1 Chapter 1

A/N:

// text like this is used when the characters speak in their head; thoughts //

<< text like this is used when characters are talking with one another; basically the dialogue >>

\\ text like this is used with social media; calls, messages, texts, captions, etc. \\

_

Shen is a famous celebrity actor that has the attention of his fans nationwide. He's grateful for everything he's been blessed with but can't help but feel that lately he's been in a slump with his work. He just finished his latest drama project and now his management has been setting him up with endorsement projects every now and then. It's not that the projects are lackluster, he genuinely has fun whenever he takes them on but it's just that after taping for the day, he's left with a sort of emptiness. Is this how he's going to be living his life? Schedules, projects, cameras then feeling empty at the end of the day? Shen does truly feel bad for taking for granted what he has right now because at one point in his life this is what he wanted, but now he's suddenly just bored of it? That's unacceptable to him! But that's exactly why he wants to have a breather.

// I wish I could take a vacation. Just a short break or something. //

Shen takes out his phone and checks his schedule for the month. Fully booked. He puts the phone back in his pocket and just heaves in a sigh. Maybe he should take it as a sign? There'll be no breaks for quite a while.

// It is what is is. //

Shen drives to work the following morning. The big sign in the front never fails to catch his attention.

Generation Entertainment Inc.

A sense of pride flutters in his chest upon seeing the name of his company but it only lasts for a fleeting moment. He makes his way to the parking lot before climbing up to the 19th floor. He greets the staff and there he's handed his usual breakfast of an iced coffee and two cinnamon rolls. He thanks his manager, Beau, for always going out of his way to get breakfast for him every morning before they go to their room to eat together. While eating, Beau explains the itinerary for the day and when Shen hears what they're going to be doing today, he can't help but stand on his feet to grab the clipboard from Beau's hands.

<< You're going to be playing some volleyball today. >>

Shen perks up at the news, excitement suddenly energizing him. He was once a varsity player back in high school and he was a star player to boot. On the rare occasions he gets a break, it's always either Shen goes sightseeing or he asks his former team for a game. More than that, one of the many things Shen wanted to do if ever he would be given a vacation is to play volleyball. So hearing the news, he feels genuinely excited. Shen looks at Beau, someone who has known about his discontentment for a while now, and thanks him for doing this for him. Shen knows that while Beau's been doing his best to try and squeeze in a vacation in between Shen's busy schedule, he can only do so much with the upper management having the final say.

<< Actually, you have to hand it to the fans. They dug up info on your varsity days in high school and now they've been sending us requests to see you play. Sine there was still no word for the next segment of our YouTube channel, I brought it up with the other departments and they've agreed to partake in a volleyball match. Some of your friends will be there too. Pete, Papi, Kris, Gigi and others. >>

The mention of his coworkers excites him all the more and Shen quickly returns the itinerary to Beau so that he can finish his food much quicker. Beau tells him to throw his trash before pointing to a stash of clothes and a pair of rubber shoes at one of the tables in the room. He points out that it's his jersey for the game and after getting changed, he come down to the lobby where Ben, the company driver, will drive them to the venue. Shen nods at Beau's instruction before shooing him away to get dressed. As he's getting dressed, his phone starts ringing and he briefly glances at the caller ID.

\\ Pete. \\

Shen answers it once he's dressed and he's greeted with his friend's bright smile. He observes that Pete's outside and asks where he is.

\\ I'm already here at the venue with Gigi. They rented a court with a roof for us and the camera crew is already setting up. Why are you still not here Mr. Varsity? Get over here quickly! \\

\\ I'm on the way! \\

Shen throws his trash before making his way to the lobby where Beau is waiting for him. He catches a glance of himself at the car window and he briefly adores the violet colored jersey uniform he's wearing. It has the logo of their company printed on the front in big, bold 'GE Inc' letters while at his back, his name and old number, 13. They hop on the company van and make their way to the venue. On the way there, Beau reiterates the rules and regulations they as celebrities have to uphold and Shen just lets it go in one ear and out the other. He's heard this so many times already, he memorizes it like the back of his hand but listens anyway. When they arrive at the venue, Shen excitedly leaves the van to greet his friends but keeping his celebrity profile up as he's keenly aware of the cameras recording them. Kris follows suit before Papi arrives last with his on-screen ship Taylor. They chat inside their tent and Shen asks if they know how to play volleyball and what blessing it is to hear how they all admit to know the sport. Gigi then shows Shen her phone with an email.

<< Didn't you see the email? They were asking for people who can play volleyball for one of our YT segments. >>

Shen scans the email before shaking his head no as he hands the phone back to Gigi. Since they're all acquainted with the sport, Shen feels a bit more hyped up and shares how he's been dying to play for a while. Shen's mood encourages everyone else and they talk strategy and assign positions before asking about each other's current happenings. Papi mentions a new drama he and Shen will star in and how the director is still holding auditions for the last empty role. They talk more about their current and future projects and even gossip about their other workmates when suddenly the flap to their tent opens to reveal a female assistant with an earpiece on.

<< We're about to start now. >>

They all excitedly leave the tent and upon coming outside they see a group of unfamiliar people in an inverted color scheme of their very own jersey uniforms and a logo of a volleyball at the opposite side of the court. The assistant with the earpiece leads Shen and the group in front of their opponents and they formally greet one another. The assistant then asks if everyone of us were familiar with the game and we all say yes. She then starts reading a few rules about the sport and then starts asking, mainly the celebrities, about positions, rotations, rules about volleyball and more. When the questioning starts to get a bit annoying, and Shen doesn't mean to be rude because he know she's only doing her job, one of the players on the opposite team speaks up.

<< Um, miss? You don't need to continue asking questions. I think it's pretty obvious that we all know how to play the sport. >>

The assistant blushes but stops the questions anyway. She then calls the referee and the man takes it from there. He gives both teams 10 minutes to warm up on each side of the court and they break off into our respective teams. Papi then slings his arm around Shen's shoulder.

<< I'm so excited! I haven't played in a long time and I'm just itching to hit the volleyball. I hope they can give us a good game. >>

Shen agrees with Papi and they start warming up. The camera follows them and the assistant from earlier tells them about how they're going to need to promote their partnered energy drink by speaking about it for a bit before the camera records them doing some stretching and some exercise. Since the six of them are already close, they wing the promotion right off the bat and when the cameras are satisfied with the content they recorded, the assistant gives the go signal to the referee, making him blow his whistle. The referee calls for the captains and everyone of his friends just push Shen since he's the closest to the referee. Shen walks to the referee and he sees the guy who stopped the assistant's question in earlier approaching the referee as well.

// Guess he's the captain. //

They do a coin toss to determine who gets to serve the ball and who gets to receive. Shen calls for tails and Vincent, the name of the guy, calls for heads. The referee tosses the coin high and lets it drop to the floor. It lands on heads and Vincent cockily calls his decision.

<< We'll receive. >>

Shen raises an eyebrow at Vincent's grin but shrugs it off, not letting him be spooked by a little intimidation. The referee issues them to shake hands and they do. Shen takes Vincent's hand in his with slack and he's surprised by the strong grip of the opposite guy. He thinks to himself that for such a smaller person, he sure knows how to propose a challenge. Shen decides not the fight back and when they break it off, he walks to the service line before being handed a volleyball. The MC introduces the teams and Shen just dribbles the ball while he waits for the MC to finish and for referee's signal. Once the MC finishes, Shen looks to the referee and once he blows his whistle, he looks across the court directly at Vincent, who's eyeing him back, before giving him a coy grin of his own. Shen then proceeds to toss the ball in the air and does a run up before jumping and hitting the ball straight on, aiming it at Vincent. It flies straight to Vincent and he attempts to receive it but is caught off guard by the speed and power behind it, resulting in the ball flying out of bounds and Shen scoring a service ace from Vincent.

The court falls silent and the next thing everyone hears is the whistle of the referee, cheers from the bleachers and the MC erupting in both shock and awe behind her podium. She then mentions into the microphone how Shen was once a varsity and Vincent scoffs under his breath.

// Varsity, eh? So that's how it's going to be. //

Shen meets Vincent's eyes again and this time he gives Vincent a wink before his own team gather around him with both Papi and Kris clapping Shen on the back.

<< Dude, that was sick! Really? A jump serve? No mercy at all! >>

Shen laughs at the comment then proceeds to share his exchange with Vincent. Taylor then decides to comment on it.

<< Oh, interesting. Guess I'm not holding back then. >>

Her comment boosts everyone's fighting spirit and they all agree to take the game seriously but also not forgetting to have fun.

The referee blows the whistle again and Shen does another jump service still aimed at Vincent but this time he raises the ball up. His teammate connects it and sets the ball to the player on the left to spike. The set is clean but Papi and Gigi are quick on their feet. They jump to block and Papi stuffs the ball, earning Shen's team another point. Vincent's team looks at each other in bewilderment as they realize that they're actually playing against people who knew how to play. The referee whistles again and Shen returns to the service line and scans everybody on the other side of the court, their stances giving away the vibe that they're now serious as well.

// That's how you do it. Now show us what you got. //

The referee blows his whistle and Shen gives another jump serve still aiming at Vincent again. Vincent successfully raises it and setter sets the ball to the same player again. Papi and Gigi go for another block but this time their timing is shaken up by the sudden shift in the enemies speed of playing. They don't get to stuff it like earlier but instead the ball is wiped from the tip of Gigi's fingers, making it sail too far to chase. The opponents cheer as they earn their first point and celebrate it with a huddle while Shen's team ignores them to huddle as well. Another whistle of the referee and this time it's the other side's turn to serve.

It's Vincent's turn to serve and he brazenly meets Shen's eyes, their gazes clashing, rippling like lightning bolts in an anime but instead of a fight, it's a match of volleyball. The only thing each of their eyes are communicating with each other are two simple words.

// I'll win. //

// I'll win. //

-

Shen's team win the first set courtesy of Papi blocking a spike. Vincent's team take back the second and steal the third set with a nasty drop ball. Shen's team then make a comeback on the fourth set and now they're at the pivotal point of the fifth set.

Vincent's team is one point away from winning while Shen's team is one point behind Vincent's. It's Vincent's turn to serve and for the entirety of the match, both Shen and Vincent served solely to one another, stealing service aces from one another and even on this deciding moment, the challenge doesn't falter. Their motivation to win still burning as strong as their spikes that's why Vincent serves the ball with a powerful jump serve like Shen's, and it soars, barreling straight toward Shen. Shen moves in position to receive it but it's off. Shen curses but Pete covers for him and chases the ball up to the very edge of the court. Pete doesn't have enough time to think so he just uses his feet to hit the ball back and by some miracle, it flies back to the other side, giving Vincent's team a free, golden opportunity.

<< Get it no matter what! >>

Shen's competitiveness gets the better of him and he forgets about the celebrity persona he's supposed to maintain. His eyes watch the ball, all his senses on edge as the ball is set to a spiker at the right. Shen reads the motion of the spike and infers that it's going to be a drop ball. He quickly dashes forward as the player tips the ball right above Gigi and Papi. Shen is just in time, having to dive just to catch and raise it, Kris sets the ball over the left where Taylor is waiting and she does the exact same thing. She tips the ball over the blockers and unlike the opposite team's attempt at a drop ball, Vincent's teammates stood too far out to make it in time to catch the ball. Shen's team cheers as Taylor's attempt successfully ties the score for their side and now it's a deuce. Shen's team gather around Taylor, complimenting her on the point she just got for them. They break up once the referee whistles and now it's Gigi's turn to serve.

She hits the ball over her head and it snags the very top of the net's tape, making it fall down on Vincent's side of the court much to his team's dismay. Shen watches as the three front players on Vincent's team dive to catch it but they react too late for it. One of them manage to touch the ball but it ricochets on his arm and bounces into Kris' leg. The referee whistles, giving the point to Shen's team and they all cheer in disbelief. They huddle and Pete compliments the girls with insults.

<< Holy crap, are you girls masochists? One does a nasty drop ball and the other one snags the tape! Remind me not to make you mad! >>

The six of them laugh and the referee blows his whistle to break off the huddle. He blows it again and gestures for Gigi to serve again.

Gigi does another overhand serve and this time it doesn't snag on the tape, instead sails right toward Vincent. He raises the ball up and their team attempts a quick attack but Papi is quicker on the uptake. He jumps right on time but the ball is wiped off his palm and flies to the back toward Pete. Pete chases the ball with extra effort and manages to raise it well enough for Kris, the setter, to connect Pete's bump by tossing the ball to Taylor again. Taylor does a run up and jumps to spike the ball this time but she gets blocked. Good thing for her though, her attack rebounds off of the blockers and once again Pete chases after the ball.

He raises it just above Kris, who's in the middle of the court and sets it backwards to Papi, who's mid-jump. Papi connects and hits the ball straight down but Vincent's teammate is there for cover. The ball is raised on the other side of the court and everyone on Shen's team resets themselves on the floor. They watch as the ball is set to the back and Vincent is jumping for a back row attack. Pete, Shen and Gigi, instinctively back away but Vincent clips the ball just as he hit it, reducing its speed and aiming for the center of the court that's empty.

Shen lets out a loud curse and throws himself haphazardly, arms outstretched, to catch the ball and it clips just the edge of his fingers. His effort doesn't go to waste as it's enough to keep the ball alive but not raise it well. The ball flies straight to Kris's face and ricochets to the back just above Shen. Shen winces as he stands and looks back just in time to see Pete slap the ball back to the other side of the court just before he colliding with Gigi. Shen doesn't spare any effort to help his two teammates that just collided with one another as Pete's slap was sharp and fast. It zips and snags onto the tape of the net again but this time it doesn't just fall to the front. Vincent stops the momentum of the ball with a toss, giving his setter enough room to connect it with his teammate on the left side as they attempt a spike.

Taylor and Kris jump for a block but the spike was a sharp cross that flies towards Papi. It's too low for him to dig so he receives it with his foot. It flies to the air and Kris is quick to get under it. Kris sees Taylor, Papi and Shen do a run up and Kris tosses the ball to Shen for another back row attack. Shen spikes the ball with all his might but is deterred by the blockers of the enemy team. It rebounds backwards and Gigi covers for Shen just as he land and raises it high. Once again, Taylor, Papi and Shen do another run up and just as the ball is under Kris, he jumps and spikes it himself. The hit is unexpected for the enemy blockers but Vincent is quick enough to react to it. He raises the ball but it's sloppy making his setter toss it to the left side again. Kris and Taylor jump for a block but their timing is off.

Luckily, Pete was there to cover a straight shot but it was too strong that it flies back to the enemy court. The opposing team raises the ball and Papi jumps again for a block but the enemy does swipes the ball onto Papi's arms to try and score a point. Luckily, Papi reacts quick enough for him to bump the ball to the back, high enough for Gigi behind him to raise it to Taylor. She attempts another drop ball but this time the enemy was wary of her and quick enough to react this time. Another set, this time to the middle. Kris blocks it alone and it rebounds to the enemy's back side. Vincent barely manages to keep it alive but it's at the cost of sending the ball over to Shen's side freely.

Gigi raises it to Kris and for the third time, Taylor, Papi and Shen do a run up. Shen jumps and the ball flies towards him. The only thing in his mind is to score. His eyes momentarily meet Vincent's and at the moment of impact, Shen twists his wrist to the right, adding a spin on the ball and steering it a bit to the right. Vincent doesn't have time to reposition himself to catch it so he just extends his arms to the side but the extra spin throws him off and the ball ricochets off his arms and straight down to the ground with a loud thud.

The moment Shen scores, everyone cheers, overpowering the sound of the referee's whistle. The referee crosses his arms to his chest, signifying the end of the match and gestures for the players to shake hands. They all meet under the net and for some reason, it's Shen and Vincent who meet. This time, it's Shen who offers his hand first. Vincent looks at it before taking it but this time, no intimidation. Their feelings were exchanged more than enough through the game. It's Vincent who speaks first.

<< That was a good game. I've never enjoyed a playing against someone this much. >>

Shen smiles at Vincent and tightens his grip on Vincent just a tad bit.

<< This was the most fun I've had in a while, thank you. And yes, it was a fun game. >>

<< Next time I'll win. >>

They break it off and the cameras then move into position in front of the winners. They interview each player and when they finish, they change at the tent as the crew tidies up.

<< That was so much fun! >>

Everyone agrees with Taylor and Shen can't still forget the way his last spike felt at the palm of his hand. The sound of it hitting Vincent's arm and ricocheting to the ground keeps replaying in his head, its sound satisfying Shen every single time.

<< I'm starving. Where are we going to eat? >>

Papi suggest going to Promare Mall to eat and Gigi suggests asking the other team to join them. They all are fine with it and Gigi goes out to ask but comes back almost instantly.

<< They already left. >>

<< Too bad. >>

The gang spend the rest of the evening stuffing themselves and rekindling their favorite moments during the game. All the while, Shen still gets goosebumps every time he remembers his last spike that made them win. Since Shen doesn't have his car with him, he drives back to the office with Papi to pick his car up before making his way home. On the drive back, he messages Beau asking when the next episode will air.

\\ I'll send you a copy asap. I still don't know how many segments they'll decide to cut the game but damn, I didn't know you guys played that well. \\

Shen just smiles to himself, feeling excited for the date before messaging Beau again,

\\ Thank you for this. It's exactly what I needed. \\

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