“When in doubt, rub one out.”
Hunter nodded triumphantly, clearly pleased with his words of wisdom. Yuanfei stiffened, fingers clenching the side of his head tightly, face frozen in a scornful glare of disbelief. Hunter was unfazed, and continued with unwavering self-assurance. “Seriously dude! A little post-nut clarity'll sort ya right out.”
April briefly looked up from the headgear she was repairing; that comment, said with such cavalier thoughtlessness, had been so jarring that even she had been jolted out of her work. “Jesus Christ, Hunter.” She wheezed, wrinkling her nose in disapproval.
Yuanfei planted his palms on the table and leveraged himself out of his seat. “... I'm going to go now,” he said absently. “Thanks for... that.” He couldn't even muster a half-baked token of appreciation for the advice he'd received. This whole conversation had been nothing but an exercise in humiliation.
And people wondered why he kept to himself.
He turned away, head lowered and hand raised in a half-hearted wave, unable to bring himself to make eye contact with either Hunter or April. “... Bye.”
“Think about it!” Hunter called after him. Yuanfei scrunched up his shoulders and lowered his head further, cringing in shame, but continued his determined stride out of the room.
Hunter watched him retreat out of the kitchen and disappear around the corner. He craned his head forward, listening as his team mate's footsteps grew ever fainter up the stairs until he was well out of earshot. He whipped around, leaning uncomfortably close into April's personal space with giddy glee. “So who is it?!” He dropped the full weight of his upper body onto his forearms as he slammed them into the table. The tiny screw April was attempting to carefully refasten fell out of position.
“Beats me,” she sighed, pushing Hunter back with one hand and reaching for the screw with the other.
“He didn't tell you anything?”
“Nope. Wouldn't talk about it at all.”
Hunter narrowed his eyes, suspicion growing. “He did tell you he had a crush on a girl, right? You aren't just inferring this?”
April avoided his gaze. “... More or less,” she mumbled with feigned innocence. Hunter rolled his eyes.
“You gotta stop this pseudo-psychoanalyzing bullshit on people. You always get something wrong.”
April sat upright in her seat. “But I know I'm right this time!”
“You said the same thing when you convinced yourself Sammy was going into a fugue state just 'cause he was getting worked up before a match,” Hunter crossed his arms. “As if that was gonna help him any with his confidence...” He sighed. “Poor dude genuinely started questioning his sanity thanks to you.”
“It's not the same,” she huffed.
“Okay, well... Assuming you're not full of shit about this,” Hunter jabbed. “He said not to tell Kat, right? So it's someone close to Kat, right?? We gotta figure out who it is then.”
“I just wanna know just how screwed he is. Aren't you curious? The way he freaked out earlier, it's gotta be something juicy.”
“...How bad do you think it'd be? The backlash from Kat, I mean...” April inquired with a hint of worry in her voice. Though she had only fleetingly interacted with him, Katsuyuki's daunting reputation preceded him – his short fuse and aggressive outbursts were no secret.
“Oh boy. Ranging from godawful to fucking nuclear, I'd wager.” Hunter slumped into the chair Yuanfei had left open. “YF sure can pick 'em, huh? Making friends with Kat, then getting a crush on... well, someone he knows.”
“He sure likes to live dangerously.”
“No kidding. I just wanna know how dangerously.” Hunter poked April in the shoulder, impatiently expecting her to work some sort of figurative magic. “He must've told ya something, some kinda lead. C'mon, you're supposed to be good at figuring this stuff out.”
“I thought I was 'all brain, no common sense'.”
“I meant that as a compliment!”
April snorted. “Sure. Well, I have no clue. Probably just a friend of his that we don't know.”
“Imagine unironically believing Kat has friends.”
“YF's his friend,” April shrugged.
“Yeah, no shit,” Hunter drawled, patience wearing thin. “You think he has a crush on himself then?”
“That's not what I meant.”
“Anyway, you're thinking way too straight-forward. It could be anyone Kat knows. Like... I dunno. His mom or something.” April lolled her head to the side, meeting Hunter's eyes with deadpan cynicism. His idiocy had hit a new low. And his imagination was already running away with him. “Hah! Oh man, can you imagine? The look on Kat's face...”
“Really? A friend of Kat is too far-fetched, but his mom? That's what you're going with?” Hunter shrugged. The lack of care for logical process was astounding. April could feel herself growing impassioned in the face of such flimsy thinking. “How would YF even know her? Doesn't Kat's family live in Russia? Why would Kat even introduce YF to his mom?” She caught herself in a moment of clarity. “... Why am I even having to explain this to you? It's just... obviously not his mom.”
“Hey man, you don't know that. Maybe his mom's hot or something.”
April rolled her eyes. “Sure. Maybe she is.” She idly polished the steel exterior of the headgear and hummed in thought, offering a small token of compromise. “... I suppose he is attractive. Gotta get it from somewhere."
“No he isn't. You're crazy.” Hunter poked his finger accusingly at April. “He sucks. Everything about him does.” Hunter was resolute: a guy like Katsuyuki didn't deserve compliments, even if he wasn't there to hear them.
“You don't have to like him to acknowledge he meets the objective criteria of conventional attractiveness.”
“Psht, objectively attractive in your opinion.” Hunter grumbled.
“That doesn't make any--”
“Anyway.” Hunter swung his legs up and dropped his feet onto the table. April tutted and shooed him away. “If it ain't Kat's mom, who else could it be?”
“Literally anyone.” April put her tools back in their case and snapped the lid shut. She steadied her crutch by her side and eased herself out of the chair, wincing as she straightened herself out; this long stint of repairs had caused her hip to stiffen up. “I don't know anyone Kat knows, and I haven't seen YF hanging out with anyone but Kat.” Hunter abruptly snapped his fingers and sprung out of his seat.
“I got it!” He declared. “It's gotta be... what's-her-name--...” he rolled his hand around, as if reeling the memory into the forefront of his mind. “Y'know, that lady who came round a few weeks back looking for Kat. His PA or some shit,” he said with cynical air quotes.
“Yeah, some uppity chick with all the charm of a grouchy old librarian,” Hunter said, taking a sip from his drink. “Huh. Guess it makes sense. YF must have a thing for joyless assholes.”
“Oh, but wait--...” A sudden realization hit April. “He said his crush was... well, racist.”
“... Dude!! He's into racists?” Hunter almost choked on his soda. “You serious? ... This isn't you just inferring again, is it?”
“I mean, he made it clear whoever it is has an issue with people of some kind of inherent characteristic. I guess she wouldn't have a problem dating him because he's a guy, so... what else does that leave? It would have to be because he's Asian, right?”
Hunter sighed in disbelief. “Ohh boy, the fuck is wrong with this guy? His buddy's a raging, homophobic asshole, and his crush is a racist. Did he get dropped on the head as a baby or something?”
April furrowed her brow in deep thought. “But surely it's not Kat's assistant, then. He wouldn't be self-destructive enough to hire someone that had an issue with Asians.” She took a soda from the fridge and cracked it open, turning over the problem in her mind. “And he wouldn't befriend someone like that either. And it definitely rules out his family.”
“Then... who is it?”
“Well, who else is there?” April shrugged her shoulders sharply, exasperated. There was nothing more irritating than the dissatisfaction of a problem unsolved. “By now we've got no leads left except... Well, Kat.”
“Hah!” Hunter snorted. “Good one. Can you imagine?”
A brief moment of contemplative silence fell across the room. There really were no more candidates. No one else left to scrutinize. The trail started and ended with Katsuyuki. Hunter lingered for a moment longer, chewing on the dilemma, before shrugging his shoulders in resignation.
“Guess we'll never figure out who it is.”
Yuanfei softly pulled the bedroom door closed behind him, leaning lightly against it. He released a small, sharp sigh as he decompressed. That went even worse than he thought. Never again.
He slipped his phone out of his pocket: 09:54. Katsuyuki wouldn't be back home and ready for the gym for another fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. He looked out the window; the rain continued, unrelenting. Not the weather for a walk. And there was absolutely no way he was willing to jump back into that humiliating conversation with April and Hunter.
It looked like he was stuck in here for now.
Yuanfei slowly, hesitantly meandered towards his bed, flopping down onto it with lax lethargy. Phone still in hand, he occupied himself with inattentive scrolling through social media. It was a perfunctory gesture, mere muscle memory where nothing salient was absorbed. His thoughts were elsewhere.
He shook his head, forcing his focus onto his phone, still scrolling – but still, nothing stuck. Bleeding into the forefront from the suppressed corners of his mind, he couldn't ignore it any longer. He looked up at the door. It was still closed, of course. No one was coming in. He'd learned his lesson anyway; he was now well acquainted with – and prepared for – the sound of approaching footsteps.
He glanced back down at his phone. A new pattern had set in muscle memory.
Scroll to photo gallery.
Two swipes left.
There it was.
His heart fluttered. Katsuyuki's piercing eyes drew him in, as if he was truly staring at him right through the screen. His body, so beautifully sculpted... Yuanfei bit his lip; he was in great shape - as a budding athlete in his prime, his dedication to the sport showed in his slender, toned build. The shitabaki sat low on his hips, exposing much of his lower torso, and his obliques that framed the sides of his abdomen naturally drew the gaze to descend just a little further downward.
Yuanfei swallowed. He had to stop doing this. If Katsuyuki found out...
... But how could he find out?
But if he knew, he'd be horrified. Surely his feelings should be respected.
... Then again, what he didn't know couldn't hurt him.
Yuanfei ran his fingers through his hair. Why did he even save this goddamn picture?
Whatever the reason, he didn't want to think about it, and pushed the question back into the recesses of his mind. He had enough to dwell on with Yaobudo as it was, with that staggering loss. He didn't need the extra distractions. But, as they unapologetically forced their way front and center in his mind, how could he possibly ignore them?
Katsuyuki had been kind enough to volunteer with helping him train – something he was reverentially grateful for – but his invasive thoughts did nothing to assuage his fears of failing to sharpen his Yaobudo skills in that time. How could he improve to a meaningful degree if he couldn't give training his full attention? He needed some kind of miracle – something to put these confusing, tumultuous feelings to rest, if only for a moment.
Just a moment of clarity to get through his training with Katsuyuki.
He glanced back at his phone again, brow tight with anxiety, uncertainty and embarrassment, as his free hand pulled at the drawstring of his pants until the knot loosened.
Couldn't hurt to try... right?