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A Matter of Time

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The thing about magic, is that it isn’t, really. Isn’t magic, that is. At least, not like people think. At its heart, magic is rules. Cause and effect. Logical strings. Theorems and proofs. At its most fundamental level, pure mathematics. And if you can comprehend and manipulate the complex mathematical principles surrounding you, you can do anything. Anything.

~

The day before his grandfather died, Hinata was taken to see him in his sickroom. He was shown into the room by his mother, who then left.

Hinata stood by the door, shuffling his feet, until his grandfather beckoned him over. “Come here, Shouyou.”

He approached slowly, then knelt at his grandfather’s side. “I’m sorry you’re sick, Jiji,” he said softly.

“I’m not sick, Shouyou. That’s just what I told them. Because sick or not, I’ll be leaving soon. That’s the deal I made.”

Hinata wrinkled his nose. “Deal?”

He gently waved a hand. “We’ll get to that. How old are you now?”

“Eight.”

“And getting so tall already!” his grandfather said with a smile. “Well, I have something for you, Shouyou.” He reached over to the other side of the futon and removed something from beneath it, then presented it to him.

It was a wooden box, not too deep or wide, but fairly long. It was simple, unadorned, and stained very dark. It looked black until the light hit it, then it shone red.

Hinata accepted the box, and turned it over in his hands. There was a seam, but no fastening or catch. “How do you open it?’

“Like this.” His grandfather drew a small blade out from under his pillow, and split open the pad of his left thumb, then pressed it to the box. Nothing happened, and Hinata shot him as dubious a look as an eight year old can send. “Patience,” his grandfather intoned. Sure enough, after about ten seconds, there was a soft click, and the box opened, revealing a furled scroll. It was wrinkled and had stains, its edges ragged. His grandfather beckoned to him again. “Now you. It has to know you. Give me your thumb.”

The cut hurt, but Hinata didn’t cry. He just let his grandfather press his bleeding thumb to the scroll. He held it there for what felt like forever, then suddenly snatched the box back and snapped it shut. Hinata kept staring at the box, until he realized his grandfather was staring at him. He looked… “Why are you sad, Jiji?”

“You’re a good boy, Shouyou. Such a good boy.” He handed him the box. “This is yours now. You can never, ever, ever, ever show it to your father. If he sees what’s in it, he will die.”

Hinata’s eyes went round. “Really?”

His grandfather’s mouth smiled, but his eyes were sad. “You know what that is? To die?”

“A man ran over Mittens with his car,” Hinata said solemnly.

“That makes this easier,” his grandfather said. “Now listen very, very carefully. If someone dies, someone important, someone so important that you would do anything, absolutely anything to get them back, you open this box, like I just showed you. You read what’s inside, you follow the instructions, and you make a choice.” He looked down at the box in Hinata’s hands. “When you’re right there, it’s the easiest choice you’ve ever made. Your father was barely nineteen, I couldn’t just…” he sighed. “Take good care of your Baba after I’m gone, Shouyou. She’s got a lot of years ahead of her, and she’ll need you. All of you.”

Hinata nodded. “I will.”

“Good,” his grandfather said. “Now take that box, and hide it. Hide it somewhere no one will ever find it. I pray you never need it. But if you do, don’t waste any time on regrets. Live as fully as you can, every damn day you’ve got. Promise me. Promise me, Shouyou.”

Hinata reached out and grabbed his grandfather’s hand, then looked him right in the eye. “I promise.”

Finally, his grandfather seemed able to relax. “Like I said. You’re a good boy, Shouyou.” He waved a hand. “Go hide that now, before anyone sees you.”

“Okay.” He leaned in to kiss his grandfather’s cheek, then headed for the door. But just before leaving, he turned around. “Thank you for saving my dad, Jiji.”

His grandfather smiled, his eyes shining with tears, and nodded. He then added, “And mind you take good care of that box.”

Hinata crept through the house as quietly as he could, until he reached his own futon in the guest room. His overnight bag was next to it, and just large enough to slide the box into. He arranged his clothes and things on top of it. That’d have to do until he got home.

The next day, his grandfather died, just as he’d said he would. Watching his grandmother cry, Hinata thought about the box. But… even though he hadn’t said anything, Hinata knew his grandfather didn’t want him to use it for this—maybe even couldn’t use it for this—so he just held her hand.

It took time, but life went on.

His grandfather told him to take care of the box.

So he did.

A few months later, his parents came home with a kitten. They told him to take good care of her.

So he did.

Just before Hinata’s ninth birthday, his parents came home with something even better than a kitten.

“This is Natsu,” his mother said softly. “She’s your little sister. Want to say hello?”

Hinata scooted up the bed, close enough to reach out and touch one of Natsu’s hands. “She’s so small.”

His father chuckled. “You were, too, when you were her age.” He tapped Hinata on the shoulder. “Let’s let your mother get some rest, Shouyou.”

“What about Natsu?”

“I’ll take care of her for now.”

“What about after that? When you’re gone again?”

“Then your mom will take care of her. And so will you,” he finished, tapping Hinata on the chest.

Hinata thought about it for a moment, then nodded and looked back at his mother. “Can I talk to her for a minute?”

His parents shared a surprised look, but then his mother smiled and said, “Of course.”

Hinata got as close to his mother’s lap as he could, wrapped a hand around one of Natsu’s tiny ones, and looked straight into her eyes. “Hi, Natsu. I’m your big brother. My name is Shouyou. And I am going to take care of you every day for the rest of my life. I promise.”

Natsu stared at him, then blinked.

Hinata pulled back, satisfied, and hopped off the bed. “Okay! Get some good rest, Okaasan!”

Some things, you don’t need to be told to take care of.

You just do.

~

A lot changed between Hinata and his sister over the years. She’d be bossy, or clingy, or just too noisy even for Hinata. But even on the days she drove him crazy, he was always there to protect her.

Until, of course, the day he wasn’t.

He was thirteen, she was four. Their parents were out for the evening, having decided Hinata was old enough to take care of the house for a few hours. He was actually feeling quite proud of himself.

A little while ago, Natsu had said she was hungry, and Hinata said he’d get her something in a minute. He wasn’t really paying attention to the time though, and she clearly decided to take matters into her own hands. He couldn’t hear the chair scraping across the floor over the sound of the game he was playing. But he did hear her scream. He sighed and turned around. “Natsu! I said I’d get it in a—”

It had not been that sort of scream. She was lying on the kitchen floor beside a toppled chair. Hinata leapt over the back of the sofa so quickly that he fell—which he would later discover had skinned both his knees—but got back up and all but threw himself into the kitchen, kneeling by her side, and gathering her tiny body in his arms. “Natsu? Oh god, Natsu. Be okay, be okay, be okay…” She was very still, and very silent. “No. No no no no no no no.”

It was his fault. It was all his fault. If he’d been better, if he’d helped her, if he hadn’t been distracted, if he hadn’t ignored her… his body hurt all over, he couldn’t breathe. It was his fault, his fault, his fault, his—

If someone dies, someone important, someone so important that you would do anything, absolutely anything to get them back…

Hinata got back up. He ran to his room, falling again, and this time something in his wrist went crunch but he didn’t pay it any attention. With brute force he pulled his bed away from the wall, and pried up the corner of the flooring to remove a key. Then he pulled his desk chair into his closet and knocked a loose board out of the way so he could reach up inside. He scrabbled around until his hand found a heavy metal box. He brought the box down, and put the key in the lock with shaking hands. When he removed the wooden box his grandfather gave him, he bit his thumb hard enough it bled, and pressed it against the worn surface. “Please,” he whispered. “Please please please please plase.”

The seconds were centuries as they ticked by, but after a millennium, the box clicked and opened. The scroll looked fragile, but he couldn’t handle it with delicacy. He read rapidly, and then dropped the scroll to hurry away. He needed to get a lot of things together, very quickly.

When he was ready, he read the scroll again. Check, check, check, and check.

Only his bloodline could use this particular scroll.

It wasn’t for anyone else to see.

He was still weeping and cradling Natsu, positive it hadn’t worked, when all the lights went out. He looked around brokenly. “Hello?”

The lights flicked back on, and standing in front of him was a man he’d never seen before. Not too tall, not too short, with catlike eyes and wild black hair. He bowed to Hinata, though not that deeply, then straightened up and smiled, something a little frightening in it. “You rang?”

“Help me,” Hinata said through his tears. “Please, help me.”

The man—or whatever he was—knelt down beside him and took a look at Natsu. He placed the index finger of his right hand over her heart. He rested it there for a bit, then hummed softly to himself.

“Can you help?”

The man nodded. “Yes.” He rose to his feet again. “What’s it worth to you?”

“Anything. Anything, I swear.”

The man peered at him for a moment. “You’re a… what is it these days… ah, Hinata, aren’t you?” Hinata nodded. “I remember your… what, father? Grandfather?”

“Both.”

The man snapped his fingers. “That’s right, the boat. Well that makes this easy. I’ll give you exactly what I gave your grandfather. If, that is, you’re willing to take it.”

“I already said anything!”

“Seventeen years.” All trace of humor had disappeared from the man’s face. “Seventeen years to the day. And then you’re mine. Can you do that?”

Seventeen years. That was practically forever. (At least it is when you’re thirteen.) Hinata nodded. “Yes. Yes I can.”

“Good boy.” He crouched down to meet Hinata at eye level, and tapped the scroll. “You can never use this again,” he cautioned. “No matter what.”

Hinata frowned. “But what if Natsu—”

The man flapped a hand at him. “When I do something, I do it properly. For your seventeen years, she cannot die.”

“Can she be hurt?”

“Yes. But no injuries from which she can’t recover and return to full health.”

“And after I die?”

The man shrugged. “Nature reverts. She could live, she could die. Just like anyone else.”

“But she’ll be fine for as long as I’m alive?”

“Even if you’re not. Seventeen years. I swear it.”

Hinata took a deep breath. “Okay.”

“We have a deal?” the man asked, lifting an eyebrow.

Hinata nodded. “We have a deal.”

“Stand up,” the man commanded, and Hinata did so. “Put your hand right here.” He tapped his chest where his heart would be if he had one. Hinata did, and the man returned the gesture. “Look at me, nowhere else.” His eyes bored into Hinata’s. “Now, tell me your name.”

“Hinata Shouyou.”

“Hinata Shouyou,” the man repeated. “I will return your sister to you, and give you seventeen years to be with her. After that, you belong to me. Do you understand, and acquiesce?”

Hinata nodded without averting his gaze. “I do.”

“Swear it.”

“I swear it.”

The man smiled. “Very good. Now this might hurt a little.”

Hinata was about to ask what, when the man’s hand on his chest began to burn.

“Keep looking at me, look straight at me.”

Hinata wanted to scream. He could smell his flesh burning, and the pain was indescribable. But Natsu was right there. Even when he started to cry again, he didn’t look away.

The pain was there and then it wasn’t, no tapering off or lingering ache.

Hinata wiped his eyes and looked down at his chest. His shirt was blackened, and when he peered inside at his skin, there was a faint red mark that almost—but not quite—looked like it could be the shape of a hand.

The man tapped the mark. “Now I can always find you. Wherever you go, whatever you do. Always. Understand?”

Hinata nodded, tears still rolling down his face. “Now please, please bring her back.”

“Close your eyes.” Hinata did. “Seventeen years, Hinata Shouyou.”

Hinata kept his eyes shut, but even through closed lids, he could tell the lights had once again gone out. “Wait!” he called out. “Who are you? What’s your name?”

There was a huff of laugher, right next to his ear. “I’ll tell you when you’re older. See you next year.”

“Next year?”

There was no response, and with a faint hum, the lights turned back on.

“Oniichan! My elbow hurts!”

Hinata’s eyes snapped open. Natsu was on the floor, next to the toppled chair, but very, very much alive. He grabbed her and hugged her as tight as he could.

She started wriggling. “Oniichan, don’t squeeze me so much!”

Hinata released her. “Sorry, Natsu.”

He pulled back and looked at her. She frowned, and reached up to touch his face, which was still covered in tear tracks. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “Did something bad happen?”

“No,” he said, desperately trying to prevent more tears from falling. “Nothing bad happened. Everything is okay now.” He reached for her arm. “Let’s look at that elbow, okay?”

~

At first, he thought about it all the time. His grades started to slip, his parents worried more and more, even Natsu could tell something was wrong. But a thirteen year old is a resilient creature. First he’d go a day without thinking of it. Then a few days. A week. As more time passed, he grew less certain it had even been real. Because how could it have been real? It seemed much more likely that it was just a bad dream. But… the box. The box was still there. Back in its hiding place, but solid. Real.

One year—precisely once year—after the day Natsu didn’t die, Hinata was in his room, sitting at his desk and attempting to work on his math homework. His lamp flickered, and he tapped it, then gingerly checked the bulb. Seemed fine. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice behind him said, “It’s unusual, you know. To have two of you in such a short timeframe.”

He whirled around, and there he was. Real as he’d been a year ago, and sitting on Hinata’s bed. ”You’re here,” he said, feeling stupid the words were out of his mouth.

The man sighed. “Dang, I placed my bet on, ‘You’re real.’”

Hinata abruptly felt less stupid. He fidgeted for a minute, then asked, “So… why are you here?”

“Oh, just checking in,” the man said breezily. “How are you?”

“Fine,” Hinata said slowly, a bit suspicious. “Why do you care?”

The man shrugged. “I like to keep an eye on my things.”

“I’m not yours yet, am I?” Hinata said fiercely.

“Things that are going to be mine, then.”

Hinata just glared at him.

“Don’t be mad, Shouyou. I’m not here to gloat, and I’m not here to make you angry. I really do just want to know how you are.”

Hinata’s glare faltered. “Really?”

“I promise. And I think you know I keep my promises.”

Hinata let himself relax. “Oh. Well, I’m okay I guess.”

“You guess? Don’t you know?”

“I’m okay. School’s just gotten really hard. I fell behind for a while—” he looked away while he said that, “—and I’m having a hard time catching up.”

“Hm.” The man rose to his feet and walked up to peer over Hinata’s shoulder. “What subjects are you struggling with the most?”

“Math. And English. I think it’s stupid that we have to learn it.”

The man chuckled. “Scientia potentia est.”

Hinata frowned. “That didn’t sound like English.”

“It wasn’t. But let’s take a look at what we’ve got here.”

The man stayed for almost two hours, just helping Hinata with his homework. Not just math and English, but science, social studies, literature… he seemed to know a bit of everything.

When the day’s assignments were finished, the man stretched and yawned.

Hinata watched him. “How do you know all this, anyway?”

The man smiled. “You pick things up over the years. And I have been at this for many, many years.”

“How many?”

“A lot.”

Hinata was silent for a moment, then quietly asked, “Why are you helping me? Why are you being kind?”

The man scoffed. “I’m always this kind.” He looked around the room, and smiled when his gaze alighted on a volleyball poster. “Do you play?”

Hinata shrugged. “Sort of. I love it, but there’s no one to play with at school. My mom says I should find something else. Maybe she’s right.”

“Keep at it. I know someone who—” he stopped and coughed. “Anyway. As fun as this was, I really do need to be off. But first…” He laid a hand over Hinata’s shirt where the mark was. It didn’t hurt, exactly, but he could feel it. “Shut your eyes,” he said, now without the slightest trace of kindness or mirth. And when Hinata did, the man said, “Sixteen years, Hinata Shouyou.”

The bulb in Hinata’s desk lamp exploded with a flash and a bang, his head whipped toward it. When he looked back, the man was gone.

~

Now that Hinata knew for sure he was real, he went back to thinking about the man nearly every day. He started having dreams about him. Sometimes nice dreams, because the man had seemed at least a little kind. But the seventeen years that had felt like a lifetime when he was thirteen already felt a little shorter, and only a year had passed. So usually, the dreams were terrifying.

This time, Hinata marked the day on his calendar. Even put an alert in his phone. He wanted to be somewhere away from the house this time. He skipped school, and went to the park near his house. He wasn’t sure what time the man would show up. He just put his earbuds in, tilted his head back against the trunk of the tree he was sitting under, and waited. At some point his eyes had fallen shut, but when the music coming from his phone suddenly started glitching, he pulled out his earbuds and opened his eyes.

The man was sitting right in front of him, cross-legged and leaning forward, eyes bright. “Nice place, this,” he said, waving a hand around.

Hinata barely moved, just tensed up, really, but it was enough for the man to frown, his eyes sad. “You’re scared of me,” he said.

It wasn’t a question, but Hinata still nodded. But then he quietly said, “It’s not your fault, though. Not really. I’ve just been having bad dreams.”

The man reached toward him as if he was going to lay a hand on Hinata’s knee, but drew back before he could make contact. “I’m sorry, Shouyou. Do you want to talk about it?”

Hinata shook his head. “Maybe…” he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Maybe next year.”

The man nodded. He touched his palm to Hinata’s chest and Hinata closed his eyes. And the man softly said, “Fifteen years, Hinata Shouyou.”

~

After that, Hinata forced himself to focus on other things. Volleyball had become and even bigger part of his life, and Natsu was getting smarter and stronger with every passing day. He spent as much time with her as he could, between school and practice. If his grades suffered for it, who cared? It wasn’t like he needed to get ready for a big, life-long career.

He couldn’t help but think of the man occasionally, but the dreams had all but stopped.

Then he went to Tokyo, and things changed. It wasn’t the city, or the games.

It was Bokuto Koutarou.

The whole thing was just a strange coincidence of proximity and timing. When Hinata walked in to take a bath, Bokuto was already there, soaking away. He wasn’t really even paying attention, and just went about washing and rinsing off. But as he walked to the tub, towel still around his neck, his eyes caught on something. A mark. A mark on Bokuto’s chest, just over his heart, that almost—but not quite—looked like the shape of a hand. Bokuto followed Hinata’s gaze, then quickly looked away and started talking loudly, “Yeah, strange shape, isn’t it? Birthmark, you know, I…” he trailed off, and his eyes went almost completely round. Because Hinata had moved the towel draped around his neck, and Bokuto was staring right at Hinata’s chest. Eventually, he returned his gaze to Hinata’s face.

Hinata met Bokuto’s eyes. “My sister.”

Bokuto nodded. “My mother.”

And really, that was all that needed saying for the time being.

But once the shock had worn off, they’d sneak away to talk about it whenever they could. Once they figured out they were both dealing with the same man—well, Bokuto referred to him as a ‘demon,’ but said he only did it to piss him off. In fact, Bokuto seemed to have a very unusual relationship with him. Even knew his name.

“Kuroo Tetsurou,” Hinata said slowly, testing the sound of it. He and Bokuto were sitting side by side on the grass around the back of the gym, leaning against the building. “I honestly can’t decide if it suits him or not. How did you get him to tell you, anyway? He just gave me some bullshit line about telling me ‘when I’m older.’”

Bokuto laughed. “You ever won a staring contest with a demon? It’s great! And hilarious. He doesn’t even have eyes, really. He just thinks he’s still human sometimes.”

“Thinks he’s what now?”

Bokuto froze. “God damn it. I was not supposed to do that. Say that, I mean. Shit. Any chance you’ll just never share that information?”

Hinata smirked. “Not a chance in hell.”

Bokuto burst into laughter. “I see what you did there,” he said when he’d finished. “But yeah, it’s probably okay. I’ve known him a long time. We’re bros. At least, as much as you can be bros with a demon who’s going to kill you at the end of your contract.”

“Contract,” Hinata mused. “Good word for it, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured.” He glanced over at Hinata. “Why, what did you call it?”

Hinata shrugged. “Didn’t call it anything, really. A deal, I suppose, if I’d been forced to call it something in particular.”

Bokuto hummed. “And what a deal.” He resituated himself a little closer to Hinata.

Hinata rested his head on Bokuto’s shoulder. “Isn’t it just.”

~

Needless to say, when his day rolled around that year, he felt much more prepared.

He was back in the park. He had said he liked it, after all. He’d brought his phone again, but just put in one earbud and played something ambient. The wait was almost meditative this year. When the music turned to static, he smiled, and without opening his eyes, said, “Hello, Kuroo Tetsurou. Word on the street is you used to be flesh and blood.”

He opened his eyes in time to see the man—Kuroo—looking completely gobsmacked. “What the… how… who…” Hinata watched as Kuroo just sat there, silent and horrified, for what had to be at least twenty seconds. Then, comprehension dawned, and Kuroo’s eyes narrowed. “I am going to kill him. I swear, I’m going to kill him.”

Hinata just grinned. “Not for another sixteen years you’re not.”

Kuroo groaned. “Stickler.”

“And by the way, I think it’s very rude that you gave him twenty-three when all I got was a paltry seventeen.”

“Okay now that part is not my fault!” he insisted. “You guys are from different bloodlines, that’s all.”

“Huh,” Hinata said. “Any chance you feel like explaining that to me?”

Kuroo pouted. “No.”

“Not even if I challenge you to a staring contest?” Hinata asked innocently.

“He is such a fucking dick!! Ugh.” Kuroo glared at nothing, fuming.

Hinata laughed softly. “Sorry, Kuroo. I’ll be nice now, I promise. And I think you know I keep my promises.”

This finally got a chuckle out of Kuroo. “Cheeky.”

Hinata smiled and stood up. “C’mon,” he said, holding a hand out to help Kuroo up.

Kuroo cocked his head to one side, but took the proffered hand. “Where are we going?”

Hinata shrugged. “Just around.”

“Okay.”

Hinata showed Kuroo around the town. Residential areas where his friends lived, the shops downtown, the boardwalk near the water. The strange thing was, they didn’t run into anyone. It wasn’t that town was deserted. Shops were open, cars were running, and Hinata could hear people nearby, they just never actually saw anyone.

In the end, Kuroo walked him home. They paused outside his door.

“You seem happy,” Kuroo said, and Hinata nodded.

“I am. And more importantly, so is Natsu.”

Kuroo smiled. “Good. You’ll have to tell me more about her next time.”

“Next year, you mean.”

“Yes. Next year.”

At the touch of Kuroo’s hand, Hinata wordlessly closed his eyes.

“Fourteen years, Hinata Shouyou.”

When he opened his eyes, Kuroo was gone.

~

Over the course of the next year, Hinata and Bokuto kept in touch. They only talked about it in person, though. It didn’t seem right to text or email, even call. Besides, it might have fried their phones. But it was good. It was so good. Being able to share this… this thing with someone. To know that someone understood, without you having to say a word. So what if Hinata got butterflies after reading certain texts?

Partway through Bokuto’s senior year, they had the chance to meet up, and got to talking about the nebulous ‘future.’

“It’s hard, you know?” Bokuto said, staring up at the leaves of the tree they were lying under. “How do you plan your life around something like this? After high school—and after kicking Karasuno’s ass this year, by the way—my folks expect me to go to university, get a job, start a family, all that shit.”

Hinata started tapping his middle finger where it was resting on his stomach.

“What?” Bokuto asked. “You’re thinking something.”

“I just…” Hinata bit his lip. “I kinda feel like it’s actually perfect?”

Bokuto put in the effort to sit up and give Hinata an incredulous stare. “Excuse me?”

“Well, volleyball.” Bokuto just narrowed his eyes, and Hinata continued. “It’s what I want to do. It’s the only thing I want to do. And like I said, kinda perfect. I’ll be dead at age thirty. That’s the average age of retirement for a pro player anyway!”

Bokuto flopped back onto the grass. “You make a solid argument, my man.”

Hinata propped himself up on an elbow and looked down and Bokuto. “So what do you think?”

“What do you mean, ‘what do you think?’”

Hinata’s eyes were big and bright. “Volleyball, of course! Not just here at school, in real life!”

“You mean me?”

“Yeah you. And me. You and me. Us. Together.”

Bokuto waggled his eyebrows. “Together? Or, together?”

“Well,” Hinata said slowly, leaning a bit closer, “are you asking, or asking?”

Bokuto propped himself up, lessening the distance between them. “I’m asking.”

Hinata closed the distance.

After that conversation, Hinata was suddenly hyperaware of the face that he’d be leaving home. Not right away, but soon. He devoted even more of his time to Natsu. Even during volleyball practice, the one thing that had always taken him away from himself, his mind occasionally turned to his sister. At this point, school was an afterthought, its only purpose to keep him in the club.

And Natsu… god, Natsu. Everyone at school thought he was loud and energetic. He had nothing on his sister, and he absolutely loved it. The only disappointment was that he didn’t seem to be able to get her properly invested in volleyball. At least (he kept telling himself) not yet. After all, she’d still play with him, and he was sure that one of these days—just as Bokuto said—she’d get hooked on volleyball. Their mother would watch them play sometimes, looking fond until Natsu started leaping off of things.

“Stop that, Natsu!” their mother called out on one such occasion. “You’re not indestructible!”

Hinata coughed and looked away. Well for the time being…

He and Bokuto saw each other as much as they could, though admittedly, that was almost never. But fortunately, they did manage to meet once in the months between Bokuto’s day and Hinata’s day, so Bokuto could warn him in advance that Kuroo knew about their relationship. Bokuto laughed as he told Hinata the story, “I swear to god, the look on his face. First completely shocked, then a grin so proud it was like he’d planned the whole thing.”

Hinata rolled his eyes. “That loser. He would. He—” A memory sprang at him, suddenly. That first year, Kuroo helping with his homework and asking about volleyb… Hinata chuckled. “He would.”

~

Hinata waited at home this year, Natsu had accompanied their parents on a trip to visit his aunt and uncle, but he’d stayed home because of school. And for this day, he’d stayed home from school, as well.

Kuroo arrived earlier than usual, it was still mid-morning. Hinata was awake, but hadn’t quite gotten himself out of bed yet. He was drifting, dozing, when a weight appeared next to him on the bed. His eyes popped open and he shoved Kuroo to the floor.

“You sneaky, match-making sonofabitch,” Hinata said with a grin, looking down at Kuroo.

“And what do I get for it? Pushed to the ground.” He rolled up onto his knees by the bed and pouted. “Ungrateful child.”

“Oh, I’ll show you ungrateful,” he said, and launched himself off the bed at Kuroo. He knew he couldn’t actually beat a supernatural being in a wrestling match,  but he was damn well going to try. After a tussle, Kuroo had him pinned, stupidly heavy on top of Hinata’s heaving chest.

“Just as I said,” Kuroo pronounced proudly. “Such an ungrateful child.”

Hinata rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Kuroo.” He tried to wriggle out from under Kuroo, but was well and truly stuck. “See? I’m not ungrateful.”

Kuroo’s smile had changed, and it suddenly occurred to Hinata what had happened the last time he’d been in this position with Bokuto, and his face flushed.

“No…” Kuroo mused. “You’re not ungrateful.” He tilted his head and chuckled. “And I’m being rude. You’re not even going to be a child much longer.”

Hinata looked away, hating his face for heating up, and Kuroo immediately rolled off of him. Face still red, Hinata poked Kuroo sharply in the side. “How are you so heavy, anyway? Aren’t you like, a spirit or whatever?”

Kuro laughed. “Or whatever.” He jumped to his feet and looked around the room. “So, Shouyou, what do you want to do today?”

“Well,” Hinata said as he got to his feet, “first thing on the agenda is to put on some real clothes.”

Kuroo looked at him curiously for a moment. “Huh?”

Hinata waved a hand up and down his body. “You know, the pieces of cloth we use to cover ourselves?”

“Oh! Oh. Oh, right. Right!” He turned around, a gesture which at that point just made Hinata laugh. “I’m being polite!” Kuroo protested, and Hinata laughed harder, but went about getting dressed. He tapped Kuroo on the shoulder when he was done, and Kuroo turned around with a sheepish smile. “The things you remember and the things you forget,” he said.

Hinata looked thoughtful. “You said you’d been at this for a while. How old are you, anyway?”

Kuroo blew out a long breath. “Now that, dear Shouyou, is a very complicated question.”

“More or less complicated than asking how you got from this,” he touched his own chest, then reached out to touch Kuroo’s, “to this?” Kuroo’s face crumpled, and Hinata instantly regretted his words. “Shit, Kuroo, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.” He shuffled a little closer. “Can I… uh, can I get you anything?” he asked softly.

Kuroo didn’t say anything for a moment, then laughed, only a little bit hollowly. “Anything?” He turned, and raised a hand to cup Hinata’s cheek. “Oh, Shouyou. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten. You’ve already promised me everything.”

Hinata pressed his own hand over Kuroo’s. “Freely and gladly.” He took a step back, and rocked on his heels. “You should see her, Kuroo. She’s incredible. I swear, she’s gonna be Prime Minister someday.”

Kuroo smiled. “That’s right, I did ask you last time to tell me more about her.”

“Okay, I have to show you her room, but you can’t touch anything. Brothers are not allowed in there.”

Kuroo laughed. “Lead the way.”

In the end, they never left the house. Kuroo seemed a little confused when Hinata suggested they watch a movie, but he enjoyed it once they got started.

“And they do that with computers? Really?

“I swear!” Hinata said with a grin.

“Wow.” Kuroo was still staring at the now-dark screen. “Unbelievable.”

“Pfft!”

“What?”

“Unbelievable?” Hinata repeated incredulously. “You’re one to talk!”

Kuroo opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Then he pouted. “Now you’re just being mean.”

Hinata slid over to bump their arms together. “I am not. I, I think you’ll find, have been a model host.”

Kuroo cracked a smile. “You have at that.” He stretched and yawned. “I should probably be going.” He looked over at Hinata. “Anything you need before I go?”

Hinata considered the question properly, not something he did all that often. His thoughts flitted repeatedly to Bokuto, but even though he’d never been told, he just knew not to ask. “Nope, I’m good.”

“Yes you are,” Kuroo said on a sigh. His hand on the mark felt warmer than he remembered. Hinata closed his eyes, and Kuroo leaned in to softly kiss Hinata’s brow. “Thirteen years, Hinata Shouyou.”

For the next month or two, Hinata started having dreams about Kuroo again. Dreams of a rather different sort. He decided not to think about that too hard.

~

“It’s so strange,” Hinata said, curled up on Bokuto’s sofa, head resting on Bokuto’s chest. “Why is he like this? Why does he care? Surely his whole reason for being is to never care. Not even be able to care. I mean, is it a game for him? A trick?”

Bokuto blew out a long breath. “I wish I knew. It seems real, you know? But like you said, maybe that’s his game.”

“Yeah, maybe. But I’m with you—it seems real.”

Bokuto shrugged, jostling Hinata slightly. “We’ll find out, I guess. When our time is up.”

“Yeah,” Hinata said again. “Speaking of time, have you gotten any info on your schedule, now that you’ve officially been scouted?”

“Only in general terms. But assuming I make it through, I’ll be in Tokyo to stay. Training is at Tokyo Metropolitan and Yoyogi National.” Hinata shifted a bit, trying to get closer. Bokuto ran a soothing hand up and down Hinata’s back. “I’ll make it,” he said confidently. “And next year, so will you.”

“Of course I will!” Hinata said brightly, but began absentmindedly tapping his middle finger against Bokuto’s sternum.

Bokuto pressed his own hand over Hinata’s to still him. “Hey. Hey. You will. You’re good. You’re so fucking good, do you know that?”

Hinata smiled into Bokuto’s chest. “I am pretty good, aren’t I?”

Bokuto laughed and ruffled Hinata’s hair. “Yep. You are.”

“I guess I owe part of that to him.”

Bokuto raised his head to look down at Hinata. “Wait, really?”

Hinata twisted his head around to look back at Bokuto. “Yeah.  That first year, when he helped me with my homework. I talked about giving it up, and he said to stick with it.”

Bokuto was silent for a moment while he followed the thought to its natural conclusion. “That tricky bastard! He really did set us up!”

Hinata dropped his head back down. “I sort of figured he told you, after I worked it out. For what it’s worth, I attempted to fight him over it.”

Bokuto tensed up. “What?! What the hell, Shouyou?!”

Hinata patted Bokuto’s chest. “Not like, fight, fight. Just wrestled him.”

Bokuto relaxed again. “I don’t suppose I have to ask who won?” he drawled.

“Hey! I’ll have you know I fought valiantly!” Hinata protested. Then he started to think about exactly how that particular fight had ended, and blushed, glad Bokuto couldn’t see his face.

“I’m sure you did,” Bokuto said, patting Hinata’s shoulder. “But man, that’s way better than mine. The asshole told me to study mathematics.”

Hinata actually snorted. “Oh my god, why?”

“I still have no fucking clue. But thing is, I actually love it. It’s a… hobby, I guess.”

“Whaaat?” Hinata lifted his head off Bokuto’s chest to look at him, “Why is this the first I’m hearing about it?”

“Psh, look who’s talking? Not telling me that our demon set us up? Way bigger deal.”

Hinata ignored most of what Bokuto had said, focusing instead on the phrase, ‘our demon.’ “I like that,” he said aloud. “‘Our demon.’ He sort of is, isn’t he?”

“Yeah,” Bokuto said. “He sort of is.”

~

It still felt a bit surreal that it was his last year of high school. More than ever, he was just going through the motions of everything except Natsu and volleyball. (Bokuto was categorized under volleyball.) He waited for Kuroo downtown, this year. The village had changed, and Hinata thought he might like to see it. He hadn’t brought anything electronic with him, leaving even his phone at home, so he sat on a bench and watched people go by. The street was fairly busy, but after a while it suddenly emptied, and Hinata closed his eyes for a moment, then turned to his left. “Hello, Kuroo.”

“Hello, Shouyou. How are you?”

Hinata thought about his conversation with Bokuto, but it didn’t seem right to ask point blank. Besides, he’d tried that as a kid and didn’t get a straight answer. So he just smiled and said, “Good. I’m good. A little, uh, yeah. I’m good.”

“Three ‘good’s in one answer,” Kuroo said airily. “Someone isn’t so good.”

Hinata rolled his eyes. “I am good. Just nervous.”

“Oh that’s right! You’ll be trying for the national team soon, won’t you?”

“Yeah.” Hinata twisted the hem of his t-shirt, and didn’t say anything further.

Kuroo casually wrapped an arm around Hinata’s shoulders. “Don’t worry. You’re gonna make it. I know you are.”

“Are you just saying that or do you actually know?” Hinata asked. Kuroo opened his mouth but Hinata cut him off before he could speak. “Can you see the future?”

“Ahh…” Kuroo began, and Hinata glared at him suspiciously. “Well, no.”

Hinata shoved him. “See? You don’t know.”

“That’s not the kind of knowing I meant. And I think you know that.”

Hinata took a deep breath and tried to let his anxiety dissipate. “I guess I do.” He waved a hand at the street. “Want to go for a walk?”

“Same walk as before?”

Hinata rose to his feet and offered Kuroo a hand. “Sure, if you want.”

Kuroo took Hinata’s hand. “Sounds perfect.”

By the time they were finished—at least for the time being—the sun was starting to set. He was about to tell Kuroo he should probably head home, but Kuroo spoke first.

“Hey could we go back to the boardwalk?”

Hinata nodded, not caring what time it was. “Sure.”

When they were seated and watching the tiny waves, Kuro looked over at Hinata. “You know, there’s something I don’t get.”

“What’s that?” Hinata asked.

“You. You and him. Why…” he paused for a moment, then continued more quietly, “why aren’t you afraid? Everyone’s afraid. They always have been.” He looked out at the water. “They always will be.”

Hinata thought about it for a moment. “I guess because you aren’t scary. I don’t mean the jokes, the kindness, feigned or real. I mean what you are, and what you represent. Was I a scared kid? Yeah, of course I was. That doesn’t mean I didn’t know what I was doing. Natsu…” he stopped to take a breath. “My sister was dead, and you brought her back. I’m a big brother, do you honestly think I care what happens to me as long as she’s safe?” He sighed. “When my grandfather gave me that box, he also gave me a piece of advice: don’t waste any time on regrets. Live as much as I can, as hard as I can, every day for as long as I’ve got. And I promised I would.”

“He was a good man,” Kuroo said, still staring at the waves.

Hinata figured it was time for a subject change, and looked over at Kuroo. “So I guess you like the water?”

“Yes,” Kuroo said quickly, immediately followed by, “No.” He tensed up. “I—”

Hinata laid a hand on Kuroo’s arm. “Shhhhh. It’s fine. Sorry I asked. Unless you want to talk about it?”

Kuroo choked out a laugh. “Maybe next year.”

“Fine by me.”

They sat there together for a long time. Arms brushing, not speaking, but not uncomfortable. The moon was well and truly rising by the time Hinata finally rose to his feet and stretched. “I have to get home, Kuroo.”

Kuroo nodded. “I know.” When he got to his feet as well, he cautiously approached Hinata with his arms spread, and Hinata leapt at him, throwing his arms around Kuroo’s neck. “Good luck,” Kuroo murmured.

“Thanks,” Hinata said as he pulled away. He smiled, then shut his eyes.

Kuroo’s hand felt even warmer than it had the year before. “Twelve years, Hinata Shouyou.”

~

The apartment was a shoebox, but it was theirs. And training was exhausting, but they’d known it would be when they got into this. So they were cramped, and tired, but so fucking happy. Even during other competitions, the Olympics beckoned. Three years away and a world to astound. And so they lived, as hard as they could.

But twice a year, for one day, one of them would leave. They’d have dinner together, kiss each other goodbye, and then one went to stay with a friend, the other waited in the apartment.

“Thirteen years, Bokuto Koutarou.”

“Eleven years, Hinata Shouyou.”

“Twelve years, Bokuto Koutarou.”

“Ten years, Hinata Shouyou.”

“Eleven years, Bokuto Koutarou.”

When Hinata returned home, just after midnight, Bokuto wasn’t at the door to greet him. “Koutarou?”

“In here,” Bokuto called from the bedroom, his voice sounding… off.

When he walked into the room, Bokuto looked as nervous as Hinata had ever seen him. He was sitting bolt upright on the edge of the bed, fidgeting something awful.

Hinata’s brow furrowed “Jesus, Kou. What happened?” His face went murderous. “Was it him? What did he do? I swear to god, I am going to figure out how to kill a—”

“No!” Bokuto interrupted. “He didn’t do… It was me. I uh… did a thing.”

Hinata’s face relaxed a bit, but he just waited.

“A thing I think you’re going to be mad about,” Bokuto continued miserably.

“Obviously,” Hinata remarked drily. “Care to tell me what it is?”

Bokuto clenched his fists hard enough to turn his knuckles while and looked at the floor.

Hinata sighed, and went to sit next to him on the bed. “Hon, it’s okay. Whatever you did, I’m sure we can get through it. It’s not like he can suddenly shorten our contracts. Right?”

Bokuto swung to look at him, alarmed. “What? No. No! It was nothing like that.” He looked down at his hands in his lap. “I. Well, I…” he propped his elbows on his kneed and buried his face in his hands. “Iksdhm,” he mumbled.

“What was that?”

Bokuto straightened back up, and looked at Hinata properly, though not quite in the eyes. “I kissed him. I kissed Kuroo.”

It didn’t process right away. But Bokuto’s face was slowly crumpling, and it brought Hinata back to the moment. He struggled to find the words for about a second, then just smiled, shrugged, and said, “I’d been wondering which one of us would be first.”

Bokuto melted and froze at the same time. “Yeah, I… no wait what?”

“We really should have talked about this before, huh?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s been a long time coming, don’t you think?”

Bokuto looked completely shocked. “What?! No!” he cried. “We were bros! Bros don’t—”

Hinata shot him a very pointed look.

“—always end up like that,” Bokuto swerved.

“Uh-huh,” Hinata said wryly.

“C’mon, you know what I mean.”

Hinata relented. “Yeah, yeah. I do.” He waggled his eyebrows. “So how was he?”

Bokuto started laughing, but eventually said, “Out of practice.”

“Hmm. Not what I imagined, but now that you say it, exactly what I should have expected.”

“What do you mean, ‘not what you imagined?’” Bokuto pouted. “You’ve been imagining kissing Kuroo?!”

Hinata suddenly found himself on the defensive. “No! Yes! Sort of! I just uh…” it was Hinata’s turn to mumble. “I just have dreams about him sometimes. That’s all.”

“Since when?!”

“Not often!”

“That’s not what I asked!!”

Hinata sighed. “Since… since I was seventeen.”

“WHAT?!”

“Barely ever!!” Hinata insisted. “I swear! And it’s not like you can control what you dream about. Besides,” he said, “you’re the one who went and kissed him!”

By not they were both glaring, color high in their cheeks.

“Fuck,” Bokuto whispered. “You look so fucking hot right now.” He wrapped a hand around the back of Hinata’s neck and held on. “I told you he was shit. Wanna prove you’re better?”

Hinata shoved Bokuto down onto the bed, hard. “Oh that’s not all I’m gonna prove.”

Bokuto smirked. “You think?” He twisted a hand into Hinata’s hair and pulled, exposing Hinata’s neck and sinking his teeth in, sucking hard. Hinata groaned, knowing the mark would be enormous. When Bokuto released his neck, Hinata found himself once again pulled by the hair, this time to bring them eye to eye. Bokuto’s grin was sharp. “Bring it, babe.”

They tore at each other’s clothes, biting and scratching at every piece of exposed skin. They pushed and pulled, first one at the advantage, then the other. But eventually, Hinata couldn’t resist soothing the bite marks he left with his tongue, and Bokuto couldn’t help smoothing his hands up and down Shouyou’s back.

Soon, they were just panting into each other’s mouths, hips rolling slowly. By this point, Hinata was wearing only his boxers, and Bokuto only his socks.

“You dork,” Hinata mumbled against Bokuto’s lips, and Bokuto feigned affront.

“Do you impugn my socks, good sir?”

Hinata laughed. “Never.” He nosed along Bokuto’s jaw. “You thought I’d be mad.”

“Correction, you were mad.”

Hinata rolled his eyes. “Not really. I just got a bit…” he gently bit the shell of Bokuto’s ear, “…swept up.”

“Hmph.” Bokuto sniffed. “I’ll sweep you up.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Shhhhh,” Bokuto said, then kissed him and shoved his hips up, hard. “Just roll with it.”

Hinata chuckled. “You may remember my calling you a dork?” He kissed each of Bokuto’s eyelids. “Lucky for you, I’m kinda into that.”

Bokuto rolled his hips again. “Want to get into something else?”

Hinata actually snorted. “Biggest dork in the world.” But he rose onto his knees, giving Bokuto just enough room to flip onto stomach, with a bit of wiggling. Hinata kissed his way down Bokuto’s back, much slower than he knew Bokuto would prefer. When his mouth reached one of the dimples at the small of Bokuto’s back, he gently stroked two fingers over Bokuto’s entrance, only to find it already wet and loose. “Fuck,” he groaned, and bit Bokuto’s ass, only a few centimeters from his hole. “Did you let him do this, too? Or is this just for me?” He knew the answer, he just wanted Bokuto to say it.

“For you, for you, it’s all for you,” Bokuto moaned as Hinata slipped two fingers inside.

“And I’m supposed to take your word on that?” Hinata crooked his fingers, pressing down hard in exactly the right spot, circling mercilessly.

“Fuck, god, I swear. I swear. It’s always yo… jesus—” his hips shifted as he began rutting against the sheets. Hinata immediately withdrew his fingers and pulled Bokuto’s hips up, away from the bed. “Shouyou, no,” Bokuto begged. “Come on, please, please…”

“Hush, I’ve got you.” Hinata stretched up the bed to get a condom and more lube from the nightstand. He then finagled his way out of his own boxers with as little fuss as possible, and while he was at it, pulled off Bokuto’s socks.

“Hey!” Bokuto complained.

“What?” Hinata asked as he rolled on the condom.

“What if my feet get col—ah!” Bokuto broke off into a yelp when Hinata slapped his ass, hard enough to leave a handprint.

Hinata coated both the condom and the fingers of one hand with lube. He rubbed his cock over Bokuto’s entrance a few times, then sunk three fingers into him instead, stretching.

“Shouyou, I swear to god, I will get Kuroo back here somehow and let him take over if you don’t fuck me right now.”

“I just want to be sure you’re ready,” Shouyou murmured, dragging his lips against Bokuto’s shoulder blade. “I don’t want to hurt you. I never want to hurt you.”

“Sap,” Bokuto said, but his voice was unbearably fond.

Hinata removed his fingers and lined himself up. “Takes one to know o—ooh that’s good.”

Bokuto just made a strangled noise.

Hinata collapsed onto Bokuto and panted against the back of his neck, undulating his hips rhythmically. “Fuck,” he whispered, biting Bokuto’s neck gently. “How the fuck is it always this good?”

“Don’t—ah—know,” Bokuto answered. “But it is.”

“Could do this forever,” Hinata sighed. “For the rest—mpf—the rest of my life.”

“I think one of us might get tired by the—hng—n,” Bokuto said, then suddenly froze.

Hinata stilled as well. “What’s wrong?”

“Lemme flip over,” Bokuto said, his voice a bit strange again.

Hinata withdrew and moved to one side so Bokuto could easily flip onto his back. It wasn’t until he was buried back inside him, one of Bokuto’s legs over his shoulder, that Bokuto continued.

“The rest of your life seems like an awfully long time,” he mused. “Maybe if you want to—”

“Nah,” Hinata dismissed the thought, distracted. “It’ll be nine years soon.”

Bokuto frowned, and Hinata went still again. “That’s not what I meant,” Bokuto said.

Hinata’s head tilted ever so slightly to one side. “What did you mean?”

Bokuto bit his lip for a moment, then rolled his hips. “Never mind. More please?”

Hinata continued, but half his mind was still on what Bokuto had said. After a particularly hard thrust and Bokuto’s corresponding squeeze, Hinata sighed, “Oh my god.”

Bokuto scratched his nails down Hinata’s back. “I know.”

“No,” Hinata said, then he stopped and pulled out entirely, still as gently as possible., then sat back on his haunches. “Koutarou. You meant…” he stared at Bokuto in amazement. “The rest of my life. That’s what you meant.”

“Ah. Well, you see—”

He was cut off by Hinata’s finger to his lips. Hinata smiled, so fucking bright. “Well, Bokuto Koutarou. Are you asking, or asking?”

Bokuto’s eyes started welling up with tears, but if anything, his answering smile was even brighter. “I’m asking.”

Hinata launched himself at Bokuto, landing heavily on his chest and peppering his face with kisses. “You idiot,” he mumbled between kisses. “Who the fuck proposes while fucking?”

Bokuto laughed, trying his best to kiss Hinata back. “Clearly, I do.” He flipped them, pushing Hinata down by the shoulders, and rising to straddle him. “And speaking of fucking…” He grasped Hinata’s cock and grinned as he stroked him back to full hardness. “Weren’t we in the middle of something?”

When they finally finished—c’mon, just one more round?—they were both sweaty and sticky, but unwilling to part for longer than a perfunctory wipe with the tissues and wet wipes by the bed. They were utterly tangled together, legs intertwined, arms wrapped around each other, Hinata’s head tucked under Bokuto’s chin. Bokuto trailed a hand from Hinata’s left shoulder down to his hand, rubbing at Hinata’s ring finger. “I’m sorry we can’t really, you know.”

Hinata twisted his hand around to hold Bokuto’s. “What, because of the law?”

“Well yeah,” Bokuto said, confused.

“Hmm. Well, under other circumstances, I’d say you’re right.” Hinata squeezed Bokuto’s hand. “But under our circumstances? As far as I can tell, there’s only one law we answer to. And that’s him.”

“Huh,” Bokuto said. “You may have a point.”

“I usually do,” Hinata said, mock affronted, and pinched Bokuto’s side in admonition.

Bokuto let out a high-pitched sound and jerked away from the touch.

Hinata disentangled himself from Bokuto’s arms enough that he could see Bokuto’s face. “Koutarou,” he said offhandedly. “It’s been years. Years. Surely you haven’t been keeping secrets?” Bokuto was a deer in the headlights. “Because if you have,” Hinata continued, “I might just have to investigate the situation myself. And things might get a bit… ticklish.”

At the word alone, Bokuto’s entire body shuddered. “Shouyou, I—ahahahahha no-o-o-o!”

Hinata plucked his way over Bokuto’s ribs, and then up to his neck, pressing more and more of his weight down as Bokuto struggled. For some reason, this only made Bokuto struggle harder. Hinata lightly and quickly ran his fingers over Bokuto’s neck and throat, searching for weak spots, and all Bokuto could do was screech and laugh. But eventually, he tried to force out a few words. “Shou-o-o-yo-o-ou, I’m go-o-onna-a-ahahahaha! Sto-o-o-op!”

Hinata obeyed, stilling his hands. “Gonna what?” Bokuto shifted his hips minutely, and Hinata’s eyes went wide. He looked down between them, then back up at Bokuto. “Even after all that?”

Bokuto looked away, seeming almost ashamed. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I know it’s weird. I’m not—”

Hinata interrupted him with a kiss, then drew back with a broad smile. “Weird?” Hinata repeated. “No, no. It’s not weird. It’s spectacular.” He feathered a hand down Bokuto’s side, getting a small, ‘meep!’ in response. Hinata groaned. “Oh my god, we are going to have so much fun with this.”

~

Hinata’s eyes weren’t even shut, he just glanced over when he heard a whine from the TV, and when he looked back at his meal, Kuroo was sitting next to him at the kotatsu.

“So, you kissed my fiancé,” Hinata greeted him.

Kuroo held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Whoa, no, hold up there, he kissed m—wait, your what?”

Hinata laughed, bright and loud. “And here I was, thinking Koutarou was the bigger dork.”

“Hey!” Kuroo yelped. “But no, not the point! You said fiancé, and that’s huge! Did Japan finally…” he trailed off when Hinata shook his head. “Shit. I’m so sorry, Shouyou. Is there anything I can do?”

Hinata studied Kuroo for a moment. “It’s strange, the things you know, and the things you don’t.” Before Kuroo could respond, Hinata carried on, “And actually, yes, there is something you can do.”

It appeared Kuroo didn’t want to let the first comment go, but then his gaze landed on Hinata’s empty ring finger. “Name it. If I can give it, I will.”

“Well, when we thought about it, all those authorities and higher powers that control what is or is not a marriage, it seemed kind of silly. Because we don’t live in their world. Not really. We live in yours. You’re the only higher power that can touch us.” Kuroo had grown very still, and Hinata couldn’t quite read his expression, but he continued, “Which means the only confirmation we really need is from you. So, what do you think? Can we be joined in unholy matrimony?”

Kuroo’s face had settled into something both gratefully happy and desperately sad. But all he said was, “Of course. You didn’t even need to ask. Of course you can.”

“In that case…” Hinata pulled a plain gold band and a folded piece of paper from under the futon, then handed them to Kuroo. “Read that, okay?”

Kuroo scanned the paper and nodded. “Hinata Shouyou. With my rights to your being, I give you, freely and gladly—” Hinata chuckled at the ad lib, “—to Bokuto Koutarou, forever, however long that may last.” He picked up the ring. “Do you desire this and consent?”

“I do.”

Kuroo slid the ring onto Hinata’s finger. “Congratulations, Shouyou.” He leaned in to kiss Hinata’s cheek, but Hinata turned him with two fingers under his chin. The kiss was warm, slow, and oh so gentle. When their lips parted, Hinata kept them close together, his hand still on Kuroo’s jawline.

“Thank you, Kuroo,” he murmured.

Kuroo sighed softly. “I’m sorry I can’t do more.” He pulled away and looked off to one side. “I always feel like I’m such a negative thing in your lives.”

“Oh hush,” Hinata said soothingly. “You know we love you.”

Kuroo flinched at the words. “That’s what I don’t get. Why? How? How is it possible for you to love someone who you know is going to do what I’m going to do?”

“Kuroo, when are you going to get this through that thick skull of yours?” Hinata said, exasperated but fond. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When we look at you, we don’t see someone who’s going to kill us. We see someone who saved the people who mattered to us most. Being kids didn’t necessarily mean we were idiots.” He put a hand on Kuroo’s knee. “We went in with eyes wide open, okay?”

Kuroo’s face and posture remained the same, so Hinata returned to a lighter subject. “So,” he began. “Bokuto’s got a matching one of these—” he tapped his ring, “—so you’ll do his when you see him next year.”

“Got it,” Kuroo said with a nod. “I’m really happy for you guys.” He looked miserable.

“Kuroo, are you… are you okay?”

Kuroo startled. “What? Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Clearly,” Hinata replied. “Seriously, what’s going on?”

“I…” Kuroo looked like he was about to start crying. “I’m just running out of ti—” he broke off into a coughing fit. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”

Hinata decided not to press. “Is there anything you want to do today?”

“Sleep. I really, really want to sleep.”

Can you sleep?” Hinata asked.

“No,” Kuroo said hollowly.

Hinata thought about this for a moment, then stood up and held out a hand to Kuroo. “Come with me.”

Kuroo just looked at Hinata’s hand for a moment, then said, “I bet you don’t know how many times you’ve done this.”

“Done what?”

Kuroo clasped Hinata’s hand and but didn’t immediately stand. “Offered your hand, and helped me up.” Then he rose to his feet with a slight tug.

“Well then, you can count on me for that. But really, c’mon.”

He pulled Kuroo into the bedroom and down onto the bed. Kuroo was clearly confused. “Uh, I just said I can’t sleep, Shouyou.”

Hinata continued arranging their limbs in a manner he saw fit, then snuggled down. “Just because you can’t sleep doesn’t mean you can’t rest, and rest is sometimes nicer if you do it with someone else.”

It took a while, but the tension slowly seeped out of Kuroo, making Hinata nuzzle more against his now-pliant form. Kuroo was putting off so much heat, it was sending Hinata right to sleep. His eyes slid shut, and the next time he opened them, light filtering in through the window was different. “Mmph,” Hinata mumbled. “How long was I asleep?”

“Not sure,” Kuroo said. “Great with years, bad with any other unit of time.” The joke was smooth enough, but Kuroo’s voice seemed a little strange.

“You okay?” Hinata asked, propping himself up enough to see Kuroo’s face. It had tear tracks on it, and Kuroo’s eyes were red. Hinata suddenly found himself remembering something Bokuto had said years ago: He doesn’t even have eyes, really. He just thinks he’s still human sometimes. Hinata’s heart broke a little. “Hey,” he said gently. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s all going to be okay.”

“You know as well as I do that that’s not true.”

Hinata didn’t really know what to say to that. After all, Kuroo was right.

After a few beats of silence, Kuroo wrapped his arms tighter around Hinata. “Go back to sleep. It’s nice.”

Hinata cupped Kuroo’s face in one hand and stroked a thumb along his cheekbone. “Okay. You keep resting.” And just as Hinata slipped back into sleep he felt his chest grow warm, and thought he might have heard Kuroo’s voice. “Nine years, Hinata Shouyou.” When he woke up, Kuroo was gone.

~

Bronze was good. Really, it was amazing. When they looked at it objectively, bronze was incredible. It had been decades since Japan’s men’s volleyball team last medaled in the Olympics. But standing there in third place listening to someone else’s national anthem… well, despite all they’d accomplished, it was still hard not to feel like shit.

They were sitting at the kotatsu, picking away at the last of their dinner, music drifting quietly from the surround sound system they’d finally put in that spring. Something in English, Hinata wasn’t sure what.

Bokuto laid his chopsticks down with a click. “Come here, Shouyou.” He held an arm out, and Hinata scooted around the corner of the table to tuck himself under it. Bokuto dropped a kiss on the crown of Hinata’s head. “We did good, you know. We really did.”

“I know,” Hinata said, voice half-muffled against Bokuto’s chest.

“And think about how well we’ve done, and how well we’ll do, in other competitions! The AVC Cup, the Asian Games, we’ve got the World Grand Champions Cup next year, that’s huge.”

“I know,” Hinata repeated, even more muffled now.

“We’ve still got time,” Bokuto said, much softer now. “Shouyou. We’ve still got time.”

Hinata just slumped further and further into Bokuto’s side, until he managed to tip him over and they landed on the spare zabuton.

“Oof,” Bokuto grunted.

“I’m not that heavy,” Hinata protested, but spread himself out more evenly on top of Bokuto. He tucked his face into Bokuto’s neck and octopused his limbs around him. “So here’s an idea,” Hinata began, but as soon as his lips started moving against Bokuto’s neck, Bokuto let out a bright trill of laughter. Hinata pulled his head back. “Shit, sorry hon.” He paused for a moment, then slowly leaned back in. “Or,” he said, lips hovering over but not quite touching Bokuto’s throat, “here’s another idea.” He lightly swirled his tongue over Bokuto’s skin, making him shudder, then bit down hard and Bokuto gasped.

While Hinata continued his exploration of Bokuto’s neck and collarbones, Bokuto ran his hands from Hinata’s shoulder blades down to the small of his back, fingers dipping under the waistband of Hinata’s sweats. In response, Hinata slid further up Bokuto’s body and tilted his hips up. Bokuto groaned when he got a firm grip on Hinata’s ass. “Speaking of ideas, was it mine that we be professional athletes? Because that was a great idea.”

Hinata huffed a laugh against the skin just under Bokuto’s ear. “Sorry, hon. That one was all me.” He lightly plucked his fingers over the back of Bokuto’s neck, and Bokuto twitch gratifyingly. “But,” Hinata continued as he sat up and pulled off his shirt, “it was—sort of—your idea to, uh…” he gesticulated around the general vicinity of their bodies, “and your idea to do this,” he said as he tapped his ring finger against Bokuto’s shoulder.

Bokuto brought his arms back up to wrap around Hinata, and he held him tight, just breathing deeply. Then he grinned and said, “That’s right, isn’t it? Because me? I was asking.” He brushed the tip of his nose against Hinata’s, and looked him right in the eyes. “Babe, when it comes to you, I’ll always be asking.”

Hinata squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, but he couldn’t seem to do it long enough, because when he opened them again, tears started dripping onto Bokuto’s face. “I’m okay,” he forestalled the question. “You idiot. Here I was trying to distract us from our wounds with crazy sex, and then you go and say something like that.” He wiped his eyes, uselessly, as tears continued to fall. He leaned down and pressed his forehead against Bokuto’s. “I love you so much.” He kissed him. “So fucking much.” Kissed him deeper. “If we really did have forever, I swear I’d give you that, too.” Kissed him until he couldn’t breathe, then pulled back to mutter, “Stupid crying congestion,” which made Bokuto laugh.

Bokuto maneuvered them onto their sides, curled inward, facing each other. “I would, too,” he said softly. “Forever.” He sniffled. “Fuck, now I’m crying.” They both chuckled wetly. “But I’ll love you for whatever forever we have.”

Hinata smiled, eyes damp. “Yeah. For whatever forever we have.”

~

Hinata was on the roof of their building. Technically they weren’t supposed to, but it was a good way to be outdoors when you didn’t want to interact with anyone. He had a flashlight with him, and after half an hour or so, he heard the bulb burst.

“So? So?” Kuroo asked excitedly before Hinata could even open his eyes.

Hinata tried to smile. “Bronze.”

“Holy shit that’s amazing!” Kuroo cried. “I’m so fucking happy for you guys! You—you… wait, Shouyou, why aren’t you happy?”

Hinata looked down and shrugged. “Well it’s not gold, is it?”

Kuroo groaned. “Oh come on! Can’t you be a little bit proud of yourself? You’re an Olympic medalist!”

“I guess,” Hinata sighed.

Kuroo rolled his eyes. “Unbelievable.”

“I know it’s good, really,” Hinata admitted. “I do know that. It’s just hard to feel like it, sometimes. Lots of times. Most of the time.”

“I get that,” Kuroo said. “But hey, maybe this is exactly what the team needed.”

Hinata shot him a dubious look. “Huh?”

“Now you guys know for sure you can get there. Olympic gold isn’t a pipe dream. You’re going to work even harder for the next four years, because you know how fucking close it is. You guys can do this.” He cupped a hand around the back of Hinata’s neck. “Hey. Look at me.” Hinata’s gaze remained fixed downward, and Kuroo shook him gently. “Come on, look at me.” Hinata didn’t want to, but it was Kuroo. He had to. “You can do this,” Kuroo said. The words were nothing Hinata hadn’t heard a thousand times before. And Kuroo’s delivery was dreadful. Flat, emotionless, nearly monotone. But that was what gave Hinata hope. Because Kuroo only sounded like that when he wasn’t putting in any effort to sound good. When he thought something was so true, so obvious, that it didn’t need to be dressed up to be believed.

Hinata smiled. “You know what? Yeah,” he said, just as plainly. “I can.”

They both watched the city for a while, only speaking intermittently—usually Kuroo asking what certain lights were from. But eventually Hinata had to ask the question that had been plaguing both him and Bokuto for ages. He cleared his throat. “So, uh, this might be an indelicate question, and the answer won’t change anything about how we feel, but… um, how exactly does that physical form of yours work?”

“Huh?” Kuroo glanced over at him, puzzled. “What do you mean? You’ve seen me, I can still touch things. Mostly.” He poked Hinata in the arm to demonstrate. “Is there something in particular you’re think…” Hinata wasn’t quite looking at Kuroo and he could feel a faint blush staining his cheeks. Kuroo looked back at him and suddenly said, “Oh. Oh right. That. Hah. Ummmm… how exactly did this come up?”

“Really? That’s the phrase you’re gonna leave out there?”

“I’d love to say something about how you’re above low-hanging fruit, but I’m afraid my phrasing was completely unintentional. And,” he added after a moment, “I am well aware you are no such thing.”

Hinata punched him in the arm, but it was only for form’s sake. “You’re lucky I love you. And speaking of unintentional, is someone avoiding the question?”

“Ah. Um. No. No not avoiding,” he clarified then sighed. “But uh, no to pretty much anything you might be thinking. This thing,” he waved a hand down his body, “doesn’t even exist by itself. It’s what’s left of my memories. What I can remember about being…” he trailed off and fell silent for a moment. “Honestly I’m surprised I can even do this much, after nearly two hundred and for—” he choked and started wheezing, carrying on long enough that Hinata was becoming alarmed, but before he could do anything, Kuroo stilled. He didn’t say anything right away, just stared out at the lights of the city for a few moments, breathing heavily. Then huffed a small self-disparaging sound and drily remarked, “And I don’t even have lungs.”

Hinata got to his feet and held out a hand for Kuroo. “Come on, let’s go inside. I’m getting cold, and we saw a movie a couple weeks ago that I think you’ll like. It’s from several years back, but it’s great.”

Kuroo liked it so much that Hinata put Maelstrom on afterward, neither of them realizing until it was too late that Kuroo would be gone before the movie ended.

“Uggggghhhhhhhhhhh,” Kuroo groaned. “This is terrible! Just… just stop it at the end of this scene, okay?”

Hinata did, trying not to laugh, but not trying hard enough. “It’s okay! You can finish it with Bokuto. I…” he paused and frowned. “Okay actually no, I have no idea how time passes for yo... oh. Shit.” Kuroo was all tensed up again. “Sorry, my mouth moves a little faster than my brain does sometimes. The point is, the movie won’t disappear forever, it will be right here in our apartment next time you show u—drop by.” He glanced at the clock. “Dang, this is cutting it fine.” He swiveled to face Kuroo properly, and shut his eyes. “At least I’m awake this year. Wait!” He opened his eyes and switched the TV all the way off, then shut them again. “Okay now go.”

Kuroo snorted. “The pair of you, I swear.” Hinata felt the familiar hand over his heart, then felt a shift as Kuroo leaned toward him. There was the ghost of warmth along his neck, and Kuroo’s voice in his ear. “Eight years, Hinata Shouyou,” and as the words hit the air, a faint press of lips against his cheek. He kept his eyes shut and pressed a hand to his cheek. Just sat there, breathing. He kept them shut until he couldn’t anymore. He didn’t know why it felt like a blow that Kuroo was gone.

~

The strange thing was, years passed that way. Hinata and Bokuto always had stories for each other about it: it was almost, he was so close, we were maybe, maybe, maybe, but no. And it didn’t seem right to push, when Kuroo was so clearly miserably trying to have a proper conversation about the situation. They had each other, Kuroo had… whatever it was he had, and they had their tiny pieces of him.

Silver at the World Grand Champions Cup. They adopted a cat. He was an ancient, decrepit old thing, with mangy black fur and, according to the placard on his box at the shelter, the name Cosmic Creepers, which they couldn’t bring themselves to change.

“Nine years, Bokuto Koutarou. … Seven years, Hinata Shouyou.”

Natsu started high school, and Hinata cried like a faucet when he saw her in her new uniform. Bokuto had planned ahead, and just kept handing him tissue after tissue. Gold at the AVC Cup, and silver at the Men’s World Championships.

“Eight years, Bokuto Koutarou. … Six years, Hinata Shouyou.”

The Asian Championships were… well, they were important, of course, and they won gold, as expected, but the Olympics were so fucking close. It was in their heads, the whole team, every practice, for all that they tried to stay in the moment. Hinata and Bokuto got into the biggest fight they’d ever had—or rather, the only real fight they’d ever had—stupidly over what type of lights to put Christmas tree, white or colors. Toward the end, when they were screaming at each other to just, ‘Get OUT!’ the yelling devolved into a very heated discussion of how, ‘Well, we BOTH live here, so REALLY it’s only fucking FAIR, if we BOTH leave, isn’t it?!’ and, ‘FINE. In that case, YOU can go FIRST!’ which then became helping each other into their coats. They made it as far as the elevator, walking a few meters apart, and were trying to figure out if one of them should wait or they should just share a car. It was when they were both insisting, ‘No, really, YOU take the first car,’ that it occurred to them they weren’t really fighting anymore. They booked it back to the apartment, fervently hoping that few, if any, of their neighbors had heard them. (The fight, of course, had been brief. It was actually the next three hours’ worth of noises that disturbed any of the neighbors. But then again, they were all used to that.)

“Seven years, Bokuto Koutarou. … Five years, Hinata Shouyou.”

~

Munich, 1972. The last time the Japanese men’s national volleyball team had won an Olympic gold medal.

Not anymore.

After what felt like decades of ceremonies and photoshoots and interviews and parties and every other hoop you have to jump through after a temporary skyrocket to fame, they finally got to return home, to their same beloved shoebox they’d been in since they were—hell, kids, really. They locked the door, dropped their bags, and stood there grinning at each other, medals still around their necks.

It took all of Hinata’s professional-grade strength to slam Bokuto up against the wall, but completely worth it to see the look on his face. That first kiss was fierce, but it gentled, and slowed, until eventually they were just leaning on each other, vaguely supported by the wall. “I hate to say this…” Bokuto said at the exact same moment Hinata said, “Don’t be mad but…” and they both laughed.

Hinata drew back to ask, “Sleep?”

“Sleep,” Bokuto confirmed.

They didn’t even touch their luggage, just went to the bedroom, stripped, and collapsed into bed.

When Hinata woke up the next morning, it took him a moment to figure out where he was. The light, the color… home, at last, not the Olympic camp. And speaking of the Olympics… there were two rather attractive medals hanging there on the bedpost. The only thing missing was his husband, but Hinata could hear the water running, presumably he was about to take a bath. Hinata had every intention of joining him, but between one blink and the next, he fell back to sleep.

Next thing he knew, a slightly damp Bokuto was crawling back into bed. His hair was down, still wet, and his skin gorgeously pink from the bath. “Mmmmm,” Hinata mumbled, running a hand over Bokuto’s chest. “Yes, please.”

Bokuto laughed. “See something you like?”

“Hmm… more like something I love.” Hinata rolled close enough to bite Bokuto’s shoulder. “I should go take a bath. I’m still gross.” He sighed. “I guess we shouldn’t have changed the sheets just before we left. Who knew we’d be so tired.” He yawned.

Bokuto ran his fingers through Hinata’s hair. “You’re not gross. You were perfectly clean when we left, you just have airplane on you.”

“Like I said, gross.”

“Eh, not so bad.” He slapped Hinata’s ass. “Go. Brush your teeth, bathe if you truly feel the immediate need. I’ll just go back to sleep. I think I need at least a solid four more years.”

Hinata laughed, and obediently got out of bed. Faced with the choice of ‘proper bath’ or ‘your gorgeous, Olympic gold medalist husband lying naked in bed,’ it wasn’t a contest. But he did still brush his teeth, wash his face, and do a quick rinse of the important bits.

Despite Bokuto’s stated intention of more sleep, Hinata still half-expected him to be up to something nefarious when he returned to their bedroom. But no, he was in fact just lying in bed, the top sheet making a vague and largely unsuccessful attempt and covering Bokuto’s lower half. Fine by Hinata.

He arranged himself partly on the bed, but mostly on Bokuto, who instinctively brought an arm down to wrap around him. Hinata’s gaze caught, once more, on their medals. “Hey, Kou,” he whispered. “That’s some pretty nice bling we’ve got there.”

Bokuto hummed, then cracked an eye open. “It is, isn’t it. And we’ve got you to thank for it, don’t we.” He stroked a thumb over Hinata’s shoulder. “Not only the best decoy the world has ever seen, but the player, The Player, to score the game-winning point that gave us gold.”

Part of Hinata was deliriously happy, but another part was still almost… embarrassed, that it had been him. Volleyball is a team sport, he shouldn’t be receiving any extra praise just because—

“..ved it, because you are that amazing, and people just needed their attention brought to the right place,” Bokuto was saying.

Hinata hid his face against Bokuto’s chest. “You think I’m amazing?”

“Babe. I’ve always thought you were amazing. You know that.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Hinata mumbled, still not looking up.

“Hey, hey.” Bokuto coaxed Hinata out of his cuddly hiding place. “You okay? Anything I can—”

“Tell me again,” Hinata said quietly.

Bokuto resituated himself so he could properly see Hinata’s face. “You’re amazing.” Hinata immediately dove to hide again, but Bokuto stopped him. “It’s okay, you know. All of it. It’s okay to feel proud, it’s okay to feel like a fraud, it’s okay to feel both, neither, anything. What we, as a team, accomplished is incredible. And whatever particular sequence of events unfolded, the end result of any of them would still be that you are truly amazing, and I am the luckiest man alive.”

A smile had been growing on Hinata’s face, and on this end note, it blossomed into a grin. “I… You are… After all the…” he stopped and sighed. “No,” he said simply. “I’m the lucky one.” Then he snuggled closer. “Tell me again.”

Bokuto laughed, then tangled his fingers in Hinata’s hair and pulled, making Hinata gasp, and pulling him close enough their lips practically touched. “Babe. You’re amazing.”

Hinata struggled a bit against Bokuto’s hold, sighing happily when he found couldn’t break free. “Tell me again.”

“Hmm,” Bokuto sighed, pulling Hinata’s head back and nuzzling along his jawline. “I’m thinking you don’t want to be told.” With a single smooth shift of muscle, he rolled them, landing on top of Hinata. “I’m thinking you want to be shown.”

“It’s so cute that you still think you can pin me like this,” Hinata said mildly.

But Bokuto knew that particular mild. “Shouyou,” he warned, but it was too late. Hinata ran his fingers down Bokuto’s sides, making him yelp and flail. Despite the flying limbs, Hinata had a fairly easy time flipping them back over with Bokuto distracted and weakening. He straddled Bokuto’s hips, fingers scribbling over his stomach without mercy. “O-o-oh my go-o-o-o-d, no-oh-oh,” Bokuto begged. “Ple-ea-ea-se, no-oh-oh-oh-oh!” Hinata feathered his fingertips up and down Bokuto’s sides, again and again, rising a little higher each time, Bokuto gasping for breath in the split seconds between bouts laugher. “Aahhaha, no-oh,” he said, struggling ineffectually. “I kno-oh-oh-ow wha-at yo-oo-ou’re—” He broke off into a high-pitched, stuttered shriek when Hinata’s fingers reached his armpits. Hinata would dig in for a few seconds, then lightly trail his fingers down Bokuto’s ribs, or up the soft skin inside his arms, but always back to scrape and scrabble at his armpits, staying longer every time. Tears were rolling from Bokuto’s eyes down to his temples, and he couldn’t stop producing tiny, high-pitched squeaks. At some point Hinata returned to Bokuto’s armpits and just stayed. Stayed and stayed, fingers constantly moving in unpredictable flutters. Bokuto was twitching helplessly, nearly sobbing as he fought to draw breath. He tried to bring his arms down, but he was too far gone, and Hinata easily batted them away. “Fu-uh-ck, Shou-oh-oh-oh—“ he gasped when Hinata finally relented, then howled when Hinata’s hands instead zeroed in on his neck and belly. “Ah-ah-ah-I ne-ee-e-ed…”

“What was that?” Hinata asked casually, still tickling without pause. “I couldn’t quite make it out. Was it that you need something?”

He began rapidly moving his hands from spot to spot—chin, stomach, armpit, hips, neck, ribs, and on and on—without a single break. Bokuto thrashed, mindlessly trying to worm away from the ceaseless torment. “Sto—ahahahahaha—sto—”

“Well Koutarou, now I’m just confused,” Hinata said, perfectly calm, but moved his fingers to merely scratch across Bokuto’s ribs. “Because it almost sounds like you’re asking me to stop. But that can’t be right. Because this—” he ground his ass against Bokuto’s erection, “—kinda feels like you want me to keep going.” He stilled his hands, just resting them lightly on Bokuto’s heaving chest. “So, Kou-chan, do you want me to stop?”

Bokuto kept panting, staring at the ceiling and still twitching. After a solid twenty seconds, way longer than Hinata had expected, Bokuto raised his head to look at Hinata. “Yes.” Hinata nodded, and started to climb off Bokuto’s lap, but Bokuto caught him around the waist. “Yes,” he repeated. “But only long enough to get this—” now he rubbed the heel of his hand against Hinata’s stiffening cock, “—inside me.”

Hinata shuddered, and bent down to press a kiss just under Bokuto’s ear. He got his wriggling fingers back into Bokuto’s armpit, only for a couple seconds, and Bokuto keened. “Fuck,” Hinata groaned into Bokuto’s ear. “I love what this does to you.”

It didn’t take them long to get Hinata onto his back, Bokuto astride him, but not yet letting Hinata get inside him. “Kou, come on, please,” Hinata begged.

Bokuto grinned. “Sorry, what was that? Was is that you needed something?” He scraped his nails down Hinata’s chest, hard, making him hiss. But Hinata was deeply grateful for the fact that Bokuto was either nicer than him, or maybe just as desperate as him, because after only a few seconds Bokuto lined himself up and sank down, both of them moaning.

At first, Bokuto just rolled his hips, rhythmic and slow. But they both needed it too much, and god damn it, they just won gold at the Olympics. They could have whatever the fuck they wanted. And Hinata knew exactly how to get it. He got enough control of his limbs to feather his fingers over the soft skin inside Bokuto’s thighs. Bokuto giggled and squirmed, trying to get away, and trying to stay where he was. It took less than a minute for Bokuto to become weak enough that Hinata could flip them once more. He got one of Bokuto’s calves on his shoulder and started thrusting hard and fast, occasionally fluttering his fingers inside Bokuto’s knee.

Bokuto had fallen completely silent save for his panting, and remained so even as Hinata started briefly tickling spots all over his body, making him jerk and tremble. Immediately following a particularly long series of squeezes down Bokuto’s side that landed at his hip where Hinata started fluttering, Hinata wrapped his hand around Bokuto’s cock. He’d barely touched him when Bokuto came, loud again, with what was nearly a shout. Hinata gently pulled out, knowing Bokuto would be too sensitive now, then got the condom off and starting stroking. Bokuto’s eyes were hazy, his pupils dilated, but his gaze was unmistakably fixed on Hinata. Under the weight of that stare, Hinata took no more than a dozen strokes to gasp and stripe come all over Bokuto’s chest, and fuck, his neck and chin.

He collapsed on his back next to Bokuto, almost touching but not quite. After several seconds of panting, their hands brushed, then intertwined.

“I love you.”

“I love you more.”

It was an argument they would never settle.

~

“Well, you were right.”

Kuroo looked pleased. “Of course I was. I usually am. But uh, what was I right about?” Hinata pulled the gold medal out from under his t-shirt, and Kuroo’s eyes got huge. “HA! I knew it! What did I tell you? I told you you’d do it, and look at that, you did.”

Hinata rolled his eyes but couldn’t stop smiling. “Yeah, yeah, you’re a genius.”

“So true,” Kuroo said with a sage nod. “So, you guys gonna go for a repeat performance in ’28?”

Hinata looked away. “Ah, no. I’ve got… plans that year.”

“What do… oh. Me.” Kuroo suddenly looked wretched. He tucked his knees up to his chest and folded his arms on top of them.

“Hey, no, Kuroo, don’t feel bad.” Hinata reached for his hand, but Kuroo jerked it away before they could touch. Hinata put his own hand back in his lap. “I promise it’s fine. Fair’s fair. You help up your end of the bargain, I’ll hold up mine.” He tried to smile. “Everybody’s got something worth dying for.”

Kuroo stared into the middle distance. “I am very, very, very aware of that fact.”

Hinata nodded. “I suppose you are.” He scooted further into Kuroo’s field of vision, even though he couldn’t get him to make eye contact. “I’m not… I’m not mad, you know. I’m not scared. And I still love you.”

Kuroo buried his face in his folded arms. “What if I am, though?”

“What if you’re what?”

Kuroo looked back up at Hinata. “What if I’m scared?”

Hinata tried to smile. “Then I’ll be brave enough for both of us.”

“I wish it worked like that,” Kuroo said, his voice small. “I don’t… I don’t want to do this.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

He couldn’t know for sure, but Hinata got the feeling that Kuroo was talking about more than just their deal. That didn’t mean he knew what to say, though. He cautiously reached a hand toward Kuroo’s shoulder, and when Kuroo didn’t flinch, he started stroking Kuroo’s back. “Is there anything… I don’t know. Anything I can do?”

Kuroo leaned into the touch. “I …” he trailed off, and didn’t say anything else long enough that Hinata thought he wasn’t going to finish the thought. Hell, maybe he didn’t. All Hinata knew was what he did say. “I’m very, very tired. Could we maybe go rest?”

He looked so hopeful it broke Hinata’s heart a little more. But he just stood, smiled, and held out a hand to help Kuroo up. “Of course we can.”

This time he was wide awake when Kuroo’s hand blazed on his chest and he said, “Four years, Hinata Shouyou.”

~

Hinata rolled over in bed. Again. He glared at the narrow strip of light slanting across the room from the cracked-open bedroom door. This was getting ridiculous. He crawled out of bed and slid into a robe. He squinted a little against the light when he pulled the door open, but knew where Bokuto was anyway. “Hon, come on, come to bed, you’ve been at this for hours.” He padded over to where Bokuto was seated at the kotatsu, a veritable sea of paper in front of him. Hinata knelt down so he could drape himself over Bokuto’s back and shoulders. “What are you working on this time?”

Bokuto didn’t register the question right away, just kept scribbling.  Then Hinata nipped at his ear and he startled. “Right! Uh, yeah. Hilbert’s sixteenth problem.”

Hinata yawned. “Is it another millennial thing?”

“Millennium, Shouyou. Millennium Prize Problems.”

Hinata waved a hand. “Same thing. So is it?”

“No, actually. It’s one of the ones David Hilbert posed at the ICM in 1900. Part of a list of twenty-three.”

Hinata buried his face in Bokuto’s hair and mumbled, “The ICM? That’s, okay, you told me this… International… uh…” He looked back up. “Wait a minute, what? Twenty-three? That’s funny.”

“Yeah, I know,” Bokuto said. “It’s why I noticed.”

Hinata did his best to peer over Bokuto’s shoulder. “So what’s it about?”

“Well it’s got two parts, and I’m working on the second. It’s about determining the upper bound for the number of limit cycles in two-dimensional polynomial vector fields of a given degree n. And looking into their relative positions, of course.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Hinata said in his terrible imitation of Bokuto.

It always made Bokuto laugh, and he did. “How are you still so bad at that? We’ve been together ten years.”

“I have many other skills,” Hinata cried in mock-affront.

Bokuto shook his head. “Is one of them a superhuman knowledge of limit cycles?”

“Ah, sorry, no. What even is a limit cycle?”

Bokuto was scribbling again. “It’s a closed trajectory in phase space having the property that at least one other trajectory spirals into it as time approaches either infinity or negative infinity.”

“I know what ‘closed’ means,” Hinata said with a decisive nod. “Like I said, I have many other skills.”

Bokuto finally put his pen down, then grabbed Hinata and pulled him around and into his lap. “That you do.”

“Know what one of those skills is?” Hinata asked.

Bokuto smiled down at him. “What?”

“Sleeping!” Hinata chirped. “But it requires a lot of practice. Will you help me?”

Bokuto chuckled. “Dork.” He looked at his work on the table, then back at Hinata. “Yeah, of course I will.” He got his arms under Hinata’s knees and back, then rose to his feet. “No one knows better than a pro athlete: you’ve got to keep in practice.”

“Gold medal athlete,” Hinata reminded him, as if either of them could forget. Bokuto paused by the light switch so Hinata could reach out an turn it off, then carefully moved through the bedroom in the near-dark of a crescent moon through the window. When they were both in bed, Bokuto didn’t exactly toss and turn, but he didn’t stay settled either. Hinata sighed. “Okay, what’s up?”

“Well, about that whole ‘being a pro athlete’ thing.”

Hinata was too tired for this. “What about it?”

“I’ve just been thinking, maybe it’s about time we, you know, stop.”

Hinata was wide awake. “Wait, what?”

Bokuto turned onto his side to face Hinata. “Hear me out. I know that we both have a good number of years left in us, it’s not about that. And it’s not about our other deadlines. It’s not about either of those things independently.”

Hinata turned onto his side, too. “It’s about them together.”

Bokuto nodded. “Let’s say we play another three years, through the next Olympics. Either we win again and make headlines, or we don’t and make headlines. Then you disappear. People will be paying attention, and that is not a point at which we want that happening. And I mean, we’ve sort of hit our peak, right? It’s not like it can get better from here. So maybe… maybe next year we make a small announcement and just…”

“Fade into obscurity?” Hinata asked wryly.

“Well,” Bokuto shrugged. “Yeah.”

Hinata thought about it. He wasn’t sure how long. But eventually he nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. We should… we should do that.” He tucked himself up against Bokuto’s body. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m sorry. Those two years that you’ll…” he broke off, and tucked his face against Bokuto’s neck.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay, you know it’s okay.” He ran his fingers up the back of Hinata’s neck and into his hair. “C’mon, aside from, ‘he plays volleyball,’ this is the first thing we ever knew about each other. We’ve always known. It’s going to be hard, and yeah, I probably won’t be as ready as I think I am, but it’ll be okay. It’s not even a full two years. I’ll be… I’ll be fi…” Bokuto stopped, and tucked his nose into Hinata’s hair.

They held on to each other until they fell asleep.

~

It was always strange to be back in his hometown. He came at least three times a year, for certain festivals or holidays, and always for Natsu’s birthday.

The sun was nearly down when Hinata reached the boardwalk, but of course, it was impossible for him to have kept Kuroo waiting. The waiting was all on him. And this year, he didn’t have to wait long.

Kuroo was clearly surprised when he looked around. “What are we doing here? Oh god wait, is it Natsu? Is she okay? Well I mean, I know she will be okay, but right now, is she…”

“She’s fine!” Hinata was quick to reassure him. “Thanks to you, of course. But no, she’s amazing. She’ll be taking her entrance exams soon. No one is even a tiny bit worried. My parents clearly saved all the academic smarts for her. I told you she was gonna be Prime Minister someday, and she is well on her way.”

Kuroo sighed in relief. “Okay good. That’s wonderful.” He looked at Hinata, then down at the ground. “Hey, so, sorry about, uh, last time. I didn’t—”

“It’s fine, honest.” Hinata looked out at the water for a moment.

Kuroo just looked at Hinata. “I wish she could know how much you love her,” he said. “You know, the way I know how much you love her.”

Hinata smiled. “She knows. Maybe not the exact same way, but she knows.”

Kuroo nodded. “As it should be. So… if it’s not her, what did bring you back here today?”

“My parents’ anniversary. Thirty years yesterday, believe it or not. Though I’m not sure they should all count, what with how much time he had to spend away for work,” Hinata said with a laugh.

Kuroo smiled. “Wow, good for them. I’d say give them my congratulations, but…” he trailed off

Hinata laughed again. “I appreciate the thought.”

“So that explains why you’re here,” Kuroo said. “But why here?”

Hinata bit his lip. “Okay, so, I don’t want to make you upset, and you can absolutely tell me to drop it. But you never did tell me about the water, and I thought you might be ready to.”

Kuroo tensed up, but only for a moment, then dropped his shoulders with a small sigh. “How long’s it been, anyway?”

“That, I think, is a question with multiple answers.” Hinata said as gently as he could. “You don’t have to tell me, but do you want to tell me what happened?”

“Yes. I do. So much. But I can’t…” Kuroo took a deep breath. “I can try.” He stayed silent for a moment, clearly thinking hard. “It’s… you have no idea. No idea what a wall of water that high looks like coming at you. It doesn’t seem real. Like you must be dreaming. You’re not really even thinking about what’s going to happen. Not at first. At first you’re just… staring. Mesmerized. But then, someone screams… and… and all hell breaks loose.” Kuroo watched the water in front of them like his life depended on it. “It’s evolutionary biology, I guess. To fear, to fight, to run from danger, that meant to survive. But evolution doesn’t prepare you for something like this. Your body, your mind, they’re… inadequate.”

If asked to describe Kuroo’s voice, Hinata wasn’t sure he could. It was soft, mostly steady, and very calm, but at the same time it made Hinata’s skin crawl.

“I don’t know how, or why, I was the only one to surv—” Kuroo broke off into a coughing fit.

Hinata had sort of expected that, but he still sighed. To think he could actually get some answ… wait a minute. If Kuroo… if he… oh. Oh. Oh man, he and Bokuto were idiots. Before Hinata could even begin to figure out how to say it properly, he just blurted, “You were me. You were… you were us, you were all of us.” Kuroo just stared at him with big, sad eyes, so Hinata continued. “You were… you were a boy with a box.”

Kuroo just kept staring.

“A boy who needed help, at any price.”

Kuroo still didn’t speak, but now his eyes were wet.

“Kuroo,” Hinata said, voice barely more than a whisper. “Jesus, Kuroo, what the hell did you pay?”

Kuroo laughed bitterly. “I told you, didn’t I? That place, that moment. It’s a hell of a time to be making deals. It’s a hell of a time for,” he spat the final word, “magic.”

Hinata didn’t say anything. Just scooted over until he was pressed up against Kuroo’s side. They stayed like that for a long time, silent and still. Eventually though, Kuroo had to move. When he reached toward Hinata, Hinata caught his hand. He raised it to his lips and brushed a kiss across Kuroo’s knuckles. Hinata closed his eyes and Kuroo took a deep breath.

“Three years, Hinata Shouyou.”

~

“I don’t know, babe. We need a time frame. A location wouldn’t hurt either.”

“We’ve got both of those things! ‘Before now,’ and, ‘probably Japan.’”

Bokuto just glared at him.

Hinata winced. “Yeah, okay, I hear it now.”

Bokuto rubbed his eyes. “Do you even know for sure it was a tsunami?”

“I…” Hinata slumped. “I guess not. I mean, wall of water, right? But I guess that could apply to any boat in a big storm.”

Bokuto sighed. “I just don’t know what we can use to narrow… wait a minute.” He sat there with his brow furrowed for several seconds, the straightened up. “We’re looking the wrong way.” He smacked his own forehead. “Jesus, we’re looking the exact opposite of the way we should be.”

Hinata frowned. “What do you mean?”

Bokuto spun the tablet toward him and pointed at the screen. “See what we’re looking for? Disasters with devastating death tolls.”

“Right…?”

Bokuto shook his head. “What we need to be looking for is a disasters with death tolls, yeah, but more importantly, a time and a place where against all possibility and logic, a group of people didn’t die.”

Hinata just stared at him for moment, then leapt at him, wrapping his arms around Bokuto’s neck and kissing whatever part of him he could reach. “Genius,” he said between kisses. “Knew you were a genius.”

Bokuto laughed and gently removed Hinata from his person. “Okay, then.” He shut the tablet down. “We’re going to have to go old school for this.” He stood up and stretched. “Might take a while.”

“Oh good,” Hinata said wryly as he rose to his feet. “Exactly what we don’t have.”

Bokuto wrapped an arm around Hinata’s shoulders. “We’ve got time.” Hinata looked up at him balefully and he chuckled. “Maybe not much, but enough.”

“I hope so.” Hinata tucked himself closer against Bokuto’s side. “I really, really hope so.”

~

Hinata was seated at the kotatsu, slumped over with his head pillowed on his arms. Some music was playing, more for notification than for its own sake. And sure enough, it eventually fritzed out with a burst of static and then silence.

He looked up, and Kuroo was seated across the table. He yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Hi, Kuroo.”

“You look awful,” Kuroo said.

Hinata snorted. “Love you, too.”

“Er, sorry. What have you been—”

“Miyako-jima,” Hinata interrupted. “The twenty-fourth of April, 1771.”

Kuroo froze. “What?” he whispered. Then he blinked, cleared his throat, and straightened up. “What about it?”

“Really? That’s how we’re doing this?”

Kuroo’s shoulders slumped. “No, I guess not. How did you even…”

Hinata shrugged. “It took us a while. What we couldn’t figure out was how you ended up like you, instead of ending up like us. Surely it couldn’t be saving a life? But what if it was saving multiple lives?” He pulled a stack of papers from the floor onto the table and spread them out, all photocopies. “Bokuto figured it out, then I found it. Because see, we’d been searching for disasters where people died. Then he realized it—it was so simple. We needed to be looking for disasters where people lived. People who shouldn’t have. So we searched and searched, read everything we could find. All we had to go on was a wall of water and some people unexpectedly surviving.” Hinata paused. “Have you heard of microfiche?” Kuroo shook his head. “How about yomiuri?” Kuroo didn’t move. “That’s what I thought.”

Hinata shuffled through the papers on the table for a few moments, then pulled a few pages from the pile and placed them on top of the others. “Here, we have an 18th century yomiuri. Or, a copy of a copy of one, anyway.” He tapped his finger on a passage. “As it turns out, a strange thing occurred on Miyako-jima the day of what would be called the Great Yaeyama Tsunami. The island suffered devastating loses. Land, homes, people. But there was a single village—the only one on that side of the island—that suffered no human casualties. Not one. And the population of that village was precisely two hundred and fifty-eight people.” Kuroo’s eyes were wide and unblinking. “But it wasn’t, was it, Kuroo? It wasn’t two hundred and fifty-eight. The population of that village was two hundred and fifty-nine.”

Kuroo’s gaze was fixed on Hinata, but he looked so, so far away.

Hinata waited.

Eventually Kuroo shut his eyes, took a deep breath, then looked back at Hinata. “You said I was a boy with a box.” He shrugged. “You got the gist of it. But no box, and I wasn’t a boy, I was a man. A son. A brother. A friend. A husband. A…” he swallowed hard, then clenched his fists and continued, “…a father.” He took a moment to just breathe. “Two hundred and fifty-eight people, and I knew every single one of them.” His gaze slid into the middle distance. “Can you imagine what that’s like? Alone, barely alive, surrounded by whatever corpses were still there, knowing the rest were swallowed by the sea? The one survivor when everyone you loved was dead? Everyone.” His gaze refocused on Hinata. “Wouldn’t you do anything? Wouldn’t you do absolutely anything to fix it? To save them?”

Hinata reached across the table toward him. “Of course,” he said softly. “Of course I would.”

Kuroo just stared at Hinata’s hand for a while. Hinata, again, waited. And eventually Kuroo slid his own hand to meet it.

Hinata wasn’t sure how long they sat like that, but eventually his back started to ache. He squeezed Kuroo’s hand once, then pulled back and stretched. “Man, so I was thinking about it a while back, and I don’t know what to do with my box.”

“Oh?” Kuroo said, voice strange.

Hinata narrowed his eyes for a moment, then shrugged and continued. “Well, I didn’t have kids, and it’s not like I can show it to Natsu. And that’s, you know, it. I guess the my family’s box ends with me.”

“That’s the problem,” Kuroo murmured, so quiet Hinata barely made it out.

“The… the problem?”

“Well yeah,” Kuroo said, louder now. “Think how many boxes get lost, get forgotten.” He laughed joylessly. “Get destroyed.”

“What does that… does that matter? Surely there are more and more, all over the world.”

Kuroo seemed very far away again. After a few moments, he shook his head minutely. “Not for me.”

“I don’t—”

“Did you look at their names?” Kuroo asked abruptly.

Hinata frowned. “Whose names?”

Kuroo opened his mouth, only to go into a coughing fit. When he was breathing normally again, he glared at nothing. “Really?” he said, much louder than Hinata had expected him to be. “He knows all that shit and still this?” He started coughing again.

“Er, I’d offer you water, but uh, yeah,” Hinata said weakly.

Kuroo gave him half a smile. “I appreciate the thought.” He looked off to his right. “Can we do something else now?”

“Yeah, of course. You have anything in mind?”

“Last time I saw, uh…” he trailed off and sent a questioning glance at Hinata, who nodded. “Last time, we were playing a game, but we didn’t get to finish.”

“Oh my gosh that’s right! He told me about that! Hang on, we’ve got the scorecard around here somewhere, and I think the dice are in there,” he said, waving a hand at the freestanding cupboard in the corner. “First or second shelf, you saw the box.”

Kuroo seemed much happier, or at least calmer, by the time he put a hand on Hinata’s heart. Before Kuroo could speak, Hinata grabbed him around the back of the neck and pulled him in, gently pressing their foreheads together. “It’s going to be okay,” he promised, both of them knowing he had next to nothing by way of backing it up.

Kuroo still smiled, just a little. Then Hinata shut his eyes. “Two years, Hinata Shouyou.”

As soon as he heard the bulb in the light over the sink burst—the one they almost always lost on Bokuto’s days—Hinata’s eyes snapped back open.

Usually, he and Bokuto waited until the next day to see each other. Time to process, to re-center. But there was no time for that anymore. Hinata grabbed his phone.

“Babe, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Hinata assured him. “I just need you to come home. We’ve got to talk about Kuroo. There is definitely more to this than we thought.”

~

They couldn’t track down all of the names, of course. But once they found a Bokuto Tadashi on the list of survivors, they got it. They were tied to Kuroo, specifically, because they were descended from people he saved.

Apart from that, it was a frustrating year. Research into legend and folklore yielded a few accounts that sounded right, another couple dozen that were at least similar, but of all of them, only three took place after 1771. It all had to mean something, but hell if they could figure out what.

When Hinata got home after Bokuto’s day, he was eager to hear whatever new information they had to work with, but Bokuto just shook his head.

So, okay, what did they know?

  1. The phenomenon of these trades seems to have existed in some form for at least 1600 years.
  2. Location makes no difference.
  3. The bargained amount of time varies from just a few months, up to 67 years, this last being in a post-1771 account.
  4. Almost all of the pre-1771 deals were… well, scary. Not the death part. Just that the being making them is clever, is tricky, is cruel. Follows the letter of the law, rather than the spirit. And, there wasn’t a single mention of a box in any of them.

So basically, not a lot and nothing good. They couldn’t find anything relating to how the being or beings came into existence, nor how a regular human might suddenly become one. It wasn’t supposed to work like that. So how the hell had it happened?

And…

And they couldn’t stop wondering. Was there any way to undo it?

~

Contrary to pattern, this year, it was Hinata who couldn’t seem to stay calm. Though clearly not in the way Kuroo had expected.

When Kuroo arrived, every light in the apartment, hell, who knew, maybe the building, went out for about two seconds then came back on. And before Kuroo could speak, Hinata said, “It’s so close. It’s so fucking close, Kuroo, and we’re not ready.” He opened his eyes, and Kuroo was kneeling in front of him.

“I’m sorry, Shouyou,” he whispered. “For what it’s worth, you’ve had one of the most remarkable lives I’ve ever seen, thirty years or no, and—”

“What are you talking about?” Hinata interrupted him, befuddlement clear on his face.

Kuroo gave him a strange look. “Uh, aren’t you… you only have a year, aren’t you, um…”

“Oh!” Comprehension dawned across Hinata’s face. “You think I’m worried about me!

It was Kuroo’s turn to be baffled. “Aren’t you?”

“No!” Hinata paused. “Well, yeah, I guess a little. I don’t know. I don’t think about it much.”

“Don’t think about…” Kuroo trailed off and rubbed his temples. “Hinata Shouyou, you are a very strange man.”

“Flatterer,” Hinata remarked drily.

“And I mean every word,” Kuroo said sweetly, then continued, “but really, what are you upset about?”

“You, of course!”

Kuroo froze.

“Come on, Kuroo, don’t do that. How many times have I told you I love you? Why don’t you—”

“Eight,” Kuroo said quietly.

“Sorry, what?”

“You asked. That’s the answer. Eight, if you include just now. The first time was in 2019. In some form or another you’ve said it every time I’ve seen you since, except for 2025. You didn’t say it, but I knew you meant it. So almost nine.” He laughed suddenly, loud and short. “Nine. That’s funny.” He shook his head. “Sorry, you were saying?”

Hinata figured he oughtn’t pursue that, so carried on. “I was saying we’re worried about you.”

“Shouldn’t you be…” Hinata glared at him and Kuroo sighed. “Okay, well, why are you worried about me?”

“Because we can’t figure it out!” Hinata said, exasperated. “We needed to have spent our whole lives on this instead of volleyball!”

“Hey!” Kuroo said sharply. “Don’t. Don’t even say that. I am so fucking proud of you two. Don’t… just don’t.”

“I’m sorry,” Hinata said softly. “I didn’t… I’m sorry.” He squared his shoulders. “But my point still stands. We research, we theorize, we fucking speculate, but we know almost nothing.”

Kuroo looked trapped. “I can’t…”

“Shhhh,” Hinata hushed him. “I know. You don’t have to say anything. I’m going to do the talking.” He got to his feet and started pacing. “So this thing, these deals. It’s been happening a long time. Since way, way before you were born, so you are either not the only one, or not the first one.” He glanced at Kuroo, who was watching him fairly calmly. “Okay. There seems to be no pattern in terms of location. This is either because we don’t have enough reports to get any sort of statistically relevant result,” he glanced at Kuroo, who rolled his eyes slightly then winced like it hurt, “or because, well, people move.” He looked at Kuroo again, who now appeared bored. “People move.”

Hinata spun on his heel. “Next, the amount of time given. It clearly depends on something, but we haven’t figured out what. In older stories, it seems like the being can somehow calculate the amount of time that will inflict the most damage on whoever it is making the deal. But in the most recent three accounts, the numbers seem… random. The time didn’t play a significant role, or rather, not a damaging role, in any of the lives affected.” Kuroo was watching him placidly. “So the question is: is this because there aren’t enough stories—” Kuroo’s brow furrowed, “—or because an event changed the way these deals are made?” Christ, Kuroo looked more… more wanting than Hinata had ever seen him. “And if something changed the circumstances, what was it? And when did it happen? Could it, for example, have happened in 1771?” He didn’t quite look at Kuroo, but clearly he had tried to move, because he instantly started coughing. Hinata rushed over and knelt down, rubbing a hand up and down Kuroo’s back. “You okay?”

Kuroo nodded, but kept coughing. After several more seconds, he started breathing normally again. “Yeah. I’m okay. I just might be better than I’ve been in tw—a long time.” Hinata breathed a sigh of relief that Kuroo wasn’t set off coughing again.

Wait a minute. Hinata replayed the bitten-off sound. Thought about it for a minute. Smacked himself in the forehead. Harder than he’d meant to. “Ow. But no! Oh my god, we did it again, we missed something SO OBVIOUS.” He grabbed his phone, and opened the calculator. When he was done, he  got back to his feet and resumed pacing. “You’ve been getting nervous. More and more as the years pass. I thought you were worried about us. No, I mean, I know you’re worried about us. But I thought that was it, that was the whole problem.”

He whirled around. “But it’s not, it’s not at all. You’re worried for yourself, too. Something is going to happen. Something soon. In April of 1771, you saved two hundred and fifty-eight lives.” He spun his phone to face Kuroo. “And April after next, it will have been two hundred and fifty-eight years.” Hinata tossed the phone aside. “But why, why does that matter?”

He sat back down and closed his eyes, then started thinking out loud. “Okay, okay,” he murmured. “In 1771, you stopped being human. In 1771 the stories changed. In 1771… what? What happened in 1771?” He let out a soft hum, but kept his eyes shut. “You had to sacrifice something worth two-hundred and fifty-eight lives. You weren’t worth that.” He winced and cracked an eye open. “Sorry. You know what I mean.” Kuroo nodded and Hinata shut his eyes again “So what did you give it? What did you…” He thought about the stories from before 1771. The way lives were toyed with. Nothing like the stories after… His eyes snapped open. “It traded you. Like, actual you. Erased you, and made you into whatever it is. But why?”

Kuroo looked so, so tired.

“Okay, but that can’t be the whole story. It wouldn’t just grant you those lives for supernatural services rendered. Wouldn’t go on a vacation while you did the grunt work, then come back and say debt paid. That’s not what this thing is like. It’s not kind, it’s not straightforward, and it’s not fair. It doesn’t make trades like you do. It fucks with people. It plays games.” He exhaled slowly.

“Everything is a cruel, complicated, cosmic game to this thing. Which means this is, too. You’re a game, how are you a game…” He started tapping his middle finger against his knee. “Two hundred and fifty-eight years, making deals, gathering lives… god damn it, I’m close, I know I’m close.” He rubbed his temples. “Deals, lives. Deals, lives. Deals, li—no. Not lives. Years. Years of lives.”

He glanced over at Kuroo. “Where do the numbers come from, anyway? Why is it that you have to give a certain number of years to a certain bloodline? It never did that. It did whatever inflicted the most pain. There were no boxes, and no rules. It could capture any number of years whenever it wanted. So why can’t you?” Kuroo looked like he might burst a few light bulbs just sitting there and Hinata shook himself. “Okay, okay. You can only take specified numbers of years, and only from specified people. Which means….” He nodded to himself. “Which means the numbers matter somehow. Okay, okay, numbers.” He sighed and quipped, “Where’s Bokuto when you need him?” making Kuroo chuckle. “No, I can do this. Numbers. Maybe you…” no, that doesn’t make sense. Too complicated, even for it. So if it’s not… huh. If it’s not complicated, it’s simple.”

He snapped his fingers. “If it’s not complicated, it’s simple,” he repeated. “It’s so simple. You’re earning them. Or paying them. However you want to phrase it. You have to get a certain number of years from your village, before your two hundred and fifty-eight years are up.” He turned to look at Kuroo, his eyes alight. “That’s it. That’s it, isn’t it?”

Kuroo was looking at him with what was either horror or wonder. Hard to tell with his hands covering the lower half of his face. But when he removed them, his smile was a sight to behold. Kuroo held out a hand to Hinata, and Hinata took it, pulling himself closer. When they were facing each other, Kuroo cupped Hinata’s face in his hands, his eyes dancing. “Hinata Shouyou, you are a very strange man.” Kuroo leaned in and kissed him full on the mouth. “And that? Was a fucking symphony.”

Hinata stole another kiss. “Thanks, it took me sixteen years to write.”

Kuroo threw his head back and laughed. His eyes were dancing when he was through. “This is… How did you… I can’t… After two hundred and fifty-six years—” He slapped a hand to his mouth, then his eyes went round. “I can say… god damn, I have got so much to say.” The tension that had momentarily drained from his body, started to creep back in. “But, you know I can’t tell you…”

Hinata nodded. “I know.” Then he smiled and added, “And if I just start throwing out numbers, we’ll be here all night.”

Kuroo shrugged. “You’re not wrong.” He titled his head and studied him for a moment. “You know, you used to remind me of him so much, back when you were his age.” He chuckled. “Loud, impetuous, competitive. Smarter than people gave him credit for.” He reached out to tug at a lock of Hinata’s hair. “And this crazy orange! Do you know that disappeared from your family line for almost a hundred years before popping back up in your great-grandmother?”

Hinata cocked his head to one side. “Great-grandmother?”

“Bloodline. Not name. Bokuto was an anomaly.”

“But why you told us to look.”

Kuroo nodded. “I tried.”

“So—and I’m very ready for the answer to be no—can you tell me what happens if you fail? Or hell, if you succeed?”

“I—”

Hinata stopped Kuroo with a hand over his mouth. “Nope, nope, I can hear the cough coming on. I figured, but it was worth checking.” Kuroo nodded again, and Hinata removed his hand. “We got this far. We’re going to fix this.”

“You and Bokuto?”

Hinata shook his head. “Come on, Kuroo.” He picked up one of Kuroo’s hands and kissed his palm. “All of us.” Kuroo’s hand got hotter even as he held it, and Hinata smiled. “Now, why don’t you tell me some of those things you’ve been wanting to say?”

Kuroo grinned.

Hours passed that way. It was amazing. Kuroo’s life hundreds of years ago, the things he’d seen in his snapshots over the centuries. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the hilarious.

But eventually Hinata noticed the time. It came at a bad moment, Kuroo was talking about his great-granddaughter, tears in his eyes. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be helped.

“Kuroo, it’s almost midnight,” Hinata said softly.

Kuroo’s face only crumpled further. “I can’t... This is the last…”

“No,” Hinata said firmly. “Three hundred and sixty-five—no, it’s a leap year, make that three hundred and sixty-six—days from now, I am going to know how to fix this.” He grabbed Kuroo’s hand and put it over his heart, holding it there. “Tell me you believe me.”

Kuroo’s eyes spilled over. “I do.”

“Swear it.”

“I swear it.”

Hinata nodded. “Very good. Now I’m going to shut my eyes, and you’re going to tell me I have a year. Okay?”

Kuroo nodded, tears running down his face. “O—”

“Wait!” Hinata’s eyes flew open, and he locked them onto Kuroo’s. “I love you, Kuroo Tetsurou.” He smiled. “There. Nine, officially.”

Kuroo laughed softly through his tears. “Nine it is.” Hinata shut his eyes. “One year, Hinata Shouyou.”

As soon as Kuroo was gone, Hinata started sobbing.

~

They had more to work with than ever before—exponentially so—but time was not on their side. Even the most esoteric of mythological texts yielded nothing helpful. When spring rolled around, they weren’t any closer to a solution. (Though they did start sprinkling salt outside the apartment building when they got the chance.)

But they didn’t give up. Before they’d only been able to theorize scenarios, and now they could, well, theorize way more accurate and detailed scenarios. Which always led them back to the same questions. How many years did Kuroo need, how many of those years did he have, and what was going to happen if those numbers did or did not match on the twenty-fourth of April 2029?

It was an off day. Not from work, they’d retired as planned, but from any obligations outside their home. Hinata was continuing his efforts to drag Bokuto kicking and screaming into the 2020s, albeit nearly a decade too late. He was watching Bokuto like a hawk as he went through his stuffed file cabinet, scanning the to-be-recycled pages and tossing them into the enormous plastic bin that usually stored most of their old volleyball stuff.

“All the great mathematicians worked in a physical medium!” Bokuto was griping.

“No,” Hinata corrected, “all the great mathematicians of the 20th and prior centuries worked in a physical medium. Why? Because there wasn’t anything else.”

Bokuto just grumbled.

As Hinata was passing the reader over a page, a diagram caught his eye. “Hey, I remember this! It’s the thing! The thing the guy came up with! The problem!”

Bokuto sighed. “Babe, you’re gonna have to be more specific.”

“You know, the guy! Hildon!”

“Who?”

“Twenty-three problems guy!”

“Ohhh. It’s Hilbert actually, but go on.”

Hinata squinted at the paper. “What was it you said? A closed thing, right? So, a loop? And… something about other things spiraling into it as you go to infinity or negative infinity.”

“I think you’re talking about a limit cycle. How do you even remember that? And what does it have to do with…”

“Well the picture—”

Diagram.”

“—helps. But okay, so the time… can you have a limit cycle that works in both directions? Infinity and negative infinity?”

“Well, yes, it’s called a semi-stable limit cycle. Trajectories spiral in both as… oh my god.”

“Right?!”

“Oh my god. It can’t be… can it?”

“You tell me!”

“The same two beings from different planes meeting, cosmically that has to be some sort of fixed location. Trajectory closed. The years Kuroo earns, those lives that exist on their own and then revert to him, effectively spiraling in.” Bokuto looked up at Hinata, eyes wider than they’d ever been. “Holy shit. I think… I think you’re right. The magic… it’s…”

Hinata nodded. “It’s all math.”

Bokuto just sat there a for minute, looking utterly bowled over.

Hinata laughed at his expression. “Right?!”

Bokuto nodded. “Yeah. Wow. So. That’s a thing.”

“Looks like.” Hinata fidgeted for a moment, desperately hopeful but trying to hold it back, then asked, “So, given as much paper as you want, can you, uh… can you do something with that?”

Bokuto cracked his knuckles. “Babe, I’ve been doing this shit for fun for the last twenty years. I can do everything with that.”

Hinata grinned.

Of course they still needed the answers to their questions, but now they knew that when they got those answers, they could actually do something with them. And in the meantime, they—well, Bokuto, but Hinata provided food, beverages, and moral support—could start constructing theoretical models of the situation.

They were really getting somewhere by the time Bokuto’s day rolled around, and a few hours before midnight, Hinata left the apartment. On his way out the door, he kissed Bokuto, then stood there with his palms still on Bokuto’s chest. “Two numbers,” he murmured. “That’s all we really need. If you can get the terms, great. But get those fucking numbers.”

Bokuto was tense, but he smiled. “I think we’ve narrowed it down nicely. I’ve got this.”

Hinata kissed him again. “See you in about twenty-six hours.”

Bokuto nodded. “See you then.”

When the door clicked shut, Hinata slowly dragged a hand over his face. Okay. What was he going to do for twenty-six hours?

The answer was not much. He hadn’t made plans to stay with a friend this time—he was in no fit state for company. He spent the night in a capsule hotel, then holed up in a café, and when that closed a bar, until he could head home again.

When he unlocked the door, Bokuto was seated at the kotatsu, scribbling something. He glanced up when he heard the door. Hinata didn’t even have to ask. Because Bokuto just grinned and said, “Two thousand, three hundred and thirteen.”

The tension drained out of Hinata in an instant, replaced by both relief and excitement. “Yes!” he cried with a fistpump. “Who called that? I called that! Ha! Defeated!” He stripped out of his jacket and hung it by the door. “I knew he was being too weird about that nine.” He was walking toward Bokuto when his brow furrowed. “Wait, did you also get the number of…?”

Bokuto feigned shock. “Babe, you doubted me?”

Hinata smiled softly and knelt down to kiss him. “Never.”

Bokuto wrapped his arms around Hinata. “Wise man. Now, I think someone won a bet.”

“You know, I think I might have. And I—” he stopped. “Gosh. Poor Kuroo. Is this maybe in poor taste?”

Bokuto gave him a wolfish grin. “I like your taste.”

“Oh my, Bokuto-san,” Hinata purred. “In that case…”

He didn’t have the chance—nor did he need—to finish the thought. And anyway, it was late. A good time to go to bed.

When they woke up the next morning, Hinata made tea and they re-settled themselves at the kotatsu.

“So,” Hinata asked as he blew on his tea, “what are we working with? Lay it all out.”

Bokuto nodded. “Okay, well, the Poincaré–Bendixson theorem predicts the existence of limit cycles of two-dimensional nonlinear dy—”

“Kou,” Hinata groaned. “For those of us in the remedial class.”

“Right. Um. Okay, our limit cycle theory should hold in our dimension, and in at least a few others, hopefully the one we need. So now it comes down to number crunching.” He tapped a finger against the paper in front of him. “Like you thought, he’s supposed to collect two thousand, three hundred and thirteen years. Nine times the number of lives he saved.” Bokuto sighed. “He currently has two thousand, two hundred and ninety-five.” Before Hinata had to do the arithmetic, Bokuto continued, “Which means that when your contract ends this year, he’ll have two thousand, three hundred and twelve.”

Hinata nodded. “And then when April rolls around, he gets the twenty-two years that have passed from you. Good. So do you know what will happen when…” he trailed off uncertainly, as Bokuto was frowning.

“That’s what I thought last night,” Bokuto said. “But now… I think I was wrong.” He shuffled his papers. “I didn’t sleep well, and started thinking about it. I’m all but positive that a contract can’t be collected early. I… I think he doesn’t get anything from me.”

Hinata felt a little sick. “And then, when he doesn’t have enough years, what happens?”

“I don’t know,” Bokuto said, frustration giving his voice an edge. “But I can figure it out.”

“Can you figure it out very, very quickly?”

Bokuto grabbed his pencil. “I can try.”

And sure enough, it was only a week and a half later that while Hinata was doing the dishes he heard Bokuto behind him throw something and growl, “Shit.”

Hinata turned around, hands wet, to see Bokuto looking gutted. “Hon? What’s wrong?”

Bokuto just stared at his work in front of him. “I figured it out. What happens if… when, Kuroo fails.”

Dread crept up Hinata’s spine. He didn’t want to ask, didn’t really want to know, but the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “What happens?”

Bokuto gingerly picked up a single sheet of paper, like it might bite. “It resets,” he said in a monotone. “It all resets. They all die, and we never exist.”

Hinata’s hands flew to his mouth, water drops flying everywhere. “Are… are you sure?”

Bokuto looked up at him and nodded miserably. “I’m sure.”

“Okay. And Kuroo?”

“Lives out his mortal life as the sole survivor.”

Hinata took a very long, slow breath in and out. “Okay. We need that to not happen.”

“Agreed.” Bokuto said. “Any ideas on how to do that?”

Hinata bit his lip. “We’re definitely the only two he’s got?”

“Definitely.”

“Okay… uh… is there any way you and I could swap? You give me your—”

Bokuto was already shaking his head. “Thought of that.”

“Right. Okay.” Hinata looked at the sink. In a few months, he’ll have never existed. These dishes? Won’t have existed. Will never have been here to wash. And he will never have been here to wash them. He picked up the next bowl, and gripped it tight. “I am going to fix this,” he promised. Promised himself, promised Bokuto, promised Kuroo, hell, promised the bowl. He looked back at Bokuto. “I can do this. I know it’s out there. Kuroo may not believe me, you may not believe me, but I can fix this.”

Bokuto still looked wrecked, but he smiled. “I believe you.”

“Good.” Hinata held up the bowl. “I’m going to finish the dishes.” He washed slowly, thoroughly, and made sure every piece was dry before putting it away. He rinsed out the sink, wiped down the counters, and hung the used dishrag and towel to dry. Task complete, he pulled his wedding ring back out of his pocket and… and… and looked at it. His thoughts were swirling. He’ll only have been married nine years when he… nine years… nine years…

He staggered backward, dropping the ring. Which rolled under the fridge. “Shit.” He started to kneel down to look for it, then stood back up saying, “But, wait, no, I…” he knelt down again, said, “Fuck!” and started reaching around under the fridge. The ring hadn’t rolled far, and once he had it in hand, he walked over to the kotatsu. He set the ring down in front of Bokuto with an audible click. “This.”

Bokuto looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. “I hope this isn’t your way of asking for a divorce.” Hinata squawked and Bokuto tugged at his hand with a smile. “I know. Come down here.” Hinata sat down, and Bokuto picked up the ring. He looked at it, spun it, then held it out to Hinata. “Why yes. It is, in fact, a ring.”

“Oh no it’s not.” Hinata plucked the ring from Bokuto’s fingers and slid it back on. “When we got married, what did Kuroo say to you?”

Bokuto gave him a strange look. “Uh, something about rights to me, and something freely and gladly.”

Hinata rolled his eyes. “To think, after fewer than ten years of marriage, our wedding is already so faded in your memory.”

“Well it’s not like we could hire a photographer,” Bokuto said. “Honestly though, where are you going with this?”

“I’ll tell you where I’m going, and I’ll tell you what Kuroo said. Or, said to me, at least. He said, ‘With my rights to your being, I give you, freely and gladly, to Bokuto Koutarou.’” Hinata looked at Bokuto expectantly. “Is that what he said to you?”

“Yeah, that sounds right. Why?”

“In a minute.” Hinata waved a hand. “Now, what year was it?”

“2020,” Bokuto answered. “For you, 2019.”

“Right. And how many years did we each have left?”

Bokuto frowned. “Shouyou, stop. Just tell me wh…” His eyes went wide, his mouth wider, and he brought a hand to cover it.

Hinata licked his lips. “Tell me.”

Bokuto nodded slowly. “I had ten. You had nine.”

“That’s right, and?”

“And he gave them to us. You’ll give him seventeen. I would have given him twenty-three. And if we do nothing, that’s how it plays out.” He was shaking his head in disbelief, but starting to smile. “But he gave nine of your years to me, and he gave ten of my years to you.”

Hinata was practically vibrating. “Which means?”

“Which means that we…” Bokuto broke off  with the soft gasp that meant he was about to start crying. “Which means that we have nineteen years. We have nineteen years!”

Hinata beamed. “Nineteen years, just up for grabs. And what’s two thousand two hundred and ninety-five plus nineteen?”

“Oh my… oh my god.” The tears started spilling down Bokuto’s cheeks. “You did it. You actually did it.”

Hinata couldn’t even feign offence, just grinned as he said, “You doubted me?”

Bokuto laughed wetly. “Never.”

It took them a while to make sure it would actually work, the burden of grunt work falling back to Bokuto, but Hinata now maintained they were actually even, because of his own—to borrow Kuroo’s term—symphonies. That said, he still provided food, beverages, and moral support, though the moral support tended to be a little more hands-on this time. Happiness could do that to a person.

In the week leading up to Hinata’s day, they tried to figure out how to do this in a way that would be the least stressful for Kuroo, but the truth was, the guy was gonna have a rough time.

Just before midnight, they kissed in their bedroom doorway, then shut the door, one on each side. Bokuto, the bastard, got the bed. It made more sense that way, but Hinata groaned as he tried to get comfortable on his makeshift bed of cushions. “Too damn old for this.”

He wasn’t sure exactly how long he’d been asleep, but when Hinata opened his eyes, light was only just starting to fill the sky, so he couldn’t have missed much of the day yet. Then he registered Kuroo kneeling at the foot of his ‘bed.’ He rubbed his eyes. “You’ve never shown up while I was asleep before,” he said muzzily.

Kuroo just watched him impassively. “This isn’t like the other years, Shouyou.”

Hinata was coming more fully into wakefulness. “Well you’re certainly right about that. Go sit, I’ll be right back.” Ignoring Kuroo’s confusion, Hinata went through his morning routine, but stopped at tea, rather than breakfast.

When he carried over the pot and two cups, Kuroo frowned. “I can’t drink. You know that.”

Hinata looked at the second cup. “Ah, that’s right.” He shrugged. “Must have slipped my mind.”

Kuroo was looking at him strangely. “Shouyou, you’re….” He apparently didn’t know how to finish the sentence, because he just stopped.

“We’ve got all day, right?” Hinata asked casually, and Kuroo nodded. “Great. ‘Cause I have something to run by you.” He blew on his tea. “So I know that you know that we know what’s going on with you. For the most part, at least. Might be shaky on a couple details, but few important ones. Only one important one really, and we’re going to experience it first-hand fairly soon. So sit tight, and let me talk.”

Kuroo was very on-edge, but Hinata just took a long sip of tea, then placed the cup back on the table.

“So. This… creature, being, entity, thing, behind all of this. As we’ve established, it’s not nice. And if you read the stories, it’s impossible to beat. Not with what it knows. And it must know everything. The detailed knowledge of past, present, and future required to plan such exquisitely ironic tragedies seem to make it clear that this thing is all-seeing. Which in turn means this was exactly what it always planned: for you to fail by a single year.”

“Sounds about right,” Kuroo said miserably.

Hinata shook his head. “But here’s the thing. I actually don’t think it’s all-seeing. I think it’s just very good at math, and a bit of a gambler. I think that the reason all the stories about it are terrifying, is that only the terrifying stories were worth telling. Worth warning people about. The deals that went smoothly, that went as the ‘victims’ intended, no one even knew there was a story to tell. And come on, if it really knew everything, why would it bother playing games? If you know the outcome, it’s not a game at all.”

Kuroo opened and shut his mouth, but didn’t say anything.

“Exactly,” Hinata said. “And that’s why I don’t think it has any idea what’s about to happen.” He poured some tea into the second cup, then turned his head toward the bedroom door and called out, “Okay, hon!”

When Bokuto walked into the room, Kuroo went pale. “What? No!”

Bokuto took a seat next to Hinata and picked up his tea. “Good to see you, too.”

Kuroo was shaking his head. “This… no. You can’t…”

“Oh hush,” Hinata said. “You don’t even know what we’re going to do yet.”

“There is nothing you can… what are you doing?”

Hinata and Bokuto had both removed their wedding rings and placed them on the table.

“We,” Bokuto said grandly, “are giving you a present.”

Kuroo stared at them nonplussed. “Your rings?”

“No, no,” Hinata clarified. “We’re giving you something much better than rings. We are giving you nineteen years.”

Kuroo’s face turned stormy. “Don’t fucking joke about this, Shouyou. It is… not, uh, not the…” he faltered and stopped when he realized they were both just watching him, perfectly peaceful. “What are you talking about?”

“You married us,” Bokuto said. “Our officiant and only guest. How well do you remember those little ceremonies?”

Kuroo smiled a bit sadly. “I remember how happy you were.”

“Well, we remembered a few more of the details.” Bokuto winced as Hinata elbowed him, then cleared his throat. “Well, Shouyou remembered a few more of the details.”

Hinata nodded regally. “I did. And what I remembered was that when I had nine years left, you gave me, freely and gladly, to Koutarou.” He tapped Bokuto’s ring. “Nine years.”

“And when I had ten years left, you gave me, freely and gladly, to Shouyou.” Bokuto in turn tapped Hinata’s ring. “Ten years.”

“And I’m no math whiz,” Hinata continued, “but I think even I can work that one out.”

Kuroo gaped at them. “But surely that can’t… I can’t…”

“Of course you can,” Hinata said. “You make trades. Years of life in return for miracles. And this trade is perfect. My debt is paid in full and then some, and Bokuto’s contract falls through when… well… when whatever happens if you succeed… happens.” Hinata smiled. “Come on Kuroo. Let’s try for just one more miracle.”

Kuroo looked down at their wedding rings. Studied them for a long moment, then reached out and touched them, and eventually picked them up and closed his fist around them. “Yeah,” he said. “One more miracle.” He shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”

For an exchange of such importance, it was absurdly simple.

Bokuto went first, kneeling in front of Kuroo with their hands over each other’s hearts and the words, “With my rights to his being, I, Bokuto Koutarou, give you, freely and gladly,” he grinned, “the nine years of Hinata Shouyou’s life you left in my keeping.”

Then Hinata. “With my rights to his being, I, Hinata Shouyou give you the ten years of Bokuto Koutarou’s life you left in my keeping, thereby repaying my debt.”

They just sat there in silence for several seconds, and eventually Bokuto glanced around. “Did it work?”

Then the windows—and from the sound of it everything else breakable—shattered. Under other circumstances the vast and very dangerous mess would have been worthy of notice.

At the moment, they were a little more concerned about the massive gray cloud churning above them. Bokuto and Hinata glanced at each other, neither of them prepared for this, but when they looked at Kuroo, it was clear this was exactly what he’d expected.

“You can be as mad as you want,” Kuroo yelled over the sound of the rushing wind. “But I did it. I did it.”

The could convulsed, then coalesced into a slightly-larger-than-human shape, and a mask appeared where its face should be. It approached Kuroo, red lines crackling inside it. “You cheated,” it accused, then laughed, an eerie, unnatural sound. “I’m almost proud.” Now blue started twining through it. “A deal’s a deal. And you do remember our deal, don’t you?”

“Don’t answer it!” Hinata cried before Kuroo could say anything. “Did you hear that, how it emphasized that? It’s trying to trick you somehow.” The thing suddenly rushed at him and he quickly braced himself, but… nothing happened, and then they heard the same unnerving laugh.

“You, I fear, have been too clever by half,” it said as it hovered over him.

Hinata ignored it and focused on Kuroo. “There’s got to be something specific. Something that might get fuzzy over a couple hundred years, but is somehow relevant right now. Everything so far has hinged on knowing exactly what was said. So when you made your deal, what did you say?”

“I said… god, I don’t know. Like you said, it was hundreds of years ago!”

“Tick, tock,” the being said, now with shimmering green stripes as it circled Kuroo.

“It’s in there, Kuroo.” Hinata said. “I know it is, because mine is. Admittedly, I’ve only been at it seventeen years, but it’s the kind of thing that sticks. I said, ‘Help me.’ I said, ‘Please, help me.’ Do you remember what you said to me, Kuroo? You asked me what it was worth to me. And I said, ‘Anything. Anything, I swear.’ That moment is burned into you—” he placed a hand over his heart, or rather, his mark, “—as sure as this is. Don’t tell me you don’t remember.”

Kuroo bit his lip. “Hang on.” He shut his eyes, and his face morphed through a series of terrible emotions. “I said, ‘Bring them back.’”

“Not that, Kuroo. Not the beginning. What did you say at the end?”

Kuroo shook his head and opened his eyes. “I…” he paused for a moment, “no, I… I asked what I’d get if I did it. Not the others. Me.” He turned on the shifting entity. “You asked me what I wanted if I succeeded.” It was turning purple and starting to churn once more, but Kuroo stood his ground. “And do you know what I told you? I said, ‘Put me back with the people I love.’” His eyes were blazing. “You let me set the terms, and I said ‘love,’ not ‘loved.’ And the people I love? They’re right here.”

Sparks of electricity began firing inside the shifting mass, and it got bigger and bigger. But with the cosmic equivalent of a sigh, it collapsed in on itself, returning to its former size and keeping that mask of a face.

“I should send you back to Miyako-jima,” it said plaintively. “I really should. But…” it swirled a bit, “…that would technically be the spirit of the law, and as your young man here once pointed out, I’m all about the letter.” It drifted back over to Hinata and Bokuto. “Besides, I’m a bit—and please recognize this for the rarity it is—I’m actually a bit impressed. It is, as you know, exceptionally rare for me to completely miss a possible outcome. I congratulate you.” It pulsed black, then white, and it’s voice got deeper and louder. “I recommend you don’t try to do it again.”

Bokuto grinned. “Nah, three miracles is my limit. How about you babe?”

Hinata sniffed. “Eh, I’m alright with three. Thanks, hon.”

“Hilarious,” it said, in a decent deadpan for a supernatural being without physical form.

Bokuto looked around. “So… we good? Oh, and can you maybe fix all the shit you broke?”

Hinata facepalmed.

“I will never get used to this millennium, I swear,” the thing grumbled. “But we are, as you said, ‘good.’ Just one more thing.” It turned jet black and completely engulfed Kuroo, for long enough that Hinata and Bokuto started looking at each other nervously.

Then there was a bright light, their ears popped, and everything was back the way it was before it had arrived.

Well, almost everything.

“Oh my god, what’s wrong with… what is that sound?! Why do…” Kuroo’s hands started patting all over his body, and when he was finished, he gaped at Hinata and Bokuto. “It’s my heart! I have blood! In my body that I also have!”

Hinata started laughing, but Bokuto smirked. “You know, it just so happens that I know a couple fun things you can do with a body, if you wanna take that sucker for a test drive.”

Kuroo blushed furiously and Hinata just laughed harder.

Later, when they were curled up in bed, Hinata started making sounds about them needing to buy a bigger one if they were going to carry on like this.

“Huh.” Bokuto said. “Good idea, but I don’t know that this room is going to fit a… oh whoa, wait, we can go live in a real place if we want to! We can like, buy a house or something! We—” he froze. “Oh my god! Shit! We need jobs! None of us are trained for anything! What are we—”

Hinata flapped a hand an him. “Shhh, it’s fine. We’ve got time to figure it all out.”

At those words, Kuroo chuckled and pulled them both a little closer. “Yeah,” he said, so happy it hurt. “We’ve got time.”