Sena had been trying for days to catch Shin. Shin's routine was so intense, it seemed like every time Sena caught sight of him he sped up and went the other way – anything to avoid talking to him. Sena didn't understand, and the weight of not understanding pressed down onto his chest, making it hard to breathe and harder to run.
He ran anyway, just like always. It took luck and a little rain and a desperate need to get that weight off of his chest for Sena to catch Shin. It was with one desperate out-stretched hand that he got hold of the back of Shin's training jacket. Even though Sena stumbled and gave a surprised yelp, Shin didn't slow down. Sena was too stubborn, too focused on catching him to let go. Shin dragged him exactly three running strides before he skidded to a stop.
"What --" he'd started to snarl, twisting his upper-body so that he could look at Sena with fierce eyes and a stern expression.
"Look at me!" Sena gasped, the pain in his chest making his voice rough, "Shin-san, please!"
It caught Shin so off-guard that his frown vanished and the furrow between his brow went smooth. His frown had gone slack. Why was Eyeshield – was Kobayakawa – so determined to get his attention? Shin had been training obsessively, remembering the shape of Sena's back and the way his muscles moved under his gear, using that image as his motivation. How had he not realized that Sena was running behind him?
"Only look at me," Sena said. His eyes were bright and intense, his cheeks red from running. "No matter who you're chasing, please, Shin-san, I … I want you to always... "
Shin watched Sena trail off, and his frown returned. "On the field, I watch the field."
"That isn't what I mean!" The forcefulness of Sena's voice surprised them both. "I mean, I... Even when I'm on the field, no matter who I'm playing, I'm always... thinking of you."
Shin felt his face heating up, and struggled to keep his expression flat.
Sena's shoulders hitched up, and he knew he looked timid. He felt timid, whenever Shin stared at him blank-faced that way. "When I practice, when I play, when I rest, no matter what, I'm always thinking about you. It – It sounds weird," Sena admitted, staring at Shin's shoes. "But when I think about you, even though I'm nervous or tired or anything, I get stronger. I want to be stronger, because of you!"
Sena squeezed his eyes closed and forced himself to keep talking. "I want you to – to feel the same way about me, Shin-san! Always, I want you to be thinking about me! When you run and when you train, and even when it's unnecessary – when you've thought about football enough in one day, when you've trained enough, even if there isn't an 'enough', I want you to think about me! A-and think about how I'm … thinking about you! Because we can get stronger, both of us, together, that way."
Sena nodded when he was done, sucked in a deep breath, and pivoted on the ball of his foot. He was ready to bolt after spilling his guts. He knew what it sounded like, to say that kind of thing to another guy.
He made it exactly three running strides when Shin caught him from behind, long arms wrapping tight around Sena's slender body. Shin pulled Sena back against him hard, slamming the smaller boy's back into his chest hard enough to knock the wind out of them both. Shin recovered his voice first, and Sena was surprised at how weak it sounded when it was breathed into his ear. "What do you think I've been thinking of," Shin asked.
Sena could feel his shoulders start to shake. For a moment he felt like he was floating. "You always worked hard, even before me," he said, protesting.
"Since I first saw you," Shin said, pressing his face into Sena's hair, "to catch you, I've been..."
Sena's blush wasn't because of his run, or because of the heat radiating off of Shin. "You caught me," Sena blurted out, curling his fingers in the fabric of Shin's sleeves, "someplace that isn't on the field."
Shin pushed Sena out of his arms and forcibly turned him around. It didn't take much effort, because Sena was so small, and he wasn't fighting. "Where else is there?!"
Looking up at Shin, Sena realized that he hadn't been trying to say something that 'sounded like' a confession. He lifted his right hand instinctively, pressing it flat against Shin's chest. "Here," Sena had said, in his quietest voice, meeting Shin's eyes with a sudden fearlessness.
Shin stared down at Sena for what felt like a long time, the silence between them stretching. In the end, all he could manage was an awkward, "O-oh." Shin had never been any good at this.
"Th-that's why, I want you to --"
"I do," Shin said, his voice firm. "You, even without a tackle, you..."
Sena fought down a shiver as Shin slid one hand up his side and over his chest. Shin flared his fingers out over Sena's collarbone, stealing his breath away again. "... here."
"Again," Sena demanded.
A small, sharp burst of air forced its way out of Shin's chest. A laugh, Sena realized. "Here," Shin repeated, pushing against Sena's chest with restrained strength.
"Where?" Sena asked again, watching Shin's face slowly turn pink at the edges.
"I-in my," he started, before shaking his head.
"Yeah," Shin said, bending to hide his face in Sena's neck. "There."
Sena laughed against Shin's shoulder, wrapping his arms around his neck. They stayed that way for a long time, each holding onto their catch. "I won't go easy on you," Sena finally sighed against Shin's ear, "just because I like this part."
Shin's grip tightened around him. "I won't go easy on you," he promised in return, "just because I enjoy the chase."