Hyuuga Junpei hated uncertainty.
It made him nervous, and anything that made him nervous was bad. Therefore any person or thing that caused him to feel uncertain was an enemy. He's never held any truck with wishy-washy people who couldn't make their minds up about anything and dragged everyone else down with their ceaseless meandering from one option to another. In Junpei's opinion, people like that were useless in every way. All they did was cause trouble.
But the cause of Junpei's current uncertain state of mind was far from a half-assed layabout. Initially Junpei couldn't stand Kiyoshi Teppei because he came off exactly like one of those happy-go-lucky idiots who get all hyped up about stuff but never follow through. As they continued to play basketball together, especially since Kiyoshi returned from the hospital, Junpei had to recognise that his original ideas about Kiyoshi had been dead wrong. Kiyoshi may be too laid-back and relaxed about a lot of important things, but he had always been full of determination. He was there when it counted.
And yet Kiyoshi's smile had been forced after the Rakuzan match. There was something so wrong about Kiyoshi, the neverending cheer machine, putting on a false smile, that Junpei couldn't help but be bothered by it. Kiyoshi was the kind of guy who could find the good in everyone and everything, even bottom-feeding little weasels like Hanamiya Makoto. So what in the world could have happened to make him give Junpei of all people such an insincere face? He hadn't done it again in the week since, but that moment in which Kiyoshi's smile had been just a little too wide and his eyes just a little too cold was etched into Junpei's memory like a blowtorch on fresh-cut wood.
He flung his jersey over his shoulder and put his hand on the locker room door. He was about to open it when he heard voices.
"I thought you were going to do it after the Winter Cup, no matter the outcome." Riko. And she was talking to Kiyoshi. She always sounded more relaxed and used less formality when she talked to him.
"Yeah, but you heard how it was. I already know the outcome, so why bother?"
"You mean the Mibuchi-kun thing?"
"Yeah." Kiyoshi sounded resigned.
"Wasn't that just clutch-time Hyuuga-kun being his usual charming self?"
Me? They're talking about me?
"There are lines he won't cross even then. He'd never insult you, for example."
"He wouldn't have cause to," Riko pointed out. "I'm not in the game."
Junpei frowned. On one hand, they're talking about him, and there must be a good reason they aren't talking to him. On the other hand, they're talking about him. Should he eavesdrop selfishly? Or should he do the decent thing, walk away, and let them finish their conversation? More uncertainty. Just great.
Kiyoshi sighed. "Even if it's classic clutch-time Hyuuga, if he says that about Mibuchi-kun then he'll say it about anyone. It's not the kind of thing you only say about one person."
"No, but isn't it usually said about a type of person? You're not like that."
"You know. Girly."
Kiyoshi gave an amused snort. "Maybe I should try being girly, then. I'm going to be the team manager after all, aren't they usually girls?"
I didn't hear anything about this manager thing, Junpei thought. It was almost enough to distract him from his profound bemusement. Kiyoshi was unhappy because he'd said something to Mibuchi about being girly? Why on earth--?
Riko laughed. "Hey, you'll confuse all my players if you do that, so don't you dare."
"And here I was looking forward to being called Teppei-nee."
Teppei-nee? What the hell? Why is Kiyoshi talking about being girly?
"It's probably for the best," Kiyoshi said. "He's always said he doesn't like me at all. I just thought it would be a waste if I didn't at least try, but it's even more of a waste to try when you know for sure you'll fail. That's no fun."
"Hyuuga-kun doesn't know how to handle anything he doesn't understand right away, so he says he hates it even though that's not always true."
Junpei had had enough. There was no way he was listening to more of this, and there was no way he was walking away from it, either. He opened the door and walked in. "Don't be talking like you're some kind of expert."
"Hyuuga-kun!" Riko yelped, looking a lot less guilty than Junpei would have liked. Could she possibly have known I was there?
Kiyoshi averted his eyes. "Hyuuga. We were just talking about you."
"Yeah, so I heard. What the hell's going on?"
"I'm leaving," Riko said. "This is between you two, so figure it out."
"Wait--" Junpei started to say, but she was already out the door.
"How much did you hear?" Kiyoshi's cheeks were pink for some reason.
"I came when you were talking about Mibuchi. And I don't get it -- it's just a word. Everyone calls guys like him that."
"It's not just a word. Did you ever hear anyone from his team call him that?"
"No, but--" Junpei stopped, realising that Kiyoshi had a point. Some people from Rakuzan called Mibuchi Reo-nee, which he thought was poking fun, but they may actually have meant it in a nice way. "Are you telling me to apologise to Mibuchi?"
"I'm not telling you to do anything," Kiyoshi said with a shake of his head.
"I'll say sorry next time I see him," Junpei pressed on. "Just because I think he's gross doesn't mean it's okay to bully him. So I shouldn't have called him names. We aren't middle-schoolers."
Kiyoshi smiled. "I'm glad you've realised that, Hyuuga."
"So we're cool, right? You and me?"
Kiyoshi's smile widened as his eyes went cold. "Yeah, of course."
"Why are you lying?"
"I'm not. We're fine." He wasn't smiling any more, but he was obviously still lying. "I'm going to go ahead home. I have chores. I'll see you at practice tomorrow."
"I heard Riko say you were going to do it after the Winter Cup," Junpei called after him. "Do what, Kiyoshi?"
He was grasping at straws and didn't expect that Kiyoshi would freeze where he stood. He had never before thought Kiyoshi could look vulnerable, but now his shoulders slumped and drew into his back, as though he were trying to make himself smaller.
Kiyoshi took a deep breath and turned to face him. "I feel like I have to tell you, because otherwise you'll drive yourself crazy wondering about it. I know you hate it when you don't know something you think you should know. You can argue all you want, but Riko's right. You hate most things a lot less than you hate not being smart enough to understand them right away."
Junpei stared at him. "Oh, so I'm too stupid to get it, is that what you're saying?"
Kiyoshi took two gigantic strides towards him, grabbed him by the upper arms, and stared into his eyes. "I'm saying you're too honest with yourself. I always liked that about you."
Junpei blinked in confusion. From the context of this whole mess, he had started to expect Kiyoshi to tell him he didn't want to be friends any more. "You don't hate me?"
"I'm in love with you," Kiyoshi said with a face more miserable than Junpei had ever seen.
In love as in--?
"I know now you think this kind of thing is gross," Kiyoshi said, releasing him. "Guys who like guys, I mean. That's why i didn't want to say anything."
Junpei reached forward and seized the front of Kiyoshi's shirt in his fist. "I never said guys liking guys were gross," he said in a low voice. "I just can't stand guys who act like they have to be girly to like other guys. As if it's not okay to like guys if you're just a typical guy. I don't get it, and it pisses me off."
"I can't give you an answer right this minute," Junpei continued, his face burning. "So come by my house tonight after you're done your chores."
He knew the answer already, of course; he wasn't about to turn into a namby-pamby loser over something like a confession he never dared hope could really happen to him.
He just wanted to be alone with Kiyoshi because there were things he wanted to try doing right away.
The locker room in broad daylight was certainly not the place for them.