate little legs of The Forest Ninja could even take flats for that long!”
“Oh, is that so?!”
As the two of them laughed and squabbled, Tadokoro slowed his pace to walk at their side. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Makishima snorted and rolled his eyes, moving his chin every so often as if to dodge Toudou’s energetic pointer finger. He watched as Toudou laughed and gestured, finally seeming to act like his usual self. And most of all, he watched as the two of them stepped in sync, Toudou’s arm still slung over Makishima’s shoulder.
He sighed, and chuckled.