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Genius.

Certainty.

A future set in stone, carved bold and deep in the rock of time; or scribed in solid ink, stark on the pages of a book.

He’s seen it. He’s seen what life has given other people, the way they walk in the world, they way they look into the air like there’s something no one else can see. Something that fuels their strength, drives their fire, shows them the way.

For Konoha, it’s not like that. With his luck in the universe, it’s like there’s something missing; some small thing he’s never quite grasped. A spark he’s never managed to ignite on the torch he wishes he could hold ahead of him to light his future and tell him he will be—

What does he want to be?

He hardly knows, except for this:

Noticed. Cherished.

Maybe, even, something truly great.

Since arriving at Fukurodani Academy, Konoha has been in a constant flux between exasperation and amusement at the antics of one Bokuto Koutarou. He’s an enigma—from day to day, how bright he shines or how flaky he becomes can never be predicted (and sometimes he’s both at exactly the same time and it annoys the hell out of Konoha). He’s powerful and raucous and forgetful, and has a temper like quicksilver and a heart of gold, and for a long time—too long—Konoha was jealous of this boy. This strange, shining boy, whose dreams and ambitions and excited, overloud pronouncements always seemed to come true.

Konoha knows it’s not like Bokuto hasn’t worked hard to get to where he is. Fourth-ranked ace spiker in the country. Captain. Tenth in physics out of their four-hundred-strong year group (although to be fair, he's generally bottom one hundred in everything else). But there’s something more to him, Konoha thinks. When he’s suspended in the air mid-spike for an infinitesimal second—when he’s laughing with his head tipped back just so—when he’s walking and gesturing and flings out his arms like he’s inviting in the entire world, waiting for something great because there is no doubt that he will be great

Konoha sees it for the first time at summer training camp in their first year. As Bokuto powers up to the net, at the very peak of his jump when his potential energy—gravitational potential but electrical potential and infinite potential—is right at its highest—

In his eyes, Konoha sees tiny flashes of something that isn’t quite gold. Pink. Green too, and blue, a dozen shades of blue, even something distinctly more yellow. In a blink, they're gone. There’s something familiar about them; not that Konoha’s seen them before, but it stirs up memories from a time that must have been when he was very young. The words elude him. The meaning escapes him. Again, it's something just out of his grasp, something he doesn't think he can reach just as himself—

(He settles for in-betweens. No, he's never been satisfied like that, not really, but it's been his lot for so long that he can't always see himself moving beyond that.

He's never been one to turn heads, nor to fully charm and fully sway a person, and sometimes it gets to him.)

And Konoha makes up his mind to ask Bokuto about it—he wants to conquer the court like that too, he wants to make people stare in his wake, and for the first time in four months he isn't jealous but curious, excited

Then that same afternoon, Bokuto rams into him as they dive for the same receive, and in the aftermath of a sprained wrist and the stirrings of pure, unremitting rage at a boy Konoha thinks will destroy every dream he chases, he forgets all about his wonder, and the lights flashing like stars in Bokuto Koutarou’s eyes.

Bokuto is unreachable. Too high, too bright. A supernova in a far-off galaxy. Until he implodes for the first time, Konoha resigns himself to the knowledge that Bokuto Koutarou cannot be beaten and that he doesn't and couldn’t care about someone as ordinary and attainable as Konoha Akinori.

But in the wake of a boy of supernovas and quicksilver, too temperamental and unsteady to keep pace, it turns out that someone a little more grounded, a little more flexible and invisible is needed to pick up the pieces. Someone who can stabilise a team, and keep them going. Someone who can, surprisingly, take the ace imploding again, and again, and again, and have patience until he has put himself back together.

It also turns out that Konoha was mostly wrong. Bokuto can be beaten. And he cares about other people, and cares what they think of him. He cares very much.

(And Konoha was also wrong, because he realises he doesn’t hate Bokuto, nor what he can do.)

As jealousy and anger fade, as he works and starts to be noticed for his efforts, just a little more—and as Bokuto becomes less a daunting and unmerciful unparalleled rival, and much more a daft dandelion of a boy who happens to work really hard at volleyball—as they start out again perhaps not as equals, but on equal footing, he sees it again.

The flashes, in colours too bright and beautiful to be real.

He remembers to ask about them one evening in early November when they're cleaning the gym after practice. Bokuto has just piled half a dozen balls high in his arms, and as he starts making his way back to the ball cart, Konoha falls into step with him and comes right out with it.

“I saw something weird today.”

“Mm? What kind of weird?”

“Uh…” Thinking on it, it sounds absolutely ridiculous, but he knows he has to put it into words. “Multi-coloured flashing lights reflected in your eyes kind of weird?”

Bokuto promptly drops all the balls.

“Ah! Crap! Ahhhhh…”

The whole rest of clean-up, Bokuto makes a very obvious point of avoiding Konoha, and Konoha ponders what the best course of action is. In the end, he pretends like it never happened when the next day rolls around, and Bokuto returns to his usual vivacious self, in-your-face and friendly as ever.

But when they go to Nationals that January, Konoha knows what he sees as Bokuto rises to challenge every opponent again and again and again. Indistinct shadows that shouldn’t be there even under the unfamiliar fluorescent lights, shadows that don’t just block the light but almost add colour to this boy. And there, there’s something more of this mysterious phenomenon—just a little sparkle whizzing by, and in his ear, the most breathless, delighted gasp. But it doesn’t lasts longer than a heartbeat—gone long before he can turn his head to try and catch it.

And in the time after, there is no way of knowing when next he’ll see it.

Or maybe there is. The lights, those mysterious flashes have appeared always when Bokuto is at his greatest. If he’s happy, has succeeded, there’s a chance Konoha will see something.

But any time he asks about it in his first year, or his second, Bokuto gets fidgety. Clumsy. Dismisses him and changes the subject. Konoha knows for certain there’s something he is trying to hide. But every time, he lets it go, and then for six months, seven months, he doesn’t notice it again.

And then, the summer of their third year rolls around.

Embarking on the first of their rounds of training camp is a very different first string team to the one from two years ago. And two of its key players have changed dramatically.

Konoha still thinks of Bokuto as a daft dandelion a lot of the time. But he’s grown up a bit. Enough that he’s a confident (if overcocky) teacher for the first years, and his presence on the court inspires confidence without fail. Not so much that he doesn’t literally drop everything and run as soon as he gets distracted by something cooler than a mundane task like taking down the nets or looking through cue cards about English s. His dejected modes are less and less frequent now than they were a year ago—even that is an eon away from when he was fifteen with too little direction and a body not quick enough nor strong enough to keep up with his overcharged mind.

He looks less like quicksilver, and more like he has the moon and stars shining from his eyes.

And Konoha… well, he’s let his mind get a little broader. He’s finally grown, both taller and stronger (and still maintains that he could reach 180 centimetres in the next couple of years). He’s learned a lot about Bokuto; about all his teammates. He’s found, after trial and error enough to make a maths teacher shriek, a niche on this team.

Their team:

Bokuto, a fearsome attack front. Washio and Komi, their menacing defence. Sarukui, who is underestimated and always powers through where their opponents least expect. Onaga, who is overestimated and gets plenty of opportunity to score. Akaashi, a cool director with a clear vision.

And Konoha: the backbone that can keep the ball in play through any means he needs. He doesn’t receive as cleanly as Komi nor set with Akaashi’s pinpoint precision, but he does what he needs to do, and does it well enough. He’s gotten their team out of pinches aplenty, and it feels good—really good—to be relied on like that.

(According to Sarukui, Akaashi coined that backbone phrase. It’s kind of nice. Sounds pretty cool. And it’s miles better than that jack-of-all-trades moniker he knows the second years whisper about behind his back. Gives him less of an urge to punch someone.)

And between practices and summer homework, there are six of them—and very often nine—who’ve spent the summer wandering town and the parks and the pools, enjoying the sun, enjoying the company. Everyone is lively, and this is a time when it suddenly occurs to Konoha that he might see those bright flashes in Bokuto’s eyes.

Things have been happening, this summer. The air has shimmered, almost like something is about to form—as if by magic—but then it stops. Abrupt. Doesn’t come back.

And Bokuto, shining Bokuto who is brighter this summer than ever before, is always around when the air shifts and reaches—and always talking about the future, or his dreams, or something wild and fantastical and so vivid Konoha can nearly see it in front of him—and he’s subdued the rest of the day after it vanishes.

Konoha’s still trying to figure out why.

And it takes until nearly the end of summer before he gets his answer.

A week before the school term begins anew, Konoha runs half the way from his house to school pursued by the threat of the worst humidity of the summer, and has to take a minute to catch his breath and will the ugly flush out of his cheeks when he reaches the school gate. It’s a longer distance on foot than he ever guesstimates, and time was not his friend today. They have a practice match planned with a nearby school this morning, and as a starter, senpai, and generally untroublesome sort of member of the club, he can’t really afford to be late.

That, and he doesn’t want Shirofuku to sneak up on him and chew him out. He still can’t shake the last time that happened to him.

Even at the school, time is still not his friend, as the volleyball gymnasiums are a good four minutes’ walk into the campus, but he takes his time over those four minutes to let the burn from his run fade into a soft strain. It crosses his mind once again that he really needs to work on his endurance, and he scowls at the thought.

He passes by a few sleepy-looking kouhai on his way to the gymnasium complex, and reflexively checks his phone and pauses just inside the foyer, the slap of a volleyball emanating from one gym and squeaking shoes from another. In the last fifteen minutes when normally he would easily have been at the school, no one’s messaged him. It’s not that he needs them to text him, or anything. But Komi at least is very bad at radio silence, and if Komi texts him, Saru usually follows suit with all the necessary bits that Komi’s probably forgotten to mention (as well as a ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘look at this cute doggie I saw on my way to practice!’, which is always much appreciated).

But walking down the corridor to the changing room the volleyball team uses, he hears raised voices, and not the ones he expects. The door swings open several times as the kouhai slip out of the changing room, all snatching nervous glances behind them and whispering amongst themselves. Floating over them all, Konoha catches strains of Washio, rumbling and fierce, and Komi’s voice sounded hoarser and higher the louder he speaks.

And to his great surprise, Sarukui. He’s never heard Saru sound angry before. It doesn’t suit him.

But what is stranger is no sooner does he reach the door than it wrenches open to Sarukui with a face harder and tighter wound than a snapping cable. He barely mutters a “hi” to Konoha before stalking past him and down the corridor.

Strange, but he can swear there’s something almost red left in Sarukui’s wake.

An intolerant Sarukui does not bode well. Sure enough, Konoha walks into the room to see a scowling Washio cuff Komi round the head; and as soon as he steps foot over the threshold, it’s like the mugginess from outside has somehow permeated through the windows and cracks in the walls, like some kind of blanket, thick and stifling. It’s enough to put Konoha right on edge.

 “Um,” Konoha says. “What’s going on?”

The pair of them look over. Komi’s face freezes, a savage scowl framing shocked eyes. Washio, however, rolls his eyes and relaxes his stance.

“This idiot,” Washio says, gesturing at Komi, “thought it would be a great idea to give his honest opinion on some of Sarukui’s technical drawings.”

Komi’s fists clench tighter by his sides. “He asked for opinions, how was I meant to know he’d react like that?”

“You told him everything he showed you was pointless.”

“No, I said I couldn’t see the point of it. It looked like a freaking car!”

“It was a hamster hutch.”

“Hamsters are pointless.”

Konoha sidles into the room as Washio’s face twists into something ugly, and the arguments resumes. If the atmosphere in the room weren’t so tense, it would almost be funny. Komi has a personality larger than life and is always ready to fight the world and defend it both, but Washio is so much scarier without trying. And when he is trying, like now, Komi is no match whatsoever.

“Go and apologise. Do it now so it doesn’t screw up our match.”

“Fine, fine, alright! You’re not my mum, don’t nag me,” Komi snaps.

And without looking back, he wrenches the door open and stalks away.

“He didn’t mean to offend Sarukui,” Washio says in the silence that follows.

Konoha nods, still taken aback by the lingering tension. He wouldn’t have picked that pair to have it in them. “He didn’t think again?”

“Yeah. Just sort of got on a tangent and kept it going—”

“And couldn’t stop it once the damage was already done. Yikes. Think Saru’s all right?”

“I hope so.”

“Hasn’t he been kinda stressed lately? He’s not smiling as much.”

“Well. He is.”

“It’s just his face,” they chorus together, and Washio lets out a dry huff.

“But seriously.” Konoha drops his bag on the floor and slouches down to sit with his elbows resting on his knees. He frowns at the floor, because this is starting to turn into a pattern. “It feels like he’s been wound pretty tight lately. He looks stressed.”

“I think he is stressed.”

Konoha raises both eyebrows. “It’s summer. All we’re doing is summer homework and volleyball practice, and Saru doesn’t slack that much over school.”

“No,” Washio says slowly, but his words sound unfinished, and Konoha fixes his eyes on him. Washio sometimes reserves his words, but he never reserves his all-encompassing stare, nor his sharp mind that pieces together a lot of things that the rest of them miss. He is one consistently cool brain in a flurry of hot-heads, and Konoha appreciates that.

It takes a few seconds, but Washio seems to gather his thoughts together at last and looks up at Konoha.

“I may be wrong, but I think with all the things he has to prepare, he’s got a lot of pressure to make it good.”

“Okay, sure, but no one else is getting freaked out about entrance requirements just yet.”

“You know he was originally going to go to that technical school a few blocks away.”

There was a conversation about that sometime way back in first year which Konoha dimly recalls, and he nods.

“I went to watch one of their practice matches in July—”

“You spied on them? Nice.

“—and all their—” Washio scowls. “I didn’t spy on them, for goodness’ sake.”

Konoha smirks down at him. “You so did.”

“Shut up! Anyway, I went to one of their practice matches, and all their third years had gone.”

Konoha raises his eyebrows. Interesting. “One of those schools, huh?”

Washio half-inclines his head. There’s something pinched about his eyes and mouth. Washio doesn’t get phased by much, and he rarely shows it on his face at any rate, but it certainly feels like there’s something in the air today, something setting off tempers and worry like Konoha’s never seen. “Maybe. But… this is just a hypothesis, but I think Sarukui’s been… been thinking about quitting the team.”

The words don’t quite hit Konoha at first. And then they do, all in a rush, and it sends his head reeling. He blinks, and realises he’s half risen from the bench, and all his muscles are tense.

“What? You can’t—no. He wouldn’t.”

“Like I said, I’m just guessing,” Washio says. “But—”

The door clicks open and Washio cuts himself off. Konoha turns to the doorway, and a faint feeling of impending doom settles over him when he realises who the person standing in it is.

“Senpai, I don’t mean to interrupt,” Akaashi says in a voice that indicates he very much means to interrupt, “but practice starts in seven minutes and neither of you are changed yet.”

“We’re busy,” Konoha says.

“You can be busy after our practice match.” He stares at them, haughty and derisive, a moment longer. Then, just as suddenly as he appeared, he vanishes.

“If we’re not quick he’ll send Shirofuku,” Washio says, pushing himself to his feet with the faintest look of dread on his face. Konoha shares this sentiment—Shirofuku is a good friend and excellent manager, but she has no mercy when it comes to chewing their team out for things like tardiness.

“Dammit, Akaashi,” Konoha mutters, heaving his bag onto the bench. “Anyway, what the heck was going on before I got here?”

Washio shrugs. “I got here early, the door was unlocked, Sarukui showed up five minutes later, and then Komi showed up and started being an ass.”

“And Saru got tetchy,” says Konoha with no small degree of scepticism.

“Maybe there’s something in the air. You were late today,” Washio remarks as they start getting changed.

Konoha upends his practice kit onto the bench and snorts. “I wasn’t late,” he says.

“You usually get here before Komi and me.”

Konoha pulls his shirt off and gives a dismissive half-shrug. “I couldn’t find my tyre pump and by the time I realised I should stop looking it was getting to the time I’d normally leave. Takes me nearly twice as long to get here on foot, gimme a break.”

“No,” Washio says matter-of-factly, and though Konoha rolls his eyes he can’t help but smile. Washio takes his self-appointed role as nonsense-monitor very seriously and after these past couple of years, Konoha really wouldn’t have it any other way. “You didn’t come across Bokuto on your way, did you?”

“Bokuto?” Konoha frowns. “Nah, he texted saying he’d already left. Isn’t he here already?”

Washio shakes his head.

Konoha pauses. And then—

“Are you sure?

“His bag’s not there.” Washio points to Bokuto’s empty cubby, which Konoha squints at suspiciously.

“We are talking about the same Bokuto, right? Yay tall, strange hair, practically lives in this gymnasium?”

“He still hasn’t shown up today.”

This day is officially getting weirder by the minute, because Bokuto has never once in his life been late for volleyball practice. Konoha can’t see why he would want to be. Bokuto loves volleyball. He doesn’t just live and breathe it, it fuels his blood and fires up his smile and he never wants to miss a second of it. Konoha’s half-sure that’s the reason he’s never been sick once (it’s that, or he just has an immune system as impenetrable as lead).

But beyond any reasonable doubt, it is precisely two minutes after practice officially starts that Bokuto pushes open the door of the gym, with a slouch in his shoulders and not a spring to his step. He pauses by Coach Yamiji first, and then jogs with heavy feet to the back of the group going in a warm-up route around the gym. He gets a scathing look and a few sharp words from Akaashi, but otherwise escapes rebuke all throughout warming up and stretching and a quick run of spike drills.

As they warm up, Konoha keeps half an eye on Bokuto, half an eye on what he’s doing, and a whole eye on Akaashi. Akaashi is the decisive factor in setting their game plan for this match, because everyone defaults to Akaashi on judging how Bokuto is going to play on any given day, and given late plus not very loud plus nine out of ten spike misses—

Akaashi’s face is grim. Every movement he makes looks hyper-calculated and stiff, and he seems lost in his head trying to figure out what to do. Konoha could probably have sussed that without looking, but it’s always good to check.

And it isn’t only Akaashi. Komi and Saru resolutely avoid one another the whole time throughout warmups, Washio looks ready to murder someone by the time they end, and Shirofuku looks like she wants, more than anything, to give them all a slap to get their heads together. The rising tension between the third years is enough to make the kouhai look uncertain—and, as ever, uncertainty breeds sloppy play, and all it all it turns into the worst start to practice Konoha has seen for a couple of years.

Even though Bokuto is in a slump, they don’t put out their entire first string for this match. The team they’re facing is top sixteen to top eight most of the time, and Coach seems to think they need the challenge. Washio and Sarukui are put on the bench (Washio looks even more disgruntled than usual), and the match begins.

Konoha wouldn’t call it a disaster. The word “disaster” is a bit strong. But it’s close enough for something like this: for when nothing clicks for a team like theirs, normally a near-seamless unit.

The second years Coach Yamiji is trialling really haven't had much court time, and though they do fine in practice, having to think on their feet against opponents whose strategy they haven't already picked apart is unfamiliar territory. Minami’s jumps lack power; Itou misses his first two serves. Konoha keeps the ball in play as best he can, but it’s unsettling without Washio front and centre at the net. He's come to rely on Washio’s one touches, and the inconsistency of the younger players nearly makes him grind his teeth in frustration.

And then, of course, there's Bokuto. From the start, every toss sent his way is a miss, or gets picked up. He looks like he's close to Dejected Mode within five minutes (a new, very bad record). He doesn’t even attempt any jump serves, and Konoha doesn’t need to look to feel Coach Yamiji’s burning glare behind him.

“This is kinda bad,” Komi mutters to him as they set themselves up on the back line for the other team’s serve (current score: Fukurodani 14-17). “Is this… y’know…” He gestures around the phrase, which they aren’t allowed to say until after the effect, for fear of tempting fate.

“I dunno,” Konoha says. He glances towards Bokuto, drooping at the far end of the back court. “Could be… but he didn’t get worked up about it, though…”

Komi bounces on his toes and, intently focused on Bokuto, starts to crack his knuckles. Konoha grits his teeth—of all the annoying habits, it had to be knuckle-cracking—but doesn’t try to stop him. He doesn’t have a reflex response to I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do the way Komi does, but he kind of wishes he did.

Knuckles cracked both ways for good measure, Komi rests his hands on his hips and frowns. “Should we try to fire him up before the set ends?”

“Is it worth it?”

Now that they’re this far into the game, Konoha can tell what this isn’t, at least. Dejected Mode means that Bokuto is too fired up; has too much energy and not enough brainspace or control to expend it properly. But Bokuto’s barely jumping, barely calling out, barely doing anything except tightening his fists and looking unusually distracted and out of it.

He isn’t dejected. And Konoha can’t quite believe the alternative, but there’s no other word for it.

He looks tired.

And he doesn’t even have a meltdown when they lose the set (badly). He also doesn’t snap out of his lethargy, which alarms Konoha the most because that means it’s not just him overreacting.

Shirofuku stays tight-lipped as they change sides, which Konoha concurs with. They did not have a good first set. No one really says much of anything, bar mumbled thanks for water bottles and towels, until Coach Yamiji finishes looking at his notes and starts addressing them. Everything is about what Konoha was expecting, until he comes to the lineup for the second half.

“Itou, switch out with Matsuo.”

“Yes!” Itou doesn’t sound very happy, and a pang of empathy beats in Konoha’s chest. It’s true that Matsuo’s steadier and is generally a more effective player, even if Itou’s taller and stronger; but even so, it’s hardly nice getting just the one opportunity on court and screwing it up.

“Washio, I want to keep Minami on for this set.”

“Fine.” Washio is polite enough not to argue the point, but his face is darker than thunder and Konoha is very glad he’s not on the receiving end of that scowl. Yamiji seems unfazed, and glances back down at his clipboard. His lips go very thin for a moment. He is silent for a second too long, and Konoha’s gut drops.

He knows that silence. In his head, he starts tallying the regulars who were on court; in his everything else, he starts readying a nod, an impassive verbal agreement, tightening his jaw to keep his face from crumpling when Coach says—

“Sarukui, I want you back in. Bokuto, come off for a bit. Clear your head.”

It takes a good two seconds for Yamiji’s words to register, and when they do, Konoha has to let out a very long breath in relief. And then, he realises what they mean.

Bokuto looks the most alert he has all day. Crestfallen. Confused.

“Coach? I—Coach, I—” For once, he seems lost for words.

But he nods after just a couple of seconds, and mutters an affirmation. After all, he can’t really refuse. He’s the captain, and has to set an example for the younger players.

But Konoha’s been there before, and he knows how much being taken off stings. And Bokuto hasn’t been taken off in the middle of a match for a long time now.

The rest of the break slips away in almost no time, and it’s an unusual formation that tightens their shoelaces and resolves as they step towards the court. And Sarukui in particular seems jittery. Small wonder: he’s on the opposite side to his normal position in the rotation.

The ace’s spot.

Sarukui could be the ace at any other school. He's strong and keeps his cool, and like all Konoha's teammates, he's a very reassuring person to have on court. It's not like he lacks confidence—but, of course, this is Bokuto’s position.

Should he say something?

In the split second he takes to wonder, someone else does it for him.

“Oi. Saru.”

It’s Komi, behind the rest of the starters for this set, standing with hands on hips and a determined set to his face.

“I’ve got your back, got it? You gonna score us twenty points or what?”

Saru nods. And then he smiles—a genuine smile—and holds out his hand, which Komi slaps with every bit of his usual vim and vigour. Konoha grins. If nothing else, this duo is back in business.

Konoha can see the surprise in the faces of the other team when they all take their places on court. Fukurodani is not just Fukurodani anymore. There’s an implicit Bokuto Koutarou woven into their school’s name nowadays, ever since that time last year when scouts and the national volleyball board really started noticing Bokuto. They are cast in the minds of all they meet as a powerhouse centred around a top five ace—and this is true, to an extent.

But Fukurodani was a powerhouse before Bokuto, and Konoha knows it’ll remain so after he’s graduated. They don’t just recruit flighty aces with strange hair. They recruit all sorts of good players; indeed, plenty of good players come of their own will.

So when Fukurodani handily takes the second set, it’s not as surprising as the other team seems to think. After all, now they are playing with a strong six, not a subpar five-and-a-half.

Konoha deliberately doesn’t look towards the bench the whole set. He doesn’t want to see Bokuto’s face upon seeing how this team manages without him.

Past midday, under the blazing sun, Konoha leaves the school grounds with Bokuto by his side.

He and Bokuto live surprisingly close to each other considering they’d only met in high school, and on the rare days like today where Konoha didn’t bike into school and Bokuto doesn’t stay behind for extra practice with Akaashi, they tend to walk most of the way home together. They fall into step as usual on leaving the school grounds, but in silence. And that unnerves Konoha. Bokuto always has something to talk about—usually something a bit useless or far-fetched, granted, but it’s better than this brooding silence. Bokuto clearly only made a half-assed attempt at gelling his hair today, and the spikes look like they’re drooping. It’s rather fitting, really, giving how slouchy and downcast he looks. Much as Konoha complains about Bokuto being overloud and overweird, this is the opposite of an improvement, and something inside his chest pangs at the sight.

“Aw, cheer up,” Konoha says, turning as he walks to face him. He’s (fairly) confident that Bokuto will tell him if he’s about to walk into a lamppost or something dumb like that, and it feels easier talking to Bokuto this way. Bokuto speaks so much with his eyes, the way he smiles or frowns, his hands, that it’s better facing him, whether for a good laugh or catching those things he’d never dare to say.

“Ehhhh…” Bokuto scowls, and looks down at his shoes. His eyes shift, and his lower lip juts out. He hasn’t been sulking nearly as much as Konoha expected him to, but then, this still doesn’t feel like Dejected Mode.

Konoha waves his hand dismissively. “You’re due an off day once in a while. Maybe you just need to go at it with like, eighty percent for a bit. Save the hundred and fifty percent for when school starts back and it’s not as hot.” Bokuto still doesn’t look convinced, and Konoha rolls his eyes. “C’mon, we’re just gonna have a chill day. Get some popsicles, put on the AC, do homework…”

“Ugh, don’t wanna.”

“Just for a couple of hours until it’s cooler. You have started on your summer homework, haven’t you?” When Bokuto doesn’t even protest the point, Konoha raises an eyebrow high at him. “What’s got you so needled, anyway? Summer doesn’t usually affect you like this.”

“I dunno. I’m tired. I wanna practice but I messed up today and Akaashi won’t stay behind. And summer’s nearly over.”

“We’ve got a week, that’s ages. And we’re going out for Saru’s birthday on Wednesday, aren’t you excited ‘bout that?”

“Maybe.” Bokuto suddenly grips his hair and jerks his head back, baring his neck to the sky, and lets out a groan from deep in his throat. “UGGGHHHHH!”

Konoha laughs and strides forwards to clap Bokuto on the back in sympathy. Bokuto just sort of wilts under his touch, hands still clenched tightly in his hair—unusually tightly, even for him—and his eyes are shut. And even though something in his gut tells him this is weird even for Bokuto, he dismisses it as… well, Bokuto’s always doing something a bit weird. He’ll swing up from this mood soon enough, like he always does.

As they round the corner, the sun flashes off a wall of glass and steel and Konoha screws his eyes shut from the glare. He squints them open to see white, and it’s while he’s blinking away the after-glare that it happens.

He stumbles on a crack in the path. And his hand is still resting on Bokuto’s back; so Bokuto trips, too. Harder than Konoha, hard enough to fall and graze a knee, and his hands splay out to break the impact.

And something like red, shimmering smoke, like a spinning ball of plasma falls from his hands and hits the ground first, right in front of Konoha. And there’s still momentum pushing him forwards.

He cannot help but step on it.

It drags at his gut, dark and menacing. His muscles feel like he’s just run a hundred suicides, his throat like he’s been screaming and crying for an hour. Everything in his vision darkens, and it’s no longer a sunny day but stormy, howling rain and biting winds and he stumbles forwards—

but it’s hopeless, he can’t get away can’t get away, his feet can’t make progress and he just needs to get over there, where it’s safe, but he trips again and he’s falling, falling, falling—

a shadow racing towards him—

“NO! KONO—”

There’s a screech and a roar. Something slams into him with the sound of shattering glass and he hits the ground and wakes up.

A car blares its horn as it speeds around the corner. Konoha blinks, then blinks again. He’s lying in the middle of the road, and his head hurts. So does his back; so do his elbows. In the corners of his vision, he can see red—glass? blood?—staining the road.

It’s so weird. He can’t fathom why for the life of him he’s suddenly on the road, as though he’d been hit by a car or something.

But. No. No, he—

He wasn’t hit by a car. Was he?

And then he lifts his head a fraction, and starts to push himself upright, and realises something is pinning down his chest.

It’s Bokuto. Face down, his head presses into Konoha’s breastbone and his limbs splay broad over Konoha’s body. It’s almost as though Bokuto just slammed into Konoha—tackled him to the ground.

“What the heck,” Konoha says, still dazed. Bokuto raises his head, and as Konoha pushes himself to sitting, wincing all the while, he scoots back and off until he’s kneeling next to Konoha on the road. His palms are bleeding. Konoha squints at him. “What just happened—Bokuto?”

Bokuto’s eyes are wide, staring at some astral space between Konoha and the road, almost unseeing. His face is paper-white under his tan, and he’s shivering so badly Konoha wouldn’t know it was over twenty-five degrees Celsius right now. Even though his whole body hurts, Konoha scrambles to his knees to get closer, to try and see what’s wrong because between how wretched Bokuto looks and that he thinks he just nearly got hit by a car, something is definitely wrong.

When he grips Bokuto’s upper arms, Bokuto looks up at him. In his eyes, his wide, terrified eyes, red and soft turquoise spark and flash against the gold. Konoha’s breath catches in his throat. It’s beautiful. It’s terrifying and captivating and he always knew there was something extraordinary about Bokuto, and this is more than he’d ever dared to hope to see.

But the sparks fade as quick as they came as Bokuto’s face freezes.

“Bokuto?” Konoha repeats.

In a violent, sudden rush, Bokuto pushes himself up to his feet one hand clapped to his wavering mouth. The force of it knocks Konoha sideways, and he yelps as his grazed hands make contact again with the concrete. By the time he’s cursed through the pain and staggered to his feet himself, Bokuto is down the far end of the road, running too hard and fast for Konoha to ever catch up. His heart sinks as he limps back over to the pavement, where his bag sits forlornly with straps askew, and he half-collapses to the ground.

It doesn’t matter that it’s baking under his shorts; his legs are trembling too badly for him to keep standing much longer. He pulls his bag onto his lap and starts rummaging through it for his phone—he thinks his older sister is at home, and he’s not so grown-up and tough that he can’t give her a shaky-voiced phone call asking her to please come pick him up. But just as his fingers close around it and he pulls it from his bag, something bright spirals around his arm.

It’s another ball of plasma-smoke-light. Periwinkle blue. It spins its way off his arm and up into the air, and then half a metre above his head, it twirls, very fast, and vanishes. Just like that.

Konoha stares at the spot slack-jawed. The faintest trace of blue iridescence remains in the air. He squints at it, and can just see the finest filament of gold threading through it before it fades into the sunlight.

Across the road, the red thing too shimmery to be blood and too shaky to be glass rises like smoke from the concrete, and hisses into nothing.

Bokuto’s hiding something, and once he’s gotten over the shock of nearly being hit by a car, Konoha is determined to find out exactly what it is.

It takes Konoha a long time to get to sleep that night. His back and upper arms hurt too much for him to find a comfortable position to settle in. They were scraped and sliced as though he’d fallen straight into a pile of broken glass, even though there was nothing but the road. His sister had freaked out a bit when she found him, and it was only after he assured her multiple times that no, he had been too busy realising that he was Not Dead to notice the car’s licence plate, and no, he was not bleeding out or concussed, that she stopped threatening to call the authorities.

And his brain won’t stop thrumming. He snags his phone from beside his pillow when he can’t shut his eyes any longer and the room is bleached to stark grey and black, and groans when he sees the time. It’s been nearly an hour and a half he’s lain here awake.

(And there's still no reply to the text he sent Bokuto hours ago.)

Must be how Komi feels, he thinks as he rolls around to lie on his stomach. If he tilts his head sideways, he can stare out the crack in his curtains, where a streetlamp floods the street with orange light. It's quiet; a light stillness hangs in the air over the faraway rumble of midnight traffic. Regular insomnia must be such a pain. There's far too much room for him to think.

And after this afternoon... what things he has to think about indeed.

He’s too awake to lie still for much longer and it’s hot under the covers, so Konoha kicks them off and wriggles himself off the bed. The short walk to his window seems infinite in the silent house, and every breath he takes echoes out at triple volume.

But no noise stirs from the other rooms, and he parts the curtains unconstrained.

He cracks the window open, and the night air breezes cool past his face. He slides it across the rest of the way, and leans out into the orange-lit dimness, tugs his T-shirt collar down to cool his overheated chest. Save for the faintest rustle of the trees murmuring in the depth of the night, all is still down below.

He wonders if he might have died, today.

In the moment, none of it felt real. The darkness, that despair—all of that was unreal in a way he knows and doesn't know. But the car, in the end…

That was real. He saw it drive away. Felt the force of it vibrate through his back. It could have easily hit him, he thinks. It was so very, very real, even if there was a moment where, perhaps, it wasn’t.

And Bokuto saw it, and saved him from it.

He turns it over in his brain again and again for what feels like hours, but cannot make sense of it. Nothing matches up with what he knows to be real. What happened… that was impossible.

Only not quite.

The internet is a wondrous thing, and though figuring out how to search for something he barely knew how to describe was difficult, there were stories on there. News articles. A few scientific-looking things his brain fell asleep just glancing over. One or two reddit forums.

And they were all talking about the same thing. Something Konoha now vaguely remembers seeing once in elementary school. Something as obscure as words and concepts like crystallography or neuroscience. No one had a word for it, but it all sounded familiar. Inexplicable happenings and people reacting strangely and things so alike to—

(Magic. Except it couldn’t be because surely, magic isn’t real.)

Eventually, the soothing cool of night becomes cold enough to raise goosebumps on his arms, and he shuts the window, yawning. The curtains he leaves open just enough to light the way to his bed, and he sinks onto it with limbs dragging and eyes heavy at last.

The line between waking and sleeping is a strange one. His mind starts to tumble, slowly while he is still aware of it, as though sliding softly down an earthen tunnel, then faster and harder into galaxies, dark and weightless and infinite. There he walks, not quite thinking but not quite sleeping but not awake, no, not anymore. He needs to go somewhere, so he walks and walks to nowhere along a cliffside, night skies above and soft grass behind. Dark and warm and alone he walks, walks, walks, walks, trips

Konoha wakes with a jolt, breathless. For just a second, something shines in the air. Charcoal grey. Glowing.

Then he breathes in, and all is black.

His brain is too muddled to make sense of it all—he can’t even remember what he was dreaming, for pity’s sake—and he turns over and closes his eyes.

This time, when he sleeps, it is without dreams.

“What the hell?”

“Your arms… Konoha, what happened to you?”

That Wednesday is another hot, muggy day, and Konoha knows that trying to hide the evidence of the other day’s mishap under long sleeves is futile. It’s still uncomfortable when he walks into the changing room and turns to set down his bag, and the bruising and graze-marks are bared towards the team. The chatter and camaraderie dissolves into gasps and soft whispers, and he sighs. Getting them to shut up about this—trying to make out it isn’t a big deal when he’s pretty sure himself that it’s a very big deal—is going to be a pain.

Especially because Washio is closest to him, and Konoha doesn’t even have to squint to see the shock on his face. And it has to look bad if Washio’s reacting like that.

“I’m fine, guys,” he says, and turns around to see Komi with his fists clenched and Saru with a bloodless face.

“Did someone do that to you?” Komi steps forwards, eyes dark with defensive rage.

Yes—

“No—”

—but it’s not what you think.

“Why didn’t you tell us? Did they threaten you? Wasshi and I can take care of them—”

“It’s not like that,” Konoha says, without a care for the exasperation in his voice. “Komi, no one’s been threatening me, it’s nothing.”

“That doesn’t look like nothing,” Saru says in a tight sort of voice. He half reaches out towards the bruising, and then retracts his hand. Konoha sighs.

“It’s… I fell down some steps the other day, that’s all. My arms and upper back are bruised and a bit scraped up, but I’m okay, really. It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Saru looks set to protest, but then his gaze flicks past Konoha’s shoulder, and after a moment his face relaxes. Konoha has to bite back a smile, because he can only imagine what sort of threatening face Washio has on behind his back. It’s pretty good having a friend who operates solely on policies of no-nonsense and intimidation tactics.

“All right. But don’t push yourself too hard in practice if it hurts, yeah?”

“No sweat,” Konoha says, offering up his fist. Sarukui heaves a sigh, then bumps it with a genuine smile.

“Man, seriously?”

Sarukui’s eyes widen a fraction. He and Konoha turn around to see Komi scowling at his phone, and Konoha arches an eyebrow at him.

“What's up, Komiyan?”

Komi shakes his phone at the team. “Texted Bokuto while I was on the train and he still. Hasn't. Replied.” His scowl deepens. “I'm gonna kick his ass when he gets to practice.”

Konoha's gut twists and stirs, but he keeps his face passive as he says, “He didn't reply when I texted him the other night either.”

He notices Akaashi, quite still by the door with a frown on his face.

“What?” Sarukui’s face falls (as much as it can fall), and he rubs a hand through the back of his hair. “Komiyan, open up the group chat?”

“Wha—oh, man.”

“Did he take himself off it again?”

“Yes,” Komi says, venom in his eye.

“Ah, man,” Saru says with a sigh. “Komi, when you kick his ass can you remind him to check his messenger to make sure he’s been re-added to the group.”

Saru and Komi leave the changing room together shortly after, chatting with some of the first years, and Konoha heaves a sigh of relief. He likes the guys, truly, but he isn’t sure just how many people he wants to know about this. Komi gossips and would probably go into full protection detail mode, and Sarukui would fuss (a lot). Better that he keeps this from them at least while he still doesn’t know exactly what this is.

He notes that Sarukui and Komi seem to have resolved their argument from the other day. Komi has a hot, fast temper, easily set off and easily quelled, but Saru’s is cold. He’s not quick to forgive or forget. Yet even so, there’s nothing in his demeanour nor Komi’s to suggest anything ever happened.

It’s strange. It’s very strange.

And he takes his time over getting ready for practice. He feels like he wants to talk to one of them about it.

“How bad was that death glare?” he says when he and Washio are the only two left in the changing room. “On a scale of one to ten?”

Washio shrugs.

“Just enough for them to knock it off. Six, maybe.”

“Cheers for that.”

“You didn’t actually fall down the stairs, did you?”

Konoha cocks an eyebrow at Washio. “Says who?”

“You’re the least clumsy person I know. And it would ruin your image.”

“Gee, thanks.” Washio has a point, though. Konoha isn’t clumsy; neither, for that matter, is Washio. It’s probably why they’re friends.

“Are you going to tell me what really happened or not?”

“You won’t believe me.”

Washio makes a vague noise of assent, picks up his bag, and starts rummaging through it. “Abridged version?”

“Uh…” The honest abridged version is alarming, and yet, Konoha’s pretty sure that nothing can perturb Washio. To hell with it. “I nearly got hit by a car the other day.”

Washio’s grip slackens on the bag and it hits the floor.

And then his face drains of colour, and he doesn’t look stoic, but alarmed, of all things. If this were any other situation, Konoha would be pinching himself to reassure himself that he weren’t hallucinating.

“But I didn’t actually get hit,” Konoha hastens to add. “Just so we’re clear.”

“Please don’t tell me you need a protection detail to save you from yourself.”

“No. No, no, no.” Konoha runs a hand through his hair and side-eyes Washio. “Seriously, I’m fine. Not planning on doing that again in a hurry.”

“God,” Washio says, “am I the only one on the team who doesn’t get into scrapes on a weekly basis?”

He has a fair point, and it makes Konoha laugh all the way down to the second gym. He’s pleased to see that Washio’s face relaxes back into stoicism by the time they get there.

Once they’re in there, Konoha has to fend off questions from their coach, and the club supervisor, and Shirofuku. It gets very tiring very quickly. Fortunately for him, Suzumeda doesn’t join in the melee, just quirks her head at the bruising and leaves it. For that, she gets the “abridged” version of the story and he gets a thumbs up for getting out of the way in time.

And all throughout, something niggles at the back of his mind. Something is missing. Or, rather, someone—

“Where’s Bokuto?”

Shirofuku hesitates before answering. “His mum called. She said he’s sick.”

Konoha frowns. “Bokuto doesn’t get sick.”

Even before he’s finished speaking, Shirofuku makes a decisive noise of agreement. “That’s why I told you that’s what his mum said.”

“You don’t know what’s going on?”

“I texted him, he hasn’t replied.” Shirofuku’s grip tightens on her clipboard. “What else can I do?”

Halfway through receive drills, Konoha realises that Akaashi’s disappeared somewhere, which sets off alarm bells in his head. They don’t need their vice-captain doing a vanishing act as well.

But Akaashi comes back only a couple of minutes later, and though he joins in practice right away as though nothing had happened, there’s a distinct flush in his neck and he doesn’t meet Konoha’s eyes. Or, as it happens, the eyes of any of his seniors.

So they continue to run their drills and split for scrimmages, and soon enough, Konoha forgets about Akaashi acting weirdly. The only thing he can’t get out of his mind is how quiet the gym feels; and how distinctly empty, when that one person with the presence of two full teams combined hasn’t shown up.

The first thing Komi does once practice is over is race down to the clubroom. Once Konoha gets inside, going at a more leisurely pace with Akaashi, he sees Komi staring intently at his phone.

“Still no answer?” he calls, and Komi looks up suspiciously.

“No… yeah?” he says. “He texted back… kind of.”

To Konoha’s right, Akaashi suddenly seems very interested in his hands, and melts into the crowd of club members fast filling up the clubroom.

This year, Bokuto has insisted they take a leaf out of Nekoma’s book and ease up on the senpai-kouhai dynamic (that Konoha had been looking forward to, thank you very much). In the gym, it sticks, because practice somehow works better when it sticks. But out in the changing room, third year priority is not a given for getting the showers first. And looking at the crowd of first years clamouring for the shower stalls, Konoha starts packing up his bag instead. He'd shower again after biking home in this humidity anyway, so it isn't worth the wait; and besides, at home he's guaranteed to have hot water.

Still, his sweaty hair flops in front of his face as he bends over his bag, and he grimaces as he shoves it out of the way. He had it short when he was a kid and hated it, but he really wonders sometimes whether it's worth cutting it at least until he stops playing intensive sports.

“Oi, you coming, Konoha?”

“Yeah, yeah, gimme a minute, Komiyan.”

He yells out a goodbye to what little of the team he can see and swings his bag onto his back as he leaves the changing room and lets the door swing shut behind him. The whole way down the corridor and into the foyer he doesn’t see anyone, but as he steps out into the balmy day, he spots Suzumeda heading out and waves to her with a grin.

On the way to the bike racks, he finds Sarukui, Komi and Shirofuku meandering down to the gate and falls into step with them. The conversation is light, meaningless stuff that they’ll all surely forget about in an hour, but it’s good distraction until Konoha’s phone buzzes in the outside pocket of his bag, and he pauses to fish it out with no little difficulty. And his insides freeze when he powers it on and the messenger notification pops up on his home screen.

It’s Bokuto.

>>> can you meet me in the park near your train station

>>> I wanna talk about the other day

Konoha nearly drops his phone in shock. Bokuto’s usual modus operandi on stuff that upsets him is to clam up until someone else changes the subject, and it never gets brought up again.

“Who's that?”

“Huh?”

“You suddenly looked really serious,” Sarukui says.

“Oh.” Konoha draws to a stop by the bike racks and bends to unlock his bike, resolutely avoiding the others’ eager eyes. “Just… someone I wasn't expecting, that's all.”

“Ooh, he looks flustered,” Shirofuku coos. “Aw, don’t tell us you got a confession, eh? Eh?”

“Course he didn’t get confessed to, he’d have been whinging about it as soon as he shook her off.”

“Hey!”

“What?” Sarukui says, snorting. “You do that every single time!”

“I don’t whinge!”

“You do so.”

“Do not,” Konoha mutters. He picks up his pace as he pushes his bike out towards the gate, and Komi’s footsteps thunder towards him. Sarukui crosses the distance between them in easy, loping strides, damn his long legs.

“Someone’s gonna make you happy about it one day!” Komi says, and Sarukui flashes a proper smile at him.

“In your dreams. And why are you teasing me, when’s the last time you got confessed to?”

Komi steels his jaw and draws up his chest, but the colour in his cheeks says enough, and Konoha smirks at him.

“What’s the time?” Komi asks, sounding staunchly defensive.

Konoha snorts quietly again, but indulges him and glances at his phone, still clenched in his hand. He was holding it against the bike handle before, and it’s a miracle he hasn’t dropped it yet.

“Twelve thirty-seven.”

Komi yelps and breaks into a run.

“Shit, shit, shit, the train’s coming!”

“Run!” Konoha calls after him as he sprints out the gate.

“Run like the wind!” Shirofuku adds just before he turns the corner and out of sight. Then, to them: “Why is he suddenly concerned about getting his train?”

“He’s got some errands to run for his mum today. And he’d better make it,” Sarukui says with pursed lips. “I don’t want him blowing up my phone whining about missing the train.”

“You’re a big boy, Sarukui-kun!” Shirofuku says, slapping him bracingly on the back. “You’re an adult now, this is your new responsibility!”

Konoha snickers. “If Komi misses his train he camps out at Saru’s till the next one comes along. Or he just camps out at Saru’s and doesn’t get his train.”

“I wouldn’t mind that,” Sarukui says, “but I don’t want his mum calling my place and sounding all scary. And,” he adds, “I also don’t want him hanging out at my place in rank practice gear, and he’ll sulk if I make him take Satoshi’s clothes.”

“Is Satoshi taller than him now?”

“…Yes. Just.”

Konoha and Shirofuku snort simultaneously, and Sarukui shoots them a pained look.

“I think he’s gonna be taller than me, the rate he’s growing.”

Shirofuku dutifully pats Sarukui on the back. “At least he won’t worry about his height, and that’s a relief. Does he play sports?”

“No, he’s a brass player in concert band club.”

“Hmph,” Shirofuku says. “Can he play volleyball?”

Sarukui side-eyes Shirofuku, who in two steps has moved very, very close to him. “Are you trying to recruit my kid brother into the volleyball team?”

“Yes. Can he play volleyball?”

“Not really…” Sarukui says, scratching his head uncomfortably as Shirofuku leans further into his personal space—“We’ll see about that”—and Konoha starts sniggering in the background.

Their debate continues all the way to the school gates, and there, still chuckling, Konoha swings himself onto his bike and raises a hand to Sarukui and Shirofuku as he starts to ride away.

Alone with his thoughts, he can’t get Bokuto’s text out of his head. He contemplates just going home, and putting it off until tonight. Or tomorrow. Or, as it inevitably would turn out, forever.

It would be easier to put this off forever.

But instead of biking down his usual route, he makes a left turn and cruises down to the park. The air rings bright with shrieks and laughter; loads of elementary school kids will be there on a day like today. And no doubt too, bunches of junior high students tossing or kicking around balls, doing their best to practice for the tournaments come autumn—to give themselves an edge for when they step into high school gyms in six or eighteen months’ time.

It seems an oddly public place for what Konoha’s banking up to be an uncomfortable discussion, but he still hasn’t figured out how Bokuto’s brain works. It could be standard Bokuto-logic. Equally, it could be his mum forcing him to get some fresh air.

The bike racks are surprisingly empty, and Konoha lingers over locking his bike, one eye on the lookout for Bokuto. He’s not hard to spot, in the end. Over the far end of the park, near the trees, a group of boys have set up a volleyball net, and amongst them is a very familiar figure, bending low to demonstrate something one moment and then yahooing the next.

He’s not actually a bad teacher so far as volleyball goes, that Bokuto.

Konoha spends a minute longer than necessary crouched beside his bike, doing his best to rectify what the sweat of practice and a helmet under the hot sun have done to his hair. He knows he probably looks and smells pretty gross (sports deodorant only covers up practice stench so far), and for some reason he doesn’t really want to appear like that to Bokuto.

Wait. What?

He shakes his head. Bokuto’s seen him gross and sweaty at hundreds of practices. Why should today be any different?

He takes the long way round the park, under the shade of the trees, so it’s less likely that Bokuto will spot him (and because he can definitely feel himself starting to burn), and pauses his trek once he’s a few metres away from the volleyball group.

He doesn’t quite understand how Bokuto wiggled his way into the group (didn’t these kids ever get told not to trust strange adults?) but that he did surprises him not at all.

These kids are laughing, and look to be having a good time, setting and spiking with passable form but great enthusiasm. And Bokuto, despite his bright voice and bounding feet, looks tired. Unusually tired.

He’s loathe to interrupt, but he has a mission.

“Yo, Bokuto,” he says, stepping out.

“WHUH?”

“Hey kids. Bokuto-kun has somewhere he needs to be.”

“Ehhh?”

The kids all look crestfallen, and Konoha wonders how long Bokuto's been practising with them. Long enough that they've easily warmed to him? Or just short enough that they haven't seen how intense he can get everyone else to practise against their will? But regardless; Bokuto wanted to talk, and talk they will.

“Hey, it's alright! I'll come back! Cone and see you guys at your tournaments too, whaddya think—”

“Dude, middle school tournaments are on weekdays, you can't skip school for that.”

“Gyuh?”

Konoha takes advantage of the shock to steer Bokuto away.

“I was having fun with those guys!” Bokuto whines as Konoha frog marches him away.

“Yeah, and you didn’t come to actual practice today, explanation?”

Bokuto clams up, of course. Bokuto is so bad at lying that if he doesn’t tell the truth outright, he’ll keep his silence as long as it takes before somebody changes the subject.

“Is it about the other day?”

Bokuto winces, and Konoha sighs. Well, someone had to open that can of worms.

“What happened?” he says, slowing his pace. “As far as I can tell, I nearly got hit by a car, and you got me out of the way in time, but I can’t remember anything that happened just before then. You must have seen it.” Bokuto doesn’t answer, but chews his lip, hunches himself over as he walks. This isn’t good. Bokuto is Konoha’s only lead regarding what happened, and in his gut he knows that Bokuto knows more than he’s willing to share.

Unless…

He groans internally, because he really doesn’t want to hear that Bokuto had the same mind-blank as he did, but he has to ask, because the more he thinks about it—

“Did that red thing do something to you too?”

“Huh?” Bokuto stops, and so does Konoha, a few steps late. He turns from further up the path to face Bokuto, like he always does. Talking has always come easier to them this way.

This, however, is not an easy thing to describe.

“There was something red that spilled from your hands. That’s the last thing I remember before you pushed me out of —”

“You can see them too?”

“What?”

All of a sudden, Bokuto doesn't look tired, or dejected, but intensely curious. “Can you see them?”

“See what?”

And Bokuto says, wide-eyed and honest, as though it’s plain as day, “The dreams.”

Konoha stares at Bokuto, and shakes his head as though to clear his ears. He can’t have heard him correctly.

“Dreams,” Konoha repeats. He doesn’t try to hide the note of disbelief in his voice.

“Uh huh.”

“What do you mean, dreams?

“Dreams,” Bokuto says more emphatically. “You know what a dream is.”

“Well, yeah, but dreams are concepts and… I dunno, mental things. They don’t actually exist.”

Bokuto shakes his head. “They do. I can see, like, five of them on this path right now.”

A memory strikes Konoha. Not very old, absurdly clear. Bokuto hovering in the air as though he had wings. One hand drawn back. Something like stars—but brighter and stranger—so clearly reflected in his eyes.

“Are they multicoloured?” It sounds like the dumbest thing to ask as soon as he’s said it. Most people would ask intelligent questions, or else just refute a claim like that forever.

But Bokuto looks excited. “Uh huh! Loads of colours! They’re like little bright lights and things! Can you see them here?”

“No,” Konoha says firmly. And then, because he feels he ought to clarify why he asked in the first place, he says, “I… er… I think I’ve seen something like that in your… eyes. Before. When you’re spiking. Sometimes. Yeah.”

As soon as the words come out, Konoha feels like the world's biggest, sappiest idiot. That sounded like something copied direct out of the shoujo manga his sister read when she was fifteen. That has to take his coolness factor down to negative five at least.

Unsurprisingly, Bokuto looks ecstatic.

“Whoa… they do that? That's so cool.”

Konoha lifts a hand and rubs it through his hair, trying to will the blush out of his cheeks. “So… they're lights.”

“Kind of.” Bokuto quirks his head. “Kind of?”

“So no.”

 “Wait, let me show you—”

Something changes. Someone else might say it’s Bokuto’s persistence. Or, perhaps, that Konoha has given him the benefit of the doubt for once in his life. Konoha can’t place it. But what he knows is this:

All his apprehension, his disbelief, all of that shifts and dissipates as Bokuto reaches out as if to catch something from the air, and clamps his hands over nothing, and draws them in with a bright, pulsating emerald glow between them.

“What the hell…” he breathes. “What—how—”

“Touch it,” Bokuto says suddenly. “Just… try it.”

It sounds mad, but this is already pushing the bounds of possibility and he has nothing left to lose. With one tentative finger, Konoha reaches into the space. Feather tendrils stroke his fingers, then grip them; like magnets, they pull, like to draw him in.

And warmth rushes up his arm and into his eyes, there’s a flash of green, and it’s like nothing he’s ever seen before. It’s less like he can see it and more like the fleeting lights behind closed eyes, a headspace and a thought and that fleeting thing teasing and dancing before his eyes.

Magnetic, it almost seems to ring out in the air. A thin hum. As high and clear and strange as water pressed in circles over a wine glass rim—but hollower. Sharper.

Even as he hears it, he can’t hear it.

“…—noha? Konoha?”

“Yeah?” he says—or, he thinks he says. His voice sounds detached. He blinks, and the light filtering through the trees comes back into view. Bokuto comes back into view, eyes comically wide and lips pressed together.

A second ago, Konoha was in some kind of galaxy, shot through with stardust and electric plasma, and yet he couldn’t have been. His feet are still firm on the ground. The sunlight is warm on his arms. He’s breathing.

Part of him is thrilled. Part of him is confused. Some part of him is utterly terrified. And above all, there’s a sense of adventure, excitement, that’s crept into his bones and started to swirl through his veins. He can’t place where it came from.

It certainly wasn’t there a minute ago.

“You really can see them…”

For a few seconds, Bokuto stands there, staring at Konoha and wetting his lips. He glances about, and Konoha follows his gaze. He can see no one else. Apart from the sounds filtering through from the open area of the park, there isn’t a whisper to disturb them, nor an ear to overhear. And Bokuto steps forwards, and pushes his hands closer to Konoha.

“Feel it,” he says, with eyes like a hawk’s. Huge. Soul-piercing. Relentless. “Try and feel it again.”

“What? No,” Konoha says, crossing his arms into an X to emphasise the point. “I’m not going on some kind of galaxy mind-trip again, not a chance.”

“Ehh? It won’t hurt you!”

“How can I know that? And hey, why isn’t it making you mindtrip, or… whatever that is.”

Bokuto opens his mouth wide as if to start protesting vehemently—and then shuts it again, face creasing in that ‘oh, shit’ way it does when he doesn’t have a satisfactory answer to one of Akaashi’s qualms. Konoha crosses his arms over his chest and scowls at the green thing.

“What’s me touching it again going to do, anyway?”

“Oh…” Bokuto shrugs, and his face falls. “I dunno, I mean, I thought you might wanna see what they do.”

“What are ‘they’, anyway? You said they were dreams. Sleeping dreams?”

“Well, yeah! Ah… mm. Some of them. This one’s from someone’s sleep, but… not all of them are.”

It’s such a non-answer that Konoha doesn’t know if he should be taking Bokuto seriously or not. He supposes he should, but there’s something still pressing on his mind.

“How do you even know they’re dreams?”

It isn’t until he asks it, without thinking, without warning, that Konoha realises he’s still waiting for this all to be a scam. Bokuto isn’t a liar, but something like this is so much to believe, even after he’s seen it for himself.

Bokuto tilts his head to the side, and considers for a moment, before he starts to speak, slowly. “I saw one I’d had. It was exactly the dream I had the night before, and… I guessed that was what they had to be. I’unno, I’ve never met anyone else who can see them.”

It kind of makes sense. And even if it didn’t, Bokuto sounds so plainly honest that Konoha can’t not believe him. “And can you tell that just by holding them?”

“A bit? They feel kinda different. These ones are warmer, and they’re kinda like those cool glowy sorta-electric things at the science museum.”

Konoha knows the thing—a large glass ball on a black pedestal in a dark room, and electric purple tendrils rocketing and ricocheting to his fingertips, following their every move. “A plasma orb?”

“Yeah, that!”

“What about what the dream’s about. Can you tell that?”

Bokuto wets his lips. He stares at his hands, at the nearly-invisible thing or idea inside them. And then, to Konoha’s surprise he nods, and spreads his hands slow and careful, like he’s heaving open an old, heavy book.

There, clear as day in front of his chest, are images. None of them stay still for very long, and Konoha can’t quite follow what’s happening, but it certainly looks like some kind of dream. He leans in to take a closer look. None of the lines on the objects are fully formed. Something radiates out to him, a barely delineated mist that whispers of—of—

“Magic,” he whispers back.

He's transfixed. This is the most impossible thing he's ever seen, and yet he's never believed anything else to be more real. But even as he stares until he has nearly toppled into it head-over-heels, it seizes and shrinks as smoke in a breeze.

Behind the smoke is Bokuto. Bokuto, who looks like an enchanter, ethereal and fading silver, who holds himself as though he is weightless. And he looks entrancing, and not a bit like Bokuto.

But the smoke fades, Bokuto’s fists are clenched on his thighs, and the dream is gone. He is solid and imperfect and real again.

“It’s… it’s real,” Bokuto says, as though he thinks Konoha needs more convincing.

“Yeah.” The disbelief and incredulity have disappeared. Konoha’s nearly forgotten already that they were there in the first place. In their place…

Awe. Curiosity. Excitement, spreading like sunshine through his body and breaking out into a huge, stupid grin on his face.

“This is so cool,” he says, breathless. And then he looks right up at Bokuto and slaps his shoulder with a laugh of delight.

“What the hell, that was so cool! How…” It takes him longer than it should to find the words that normally dance in time with his tongue.

Bokuto shrugs, but the smile and shine has started to creep back onto his face. “I dunno. I could always see them floating about, but I didn’t figure out how to make them do things until… seven years ago? Just before I graduated elementary school, I think.”

“So you can make them do things.”

“Yeah! ‘Course!”

“More than that?” Konoha springs his hands apart like a book, and Bokuto nods, fast and eager.

“A couple times, I’ve got them out of my hands. And they start to do things. Show me stuff. All these cool things… Although,” he says, averting his eyes, “I guess it doesn’t happen that often.”

“Whoa… so, they only do this if you make them?”

“Well… uh…”

“Bokuto?”

“It’s… it’s… it’s just that sometimes…” Bokuto’s hands start to fidget, clasped together in front of his stomach. “They’re not all as strong as each other, y’know? Most of these ones, they’re little dreams. They can’t do much unless I help them and give them somewhere to make themselves.” Bokuto swallows and hesitates before he speaks next. “Not all the dreams are like that.”

The sun passes behind a cloud. Goosebumps clench on Konoha’s bare arms.

“What do you mean?”

The air is hardly quiet, filled with the song of youth in summer, yet Bokuto says the word as though he’s afraid it will hear him.

“Nightmares.”

His forehead creases and his mouth wobbles, and it takes another few seconds before he keeps going. “They’re stronger than the other dreams. And I don’t see them around very much, but… but they can tell when someone’s feeling bad, and they feed off that. And… and if they get strong enough…”

He hesitates, and breaks his gaze.

“They can make themselves come true.”

It hits Konoha like a punch to the gut. Like someone’s pressed something dark and tight to his chest. He can’t quite feel his lower face.

“Yesterday. The car.”

The silence is pressing. Bokuto doesn’t need to say anything for Konoha to fill in the blanks of everything about that accident that he didn’t already know.

But because he’s Bokuto, he does.

“I had a nightmare. And I woke up and it had got out.” The words trip out of Bokuto’s mouth like they’re sprinting over boulders. “I chased it to school and got it back, but… bits of it were gone. It felt angry. It wanted out. Komi and Saru were fighting, and it musta been bringing itself to life with them, is what I thought after.

“And I tried to keep it in but it wouldn’t stay—I was trying so hard all day but it wanted to get out and I was scared and it got worse and—and—and then I fell.”

Something red had spilled from Bokuto’s hands, and Konoha had stepped into it. He remembers that much.

“I touched it,” Konoha says, trying to slow down the thoughts trying to connect the pieces in his mind. “Was that a hallucination, or… how did the car get there?”

“I don’t know,” Bokuto says. “It happens, the dreams make things happen. They’re strong, I can’t do anything to them.”

“How did you save me?” Konoha says, his mouth dry. “That car, it was speeding. But… you weren’t hurt at all.”

“I didn't think I'd be fast enough.”

“What—”

“I had to do it before you woke up completely or it would've hit us both!” Bokuto sounds nearly hysterical, and he actually gets to his feet and starts pacing, messing up his hair. “It was nearly over anyway and you would’ve woken up like two seconds later but there would've always been a car, there's always a car—”

“How—”

“I don’t know!”

Bokuto’s fists clench and unclench at his sides, and his hair looks like an electric current has run through it. A sparking unit, overheated, overrun, and Konoha doesn’t know what to do about it.

“You pushed me away from a car that wasn’t there, and—and then it was and I gather,” Konoha says, unable to keep the fear from rising like thunder in his voice, “it was going to hit me. How—how did you stop it? What—Bokuto, what the hell happe—”

“I don’t remember, Konoha!”

“What the hell do you mean you don’t remember? That thing wiped my memories and I need to know what happened.”

“You wouldn’t understand, I—I—”

Hasn’t he seen this before? Shouldn’t he have anticipated this exact moment, this precise scene? Konoha knows Bokuto well, or as well as he can do. He knows what Bokuto is like, he knows how he reacts—

He should know by now when Bokuto is about to run.

But in the heat of the moment, in his confusion and fear and facing something huge and unknown, he doesn’t realise until Bokuto has turned tail.

“Fucking—shit.” There’s nothing he can do but fold against a tree, and as Bokuto’s footsteps fade and vanish, a groan escapes him.

“Shit.” He rams his body back against the tree and digs his hands into his hair. His outsides still feel gross, but his insides feel worse. It’s too hot, Bokuto probably hates him, and he doesn’t want to see another person ever because winding people up to breaking point seems to be the only thing he can ever do well.

He can’t work for this. It would be better if this were someone else, someone with the patience and the ethic and the objectivity to take Bokuto Koutarou and pull him with all their might to his feet again.

But not him. He knows somewhere deep and dark and in denial that he isn’t the one to bear this secret; that he shouldn’t be the one to share it.

“Shit!”

He yells to the world at large. No one hears him. The faint summery musical hum in the air drones on and on into a whine that rivals the cicadas, and he feels small and inadequate.

Above him, a dark, glitching dream dissolves like smoke into the bright summer sky.

After his shower, with his hair still wrapped in a towel, Konoha flops onto his bed, and considers never leaving his house again ever. Or at least, not until he goes to university somewhere far, far away. But in order to get away with it, someone will need to know something about why.

In the end, there’s only one person Konoha trusts enough to know and keep quiet about it.

>>> I screwed up.

>>> With what?

>>> Bokuto.

It takes several minutes before Washio replies.

>>> What happened?

Draft: I told you I sc

But before he finishes typing, another message pops up.

>>> And don’t just tell me you screwed up.

Konoha rolls his eyes. Sometimes it’s more than a little irritating having friends that don’t let things go easily at all. Because the thing is, how can he explain this to Washio—pragmatic Washio, who trusts his mind and his eyes for the truth—without sounding five different levels of lying and excuses and distrustful? He does trust Washio; that’s why he’s telling him this much, after all.

Draft: idk, he asked me to meet

>>> idk, I met him at the park and

He just doesn’t trust that he’ll believe him.

>>> I can’t really tell you

>>> it’s hard to explain

>>> but anyway I think he hates me now

>>> Why would he hate you? Did you offend him?

>>> I don’t know? I don’t think so??????

>>> altho

>>> fwiw he ran away bc of sth I said

Washio’s reply takes several minutes to come through.

>>> It sounds like he’s in a mood anyway. He hasn’t texted Komi or Sarukui back. Komi’s threatened to go and loiter until he agrees to come out.

>>> Are you coming tonight?

>>> Don’t suppose I have a choice

>>> Correct.

Konoha spends most of the afternoon going over in his head the worst case scenarios if he does go. Bokuto could do another runner. He might bring it up in front of the others. He might sulk the whole evening. He might refuse to stay if Konoha’s going to be there.

Or, he could not go, and he would have to face Washio’s wrath at practice.

It’s very clear to him which is the worse option.

When Konoha gets to the meeting place, Washio looks to have just arrived, and he’s alone which is unusual. Most times, Komi is at his side, easily keeping pace with Washio’s massive strides, and filling their collective enormous space with his easy drawl and relentless energy. But standing alone, half concealed in the shadow of a bus stop, Washio looks kind of intimidating. It’s times like these that Konoha remembers, oh yeah, he makes small children cry.

“Where’s Komiyan?” Sarukui asks.

“Dispatched him on a mission,” Washio says. His face gives nothing away—he’s always had the best poker-face amongst them all. But Konoha sees his thumbs tighten, just slightly, where he’s stuck them in his pockets.

And even as Sarukui starts niggling Washio for more information, Konoha knows.

The nerves start to flicker at his stomach.

They’re getting to the point where people are starting to be late, and where they might have to decide to set off without people, when Sarukui’s phone chimes.

“Hang on. ‘S from Akaashi.”

“Hm?”

“‘I’m seven minutes away with Bokuto and Komi. Please excuse our tardiness.’” Saru’s face brightens. “Would you look at that? Man, that guy’s so reliable.”

And seven minutes later, the trio show up and their party hits the road.

Komi looks smugly satisfied, as though he’s finally been able to kick some sense into Bokuto after interminable hours of waiting. Akaashi seems pleasantly indifferent, although Konoha barely greets him before his attention is drawn, as is inevitable, to Bokuto.

The first thing Konoha notices is that his hair is sticking up. He’s in different clothes to this afternoon. There’s something that looks like a shadow of a smile playing about his face. And he’s sticking tight to Akaashi. Very tight, even for him.

Konoha can’t help but be kind of grateful for Akaashi sometimes. That guy has a sixth sense when it comes to handling Bokuto, and he never seems to screw it up the way Konoha always manages to. But he can’t help but wonder. And it’s horrible, but he can’t help but be jealous—because how can this guy manage Bokuto so precisely, like he’s been doing it his whole life, when the rest of them have a year’s head start and still haven’t fully figured it out?

Washio catches him alone at the back of their group walking to the arcade, and slows his stride.

“Did you talk to him?”

“Yeah,” Konoha says. He avoids Washio’s eye.

“I suppose it didn’t help.”

“I don’t know. I didn’t help with anything, at any rate.” He just can’t keep the bitterness out of his voice. Konoha Akinori, master of nothing and especially not of anything he wants very badly. And it seems he will never learn to quit while he’s ahead, and he might always hurt for it.

Washio doesn’t generally go in for much physical contact, so Konoha isn’t disappointed when he doesn’t bracingly nudge him like Komi might, or squeeze him on the shoulder Saru-style. But he finally looks over, and Washio’s face is, for once, an open book. So troubled—and yet, his eyes are soft.

“For what it’s worth,” Washio says, surprisingly gently, “I don’t think Akaashi’s helped all that well either. Look.” He nods towards Bokuto, trudging beside Komi—and then to Akaashi, walking relaxed as ever, yet with jaw and face in defeatist set.

That tight, burning thing that’s been bubbling inside Konoha all afternoon—something which he might even call jealousy, but might be inadequacy and envy too—

It sighs. And it lets go of his chest, and he finds he can breathe a little easier.

“I need to fix this.” The words slip out unbidden, but that’s okay. Not very much perturbs Washio.

“Not tonight.” It’s an order—not menacing, but recognisable nonetheless. And Konoha is quite happy to let Washio help dictate his interpersonal life if it means he can cool his mind on it for the rest of the evening.

He nods, and they pick up their pace to catch up with the group.

Somehow, the evening actually goes well. Konoha finds he doesn’t even need to overthink keeping his distance from Bokuto, because Bokuto seems to be doing it for both of them. But somehow, with other people between them, it isn’t awkward, not really.

On the train back home, as he sits and sways with the rumbling carriage, his phone dings.

>>> Go for it once school starts back.

He can almost see the scene from miles away on the opposite side of the carriage. Washio, his legs loosely crossed and well-stretched out in front of him. His phone on its lowest practical brightness, so it doesn’t wake Komi, slouched half-asleep into his side. A frown on his face; the determined sort, the one that wins them matches and gets Bokuto and Komi’s homework in on time.

Konoha fists one hand in the back of his hair like a security blanket as he types out a reply.

>>> What if Bokuto doesn’t want to?

The response is near immediate.

>>> He’ll want to, I think.

>>> ???

With the next ding, a furious blush builds up in his cheeks, and Konoha can almost see Washio’s slight, wry smile.

>>> He’s been staring at you all night. Didn’t you notice?

By the weekend, Konoha’s bruises have started to yellow and Bokuto has recovered most of his spark. The new term starts, and though he still catches his friends staring at him in shades of concern and suspicion when they think he can't see, neither they nor he have enough time to follow up on it. And by the second week, it's almost like nothing ever happened.

Konoha keeps thinking on it, though, because one thing has changed.

He can see them.

Just his own, if he wakes up through falling out of a dream, but they're there and tangible, a brief nightlight that turns out by the time he rubs the sleep from his eyes and looks again.

The teachers keep bringing up university entrance exams, scholarships, those career plans they filled out in the first term. Konoha doubts he’s going to get scouted for a sports scholarship, but the teachers keep hinting that he’s got a good shot of getting one for academics. He looks it up, the second week back, and it looks doable, but also like a lot of work. Which… well, he still hasn’t figured out what he wants to study (or even if he wants to go to university right away)...

He still hasn’t decided if it’s worth the effort, with his plans so much in flux.

He goes up to the rooftop one blustery lunchtime when Saru and Komi have to study for a test, Washio has physio and he can’t find Bokuto or Shirofuku in the cafeteria. There aren’t a lot of people up here, which makes sense given how nippy it is, but Konoha has a vest on under his blazer and a scarf in his bag, and he can take this much cold for a bit of alone time.

Except, it turns out he won't be alone, because he's only just got his earbuds out and started scrolling through his iPod for a playlist when his phone buzzes in his pocket.

>>> wherw arre you????!!??

He frowns at that, and takes a few minutes before settling on a reply.

>>> Rooftop.

>>> OK!!!!!!!!;i;;!;!

>>> IM COming just wait fjr me.there okag

Three minutes later, Bokuto bursts through the door with flushed cheeks and uniform twice as askew as usual. Konoha quirks an eyebrow at him but doesn’t make a move from his spot.

“Konoha! Konohaaa, why were you hiding, I need to talk to you—”

Earbuds in has always equalled shouting in Bokuto’s book, and Konoha sighs as he pauses his music and takes one out. He was enjoying that song.

“I'm listening.”

“Why weren't you downstairs, I was looking for ages and I couldn't find anyone else either—”

“Everyone's busy today, did you really not know. Actually, hold that thought, you haven't been around all week.” Konoha gives him his best side-eye. Bokuto wilts appropriately. “Where have you been?”

“With Akaashi,” Bokuto says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. Which, now Konoha thinks about it, it is.

“Okay, then,” he says. “Uh… what did you want to talk to me about?”

Cross-legged in front of him, Bokuto suddenly becomes very interested in his fidgeting interlaced fingers. He’s building up to speak, Konoha can tell, and while he waits, Konoha leans back against the wall and takes his other earbud out. Something heavy sits in his stomach about this.

“I, uh… I talked with Akaashi. And, well…”

“Spit it out.”

“I told him about the dreams. He believed me. He can’t see them, but he believed me.”

Bokuto sounds surprised, and Konoha snorts despite himself.

“Akaashi trusts you a lot, you know. And I think he’s figured out by now that you can’t lie to save your life—”

“Hey!”

“So of course he believed you.” Konoha pauses. He needs to hear this, but he’s not sure if he’s ready. “So… what did he say?”

Bokuto scrunches up his face. “He reckons it’s not my fault either—”

That’s a relief, Konoha thinks.

“—and he told me to talk to you. Because… because he was very interested that you can kinda see them too. He wanted to show me an article on it but it looked really wordy so I said no.”

Konoha makes a mental note to interrogate Akaashi about that later.

“About that,” Konoha says. “It’s… it’s a bit more than ‘kind of’ now.”

Bokuto’s eyebrows shoot up.

“Eh?”

“It’s when I wake up after… well, dreams.” He fiddles with his blazer buttons for something to do with his hands, and so he doesn’t have to look too hard at Bokuto. “Usually ones that I think have been good, but that I can’t remember at all. I mean, I don’t remember most of my dreams, but… ah, that’s not the point—”

“What do you see?” Bokuto’s voice is sharp and bright, and his eyes have a sheen to them that Konoha associates with the heat of a close volleyball match and when Bokuto’s giving a pep speech to any despondent or slacking first years. It’s the fire that alights when he does the things he instinctively does the very best.

Konoha takes his time over answering. “It’s something glowing. Dark grey. It’s strange because I can see it pretty clearly even if my room’s pitch black.”

Konoha! I—ahhh—”

Bokuto’s jaw drops. Within seconds, it’s like sunshine bursts out from him as he breaks into his widest, most elated grin.

You can see them too.

“It’s not that grand. I mean, that’s the only time when I can really see them, and… I dunno. Yours are pretty colours.”

“Mine were all grey too!”

“What.”

“I thought they were always gonna be grey. And then, well, I dunno what happened but in junior high they started getting colourful.”

“Huh.”

“You can still open them, though!”

“Open…?”

“Y’know, see what’s in the dream. I can show you, if you want?”

Grey dreams that gain colour. Nightmares come to life. More impossible things. It’s weird, and it’s another thing to make time for above intense volleyball practice and studying and scholarships and the future…

But the person suggesting it to him is very, very good at impossible. And if this impossible thing is possible, he wonders what isn’t.

Reaching into the dream world is a little like pushing against gale-force winds. It doesn’t look hard, but it’s like trying to grasp something through smoke—futile, draining, disheartening. And Konoha only has a limited amount of heart.

It’s a blustery evening in October and for the fifth time they’re clustered up in Bokuto’s bedroom, homework forgotten on the table in front of them, and pushing into the dream world.

Pulling dreams from thin air is taxing. He can see the colours a little better now, but somehow all the substance has gone, and it’s like trying to catch dustclouds. They look tangible enough, but slip through his fingers and all that’s left is something like fine sand. It doesn’t wash off, and stays put as long as his disappointment lasts. He blacks out too, and he knows beyond all shadow of a doubt that he would faint and fall were he to try this standing up.

Still, no matter how often he fails, Bokuto never ceases to be amazed.

“You nearly did it!”

Konoha shakes his head. “I wanna stop. This isn’t getting anywhere.” He doesn’t even try to keep the spit and bitterness out of his voice.

Capturing dreams wears on every fibre of his being. Sleeping is the only thing he has no trouble doing these days. Everything else has started to fall by the wayside. He can’t concentrate on school. He’s getting slower and sloppier at volleyball practice. And other people—teachers, coaches—have started to notice. Their friends have started to notice.

He wonders a lot these days how long he can keep going like this.

He wonders a lot these days if doing this will be worth it, in the end.

It’s been half a minute and Bokuto hasn’t said anything, he realises. He looks up to see Bokuto worrying his lip between his teeth and a wrinkle in his forehead.

“We haven’t been doing this that long, have we? I can still keep going!”

And that’s meant to elicit some kind of response about avoiding his history homework, but Konoha doesn’t have the energy for sarcasm at all.

“Lucky you.” Okay, maybe he does. “I can’t.”

“Konoha, what’s—”

“What’s going on,” Konoha spits out, pushing himself to his feet despite his pounding head and the dizziness brewing behind his eyes, “is I’m tired and I don’t have the energy for this anymore, it isn’t any easier than it was a month ago and—shit—”

He heads for the door, no destination in mind but only the urge to get away; and it’s close, but not close enough, because Bokuto reaches him first and takes a firm grip of his upper arm.

“Oi,” he says, eyes sharp. “What’s going on?”

“I’m leaving because this isn’t working, what does it look like?” Konoha keeps his chin up, tight as he dares—mostly, because if he lets his face fall, the tears are going to come. He can feel them prickling and crawling up the back of his throat and under his eyes, and he won’t cry. Not about something as stupid and pathetic as this, and especially not in front of Bokuto.

Konoha wouldn’t normally crack, he knows. But school has been trying this week, and it still isn’t over. One cold virus or another has spread through the team like wildfire, and he’s finally fallen victim to it. He's frustrated and tired, and he's never dealt well with being outright bad at things.

He still hasn’t figured out whether he’s okay with crying in front of Bokuto, but it seems that in five seconds it won’t matter either way.

It’s while he’s scrubbing at his eyes, trying his best to keep the tears and snot contained, that Bokuto shuffles over to him, and lays a hand on his upper arm. His voice, when he speaks, is surprisingly low.

“Uh… d’you need a tissue?”

Konoha hesitates, then nods, and after a moment Bokuto presses a little travel pack of them into his hand.

“My dad can give you a ride home, if you want.”

Konoha keeps his head ducked, blotting his eyes with the tissue, but he nods. Bokuto squeezes his arm gently.

“Have I been taking this too fast?”

“Not you,” Konoha mumbles. And then, louder: “It’s not you. ‘S just me not getting it.”

Bokuto squawks.

“You sounded like you were gonna break up with me!”

Konoha snorts despite himself. “Dude, we're not even together, how could I break up with you?”

“Ehhh, I dunno… isn't that what you say when it really is them, though?”

“It really isn't you.” Konoha can hear the echo of a smile in his voice. But it doesn’t last. He huddles in on himself, and his next words are as empty as he feels inside. “I don’t think I can do this.”

For a moment, the room is utterly, utterly quiet. Konoha sniffs again, and Bokuto makes a noise in the back of his throat.

“You’re cold,” he says.

“So?”

“Gimme a sec.”

Not one but fifteen seconds later, Bokuto comes back with a hoodie from his closet, and he hands it over to Konoha as he sits back down. “Put that on,” he says in his captain-voice, certain and eerily calm.

Konoha pulls it on and fumbles with the zipper. It’s a good two sizes too big on him, but is warm and soft and feels like somewhere he can hide.

“That’s better, isn’t it?”

And it is, so Konoha nods.

Somehow, it ends up that their books and pencils disappear under the bed and out of sight, and Konoha finds himself sprawled along Bokuto’s bed with tea and a box of tissues nabbed from Bokuto’s twin sisters’ bedroom. Bokuto plonks himself on the bed alongside and stretches out his legs.

Their knees brush, then settle, and Konoha feels that if he wanted, he could shift to rest a hand there too. He could nudge himself closer, just a little. Bokuto takes up a lot of space, but a lot of that space is invitational, and if he wanted, Konoha thinks he could lean right into it.

He doesn’t. He sits with a receding headache, and his cup of tea, and lets it warm his veins and clear his sinuses. He still has more questions than answers, and isn’t sure he wants to break that silence. It’s Bokuto’s turn, for better or worse.

And eventually, Bokuto takes a deep breath, and speaks.

“You’re… you’re really having trouble with this, huh?”

Konoha curls his fingers a little tighter around the mug and watches the steam float up, soft and familiar. What can he say, but the truth?

"Yeah."

"They like you, y'know. They're always hanging about your head, and they wisp out all the time 'round you."

Konoha smiles. It sounds like a memory, the way Bokuto talks about it—like autumn-bright childhood, flannel-soft nostalgia. "They different around you?"

"Kinda. Ahhh..." Bokuto scratches his head. "I dunno how to explain it..."

They wisp out all the time... Funny. The ones surrounding Bokuto, he can see them more clearly now, more often—and they're different from those first ones he remembers. Those lights that shone in his eyes, solid and bright and focused like stars, that is what he sees. They float around Bokuto's hands and arms, dance about his feet, and move with him.

There's something he thinks they've both missed. Bokuto, it turns out, never had any trouble extricating dreams from nothing, once he could see them. He unfolds them like paper cranes, makes a cat's cradle of them...

And, once or twice, has brought them to life, or so he says.

Konoha wonders if it might be more.

Bokuto has, he knows, gotten a lot out of life, and is sure to gain more and more the longer he lives, this bright specimen of life and vitality. Even though he works hard, and devotes himself to things he loves, he has luck on his side too. He must do. Almost too much luck.

And though he says they are sleeping dreams, Konoha knows that dreams take many other forms. And Bokuto dreams the biggest out of anyone Konoha has ever known—

Small wonder, then, that he is the one that can make dreams, any kind of dreams, come to life.

So why, then, Konoha wonders, can he see them?

What do they do for him? Not a lot, save turn him far too frustrated. They make him cry too much.

Okay, so he never feels discouraged at first, which is something, but the longer he presses on, the more dreams he touches, the harder it gets for him to stay focused. Two weeks ago, he touched one and was sent awash with an overwhelming sense of despair. He's come across multiple that make his stomach swoop and sick, like he's just jolted out of a falling dream.

He can't figure it out for the life of him.

“You’re thinking too hard.”

“Ehh?”

Bokuto cups his hands in his chin and stares at Konoha, intent behind his squished half-smile. “Maybe you gotta stop thinking so much about it. Just, like, trust that it’s gonna work out for ya.”

“I can’t just not think about it.”

“We can give it a rest for a bit. That might help.”

Bokuto, surprisingly, has a point.

And he’s sure that if he consults the internet hard enough and cleverly enough, there’s bound to be something on there to help in his quest.

So they don’t talk about the dreams the rest of the evening. Bokuto pulls up an anime on his laptop, and they let it play in the background while Konoha quizzes Bokuto on history and muddles through his differentiation.

Konoha insists he’s fine to walk home—“And without an escort, Bokuto”—and he makes ready to leave after another hour or so. It doesn’t take him long to gather up his stuff nor say goodbye to Bokuto’s family, and soon enough he and Bokuto are at the door. Once he's slipped his shoes on, Konoha makes to unzip the too-big hoodie.

And Bokuto squawks in protest.

“You're gonna be cold!”

“I've got my blazer,” Konoha says.

“Yeah, but you've got all your body heat trapped in the hoodie now, it'd be a waste to take it off.” And he beams a headlight smile at Konoha. “Give it back when you're feeling better!”

His cheeks are hot the whole way home. It's just because of the extra layer, Konoha tells himself firmly. Nothing else.

Especially not that smile, which burns and sears like a firework on his brain; that smile, scented with body spray and burnt sugar; that blinding smile, for him, and only him.

Nationals. Nationals. The word whispers through the chatter, a taffeta ripple across the bus back to school. Not even the loss to Itachiyama can quell the excitement and tension palpable in the air. It filters through Konoha’s headphones as they pull out from the gymnasium, and he grins softly to himself. The thrill of knowing they’ve made it to that final stage never fades, and this is the fourth time it’s happened in Konoha’s time.

But even excitement and adrenaline can’t quell exhausted muscles and the soothing rumble of the bus beneath him, and when his eyes start to close, he doesn’t resist one bit.

“Konoha-san. Konoha-san.”

A firm hand on his shoulder shakes apart his slumber, and he blinks his eyes open to see Suzumeda drawing away from him, shadowy in the dim of the evening, with a ring of mudded, smudgy ideas of dreams orbiting her head like tiny moons.

“Nnnh? We back?” he says, tongue thick with sleep. Suzumeda nods.

“Just got here. Coach wants a meeting in the gym in ten minutes. It’ll be brief, he said.”

Konoha winces, and Suzumeda laughs. She looks the most refreshed out of anyone Konoha can see, and she has Shirofuku’s over-stuffed game notes notebook and her tablet out. She must have been getting all their combined notes compiled the whole journey back, and something warm surges inside Konoha. The club’s going to be in very good hands next year.

“Right, I gotta go.” Suzumeda glances over her shoulder and bites her lip. “Shirofuku-san said I could gather up the equipment or wake all of you and I’m only half done here…”

“Feel free to give the juniors a kick if they won’t get up,” Konoha says, wriggling further into his seat.

“Gotcha,” Suzumeda says, jumping into a two-fingered salute. She starts off down the bus, shaking sleepy team members awake as she goes, and stops for a moment by the guys two rows behind Konoha. Satisfied that she’s gone for the next few minutes, he snuggles back into his seat and slips his headphones back on. He’s still got time for a power nap before the team meeting, and content, he shuts his eyes again. For a few blissful seconds, the warmth and dark of an impending doze slip back over him, and he sighs in contentment.

Then something tugs on the back of his jacket, and he barely has time to wonder what it is before something damp and freezing cold slithers down his back. He yelps and wriggles around to get it out, clawing his fingers up under his t-shirt, and finally extracts it.

It’s an ice pack.

Mysteriously, the guys who were just behind him are now way down at the front of the bus and sprinting towards the gym, and there’s a note on the seat beside him. In Suzumeda’s handwriting.

You’d better get up too, Konoha-san~!!

He glares at Suzumeda’s turned back. She’s very cool and he likes her a lot, but she and Shirofuku have the same terrible sense of practical humour and for some reason, he is always their target.

Honestly, a kick would have been better than an icepack.

At the front of the bus, he sees Washio coils up his earphones before shaking Komi awake. Konoha waits until the bus is mostly vacated before getting up. He stops and tugs Komi to his feet as he passes by, and quirks a smile at Washio, who nods, looking pleasedly stoic.

“We got a meeting?” Komi asks behind a stifled yawn.

“Uh huh, but Coach said he'd keep it brief.”

Komi groans aloud, and Washio smirks. Coach Yamiji often uses the word “brief” just before he's about to deliver a twenty minute long critique of every playing member—and, as there were only the seven of them that played today, the comments are likely to be personal and brutally honest.

“D’ya think I can pretend I got carsick and skip it?” says Komi, utterly serious.

“Doubt it,” says Washio. “Coach’ll just send Shirofuku to mop you up and read you his lecture script.”

Komi pulls a face, but gathers up his stuff and gets off the bus behind Konoha. The three of them walk to the gym together, awash with light in the satin-dark campus.

In the end, the lecture isn't that long or brutal (Bokuto gets the worst of it for his serves in the Itachiyama match), and it isn't even half an hour before they're released. Most of the team disperses pretty quickly, and although Komi looks like he wants to stick around longer, travelling disagrees with him and he looks dog-tired. He has a forty-minute train ride home, Konoha knows, and that can’t be helping matters.

And no sooner is Konoha himself out the gate than a body slams itself into his side and an arm wraps around his shoulders.

“Heeyyyy—”

Konoha unceremoniously hauls Bokuto off his shoulder.

“Hey!”

“I am not walking home with you draped over me—”

“Ehhhh?”

“Who’s gonna explain to Coach why I can’t play at Nationals when I collapse under your weight, ace?”

Bokuto stops. Inhales. And his eyes come alive. His hair, his hands, his everything seem to spark with relentless energy, and he breaks into a run.

“We’re going to Nationals!” Bokuto yells, sprinting down the street with his arms flung wide. “We’re going to Nationals, Konoha!”

Breaking out into a grin, Konoha springs himself forwards and sprints after him.

Hell yeah we are!”

“We’re gonna win this thing!” Bokuto runs with his hands cupping his mouth, amplifying his calls. He shouts to the rooftops, he shouts to the city, he shouts to the world, and Konoha is sure that the whole world would know if Bokuto wanted it that way. Together, they run through the night, and anything seems possible.

And illuminated to Konoha’s eyes are those fantastical dreams, being brought to fruition with every step and every shout as Bokuto pounds across pavement. They rise and billow out, and chase along the street behind Bokuto. And then they dance round his feet, spiral up his body, burst into the night like stars, like passion, like fireworks to say here we are, watch us rise—

we’re going to Nationals—

we’re going to Nationals

In the end, though, reality catches up to Konoha as a stitch sears unwelcome across his side, and he slows his steps.

“Wait up!” he calls, breathless. And Bokuto does—he stops and turns, and that manic excitement shining through his being softens as he starts to jog back towards Konoha.

“You alright?”

“Uh huh. Just a stitch,” Konoha says between stiff breaths.

Bokuto nods and starts to walk beside Konoha, bag dangling from his forehead. He’s still alight with dancing dreams, impossible, shining he.

“It’s really happening,” Bokuto says. “We’re gonna go, and Nekoma’s gonna go—”

“And Karasuno.”

“And we can beat Itachiyama. We will. We gotta.”

“We’ll make it happen. All of us.”

Konoha doesn’t bring up that one point—that it’s their last time to get their revenge. It’s the last chance most of this team will have to take to that final stage, and prove to Japan that Fukurodani is the strongest team in the nation.

They only have one more chance to win.

“Hey, Konoha…”

Bokuto’s voice drifts off into something wistful, and Konoha glances over to him.

“Mm?”

“Your hair. It’s all glowy and pretty.”

“Huh?”

“The dreams. They’re floating round—” And Bokuto lifts his hand to beside Konoha’s head, curled as though to be a perch for a tiny bird, and face open in childish delight. “They look like planets.”

Konoha snorts. “And what, I’m the sun?”

“You’ve got the right coloured hair,” Bokuto says matter-of-factly, and Konoha rolls his eyes. He can see them, though—they’re drifting in a tilted ellipse, tiny bright centres engulfed by gauzy, dissolving filaments. It’s weird, but he won’t deny that it’s beautiful. They calm him, like this.

And it’s strange, but the longer he stares at them, the calmer he feels. And the vibrant energy he can feel emanating from Bokuto mutes and softens.

“Hey…” Bokuto says suddenly. “You got your hair cut.”

“Like two weeks ago, did you only just notice.”

“Oh.”

“What? It’s just hair.”

“It looked nicer long.”

On reflex, Konoha lifts a hand to his hair, and Bokuto’s hand retracts back and bumps into it.

“Hey, your hands are freezing!”

Konoha shrugs. “It’s cold tonight.”

“Ehh? That won’t do!” And without warning, Bokuto lets go of Konoha’s sleeve, only to clamp his hand around Konoha’s. It’s warm and massive, and the heat immediately rises up Konoha’s neck.

(He’s really glad he has a scarf on.)

Konoha isn’t an idiot, despite how much he questions his intelligence when confronted with Bokuto’s brand of illogical logic every second day. And Bokuto, though loud and in-your-face and sometimes overly physical with his affections, doesn’t just randomly clamp onto people’s hands. Or hug them, come to that.

Konoha would have to be an idiot to miss what he thinks this says.

It's lucky the temperature’s dropped so low this evening, because his cheeks and nose stay flushed scarlet the whole way home, and when Bokuto notices (and he always notices those strange, silly things) —

Well, it’s easy to pretend his cheeks are reddened purely from the cold.

In December, Konoha wakes in the dead of night at training camp to a room full of light.

As his teammates breathe, slow and deep in midnight slumber, one light after another hisses out from each sleep-slackened mouth. Pink and green and a dozen shades of blue, and yellow and silver and brightest gold, they spiral out in bursts of bright plasma and dance through the air. Konoha shoves himself up to sitting to watch, and immediately regrets it—it’s far colder in the room than under the duvet. He pats his hand around beside his pillow for his phone, before it strikes him.

He doesn’t need the little torch on his phone. He has dozens of lights already. With a smile, he reaches down the futon and pulls the light blanket on top over his shoulders, then pulls his feet up to his chest to watch the dreams dart about the room. Not for long, he tells himself. It’s too cold to resist the temptation of his warm bed for long, and besides, he’s going to be training and playing all day tomorrow. He needs his rest.

But this is the clearest the dreams have ever been for him. Konoha doesn’t want to lose that.

“Psst! Hey! Hey! Konoha!”

For a whisper, it’s remarkably excited and carrying. Konoha rolls his eyes on reflex before shifting around to face the far side of the room, where Bokuto’s kneeling on his futon, hair a fluffy mess and clad in only a t-shirt and boxers, and eyes alight with flashes of every dream in the room.

“What?” Konoha hisses back.

Bokuto shakes his head and gestures frantically for Konoha to come over. Konoha groans very quietly. At this rate, neither of them are going to get back to sleep and Coach (and Akaashi and Washio) will chastise them for it in the morning. But then, between the dreams and Bokuto

There’s no use trying to resist.

“What do you want?” Konoha whispers once he’s plucked his way through the room and curled up on the lower end of Bokuto’s futon, still clutching the blanket firmly over his shoulders. Bokuto bounces a little and points to a spot just above Konoha’s left ear.

“That one’s been flitting about your head since you woke. I think it likes you!”

Konoha reaches up, and an electric tingle shoots down his fingertips. In a swift, soft motion, he brings his other hand up and cups the dream between his fingers like a butterfly. It’s one of the gold ones, but softer. Like wheaten grass instead of burnished ore, and he can’t take his eyes off it.

“It’s a good dream,” he says, hardly daring to breathe.

Both their breaths are loud in the stillness of the room for a few heartbeats. And then—

“Do you want to try looking at it?”

Konoha’s tried opening up the dreams several times before. They resist very hard for things that must want to make themselves, and it’s draining trying to make them cooperate. Contrary to what he thought when Bokuto first broached the idea, he has little energy to spare right now for bringing dreams into being.

But then, he’s been dreaming a little bigger these last few months. And this one isn’t tugging away from his hands. It’s pulsating around them, warming him to his core. It wants to stretch. And he can feel it: like him, it wants, it wants to be—

Bokuto rests his hands soft over Konoha’s, and the energy thrums tenfold. You can do it, Bokuto has told Konoha before, even when Konoha knows he can’t.

“Okay,” he says.

He glances up, just once. Bokuto’s eyes are gold on gold, and they aren’t looking at his hands. Bokuto Koutarou is looking at him with stars in his eyes, as though Konoha is not just about to do greatness, but about to be great.

Staring into astral space, Konoha moves his hands apart. Slowly. Like he’s unfolding the book of the world, and about to see every wonder and secret he’s never dared to imagine.

And on the first page, is this dream.