Just before the end of Chapter Ten Kirihara comes to talk to Yukimura about his final match at Regionals. Drama, I-3

Akaya tapped, hesitantly, on the doorframe of Yukimura-san’s room. His mother had said to go on up, but Yukimura-san had only been home one day, and he looked tired. Still, he looked up with a smile of welcome.

“Akaya. Come in, I’ve been expecting you.”

At that bit of information, Akaya ground to a halt again, a few steps inside. Yukimura-san hadn’t said anything, yet, about the way Akaya had let his control lapse this year, but he was uncomfortably aware that he had merrily tromped all over his team captain’s direct orders several times. Having some privacy while his captain yelled at him about that wouldn’t make it significantly more pleasant. Not that Yukimura-san ever exactly yelled, but even-tempered disappointment was worse, and the cold edge when he did lose his temper was terrifying, and…

Yukimura-san’s breath wasn’t quite a sigh. He held out a hand from where he sat on the edge of his bed.

“Close the door, Akaya, and come here. I did say you could tell me about it later, didn’t I?”

Ah, so Yukimura-san had been expecting him because of that; not a huge improvement. Speaking of things that were a little terrifying. Just a little. Akaya tried not to fidget, as he approached, but when he reached Yukimura-san’s side, and paused, the memory of what he’d come to talk about drove such a shudder through him that his knees folded. He sat down abruptly by his captain’s feet and leaned against the bed.

“Are you all right?” Yukimura-san asked, eyes serious.

“I don’t know,” Akaya whispered. “When I played, for the final game, I… I don’t know…” Yukimura-san’s hand brushed over his hair, and Akaya bent his head to rest against Yukimura-san’s knee. “Yukimura-buchou, I can’t even really remember all of it.”

“I watched the tape of the match,” Yukimura-san told him. “Have you?”

Akaya nodded. “It was weird,” he declared.

“I don’t doubt it.” His captain’s voice was warm, and Akaya relaxed under it. “I think you will remember everything in time, especially the next time you play that intensely. What do you remember in the most detail, now?”

Akaya was silent for a few moments. “The feeling,” he said, at last, slowly. “It was so… clear. And cool. And bright. And I felt… like I could keep going forever; like I was breathing in strength, not air. It was so strong. So much.” He broke off, shivering, every muscle wound tight, clenching his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering.

Yukimura-san’s hands closed around his face and lifted his head. Akaya clung to the dark, steady gaze that met his, to brace himself against the memory of that overwhelmingly precise focus that had swept his awareness up like a leaf in a high wind.

“Yes,” Yukimura-san said, sure and clear. “I know that. And it can be almost too much to bear, can’t it?”

Akaya pulled in a breath, comforted by his captain’s instant understanding. “Yes,” he agreed, shakily. Yukimura smiled, slow and brilliant and wild, and Akaya’s breath departed again.

“But it’s also glorious, isn’t it?” A laugh ran under Yukimura-san’s voice. “To feel every moment and movement so fully, to experience the sharpness of that edge, to release everything that’s in you and throw it into the game.”

Akaya nodded, wordless.

“This is what I hoped, from the start, you would find, Akaya,” Yukimura-san told him. “It came more abruptly than I expected, but I knew it was there for you from the first.”

Akaya was trembling again, under his captain’s hands, and his eyes felt wide as saucers. “Is it like that… every time?” he asked, hearing his own voice thin with awe or incredulity or terror, he couldn’t have said which. Yukimura-san’s expression was sympathetic again.

“Not so perfectly, perhaps, but yes. It’s there every time. It always comes when you give all of yourself to the game,” he explained. The unspoken corollary hung in the air; if it was too much for Akaya, he could back away. His chin came up, pride stung.

“Yes, Yukimura-buchou.”

The gleam in his captain’s eyes made it clear that Yukimura-san approved of Akaya’s acceptance of this challenge. He took his hands away, fingertips brushing across Akaya’s face with butterfly-wing affection.

“Yukimura-san,” Akaya heard himself murmur, and bit his lip. He tried not to show that yearning too plainly. The gentle denial in Yukimura-san’s gaze hurt too much.

This time, though, Yukimura-san’s look was considering, fiercer and brighter. “Can you defeat me yet, Akaya?” he asked, with the unyielding edge in his voice that had called Akaya to him from the moment they first played against each other.

Akaya heard what Yukimura-san wanted: for Akaya to give himself to this crazy brilliance as completely as his captain had. If he did, and they both played from that intensity… Akaya shuddered, violently.

“Not quite,” he choked, before he hauled in a slow breath and looked up. “Yet,” he finished, sharply.

If a hawk could smile, it might smile the way Yukimura-san was now. “I’ll be waiting for you,” he said.

Akaya nodded, while anxiety and exultation got together to dance a polka in his stomach.

“On that topic,” his captain continued, looking more stern, “I trust I won’t see laziness like you showed in the first part of that match again.”

Akaya winced. He’d known it was coming. He twisted his fingers together and lowered his head.

“Yes, Yukimura-buchou.”

“I know I wasn’t there to hold you back, Akaya,” Yukimura-san said, seriously, “but you must learn to do it for yourself. If you can’t your game will stagnate, and you’ll destroy yourself. And, above that, it isn’t worthy of you. “

Akaya’s head dropped a little further. “Yes, Yukimura-buchou,” he whispered. He’d known, at the time, that his captain wouldn’t be pleased, but the knowledge had been small and distant next to the satisfaction of utterly destroying whatever threatened his goal. Now it was a lot more visceral. Yukimura-san’s kindness, even in the middle of making his displeasure clear, made Akaya feel about one centimeter high.

There was a rustle as Yukimura-san slipped off the bed onto the floor and tugged Akaya, gently, into his arms.

“You’re so innocent, in some ways, Akaya,” he sighed, pressing a hand to Akaya’s bowed head, “and so direct. Let that serve you, instead of dragging you down, and you’ll be one of the best. Remember that I’m waiting for you.”

Akaya closed his eyes and leaned against his captain’s belief in him. He would. He knew what he was chasing, now. He would keep going, and when he found Yukimura-san, on the way, he would be able to hold his head up.