You just turned seventeen when you meet a boy.
You know you shouldn't make bonds here, they will only distract you from the goal waiting at the top. But he's so quiet, scared even, that you can't help but sit next to him. You don't dare open your mouth, only smile softly and offer him a hand. He sends you a glare, as if he were asking why are you treating him like a wild, frightened animal, and you realize that maybe what you thought was fear in his posture was just repulsion. A warning to not come closer, else there will be consequences.
But he shakes your hand and tells you his name. You think it fits him; like he wouldn't be himself with any other. You tell him yours, and the silence takes over. It's not much, and yet a lot at the same time. You sit next to him until someone new appears and the screen on the wall opposite the door lights up with the face of a person that makes you feel sick.
The boy doesn't show any of his skills, but there's an aura around him that tells you that if he got the ball you'd be amazed. You can tell he's a genius.
The boy warms up to you over a few weeks. Maybe it's not a lot; you can still see the wall he set between himself and everyone else on your team, but he at least smiles (and the first time he does, it blinds you completely).
He starts spending more time with you, too. You learn about his knee and about his sister. He learns about your family and your favorite movies (And when you say you cried during e.t., you earn a quiet giggle. You know you'll treasure it for a long time). You talk about the mess of a game you're in, and how you hope you can last until the very end. You've seen him on the field by now, you know he's a winner material. You hope you can see him go higher yourself, hope you can stand next to him until the final stage.
And when he says he hopes you'll be the one standing opposite of him on the path to the first place, you don't know what to do with yourself. You were never good at accepting any forms of acknowledgement, especially not something like this. You just nod your head and pretend the floor is now the most interesting thing in the entire room. You want to win, this is what you came in for, but him losing to you would be a crime in your eyes.
You knew you shouldn't have formed any bonds.
The boy kisses you one evening, when it's only the two of you watching your next opponent's matches. You clumsily kiss him back, and it makes him smile.
I like you, he says, and a lot of things start to make sense. How his futon overlaid yours by a few inches, how he'd give you your favorite food from his plate during dinner, how his high fives or handshakes seemed to last just a second longer than they should.
You want the time to stop in this exact moment, both of you happy and the room full of whispered confessions and quiet laughs. Instead, you know what is coming.
But there will be only one winner. The bubble pops right above your head and frustration stings your eyes. You'll let him win, let him take the glory if it means he'll stay with you. You know he doesn't want that, he wants the game to be fair, just like you did at the very start, when the feelings were only beginning to bloom. You can't deny his wishes, so you look him straight in the eyes.
Then let's wait until we're free.
He agrees, and you can't imagine hiding what you feel when the time to decide a winner comes. You can lose just because of that, a simple thought of him hating you if you win, or being furious that you let him win easily.
Maybe you shouldn't have extended your hand towards him all these days ago.
The boy teams up with you, and you're so happy you could die (there's a dangerous thought at the back of your head, that maybe something wanted it to be like that). You won't be opponents just yet. You have more time to let your mind wander towards the things you'll have to repress at some point.
Your teamwork only gets better, and even your new teammate seems nicer than when you first met him. It's the highest possibility of winning you've had since this whole game started. Gold medals and red hair start appearing in your dreams and you let yourself enjoy it, even for a short while. And when there's only one point between you and the winner's gate, you think you can do it. You can win, and proudly stand next to him, and keep on going forward.
But fate is cruel, and she rips apart your hopes with her claws.
All the noise shuts off, and it's only the two of you standing on the field. He looks you in the eyes and says something that you don't even hear, because the shock has blocked every single one of your senses except for sight, as if it wanted you to look at your failure without any distractions. Everything comes back when he turns his back towards you, and you have to stop yourself from reaching for his hand.
But he will wait and that's enough for you. Enough to keep you going.
There is a new goal between you and the first place; getting him back. You have to succeed.
You want to say luck was on your side and helped you reach the next stage, but you know it was sheer accident and determination that brought you higher. You took advantage of the fact that most people left in that stage were weaker than you, and built your own bridge to the next gate.
And he's waiting, was waiting for you for the past few days, and when you see him again an unfamiliar warmth fills your heart. You're still on the opposite sides, but both of you know it won't be long. Your team has no chance against his and as selfish as it is, you're happy about it.
The screen shows the score 5:2 as clear as day, and you hear your name being called. He extends his hand and you feel like a magnetic force is pulling you towards it. It's only the two of you again, and when he's leading you towards the exit, you feel like you could follow him to the ends of earth if that meant being next to him like this.
You don't know what awaits for you, but it's all good as long as you have him near.
And if you would be able to do it again, you'd sit next to him on that hard, cold floor and smile again.