Future-fic set at the end of high school. Marui thinks about friendship. (Totally and utterly gen, Rikkai-centric, mostly about Marui and Jackal.)
At sixteen years old, standing by the newly-dug grave of his grandmother and feeling more confusion and incomprehension than actual pain and loss, he'd considered that maybe he hadn't worried so much about Yukimura because he simply hadn't been able to imagine their brilliant captain not being all right. He'd looked on the whole thing as being temporary, something which would inevitably pass. He had assumed that nothing could really stop them. He certainly hadn't believed, deep down, that Yukimura could possibly die. He hadn't even known what it felt like to lose someone. It was strange to realise -- actually realise, not know in a theoretical sort of way -- that sometimes, it didn't all work out.
Now, he's eighteen. A little older, maybe a little wiser, though Niou would definitely laugh at that. He's calmed down considerably, though there is no indication that he'll lose his lively nature any time soon. The main difference, as far as he can tell, is that he thinks about things more. Today, leaving the grounds of Rikkai high school probably for the last time, some of the things he's thinking about aren't entirely comfortable.
The main thought is that, somehow, they've all grown up; and, in some cases, grown apart. He's just insecure enough to dislike the change, just dependent enough to worry about what will come next. Most of them, of course, will be going to the same university; but already in high school things have changed. Take, for example, Yukimura and Sanada. He would have said that their friendship was one of those 'forever' sort of things, once, but these days there's awkwardness between them. They barely speak, and Yukimura announced a while back that he intends to leave and try to start a career in tennis, in Europe.
Marui wonders if their captain (their former captain, he corrects himself) wasn't half-hoping Sanada would follow him, but there's no sign of such a thing happening. Maybe the problem there is that they just assumed things would stay the same, as well, and never said the things they needed to, until there was too much distance between them after all, or too many complications.
He hopes that never happens to him and Jackal; he's come to really value Jackal's quiet support, for all he jokes about it. He jokes about almost everything, after all; makes like it doesn't matter and everything is still as much of a game to him as it used to be. Maybe he does spend more time with Niou, going to clubs and generally misbehaving, but it's still Jackal he'd describe as his best friend.
Maybe he should let Jackal know that. It couldn't hurt, right? He often leaves things unsaid, and he's beginning to realise that he can't just let things take their course, if he wants to hold on to his friends.
He definitely wants to hold on to Jackal. The other boy is a dose of sanity, stability (something in short supply in their little group, at times) -- sensible without being boring, and able to provide a reality check when Marui is getting worked up about school (the only thing which visibly stresses him), or too wrapped up in a silly idea. He admires Jackal for being so adult, in a way which Marui wonders if he himself will ever really be. People have pointed out the irony of Jackal the only child being so mature, while Marui, the oldest of three, is still kind of bratty and playful. Even though they're really the same age, Jackal is a bit like an older brother to him, in the best possible way.
"Oi, Bunta," a voice calls, breaking through his train of thought. Niou. Only Niou or Kirihara would shout like that, and Kirihara wouldn't call him Bunta. He glances over his shoulder, and sees the trickster running towards him, the welcome figure of Jackal trailing along behind.
"Don't just sneak off like that," Niou says as he catches up, swatting Marui lightly across the shoulder before turning to see if Jackal is still with him. "We spent ages looking for you, you know."
"He's exaggerating," Jackal puts in, catching up too. "We looked around for a couple of minutes and then realised you must have left to go home." He treats Marui to a soft smile, and Marui grins back, blows a bubble with his gum. Niou rolls his eyes.
"Well, anyway," he shrugs, "what's got into you, Bunta? If I didn't know better I'd say you looked almost thoughtful."
Marui just shakes his head, and greets Jackal enthusiastically by way of a diversion.
They walk together for a while, with Jackal to Marui's right, Niou to his left. Niou and Marui throw slightly inane comments back and forth, and Jackal watches, making quiet observations when the conversation touches on something he understands. Marui likes Jackal's observations. They're not over-the-top like his own can get, but they're often quite funny, if you actually pay attention to them. Jackal has more of a sense of humour than people credit him with.
"Ah, I'm going that way," Niou says at last, gesturing down a side-street. "I said I'd meet Hiroshi, and he'll be pretty pissed if I fail to show up."
"Again," Marui points out, without accusation. "It's not like you only did it once."
"Three times. And two of them were honest mistakes."
Marui laughs, and decides it's better not to ask about the third, or to question the probability of Niou making that kind of mistake. Niou and Yagyuu seem to be friends almost despite themselves sometimes. Other times, they make perfect partners in crime.
"Well, you're going to show up this time. Get lost."
Niou smirks a little and walks off, waving without looking back.
"See you around," he shouts, and then he's gone.
Marui glances up at Jackal, remembering his earlier thoughts.
"Hey," he asks, feeling almost cautious, "you want to come back to mine for the evening?"
"Ok," Jackal says casually, but he smiles like he's just been given a really thoughtful present. Marui savours the happy feeling that smile gives him for a moment, sinking into uncharacteristic silence.
"Something wrong?" Jackal asks, after a while. Marui shakes his head.
"Nah, just thinking."
Jackal doesn't laugh, because he's Jackal, not Niou, and that's why Marui thinks of him as his best friend.
"Ah. About change?"
"About... yeah, I guess so. About us. The team."
Jackal nods, "Yukimura's decision shouldn't have been so surprising, but I think it caught us all a little off guard. It makes you wonder who else might vanish."
"You won't, will you...?"
"No. Not yet."
"Yet?" Marui asks, beginning to feel just a little sad. Jackal seems to notice and puts one arm around his shoulders, pulling him closer briefly. (And the issue of hugging guys is still a bit strange, because they're teenagers and not quite comfortable with everything yet, but it's Jackal, so it's OK.)
"Well. Nothing lasts forever, right? But I'm not leaving any time soon."
"Mm... all right," Marui considers for a moment. "Thanks for being such a good friend."
"Ah, it's nothing," Jackal mutters, looking a little embarrassed but pleased.
Marui gives a real smile, happy and full of energy, and finds he's feeling better than he has in days. He'll do whatever it takes to keep on being Jackal's friend, and it doesn't really matter what comes next. Jackal isn't going anywhere. Not yet. Nothing lasts forever, and it won't all magically be all right in the end, but with a little work it can be good while it lasts.