Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for cultural confusion over Harada's army of boyfriends.
Summary Nobody will answer Marty-sempai's pressing questions.
AN: if the question you're asking yourself is, am I ever going to write in a real fandom again, I will merely cite Remix overload, and that marksykins and I are going to start watching Whistle!.
Loses Something in Translation
"Oh," Marty turned bright red and stared at his fingers on the table.
"Oh?" Harada laughed. "What did you think 'sempai' meant?"
"I don't know." Marty drummed his fingers a little. "I asked Asakawa…"
"Kouhai?" Asakawa scratched his head and peered at Marty. "What do you mean, what does it mean?"
"I mean, what does it mean?" Marty just took it when Asakawa laughed; he was getting used to that response when he asked his question. "Why won't anybody answer? Is it an unethical word?"
"A dirty word, you mean," Asakawa corrected, then made Marty repeat "di-i-i-rty" after him in an exaggerated fashion. He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Why do you want to know?"
"People keep using it."
"People?" Asakawa asked, raising an eyebrow, and when Marty just repeated "people" asked, "Like ninjas? Aliens? Foreigners?"
"Harada uses it, okay?" Marty scowled, shoving his hands in his pockets so he wouldn't be tempted to smooth down his foreign hair. "And watch it, or I'll Gaijin Smash you into next week."
"Harada, hmm?" Asakawa yelped and hopped back when Marty swung an elbow in his direction. "Okay, okay! Kouhai is like…like kouhai and sempai, you know?"
"Didn't you have cultural orientation or something?" Asakawa huffed, glancing around for help. Making a satisfied noise, he pointed at two members of the tennis club that happened to be jogging by a few dozen yards away. "Like them! See?"
"Well…" Marty squinted, noting how the taller one with the improbable hair and the notebook was talking and waving his hands even while they ran, and the one in the bandana was just nodding.
"The sempai looks out for his kouhai, teaches him stuff, takes care of him, you know?" Asakawa explained. "And the kouhai listens to his sempai and helps him out. Get it?"
"Yes!" said Marty brightly, because he had tripped over that pair of tennis players in the bushes not ten minutes ago, and the balls that that kouhai had been picking up weren't yellow ones.
"Harada?" Marty called, jogging out of the locker room to catch up with Harada, still trying to button his last few buttons.
"What's happenin', fool?" Harada greeted, beaming at his carefully pronounced English. Marty gave a choked laugh.
"I was wondering, Harada-kun," Marty swallowed, feeling even more out of breath, "do you want to be my kouhai?"
"Idiot," Harada scoffed, and the bottom dropped out of Marty's stomach before he added, "I already am."
He seemed surprised when Marty pushed him up against the side of the field house to kiss him, but after the shock wore off, Harada proved to be a very enthusiastic kouhai.
"It's okay, right?" Marty asked anxiously when they broke for air, glad to have the wall to lean against.
"Of course!" Harada grinned, hair mussed from the rough brick and lower lip swollen. "Since you're Marty-senpai."
"It's tough being the only kouhai on the lacrosse team!" Harada exclaimed a few days later, and Marty blinked, looking up from tying on his cleats, but said that he guessed he could understand that. "I can't wait until next year!"
"Next year?" Marty wondered why he always seemed to be three steps behind Harada in conversation. Damn language barrier.
"Sure, when all the freshmen join!" Harada sighed, clutched several battered lacrosse sticks to his chest and going starry-eyed. "After we win our first tournament this year, Marty-senpai! Then lots of people will want to join, and there'll be other kouhai for me to order around."
"I guess you will have seniority…" something about Harada leading a band of boyfriends was kind of odd, but Marty was too distracted by the flush of warmth through his chest at being called 'Marty-senpai' to focus on it properly. "But won't some of them mind?"
"Of course not! Freshmen are so impressionable…"
Harada gave another happy sigh and returned to cleaning up, bumping Marty's hip with a grin on the way by, and Marty reflected that the Japanese were a strange and wonderous people indeed.
It was nothing weird for Harada to show up early or leave late to help out Captain Tsukada, and Marty usually had to rush home to call his mother before it got too late with the time difference, but today he hung around outside the office door for a few minutes, scuffing his sneaker against the linoleum of the hallway and hoping he could walk Harada home.
Inside, there was a lot of scuffling and thumping noises that were pretty indicative of Harada 'helping out,' especially in the cramped room they'd been allowed to use, which seemed to be the resting place of all the files all the other sports clubs didn't exactly want to be tripping over. They'd tried moving the cabinets around some, but by the time they got a desk in there, Tsukada said he might as well just hang out the window to do paperwork.
That was the only time Marty'd heard Tachiki offer to help with anything so far.
The door crashed open, startling Marty from his thoughts, but warmth crept down to his fingertips at the smile Harada gave him.
"Are you waiting for me?" Harada asked, eyes so big with cute that Marty thought he might actually die of it. "Want to treat your kouhai to ramen, then?"
Marty was still in the act of agreeing fervently when Harada yelled back through the doorway, "I'm leaving, Tsukada-senpai!" and Marty felt kind of dizzy all the sudden.
It took him two more English/Japanese lessons to work up the courage to ask Harada about what he'd heard.
"But Marty-senpai," Harada blinked at him, fingers rubbing the corners of the rap CD Marty had brought as a learning aid, "Tsukada is my senpai."
"He…is?" Marty waffled between feeling suicidal and murderous, and settled on numb.
"The whole team is!" Harada was staring at him like Marty was the one who was making out with a half-dozen people on the side. "I'm the only freshman, remember?"
"But don't you…" Marty thought about the last two weeks. "…get tired?"
"Technically everybody in Seigaku is my senpai," Harada continued with a disgusted face. "My birthday's so late, you know."
Okay, Marty thought, that was fucked up even for Japan.
"Marty-senpai?" Harada finally seemed to notice Marty's stricken expression. "Are you all right? All I said was…" Harada's eyes lit up in sudden understanding and he leaned closer, making Marty look away. "You do know that senpai just means upperclassman, right? Anybody who's older than me is my senpai, and I'm their kouhai."
"Oh." Marty turned bright red and stared at his fingers on the table.
"Oh?" Harada laughed. "What did you think 'senpai' meant?"
"I don't know." Marty drummed his fingers a little. "I asked Asakawa, but when you say it, it sounds…different. From everybody else. Or special. It's stupid."
"But it is different!" Harada insisted, and Marty had barely lifted his head before Harada was sliding into his lap, legs swinging in the air a little off either side of the kitchen chair. "You're Marty-senpai, see?"
And Marty did.