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The Piano Man

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Shiraishi has been chewing on his bottom lip for the better part of the past hour. It's beginning to hurt, but he pays no attention to it, focusing all his thoughts on the notebook laid down in front of him. The words written on the page are hardly readable, what with how many times he had scribbled something down only to cross it when he'd changed his mind.

'I want us to be back in love' . He stares at the words before letting out a sigh and crossing them, too. No matter how hard he's been trying, he can't seem to get it right. If only the mysterious pianist stayed a little longer. The melody is still in his head, but he is definitely more creative when he hears the music out loud.

Across the chemistry lab is the school's auditorium, and during the past few months Shiraishi has been hearing the most beautiful melodies being played on the piano that's in there. Unfortunately, the person who's playing them only seems to be doing so while Shiraishi is stuck in class. The music always stops a few minutes before class ends, and the hall is always empty when Shiraishi hurries to check it, the piano's fall board covering the keys as always.

Another line jumps to his mind, and he writes the words down just as the bell rings. He glances up to see everyone collecting their things and leaving class. Returning his eyes to the notebook, he nods to himself and finally quits chewing on his lip, a small, unintentional smile appearing on his face instead.

'Don't you feel fucked up we're not in love?'

He closes the notebook and starts collecting his things.

As usual, he makes it a point to pick inside the auditorium to see if anyone's there, but it's as empty as always.

Not really frustrated by the vacancy of the room anymore, but still somewhat disappointed by it, he turns around and leaves the place.

 

His tennis has been off for a while now. He faults his serves, fails to return passes and at some point, he accidentally hits a freshman's face with his racket because he doesn't pay enough attention to his surroundings.

He has Ishida take the crying boy to the infirmary after apologizing, and then he calls it a day and heads to the locker rooms. The other club members follow him wordlessly.

"What's eating at you?" Kenya asks after the majority of the students leave.

Shiraishi throws his used towel to the laundry basket in the corner, slams the locker door and turns to leave. "I'm fine," he says without looking back.

A movement from the courts catches his eye, and he stops walking in order to look. Yukimura is on the court farthest away from the locker rooms, playing against the wall. He is far enough that Shiraishi can't hear the sounds he knows Yukimura makes every time he hits the ball.

"He stays late every day," Kenya says from his right. Shiraishi hasn't even noticed he caught up with him.

He shrugs, turns away, and finally leaves. It's none of his business anyway.

 

Shiraishi always spends his lunch break on the roof. He's been doing it for over two years now, and it's always been his quiet place. He's brought there some pots of flowers over the years, and tending to them has become one of his favorite parts of the day.

He's had a bad day today. He's been called to the principal's office first thing in the morning and was informed the freshman he accidentally hit yesterday during practice had a broken nose. The principal had told Shiraishi he had no option other than suspending his club activities for two weeks, which meant Shiraishi was to miss the upcoming match. His game has been so off lately that he might have needed to bench himself anyway, but being forced to sit aside was way worse than deciding it himself.

He couldn't focus during any of his classes, which caused his teachers to frown upon him with disapproving looks he'd never expected to be directed at him, and all he wanted was for lunchtime to arrive so he could go to the roof and be with his flowers.

Only now he is here, and the roof isn't empty. And someone is touching his flowers.

Yukimura looks up, probably hearing Shiraishi's steps, and smiles. "So you're the gardener?" he asks.

Shiraishi calms down a little bit seeing that Yukimura isn't harming the plants in any way. On the contrary, he pets the leaves almost lovingly. "What are you doing here?" he asks.

"I was looking for a quiet place to make a phone call. Found these beauties." Yukimura gestures at the pot in front of him.

Shiraishi crouches down in front of him. "They are something, aren't they?" he asks.

Yukimura hums in return. "I hear you're out for the finals," he says. When Shiraishi grunts instead of replying, he adds, "that's too bad. We'll do our best to make you proud, captain."

"Just bad luck, I guess."

"You've been having 'bad luck' for weeks." The way he says the words doesn't hide the fact he doesn't believe Shiraishi.

"You've been following me?"

Yukimura shrugs, undisturbed. "You're my captain."

He has no good answer to this, so he finally sits down and says, instead, "Seems like you've been having 'bad luck' as well ever since you transferred."

Again, that humming. Shiraishi should find it annoying, but it turns out he feels calm for the first time since… the break-up. He doesn't want to think about the break-up. Kurumi had been his girlfriend for three years when she showed up at his house one day and said she wanted to end things, for no reason other than 'I don't feel it anymore'. Shiraishi doesn't want to think about it.

"Coming to Osaka was hard," Yukimura says when the silence draws on. He is sitting now, too, and his eyes are closed. He seems relaxed, more than Shiraishi has seen him ever since he transferred to Shitenhouji four months ago. "I left some good things behind."

"Tennis?" Shiraishi asks.

"And some other stuff."

Shiraishi has wanted to find out whether the rumors about him were true from the beginning, even though he was the bigger man and reprimanded his team members for gossiping every time the subject came up. So he seized the opportunity presented to him. "Sanada sounds like a good person."

Yukimura's eyes shoot open and focus on him. "He is," he says, almost carefully, as it trying to assess Shiraishi's reaction to his revelation.

Shiraishi, to be honest, doesn't even mind.

Yukimura and he spend the rest of the lunch break talking about the plants on the roof, sharing tips and tricks on tending to them, and by the time Shiraishi leaves for his next class, he feels better than he had for a long time.

 

The Pianist is back today, his melodies filling Shiraishi's ears with sweet, inspiring sounds. Sometimes he wonders why is no teacher stopping him for disturbing classes, but he likes the music too much to really care about it.

He is playing a new tune this time, making Shiraishi excited as he opens his notebook to a clean page.

His writing process is messy. He thinks of words to fit the end of the song before the ones in the beginning, or he knows what he wants to say but can't make it fit the music, but he has time. The Pianist always plays the same tune for days in a row before moving on to the next one.

'She's dancing in the dark. She's like a work of art, and her eyes will burn down the crowd.'

It's a good line; Shiraishi likes it, but something doesn't feel complete. Sadly, his teacher decides to ask him a question, which is enough to pull him away from his writing mood. He'll have to return to it later.

 

Yukimura starts spending his lunch breaks with Shiraishi. They talk about plants, and Shiraishi listens as Yukimura talks about music and art, and he starts bringing enough food for the both of them, because Yukimura is a disastrous cook. And they talk about love, about broken hearts and how to deal with them. Shiraishi thinks Yukimura can write the book about healing a broken heart.

It's not long before they make plans to meet after school as well, and they find themselves meeting outside the school gates every day.

Shiraishi is banned from even attending their match against Kabuto High, which is ridiculous, but he is too tired to fight the coach about it so he stays behind and has Yukimura calling him and telling him everything that happens. Yukimura only stops talking once he is up for singles 2, and Shiraishi paces around his room biting his nails until the phone rings again, and a panting Yukimura announces his win. They are going to Nationals.

When the team returns from the match Shiraishi is waiting for them, and Yukimura wraps his arms around him as soon as he sees him. Shiraishi automatically hugs back. He doesn't mind the funny looks directed at them.

 

"What are these?" Yukimura asks him when he enters the room.

Shiraishi hands him one of the glasses he holds and takes a look at the table. He blushes when he sees what notebook Yukimura is flipping through, and hurries to close it. "Nothing."

Yukimura slips the notebook from beneath his hand and reopens it. "They are songs. Did you write them?"

"Kind of. Yeah," he admits, knowing there's no reason to argue.

Yukimura hums. Shiraishi has noticed he hums a lot. He likes it. "Here," Yukimura says, pointing at a line on the page. "Why is it circled?"

"It's not right."

"It sounds good."

Shiraishi nods. "But it's not right."

Yukimura raises his head and their eyes meet, and Shiraishi suddenly realizes how close they are. He sees Yukimura looking at his lips, sees him leaning forward, feels his warm breath on his face; and he moves away.

"I'm not—"

"I'm sorry—"

"No, it's—"

"I'm gonna go." Yukimura drops the notebook, grabs his bag and is out the door before Shiraishi can say anything.

Shiraishi doesn't go after him. He doesn't pick the notebook up from the floor, either.

 

For the first time in years, Shiraishi eats lunch in the cafeteria. Suddenly, the idea of being alone with Yukimura on the roof scares him.

Shiraishi isn't an idiot, nor is he clueless. He's noticed the looks Yukimura has been sending his direction for a while now, has noticed the lingering touches. It's just that he's never thought about what to do if Yukimura ever acted on his feelings.

Being gay isn't his problem. Shiraishi has known he was bisexual ever since he joined the tennis club when he was 12 years old and realized he had to actively refrain from staring at his teammates' naked bodies in the showers.

It's not a matter of what others would say, as well, because while everyone around him is happy to gossip about the rumors of Yukimura being gay, none of them has ever hinted at thinking it was a bad thing. And his parents have known about his sexual preferences and accepted it ever since his mother caught him watching gay porn when he was sixteen, which was embarrassing as hell, but also put an end to his internal struggles about how to tell them.

Yukimura isn't the problem, either. He is amazing. He is beautiful, and he is kind, and talented, and Shiraishi loves being with him more than than anyone else. Being around Yukimura is more fun these days than hanging out with his ex-girlfriend used to be when they were still dating.

So what exactly is his problem? Why is he so scared? Why is he having lunch in the crowded cafeteria, pretending to listen to Kenya and Zaizen as they argue about who knows what, when Yukimura is upstairs on the roof, probably wondering if he had damaged their relationship beyond repair.

Shiraishi doesn't even realize he is standing until Zaizen stops talking abruptly. "Everything alright, buchou?" he asks.

"Yeah," Shiraishi says. "Yeah, I just… there's somewhere I need to be."

A quick glance at his phone tells him he has a little over ten minutes left before lunch break ends, and the cafeteria couldn't be located farther away from the stairs, so he adjusts his bag on his shoulders and just… sprints.

People are looking at him with amusement; a teacher calls after him to stop running in the hallways. He doesn't listen. He needs to get to the roof.

But when he opens the door and steps into his and Yukimura's private garden, no one is there. Yukimura isn't there.

 

Yukimura isn't in tennis practice at the end of the day, either, and he isn't answering his phone when Shiraishi calls him. Koishikawa shrugs when Shiraishi asks him if he'd been to school today, but Zaizen chirps in to say that he saw him leaving early.

"Can skip tennis as much as he likes and he'll still be on the team," Kenya complains. "Guess you can do anything you want when you're the Child of God."

"When you can beat him you can take his spot," Shiraishi retorts, and Kenya has nothing to say to that.

Ever since he got back from his suspension from tennis, Shiraishi has been a lot better, has been focused on the game again. He doesn't doubt Yukimura is the reason to that. His teammate has pulled his thoughts back to reality, has made Shiraishi forget about the break-up, and Shiraishi's game went back to normal.

Today, though, his head is somewhere else entirely, so much that even Tooyama notices something is wrong.

"You're not fun when you make it so easy to beat you," he complains.

"Is everything okay?" Kenya asks him later, when they're alone in the locker rooms, everyone else already gone.

Shiraishi shrugs. "I fucked some things up."

"Yukimura?"

His knowing tone makes Shiraishi stop toweling his torso and stare at him.

"Buchou, you've been eye-fucking him for weeks now." Shiraishi chokes on air. "It mutual, by the way. The regulars have bets going around about how long it would take you to bone him."

His face is probably redder than a tomato. "Kenya!"

His friend shrugs. "It's true, though. Kin-chan is winning so far, just so you know. The rest of us thought you'd be over with it by now."

"He is just so—" He has no words to finish the sentence.

Kenya raises his eyebrows. "The only question is, buchou, what are you still doing here?"

"What?"

The smile on Kenya's face stretches, revealing his pointy teeth. "What are you doing here, when you should be looking for him?"

 

Shiraishi's heart is beating so loudly in his chest that he is convinced people can hear it when he passes by on the way to Yukimura's house. He's been here before, but it's the first time he's feeling so nervous.

Yukimura's younger sister, Mai, opens the door when Shiraishi knocks, gives him a suspicious look before recognizing him and letting him in. "Big brother is practicing now," she says.

Sure enough, a sweet melody fills the house. The piano sounds soft, calming, and it suddenly dawns on Shiraishi that he knows this music, and what are the odds? He excuses himself—Mai doesn't mind, she's already back to watching TV—and climbs up the stairs, following the sounds of the piano.

The piano is not in Yukimura's room, which is why Shiraishi hasn't seen it before; and maybe that's good, because the image of Yukimura playing it, his eyes closed—how does he do it?—and his torso swaying as his fingers fly above the keyboard is enough to render him breathless.

The melody changes by the time Shiraishi gets there, and he is not familiar with the song he is currently playing. This one sounds sadder, somehow, melancholic. And hopeful. 'A spark' , Shiraishi thinks.

He waits until Yukimura finishes the song before clearing his throat.

Yukimura's eyes widen when he sees him, but he says nothing.

"It's you." Eloquent.

"What?"

Shiraishi clears his throat again. "The piano man. You're the one playing the music at school."

"Oh," Yukimura's confusion clears away from his face. "Yeah, I didn't know anyone heard me."

"I'm sorry," Shiraishi suddenly says, and it's stupid and not related to what they're talking about but he has to let it out. "I'm sorry I moved away."

It seems like hope is filling Yukimura's face.

"I don't know why I did it. I don't… I like you."

Yukimura gets up, and before Shiraishi knows it he is in his private space, so close he can feel the heat radiating from him. And then Yukimura is closing the gap between their lips, and this time Shiraishi doesn't move away.

The kiss is soft, and warm, and just. Good.

And Shiraishi loses his train of thoughts, but if he didn't, he'd think of the lyrics to his next song.

'Then I look in my heart

And there's light in the dark

Still a flicker of hope that you first gave to me

Please don't leave.'