The sharp strike of the ball as it fell to the ground was nothing compared to the heavy thump of his heart as he watched from the side.
It was that moment, that particular flicker of time, the connection between the pair no longer mutable but fixed as Wakatoshi slammed down his fifth spike in a row, where Eita realised the truth.
He would not start again.
It was a practise match, that was all, and Washijou-san had said he wanted to mix things up. Eita had been pulled off, told to ‘rest’ and the new guy - a first year - sent on in his stead.
Shirabu, Eita thought he was called. One who looked so earnest. Satori had laughed when he’d walked into the gym for the first time, the scowl marring his rather pleasant, almost delicate, features, as he concentrated hard on receives, proving solid but weak.
“He ain’t a blocker, either,” he’d whispered. “And I heard he got his place here by passing the entrance exam.”
Eita had relaxed hearing that. Okay, so maybe the coach yelled at him for flashiness, but he could hardly deny his talent, and he knew how to win. More importantly, he knew how to utilise their ace.
“Hey, means nothin’ you know,” Satori muttered, switching out for Yamagata, “that kid’s still green. He’ll fuck up. They all do. Waka’s got that effect, you know that. You’re the only one who’s stuck with it.”
But Satori wasn’t grinning, and that’s when Eita knew he was sunk.
Shirabu Kenjirou played the rest of the game. His tosses consistent, his style low-key, his talent of understatement letting their eagle soar higher.
In the changing room, he waited for his shower. There was an unspoken rule that the six finishers went first, and although he could have claimed ascendency over the Setter because he was his senpai, he sat back on the bench, head against the wall as he stared up at the ceiling. Shirabu was sweating; Eita wasn’t even out of breath, his shirt dry and the adrenaline from starting the match had long since left his veins.
He didn’t need to switch his gaze to know it was Satori shuffling next to him. It was Satori’s very real inability to keep still, to remain silent, which gave him away to Eita, far more than his voice or the permanently quirked eyebrows and animated smirk.
“Hey yourself,” he muttered, and wondered if – for once – Satori would take the hint, without him having to spell it out, and leave him alone.
“Showers are free.”
He heard a sniff, a long inhale, and then a slight chuckle. “You stink, though.”
“So I heard.” Getting to his feet, averting his eyes from his most intuitive of teammates, Eita stripped off his shirt, shoved it into his bag, and then pulled on his training top.
“Where ya going?”
“Home. I’ll shower there.”
“It’s not an official meet up, Satori. Just the guys having pork buns and coffee, or wheat grass in Wakatoshi’s case. I’ll pass.”
“Make an excuse for me, will you?”
“Eita,” Satori repeated, this time grabbing his arm. “It was one game.”
“That’s all it takes.” He faced him. “That and the coach thinks I’m too ... What was the word? Ah, yeah, ‘individual’.”
Gently shaking off Satori’s hand, he hoisted the bag over his shoulder. “Good game, by the way. Well done,” he said, his voice tight.
“What’ll I tell the guys?”
“You’ll think of something.”
“Yeah, sure. Hey, I know, I’ll say you were jealous, got in a strop and stormed off,” Satori goaded.
But Eita wasn’t biting. “Please do.”
Walking home, he didn’t idle the way he usually did. He didn’t kick stones along the pavement, or pull out his phone. And when he caught sight of himself in shop windows (which was kind of a reflex now) he didn’t automatically fluff his hair, or twist the front into a more impressive spike. Instead, he pulled up his hood, slipped further into his jacket and trudged purposefully on.
As if he had a purpose now.
His phone beeped. He thought about ignoring it, but the tone had been a non-generic one. Satori had once again got hold of his phone and changed the ring.
<<I told the guys u have a date>>
<<You didn’t have to, but thank you.>>
<<Kawanishi thinks ur cool now>>
He snorted. <<But you know the truth, right?>>
<<I think ur cool>>
He didn’t reply for a while, smiling a little at the screen. And for a moment, he considered turning back to catch them all up, but Satori was right, he was in a strop and needed to calm down. His mood could not be allowed to bring the team down.
<<Hey, ur supposed to say im cool too!!!!>>
<<lmfao. Satori-chan, you’re the least cool person I know.”
<<I already said that>>
<<Yeah, well, takes one to know one.>>
He was smiling again, sadly it was true, but the fact Satori was there, even if it was on the end of a phone, and he was probably laughing with the others as he typed, meant more than he’d thought possible. He wanted to be alone, had told him he had to be alone, but Satori never took the hint. And it was only now, Eita realised how grateful he was.
<<You could come back and join us>>
<<Nah, got to get ready for my date now. Did you say who it was?>>
<<Said you were being mysterious but thought it was the cheerleader with the big->>
<< the big crush on you :D >>
<<Keiko-san thinks ur beautiful>>
He smirked. <<Which one is she?>>
<<long black hair in a braid kinda crazy glasses and a nose stud>>
Uh ... yeah, he could place her now. She’d handed him a box of cookies outside the gym once, then stuttered and said they were for the team. He hoped he’d thanked her, but then Satori had bowled along, clapped him on the back, and dragged him in for practise.
<<see i gave u a cute date>>
<<you’re all heart>>
<<love u too honey-pie>>
<<no no no, not this again be original eita-chan!!!!>>
He was home, pausing on his doorstep to fish out his key, when just then he saw his phone screen blacken as the battery finally died on him. Chucking it back in his bag, he let himself in to the empty house, read the note from his mom saying she’d be late, and headed for the shower.
Keiko – san, yeah, he remembered her a little more clearly now. She was cute, and kind, and he’d liked her glasses, with their pink and black chequered frames. As the water pounded down on him, the heat sending scorching needles into his skin, he swallowed and tried to recall something else about her.
The cookies had tasted good. He’d shared the last one with Satori, breaking it in two and laughing when he’d moaned, “What the fuck, Eita? You took the bigger half, again!”
He’d snatched Eita’s half, holding them both together, nibbled a little to even them up, then handed the first one back.
“You’re gross. You totally licked that,” he’d said disdainfully, holding the cookie at arm’s length.
“Give it to me, then. I’d hate you to catch my germs, beautiful!”
“Fuck you!” He’d narrowed his eyes, given Satori a flash of a smile, then stepped closer. Satori had smirked back, knowing he’d won, but as he’d reached out for the cookie, Eita’s fingers had furled around it, crumbling it into pieces and then he’d shoved it fast into Satori’s already grinning mouth.
In retaliation, Satori hadn’t even bothered to snap the cookie, pushing it towards Eita, his eyes gleaming as they grappled, ignoring Eita’s ‘DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE!’ screeched to the changing room as they’d toppled over.
Thinking it was a fight, it had been Reon who’d separated them. He’d pulled Eita off, not realising Satori’s yells were mixed with laughter, and thrust Eita onto the bench to ‘cool off’.
Unable to breathe from laughing, the taste of the cookies still on their lips, Eita and Satori had careened out of the gym, and set off home together, all high fives and delight.
He hoped he’d thanked Keiko-san. It had been one of the better days. One of those days when he’d felt invincible, when he knew he’d take Wakatoshi to Nationals.
But not now.
The water was cooling. He slumped to the floor, curling into his legs and wished he could dissolve.
He was pretending to do his homework when he heard his dad answer the door and then call out his name.
“Uh ... who?”
“Satori-kun. Get down here.”
“Hey!” Satori was standing at the foot of the stairs, shoes already removed and a paper bag in his hands. He’d been home and changed into jeans and a t-shirt - a red one - which when Eita thought about it, suited him.
Not that he did think about it, except that Satori’s taste in clothes was either bizarre or dull, telling the tale of who’d chosen his wardrobe that day. Satori declared he just pulled out the first things that came to hand, which could have been true because the outfits he turned up in at the weekends, often made passersby stop and stare.
So that evening must have been one of his lucky days because the black jeans fitted properly (they almost looked new) and the t-shirt had some kind of snake design picked out in black and green, which, when Eita looked at is, was ... cool.
“Hey. Uh ... why are you here?”
“I brought you a present,” Satori replied as he ascended the stairs, his long legs taking them two at a time.
“Uh ...” His face looked funny, Eita couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was definitely something odd about Satori, his face a little flushed, his expression kind of ... ashamed.
He crossed his arms, barricading his door. “What have you done?”
“Who said I’d done anything?” Satori replied, and shoved the bag into Eita’s chest. “Cookies!”
Narrowing his eyes, he refused to budge. “Tell me.”
“Uh ...” He twisted his mouth into a grin, and widened his eyes into faux innocence. “I mighta ... sorta ... kinda talked about your date.”
“And.” He scowled, more puzzled because he knew Satori had hinted he had a date so what was the problem.
“The guys knew I was texting you, and then you didn’t answer, so I said it must have started early, and then they got all interested, and ... whoa it’s Hayato, man, he’s insatiable. Wanted all the dirt.”
“Uh ... yeah, so I was having to field questions. I mean, you gotta give them all a break, Eita-chan, it was either me talking or Waka sounding off, and I think they were all ...” He paused for breath, and tried another smile. “You know, you’re an interesting guy, so naturally you having a date is gonna interest them.”
“But I’m not on a date.” Sighing he dropped his arms, and opened his bedroom door, gesturing for Satori to go in. “You should have just stuck with your first thought and said I was in a strop.”
Satori said nothing but wandered across to the window, staring out into the garden. “Couldn’t do that,” he muttered and half turned back to Eita.
He shrugged, then raising his hand to his mouth chewed at his thumbnail. “Might cause bad feeling. Don’t want that. We’re a team.”
“They’d have understood. Come on, it’s natural to be a bit pissed off if your spot’s taken. They’d know I’d come around.”
“Would you have come around?” Satori said, his voice faint. “Only ...”
Eita watched as he swallowed, and then he twisted around to face him fully. “Eita, you’re not gonna quit, are ya?”
“It was only one game. You can get your place back. The starting spot. I’ll help. I’ll train with ya. Extra if ya want.” And if Eita hadn’t known better, he’d have thought Satori was pleading.
“You’re right, it was just one game, but ...” He closed his eyes, reliving the toss, which had gone just a little too far from Wakatoshi’s optimum range. He’d still spiked the ball, got them a point, but he’d turned away and not acknowledged Eita.
And Shirabu had come on, all bright eyed and eager.
Maybe he should quit. Next year was important school-wise, and he had the smarts to stay on without needing the sports recommendation.
But that would be it. School and nothing else. No playing. No practise. No ... No daft fucking text conversations and crumbled cookies.
“I’m not quitting,” he replied at last.
His grin was wider than ever, the gleam in his eyes brighter than after any game. “Great, now sit down and let’s get cracking.”
Tearing open the bag, he pulled out a cookie, bit into it and sprayed crumbs over Eita as he spoke, “Your date, of course. We gotta get our stories straight.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full!” he scolded. “I’ll just tell them all it was cancelled.”
“No ... no ... you can’t do that. We’re going to concoct the most fantastic tale, and they’ll all be spitting fucking feathers in jealousy.” He waggled his eyebrows. “I just thought of something.”
“What... I don’t like that look on your face. No... Satori, what are you up to?”
But Satori had leapt forwards, knocking him onto the bed and then pinned him down. He loomed over Eita, a leer on his lips, and Eita knew he was a gonner.
“What are you doing?”
“Adding authenticity,” he hissed, coming closer. “And what’s more authentic than a hickey?”
“GET OFF ME, TENDOU!”
“Aww, c’mon, Eita-chan, you know you love me,” he laughed, and now his face was far too close and his mouth was hovering, pouting, his lips moving almost independently from his mouth as he studied Eita. He swooped, plunging down onto Eita’s neck.
“Can’t talk with my mouth full,” he laughed.
His teeth nuzzled, his tongue tickled, and a second later, he started to suck at Eita’s skin. Although he knew Satori was just kidding, was waiting for the protest because this meant nothing, Eita lay still.
And when Satori loosened his hold on Eita’s arms, giving him every chance to heave him off, Eita didn’t move, not even when the mouth stopped sucking and all he could feel was hot breath on his skin.
“Satori,” he mumbled.
“Mmm.” He sounded dazed.
“Have you finished?”
“Uh... didn’t really start.”
“Then ... um ... what are we doing?”
“Should we stop?”
“Not sure of that, either.”
“Thought you knew everything, Guess Monster.”
“Guess not.” He coughed. “Shall I go?”
“Uh ...” He shifted onto his side and stared into the eyes that were usually so mocking, but now held a world of confusion. And he didn’t know what he wanted either, except that as Satori began to edge away, his hand dropped down to his waist, clamping him in place. “Do you want to?”
Satori gulped, looked away and muttered a no.
“Then ... uh ...” His heart began to thump again, not the heavy thud of earlier as Shirabu ascended and supplanted him, but rather the flutter of something new. He took a breath, hissing it through his teeth, and tilted his mouth towards Satori’s. “Stay.”