“Think of it this way,” Miyaji suggests. “You can put 'Experienced Nanny' on your resume, after three years of this. Ootsubo will give you a reference.”
“How does that help me?” Takao demands. “I want to be a physical therapist, not a freaking babysitter. Besides, you're the ones that picked him for the team, I'm just an innocent bystander in all of this.”
“Watch how you talk to your seniors, kiddo,” Kimura says gruffly, raising an eyebrow at him. “You're the one that's good with him. You already signed on for the gig, whether you like it or not.”
“But it's the Kanda Festival!” Takao whines, shoving his hands in his pockets. It's no use, he never really thought he'd win this one. Still, it feels nice to complain, and the seniors will give him a little rope in his instance, given what he has to deal with.
“I don't really know why you're making such a fuss,” Ootsubo shrugs. “I thought you got along with him. You guys are always together, anyways.”
Well, he does kind of have Takao there. “But,” he tries to explain. “I don't – it's not like I want to always be with him, but we're always training, and then he always wanders off to spy on his old teammates, and God only knows what kind of trouble he'd get in if I didn't keep an eye on him – oh fine,” he sighs, seeing his senpais' faces light up with triumph all at once. He hangs his head in a dramatic display of dejectedness. “I'll be Shin-chan's chaperone. But you guys owe me, seriously.”
Miyaji scoffs. “You're a freshman, we don't owe you shit. Come on, guys.”
They vanish into the crowd, and even Ootsubo's towering bulk is quickly blocked out by a passing parade float. Great. So much for team spirit.
Right on cue, his phone buzzes.
I will be at our scheduled meeting point in four minutes.
He types back, Okay, and hurries to the intersection where the seniors had told them to meet at three o'clock, and then later told everyone but Midorima to actually meet a few blocks over at two-thirty.
He does feel a little sorry for the guy, honestly. Sure, he's kind of a pain, but the rest of the team treats him like he's a leper outside of the basketball court sometimes. Normally Takao doesn't mind him all that much, not that he'd necessarily admit it, but Midorima's quirks can be rather endearing, in the right context. Unfortunately for him, that context is not a festival full of pretty girls and funny, embarrassing games. Midorima likes to get caught up in the tradition behind all this noise, ignores the socialization aspect in favor of standing in line at all the shrines and applying himself as diligently to the carnival games as he does to everything else, no matter how Takao protests that demonstrating one's utter superiority in all things is not the point of a festival.
A couple of large men skip by in frilly dresses and parisols, and a pack of schoolgirls next to Takao dissolves into giggles. He sighs longingly, and prepares to face his fate.
“Ah, Shin-chan!” He turns, plastering a smile on his face. Midorima's wearing a yukata. Of course he is. “Glad you could make it.”
Midorima frowns at his watch. “Am I late? Or have you suddenly discovered the concept of punctuality?”
“You wound me, Shin-chan. No, I was actually already here with my parents, they went off,” he waves his arm vaguely towards the parade. “Somewhere. The rest of the guys are around, too. I'm not exactly sure where.”
Midorima looks at his watch again. “They said to meet here. I assumed the entire team would be present.”
Takao feels a twinge in his chest as he shrugs and says, “Yeah, well. It's a festival, you know how things get. Kimura heard something about pineapple barbeque, next thing I know they're all lost to the crowd. Hawk's Eye only works up to a certain point.”
“I see.” Midorima pushes his glasses up. Takao used to think it was a habit borne out of pride, or pompousness, but he's recently started to wonder if it's actually the opposite, if it's some kind of mechanism to ward off insecurity. Despite his status as a Teikou Miracle, Midorima is still a teenage boy, and a smart teenage boy at that, he probably knows Takao's lying.
“I'm sorry,” Takao says sheepishly, casting his eyes down. “If it makes you feel any better, they didn't want to hang out with me either.”
“Don't be ridiculous, I couldn't care less what you or any of the regulars do in your free time,” Midorima replies. “Have you been to the shrine yet?”
“As it happens, no,” Takao says, spreading his hands. “I take it that's where you want to go first?”
“That was my intention. You may accompany me, if you wish,” Midorima offers.
Takao imagines himself receiving a medal of honor for bravery in the face of certain endless tedium, and allows himself to be dragged along through the streets behind their unyielding ace.
“Shin-chan, I'm hungry,” he repeats, slumping backwards against a street sign. “We've been running around for hours, this is a festival, not basketball practice. I need sustenance to continue.”
Midorima looks at him as though he is the pinnacle of inconvenience. “Did you not eat before you came here?”
“I did, but – one: basketball metabolism, I know you have it too – two: hours, Shin-chan.” He rubs ineffectively at his stomach. “I can only go, like, three tops, and then it's time to feed the beast again.”
Midorima opens his mouth as if to argue, but by some miracle of justice, his stomach picks that exact moment to let out a substantial rumble, thus negating any protest he was about to make.
Takao's face splits into a grin. “Sorry, didn't catch that?”
“Die,” Midorima mutters, pushing up his glasses again. Yep, definitely masking embarrassment. Well. That's actually kind of adorable, which is an entirely disturbing thing to be thinking about Midorima Shintarou, and probably a mark of how deliriously hungry Takao is.
“Ikayaki?” Takao suggests hopefully. “I saw a stand just back that way, the line wasn't too bad. I'll pay, if you want.”
Midorima nods. “Very well,” he agrees. “There's just one more thing I want to do first.”
“Shin-chan,” Takao groans. “If I die of starvation, who will pass to you? How will you ever score another three-pointer?”
“I am confident I could find a suitable replacement for you,” Midorima says, raising an eyebrow. Takao blinks, is he trying to joke? “However, I seriously doubt your life is in grave danger as of yet. The booth I want to visit is right here.”
He gestures to a small tent next to them and – oh, of course, Takao should've known. The banner reads: See What the Future Holds! with a small sign informing them that Oha Asa has endorsed their particular brand of fortune telling. Really, it's a miracle they haven't been in twelve of these booths already.
“All right, then,” Takao concedes, waving his hand disinterestedly at the entrance. “Go on, find out what you're getting for Christmas. I'll be here, wasting away.”
“Try not to wither completely,” Midorima says dryly. “This shouldn't take long.” Then he disappears inside the tent, and Takao contemplates sinking to the ground, deciding after a moment that it would be more difficult to get back up than to remain standing at this point.
Festivals with Midorima are a lot of work.
Fortunately, it's only a few minutes before Midorima emerges again, looking pensive and faraway. Takao falters, curious, and then steps to his side.
“Ah.” Midorima flushes slightly, and Takao can only stare. “She was rather frivolous, actually. If I wanted to hear dozens of veiled insinuations about my romantic life, I'd get one of those trashy horoscopes Kise subscribes to.”
“Ooh,” Takao grins, elbowing him. “So, who's the lucky lady? Anyone we know? Or – don't tell me – you and Miyaji are going to lock eyes over a bowl of pineapple jelly?”
“I highly doubt that was her intended meaning,” Midorima says acidly. “But if you're so curious, by all means.” He gestures to the booth.
Takao shakes his head. “I'm good. I already know my romantic future: marry the most popular cheerleader, five screaming brats, lovely understated manor in the suburbs and a penthouse in the city with a view of Toyko Bay. Possibly a mistress or two, if the cheerleader gets fat, you know.”
“I despair for the female race,” Midorima deadpans. “Still, I think you ought to get a reading. Better to know ahead of time, in case any misfortune is coming your way.”
Takao's not going to bother reiterating himself on the subject of astrology and Midorima's alarming faith in its accuracy, he knows by now it's a wasted effort. In truth, Midorima hasn't been as difficult as usual to be around, downright pleasant after the twentieth mikoshi they visited, and somewhere along the line he's even developed a sense of humor, which is something Takao should probably reinforce.
“Alright, I'll give it a whirl,” he says. “But we're getting ikayaki after this, no more stops. I really will die.”
Midorima nods solemnly. “Yes, I'm hungry as well, as you observed. We'll refuel and then go see which mikoshi they're parading with.”
“Excellent, more shrines,” Takao nods. “Something to look forward to.” Before Midorima can glare at him in response, he ducks under the tent flap, blinking disorientedly in the dampened pink light.
“I don't suppose you offer love horoscopes,” he jokes, eyeing the pastel hearts on the tablecloth.
The woman seated there beams at him. “For only 500 yen, I can give you a glimpse of your heart's future,” she pronounces, spreading her hands to display several stacks of pamphlets papering the table. “If you want to know more, we have several exciting membership plans for you to – to – ”
It takes Takao a moment to realize she's gaping openly at him.
“Um,” he says, and tries to discreetly check if his fly is open. “Something wrong?”
“Oh, no,” she says wonderingly. “Quite the opposite. Please – please sit.”
He does, somewhat warily.
She takes a deep breath, then reaches out and takes his hand. “The fates have a message for you, Takao Kazunari.”
He jerks his hand back on reflex. Whoa. That's not totally creepy, no way. “Uh, do we know each other?”
She shakes her head. “It is not for you to know me, Takao. I am merely a vessel.”
“Right.” Whatever that means. “Look, can we just – ”
“Would you like to see the message?”
“I guess – wait, 'see'? Don't you mean 'hear'? What are you – ” he starts to say, but the last thing he sees at all is the woman's brimming smile, and then everything goes black.
Takao shifts under the covers, moaning sofly into his pillow. No, not yet, he thinks. He was just getting to the good part of the dream.
“No,” he grumbles. “Quiet, you.”
Somewhere between the fifth and sixth beep, Takao becomes dimly aware that his alarm clock, the one that lives next to his bed and is tuned to his favorite radio station at all times, does not, in fact, beep.
Also, he's naked.
“Kazu,” someone says next to him. “Kazu, turn the alarm off, for heaven's sake.”
“Jesus,” the other person snaps, jerking to life and out from under the covers. “What's wrong? Are you all right?”
Takao grapples frantically for the sheets, trying to pull them up around his waist, heart pounding in his chest, and looks up into the concerned green eyes of –
Midorima blinks. It is him, Takao's certain of it, but also...not. His face is older, sharper, some lines here and there, his hair is shorter and mussed from sleeping. His body – Takao swallows, and quickly jerks his eyes upward, because Midorima is naked too, apart from a pair of navy boxer briefs.
“You haven't called me that in years,” Not-Midorima says, leaning forward and pressing his palm against Takao's face. Takao is too stunned to move, to even breathe. “Were you dreaming?”
Takao swallows. “I think I still am,” he manages to say. “What – how? What?”
Not-Midorima pulls back from him, still frowning. “I told you there was something funny about that chicken last night,” he says. “Stay here, I'm going to get my kit. Don't fall back asleep.”
That's not likely, Takao doesn't say. His heart is beating so fast he think he might hyperventilate. He'd thought he was dreaming – of being at the festival, with Midorima, and the fortune teller saying she was going to show him –
A glint of gold catches his eye as he goes to push his hair out of his face, and he looks down to see a thin band wrapped around the ring finger of his left hand, the polish warm and worn like it's been there for quite some time.
He slips the ring off, weighing it in his palm. Definitely real gold. There's an inscription on the inside – he squints and reads: Together.
“You've got to be fucking kidding me,” he says out loud. Then he makes the mistake of looking up, directly into a mirror across from the bed, and screams again.
“You're going to give Naoko a heart attack if you keep doing that.” Takao's retreated back under the blankets, but there's no mistaking Midorima's all-business-voice, even if he is mysteriously ten, maybe twenty years older. Even if Takao is older, too, with –
“What is wrong with you? Let me look at you, you're starting to worry me.”
“Don't look at me,” Takao groans, holding the covers down over his head. “I'm old. I'm balding.” If this was the illustrious future the fates wanted to show him, he may as well kill himself right away.
“This again,” Midorima sighs. “Kazu, your hair has grown back quite well, I'll remind you, even the hair on your chest, which you've made no small effort to bring to my attention.”
Takao reaches up and pats his chest, and, yeah, wow, there's some hair there. Well, that's kind of cool.
Wait a minute.
He pulls the blankets back over his head. “Grown back?”
“Yes,” Midorima says exasperatedly. “And your scans have been clean for months now, I promise you we'll keep on top of it, but I really do believe you're in the clear.” There's an unidentifiable expression on his face as he reaches out and carefully pushes some of Takao's hair behind his ear. “You gave me quite a fright just now. I'm going to have to ask you to refrain from doing that until at least next spring, I've spent far too much time this year worrying about you.”
There's a ring on his left hand, too. No tape. Takao's mouth is utterly dry, he can't think of a single thing to say.
Is this real?
“Come on, Naoko's made us breakfast. She wants to show you what she learned in her cooking class this week.” Midorima leans forward, and Takao goes even more still as lips are pressed to his forehead, not lingering, intimately familiar and yet utterly foreign.
Once Midorima's left the room again, Takao pinches himself frantically. He holds his breath until stars pop in front of his eyes, but when he opens them, he's in exactly the same spot. Still naked, still hairy-chested, still married, apparently. To Midorima.
He shudders, imagining what that wedding must've been like, and that ends up being the impetus that gets him out of bed and into a robe that he assumes is his when the sleeves don't reach his knees.
When he finds his way to the kitchen and comes face to face with a pre-teen girl brandishing a set of chopsticks at him, he barely manages not to scream again.
“Dad,” she says, with alarmingly familiar impatience, “It's just tamago. Try it.”
“It's good,” Midorima says from the table. “Not too sweet. Kazu, you'll like it anyways.”
“I – mmph.” Takao's retort is cut off by Naoko – his daughter, his daughter with Midorima, none of this is ever going to stop being unbelievable – giving up on waiting for him and stuffing the omelette in his mouth. “Ah,” he nods, chewing, swallowing, trying not to choke. “Yes, that is good. Um, I'm sorry, I'm a little disoriented this morning.” He wipes a hand over his forehead and laughs. “Must be tired, or something.”
Naoko looks him up and down, then drops the chopsticks down on the kitchen counter and marches over to Midorima. “You said his scans were clean,” she accuses, leaning over the table. “You said it was completely gone, that you removed it all, and the chemo took care of the rest – ”
“Naoko.” Midorima's voice is firm. “Your father is fine, he's just tired. Not everything is cancer.”
They both look at Takao, and he blinks. “Cancer?”
“Wow, you are tired,” Naoko remarks. “I can't even remember the last time you didn't say, 'oh, everything's cancer to you, Mr. Oncologist,' it's terribly unclever, I know you only say it to embarrass me.” She turns back to Midorima. “You think it was that chicken? We told him not to eat it.”
Takao is fairly certain he's really going to have a heart attack if he thinks about cancer, or the fact that he apparently had it, so he shoves that piece of information at far back in his mind as it will go.
“We did,” Midorima agrees, sipping his miso. “We tell your father many things, Naoko, to which he chooses not to listen.”
Two Shin-chans, Takao thinks faintly, as they fix their identical imperious gazes upon. There are two of them. This is my future.
“Is that salmon?” he asks, pointing to the grill. “I'm famished, I'm eating the whole pile.”
“Definitely the chicken,” Naoko says in an undertone. “Papa, we need to keep better track of his leftovers.”
“I'll leave that to you,” Midorima says. “This tamago really is excellent, Naoko. You'll have to make me some for my lunch tomorrow.”
She bows, smiling prettily. “You should know better than to doubt me by now, Papa.”
“Good God,” Takao says through a mouthful of salmon. “She's worse than you are, Shin-ch – Shintarou.”
Naoko pouts at him. “Kuroko-sensei says I'm much nicer than Papa ever was in middle school.”
Takao almost spits out his food.
“Kuroko-sensei is right about that,” Midorima agrees grudgingly.
She gives Takao a sly look. “Kuroko-sensei says Papa was quite unbearable until he met you, Dad.”
Midorima's ears go pink.
“Well,” Takao shrugs, taking a long sip of miso and thoroughly burning his tongue, “What can I say, I tend to have that effect on people.”
Naoko rolls her eyes. “Oh, Papa,” she says, setting down her rice and glancing at the clock. “It's eight. We should go.”
“Yes, you're right.” Midorima stands up. “Let me just get my coat.”
“Where're you guys going?” Takao asks, hoping this isn't one of those things he's obviously meant to know.
“I'm walking with Naoko to soccer practice; her coach wants to discuss their upcoming schedule with all the parents,” Midorima says, taking long strides to a hall closet and pulling out a light jacket. “I won't be long.”
“I'll clean up,” Takao suggests. Assuming he can find where everything goes. Assuming kitchens work the way they used to in this bizarre, distant future. “Have fun!”
Naoko swings a gym bag over her shoulder and blows him a kiss once Midorima's out of sight, to his utter bemusement. He winks, not knowing how else to respond, but that seems to be the appropriate reaction, because she smiles at him and then disappears around the corner, followed shortly by the sound of a door clicking shut.
Takao lets out a long breath. “Well,” he says, to no one in particular. “I've seen it, Fate. Thanks for the heads up. You can take me back to my life now.” He closes his eyes, and waits.
Several seconds pass. He opens his eyes. He's still in the kitchen.
Takao supposes he has two options. One, he could panic. It's not entirely unappealing, if he's honest with himself. Although, any attempt to get to the bottom of his current predicament would likely end up with him in a mental hospital. Midorima's superstitious, but Takao doubts that his faith in preordained destiny stretches so far as to accept time travel. Also, Naoko seems like a sweet girl, and he would feel guilty for upsetting her any more than he obviously already has, being sick.
Ah, that's very frightening. If this really is the future, Takao's going to get cancer. That really doesn't sound like fun at all. He'll have to check himself for surgical scars in the shower – and that's the second option, isn't it? Clean the kitchen, shower, figure out what the hell year it is and how old he is and what he's supposed to even be doing. Fate wouldn't just leave him here, not when there's apparently another Takao Kazunari who's meant to be here, who does things like wake up next to Midorima and share a bed with Midorima and oh God, has sex with Midorima.
Takao flushes from head to toe and hopes with a shudder that that's not how Naoko came about. She doesn't look like either of them, much, but this is – ostensibly – the future. Best not to rule it out.
Halfways through wiping off the grill, he wonders with a start if the other Takao Kazunari is trapped in the past, back in his body. Well, at least he has hair now, Takao thinks, feeling sadly along his scraggly mess of a hairline.
He walks around the house for a bit, discovers that it's a penthouse on the modest side of luxury – no Bay view, but he can see the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium from the balcony off the living room. He wonders if they ever won the Winter Cup there. It seems like the kind of thing he shouldn't look into, meddling with time and what not. The rest of the skyline, at least, is mostly familiar.
A scrolling billboard some distance away illuminates, giving the date, time, and weather. Takao holds his breath – March fifth, the same day it was back at the festival – which was, apparently, nineteen years ago.
Takao thinks about sitting down, and discovers with some surprise that he doesn't actually need to. It makes no sense at all, and yet somehow, it's the only possible explanation. He is really, truly, in the future.
He wanders off to find the shower, and hopes this doesn't mean he'll have to start putting stock in horoscopes.
this ended up being way longer than I had initially intended, so I'm posting it in chapters. they should go up pretty quick, fingers crossed. thanks for reading!
When Midorima returns home, Takao's in the study, staring very hard at a series of three pictures and trying to make sense of them. In the first, he and Midorima are wearing their Shuutoku uniforms, standing behind a group of three players he doesn't know, perhaps the freshman lineup for when they're upperclassmen. They're holding the Inter-High trophy, Takao observes with some measure of pride, purposefully avoiding looking at the year so as not to jinx himself. In the second, he and Midorima are wearing suits, sitting at a banquet table. Midorima is glaring at the camera, as per usual, but Takao's head is turned towards Midorima, and he's looking at him like – Takao doesn't think he's ever looked at anyone like that in his life. If he had to put a name to it, he'd say he looked utterly, pathetically lovestruck. At Midorima.
That – that is just far too embarrassing to contemplate.
The third picture is just him, older but not as old as he is now (still with hair, anyways), seated in an armchair with a small child in his lap and a book held in front of them. He's surprised to know that it's unmistakably Naoko, even though she can't be older than a toddler in the picture, and he's met her all of once, he just knows. Something inside him throbs with discomfort, he feels almost like he's being robbed of something he didn't know he had.
More than anything, he finds himself wanting to know what happened between the first and second picture, what happened between him and Midorima that led them to this point, with rings on their fingers and a daughter, a daughter who cooks and plays soccer and who Takao suddenly needs to know absolutely everything about, before he has to go back to being a teenager again.
There's a quiet cough behind him, and Takao's actually relieved to see Midorima standing in the doorway, somehow looking windswept and elegant at the same time.
“You look good,” Takao blurts out, feeling his neck heat up before the words are even fully out.
“Do I?” Midorima sounds faintly amused. “Yesterday you told me if I didn't get a haircut soon, you'd be calling Akashi over.”
Takao wrinkles his nose. “That seems kind of extreme,” he says. “Well, I've changed my mind. Your hair looks nice like that. Not all...bangs, you know, like you used to be.”
Midorima raises an eyebrow. “You're one to talk. We still have a drawer full of headbands in the spare bathroom, you know. It's a shame Naoko is so picky about the style of her hair ornaments, you two could've shared.”
“Picky? Your child?” Takao feigns a gasp. “Unthinkable.” Midorima's mouth twitches, and Takao feels a grin spread over his own face in response. “No, that's not even what I meant,” he says, really unsure why he's pushing this, except that he feels like he needs to be talking right now. “You – you look good, the whole package, you know. You've aged well, Shin-chan."
“Again with that old nickname,” Midorima muses. “I hope this isn't going to turn into another of your self-deprecating speeches. You know I'm quite fond of the way you look, Kazu.”
Takao laughs. “Wow, you really do know me, huh?”
Midorima twinkles, and Takao almost falls off the chair. “I should hope so,” he murmurs. He walks behind Takao and splays long fingers across his shoulders, digging gently into the muscles there. “After twelve years of marriage, I'd like to think I've made some progress.”
“Holy shit,” Takao says, unable to stop himself. “Has it really been that long?”
“I'm afraid we're getting old, yes,” Midorima confirms, kneading his thumbs into the base of Takao's neck. Wow, Midorima really does know him, that's – awesome, kind of. “Though, as you pointed out, we are doing so very gracefully.”
“Ah, Shintarou, that feels really good,” he sighs, leaning back into the chair. It probably should be weirder, having his middle-aged teammate massaging him like this. Takao's always coped far too well with change. “Good thing we have Naoko to keep us young, eh?”
“Is that what you were doing in here? Feeling nostalgic?” Midorima sounds almost teasing, and Takao tips his head back to look up at him.
“Mm, something like that.” It's hard to look away, to be perfectly honest, when Midorima's eyes are fixed on him like this, like he's the only thing Midorima ever wants to look at, the only thing he's ever seen. “Sorry, I'm being boring. It's Sunday, right? What are we doing today?”
“Your powers of observation are keen as ever, Hawk's Eye.” That sounds more like the Midorima he knows. “It's up to you. Did you still want to go shopping for Naoko's birthday? We have a few hours still before she gets back from practice.”
Takao thinks for a moment about how to ask when his own daughter's birthday is. “Ah, yes, that's coming up, isn't it?”
“Less than a month now,” Midorima confirms, only looking at him a bit strangely. “But I know this one is important to you, since we didn't get to really...celebrate, last year.”
Takao closes his eyes, because the look on Midorima's face now is doing funny things to his heart. “I don't know, I was thinking it might be better to stay in today,” he says. As much as he wants to go out and see this brave new world, maybe get some investment tips or find out which of his clothes will still be in fashion twenty years in the future, it somehow seems like cheating. Or just wrong, he doesn't want to do anything to upset the fates, lest they change their minds about him and decide he's better off rotting in some Ice Age. “I'm being nostalgic, like you said. We're married, so you're bound by law to indulge me.”
Midorima's fingers trace along his jaw. “You know, there are people who believe I'm the obstinate one between us two.”
“I prefer to think of it as 'charmingly persuasive',” Takao grins. “Seriously though, anything you want to do, housework, whatever, I just kind of want to be at home.”
Midorima's palm is suddenly firm against his forehead.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking you for a fever. Unless I'm much mistaken, I just heard you volunteer to do housework in lieu of going shopping.”
“Can't a man have moods?” Takao protests, smacking his hand away. “Sheesh. I was just thinking of things you'd probably like to do, that's all.”
Some distant, subconscious part of his mind observes that he is way too good at this old-married-couple act with Midorima, considering he's only technically been at it for a couple hours.
“We have been out quite a lot lately,” Midorima admits. “You really want to do housework?”
“Sure,” Takao shrugs. Can't get into much trouble that way, he figures. “I could probably wash the sheets, it seems like they might need it.” It's a fair assumption, he thinks, given the way he woke up. He tries not to blush as he says it.
A gust of hot breath across his face is the only warning he gets before Midorima nips him on the nose, and Takao opens his eyes, startled. Midorima's gaze is darker, more intense, kind of like the way he looks before a game. Takao's stomach swoops.
“After last night,” Midorima murmurs, letting his hands slide into Takao's hair, “we should probably just throw them in the fire.”
It is a sign of terrible, terrible things to come that those words go straight to Takao's dick. “Maybe an extra hot wash,” he suggests breathlessly. “I like those sheets.” They were quite comfortable, if, apparently, defiled beyond imagination.
“I like you in those sheets,” Midorima says, and God, this is a fucking disaster, a train wreck in the making if he's ever seen one, and he's absolutely powerless to stop it, there's no hope for it whatsoever.
Then again, there was never much hope for Takao, not with Midorima. Not then, when Midorima wiped the floor with him and walked off the court like it was his job, not later, when Takao passed him the ball and he did the same to their opponents, and certainly not now, when Midorima's eyes are lidding down towards him, now that he's close enough to see the way Midorima's eyelashes brush against the lenses of his glasses, the way his lips part just enough to draw in a shallow breath, the way he exhales out his nose and sighs, so softly Takao might've imagined it, tracing his fingers along Takao's cheek and angling their faces together like it's the most natural thing in the world. Maybe it is.
Maybe, Takao thinks, right before their lips meet, this is why it's so easy with him, on the court.
Midorima kisses Takao once, heated and slow, and Takao's surging up to meet him before he knows what he's even doing. It's not his first kiss, not by any stretch, but it feels like the first one, feels like any number of things – fire crackling through his belly, a tidal wave swelling and crashing in his chest, a current blazing under his skin from Midorima's fingertips, bringing every nerve in his body to life. He reaches for Midorima and finds him effortlessly, pulls him around to the front of the chair, presses their bodies together and digs his fingers into the material of Midorima's shirt, mapping, memorizing, because if he remembers anything from this bizarre trip to the future, he has to, he has to remember this.
“Kazu,” Midorima breathes, pushing their foreheads together, running a hand down the front of Takao's shirt. “Are you absolutely sure you want to do laundry right now?”
Takao looks down and gulps, trying to catch his breath, get his bearings. Midorima is a really good kisser, and the way he's moving against Takao bodes seriously well for his skills in the sack. Really, the last thing on the planet Takao wants to do right now is laundry, but –
“You're hard,” Midorima says. There's a note of disbelief in his voice, and happiness. “Kazu, you're really hard.”
“Um.” Takao shifts in the chair, not knowing how to respond. “Well, yeah.”
“You're hard, and I haven't even touched you.” There's something brimming in Midorima's eyes, overbright, and Takao is starting to feel more than a little uncomfortable.
“It's not like there's no reason for it,” he says defensively, gesturing to how Midorima's hips are straddling his. “I mean, we're kind of – oh,” he cuts off, stuttering. “Oh, fuck.”
“Has this been happening to you?” Midorima asks, tracing his finger down the line of Takao's erection again. “Was it the herbs? I know you've been skeptical of them, but I wouldn't have gotten them for you if they didn't have the highest success rate in chemotherapy patients – ”
“Shintarou,” Takao gasps, arching and wincing at the same time. “Please don't touch my dick and talk about chemo at the same time, it's really – it's not good.” In fact, he's starting to deflate already. “Ah, sorry.”
Midorima looks abashed, at least. “No, it's my fault,” he sighs, shaking his head. “I just – it's been so long. Not that I mind, of course, and it's not like we haven't been enjoying ourselves regardless.” He refastens the shirt buttons that Takao hadn't even noticed him undoing. “We'll try again later.”
“Yeah,” Takao says, squeezing his hand, squirming to get up. “Probably a sign from the laundry gods or something.” Guilt weighs heavily in his chest, he's fairly certain the hard-on he just produced was the result of a raging teenage libido, not whatever “herbs” Midorima is going on about. And now he's gone and gotten his hopes up. Great.
“How long does it usually take?” he asks hesitantly as they walk out of the study. “For, uh, you know.” He gestures to himself. “Everything to turn normal again?”
Midorima gives him a funny look. That was stupid, Takao thinks. They've probably been over this a few times already. “Remind me?”
“There's no time limit for these sorts of issues,” Midorima says, and Takao has to applaud his efforts to be sensitive. The Midorima he knows would barrel right in with an encyclopedia of facts in a fit of glasses-adjusting and unnecessarily detailed biological descriptions. “We've ruled out nerve damage, and your hormone levels are all normal, so its unlikely to be permanent.”
Takao lets out the breath he's been holding. “Well, that's good.”
“Chemotherapy and radiation are incredibly stressful on the body, and you had a very aggressive treatment plan,” Midorima continues. “I know you're tired of hearing this, but it's not an uncommon reaction to that kind of stress. You will recover, Kazunari. It just might take a few more months.” Yep, there he goes with the glasses. “I, of course, will continue to look for new remedies – I know we agreed to stay away from pharmaceuticals for this, and while I still believe that's the wisest course of action, you know you need only ask if you'd like a second opinion.”
Takao knows his treatment plan must've been aggressive as hell, the scar he'd found on his knee in the shower goes nearly all the way around. He's never seen a scar like it before. He doesn't know if Midorima's the one who operated on him, but he's obviously very involved with his care – he and Naoko, Takao thinks, remembering how she acted this morning at the mere suggestion that he might be more tired than usual. It can't've been easy for either of them. Takao's been feeling sorry for himself, but really, he hasn't even gone through this yet.
“Alright,” he says. They're back in the bedroom now, and there are several strange, fond impulses rising in Takao's chest, making him smile up at Midorima without even meaning to. “I trust you.” He pauses, then adds, “Thank you, Shintarou, for sticking through this with me.” It doesn't seem like the kind of thing future-him would forget to say, but surely once more couldn't hurt.
Midorima visibly relaxes. “As you noted previously, I'm bound by law to do so,” he says. “And profession, on top of that.”
“See, I knew you still had some tsun in you,” Takao laughs. “Look, you've even got me doing your housework. I don't suppose you've got a maid's outfit stashed somewhere.”
Midorima raises an eyebrow, goes into the closet, and reappears with a hamper. “Don't tempt me,” he says lowly, striding past and ignoring Takao's dumbstruck stare.
If someone had told him yesterday he'd be even entertaining the idea of climbing Midorima Shintarou like a tree, he'd have laughed them right out the door. Now, he's sporting his second full-on boner in the span of twenty minutes because of it, and he can't – well, shouldn't, really – do anything about it, the ethics of time travel being what they are, and he himself not really being the person Midorima thinks he is, at least, not yet. He sighs, grabs the other hamper, and conjures up an image of sticking his dick in a can of cold beans. Fate, it seems, has dropped him into a blissfully married future only to sexually frustrate him within an inch of his life.
The worst part is, all he can think about now is how his Midorima would appreciate that irony.
Naoko walks through the front door some hours later, takes one look at Takao sweeping, and marches straight into the living room, where Midorima is meticulously dusting all the contents of a china cabinet.
“Papa,” he hears her say. “That man sweeping the entryway looks very much like Dad, doesn't he?”
“The resemblance is uncanny,” Midorima agrees. “How was practice?”
“It was...fine,” she says, in a low voice that makes Takao's heart sink. “I'm going to shower.”
“Naoko – ”
The floor looks pretty darn spotless, he decides. Apprehensively, he replaces the broom in the closet and goes to the living room. Midorima is staring at the picture frame he was polishing, a silver square with a familiar group of solemn young faces looking out – Teikou's formidible first string, the Generation of Miracles. Even twenty years in the future, it seems Takao can't escape them.
“She okay?” he asks, trying to keep his tone light.
“The coach said she's been struggling,” Midorima says wearily. “She's improving, and she has plenty of natural ability, but she just expects so much of herself.” He replaces the frame, and his hand falls to his side. “It's my fault.”
“It's not your fault,” Takao argues, although, he can easily see how any child of Midorima's would be pretty much screwed in this respect. “It's not like you became a basketball genius to make her feel bad. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm as happy to blame Teikou for just about anything as the next person, but you guys didn't know any better.” It dawns on him as he says it. “They're just kids, Shintarou.”
We were just kids. I didn't mean to hate you.
The expression on Midorima's face is wide open, his eyes fixed on Takao's, warm and perceptive. Takao swallows. “She'll find her way.”
I did. We did.
As if he's reading Takao's mind, Midorima smiles softly. “Remember how it felt back then? Losing?”
“I do,” Takao says. He stretches his arms behind his head. “It felt like the world was ending.”
“But it didn't,” Midorima says. He lets out a long, measured breath. “You're right, Kazu. I'm just – I'm ill-equipped for this.”
“Imagine,” Takao grins. “The great Midorima Shintarou, feeling inadequate. I never thought I'd see the day.”
“Ah, gloating. You seem to be feeling like yourself again,” Midorima says dryly. “In that case, I have no qualms about this.” He shoves a heavy, dusty box into Takao's arms. “I've decided it's time we organize our photos; we've had these empty albums sitting here for over a year now.”
“Jesus,” Takao groans, dumping himself and the box on the rug. “Albums? Would it really kill you to go digital, Shintarou?” It's the future, for crying out loud. Surely there are countless better ways to store memories by now.
Midorima gives him an incredulous look. “You're the one always fussing about keeping hard copies, not me,” he says. “If you want to toss those and get a digital photobook, by all means.”
“Eh,” Takao shrugs, pulling the lid off the box in an attempt to save face. “That sounds kind of complicated.”
“Undoubtably, cluttering up the apartment is much more sensible. How foolish of me.”
Takao reaches over and pats his leg. “At least you're man enough to admit it.”
Midorima turns and leaves the room. For a moment, Takao thinks he's actually succeeded in driving him away, but he returns almost immediately with another box, looking vaguely harrassed, but pleased. It's a look Takao knows well, a look that never used to make his chest feel all fluttery, a look that now may haunt him until the end of his days.
It's probably cheating, he thinks, to be going through these glossy stacks of photos when he hasn't even lived them yet. Hopefully Fate won't smite him over a little curiosity.
“Oh,” he says in surprise, taking a closer look. “These are old pictures.”
It's their team, the one he knows, the one he was just with at the Kanda Festival. He remembers this, their first game with Midorima as starter, shortly before Takao replaced the third-year point guard. Miyaji has his finger to Midorima's chest, anger evident on his face, and Midorima is glaring down at him dispassionately while Ootsubo and Kimura look stern and imposing in the background. Could be any argument, really, although this one stands out for Takao, because of the way Miyaji ground his teeth when Midorima didn't miss, when every shot hit its mark, because of the way the gymnasium went silent when the ball hit the floor for the last time, and Takao took his first breath in what felt like hours.
“Who took this?”
“Probably the team photographer,” Midorima says, glancing over.
“We had a team photographer?”
“Just one of the bench warmers. I only knew him because he pestered me endlessly for Kise's autograph.” Midorima pinches the bridge of his nose, as though the memory is painful to recall. “His name escapes me, if I ever knew it.”
“Lots of ones of you in here,” Takao observes, sifting through the first pile. “Jeez. I'm glad you don't remember his name, I might've had to be jealous.”
“What are you doing?” Naoko asks, gliding into the room and sitting primly beside him. “Is that you?”
Takao blinks. “Yeah, it is.” He might've missed himself if she hadn't pointed it out, sandwiched on the bench between two second-years, lanky, God, he'd forgotten how scrappy he was before the endurance training with the rickshaw. He's bracing his hands on his knees, the tension evident in his arms, eyes laser-focused on the court and wearing the same awestruck look as everyone around him.
“Who were you watching? Papa?”
Takao laughs ruefully. “Probably. Hard not to, when he's on the court.”
The next shot is of Midorima, poised in perfect form for a three pointer, the moment before the ball leaves his hands. He looks cold, Takao notes. Untouchable. And he is, for all of them, even though they play as a team now, they all know they'll never stand on his level, never see it closer than he'll allow them. The Midorima Takao knows treats life like one of his formidible threes, keeping his distance and carefully controlling everything he puts out. Takao wonders how he ever got close enough to be with him, how Midorima could ever have let him in in the first place.
Naoko takes the picture from his hands. “Your hair was ridiculous,” she tells Midorima. “I can't believe Grandma let you leave the house like that, it's so fluffy.”
Midorima sniffs. “There was nothing impractical about my hairstyle.”
She says, “You look like a carrot,” and Takao laughs so hard tears run down his face.
“She has a point, Shintarou,” he says, once he's able to catch his breath. “Those uniforms were really unfortunate, if Shuutoku weren't Kings we'd've probably been laughed out of every conference.”
“Clearly my priorities were amiss back then, I hadn't thought to consider uniform aesthetics when choosing schools,” Midorima says. “Shall we show Naoko what you used to wear outside of games?”
“What?” Takao asks defensively. “I have great fashion sense – oh,” he says, as Midorima produces a photo of him that makes Naoko's eyes go very wide. “Okay, those shorts may have been a little on the edge, but that was once.”
“I believe it undermines the entire purpose of shorts, to be so short they require pants underneath to be wearable,” Midorima says pointedly. “And you wore them more than once, if I recall.”
Takao blinks. His mom made him throw those shorts away after he spilled teriyaki sauce on them, which was last summer. “You seriously remember that?”
Midorima's face reddens, and Takao feels a grin start to take over his face. “Oh my God, you were mooning after me, weren't you?”
“You wore them for an entire training camp. I was not the only one who noticed.”
Takao turns to Naoko with an exaggerated sigh. “Your Papa was totally hot for me, and I didn't even know it.”
“Gross,” she says, batting him away. “Please don't involve me in your perverted stroll down memory lane. I'm an innocent child, have some decency.”
“I'm afraid your father's shorts have already negated that possibility,” Midorima says gravely. He picks up another picture. “And it only gets worse: I found the one of us in kimonos.”
That definitely hasn't happened yet, but Takao snatches the picture out of his hand regardless. “Good lord. Kimura.” He hides the picture against his chest. “Naoko, I don't want to offend your delicate sensibilities, there is a lot of milky white thigh in this picture.”
“Mm, I'll pass,” she agrees, tugging another box into her lap.
“I kind of think I'm pulling it off, though,” Takao says, taking another look. “Shintarou, the purse is a nice touch.”
“It wasn't a purse, honestly.” Midorima grabs the photo back, placing it upside-down in a small stack next to his lap. “The lucky item for Cancers that day was a satchel.”
“...Yeah, I'm pretty sure a satchel is a purse,” Takao says. “Naoko? You're the expert.”
“It's a purse,” she confirms. “I know a lot of boys that carry purses, though I understand it's not traditionally a male accessory. Papa must've been more fashion-forward than I realized.”
“He used to wear these sunglasses,” Takao tells her, “with little rhinestones all up and down the sides, they were very cute, actually. Sometimes he'd wear them indoors, like a movie star.”
“They were prescription,” Midorima protests. “My choices were limited.”
“He's carrying a hobby horse in this one,” Naoko says, passing the picture to Takao. “Do I even want to know?”
“Lucky item?” Takao guesses. Come to think of it, he hasn't heard a thing about Oha Asa or lucky items since waking up in the future. “Hey, Shintarou, what are today's rankings?”
“Rankings?” Midorima asks, looking up at him in confusion. “Oh, you mean our horoscope? Check the webpage, I wouldn't know.” He narrows his eyes. “You're not getting our daughter mixed up in that nonsense, I hope.”
For a moment, Takao's too stunned to speak. “Uh, no,” he manages, stammering slightly. “No, I was just. Just telling her.”
“Oh, that's right,” Naoko says, setting the picture aside. “I forgot Papa used to follow astrology. Like an elderly person.”
“'Follow' is putting it mildly.” Takao's still floored by this revelation. “You were obsessed, I can't believe you don't even – you really don't check it at all? Ever?”
“No,” Midorima says, and there's an edge to his tone now, Takao's definitely missing an essential part of the story here. “You know I don't. Better than anyone.”
“You're right, I'm sorry,” Takao backtracks, shaking his head apologetically. “Just got caught up in the nostalgia, I think. Felt like I was back in high school again.”
“Heaven forbid,” Midorima mutters. “Excuse me.” Without another word, he gets up and walks out of the room.
Takao exchanges a look with Naoko. “Do you know what that's about?”
She looks as bewildered as he feels. “Not at all, no.”
“Hm.” Takao taps his fingers against his knee. “I should probably go after him.”
“I think that's the best course of action,” she nods. “You know how Papa gets.”
“I do.” At least, he thinks he does. “You're okay out here?”
“Let me think,” she replies, a note of exasperation in her voice. “Yes, I'm fairly certain I can keep myself occupied and out of danger in our living room. If I give myself a paper cut, I'll call for you.”
“Glad to hear it,” he says, trying not to stare. God, she really is their daughter, isn't she?
She gives him an expectant look when he doesn't go right away. “He's not going to fix himself, you know.”
He checks the kitchen first, then the bedroom, and finds Midorima sitting on the bed, clutching a small photobook. Takao moves to sit behind him and hooks his chin over his shoulder, reveling in how easy it is to be close to him, to not have him twitch away or glare at him until he puts a respectable distance between them.
The picture on the front of the photobook is of the three of them on a couch that he doesn't recognize, slightly younger than they are now – Naoko looks like she's in primary school, and Takao still has his hair (and a little bit of a gut, he notices with a small measure of horror). Midorima has his arm flung casually over Takao's shoulders, and they're both laughing at Naoko, who has taken his glasses and is imitating his patented deadpan expression to the camera.
“I fear for the world, when we have to unleash her on it,” Takao says, letting himself lean a little more heavily on Midorima's back. “Poor bastards won't know what hit them.”
“I wish I had your optimism,” Midorima says quietly, after a beat. “She's almost a teenager, Kazu. She's starting her second year of middle school next year.” His voice shakes. “It's...I can't, I don't know how to protect her.”
It seems like an odd thing to say, so Takao doesn't reply, at first. He thinks back to his second year of middle school, the year people started whispering about the Kiseki No Sedai, the undeniable powerhouse of Teikou dominating the championships, rumors about a shooting guard who could shoot from anywhere on the court and never miss. Takao missed plenty of shots in his middle school career, it's part of why he became a point guard. Pass the ball, let someone else do the shooting. But Midorima got the ball, took the shot, and never missed. Every single shot went in, every time.
The pressure must've been unbearable.
Man proposes, God disposes, Midorima used to say. Or still says, Takao supposes, at least his Midorima does. It's another thing everyone's always attributed to arrogance, along with Midorima's assurances that he cannot miss, but Takao's starting to wonder if he has Midorima all wrong. An arrogant man would take all the credit, after all. And Midorima practices harder than all of them, sends shot after shot arcing perfectly into the hoop, he's incredible, he doesn't need a lucky item or tape on his fingers to be the best. It's not arrogance, Takao realizes, it's fear. Fear that if he shows anything less than perfect devotion, one of those shots will bounce off the rim, the godlike strength of Teikou proved mortal, the terrifying reality that he's just another boy with a basketball laid bare for all to see.
For the first time, Takao thinks he's actually starting to get it.
“I know you're worried,” he says, slowly, trying to work out what it is he wants to say. “But that's a good kid out there, Shintarou. And I'm not saying that just because she's mine; even Kuroko knows she's better than both of us. Anyone could see it.”
Midorima stares at the picture. “She is.”
“I know it was hard for you,” Takao says. He doesn't say he's sorry he didn't realize it sooner, though he wants to. “But look at you now, Shintarou. She'll do what kids do. She'll make it.”
“I wasn't very good at adolescence,” Midorima says, soft and contrite. “It's far too chaotic a process, I can't imagine anyone going through it smoothly. Though, I suppose you had an easy enough time.”
“Excuse you, that sounded an awful lot like an insinuation. And besides, that's not really the point.” This would probably feel a lot less like talking out of his ass if he wasn't technically still a teenager, but Takao barrels on. “You're right, it probably won't be smooth. But we'll make sure she doesn't expect it to be, and when it's not, we'll be there for her.”
Midorima stays quiet, running his thumb along the edge of the photo.
“I'm sorry for what I said about the horoscope stuff before, that was dumb,” Takao sighs. “I know you didn't follow that stuff just because you thought it was fun. I know that, now.”
Midorima laughs softly, without humor. “The truth is, I used to still check Oha Asa from time to time. I never told you because it wasn't really serious, just old habits dying hard, I suppose.”
“Really?” Takao trails a hand up his spine, attempting to be soothing. “Why 'used to'? What happened?”
“You got sick,” Midorima says simply. “And I found I couldn't bear it.”
There's really nothing Takao can say to that, not without revealing himself to be an impossible, blubbering sap, so he settles for burying his face in the side of Midorima's neck instead.
“Maybe,” he says after a minute, “we'll get lucky, and she'll skip horoscopes altogether and get involved with drugs instead.”
“Yes, we can only hope,” Midorima says. “Should we go back out? I overreacted, I realize that.”
“Eh. It's alright.” Takao peels himself off Midorima's back, somewhat reluctantly. “I've always thought your overreactions were kind of cute, anyways.”
It's not a lie, not even close. The part of Takao that still has a firm grasp on reality, or at least the reality he left back at the festival, quietly wonders if maybe he shouldn't've seen this coming after all.
“Papa, your phone went off,” Naoko says when they walk back into the living room. “I looked at the message ID, it was the hospital.”
Midorima frowns and crosses the room, consulting a thin rectangle that Takao had assumed was a coaster. The creases on his forehead deepen as he reads.
“Everything okay?” Takao ventures, plopping down beside Naoko and looking up at him.
“It's nothing serious,” Midorima says. “I apologize, they need me to go in for a few hours. It shouldn't take long.” Takao notices he cuts a glance to Naoko, who has suddenly become very interested in her fingernails.
“That's fine, we'll hang here,” he says. “Go save people. Punch cancer in the face for me.”
“I will endeavor to. You'll handle dinner?”
Takao adopts a mock-salute. “You got it, boss.”
Midorima doesn't roll his eyes, but Takao gets a strong sense that he wants to. He raises his eyebrows, grins at Midorima's answering blush, and doesn't stop grinning until several seconds after Midorima has already gone, when Naoko whacks him over the head with a stack of photographs.
“Please stop doing that,” she says. “It's creepy.”
“Ah, I'm surrounded by tsunderes,” he sighs, rubbing the spot where she struck him. “It's alright. I suppose as role models go, you could do worse than Shintarou.”
She smirks. “He says the same thing about you. Except for all the frivolous cavorting, of course.”
“I take it back, you shouldn't listen to a word he says. Clearly jealousy and old age have made him delusional.” Takao shakes his head. “Cavorting, honestly. I was social!”
“Miyaji-san put it a little differently last time he was here,” she says, eyes sparkling. “But I'm not supposed to repeat that.”
Takao laughs, startled. “I could tell you some choice things about Miyaji-san, too, if I wanted to be murdered in my sleep.”
“Akiko thinks he's handsome.”
“Yeah, well.” Takao doesn't know from Akiko, but he confidently says, “Put him next to me in the room, and then we'll see what Akiko really thinks.”
“Yes, Dad, you're very handsome too,” she tells him, her tone as condescendingly placating as any he's ever heard Midorima use. It's impressive, and, because he's hopeless, completely endearing. “I've often reflected upon the irony that I would be adopted by two parents with such excellent genetic material.”
“We're very attractive, it's true,” he says. “Things could still go disastrously wrong, though. Imagine if you'd had my body, and then Shintarou's feet. There'd be no soccer, we'd have to ship you straight off to clown school.”
She laughs, loud and genuine, and Takao feels it like a warm current spreading across his heart. “That might be one of the most unscientific things I've ever heard you say,” she grins. “You'd give Papa a migraine for sure.”
“Yes, he's rather delicate,” Takao says wryly. “I honestly don't know how he's put up with me for this long.”
“Well, don't ask me,” Naoko says, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “I doubt I'd be able to put up with either one of you.”
“But if you had to pick, you'd choose to put up with me.”
“Mm, I think I would choose whoever promised not to ask me such ridiculous questions.”
Takao sighs. “Shintarou, then. I should've known. But I bet he won't make you laugh like I can.”
“Papa makes me laugh all the time,” she says. “Not on purpose, usually, but it counts.”
She's incorrigible. Takao's in love.
“I can't believe I turned out such a sharp kid,” he says, half to himself. “You're definitely adopted.”
“Sometimes that is very comforting,” she agrees. “Though I wish you'd been my parents from the beginning, to be honest.”
Takao blinks, and she flushes. “Inconsistency is harmful in young children,” she mutters. “It might've made a difference in my development, that's all I meant.”
“Well, I don't know,” Takao says, swallowing hard. “I'd say you're doing pretty well. I couldn't make tamago when I was your age.”
She keeps her eyes averted, but smirks. “That's hardly a surprise, considering you managed to burn rice last week.”
Well, that does kind of sound like him. “Good thing I have you around. You'll help me with dinner?”
“Expecting the girl to always cook for you? How very antiquated,” she tuts. “But yes, and I'll even let you take credit when Papa gets home and pretends not to be surprised that it's actually edible.”
He laughs. “So accommodating. You definitely don't get that from Shintarou.”
“Mostly I just don't want you to poison us,” she says. “Ugh, that's the third picture of you and Papa kissing in this pile. I quit, I'm going to clean my room.” She holds up one of their old team pictures. “I'm keeping this to show Akiko.”
“Ah, I hope she doesn't have too much of a swooning fit,” Takao nods. “Ootsubo is – was – very popular with the ladies back then, to say nothing of my – ”
“Cavorting,” she says loudly, gives him a scandalized look, and flounces off to her room.
Apparently in the future, respecting one's parents isn't so much of a thing. Not that it matters, Naoko seems incapable of doing anything to make Takao's fondness for her lessen. He can see all the bits of Midorima in her, the good parts, not the neuroses and antisocial tendences. She has a friend, at least. And then, strangly, he can see parts of himself too. The yearning in her voice when she was talking about soccer, the frustration, the quick bounce back. Takao always felt he was good at that, to never let basketball become his entire life, never let it define him – that is, not until Shuutoku.
Or, until Midorima. That's probably more accurate, and now that he's thought it, obvious. The pictures say it all. Here's Miyaji with his elbows slung around Midorima's and his necks, dragging them against him, grinning cheekily for the camera. Here's a candid shot of them on the bench, Takao leaning forward on his knees and Midorima sat up ramrod straight. Another, this time with Midorima mimicking his posture, the effect making his shoulder muscles ripple impressively. And yet another, with Takao seated on the ground, one leg extended in front of him, his head resting against Midorima's knee.
That hasn't happened yet, and Takao should probably stop, but his fingers are unwilling to obey his thoughts, combing through another stack instead with eagerness that's turning feverish. There have to be answers here, hidden somewhere. And he's desperate for them, he has to know, he has to understand how any of this happened.
Ah, here's one of him and Kuroko cooking, and Kagami looking vaguely horrified in the background. Takao can't imagine that was at all successful. Here's one of Kise posing next to Midorima, who looks exceptionally sullen, here's one of Takao flashing a peace sign in a shirt far too big for him, here's one of Midorima tucked resolutely under an umbrella at the beach. A selfie snapped somewhere outside with their faces pressed together, another one of them in a bed – Takao flushes, despite being alone – clearly shirtless, Midorima looking somehow softer with his hair all in a mess. A child's room, half-painted pink, Takao with a smudge of paint on his cheek, Midorima arranging books on a small bookshelf. A puzzle, nearly completed, Midorima crouched next to a toddler version of Naoko, handing her a piece and pointing out where to put it.
Something constricts in Takao's chest, and he sets the pictures down and rubs at his eyes. There's another one at the bottom of the box, it slides out from the stack and he reaches to push it back in, then stops. His breath catches.
It's recent. He knows because he's in a hospital bed, his hair completely gone, his eyes sunken and his face gaunter than it was when he suddenly dropped all his baby fat at age ten. He looks old, and weak, and seriously unattractive to boot. There are blankets draped over his shoulders that Naoko is clinging to, leaning against him in the bed, looking sideways at the camera like she can't really be bothered with it. Midorima stands at his other side, as close as he can be without actually being on the bed, Takao's hand clasped in his own like he never means to let it go.
In the picture, Takao is smiling.
“You are not going to cry,” he tells himself, swallowing hard and gently pushing the photo back into place. This hasn't even happened yet. He can cry when he actually gets cancer, then it will be warranted.
It was foolish to expect a box of pictures to explain anything to him, realistically. Besides, the why is becoming more irrelevant by the second. There's a sharp tenderness taking hold of him, a feeling of rightness settling into his bones, and Takao knows it's not just from this trip to the future, this family he's going to have. This Midorima Shintarou is great, and Takao's entirely smitten with him as it stands, but he misses his Midorima, misses the things he never got to experience, the things they haven't been through yet.
The more he thinks about it – and really, he doesn't have to think about it very much at all – the more he realizes, he must've been moving towards this for quite some time. Maybe he's been writing it off as admiration, reluctantly, maybe he's just been stupid and in denial. It hasn't been about Midorima's Kiseki status for a while now. Takao's falling, he likes Midorima. Maybe loves him.
He needs to know, he thinks, about their tipping point. He needs to know where he stands with Midorima now, in his time. He needs to find out how they happened, how not to screw it up and risk losing this future, and then he needs to find his way back. There's another Midorima waiting for him back at the fair, and Takao's never wanted to see anyone so badly as he does right now.
oops I said I would update this fast and then life happened. but now im all moved and my dad is out of the hospital and I **should** be able to finish it this weekend. thanks so much for sticking with me!! hope you guys are enjoying the story :)
In the end, Midorima has to stay later at the hospital than he'd planned, and Takao and Naoko end up eating instant noodles and miso, which is about as much as he can do confidently in the kitchen. Naoko doesn't seem surprised, so apparently that hasn't changed much over the years.
“You used the wrong kind of tofu,” she tells him, scooping a piece out and popping it into her mouth.
“So picky,” Takao laughs in spite of himself. “How do you know it's the wrong kind? Maybe I did it intentionally, for creative flair.”
“Ah, of course,” she nods. “Next time I get a wrong answer on my English homework, that's what I'll tell Kuroko-sensei. It's just 'creative flair'.”
“Kuroko might appreciate that, actually,” Takao says, playing with a piece of daikon with his chopsticks. “Oops, we ate all the noodles. Should I make more for Shintarou, do you think?”
She shrugs. “He usually eats on the way home, doesn't he? Besides, it's his fault for not being here.”
Takao frowns. “That's not really fair.” Midorima hadn't exactly looked happy about getting called into work on a Sunday afternoon.
“This is his fifth weekend in a row on call,” she says. “I know, I know his work's important, but I just – I wish they wouldn't call him so much.” She scowls at her miso. “I hate that hospital. I think he hates it too, ever since you were there.”
Well, it doesn't exactly come as a surprise that Midorima is a workaholic.
“But I'm not there anymore,” he says firmly. “And he's coming home. Naoko – you know cancer's not contagious, right?”
He considers himself lucky that he doesn't turn to stone, for the look she gives him for that one. “Yes, Dad,” she says icily. “I'm also aware that the tooth fairy is fictional, if you were planning on breaking that bit of news next.”
“Whoa,” he says, holding up his hands. Maybe she's closer to being a teenager than he thought. “No need to get hostile. I think I still believed in the tooth fairy when I was your age.”
She rolls her eyes and grabs his bowl, taking it to the sink to wash it.
“I can do that,” he offers.
“I'm perfectly capable,” she grunts, snatching the pot on the cooktop and scrubbing that, too.
Takao falters. He's way out of his depth here, his younger sister is only eight years old, and all he can remember from his first year of middle school about girls is that they were very, very scary. He'd like to turn tail and run from the kitchen, but instinct tells him that's a bad idea, so instead he stays where he is, and waits.
Naoko turns the water off, and, after a beat, sighs.
“Everything okay?” Takao ventures hesitantly.
She nods, barely. Takao recognizes it as a Midorima gesture.
“Middle school is hard,” he says, hoping he's on the right track. “I remember.”
“Not for Papa,” she says quietly. “He was a prodigy. He was famous. I've seen the articles.”
It's difficult, Takao thinks, to tell her that she's overreacting, to tell her not to compare herself to people like Midorima, only because he knows exactly how she feels, because he felt it when he was not much older than her, because it had nearly crushed him when he saw where the bar was really set, and how very far away it was from himself.
“It's funny,” he says slowly, glancing down at his hands. “I thought the same thing, when I first met him. When I first played him. It seemed like he wasn't even human.”
She looks at him.
“It was hard, deciding to go to Shuutoku,” he continues. “None of my friends were going there, and I was pretty popular, you know.” He winks, and Naoko rolls her eyes. “I remember when I was first getting to know Shintarou, I asked him if it was hard to leave Teikou behind and go to a new school by himself. And he looked at me like I had three heads.”
“I think that maybe the reason Shintarou worked so hard at basketball is because he really didn't have anything else,” Takao shrugs. It's the first time he's said it out loud, though some form of it has been brewing at the back of his mind for quite a while. “He didn't have friends. No one liked him. It took most of a year for him to realize I was his friend, when I leant him my shower shoes at mid-winter training camp.”
Naoko raises an eyebrow. “They fit him?”
“Not in the least,” Takao laughs.
“Was it like when he wore those princess shoes for my birthday party?”
Takao chokes on his breath. “Probably not quite,” he wheezes, putting a hand to his chest. “Do we have pictures of that?”
“Mm, I'm pretty sure Papa deleted them all,” she sighs. “Unfortunately.”
“A travesty,” he agrees. “I'm glad growing up hasn't erased all his tsundere tendencies, though.”
Naoko nods, leaning against the counter and letting her shoulders slump. It feels like the entire room is exhaling, Takao observes. Girls are powerful creatures.
“I'm sorry about earlier,” she says, honing in on her fingernails again. “I am glad Papa's back to normal – it was nice having him home more, but.” She shudders very slightly. “Not under those circumstances. I didn't like seeing him like that.”
Takao remembers seeing Midorima on the ground during their game against Rakuzan, the look on his face when the final buzzer sounded. Yeah, he'd take patronizing disdain and obsessive-compulsiveness over that any day, and that was just over a basketball game.
“You don't have to apologize,” he tells her. “You've had a tough year. And to have that legacy hanging over your head...” he shrugs. “I know what it's like. But if you spend all your time trying to be the best, you'll miss everything. You'll lose out in the long run. You know what I always say?”
“People who enjoy life are the true winners,” she mimics. “Dad, I love you, but that's exactly the kind of paternalistic drivel men have told women for centuries to stop them from trying to excel in traditionally male domains. Maybe what I'll enjoy is getting good enough at soccer to take down all the best players on the boys' team.”
Takao gapes, feeling an astonished grin slowly spread across his face. “That's so not what I – ”
“Oh, I know what you meant,” she says airily. “But my life's other great enjoyment is dismantling your arguments with a female perspective, something you and Papa are frequently in need of.”
“I guess that's the downside to marrying a man,” Takao says, unable to come up with anything else. God, his daughter is perfect.
“Interesting theory,” she says. “Though Kuroko-sensei seems to manage just fine.”
“Does he,” Takao says without thinking. Fortunately, Naoko misses the incredulity in his tone, because Midorima walks into the kitchen half a second later, looking tired and slightly pale.
“Oh, good,” he says, looking between them. “You already ate.”
“Are you hungry?” Takao asks, rising from his seat and moving before he even means to. “There're some noodles I could heat up.”
Midorima shakes his head wearily. “No, thank you. I had something at the hospital.” He stifles a yawn. “I'm going to take a shower now.”
Naoko sighs as he leaves, clearly relieved to have him home. Takao resists the impulse to reach over and ruffle her hair like he would his little sister. Something tells him she appreciates being teased just about as much as Midorima does.
“Why are you staring at me?” she demands, narrowing her eyes.
Takao shakes his head. “Sorry. Just thinking.”
“Hmph. Don't strain yourself,” she says dryly. “I have a history assignment to finish, so unless you'd like to impart any more fatherly wisdom, I'll be in my room.”
“Ah, of course,” Takao nods. “I wouldn't dream of keeping you from your schoolwork.”
She gives him a suspicious look, searching for sarcasm, undoubtably, but eventually leaves him alone in the kitchen.
Takao gets the sense that he's meant to be winding down, maybe picking up a book or (more realistically, as he hasn't changed that much in the future) playing a video game. He knows he and Midorima have a television in their room, he wonders if they have programs they watch together, if they sit in bed together and Midorima reads while he channel surfs, like his parents do. Hopefully Midorima won't want to watch the news before bed tonight, because that would definitely be cheating.
He takes his time getting back to the bedroom, pausing in the hallway and spare room to look at all the pictures and knickknacks. Air plants must be Midorima's thing, Takao's never really seen the appeal. The bedrooms all appear to be Western-style, although he finds a couple rolled up futons in a closet underneath a quilt that is almost certainly his mother's. There are pictures of Naoko everywhere, he notices with tremendous pleasure, school pictures throughout the years, professional pictures of the three of them, candid shots filled with laughter that make him warm all over to look at. Naoko with his parents, Naoko with his grandmother. Naoko with a woman that, he realizes after a brief shock of horror, must be his little sister. Naoko with children he doesn't recognize, Naoko with an older and noticeably taller Kuroko, Naoko with an enormous white-muzzled dog, Naoko crawling across the laps of several elongated men whom Takao recognizes after a double-take and a stunned laugh. Murasakibara's head isn't even in the shot, but there's really no one else it could be.
There aren't any photos where she looks much younger than three or four, he reasons that must've been when they adopted her. There's a story there, he's sure of it, they're awfully young to have a daughter her age, but he's content to wait for it. More urgently, he needs to know how all this started, what changed, what shifted between them to make Midorima even consider him this way. They're friends, sure, but Takao has the distinct impression that his Midorima finds him tolerable company at best. It's not like people are lining up to hang out with the guy, anyways.
The door to their room is closed, so he opens it, and lets out a tiny yelp when he's greeted with Midorima's bare backside.
Midorima jerks upright. “Oh, thank God, I thought you were Naoko,” he says. “What's wrong? Have I offended you with my state of undress?”
It's been a full day, but Takao is still not used to this new, jokey Midorima. “No, you just startled me,” he says, fumbling for an excuse. “I thought you'd still be in the shower.” It's not like he's never seen Midorima's ass before, he usually sees it several times a day, actually, but the current context is a significant deviation from all those other times. He flushes, looking away as Midorima pulls his boxer briefs on.
“I wouldn't go in there just yet,” Midorima advises as Takao takes a step in the direction of the bathroom. “Give it a few minutes. I think the hospital food disagreed with me.”
Takao stares at him, and then dissolves into giggles.
“We are so married,” Takao laughs, wiping at his eyes. “Oh, don't give me that face. I'm not laughing at you, I'm just happy.”
“I suppose that's acceptable,” Midorima says. “Though I'll never understand why your happiness so often comes at the price of my intestinal discomfort.”
Takao scoffs. “Don't lie, Shintarou. No one's above a good poop joke, not even you.”
Midorima gives him an unimpressed look, but doesn't argue.
“How was the hospital, aside from the food?”
Midorima shrugs. “Uneventful,” he says. “One of my patients' marrow transplants isn't taking. It was a long shot to begin with, though, so it's not exactly surprising.” He pulls on a robe. “They're still pressuring me about that board position, of course. Don't worry, I'm not the least bit tempted. I spend enough hours in that place as it is.”
Takao grins. “That's reassuring.”
“Yes, well, I've seen the carnage when you and Naoko have the run of the place for too long. I have no desire to repeat the Rice Ball Incident.”
“That was four years ago,” Naoko says from the doorway, startling them both. “What? The door was open. Neither of you are naked, mercifully. I would've knocked.”
Midorima reddens and pushes his glasses up. “I blame Kuroko for this.”
“Kuroko-sensei says misdirection only works on people who are too busy thinking about themselves to bother with their surroundings,” she says smugly.
“So...teenagers,” Takao says, and his eyes widen. Oh.
“At any rate, I just came to say goodnight.” Naoko glances between them. “I'm going to wake up early to go for a run.”
Midorima looks a little nonplussed, as though this is unusual. “All right,” he says with a nod. “Sleep well. I'll have breakfast for you when you get back.”
She smiles. “And I'll make your lunch while Dad cleans up.”
“Is that all I'm good for around here?” Takao wonders out loud.
“Yes,” Naoko deadpans. That makes Midorima smile, which is totally unfair.
“You don't need a bedtime story or anything? Tea? A tuck-in?”
“Incredibly, I believe I will manage getting to sleep without any assistance,” Naoko says. “I love you, Dad, Papa.” She smiles sweetly, and Takao can actually feel himself getting wrapped tighter around her finger. “See you in the morning.”
“Love you too,” Takao calls after her, and God, he means it. He turns to Midorima. “She is terrifying.”
“I've noticed,” Midorima says. “You're far too indulgent with her, I hope you know that.”
“Eh,” Takao shrugs. “They say only children are always spoiled. I don't suppose you're game for another.”
“Let's get this one through middle school first,” Midorima says, though his expression is very quiet and pensive. Takao hopes he hasn't just set Future Takao up for an exciting surprise.
He brushes his teeth and strips out of his clothes somewhat self-consciously, debating at his pajama drawer for a moment before deciding to just wear a shirt and boxers, a step above nudity but hopefully not formal enough to cause Midorima to notice. Takao's never been one for sleep pants anyways, unless it's the dead of winter.
“I checked on your idol show, unfortunately it's a rerun,” Midorima says, pulling the blankets back for him and pressing something on the nightstand that turns the television off. “I saved it, though, in case you and Naoko want to watch it again later.”
Takao's very relieved to know they still have idol shows in the future. “Thanks, Shintarou,” he says, snuggling up to Midorima's side on impulse. Future Midorima is so thoughtful. Takao doesn't know how much longer he has with him, part of him is desperately afraid he'll never get it back once he leaves.
Midorima's arms circle around him naturally, like they belong there, and the word destiny flickers through Takao's mind. He gathers his courage. It's now or never.
“You don't work early tomorrow, do you?” Midorima asks, nosing at his temple. “I like it when you're around for breakfast.”
“I don't think so,” Takao answers honestly. Work. He can't believe he forgot about work. Just another reason it's very important he gets the information he needs now, so that Future Takao can come back and live this adult life Takao doesn't actually know anything about. “Breakfast sounds great. I'll clear my schedule for it.”
Midorima makes a hmph sound, but says nothing else. He knee slides between Takao's legs, not suggestively, just like a piece of him that's slotting into place, making Takao wonder how he ever functioned without it.
“Shin-chan,” he says, affecting a slight petulance to his voice that makes his Midorima grind his teeth and this Midorima raise his eyebrows very high. “I'd like a bedtime story, even if our daughter is far too old and mature for such things.”
“Are we role-playing?” Midorima asks, faint amusement in his tone. “Shall I get the rickshaw?”
“Only if you're playing me,” Takao says. “But that doesn't really help me in this instance. I want – um,” he falters, how is he supposed to ask for this? “Will you tell me a story...about us?”
Lame, his brain chants.
Midorima gives him a quizzical look. “What do you mean?”
Right. Midorima likes specificity, this is something Takao's actually gotten better at. “Tell me a story about how we...about how you fell for me,” he manages, blushing horribly. “If memory serves, I was extremely handsome and charming, and you were wooed from the moment we met, but some of the details escape me.”
“Ah, but who needs details with such a succinctly accurate summary,” Midorima says dryly. “If my memory serves, you were very clingy and irritating, and somehow I wound up in love with you anyways.”
“I'm going to ignore the fact that you are being very mean, because I really do want to hear this story,” Takao says. “Come on. We're married, the jig is up. I know what lies behind that cute tsun act of yours.”
Midorima is quiet for a moment, and then says, “All right. You really are nostalgic today, aren't you?”
Takao nods, leaning back slightly to look at him.
“It's funny, I'm used to being the one so concerned with details.” Midorima smooths Takao's hair back affectionately. “When you were – before the surgery, when you were in the hospital, I used to tell you these kinds of stories. I never knew if you remembered.”
Takao's throat is dry. He says, “Context is important. I'd like to hear them again.”
“I agree with you,” Midorima murmurs. His eyes are slightly misty, and he coughs once. “Where to begin.”
“The beginning?” Takao suggests helpfully. “You don't have to tell me everything. Just the important parts.”
“The highlight reel?” Midorima smiles, a little wobbly. “Perhaps I should just get the wedding slideshow out. Momoi and Kise were alarmingly thorough.”
“We can do that later,” Takao says, repressing a small shudder at the thought of those two collaborating on such a task.
“Well,” Midorima sighs, stretching back and letting his hand rest along the line of Takao's collar. “Honestly, you weren't far off. I fixated on you fairly early on, though I didn't realize what it was until much later.”
Takao blinks. “Seriously?”
“You stayed,” Midorima says. “At practice. After everyone was sick, after half the club dropped out, after even Coach left for the evening, you were still there.” He breaks eye contact. “I'd gotten so used to being there by myself, at first I thought you were mocking me.”
Takao shakes his head, wordlessly.
“It's hard to put into words,” Midorima frowns. “Most people – back then, at least, left me alone once we started winning. Understandably. I had little else to offer.”
“That's not true,” Takao protests. “I needed you. You pushed me, I don't think I would've been half the player I was if it wasn't for you.”
Midorima's face goes pink. “I pushed you away.”
“You tried,” Takao allows. “No one's ever expected as much of me as you did. You can't imagine what that feels like – you were a monster, I knew I'd never be anywhere close to your level. But you expected me to be anyways. It's like – it's like I went to Shuutoku knowing there was a ceiling, aiming to just reach it, and you came and took it away, and told me to reach higher.” Takao trails his fingers across Midorima's jaw. The words are spilling out of him, truths about himself he hardly knew until this moment. “All I ever wanted was to be more, for the team. For you.”
“You are everything to me,” Midorima says, placing his hand over Takao's. “I wish it hadn't taken me most of a year to realize, but I suppose in the grand scheme of things, that's not such a long time.”
“When did you know?” Takao asks, almost a whisper. Midorima's face is warm, his hand is warm, it's all making Takao kind of sleepy. He forces himself to look alert, he's been waiting for answers all day, and he's finally going to get them.
“It was right around when we started our second year,” Midorima says, slowly. “Actually. I don't think I've ever told you this, even in the hospital...it's very embarrassing, now.” He pauses. “Do you remember when we went to the Kanda Festival, at the end of our first year?”
Takao freezes. “I think so,” he says, heart hammering.
“You're going to laugh at me,” Midorima grumbles. “I didn't – this isn't exactly what made me realize it, obviously I'd been starting to figure things out on my own well before this – but I went into a love horoscope booth. I think you went into it too, it was all very overdone.”
“I can't believe this,” Takao says.
“I know, I told you you'd laugh,” Midorima sighs. “And although in later years I realized the woman in the booth was likely just very perceptive, or skilled at telling people what they wanted to hear, I can't bring myself to regret taking what she said to heart, as I did.”
Takao's heart may very well leap out of his chest and ricochet around the room, at this point. “What did she say?”
Midorima laughs, not entirely without humor. “She said I was 'destined for a great love',” he says, a faraway and vaguely familiar expression on his face. “She said that I must keep it, when I found this person, and that I must not trust it to fate alone. She said that I was looking for victory in all the wrong places.”
“Wow,” Takao manages. “That is perceptive.”
“I didn't know what to make of it at first,” Midorima admits. “But the last thing she said stuck with me, and I remember thinking about you, because you always looked for victories in so much more than basketball. I thought perhaps I should consult you on the proper places to look for victory in one's romantic life, since that always seemed to be an area of expertise for you.”
Takao rolls his eyes. “The amount of flack I get for dating around a little bit, I swear.”
Midorima gives him a pointed look. “It was also very troubling to me that she advised against trusting fate, which, as you know, was difficult for me back then.”
“Yes, I believe the giant stuffed penguin I used to carry around for you would concur,” Takao says, then flinches. “I'm sorry, that was mean. I'm just happy you got over it, I know it was very stressful for you.”
“It was,” Midorima says, only a hint of reproach in his voice. “Stop interrupting.”
Takao mimes zipping his mouth shut.
“It had never occurred to me, before that moment, that I might marry for love,” Midorima says. “I wasn't raised to think of love in terms of greatness, or degrees of passion. I knew I was passionate about basketball, or I knew I was passionate about winning, at least. I thought that everything in life would be like that, I suppose. That I'd perfect courtship as a skill and win the ideal bride.”
“Which is exactly what happened, obviously,” Takao says, unable to stop himself. “Shutting up now.”
“Those words have lost all meaning, coming from you,” Midorima informs him. “I don't know why I bother.”
Takao keeps his mouth tightly closed, opting instead to bat his eyelashes hopefully.
Midorima lets out a long-suffering sigh. “Fine. What I realized is, I'd always been passionate about winning, but never about just playing. I never looked forward to it the way people like Aomine or Kise did, just getting on the court, getting the ball. It was all a means to an end...until I met you.”
Takao turns and presses his face into the pillow, terribly pleased and embarrassed.
“Don't do that. You're the one making me tell this horrible story. The least you can do is look at me.” Midorima's words are scolding, but his tone is gentle, and so are his fingers when he takes Takao's chin and pries his face away from the pillow.
“I'm looking,” Takao says hoarsely.
“It all sounds ridiculous, I'm well aware. I hardly know how to describe it, it seems so long ago now.” Midorima clicks his tongue. “The main thing I remember is feeling out of sorts after my reading, it was so vague, and that troubled me. And then you came out of the booth, and you looked at me, and it just – hit.” He makes a hushed, helpless sound against Takao's hand. “That's the first I remember really knowing. Really seeing you.”
Takao kisses him.
“I'm the same,” he says roughly, between soft presses of his lips against Midorima's. “I should've known, should've figured it out so much earlier.” He breathes in the scent of Midorima's mouth, going lightheaded from oxygen deprivation and not caring one bit.
“Do you remember Miyaji, when he found out?” Midorima brushes his nose against Takao's, presses his lips to Takao's top lip, then his bottom one. “How he yelled at us for taking so long, and then gave us laps?”
“Typical,” Takao grins, fisting his hand in Midorima's robe and pulling him closer.
“Unfortunately,” Midorima agrees. His hand goes to the small of Takao's back, holding him in place as he kisses along his jawline, his temples, his eyelids. “As the song says, only fools rush in. I think we made good time, considering.”
“Ah,” Takao says, tracing his thumb across Midorima's cheek. “Doesn't it also say 'some things are meant to be'?”
“It does,” Midorima says, leaning in again to kiss him again, even as he continues to speak. “Ironic, since that's how I stopped believing in fate, and started believing in you.”
“Shintarou,” Takao breathes. He feels like he might cry. “I'm supposed to be the smooth one, you're showing me up here.”
“My apologies,” Midorima says, pulling back with a rueful smile. “You asked for this story, you know.”
“I plead insanity,” Takao says, dragging him back and burying his face in Midorima's chest. “No more stories, my heart can't take any more. It'll explode.”
“Well, we can't have that,” Midorima says, tightening his hold. “I've put a great deal of effort into ensuring its continued beating.”
“You have,” Takao agrees with a yawn. “Look, you've exhausted me. I think we should go to sleep before either of us think of more embarrassing things to say.”
“I agree,” Midorima says. “And on clean sheets, too. What a change this day has brought.”
“...Probably don't get used to it,” Takao says sheepishly.
Midorima kisses the top of his head. “I assure you, I wouldn't dream of it.”
“I hope I do,” Takao says sleepily. “Dream of it, I mean.” He leans back with his head on the pillow, keeping his palms pressed against Midorima's chest. There's a slow, rushing sound filling the background of his hearing, the pull of sleep becoming impossible to resist. “I'll miss you, Shintarou.”
“What a peculiar thing to say,” Midorima murmurs, sounding oddly far away.
“Goodnight,” Takao says. Oh, that's loud. Strange.
Takao jerks awake and almost falls off his chair. “Huh? Oh, fuck.” He rubs at his eyes. Everything is pink, again. He's back at the festival.
The woman behind the table beams at him. “Did the Fates convey their message?”
“Um,” Takao says, still reeling. “Yeah, you could say that. How long was I out for?”
“Out?” she asks. “Oh, your trance? Just a few minutes.”
“A few minutes,” he repeats. “All that? Was a few minutes?”
Her eyes widen. “Was it a long message?”
“Kind of,” he says, drumming his fingers against the table. “Also life-changing. I think.”
“How exciting!” she says. She hands him a pamphlet. “Be sure to check out our membership options online. We've having a sale through the end of the month on daily compatibility reports, and all premium memberships are ten percent off, this weekend only.”
“Great,” Takao says, folding the pamphlet and shoving it into his pocket. “Are you sure that was only a few minutes? It's just that I have someone waiting for me.”
“A special someone, is it?” She gives him a knowing look. “I do couple's readings as well, you know.”
“We have to actually become a couple first,” Takao admits. “Maybe we'll catch you next year.”
“Hmm, yes, I believe you will,” she says, looking him up and down. “Well, go on then. Better not keep him waiting.”
Takao's out of his seat and pushing open the flap of the tent before he realizes what she said.
“There you are,” Midorima says, scowling down at him. “Your reading took much longer than mine. Nothing too dire, I hope.”
Takao's breath catches in his throat, he takes in Midorima's leanness, his towering frame and rigid posture, his hair long again, his face young and rounder. The anxiety coming off him in waves, something Takao never paid much attention to, but witnessing its absence makes it hard not to notice. He wants so desperately to reach for Midorima, to jump start everything now so they can start dating and kissing and touching, so that they can be closer to getting married, so that they can be closer to having Naoko.
“Yeah, just kind of a long reading,” he says, not taking his eyes off Midorima's. They're very green, and pretty. He's kissed the spaces next to them.
“I hope it was more useful than mine,” Midorima says. He looks unsettled. “Did you – should we get ikayaki now?”
“Mm, good idea, Shin-chan,” Takao grins. Ah, it feels good to use that nickname again. “I'm paying, yeah?”
Midorima nods expectantly, though his cheeks go slightly pink. “Very well.”
It's familiar now, this heady rush, the soaring feeling he gets when he looks at Midorima. It's something he felt even before his trip to the future, something he could never put a name to until this moment.
“Come on,” he says, gesturing to the lines in front of the food stalls. “I'll get you as many as you like. Can't have our ace going undernourished.”
“Honestly,” Midorima mutters, pushing up his glasses. Takao barely restrains himself from grabbing his hand as they wind through the crowd, heading first for food, and with any luck, a lifetime of further destinations.
Fate, Takao thinks, or something like it, will have to see them through.
as usual, I'm incapable of doing things quickly or succinctly. thanks so much for sticking with this story, and with me! hope you guys enjoyed it :)