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Halfway from Coal, Halfway to Diamond

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It took Shuichi a long time to finally get over Mizuki. It wasn't so much Mizuki himself--herself--as the whole situation that kind of fucked Shuichi up.

For the longest time he just refused to think about it. After that initial burst of relief, the doubt set in pretty quickly, and the best way to deal with that was to just pretend it never happened. Mizuki being back in America didn't really make it easier, though, and not just because the other guys still talked about Mizuki so much it sometimes felt like he was still there.

Towards the end of third year, Shuichi went out with this girl from St. Blossom's a few times, one of Noe's girlfriend's friends. They got on pretty well, but for some reason she kept asking him about Mizuki, weird things like did he know how Mizuki bound her chest and did Mizuki think of herself as a guy. What do you mean? he said. I just told you Mizuki's a girl.

She shrugged and looked uncomfortable and he quickly changed the subject. That was the last time he saw her, but he didn't really think much of it. They weren't dating-dating anyway, just sort-of dating. He sort-of dated a couple other girls that first year after graduation, too, but none of them lasted very long or ever got past the making-out stage.

It was still Mizuki he jerked off to. Even after he knew Mizuki was a girl, the Mizuki in his head still had a flat chest and a dick. He tried imagining Mizuki with tits and a pussy, but it felt weird, like Mizuki's head was pasted on some random girl's body, and his thoughts always drifted back to what his brain (and dick) had decided was the real Mizuki.

It was stupid, because he'd been so fucking relieved when he found out, so sure that meant he wasn't gay. He liked Mizuki, right? And Mizuki was a girl. So that meant he was straight.

Only that whole time he'd thought Mizuki was a guy, his thoughts hadn't exactly been chaste, and his imagination sure had been eager to fill in the details there. He'd been sick over it, felt guilty as hell, because that wasn't supposed to be him. He wasn't like Nakao, practically one of the girls. He was just a regular guy. A normal guy.

Looking back now, he can recognize the crushes he had as a kid for what they were, but when he was little all he knew was there were some boys he just really, really wanted to be friends with. And when he hit puberty, he was horny all the time for no reason. He could be sitting at his desk doing his math homework and suddenly find himself sporting a boner, so if that sometimes happened when he was looking at other guys, it's not like it meant anything. Especially at Ohsaka, where guys were pretty much everywhere you looked. And if he kept his mind blank when he jerked off, well, not fantasizing about girls didn't mean he wanted to fantasize about guys.

But Mizuki had made it impossible to pretend. Shuichi had to admit he liked a guy, even if he still tried to tell himself that Mizuki was just the exception and he was totally into girls, really.

After Mizuki went back to America, Shuichi kept telling himself he just needed a girlfriend, that if he just did it with a girl, he'd be cured. He just needed to get Mizuki out of his head. Making out with girls was weird, though, and the fact that finally getting to touch a girl's breasts didn't make him feel like he always thought it would just left him frustrated and not that keen to take it any further.

He never did it with a girl.

He got sucked off in the showers at the gym, met up at love hotels with guys he found online, and once jerked off one of his teammates (it was incredibly awkward; they never mentioned it again), but he never did it with a girl.

He came out to his parents when he was twenty-three and had been seeing Hideto for almost a year. They didn't disown him or anything, but his mom didn't bother to hide her relief when Shuichi called her three months later to tell her Hideto was being transferred to Sapporo and they'd decided a long-distance relationship wasn't in the cards.

They fucked once more after that, when Shuichi was in Hokkaido for a game against Consadole, and when they ware lying in bed afterwards, Hideto lit a cigarette and said he was thinking of maybe getting married. He was eight years older than Shuichi and his parents had been pressuring him for a while. There was his job to consider, too. The company he worked for was pretty conservative; it'd be hard to move up much further without a wife.

Shuichi isn't out-out, just to a few friends and of course now his parents, but he doesn't want that kind of life. Maybe he doesn't want to go around waving a rainbow flag, but he doesn't want to lie about it, either.

It's not long after that when he runs into Naoki. He stops in the 7-11 around the corner from his apartment after his morning run and there's this guy who keeps looking at him weird. Not really checking him out, though Shuichi wouldn't mind if he were. Wouldn't mind at all, actually.

The guy follows him out and says, "Nakatsu-kun?" as Shuichi scarfs down a couple tuna onigiri.

"Ooh I oh ooh?" Shuichi says, then swallows and tries again. "Do I know you?"

"Shimabukuro Naoki," the guy says, and Shuichi gives him another once-over (still hot), but the name isn't really ringing a bell.

"Sorry, I don't think I--"

"We, uh." The guy chews his lip, like he's not sure what to say. Shuichi doesn't think they slept together; he is pretty good at remembering that sort of thing. "We kind of knew each other. In high school," Naoki says, and then all in a rush, "I-went-to-St.-Blossom's."

"You went to..." Shuichi stares. He imagines the guy in front of him with long hair and boobs and an unhealthy (not that Shuichi can talk) interest in Mizuki. It kind of maybe makes sense. "Naomi-chan!?"

"Naoki."

"Yeah, but I mean--"

"Yes."

"Oh." He should probably feel weirder about this, but it doesn't really feel weird at all. "Wow, that's. Wow."

"You still play soccer?" Naoki asks, and Shuichi is glad for the change of subject.

"Yeah, uh, Kyoto Sanga, actually."

Naoki tilts his head. "Is that J. League?"

"J2," Shuichi says, and at Naoki's blank look, adds, "Second tier. I was playing in the Regional Leagues until a couple years ago."

"Still." Naoki grins. He has a really nice smile. "Still, that's pretty big."

Shuichi shrugs and looks down, scratching the back of his head and feeling stupidly embarrassed. He's wearing a ratty track suit and he could really use a shower, but he says, "You want to get coffee or something?"

There was a time when he would have used this as some sort of validation, would have asked Naoki out because fucking a guy who used to be a girl might somehow mean he was straight.

Now he asks Naoki out because he knows he's gay, and from the way Naoki says, "I'd love to! I mean, yeah, that would be great," he thinks maybe Naoki is, too.