Some reactions. SPOILERS for chapter 80ish: Sakuraba's New Look. (Mild, very mild, hints for ShinSaku.)
by Mina Lightstar
A small (sometimes not) throng of high school girls usually waits for him every morning. In the beginning they were too excitable, and Haruto would try and find some other route into school. Lately, though, they are used to him, and he doesn't mind fans so long as they aren't noisy or chasing him down or gushing about how lucky his football team is to have him.
Today he is kind of nervous; he swallows as he approaches the campus gates. Unconsciously, he reaches up to run his fingers through his hair, and then remembers there isn't much of it left. There is a bit of stubble on his chin now; he has not been shaving and soon it will be more obvious. His hand starts drifting to his chin, but he stops it. Maybe they will not recognize him; maybe they will let him just walk on through the gates to Oujou. Maybe if he sneaks by with his head lowered, they won't have a chance to get a good look at him.
In the end, he forces his head up and tells himself this is what he wanted. There is no point to his bold move if he is going to spend the rest of his days hiding it. It is hard, but he marches on and stares straight ahead. Everyone will find out soon, anyway, so he might as well get the first over with. He tries to smile as he walks right up to the group of bows and skirts, but he knows his grin looks awkward and nervous.
The girls cry.
He is surprised the news doesn't travel very fast. He makes it all the way to first period without being recognized (he tries to tell himself this isn't because he has been walking with his head lowered) but when the time comes for the teacher to take attendance, there is no escape.
No one says anything too loudly, but his teacher falters when he stands and calls out "Here!" He is happy when lunch hour rolls around; he needs time to look in a mirror, needs time to reaffirm himself, his needs, his goals.
"Sakuraba! Lookin' macho!"
Haruto has time to brace himself before Ootawara catches him in a bear-hug. Ootawara is a hulk of a man, no matter what he does, and can never seem to completely get the hang of "gentle."
"Good morning, Ootarawa," he manages, though he croaks the words out. He pushes at the other boy's big arms, indicating that he cannot breathe.
Ootawara gets the hint, but his grip only slackens instead of releasing Haruto altogether. "So? When did you do this?" One huge hand rubs the top of Haruto's head.
"Yesterday afternoon," Haruto says, now painfully aware of how much attention the two of them are attracting. Anyone who thought perhaps a new student had suddenly registered mid-term now knew that this alien was Sakuraba Haruto. He can hear the murmurs, the gasps, and sometimes the laughter.
"No more pretty-boy, huh?" Ootawara teases mildly, ruffling what's left of Haruto's blond hair. "Who's going to be the team heartthrob?"
"Maybe you could?" Haruto laughs, even though he doesn't quite feel like laughing now. He knows Ootawara means no harm, but Haruto's chest hurts a little. Team heartthrob.... He wonders if that's all he was.
"Me?!" Ootawara laughs and shakes him. "I oughta lay you out, Sakuraba!" Ootawara sounds fierce, but just as quickly he is gentle again. "Hey, do you know if Shin is coming to practice today? I didn't see him this morning."
At this question, Haruto swallows. Shin. He has forgotten: Shin has a doctor's appointment, but he will be back for the afternoon and for practice. "He should be here soon," Haruto tells Ootawara, and he begins to fret all over again.
He sits next to Shin in Biology.
"Sakuraba, my pen just ran out of ink." Shin sounds puzzled, as though a pen has never died on him before.
It is unlike Shin to speak out of turn in the classroom, so at the sound of his voice, Haruto snaps out of his own thoughts and realizes that the teacher has stopped her lecture. Around them, their classmates are hard at work, completing whatever work the teacher has assigned.
"Oh." Haruto reaches into his pencil-case for another pen. "Here you go."
"Thanks." Shin stares at him for a few moments, long enough for Haruto to start feeling uncomfortable, and then says, "Page seventy-four, questions one to ten."
Haruto isn't sure how he feels about this. Shin has not said anything about his new look aside from the initial, "Did you do that yesterday?"
"Ah. What did I miss this morning?"
On the other hand, Haruto isn't so sure he wants Shin to say anything about it. Or does he? He's confused, and not really looking forward to the afternoon's practice.
When the bell rings, Shin waits for Haruto and they make their way to the gym. They don't speak a word to one another the whole way.
It's only after practice, after changing, after shouldering their bags and saying goodbye to the others that Haruto asks.
Shin grunts questioningly, as he has knelt to re-tie his shoelaces. Haruto hesitates even though it was not at all an unfriendly grunt, because the gap between them simply grows wider with every passing week and he isn't always sure he is welcome, anymore.
He takes too long, and Shin looks up. Shin always looks so serious, Haruto reflects, always so... focused.
"Sakuraba?" And his voice is always so deep, powerful. It makes Haruto realize that he has changed his appearance, but he still sounds like a boy. Shin is still larger, still stronger, still sounds like a man.
"... Eh," Haruto tries his hand at a grin, hopes he doesn't look pathetic as he rubs at the back of his head. There isn't much hair to scratch through now. "I was just wondering, uh, you know..." he makes a halfhearted "look at me" gesture, "well, you didn't say anything, so I--" He falters when Shin stands up, looks up as Shin rises above him. (Haruto was taller, once.)
"What do I think?" Shin is looking at him the way he contemplates an electronic: Like he isn't sure how it works, how fragile it is, is he allowed to pick it up? Haruto is touched, but then remembers what usually happens to electronics Shin handles -- whether he intends to break them or not.
Shin is always honest with him, even if it hurts.
Haruto is surprised, but does not flinch when Shin reaches for him. His hand is warm against Haruto's cheek, and his index finger leaves a trail of warmth as it travels along Haruto's jawbone to his chin, and then lingers there.
Haruto blinks. "Shin...?"
"I think you look fine," Shin says, and then he turns. "Let's go home."
"Okay," Haruto says dumbly, and follows.
He thinks about Shin's warmth until he falls asleep.