In Which Kariya Plays a Violin (IV)

remember when I said I won't update until February? well, it was because of exams, but now, it's because I'm going on a month-long trip and I won't ever, ever, depend on the internet connection. so yes, another hiatus! and this one is a bit indefinite, because wow wow school wow wow catching up wow wow I'm sorry. this is one of the reasons why I posted this oneshot before February. I'm sorry (again) but thank you for all the reviews and supports! I hope you enjoyed the ride. Pray for my comeback!

"Aren't you handsome?" Hitomiko coos when he has dressed himself with an ironed set of uniform. "You will be excellent."

Silence is a virtue, coated with politeness and appropriate replies. Kariya leaves the house later than he usually does, but before the other residents can wake up and pester him with good luck!s.

"I will forget all the notes," Kariya tells Hikaru when they are seated in the music room, being briefed about the competition's rules and schedule.

"Kariya?" Hikaru is speechless. That should be about right. For as long as he knows him, Kariya never breaks down emotionally. It's at this kind of moment that they both realise their helplessness.

His hands are covering his face and his person is trembling violently. Heartbeats fill his ears and he picks up his hands to block them. "I can't do it, Hikaru."

"Kariya..." Hikaru grits his teeth. "Kariya, look at me."

Kariya looks up.

"I can't even pity you now." His friend says, whispering still. "I love you."

Pulling a disgusted face is the appropriate reaction to that, Kariya later claims.

"That's it. Get back on track, Kariya!" Hikaru hisses, lips curling downwards. "I'm better than you. In fact, you are the worst violinist ever!"

Kariya growls, banging their foreheads together. "Hikaru!"

"Um," Shindou begins, materializing (or not) in front of them, with various pairs of eyes following him. "You two are disturbing the briefing."

"Sorry?" Hikaru offers.

"Keep it down."

Rustling of papers is heard from where the supervisors stand and they seem to be continuing where they leave off ("...sportsmanship is encouraged..."), but Hikaru and Kariya crane their necks at each other.

"You always prove everyone wrong, Kariya." Hikaru says, shoulders relaxing. "You shove it in their face. That's the Kariya I know. That's the little bit of Kariya that I know over these few months."

"Shut up, Hikaru."

"I will." Light chuckle burns at the back of his mind.

The cloud weeps, raindrops pelting on the window. The other students make noises and wonder if it will change anything in the competition while Kariya laughs because the competition is indoor, in a building in the town. Hikaru thinks that's good enough.

Not so long after, Kirino calls. Kariya starts the conversation by accusing Kirino of yet another privacy-invading by stealing his number.

"Are you okay?" is the reply instead.

Must be Hikaru who informs him. "He is a liar," pocketing his hand, Kariya says.

"I've been friends with Shindou for years, and I would know when he lies. He isn't lying about this."

His eyelashes flutter as he opens and closes his eyelids in lightning speed. "What does Shindou-senpai have to do with this?"

Kariya can almost hear the blinking. "You just called him a liar."

"I meant Hikaru."

"Oh." He hears shallow breathing, and then Kirino speaks up, "Kageyama isn't a liar. I think."

"Everyone does." Kariya shrugs. "What did Shindou-senpai tell you, senpai?"

"That you were making a ruckus with Kageyama."

Praying is not Kariya's thing. And it will never be. But he prays, now, for Kirino not to find out about the times he has been so weak, easily breakable like a twig. "We were overexcited."

Five seconds feel like a long century consisting of war and fear. "Are you sure?"

"When am I not?"

"Can I see you before the competition?"

"As long as you are there before it's our turn to perform, senpai."

"I will be there. So can I?"

"Do you really need to ask?" Kariya feels exasperation. His voice breaks.

"Good. See you, Kariya."

Dialing tones greet his ears. He checks into the call history and smothers at Kirino Ranmaru. Hikaru shouts at him from the bus taking them away.

He turns off his phone and shoves it at the bottom of his bag.

By some sheer luck, they get to perform after three other schools, effectively making them pitted between six schools. The supervisor gushes about being in the middle is a good thing. Kariya stops listening when she claims to win a contest once by having her turn not at the start or the end.

Rain splatters on the big windows surrounding the lobby. The constant pelting echoes in Kariya's head.

"I'm just going to wash my face," he whispers, leaning on nearby walls to stay stable on his feet. He can see Hikaru follow after his figure and mouth something, but he winces and throws himself into the restroom.

Splashing cold water onto his face, he emerges with wetness. Low breathing drowns under the loud streams. He clenches his lips, fists, and narrows his eyes. You are Kariya Masaki, idiot. Wake up.

"Excuse me? Kariya, are you there?"

Steps halt behind him. Kariya sees Kirino reflected by the mirrors. "Senpai."

Kirino gives a grim smile, walking up to his side. Hands rest on the sink as Kariya turns it off.

"Kageyama texted me."

"Why does everyone–oh, never mind. No one ever listens."

"You are the liar, Kariya." Their eyes meet.

"I didn't lie."

"You weren't okay."

"I wasn't. And then I was."

Kirino steals drops of water, weighing it on his hand. "Will you be okay?"

"I will."

It's silent, but even if a pin happens to drop, they won't hear it. For the two of them are the only ones left in the whole universe. (At least for each other.)

"Kariya, I'm sorry." Kirino says, twirling his fingers. "I can't be like Kageyama, who knows you best."

"You don't have to be like Hikaru." Kariya stares at the ceiling. Dim lights. "One Hikaru is already too much."

Softly, Kirino chuckles. "I'm jealous of him."

Turning his attention from the dim lights atop to Kirino's pink hair mess on his face, Kariya asks, "Why?"

"He seems to own you."

"I don't get it, senpai."

"He has you."

"I'm my own self." Kariya replies. Kirino fixes the scarf tangled around his neck and Kariya finally notices the cold. He observes the length of Kirino-senpai's nails, the brightness of his skin, the redness of his nose, the white breaths from his mouth. "I'm jealous of Shindou-senpai."

A blink. "Why?"

"He has you."

"He doesn't." Kirino breathes. "I'm mine."

"No one owns us." Kariya breathes back, a hint of hitching. "Is that what you mean, senpai?"

Kirino pinches his temple. "I'm confused."

"So am I." Kariya grins, and the lights don't feel as dim anymore. "What time is it?"

"Ten to eleven."

"Ten minutes until it starts, huh..." Voices outside the restroom, high- and low-pitched all the same. Kariya straightens his posture and offers a hand for the older boy. "Let's talk as we walk."

"Yeah." Kirino takes his hand.

No one notices their intertwined fingers; no one takes care to look at them even once. They think of winning and absolute perfection, and not two boys holding hand can hinder that resolve.

"Remember the first time we meet?" starts Kariya, steps lightly bouncing on the wooden floor.

"You played your music."

"You read your book."

They break into laughter. And it all comes back; the strangers sitting across each other, the music on the table, the yanked collar, the closed door to the library, the floor under and the wall behind, the other's breaths, and the warmth of their names.

"It's always Shindou-senpai with you, Kirino-senpai."

Kirino ceases laughing, but their walk is airy.

"He will always be the first in your heart." Kariya lets out a laugh so hollow that it sounds similar to that of a moan.

Shindou shouts instructions at the choir club, arguing with the other club head.

"Shindou is a friend." Kirino exclaims, spinning on one leg to look at Kariya from the front.

"Hikaru is a friend." Kariya says. He looks down at their hands, tied together. "Senpai, let go of my hand when you need to."

Kirino, teeth gritting and sides hurting, lifts their hands and shoves them between their chests. "I'm not letting go."

"I love you." He can't breathe. The words fly out like blood–thick and slow. "I love you, senpai. You aren't a friend."

"Kariya, the opening ceremony is starting!" Hikaru peers over the curtain, and then pauses. "I will cover for you." He leaves after sending a nod at Kirino.

"Senpai, let go." Kariya growls. "Aren't you disgusted? Does everyone have selective amnesia about homosexuality or something?"

"I'm not letting go, Kariya." Kirino squeezes their hands together. Kariya can see the veins bulging.

"Why?" The question is stiff, sharp-edged.

"Please don't let go of my hand either." Kirino presses the hands on his chest, lightly quivering.

The speakers boom, someone says, "Welcome, participants and audience alike!" and Kariya swats the hands away, sprinting for his life to join the line of Raimon students. Corner of his eyes. Kirino mouths, hands reaching out for him in place.

Kariya thinks he can die.

"Play like you always do," Shindou announces as the third school bows and leaves the stage. "Don't mind the audience, the competition, or the pressure. Play proudly and you can do it."

Hikaru nudges his waist. "What did Kirino-senpai say?"

Emitting poisonous gas from his ears, Kariya barks. "You told him."

"Was that a good or a bad choice?"

"I don't know." Kariya groans against his hand. "I don't know, Hikaru."

"Can you play?" Hikaru lifts his chin. They walk into the stage in organised line, spreading out to fill their position.

In the audience seats, Kariya sees Hitomiko with a video camera. And Hiroto, Midorikawa, and Nagumo and Suzuno and Aphrodi, and Kirino. He stands at the very back of the room, shadows falling on his person, but Kariya will recognise those pink locks anywhere.

"I won't be able to see him as an equal otherwise."

Hikaru grins at that. "Shove it in their face, Kariya."

"Your wish is my command." Smiling widely hurts his cheeks, but it's a good kind of pain.

The conductor from the choir club raises a baton. Kariya and Hikaru raise their bows. Shindou raises his fingers. The members of the choir club exhale. The baton is brought down and they play.

The cheers do not die down fast enough.

Breathless and trembling, Kariya and the others scramble backstage. The moment they are a good distance away from the stage, they look at each other and shriek, hugging those who stand nearest to them. Shindou sheds tears and the head of the choir club smacks him on the back. Compliments are flooding in. Hikaru falls flat on his back.

"Don't you have somewhere to go to, Kariya?"

Kariya hands him his violin and bow, putting them on Hikaru's stomach. "If I find any of them dented..."

Hikaru ushers him off.

The rain has long since stopped; no more annoying pelting on the windows. His shoes make louder noise than the hitting of a drum as he runs along the corridor. He is just thinking about which door leads to Kirino when the boy himself emerges from the door Kariya has run past. He skids and whirls around.

Kirino looks at him and bursts into smiles, tackling him with a tight embrace.

"Kirino-senpai," Kariya calls out softly.

"You were wonderful, Kariya." Kirino says, his scarf scraping Kariya's chin. "You were so great."

People pass by, glance at them, and then scurry away. Kariya doesn't care. Reaching into the gaps between Kirino's fingers, Kariya steps back and creates a space between them. "Kirino-senpai."

There is a shocked mutter, a raised eyebrow, and a sigh. Then Kirino grins, teeth flashing.

"We can wear those matching sweaters like a couple now," he says, letting out a long, drawn breath.

"I thought you said those weren't for a couple."

"I lied."

When they are announced as the winning school, it's as though a bomb has exploded. The audience jumps onto the stage and assaults them with hair-ruffling and kisses. Hikaru is frozen in his place, not budging even when his parents approach him and say how proud they are. The choir club sings because that's how they cope with unexpected outcome. (Shindou is offended that they didn't think they would win.)

Just like that, Kirino hugs him, kissing his cheekbone repeatedly but subtly. Kariya squeaks and pushes him away, but not before landing a clumsy peck on his ear. Kirino laughs and envelops him again; Kariya gives in, caressing Kirino's back like holding a diamond.