Thanks to those who reviewed! Without further ado, the final half!


Second Half


I've always been the shy one


Sena was a mess.

He should've been helping out Riku and Koutarou with the arrangements for their next game, but there was no way he could've been any good to them now. It should never have happened. He never thought something like this would ever happen. He'd seen injuries during matches and practices but this was too unbelievable. Too painful and too sudden. He didn't know how Riku and Koutarou could remain so strong, so unwavering. In comparison, Sena felt utterly useless. The entire team morale was hanging by a nail and he couldn't do a single thing.

They'd finally gotten back at Saikyoudai for beating them last year, but the celebration had been cut short when Unsui had been caught in a highway accident. It was late night and the roads were mostly clear until one driver had swerved unexpectedly into Unsui's lane to collide none too gently with his car. The driver was ruled drunk and had gotten away with a concussion and broken arm. Unsui had gotten away with massive internal damage and organ failure.

It'd been three days since the accident and the team was a wreck. Kurita tried to keep a positive spirit but even Mizumachi's normal enthusiasm was dampened. They'd been to the hospital as a team, waiting in turns to enter Unsui's room, but despite the doctor's hope they remained in a sort of limbo. Sena visited perhaps more than anyone else due to his proximity. And because Unsui was a friend he'd come to trust a lot with over the past year.

He sat outside Unsui's room now, head in his palms. The sight didn't get any easier to bear. Sena was used to seeing the quarterback so robust and infallible. The man that he'd just seen was a mere shadow. It brought back painful memories of another time, with another quarterback. Sena knew that there was nothing he could have done to prevent Unsui's accident, but that Hakushyuu match… It was the same terrible shock.

Sena felt rather than heard someone approaching and glanced up. He immediately straightened and wiped his eyes. He was being incredibly weak. But only in front of him did he make every conscious effort to appear all right. Because… Because it was him. Because Sena had been conditioned by him to hide pain and vulnerability. Because everyone else would understand and pat him on the back, but he would only scold him and tell him to be stronger. Because Sena knew that despite everything he did, he would still know right off the bat what was wrong.

"You planning to become his permanent watchdog or what?" greeted Hiruma.

The older man was the epitome of self-control. Sena always admired that about him. Even after his training in America, he could never quite master his emotions the way Hiruma could. Sena didn't know what was going on underneath that calculating gaze, but he knew why Hiruma was there.

"I can't seem to leave him for some reason," he said softly. "I'm afraid if I leave, something will happen and I…"

Hiruma stopped right in front of him. Sena stared at the denim-clad legs before him and tilted his head back to peer up at Hiruma. His expression was neutral, but he pulled one hand out of his coat pocket and pointed a slim finger at him.

"You're not giving him enough credit. You really think something as trifling as a car accident is gonna keep Unsui down? He's had to deal with the fucking dread for most of his life. It'd be pathetic if he didn't make it out of this."

It was like something in his chest moved. Sena felt both relieved and pressured. He knew Hiruma was right of course. He knew he was being too pessimistic and that Unsui wouldn't have wanted him to waste his time in the hospital, but he couldn't. Couldn't leave. Couldn't move. Couldn't breathe until his friend was awake and lecturing the team again. Because that was right. Unsui was a friend. He was the leader of their football team, but it was more than that too. Some things he could never tell Monta or Riku, but Unsui had always been there and Sena had found a true confidante in him. He wasn't a normal acquaintance and these weren't normal circumstances. Sena felt his shoulders tremble, watched as Hiruma's face blurred in the edges of his vision.

Then someone was holding him. Sena buried his face in the crook of Hiruma's neck, both frustrated and embarrassed. The hospital was eerily quiet and deserted. Sena was grateful for this. He clung onto Hiruma unabashedly, his quiet sobs unheard by all except the one holding him.


I'm no warrior, but I'll fight until the end


Playing a game on American soils will always remain a surreal experience for Sena.

The roar of the crowds is like a drug that pervades his senses from the moment he steps on the field; it's addicting and the adrenaline rushes forth without inhibition, turning him into a different person. When he's on the field, Sena changes. It's a fact. And he loves every second of it.

The game ends with his team's victory. He scores the final touchdown in an exhilarating run. The stands are overturned, the spectators on their feet, cheering and jumping. A game is never quite complete without at least one of Eyeshield 21's long runs. Sena doesn't fail to please them. He relishes the feeling of the grass and dirt under his feet, the looming threat of enemies hovering on the periphery. It makes victory that much sweeter.

After the game, he's still on a high but he departs from the stadium first. Sena almost never lingers for long. All the extra energy that pumps through his body needs an outlet, so he runs after every game. His team teases him for this, but they respect—and admire—his physicality so they let him go while shouting catcalls behind his back. Once outside, Sena reverts back to his normal self for the most part. Dressed in sweats and a light hoodie, most people never recognize him.

The pavement grounds him back to Earth, and Sena begins to calm down after several minutes of light jogging. He's working up a decent sweat now and he considers another ten minutes of running before heading out on the closest train back home. As he turns the corner, surprise hits him, and he halts to a stop.

"Yo. Good game."

The casual hand wave and smile jerk Sena back to reality and he grins. "Riku!" he exclaims in perfect astonishment and pleasure. He runs over to his friend and laughs. "What… How did you…?"

His usual stammering has begun and Riku recognizes it with a twinkle in his eye.

"Just decided to pop by for a visit," he explains before Sena embarrasses himself too much. "My dad had business to attend here and I decided to come along. I found out from Panther about your post-game ritual so it wasn't hard to track you down. You've gotten faster again, though."

Sena smiles bashfully. "Ah, well… Running helps me calm down after games…"

Riku grins. "I'm not criticizing you; I'm complimenting you."

They walk down the street where a Starbucks is located. Sena orders a coffee but doesn't drink it; caffeine affects his mind in strange ways so he only holds the plastic cup. In contrast, Riku takes healthy draws from his frappuccino while they converse. Seeing his old friend so suddenly reminds Sena of how much he misses everyone else and Riku is more than willing to convey all the latest news.

"Are you happy, Sena?"

Blinking in surprise, Sena can only look questioningly at Riku. His friend laughs.

"I mean, it was worth it, right? You've got no regrets coming here to America?"

Riku's in older brother mode right now and Sena feels gratitude. He's made a few good friends during his stint here, but he can never forget the ones he left behind in Japan. Though Sena wouldn't trade his luck and fortune for all the world, he craves that simple life sometimes. And then there's—God, but he hates his weakness. Sena puts on a convincing smile. He's not sure who he's trying to convince, though.

"It was worth it, Riku," he says slowly. "And I'm happy. I really am."

Riku nods. "Good."


Love is…something I don't think anyone will ever understand


It was times like these when Sena began to have serious doubts.

He stood by the door to the bedroom, staring at the blond man currently entangled within his sheets whilst in peaceful slumber. It was rare for Hiruma to ever appear unthreatening, and only Sena was privy to these moments. He leaned his head against the doorpost, smiling to himself unconsciously. Hiruma put on a mask for the world, and Sena couldn't begin to understand how he became that one exception.

That was why he was growing more and more anxious by the day.

It was all fine and dandy for a while. A whole year in fact. Sena had contented himself in allowing Hiruma to "court" him. But it was never really courting. It wasn't even a proper relationship. It was…a clandestine affair. Everything was unspoken just as everything was laid out. Sena never imagined that he would engage in something so primordial, so physical. Before Hiruma, all the experience he had was a couple of dates during his stay at Notre Dame. The girls in America were bold and Sena couldn't turn them down; they were similar to Hiruma in that sense. Though he had shared a few kisses, it was nothing compared to the way he was now. Being with Hiruma was changing him.

But he still couldn't talk about it.

It wasn't for lack of trying. He'd made subtle references about it, censoring his words as much possible, but Hiruma brushed them off with ease. Eventually, Sena stopped trying. It was Hiruma. The man was a devil, but he wouldn't go parading around their exploits. And it was…nice. Somehow or another, Sena didn't object to Hiruma's advances—found himself enjoying them actually. But it was getting to be too much. Especially after Unsui's accident. He'd been a wreck during that time, and he had even stalked Hiruma back to his own apartment. Sena didn't think he had it in him, but sometimes he thought that maybe he was the real demon. Ever since that night, things had changed between them. Or maybe it was his perspective that had changed. He wasn't about to consider the l word, but… Sena knew that he was falling rapidly. And deeply.

"Do you plan on standing all night?"

The scratchy voice brought a smile to Sena's face despite his concerns. "No. I'm sorry; I was just thinking."

At this, Hiruma was roused and he stretched out his body lazily to regard him with piercing eyes. "I told you to leave that to me. With your brain, the task would overwhelm you," he said in a drawl.

Sena blushed, ducking his head. Hiruma always knew what to say to make him feel like a child again. He wasn't complaining, though. Was he always this masochistic or did being with Hiruma make him this way? Sena frequently debated the answer with himself.

"Practice was rough today," he said, changing the topic abruptly. "Agon-san is…a difficult person to work with."

He knew Hiruma would recognize the maneuver for what it was—a retreat—but the blond didn't say anything. It was how things were between them. Nonverbal. Intangible. Fragile. Sena was confused, but he knew one thing for certain: He didn't want to lose this. Lose Hiruma. God, but when had that happened? Sena almost laughed at himself. He was a far cry from that little fifteen-year-old boy.

Hiruma sat up, the bed sheets pooling around his waist and keeping him decent. Even then Sena continued staring at him. He never thought he could desire a man's body so much, but here he was, all but drooling. Hiruma had a slender build despite all the training he did, and his skin was utterly flawless. Sometimes all Sena wanted to do was trace that skin with his lips, but Hiruma always kept him moving. Maybe one day…

"I should be resentful that one of my players left to join a rival team, but I'm not going to miss that fucking dread one bit. Good luck with him. You'll need it."

The older man spoke in calm tones. He was in a placid mood it seemed. That was also rare. Hiruma didn't speak much in normal conversations so Sena often felt like a chatterbox in comparison. It was a shame too. Sena loved learning more about the quarterback. He had a feeling that if he hadn't followed Hiruma back home that night, they would never be here now. In Hiruma's apartment. Sharing his bed, his sanctuary. Sena knew what a major step this was. He was secretly ecstatic and reserved. Hiruma didn't give his secrets lightly. Sena wondered if he would ever get to learn another one.

"It's nice, though. He transferred to Enma so he could support Unsui. Of course he'll never admit that out loud, but we all know the truth. It's worth putting up with his attitude I suppose."

Hiruma raised an eyebrow. "If you're going to talk about him all night, I'm just going back to sleep."

Sena smiled and walked over to the bed. Hiruma extended his hand and Sena took it, allowing the older man to pull him in. Warm fingertips brushed across his cheek. "I can think of more interesting things to do," he said thickly. Sena felt the blood rush downward as Hiruma wrapped his tongue around his finger.


"Starting that up again, huh? And I thought we had moved past that…" Hiruma's lips moved steadily against his neck, probing every sensitive nerve. Sena succumbed willingly to the persuasive gesture.

It sounded almost like disappointment, the way Hiruma just spoke. Sena filed that away for future's sake. He knew he was damned. But nothing was certain anyway so why shouldn't he just enjoy this while it lasted?

"Youichi," he whispered as Hiruma made his way down to his navel.

Sena thought he felt him freeze when he said his name, but Hiruma resumed his pace a second later. He could feel it in the way Hiruma moved, though. He was pleased. And that made Sena happy. He knew it was dangerous to invest so much emotion in such precarious business, but he ignored the warnings.

He'd learned from the best after all. Sometimes risks were meant to be made.


I know I shouldn't, but I always look back just in case


It's still late spring, but summer wishes to make its arrival early this year. Sena undoes the top buttons of his suit, having undone the tie an hour ago. He's known for always appearing immaculate and proper, but the building's broken AC gets the best of him and he forgoes common courtesy. The meeting isn't anything too formal anyway so the representatives don't even spare him a glance.

The World Cup. Sena feels his blood rise just by hearing its name. This is one of his favorite times of the year; thus, he willingly partakes in the numerous press conferences and interviews despite his reserve. Sena likes to believe he's become better at facing the public now, though. Of course, whenever Panther calls him a day after a certain interview or whatnot to tease him, he's forced to reconsider the alternative.

This summer promises a number of young potentials, and Sena looks forward to it with much anticipation. For the first time ever, he'll be one of the judges on the panel. It's a tremendous feat to be sure since even Panther has never been offered a seat. Sena imagines the committee nominated him because of his team's most recent success at the Super Bowl; this past year was an especially memorable one for him. Sena broke and set new records, and even though he remains completely humble of the fact, he's aware of his growing international appeal. He's just grateful for the chance to directly participate in the judging.

The meeting turns in quickly and Sena stands up. He catches Clifford's eye and he bows his head a little. His manners are still all too Japanese sometimes, and his team likes to tease him for that, but Clifford nods politely and gestures for him to approach. The older man is just as intimidating as ever, but Sena has had the opportunity to acquaint himself more familiarly with him over the past two years; there's much more under the surface, and Sena has too much experience with a certain man to be put off by Clifford's austere personality.

"I just saw the punk yesterday at a press conference. He was introducing his company to the public," he begins without prelude. "He's risen fast hasn't he?"

Sena just blinks.

Clifford regards him severely. "You didn't know? About Hiruma?" he asks sharply.

Hearing the name jolts Sena, and he struggles to keep himself under control. "No. What about him?"

"His organization is one of sponsors of this year's Cup. JSMF. Japanese Sports Merit Foundation. It's a nonprofit organization that he founded two years ago by himself. He's got five major branches in Japan that seek out young talents and promote athletic programs in schools. His organization also participated in the X-Japan Bowl last year. They made it to the semifinals on their first try. Very promising. I hear Hiruma's planning on opening other branches in China and South Korea soon."

Sena cannot speak for several seconds. The sheer enormity of Hiruma's success astounds him. He isn't surprised, of course, but he is filled with so much pride and warmth towards the other man that he's rendered speechless. He hasn't heard anything of Hiruma since he came to America. Phone calls and emails are ignored. All he ever heard from Mamori or Monta was that Hiruma had gone into business and that it was flourishing well. Sena smiles to himself.

"So he's…doing okay then."

Clifford arches an eyebrow. "I'd say better than 'okay'. Then again, that brat was always a sneaky bastard. I gotta wonder if there's another reason why he's doing this. He seems to be in a hurry to me."

Sena frowns at him. "Why do you say that?"

"For a whole year he ran the organization—company—alone and solely on the Internet. Then suddenly he erupts from out of nowhere with his first branch in Tokyo, and within six months, manages to open four more locations throughout Japan. I know Hiruma's resourceful, but he must have been working overtime to accomplish all this in such short time. Why, though?" Clifford shrugs and shakes his head. "Makes no difference I suppose. Guess we'll be seeing more of him soon."

It's a mystery. Sena doesn't know what to think. No one can predict Hiruma's actions, and his intentions are seldom revealed until the end. He can't resist his excitement at Clifford's words, however. Guess we'll be seeing more of him soon. Sometimes he thinks he hasn't matured at all during his tenure in America. The words shouldn't give him hope. Sena was the one who cut all ties between them in the first place. He shouldn't be so selfish. You can't go back to the past. And he doesn't want the past, Sena realizes. He wants…so much more.

Clifford bids his farewell. "Impressive, that guy. I acknowledge it. Don't you start holding back either."

No, he won't. Sena stares at the empty boardroom. Without a word, he turns off the lights and leaves.


You tend to ignore the wise when you're in over your head


"We are so gonna beat them max!"

Sena looked over at Monta with an exasperated smile. "Nothing's certain yet, Monta," he replied.

Monta rolled his eyes at him. "Sena, you're too soft. This is an important match, yeah? It's Unsui's return game! And with Agon aboard, you really think we're gonna lose? We can't afford to!"

It was a bittersweet fact. They had finally beat Saikyoudai last year, but lost the Koshien Bowl anyway. The team had been too divided and affected by Unsui's accident to perform their best, and the loss of their quarterback was a real blow to their usual tactics. Sena had done his best to improvise, but the game still ended with them lacking a point. But this year… Sena didn't want to jinx their luck, but he had a good feeling they would be able to do it. Go all the way to the Rice Bowl.

They made their way to the gym and stopped at the entrance when they heard voices inside.

"What kind of pushup is that? I had that giant Yamabushi on me and I still did more than you!"

"I've already done ten sets, Agon. And why are you still here? Don't you have…a date or something?"

"Aah? You think I'm here because I want to be? The game's next week and your shitty team's lucky it's managed to get by with the little trash as quarterback, but that luck ain't gonna hold against Saikyoudai. So you better be ready, Unko-chan."

"Yes, yes…"

Sena and Monta shared grins. Clearing his throat, Monta took a big step and entered the gym. Sena followed after him. Unsui and Agon were located in the back where the mats were laid out. Agon sat on the weight machine watching Unsui's progress with disdain. His eyes drifted to Monta's direction and he sneered at him.

"The jumping maniac. What the hell are you doing here?"

To his credit, Monta didn't rise to the bait. Agon had been with the team almost a year, and they'd all had to adapt to his acerbic personality or else risk fighting him all the time. It had been a long and hard trial, but a balance had been reached more or less.

"Are you ready for the game, Unsui-san?" replied Monta, ignoring Agon completely.

It was the best strategy against Agon. Monta employed it with a kind of glee that worried Sena sometimes, but Agon had yet to do any of them serious harm. Even now all he did was glare at the younger receiver. Time changed people in many different ways.

Unsui smiled. "As ready as I'll ever be," he answered calmly.

Agon's attention returned to his brother. "What kind of spineless talk is that?" he snapped.

"Oi, Unsui-san's the leader of our team. You shouldn't talk to him like that," cried out Monta.

"What the hell would you know? You're just a receiver."

"Yeah, but I can catch more balls than you!"

Agon's eyes glinted from underneath his shades. "You really want to test that claim?"

Monta straightened up proudly. "The baseball team's holding practice in the field," he suggested in a casual tone.

The younger Kongou twin stood up and began walking with Monta in tow. Sena only stepped aside from their stormy path and shook his head.

"Unko-chan, you better keep that strength up or I'll hunt your ass down later!" called out Agon as he and Monta left the gym, still arguing amongst themselves.

Sena watched them leave. It amazed him sometimes how as scary and dangerous Agon could be, deep down he was still very much like a child. Monta had been terrified of him in the beginning, but now he was the one constantly presenting pointless challenges to Agon. And the older man accepted them too. Sena didn't understand him at all.

"My brother's changed since he came here," said Unsui from out of the silence. He sat up and began stretching. "I'm not sure what kind of monster he is now."

Sena walked over to him. The surgical scars that marred Unsui's abdomen and side stood out in the stark light. "Are you ready?" he asked, repeating Monta's earlier question. But he knew that Unsui's reply then had only been polite.

Unsui smiled at him. "As ready as I ever will be, Sena," he replied honestly.

The words and smile lessened his concerns. "We'll get Saikyoudai again."

"That we will," agreed Unsui. He watched Sena carefully. "But what are you going to do?"

Sena knew at once what he was talking about. He leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. The email he had received from Clifford two days ago weighed heavily on his mind and he still had yet to reply. He knew that such an opportunity would never come again, but he couldn't make up his mind. There was still so much here that he wanted to settle.

"I don't know," he said slowly. He gave a weak smile. "I want to go to the Rice Bowl with you guys finally."

"No, it's not just that. It's someone you don't want to leave just yet," stated Unsui without preamble. He took a swig from his water bottle. "You've got to make the choice, Sena."

Unsui had an effortless knack for hitting the truth. It was a valuable trait and Sena had come to rely upon it greatly. There was no one else he could talk to when it came to Hiruma. Monta was never a consideration. While he knew that Sena's romantic interests weren't restricted to one pathway, he would have had a conniption if he ever heard about his relations with their former captain. Riku probably would have understood, but Sena didn't have the heart to tell his old friend. Most of the times, Riku still thought of him as the same innocent, naïve boy from yesteryear and Sena couldn't bear to shatter his conceptions. Suzuna was also never an option. Sena knew she still harbored a crush on him, and he didn't want to hurt her. It was the same with Mamori, only her feelings were directed towards Hiruma. Sena didn't know if that was still the case, but it would have been too risky nonetheless.

Then one day after practice, Sena had been left behind with only Unsui and the whole truth came spilling out. He should have been mortified, but the older man had taken what he said into confidence and relayed his own words of advice in return. And then the rest was history.

Sena was lucky he had such good friends.

"I'm gonna take the offer. I know I will, but I don't think I could bear leaving so soon."

"Why don't you tell him how you feel?"

It was an age old question. Unsui had asked it many times before and Sena had always given pathetic reasons. But the answer boiled down to a simple explanation.

"I'm afraid. If I say something, it changes everything. I couldn't handle it if he decided to leave."

Unsui shot him a wry look. "So you're leaving instead? You'd rather cling onto this illusion than face reality?"

Sena folded his hands and looked at the floor. "This illusion has been one of the best things that's ever happened to me."


False hope can kill someone—or save them


The gathering of reporters and spectators grows with alarming speed. The sight of all the business suits and press passes unnerves Sena and he backs away from the glass view, sighing deeply. He adjusts his own suit with some discomfort and watches the proceedings below him. Sena doesn't mind the publicity most of the time, but media gatherings like this always bring out the shiest in him. Even at twenty-three he remains the most introverted member of his team and has attained notoriety for being the most difficult football player to interview ever. There are few anchors he feels comfortable enough to speak with naturally so he's become incredibly selective with whom he speaks. Nonetheless, the public forgives him his ill manners. They know that when he goes onto the field as number 21, they're in for the real show.

Sena plays with his tie again when he sees Panther walking up to him, waving his arm excitedly. He laughs as the taller player hugs him unceremoniously in greeting.

"I knew you'd be here away from the vultures! You never change, Sena!" Panther chuckles in good humor as he places an arm around Sena's shoulder. "Clifford is controlling the paparazzi so it's really not that bad. But I know you won't step foot down there."

Panther's laughter dissolves all of the uneasiness in Sena.

They made an odd couple. When Sena emerged as the running back for an eastern board team, the public all thought they would be at each other's throats. But while acknowledging each other as rivals, Sena and Panther were the best of friends. Sena often felt Panther was a kindred spirit and though they competed on the field mercilessly, there was never any discord between them afterwards. Eventually, they made names for themselves and the media loved to cover their unlikely friendship. When the reporters discovered that friendship had gone so far back as to their high school years, they'd been ecstatic and dubbed them as the "Best Rivals."

The politics of sports often went over Sena's head—as it did Panther's—so they both just went along with what reporters said and laughed about it behind their backs.

"I can't believe it. Another year, another World Cup!"

Sena smiles at Panther. "I'm still waiting for Japan to win one of these days," he replies.

Panther looks at him aghast. "Sena! You're on American soils now—you can't be saying such traitorous things!" he says in mock surprise.

Sena laughs. Sometimes he wonders what he would have done if he didn't have friends like Panther when he arrived in the States almost three years ago. He'd mastered English on the conversational level during his stay in his third year of high school, but the country was large and remained mostly a mystery to him. He'd only been to New York once during his stay for the World Cup and to discover the city was to be his new home had been a major shift for him. Clifford had been a surprisingly good host for a couple of weeks before he departing to regroup with his own team in San Antonio. Then Panther himself stopped by later on and that was when Sena really felt like he could make New York City his new home. When he met his teammates, the deal was set and Sena knew where he belonged.

This is his fourth team in his life. It's remarkable since he's only been playing for a little over eight years. All those teammates and every single one of them he considers a brother. But there's always been one that sticks out the most in his memory. Sena usually tries his best to forget him because it brings too much pain, but it never works. Hiruma Youichi is not a man you can easily forget. Especially recently. Sena is in constant reminder of the former quarterback's presence due to the upcoming World Cup. It doesn't surprise Sena that Hiruma's managed to form his own company and rise up in the market to become prominent enough to be one of their sponsors; there seemed to be nothing the man couldn't do when he put his mind up to it. But the sudden reappearance brings Sena back to his final days with Hiruma, and those aren't memories he's particularly fond of recalling.

He wonders sometimes if he should have tried harder. For three years he'd slept with Hiruma, made love to him, shared a part of his being with the man, and he had waited until the last moment to say anything meaningful. It was the most complex relationship Sena ever had—or probably ever will. And to think he had been the one to initiate it. There were times Sena wished he'd never accepted those drinks from Monta. They had lost; they shouldn't have been celebrating that night. And why of all places had Hiruma's team been there at the same time? Destiny or coincidence. Either one was a bitch.

"…spoken to him?"

Sena blinks out of his reverie and looks at Panther. "I'm sorry?"

The other man laughs and slaps him on the back. "I asked if you heard from Hiruma? Surprised the hell out of me when I saw his name up there as one of the sponsors. It was like, where did he come?"

Sena smiles humbly, shrugging one shoulder. "I haven't heard from him at all. I was just as surprised as you. No one back at home ever mentioned anything to me."

Which is something else that sets off alarms. Despite Monta's fervent claims, Sena can't help his suspicions. But Juumonji and Mamori also prove to be dead ends. Perhaps it's because of all the time he spent with Hiruma, but Sena knows this is a setup. He just doesn't understand the purpose.

"That's weird. I thought you guys were friends?"

"Well…" Definitely more than friends. But Panther doesn't need to know everything. Sena prays the other man doesn't notice his blush. "Hiruma…wasn't exactly like most people. He's…"

He waves his hand in a silent gesture and Panther grins.

"Yeah, I remember. The dude was one scary guy. Between him and Clifford, I'd run far, far away if I could."

Sena laughs. Just give him one, though. Just one, and he'd be more than satisfied.


I'm a coward so I can offer only this much


"You could…you could rule the world!"

The words shocked Hiruma into silence. Even Sena wasn't prepared for the sudden outburst from himself. He breathed heavily as he stared at the older man. This wasn't normal. Sena never debated with Hiruma—he didn't even think he had the capacity to argue with anyone—but here they were, speaking their minds with no thoughts of censorship. It was invigorating. Sena only wished the issues weren't so serious.

Hiruma's mouth quirked into a half smile. "Rule the world? That's a winner."

The sardonic tone didn't go unheard by Sena and he frowned. For the first time in his life, he was actually angry with the blond. "I'm serious, Youichi," he started. It had taken a long time for him to grow comfortable calling Hiruma by his given name, and even now he used it sparingly. It always brought Hiruma's full attention when Sena called him that and he took advantage of that fact now. "You're the smartest person I know; you could do so much! I just don't want you to waste your gifts."

An adult lecture was something else Sena never did. Whenever his kouhai asked him for advice, he could barely manage a sputtered and awkward reply. But this…this he had to do. He was leaving Japan. He'd made the decision almost as soon as Clifford told him about the opportunity, but it was only now he was starting to realize the gravity of his decision. Sena was going for himself, for his future; he wanted to make sure Hiruma also did something for himself.

"Where is all of this coming from? You're behaving strangely—even for yourself," inquired Hiruma, raising an eyebrow.

The cool and calculating mask was in place again. Sena knew that if he remained for much longer, the truth would come spilling out. And he wasn't ready for that confession yet. He was glad they decided to meet at Hiruma's apartment tonight; it meant that Sena could escape.

"Just…think about yourself more."

He didn't stay to hear the response.


People who wait, but never knew they were waiting, are sometimes rewarded


"It's been two years, eight months, fifteen days, twelve hours, and ten minutes…"

He looks the same. Sena barely processes the words drifting through his ears; his eyes are too preoccupied taking in the unexpected—and truly beautiful—sight before him. The hair's all wrong, but Sena discovers that he's already accepting it without complaint; it makes Hiruma look older, more mature. The suit is a tailored masterpiece; Hiruma always knew how to dress the part. Compared to him, Sena feels exposed and undignified.

The silence threads between them like an iron chain. Sena is all too aware that he should be saying something but he can't even begin to form a coherent thought. Hiruma stands a few feet away from him, an unnavigable distance. The teeth stand out stark white in contrast to the black suit, and Sena is enraptured by the familiar smile. God, has it really been that long? Seeing him like this brings back all the memories in a rush. It feels, and doesn't feel, like it's even been a day.

The track is empty save for the two of them. The afternoon sun is strong and unrelenting; the rising heat makes Sena wonder briefly if he's suffering a hallucination of some kind. But Hiruma is an unwavering presence, and he knows this definitely isn't a mirage. The cramp in his calves is further evidence that this is reality. It's a reality he never knew how much he craved until now. Sena finally speaks.

"What took you so long?"

The question is strangled and full of raw emotion. Sena grows aware of the tears welling up in his eyes; he doesn't brush them aside.

"Ruling the world takes a while even for geniuses."

Hiruma smiles, and it's like something snaps in the air. Sena rushes forward and takes the taller man by the shoulders, crushing their lips together. He hears their teeth click and it's messy and incredibly embarrassing, but the sublime makes it spectacular. When Sena pulls away with a gasp, he sees Hiruma's eyes watching him with uncharacteristic softness. Despite his similar state of breathlessness, Hiruma smirks slowly.

"You realize…that's only the second kiss you've ever given me?"

Sena blinks in surprise. Then he smiles in delight, wrapping his arms around Hiruma's neck. "I guess I have to catch up now," he whispers, pressing their foreheads together.

Hiruma runs a hand through his hair, staring at him with the intensity he reserves for game plays. The toothy grin makes another appearance.


End game.