Their room placements, they were told, were so that they could grow from having to live together. Everyone had their opinions about their assignments. Most of the middle schoolers took to them well, with a few vocal exceptions. Only somewhat less vocal, but as equally confused as "Ore-sama" was loud in his complaining, were the 5 members of Higa-Chuu that were invited.
They shared a room the same size as everyone else, but their members were not split up and they had to find a way to fit 5 people in a room with only 4 beds as well as all of their belongings. Granted Tanishi had lost some weight with the intense training he was put through, but it was still a tight fit.
Higa's tennis players weren't sure what they were supposed to take away from this experience. After all, they had been with each other for a long enough period of time that they knew each others off-the-court habits pretty well. Training so intensely together had let them teach each other techniques. Rather, Kite drove the techniques into their brains so hard that they could still probably do them at the age of 80, while asleep.
Of course, there was name-calling and teasing among the Higa members, but no one ever took it too seriously. If by chance it ever did go too far, it would all be settled when Kite spoke up and reprimanded them anyway.
Then it happened. A chill filled the room the second before Kite even raised his voice.
"Hirakoba-kun! Are you intending to damage my Goya vines," Kite shouted after a pillow flew past him and landed too close for comfort to his carefully constructed planter. "They just started to flower!"
"Take it easy Eishirou," Kai retorted with a laugh. "There's a pillow fight going on outside and Rin was just trying to get your attention."
Kite glanced around the room. The other four members were all grinning and holding onto their pillows tightly. Tanishi looked ready to eat someone and Chinen's gaze was darker than usual, or maybe he just used more eyeliner today. Kai and Hirakoba were just grinning like idiots but nonetheless had a dangerous glint in their eyes. And that's why Kite hated to say it.
"No. You're not going out there."
"Eishirou..." Tanishi whined.
"And what do you think they will all say of Higa when you go out there and take some shots without having been invited?"
"Weak sauce," came the muttering from behind the pillow Kai threw his own face into.
"Remember. We're here because someone saw something in us worth more than the dirt we threw in our opponents faces at Nationals. Someone gave us a chance. We're going to do this right. We're going to do this our way and show all of Japan what Okinawa is worth!"
Chinen looked down to the ground for a moment and remained silent while the other three complained to their captain half-heartedly. He thought silently, remorseful about not having the pillow fight with the other teams but also understood. They swore to clean up their play and Chinen certainly didn't want to risk that. There would be other times to interact with others.
He lifted his gaze to Kite and noticed the twitches of a pained expression hidden behind the calloused exterior. Kite like to show only his cold-hearted nature but he acted more like a stoic and strict father to them; His care for his team tucked away so that it wouldn't interfere with his resolution to make them the best. Leave it to him to remind them what they were all fighting for once again. Chinen smirked in a way that would scare most people.
He threw his pillow at the back of Rin's head. There was a moment of shocked silence and all eyes were on him. Kai laughed wickedly and threw his pillow at Tanishi, causing the larger boy to let out a menacing growl and throw two wild pillows simultaneously. One of which knocked directly into Kite's plant.
None seemed to notice the horror on their captain's face for which Kite was thankful, but they did briefly pause to watch him fly from the room holding the plant protectively. They laughed and continued their own pillow fight with just the four of them.
Kite walked with long strides, taking advantage of his well-trained muscles. He agilely dodged all the pillows being thrown and leaped over the few unlucky tennis players knocked out on the floor. By the time he reached the end of the hallway, he dashed into the last room that was open which seemed quiet and calm.
"Oh, what's this," a quiet voice called to him as he leaned against the door frame panting, coddling his goya vines.
The Okinawan looked up to see the captains of Shitenhouji and Rikkaidai staring at him. Kite supposed that it was the latter who has spoken because of the smile Yukimura was wearing while reclining like a regent on his bed. Shiraishi stood and eyed him with mistrust. Kite straightened himself out, adjusting his glasses with his right hand and cleared his throat.
"Pardon my intrusion. I thought that this may be a safe place due to the lack of commotion. If you would not mind terribly, I have something precious that I would like to protect until things settle down."
Shiraishi glanced at the plant clutched in the Okinawan's arm. The structure was rather ingenious yet simplistic, a planter with single central pole connected to a horizontal lattice. It allowed the vines to grow and the produce to hang down. This along with the unexpected politeness of the Okinawan gave Shiraishi no reason to protest his presence any longer, but he had still yet to seem welcoming to Kite.
"Kite-kun, what kind of plant is that," Yukimura asked gently.
Higa's captain took a step forward and held it out so the other could see it better. Kite let a smile play at his lips when he talked about it. He told them all about how important goya was in Okinawan cuisine and the experiments in cooking he had tried with the vegetable. Yukimura seemed especially interested in the soft serve ice cream made with goya Kite swore was popular back in Okinawa.
After a bit of talking, even Shiraishi had lightened up to him and began asking questions about how he created the proficient structure in which his vines were growing. The tanned boy happily shared the logistics leaving Shiraishi looking pleased, even lightly praising Kite. The Okinawan noticed Shitenhouji's captain widen his smile every now and then, and Kit was sure the other boy witnessed his face falter for a split second at each of the compliments. 3 games to love, Shiraishi-Yukimura pair, Kite thought with a startling realization.
Kite noticed his two companions glancing behind him every so often, but it wasn't until he heard the soft hum in fascination that he finally looked behind him. Until then, he figured it was just more commotion in the hallway that had distracted them. Turning around momentously and as gracefully as a model on the catwalk, he came face to face with the third occupant of Room 201, Fuji Shuusuke. Though there was a definite smile on the smaller boy's face, Kite couldn't help but feel like every last thing about his was being analyzed. Fuji's eyes followed Kite's right hand as he reached to adjust the left side of his glasses, almost making Kite stop the movement.
"Fuji," Kite calmly spoke.
"Kite," the tensai returned. "Goya? I hear it is especially bitter but quite essential in traditional Ryukyuan cuisine."
A simple nod in affirmation was the reply and it seemed to the Okinawan that a chill was filling the air. Something about it made Kite decide to step up to the plate, knowing what the Seigaku tennis players in particular thought of him and his teammates. He held his head higher at the thought that just a simple thing could turn this around.
"If you are interested in trying some Fuji-kun, when the vegetables are ripe I can make goya chanpuru for you to try the flavor for yourself."
Kite couldn't be completely sure, but it seemed as if Fuji's face lightened at the prospect. He wondered if he may have finally scored at least a point in this match.
"I do like interesting flavors, Kite-kun. Though, I usually prefer spicy to bitter..."
"I will do my best to meet your standards, Fuji-kun."
Only after it came out of his mouth and Fuji's eyes widen a little larger, did he realize that his words could have stated something more than his intentions for cooking. Kite, drawing upon all of his practiced stoicism, kept his composure and played if off as if he spoke exactly as intended. 15-love Kite Eishirou. For the sake of both himself and Higa, it was probably for the best that he let an explanation go unsaid. But if Kite were honest with himself, in the game amongst all of these masks attempting to make the others slip, he was losing poorly.
"Kite-kun is being too modest and polite now," Shiraishi said with a laugh, tapping his bandaged hand to his chin. "Fuji-kun, did you know that Kite-kun told us that he won with his goya chanpuru at his school festival? I think you're lucky to get to try some of it."
Kite adjusted his glasses again, "I will be sure that there is enough for both of you to share in as well."
"It sounds very interesting, Kite-kun. I would be honored to try something I have not had before," Yukimura said smoothly.
"I bet Kite-kun's home-cooked meal will be Ecstasy~"
Kite double faulted.
It was later in the evening, after everything had calmed down that Kite returned back to the room he shared with his teammates feeling utterly defeated. They questioned him on his location. The captain was thorough in his details about the conversations he had had that evening while they all prepared for bed. And with a cloaked glint in his eye, he noticed Hirakoba getting paler and paler with each mention of his goya recipes. At least he still had the upper hand with his teammates.
They drew straws casually and this night Chinen and Hirakoba were to share a bed.
Pressed against the wall by Chinen's struggle to actually fit his long body onto the bed, Hirakoba muttered, "I can't believe they actually want to try that shit."
"Rin," scolded Kai from above him. "Watch your mouth or Eishirou will make you eat it, too!"
And then it was silent in the room. But in the back of his mind, Kite was playing out the conversation in Room 201. His skin crawled thinking about it all. Shiraishi's praise, which felt like a strange combination of condescension and honesty. Yukimura's gentle curiosity prodding into him and finding his weak spots. Then there was the wickedness hidden in Fuji's omniscient smile.
For all the time spent training his temperament, keeping his cool so he could be a strong leader for his team, suppressing the wealth of passion that only his match against Tezuka had brought out... Kite knew he still had a lot to learn.
He would probably never be described as a perfect like those three, except maybe for perhaps his fashion sense. Kite wasn't a genius or a prodigy. However, he already knew what hard work could achieve and he was willing to go further to reach their level in more than one aspect. They had something, and Kite wanted it for Higa. For Okinawa.
He fell asleep smiling into his pillow.