“... They... Really do all look the same huh,” Asahi comments after a silent five minutes, only punctuated by their increasingly panting breaths. Around them, the orange-red torii feel like a tunnel with no end in sight.
He receives a swift punch to the arm for his observativeness.
“Ow,” he frowns, looking forlornly down at Suga.
“Not the point,” Daichi chides, and shoves Asahi up another few steps. “Stamina training,” he enthuses, and soon Daichi is a few steps ahead, taking the steps two at a time. Asahi fights down a whine and tries to pick up the pace, Suga matching him step for step.
“I thought this was about beating the basketball club,” Asahi pants, looking back down at the path behind them. Only torii and the worn grey concrete steps. No basketball club members in sight.
“Beating the basketball club and stamina training,” Suga grins, skipping a few steps ahead even though his breath is growing labored. “Plus, we came all the way here didn’t we? It’d be a pity if we didn’t make it to the top.”
“I guess,” Asahi admits, glancing back down in the direction they came from one more time. I really don’t think the basketball team is coming, he thinks to himself. So much for a “head start”, Asahi sighs inwardly, already imagining all the jeering from his classmates about how they fell for the silly prank of a race. Volleyball club, he imagines them snorting, and can feel himself shrink back from the teasing laughter. As if sensing his thoughts, Daichi grabs his arm on cue, nearly tripping him up a few more steps.
“C’mon,” he calls, over Asahi’s startled yelps. “I could feel your determination wavering.”
“We’re almost there,” Suga cajoles, patting him on the shoulder a bit too strongly too be friendly. Asahi wonders what he ever did to deserve such rough company, bowing his head as he gasps in a few harsh breaths. Their breathing matches up haphazardly, uneven and loud. He can’t help but feel overwhelmed sometimes, at the sheer force of both Daichi and Suga’s determination. It felt like they always had nerves and backbones of steel while his were--
“Ah!” Suga suddenly speeds up, dragging Asahi and Daichi along behind him. “I see it!”
“Wha-- I don’t--”
“Oh--!” Asahi breaths, eyes catching on a burst of light just beyond the top of the steps. The last fifty or so meters suddenly feel like a rush, adrenaline burning cold through him as their steps matched up as they reached the top.
“C-Crap,” Suga laughs, bending over to brace his arms on his knees, breaths coming heavy and rushed. “Maybe we should-- Should increase those… Laps after all huh.”
“Maybe,” Daichi wheezes.
Asahi somehow finds the breath to laugh too, eventually pushing away from the tree he had been leaning on to squint out at the view.
“Wow,” he murmurs, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“Yeah, huh,” and he could hear the smile in Suga’s voice. “Big city.”
“Big city,” Asahi echoes. “Bigger than Sendai?”
“I think so,” Daichi shrugs. “Kind of feels bigger too.”
Suga snorts. “Are we really gonna play up to the whole ‘country boys in the city’ thing.”
“Well it’s true,” Asahi frowns defensively. “I’ve never come this far West before.”
“Me neither,” Daichi admits. “Hey, where are we going next?”
“Kyoto University?” Suga guesses. “And then dinner, I think.”
“University huh,” Daichi sighs, rocking back onto the balls of his heels. “That’s… Kinda fast.”
“What, wanna stay in high school forever?” Suga teases. “Wanna be captain forever?”
“I’m not even captain yet,” Daichi frowns.
“You will be though,” Asahi blinks at his friend, surprised at the doubt in his voice. “They’re gonna pick you.”
Daichi blinks back at him, cheeks turning pink from more than exertion. “That’s--” he flusters. “The seniors could pick Suga.”
Suga waves the thought away. “Nah, I’m not captain-y enough.”
“Captain-y enough?” Daichi frowns. “What does that even mean.”
“Scary enough?” Asahi offers, and flinches back from Daichi’s death-stare. “... See my point?” he adds, albeit weakly.
“Definitely scary enough,” Suga agrees, grinning at the both of them. “They’re gonna pick you,” he repeats, and there’s that undertone of steel again, Asahi thinks, the confidence in the way Suga holds himself, how it seeps into every word.
“We’d pick you,” Asahi nods, and Daichi’s death-glare softens, the pink flushing back up in his cheeks.
“I’ll be your vice, of course,” Suga decides easily, as if he were talking about what flavor of meat bun to buy at the shop today. He glances over at Asahi. “Unless Asahi would like to--?”
“No!” Asahi blurts, a bit too quickly, hands up in something like surrender. “I-I mean I think you’d uh-- You’d be a lot better at it?” He follows-up quickly, and Suga grins at him like they’ve shared an inside joke.
“Well, you’ll be our ace then,” Suga nods, decision just as swift the second time, like the title of ace didn’t weigh a thousand kilos down on Asahi’s back.
“A-Ace--? I don’t… Uh--”
He narrowly avoids flinching at the solid slap Daichi gives him on the shoulder.
“Definitely the ace,” Daichi affirms, and the smile Daichi gives him feels like that of a captain’s, assured and laced with the weight of responsibilities.
“We’re gonna get there,” Daichi nods, out at the view, and Asahi can’t help the shiver that goes down his spine at the thought of their ambitions, the same steel in his voice.
“Don’t look so scared,” Suga grins, giving his arm another punch, softer this time, but not by much. He thinks this one’s meant to be reassuring, so he smiles at Suga in response. “It’s not like you’re gonna be the ace all by yourself, right?”
Asahi nods, straightening up, letting a little of his friends’ confidence seep into him as well. He can’t imagine leaving high school, not really, but he supposes that’s not what he needs to think about just yet.
Third year, huh.