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I'll Be Your Strength

By Alon Garcia

Romance

Partners

Nobody really paid attention to the girls volleyball team. They weren't anything special, they didn't win any big games, and to be honest, they weren't that motivated either. Yui set out to be the captain to change that. They were going to win and they were going to get the same recognition as the boys did.

But the question remained. How?

She sits on the swing at the neighbourhood park after school. Her surroundings are cold and silent. The children have already been called home and the place is left all to herself. She wraps her uniform coat tighter against her body as she toes the dirt at the bottom of the swing. Today's practice had not been the best. They were out of sync and everyone kept blaming themselves, Yui most of all. How was she supposed to lead her team when she couldn't even get them to believe that they were one? When everyone's minds were so set on immediate defeat?

Her cheeks are red and sore. She doesn't know if it was because of the cold or because of how many times she slapped them to get herself together. She needed help but she hated to say it, her smidgen of pride getting in the way.

The sound of chains rattling next to her shook her from her thoughts. Surprised by the sudden noise, she glances up to see him there, bundled up as tightly as her with his gaze zeroing in on her face. She feels herself grow warm and she blames it on the sudden heat provided by the person next to her.

"Hey," he says. His voice neglecting to betray his purpose for being here.

"Hey," she says, softer, unusually unsure of herself.

"I stayed behind to watch your practice today…" he averts his eyes this time, which doesn't really make for a good sign.

Yui sighs and kicks up her feet, sending her a few feet off the ground then slowing to swing just slightly. "Admit it, Daichi. We were awful."

He whips his head towards her and stares at her with so much focus and passion beneath his eyes that she's almost taken aback. "Don't say that. Everyone has their off days. You'll find your rhythm."

"Sure, but it's been weeks, Daichi. The girls don't believe in their capabilities which makes me think I don't believe in my own and that just starts to reflect on everyone else and I just don't. Know. What—" she skids to halt, covering her school shoes in dirt. "To do anymore." Her whispered voice carries through the wind but it hits Daichi like a tidal wave. He watches her dejected expression, eyes closed, panicked breathing, and he knows he has to say something to reach her.

But he's never been too good with words. Aside from motivational speeches that were meant for his teammates.

And then it clicks. Maybe that's exactly what she needs.

Because Yui has been there for him through everything. Especially when it came to his own doubts with his team. And then he knew just what he needed to say.

"Yui." She doesn't budge, doesn't even spare him a glance.

"Yui," he says with more force behind it. This time she lifts her doe-like eyes to his, but they don't shine like they usually do which causes his heart to ache, for whatever reason.

"I'm here for you." Her eyes grow wide, like she's finally waking up from her stupor. But she's still not speaking so he takes that as a sign that he should keep going. "You've always been there for me and I just want you to know that this thing goes both ways. You've got my back and I've got yours." He takes in a deep breath, not quite sure how he should put his next thought to words. She's still staring and it's starting to unnerve him, but he loves watching the life come back to her eyes. So he gathers up his courage — you're a team captain, Daichi, for crying out loud — and throws all thoughts of making a fool of himself out the window.

"We're…" he pauses, looks at her again and she nods at him to continue. Then he squares his shoulders, looking pointedly at her. His gaze does not waver in the slightest and neither does hers.

"We're partners. For as long as you'll need me, because I'll sure as hell always need you. I can help you through this, I've been in your position before. I know how hard it is to get people to work together. And it's natural to lose your team spirit after a loss, you just have to strengthen your bonds. Don't be so down on yourself, Captain." He sends her an encouraging smile and this time, the corners of her mouth lift into a brilliant grin. Thankful that he finally got to her, Daichi reaches across the space between them and offers her his hand which she takes with a grip that says 'Yes, I'm here.'

"Partners?" he asks, the slightest uncertainty creeping into his voice. It's gone in a second when she answers back without missing a heartbeat.

"Partners," she replies, keeping a firm grasp on his hand and a smile that she saves especially for him.

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