Onoda Sakamichi didn’t know why he felt so guilty. After all, it wasn’t like he was doing anything wrong . He mentally repeated that fact to himself, hoping if he said it enough times he would start to believe it. However, despite the fact it was becoming a mantra at this point, the heavy feeling of guilt still hung over him like a heavy cloud as he pedaled along. He had a feeling the reason for this was because he knew some of his friends and teammates would not agree with that statement.
It was weird for Onoda to think of himself as an athlete. Surreal, almost. When describing himself, he still thought of himself as just a regular otaku whose closest interaction to anything even remotely athletic was attending his required P.E. class and watching a sports anime every now and then.
But now he was a member of a sports club. He went to practices and participated in cycling competitions. Sports equipment had been included in the list of stuff he decided to split his allowance on. He had won the Inter-High, the most important cycling competition for all high school bicycling clubs in Japan.
So yeah... he supposed when he looked at it in that way, he was an athlete.
But even with that label now attached to him. he still felt like he differed from other athletes in various ways. Like, for example, sometimes, Onoda felt completely lost during some of his teammates’ casual conversations, especially when they got to talking about professional sporting teams. They seemed to rattle off names and statistics with an ease, as if they were nothing more than common trivia to them. To Onoda, however, it was like they were speaking a foreign language.
Another difference came from their knowledge of certain equipment. Whenever he had to buy or replace something, he always made sure to bring a buddy. All of his friends seemed to know which brands were the best and what things from said brand were worth their yen. How they could notice all the micro details of the product while they were riding, Onoda had no idea. Though, now that he put more thought into it, he supposed he could understand this a bit. He may not be an expert on sports equipment, but he was very familiar with anime merch and the various companies involved in that industry. He knew which ones did the best paint jobs, paid the closest attention to detail, made the nicest figures, etc. So, to each their own, he supposed.
But the biggest and most divisive difference between him and his teammates was the overwhelming levels of competitiveness his friends seemed to carry with them, both in and out of races. That’s not to say that Onoda didn’t have any competitiveness in him at all, because he certainly did. When he got locked into a race with his someone - be it a teammate, someone from Hakone Academy, whatever - he certainly felt a powerful, longing desire to win and was willing to push his body to the limit in order to achieve this goal.
And when he did win, he had to admit, it felt good. Really good, in fact. It was a high that couldn’t really be explained, but it was one that he always felt the desire to chase again as soon as it left.
However, the desire for competition did not follow him around everywhere. He liked making friends above all else and over the past year, he had made a lot of new friends. He considered everyone on his team his friends of course, but he also had made a few side friendships with kids from the other teams. For example, he liked Arakita, Midousuji, Toudou, Manami… and those were only naming a few. They all were nice people and very talented cyclists.
Manami even helped him out during a time of need. How could he not appreciate his friendship with the boy.
However, to people like Naruko and Imaizumi, the idea of being friends with members of the opposite team was a completely foreign idea to them. Naruko was especially guilty of it. Granted, it might be a sprinter thing that a climber like him would never hope to understand, but Naruko and Tadokoro would act like the members from the other teams were their enemies in war. And Onoda just couldn’t find it within himself to feel the same way.
So when Manami had texted him, inviting him to go mountain-riding with him and Toudou that weekend, he had agreed immediately, cause it sounded like a lot of fun. He loved climbing mountains, he loved being around Manami, he liked the slight casualness of it all, even though he had no doubt Toudou and Manami would want to turn it into a competition sooner or later. And that excitement was still there.
However, with that excitement came a bit of guilt as well. While he did not regret agreeing to the proposal, it did feel somewhat like he was stabbing his team in the back somehow. Maybe it was the fact that he had purposely kept it secret from them over the week, or simply because he knew Imaizumi and Naruko wouldn’t approve, but a part of him felt like a traitor of sorts. Which was also weird. It wasn’t like he was selling over information. He just wanted to hang with some friends! Still… he couldn’t shake the feeling completely, and it stuck with him the entire bike ride there.
However, he was soon pulled away from his thoughts when he heard a familiar voice call out, “Sakamichi-kun!”
Looking up toward the direction of the voice, he found himself brightening a bit when he saw Manami’s serene face smiling at him, the blue haired boy waving him over. Onoda waved back and shouted a greeting back, speeding up a bit to meet Manami. As he got closer, he could see Toudou’s form standing next to Manami. He was about to call out Toudou’s name as well, when he noticed that Toudou was talking animatedly to someone who definitely wasn’t another Hakone Academy member.
The tall figure Toudou was talking to was unmistakable. One didn’t see people with long green hair very often, after all.
“M-M-Makashima-senapi?! WAUGH!” The shock of seeing his teammate there nearly caused him to lose his balance right there and then. He only barely managed to reorient himself before his face collided with the concrete.
Thank god too, cause that would’ve been embarrassing.
Onoda was also thankful that he wasn’t the only one who was caught off-guard. Makishima stiffened and looked like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, exclaiming back, “Onoda-kun…? Is that you?”
Onoda nodded slowly, his mind still trying to catch up with the sight in front of him as he said, “What...are you doing here?”
Part of him was somewhat afraid that Makishima had just managed to run into Toudou and Manami out of happenstance, and that this was how Onoda was going to be busted out as a traitor to everyone in Sohoku. He could already feel himself sweating anxiously at the thought.
Manami cocked his head, confusion and concern lighting up his soft features as he said, “Is something wrong, Sakamichi-kun?”
Before Onoda could hurriedly spit something out, Toudou stepped in then and said, “Yeah? What’s getting to you, Four Eyes? Is only Manami-kun here allowed to bring friends to these little meetups?” Then pointing a bossy, accusatory finger at Onoda, he snapped, “Show some respect to your seniors! Maki-chan and I have been having these kinds of outings since we were first-years.” He then gave Makishima a sneaky, knowing smile. Elbowing the taller boy lightly, he said, “Isn’t that right, Maki-chan?”
Makishima crossed his arms and looked away with a blush, looking slightly uncomfortable. Or at least, more uncomfortable than usual. Green eyes still averted, he grumbled, “Only because you would’ve whined and complained to me until I agreed to go.”
Toudou sighed dramatically, feigning hurt as he whined, “Still pretending you don’t like me, huh? Really, Maki-chan, I thought we’ve moved past this stage of our relationship. But if you really feel that way-”
Makishima looked somewhat offended. Looking at Toudou, he began, “I never said I didn’t like you-”
“Aha! So you admit you do like me!” Toudou interrupted excitedly, his eyes practically sparkling.
The two continued to squabble, Onoda taking the alloted time to try and compute all of the information that had been thrown his way. There was a lot to take in from those few moments of conversation. Finally, he just decided to settle on asking, “So Makishima-senpai, you do meetings like this too?”
Makishima paused in his argument with Toudou, a light blush dusting his cheeks as he said, “Yes, but please do not tell Kinjou-san or Tadokoro-san.” Carding his spindly hand through his hair, he said, “They don’t know I do this and to be honest, I don’t want to know their reaction if they found out.”
“I won’t,” Onoda promised immediately, relieved he wasn’t the only person guilty of doing this. It made him wonder if any of his other teammates had secret meet-ups like this.
“Keeping secrets, huh?” Toudou piped up, his arms crossed, head shaking. He looked almost like a disappointed school teacher as he chided, “Tsk, tsk, shameful behavior, Maki-chan! And teaching your own kouhai to follow your bad example, as well! Disgraceful, really!”
“Shut up!” Makishima immediately responded in protest, bristling somewhat and looking somewhat panicked, “Are you honestly trying to tell me that Arakita, Shinkai, or Fukutomi know you and Manami do this?”
And then just like that, the two of them were back to bickering.
Onoda stood awkwardly watching the display for a moment, when suddenly he felt a gloved hand clap his shoulder. He jerked, immediately wondering if he was in someone’s way. He was about to apologize, when suddenly, he saw Manami’s smiling face only inches away from his own, causing his heart to flutter a bit despite himself. He wondered self-consciously if he was blushing like Makishima was earlier.
Manami leaned on him slightly as he conspiratorially whispered, “Looks like they’ll be arguing quite a bit. Want to just pull ahead and see how long it takes for either of them to notice we are gone?” Mischief danced in his blue eyes, inviting Onoda to join him in his shenanigans.
Onoda found himself nodding and agreeing without really thinking about it, which caused Manami’s smile to become a pretty grin. Pulling away from Onoda, Manami hopped back onto his bike and said, “Come on, let’s go then.”
Then, he pulled away, Onoda immediately taking off after him. He pulled up next to the other boy, which caused Manami to turn and smile at him as they made their way up. Ondoa found himself smiling back immediately, warmth filling his chest. So much in fact, it basically drowned out the small guilt he felt about leaving Makishima and Toudou behind. They were good bikers, they would catch up.
He had a feeling that he would be fine with just Manami’s company for a while.