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A Kind of Magic

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            It starts something like this:

 

            Koutarou has never been good at math. Numbers are confusing and formulas are complicated, and he’s never had a particularly good time with any of it. He’s good with languages, though. He’s perfectly sufficient with English, is trying to learn Korean outside of class and volleyball. It’s easy and makes sense, and he enjoys it a lot. He’s bad at math and good with languages, and the first year setter is the opposite.

 

            Akaashi is smart. Koutarou knows this like he knows English loves its irregulars, he knows this like he knows the heft of a volleyball fitting into his palm before a good spike. It didn’t take long for him to figure it out, either. Akaashi is constantly tutoring other students in his class, helping them with things like science and history and math. Akaashi is brilliant with math. Koutarou learned this shortly after the setter joined the team. He learned Akaashi is brilliant with math, and miserable with languages.

 

            So they develop a system. For their first year together, they spend at least one weekend each month studying together. Usually, it’s Saturdays in the library, tucked in the back corner with homework spread across the table and coffee cups forgotten to the side. Sometimes, they’ll sit on the floor of Koutarou’s room the night before an exam, going over carefully organized notes. It works wonderfully. Akaashi might not have learned quite what Koutarou needs to study for math, but he manages an easy explanation for how to solve most problems regardless. And Koutarou’s notes for English might be haphazard, but Akaashi learns better hearing the foreign words rather than reading them anyway.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            Somewhere during this first year, they become friends. If they aren’t studying one weekend, they might pick up some extra volleyball practice, or see a film that’s recently released. Koutarou comes to Akaashi’s classroom for lunch, and they’ve spent plenty of evenings after practice walking to a nearby shop for a snack to finish on the way home. Akaashi’s even stayed at Koutarou’s for dinner a handful of nights. Akaashi says he likes it, that it’s very different from dinner at his house, and anyway, Koutarou’s family likes Akaashi. His sisters like to put clips in his hair and learn about setting in the backyard, and his brother likes to talk his ear off about whichever manga he’s been reading.

 

            It’s comfortable and it’s nice, and Koutarou loves to have Akaashi over, and it seems very much like Akaashi likes being over at Koutarou’s.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            Koutarou is worried about the upcoming final exams. Specifically, math. The most recent unit has a lot of material, and he keeps getting formulas mixed up. It’s too confusing and he just knows he’s going to fail. There’s no other possibilities.

 

            He’s telling Washio as much after practice one afternoon, when Akaashi turns from where he’s putting his practice uniform back in his locker.

 

            “Bokuto-san. We can study on Friday, if you aren’t busy. You can come over, it should be quiet.”

 

            In all the months they’ve been friends and all the times they’ve studied together, Akaashi has never once suggested going to his own house. Which, of course, Koutarou never minded. He never really even thought much of it. He’s always just figured that maybe Akaashi wasn’t allowed to have friends over. He could have really strict parents, which would make sense, if Koutarou’s being honest, given how polite and reserved Akaashi has the tendency to be. Regardless, it isn’t until Akaashi’s suggesting it that Koutarou really starts to think about it.

 

            He’s quick to agree, a little excited. He’s curious. He wants so badly to know what Akaashi’s house is like, what his family is like. Probably just as proper and nice as he is. Quiet. And his house is probably really pretty, with decorative art on the walls and throw pillows with little quotes on them. It’s like if Akaashi were a house — quaint and nice and something that would probably be really nice to spend hours at.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            Bokuto Koutarou is very, very wrong.

 

            He knows he’s wrong the second Akaashi unlocks and opens his door that Friday afternoon, and they’re bombarded by an awful cackling laugh and the smell of something burning. He knows he’s wrong when he hears someone shout “Asshole!” in the other room, when he sees Akaashi’s shoulders drop.

 

            “I apologize, Bokuto-san. My family is very . . .” Akaashi gestures vaguely with his hand. “I thought they’d be gone by now.” He looks to a small boy who looks a lot like a miniature Akaashi, sitting on the stairs with a a handheld game, feet resting on a rather large dog that’s laying at the bottom of the staircase. “What’s burning?”

 

            The boy briefly glances up before returning his attention to his game. He has the same messy curls as Akaashi. “Okaasan tried to bake.”

 

            Akaashi nods, and starts to walk down the hall, but he only gets a couple steps in before two perfectly identical girls are stumbling into the entryway from a room off to the side. They have to be in middle school, Koutarou thinks. Neither is any taller than Komi, for sure.

 

            “Keiji!” says the one on the left. “Am I adopted?”

 

            There’s more laughter from somewhere else in the house. Akaashi’s eyebrows raise the barest fraction.

 

            “You’re not adopted. Stupid, maybe, if you’re thinking that, but not adopted,” he says. “Shouldn’t you be dressed? Where’s Hiro?”

 

            “Containing the fire,” the girl on the right replies. “Who’s this?”

 

            “Is he your boyfriend?“ the other teases. She has eyeliner done on the right eye, but the other is still bare.

 

            Akaashi doesn’t get a chance to reply before the other twin is gasping. “No! No way does Keiji have a boyfriend before I do. Be more realistic, Rui.”

 

            Neither of them give Koutarou a chance to linger on the word choice of boyfriend. “Have you seen your face? Keiji’s definitely going to start dating before you do.”

 

            “We have the same face!”

 

            “My nose isn’t all jacked up.”

 

            “Asshole!

 

            “Rui, don’t curse, you’re not a heathen. Kaori, manners,” Akaashi cuts in. “Go finish getting ready before you’re late. Hikaru, turn that off and go do your homework.” He looks back at Koutarou, brow furrowed. “I’m sorry, Bokuto-san. This is why we don’t study here.”

 

            “Asshole,” Rui huffs.

 

            Akaashi throws her one last look as he starts pulling Koutarou down the hall. “You’re adopted.”

 

            “Your family’s really loud,” Koutarou comments. “I mean, mine can be pretty loud, too, but yours is really loud.” HIs mind is buzzing.

 

            “There’s still two others, somewhere,” Akaashi tells him. “Like I said, they’re leaving soon. Kaori’s in the play at her middle school, and everyone’s going to see it.” He pulls Koutarou into a room off to the side and closes the door.

 

            “You aren’t going to watch her?” Koutarou asks. He glances around what must be Akaashi’s bedroom, which is smaller than his own. It’s clean, but he can’t really tell what kind of organization system anything is going by. He has a single shoe sitting on his desk next to his laptop, and there are folded socks on top of his dresser right beside a stack of books.

 

            “I always go the second night,” Akaashi says as he sets his bag on the desk chair. “We usually get ice cream on the way back. Do you just need to study math, or are there other subjects as well?”

 

            “Just math. I—“

 

            The door swings open then and Koutarou jumps. A very small girl with the wild curls and frosting smeared across her cheek is in the doorway, both hands hanging off the door handle, peering into Akaashi’s room.   There’s dinosaurs printed across her shirt.

 

            “Nii-ni! You’re back!” Her wide grin reveals a missing front tooth, and Koutarou decides he loves her.

 

            “Hello, Kimi-chan,” Akaashi says. He offers a smile, soft and adoring, and Kimi comes bouncing over. Akaashi lifts her up with ease, balancing her on one hip as he turns to Koutarou. “Would you like to meet Bokuto-san?”

 

            “Bo— Boko— Buk—“ Kimi scowls. Koutarou grins. “Bo-san! Will you do my hair like yours?” He swears Akaashi laughs, a little puff of a thing. It’s possibly the nicest sound he’s ever heard.

 

            “Absolutely,” Koutarou says. “And we can do Akaa— Uh. Keiji’s. We can do Keiji’s too!” He tries not to think about how it feels to say Keiji, tries to ignore it in favor of the way Kimi’s grey eyes are lit up.

 

            “You will not,” Akaashi replies. “Stay away from my hair, please, Bokuto-san.”

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            Koutarou decides he really likes Akaashi’s smile.

 


 

 

            Here’s the thing about Bokuto Koutarou:

 

            He’s got an affinity for languages. Keiji’s never heard someone speak English with such fluid ease. He’s brilliant with it, but he’s also not a show-off about it. While he boasts about being an incredible spiker and an amazing ace when they’re on the court, and while he’s bragged about how good he is at crafting the perfect ice cream sundae, he’s incredibly modest about his talent for picking up languages. Which is actually nice, really, because to be perfectly and entirely honest, Keiji sucks at anything that isn’t Japanese.

 

            He’s top of his class in math, and science has always been easy for him, but when it comes to trying to learn different languages, he struggles. He can’t figure out verb tenses or conjugations, and pronunciation is impossible. He’s not good at English, and Bokuto’s not good at math, and so they study together.

 

            Here’s the thing about Bokuto Koutarou:

 

            He’s an amazing teacher. He takes his time and goes into as much detail as he can manage, and Keiji manages to have a better understanding of how English works. He’s still not great, but he’s better. Bokuto Koutarou is a good teacher, is kind and careful and understanding, and after spending a better part of a year with him, Keiji knows this.

 

            So it shouldn’t really surprise him to know that he’s also good with kids. He’s seen Bokuto with his own siblings — his little sisters seem to adore him and he’s watched Bokuto show his little brother how to receive a volleyball — but Keiji filed that as Bokuto just being a good older brother. He didn’t think much about it translating into his interactions with other children, until Bokuto comes over again a week later. The intention was to watch a movie that Sarukui has been insisting they have to see, and since the twins are out running errands with their mother, and Hiro is off at the library trying to study, Keiji figures it will be quiet enough.

 

            He didn’t really think of the possibility of Kimi and Hikaru joining them.

 

            Here’s the thing about Bokuto Koutarou:

 

            When Kimi comes in halfway through the movie, her favorite dinosaur toy in hand, and when her face lights up at seeing him there on the end of the couch, he grins and says hello and lets her climb up into his lap. She asks about the movie, and he tells her in a gentle voice all about the superhero and the “terrible, meanie-face bad guy” and lets her walk her dinosaur toy up his arm through the whole thing. He asks about her dinosaur, and she tells him its name and how Hiro gave it to her for her birthday, and Bokuto tells her how cool it is, and then they settle back to watch the movie.

 

            Keiji can’t stop himself from stealing glances in their direction, watching as Bokuto shifts to make his youngest sister comfortable, and as Kimi eventually starts to play curiously with the spikes of Bokuto’s hair. There’s something about the scene that won’t push itself out of his mind.

 

            It isn’t long after that Hikaru wanders in with the book he’s been working through for the past week. He pauses to look at the TV for a moment before walking over to sit on the couch between Keiji and Bokuto. He settles into his spot, sets his book on his lap, and then looks up at Bokuto.

 

            “Are you nii-san’s friend?”

 

            Bokuto nods. “I’m Bokuto. Are you Keiji’s brother?”

 

            Keiji doesn’t linger on how it sounds for Bokuto to say his name. He does not.

 

            Hikaru hums as he looks Bokuto over, then glances to where Kimi is draped across his lap, trying to balance her dinosaur on his shoulder. Then, deciding he is unopposed to Bokuto, he nods. “Akaashi Hikaru.”

 

            Hikaru looks back down to his book, but Keiji doesn’t miss the way he keeps looking over at Bokuto. Keiji pretends he’s not doing the same thing.

 

            Here’s the thing about Bokuto Koutarou:

 

            There’s some aspect about him that Keiji is starting to feel in his chest.

 


 

 

            Akaashi is much less hesitant about having Koutarou over after that. Summer begins, and they spend nearly as much time at Akaashi’s house as they do Koutarou’s. They go out with Komi and Sarukui and Yukie often enough, and Washio invites them all over every so often for movies and games, but it’s being at Akaashi’s house that Koutarou loves most.

 

            Hikaru, it seems, always has his nose buried in a book or video game, and Koutarou rarely sees him without the dog. (The dog, Akaashi tells him, is named Atlas, and he goes wherever Hikaru goes, always.) If Kimi’s not in Akaashi’s arms, she’s in Koutarou’s lap, and every time he sees her, she has different dinosaur clips in her fair hair, sometimes accompanied with little stars and planets. The twins aren’t around quite as often, and when they are, Koutarou more hears than sees them. Sometimes they’re laughing together, sometimes they’re insulting each other.

 

            But it’s Akaashi’s smile that keeps throwing Koutarou off. It’s bright and happy when Kimi comes running in with drawings she’s made or to tell Akaashi about the amazing sweets they got at the store, small and gentle when he’s explaining what a word in Hikaru’s book means. It halts Koutarou’s breath for the briefest moment every time.

 

            He meets Hiromi halfway through the summer, when he comes to pick up Akaashi for a movie they’re going to see with Kuroo and his friend, Kenma. He’s intentionally early, if only because he’s hoping Kimi is around so he can say hello, and maybe ask about the show she’s been watching with the foxes.

 

            He knocks on the door, and sends Akaashi a text to let him know he’s there just in case. He’s just hit the send button when the door swings open to reveal Akaashi, much taller than Koutarou remembers. He’s puzzling over how many centimeters Akaashi must have had to grow in the two days it’s been since they last saw each other, when normal-sized Akaashi appears behind the too-tall one.

 

            Oh.

 

            Oh.

 

            “Keiji, is this your friend?”

 

            Koutarou remembers Akaashi telling him he has an older brother as well. Kimi has talked about him enough in the middle of rambling about everything she can possibly think of. He just didn’t think he’d look so much like Koutarou’s Akaashi— Keiji— Fukurodani’s setter.

 

            “Hiro, Kaori’s eating your tarts,” Akaashi says, perfectly straight-faced.

 

            “No she is not.“ Hiromi whirls and rushes back into the house, shouting his sister’s name.

 

            Koutarou swears Akaashi smirks at that, but he doesn’t get to look long enough to confirm it, because Akaashi is turning to start down the hall, and Koutarou hurries in to follow.

 

            “I’ll be ready in just a minute,” Akaashi tells him. “Rui’s got football practice, and the captain of the boys’ team knotted the laces of her shoes. I’m trying to fix it.”

 

            Akaashi’s room is messier than it was last time, with batteries scattered across his desk and a pile of jackets in the middle of the floor. There’s a handful of small astronaut toys on his bookshelf.

 

            “Why would he do that?” Koutarou asks. He drops onto the edge of Akaashi’s bed and watches as Akaashi does the same, Rui’s cleats in hand.

 

            “Because he’s bitter that Rui’s a more talented player than he could ever hope to be,” Akaashi tells him, matter-of-factly. He tugs at a part of the knot, frowning when it doesn’t loosen. “Rui’s captain of the girls’ team,” he elaborates after a moment. “When they beat the boys’ team in a scrimmage match, he got pissy and apparently took it out on Rui’s shoes when he thought no one was looking, because he’s an asshole.”

 

            “A total asshole.”

 

            While Akaashi works on unknotting the laces, Koutarou flips through the book that’s on his nightstand. He’s never heard Akaashi swear before.

 

            Koutarou has started reading a page somewhere in the middle of the book when one of the twins appears in the doorway. Rui, presumably, if the practice uniform is anything to go by. She looks at Akaashi first, watching him work with the knot for a moment before turning to Koutarou.

 

            “Kei, who’s your friend?”

 

            Akaashi looks up at his sister. “This is Bokuto-san. You’ve met him before.”

 

            “For, like, two seconds,” Rui says. “You’ve never once properly introduced us. And I’m the heathen.”

 

            “Yes, you are,” Akaashi says. “Come here, pull this part of the lace for me. Your fingers are smaller.”

 

            Rui crosses the room to sit on Akaashi’s other side and help him with the knot. While she pulls on the lace, she looks over to Koutarou. “Are you the Bo-san Kimi always talks about? She’s totally obsessed with your hair.”

 

            Akaashi snorts and Koutarou catches a flash of a smile. His breath catches for half a moment.

 

            “Kimi has good taste,” Koutarou says with an easy grin. He likes the idea that Akaashi’s little sister talks about him. That she likes him. He wants Akaashi’s family to like him, really, as much as he likes Akaashi and his family.

 

            Rui laughs, loud and sharp. “Keep him, Keiji, I like him.” She pulls on another part of the knot. “Are you bringing him to the practice game next weekend? We’re going to kick ass.”

 

            “I haven’t asked,” Akaashi replies. “But I’m sure he’d love to watch you kick ass if you asked.”

 

            “Don’t swear, it’s uncultured,” Rui teases. “Bokuto-san, would you like to come to my football match next weekend?”

 

            “I’d love to come,” Koutarou says. “But only if you win.”

 

            Rui scoffs. “Of course we’ll win. Haru’s team hasn’t beat us once.”

 

            Akaashi pulls the laces apart, finally unknotted. “Here. Make sure Obara-kun knows he can—“ His eyes dart over to Koutarou for a split-second before returning to Rui. “Make sure he knows exactly where he stands in this.”

 

            “I’ll let him know he can fuck himself, Keiji,” Rui says, beaming. “Thank you.” She drops a light kiss on his cheek before hopping to her feet and starting out of the room. “I’ll see you next weekend, Bokuto-san!”

 

            Koutarou looks over at Akaashi. “You know, you’re allowed to say fuck.”

 

            Akaashi narrows his eyes. “Don’t start.”

 

            “I’m starting the campaign. Let Akaashi say fuck.”

 

            When Akaashi laughs, Koutarou thinks he’d like to bottle up the sound to save forever.

 


 

 

            Keiji should’ve known it would happen eventually. Bokuto’s at his house at least twice a week, has met half his family. There was never a way around him meeting Hiro, no way around introducing him to his mother.

 

            It’s a miracle it lasted this long. Sure, there was the one instance of Hiro beating Keiji to the door the last time Bokuto was over, but Bokuto never really got to meet him. He’s been in the house — as has their mother — plenty of times at the same time as Bokuto, and they’re not always hidden away in the privacy of Keiji’s room. There have been plenty of chances for their paths to cross, and Keiji should’ve known that it would happen eventually.

 

            He’s just been hoping that it wouldn’t be so soon.

 

            Bokuto has Kimi in his lap as they watch an old dinosaur movie, trying in vain to work her hair into braids. Keiji’s on the arm rest to his side, playing a puzzle game Kenma suggested when they met over the weekend. He’d sit properly on the couch, but Hikaru sprawled across the remaining space with a new manga volume before he had the chance. Kaori keeps coming in and out of the room with questions about something she’s reading.

 

            It’s nice and it’s comfortable and Bokuto has the most pleasant smile on his face as he tries to figure out how not to knot Kimi’s hair. Keiji is perfectly content.

 

            So of course Hiro has to ruin it.

 

            He hears the front door open without really registering the significance of it. He’s too focused on Bokuto’s struggle to work Kimi’s dinosaur clip into her hair. He doesn’t think about the fact that the door means his brother is home, and that his mother is likely with him.

 

            It doesn’t hit him until Hiro is waltzing into the room and draping himself over Keiji’s back. He has to brace a hand against the back of the couch to avoid falling into Bokuto.

 

            Hiro rests his chin on Keiji’s shoulder, pouting. “Keiji. I can’t believe you’d be so rude as to go so long without introducing me to the famous Bokuto-kun.”

 

            Bokuto looks over, pausing in his work with Kimi’s hair. He has a curious look on his face that Keiji has to tell himself isn’t that cute.

 

            “Hiro. You’re too heavy. Get off,” Keiji says. This is it, he decides. There’s no way around it anymore.

 

            “You’re so rude,” Hiro sniffs. “So inconsiderate to your dear older brother. After everything I’ve done for you—“

 

            “You finished the ice cream I was saving last night and tried to pin it on Atlas. Please get off.”

 

            Hiro huffs, but he does get off of Akaashi’s back. “You’ve got to be the Bokuto Koutarou everyone’s always talking about, right?”

 

            Bokuto nods, a cheerful smile on his face. “You’re Hiromi-san?”

 

            Hiro laughs and waves his hands. “No need for the honorifics, it’s just Hiro. You’re here often enough for it, you know?” He lifts Hikaru’s legs long enough to settle into the couch before setting them onto his lap. “You’ve gotta tell me how you get your hair like that. That’s totally wicked.”

 

            Bokuto never gets a chance to tell him. Keiji’s mother comes into the room, a tray of cookies in her hands that are definitely not what cookies are supposed to look like. The second Hikaru lays eyes on them, he darts out of the room. Keiji desperately wishes he could follow.

 

            “No one at the fundraiser wanted my treats,” she says, a frown on her face. “Can you believe— Oh! Keiji, you didn’t tell me you had a guest!”

 

            “You weren’t here,” Keiji says. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. “Okaasan, this is Bokuto-san.”

 

            “Bokuto-kun! Oh, I’ve heard so much about you!” She crosses over to the couch and holds the tray out. “Would you like to try one of these cookies? I only sold two at the sale for Hiro’s baseball team, I have plenty extra.”

 

            “Bokuto-san, don’t—“

 

            “Bokuto, you might not want to—“

 

            Bokuto has one in his hand before Keiji can stop him, and he watches in horror as he takes a bite out of it.

 

            Keiji loves his mother. She might be loud and eccentric and she might spill orange paint all over the carpet, and she might forget to pick up Keiji’s medicine when he’s sick sometimes, but he loves her. She’s a great mother and an amazing woman, but she has absolutely no talent for baking. A talent for starting kitchen fires, yes. But baking? That’s better left to Keiji’s father, or Kaori.

 

            Bokuto’s face is turning a terrible shade of red by the time he swallows the first bite, but he still manages a weak smile between fits of coughing. Hikaru comes in with a glass of water, footsteps quick.

 

            “Are they no good?” Keiji’s mother asks, completely genuine. “I thought this batch was a good one . . .”

 

            Bokuto shakes his head, words tumbling out of his mouth around wheezing coughs. “No, no! They’re good, really! Just— They’re a little, uh, salty, but they’re okay!”

 

            The smile Keiji’s mother gets is enough for him to decide that Bokuto Koutarou must be an actual saint.

 

            “I knew they couldn’t be that bad!” she says. “I’m going to call Harada-san, I told her they were perfectly good!”

 

            Once she’s gone, Bokuto takes the water from Hikaru and gulps it down, face even redder. Keiji can’t decide how he managed to say anything positive. He knows how those cookies tasted, he’s had enough of them in his life.

 

            “Keiji, I can’t believe you almost let him die like that,” Hiro gasps. “What kind of friend are you?”

 

            “Hiro, shut up.”

 

            He can’t stop himself from glancing over at Bokuto throughout the remainder of the movie. He tells himself that it’s just to make sure his face returns to its natural color.

 


 

 

            “You asshole! You complete dickwad!

 

            “Don’t call me that! That’s fucking rude!

 

            Akaashi grimaces at the noise when he opens the door. Something smells terribly of peppermint.

 

            “Sorry, Bokuto-san,” he says. He toes his shoes off and lines them up neatly with the rest, and then looks to Hikaru, who’s laying at the top of the stairs beside Atlas. Kaori’s at the bottom, sewing a button onto her jacket. “What—“

 

            “They’re playing Mario Kart,” Kaori says.

 

            “Hiro’s losing,” Hikaru adds.

 

            Akaashi nods, then leads Koutarou into the house. They pass his room for the kitchen, where Akaashi collects two glasses of juice before walking towards the living room. Sure enough, Rui and Hiro are both there, snapping insults and shoving at each other as they also try to control their characters. Rui has an elbow in Hiro’s side, and Hiro’s got a foot pushing on her knee.

 

            “You both suck,” Akaashi says, looking at the screen. Bokuto follows his gaze.

 

            They’re battling over eleventh and twelfth place.

 

            “You’re a dick,” Hiro says.

 

            “Shut the hell up, you’ve got no room to talk,” Rui cuts in.

 

            “Rui, manners, please,” Akaashi says. “Aren’t you supposed to be getting ready? Bokuto-san came to watch your football match, not to see you lose at Mario Kart.”

 

            “I’m not losing, you bitch!”

 

            “Please don’t call me that.”

 

            “Yeah, Keiji’s not a bitch, he’s a little bitch.”

 

            “You’re losing, too.”

 

            Koutarou thinks he very much likes the Akaashi that Akaashi is at home. He likes the Akaashi at school and in practice, who’s brilliant and talented and sometimes has what Koutarou would call a gloating look when he pulls a dump that no one on the other side of the court is quick enough to receive, but that Akaashi is also polite and reserved and doesn’t laugh the same way he does at home. Here, his quiet is different. It’s everything ranging from thoughtful to caring to outright snarky. Here, he curses. Here, he braids Kaori’s hair while she goes on rants about the girl in her class that won’t take the hint that she likes her.

 

            This Akaashi is one Koutarou thinks he might be the tiniest bit in love with. Just a little bit. Just enough that when Hiro loses and Akaashi’s mouth quirks into a crooked smile, Koutarou’s heart stutters a beat.

 


 

 

            While Rui’s team is still warming up, Bokuto goes off in search of a restroom, and Keiji takes the opportunity to take a handful of the chips from his bag. His own bag was finished by Kimi when he was too busy helping Bokuto get a spider off the bench next to him.

 

            On the bench below him, Kaori is glaring daggers down towards the bottom corner of the bleachers, where the girl she’s had a crush on since the beginning of her first year is sitting. She’d tried to flirt earlier, but it’d gone right over the girl’s head, and Kaori was bitter.

 

            “You just gotta move on, kid,” Hiro says through a mouthful of chips. “Get you a girl that looks at you the way Keiji looks at his crush.”

 

            Keiji sputters, his face burning. “I do not have a crush on Bokuto-san.”

 

            At that, Hiro gets a wicked glint in his eye that matches his terrible grin. “Who ever said anything about a Bokuto?”

 

            Oh, no.

 

            Kimi perks up from her spot on Hiro’s lap. “Nii-ni! Are you in love with Boku-san? Are you gonna get married?”

 

            “No—“

 

            “Yes they are!” Hiro says. “Do you want to be the flower girl?”

 

            It hurts that Keiji can’t get any corrections in over his brother’s insistence, and even worse that he’s never seen Kimi smile so wide.

 

            “Yes!

 

            This is not what Keiji needs. It is not. When he spots Bokuto walking back over, his heart actually sinks a little. While Kimi means well, Hiro does not, and this can’t possibly end well.

 

            “Boku-san!” Kimi says. “Boku-san, Hiro said I can be the flower girl?”

 

            Bokuto takes his seat next to Keiji and tilts his head in confusion. It’s ridiculously endearing. “The flower girl?”

 

            “Are you gonna wear a dress? To the wedding?”

 

            “What— What wedding? Who’s getting married?” Bokuto asks.

 

            “No one, but I do know someone who’s getting buried,” Keiji growls, scowling in his brother’s direction. Hiro couldn’t possibly look any giddier.

 

            “Are there gonna be flowers? Purple ones?” Kimi says. “When we went to Hana-san’s wedding, there were purple flowers!”

 

            “Wait, wait, what wedding?”

 

            “She means Hiro’s funeral, Bokuto-san,” Keiji says. “Let’s go see if we can find drinks. I want tea.”

 

            He grabs Bokuto’s hand and pulls him back out of the bleachers before Hiro can open his mouth and make things worse. He’s a good person. He doesn’t deserve this.

 

            “Akaashi? I’m confused,” Bokuto says. Keiji drops his hand once they’re safely away from any possibility of Bokuto turning back to his family. “What’s with the weddings and funerals? I’m lost.”

 

            “It’s nothing, Bokuto-san, don’t worry about it,” Keiji tells him. “Just Hiro being stupid, that’s all. Do you want apple or orange juice?”

 

            He might actually murder Hiro in his sleep, bring him back from the dead, and murder him again. First, for pulling that on him. Second, because as Keiji watches Bokuto sip the straw of his apple juice, he thinks Hiro might’ve been right about the crush.

 


 

 

            Here’s the thing about Akaashi Keiji:

 

            He’s terrible at art.

 

            Koutarou watches as he picks another one of Kimi’s crayons and tries to color in a haphazard outline of what Koutarou thinks might be an owl. Maybe. Next to him, Kimi’s drawing a massive, pink stegosaurus next to a very abstract Koutarou in what looks like a long white dress. He can’t be entirely sure, but he thinks she might have drawn him holding hands with Akaashi.

 

            Koutarou’s drawing an ice-cream cone.

 

            Here’s the thing about Akaashi Keiji:

 

            He definitely doesn’t recognize that he’s terrible at art.

 

            He cocks his head to the side as he looks down at his drawing, then adds a spot of blue. “Bokuto-san, do you think this is alright?”

 

            “It, uh, it looks nice, Keiji.”

 

            He’s gotten a lot more used to calling him Keiji when he’s around his family, and it’s definitely slipped out more than once at school during lunch and in practice. He doesn’t get stuck on it anymore. But he thinks Akaashi’s ears go a little red every time he says it.

 

            “You think?” Akaashi looks over at Koutarou’s drawing. “Yours looks nice, too.”

 

            He looks back at his owl, nods, and puts the crayon back in the box. His fingers drum on the table as he watches Kimi color, expression growing fond. Koutarou thinks Akaashi’s hands might be bigger than his own, but he can’t really tell. He’s curious, though.

 

            He’s thought about it a lot, if he’s to be honest. He catches himself wondering when he watches Akaashi set, strong and graceful. He thinks about it when he sees Akaashi working through a tricky part of Hikaru’s game when Hikaru gets stuck and needs help. The thought pops into his head every time Akaashi’s anxious about an exam and knots his fingers together.

 

            He can’t get it off his mind now, as he studies Akaashi tapping against the table.

 

            Here’s the thing about Akaashi Keiji:

 

            He has nice hands. Koutarou thinks about them a lot.

 

            Here’s the thing about Akaashi Keiji:

 

            Koutarou thinks about him a lot.

 

            “Keiji. Hold up your hand,” Koutarou says. He figures there’s no harm in it. He just wants to know if Akaashi’s hands actually are bigger.

 

            Okay, so, maybe he wants a lot more than that, but for now, this is it. Really. Honestly.

 

            Akaashi gives him a curious look, but holds his hand up between them all the same. Koutarou meets him in the middle, and puts his own hand against it. Akaashi’s fingertips reach up a few centimeters past Koutarou’s.

 

            “Huh. Yours are bigger,” Koutarou muses. “That’s hardly fair, you’re way shorter!”

 

            “I’m only a few centimeters shorter, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi says. His cheeks are turning a very pleasant shade of red.

 

            He hasn’t moved his hand away.

 

            “Still,” Koutarou says. He slides his hand up enough that his fingers stop above Akaashi’s. He can’t come up with a reason why, but he does.

 

            “That’s cheating, Bokuto-san. Nice try.”

 

            “It can’t be cheating if there’s no rules,” Koutarou replies. He folds his fingers over Akaashi’s so he can’t possibly try to move his hand back above his and grins. “Look, I win.”

 

            “You can’t win if there’s no rules,” Akaashi counters.

 

            “Nii-ni! Look! I finished the picture of you and Boku-san’s wedding!” Kimi holds up her drawing, pushing it forward to show Akaashi, and Akaashi’s entire face and neck is a brilliant red now. Koutarou can’t come up with anything to say about the wedding, though, because as Kimi’s stretching forward, she knocks over the glass of water Akaashi had been drinking, and spills it over the rest of the table.

 

            “Fu—umbled fish sticks,” Akaashi says, catching himself before he can curse. He scrambles to right the glass, but the damage has already been done. “Kimi-chan, can you get some paper towels?”

 

            Kimi nods vigorously and darts off. Koutarou fixes his gaze on Akaashi.

 

            He waits just a moment to make sure Kimi’s out of earshot, then says, quietly, “Let Akaashi say fuck.

 

            “Fuck off, Bokuto-san.”

 

            Koutarou grins

 

            Here’s the thing about Akaashi Keiji:

 

            Bokuto Koutarou is kind of in love with him.

 


 

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            Bokuto is racing around the backyard with Hikaru on his shoulders, making what are probably supposed to be airplane noises. Hikaru is laughing, completely giddy. Keiji can’t wipe the smile off his face.

 

            Rui is watching him with a knowing look, and Keiji thinks about telling her not to even start. He gets enough of Hiro’s teasing now, he doesn’t need Rui to add to it.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            It’s the end of summer break, and he invited Bokuto over for dinner last-minute. His father’s home to cook, and there’s a part of Keiji that wants him to meet Bokuto. There’s also a part of him that wants Bokuto to know that someone in his family can actually cook, and not everything comes out over-salted or tasting of garlic despite there being no garlic in the dish.

 

            Bokuto’s wearing a shirt that’s ridiculously tight across his broad shoulders, and Keiji can’t stop staring. He can’t stop smiling at Bokuto’s wide grin as he ducks under a tree branch and makes a whooshing sound, much to Hikaru’s delight.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            Keiji has admitted to himself by now that he’s a little in love with Bokuto Koutarou.

 

            Bokuto’s around all the time. And the thing is, when they’re at school, Bokuto is loud and excitable and he brags about getting spikes past Kuroo’s blocks in practice matches. He shouts and he boasts and he steals Keiji’s apple slices out of his lunch. But around Keiji’s house, the loudness is something different. It’s laughing at Hiro’s frustration at losing to him in Mario Kart, it’s shouted congratulations at Rui announcing they won a practice game against their rival school. And the loudness competes with a certain softness that shows up in how he adds star clips to Kimi’s hair and talks to Hikaru about a show they both love. It’s a different Bokuto than Keiji sees at lunch and in practice, and he can’t seem to get him out of his head.

 

            Dinner is loud and Hiro makes too many teasing comments alluding to Keiji’s crush on Bokuto and Bokuto keeps stealing the apple slices off Keiji’s plate. Keiji’s father asks Bokuto about volleyball and about his own siblings, and Bokuto is happy to tell him everything that comes to mind. His father has a smile on his face Keiji only ever sees when he’s looking at his mother or when Kaori comes running to meet him after school for a hug and an announcement about an aced exam.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            It’s the second night of Kaori’s play at the middle school, and Bokuto comes with Keiji to see it. It’s not a big, formal one — just something the drama club worked on for fun over the summer — but Bokuto seems as excited to see it as Keiji is.

 

            “She’s going to be amazing,” Bokuto says. “She’s rehearsed it enough, you know? She’s going to look so cool with her costume and everything, too! Hey, hey, Keiji, do you think I can get her ice cream for her after? I want to get it for her, you don’t have to.”

 

            “That’s fine, Bokuto-san,” Keiji says. He thinks Bokuto might call him Keiji more than he calls him Akaashi now. He thinks he doesn’t mind it at all.

 

            “I’m going to ask her to sign one of the fliers for me,” Bokuto says. “I gotta.”

 

            They pick seats near the front, and they wrestle for the armrest for a moment before reaching a stalemate, which results in Keiji’s arm being pressed to Bokuto’s from shoulder to wrist. It’d only require one small move to hold his hand.

 

            Keiji doesn’t let himself think about that.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            Kaori is amazing in her play, and Bokuto has the proudest smile on his face by the end of it that might rival Keiji’s own. He tells Kaori how talented and incredible she is the second she comes to meet them in the lobby, and she has the widest grin Keiji’s ever seen on her.

 

            “You didn’t even miss a single line!” Bokuto says as they’re leaving the school. “It was so impressive and amazing!

 

            Kaori laughs, and it sounds a little like sunshine. “Thank you, Bokuto-san.” She’s leaning against Keiji’s side, and she keeps sending him teasing little looks every time Bokuto bumps his other shoulder.

 

            “Ice cream?” Keiji asks, even though he already knows the answer.

 

            “Duh.”

 

            Bokuto pays for all of theirs, even though Keiji insists he can get his own, and they start the last stretch of the walk back home.

 

            Bokuto’s ice cream drips over his fingers, and Keiji gets tired enough of it that when they reach the house, he stops and reaches over to cover his hand with a napkin. He tries to clean up all the melted bits, and he misses Kaori’s grin as she walks back in.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            His hand lingers, and Bokuto’s smile is absolutely ridiculous, and his cheeks are red even though it’s not nearly warm enough out for it.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            Bokuto’s smile turns to something soft and Keiji is very aware of how fast his heart is pounding against his ribcage and he definitely doesn’t need to be keeping his hand there for that long but he also can’t quite bring himself to move it away.

 

            “Keiji.” Bokuto’s voice is softer than his smile. Keiji might melt. “Keiji, I gotta tell you. I gotta— I really, really like you.”

 

            Keiji’s voice catches in his throat, and his breathing might just stop altogether.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            Keiji leans over, and doesn’t think twice about pressing a kiss to Bokuto’s lips.

 

            It starts something like this:

 

            It might be the best moment of Keiji’s life.

 

            It really might be.