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Midnight Moon

Chapter Text

“Are you nervous?”

“Do I look nervous?”

“Yes, you do.”

“Then I must be.”

Bokuto tried to smile, but his lips turned up in an awkward grin that must have looked anything but confident. Oikawa didn’t comment, he just sighed and adjusted the cape on Bokuto’s shoulders a little more until it was perfectly set in place.

He was nervous. Of course he was.  

His eyes traveled over his reflection in the mirror, admiring the magnificent work the costumer did on his stage dress: the suit was dark blue with intricate silver embroidery that ran all over his chest. An even darker cape with dark purple lining was held by silver brooches over his shoulder. Bokuto shrugged, testing its weight and grip. Unlike his nerves, it held.

“You look like a prince,” Oikawa said, with a hint of a smile on his lips.

Bokuto’s gaze moved upward to meet his own eyes: the particular shade of the suit made the gold pop, but still they didn’t look like the eyes of a prince. His sighed, looking back at Oikawa. He wanted to say something in return, but he couldn’t find the words.

Oikawa understood regardless and put a comforting hand on his jaw, low enough to not smudge the glitter spread over his cheekbones. “It’s gonna be ok, Kou-chan, believe me,” he whispered softly.

Bokuto lost himself for a moment in the depth of Oikawa’s warm chocolate stare. “I believe you,” he nodded.

Everything’s gonna be ok. There was no reason for him to feel this anxious, even if it was the opening night of their very first show. Bokuto wondered how Oikawa could look that relaxed, that confident in the perfect outcome of it. They rehearsed, long and hard, they polished every single trick and movement to perfection, they spilt blood, sweat and tears on that ring in order to live up to the expectations the people gathered there that night trusted upon them: they were about to deliver the greatest circus show that the world had ever seen. And Bokuto was supposed to be the brightest star of it.

Not a big deal, nothing to be anxious about indeed.

A knock on the dressing room door made both Bokuto and Oikawa snap their heads. Without waiting for a reply, Kuroo slammed it open and stepped inside. His signature smirk froze on his lips and he looked between them with furrowed brows.

“What the hell is going on? Did someone die?” he asked, folding his arms across his chest. He was wearing his stage dress too, the red and gold jacket opened to reveal his white shirt.

“Unfortunately not, since you’re here standing in front of us,” Oikawa dismissed him with a grimace, stepping away from Bokuto and making his way to the door.

“The princess is in a good mood, isn’t she?” Kuroo said, his smirk growing wider.

As Oikawa was passing by, Kuroo grabbed him by one elbow and made him turn around to slam his back against his chest. He hooked his chin over Oikawa’s shoulder, to prevent him from moving.  

“What do you want?” Oikawa sighed, relaxing against him.

“I want you to comfort me too,” Kuroo pouted, rubbing his cheek against Oikawa’s.

“You don’t look like someone who needs comfort,” Oikawa said, rolling his eyes.

Kuroo started to rub his nose along Oikawa’s jaw. “May I squeeze your ass, then?”

Oikawa elbowed Kuroo in the gut. “No!”

Kuroo let him go, with a snort that easily turned into a laugh. A laugh that even more easily infected all three of them.

“It was just for good luck, you pervert!” Kuroo said, sticking out his tongue like the overgrown child that he was. “And see? I was able to make you laugh, you were honestly looking so miserable guys.”

“Oikawa said I was looking nervous, do I look nervous?” Bokuto asked him genuinely.

“Sure as hell you do bro,” Kuroo nodded. “I would hug you but you look so crisp I’m afraid I would ruin you.”

“And you look a complete mess, did you even get your hair done?” Oikawa asked after giving him a once over.

“They tried, it can’t be helped,” Kuroo shrugged, pointing to his unruly mane of jet black hair. “We can’t all be naturally perfect like you, Jasmine.”

Oikawa opened his mouth, almost certainly to spit out some snarky reply, but another voice cut him off before he could start.   

“Guys, it’s almost time!”

Iwaizumi appeared on the doorstep, wrapped in a dark silk gown. He looked completely unfazed and Bokuto wondered how it was possible for him to be the only one so obviously distressed. But he didn’t expect any less from Iwaizumi; the specialty he chose for himself never allowed a moment of fear or hesitance.

“Chibi-chan, light of my life, I was waiting for you!” Kuroo squealed, throwing himself at him in a sloppy attempt to embrace him.

Without blowing his cool, Iwaizumi slapped his hands away, shaking his head in annoyance. “Call me chibi-chan again and I’ll shave your head in your sleep.”

“You’re so mean, Iwa-chan!” Kuroo whined in an over-exaggerated pout.

“Oi, that’s my line!” Oikawa yelled, throwing a brush which Kuroo promptly caught in his hand. He blew a kiss at Oikawa in return.

Bokuto watched them playfully argue for some time, a scene he couldn’t look away from. He smiled. These were his friends, the crew he chose to sail to this new adventure with, the family he chose for himself.

Six months before they were strangers, people he barely met once or twice in the hallways of the circus school, and now they were the people he held the dearest. Bokuto had never been a man of half-measures, after all.

It was the kind of friendship that turns your life upside down like a tornado, revolutionizing your life completely. A friendship that someone wrote in the great scheme of things, making their paths cross and join into one in a way it would have been impossible to separate ever after. It was a friendship that was meant to change the rules of the small, rotten world they lived it.

In the sheer brilliance and arrogance of their youth, they were destined for greatness.

Bokuto’s gaze lingered on each one of them. There was Kuroo, with his laugh that could light up an entire city and a good mood that seemed shatterproof. There was Iwaizumi, with his warmth and the kind of strength people were naturally drawn to.

And then, there was Oikawa.

“Does the captain have something encouraging to say?” Iwaizumi asked, offering one of his rare smiles.

Bokuto blinked a couple of times to collect himself. Motivational speeches had never been his strong suit.

“I...Just...Thank you for being here with me,” Bokuto said, and he really meant it.

Kuroo pulled the four of them in a tight embrace. This time, no one tried to escape.

“Thank you for having us,” Kuroo replied, his voice a little raw.

The strong grip in which they were holding each other close made the room warmer somehow, and the future within its walls a little brighter.

Now, the only thing Bokuto needed was to find a way for the four of them to escape it before it was too late.

Chapter Text

The autumn evening breeze was filled with the smell of popcorn and cotton candy. It was a smell Akaashi was slowly growing accustomed to, along with all the many other oddities of his new job.

Standing on the rooftop of the lions’ area, he could see the massive circus tent in all its greatness: the thousands of candles marking the road to the entrance and the exit, the silver and purple striped fabric and, at the very top, tiny little lights forming the sign “Midnight Moon” .

It was such a strange name for a circus. It could have been a good name for an album or a book, but, after all, it was a circus like no other. Or at least that’s what people kept saying.

Akaashi had never got the chance to see the show live before and, now that he was part of the crew, he was too busy dealing with all the animals to even see the rehearsals. Five lions, ten horses and too many birds and parrots were not so easy to handle. Akaashi was grateful there were no elephants: despite being already 24 years old, he was still recovering from Dumbo.

Loud applause snapped Akaashi’s gaze back in focus. It was time.

Silent like a shadow, he walked to the other side of the roof where he could have a clear view of the artists’ exit. Slowly, the performers started to come out in all their bizarre finery made of sequins, leather, bright colors and too much exposed skin. Akaashi had seen a lot of other circus shows before, but he had never seen outfits as beautiful as those. He was carefully scanning the crowd, knowing full well who he was searching for. And, just like that, he was finally there.

Akaashi had already seen his face everywhere: his golden eyes and that wry smile were hung all over the city. That boy was the main reason so many people paid for such expensive tickets, they just wanted to see him, even if he only performed for barely 20 minutes.

It was just a fraction of a second, unmistakable with his suit that reflected all the colors of the sky, the dark blue cape, his half platinum hair and silver glitter spread over his cheekbones. Bokuto Koutarou: the greatest magician in the country, come and gone in the blink of an eye and a skipped heartbeat.

Akaashi sighed, following him with his eyes until he was completely gone, lost somewhere in the little backstage tent along with all the others. The magician was already famous for his charm and, even from afar, Akaashi could confirm that it wasn’t an exaggeration or just well done photoshop work. He’d seen a lot of beautiful men in his life, but no one ever attracted him the same way Bokuto did. It was completely irrational, so much it was almost scary.

In the last few weeks, Akaashi caught himself unconsciously searching for him in the constant coming and going of the people of the circus, but Bokuto was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t eating in the cafeteria or hanging around with the rest of the crew like most of the other artists did. Apparently, from what he heard around, the spoiled diva - their words - wasn’t even attending the rehearsals. Akaashi found it weird and extremely fascinating at the same time.

Despite all the suggestive scenarios his mind ever so often graced him with, Bokuto was an acclaimed circus star and Akaashi was just a poor boy looking after the animals. They could have been great fairytale material, but Akaashi learned long ago that his life was anything but a fairytale.

Fresh from his last-minute resolutions, Akaashi climbed down the roof, coming back inside to meet the lions. He searched for a comforting look within the animals but he only got a couple of sharp-toothed giant yawns instead. The lions were all quiet and half asleep, piled against each other like they always did after their performance. The only exception was the biggest one, who instantly approached him rubbing its face against the cage bars.

“What’s up, Oscar?” Akaashi asked him fondly. The feline didn’t move, just purred in response.

Shaking his head with a smile on his lips, Akaashi entered the cage and sat down on the ground, starting to pet the lion’s mane. It was so bristly, but yet the animal radiated such a peaceful aura it was impossible to stop touching it. Lions were for sure the biggest and most dangerous stress relievers on the planet.

“They were surprisingly good tonight.”

A voice he never heard before made Akaashi’s head snap back. It came from a tall man who was standing outside the cage right behind him, with piercing bright eyes, jet black hair, and a long fringe covering part of his face. Akaashi recognized him immediately.

“You’re the new animal guy, then,” he continued, stepping closer.

“Yes,” Akaashi said, standing up and instantly withdrawing his hand from the lion as if it was a crime touching it in front of him. “…I’m Akaashi Keiji, nice to meet you.”

“I’m Kuroo Tetsurou…the lion tamer, as you may have guessed,” the boy said with a laugh, running his hands down his sides to show the red and gold stage costume he had still on.

“I know…I mean…I saw you on the posters and heard a lot about you. And Oikawa-san. I was told I can’t afford to make mistakes with your animals.”

“Indeed you can’t, boy,” Kuroo smirked at him. “But don’t be scared, we don’t eat anyone, unlike these ones!”.

He entered the cage with a nimble jump and peacefully sat on Oscar’s lap, resting his head on the lion’s back and hugging him like he was a stuffed animal. Kuroo closed his eyes, breathing softly with a hand running through the animal’s fur, completely zoned out.

Akaashi couldn’t help but smile at the scene. It could be seen from outer space how much Kuroo loved his lions and how much they loved him in return, Oscar in particular. It was an enviable bond, deep, pure and heartwarming.

“Man, I love these giant cats,” Kuroo sighed, slowly opening his eyes again.

“They’re the loveliest lions I have ever worked with,” Akaashi said without taking his eyes away from the animal.

“I’ve raised them to be the sweetest kittens, haven’t I?” Kuroo grinned, more to himself than to anyone else, staring directly into the lion’s eyes with his hands cupping its cheeks. He pressed a sweet kiss on Oscar’s forehead and finally stood up, eyes now firmly on Akaashi.

“I think they might like you and that is pretty… unusual . They normally barely tolerate their keeper,” Kuroo said, frowning his brows lightly.

“I didn’t do anything strange, just the things I’ve been told to do. I wanted to keep the transition from one keeper to another as smooth as possible.” Akaashi hesitated for a moment. “I know the guy who was here before me worked with them for years and I already found them as good as you see them now. He did a good job and I…”

“I fired him personally,” Kuroo interrupted him, a small but pleased smile on his face.

“Ah.” Akaashi’s expression was petrified. “I mean…”

“Don’t make that face, you couldn’t know,” Kuroo laughed. “He was working with us for a long time, yes, but just because it’s bloody difficult to find someone with experience in this field. It’s not the most common job on the planet.” Kuroo folded his arms across his chest, his contemplative gaze running through the cage. “I don’t know why…” he continued. “They just didn’t get along. And it wasn’t just with the lions…Oikawa’s horses too. But you can’t expect anything else from that bitchy flock.” He burst into loud laughter. “Don’t tell Oikawa I said that,” he added.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Akaashi replied hurriedly, waving his hands in front of himself. “I haven’t even met him yet.”

“Of course you haven’t, we barely see him either lately. Quite a hermit, our guy.” Kuroo rolled his eyes. “You could legit work here for the next ten years and never see him outside the circus ring.”

Akaashi narrowed his eyes at the comment. It was a strange remark since he hadn't actually ever seen Kuroo either before that night. He thought he’d have had Kuroo and Oikawa’s eyes on him all the time, but the truth was they never spent any time around the stables or the cages and, during the rehearsals and the show, they always sent somebody to pick up the animals on their behalf. Akaashi fought the instinct to ask him why. Maybe that was just how things worked in the circus.

“So yeah, don’t worry, you’re doing a pretty decent job.” Kuroo’s voice called him back from his thoughts again.

“Thank you, I…I appreciate that,” Akaashi replied, a hint of a smile on his lips.

“Better go to bed now, I’m tired as fuck. Call me if they’re driving you crazy!” he said, pointing at the lions with his chin.

Kuroo winked and before Akaashi could realize he didn’t even know why he came to see him in the first place, he was already gone.

 

=

 

Even after several weeks, one thing Akaashi couldn't get accustomed to was sleeping in a roulotte. Even as new as his was, the thin metal walls always made him feel incredibly exposed.

He was twisting and turning in his bed, unable to sleep because of the discomfort and the heat. It was the beginning of October and the air was pleasantly cold outside, but opening the window wasn’t an option. The soundproofing was already non-existent in there, he didn’t need a way to let extra noise in.

Snorting, Akaashi sat on the bed and glanced at the clock: 2:00 in the morning. Too late and too early for anything. He rested his head on his hands for a couple of moments, breathing deeply, before suddenly standing up. Since the drowsiness had completely left his body, he thought he might as well go out to catch some fresh air. He grabbed a sweatshirt and left without even changing from his night clothes.

The car park was large and full of other roulottes, some bigger than others, all spaced and well organized like a little city on wheels. Akaashi started to wander without any destination, just enjoying the late night atmosphere and the cool air.

Almost everyone was asleep, except for the youngest members of the crew, who were sat here and there in small groups, chatting and smoking together. Most of them were around his age, but he barely knew them regardless. Not that he tried, actually.

It was on nights like this, where everything was so calm and peaceful, that he felt like he didn’t belong there the most. All those people were at home, but he wasn’t, he had never been. But he couldn’t run away or go back. That was the life he had chosen. Not that he was regretting anything, it was just tough sometimes not having his family by his side, or someone to just lean on, talk to, laugh with or with whom he could completely be himself. Someone who could make it feel like home.

Akaashi raised his gaze from the ground and found himself in a section he’d never seen before. He must have got lost while his thoughts were running wild for the umpteenth time.

There were still lots of roulottes, just much bigger than the ones in his area. Most of them showed no sign of people awake, all lights off and curtains shut, and the atmosphere seemed even more quiet. Unnaturally quiet.

Curious, Akaashi went further into the little neighborhood, attracted more by the fanciness of the caravans than by anything else.

It took him just a couple of steps to figure out he’d ended up in the posh side of the car park. Up close, the roulottes were even bigger and better than they seemed from afar and way, way more remarkable.

Akaashi walked past a dark one with a little yard that resembled one belonging to a teenage boy from the suburbs, filled with skateboards, balls, musical instruments of all sorts and a big black bike. Who on earth would feel the need to own so many toys and leave them out unguarded like that? Akaashi shook his head at the thought, with a hint of a smile on his face. Circus people were strange in general, no surprise that rich circus people were even stranger. Or maybe it just belonged to a family with a kid, but something inside told him that, somehow, that wasn’t the case.

Further down the road, a big red roulotte caught his attention. A colorful dreamcatcher was hanging outside, along with several wind chimes that filled the air with a delicate and peaceful sound. A big futon couch was placed on the patio, along with some straw poufs and a low coffee table with some books left on it. Getting closer, Akaashi noticed the welcome mat before the door, embroidered in red with the words “Hear Me Roar”. It was Kuroo’s, for sure. Akaashi looked around to see if there were any signs showing that the boy was still up, when suddenly he heard a voice coming from somewhere close. He froze immediately.

“You have to be kidding me. You know you can’t actually do that,” a boy said, disbelief and arrogance filling his tone.

Instinctively, Akaashi turned away from Kuroo’s doorsteps and hid behind the caravan, eyes searching for the voice’s source. It took him just a couple of seconds to find that it was coming from the biggest house on wheels he'd ever seen, the last one on the lot and the only one with the lights still on.

Akaashi’s first thought was to run back as fast as he could but at the same time his feet were moving carefully in the exact opposite direction. Damn his curiosity. The urge to know what was happening was stronger than anything else.

As he carefully got close, the conversation was still going on.

“Of course I can.” Another boy, probably younger, was speaking. Akaashi could see his shadow through the curtains. “You, all of you, are here because of my father, just remember that.”

You are here because of us, just remember that,” the same older boy from before answered, tension palpable within his voice.

“Oh really?” the boy answered with a laugh. “We can find tons of artists as good as you are.”

“You know the show won’t ever be the same without us.”

“I know. Do you know?”

Akaashi was at the same time confused and completely hypnotized by the situation he had found himself in. His curiosity be damned, for real.  

“…What do you mean?” the boy’s answer came after a long pause, words said with a slight hesitation.

Akaashi heard some noise from inside the roulotte, possibly a chair being dragged across the floor. Shivers ran fast down his spine.

“You can go, you all can go,” the younger boy said, unerringly calm. “But remember it’s not just me and my father you’re leaving behind, it’s all the other people who have worked with you for all these years. People who have given up secure jobs just because they believed in your crazy project of a different kind of circus .” His tone was flat, the threat so clear it made Akaashi’s stomach clench. “It’s up to you,” he continued. “Go away, take your silly friends and all those stupid animals with you. But don’t be surprised when you read in the papers about those jobless desperate people hating you.”

Again, a long pause.

Akaashi popped his head out from his safe space in the darkness of the alley and noticed someone standing in the shadows outside the roulotte, back resting on the wall while absently scrolling through something on his phone. He was a pretty tall boy, dressed in a black tank top and impossibly tight ripped jeans. He seemed quiet, almost oblivious to anything happening inside. He was just waiting, almost certainly for whoever was inside. When he slowly run a hand through his chocolate hair, letting some light briefly cross his face, Akaashi held his breath, eyebrows raising in surprise. Oikawa Tooru.

“I…I can bring all of them with me.”

Akaashi shifted his gaze back to the window, he was so shocked by seeing Oikawa that he almost forgot about the conversation that was still going on.

“Can you?” the mockery in the younger man’s voice was crystal clear.

“I have enough money to…”

“Money?” he cut him short. “ This is not about money. We have a deal, you know that more than well, sweetheart.”

Sweetheart .

Akaashi clenched his fists, nails digging into his palms. That tone was just too much for him. He wanted to run in there and punch that stranger in the face so badly. He looked at Oikawa again, expecting him to have some kind of reaction, but he was still there, deadpan, still looking at his phone. Akaashi fought the urge to slap him in the face too. Why wasn’t he doing anything?

“This is not ending here,” the boy inside the caravan said finally, his voice still holding a little bit of pride.

“I hope so, there are still 25 shows already scheduled. Goodnight, it’s always a pleasure seeing you before bed.”

“Go to hell!”

The door opened abruptly. At the sight of the person coming out, Akaashi’s jaw dropped. Illuminated by the street lamps, he saw a furious Bokuto Koutarou slamming the door behind him with eyes dark and full of disgust. Oikawa finally lifted his gaze, looking at him with furrowed brows. When Bokuto rushed past him without stopping, Oikawa sighed shaking his head, chasing after him down the alley.  

“Did you hear?” Bokuto was almost screaming, his back still turned towards Oikawa.

“Everything,” Oikawa said, pressing a hand on Bokuto’s shoulder, forcing him to stop and turn around to face him.

“I hate him so much,” Bokuto sighed, glaring at the door of the roulotte he just came out from.

“I know Kou-chan, me too…we all do.” Oikawa’s voice was low and soft.

Kou-chan.

“There has to be a way Tooru, there has to be!” Bokuto’s voice was choked up, his golden eyes mottled red with anger, but his long eyelashes remained miraculously dry. Akaashi felt the impulse to hug him, to protect him from all that unknown mess.

“We’ll find one…I promise.” Oikawa came closer to Bokuto and rested his forehead against his, cupping his face with his hands, thumbs softly caressing Bokuto’s sharp cheekbones. They stared into each other’s eyes for a long and deep moment. Maybe for too long. Maybe too deeply. Akaashi’s heart was violently pumping in his chest, he could feel the strong beats along his neck, tensed almost like his clenched jaw.

“We should go now. I’m so done with this,” Bokuto said, breaking the look. Oikawa just nodded dropping his hands and they slowly walked away in absolute silence.

Akaashi waited for them to be completely out of view to take a long breath. Did he forget to breathe during all this time? Maybe. Surely. He rested his head against the wall, overwhelmed by his furiously beating heart and by what he had just witnessed.

What were they even talking about? Why did they want to leave? Who was that guy? Were Bokuto and Oikawa together?

A cold shiver ran down Akaashi’s spine. There were too many questions inside his head and no possible way to find answers. Not that night, at least.

Now, it really was time to go back.

Akaashi put on the sweatshirt in an attempt to warm himself up and pulled the hood over his short dark hair, as a cold wind was quietly kicking up. The streets were completely silent now, the only audible noise was the faint sound of cars passing by off in the distance.

He was moving cautiously, trying to walk in the long shadows of the caravans that the half moon was casting on the ground. He still had no idea which was the fastest way back, so he decided to go straight to the bottom of the road and then come back along the outer perimeter of the car park.

He didn’t even bother to try to think about something else, it would've been useless. Akaashi was still processing, playing the scene again and again in his head, trying to make sense of everything that had happened. It wasn’t so much the shady conversation that was worrying him, but rather seeing Oikawa and Bokuto together. The look on Oikawa’s face, the way Bokuto rested his face in his hands, their foreheads leant together…those images woke up something inexplicable inside him.

Bokuto couldn’t be that charming and not have a partner. Oikawa, with all his legendary beauty, was just the easiest among all the guesses. He should have thought about that too.

The fancy roulotte area was far behind him when he suddenly heard a loud smack, like the sound of a ball being violently hit against a wall. Akaashi stopped, sighing.

What, now?

He looked around, searching for the source of the noise, but could see absolutely nothing. As he started walking again, a colorful ball rolled fast as a bullet next to him. Instinctively, Akaashi tried to stop it with his foot, but he ended up kicking it back into the darkness it came from.

“Oops,” Akaashi muttered, disappointed with himself. His football skills were apparently as awful as they always had been.

“Hi,” someone said, emerging from the shadows with the ball secured between his arm and hip. It took Akaashi a fraction of a second to realize that it wasn’t just a random someone .  

Akaashi swallowed hard.

Up close, Bokuto Koutarou was the definition of breathtaking. His messy silver hair was sparkling in the moonlight, making his eyes gleam even more. It was so strange to see him not in his stage dress and without makeup. He was dressed in a simple white tee, jean shorts and a burgundy hoodie. His casual clothes were not taking away any of his charm, he just looked...younger, somehow.

As Bokuto dropped the ball to the ground and stopped it firmly with a rapid movement of his feet, Akaashi realized that he was just standing there, staring at him like he was in front of a beautiful painting hung at the Louvre. The little problem was that the Mona Lisa was now silently staring back at him.

“What are you doing around here?” Bokuto asked him, tilting his head to one side.

“…having a walk?” Akaashi answered, cautiously.

“Isn’t it too late for a walk?” Bokuto’s eyes were even more vivid, still firmly pinned on him while a smile was starting to spread on his lips. There was no escape from eyes like that. And from lips like that. Fuck.    

“Isn’t it too late to play football, too?” Akaashi said, mocking his tone.

“Not football, volleyball…” Bokuto answered, showing the ball as if Akaashi could tell a volleyball and a football apart.

“Does it make any difference?” Akaashi asked, raising an unimpressed eyebrow at him.

“I couldn’t sleep, ok?” Bokuto admitted, crossing his arms over his broad chest and looking down as he started to casually play with the ball again.

Akaashi had always been good at reading people’s behavior, but there was something unreadable in the nervous way Bokuto was behaving, something that made Akaashi feel like he needed to be careful with him.

“I couldn’t sleep either...” Akaashi confessed, scratching the back of his neck.

They shared a couple of seconds of complete and almost awkward silence, but then Bokuto looked up at Akaashi again, staring at him with mild amusement.

“Are you a thief?” he asked, frowning lightly.

What?

“Do I look like one?” Akaashi asked, confused by his sudden accusation.

“Sneaking around late at night in a dark hoodie…you fit the aesthetic perfectly.” Bokuto gestured vaguely at him, tracing his body in the air with elegant movements of his hand. “Should I call the circus’ security?”

“You can’t be serious, Bokuto-san!” Akaashi uttered, but before he could even realize what he’d just said, the damage was already done.

Oh no. No no no.

“Well well well…” Bokuto moved closer, a smug smile painted on his face. “Apparently you know who I am. I can’t say the same thing though.”

“How can someone work here and possibly not know who you are? Your name and face are literally everywhere,” Akaashi said, trying to be as casual as he could. Trying to get a grip on the edge of his voice, mostly. Trying to stop his hands from fidgeting, too.

“So I get you’re part of the crew, but you haven’t answered my question yet.” Bokuto didn’t seem bothered by Akaashi’s temper. On the contrary, he looked more entertained than anything. He was quiet, not a single trace of annoyance in his eyes.

"Ok then,” Akaashi sighed deeply. “I’m Akaashi Keiji.”

“And what’s your occupation, Akaashi?” Bokuto said, stepping closer as if he wanted to see him better. His eyes were traveling up and down, explicitly studying his face and body.

Hearing Bokuto saying his name made Akaashi shiver. There was something mischievous about his voice but yet the raspiness was so incredibly attractive. He was hooked. Doomed.

“I look after the animals,” he answered simply.

“Oh, you ’re the new animal guy, then. I should have guessed it…” Bokuto smirked, nodding to himself like something just clicked inside his brain.

“My reputation precedes me?” Akaashi’s eyebrows raised in surprise. He didn’t see that coming and now he was feeling incredibly exposed.

“Sort of,” Bokuto answered. “I’ve heard a lot of talking about you backstage. Apparently, the girls are obsessed with you.”

“Really?” Akaashi faked a surprised look. He knew all about it and that was the only thing that really bothered him. He constantly found girls’ numbers in his mailbox and more than one of them tried to directly hit on him. He didn't mean to be rude, but he never found the words to explain that he wasn’t interested in them because he actually liked boys. And not just boys in general. One in particular. The one who was standing right in front of him at that moment.

“Yes, but you don’t seem to be so into them, after all.” Bokuto said those words in a deadly serious tone, eyes prying like he just read his mind. That was scary.

“Work is work,” Akaashi said, shifting from one foot to the other, trying to shake the discomfort away. ”I’m not here to find the love of my life, anyway.”

“Who said anything about love?” Bokuto laughed loudly. “I was talking about having fun…but actually they say you’re not so funny, either.”

“And what else do they say about me, then?” Akaashi asked, genuinely curious.

“I could tell you, but I won’t. Professional secrecy,” he winked. Winked .

“You’re not a doctor.” Akaashi was at the same time so done and so into him. How could that be even possible?

“What would you know about that, Akaashi? I am many things.” Bokuto raised his chin, giving him the smuggest look Akaashi had ever seen.

Akaashi usually had a comeback for everything, but Bokuto’s act was leaving him genuinely speechless. The guy was unbelievable.

“Do you want to spend the rest of the night standing there staring at me?” Bokuto pressed, since he didn’t receive any answer.

“I’m up for suggestions,” Akaashi answered vaguely.

“Since you’re clearly lost, I can walk you back to your place, if you want,” Bokuto said and, in the blink of an eye, all his self-satisfied attitude was gone, replaced by an open, genuine smile.

“How do you know I’m lost?” Akaashi asked, widening his eyes.

Akaashi was lost for real, but not just in the parking lot. He was lost in that bizarre situation, in the moonlight and the freshness of the wind that was carrying Bokuto’s smell to him, in his desires, in his imagination, in the fear that it could be just a dream, and in Bokuto himself, more than anything.

“I told you, I am many things. I can read people’s faces, it’s part of my job,” he answered.

Bokuto was completely relaxed now and Akaashi could read sincerity in his expression. It wasn’t a clever trick, this time he was really just trying to be nice to him.

Akaashi responded with a loud sigh, smiling widely in resignation.

“Shall we?” Bokuto beamed, nodding his head to one side, fists secured in the pocket of his sweater.  

And just like that, without saying anything, they started walking back. Together.

 

Maybe, 2:00 in the morning wasn’t too late or too early for anything.

Chapter Text

“Good night, Akaashi Keiji.”

“Good night, Bokuto-san.”

Akaashi was lying on his bed, replaying the scene in his head for the umpteenth time, still lost in the aftermath. He'd done it so many times that he wasn’t sure if it really happened or if it was just a figment of his imagination.

We don’t really remember what happened, our memories become what happened , he read somewhere. And, in a way, it was true.

He still could see the playful grin on Bokuto’s face as he wished him goodnight when he was already two steps up the stairs that were leading him into his roulotte. Akaashi looked back at him, his knees and words trembling, before wishing him the same, trying to keep his bravado until the very end. When Akaashi finally stepped inside, he had to cover his mouth trying to contain his internal high pitched scream.

Days passed, but nothing changed.

Akaashi hadn’t seen Bokuto around since that night, as per usual. So foolish of him to have thought that it could have been any different.

Even after all that time, everything about the encounter still felt unreal. That walk in the middle of the night was one of the most magical things he ever experienced.

In truth, they didn’t talk that much, they simply walked through the car park, commenting here and there on some of the odd accessories that a few roulottes displayed, laughing and  joking, just enjoying each other’s company. It felt unrealistically natural, as if it was something their souls were already used to. Maybe, somewhere, they were.

Akaashi smiled to himself. Bokuto made him laugh a lot, too. He was funny and unexpectedly deep.

“I hate fake flowers,” he said to him after seeing a window with plastic flowers hanging on it. “Flowers are one of the most beautiful things on this planet, but they need a lot of commitment. They’re fragile and needy. If you can’t provide that, you may as well give up on them completely.”  

Akaashi didn’t expect such a comment from him. He was starting to think that he’d misjudged Bokuto completely. They’d spent very little time together, but during that stroll Bokuto seemed just a pleasant guy, even surprisingly normal if you like, nothing like the spoiled diva he was rumored to be. He was one of the most acclaimed artists, perhaps the most acclaimed, in his field and in the circus industry in general. He was young, beautiful, talented, and extremely rich, what more one could one desire?

Maybe there was something.

Akaashi didn’t forget the conversation he overheard: Bokuto, for some reason, wanted to leave all of his fortune behind. But why? For who? Akaashi still couldn't get his mind around it.

He pushed himself up on one elbow and gently pulled the curtain back from the window next to his bed. It was just after 6:00 in the morning and the bright rays of sunrise were casting a delicate lilac light over his pale skin. Akaashi collapsed back on the bed again, rubbing his eyes while yawning widely. He was not used waking up that early at all.

His wild thoughts were making it impossible to go back to sleep, and, as a sweet addition, his stomach started to rumble, asking for some food. As he was searching for the motivation to get up and make some breakfast, he realized that, once again, he’d forgotten to go grocery shopping. Great.

He knew it was too early for the circus’ cafeteria to be opened but, he was sure there were other creatures already up at this early hour, and they were looking forward to breakfast as much as him, if not more.

Sighing, Akaashi forced himself out of bed and quickly left for the lions’ area.

The walk was brief, his roulotte being strategically placed as close as possible to the animals in case of need. As he predicted, not a single soul was around, but he could already hear some faint sounds coming from the city on wheels that was slowly waking up.

As he stepped inside the tent housing the cages, Akaashi froze.

He spotted Kuroo in the middle of one of them, sat with his legs crossed, eyes closed and body fully relaxed in the lotus position. Oscar was sitting quietly next to him, eyes closed too, mirroring his tamer’s position, while all the other lions were barely awake.

What the actual fuck.

“What is going on here?” Akaashi asked, not even trying to hide the bewilderment in his voice.

“We’re meditating,” Kuroo answered, unmoved.

Meditating .

Akaashi sighed, already exasperated. “I came to feed…”

“Shhh,” Kuroo cut him short with a hiss. “Don’t bother us, or rather join us. It’ll do you good. You look like shit.”

“Kuroo-san, you're not even looking at me,” Akaashi replied, raising an eyebrow in mild annoyance.

“I don’t have to look at you to know .”

Kuroo was right though, Akaashi was probably a mess. The lack of sleep was lingering heavily under his eyes and his hair was probably scattered in every possible direction. But Kuroo didn't even open his eyes to see the wreck he was, he just sensed it.

That was scary. Circus people were scary.

Akaashi had only seen the guy twice, but somehow Kuroo always seemed to know what was going on inside him, like he had the incredible ability to read everything on his own, without Akaashi having to explain anything.

In that moment, Akaashi realized that Kuroo perfectly knew why he was looking so distressed.

Fuck.

Kuroo was still completely zoned out, lost somewhere in his personal Nirvana or wherever his head was. He was breathing deeply, barely moving. He looked so placid, at peace with himself and the world. For a second, Akaashi really envied him, so much he thought he could give this meditation nonsense a shot.

“What do I have to do?” Akaashi whispered, stepping closer and sitting down next to Kuroo, after a slight hesitation. Why was he even whispering?

Kuroo opened one eye, raising an eyebrow with mild annoyance. “Just sit down, cross your legs, lose the tension in your body, watch your posture, clear your thoughts, don’t talk and breathe.”

“Just breathe?”

“Just breathe.” Kuroo closed his eye and they fell in absolute silence.

At first, it was the most awkward thing he’d ever done.

Everything about him seemed completely wrong: his posture was a mess, he couldn’t steady his breathing and he already had pins and needles in his legs. What’s called a great start. But the thing that was bothering Akaashi the most was the fact that he was left there, awake and alone, willingly letting his mind free to run who knows where.

He had always been a daydreamer, but usually his thoughts showed up unannounced, hitting him completely off guard. He never found himself in the position of just being able to open his mind, to be prepared for anything, to see his thoughts, contemplate them and, possibly, let them go.

Akaashi was scared.

He knew what was hiding in the back of his mind. He wrote so many stories for himself in his dreams, so many different versions of the future that was waiting for him. He went on and on for years, believing those stories, chasing those dreams, no matter how crazy and unlikely they were. He always carried inside him the desire to be a vet and see the world while giving his life to save endangered species. The thought that a creature could be alive one day and completely erased from the planet the next constantly haunted him. He had to save them, to have a part in the miracle of life.

He was so happy about it. Genuinely happy.

But one day, something in the great scheme of things suddenly broke without any explanation. He had to face the fact that all those great dreams would probably remain just dreams. And now those dreams weren’t safe in him anymore, but were all flashing before his eyes like someone else’s madness. Too bad that that someone was him.

Akaashi’s breath was incredibly steady now, but inside he was hyperventilating. He felt his body completely detached from his mind. A silver spark came to rescue him from the darkness of that loop, bright and charming like the moonshine of the only night they shared together.   

Akaashi felt like he wasn’t drowning anymore. He was still surrounded by water, but he was floating weightless, like a boat gently carried by the wind. There was no wheel on the ship, but he didn’t care where the flow was leading him; for once the feeling of simply moving was enough. He saw a compass in his hand and he realized he was going north, he was going forward, and that was the only thing that mattered.

He slowly opened his eyes and found Kuroo staring at him, an inquisitive look painted on his face while his hands were casually petting Oscar’s mane.

“Are you okay?” he asked him.

“Yes…I guess. How long have I been here?” Akaashi answered, blinking a couple of times, trying to regain touch with reality.

“Long enough,” Kuroo smirked.

“It felt like an eternity,” Akaashi mumbled, looking into the void, still confused.

“I told you it would do you the power of good. Now let’s feed the kittens and go grab some breakfast; meditating always makes me hungry,” Kuroo breathed out loudly, stretching his arms above his head with a pleased expression. He looked at Akaashi again, with a smile that was genuine and sympathetic.

That time too, he knew.

=

 

By the time they went out, the sun was fully risen and the cafeteria finally open, spreading a sweet smell of butter and coffee all over the place. Still, it was too early for almost anyone in the circus and the streets were close to deserted.

Kuroo was whistling happily by Akaashi’s side but, as he noticed something, he stopped abruptly.

“I can’t believe it,” he said, baffled but with a merry gleam in his eyes.

It wasn’t something that caught his attention, but someone . A slim blonde girl, dressed in sneakers, high waisted leather leggings and a black long sleeved crop top was standing by the cafeteria door, frantically tapping something on her phone screen.

“Look who’s here!” Kuroo almost screamed, beginning to step up the pace.

The girl, summoned back from her phone by Kuroo’s voice, immediately looked up, a beaming smile lighting up her face.

“Tetsu-chan!” she cheered, running towards him and tucking him into a tight embrace. They stayed wrapped around each other for some time, exchanging giggles and chaste kisses on the cheeks. Akaashi looked at them from some distance. They seemed so genuinely happy he didn’t want to interrupt their private moment.

“Akaashi!” Kuroo called him, his hands moving wildly, encouraging him to approach them. “Come here! Let me introduce you to Tanaka Saeko, she’s a good old friend of ours.”

“Nice to meet you, Akaashi-kun,” the girl said, placing her shades on the top of her head, that smile that could have lit up an entire nation still secured on her lips.

“My pleasure,” Akaashi replied, slightly intimidated by her beauty.

“We were about to have some breakfast, would you like to join us?” Kuroo asked, taking her on his arm and practically dragging her inside the cafeteria before she could even answer.

“Of course!” she giggled and followed him without resistance.

“Great, you sit down, I’m going to get the food. What do you want?” Kuroo asked, rubbing his hands in anticipation.

“An almond milk latte, please,” Saeko replied, taking a chair on a large round table.

“Oh, me too,” Akaashi jumped in, eyes lighting up. That drink was his favorite, but he never dared to order it. He didn’t know they even had almond milk at the cafeteria.

“Are you kidding me?” Kuroo was hysterical. “Do you want some gluten-free cookies too?”

“Sounds wonderful Tetsu-chan, thank you,” Saeko said, condoning politely the mocking in his tone.

“Fucking hipsters I swear,” Kuroo snorted, rolling his eyes.

“Says the I-spent-the-morning-meditating pot to the kettle!” Akaashi shouted, trying to chase him with his voice while Kuroo was already making his way to the counter.

Kuroo came back shortly after. He did bring them gluten-free cookies along with the lattes, but he added to their order a giant slice of blueberry cheesecake, three chocolate glazed donuts, and an apple cinnamon muffin. The guy had no sense of proportion, but none of them complained about the abundance of sugary treats.

“So, what are you doing around here, and so early in the morning on top of that?” Kuroo asked, getting himself comfortable on the cushioned chair and automatically reaching for some food.

“I was hoping to surprise Iwaizumi, but he wasn’t at his place,” Saeko answered, absently stirring the spoon in her latte.

In response, Kuroo swallowed hard, almost choking on one of the donuts.

“Do you know where he might be?” she pressed him, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, I don’t, maybe he went for a morning run, who knows,” he said, the words coming out too fast and too hesitantly at the same time.

Kuroo was the worst liar Akaashi had ever seen. It was clear that he knew more than well where Iwaizumi was but, for some reason, he was covering for him. Saeko pretended not to notice, dropping the subject.

“Did you know that Saeko used to be Iwaizumi’s performing partner?” Kuroo asked Akaashi, trying nonchalantly to change the topic of the discussion.

“I met her 5 minutes ago, how would I know that?” Akaashi replied, frowning lightly and crossing his arms over his chest.

“Maybe you did some research,” he answered with a shrug and a strange half smirk.

“I’m not a stalker, Kuroo.”

“Well, if I were in your situation I would have done that,” Kuroo said, innocently tilting his head to the side.

“What -” Akaashi protested, eyebrows so high they were almost meeting his hairline.

“Yes, I used to be,” Saeko cut them short, firmly but politely. “Me and Iwaizumi met at circus school and we instantly clicked.”

“Good old times,” Kuroo sighed.

“Were you at the same school, too?” Akaashi asked.

He knew nothing about circus school and he had always been curious about their background. His knowledge was limited to the fact that the Midnight Moon project was built from scratch, putting together the most talented young artists out there. The only thing Bokuto, Kuroo, Oikawa and Iwaizumi had in common was that none of them had past experience in already established circuses, unlike the other artists that performed with them. That always seemed very odd in Akaashi’s eyes.

“Yes, we all were, but we didn’t know each other so much back then. The school was huge and you always end up hanging out with the people in your field, with some rare exceptions,” Saeko replied with a bittersweet smile.

“It’s true, but we had a lot of fun,” Kuroo said, his gaze lost somewhere in a memory from the past.

“So you’re an acrobat too?” Akaashi asked her, sipping slowly on his latte.

“Yes, I’m an aerial and acrobatic performer, I do almost all the specialities,” Saeko replied, and the topic seemed to immediately restore her joyful light.

“That’s incredibly fascinating, I love aerial performances!” Akaashi beamed, genuinely excited.

“They’re quite spectacular indeed,” she nodded with a knowing smile.

“I wish you could perform with us…you could do the aerial glowing moon, that would be awesome,” Kuroo intervened, gulping down a gluten free cookie just to cough it out immediately with a revolted expression.

“I know, that would be a dream of mine, but you know it’s not possible.” Saeko smiled to him, gently patting Kuroo’s back.

“I know, but it still makes me sad,” Kuroo said, pouting with puppy eyes.

“You don’t have any circus talent, Akaashi?” Saeko asked, seeming really curious.

“Not really, I can juggle a little though,” he answered.

“That’s wonderful! You should practice, you never know…” she encouraged him.

“Yeah, maybe I can borrow some skittles and see how it plays out,” Akaashi replied, already knowing in the back of his mind that he would probably never follow her advice.

“By the way, how are things in your neck of the woods?” Kuroo asked, resting his chin on the heel of his hand.

“Good, we’re moving now, so I took the chance to come here since I’ve got a couple of days off,” Saeko replied, toying with the blueberries on the top of the cheesecake.

“Great, you’ll stop to see the show tonight, right?” Kuroo’s smile was wide and hopeful; by his expression it was clear he wasn’t accepting a no for an answer.  

“Of course! I haven’t seen you guys performing in ages!” she said happily and then turned back towards Akaashi, placing a hand on his forearm. “Tell me, Akaashi-kun, is it as good as everybody says?”

“Actually I haven’t seen the show myself, but I’ve heard only positive reviews,” Akaashi said, a little embarrassed.

“What? You’ve never been to see the show you work for?” Saeko was a mixture of confusion and genuine surprise. “Kuroo what is this nonsense?”

“Don’t ask me, ask him!” Kuroo said, pointing his index finger in Akaashi’s direction.

“Well, I can’t move that much, I have to keep an eye on the animals before and during the show,” Akaashi said unmoved, trying not to sound like someone who was just making excuses.

“I’m sure a stage assistant can do that for him tonight, right baby kitty?” Saeko wrapped one arm around Kuroo’s neck, looking him directly in the eyes. This time it was her who wasn’t taking a no for an answer.

“As long as my lions come safe and on time on the stage, I’m good,” Kuroo answered with a shrug, scoffing the last piece of donut.

“Good! Akaashi-kun, you’ll be my date for tonight, I knew he wouldn’t leave me sitting alone in the crowd,” she laughed enthusiastically, brushing the tip of Kuroo’s nose lightly with one of her long fingers.  

“Your wish is my command, as always,” Kuroo sighed in resignation.

She winked at Akaashi and then turned to grin widely in Kuroo’s direction, twitching her nose and placing a kiss on his cheek in response.

=

So date night it was.

Akaashi was standing in front of his closet, trying to sort out a proper outfit. He’d seen people coming and going to see the show for weeks, so he knew that he was expected to wear something at least decent. Going through all his clothes, his hands hit a sleek fabric. He pulled out a dark shirt filled with white hearts, so tiny they were almost polka dots. As he was staring at it, his mum’s words echoed in his head: “I bought this for you, so you’ll always remember how much I love you, even if you are far away” . It felt perfect. He smiled softly and put it on immediately, combined with his usual black skinny jeans and a pair of dark boots.   

Walking to the circus tent, Akaashi wondered how the animals were doing without him. He felt a hint of guilt at the pit of his stomach, since it was the first time he was leaving them during the show. Earlier that day, Kuroo promised him that there was nothing to be worried about, stage assistants were used to that kind of work and, all in all, it was just for one night. He thought he’d stop by the cages to at least see the lions, but, as he glanced at the entrance of the tent, he saw Saeko already waiting for him, stunning in a black jumpsuit with a plunging neckline and high gold heels.

“You look beautiful, Tanaka-san” he said, stepping closer to her.

“You too, but please, call me just Saeko!” she replied with her usual beaming smile, handing him a ticket and a purple plastic bracelet. “I already got our tickets and…backstage passes!”

Backstage? What? Why?

“Great!” he said enthusiastically, trying not to give his confusion away. “Shall we go?” Akaashi gestured to the entrance offering her his arm, which she took and together they walked up towards the main door.

As he stepped in, Akaashi’s jaw fell open on its own accord. He figured out immediately why everyone was saying it was a circus like no other. The huge performance ring was surrounded half by purple velvet seats and half by an orchestra pit, where the musicians were already taking their seats, ready to accompany the acts. Akaashi looked around, astonished by the lavishness displayed by the arrangements. Everything seemed studied down to the last detail, from the crystal chandeliers hanging lazily from the ceiling to the trail of silver glitter sparkling on the floor in the dim light.

Here and there little groups of people were being led to their seat by girls dressed in nothing but a waterfall of crystals. Their graceful movements were reflecting the purple blue light, casting bright flashes that were illuminating the ring even more than the chandeliers themselves.

“They outdid themselves with this setting. It’s remarkable,” Saeko said, stepping closer to him and placing a hand on his shoulder.

“It really is, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Akaashi said, eyes still wide and lost between all the splendour of the decorations, sweet perfumes, and fancy outfits, trying to overlook all the curious stares and whispered chatter he and Saeko were unwillingly receiving from the people surrounding them.

One of the girls approached them, inviting them to follow her.

Akaashi didn’t know who managed to get the tickets for them, but they eventually ended up in the center of the first row, where they could have a full and perfectly clear view of the show.

Someone was making sure they’d enjoy the experience to the fullest.

The parterre was almost already packed and it took less than a couple of minutes for the lights to dim even more, signalling the start of the show. As the music started to play, the crowd fell in complete but yet eager silence.

The first round of acts followed one another in a whirl of trapeze artists, contortionists, and a pretty funny clown. It was clear from the very beginning how much all the performers were on a complete different level compared to the ones he saw back in the days when he was a little boy. Everything in their acts was perfectly planned to be as spectacular and amusing as possible. When an aerial performer turned up on the stage, Saeko followed her every move, nodding pleased like a coach looking at their athlete. Akaashi wondered what it would be like to see Saeko performing instead, what specialty she would have chosen and what extraordinary outfit she would have worn in order to slay every single person in the audience. Akaashi smiled to himself, pinning on his mental ‘to do’ list a note to go and see her performance, one day.

A soft neigh coming from backstage made him focus on the show again. From the curtains at the back of the ring, Oikawa emerged, walking slowly with a white horse on each side of him. At the sight, Akaashi held his breath and, apparently, so did the rest of the audience.

All eyes were focused on him, breathtaking in his totally white stage dress that made him look as if he'd just been driven out of a chapter of the Arabian Nights. Wide pants were hanging dangerously low on his narrow hips, while the embroidered jacket was open, showing a glimpse of his chest and toned stomach. Oikawa wasn’t looking at the crowd, his expression unreadable under the tufts of chocolate hair, but it felt like he was seeing right through all of them. With a smooth gesture, he ran one of the two long whips he was holding on the ground, making it crack, getting his act to begin.

The white horses immediately started to trot along the outline of the ring and, in each round, a new one was added, going from two to nine really fast, none of them wearing saddles or reins. Oikawa was still in the center, directing them with the long whips and soft muffled words, apparently without any effort. Oikawa’s horses had never been the easiest animals to work with, they were stubborn, cocky and distrustful and Akaashi was sure they didn’t like him that much, unlike the lions. But with Oikawa, it was a whole other story. The level of their training was so high that he almost didn’t need to talk to them, it was like they were communicating telepathically, or better, empathetically. He made them twist, turn, jump and cross and the animals elegantly followed each of his commands.

At some point, Oikawa made all the nine horses align in front of him, faces towards the crowd. He snapped the whips sharply on the ground and then raised them again, shaking them lightly. The horses followed his lead and reared up on their hind legs, forelegs kicking off the ground, neighing and holding the position for a couple of seconds. With the music and purple blue lightning, it was a majestic scene to witness. When the horses landed down on the ground again, Oikawa approached them, handing each one a sugar cube and a soft pat. It was in that moment, when he was kissing one of the horses on the nose, that Akaashi saw Oikawa smile for the first time.

But the routine was not over yet. Oikawa made the horses run in circles again, exactly like at the beginning, this time jumping on one of them after a few moments. He rode bareback at full gallop for a couple of laps, stopping in the center of the ring, four horses on each side. They reared again and then bowed at the crowd, who met the end of the act with loud applause.

For the first time, Oikawa raised his gaze to look at the people in front of him, expression still unreadable but with a hint of a pleased smile on his lips. With a slight nod, he turned his horse around and trotted backstage.

The lights started to slowly come up. It was time for the mid-show break.

“We don’t have much time, but we can go say hi to them. Come!” Saeko said to Akaashi, taking his hand and dragging him rapidly to the backstage, where a lot of people were running hectically from place to place, carrying dresses, makeup and all sort of stage items.

It was complete chaos. As they stepped in, Saeko was caught right away in endless chats with people he didn’t know, leaving him hanging there, looking around for a familiar face to greet. But this time, it was the familiar face who found him first.

“Akaashi Keiji! I see you went from the stables to VIP backstage really fast.”

That haughty tone of voice could belong to only one person: Bokuto. Before turning around to face him, Akaashi did his best to suppress the smile that was starting to spread on his lips.

“Bokuto-san, I see your attitude hasn’t dropped in these few days,” Akaashi said to him, folding his arms across his chest.

“How could it have,” Bokuto said, stepping closer with a blinding smile. He was wearing his stage dress, tonight in very pale light blue, and makeup was already painted all over his face, platinum glitter on his cheekbones and a hint of dark eyeliner making the golden eyes shine even more.

“Yeah, silly of me to have thought of that,” Akaashi shrugged, the tug of war between him and his fondness more intense than ever.

“Nice shirt, by the way. Are those hearts?” Bokuto asked, running one of his fingers over the smooth fabric, outlining Akaashi’s tight bicep.

“…Yes,” he answered hesitantly, trembling at the unexpected touch.

“Nice.” Bokuto tilted his head to the side, pulling away. “I like hearts.”

“That’s…surprising, at least.” Akaashi still couldn’t find the words to properly keep up the conversation. How could Bokuto manage to do that to him, every single time?

“Are you enjoying the show so far, Akaashi?” he asked and Akaashi didn’t know if he was referring to the circus show or the one Bokuto himself was putting on in that exact moment. Anyway, the answer was exactly the same.

“Yes, very much,” Akaashi said, swallowing hard.

“Good…good. But you haven’t seen the best yet,” Bokuto said smugly, running a hand through his hair to fix his silver quiff.

“I know, I’m looking forward to finally seeing the lions in action,” Akaashi replied, mocking his tone and facial expression with a shrug.

“And I’m the one with the attitude,” Bokuto laughed, raising an eyebrow, unimpressed.

“You’re the one with the ego, too.” Akaashi almost bumped his shoulder with Bokuto’s when he said that, but luckily he was able to stop himself. “I should go now, the show could start any minute,” he added, feeling the urge to rush as far away as he could from him, before he succeeded at embarrassing himself any further.

“Right…have fun,” Bokuto dismissed him, waving his hand.

Akaashi nodded with tight lips and walked away, internally beating himself up for that reaction. What was wrong with him?

“Akaashi!” Bokuto’s voice made him turn back, letting out an unconscious sigh of relief. Bokuto was standing right where he had left him, arms crossed and face lit up by a hopeful look. “I’m expecting to see you at the aftershow.”

“I could say the same thing,” Akaashi smiled, this time not letting anything get in the way of it.

Bokuto nodded with a half smirk and, without saying a word, he made his way somewhere in the depths of the backstage.

Akaashi and Saeko got back to their seats just in time for the show to start again. During the break, the ring had been secured by a curtain of metal safety nets, shielding all its perimeter. That could mean just one thing: lions. Akaashi rubbed his hands at the sight, he was extremely excited to see his precious kittens perform and eventually charm all the audience.

The lights went down again, and, in a similar way Oikawa did before, Kuroo made his entrance, Oscar by his side and all the other lions following them. There was something strange in Kuroo’s expression, somehow Akaashi couldn’t immediately recognize the guy he was so used to seeing with a beaming smile and loud laugh. He was…different.

His amber eyes were locked in a dry expression, his jaw clenched and his chin tilted up, lips slightly turned in a cheeky grin. Kuroo was standing tall in the center of the ring, surrounded by all those fierce animals, living embodiment of the definition of a lion tamer with his elaborate red, gold and black suit. He was looking brave, confident and, above all, bold. Probably he should not have been, but Akaashi was genuinely surprised to see him in such an unexpected role, and actually succeeding in carrying it so well. Maybe Kuroo wasn’t just a baby kitty, after all.

His act went smoothly, the lions jumping, rolling, roaring and simply being the adorable kittens that they were, making the crowd switch between pleased clapping and tender sighs. At some point, Kuroo climbed onto one of the pedestals, standing proud above all his lions. A wicked smirk formed on his lips as he scanned the crowd in front of him and, without breaking the gaze, he started to slowly unbutton his jacket.

Akaashi and Saeko looked simultaneously towards each other, wide-eyed, as a woman in the back whistled at him. When they turned to watch him again, they found Kuroo staring at them. He winked with an amused smile and threw his jacket up in the air, leaving himself dressed only in a pair of tight black pants and a fitted white t-shirt.

A bright ball fell from above and Kuroo caught it effortlessly in his hands, while the lions were still looking at him almost unblinking.

“Are you ready to play some football, pussycats?” he grinned, while the crowd clapped and cheered loudly in anticipation of what was about to happen.

Kuroo kicked the ball and jumped down from the pedestal, chasing it with all the lions in tow, starting the most epic football match Akaashi had ever seen. There were no rehearsed moves, no whips or orders, just wild lions playing joyfully with their trainer, like they weren’t in front of a crowd.

A countless number of balls were burst in the process, leaving a colorful mess on the ground and Akaashi was finally able to recognize a glimpse of the “offstage” Kuroo in the smile that was gracing his face. When Oscar scored a goal, throwing a ball right through one of the pedestal’s legs, Akaashi had to fight the instinct to jump screaming in excitement on the seat, while all the crowd cheered like they were watching a real football game.

“Yes, Oscar! Come here!” Kuroo roared, opening his arms.

The lion came running towards him, jumping up on his hind legs and placing his massive front paws on Kuroo’s shoulders. They stared at each other for a few moments, rubbing their foreheads against each other’s. Kuroo cupped Oscar’s cheeks with his hands and placed a firm kiss just above the animal’s nose, smiling full of contentment. It was a magnificent and completely captivating scene to watch and Akaashi’s expression was fixed in an endeared grin.

Kuroo picked up his miraculously untouched jacket from the ground, putting it on again. With a loud crack of the whip, he made all the lions jump back on their plinths. He placed himself in the center of the ring and, when he bowed to the crowd, all the animals started to roar so loudly they drowned out the applause they were receiving.

As soon as Kuroo and his lions left the stage, the security cage was promptly unraveled, leaving room for the performances to come. Tightrope walkers, jugglers and a girl who did an impressive routine using a giant metal ring followed each other on the stage and Akaashi glanced briefly at his watch, noticing that the time was almost up, leaving just two more people to show up: Iwaizumi and Bokuto.

Expecting Bokuto to be the last one to perform, Akaashi wasn't surprised when, in a dark orange light, Iwaizumi made his appearance. Well, that lasted until he saw his outfit, if you could call it that. He was essentially naked, wearing just a pair of black boxers while his body was covered in what appeared to be thick strokes of black paint. At the sight, Akaashi’s jaw dropped. It was the first time he saw Iwaizumi up close and he knew the guy had to be in good shape, but had to admit he never thought he could possibly be in such good shape, muscles so tight and harmonious he looked like a statue of a Greek god, carved into marble. His eyes were shining bright, reflecting the red sparkles of the flames he was holding.

Tribal music started to play in the background and Iwaizumi’s face suddenly turned into a focused mask. He raised the double ended burning sticks he was carrying with him and started to dance. He was moving his entire body in an extremely seductive way, resembling belly dance moves, tilting his hips and shoulders, making his abs clench and pop out even more. The flames were following his every move, casting a trail of fire in the air around him. When he started to skillfully shake the sticks in the air, spinning, throwing and catching them, always dancing in the meantime, it was clear to Akaashi he was in front of the best fire dancer he had ever seen.

Iwaizumi left the two sticks burning on the ground and reached for two long chains with braziers already burning at the ends. He secured them firmly in his hands and, with a sharp motion, started to whirl them in the air, occasionally smacking them on the ground on purpose, beaming yellow and red sparkles all over the place, in a hypnotic and almost blinding whirlwind that sometimes swallowed him entirely. It was incredibly fascinating.

As he dropped the chains, Iwaizumi’s chest was rising and falling quickly but his physical effort didn’t show in his otherwise peaceful expression. He looked up and gave a small nod. Two long dark pieces of fabric unraveled from the ceiling, looking exactly like the ones that were generally used for aerial performances.

“What is he doing?” Saeko whispered, more to herself than to anyone else, looking with concern at her former partner.

As the music started to step up the pace, Iwaizumi climbed the fabric ropes, intertwining them around his limbs as he got higher and higher. When he reached the top, all the crowd was looking at him but he glanced briefly down at Saeko, smiling for a fraction of a second, like he wanted to reassure her that everything was alright.

Looking down, Iwaizumi let out a sharp breath, tightening his grip on the ropes. He abruptly opened his legs, waving the two ends of the fabric so they directly hit the flames that were still burning from the sticks on the ground. Fire started to run fast towards him but, before it could reach him, he flipped down along the ropes, passing through it and landing with a  somersault on the ground. Iwaizumi reached for the stick again and, placing it close to his face, he let out a giant fire breath.

After that, the circus stilled into an unreal silence.

Akaashi glanced at Saeko again and found her with a bewildered look her eyes, both hands covering her mouth. She, like all the rest of the crowd, was completely frozen. Surrounded by a shower of burning shreds falling lazily from above, Iwaizumi stood up and the tension seemed to finally dissipate in a loud wave of applause that came crashing at him. He enjoyed it for a brief moment and, with another subtle look at Saeko that was somehow screaming “I’m sorry”, he left the ring with a couple of backflips.

Before they had the time to process what just happened, the circus fell into almost complete darkness, just a dim blue light was outlining the soft waves of pale smoke that were slowly filling the stage. The music started to play softly, a violin standing out as the main instrument. Akaashi shifted his gaze to the orchestra and saw a familiar chocolate cowlick swaying in the half-light. His eyes widened in surprise as he recognized Oikawa as the one who was playing the violin among all the other musicians.

The smoke in the circus ring started to whirl faster and faster, creating a dark hole in the middle. A neon light suddenly focused on the eye of the small vortex and, out of nowhere, Bokuto was standing there, his face engraved with a sly look and a half smirk, as his cape was waving in the air. Akaashi stared at him, unconsciously parting his lips, heart jackhammering in his chest. With his silver hair dyed dark blue by the light, he was even more beautiful.

Bokuto stepped forth and the whirling instantly stopped. With a slow motion, he pulled a white feather out from somewhere in his suit jacket, keeping it steady in front of him with his index and middle finger. He quickly moved the other hand, revealing an already burning matchstick. He brought the flame to the feather, which instantly burst into red sparks. Quickly jerking his wrist, Bokuto made a little white dove appear in his hands. All the crowd, including Akaashi and Saeko, let out a muffled “Ooohh”. But it was not over yet. With a sharp motion, Bokuto opened his arms, displaying a dove in each hand. Only then he grinned at the crowd, satisfied by the reaction he was seeing.

Akaashi hadn't noticed it before, but next to Bokuto was placed a dark cage the size of a regular box. Bokuto stepped closer, securing the two birds in it. He stood in the center of the stage again, this time extracting a white handkerchief from his sleeve. Bokuto played a bit with the fabric, making it dance in the air in time with the music, like a ribbon dancer. He gracefully spun around and, a fraction of a second later when he was facing the crowd again, the handkerchief was gone, replaced by another dove. Bokuto balanced the bird on his finger, tilting it carefully up and down. It abruptly opened its wings, making an egg fall that Bokuto caught promptly in his fist. He softly caressed the dove with a finger, before placing it in the cage with the others.

Bokuto shook the egg lightly, close to his ear, smiling. With a deft roll of his fingers, the egg was gone, crushed on the ground, replaced by a small blue parrot. The bird started to run fast along Bokuto’s arm, resting on his shoulder and pressing its head against his cheek. Bokuto smiled softly at the animal and, this time, all the crowd simultaneously let out a loud “Aww”. Akaashi’s eyes were shining with fondness, he was completely endeared by the scene.

Stepping closer to the cage again, Bokuto locked the little parrot inside. Then, he covered it completely with a black cloth, shaking the fabric lightly. When he exposed the cage again for everyone to see, the number of birds was magically doubled and the crowd welcomed the revelation with loud applause.

But it was clear from Bokuto’s expression the act was just getting started.

Without moving from his position behind the birdcage, he held the cloth covering it again. This time, not only he shook it, but he threw it high up in the air with a dramatic gesture, blocking himself from the view too. When the fabric landed swiftly down on the ground, the cage was gone and, in the spot where it was supposed to be, Bokuto was standing haughtily in a completely different outfit. He was wearing a dark tuxedo, with a lavish jacket the reverse of which was interwoven with long dark iridescent feathers. At the sight, the audience exploded in a mixture of clapping, surprised screaming, and incredulous looks. Akaashi and Saeko traded beaming looks, jaws dropped, both unable to find the words to describe their excitement.

The expression on Bokuto’s face was priceless, like he was expecting the exact reaction he was seeing. Scanning the crowd, his eyes locked with Akaashi’s for a fraction of a second. Bokuto just smirked at him, looking even more pleased with himself, before taking a couple of steps back, holding an arm out and snapping his fingers.

A white swing with a little basket attached to it started to lower down from the tent’s ceiling and Bokuto promptly held its ropes in his hands, hopping on it. Using his body weight, he started to move slowly back and forth while the swing was gently rising again, stopping in mid-air. Still swinging, Bokuto casually pulled out from his jacket a little metal object and soaked it in the basket. When he popped it out, it was clear what its purpose was: soap bubbles. He started to blow one out, without much success though. With mild annoyance, Bokuto stared at the metal object and shook it hard, spreading little colorful drops all over the place. As he blew in it again, a gigantic bubble started to form. Bokuto looked at it, much more pleased. He continued to create bubbles over bubbles, using his breath or capturing the air on his side as he was still moving. The bubbles were floating lightly in the air, traveling aimlessly in the circus tent, reflecting purple, blue and green light, creating a magical atmosphere.

The swing started to descend again and Bokuto jumped off of it gracefully. He soaked the bubble wand in the basket one last time before it went up again, disappearing above the ring. The lights suddenly dimmed and Bokuto was the only thing visible, lit up by a bright spotlight as the same smoke from the beginning of the act was starting to surround him again. He started to blow a new bubble, this time more carefully, making it bigger and bigger with every breath. Just a second prior to releasing it, he guided some smoke into it with his hand, creating a foggy cloud inside. He threw the bubble up in the air and all the crowd followed it, noses up and gazes locked with wonder.

The smoke started to build up and spin even more and the music was stepping up the pace building up to a crescendo. At the climax, Bokuto jumped surprisingly high, popping the bubble with his finger and landing on his knees in the middle of the smoke. The burst bubble freed all the birds that went missing before and filled the air with a dense shimmery rain made of sparkles that enveloped him completely. Still crouched down, Bokuto raised his head, bright eyes popping out even more among the glitter that was covering his entire face. With a mischievous smile, he stood up raising his arms in an overly theatrical move that was so Bokuto. When he stepped out from the smoke, Akaashi noticed that the black tuxedo was gone, replaced by his usual suit with the cape.

Bokuto closed his eyes and shook his hair lightly, shooting glittery slivers all around, like he had just emerged from a fairy dust sea. He took a single step forward and bowed, putting an official end to the act.

The crowd was roaring in a standing ovation, clapping, screaming and making any sort of noise to let out its excitement. Bokuto’s eyes were traveling among all the people and Akaashi was sure they were flickering with pleasure and emotion, despite his efforts to remain smug and unmoved. In that moment, Bokuto met Akaashi’s gaze and, this time, their eyes remained locked for a never-ending couple of seconds, both their lips stretched in genuine smiles.

The end of the music seemed to call Bokuto back to reality. He bowed again and, with an elegant turn that made his cape wave in the air, he left the stage.

That was it, the end of the show.

The lights went up but the music didn’t stop. On the contrary, it raised even more, welcoming all the artists back in the ring for the final bow. They were all there walking in line, except for Oikawa who made his entrance bareback riding one of his horses. Each one of the performers was waving at the crowd, which never stopped clapping and cheering, still giving a standing ovation.

One by one, they took the center of the stage, greeting the audience once again. In the very end, Oikawa, no longer on the horse, Kuroo, Iwaizumi and Bokuto stepped up side by side, smiling widely and, hugging each other’s backs, they bowed deeply. A rain of purple, blue and silver confetti started to pour on them and on part of the audience, making the end of the show even more spectacular.

The boys looked at each other, clapping, laughing and genuinely enjoying their moment. Kuroo elbowed Bokuto on the ribs and said something to his ear that made Bokuto look almost embarrassed, while Oikawa sighed deeply at the scene, shaking his head. As the music started to fade, they ran off, disappearing once and for all backstage.

=

The afterparty was hosted in a big dark tent close to the main one and it wasn’t exactly what Akaashi expected it to be. Fairy lights and colorful lanterns were hanging low from the ceiling and the air was filled with soft music, creating a very cozy atmosphere. At every side of the tent large dining tables were set up with a wide variety of delicious food and drinks.

Looking around, Akaashi was somehow relieved he didn’t have to spend the night at some crowded club downtown. With his plate full of little snacks and some fries, he sat down on one of the leather booths, right next to Kuroo. On the other side, he could see Saeko sat on Iwaizumi’s lap, feeding each other and giggling like a newly married couple.

In the meantime, Oikawa and Bokuto were still missing. Great.

When Kuroo reached to steal the food on his plate, Akaashi snapped back, looking at him with a cutting expression.

“Don’t,” he said, unmoved.

“Why?” Kuroo asked, mouth already full of the dumpling he just stole.

“Because I’m hungry,” Akaashi replied, voice as firm as his stare.

“You can go and take some more, there’s plenty of food.” Kuroo casually gestured to the tables that were surrounding them.

You can go and take some more,” Akaashi said, growing mildly irritated.

“Chill, mate. What is wrong with you tonight?” he frowned lightly, shaking his dark bangs aways from his face.

Kuroo asked a fair question, but Akaashi didn’t know what was happening to him, why he was so uneasy and ready to snap at everything. It wasn’t a completely strange feeling for him in general, but right now there wasn't any reason for it. Or maybe there was. Maybe the fact that Bokuto was missing, and Oikawa too, was working in the back of his mind, affecting his behavior. Maybe. But, anyway, if there was a person on this earth that didn't deserve such poor treatment, that person was Kuroo. Not that night, at least.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude. I might just be a little tired,” Akaashi said to him, smiling warmly.

“No prob,” he said with a shrug. “Eat some carbs, it will get your serotonin up and maybe you’ll be a bit less of a pain in the ass when I come back. Gonna grab two pints.” Kuroo nodded and left for the bar.

In that moment, Bokuto and Oikawa stepped in, together. Oikawa was looking gloomy and rolled his eyes as soon as he surveyed the crowd inside, seeming even more annoyed. Fortunately, the same could not be said for Bokuto who was apparently in a far better mood. When his and Akaashi’s gazes locked together, his eyes lit up and he smiled softly, waving a hand in an almost awkward way. When Akaashi waved back, Bokuto turned to Oikawa and whispered something in his ear, firmly pressing a hand on the other boy’s cheek, thumb casually caressing his jaw. They looked at each other in the same way Akaashi had seen them do before, then Oikawa nodded and walked towards the bar, eyes still dark and stern.

“Whatcha got here?” Bokuto said, sinking into the sofa next to him and glancing curiously at his plate.

“Oh please not you too, I’ve had enough of food thieves tonight already,” Akaashi sighed.

“Why would I, it’s here,” Bokuto shrugged, munching in an almost comical way an onigiri Akaashi didn’t even see him take.

Akaashi laughed and finally reached for an onigiri himself. Looking at the plate, he realized that there was enough food to feed a small army. He shouldn’t have been so defensive about it in the first place.

“Pretty impressive wizard tricks you got over there, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi addressed him, leaning forward to place his elbows on his knees.

“Thank you, but I’m a magician , not a wizard, Akaashi,” Bokuto stated, raising a silver eyebrow.

“What’s the difference?” Akaashi asked.

“I don’t actually do real magic, I’m just...good with my hands, I suppose,” Bokuto said, apparently unimpressed with himself.

“Oh…I see.” Akaashi was fighting with his dirty thoughts, trying to remain as unmoved as possible, but his mouth was already twitching in an awkward half smirk.

“Not in that sense, anyway,” Bokuto pointed out, reading his expression.

“Too bad for you, then,” Akaashi replied with a casual raise of his eyebrows, a smirk now fully drawn on his lips.

Bokuto laughed at the comment and Akaashi couldn’t take his eyes off of him. Seeing Bokuto smile was already one of his favorite things to see.

“I’m glad you liked the show, by the way. Is it true that you never saw us perform before?” Bokuto asked, seeming genuinely curious.

“Yes, it was a last minute idea. Tanaka-san needed someone to go with…and here I am,” Akaashi shrugged.

“Yes, Kuroo told me about your…light breakfast,” Bokuto smiled, putting the last words in air quotes.

“I really don’t know how he can manage to eat that much and be in such a good shape.” As he said that, Akaashi glanced over at the bar and saw Kuroo, eating nachos with a beer secured in his hand. He was talking to Oikawa, who appeared to be in a slightly happier mood. That’s what Kuroo did to people, despite his sassy attitude, he never failed to make anyone feel better.  

“I don’t know, it’s magic!” Bokuto nodded with an amused smile.

They started to eat again from their shared plate and fell into an awkward silence, broken when Akaashi unwillingly let out a loud yawn. Bokuto started to say something but Kuroo’s voice suddenly came from behind them, cutting him off.

“Sorry to crash your date bubble boys, but Saeko is leaving, come if you want to say goodbye to her,” he said, half sitting on the armrest.

“We’re not-“ Bokuto started to say, but Kuroo stopped him immediately.

“Whatever, I really couldn't care in the slightest,” he shrugged and they all walked towards the entrance together, where Saeko was already saying goodbye to a little group of people, Iwaizumi still by her side.

“Hey gorgeous, it was nice to see you again.” Bokuto hugged her, a hint of melancholy clouding his eyes.

“For me too Kou, you’re always amazing.” She looked at him intensely, stroking one of his cheeks, while Akaashi may or may not have nodded in approval at her statement.

“Come here Akaashi, it was really a pleasure to meet you,” Saeko called him to her stretching out her slender arms.

“The pleasure was all mine, Tanaka-san. Hope to see you again, I really want to see you perform.”

“Don’t worry,” she said, giving him a strange, allusive look. “I’m sure we’ll see each other sooner than you may think.”

Akaashi didn’t have the time to let that phrase sink in. Saeko pulled him closer, erasing his confusion in a tight hug. It was when he pulled away that he realized Oikawa wasn’t there with them and, actually, he was nowhere to be found.

“I’ll walk her to the car and then I’m going straight to bed. Have a good night, boys,” Iwaizumi said, looking at them with a comforting smile. When his eyes fell on Akaashi, he startled. “And sorry, I completely forgot my manners. I’m Iwaizumi Hajime,” he added in a rush, offering his hand.

“Don’t worry, I’m Akaashi Keiji,” he said smiling, shaking his hand. Iwaizumi’s skin was extremely warm, as Akaashi expected it to be.

“I know,” he winked at him, in a very telling way.

After a last group hug that left them with some poorly concealed watery eyes, Saeko and Iwaizumi left.

“I should go, too. I have a meeting to attend,” Kuroo said, emptying what was left of his beer in one draught.

“Kuroo, it’s past midnight...what kind of meeting do you have to attend?” Bokuto asked, smirking.

“I have a meeting to attend tomorrow morning , bro.” Kuroo rolled his eyes, letting a laugh escape his mouth.

“Ah.”

“Talk to me when you get in touch with your brain again. Goodnight, I love you.” Kuroo waved, blowing kisses to both of them on his way out of the tent.

Bokuto looked around for a couple of moments before turning to face Akaashi again, with a mischievous grin that made him shiver.

“Since it’s just the two of us, can I ask you a favor, Akaashi?”

“Yes, whatever you wish, Bokuto-san,” he smiled back, already feeling his heart pumping hard in the back of his throat.

=

“You’re sure they’re not going to eat me alive, right?”

“How could they? They are caged, Bokuto-san.”

In the dim light, Bokuto was standing with his arms crossed in front of the lions’ cage, studying them with eyebrows knit together in a deep frown. The animals were completely oblivious to his presence, napping or casually playing with each other.

“This was a bad idea,” Bokuto said, tensing his shoulders even more.

“You’re the one who had it, so I’m not surprised,” Akaashi teased him, amused by the sudden lack of confidence the other boy was showing.

“Very funny. Very, very funny, Akaashi,” he grimaced to him with tensed lips.

“Oh come on, why are you so afraid?” Akaashi asked, stepping closer to him.

“I’m not good with animals.” Bokuto shook his head. “Once Oikawa took me on a ride and one of his horses unsaddled me.”

“I can totally see that happening,” Akaashi laughed, picturing the scene in his mind. He’d pay to be able to go back in time and actually witness it.

“Can you stop being all cocky for a moment and actually help me through this?” Bokuto asked, but he didn’t really sound angry.

“Ok, ok,” Akaashi smiled, stepping closer to the cage. “I can’t believe you’ve never touched a lion before.”

“I mean, not a grown one. I remember when Kuroo got Oscar, we were still in school. He was just a little kitty back then and I petted him once,” Bokuto said, tilting his head as he collected the memory from the back of his mind. A distant sadness was filling his tone, the same that was always recognizable in everyone every time the circus school topic was brought up. Akaashi wondered why.

“But you have access to them every single day,” Akaashi stated, not voicing his real thoughts.

“Yes but…I don’t know,” Bokuto trailed off. “They have that fierce look in their eyes, like they could kill me anytime if they wanted to.”

“Well, actually they could. But they won’t, don’t worry,” Akaashi tried to reassure him.

Bokuto just sighed, his posture a little bit more relaxed.

“I’m not getting you into the cage, that would probably piss them off since it’s late and they’re tired from the show, so really, you’ll be safe. And I’m here with you.” Akaashi looked at him with wide eyes, softly placing a hand between Bokuto’s shoulder blades, pushing him forward a little.

“Ok, let’s do this!” Bokuto nodded firmly, moving closer to the cage.

“Oscar? Mate, come here, I want to introduce you to someone,” Akaashi called the lion, who lazily came closer to them. “This is Bokuto-san, you saw him when you were a little mangy baby.”

“Hi Oscar, looking good as always,” Bokuto tried to charm him, failing at hiding his discomfort.

“Bokuto-san just wants to pet you, he doesn’t mean any harm. Ok, Oscar?” Akaashi greeted him with a scratch beyond the ear and Oscar started to purr. “Good boy.”

Akaashi gave an encouraging look to Bokuto, who slowly reached a trembling hand between the bars. He hesitated a little bit, but then threaded his fingers in the lion’s mane, who leaned forward at the touch. Cuddle after cuddle, the tension completely left Bokuto’s body, who was now truly enjoying the unexpectedly friendly behavior the lion was devoting to him.

“He likes you,” Akaashi said softly, close to Bokuto’s ear.

“Does he?” Bokuto said, turning to stare directly into Akaashi’s eyes. His gaze was so deep it made Akaashi forget to breathe for a moment.

“Yes,” Akaashi answered, swallowing hard, not letting his blue eyes flicker away from Bokuto’s golden ones. “He does.”

“Good.” Bokuto looked down at Oscar again, running his knuckles gently over the animal’s forehead. “Very good,” he added in a whisper, smiling softly at the lion, or maybe at himself, Akaashi couldn’t tell.

Chapter Text

Meet me at the circus ring

4.00 p.m. sharp

K

Akaashi was staring at the creased piece of paper, turning it around frantically in his shaking hands. He’d found it taped on his front door when he came back from his early morning run and, when he first read it, his jaw hit the floor and his heart almost skipped a beat.

A couple of days had passed since the night of the show and, as usual, he had not seen Bokuto since their last encounter by the lions’ cage. Akaashi was starting to think that it could have possibly been just a vivid dream, but not even in his wildest fantasies had Bokuto smiled at him like he did, in that soft yet charming way that made Akaashi wonder if maybe he could have a chance with him. Maybe.

Now Bokuto wanted to see him again and Akaashi was on the verge of panicking. He ran a hand through his short hair, trying to collect his thoughts. As the appointed time was relentlessly approaching, Akaashi wanted at once to speed up and slow down the ticking clock.

Why at the circus ring though? It was such a strange place to meet, since Bokuto was famous for avoiding it until it was absolutely necessary. Maybe this time he would show up at the rehearsals, since the last show in this city was coming, leaving them with two days before packing up all the gigantic structure and moving to their next destination.

It was the first time Akaashi had to take part in the great circus relocation and he could only imagine how much work it required. Saeko’s words echoed in his mind and he thought a possible explanation was that Bokuto was going away, taking advantage of the week-long break they were looking forward to. Maybe Bokuto just wanted to say hi. But even that didn’t seem such a logical explanation, after all.

Akaashi shifted the curtains of the window next to his bed and looked outside, gazing in contemplation at the parking lot. A strong wind was blowing, making all the fallen leaves whirl in the air. When the wind was kicking up, something was about to change . It was a silly belief he had since he was a kid and it was somehow particularly fitting in that moment.

Akaashi glanced at the clock: it was time, finally. He jumped off the bed, grabbed a beanie and a leather jacket and left immediately, without giving himself any more time to let his nerves get the better of him.

When Akaashi pushed the heavy curtains aside to step into the heart of the circus tent, he hesitated. Seeing the parterre completely empty and silent, without any trace of the lavish atmosphere he saw the first time he went there, was strange. The only well-lit area was the ring, while the seats were left completely in darkness. Just a ghost of glitter was still spread on the otherwise clean floor.

Akaashi jogged down the steps and carefully made his way to the stage. As he got there, the silence was so deep he started to feel almost uncomfortable.

When he heard movement coming from backstage, he startled. A figure carrying a large bag emerged from the darkness, meeting him with a gleaming smile.

Iwaizumi.  

Akaashi’s eyes widened in surprise as all the pieces suddenly fell into place in his mind. Of course, it couldn’t possibly have been Bokuto.  

“Were you expecting to see someone else?” Iwaizumi asked, frowning with a dazed look.

“No! Well, I…” Akaashi trailed off, unable to find the words to properly explain the situation without making a fool of himself.

An unmistakable choked laugh came from the last row of the parterre.

“You…” Akaashi snapped his head round in the direction where the laugh was coming from, opening his mouth to say more but the words were strangled in his throat by bafflement.

“The look on your face was everything. E-very-thing,” Kuroo chuckled, calmly stepping down to approach them.

“Tetsurou,” Iwaizumi said, shooting a serious look at him. “What did you write on the note?”

“What you asked me to write,” he shrugged.

“Seeing Akaashi’s reaction, I don’t think so.” Iwaizumi folded his arms across his muscular chest, still looking at him sternly.

“I guess he did, but he kept the sender quite… vague ...” Akaashi jumped in, more than mildly annoyed by the way Kuroo managed to toy with him.

“You’re honestly unbelievable,” Iwaizumi sighed, shaking his head with disapproval.

“And you two are honestly vibe killing,” Kuroo said, rolling his eyes at them.

“How many times do I have to tell you that you can’t play with people’s feelings? What if someone did the same to you?” Iwaizumi asked him.

Feelings?

“How could they, I have no feelings!” Kuroo smirked, leaning against one of the metal columns that surrounded the stage. He looked totally untouched by their annoyed reaction, maybe even a little bit amused by the the fact that he had accomplished his mission to piss the both of them off.

“Nice try kitty, now get out of here,” Iwaizumi said firmly, pointing with his chin towards the exit.

“But I want to -“ Kuroo tried to protest.

“Please. Leave.” Iwaizumi’s tone was not leaving any room for the argument to go on.

“Ok, ok. You’re so boring anyway.” Defeated, Kuroo started to go back up the stairs.

“Good boy. See you later.” With a far more amiable tone, Iwaizumi dismissed him.

“Kuroo-san?” Akaashi called after him. When the boy turned around, Akaashi shot his middle finger at him, to which Kuroo replied by blowing a kiss before running out of the main entrance.

“I’m really sorry, Akaashi. I should have called you personally instead of relying on that evil bakaneko,” Iwaizumi said to him, appearing genuinely sorry for what had just happened.

“It’s not your fault, and by the way I can’t say that I’m mad,” Akaashi shrugged.

“Good. It’s impossible to stay mad at him anyway...” Iwaizumi rolled his eyes, laughing.

“So, why did you wanted to see me?” Akaashi asked, full of curiosity.

“Saeko told me you wanted to practice some juggling and asked me to help you.”

“That’s…so sweet of her.” Of course Saeko took their conversation about exercising more than seriously. Akaashi smiled at himself, warmed by the image of her actually bothering Iwaizumi to help him achieve something.

“She’s quite fond of you, I have to admit it,” Iwaizumi pointed out, not so casually.

“I hope you’re not, like…” Akaashi started to explain. Even if he didn’t know their relationship status, during the afterparty they looked extremely affectionate and the last thing he needed was Iwaizumi to get mad at him over Saeko.

“Jealous?” Iwaizumi burst out in a loud laugh. “Don’t worry, there isn’t literally anything to be jealous about,” he added, looking down with a half-smile.

Akaashi nodded, relief clearly visible on his face. As the topic was dropped, Iwaizumi squatted down to open the large bag he carried with him. Akaashi peeked inside and saw that it was full of juggling items, like rings, skittles and balls of every size.

“So…show me what you’ve got.” Iwaizumi stood up, throwing him four colorful balls one after another.

Akaashi caught them effortlessly in his hands and, with Iwaizumi’s focused gazed pinned on him, his training began.

Iwaizumi started out just watching Akaashi, nodding in agreement with a focused expression, like he was writing mental notes about what he was seeing. Then he began to demonstrate, starting by showing the moves in slow motion but, when he raced to full speed, it was almost impossible for Akaashi to tell how his hands were moving. Iwaizumi’s explanations were clear and he was a very patient instructor, always correcting Akaashi’s movements firmly but not harshly.

During their hour session of training, Akaashi realized that everything about Iwaizumi was somehow warm and comforting. The mass of well defined muscles that were peeking from his tank top contrasted even more with the smile that brightened Iwaizumi’s face when Akaashi actually made it through a complete advanced exercise without dropping a single ball. In that moment, Akaashi had the strong feeling that Iwaizumi really cared about him, about the fact that he could actually improve in juggling, even if there was no actual reason for him to spend all that time teaching him so well.

While Iwaizumi went through the entire training session without any sign of weariness, in the end Akaashi was panting heavily, almost drowning in his own sweat. Clearly, the assumption he was in a good shape was absolutely wrong.

“Ok, I guess that’s it.” Iwaizumi clapped his hands. “Good job. I wasn’t expecting you to be so good already.”

“Thank you, you’re a really good coach,” Akaashi said, laying on the ground stretching his limbs and trying to regain his breath.

“Spare your kindness, this was just the beginning. I won’t go so easy on you in the next sessions,” Iwaizumi said, throwing him a bottle of water.

“Next sessions?” Akaashi sat up and promptly caught the bottle.

“Why are you surprised? I’m not a one-night-stand kind of guy, I’m expecting some  commitment from you.” Iwaizumi smirked at him but his tone was absolutely serious.

“That’s a lot to ask on a first date,” Akaashi teased him with a half-smile.

“But I guess you’re not backing out.” Iwaizumi looked straight into his eyes, almost challenging him.

“Not at all.” Akaashi stood to meet his gaze. “Your training is a privilege and I want to get better.”

“Good. And give me your phone number, next time I’ll text you myself. I don’t want to see that disappointed look on your face ever again.” Iwaizumi winked and Akaashi wondered if his secret, at that point, was really the worst kept one in the whole history of humanity.

=

Akaashi had just got out of the shower and was gently wringing his damp hair in a large towel. His muscles were already sore from the training with Iwaizumi but, overall, he felt extremely good and full of energy. Despite the initial confusion, during their hour together Akaashi had been able to focus entirely on the exercises, shutting down every concern about Bokuto. It was an amazing feeling and he was already looking forward to the next lesson.

He was putting the kettle on to make some honey and lemon tea when he heard his phone briefly buzzing on the counter. On the screen there was a new text from an unknown number that only said:

“Are you mad at me?”

There was just one person who he could have been mad at and that person was Kuroo Tetsurou. He probably stole his number from Iwaizumi’s phone without even bothering to ask. Shaking his head but still smiling, Akaashi promptly typed the answer:

“Of course I am”

Kuroo’s answer came impossibly quick.

“Come on, man. Would a beer be enough of an apology?”

Akaashi briefly considered his answer. Of course he wasn’t still mad at him, probably he’d never been mad at all, but he didn’t know if it was right to keep up with his charade a little longer. Eventually, he gave up. He really was in the mood for a beer.

“When?” Akaashi typed.

“I knew it. 30 mins at the Candy Bar”

“Ok. But let’s make it two beers”

“Greedy. I like it ;)))”

“Bye”

Akaashi sighed, tossing his phone on the bed. Kuroo was incredible. Even though they had only known each other for a short amount time, Kuroo always treated Akaashi like a close friend, not asking for permission to storm into his life and mess with it as he pleased. And, as annoying as it could have been, Akaashi was somehow pleased by the other boy’s behavior. It made him feel welcomed and accepted as part of their little elite family.

But, if Iwaizumi apparently shared some of Kuroo’s attitude, the same could not be said for Oikawa. To that day, they still had yet to exchange a single word and Akaashi had not forgotten the annoyed look on Oikawa’s face when he stepped into the afterparty. A voice in the back of Akaashi’s mind was constantly saying that it probably had something to do with him. With him and Bokuto, whatever their relationship was at the moment.

Akaashi shook his head, trying to get rid of the doubts that were starting to be planted in his mind. He really didn’t want to get lost in his thoughts and end up late for his appointment with Kuroo. With a sharp motion he unraveled the towel that was hanging low on his hips and turned to his closet, already smirking as he plotted a way to make Kuroo pay for some dinner too.

=

The Candy Bar was one of Akaashi’s favorite places in the whole circus. It was actually a big red and white food truck, decorated in vintage circus style and placed in a wide area surrounded by sofas, low tables, and hammocks, with large colorful pillows and blankets scattered everywhere. During the evening, wonderful glass lamps were lit up, creating a soft and cozy atmosphere.

The place served good food along with craft brews and, of course, a lot of candies, chocolates and treats of all kinds. It was so famous that it was open every day and night not only for the circus crew, but for everyone in the city. It was an attraction within the attraction.

When Akaashi got there, the sun was gracing the sky with a remarkable red, blue and pink sunset. Even if there wasn’t a show scheduled for that evening, the place was crowded as always and, at first, he couldn’t find the dark messy hair he was searching for among all the people. Resigned, he went directly to the counter, where he was expecting to find Kuroo with a beer already in his hand, but he wasn’t there either.

As Akaashi was scanning the surroundings, it took him a couple of seconds to realize he had been framed by Kuroo. Again. Sunk in the furthest pile of pillows, Bokuto was carefully reading something on his kindle, sipping from a cup with his feet up on a low table. With his fuzzy silver hair down in a fringe, the reading glasses up on his nose and a blanket wrapped around his shoulders to protect him from the chill air, he looked like a gorgeous grandfather.

Akaashi laughed softly to himself and took his phone out from the pocket of his dark skinny jeans.

“You’re unbelievable” he texted Kuroo.

The answer came fast as usual.

“You are. I can’t believe you fell for it twice in a day”

“Fuck you”

“If you’re free later I'll be happy to ;)))”

“I’m never gonna trust you again” As he was typing his answer, Akaashi could perfectly see the pleased grin on Kuroo’s face.

“You will always trust me. Now cut out the bullshit and just go”

“Right, but don’t forget you still owe me two”

“Forget it, babe. Now we are even. ‘night”

Akaashi slipped the phone back in his pocket and leaned on the counter, ordering a beer for himself. A kick of liquid courage was exactly what he needed to handle this situation.

If in the afternoon he was ready and prepared to see Bokuto, now he wasn’t. The expectation of passing a relaxed night out taking the piss out of Kuroo was completely screwed up, replaced by what was basically an ambush. What if Bokuto didn’t want to see him? What if he just wanted a calm night by himself without being around anyone? If he wanted company he could have called his friends, right? Since apparently they knew he was there.

Akaashi took a sip of his beer, trying to drown all the questions that were playing on his mind. He exhaled sharply and made his way towards where Bokuto was sitting. After all, he had nothing to lose.

“Is it a good book?” Akaashi asked, sitting on a pouf right next to him.

Bokuto blinked a couple of times before focusing on Akaashi. He didn’t look bothered or surprised by his sudden appearance.

“Actually it’s extremely painful, but the kind of good pain that keeps you wanting more,” Bokuto answered, placing his glasses on the top of his head and resting the reader on his lap.

“I didn’t expect you to be into that kind of thing, Bokuto san,” Akaashi said casually in a half smirk.

“I just love angsty love stories,” Bokuto answered, the corner of his lips slowly turning up in a soft smile. Up close, he looked particularly tired. “So, how did the training with Iwaizumi go?” he asked curiously, sipping his cup of tea, looking Akaashi directly in the eye.

“Did you know?” Akaashi gasped.

“I know everything.” The deadly serious way Bokuto said it made a freezing shiver run down Akaashi’s spine.

“It was good,” Akaashi replied, trying not to show his mild discomfort. “Iwaizumi is such a great trainer. He made me work my ass off, but I felt good in the end.”

“I know, he’s the best,” Bokuto agreed. “I wish I had him back when I needed to take my juggling exam in school!”

“You did a juggling exam?” Akaashi couldn’t imagine Bokuto juggling, but the comment made all his curiosity about the circus school resurface immediately.

“Yes, we all did,” Bokuto nodded with an embarrassed laugh. “The first year of school was the same for everyone. We all had to learn the basic circus specialities and juggling was one of them.”

“Did you help people with illusionism?” He was struggling trying to imagine a messy tornado like Kuroo actually do some kind of well orchestrated magic trick.

“Yes, I was everyone’s tutor back then,” Bokuto smiled, but it was clear that the memory was accompanied by a hint of bitterness.

“So you always knew you wanted to be a magician.” It was one of Akaashi’s biggest curiosities, knowing how Bokuto ended up doing such a unique job.

“I wanted to be a surgeon, but my family insisted I had to become a magician, so…” he shrugged rolling his eyes. A laugh escaped from Akaashi’s mouth and Bokuto studied him for quite some time, with the amused expression Akaashi was already used to.

“If it’s any consolation, my situation is the exact opposite. My parents are opposed to the job I’m doing today.” He knew that what Bokuto just said was simply a joke, but he couldn’t help but share a little bit of personal information. Maybe Bokuto wasn’t entirely joking about it. Maybe he really had wanted to do something different.

“Why? What do they -” Bokuto trailed off, looking at something above Akaashi’s shoulder.

Akaashi turned around and saw that a girl was standing right behind him, looking at him with a smile and eyes full of something that Akaashi deciphered as mild anticipation. He recognized her as one of the make-up artists.

“Can we help you?” Bokuto said, frowning slightly.

“He can,” she claimed, pointing at Akaashi with a wicked grin.

“What can I do for you?” Akaashi asked her, his voice coming out harsher than he intended.  

“I was wondering if you would like to have a drink with me,” she said, nodding in the direction of the counter, still smiling at him in a way that was making Akaashi almost uncomfortable.

“I…” Akaashi started but the words died in his throat. The girl’s straightforwardness left Akaashi speechless and unable to articulate a proper thought. Many girls had already tried to hit on him, but none of them in such a direct way and, most of all, not in front of someone else. And the fact that this particular someone else was Bokuto made the situation even more difficult to deal with.  

“Excuse me,” Bokuto cut him off, directing a surprisingly cold stare back at the girl. “But Akaashi is here with me now…” he hesitated, obviously trying to recall her name.

“Fukui,” Akaashi said, completing his sentence.

“Yes, thank you Akaashi.” The girl crossed her arms, speaking with a clearly confrontational voice. “How does he know my name after what, a couple of months and yet you don’t after five years, Bokuto-sama ?”

“Because...” Bokuto tried to say, but the girl cut him off.

“Don’t bother yourself to find an excuse, Mr. Circus Star...” she provoked him with a disgusted grimace.

Bokuto didn’t answer, he just snapped the cover of his reader closed with more strength than necessary.

“Bokuto-san, please. You don’t -” Akaashi was paralyzed and extremely confused by the situation he found himself in. Fukui was undoubtedly being rude, but at the same time he wanted to prevent things from escalating even further. But maybe it was already too late.  

“Well, I guess I’ll just go then,” Bokuto’s eyes turned darker and, as he stood up abruptly, the blanket that was covering his shoulder fell ungracefully to the ground. “Goodnight.”

Akaashi glanced at Fukui for a moment and she was offering him a disturbingly pleased smile. Shaking his head in frustration, Akaashi turned to Bokuto with all intentions of stopping him, but he was already gone.

=

Akaashi’s phone buzzed while he was laying on the bed with his face pressed into the pillow, still trying to make sense of the absurd development of his night out.

“What happened?”

As he supposed, it was Kuroo. He didn’t answer, but within a couple of minutes, another text from him flashed on his screen.

“Bokuto is playing volleyball and he only plays volleyball when he’s upset”

Great .

“We had a little bit of a misunderstanding” Akaashi forced himself to type.  

“He’s smacking the ball against the wall so hard I’m afraid he’s gonna knock it down. I guess it’s a little bit more than a misunderstanding”

“I don’t know what to say”

“You guys are fucking unbelievable”

Akaashi tossed the phone on the couch on the opposite side of the room and sank his face back into the pillow. He didn’t have the mental strength to deal with Kuroo too.

=

The days until the last show in the city passed in a blur. Akaashi threw himself into work, trying not to think about Bokuto. As he expected, the amount of things he had to deal with was almost overwhelming. He couldn’t believe it when he realized that he’d managed to somehow accomplish all his tasks. Now they just had to shut the cages closed and they’d be all ready to leave for their next destination.

That night, no one visited him or the animals after the show. Akaashi had the strong feeling, he even hoped, that Kuroo would have shown up at some point, but he never came.

Disappointed, more with himself than with anyone else, Akaashi decided it couldn’t end that way. He had to make up with Bokuto somehow, before it was too late, hoping for a fresh start in the new city.

“Oscar, should I go talk to him?” Akaashi asked, turning to the cage.

The lion stared at him for a couple of moments and yawned loudly in his face.

“I take this as a yes, sorry to bother you with my life.” Akaashi scratched behind the animal’s ear, looking at him fondly. “Have some rest, tomorrow is gonna be a long day.”

Akaashi placed a kiss on Oscar’s forehead and immediately left, determined to find Bokuto and end this absurd charade before the sun rose again.

Where was he going to find him, though? That night he didn’t have a pass for the after show and maybe showing up there uninvited, asking Kuroo to let him in, wasn’t the best idea. If they wanted him there, they would have invited him.

There was only one possible solution: finding Bokuto’s place and hoping for him to be there.

It was quite a stalkerish move, he had to admit, but he couldn’t find any other reasonable options.

Akaashi didn’t know precisely where Bokuto lived, but he assumed it wasn’t far from the place where he saw him and Oikawa the first night. Kuroo stayed in that area too, it seemed logical for all the boys to live close to each other. He made a quick stop at the Candy Bar and then rushed to where everything started: the posh side of the parking lot.

Akaashi somehow managed to reach the specific neighborhood, but it was far wider than he remembered it to be. Dozens of large houses on wheels were perfectly organized in front of his eyes, making his quest to find Bokuto’s less simple than he thought.

Jogging around, he bumped into one completely covered with the most colorful graffiti he’d ever seen. All the surface was spray painted with abstract figures and doodles, while one side was occupied by a large light blue bird with a yellow beak and wide spread wings. It was beautiful. The more Akaashi looked at it, the more he was certain that the paint strokes were somehow familiar, but he couldn’t recall why.

Moving on, he found the red caravan belonging to Kuroo. Nothing of the fancy outside furniture was present, probably already packed up for the imminent departure. In that moment he realized that, in fact, none of them had any possessions outside, except for one. Akaashi remembered perfectly that particular black roulotte and it was still messy like when he saw it the first night there.

When Akaashi focused on it, he froze. Placed just outside the front door, among all the other things, there was a ball. Bokuto’s ball. The lights were turned off, but a pale blue light was filtered through the curtains, along with some muffled voices.

Found.

Akaashi exhaled sharply and, without giving his mind the time for second thoughts, he stepped up to the door and knocked a couple of times, praying under his breath for it to be really Bokuto’s home.

After a couple of seconds where nothing happened, the blue light and the voices stopped simultaneously, replaced by a soft yellow light. At least someone was in there for sure.

“Tooru, I already told you -” Bokuto’s voice came from behind the closed door, as he hurried and opened it abruptly. When he realized that it wasn’t Oikawa who was standing in front of him, he winced, opening his mouth without making a sound. Akaashi was actually surprised to see him still partially dressed in his stage suit.

“…Akaashi?” he said, finally.

“Good evening, Bokuto-san.” Akaashi looked at him with an open, peaceful smile that strongly contrasted with the tension the other boy was radiating.

“What are you doing here?” Bokuto asked, folding his arms across his chest.

“I got you gummy bears.” Akaashi tilted the large packet of colorful treats in front of him for Bokuto to see. “You said you always crave some sweets after the show.”

Bokuto looked at him frowning for a couple of seconds, before letting a quiet laugh escape from his mouth. His tension faded almost immediately and he slowly stepped aside, gesturing at Akaashi to come in.

Bokuto’s roulotte was exactly how he expected it to be. It was furnished with just the right amount of essential pieces, with a color scheme that went through all the shades of black, grey and white. However, the level of messiness was a strong clue to Bokuto’s personality and was giving the place a well lived-in look, losing the antiseptic aura it was design to deliver. There were musical instruments, books and strange objects, presumably stage items, scattered everywhere. On the kitchen counter there were countless bottles and various sodas, while the only pot placed on the stove was a kettle. It was pretty dark inside, but Akaashi could see that the large bed down at the end was unmade. On both sides.

“Sorry for the mess,” Bokuto said in an unapologetic tone. He didn't seem embarrassed or overly concerned by the situation.

“Don’t worry, you should see mine.” It was partially a lie, but Akaashi felt it was the right thing to say.

Bokuto smiled at him, nodding in the direction of the sofa. He sat down cross legged, resting his bare feet under his thighs. Akaashi sat down right next to him, with his side against the seatback, his body completely turned in Bokuto’s direction.

“I’m sorry for the other day,” Akaashi said bluntly, not willing to spend any time beating around the bush.

“It…doesn’t matter anymore,” Bokuto almost whispered, without meeting Akaashi’s firm stare.  

“To me it does. She was rude to you and I…” Akaashi ducked his head, searching for Bokuto’s eyes. Only when their gazes locked, did he continue to talk. “It happened all of a sudden and I was so baffled I did the worst thing. I did nothing.”

Bokuto stayed silent, a mixture of unreadable emotions was flashing in his darkened golden eyes. When it seemed like a sweet expression was taking over his face, it stopped and his stare went back to the cutting one Akaashi had seen that night at the Candy Bar.  

“I don't need someone to defend my honor,” Bokuto said, slowly, placing the same amount of weight on each word in an almost surgical way.

“You’re right, but she was still wrong. Because, believe it or not, there is so much more to you than she can see.” Akaashi was determined to not let Bokuto’s confrontational attitude affect him. He could play it tough all night, Akaashi didn’t care.  

“And what do you know about it?” His eyes and dry voice were pinning Akaashi in place.

“Maybe nothing,” Akaashi answered. “But seeing you those few times was enough for me to understand that the idea people have of you is wrong. It’s just an assumption, a shortcut to feel like they have you figured out already. But they haven’t.”

“Oh, but you have,” Bokuto mocked him.

“You can make fun of me, but it’s true,” Akaashi said, unimpressed by his temper. “You’re not the spoiled princess who thinks he’s better than all of us.”

“Enlighten me then, what am I?” Suddenly Bokuto was almost furious. With truth or with lies, clearly he didn’t like when people thought they had him figured out.

Akaashi took a deep breath, waiting a moment before answering. The conversation was going in a direction he hadn’t expected but he couldn’t step back, he couldn’t run, even if he felt the urge to get out of that place as soon as possible. Akaashi tried to collect all his calmness to contrast with Bokuto’s bellicose attitude.

“You’re right,” Akaashi said, finally raising his eyes and locking them with the gold ones once more. “I can’t tell you what you are, only you know that. But I can tell you what I saw.” Akaashi shifted on the sofa, trying to gain a more comfortable position while getting imperceptibly closer to Bokuto, who was still staring at him, unmoved. “You care, a lot. About this place, about the people around you and, most of all, about the boys. I saw the way you looked around during the final bow at the show, how happy and proud you were. How present in the moment you were, tight in the group hug like they could have slipped away from your hands any minute. I can tell the stage Bokuto from the off-stage Bokuto. You are smug and sometimes overconfident, but at the same time I saw how friendly, loving and comforting you can be.”

Akaashi paused, moving again to face Bokuto, making sure he was listening to him before continuing. “It just requires a little bit of an effort to get past how you present yourself, the rumors and the careless attitude that you have most of the time. You just don’t let people in easily…That’s my guess.” Akaashi tilted his head to the side, silently asking for Bokuto’s response.

After a couple of seconds of complete stillness, Bokuto reached for the pack of gummy bears Akaashi had previously placed on the little table beside the sofa. He opened it and started to shake it, apparently searching for something inside. Finally, he extracted some red and purple bears and silently started to eat them.

Akaashi was baffled by the lack of response and the sudden calm the other boy was displaying. Suddenly Bokuto untucked his legs from the crossed position and stood up, heading towards the kitchen.

“Do you want a beer?” he asked nonchalantly, opening the fridge.

“Yes…please,” Akaashi answered, genuinely confused. It was like their previous conversation hadn't taken place at all.

Bokuto came back shortly after with two already opened beers and sat down again, this time with his whole body directed towards Akaashi. At least he looked much calmer.

“You saw…a lot,” he said, handing Akaashi one of the dark bottles, still avoiding any form of direct eye contact.

“Yeah, I’m a little bit of an observer,” Akaashi declared with a one shoulder shrug.

“Or a little bit of a stalker,” Bokuto smirked against the neck of the bottle.

“Oh, come on! Not you too…” Akaashi shook his head with fake frustration.

“Me too?” Bokuto asked, giggling.

“Yes, Kuroo implied the same thing some time ago.”

“He’s probably just jealous. He’s the one that usually realizes things before anyone else,”  Bokuto said and Akaashi nodded in agreement. “You’re right about a lot of things, though,” Bokuto added after taking a long sip. “And I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have freaked out like that the other night.”

“It’s alright. It just escalated really quickly.” Akaashi smiled at him, relieved.

“I guess...” Bokuto shrugged scratching the back of his neck, now fully relaxed.

They fell into peaceful silence and Akaashi began to look around curiously, amused by all the strange items he could see. There were magic wands, little colorful balls, endless pieces of fabric, coins and cards. Really, a lot of cards.

“Why so many decks of cards?” he asked.

“Because I love card tricks, they’re my favorites since forever.” Bokuto’s eyes lit up as he said that.

“Why didn’t you include them in your act, then?”

“Because cards are for one to one magic. It’s a kind of performance that doesn’t fit the show, it’s not spectacular enough,” Bokuto answered with a displeased grimace.

“Too bad,” Akaashi pouted, mostly in an attempt to make Bokuto smile again.

“Do you…want to see one?” he asked, hesitant but with eyes full of anticipation.

“Of course I do!” Akaashi beamed.

“Good!” Bokuto rubbed his hands and reached for a dark red deck that was laying on the table. When he looked at Akaashi, his eyes were shining with the same light that crossed them just before, something that could really be happiness. Bokuto must really love card tricks.

“Are you ready? Follow me on this.” Bokuto shifted on the couch, creating some space between him and Akaashi.

“I’m ready, enchant me, Bokuto-san” Akaashi said, looking at him completely amused by his sudden mood change.

Bokuto focused his gaze and, with a deep breath, started to skillfully shuffle the cards in his hands. His hands were moving so fast to be almost hypnotizing. He quickly divided the deck into four little piles and placed them in the space between them.

“Kings and queens are really powerful cards. They love each other so much they create a unique bond, the most unbreakable bond in all the deck of cards,” Bokuto said, voice low and calm, like he was telling a fairy tale.

Bokuto tapped a finger on each of the top cards on the little piles and proceeded to turn them slowly one after another. They were all kings. Akaashi was so surprised that the trick could have easily ended there and he would have been fully satisfied, but it was clear that it was just the beginning.

“But sadly, sometimes kings have to leave their wives and their beloved castles.” He collected the kings and placed them in Akaashi’s hands.

“Now choose a king, don’t show me, and place him in your pocket,” Bokuto ordered.

Akaashi examined the cards and shuffled them in his hands trying to disorient Bokuto. Before carefully handing them back to Bokuto, he took out the king of hearts and placed it in the pocket of his shirt, right above his own heart.

“These are very lucky kings. They are so happy they immediately run back home, losing themselves in the depths of their castles.” As he said that, he took one king card and mixed it in one of the four piles, repeating the process twice more, so one king was in each one of them. The cards were always face down, so Bokuto couldn’t know which one Akaashi had chosen.

“But what you must know is that whenever the kings come home…” Bokuto moved and snapped his fingers impossibly quick, making three cards appear in his hand. He placed them in front of three of the four piles: they were the three kings he just shuffled into the decks. Akaashi was baffled. “…Their wives always run, right in their arms.” As he said it, he flipped the decks. The last card on the bottom of each one was a queen of the exact same suit of the king that was placed above it.

“But what about the queen in the last castle?” Akaashi asked, voice trembling a little.

“You know what’s the greatest thing about kings and queens?” Bokuto asked, tilting his head to one side, lips turning up in a mischievous smirk.

Akaashi shook his head lightly, afraid that any extra words said would break the enchantment of the situation that was building between them. Bokuto paused for a moment, looking deep into Akaashi’s eyes, an unreadable expression painted on his face by the soft light.

“They always…” he said in a low, hot voice, snapping two fingers and making a card appear out of nowhere. “…find each other.” And, with a smug face, he slowly turned the card in his hand: a queen of hearts.

“Always?” Akaashi replied, placing the king of hearts that was resting in his pocket on top of the queen, letting his hand linger on the cards.

Akaashi looked up at Bokuto and trembled at the fragility of that moment suspended in time, anticipation betrayed by the sparkle in his eyes. Bokuto looked almost like a vivid dream, with his partially undone quiff, the rolled up white shirt and a hint of silver glitter still on his sharp cheekbones. Akaashi swallowed hard, letting a quivering breath escape from his mouth.

Bokuto casually intertwined his fingers with Akaashi’s, suddenly tightening the grip and  strongly pulled him closer, their faces now dangerously close, their warm breath setting each other’s skin on fire. The tension in Akaashi’s body was obvious, his muscles taut as he desperately tried to remain lucid. The proximity of their bodies was making his heart and mind run wild. Bokuto stared at him through his dark eyelashes, obviously faking a clueless look, tilting his head again on one side, slowly getting rid of the almost non-existent distance between them.

“Always,” he just whispered, finally, brushing his lips against Akaashi’s before locking them in a burning kiss.

Like a castle of glass, Akaashi’s world came down shattering into pieces with the strength of that kiss, taking away whatever control he had. His mind went completely black in the moment his tongue slid between Bokuto lips as suddenly the sweet taste of strawberry mixed with the bitterness of the beer invaded his mouth.

Every time he saw Bokuto, every time he felt that shivery attraction, every time Bokuto touched him, smiled at him, every time Akaashi dreamed about him…everything came back like a tsunami in his mind, overwhelming him with desire. He wanted more. He wanted everything.

Akaashi’s hands jerked up to grasp Bokuto’s arms, as his lips were frantically searching for him in deep, hungry kisses. Bokuto ran his fingers across Akaashi’s body, stopping on his hips. He gripped at them tight and yanked Akaashi on top him, making him sit facing him.  

The sudden movement didn’t stop Akaashi, who was now slowly biting Bokuto’s earlobe with hands firmly gripped in his long hair. From that position, he could feel himself grow harder and harder, as each one of Bokuto’s kisses began to be accompanied by a brush of his hips. Their kisses were a hot mess of biting and sucking and tongues working hectically and Akaashi really thought that his heart was about to explode any second, its loud beating deafening in his ears but yet not enough to keep his mind focused or able to process what was happening.

Bokuto squeezed Akaashi’s ass in his hands and he groaned loudly, but when Bokuto’s hand started to travel under his shirt, he stopped, pulling away from the kiss slightly, still remaining impossibly close to him, both his hands pressed on Bokuto’s broad chest. They panted against each other’s mouths for what felt like an eternity and slowly the room started to fall back into place.

Akaashi blinked, trying to regain focus and when he felt the warmness of Bokuto’s body still under him, he finally realized it hadn’t been just the wildest of the illusions. Bokuto was there, so close he could almost feel his eyelashes brushing his cheeks.

Akaashi exhaled sharply. He pulled away completely, sitting back with his bum on Bokuto’s knees, letting his hands fall slowly down his sides.

They exchanged a strange look, both their expressions a mixture of too many emotions. Bokuto was the one who broke the gaze first and, covering his face with his hands, burst into a loud laugh. Akaashi stared at him, completely caught off guard by Bokuto’s sudden reaction, but he didn’t take too long to join him in that liberating laugh.

Bokuto leaned forward and grabbed the packet of candies that was still on the table. In the sudden movement, his chest pressed against Akaashi’s body, and Akaashi looped an arm around Bokuto’s neck to keep himself balanced.

They found themselves incredibly close, but Akaashi didn’t dare to kiss Bokuto again. Bokuto slid the gummy bears between them and picked a red one, chewing it carefully.

Akaashi stared at him, unable to figure out what was going on in Bokuto’s mind. He had literally no idea how to behave in such a delicate and extremely awkward situation.

“Do you…want one?” Bokuto asked, shaking the packet in his hands.

“Yes, please.” Akaashi smiled gently, picking out a random gummy bear. As he was bringing his hand to his mouth, he was hit by the sudden realization that he was still sitting on top of Bokuto. He grabbed the candy with his lips and carefully slid away, half laying on the couch just under Bokuto’s arm, that was resting stretched across the seatback.

Bokuto automatically engulfed him, pulling him a little closer. He started to casually play with the dark locks of his hair and Akaashi unconsciously leaned into the touch, closing his eyes. After a moment of silence, he heard Bokuto yawn widely.

“I should go,” Akaashi said, softly.

“No…” Bokuto answered with his lips pulled in a pout that was fighting against another yawn.

Akaashi reached out his hand to move Bokuto’s fringe away from his eyes and, leaning forward, pressed a delicate kiss on Bokuto forehead.

“Yes, it’s late and you’re tired. Not to mention that tomorrow is gonna be a busy day for all of us.”

“Are you sure you don’t wanna…” Bokuto gestured casually towards the bed. Akaashi had to collect all the strength left in his body to shake his head, the “no” still unable to reach his lips.

“Alright,” Bokuto said, straightening his posture. “But you are rude.”

“I’m not. Look,” Akaashi said, picking up the now empty beer bottles. “I’m already helping around the house.” He tossed them in the bin and made his way to the front door.

“I take you as a volunteer for cleaning anytime,” Bokuto said and Akaashi knew it wasn’t a lie. Someone had to get that place tidied up, but for sure that someone wouldn’t be Bokuto himself.

“Next time...” Akaashi said, stepping closer to him.

“Next time...” Bokuto echoed, gripping Akaashi’s t-shirt to pull him closer, crushing their mouths together once again. The kiss they shared was still incredibly passionate, but the urgency and hunger so present before were completely faded. Their lips were calmer, gentler, as if they were contemplating each other’s taste, unable to let go.

With one last brushed kiss, Akaashi opened the door and stepped outside, the fresh air a gentle smack on his burning skin. One more minute in that roulotte with Bokuto’s body pressed against his and he wouldn’t be able to control himself anymore. But, at the same time, he didn’t want to rush into sex. He wanted it, he wanted it so badly, the preview of being in a blind loop of passion with Bokuto was enough to make him beg for more, but Akaashi felt it wasn’t the right time. His hopeless romantic heart told him to wait, and he waited.

“Akaashi?” Bokuto voice called him back, exactly like he did backstage at the show. Just a couple of days had passed, but it felt like an eternity ago.

“Yes?” Akaashi turned around and saw Bokuto languidly leaning against the door jamb, like an old fashioned diva.

“Next time, just red and purple gummy bears. And maybe the peach ones too, please,” he smirked, tilting his head to the side, watching him intensely.

From down the road, Akaashi shook his head and rolled his eyes in mock exasperation.

When he walked away, he hoped for the darkness to help him cover the ridiculous grin stretched across his face. Not because he was embarrassed by it, but because he was already jealous of the memories it belonged to.

Chapter Text

As December hit the city with the coldest weather of the decade, Akaashi’s heart was slowly growing warmer and warmer. His life seemed to have finally reached some sort of stability, filled with work with the animals, improving his juggling skills with Iwaizumi, fooling around with Bokuto and even some babies on the way.

Just a couple of days earlier, Kuroo called him screaming: “This is the happiest day of my life! I’m gonna be a father!” . After the initial moments of panic where he thought Kuroo really got a girl pregnant, Akaashi discovered that he was actually going to be a grand father, since the one having the cubs was Oscar. They opened too many bottles of champagne to celebrate the news and Akaashi could already picture in his head Kuroo running around with a baby lion in his hands, displaying it from the rooftop for everyone to see, recreating the iconic Lion King scene. He should start calling Kuroo “Rafiki” for real.

Thinking about it still made Akaashi laugh. He shook his head, wrapping himself deeper in the fluffy duvet on his bed. It was already dark outside and little snowflakes were starting to fall from the sky, instantly melting on the concrete. Akaashi smiled; it was the perfect atmosphere for Christmas Eve.

Akaashi and Bokuto were both glad to be free from all their circus duties and had all morning to just enjoy each other’s company. They woke up at almost noon and Akaashi cooked a rich brunch for them: rice, the beef that Bokuto loved so much, eggs benedict, avocado salad, and lots of green tea. They spent the afternoon in bed, dozing in and out of sleep, watching stupid videos and losing themselves in deep kisses that lead up to Akaashi giving Bokuto a blowjob while they were showering together.

Akaashi kept the promise he made to himself the night of their first kiss and, aided by their extremely tight schedule, the hunger for each other’s bodies was stalled in sometimes endless, sometimes hurried, foreplay.

Now, a big night of celebrations was waiting for them. Kuroo was in charge of all the organization and he ended up throwing a massive Christmas party which all the circus employees were supposed to attend, with no exceptions. Kuroo really wanted to impress them and he tried to keep everything as secret as possible. The only thing he revealed was the dress code: ugly Christmas jumpers and pyjama pants. And that was the only thing Akaashi really wasn’t looking forward to.

“Ta-daaa!” Bokuto made a dramatic entrance in the bedroom area, giving Akaashi an overly pleased look and opening his arms to give him a full view of his outfit. “What do you think?”

Akaashi took the back of his hand to his mouth to suppress a laugh. Bokuto was wearing an oversized (and it really had to be big to look oversized on him) black jumper with a giant card embroidered on it. It was a king of hearts dressed as Santa Claus. Under it, Bokuto was only in his boxers. Akaashi’s gaze traveled across his body, taking in the way the fabric gently hung on his defined frame, creating soft folds around the shoulders and the arms, while falling a little wide on Bokuto’s narrow hips, barely covering half of his ass. He was such an amazing sight.  

“You are a cliche of yourself Bokuto-san,” Akaashi chuckled lightly, shaking his head.

“Tsk. This jumper is amazing, Oikawa drew it for me,” he said proudly.

At the mention of the name, Akaashi’s eyebrow instantly twitched and his jaw tensed a bit, but the unconscious reaction was there and gone before Bokuto could glimpse it. Hopefully. No matter how hard Akaashi tried to talk himself down on the topic, when it came to Oikawa his reaction was always the same: an absurd and uncontrollable spike of jealousy.

Everything about him illogically irritated Akaashi: the calm firmness of the way he performed, his well-known detachment towards human interactions, and, probably most of all, his breathtaking beauty. And, apparently, the guy was utterly talented at drawing too. Amazing.

The most frustrating part was that it was all happening just inside Akaashi’s head. Kuroo’s words from their very first conversation proved to be true and Akaashi actually never saw Oikawa again after that brief appearance he made at the after party, more than two months before. He knew the other guy was around somewhere, that he was regularly performing at the show, and that he often hung out with Bokuto in meetings Akaashi was never invited to. Every time he was aware of the fact that the two of them were alone, Akaashi’s mind was haunted by the image of Bokuto and Oikawa staring into each other’s eyes, foreheads pressed together and lips dangerously close, like the way he saw them the first time. So many things had changed since that night, but not the recurring thought that there had to be something going on between them, something more than Bokuto was telling him. But then Bokuto always came back, and the strong grip of his arms around Akaashi’s stomach, pressing their bodies together just before falling asleep, was enough to erase his every paranoid and irrational thought.  

“...what?” Bokuto sat down on the bed beside him, placing a hand on Akaashi’s cheek to lift his face enough for their gazes to lock.

“Nothing.” Akaashi’s expression softened immediately, he was determined to not let his dark thoughts stain that special night. “It’s really a nice jumper, I...like the reference.”

“I chose the king of hearts on purpose.” Bokuto face was lit up by a warm smile. He looked genuinely happy, maybe even peaceful. He leaned forward to brush their lips together and all the tension that was unconsciously held in Akaashi’s muscles faded immediately. His mood was contagious, as always. Bokuto made himself some room and rested his head on Akaashi’s naked chest, idly running a finger across his stomach.

“Have you decided which jumper you’re gonna wear?” Bokuto asked him, still focused on his one finger that was traveling up and down Akaashi’s body, drawing little circles here and there. 

“No. Honestly I wish I wasn’t forced to wear one in the first place,” Akaashi sighed.

“Ah! Don’t be so boring,” Bokuto said, lifting himself up and abruptly jumping off the bed. “I’m gonna choose for you then. And my choice would be unquestionable, I’m warning you.”

“Go ahead, the options are all equally embarrassing to me, so it doesn’t really matter.” Akaashi rolled his eyes and didn’t even try to follow Bokuto. Instead he snorted, bringing the duvet up to his mouth.

Bokuto looked incredibly amused while sorting through the large cardboard box of Christmas jumpers Akaashi’s mother had sent him earlier that week. She used to buy him one every year, hoping for him to join the tradition of wearing it on their family dinner on New Year’s Eve, expectations he always defied. What a strange turn of events that the first time he would actually wear one she wasn’t there to witness it. The hint of guilt the thought carried with it formed a knot at the pit of his stomach.

“This one is nice. ” Bokuto’s voice called him back, as it always did, erasing the frown from his expression. He was holding up a red jumper with all the Muppets dressed in Christmas outfits.

“Oh God, I forgot about that one,” Akaashi laughed.

“How could you? This collection is a-ma-zing.” Bokuto shook his head, looking down at the box still smiling. “Oh wait...this one came with a card,” he added, frowning slightly.

Bokuto handed him a jumper with a snowy landscape, little houses and a huge Christmas tree. Sequins, little bells and all sorts of other decorations were stitched to it. For being a supposed “ugly sweater”, it was really beautiful. When Akaashi saw his mother’s handwriting on the card, he pressed his lips together, swallowing hard. Bokuto sat next to him, hooking his chin on Akaashi’s shoulder.

Dear Keiji,

I know you asked me to just send a random one of all your untouched jumpers, but when I was buying this year’s for your sister, I couldn’t help myself and got a new one for you too. Actually, this one matches hers, so maybe you would feel closer to her as much as she would feel closer to you.

You’ve always traveled a lot and been away for many, many months, but this is the first time you’re spending the holidays away from us and we’re gonna miss you,  this day more than all the others.

I hope everything is fine where you are, I hope you are satisfied with how the job is going and, above all, I hope you are happy. If you are, you know I am too.

P.s. I can’t believe you’re really gonna wear one of these...send us a pic, or it didn’t happen! It’ll be nice seeing your grumpy face again.

I love you,

Mum

“You miss her, don’t you?” Bokuto said softly, placing a hand on his cheek, stroking Akaashi’s skin gently with his thumb.

“...Yes…a bit,” Akaashi sighed and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand, trying to push back the tears that were starting to well up.  

“Hey, it’s ok…” Bokuto said gently, squeezing him a little.

“How...how do you do it?” Akaashi asked, finally looking directly at Bokuto, eyes darkened by a light frown.

“Do what?” Bokuto raised an eyebrow at the question.

“Don’t you miss your family?” Akaashi gave up on his quest to mask how much that little letter affected him and let a tear run down his face.

“I do,” Bokuto said, collecting the tear with his thumb. “But I’m an only child, so there’s not so much to miss,” he smiled at him and then shifted to sit more comfortably on the bed.

“I don’t know why, I always imagined yours to be a big family...” Akaashi mumbled to himself.

“You’re not the only one!” Bokuto chuckled. “But it’s just me and my parents. They come to see me from time to time, when the circus is somewhere nearby. And money isn’t the problem, I could fly them everywhere, but they always have so many things going on...” he trailed off, gesturing vaguely away from him.

“Well, that’s fair enough. Having a sister is already too much for me!” Akaashi said, shaking his head with a light smile.

“Are you two close?” Bokuto asked, finally laying down right next to him and sinking his head into the hill of white feather pillows. When he looked up to watch Akaashi again, his eyes were so full of life Akaashi almost lost track of what he was about to say.

“Yes, she’s older than me but...I don’t know, I always feel the need to protect her. Not that I’m doing an amazing job since I’m always I-don’t-know-how-many miles away from her.” Akaashi smiled bitterly, turning away from Bokuto and looking out of the window. The fall of snowflakes was starting to intensify.

“She has your blood, I bet she’s strong and can take care of herself. I bet she’s beautiful too,” Bokuto said, reaching out to tuck some of the hair that was shielding Akaashi’s face behind his ear.

“She really is…” At the thought of his sister, Akaashi’s expression softened. He imagined her sat by the fireplace, wearing the same jumper as him, laughing out loud while engaging some random family member in a candy cane sword fight, like she used to do with him.

“I knew it.” Bokuto abruptly rolled out of bed, throwing the jumper that came with the letter in Akaashi’s face. “By the way, you should wear this tonight. I’ll take the pic and we’re gonna immediately send it to them!”

“Deal.” Akaashi nodded, standing up too and sliding his head and then his arms inside the jumper. He took a glimpse of himself in the mirror: actually, it wasn’t that bad.

Bokuto approached him, stopping right behind him and looking languidly at their reflection. “See? You look gorgeous even in a Christmas sweater, it’s not fair,” he pouted.

Akaashi turned around and leaned forward to kiss him. Bokuto’s hands grasped the side of the jumper, erasing the distance between them. Akaashi’s arms slid around Bokuto’s waist and, smiling against his lips, he smacked his ass loudly. “Put some pants on,” he ordered, pulling away.

Bokuto snorted but actually shuffled over to Akaashi’s closet and grabbed a pair of black skinny jeans.

“You know you’re supposed to wear pyjama pants, right Bokuto-san?” Akaashi asked him, leaning against the wall with his arms folded across his chest.  

“Sometimes I think you’re the most annoying person I’ve ever met in my entire life. Have you ever met a more annoying person than yourself?” Bokuto snorted, not bothering to look up at him while he was jumping trying to pull the pants up.

“You’re up there,” Akaashi said, unimpressed by Bokuto’s attempt to piss him off. Actually, every time he tried, the result was exactly the opposite. “But let’s not forget pain-in-the-ass-Kuroo-san.”

“True that. And are you that much skinnier than me, by the way?” Bokuto asked, throwing the pants away in exasperation.

“No, you just have a big butt,” Akaashi shrugged and sat down in the kitchen area, cracking a nut open in his fist and eating it right after. Bokuto blinked at the gesture and Akaashi munched quietly, trying to conceal his smug grin.

“Come on, Akaashi,” Bokuto said, walking towards him and placing himself right between Akaashi’s legs. “Don’t be a pain in this big ass of mine. It’s Christmas Eve, you’re supposed to be nice and loving with me,” he pouted.

“I am being nice !” Akaashi rolled his eyes.

“You didn’t even get me a present!” Bokuto tapped a finger on Akaashi’s chest and then crossed his arms, tilting his head to the side and giving him a challenging look.

“I dedicated a whole day of my life to you, I even cooked! You’re impossible to please, Bokuto-san.” Akaashi started to stand up, but Bokuto stopped his motion placing a firm hand on his hip.

“Well, actually…” Bokuto leaned forward, brushing his lips against Akaashi’s neck.

The feeling of hot breath on his skin made Akaashi’s eyes fall shut. He let himself be dragged under by the sensation but, just a moment before it was too late, he snapped his eyes open again, placing his hands over Bokuto’s to prevent them travelling further down his body.

“Stop right there. We have to go,” Akaashi heard himself say, even if his body was telling him the exact opposite.

Bokuto nodded and reluctantly pulled away. Akaashi stayed still, waiting for his breath to even, but followed Bokuto with his gaze as he put his own sweatpants, his shoes and coat on. As he was reaching out for the door handle, Bokuto hesitated.

“I’m gonna miss you, you know...” he said without turning, voice surprisingly insecure.

“You know you we’re going to the same party, right?” Akaashi stepped quietly beside him, softly stroking Bokuto’s cheek.

“I know but…” Bokuto trailed off, gaze lost somewhere on the floor.

Akaashi sighed, resting his forehead against Bokuto’s. He knew, and that was probably the thing that was annoying him the most: not being able to be open about their newborn relationship. Of course it was impossible to hide it from Kuroo and Iwaizumi, possibly Oikawa too, but Bokuto was extremely resolute when it came to other people. The circus was like a little town where everybody seem to know everything about everyone and, of course, people liked to talk. A lot. It had always been like that, an overwhelming amount of voices talking about Bokuto had reached Akaashi before he had even seen the boy in flesh and blood, and the same thing happened to Bokuto with Akaashi. In their first encounter, Bokuto seem to already know everything about Akaashi because the girls couldn’t shut up about him. He made a mental note to ask Bokuto about what they actually said, sooner or later.

Neither of them were trying to hide or were afraid, it wasn’t that. They just agreed to keep everything for their own, sacrificing casual public displays of affection for being free from prying eyes every time the both of them were in the same room. And that decision implied not being able to arrive at the party together. After a whole day where both of them had been completely off the radar, it would have given too many opportunities for people to speculate, especially since Bokuto, hands down the most talked about person in the circus, was involved. 

“I’ll be seeing you in a few minutes. Don’t start drinking without me!” Akaashi smiled, squeezing Bokuto in his arms.

“I can guarantee I won't, but I can't say the same about Kuroo,” Bokuto said, slowly releasing himself from the embrace. Bokuto brushed his lips against Akaashi’s once more and then disappeared into the cold, stormy night.

=

At the sight of the sign “Just Elf Shoes From Here” , Akaashi startled.

What?

In front of him, there was a massive shoe rack where normal shoes were spaced with various types of Christmas themed slippers. After being forced to wear the jumper, that was really the cherry on top. Akaashi sighed, sliding both his hands down his hair and hooking them at the base of his neck, contemplating his options. Looking at the rack, he instinctively searched for Bokuto’s black trainers and he located them on one of the lowest levels, where fewer people had placed their shoes. A little space was available after them, but Akaashi decided against using it, grabbing a pair of red slippers from the highest shelf and switching them with his signature boots.

He took a moment to enjoy the soft lining of the slippers, curling his toes in the warm wool. Maybe it wasn’t Kuroo’s worst idea, after all. The mouthwatering smell of comfort food and the muffled joyful sound of carefree talk mixed with Christmas songs was filling the anteroom Akaashi was in, making him impatient to enter but anxious at the same time. He closed his eyes to collect himself, exhaled sharply and cautiously slid open the curtains that were separating him from the party.

As was only to be expected, Kuroo had outdone himself, throwing a party with such excessive Christmas atmosphere that Santa Claus himself would have been shocked, and maybe even embarrassed. The tent that usually hosted the after parties was arranged to double its size, with the walls covered in bright red and dark green velvet. Christmas decorations of every kind were placed on the tables and big gold chandeliers were hanging low, casting a warm low light. And, of course, the abundance of food and drink was almost overwhelming. Kuroo organized a buffet that spanned all the classic holiday dishes, culminating in a table that was reserved for just sweets and cakes. And lots of strawberry shortcake, of course. In the corner next to it, a chunky Christmas tree was shining with little lights. Many colorful wool socks were hung on it, each one embroidered with the name of the guest and with a little card attached that said: “Fill me with candies and love”. Akaashi inspected his before hanging it back on the tree, with the promise to come back to pick it up when the party was over.

It didn’t take very long for him to locate the other boys. Except for Bokuto, they were all together in one of the central lounge areas made of soft carpets and two big leather sofas. Before he could put into motion his plan to quietly ignore them for at least a little while, Iwaizumi stood up, waving him to come join them. Akaashi’s lips curled into a smile that was far less fake than he expected it to be and slowly walked towards them.

Iwaizumi greeted him with his usual bro-like half hug half shoulder bump, beaming in a genuine grin. He was wearing a crimson sweater with a big white snowman, its body made of three holed circles that formed the words HO HO HO. It was actually kind of cool. Kuroo just waved at him, not moving from his position. He was resting his head on Oikawa’s lap, back fully stretched out on the sofa and legs dangling down the arm of the couch. His eyes were closed and his expression peacefully relaxed. Oikawa was looking down at him with a soft smile, running his finger through his dark, messy mane. True to his character, Kuroo was wearing a dark grey sweater with the body of a green Christmas elf drawn on it. In the meantime, Oikawa didn’t bother to acknowledge Akaashi’s arrival, like he never acknowledged his entire existence in general. Great.

Akaashi glanced around and noticed that there were already several plates of food and three half-full glasses of wine and one filled with soda on the table in front of them, a sign that Bokuto was probably with them until right before his arrival.

“I’m going to get something to drink,” Akaashi said, already trying to escape the situation.

“Make yourself comfortable. I was going to get some water, I’ll bring something for you!” Iwaizumi said, placing a hand on his shoulder, gently but firmly pushing him back down onto the empty sofa.

“Oh, thanks,” Akaashi muttered, crashing onto the couch with an expression that was closer to defeat than gratitude.

If Iwaizumi noticed, he didn’t let it show. He just smiled and walked away in the direction of the bar.

“Nice party you threw here,” Akaashi said casually, breaking the almost uncomfortable silence that was hanging heavy between the three of them. Where the hell was Bokuto? And why was Iwaizumi taking so long to bring him his drink?

“Thanks, man. Nice sweater, by the way!” Kuroo sat up, making the little bells attached to his jumper jingle with the movement. He reached out to grab a handful of chips and stuffed them all in his mouth, munching with his eyes closed in pleasure.

Akaashi’s answer died in his throat as soon as he realized the comment must have drawn Oikawa’s attention and now the other boy was carefully studying him, his intrigued gaze lingering on every detail of his jumper and his body. Oikawa’s eyes traveled up and, when their eyes met for the first time, Akaashi felt himself shiver under his stare.

Through his illegally long and dark eyelashes, Oikawa was staring at him with mild amusement, while the rest of his face remained completely unmoved, not a twitch of jaw, a curve of lips or an arched eyebrow. Nothing but huge chocolate eyes, searching and challenging, so big and soulful Akaashi almost felt disoriented.

“Here we go, hope red wine is ok!” Iwaizumi said sitting down next to him, breaking the spell and snapping the reality around them back into place.

“Sure...thanks.” After a slight hesitation, Akaashi grabbed the glass Iwaizumi was handing him, blinking in confusion. Having Oikawa’s undivided attention was an experience he probably should have prepared himself for beforehand, but he didn’t think a scenario like that would ever have the chance to happen. It was like preparing to be hit by lightning. Possible, sure, but not likely. 

When he turned around, Oikawa’s attention was already elsewhere. He was tapping something on the screen of his phone, while his other hand was tangled lazily in Kuroo’s hair again. It was incredible to witness such a relaxed version of Kuroo, no jokes, no loud voice or random cheeky behavior, so quiet he almost resembled a purring cat. It was as if Oikawa was radiating some sort of calmness that was holding him back.

Oikawa’s proximity was a flame to Akaashi’s moth attention and his gaze was now unconsciously pinned on him, taking in everything: the way his sleek brown hair was partially covering his now bored expression, the almost aristocratic way he was holding his body, the way he was casually chewing the side of his bottom lip.

Oikawa was gorgeous, unfairly and more than annoyingly so. Even his Christmas jumper was not ugly at all. It was made of black velvet, embroidered with gold thread forming a starred sky where Santa Claus’ sleigh was rearing up, pulled by all the reindeers.

Akaashi’s jaw clenched and he forced himself to look away.

There was only one thing able to distract him, a thing that wasn’t even a thing but a person. As if he heard his mental call, Bokuto was now standing by the other side of the table, looking at him with a surprised arched eyebrow and a very telling smirk. He probably saw everything and didn’t bother to mask how much he was finding the scene entertaining.

“Look who’s gracing us with his presence!” Akaashi said, leaning back on the couch and raising his glass of wine to welcome him. It was ridiculous, since they’d been together until 30 minutes ago, and Akaashi realized how much of a bad, bad actor he actually was. Thankfully, he didn’t have to get his guard fully up, not when he was surrounded by just the boys, but still...

Bokuto nodded in acknowledgment, before sitting down with a bump and landing directly on Kuroo's lap. He shifted nonchalantly to make himself more comfortable.

“Stand up, you’re not as light as you think you are!” Kuroo said between the coughs, trying to push Bokuto away from him without much success.

“Lies!” Bokuto shouted, faking an offended look, while fighting against the grin that was starting to pull the corner of his mouth up.

“That’s what domestic life does, it makes you fat,” Iwaizumi commented, innocently sipping his glass of wine. “When was the last time you worked out?”

Akaashi’s eyes widened in surprise. He turned his head to look at Iwaizumi, who just winked at him, with no subtlety at all. Akaashi really couldn’t believe it. If there was a person he could have bet on accidentally exposing his and Bokuto’s relationship, that person would 100% have been Kuroo. But the wink wasn’t an accident. Akaashi was sure Iwaizumi knew exactly what he was doing, he just couldn’t understand why.

“You really are the worst friends ever. It’s Christmas and you’re here calling me fat when you know this is a sensitive topic for me.” Bokuto crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head in exasperation. He was pouting and Akaashi had to collect all his strength not to melt at the sight.

“Are you trying to guilt trip us, bro?” Kuroo scoffed, starting to pinch Bokuto’s hip in an attempt to make him move away.

“Of course I am,” Bokuto said proudly and abruptly tackled Kuroo, starting a tickling war so fierce that Oikawa stood up in annoyance and changed couches, squeezing himself next to Iwaizumi on the opposite side from where Akaashi was sat. It was like looking at two puppies fighting each other and their genuine laughs were an endearing sound to hear. Bokuto looked as carefree and happy as he had ever seen him before and, in that moment, nothing mattered to Akaashi more.

“Enough!” Kuroo screamed, raising his hands in surrender but placing a foot on Bokuto’s face at the same time.

“Say it, Kuroo!” Bokuto grabbed his foot and twisted it lightly, looking at him with a ruthless expression.

“Ok, ok!” Kuroo grimaced in exaggerated pain. “You’re not fat!”

“Finally speaking some truth!” Bokuto beamed and finally freed Kuroo’s foot. “And, by the way, I work out every day.”

“Oh come on! You have a light coloured stage costume, of course you’re not really fat!” Kuroo protested, shifting away from Bokuto and sitting down on the couch with crossed legs. His hair and clothes were completely dishevelled, but he didn’t bother to adjust himself.

“Well, his costume changes color almost every night, but he actually has a black one too...just in case, I guess.” Oikawa arched an eyebrow and hid his smirk behind his glass.

“Savage!” Kuroo jumped on the couch with excitement, making all the little bells on his jumper jingle. He extended one arm and Oikawa high-fived him, while Iwaizumi shook his head in fond disapproval.

Bokuto laughed, rolling his eyes. “I’m so done with you guys.”

“Oh come on, look at you, you’re having the time of your life! You should just thank me!” Kuroo protested, mauling a piece of fried chicken right after.

“Oh, shut up! You organized this party just because you were afraid you’d spend Christmas Eve alone!” Bokuto argued, pointing at him with a chicken bone of his own.

“I love my friends, sue me!” Kuroo yelled. “And I’m as single as you…” he looked around, watching every single one of them in suspicion. “...or at least as some of you are. I guess.”

As they all were trying to ignore Kuroo’s still prying gaze, an icy silence fell on them. Much to Akaashi’s surprise, it was Oikawa the one who broke it. He stood up with all the grace he was capable of and cupped Kuroo’s face in his hands, pinning his eyes to Kuroo’s.

“Who’s my kitty?” Oikawa asked, voice as low and smooth as the velvet he was wearing.

Kuroo swallowed hard. “...I...I am.”

Oikawa smiled. “Good,” he whispered, brushing Kuroo’s fringe away and pressing a butterfly kiss on his forehead. And, just like that, he walked away.

Three sets of eyes followed Oikawa as he swiftly navigated through the crowd of people. The number of eyes grew every step he took, capturing the subtle attention of all the people around him. He stole a glass of sparkling wine from a tray that was passing by and elegantly sat down next to another young man Akaashi had seen before but couldn’t remember where, who welcomed him with a bright, yet incredulous, smile. In the meantime, Kuroo remained petrified in place.

“Have you guys tried the strawberry shortcake?” Iwaizumi asked without really looking at them, stabbing the slice on what used to be Oikawa’s plate with far more force than necessary. “It’s amazing.”

=

“Here we go, merry Christmas!” Bokuto beamed, throwing his half-naked self on the huge bed of his roulotte, handing Akaashi a thin dark envelope.

“What’s this?” Akaashi asked, emerging from his place under the heavy duvet. He was almost completely undressed too, both their Christmas jumpers laying on a chair in the kitchen area. Since winter began, the temperature in Bokuto’s place was always much higher than what he was used to and that often forced them to hang out there in different variations of naked. And, in truth, Akaashi was the exact opposite of annoyed by that.   

“Your Christmas present. Unlike you, I’m a decent person and I got you something.” Bokuto sat crossed legged in front of Akaashi, folding his arms with a condescending look.

“Did you get me a cheque?” Akaashi asked, examining the envelope between his fingers. If it wasn’t for its rigidity, it was so thin and light it could have passed for empty.

“Ha! You would never let me hear the end of it if I tried to give you money.” Bokuto rolled his eyes, but the corner of his lips were turned up in an amused half smile.

“Indeed,” Akaashi nodded.

“Come on, open it!” Bokuto encouraged him. He was looking like an overly excited child and Akaashi couldn’t help but smile at that. That was probably the side of Bokuto Akaashi treasured the most: his happy side. Back to the day they first met, Bokuto seemed constantly tired, worried, sometimes even angry for no apparent reason. But in the last couple of weeks his mood had dramatically improved, and making Bokuto smile every time he could was now Akaashi’s personal mission.

Akaashi opened the envelope and slid out the card that was in it. A familiar metallic half moon was reflecting the low light of the room and on it “Midnight Moon” was handwritten in dark purple. Under it there was his photo and writing that said in big bold letters: “Akaashi Keiji. Access All Areas”. Speechless, Akaashi blinked a couple of times and then raised his eyes to met Bokuto’s.

“So you can come and go as you please during the show. It applies to the afterparty too, of course,” Bokuto explained, seeming particularly pleased with himself.

“I...thank you. This is so...sweet of you.” Akaashi was overwhelmed by the kindness of the gesture that meant so much more than just the possibility of sneaking around to have a couple of drinks with the boys. It meant being able to see Bokuto before, during and after the show. It meant Bokuto wanted Akaashi closer and was physically giving him a pass to access the last part of his life which Akaashi had been excluded from. It was the best gift Akaashi could have ever wished for.

“I’m starting to get used to having you around...and I miss you during the shows,” Bokuto said, climbing on Akaashi’s lap and looping both his arms around his biceps.

“I miss you too,” Akaashi said, stroking Bokuto’s face with the back of his hand. “I still can’t believe that four months have passed and I’ve only seen you perform once.”

“What a night that was!” Bokuto shook his head with a laugh. “I had to move heaven and earth to get you those front row seats, but it was worth it in the end.”

“It was you then…” Akaashi faked an overly surprised look, like the thought had never occurred to him. His best bet had always been Kuroo, but deep down he’d wished it was Bokuto. “I’ve always wondered how we managed to have such good seats at such short notice. I thought it was all because of Saeko.”

“I mean, of course Saeko would’ve got good seats. But when I heard you were gonna be there too...I just put a little bit more effort into it.” Bokuto winked. “I’ll never forget your confused face, it was such an entertaining sight.”

“So you were flirting for real, it wasn’t just my imagination.” Akaashi scratched the back of his neck, meeting Bokuto’s eyes fully.

“Me? Flirting? That’s reaching,” Bokuto said, but his quirked eyebrow was telling a completely different story.

“Really, Bokuto-san?” Akaashi mirrored his expression, fighting with his lips to keep an unimpressed face.

“No ok, I was totally flirting,” Bokuto admitted, shrugging with a wicked chuckle.

“Your old age finally give you some self-awareness,” Akaashi said, messing with his hair like he was dealing with a small child.

“How rude, Akaashi Keiji, I’m just a little bit older than you!” Bokuto pouted, giving him the puppy eyes.

“You deserve that, Bokuto Koutarou,” Akaashi nodded, patting the top of his head again.

“I have to admit that hearing you call my name turns me on a little,” Bokuto whispered, leaving a hot trail of ghost kisses along Akaashi’s arm.

“The real question is: what doesn’t turn you on a little?” Akaashi sighed, dropping his head back against the wall, looking down at him with half-lidded eyes. Every time Bokuto’s lips touched his skin, a jolt of pleasure and desire spread from the top to the bottom of his body.  

“Mmmh...” Bokuto murmured. “Let’s never find out.” And with a strong bite at the base of Akaashi’s neck, he ended the conversation.

From that moment, things escalated with dizzying speed.

Akaashi inhaled sharply, opening his eyes. Without tearing his mouth away from Akaashi’s skin, Bokuto climbed over him with a smooth motion. Akaashi’s hands scrambled across Bokuto’s bare back, fingers gripping and nails digging in. He felt the need to have him closer, impossibly so, to sense his muscles ripple under his soft skin, to drown himself in his smell, in his taste. He wanted to hold him and touch every single part of his body at the same time.

Akaashi’s head was already spinning when Bokuto hungrily crushed their mouths together, instantly sliding his tongue in. Before he could realize it, Bokuto taste was all around, intoxicating him. They swallowed each other’s muffled moans, sucking and biting at such a hot frantic pace it was impossible for Akaashi to even understand what was happening, to realize that everything about that kiss was indeed familiar but yet completely new.

Their bodies began to grind against each other like they had a life of their own and the otherwise silent room was filled with their low swears and husky groans. Every movement was harsh, almost desperate, like two lovers who’d been kept away from each other for too long. And maybe, they actually were.

Bokuto fell on his back, taking Akaashi down with him. Even the thin fabric that was separating their obvious erections was too much and Akaashi’s hands travelled towards the elastic band of Bokuto’s boxers, pulling down and throwing them somewhere behind his back. Akaashi didn’t give Bokuto time to predict his intentions as he slipped lower. He just ran his tongue over his lips and took all of Bokuto’s dick inside his mouth in one fell swoop. This time, what came from Bokuto was a loud moan, while the smirk was completely gone, replaced by a mask of pleasure.

Visibly satisfied by that reaction, Akaashi took his time to run his tongue up and down Bokuto’s length, brushing his lips from the base to the tip and sucking it hard. Bokuto was in a world of his own. One hand dug into Akaashi’s hair while the other was desperately fisting the sheets. His hips were jerking and Akaashi had to press a whole arm across his belly to make him stay still. But Bokuto’s will was stronger than anything and Akaashi had to give in to the desperate pleas that were coming from a voice so thick it didn’t even sound like his. He freed Bokuto’s hips and let him fuck his mouth, faster and faster, with his nails digging painfully into his scalp. But Akaashi felt nothing but Bokuto’s pleasure growing and pulsing between his lips, until he came hard with the loudest cry he had ever hear him shout.  

Bokuto hands slowly released Akaashi’s head and his hips collapsed back onto the bed. Akaashi swallowed everything down before pulling away, swiping his bottom lip with his thumb.

“What the fuck,” Bokuto breathed out, still running short on air.

With his chest quickly rising and falling, his eyes closed, his lips parted and his silver hair sweaty and completely messed up, Bokuto was such a heavenly view. And, suddenly, that taste of heaven he just got wasn’t enough. Akaashi wanted more. He wanted everything.

Akaashi laid down on his side and pulled Bokuto closer. He was still lost in the orgasm he just had and, at first, it felt like moving a very heavy rag doll, but the hard press of Akaashi’s dick on his belly apparently was enough to snap him back out of his drowsiness. Bokuto clung onto Akaashi’s neck with both arms, opening his mouth to kiss him again. Bokuto’s tongue carefully explored Akaashi’s mouth, as if he was searching for his own taste in it. He hooked a leg around Akaashi’s hip and tried to tug down his underwear with his heel, without much success. Akaashi got the message and tore his briefs away, instantly rubbing his painfully hard dick against Bokuto’s.

The contact took away everything that was left of Akaashi’s already compromised self control.

Bokuto slid a hand down his back and Akaashi felt himself shiver under his touch as Bokuto’s finger disappeared in his ass cheeks, aiming towards his entrance. In Bokuto’s ear, Akaashi growled louder, and louder, and louder at each one of the three fingers that were now inside him, stretching him open while deliberately hitting his soft spot at the same time. The raw sounds Bokuto was making were a torture for Akaashi’s already swollen cock and he realized couldn’t take it anymore. Or better, he wanted to take everything Bokuto had to give him.

“Akaashi…” Bokuto breathed out, cautiously sliding his fingers along with his body away from him.

Akaashi looked up at him, eyes dark with hunger. “Yes, Bokuto-san. Yes, please.”

Bokuto didn’t need any more words than those. He scrambled over, rummaging inside the drawer next to his bed in blind pursuit, since his eyes were unable to leave Akaashi’s body. Akaashi looked back at him as he got himself ready with a condom and a handful of what, by the smell, was probably cherry flavored lube. Bokuto’s breath startled as he touched himself, eyes still pinned on Akaashi’s pale skin which was glimmering with sweat in the dim light.

“Christmas sex, huh? Who’s the clichè of himself now?” Bokuto’s eyes softened as he said that, but that didn’t stop a smirk from spreading across his lips.

“Maybe you’ll shut up about the fact that I didn’t give you anything…” Akaashi said, rolling back by Bokuto’s side once he got back to bed. Bokuto pressed their bodies together again, immediately spreading the lube on Akaashi’s ass.

“So my present is your dick?” Bokuto asked under his breath, in such a hungry and dirty way that Akaashi was afraid he would come right on the spot. He was so dangerously close already. 

“You are so gross Bokuto-san, please,” Akaashi scolded him and placed a bite of punishment on the side of his neck.

“Sorry, let me reformulate.” He paused, sliding a finger inside Akaashi. “Making sweet sweet lovin’ to me is gonna be your present to me?” Bokuto said mischievously, running his tongue over the whole length of Akaashi’s jaw.

Akaashi’s answer came in the form of a savage kiss, his tongue practically ravishing Bokuto’s mouth and, for an indefinite stretch of time, they just stayed there, lost in each other and in the deep waves of lust that were crashing over them both.

Akaashi was the first to pull away, panting against Bokuto’s mouth as he searched for an answer to his unspoken question. When their gazes met, Bokuto’s face was briefly graced by the softest smile Akaashi had ever seen. He just nodded and his eyes were conveying how much he wanted, he needed, he craved it too. It was strange to see him like that, to see the always confident and insolent Bokuto Koutarou turned into someone who seemed completely consumed by desire. He was looking eager and powerless at the same time.  

Akaashi didn’t need anything more. He rolled on his back relaxing against the sheets, letting Bokuto climb over him.  

When the tip of Bokuto’s dick met his entrance, Akaashi nearly shouted in pleasure. He’d imagined that moment god only knows how many times, but he wasn’t prepared for how amazing it felt to have him inside him. To finally be his, fully at his mercy. The blood in Akaashi’s veins raced to an impossible speed, soaking his body with a hotness comparable only to the hotness of the body that was all inside him and, finally, he felt Bokuto’s instincts completely take over.

Akaashi wrapped his legs around Bokuto’s waist to give him better entrance, while his fingers clawed at the sheets and his back arched to each cry of pleasure. Bokuto fucked him with no hesitation, abandoning his whole body in deep thrusts, which quickly grew faster and harder, as Akaashi begged him for more without comprehensible words. He slammed violently up against Bokuto, as if to prove even more how much he was hungry for it too.

Every slam made Akaashi feel out of his mind with indescribable pleasure and his sweaty body started to crumble between Bokuto’s hands, who was now staring at him with impossibly dark golden eyes. His red swollen lips were a temptation Akaashi didn’t bother to resist and every inch of air between them felt like a chasm he needed to fill. Akaashi dove into Bokuto’s mouth with urgency as Bokuto’s hand slid between them, grabbing his rock hard erection.

Akaashi threw his head back, his hands now digging into Bokuto’s shoulder and his mouth unable to stay closed, swinging between desperate pants and loud moans. Bokuto leaned forward and pounded frantically into him while his fist was running over Akaashi’s length up and down, determined to release the orgasm that was pumping underneath his fingers. It made Akaashi cry out loudly, defeated in his hopeless fight to keep himself on the verge a little more as his pleasure was boiling way too deep inside him. He lost himself for a moment, the whole world stilled around him in a bubble of pleasure and lust that made him want it to never end. But then Bokuto snapped his hungry gold eyes open and the bubble instantly burst. The orgasm hit Akaashi so hard for a split second he thought his whole body was on fire for all the white-hot pleasure that spread inside his veins.

Akaashi’s orgasm caused his muscles to contract wildly around Bokuto’s cock, and it took just another couple of thrust for Bokuto to come hard in a string of bites and incoherent pleas. Suddenly all the strength left Bokuto’s muscles and he collapsed, crashing onto Akaashi with all his weight. They were both still panting harshly and soft moans found their way to escape their lips here and there, until their breath finally evened out. They stayed side by side for a while, both sweaty and exhausted.

Akaashi had never experienced anything like it.

When the heat of the sex was long gone, a cold shiver ran down Akaashi’s spine and Bokuto promptly threw the duvet over their bodies, sinking down in a pile of white feather pillows. Akaashi never realized how extremely comfortable Bokuto’s bed was until that moment, even if now it was nothing but a mess of wrinkled and dampened sheets. Finally, a useful rich people’s treat. 

“Bokuto-san..?” Akaashi called him after a moment of indecision, propping himself up on his elbow.

“Mmh?” Bokuto murmured. He was probably already more than half asleep.

“Can I ask you something?” Akaashi tilted his head to the side, uncertain eyes fixed on the high hill of duvet that was shielding Bokuto’s frame.

“Sure...what’s up?” he asked in a husky and sleepy voice, rolling to Akaashi’s side of the bed.

“Earlier I was thinking about the night we first met. You told me the girls said something to you about me. What was that?” he asked, pulling him closer in a tight embrace.

“That you’re the most beautiful man they’ve ever seen,” Bokuto answered without hesitation, stroking his index finger along Akaashi’s collarbone and then up to his neck, curling it around a lock of his hair.

“And...am I?”

“Yes.” Bokuto blinked a couple of times, before raising his sweet but yet still heavy lidded eyes to meet Akaashi’s. “You truly are.”

Chapter Text

The memories from the nights and days before were such a blurred and confused mess that, when Akaashi opened his eyes, he didn’t even had a clue what day it actually was. Was it still the first day of the year or did they sleep through it and it was already the 2nd? Even trying hard, Akaashi couldn’t tell.

His head wasn’t spinning as much as it had the other couple of times he’d woken up just to fall asleep moments after, but it was still pounding fiercely. He lazily rubbed his eyes with one hand, blindly searching for Bokuto with the other. The sheets next to him were cold and there was no trace of his lover in the bed. Grunting, Akaashi sat up and glanced out of the window: there were no sounds coming from outside and the sun was gracing the cloudy sky with a deep red and indigo sunset. Only when he forced himself out of bed did Akaashi realize he was completely naked, while condom wrappings were scattered all around the floor and a bottle of lube, which he clearly remembered was full on Christmas Eve, was now almost empty.

Nice.

In the short walk to the bathroom, Akaashi registered the fact that he was indeed all alone in Bokuto’s roulotte. Gripping the sides of the sink hard, Akaashi leaned forward to look at his reflection in the mirror: to put it simply, he was wasted. His curls were darker than usual and completely disheveled, his eyes were heavy and circled by dark shadows and his incredibly pale skin was covered in light bruises and love bites. Akaashi smirked to himself. Even if he couldn’t remember, apparently they had fun. A lot of fun.

When the water and the hot mist of the shower engulfed his body completely, Akaashi closed his eyes, trying to finally make sense of the previous couple of days. The period right after Christmas passed smoothly, with casual dinners, a midweek show that registered yet another sold out, and lots, lots of Bokuto.

Things started to grow confusing around New Year’s eve. He remembered going to the Candy Bar for an early happy hour and ending up being fucked by Bokuto’s in a bathroom of an unknown club downtown, people screaming the countdown just a faint background noise for their loud moans and harsh panting. He remembered Bokuto vivid gold eyes shining bright in the dim light, his expression extremely focused and absolutely lost at the same time.

Did they all walk home together afterwards? Flashing before his eyes was this mental image of a sleepy Oikawa being carried by Iwaizumi on his back while still holding a bottle of something, Bokuto singing and jumping around, a pale sun rising in the light lilac sky.

But then he clearly remembered the Candy Bar again, green burning shots all over the counter and Kuroo thinking it was a great idea having himself involved in a drinking challenge with the acrobat team, which culminated in him claiming he could become an acrobat in an hour while they would never be able to train a lion. No one knew if the acrobats made Kuroo jump from the trapeze for real, but after having searched for him for more than an hour, they found him sleeping spread on the safety net of the circus ring, his limbs stretched away from his body and his mouth slightly parted, snorting like a pig. He stank of alcohol and puke so much not even Iwaizumi had the courage to pick him up and put him to bed. Oikawa commented on the scene with just a disappointed raised eyebrow, turning tail and disappearing without even saying goodbye. Compared to others, these memories were clearer and more consequential, but still Akaashi couldn’t place them in his mental timeline.

Why the hell did they drink that much, anyway?

The shower did its job with clearing his brain along with his body, but Akaashi was still feeling extremely weak. His stomach was aching, probably from too much alcohol and too little food. If they’d eaten something, that memory too was still lost somewhere, but having skipped food for two days straight wouldn’t have come as a surprise for sure.

Even more than food, the need for some fresh air hit Akaashi all of a sudden. And the need for Bokuto, but that was a constant he was slowly growing accustomed to. He borrowed the first clean tracksuit he was able to find in Bokuto’s closet, it was a little big but comfortingly smelled like him, and rushed out of the roulotte with the promise of cleaning up the chaos that was ruling the place as soon as he got back.

Akaashi didn’t have to search for Bokuto much. He found him sat with crossed legs on Kuroo’s outdoor couch with two little bongos resting on his lap. He was playing a familiar song, bobbing his head along the rhythm with closed eyes. Akaashi was hypnotized by the way Bokuto’s long fingers were moving incredibly quickly, without showing any effort. The memory of the warm touch of those same fingers on his naked skin was burning in his eyes, and a rush of heat permeated his chest, up to his neck and finally flushed his cheeks. He swallowed hard, trying to remain as still as those sudden thoughts were letting him be. Not so still at all.

Suddenly Bokuto clapped one hand a little harder on the instruments, making a little green ball appear through his fingers and started playing with it. Akaashi would never stop being completely amazed by Bokuto’s skills, and he found him even more beautiful in moments like that, where he was causally biting his lower lip, eyes still closed, completely lost in his own magical world.

Bokuto kept making the little ball appear and disappear, sometimes with a snap of his fingers, other times just blowing on his fist, while still playing the bongos. The more he was trying to get rid of the ball, the more it was somehow coming back, even changing its color from green, to blue, to green again. Bokuto’s face showed a little frustration and Akaashi couldn’t help but smile fondly at the scene. Even if he was alone and without an audience, Bokuto was doing a complete professional performance, fake facial expressions included.

With another sudden snap, Bokuto made a bigger yellow object appear, rolled it between his fingers and then casually threw it at Akaashi, who caught it by reflex in his fist.

It was a lemon. A lemon shaped maracas, to be precise. Surprise was painted across Akaashi’s face as he realized Bokuto was now staring at him, gold eyes glowing in amusement, hands still beating on the instruments like it was all part of the act.

“Play along with me,” Bokuto ordered, closing his eyes again, a half grin curving his lips.

“But…how?” Akaashi looked frowning at the object, so tiny in his hand.  

“Just…feel the rhythm.” With a quick gesture he made a second maracas appear, this time shaped as a pineapple, and started playing it with one hand, while his fast fingers on the other kept playing the bongos.

A pineapple. Really? The situation was almost ridiculous in Akaashi’s eyes, but seeing his lover so into it made him give up his resistance and, before he could even realize it, he was already playing the little lemon along with Bokuto. It was the first time he was actively involved with something more than just picking a card or only witnessing a sort of magic trick and the beat they were creating together was so catchy he found himself caught up almost immediately.

Akaashi was still standing a couple of steps away from where Bokuto was sat when the door of the roulotte opened abruptly.

Arriba la luna Ohea! ” Kuroo screamed, making a dramatic entrance while wielding an acoustic guitar in one hand and playing vigorously with the other. Dark sunglasses were shielding his bright amber eyes, but still he was looking like he’d just woke up, with his mane of messy dark hair spiking in every direction, an oversized white tank top and…just a pair of black boxers. As always, the guy had no shame whatsoever. And, apparently, no sense of temperature too; even as strangely warm as the weather was, it was after all still January.

Arriba la luna Ohea! ” Bokuto sang echoing him, the edge of his lips curving in a smirk, while the other muscles of his face were fighting to remain serious.

Mentira lo que dice, mentira lo que va… ” Kuroo continued with impressive Spanish, stepping down to reach them beside the sofa, without missing a note on his guitar.

Mentira lo que cuece, bajo la oscuridad… ” Bokuto continued, his voice so delicate but at the same time so raspy and edgy it instantly became Akaashi’s favorite sound.

Arriba la luna Ohea! ” they sang together, and Bokuto was actually shaking his shoulders along with the beat while Kuroo jumped on the sofa, ending the jam with a series of energetic sweeps across the guitar strings.  

“Amazing! You haven’t done this act in ages bro!” Kuroo beamed, dropping down on the sofa next to Bokuto.

“Today I woke up and I was feeling inspired…” Bokuto said, dropping his head back to rest it on the headboard. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply.

Akaashi sat down next to him, lazily running a hand through Bokuto’s feathery hair. He left it unstyled, exactly as Akaashi liked it the most. “How are you feeling?” he asked, ever so softly.

Bokuto opened one eye to look at Akaashi. “Great,” he smiled.

“On the other hand, I feel like I left my head under the boulder that crushed it, thank you for asking,” Kuroo said, faking an offended look and massaging his temples to illustrate the concept. “But that’s the price to pay for epic nights, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but I wish I wasn’t feeling like I’ve aged 20 years in two days,” Akaashi sighed. “What the hell happened?”

“I have no idea,” Bokuto said, shaking his head. “The only thing I know for sure is that now I’m hungry as hell.”

“Which kind of hunger, bro? If it’s actual hunger I’m totally in the mood for you to pay for some pizza!” Kuroo purred, languidly resting his chin on Bokuto’s shoulder.

“Well, both of them are actual hunger. But I’m down for a pizza,” Bokuto replied, shaking his head.

“Should we call Oikawa-san and Iwaizumi-san?” Akaashi asked, looking around. There was no sign of living human beings in the whole area. It felt like the parking lot was completely deserted, except for the three of them.

“Nah, none of them emerged from their cave yet and I really don’t want to deal with a just-woke-up Oikawa,” Kuroo said with a grimace.  

“So pizza for three it is!” Bokuto nodded, clapping his hands together.

“And, for the record, we’re eating it at my place, I really don’t want to step into your roulotte, god knows what the two of you have done in there,” Kuroo warned them, narrowing his eyes. Bokuto opened his mouth to say something but Kuroo cut him off immediately. “And no, I don’t want to know. I’m calling my trusted pizza boy, see you here in a half. Remember to bring the money!”

“Why do I have to be the one paying?” Bokuto whined, folding his arms across his chest.

“Because you are the richest, my pretty prince, it’s your duty to take care of us poor and humble circus people!” Kuroo purred, smiling mischievously.

“That’s not true Kuroo, you’re as rich as I am, if not more!” Bokuto shook his head with a half smile.

“Well, that’s how I stay rich!” Kuroo winked and, just like that, he stood up and walked back inside, taking the guitar with him.

Bokuto turned his head and snorted, pouting at Akaashi who replied with a butterfly kiss on his forehead. The sunset was dying Bokuto’s hair orange and purple, while his eyes were shining bright with a light Akaashi hadn’t seen before. He was tired, Akaashi could read the signs all over his handsome face, but there was something more Akaashi couldn’t place, something between the blurred lines of happiness and melancholy.

Bokuto cupped Akaashi’s face with one hand and drove him down for a kiss of his own. “Let’s go back inside,” he whispered against Akaashi’s lips.  

By the time they changed the bed sheets and cleaned up Bokuto’s place enough to make it suitable again for humans to live in, the pizza arrived, announced by Kuroo yelling for them to come over from down the road.

As they got in, Akaashi blinked a couple of times in surprise. Kuroo’s roulotte was surprisingly neat, warm despite being almost completely pristine white. It wasn’t the antiseptic white of hospitals, it was the kind of lived in white that reminded Akaashi of those little homes you could see by the ocean. Of his own home.

While Bokuto and Kuroo were busy setting up the table, Akaashi’s curiosity tugged at the rim of his attention. He walked casually around the place, looking around until he reached a column of pictures hanging perfectly framed on the walls.  

A little child with jet black hair sleeping hugging a lion. By the look of it, the child was for sure Kuroo, the position almost identical to the one he saw Kuroo in the very first night they met. Another thing Akaashi was sure of was that the lion in the picture wasn’t Oscar though.

Oikawa sat on the side of a pool wearing just a pair of bright blue shorts with little watermelons on them, legs dangling in the water while Kuroo was resting his folded arms on his knees. Kuroo’s eyes were closed, expression completely relaxed as Oikawa was running his fingers through his hair. Akaashi was puzzled. It could have looked like a couple picture if Akaashi didn’t know better. Or maybe Akaashi didn’t know better. Why did every single relationship involving Oikawa have to be so confusing?

On the side of a hill covered in emerald green grass, a little Kuro was sat between a girl’s legs, his back resting on her chest while one of her arms was looped around Kuroo’s waist, preventing him from rolling down the hill. Sat next to him, another boy that was probably the same age as her was putting a flower behind Kuroo’s ear. Kuroo was looking at him with a crinkle-eyed smile. They were radiating a happiness so blinding it almost hurt to look at it. Akaashi realized the three of them were incredibly similar to each other, with the same hair color and warm amber eyes. The boy and the girl especially.

Among all the pictures there was one of Bokuto, Kuroo, Oikawa and Iwaizumi together, dressed in their stage outfits, but before Akaashi could look at it closely the smell of pizza invaded the space and Bokuto called him back to the table.

Dinner passed as relaxed as ever and Kuroo promised solemnly not to drink as much as he did ever again, but Bokuto argued that the last time he made the same vow it lasted less than a month. During the small talk Akaashi found himself searching for the pictures again. Their innocence was making a feeling of uneasiness grow into Akaashi’s stomach, but he couldn’t even explain why.

When they got back to Bokuto’s place, the feeling only intensified as he realized for the first time that the walls in Bokuto’s roulotte were completely devoid of any sign that could connect him to the man he used to be or was today. There were no pictures, no books, no personal objects whatsoever. Just the furniture and his magic tricks. Dark thoughts were starting to form a dark cloud inside Akaashi’s brain.

“Akaashi?” Bokuto called, waving at him from the bed. “Come here.”

Akaashi did as he was told, as if his body had a life of its own, as if his muscles automatically reacted to each of Bokuto’s commands. He sunk under the duvet and, with Bokuto’s arms firmly around him, he passed out before his face could crash on the pillow.

=

“Your ass is buzzing.”

“Can you blame it?”

“No Bokuto-san, for real, your phone is…vibrating.”

“Ah.”

Bokuto pulled away reluctantly, sliding his phone out from the back pocket of his jeans. He pecked Akaashi on the lips just once more before answering the call.

“Iwa-chan!” he beamed, voice coming out a little labored.

Akaashi shifted a bit underneath him, grinding his hips against Bokuto’s. He wouldn’t let a call distract his lover, not now that they were finally able to get a weekend just for themselves after the hectic work days that had just passed.  

Bokuto looked down at Akaashi, his eyes soft and full of hunger. He bit his bottom lip before answering whatever Iwaizumi just asked him. “Quite, I was about to. Is it urgent?”

Just a couple of indistinct words came from the other side of the phone, but they were enough to wash all the lust away from Bokuto’s face. He widened his eyes in an expression Akaashi wasn’t able to identify and his face turned white. The hand that was clutching the phone started to tremble and so did his voice.

“You...you’re kidding me.”

Akaashi froze. As Iwaizumi was still talking, he tried to search for Bokuto’s attention with his stare, but it was placed elsewhere. Bokuto was there, so close, but to Akaashi it felt like his mind was a million miles away. And then, suddenly, his lips turned upwards.

“I knew it!” Bokuto’s voiced cracked around those words. “I fucking knew it! Please tell the others, now I...really have to go. Bye.”

The phone fell on the bed as Bokuto covered his face with his hands, rubbing his eyes. He stayed like that for a couple of infinite seconds, petrified by that unknown and unexpected news.

Akaashi was extremely worried. He was familiar with Bokuto’s extreme mood swings, but he never saw him switch that fast.

“Bokuto-san...what happened?” he asked, reaching out one hand to cup his face. His fingers threaded into Bokuto’s, revealing a bit of his expression. The smile was uncertain, yet still big, while his eyes were full of unshed tears.

“We did it, Akaashi,” Bokuto said, his voice raw with emotion. “The Crystal Feather...we’re going...”

“What…?” Akashi tried to ask, but in that moment Bokuto slapped his cheeks hard a couple of times, sniffing loudly and blinking away all the tears.

“We have no time!” Bokuto said, jumping out of the bed and taking Akaashi’s hand, pulling him out as well and rushing outside.

“Bokuto-san! Where are we going?” Akaashi asked, barely able to keep up with Bokuto’s fast pace. When they were about to reach the door of the roulotte, he stumbled, falling right into Bokuto’s arms.

Bokuto caught him promptly and for a second he did nothing but look at Akaashi straight in the eye. His eyes were gleaming as much as his smile.

“We’re gonna go shopping, Akaashi!”

=

To put it simply, the Crystal Feather was the highest distinction awarded in the circus industry. It came in the form of a competition where circuses competed against each other, first on a national and then on a worldwide level, to ultimately determine the best circus in the world. To even be nominated in the national selection was considered an outstanding privilege, granted to just a select few. For the first time in five years of activity, the Midnight Moon Circus was one of them. Even though the general public considered them Japan’s most famous circus, Akaashi couldn’t understand why they had been able to accomplish such thing just now.

After some googling, Akaashi discovered that the Japan Crystal Feather was awarded once a year, in a spectacular ceremony on the island of Shodoshima. And, like every award ceremony, it required an adequate and red-carpet-ready outfit. Bokuto’s excitement was more than understandable, but still Akaashi couldn’t understand why he insisted that he came as well, not that he would ever step on the red carpet in the first place. He wasn’t even sure he would be taken to Shodoshima in the first place.

Akaashi sighed, sorting through some suits without truly looking at them. His mind was still too occupied with putting together the few dots he had to be able to choose an outfit for the award night.

“If I said I designed this suit just for you everyone would believe it. I would believe it myself, if I didn’t know better.”

Akaashi’s eyes snapped to his side where a beautiful young man with peach coloured hair was smiling at him. His head was slightly tilted to one side while one hand was carrying a silky black suit. Akaashi widened his eyes in surprise.

“I’m sorry to have startled you, I’m Hanamaki Takahiro,” he said, offering his free hand.

“I...I know,” Akaashi managed to say. Even with no fashion knowledge whatsoever, someone would have to have lived under a rock for the past ten years not to know who Hanamaki Takahiro was. “I’m Akaashi Keiji, nice to meet you.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Akaashi-kun.” Hanamaki’s smile grew wider as he watched Akaashi intently. “Now, would you mind trying this on for me?” he asked with a little shrug that made the loose collar of his oversized sweater fall even more, revealing a lean shoulder and collarbones as sharp as knives.

Akaashi swallowed hard, forcing himself not to stare. “Of course, Hanamaki-san.”

“Great! Follow me this way,” Hanamaki winked, leading him further into the massive boutique.

Looking around, Akaashi couldn’t believe this was actually his real life he was living. When earlier that morning Bokuto said they were going shopping, he never imagined he’d be dragged not only all the way to Tokyo, but to Ayoama of all places, a luxury shopping hub so expensive he’d never dared to set a foot inside.

That was exactly where 23 , the new Matsuhana store, was located. And it was more than a store, it was one of the most beautiful and exceptional places Akaashi had ever seen. From the outside, the space resembled a black cube lit up only by the pristine marble of the shop windows. On the inside, both the architectural design and the decor expressed distinctive and vibrant luminosity through a game of chiaroscuro effects. On the ceiling the spotlights were moving around, switching lightly on and off, making the clothes and accessories burst with incredible colours or remain in the shadows. Everything was giving the atmosphere of a sunny day filtering through a forest, even though they were inside.

Suddenly, Bokuto’s voice broke the perfect peace of the place.

“Makkiiiiiiiii!” he yelled, his voice coming from somewhere not so far away.

As they turned the corner, Akaashi saw Bokuto standing on a golden platform, breathtaking in a dark suit with branches of cherry blossoms in full bloom embroidered on it, running  from the ankles all the way up to the sides and the sleeves, along with little colourful birds. At his feet was sat another boy who was adjusting the length of the trousers with some needles. Akaashi didn’t need him to turn round to recognize him: Matsukawa Issei.

Him and Hanamaki were known as Matsuhana , the duo of stylists who quickly escalated up the fashion industry, reaching the highest levels possible despite being barely 25 years old. Their suits were famous for their classy eccentricity, the bright colors, and the skilfull use of gems and ebroidery. The newspapers called them “The Haute Couture Power Couple” and it was impossible not to find at least one person wearing their works on red carpets all over the world.

And, of course, they were close friends with Bokuto and all the boys. Bokuto told him they had been even before Hanamaki and Matsukawa made their debut.

Hanamaki gave him a once over, assessing the situation. “What’s the matter, Bokuto?” he said in a sigh.

“Makki! Tell your stubborn boyfriend this suit would look great with a cape!” Bokuto said, opening his arms in frustration. He’d probably spent some time trying to convince Matsukawa already, with little success.

“That suit definitely wouldn’t look good with a cape,” Hanamaki replied, unmoved.  

Bokuto gasped as if Hanamaki just said the most atrocious blasphemy he ever heard in his life, while a smug smile spread upon Matsukawa’s lips.

“But Makki…I trusted you...You know you’ve always been my favorite,” Bokuto pouted, giving him puppy eyes. Akaashi smiled, he couldn’t believe Bokuto was throwing such a tantrum just because he loved capes that much.

“Bokuto, please, it’s not wise to embarrass yourself in front of your own boyfriend,” Hanamaki said, shaking his head. He took a couple of steps towards him, studying him attentively. “This is such a good piece of the new collection, and it suits you perfectly as it is. Just look at you.”

Hanamaki gestured at the huge mirror. Bokuto did as he was told and his stare met Akaashi’s in the reflection. He didn’t look at himself, he just looked at Akaashi instead.

“I think Hanamaki-san is right,” Akaashi said with an encouraging smile. “About everything.”

Bokuto replied with a smile of his own. “Yes, I guess he is.”

“Perfect, now that we’ve settled this, I’m going upstairs so we can find something just as pretty for Akaashi-kun to wear,” Hanamaki informed them, taking Akaashi by the arm and dragging him up a large golden staircase.

Going up the stairs, Akaashi had a full view of the room where Bokuto was still standing, twisting and turning in front of the mirror while Matsukawa silently followed him, careful not to pinch him with his many needles.

Around them just a few pieces were displayed, all similar to the one Bokuto was wearing, and yet completely different from the other in colours and decorations. Only one was placed under a spotlight, probably the most beautiful of them all. The fabric was pearl white and the greenish blue leaves and pale flowers were embroidered in such a perfect way they almost looked painted.

Akaashi didn’t need to ask who that particular suit was designed for, everything about it was screaming his name regardless.

=

“I wonder how the weather will be in Shodoshima…” Bokuto said, absently looking at the city lights gleaming outside the car, the yellow so close to the gold of his eyes.

The car was driving swiftly through the city center, taking them back to the circus in Saitama. They were lucky the news found them so close to Tokyo, but Akaashi never doubted for a second that Bokuto would have taken him there regardless, no matter where they were or how many hours it would’ve taken. When Bokuto truly wanted something space and time weren’t an issue, there was no way to stop him.  

Akaashi stared at him for some time before answering. Bokuto was looking surprisingly calm, pensive, a little troubled, even.

“Hanamaki-san and Matsukawa-san were quite hopeful about it, looking at the amount of beach clothes they gave us to bring,” Akaashi said with a smile.  

Bokuto sighed, without tearing his eyes away from the window. “Yeah, I’m hopeful too…”

Akaashi glanced back at all the black and gold bags placed in the trunk. He didn’t even try to estimate how many hundreds of thousands yen of clothes were placed in there, just the thought of it was starting to give him a headache. Considering all the things that had happened that afternoon, it was a miracle he didn’t have one already.

Even more than the commotion created by the award nomination, what dazed him the most was for sure the visit to the Matsuhana boutique. He would never forget Hanamaki’s surgical gaze pinned on him as he adjusted the suit, his hands so fast and delicate, his manners so polite to resemble those of a servant kneeled at his master’s feet. He would never forget that feeling, the feeling of not being treated as an inferior by someone who could have totally done so.

“Have you known them long?” Akaashi asked, suddenly breaking the silence that fell in the car.

Bokuto blinked a couple of times at the question. “The Matsuhana? Oh yeah! I met them when they were two little nobodies and took their internship at the circus school as costume designers.”

There came the circus school again, alongside the bitterness it always carried with it. Akaashi shifted in his seat, more curious than ever. Somehow, everything always came back to the times when they were there, as if not a single person they knew was ever able to escape that destiny. The thought of it made cold shivers run down Akaashi’s spine.

“They never worked with me back then though,” Bokuto continued. “They were assigned to the equestrian section and Oikawa was the first one of us who met them. Actually, they instantly fell in love with him and they still design his costumes now. They’re still pestering him to be the face of their brand, but they’ve had little to no success yet,” Bokuto said with a faint giggle.  

And again, of course, came Oikawa and his ability to twist Akaashi’s stomach at the sole mention of his name.

“Do they design yours too?” Akaashi asked to shift his attention to something, someone, that really mattered to him.

“No, not until they understand the charm of capes…” Bokuto pouted. “But when it comes to an important event like this one, I wouldn’t want anyone else but them. And I think they like you, too, especially Hanamaki. He has a thing for dark haired ones,” he said with a mischievous raise of his eyebrows.  

“Speaking of that,” Akaashi started, unconsciously fidgeting. “I...I don’t even know how to say this, but I will never have the money to pay for the suit Hanamaki-san gave me, nor all the other clothes,” Akaashi said, barely able to hold Bokuto’s confused stare. He took one deep breath before finishing his sentence, the words he never wanted but always needed to say pushing at the back of his throat. “I’m...I’m not like all of you, Bokuto-san.”

Akaashi never saw Bokuto that puzzled in his life. He could see the effort he was making in trying to make sense of the things Akaashi just told him.

“Pay?” Bokuto asked, finally, tilting his head to one side.

“Yes, you know, giving money in exchange for something…?”

Bokuto frowned. “I know the technicalities of paying, Akaashi, but that’s not what I mean. It’s not like we’re paying for the clothes anyway!”

Akaashi widened his eyes. “You..you don’t...what?” he asked after a couple of times in which his mouth opened without making any sound.

“Yeah?” Bokuto was looking genuinely more and more confused by Akaashi’s reaction.“They give us the clothes, we’re photographed in them, they end up in newspapers and all that jazz,” he said, as if it was the most natural turn of events possible.

The problem was that, to him, it was. Akaashi was the one who didn’t understand how things worked between celebrities, the one who didn’t belong to their world in the first place.

“Yes but...what about me? No one is going to photograph me...” Akaashi asked in a whisper, dropping his stare to the ground.

Bokuto shifted closer to him, cupping his face with one hand and forcing Akaashi’s eyes to meet his again. He was so serious and so close Akaashi was afraid he might forget how to breathe.

“You don’t have to wear any of the things they gave you if you don’t want to,” he said, slowly but firmly.

“How could I not want to?” Akaashi’s voice came out more wavering than he intended.

Bokuto’s eyes darkened and his hold tightened, enough to leave bruises on Akaashi’s jaw. He could have looked scary, if Akaashi wasn’t sure Bokuto would have never threaten him no matter what. “You shouldn’t do anything you don’t want to.”

“Again…” Akaashi leaned forward, brushing his lips against Bokuto’s. “How could I not want to?”

He felt Bokuto tensing and then relaxing against his lips. He took a short, shaky breath before kissing Akaashi back, fiery, hot and demanding, as if he tried to make a statement out of it. Akaashi’s blood rushed fast in his veins as he could do nothing but lose himself in the warmth. He ran his fingers down Bokuto’s spine, pulling him close until there was no space left between them, until he could feel Bokuto’s heart beating against his own.

“Akaashi…” Bokuto said softly, searching for him with his beautiful glossy eyes. “Come with me to Shodoshima, if you want to.”

Akaashi’s heart fluttered. “It would be an honor.”

“It shouldn’t be any other way, you are my -” Bokuto stopped abruptly in the middle of the sentence. “…are you?”

“Say it, Bokuto-san…” Akaashi smirked, caressing Bokuto’s cheekbone with his thumb, still lost in the golden sea of his eyes.

Bokuto leaned forward, kissing Akaashi again. “Boyfriend,” he said, dropping his forehead against his.

“I am, indeed, your boyfriend,” Akaashi replied with a kiss of his own. “And you’re mine.”

“I am.” Bokuto shifted nervously on the seat, his eyes suddenly avoiding Akaashi’s “But…”

“I know, Bokuto-san, I know.” Akaashi moved to close the distance between him and Bokuto again. He continued just when Bokuto turned his head to look at him again. “I don’t mind, as long as I’m with you,” Akaashi said, and he really meant it.

He didn’t mind keeping their relationship a secret, he didn’t mind all the restrictions, missing all those opportunities, trading his freedom for the man he loved.

Akaashi loved him, even if he never told him, he loved him like he’d never loved anyone else in his life. Bokuto was the man Akaashi waited to fall for his whole life. He was a man able to make Akaashi feel suddenly invincible, able to endure everything. For him, for them.

The light finally came back into Bokuto’s eyes, making them shine despite the darkness. He smiled, ever so softly. “Thank you, for real.”

Akaashi hugged him, burying his neck into Bokuto’s. “I’m the one who should be thanking you...for real,” he whispered, nuzzling a bit. “And I can’t wait to see you perform in front of all that crowd, you d-”

“Ah?” Bokuto cut him off, looking more puzzled than ever. “I’m not the one performing at the award night!”

“You’re not what?” Akaashi uttered in disbelief. “Are you kidding me?”

“Well, it’s simple logic, Akaashi. We can’t move horses, not to mention lions, for just one night. So it’s the same with the birds,” Bokuto shrugged, as if it wasn’t a big deal. As if it wasn’t his chance to perform in front of the best crowd possibile.

“I’m sure you have more than one act, you can perform something that doesn’t involve any animals,” Akaashi pressed.

“I can, but I don’t want to,” Bokuto said simply, dismissing the argument with another one shoulder shrug and an unimpressed look. “Think about it, there’s only one person able to deliver the best performance even in such peculiar circumstances, and it’s a person who deserves the spotlight and to be the circus’ flagship artist way more than me.”

Akaashi blinked at those words. “Iwaizumi-san.”

“You’re a sharp one, my little Keiji,” Bokuto nodded, playfully pinching his cheek.

“You chose well,” Akaashi said, raising his chin all triumphant.

“Yeah,” Bokuto replied in a laugh. A genuine, crystal clear laugh. He turned to look at Akaashi, his eyes a little crinkled still. “I guess I really did.”

Chapter Text

Akaashi was standing out on the balcony of the room, elbow resting on the railing, looking at the evening sun sparkling lazily on the sea. A gentle breeze was blowing, making the powder pink silk grown wave its ends in the air. The colorful embroidery of flowers and butterflies made it Akaashi’s favorite among all the pieces of clothing Hanamaki and Matsukawa gave them to bring to Shodoshima. It was Bokuto’s too.

Akaashi turned around to look at him: Bokuto was napping on one of the loungers, lying on his stomach, lips slightly parted and one of his fists clenched next to his beautiful face. He looked like a sleeping angel. Akaashi smiled softly, heart so full of joy he was afraid it could explode at any time. He placed a hand on his chest to cover it, his only concern the possibility of waking up Bokuto with the noise of the blast. He deserved some sweet rest, after all.

The days before their departure for Shodoshima had been the definition of hectic. Even if Bokuto said choosing the outfit for the award night was for sure the toughest part of it, it turned out it really wasn’t. The announcement of the award nomination brought an enormous amount of press requests and all the boys, Bokuto in particular, had been pulled in every different direction for weeks, answering journalists, having photoshoots, and recording interviews. And of course, all the few tickets left for the shows immediately sold out.

Surely the most difficult thing had been convincing Iwaizumi to be the one performing during the award night. As the immensely loyal person he was, he wouldn’t even listen to the reason Bokuto gave up his spot for him and got quite fierce when anyone tried to argue about it. To him, the only rightful performer was Bokuto, end of story. It took their joint effort and a long talk with Oikawa to convince him, after days of back and forth. Akaashi could see in Iwaizumi’s eyes that still he wasn’t happy with it. In truth, he wasn’t either.

Akaashi shifted his gaze to look at the massive suite that was hosting them. Everything about it was so fancy and, he imagined, extremely expensive. He made his peace with the fact that Bokuto would never stop spending all this money for him, for them. He tried so many times to fight him on the topic, but it was like talking to a wall. The more stubborn Akaashi was, the more spendthrift Bokuto became, so he figured that giving in was the only option. He felt the guilt boiling in the pit of his stomach because, deep down, he was actually enjoying this particular lifestyle far more than he would ever admit.

Brushing his wild curls away from his eyes, Akaashi faced the sea again. The sun was hanging even lower in the sky, casting a deep red light. Tomorrow the weather will be nice; a good sign. Not that they had anything planned already, but Akaashi knew Bokuto would be happy to enjoy the sun he wished for so badly.

It was a nice feeling, knowing they were finally alone. No one was with them, not a single member of the circus staff, let alone the other boys. Bokuto and Akaashi left in great secret and arrived in Shodoshima three days before they were supposed to, hoping to enjoy some privacy and not having to constantly worry about people seeing them.

Suddenly, Akaashi heard the sound of a camera shutter behind him. As he turned he found Bokuto with an instant camera in his hands, smiling slyly with half lidded eyes.

“You were too beautiful, I had to capture the moment,” he said.

Akaashi didn’t respond, he just stepped closer to him, sitting on the lounger between Bokuto’s legs. Bokuto was waving the polaroid in the air, eagerly waiting for it to be fully developed.

“I hope it will turn out good,” Bokuto said, looking at the picture with a puzzled expression. “I don’t really know how to use this thing.”

“I’m sure it’s gonna be an amazing picture, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said, kissing Bokuto’s frown away.

Bokuto chuckled at the touch. He pulled away slightly, looking at Akaashi once again. “You’re a vision,” he whispered against Akaashi’s lips. “This grown suits you perfectly.”

“Thank you, my boyfriend got it for me,” Akaashi said proudly.

“He has good taste, then,” Bokuto nodded, trying to remain as serious as possible.

Akaashi smiled at the effort. “Indeed, he has. I’m very lucky.”

“You are,” Bokuto said with a smile, looking at the picture in his hand. “Your boyfriend is very lucky as well.”

Akaashi peeked at the picture: it turned out really good, one might call it an artistic backlight. The orange of the sky was a great contrast to Akaashi’s almost completely dark frame. Just some ray of lights were brushing his nose, his cheeks, and trailed down his exposed skin.

“I told you,” Akaashi said softly, bumping his shoulder against Bokuto’s.  

“Can I keep it?”

“Of course you can…but  what will you give me in return?” Akaashi smirked.

“I took the photo myself, it’s technically mine. I don’t have to give you anything,” Bokuto said with a laugh, putting the picture in the pocket of his shorts.

“But you took it with my camera, Bokuto-san.”

Bokuto considered the opposition tilting his head to one side, with a pensive yet playful expression on his face. “What about a kiss?”

Akaashi smiled. “Sounds fair to me. Sold.”

Bokuto leaned forward, brushing his lips along Akaashi’s jaw, stopping just right before his ear. “I can buy you for a corn chip,” he whispered.

Akaashi shivered under his hot breath. “If it’s you who’s buying, you can have me even for free.”

“You don’t have to give yourself away so easily,” Bokuto said, pulling away. A deep silver frown was darkening the gold in his eyes.

“I’m not,” Akaashi said, suddenly serious. “I’m putting myself in the only place I really wanted to be.”

“Where?”

Akaashi placed a hand on Bokuto’s naked chest, right above where his heart was. “Here,” he said with a ghost of a smile.

Bokuto lowered his gaze and looked at Akaashi’s hand in disbelief. He then covered it with both of his hands, squeezing them hard against his heart. Akaashi could feel the steady beat, a little bit quickened.

“You are here. You will always be here.”

They stared into each other eyes and Akaashi thought that, among all the amazing places on earth, he for sure chose the most beautiful one to live in. Bokuto leaned forward again and there was no hesitation in the way he kissed him, ever so softly and yet so incredibly powerful.

Akaashi’s heart flipped in his chest. “Say it,” a voice inside his heart told him but, as always, he dismissed it, afraid he could break such a magical moment. He didn’t need to say it, Bokuto already knew. Of course he knew.

Akaashi turned into Bokuto’s arms, facing the setting sun again. Bokuto intertwined his legs and arms around Akaashi’s upper body, sliding the grown off one of his shoulders, kissing it softly and then letting his chin rest there, skin against skin. They sat like that for a long time, comfortable in their own silence and warm proximity, just watching the sun slowly disappearing beyond the horizon, setting the sky even more on fire.

 

=

 

As Akaashi felt teeth digging into the soft flesh of his inner thighs, he snapped his eyes open, but was welcomed by nothing but darkness. A smirk was formed on his lips despite his already panting breath. A blindfold, of course. He tried to move his hands but the only thing he was able to do was to grip on each one of the ties that were keeping his wrists fastened to the headboard, trying to lift himself up just enough to get away from the teasing bites, but there was no escape.

“Bokuto-san?”

The answer came in a soft, pleased laugh, hot and wet from where his mouth was pressed against Akaashi’s groin, nuzzling a bit here and there.

The loss of sight had put Akaashi’s every other sense in full alert, making him hyper-aware of Bokuto’s presence next to him. All over him. His tongue was slowly scraping up the valleys and bumps of his toned abdomen and now that hot trail was aiming at his already hard nipples. Akaashi’s whole body tensed in anticipation of the bite he was so sure was about to come but, after a couple of seconds of complete stillness, what came was just a light bump of Bokuto’s cold nose and another pleased laugh.

After that, nothing.

Akaashi heard the fabric of the sheets crumpling as Bokuto pulled away and probably jumped off the bed. The sudden absence of his warm body made a waterfall of shivers run all across Akaashi’s body. He shifted uncomfortably, desperate to find a way to ease the tingle he was feeling under his skin.

“...Bokuto-san?” he called again, turning his head around to sense his presence in the room. No answer came, but Akaashi knew he was there, and very close too, he could still smell the salty scent that was lingering on his skin after their midnight dive in the sea.

The room was so silent that, when new sounds of the sheets came, they almost startled Akaashi. Bokuto was close, really close. Akaashi’s dick pulsed in response, along with a faint groan.

“Please,” Akaashi said in an unusually mellow voice, completely relaxing his back against the headboard. “Kou-” Bokuto’s name died in Akaashi’s throat, replaced by a moan so sudden it filled the room like a thunder and so loud it almost sounded like a cry.

Akaashi’s hips started to move of their own accord, pressing even stronger against Bokuto’s mouth, who was steadily sucking him off as one of his fingers started to slowly toy with Akaashi’s entrance. One finger slipped in, then two, and Akaashi felt like his body was about to crumble in the space between Bokuto’s lips and hands.

The restraints and the blindfold didn’t take away just his sight and his ability to move, but all his inhibitions too. Akaashi was moaning and screaming in pleasure as he’d never let himself do before, knowing no one other than Bokuto was going to hear him this time, knowing no one else was going to ask about the deep red marks around his wrists or about the bites around his neck.

It felt like absolute freedom and Akaashi was enjoying every single second of it.

As the orgasm was building relentlessly inside him, Akaashi arched his back against the bed. Bokuto let him go just a tiny bit deeper, sucking surprisingly slowly but yet passionately, before pulling away completely with a loud pop. Akaashi whined at the cold loss of his mouth and at the emptiness he left taking his fingers away as well.

Mean, Bokuto was being terribly mean.  

Before Akaashi could realize what was about to happen, Bokuto straddled him and grabbed both their erections in his already moist hand. He tightened his grip a little more before starting to slowly move his hand up and down.

Bokuto let out a satisfied sigh against Akaashi’s neck, subtly pressing his hips forward to close the already narrow distance between them. His hand was still working fast, every shift a pleasant friction between their cocks. Akaashi heard the slight acceleration of Bokuto’s breathing against his skin, along with the clear scent of arousal that was weeping from his body, making the smell of the sea slowly fade away.

Akaashi pulled strongly against the ties, digging his nails into his palms to fight the sudden need to run his hands through Bokuto’s silver hair, pulling it hard.

“I’m…” Akaashi tried to say, but his mind was too lost to form a proper sentence. Bokuto understood regardless and started to move even faster, his whole body following the rhythm set by his hands and Ahaashi’s hips.

Akaashi felt like he was being choked as well, but there were no hands pressing on his neck, just waves as strong as the ocean’s crashing inside him. He could resist the first surge and the second, but the third was too much. Everything looked so bright despite the blindfold and Akaashi’s whole body was jolting as he came, screaming in both pleasure and liberation. Just when his screams faded into soft moans did he realize Bokuto came as well, he could feel it all over him.

Akaashi’s head was still spinning when he felt his wrists being untied. He didn’t even have the strength to pull his arms down and he let them rest lifelessly on top of his head, right where they were. He had the distinct sensation of feeling like a rag doll, but he didn’t have the strength to care about it either.

When the blindfold was taken away as well, Akaashi blinked lazily but the darkness didn’t seem to fade right away. The room was pitch black, no lights were on. It must have been still very late night. There was one thing his sore eyes were able to see, and it was the blurry reflection of the moon on the sea. After that, his eyelids felt too heavy to open again and his mind too weak to stay awake.

“Bokuto-san, I…” Akaashi started, but his words drifted off with him.

 

=

 

The first thing Akaashi saw when he opened his eyes was a tuft of silver hair. And then another, and another, until his vision cleared enough to see Bokuto’s messy hair on the pillow next to him. In the backlight it looked like he was surrounded by a warm golden aura. Akaashi’s eyes followed the soft curve of his neck, the strong line of his shoulder, the powerful muscles of his back. No matter how many times he woke up to that vision, he would always be amazed by how perfect every single detail of Bokuto’s body was.

His first instinct was to hug him, to feel the warmth he was radiating from his skin. As Akaashi’s lifted his arm, he froze. His eyes fell on his wrist: it was perfectly unscarred, though it shouldn’t be. Not a single sign of the restraints was left on his skin, but the sweet pain he felt tugging on them felt too real for it to have been just a dream. He was sure they would have left marks he would have so proudly born, but there was nothing to either hide or display. It must have truly been a dream then.

“Akaashi?” Bokuto called him in a low, sleepy voice.

Bokuto turned around, resting on his side to face him. Some of his hair fell on his face and he scrunched his nose to move it away. Akaashi was endeared by the sight, but reached out a hand to gently tuck the hair that was tickling Bokuto’s face behind his ear.

“Good morning, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said in his own raspy voice.

Bokuto shifted closed and pulled Akaashi in a strong hug. “Good morning. Did you sleep well?” he asked, nuzzling a bit on Akaashi’s neck.

“I...I guess,” Akaashi replied, sounding way more wary than he intended to. It was such a simple question, one that Bokuto asked him so many times before, and yet it raised a strange uneasiness inside Akaashi.

“Did you have trouble sleeping?” he asked, pulling away a little.

“A bit, but maybe it’s just because I take some time to get adjusted to new beds,” Akaashi said, trying to belittle the matter as much as he could, hoping for Bokuto to brush it aside like it was nothing.

Of course, Bokuto didn’t.

“Is that so?” Bokuto asked, looking at him as if he just read through his lie. Every sign of drowsiness left his face and his golden eyes were piercing Akaashi with the intensity of the question.

Akaashi opened his mouth to answer, with what he himself didn’t even know, but he was cut off by a couple of hard knocks on the glass door of the suite. They snapped their eyes in that direction, but neither of them moved or responded. Akaashi glanced at Bokuto out of the corner of his eye: his expression was sharp, exactly like it was before one of his angry outbursts. His body was tense, squeezing Akaashi against him even more.

There were more knocks on the door, but this time a voice came shortly after them.

“Come on guys, I know you’re in there, don’t ignore me!”

Kuroo Tetsurou.

Bokuto let out an annoyed sigh, but his body relaxed immediately, as if the news physically relieved him.

“Shouldn’t he still be in Sentai?” Akaashi asked in a whisper.

“Hell if I know,” Bokuto said, shaking his head.

Kuroo slammed his fists on the door again, this time more forcefully. “I hope you’re using this time to put some clothes on! Come on!”

“He won’t leave us alone until we open the door,” Bokuto said, sitting up on the bed. He looked at Akaashi as if he was personally sorry for who his best friend was as a person. Akaashi thought that he probably would have been too, if his best friend happened to be Kuroo Tetsurou. Gladly, it wasn’t.

“We truly have no other choice then,” Akaashi said with a smile. “But first…” Akaashi reached out a hand to cup Bokuto’s face and pulled him down, delicately kissing his lips. Bokuto dropped his forehead against his, deepening the kiss.

“Guys please, at least say something to me, I’m starting to get worried,” Kuroo whined from the porch.

Bokuto let out one last exasperated sigh before leaving the bed. He picked up a discarded swimsuit on his way to the door, throwing a clean one at Akaashi as well.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Bokuto asked, slamming the door open.

“What do you think I’m doing here?” Kuroo answered in his usual teasing tone.

“Annoying me?” Bokuto replied, and Akaashi could actually feel the quirked silver eyebrow on Bokuto’s face. Kuroo was risking his life and he didn’t even know it.

Kuroo snorted. “Well, is this the sweet welcome I get for coming all this way just to bring you breakfast?”

“I really appreciate the thought, but I’m fine. I have plenty of food here,” Bokuto said. He must have been truly upset not to be lured by the food offering.

“You know you can’t survive by only eating Akaashi’s ass all day every day, right?”

Akaashi gasped way louder than he should have. In the short time they’d been separated he’d already forgotten how outrageously annoying Kuroo could be.

“AKASHEEEEEE,” Kuroo screamed. “Don’t worry, we’ve got breakfast for you too! I know you’re hungry! You can’t survive by only eating Bokuto’s d-”

“Get out of my sight before I murder you, Kuroo. NOW!” Bokuto thundered.

Before the situation could get any more out of control, Akaashi hurried out of bed and stepped closer to Bokuto, peeking out from behind his back.

“Actually I am a little hungry,” he said calmly, lacing his fingers with Bokuto’s. “But the next time you pull a stunt like this I’m going to shoot you on the spot.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Kuroo winked, sticking his tongue out. He turned around victoriously, walking away from them.

“There’s nothing we can do about it, let’s try to enjoy some food, shall we?” Akaashi said softly in Bokuto’s ear. Bokuto answered with a small nod, tightening the hold on Akaashi’s hand.

Akaashi didn’t know what he was expecting to find outside, but surely it was anything other than what they found: there was a feast on the table in the porch, where breakfast was already served in an abundance of small and colorful little plates, drinks and a lot of flowers, in perfect Kuroo style.

But the magnificent table arrangement wasn’t what surprised Akaashi the most. Kuroo wasn’t the only person there: Iwaizumi, in all his Hawaiian shirted glory, was reading a newspaper on one of the loungers, while Oikawa was perched quietly next to him. It looked like someone just pushed him out of bed and dragged him there by force. Akaashi couldn’t even imagine in how much of a bad mood he would have been.  

Great.

“How...did you even get here?” Bokuto asked, still frowning at the scene.

“Never underestimate the power of your elite troupe, captain,” Kuroo winked.

“Don’t call me captain, you know it pisses me off,” Bokuto grunted.

“My, my, you surely are in a bad mood, aren’t you?” Kuroo sighed, shaking his head. “Let’s leave the explanations for later, ok?”

Iwaizumi closed the newspaper and tossed it on the lounger close to Oikawa, stretching his upper body a bit. Oikawa just blinked at him without moving a single muscle.

“Isn’t it lovely sunny weather we’re having today!” he said nonchalantly, walking towards the table. “And this smells wonderful, let’s enjoy the meal our favorite annoying kitty worked so hard to prepare for us.”

“To order for us,” Akaashi pointed out. He gave Kuroo a mischievous smile before sitting down.

“You’re so sexy when you try to assert your dominance over me, Akaashi, you have no idea,” Kuroo purred, taking a seat by the table right next to him.

Akaashi turned to call for Bokuto, but he wasn’t in the spot where he left him. Bokuto was sitting next to Oikawa, looking at him with a smile that was between the blurred lines of fond and worried. The same look he’d seen them exchange more than once. The same look that made Akaashi sick to his stomach.

Akaashi couldn’t hear what they were talking about, he just read Oikawa’s lips saying something about being tired. Bokuto nodded and walked to the table, sitting down on the other empty chair next to Akaashi.

“It seems like it’s just the four of us for breakfast this morning,” he said, surveying the abundance of food in front of him. “Let’s not make Kuroo’s effort go to waste then!”

 

=

 

“So…” Iwaizumi started, putting down his chopsticks. “Any plans for these two days?”

“Personally, I will jump on the first ferry and go back to land as soon as we’re finished here,” Kuroo replied.

“What’s the rush?” Akaashi asked. It was such a strange thing for Kuroo, the man who couldn’t live without being glued to his friends, to decide to leave them so soon and, most of all, alone.

Kuroo smirked, wiggling his eyebrows. “There is some...major business on the mainland that requires my undivided attention.”

“Kuroo-san, you’re so gross, please,” Akaashi scoffed.

Iwaizumi laughed in fond disapproval. “That’s what you kids call it these days?”

“Damn Kuroo, you’ve really got one in every port!” Bokuto commented, his mouth still full of rice. His mood had slightly improved with the food, but Akaashi sensed that his tension was still there.

“Just one?” Oikawa said with a quirked eyebrow, completely unimpressed as he approached the table where they were all still gathered. He sat down and, after close inspection, selected a cup of red fruits for himself. He started eating them slowly and peacefully, as if he hadn’t just ignored the four of them for the whole length of the breakfast.

Of course, no one dared to point it out.

Kuroo looked at him, blinking in surprise. “Well… what can I say? I’ve got all my love to give.” Kuroo’s phone buzzed the moment he finished the sentence. He briefly glanced at it before continuing. “Speaking of. I shall take my leave now. And, before you ask: yes, I have the suit with me. Yes, I remember we’re supposed to be there two hours before the show. No, I won’t arrive drunk.”

“Good boy,” Oikawa smiled. “You have permission to land now.”

“Thank you very much, see you there! And if you need me, don’t call me! Bye!” Kuroo saluted them with a last wink. He didn’t even pass from the door of the suite, he just went back from where he probably came: jumping from the porch land landing directly on the beach beneath them.

“Should… we be worried about him?” Akaashi asked, still looking in the direction Kuroo just disappeared.

“Nah, he’s more than capable of taking care of himself, even if it doesn’t look like it,” Iwaizumi shrugged. “Anyway, what are you guys doing this afternoon?”

“No plans for now, why?” Bokuto asked.

“Because I’ve booked two canoes, but guess who thought it was an idiotic idea?” Iwaizumi said with a grimace.

Akaashi turned around to look at Oikawa, who was sat on a chair with his knees pulled to his chest, resting his head there while blankly staring into the distance.

Bokuto sighed, looking sincerely sorry. “Did he actually say that?”

“No, of course not,” Iwaizumi said, looking at Oikawa the same way some people look at a beautiful yet incomprehensible painting in a museum. “But you know he doesn’t have to actually say things to let you know what he’s thinking…”

Bokuto let out a small laugh. “Yeah, I know…”

“Do you want to come with me Kou? We haven’t had a good adventure in quite some time!” Iwaizumi asked. “If you want to come too, Akaashi, of course you’re more than welcome,” he added politely.

“Thank you Iwaizumi-san, but canoeing is not my thing. I would take the chance to just enjoy the beach in the meantime, not a big deal.”

Bokuto looked at Akaashi as if he was asking if it truly wasn’t a big deal. Akaashi smiled in response, squeezing his hand.

“Great! Let’s get ready Kou, we don’t have much time!” Iwaizumi beamed, pushing Bokuto inside. Just as they both stepped into the suite, Iwaizumi’s head peeked out again. “And, Akaashi-kun, I’d be leaving him in your care in the meantime.”

“Him who?” Akaashi asked.

“What do you mean who ?” Iwaizumi frowned. “Oikawa, of course.”

 

=

 

Akaashi stood on the beach until the two little canoes disappeared somewhere behind the horizon. Akaashi wasn’t worried; knowing that Bokuto was with Iwaizumi of all people was somehow reassuring. It was just that feeling of uneasiness that still clung onto his heart, sinking its fangs deeper and deeper.

It was a sunny spring day, the sea was calm, the breeze was warm enough already, the suite was magnificent, the clothes were splendid, the award night was just 24 hours away and he was there because his boyfriend wanted him to be. Everything was perfect, his life was perfect. Looking from the outside, there wasn’t a single wrong thing in that little world of his, but something was terribly wrong, Akaashi was more than sure of it, but he couldn’t understand what.

Maybe, everything was just too perfect, like in a dream.

A dream.

Akaashi closed his eyes, inhaling deeply, but his mind was overtaken by an entirely different scent of the sea, the one that’s mixed with skin, sweat, silk, pleasure, screams, and moans. The scent of the sea he smelled last night in his dream.

As the same hotness was starting to take him over again, Akaashi opened his eyes, panting heavily. Again, it felt all too real. Akaashi dropped to his knees, cupping some water and splashing it onto his face to wake himself up from his weird stupor. Again, he was feeling oddly tired, as if way more things happened in the couple of seconds he kept his eyes closed, more than he could recall.

Akaashi took a couple of deep breaths, trying to steady his heartbeat. In that moment he noticed he wasn’t alone on the beach anymore. As he turned his head, Akaashi widened his eyes: Oikawa Tooru was kneeling down next to him, looking like an angel in the backlight.

Oikawa was watching him intently, his locks still perfect despite waving softly in the gentle wind. He reached out a hand, running one finger slowly along Akaashi’s jaw, forcing him to look up to meet his eyes. It wasn’t the first time, but to Akaashi it felt like it was. There was something dark and yet so pristine in Oikawa’s eyes, the chocolate so tempting it felt like a person could lose himself there and never come back, the intensity so deep to be able to make everything around him fall out of focus.

“Are you having bad dreams lately, Keiji-chan?” Oikawa asked, tilting his head to one side with a delicate yet devilish smile. He blinked, and the sun reflected its warmth inside his eyes.

A shiver ran down Akaashi’s spine, as cold and sharp as a blade. He opened his mouth to answer, but no sound came out. He felt the need to run away from Oikawa as fast as he could, but his muscles couldn’t move. He was petrified in place.

It was in that moment he realized Oikawa was the one carrying the smell of the sea. Oikawa Tooru was the smell of his dream.

Akaashi’s arms started to tremble.

“I must have startled you, I’m sorry,” Oikawa said with his smile still secured in place and not a hint of an apology in his tone. He offered his hand to help Akaashi stand up. “Come, aren’t you supposed to take care of me today?”

Akaashi just looked at him for a moment, confusion taking over his mind. Oikawa Tooru, the same Oikawa Tooru that never acknowledged his existence, that never spoke to him directly, that never bothered to mask his annoyance towards him was right there, talking to him out of his own free will, touching him and making his head spin just with his bare presence.

Akaashi had the distinct feeling of being prey waiting for the wild beast to deliver the final blow and yet he took Oikawa’s hand regardless.

He was pulled up with way more strength than he expected. He almost crashed against Oikawa, who didn’t even flinch at the unexpected invasion of his personal space.

The sudden proximity invaded Akaashi with the smell again and his mind flashed with all the sensations drowned in the darkness of the blindfold. It couldn’t possibly be real.

Oikawa took the chance to stare at Akaashi even more attentively, squeezing their hands against his chest. Akaashi could feel his heart beating underneath it: it was perfectly steady, unlike his own. Oikawa leaned slightly forward and Akaashi recoiled by reflex.

“O-Oikawa-san…” Akaashi tried to say, swallowing hard.

Oikawa smiled as if he’d just won some unspoken challenge between them. “Yes?” he whispered.

“What are you doing?”

“Me?” OIkawa raised his eyebrows in fake surprise. “I’m just searching for all the things people see in you for myself.”

Akaashi took a couple of steps back, freeing his hand from Oikawa’s grip. Oikawa let him go without any resistance.

“Did you ever wonder why people like us took interest in some small flea like you?” Oikawa pressed, taking a step forward. “Because I did wonder. You don’t belong with us, Akaashi Keiji. You’re just the latest attraction, the new toy everyone is obsessed to play with. You’re just lasting a little bit longer.”

The latest attraction. The new toy. With his words Oikawa made sure Akaashi understood that his role must have been fulfilled by someone else in the past, that he was just something fleeting that wasn’t supposed to stay, unlike them. He was supposed to be disposed of, sooner or later, leaving them alone and at peace again. Akaashi knew nothing about Oikawa, and yet he found it so uncharacteristic of him to take such direct action on the matter. He wondered how long the others lasted, after all it had been barely four months since he met Bokuto for real, even if it felt like a lifetime had passed in the meantime.

“Answer me,” he demanded.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Oikawa-san,” Akaashi tried to dismiss him.

Oikawa scoffed. “Oh please, you can play dumb with them, but not with me.”

“Are you mad because I chose Bokuto-san instead of you?” Akaashi said, voicing the very first thing that came to his mind.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m sure there hasn’t been a single person who’s resisted you, right? A single person where you weren’t their first choice. Just now, you tried to kiss me.”

“You’re placing too much importance on yourself, Keiji-chan,” Oikawa laughed. “One thing you said was true though, there hasn’t been a single person - male or female - who resisted me. It’s not a matter of who they choose first. Often it’s me, sometimes it’s Iwa-chan, mostly is Kuroo, but the fact is: if I truly want something, I do everything in my power to get it.”

“So it’s because Bokuto-san chose me instead of you.”

The air went still around those words. It seemed like everything ceased to move, frozen in place by Akaashi’s boldness. The sea made no sound and neither did the wind.

Oikawa just gave him a blank look. “He didn’t choose anyone,” he said, narrowing his eyes.

“Didn’t he?” Akaashi hissed. Dealing with Oikawa was one of the most frustrating things he’d ever done in his life. It was like playing tug of war with another, even snarkier and for sure more powerful, version of himself.

“What about you?” Oikawa asked, even calmer than before. “Are you sure Bokuto is the one you chose?”

“Yes,” Akaashi replied without a hint of hesitation.

Oikawa chuckled. “And yet you didn’t even realize it wasn’t him fucking you last night in your dream.”

Akaashi gasped in horror. “No…”

“Don’t worry sweetheart, it was indeed a dream, but yes…” Oikawa stepped closer, brushing his lips against Akaashi’s ear. “It was me. And let me tell you, you make the most wonderful sounds.”

Akaashi shivered under Oikawa’s hot breath. He wasn’t lying. Akaashi knew he wasn’t lying. It was him, it was truly him. It all made sense: the smell, the blindfold, the fact that he never heard Bokuto’s voice, the fact that he could recognize his breathing pattern, the sounds of his pleased smirks. It all made sense, and yet nothing made sense at all. Akaashi was on the verge of panicking.

“How… how is that even possible?”

“How, you ask?” Oikawa tilted his head to the side, for once looking truly surprised. “Don’t you believe in magic, Keiji-chan?”

As Akaashi was still struggling to find an answer for that question and for all the other questions that were crowding his brain, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He startled, recognizing the warmth a moment too late.

“Hey!” Bokuto greeted him from behind him. Akaashi turned to look at him and he was so painfully gorgeous, with the wetsuit hanging dangerously low on his hips, the muscles gleaming in the sun and his hair in complete disarray. Akaashi felt his heart squeeze with guilt at the sight. “Did you two have fun?” Bokuto asked, looking between the two of them.

Oikawa fixed his stare until Akaashi’s eyes met his own again. He smiled, softly and yet so sinfully. “Lots.”

 

=

 

The candlelight dinner they had on the beach did nothing. Bokuto’s kisses on Akaashi’s neck did nothing. His hands pulling him close and exploring his skin underneath his clothes did nothing. The hotness, the wine in his bloodstream, the sound of Bokuto’s moans did nothing. It was all for nothing.

“What’s wrong, Akaashi?” Bokuto sighed, falling back on the lounger where they were attempting to be completed their steamy kissing session was with little to no success. There was a hint of annoyance in Bokuto’s eyes.

Bokuto had every right to be annoyed. He’d given Akaashi everything, more than a person could ever desire, and he’d been repaid with nothing but coldness. Akaashi had never been good at hiding his true feelings. He wasn’t good at hiding when someone pissed him off, he wasn’t good at hiding when he was in love. It was only natural for Bokuto to have read in how distant and uneasily quiet he grew during the afternoon that something must be troubling him.

Akaashi was feeling lost and confused. His first instinct was to pack everything and run away. Not back, but away. Away from the circus, from its shady past, from the people in it, from magic.

Magic.

There was no way something like that could ever exist. It wasn’t possible. And yet there was no other explanation for what Oikawa did to him.

Akaashi was starting to become jittery and anxious again, unconsciously fidgeting with his fingers. His thoughts were wandering aimlessly way beyond logic.

“Akaashi…”

Akaashi looked into Bokuto’s eyes and all his will to run faded away. His love for Bokuto was the only thing he was sure about. He didn’t want to go away from him, he wanted to understand. He needed to understand.

“Have you and Oikawa ever been in a relationship?”

Bokuto froze underneath him. “Why are you asking me this now?”

Akaashi felt a tug in the middle of his chest. “Answer my question, Bokuto-san, please.”

“No, never,” Bokuto said, pulling himself up to look at him. “Can you tell me why now?

“I sensed...a vibe,” Akaashi tried. He didn’t even know how he wanted to handle this conversation, he just wanted to know.

“How so? Did something happen earlier?” Bokuto asked, genuinely perplexed.

I let him fuck me in my dream and I enjoyed every single second of it.

“He just… doesn’t think we will last long.” It wasn’t the complete truth, but it wasn’t a lie either.

“Typical of him,” Bokuto sighed. “See, we have this...bond.”

“...bond,” Akaashi echoed.

“Yes,” Bokuto nodded, unfazed. “Since we were in circus school, it has always been like that. It was always me and Oikawa. Always. We were and we are best friends. But just best friends.”

“He doesn’t behave like just best friends when it comes to you,” Akaashi argued.

“I’m not so naive to not have seen that at some point maybe he might have had a crush on me, ok?” Bokuto said and Akaashi could feel the tension growing in him. “But I could never reciprocate his feelings. I’m positive that whatever might have been there in the past, it’s absolutely not there anymore. We care about each other a lot, but he moved on.”

“I believe you Bokuto-san, but sometimes it seems like he dislikes me just because I’m your boyfriend,” Akaashi pointed out. Again, it wasn’t the complete truth, since it didn’t seem like it , Oikawa really disliked him for that sole reason, but it wasn’t a lie either.

“That’s just who he is as a person. He’s very protective.”

Protective .

Akaashi wondered what Oikawa had done in the name of this protectiveness in the past. What Bokuto had forgiven him because Oikawa did it to protect him. Akaashi wondered how many people were disposed of, how he’d made them leave their lives for good.

Akaashi wondered if anyone ever won against Oikawa. Looking at how thing were in that very moment, the outcome was more than obvious.

“Don’t make the mistake people usually do with me,” Bokuto continued. “You have to see behind the surface, I know you’re capable of it...and maybe you two just have to get to know each other better.”

“Easier said than done, you’re not the one he looks at like he wants to stab you, “Akaashi scoffed. “You’re the one he looks at with lover’s eyes.”

“Listen Akaashi,” Bokuto snapped. “I see where this is coming from, but nothing happened between us in the past and nothing will happen in the future, I can guarantee you that.”

“How can you be so damn sure?”

“Because I love you, Akaashi.”

Time collapsed and the universe exploded around Akaashi, without making any sound. In a sinking world filled with chaos and doubt, there was a light. A light that came in the form of golden eyes and an unwavering heart. The same light that reflects on the sea, making the surface sparkle like diamonds. And it doesn’t matter if the sun or the moon is up in the sky, if it’s sunrise or sundown, the light would always be there. Because Bokuto Koutarou loved him and it wasn’t a dream, it wasn’t magic, it wasn’t confusing. It was real, as real as the love Akaashi had been feeling for him for so long. It was the love he wished for, prayed for, hoped for. It was the first love he ever desired.

Akaashi did nothing but look at Bokuto, and it was like looking at his true self for the first time.

“If I knew so little would have been enough to shut you up I would have said it the first time I felt it,” Bokuto laughed. “But it would have probably just scared you away.”

“How long ago was it?” Akaashi asked, still a little dazed.

Bokuto bit his bottom lip, thinking. “A bit ago.”

Akaashi leaned forward, cupping Bokuto’s face with both his hands. “I would have never run away,” he said, staring into Bokuto’s eyes. “Because I love you too, Bokuto-san.”

He kissed him tentatively at first, as if he still needed permission despite everything. He kissed him tenderly then, to make sure no anger or resentment lingered between them. He kissed him passionately then, so that the fire between them could be enough to burn any troubles.

Bokuto’s hands travelled down Akaashi’s back and settled on his hips, pulling him closer. He looped his arms around his waist, erasing the distance between them. He kissed him back, ever so fiercely.

“I know.”

Chapter Text

Akaashi’s favorite colour was the colour of Bokuto’s hair when the rising sun turned the silver into rose gold. The timid rays of dawn were shimmering through the clouds, creating a gleaming path over the otherwise still dark lagoon. The surface was shining, as smooth as a molten mirror.

It was a place barely marked on the map, just a tiny blue spot in the middle of the forest, but Bokuto didn’t need any help to find it, just a flashlight and a little stop to check the stars. It felt like he was taking Akaashi by the hand into his secret garden, a place he discovered and nurtured himself.

They reached the edge of the high rocks that were looming over the lagoon and the beautiful scenery opened before their eyes like the gates of a hidden paradise. Bokuto turned to look at Akaashi, eager for his reaction.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

Akaashi couldn’t find the right words to express how much he was liking it. He blinked towards the sun, letting its warm rays soothe his heart. He took a deep breath, letting the moment of awe sink in and take deep root into his heart. There were no sounds other than the quiet gushing of water, the early morning birds, the gentle breeze through the trees. The only intrusive sounds were their breaths and their heartbeats, barely audible as if they were able to hold both. It felt more than just a simple dawn, it felt like a new beginning and he never wanted to forget it.

Akaashi took Bokuto’s hand, squeezing it lightly. “I love it. It’s beautiful, Bokuto-san, thank you for taking me here.”

Bokuto smiled, relief visibly loosening his muscles.

“Take off your clothes,” Bokuto said without breaking eye contact, making it sound almost like an order.

“W-what? Here? Bokuto-san I-” Akaashi gasped, feeling himself flushing a bit.

Bokuto blinked at him a couple of times. “I didn’t take you here just to watch it, don’t you want to dive in?” he asked, with that mischievous smile of his.

No sooner did he say it, than his clothes were already discarded on a bush nearby. All of them. In all his naked glory, Bokuto was now looking at Akaashi, waiting for him to do the same.

Akashi never thought of himself as a prudish person, but sometimes Bokuto’s actions were just so blunt he couldn’t help becoming a bashful mess. He peeled off his shirt, his shorts and his boxers off, slowly, trying to at least fold them as best as he could. Bokuto was looking at him, visibly pleased by what he was seeing.

“Come,” he said, offering his hand. “Let’s jump.”

Akaashi took his hand, threading his fingers with Bokuto’s. His first instinct was to argue back, to say they could take the small road to go down and have a bath. It was probably easier, surely safer. But it was never the easiest and safest way with Bokuto. So Akaashi held Bokuto’s hand tight, taking another deep breath. “Let’s go.”

Together they counted down from three to one and neither of them hesitated when the time to jump came. It was a short dive, way shorter than Akaashi expected it to be. One second the cold early morning air was running over his body and the next the darkness of water exploded around him.

It was so cold it stung at first, paralyzing Akaashi for a second. The impact with the surface of the lagoon made him lose his grip on Bokuto’s hand but Akaashi wasn’t scared. It was dark, and cold, and he was alone, but it wasn’t scary. He thought it should be, but it wasn’t. He felt no pressure to come up for air either. It was so silent deep down underwater and Akaashi let himself enjoy the sensation of simply floating, weightless.

A hand touched his cheek. Lips touched his lips. The gold met the blue, a shade darker than the blue that was surrounding them. Bokuto was looking so funny and yet so handsome, with all his hair floating and moving gently around his head like seaweed. In the depth of the water, Bokuto kissed him as his life was depending on it, as if his lungs were feeding on the oxygen inside Akaashi’s. His hard body clashed against Akaashi, holding him close. With a couple of strong leg kicks he brought the both them up again. Like glass, the surface of the water broke into thousands of little pieces around them, floating in the air and splitting the morning sun into all the colors of the rainbow.

Bokuto was panting heavily against Akaashi’s chest, who was resting his his forehead on the top of Bokuto’s head, his own breath perfectly steady.

“Damn it, Akaashi, I thought you were dying down there!” Bokuto scoffed, pulling him even closer.

Akaashi squeezed his legs around Bokuto’s waist in return. “I was just chilling a bit, I really like it down there. I really like this place.”

“You do?” Bokuto asked, a bit surprised.

“I do,” Akaashi said, cupping Bokuto’s face between his hands and staring right into his eyes. There were little drops falling from his long, silver lashes. “I wish we could stay like this forever.”

Bokuto smiled, a bittersweet smile that was there and gone in a heartbeat. “We have all the time in the world,” he said. One drop of water ran from his temple down to his jaw, then down again along his neck, between his collarbones and then back to the body of water to which it originally belonged.

A spike of jealousy ran along Akaashi’s spine. It was just an innocent drop of water and yet watching it run over Bokuto made Akaashi’s inside burn.

He held Bokuto’s face even more strongly between his hands and kissed him fiercely, sliding his tongue in immediately in search for Bokuto’s taste. His lover’s reaction took a fraction of a second to come and one of his hand instantly traveled up Akaashi’s chest to play with his nipple, his lips feasting on the gasps stolen from Akaashi.

Akaashi started to grind against Bokuto, searching from some friction, taking full advantage of the water they were still half immersed in. He moaned in Bokuto’s ear, biting his lobe and sucking it in. Bokuto exhaled shapely, and Akaashi recognized that particular reaction. It was the sign Bokuto was exceptionally impatient and greedy. He wouldn’t go easy on him, and Akaashi sucked in more, as if he was asking for it.

From Akaashi’s chest, Bokuto’s hand traveled down his spine, splashing into water and unceremoniously aiming for his entrance. Akaashi choked on his breath the moment Bokuto moved his fingers inside him, loosening him up.

Akaashi moved to meet his pace, his moans growing even louder. He never had sex outside before, let alone in the water, and the mixture of possibly being caught and the certainty that no one ever would find them in that hidden corner of paradise was making him as aroused has he had ever been in his life. Naked among the crystal clear water, the earthy smell of musk, the trees and the rocks, Akaashi felt connected with his deepest animal instincts.

“Take me,” he growled into Bokuto’s ear.

Even if he couldn’t see him, Akaashi felt Bokuto’s smile turning into a wild smirk. Without saying a word, he made Akaashi slide down on him, taking him all with a single, powerful thrust.

A flock of early birds took off, flying high in the pale sky and shrieking just as loudly as them.  

The water was moving softly around their bodies, clashing with tiny waves, their rhythm matching Bokuto’s thrusts. It was a cool caress, but not enough to put out the fire that was blazing between them. Akaashi dropped his forehead, biting hard into the flesh of Bokuto’s strong shoulder. One hand was around his neck, the other was clawing Bokuto’s bicep, taut with the effort of the position, like every other single muscle of his.

The freedom they felt was intoxicating, as if the water got them drunk with their senses. Bokuto had never been one to restrain himself during sex, but Akaashi had never seen him possessed by such a raw desire. His nails were scraping Akaashi’s back, his teeth were biting as if he wanted to eat Akaashi alive and from his mouth were coming incoherent grunts and words in a language Akaashi wasn’t sure it was even Japanese. He was thrusting into him with an unmatched force, going deeper at each scream he stole.

It felt like every single cell, down to the smallest atomic particle inside Akaashi’s body, belonged to Bokuto. His name was written in the depths of his being and Akaashi thought that probably his body, his mind, his heart, had done nothing but call for Bokuto his whole life with the same force they were doing right now.

Akaashi opened his mouth, willing to scream that name, but pleasure suddenly took over him with a shiver that broke his voice even before the first letter. He grasped at Bokuto with all the energy he had left, spasming in his arms and around him. Just when he was about to collapse and turn into a boneless doll he felt Bokuto’s last push, then everything turned sparkling white behind his eyelids.

For a moment all sounds faded, all the movements stopped. Everything was perfectly still and silent. The only thing Akaashi felt was the warmness of Bokuto’s body and the unmistakable scent of his skin right after sex.

When he blinked to regain focus, Akaashi panicked for a fraction of a second. They weren’t still in the middle of the lagoon, but only because Bokuto moved without him noticing and was now resting against a big rock, his head dropped back, his eyes closed, his lips slightly parted, his breath still a little uneven. It was him, it was really him. As Akaashi turned his head to rest on Bokuto’s chest, a little sigh of relief escaped from his mouth.

Akaashi squirmed as the sunlight hit his eyes. The sun was still exactly where they left it, pink and soft like a summer peach hung in a powder blue sky. It was always like that with Bokuto, it made Akaashi feel like time flew at such a different rate when they were together. Seconds felt like hours and hours felt like entire days. It was feeling like this dawn Akaashi loved so much could really last forever.

“Let’s stay here a little longer,” Akaashi murmured, closing his eyes.

Bokuto ran his hand through Akaashi’s hair, placing a delicate kiss on the top of his head.

“All the time you want.”

=

 

“You know, the legend says that if you walk down this road hand in hand with the person you love, the gods will bless your relationship!”

“It’s probably just a legend mixed up with tourism marketing, Bokuto-san.”

“And who are we to stand against the legends and a good marketing strategy, Akaashi?”

Akaashi laughed, letting himself be dragged towards the Angel Road by an overly excited - and oddly informed - Bokuto. It was nothing but a strip of land that connected the mainland with the small island just outside the shoreline. The special thing about it was that the road appeared just twice a day during the low tide.  

The sea was crashing gently onto the freshly revealed sand, reflecting the intense blue of the cloudless sky and the gleaming morning light. Truth to be told, it was really a beautiful sight.

Akaashi held Bokuto’s hand even tighter, leaning gently against his shoulder. There was just the hint of a fresh breeze and the waves were gently tickling their ankles as they walked on the shore of the almost deserted beach. Despite being the day of the award, the island wasn’t as crowded as Akaashi assumed it would be. Maybe people didn’t have time to take a stroll around Shodoshima on such a busy day, but he was happy they didn’t. He was so glad Bokuto wanted to spend every single second they could together and alone before the craziness of the night began.

“Are you feeling blessed yet?” Bokuto asked after a couple of steps.

“Incredibly,” Akaashi said, nuzzling Bokuto’s shoulder a bit. He yawned, the weight of their early morning adventure slowly creeping in. Akaashi looped an arm around Bokuto’s, keeping him close. As he did though, he was hit by a sudden thought. “I’m sorry, Bokuto-san. Is… is this ok? We’re in plain sight.”

“Oh,” Bokuto looked between and around them, as if the thought didn’t even cross his mind. “I don’t think there are many people that know who I am here and, even if there were, I don’t care about any of them anymore,” Bokuto said, looking at Akaashi and tightening the hold on his hand. “So don’t let me go.”

Akaashi brushed his lips with a delicate kiss. “I won’t, ever.”

“Good,” Bokuto said, kissing him back. “I want to see the Hill of Promises next, it’s over there!” Bokuto said, pointing to the hill right behind them. “There you can ring the bell of happiness, write wishes on shells, and hang them up! Isn’t it romantic?”

“Sounds perfect to me,” Akaashi nodded, surprised once again at Bokuto’s extensive knowledge of the island’s tourist attractions. “We can go whenev-ouch!”

“Akaashi!” Bokuto shouted, catching him promptly in his arms.

Something hit Akaashi’s legs, making him lose his balance. He looked at the leg and fortunately there were only a few scratches, even if he was confused about how he ended up being wounded in the first place.

“Oh my god!” a voice yelled. “Poco! Oh my god, Poco! What have you done?”

A young man with dark hair was running in their direction. He was dressed in a simple white shirt and light pants, and his delicate features were showing all his concern and mild rage. He was chasing a little child with golden hair, who reached Akaashi and Bokuto faster than the man could.

“Ahi ahi! Nakaji! Ahi ahi!” the child cried, pointing at Akaashi’s scratch.

The man finally reached them, folding himself in half while panting harshly. “I’m so, so sorry. Are you hurt?” he asked.

Akaashi was still holding onto Bokuto’s hand and arm, too baffled by the situation. He blinked at his leg a couple of times. “No, don’t worry, it’s just a scratch.”

“Nakaji…” the child cried again. His eyes were big and full of tears. He was so cute Akaashi wondered how it could be possible to stay mad at such a tiny creature like that.

“It’s nothing Poco, we can’t call Nakaji for this,” the man said, patting the child’s hair to calm him. He picked him up and the child immediately hid his face against the man’s chest. “I’m sorry, my husband is a doctor and he wants to call him every time someone is hurt.”

Akaashi smiled at him, trying to peek at the child’s face. “That’s so sweet of him though, but it’s nothing, really.”

“Poco!” the man called him. “Have you apologized to this gentleman?”

“…no,” Poco said from where his face was still squished against the man’s chest.

“And what are you waiting for?”

Poco turned his head to look timidly at Akaashi. “…sorry,” he said between the sniffles.

“Don’t worry, it’s ok,” Akaashi said, smiling warmly. “I’m Akaashi Keiji and this is Bokuto Koutarou-san, nice to meet you, Poco-chan!”

The man smiled, looking at the child in his arms ever so lovingly. “I’m Tawara Souta, and I’m this menace’s lucky dad,” he said, bowing down a little.

“Why were you so mad at your bucket, Poco-chan?” Bokuto said, kneeling a bit to reach Poco’s eye level.

Akaashi looked down and found that the thing that hurt him was nothing but a plastic bucket, the kind that children use to play with on the beach. Poco must have thrown it out of some kind of tantrum.

Poco widened his eyes in awe, as if he just saw something spectacular none of them were able to see. He reached out both his hands, touching and squishing Bokuto’s face. They looked into each other’s eyes for a couple of seconds without saying anything. Their stare were so intense it was like their eyes could speak a language of their own.

“The tower…crumbling,” Poco said, eventually.

“Uhm,” Bokuto considered, pulling away slightly. “What about we try make one together, I have some secrets I can share…”

“Oh, really, you don’t have to…” Souta started, but Poco’s excitement had already taken over.

“Yay!” Poco beamed. “Castle! Castle! Castle!”

“No, Poco, we've taken up enough of this gentleman’s time. I’m sure you can continue on your own,” Souta said seriously, causing Poco to instantly pout.

Akaashi’s heart squeezed at the sight. His chest was taken over by a strange tingle that was making it impossible to look away from Poco.

"It would be seriously rude to leave the job only half done…so castle it is!” Bokuto said, clapping his hands.

“Really, you don’t have to, you’ve already done enough,” Souta tried to make him stop one last time, unaware of the fact that it was already impossible.

“Let them, I’m sure he’ll probably enjoy it more than Poco-chan will!” Akaashi said, shaking his head with a fond smile.

“Right, now go relax and let the men write a new chapter in the history of architecture, right Poco-chan?” Bokuto declared, holding Poco in his arms as he promptly jumped from his father’s. Poco looped his arms around Bokuto’s neck, pointing at something near the shore. He was looking genuinely happy, as was Bokuto.

Akaashi and Souta left Bokuto and Poco playing on the beach, taking a seat at a small cafè near the port. To Akaashi everything felt surreal. He was sitting next to a man he had never met before, a man who left his child playing with a stranger like it was nothing. Akaashi glanced at Souta from above his menu: he was looking perfectly serene.

“You’re thinking I’m a strange father, aren’t you?” Souta said with a small laugh. “But don’t worry. I trust Poco. He liked him and I know I have nothing to fear.”

“You really don’t. Bokuto-san is the best person I know,” Akaashi nodded. Just like Poco, Akaashi trusted Bokuto from the very beginning. It was simply the aura he gave off: someone you could trust your with life, someone who was impossible not to fall in love with.

Souta looked at Akaashi for a long time, smiling as if he knew it already. “Are you guys on honeymoon?” he asked, looking back at his own menu.

“What?” Akaashi gasped. “No!”

“Oh sorry!” Souta apologized. “I didn’t mean to…you look so…in love.”

“No no, we are together, but not married,” Akaashi explained.

“Not yet,” Souta winked playfully.

Akaashi felt his cheeks light on fire. “You... you are married right?” he asked, trying to change the topic.

“I am,” Souta nodded. “My husband is the Nakaji Poco was screaming about earlier. He’s a doctor and works on the mainland, while I’m a web designer and I work here in Shodoshima.”

“Oh, really? How do you manage living with the sea between you?” Akaashi asked.

“The sea isn’t enough to keep us apart,” Souta said, and his fond confidence made Akaashi’s heart tighten.

He’d never been a person who could make long distance relationships work, but Souta made him wonder if it had just been a matter of the people he’d been with. Maybe there was a love that was able to cross all boundaries and tie two people together no matter where they were. He couldn’t even imagine a life without Bokuto at his side, he couldn’t imagine waking up and not finding him in the same bed, wanting to kiss him and just being able to, wanting to talk to him and knowing exactly where to find him. But at the same time he knew that he would knock down all walls, cross all seas, and climb all mountains for him if he asked him to.

Akaashi wondered if it was true for them as well, that nothing would ever be able to keep them apart. He really wished it was.

“So, you’re on a well deserved vacation, then?” Souta asked.

“We’re more on a sort of working-holiday,” Akaashi explained. “We’re here for the Crystal Feather Award.”

“No way! I’m the one who designed the award’s website!” Souta said, excited. “It’s a huge event, the whole island has been abuzz for weeks because of it!”

“I guess it is, it’s my first time at the Award...”

“The Midnight Moon Circus!” Souta gasped in sudden realization. “That’s why Bokuto’s face felt so familiar!”

“...and he just said no one here would ever recognize him!” Akaashi laughed.

At that moment the waiter came to take their order: three iced teas, a glass of milk, and a large portion of fresh fruit. Because, even if they were still busy building their sand fortress, their boys for sure would enjoy some refreshments afterwards.

Souta was one of the most enjoyable men Akaashi ever talked to. Sitting with him made Akaashi realize how he really hadn’t talked to anyone else beside Bokuto and the other boys in such a long time. Not that he missed it, but there was something about Souta that was so calming, as if he could radiate the same serenity that characterized his own life.

He married his childhood best friend and first love just recently, but he decided to adopt Poco way before that, meaning the little one wasn’t the biological son of either of them. With his blonde hair and deep aqua blue eyes, Poco indeed didn’t resemble Souta’s much darker features in the slightest, but somehow the fact that they were father and son was absolutely unmistakable. Where he came from, though, Souta didn’t say.

They talked about Souta’s work in web design, about this apparently very famous Gaogao-chan, about his dad’s udon restaurant, about Nakajima’s work as a doctor and about his smoking habit that he was unable to get rid of. They talked about Akaashi’s work as the animal keeper, about Oscar, about the horses and the birds. Souta was very interested in their daily life and couldn’t believe the fact that that they didn’t have a real home to begin with, just little houses on wheels.

“I guess that’s the kind of life you could live until a little something like this one arrives in it,” Souta said, looking at Poco running towards him. He was covered in sand from head to toe, but he looked the exact opposite of unhappy about it. Souta cleaned him a bit before allowing him to climb on his lap.

“We did it!” Bokuto announced, gesturing to the huge sand fortress that stood so gloriously in the middle of the Angel Road. Bystanders seemed to be very curious about it, some of them were even taking pictures.

“Did it!” Poco echoed, even more excited.

“Bokuto-san, Poco-chan, it’s truly beautiful, well done!” Akaashi smiled.

“Thanks! It was just because I strictly followed the directions of construction foreman Poco-chan!” Bokuto laughed, sitting down and drinking his ice tea all in one go.

“-struction man!” Poco repeated, looking at Souta produly, searching for praise, which arrived in the form of a kiss on the head and a forkful of fruit. Poco took the fork with his tiny hand and started munching quietly, eating it in little bites, the same way small animals do.

“Tawara-san just told me he was the one who developed the website for tonight’s award,” Akaashi said to Bokuto.

“Oh, really?” Bokuto asked, surprised.

“Yes. I knew nothing about circuses, but this project made me discover a lot of things, it’s a really fascinating environment,” Souta said.

“It is,” Akaashi nodded. Even too much fascinating, actually. “I guess you will attend tonight’s show then.”

“Me? No. It was just an agency job, we didn’t get any invitations.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Bokuto said with a bitter laugh. “I guess you’ll be our guests then! I’ll arrange for the tickets right now.”

Before he could even finish the sentence, Bokuto had already got his phone out and the franctic way Souta tried to stop him did absolutely nothing. It took just a call to the ever reliable Iwaizumi and, in less than five minutes, tickets with the name Tawara were already waiting for them at the box office.

“So, Poco-chan, will you root for us tonight?” Bokuto said, pinching Poco’s fruit-sticky cheek.

“Yes! Yes!” the child said, enthusiastically jolting between his father’s legs.

Souta looked at Poco and then at Akaashi and Bokuto. “You made him really happy, truly, thank you.”

“It’s our pleasure to have you there with us, right?” Akaashi said, turning to Bokuto.

“It really is,” he nodded. “Are you ready, Poco-chan?”

“Lion!!!” Poco yelled, slamming his fork on the table.

“I’m afraid there won’t be any lions tonight, Poco-chan,” Akaashi apologized.

“But we do have a true lion tamer!” Bokuto said, trying to cheer him up.

Poco looked at them, frowning. “Tamer?”

“Tamers are people who domesticate wild animals to be able to work with them in various situations, like the circus,” Souta explained to Poco.

Poco gasped, visibly terrified by the concept. “Bad!” he shouted.

“No, Poco, it’s not-” Souta tried to explain, a little embarrassed, but Bokuto cut him off.

“Don’t worry, Kuroo would say the same thing about himself,” Bokuto said in a laugh.

“Speak of the devil…” Akaashi said as he saw a little white boat docking at the port. Before it was even secured, Kuroo jumped out. He was visibly disheveled, with his hair spiking in all direction, even worse than usual, and in the same clothes he was wearing the day they saw him for breakfast. Sunglasses were shielding his eyes, but Akaashi knew they were probably bloodshot. For a moment he looked back at the sea which he just came from, then turned and disappeared into the crowd of the port.

Akaashi automatically reached for his phone to call him, but Bokuto blocked him. “Don’t,” he said, in such a low, firm voice it erased all Akaashi’s will to retort.

Poco jumped down from his father’s legs to reach Bokuto. “Kuto-san?” he called him, pulling his pants a little.

“Yes?” Bokuto said, picking him up.

Poco wobbled a bit, trying to his find balance while standing on Bokuto’s legs. He looked at him, until Bokuto’s features softened and a smile spread across his lips again, just like it had a moment before. Poco seemed pleased with the result.

“Do your best!” Poco beamed, jumping at his neck to hug him.

Bokuto closed his eyes, hugging him back.

“I will.”

 

=

 

The gentle air was waving Bokuto’s hair in the air, making some rebel strands fall over his face. He scrunched his nose, trying to ease the tickle, but that didn’t distract him from writing his promise on the on the shell. He was lost in thought, the tip of his tongue peeking out between his lips.

He was beautiful, as beautiful as the scenery the Hill of Promises was offering them. As the Angel Road was slowly disappearing underwater again, the clouds were moving lazily in the sky, pushed around gently by the wind, the same wind that was bringing all kind of scents to Akaashi’s nose. The fresh smell of the plants, the salty one of the sea, the seafood being cooked in the houses by the port, and then, of course, Bokuto’s.

There was something strange about the island, Akaashi thought. Something fascinating, something that was awakening his deepest senses, making him feel much more aware of everything, much more alive. Akaashi would have said that something about the island was magical , if he wasn’t still scared of that world.

“Don’t you believe in magic, Keiji-chan?”

Oikawa’s words echoed in his mind like a curse.

Magic.

There wasn’t such thing as magic.

Akaashi turned his own shell in his hands. He didn’t have to think much about the promise he wrote down: I will never let you go . It was simple, somehow silly, but it was true and it was the only promise Akaashi felt the urge to make to Bokuto.

Because earlier down on the beach he saw a glint of darkness in Bokuto’s eyes, a fear etched in the very depths of his being. It was so black and so sharp it pierced Akaashi right in the middle of the heart, taking his breath away. But a moment after it was gone already, replaced by the warm and peaceful melted gold. He never wanted to see that darkness again.

“Ok, it’s done!” Bokuto declared, turning around and reaching Akaashi by the rope where all the other people’s shells were already hung up. They were rattling against each other in the wind, a faint sound that weaved so well with the one of the sea.

“Let’s hang them up then!”

They tied the little red ribbon to the rope with a double knot, testing the hold a couple of times. Bokuto, with his illusionist’s hands, tied it perfectly in half the time Akaashi did, but didn’t offer his help, letting Akaashi manage his own shell. He didn’t peek at what was written in Akaashi’s shell either. He waited for Akaashi by the big bell, a hand already on the rope connected to clapper. Akaashi joined as he finished and, without saying a world, he put his hands over Bokuto’s.

The single toll of the bell expanded, deep and metallic, around them, erasing any other sound. The wind carried it over the sea, as far as their ears could reach and even beyond. It was the sound of their promises, a sacred seal that assured they would keep them no matter what.

Bokuto let the rope go, taking Akaashi’s face in his hands. He closed his eyes, kissing him on the forehead, ever so softly.

“I have a good feeling about tonight, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi whispered.

“I’m glad,” Bokuto said, sounding anything but glad. He kissed him once again before pulling away. “We should go back now.”

“Yes, I guess we should,” Akaashi nodded.

He let himself be gently dragged away, pulled by Bokuto’s hand. A moment before stepping away from the headland completely, curiosity tugged at Akaashi’s mind. He briefly looked back at the sky, the sea, the bell and, finally, the shells. Bokuto’s one was among the few that were turned, the hollow part facing Akaashi. In big, black, and yet flickering letters, a single sentence was written:

I’m doing this for you.

Chapter Text

The night exploded around Akaashi, magical, colorful and bewildering like a kaleidoscope.

Everything was happening at once. Everywhere Akaashi turned there were people running, cameras flashing and voices were piling over each other, making a loud, constant and incomprehensible background noise.

Purple was the color chosen for the Midnight Moon circus. Akaashi petted the purple feather pinned on his jacket, as if it could ground him, as if it could give him a place of belonging in that chaos.

Akaashi was used to the frenetic situation of the circus right before the show, but this was on a different level entirely. Because, if one circus crew was more than enough to make the head of a normal person spin, the effect of having so many others gathered there was just unimaginable.

Akaashi was fascinated by the diversity more than anything else. The other nominees were scattered in small groups along the red carpet, all identified by the color of their feathers, posing for pictures, smiling and laughing together during interviews.

A huge number of reporters was gathered around a group where a girl as beautiful as a goddess was standing out prominently among the rest of her companions. With a one shoulder kimono and her hair up in an intricate hairdo, she was looking fierce and yet fragile at the same time. Next to her, another young boy who didn’t stop looking at her for a split second, a man with an eye patch, a cute little girl with pink hair and… a young man in a tracksuit. Akaashi blinked at him for a couple of seconds. He wasn’t mistaken, he really was wearing a tracksuit and a torn scarf at an award event. Akaashi admired his absolute lack of fucks given.

Not far from them, there was the most circus-looking group of people Akaashi had ever seen in his life. The one who was almost surely their leader was a boy with bright orange hair and a warm smile. Despite his cheerful look, Akaashi felt an overwhelming wave of sadness radiating from him. A couple of steps away from the main group there was a young boy, probably too young to even work in this industry, dressed in frills and ribbons like a little doll, with an unamused and mildly disgusted expression that could have rivaled Oikawa’s. Looming behind him like a dark shadow, there was a man. With his dark suit, Akaashi couldn’t understand if he was a performer or merely the boy’s butler. Either way, he was so beautiful he took your breath away. Akaashi was lost in thought contemplating him when their gazes met. His eyes were burning, red and dangerous like embers. He bowed, with the faint hint of a smirk on his lips, sending a cold shiver down Akaashi’s spine.

Akaashi looked away immediately, inhaling sharply as if the bubble of his daze just burst. He didn’t know where to look anymore, so he turned his gaze to the most familiar and reassuring thing he could find in that mess: Bokuto.

Buried under a thousand flashing lights, Bokuto was on the red carpet, the other boys by his side, all of them in their gorgeous suits from Hanamaki and Matsukawa’s new collection. The color and the designs chosen for them fit their personalities so perfectly, as if they were designed specifically for them. Maybe, they really were.

Bokuto’s suit was even more beautiful than Akaashi remembered it to be: charcoal black with cherry blossom branches running up the length of it, with embroidered flowers and colorful hummingbirds. Under it, just a plain white shirt with a silk bow tie. It was such an eccentric suit, but Bokuto was wearing it with the same calm and lack of bother people usually reserve for jumpers. He was breathtaking and the others were no less so.

Kuroo, true to his character, was in a ruby red suit, decorated with cocky big birds and little white and blue flowers, while Iwaizumi was in classical navy and lots, lots, lots of powder pink flowers. A delightful contrast to the constant frown on his face that didn’t leave him even on the red carpet.

But, as expected, Hanamaki and Matsuhana made sure the prettiest flower of their garden was Oikawa. He was wearing the suit Akaashi saw at the boutique the day of the fitting, the porcelain one with pastel colors and far more leaves than flowers, which embraced his body making him look like an ethereal spirit of the forest. It was the only one hand painted and not embroidered.

All the eyes, Akaashi’s included, were on him. He was just impossible to look away from. Oikawa, on the contrary, wasn’t looking at anyone in particular when he casually licked his bottom lip and flipped his fringe out of the way. A little squeal echoed from the people around them, to which Oikawa smiled, ever so satisfied, gaining a not so subtle eye roll from Kuroo.

“So, that’s what the famous Midnight Moon circus looks like in person. They’re even more handsome than in the magazines.”

Akaashi startled at the sound of a voice he didn’t recognize. He turned and next to him there was a girl who was studying them so attentively it felt like she could read their souls as well with the intensity of her deep blue stare. Her skin was naked, painted with small diamonds and covered in a big, fluffy aqua fur coat that covered her from her collarbones to her thighs. Unlike every other person on the red carpet, she didn’t have any feather pinned to her. She was of a beauty that could only be described as fierce, despite how tiny she was.

Akaashi had to clear his throat before answering her.  “They are. They’re also all considered as top performers in their field and-”

“I know, their fame precedes them,” she cut him off. “They say Bokuto-san’s illusions feel so real it’s hard to believe they are illusions in the first place.” She paused, shifting her piercing gaze to Akaashi. “It must be a truly terrifying gift, being able to manipulate the reality we see and feel so perfectly, don’t you think?”

Akaashi felt like everything around him stopped and all the air in his lungs was suddenly sucked away. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. In truth, he didn’t even know how to respond.

“You’re one of them, right?” she pressed, taking a step forward. “May I ask why you’re not there being photographed?”

“I’m not a performer, I’m just part of the backstage crew,” Akaashi managed to say.

“Is that so?” she giggled, with the wicked smile of someone who just read everything Akaashi didn’t say.

“I take my eyes off you for one second and I already find you chatting with another handsome man, it’s not fair,” the man who just approached them said, shaking his head gently. His proximity alone made Akaashi shiver. He was tall, just a couple of inches shorter than Akaashi, dressed all in black. No feather on him either. Part of his head was wrapped in bandages, but that did not prevent his red eye that was left exposed from shining through the dark curls that were falling over his gorgeous face.

The girl wrapped herself around his arm, nuzzling him a bit. “You should never take your eyes off of me, then,” she said, with the same devious smile she showed to Akaashi.

Scary. There was something profoundly scary about the two of them.

“What are you doing here, noodle arms, showing off your merch like always?”

Akaashi let out a sigh, both of relief and frustration. Relief because the person who just stepped next to him was Kuroo, and frustration because could circus people just stop appearing out of nowhere and jumping into conversations just like that?

“Your words wound me, Kuroo-kun,” the man said, pouting a little.

“I wish I could wound you with something else as well,” Kuroo said through gritted teeth.

Akaashi noticed the girl tighten her hold on the man’s hand.

“My my, Kuroo-kun,” the man said, appearing unfazed by Kuroo’s aggressive attitude. “Don’t tell me you’re still mad because of that bet you lost. Every tamer has the beast he deserves, after all,” he said with a small shrug and a smile that could have awoken murderous instincts in a saint.

Kuroo let out a sharp breath, but didn’t take a step towards him. He was shaking with the effort of keeping himself still. “Don’t get cocky, you’re just a mediocre tamer who doesn’t deserve the beast he has, it was merely a gamble.”

“It wasn’t a gamble and you know it, Kuroo-kun, but I enjoyed playing with you that time, we should do it more often.” He winked and in that second Akaashi was sure Kuroo was about to snap.

Thankfully, he didn’t.

“I think our photo call is about to start,” the girl said before things could escalate any further. “Let’s meet on stage afterwards, shall we?” She bowed and, without waiting for their answer, she turned around and left, dragging the man away with her.

“What the hell were you doing with them? Are you out of your mind?” Kuroo exploded, almost yelling at Akaashi.

“Kuroo-san, I don’t even know who they are! It was the girl who approached me in the first place!” Akaashi protested, trying to remain as calm as he could.

“The girl? Which girl?” Kuroo asked, frowning.

“The girl who was just here! The redhead!” Akaashi said, turning to look at her again. She was walking away, the movement of her legs making the long fur of her coat dance like a sea anemone. Akaashi followed the long curve of her neck, up to where the marble skin met the read flames of her hair, tamed in place by a big translucent object. It took Akaashi a couple of seconds to realize what it was. When he did, his eyes widened. It was a crystal feather.

“That’s Chuuya Nakahara, you stupid idiot, and trust me when I tell you he’s more manly than me and you combined,” Kuroo said with a bitter laugh.

“Are they…?”

“Yes, they won the title last year and I guess they have no intention on letting it go that easily,” Kuroo sighed.

Akaashi looked between Chuuya, the man who was supposedly his lover and Kuroo before asking. “What happened between you and the other one?”

“That excuse of a human being is Dazai Osamu, the best tamer in the industry second only to my own father. He surpassed not only me, but my siblings as well, and just because of that beast he has.”

Kuroo pointed at Dazai with his chin, as if Akaashi could actually see the animal he was talking about. But, of course, there were no animals. Other than Chuuya, the only person standing next to Dazai was a boy with silver hair, a trembling smile and eyes so big and uncertain they almost made Akaashi’s heart squeeze.

“It’s a white tiger,” Kuroo said.

“A white tiger…” Akaashi echoed, still captivated by the boy’s fragile beauty.

“Yes, Dazai’s stage animal, it’s a white tiger,” Kuroo remarked.

“It must be beautiful,” Akaashi said, forcing himself to look away. “And you wanted it for yourself as well.”

“Yes and yes,” Kuroo nodded with a bitter smile.

Akaashi knew better than to press the subject any further. “No ok but, you… you have siblings?!?” Akaashi gasped, the revelation hitting him only in that moment. In all the time they’d know each other, Kuroo had never mentioned his family once, a silence that made Akaashi wonder if something had happened to them.

Kuroo looked at him, quirking an eyebrow. “...yes?! Of course I have siblings! You really didn’t do any research then!”

“Again with this research thing,” Akaashi scoffed.

“Come on, come on! Don’t worry about me or my family, they are all awfully lively!” Kuroo said, pinching Akaashi’s cheek lightly. “In fact, I’m going to meet with them right now, see ya later!”

“Kuro-san, wait!” Akaashi stopped him. Looking around, he noticed Bokuto wasn’t around anymore, and neither were Oikawa or Iwaizumi. “Do you know where Bokuto-san might be?”

“He’s probably with the press doing some serious crew leader job for the first time in his life,” Kuroo shrugged. “Just search for him, he can’t be too far.”

“Thank you. See you later, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi said, with a hint of a bow.

Kuroo stood in place, looking at him, confused. “Geez, you’re so polite sometimes you give me chills.”

“Weren’t you on your way, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi smirked.

“Now, this is my Akaashi!” Kuroo said and, not without blowing him a kiss first, he walked away towards the entrance of the arena, leaving Akaashi alone in the midst of the chaos that hadn’t calmed down one bit in the meantime.

Akaashi smoothed his feather once again before going as well.

=

When Akaashi found him, Bokuto wasn’t with the press. He wasn’t with anyone, actually.

In the dim light of the gallery above the main stage, he was leaning against the railing, his arms crossed on it and his face nestled in between. Only his golden eyes were visible, unfocused and a shade lighter than usual.

Akaashi walked next to him, mirroring his position. “Hey,” he said softly.

Bokuto didn’t seem surprised by his appearance. He leaned forward, brushing his lips against Akaashi’s. He lingered on the kiss for a moment before pulling away just slightly.

“Everything will be alright, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi whispered, face still close to his.

Bokuto sighed. “I know.”

Akaashi placed a little kiss on the tip of his nose before looking down at the crowd that was slowly gathering down below. The hall was huge and organized into various spaces: the general crowd was hosted in regular theatre seats along the bleachers. Below them there was a VIP zone with a round couches and tables filled with refreshments. Then, the parterre hosted the performers, the spot for each circus recognizable by the color of the feathers. Akaashi saw that there were only four purple feathers, and was sure Bokuto didn’t miss the detail either. Right in front of the stage was a long table, where a couple of people were already sat, chatting with each other.

Akaashi’s eye fell on a tall man, black hair with tufts of silvers and cutting dark eyes. Next to him there was a woman whose beauty was unmistakable. Both of them were wearing traditional Japanese clothing and a ruby red feather.   

“Who are they?” Akaashi asked.

“They are Kuroo’s parents,” Bokuto answered, confirming his intuition.

Akaashi looked at them even more attentively. The similarity between them and their son was striking. “I didn’t knew they worked in a circus too,” Akaashi commented casually.

“They actually own a circus. Kuroo’s father is one of the most famous lion tamers in the industry, he basically forced him and his siblings to follow in his footsteps. If Kuroo is your family name, you can’t be anything other than a lion tamer,” Bokuto said.

“How many siblings does Kuroo-san have?”

“Just two, the Kuroo twins. Look,” Bokuto said, pointing at a group of people in the middle of the parterre. Akaashi saw Kuroo being forced into a selfie by a girl and a boy, whose features were absolutely identical to each other: lean and tall body, black hair, amber eyes, cheeky smile. It truly was a thing that ran in the family. But if Kuroo Tetsurou was universally recognized by the members of the Midnight Moon circus as the hottest one of them all, now compared to the twins he was looking nothing but a draft of their beauty. Akaashi almost felt bad for Kuroo for a second. He also noticed that the twin’s feathers were red, exactly like of their parents ones.

“But why is Kuroo-san with you and not working with his family then?” Akaashi asked.

“Because he can’t. It’s a long complicated story,” Bokuto said. “Do you know anything about the circus school sorting?”

“No… but now I want to, please,” Akaashi answered.

“You see all those people sitting in the front row?” Bokuto started after a long pause. “What happens is that all the circus schools have these huge shows where the people who finish the regular three years of training perform in front of them. They are the circus owners. Whoever is considered talented enough gets hired and becomes a real artist, the others stay in the circus school and can try the next time, and the one after that...in this industry you can’t start a career if you’re not sorted out from the circus school first.”

Akaashi was mildly disturbed by the system. It was brutal. “What happens if two or more owners want an artist?”

“They bid against each other, making offers. In that case it’s the artist who eventually has the last word and can decide in which circus he wants to start. It’s not so common, though, all the others have to accept the offer they are given. They can refuse of course, but it means they have to stay in the school and hope to be sorted the next time by someone else. It’s not so convenient, after all.”

“I can only imagine the bid war to have you…” Akaashi considered.

“Oh. It didn’t happen.” Bokuto expression turned dark. “Actually I had to wait two years before being sorted.”

“What?!” Akaashi gasped.

“Yeah, apparently I wasn’t good enough. I was resigned to stay in school forever or eventually give up, until this idea of creating a different kind of circus came up, something that could wipe the dust off the “classic circus” shows. They asked me to be the circus leader from the start, they even said the fact that I was still available was a sign of fate, that my style was just waiting for a place where it could be acknowledged, that I belonged there,” Bokuto said. His tone was distant, as if he was telling the story of someone else who wasn’t him.

Even if Bokuto didn’t specify who “they” were, it was easy for Akaashi to locate the people he was talking about. He ran his gaze along the table. His eyes settled on a middle aged man with a purple feather pinned to his jacked, along with one that was half yellow and half green. He was sat next to a boy with the same dark emerald colored hair, who must have been around their own age. Only the purple feather was pinned on his jacket. Despite the story and the fact that he saved Bokuto’s career, both of them were giving off some major bad vibes.

Bokuto took a deep breath before continuing. “Kuroo couldn’t be sorted by his father first because of the family tie and both Oikawa and Iwaizumi already missed their first try at the show… so they took all four of us and transferred some of the other artists they owned at that time. That’s how the Midnight Moon Circus was born.”

So it was true. They were the only artists in the industry leading a whole circus without any past experience. It was like the whole Midnight Moon Circus idea had been tailored around the four of them from the very beginning. Something about the whole story sounded so incredibly wrong to Akaashi, but what was it Akaashi couldn’t tell.  

“I never imagined it’d be that difficult…” he said, looking back at Bokuto again.

Bokuto pushed himself away from the balcony, extending his arms and rolling his shoulders. “Yeah, neither did I. I’m glad that time is over… look where we’re now.” Finally, he smiled. “You know, I’ve always wanted to have…this,” Bokuto continued, running his contemplative gaze among the crowd.

“All those people adoring you?” Akaashi smirked.

“No,” Bokuto said, pulling a king of hearts out of nowhere. “…magic!”. He wiggled his eyebrows, visibly pleased with himself.

“Is that my king of hearts?” Akaashi gasped in surprise.

“It is,” Bokuto nodded. He got closer to Akaashi, opening the jacket of his suit and putting the card in the little inside pocket. Once closed, it was resting right above his heart, exactly where it was the first time Bokuto played the card trick for him, the night of their first kiss. It felt like an eternity had passed since that night. “Keep the card, I want you to have it,” he said.

The smile on Bokuto’s face was so soft and somehow so sad it made Akaashi’s heart ache and beat faster at the same time. “Thank you…” he said in a whisper of a voice. It was always like that with Bokuto. Being in a relationship with him was like being constantly sat on a roller coaster.

“Better hurry now though, the show is about to start,” Bokuto said with an encouraging look and started to walk away. Only when he realized Akaashi wasn’t following him, he stopped, turning around, eyes searching for Akaashi’s face in clear confusion.

“Akaashi?” he called him.

“There’s no place for me down there, Bokuto-san, and you know it,” Akaashi said, calmly.

Bokuto narrowed his eyes. “Your place is next to me.”

Akaashi walked beside him, cupping his face between his hands. “It is, but not tonight, Bokuto-san. This night is only yours.”

“You… fuck,” Bokuto sighed, dropping his forehead against Akaashi’s. “You’re so beautiful tonight.”

Akaashi felt himself turn red. “You too, Bokuto-san.”

Bokuto kissed him, with a softness that was carrying all the affection he couldn’t display. His hands were touching Akaashi’s hips lightly, he could feet how they were itching to hug him.

“Bokuto-san…”

Bokuto pulled away reluctantly. “Yes. Let’s win this stupid ass award and go home already.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Akaashi nodded. “Hurry up, then!”

Bokuto stole a quick kiss before walking away.

Akaashi made sure he was gone for good before leaning on the balcony and running a hand over his face, breathing deeply trying to keep his frustration inside him. It was a good night, it had to be a good night, nothing could interfere with that, with Bokuto’s happiness.

He carefully surveyed the crowd below him. There were so many people now but he was able to find find what he was searching for regardless. He pushed himself up and started to walk away, the bitter smile stretched on his lips slowly replaced by a more genuine one.

Akaashi barely reached the staircase when a way too familiar voice made him stop in his tracks.

“...I told you to stay still, you will end up staining my suit otherwise,” Oikawa was saying.

“You’re making it quite difficult to stay still and you know it,” the other person replied. It was Iwaizumi.

“Is that so?” Oikawa jiggled. Jiggled.

The voices were coming from a place shielded only by a heavy velvet curtain. Akaashi peeked and what he saw wasn’t something he would ever expect. Iwaizumi was standing in the middle of the room, his upper body already covered in dark, iridescent paint. He was naked, except for his usual black stage boxers, his short silk dressing gown resting at his feet. It wasn’t the only thing at his feet, though. Oikawa was kneeling down before Iwaizumi, a thick brush with dripping paint secured in his hand. He drew a straight line across his oblique muscle and while his hand was painting with the brush, his tongue was traveling from the band of his boxers up to Iwaizumi’s belly, stopping an inch before he met another strip of painted skin.

Akaashi swallowed hard at the sight.

Iwaizumi inhaled sharply and his hand moved of its own accord, stopping a moment before grabbing Oikawa’s hair.

“Don’t, you'll ruin my hairdo,” Oikawa murmured against his skin.

Iwaizumi snorted. “I’ll make you pay for this later.”

“Please, make me,” Oikawa purred, his mouth now going lower, biting and kissing Iwaizumi’s skin till he reached his inner thigh, purposefully avoiding the obvious bulk under the fabric of his boxers.

“Gods…” Iwaizumi shook his head in frustration, but didn’t step away from Oikawa. His hand settled down on his shoulder instead. He gripped at it, strong. “Get this over quickly, dumbass.”

Oikawa nuzzled a bit before pulling away. “As my master commands,” he smiled, resuming his painting.

The brush worked quickly in Oikawa’s hands and, in the way he was moving it, Akaashi’s recognized Oikawa’s signature deep, long and never misplaced gestures, a seductive dance that didn’t need body contact to deliver its effects.  

In the blink of an eye, Iwaizumi’s body was covered in strokes of paint from his shoulders to the tip of his toes. The colors on Iwaizumi’s skin were bursting under the lights, changing at his every movement. The only place left untouched was his face.

“I forgot my small brush,” Oikawa said, his eyes pinned on Iwaizumi’s as he he dipped his fingers into the paint.

“Too bad, that’s another thing you will have to pay for,” Iwaizumi smiled, deviously.

Oikawa stood up. His paint covered fingers didn’t reach Iwaizumi’s face, but his own lips instead. He traced the shape, as if he was applying lipstick. “Too bad indeed,” Oikawa whispered before taking Iwazumi’s face in his hands and kissing him deeply.

They were a couple of steps away from each other but Akaashi could feel the room fill up with the heat of their bodies. It was such a raw desire it made his gut twist and his mouth go dry. And if some of it had to do with the fact that he himself knew firsthand what being the center of Oikawa’s undivided attention felt like, Akaashi didn’t want to know.

“Done,” Oikawa said, pulling away after one last peck on Iwaizumi’s shiny lips. He looked at him, evaluating the work he blindly did on his face. It was perfect. “You’re good to go. My perfect trust is with you, Iwa-chan.”

Oikawa didn’t wait for a reply and made his way to the curtain with big steps.

Akaashi panicked, there was no way Oikawa wouldn’t find him out. He felt Oikawa’s hands gripping at the velvet but, instead of pulling it back, he closed it better.

“No, Iwa-chan.” Akaashi heard him say. “The exit to the backstage is the other one, this one leads to the main hall.”

Akaashi was frozen in place. He wanted to run away, he needed to, the last thing he wanted was for Oikawa to see him there, but his legs couldn’t seem to move.

A couple of seconds of complete silence passed. And then, the curtains opened.

“I gave you the chance to go, what are you still doing here?” Oikawa said, walking out. He was wiping the paint from his fingers with a tissue. “If you hoped I could take care of you as well, I’m afraid to tell you I’m running out of time.” He looked straight into Akaashi’s eyes as he slowly wiped his lips as well. “I hope you enjoyed the pre-show, Keiji-chan.”

“Oikawa-san, I-” Akaashi started, but got cut off immediately.

Oikawa walked to him and, never dropping eye contact, he forced the tissue against Akaashi’s lips. The smell he unavoidably came to know filled his lungs once again.

“Shush, Keiji-chan. Just listen to me carefully as I won’t repeat myself,” Oikawa said, his voice dangerously low, his body dangerously close. “Forget what you saw just now. If Iwa-chan ever comes to know you saw us like that, he would get really angry. And trust me, you don’t want to see an angry Iwa-chan.”

Akaashi swallowed hard and could do nothing but nod in response.

“Aren’t you a good boy, Keiji-chan?” Oikawa whispered. He leaned forward, pressing his lips against his, kissing him through the thin layer of tissue. “Don’t worry, I will finish this tonight in your dreams. Now I really have to go.”

Oikawa pulled away and the tissue fell gracefully between them. Akaashi’s caught it in his fist by reflex.

“Keep it, it can be another of our little secrets,” Oikawa winked, leaving Akaashi alone in the blink of an eye.

Akaashi dropped to his knees, finally able to breathe again. His mind was spinning so fast no thoughts that could make sense of what just happened were able to form. There was no time to think in the first place. If Oikawa was right about one thing, it was that they were running out of time. He braced himself and stood up.

He slowly walked down the stairs he should have taken much earlier and made his way to the main hall, dropping the tissue in the first rubbish bin he could find.

=

“Akaashi-kun!” Souta beamed as he saw him. “What a delightful surprise, will you watch the show with us?”

“If it’s not any bother to you,” Akaashi said with a small bow.

“Of course it’s not, here, have a seat!” Souta said, patting on free spot next to him.

Akaashi sat down, taking a moment to look at the stage, which was more of a regular theatre stage than an actual circus ring, from the privileged position of the VIP lounges. Because, of course, Bokuto reserved for them the best seats available. Akaashi smiled to himself, remembering when Bokuto did the same thing for him as well. Again, it felt like years and not months had passed from when their story started.

“Where is the little one?” Akaashi asked.

“Oh, he’s over there, Nakaji is trying to bring him back but it looks like he’s having a hard time accomplishing this mission…” Souta laughed.

In the direction Souta was pointing a sort of little daycare area was set up and a lot of kids were gathered there, playing with each other under the supervision of three young boys with sparkling aprons. Poco was busy having his hair braided by a little blonde girl and was yelling every time who Akaashi supposed was Nakajima tried to take him away. A man patted Nakajima’s shoulder and said something that made him laugh. Judging by his own perfectly braided long and golden hair, he must have been the girl’s father.

Out of the corner of his eye, Akaashi recognized the man who had just walked away from the daycare. It took all his self control not to let his jaw drop. Dazai Osamu was carrying two children in his arms: an older one who was his carbon copy and and a smaller one, with fire red hair and a puffy face. Chuuya ran towards him, taking the smaller child in his arms, kissing his tears away. They looked nothing like the dangerous couple Akaashi met on the red carpet. They were just a normal family. A happy one, even.

“-Kashiii!” Poco yelled, jumping into Akaashi’s arms.

Akaashi was caught off guard by Poco’s sudden attack, but caught him regardless, holding him close to his chest.

“Hello, Poco-chan,” he smiled at him.

“Look, braid!” he said, pointing at his head with both his little hands.

“It looks very good on you, and look how cool the outfit is!” Akaashi said. With his twin boxer braids, his little tuxedo and a purple bow tie, he was the cutest thing Akaashi ever saw in his life.

“Thanks! Nakaji idea!” Poco said, all giggly.

“Nice to see you giving me some credit, chibi,” Nakajima said. “You must be the famous Akaashi, Souta has been going on about you all day.”

“I am. Akaashi Keiji, nice to meet you,” Akaashi smiled.

“Nakajima Shinobu,” he said, taking back Poco, who was starting to get a little fussy.

Nakajima was exactly like Akaashi imagined him to be: tall, lean, with short chestnut hair and a sharp smile. A man of a simple and honest beauty.

“Poco, what’s wrong?” Souta asked, peeking from Akaashi’s shoulder.

Poco twisted and turned in Nakajima’s arms, then jumped with an impressive speed into Souta’s arms. He tried to hide himself inside the jacket of his suit, with little success.  

“He’s probably a little tired and there are just too many… people,” Souta considered. “And on top of that, you lost one of your shoes.”

Nakajima tickled Poco’s bare foot, stealing a giggle from the bulk under Souta’s jacket. “I’m going to go back there and see if I can find it…”

“There’s no need, I already found it!”

Three heads snapped in the direction of the voice, but only Akaashi recognized the boy standing with the little shoe in his hand. He was the one who was next to Dazai on the red carpet. Up close, something about him was incredibly captivating. Probably it was the color of his eyes, which faded from honey to purple.

“-sushi?” Poco said feebly, emerging from his safe spot.

“Hi, Poco-chan,” the boy said with a smile that radiated pure gentleness.

Poco climbed down Souta’s leg and, with another of his incredible jumps, he leaped right in front of him. Poco reached out his little grabby hands and the boy crouched down, letting Poco touch his hair. He took the moment to put the shoe back on Poco, without him really noticing.

“-sushi,” Poco repeated, threading his fingers in the long lock of silver hair which was framing the boy’s face. It was like his presence completely enchanted him, making him forget whatever the reason for his tantrum was.

“It’s Atsushi, Poco-chan,” the boy said with another of his heart shattering smiles.

“I’m sorry, Atsushi-kun, but… who are you?” Nakajima said, narrowing his eyes in suspicion.

“I’m sorry! I’m Nakajima Atsushi, from the Yokohama Bay Circus, nice to meet you!” he said, bowing countless times in the process.

“It seems that Poco took a liking to you, Aksushi-kun,” Souta said.

“-sushi, like!” Poco nodded enthusiastically with a big smile of his own.

“I think we are… similar,” Atsushi said, patting Poco’s head as he stood up. “I should go back now, sorry for interrupting you.”

“Of course, and thank you for the shoe,” Souta said, picking up Poco again.

“Bye, bye, -sushi!” Poco said, pouting a little.

Atsushi waved him goodbye and went back to the area reserved for the performers. There was something about him and about Poco’s reaction Akaashi couldn’t place. He was under the awful impression of constantly missing some key information in everything that was happening and everyone he was meeting that night. The show still had to begin, but Akaashi was already exhausted.

In that moment the lights dimmed more and more, and with them slowly the noise of the crowd died as well, until the theatre was filled with complete darkness and silence.

A single flash of light brightened the stage. At its centre was standing a young man with a lavender suit and perfect golden hair. Some girls in the crowd squealed at the sight.

“Good evening, ladies and gentleman, and welcome to the Crystal Feather award! I’m Sou Tamaki and I will be your host for tonight!” he winked, oozing well rehearsed charm out of his every pore. He was a fine looking boy, but the reaction of the crowd, which was clapping and screaming Tamaki’s name, left Akaashi speechless. “I’m sure you waited long enough already so, without further ado, let’s get the show started!”

“Yo, Akaashi,” Nakajima whispered, sliding next to him. “Why are all these circus people so weird?”

“Trust me, Nakajima-san,” Akaashi sighed. “I really wish I knew.”

Chapter Text

In the darkness of the stage, only little drops of water were visible, floating weightless in mid-air. There was complete silence at first, broken after a couple of seconds by a single jingle of little bells. Then another. And another. The drops started moving as well, trembling as if something suddenly gave life to them.

It wasn’t something but someone. The drops were moving according to Chuuya’s small steps on the high wire. He wasn’t really wearing anything at all. His skin was simply covered by the thin layer of crystals Akaashi saw so closely on the red carpet, now so similar to dew dyed blue by the stage lights, while his hair was flowing freely over one of his shoulders. The only visible accessory was the little bells tied to his slim ankles which gave music to his every step.

He reached the centre of the wire slowly, putting care on each one of his steps, which almost felt tentative at first. They weren’t, and it was clear the moment one of his feet slipped forward instead of stopping, sliding him down in an effortless full split.

From that moment on, all the eyes of the crowd were on him and no one was able, or wanted, to tear them away.

Chuuya was amazing and, from the very beginning, Akaashi understood why the Yokohama Bay Circus decided to use him to retain their title. His movements were extremely fluid yet precise, with a small delay that made it look like his body was underwater.

The full spit was just a sample of how far Chuuya’s skills could reach. He went down the whole wire doing back and front flips that could make any acrobat go pale, he spun on his toes and danced in a perfect mix between a ballet dancer and a contortionist. Always smiling, never wavering.

In true high wire fashion, he spent the last part of his act dancing with a traditional paper parasol in his hand but, while artists usually need it for stability, he just played with it like a bored princess would, for the sake of aesthetics only.

Then he gracefully discarded it and decided that just using the space above the high wire was probably too boring and proceed to walk on it with on his hands. He was still in a handstand when he did a full split, held it for a couple of seconds and then flipped around the wire, as artistic gymnasts do on uneven bars, in a continuous acrobatic up and down swing that kept the crowd watching with bated breath.

It was like the rules of gravity didn’t truly apply to Chuuya Nakahara. He completely hypnotized the crowd, as if his movements could cast a spell on everyone in the audience.

It was broken only when, after one last somersault that made Chuuya land on the ground as lightly as a feather, there was finally silence again and the lights slowly came up. Chuuya bowed profoundly, humbly receiving the deafening roar of the crowd.

“Dad!” a small voice yelled from the artists’ seats.

Chuuya looked in its direction fondly, blowing a kiss and quickly running backstage.

“Dad!” Poco yelled as well, scrunching his nose and raising his cheek, clearly waiting for a kiss of his own and Souta, of course, complied.

“Well, that was truly something, wasn’t it?” Nakajima said, stretching a bit.

“It was,” Akaashi replied simply, eyes still on the stage.

It was more than something, Chuuya’s performance was absolutely outstanding, probably the best acrobatic act Akaashi had ever seen in his life. And, as good as they might have been, stealing the award from the Yokohama Bay Circus suddenly felt like an impossible task. As the defending champion, Chuuya was granted the right to perform first, and he knew how much a perfect performance like that would weight on the nerves of all the other contenders. He set the bar as high as possible, almost impossible for other people to reach.

Akaashi wondered how the rest of the boys were feeling right now. Probably Kuroo was barely concealing his rage, while Bokuto would feel more helpless than he ever had before. He wondered if Oikawa was feeling a little bit annoyed as well. It was all in Iwaizumi’s hands now.

The second act was just about to start when Akaashi felt someone sliding next to him.

“You did it!” Nakajima greeted the newcomer with a smile.

“Yes, my apologies for being late,” the boy said. “I’m Tsukishima Kei, nice to meet you.”

“Akaashi Keiji, nice to meet you too,” Akaashi said, still a little surprised, responding to the other’s boy bow. He was tall, very tall, with sandy hair that matched his eyes.

“Tsukishima is one of my most trusted resident paediatricians,” Nakajima explained. “We finished a little late so I thought I could reward him with a special night out.”

“It was a nice thought, Nakajima-san,” Akaashi commented. “I hope you will root for the Midnight Moon Circus as well.”

“I will if they deserve it,” Tsukishima replied drily, without a hint of a joke.

Akaashi could do nothing but blink in response.

“Don’t mind him, Akaashi-kun, being companionable is not his forte,” Nakajima sighed.

Tsukishima sat down next to Akaashi and the whole theatre fell into darkness again.

Akaashi didn’t really pay attention to the other performers that came after, his mind was fixed on Chuuya and on the impossibility of stealing the award from his hands. He just needed to glance at what was happening on stage to know. No matter how good those artists were, Chuuya was always better. He couldn’t help but obsess over how Bokuto might be dealing with this whole situation and cursed everything that was keeping him away from him. He wanted to hold his hand, he wanted to calm him down, he wanted to say…

“No worry, everything will be ok!”

Akaashi startled at the touch on his shoulder. When he turned, big eyes as blue as the sky were watching him, full of light and hope.

“Yes,” Akaashi smiled, patting Poco on the head. The child slid into his arms, curling into a ball on Akaashi’s leg. He was so small, and yet so warm.

The stage turned dark again, darker than it had during the whole course of the night. The music started playing and Akaashi shivered with excitement: it was Iwaizumi’s music.

At first, only two little flames were visible, casting a dance of light and shadows that revealed just the sides of Iwaizumi’s body. He slowly walked towards the centre, lifted the two torches and let them fall to the ground. In an instant, the whole stage lit up with tall, open flames.

The hall fell into complete silence, frozen despite the roar of the fire before them. Suddenly, the wall of fire was cut into and opened like a curtain. Standing in the middle of it there was a now fully visible Iwaizumi, dressed in nothing but Oikawa’s paint and a dark cloak with a fur collar that resembled a lion’s mane, wielding a huge sword in his hands. Akaashi’s jaw dropped at the sight, he was the textbook definition of epic.

“Talk about starting big…” Nakajima said, visibly pleased.

The fire looked like he had a life of its own and if followed Iwaizumi moves on stage, in an intricate and spectacular choreography where the fire was a dragon and Iwazumi the hero trying to kill it. Iwazumi’s regular show at the Midnight Moon circus was child’s play in comparison. It exceeded the boundaries of fire dancing: it was real firebending.

Iwaizumi moved lightly on his feet, twirling and jumping, wielding the sword with grace and precision, stopping the attacks, one after the other, at an ever faster pace, creating a burst of sparks every time the blade met the flames. The crowd was looking at him with bated breath when suddenly the fire was able to sink a blow, slamming Iwaizumi on the ground and tearing the sword away from his grasp. It slipped away to the corner of the stage, far out of his reach.

The fire immediately surrounded Iwaizumi, tightening the circle around him more and more, until it stopped just before it touched him. The wall of fire trembled around him, as if it was being torn apart from the inside. There was a scream so loud it drowned out the roar of the fire and suddenly someone dressed in skin-tight black armour jumped out of the flames, aggressively wielding a sword of his own.

Akaashi widened his eyes in shock.

“Kuroo-san?” Tsukishima said in a confused whisper.

Akashi was about to ask Tsukishima how on earth he knew who Kuroo was, but things on stage were too hectic for him to place his attention elsewhere. Kuroo was standing right in front of where Iwaizumi was still laying, his sword up in the air, reflecting the light as if it was on fire itself, and the joints of his armour lit up with vivid flames. His amber eyes were blazing as much as the fire around him, shining fiercely under heavy dark makeup. Kuroo smirked before lowering his blow on Iwaizumi.

For a moment the crowd was blinded by a blast of sparks that slowly faded to reveal Iwaizumi blocking Kuroo’s sword with a double ended spear. He pushed Kuroo away, jumping back on his feet and spinning the spear in his hand to light both ends on fire in the process.

They engaged in a dazzling and flawlessly coordinated battle where Iwaizumi could perform all his most impressive fire dancing tricks. They chased each other, fought, and attacked in such a realistic way that Akaashi couldn’t help but wonder how many times they must had rehearsed it to achieve such an impeccable level of perfection, not only in the moves, but in the acting as well. Blow after blow, the fight culminated in Kuroo finally falling at Iwaizumi’s feet and Iwaizumi sinking the spear mercilessly in his gut.

Kuroo’s scream was covered by the hissing of the fire dying around them as if its power was latched to Kuroo’s own life. Everything stayed still for a second and then flames erupted one last time, spreading like wings on Iwaizumi’s back.

He gripped at the spear with both hands, visibly panting, before gazing at the crowd in front of him for the first time with those steel eyes of his. Despite looking drained to the core, his eyes were challenging every single one of the people who were looking at him. In truth, he probably was.

In that moment, seeing Iwaizumi smile while walking off stage in the wake of the audience’s applause, Akaashi realized that it was possible. They had a chance.

 

=

 

The crowd was buzzing around Akaashi, but the only thing he could hear was the pounding of his heart, faster and louder each time.

The stage was dark before his eyes, no more contestants waiting to take their chance on it. That was it; it was over. The arena was lit back up, eagerly awaiting for the judges to finish the evaluation and for the winner to be revealed.

Akaashi was so anxious he felt like he was about to puke.

It would have been easier if their act has been good, but just not good enough. It wasn’t. It was perfect and deserved to win. Suddenly so many things started to make sense in his head: the constant smell of kerosene, Kuroo’s absence during rehearsals for the regular show, his tiredness, Iwaizumi’s tension.

He knew the boys down in the pit were well aware of how well they had performed as well. He searched for them from his high spot and found them uncharacteristically quiet. Iwaizumi was back in his suit, arms resting on his knees, just spinning his purple feather between his fingers. Oikawa was on his phone, like he always was, while Bokuto was taking the compliments of someone sat before him. Kuroo was nowhere to be found.

“So, Tsukishima-kun,” Souta started, breaking the tense silence. “Was the Midnight Moon Circus worth cheering for?”

“They were adequate,” Tsukishima said, without a hint of emotion. “I wasn’t expecting a fire performance. It looked particularly dangerous.”

“It is, especially if you think the other one is not even a fire dancer, but a lion tamer,” Akaashi commented.

“WHAT?” Souta, Nakajima, and Tsukishima gasped with one voice.

“Yes, Kuroo-san is actually our lion tamer,” Akaashi explained. Now that he said it, he realized how actually absurd it all was. Just thinking about it shocked Akaashi once again: Kuroo, the lazy jokester of the circus, really threw himself into such a dangerous act, just for the sake of having the chance to win. And no one, not even Bokuto or let alone Kuroo himself, had the decency to inform Akaashi about it.

“The lion tamer...” Tsukishima echoed. “That makes sense.”

“Makes sense?” Akaashi asked, raising an eyebrow in confusion.

“It does,” Tsukishima said, blankly.  

Akaashi suddenly remembered how Tsukishima recognized Kuroo immediately the moment he stepped on stage. “Wait, do you know him?”

“I do.”

“How?”

“Professional secrecy,” Tsukishima smirked.

“Kuroo-san is not one your patients,” Akaashi said, irritated.

Tsukishima’s smirk grew wider. “Isn’t he really?”

“Please,” Souta intervened to soothe the mood. “No fighting in front of the child.”

“No fight, child!” Poco repeated, puffing his little chest out and proudly pointing at Nakajima.

“Aaaahhhhhh?” Nakajima screeched. “You little runt! How dare you!”

The little family antics stole a small laugh from Akaashi and paused the argument between him and Tsukishima, just in time for the lights in the arena to come down. All eyes were on the stage again and the buzz of the crowd slowly died down to reach complete silence.  

The spotlight turned on with a loud click to reveal the presenter Tamaki Sou in the middle of the stage, with a shiny envelope already in his hands. He smiled at the crowd before him, ever so pleased.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you enjoyed tonight’s show! You saw it with your own eyes, every act deserves to be rewarded but, sadly, just one can win the Crystal Feather Award.” Tamaki paused, feeling the anticipation of the people hanging from his every word. “So, without further ado, I’m about to announce this year’s winner.”

Tamaki slowly turned the envelope in his hands, opening it and glancing at the name written on it just for a fraction of a second. His face didn’t give away anything, but it felt like he was expecting that exact turn of events.

Akaashi never prayed once in his life, but he found himself pressing his hands together, repeating “Please, please, please…” in his head, in sync with the furious beating of his heart.

He held his breath, closing his eyes.

“The winner…”

Please. Please. Please.

“Of the Japanese Crystal Feather Award 2018…”

Please. Please.

“Is…”

Please.

“The Midnight Moon Circus.”

There was complete silence for a moment, then everything exploded around Akaashi. The roar of the crowd, the burst of confetti, his heart. Akaashi felt like he had just been shot through the chest. His breath was cut and tears started to gather in his eyes, but his body was frozen, unable to react. None of what was happening around him made sense anymore.

“Akaashi-kun, congratulations,” Souta said softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “You did it.”

“Did it! Did it!” Poco echoed, jumping around like he always did when he was so excited.

“They…” Akaashi managed through his shivering lips. “They did it.”

 

=

 

Akaashi was running as fast as he could but the faster he went, the harder it was to find the right way among the intricate maze of halls in the arena.

He needed to reach Bokuto, he needed to hold him close, he needed to kiss him, he needed to tell him how proud of him, of them, he was, before the inevitable chaos started and took him away.

They did it. They truly did it.

The words of the presenter were still echoing in his mind like in a dream: “The winner of the Japanese Crystal Feather award is… the Midnight Moon Circus”. And with them the deafening pounding of his heart, the cheering of the people, the applause, the screams, the burst of silver and purple confetti that filled the air.

His purple feather granted him an easy access to the backstage area, but when he finally got up there and found Bokuto, he wasn’t alone. Right by the stage curtain, a lanky middle-aged man wrapped in a beautiful mint green kimono was talking to Bokuto, who was looking at him with undivided attention and a soft smile on his lips. The man squeezed Bokuto’s shoulder and stealthily handed him a thick envelope, which disappeared in the blink of an eye between Bokuto’s hands. They both bowed and, right when Akaashi was about to call him, Bokuto walked on stage like nothing happened while the man walked past Akaashi without a single glance. His coldness made Akaashi shiver in a disturbingly familiar way.

From his spot by the heavy curtain, Akaashi could see Bokuto proudly holding the Crystal Feather Award in his hands, some sparkling confetti still trapped in his almost undone silver quiff. There was a strange sense of unease surrounding him, so strong Akaashi’s gut twisted. Something wasn’t right, but what it was Akaashi couldn’t tell.

“Thank you, but I don’t deserve to be the one holding this award,” Bokuto said to the ever so smiley Tamaki Sou next to him. “This victory isn’t mine. One could say it’s ours, and it is, but it’s mostly theirs. I want my friends to stand next to me. Now.”

“Of course,” Tamaki said with an understanding nod. “Iwaizumi-san, Kuroo-san, Oikawa-san, please, join your leader on stage.”

“I’m not their leader,” Bokuto said to him seriously, narrowing his eyes.

“That’s right, you’re so much more than that!” Kuroo said, firmly gripping Bokuto’s forearm with a beaming yet absolutely forced smile. It probably wasn’t visible from afar, but from the edge of his suit, around the neck and wrists, some bandages were peeking out. His smile trembled at the corner of his lips. He so obviously looked in a lot of pain, but he was trying to conceal it as best as he could. A body covered in burning scars was the toll an act like the one they performed required.

Bokuto handed the prize to Iwaizumi, who accepted it with a bow and looked at it as if he was still barely realizing they truly won it. Oikawa smiled at him with a fondness he had never showed before to anyone ever, so genuine it almost felt misplaced on Oikawa’s face. Seeing him with that expression could fool anyone but Akaashi into believing Oikawa Tooru, deep down, had a heart as well.

“So,” Tamaki prompted Bokuto again. “How does it feel to be the best circus in Japan?”

“It feels like everything we did until now wasn’t a mistake, after all,” Bokuto said with a strange bitter smirk. “Being able to stand here with my friends, with the people I love the most, it’s… surprising… we… really tried our absolute best, we really wanted to win tonight and to prove to the world that, despite all the rumours surrounding us, we do exist, as a circus and as artists and… I guess we did.” Bokuto paused, taking a deep breath in. “So thank you to Iwa-chan and Kuroo who went above and beyond to perform tonight, to Oikawa who… well, does his things and we wouldn’t be here tonight without him, to all the other artists and the crew who are waiting for us to bring this shiny thing back at home. So thank you for this award, and if you will continue to support us and come to see us performing in the future… well… that would make us very happy. Really, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

Bokuto bowed and the crowd welcomed his speech with a roaring applause. Bokuto briefly glanced at his side and met Akaashi’s eyes, wide and full of proud tears. He winked, subtly mouthing “Thank you, I love you.” before bowing once again, tight in the embrace of his friends.

Akaashi was so proud of him and of every single one of them. They may have looked like spoiled brats to most people and the ones who were applauding them in that moment knew nothing about the struggles, the troubles, the pain and the work those boys endured to be able to hold that award in their hands. Akaashi himself knew little to none of it, but that little was already enough to make tears fall down his face and his hand go numb because of how hard he was clapping.

“Akaashi! Why are you crying??” Bokuto asked running to hug him.

In the warm and tight embrace of his arms, Akaashi let all his barriers down and burst into tears, sobbing like a baby. “I love you,” he said between the sniffles.

Bokuto laughed, holding him closer. “I love you too, Akaashi.”

“Why are you the one who’s crying the most?” Kuroo said, peeking at Akaashi’s face from behind Bokuto’s shoulders.

“I think a lot of things were going on for him as well since we arrived here,” Bokuto said, kissing the top of Akaashi’s head. “And you’re just about to cry as well.”

“Yes, I am, hug me too,” Kuroo pouted, just like a baby.

“Here,” Bokuto smiled, opening his arms.

Akaashi thought he was joking, like he always did, but Kuroo really dropped his forehead onto Bokuto’s shoulder, who ghosted his touch around him, careful not to really touch him, and, just like that, he started quietly crying as well.

“You did great,” Bokuto whispered to him, gently caressing the back of his head.

“You were really amazing, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi nodded, reaching out a hand to brush some of the hair away that was sticking to his forehead.

“Thanks, may I sleep between you two tonight?” he asked in an innocent voice.

“No way,” Bokuto and Akaashi said with one, soft voice.

Kuroo pouted once again, turning his head to look back at Iwaizumi and Oikawa with his kitty eyes, silently asking the same question.

Oikawa rolled his eyes without answering, making his way out from backstage. Iwaizumi followed him and so did Bokuto with his two heavy, still quivering packages of emotions.

“Isn’t this the Midnight Moon circus!” a familiar voice greeted them as they stepped outside.

“Are you too famous now to give this old fan of yours a hug as well?”

Akaashi’s smile was so big it made his tears stop immediately. “Tanaka-san, you’re here!”

“I told you I’d been seeing you sooner than you thought!” Saeko winked at him. “How dare you look so pretty even with such puffy eyes?”

She was as gorgeous as ever: her slightly tanned skin was left visible by her backless tight gold lamé dress, a thin gold chain was shimmering on it and, at its end, a black and orange feather was attached.

“You’ve been amazing boys, really, I was rooting for you so hard my people were about to sue me for treason,” she winked. “Kuroo, Iwa-chan, what you did was…”

“Absolutely reckless and unnecessary?” Oikawa cut her short. “Because that’s what it was.”

All eyes snapped to Oikawa, the air suddenly heavy and freezing cold between them. It was the first time Akaashi had seen Oikawa being so direct with someone in public, especially in front of Iwaizumi.

Seconds passed before anyone dared to speak.

“That’s rich coming from you,” Iwaizumi sighed, his voice less annoyed than his eyes were.

“He’s right though,” Saeko said, firmly. “It was the most reckless thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t know if it was really unnecessary, but it was also the most awesome circus act in the history of modern circus. You went above and beyond to take that award and you did it. Tonight is for celebrating, tomorrow you can scold them all you want, Tooru.”

Saeko smiled, squeezing Oikawa’s shoulder. Even with her high heels, she was still several inches shorter than him, but that took away nothing from her imposing aura. They looked into each other’s eyes for a long time. Saeko smiled at him warmly and, for a moment, Akaashi was sure she was about to hug him. She just dropped her gaze first, turning back to the other boys.

“I should get going. I’ll see you at the after party boys, congratulations again, you deserve it.”

Various form of thank you echoed with Saeko’s steps, only Oikawa stayed silent.

“Where’s this after party she mentioned? I feel like I could use one or two thousand shots,” Kuroo lamented, finally raising his head from Bokuto’s shoulder.

“Of morphine or vodka?” Bokuto asked.

“Possibly both.”

“I bumped into a sign while I was running here,” Akaashi said. “It’s in the back of the theatre, on the terrace by the sea.”

“A terrace by the sea sounds nice,” Iwaizumi smiled.

“It does, and we, my gentlemen… ” Kuroo said, pulling both Oikawa and Iwaizumi next to him. “We are the stars of this party so please, put on your best smiles and let’s go have some damn fun for the first time in forever.”

Oikawa and Kuroo stared at each other, an unspoken battle going on between them. Surprisingly, it was Kuroo the one who won.

“Fine,” Oikawa sighed. “But I’ll be staying for just an hour. And stop giving me those eyes you fucker.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say honey,” Kuroo smiled, leading the group to their next destination.

 

=

 

The after party wasn’t much different from the usual after party they held at the Midnight Moon Circus. There were a lot of people, a lot of food, a lot of alcohol, and really good music.  There were only two striking differences: the first was the constant and calming sound of the waves crashing into the shore; the second the fact that, if usually the boys were left alone to chill by themselves, now every single person stopped them, asked them for pictures or autographs and engaged them in the most random conversations. Some occasional flirting took place as well, of course. As Kuroo said, they truly were the stars of the night and everyone wanted a piece of them.

Akaashi perched on the edge of the terrace and took a deep breath in, feeling the scent of the sea filling his lungs. It was such a nice feeling. He slowly opened his eyes, noticing a figure in the shadows not far from where he was, staring intently into the darkness before it.

Akaashi smiled. He stole two glasses of champagne as he made his way to where it was.

“Weren’t we here to have some fun… ” Akaashi started, offering one of the glasses. “Ne, Oikawa-san?”

Oikawa blinked at him, seeming mildly surprised. He took the glass without saying anything.

“I know you were worried, if I knew what they were doing I would have been as well,” Akaashi said.

“I didn’t,” Oikawa said without meeting Akaashi’s eyes, gulping the whole glass in one go. “I didn’t know they were going to do it.”

Akaashi’s jaw dropped. “Y-you… didn’t?”

“That’s what I said, Akaashi. I didn’t. They did everything behind my back.”

“Because they were probably afraid you would have stopped them…” Akaashi said, tentatively.

“Of course I would have!” Oikawa snapped. “Who in their right mind would have let them do something like that? They could have died right in front of us!” There was so much raw emotion on Oikawa’s face Akaashi had to take a step back. His eyes were bloodshot and full of something that could have been equally anger and pure fear. His whole body was visibly shaking.

He looked so… human, so vulnerable, Akaashi didn’t know what to do. The only thing he knew was that, if Bokuto had been the one on stage attempting an act like that, he would have reacted just the same, if not worse. Oikawa was slowly being consumed by his concerns, by his what ifs, by the shock of having his lover, his friends, hiding something so big from him. He was probably feeling betrayed but, more than anything, he looked scared .  

“O-oikawa-san, it’s over now, I’m sure they won’t do something like that ever again…” Akaashi tried to reassure him.

“They just have to try. I will burn this fucking circus to the ground myself.” It felt like the darkness made its way into Oikawa’s eyes, taking away all the light in them and turning his stare into a black, terrifying hole. But then he blinked and the warm chocolate was there again.

“Thank you for the drink, that was exactly what I needed.” Oikawa looked at Akaashi and smiled, making him shiver under his stare.

“I’m… yes,” Akaashi stumbled over his words, not really sure about what he was going to say in the first place. Just… how many personalities did Oikawa Tooru have again?

“Akaashi!” Bokuto’s voiced called him. “Akaashi! Look who’s here!”

Bokuto was getting closer, the little Poco firmly held in his arms and Souta, Nakajima and Tsukishima walking next to him.

“Kashiiiii!” Poco yelled, waving his little hands.

Akaashi reached out his hands, allowing the little one to jump on him. Poco then climbed on his shoulder, stroking his cheek against Akaashi’s, like a little cat would do. Then, he stopped abruptly.

“Woah! Pretty!” Poco gasped, pointing at something behind Akaashi. There was only one thing behind Akaashi other than the black sea and that thing was Oikawa Tooru.

“He’s very pretty, that’s why he’s our princess,” Bokuto giggled, stepping next to Akaashi to hold Poco, who was struggling to get closer to Oikawa, more in place.

“I’m not a princess,” Oikawa scoffed. “But I do have a white horse, if that makes any sense.”

“It does,” Souta said with a polite smile. “Pardon our child’s manners, Oikawa-san.”

Oikawa studied the excited child in front of him a bit before giving in. “It’s nothing, don’t worry,” he said with a smile of his own.

“Oya, oya oya… what do we have here?” Kuroo said, appearing out of nowhere along with Iwaizumi. He was visibly drunk. “Have you guys adopted while I was away?”

“No,” Bokuto said, still holding Poco who was now dangling across Akaashi’s shoulder. “…not yet.”

Akaashi’s heart flipped in his chest. He glanced at Oikawa, who was now shifting his gaze between Iwaizumi and Bokuto. It seemed like Akaashi wasn’t the only one projecting his future at that sight.

Poco yawned roundly, finally giving up on his quest to reach Oikawa. “Look who’s up past bedtime?” Akaashi said turning him inside his arms.

Poco didn’t respond, he simply looped his arms around Akaashi’s neck, a little finger automatically starting to curl one of his locks. He rested his head on Akaashi’s chest and slowly closed his eyes, falling asleep almost immediately.

“I can’t believe he passed out like this,” Bokuto said, frowning. “He looks so defenseless. ”

“Only when he’s sleeping,” Nakajima’s laughed.

“Oh wait, we complained about Poco’s manners but we didn’t do the introductions either!” Akaashi’s said.

“Oh, right, well…” Bokuto started. “As you might have guessed this is the rest of the Midnight Moon Circus: Oikawa Tooru, Kuroo Tetsurou and Iwaizumi Hajime, and these are our friends we met on the beach today, Tawara Souta, Nakajima Shinobu and… ”

“Tsukishima Kei,” Kuroo said, smirking.

“Kuroo-san,” Tsukishima acknowledged him in a small bow.

“Do you know each other?” Bokuto asked, surprised.

“Yes, he came to the hospital because his s-”

“Stomach. My stomach hurt. Must have been something I ate,” Kuroo cut him off.

Nakajima was about to say something when he was cut off by Souta in turn. “Small world, uh? Who would have thought? Anyway, my sincere compliments to you all. I already said it to Bokuto-san, you were… incredible. I’m so happy you won.”

“Thank you for coming, we really appreciated it,” Bokuto said with one of his big, blinding smiles.

“Thank you for inviting us, it was an amazing night, we will remember it forever,” Souta beamed as well and Nakajima nodded enthusiastically by his side. “But now I’m afraid we must go home and put Poco to bed.”

“Tsukishima-kun, you can stay if you want,” Nakajima said with a strange smirk on his face.

“Stay,” Kuroo said. It wasn’t a question, it was almost… a request.

“Just for one drink,” Tsukishima sighed.

“Good, we’ll go then, thank you so much!” Kuroo saluted them, then offered his arm to Tsukishima who refused it, mildly disgusted.

There was a strange energy passing between them and Akaashi was sure everyone else noticed as well. Oikawa, especially, was looking at them with supreme delight. Just how many things managed to happen in their short stay on the island, Akaashi wondered.

“I think time is up for us as well, isn’t it, Iwa-chan?” Oikawa asked, in an uncharacteristically bubbly tone. “You must be tired after the stunts you pulled back on stage.”

Iwaizumi rolled his eyes, sighing. “Yes, we shall go. Goodbye, thank you again!”

“Bye Byeeeee!” Oikawa echoed and, before they knew it, they’d both already disappeared.

“I’m sorry for all of them, they must be really tired,” Bokuto apologized.

“Don’t worry, we understood long ago how quirky circus people can be!” Nakajima said with a small shrug.

Bokuto nodded in understanding. “Anyway, this is a little embarrassing to say since I’ve known you for less than 24 hours but it’s like… already too hard to say goodbye to you.”

“It’s actually the same for us,” Souta said with a soft smile. “You are such adorable boys. Meeting you was one of the best things of this holiday, for me and for the little one here” he said, reaching for him. Akaashi pressed a soft kiss on top of Poco’s head, before sliding him gently into his father’s arms.

“If by chance we end up where you are, don’t hesitate to come to us to say hi and see the show. I don’t care if it’s in a month or in years, you will always be our guests, just call me,” Bokuto said, handing him his personal business card.

“You’re making me emotional. I know it’s ridiculous but I really love you guys,” Souta said, his voice broken by a bit of emotion.

“We love you too, very dearly,” Akaashi was able to say before breaking into tears once again. He lost all possible control of his emotions and their last hug together felt so warm and so comforting he didn’t really want to hide anything from them.

They all had watery eyes by the time they said goodbye.

 

=

 

Bokuto’s regular breathing was tickling the back of Akaashi’s neck. Their bodies were still pressed together, naked skin against naked skin, legs tangled, fingers intertwined. The smell of sex was still lingering in the stilled room, so silent now that their moans had quieted down. It was way too hot for sleeping so close, but neither of them seemed to care. Akaashi wanted Bokuto as close as he possibly could.

Akaashi let out a deep breath, his eyelids heavier each time he blinked. The soft night breeze was gently blowing into the thin curtains, carrying the smell and sound of the sea inside, a gentle call that was slowly lulling him to sleep.

“Don’t worry, I will finish this tonight in your dreams.”

Oikawa’s voice echoed in his head and Akaashi snapped his eyes open, jerking violently in Bokuto’s arms.

“-Kashi?” Bokuto mumbled, loosening his grip around Akaashi’s waist.

“Shh, Bokuto-san, it’s nothing, sleep,” Akaashi whispered, turning around to kiss the tip of his nose and rubbing the back of his neck, a soft cuddle that always helped him relax during his bad days.

Bokuto reached for Akaashi’s hand, gently pulling it away from his neck. He kissed his fingers before placing it on his chest. “Why are you not sleeping, Akaashi?”

“I was about to, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said, trying to sound as convincing as he could.

“Don’t lie to me Akaashi, I don’t like when people lie to me.” Bokuto’s eyes weren’t hard but something in them made Akaashi’s heart tremble with fear.

“I… Bokuto-san… It’s…” Akaashi tried, but he couldn’t find a way to possibly explain what was happening inside him. So many things happened and he suddenly realized how much of it he hid from Bokuto. How could he possibly explain the fact that he basically cheated on him? With Oikawa among all people? That something was weird with him, that something wasn’t really right in the first place, that in his mind there was a word that constantly haunted him. Magic . How could he ask him if it was real? How could he explain to Bokuto all the things he couldn’t really understand himself?

“Don’t be scared, Akaashi,” Bokuto smiled, softly rubbing his thumb across Akaashi’s cheekbone.

“I… I am,” Akaashi admitted.

“I know you are, but don’t be,” Bokuto kissed him, hugging him close again. “He won’t come tonight.”

Akaashi gasped.

“I know what happened between you and Oikawa, I was just waiting for you to tell me about it,” he explained. There wasn’t a hint of disappointment in his voice and Akaashi got mad because there should have been. Why was Bokuto so good to him, even when he didn’t deserve it in the slightest?

“I’m sorry, I… didn’t know… I don’t… understand. I don’t understand what’s happening Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said, defeated, dropping his forehead against Bokuto’s strong chest.

“It’s fine, Akaashi, you don’t have to worry about Oikawa anymore, he won’t do anything like that again, he promised me.”

“You… talked to him?”

 

“Yes, the morning we had the brunch with the boys,” Bokuto said, without explaining any further. Despite how fiercely protective Bokuto was of Akaashi, he didn’t sound mad at Oikawa. Akaashi felt a sparkle of selfish desire inside him. He wanted Bokuto to be angry, he wanted Bokuto to see Oikawa for what he really was: a messy bitch who loved to toy with Akaashi and to undermine his relationship with Bokuto any way he could. Why did it seem like Akaashi was the only one able to see it? Why did Bokuto and everyone else always justify Oikawa no matter what? How did he have literally everyone wrapped around his finger?

“Why… Why are you not mad at him, Bokuto-san?” Akaashi managed to ask despite the knot in his throat.

“I was mad at him,” Bokuto said, looking at Akaashi in the eye. The moonshine made the gold glimmer even more than usual. “You’re the most important person in my life right now, Akaashi, remember it. How do you think I felt waking up in a bed that smelled like Oikawa and seeing you so fucked up in every possible way?” His voice was rising, like it always did when he was getting angry, but Akaashi didn’t falter. “I love you, Akaashi, don’t ever think I’ll be ok with people messing with you, please.”

“I’m… I’m sorry, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said under his breath, feeling tears gathering at the edge of his eyes once again.

“It’s ok, Akaashi,” Bokuto said, wiping the tears away with his thumb. “But don’t keep secrets from me anymore, ok? If something happens just tell me right away. No matter what, just tell me. Promise me.”

“I promise,” Akaashi nodded.

He didn’t deserve him. No one could ever deserve such a pure love as the one Bokuto Koutarou was offering him.

“Good,” Bokuto smiled, cuddling him until Akaashi’s breath was finally even again. He felt so safe he slid into sleep without even realizing it.

That night, no one came to intrude on his dreams.

Chapter Text

Fresh linen wrapped around the soul, that’s what summer in Hokkaido felt like. With its lavender fields already in full bloom, the gentle wind was filled with a sweet and aromatic yet salty smell that eased the senses, evoking a sweet feeling of calm and tranquility.

Akaashi loved Shodoshima, but way too many things happened down there. In Hokkaido everything was so crisp and pure it felt like nothing bad could happen. After the chaos of the past months, it was exactly the kind of scenario they all needed. It seemed that in Hokkaido life was slowly starting to go back to the normal routine Akaashi was used to; not many reporters followed them to the northern part of Japan, leaving the boys a little less busy.

Still, the Midnight Moon Circus was abuzz, probably even more than before the Crystal Feather Award. It was the 20th of July, the most anticipated day of the year for the crew. It was Oikawa’s birthday.

Everyone was busy with the preparations, Bokuto included as he was “figuring out how to set up this thing I have no idea how to set up”. What the thing was, Bokuto wouldn’t tell. Akaashi exonerated himself from the craziness of it, not really in the mood to do something for Oikawa in the first place, and grabbed his bike to go on a little tour to explore the surroundings.

He’d never been to Hokkaido before but he fell in love with the steady, calm aura the island was radiating. It felt like time passed slower there and that people seemed less bothered by everyday matters. The sky was a shade of blue impossible to find anywhere else and everywhere around him the flowers were in full bloom. It was like cycling through a painting.

Following the little streets up the hills, Akaashi found himself in one of the many flower farms spread across the whole island. It was a fairly large white house, sprouted all of a sudden in a sea of red, orange, pink and purple. Some green parasols were opened outside, shielding the few tourists sat underneath from the afternoon sky. Looking at his phone, he realized he had been cycling around for almost two hours and Akaashi thought he could afford some rest as well: he was sweaty, thirsty and also a little hungry.

He was about to lock his bicycle when he recognized a far too familiar head of hair talking to the lady behind the ice cream stand. Akaashi suddenly felt the tiredness and all his other physical needs evaporate and he was ready to turn around and make his way back to the circus. He’d almost made it without being spotted when a voice, his voice, called him back.

“Are you trying to sneak away from me, Akaashi?”

Damn it.

“No, I was just parking my bike over here.”

“That’s a lie.”

“Yeah.”

Akaashi gave in to his destiny and turned around. Kuroo Tetsurou met him with a slightly disappointed face and one soft ice cream cone in each of his hands.

“So you won’t have the ice cream?” he asked, pouting like the baby that he was.

“Of course I’ll have the ice cream,” Akaashi nodded.

Kuroo smiled, offering him one. It was bluish-purple, smelled like lavender and tasted like you expect summer in Hokkaido would taste. It was delicious.

“Thank you very much, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi said with a little bow and that made Kuroo smile so big. Sometimes the tiniest things were able to make him so happy.

“Let’s eat it over there, the lady told me it’s the best view of the flowers,” Kuroo said, pointing to a little hill not far from where they were.

It was a very short walk and the view was indeed incredible. In front of them a field of flowers of all the colors of the rainbow extended as far as the eye could see and, in the far distance, the sea was still visible.

“Damn I wish we could make out in front of this,” Kuroo laughed, licking his ice cream as if that could have some effect on Akaashi.

“Too bad you said it out loud, now you wish will never come true,” Akaashi said with a smug grin.

“I will try to live with that as best I can,” Kuroo shrugged, sitting down on the ground, enjoying his cone with closed eyes. Washed by the almost setting sun, his skin looked flawless under his tank top, without any trace of a  scar or burn Akaashi was sure would be there after his act the night of the Crystal Feather Award. Even if Akaashi was sure Kuroo would have displayed his scars with pride, it still was a miracle.

“Checking out the guns, eh?” Kuroo smirked, only one of his cat eyes open.

“Oh please,” Akaashi scoffed. “I was just wondering what you’re doing here. Aren’t you all busy with the preparations for tonight?”

“We are, I was here to do a last check on the flowers but then fate brought you here to delight my errand and I can’t resist a pretty boy when I see him and here we are, romantically staring at the sunset eating delicious ice cream,” Kuroo said as dramatically as he could.

Akaashi was so done with him he could do nothing but burst into laughter. Kuroo Tetsurou was every possible definition of the word incredible.  

“So, is everything ready?” Akaashi asked, eventually.

“Almost, yes. There are so many things happening at the same time but I’m sure it will be a great night,” Kuroo said.

“Are you really sure?”

“Well, first of all I’m the best party organizer in Japan and second I’ve been there for every one of his 26 birthdays on this earth so Oikawa knows I know what he wants,” Kuroo declared, casually dropping a bomb on Akaashi.

Akaashi didn’t know how to react. He just assumed they all got to really know each other the moment they were put together in the Midnight Moon Circus, but that was probably true just for Bokuto. Like Kuroo always recommended, he should indeed have done some research. Or probably asked just a few more questions. So many things would have been solved already if Akaashi just realized he should have asked more questions at the right times.

“What’s that face for?” Kuroo asked, confused.

“I… didn’t know you and Oikawa-san have known each other for so long,” Akaashi managed.

“Of course we have!” Kuroo shrieked. “Even if for different reasons, our families are two of the most prestigious families in the circus world, our moms are besties, that sort of thing. I suspect they actually planned to have babies at the same time,” Kuroo laughed. “We’ve been together since forever, attending the same school, the same parties, travelling together… we grew up together. That’s why he trusts me with the organization of his birthday party.”

“The fact that Oikawa-san is able to trust anyone sounds somehow foreign to me. But I understand why you at least are going so much out of your way for him,” Akaashi said. He couldn’t help but think that probably little Kuroo and Oikawa were the epitome of annoying, spoiled little brats.

“Well, everyone has their reasons. As for me, it’s simply because he’s my best friend,” Kuroo said casually, giving one final bite to his cone. He took a sip from his water before throwing it to Akaashi.

“Aren’t you all each other’s best friend?” Akaashi teased him.

“No, Iwa-chan doesn’t want to be my best friend,” Kuroo pouted a little.

“That’s unfortunate.”

“And you don’t want to either,” Kuroo pouted even harder, giving him the puppy eyes.

“We’ve known each other for less than a year, Kuroo-san, I’m not qualified enough to be your best friend anyway,” Akaashi explained.

“But I love you,” Kuroo said, faking a voice choked by tears.

Akaashi didn’t know whether to sigh or laugh. “You’re annoying.”

“I know I am.”

“That’s probably why Iwaizumi-san doesn’t want to be your best friend!” Akaashi said, shaking his head.

Kuroo grimaced. “No, that’s because I’m Oikawa’s ex-boyfriend.”

Akaashi spit out his drink. “His ex WHAT?”

“Oh for fucks sake Akaashi, I told you a million times you should research things!” Kuroo scolded him, exactly as Akaashi predicted.

“Where would I find this information?” Akaashi protested, still shocked by his newly acquired knowledge.

“You could have asked Bokuto,” Kuroo said as if that was the most logical thing to do. In fact, it was.

Akaashi didn’t know what to say. As always, Kuroo was right, but that wasn’t the only reason. “I… prefer to keep the Oikawa-san talk with Bokuto-san to the bare minimum or avoid it completely,” he admitted.

“Ha, I wonder why,” Kuroo scoffed with a knowing grin. “Anyway yes, I’m his ex-boyfriend, we were together for five years more or less.”

“FIVE YEARS?” Akaashi snapped. Now, the fact that they’d been together was already a thing on its own, but Akaashi never imagined they could both be in a committed relationship for so long. Everything was already too much.

“Does it sound so absurd?” Kuroo asked, half confused, half amused by seeing how badly Akaashi was reacting to all of it.

“Honestly? Yes.”

“We were pretty good, we had that power couple kind of vibe.” Kuroo let out a small laugh. He closed his eyes, as if he was trying to recall his memories of that time.

“I still can’t figure out if you’re kidding me or not, Kuroo-san…” Akaashi considered. Knowing Kuroo, it could have been the best planned prank he’d pulled on him since they’d known each other.

“No, I’m serious, really!” he reassured him. “I don’t know how it happened but… see, by the age of 16 I already did everything that could be done with a girl. Or more girls. I screwed every single one of them who approached me with that intention. I had fun, more fun that was probably allowed at my age.” Kuroo paused. That, at least, was a bit that didn’t surprise Akaashi in the slightest. “But then I got bored, a little scared and I got kinda… depressed I think? The more things started to lose meaning around me, the more I lost myself in sex, trying to ease the pain and shut the voices in my head up. Eventually it stopped being effective and I really didn’t know what to do.” Kuroo took a long, deep breath. “See Akaashi, I’m an oversharer.”

Akaashi raised one eyebrow. “I figured.”

“And I suddenly realized that even though I’d vomited out every single one of my problems and each tiny detail of my love life to Oikawa… I knew nothing about his private life. Nothing. He never said a single thing to me. At first I thought he was still a virgin which ok cool, but then I realized it was because… he liked boys,” Kuroo explained, the same stupor of a fresh realization on his face.

“And he didn’t tell you…” Akaashi said. He didn’t need to put much effort into understanding why Oikawa didn’t. The story was painfully familiar already.

“I mean, I get it, but who knows what was happening in that head of his,” Kuroo huffed. “But anyway, one night I got drunk like, seriously drunk. We were in circus school already, I think, and I started banging on his door yelling in the hallways in the middle of the night until he let me in. I begged him to have sex with me. Literally. I was screaming and crying and the only thing I wanted was to feel something. Eventually he let me and, damn Akaashi, I did feel something. Everything. After just one night I became addicted to him and kept going back for more, and more, and more. Damn I’m giving myself a boner just thinking about it.”

“Kuroo-san, please,” Akaashi begged him. He really didn’t need any more details about his intimate life with Oikawa. He knew firsthand how good he could be.

“Anyways, we always spent a lot of time together as friends, and when we weren’t hanging out or doing school things we fucked. That was our life. We were… sort of closed in our own bubble. I felt like I really didn’t need anything else other than Oikawa,” Kuroo said with a bittersweet smile.

“So why did it end? What happened?” Akaashi asked, more curious than ever.

“Bokuto happened.”

Akaashi’s blood froze in his veins. “W-what do you mean?”

“We were still together when we started in the Midnight Moon Circus, but I’d already begun feeling something was wrong. See, I loved him, but I can’t say that it was the same for him. He was fond of me, he was crazy possessive, but I’m sure that even if he truly loved me, he never loved me as much as I loved him. And I was fine with it, I guess there’s always someone in the couple who loves more, and I was ok with it. I would have been ok with anything as long as I could be with him at the time, I guess,” Kuroo said, with the calm and tranquillity of people who look back at a past that somehow doesn’t belong to them anymore, but to someone else. “Slowly, show after show, I felt something inside him was different. You know, people who are in love… they sparkle, they shine with such a radiant light… you, Akaashi, are sparkling right now and Oikawa was as well, but I wasn’t the one making him glow, it was Bokuto.”

Akaashi heart tightened in his chest. “So it was true, he did fall for him…” he said in a whisper of a voice.

“Yes, that’s why we broke up,” Kuroo nodded, solemnly.

“I’m sorry, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi said. It felt the only right thing to say.

“Nah, don’t be,” Kuroo smiled. “I’m grateful to Bokuto for that, he made me open my eyes and see how toxic that whole situation was. It was bound to happen anyway, sooner or later.” For a person who always cried so easily, there wasn’t a single threat of tears in Kuroo’s eyes. They remained as warm and sharp as the sun that was setting in them.

“Knowing all of this makes me wonder how you managed to keep this balance between you...” Akaashi considered.

“Well, breaking up with Oikawa was… dramatic. At best,” Kuroo chuckled. “We couldn’t really stay together, but at the same time it was just as impossible to keep us apart. We kept falling back at first, we did some questionable shit before really finding our balance. I was happy when I randomly toyed with someone in his presence and he got jealous. I was happy Akaashi, truly happy when he slammed the door of my ruloutte at 3 am and fucked all his anger out on me till sunrise. I was happy when I opened my eyes and found him asleep in my bed, with his beautiful face pressed on my pillow and his disaster of hair scattered in every direction. I was happy when I saw the bruises my fingers left blooming on the skin of his neck. I fucked a lot of people Akaashi, really, a lot, but no one made my blood rush in my veins like he did.” Kuroo sighed, looking far off in the distance. “I mean, you just have to look at him. He’s perfect, and I hate him so fucking much… but, anyway we eventually decided we could go back to when we were friends, and here we are. I can’t deny that sometimes he looks so good I just want to fuck him against the wall but hey, baby steps, right? Plus he really looks happy now and I’m glad.”

Akaashi knew he was being sincere. Probably the most sincere he had ever seen him.

“Kuroo-san, now… what is Oikawa-san to you exactly?”

“To me?” Kuroo looked down, a bittersweet smile spreading on his lips. “He’s the love of my life. I will never love someone as much as I loved him.”

Akaashi felt his heart squeezing in his chest with the force of the crude emotions Kuroo was radiating. He was feeling his pain, indistinguishable from his own.

“You will” , Akaashi wanted to say. “What kind of teen drama is this even,” he sighed instead. “How did Oikawa-san end up with Iwaizumi-san in the first place?”

“Iwa-chan isn’t what Oikawa wanted, but he’s exactly what he needed. Someone able to tame him, to protect him, someone who can see behind his facade, someone who has the patience of the gods. Someone who has everything I’ve never had, and that’s fair enough.”

It wasn’t fair. It was a sad story, yes, but most of all it wasn’t fair. Kuroo didn’t deserve any of the things that happened to him. Not the Kuroo who was the first one of the boys to come and meet him, not the Kuroo who taught him how to meditate, not the Kuroo who helped him sort his feelings out, not the Kuroo who organized massive Christmas parties and brunch on a terrace by the sea. Not the Kuroo who threw himself into fire, literally, to make them win the Crystal Feather Award. Not the Kuroo who loved Oikawa with everything he had and was left with a broken heart and a soul full of sadness. Kuroo, who used to hide his fears behind his smirking facade. Kuroo, who was the most selfless person he knew. Kuroo, who had nothing left for himself and yet kept giving everything to others. That Kuroo deserved to be loved by a person who will love him only and forever, a person who would be the one to love more. From the bottom of his heart, Akaashi wished to whoever was out there to bring them to his life, because no one else deserved it more than the Kuroo Tetsurou that was standing in front of him, still smiling bravely at whatever life had in store for him.

“I have this strange urge to hug you right now,” Akaashi admitted, confused.

“I hoped this sad story would move you Akaashi, come here, hug me, I’m really really inconsolable right now,” Kuroo grinned mischievously, opening his arms.

Akaashi stood up and walked to him, stopping a step before he was in reach. “Kuroo san, I have… just one more question.”

Kuroo sighed. “I already know what is it, but go on.”

“Why did Bokuto-san never reciprocate Oikawa-san’s feelings?”

“I never understood that,” Kuroo said, scratching the back of his head. “No one ever dared to refuse Oikawa, really, no one. But Bokuto has always been a mystery. You are the first lover I know of.” Kuroo paused, looking Akaashi in the eye. “You are special Akaashi, you have something no one else, not even Oikawa, has.”

“That’s probably why he hates me much…” Akaashi muttered, dropping his eyes to the ground.

Kuroo closed the distance between them, gently pressing Akaashi’s head against his chest. “Who can blame him. You scored big time, my dear,” he whispered into Akaashi’s hair.

Akaashi held the hem of Kuroo’s tank top tight in his fists, indulging a bit in the warmth of his arms. “I guess I did.”

=

Once again, Kuroo outdid himself. In the vast space in front of the huge Circus tent a full traditional Japanese festival came to life, mixed with every possible attraction, ride and game stand of the most classic carnival. All the little lights were sparkling in the darkness of the night, casting a dance of colors on the crowd that had already gathered there.

Around him everyone was smiling, laughing and talking about how fantastic everything was. Little children were running around, finding their way across the legs of adults, gathering in small groups between games and food stalls. Biting his still warm cotton candy, Akaashi wondered how Oikawa managed to have so many friends with that ugly personality of his. The sugar melted in his mouth, taking any bad thought away with it.

Akaashi looked around, trying to find a familiar face in the sea of people. The dress code of the night was a yukata so people were particularly difficult to pick out but yet amazing to look at. It was a whirlwind of the most varied fabrics, from linen to pure silk, all decorated like moving paintings. Flowers met birds and clouds while tigers and carp chased each other between flames and waves. Unconsciously, Akaashi smoothed his own yukata, a dark grey piece of art with a majestic red dragon embroidered on the back, once again courtesy of Hanamaki and Matsukawa. Knowing how close the stylist duo was with Oikawa, Akaashi wondered if they would be there as well.

Amidst all the variety of sounds, smells and colors around him, something caught the corner of Akaashi’s eye. It was a dark blue tent with only a little sign with sparkly silver letters on it: Aquarium . Akaashi was drawn in by a force bigger than himself, making him forget where he was going, who he was searching for.

There was no one in there. It was dark, the only light coming from a huge tank, coloring his surroundings all the shades of blue. The only sound was the feeble running of water and the dimmed noise of the crowd.

Akaashi stepped closer. There was no sign of fish inside, just some seaweed dancing lazily in the current.  Everything was so calm it was almost mesmerizing.

Suddenly Akaashi startled as he sensed something moving in the darkest part of the tank. It was just a fraction of a second, a light blue glitter in the darkness, and in front of Akaashi the blue turned into a different shade entirely. It took him some time to realize he wasn’t looking at water anymore, but into someone’s eyes instead. A boy’s eyes.

Akaashi’s first instinct was to move away from the glass, but his body was frozen and his mind completely hypnotized. It was a boy. A boy in the fish tank. His eyes were wonderfully round and shimmered with every shade of blue. His skin was very fair, almost cerulean, a great contrast with his dark hair. But, above all things, the boy had a tail. A fishtail made of light blue scales, so bright they looked like sequins, that were making the water around him sparkle, like in a fairy tale.

The boy was a merman. But he couldn’t be. Mermen didn’t exist in real life. It must have been some sort of performer, some sort of trick. The tail must have been fake, no matter how realistic it looked. He probably just had the ability to hold his breath for a really long time underwater. An apnea champion maybe? Or…

Akaashi was still in the middle of the war taking place in his brain, trying to make sense of what he was seeing, only the last of the many weird things he’d seen and felt since he joined the Midnight Moon Circus, when the merman boy reached out his hand, placing it on the glass in front of Akaashi. Akaashi blinked at it, his worries suddenly disappearing. He had such long fingers. Behind his hand, the boy tilted his head a bit, waiting, his hair floating around his gorgeous face.

Akaashi’s hand shivered, itching to touch it. He slowly raised his still shaking hand, sliding his fingers on top of the boy’s.

It all happened in the blink of an eye.

Akaashi felt the cold glass melting between their hands and the merman boy grasped at his hand, pulling Akaashi in. Before Akaashi could realize it, he was inside the tank, deep underwater.

He panicked.

Akaashi tried to kick his legs as fast as he could, trying to reach the surface, but the water was so heavy around him, making his movements slow and impossible. The more he struggled, the more strenuous it was to move his limbs and the thicker the water felt. It was like drowning in a nightmare with no escape. Akaashi’s chest was heavy, the lack of oxygen squeezing his lungs with excruciating pain. He wanted to scream, and so he did. The moment he opened his mouth, water invaded him with tremendous force, filling him to the core.

Akaashi’s eyes were burning, because of the effort and because of the tears, he felt like strength was slowly slipping away from his fingers, leaving him alone, helpless and exhausted, at the bottom of a damn fish tank.

He gave up.

Everything started to blur around him, the blue turning darker and darker. Akaashi closed his eyes, waiting for the moment to come.

Akaashi waited, and waited, and waited, but the moment never came.

He didn’t drown.

He felt his hand being squeezed and a cold touch running up his body, from his chest to his face, cupping his cheek.

He felt the strong smell of the sea and then a voice, whispering softly in his ear: “the water is alive.”   

Akaashi gasped, jolting awake. When he realized he was outside the tank again, he fell to his knees, breathing heavily. He looked up, sure he’d find it empty, but the merman was still there, waving his light blue tail, looking at him the same way humans look at bizarre animals: with curiosity and mild confusion.

“He’s beautiful, isn’t he?” a voice said from behind Akaashi. A voice that made a cold shiver run down his spine.

Oikawa stepped out of the darkness, looking more amused than ever. As always, he was handsome. The yukata was similar to the one Akaashi was wearing and a small waterfall of cherry blossom was framing one side of his face. He just glanced at Akaashi before climbing up the small stair that lead to the open top of the tank. He sat down and the merman came rushing to him, pulling his upper half out of the water and resting his head next to him.

“Good boy,” Oikawa said lovingly, stroking the boy’s hair. He caressed his face and placed a delicate kiss on his forehead.

“What… is this…” Akaashi asked, still out of breath.

“His name is Haruka, he’s my birthday gift from the Yokohama Bay Circus,” Oikawa said, running his fingers up and down the merman’s back. The boy looked so calm and so relaxed under Oikawa’s touch.

“A gift?” Akaashi shrieked. “No good gift can come from those people.”

“You think so?” Oikawa giggled. “I think this is a very good gift, an exceptional one even. Look at him,” Oikawa pinched the boy’s chin between his fingers, lifting his face up. “Isn’t he absolutely breathtaking?”

“Who does even gifts a person ? Who even accepts a person as a gift?” Akaashi said, outraged.

“That’s none of your concern,” Oikawa replied, dryly, letting the merman go. He stood up, walking by Akaashi again. “He’s waiting for you by the house of mirrors, I advise you to not make him wait any longer and not to take strange detours on your way there again.”

Akaashi gritted his teeth at Oikawa’s signature smirk. “I’m going,” he said, finally.

Oikawa smiled at him, visibly pleased in sealing yet another victory. “Good boy, Keiji-chan.”

=

There was no one by the entrance of the house of mirrors.

Akaashi grunted, sure to have fallen once again in Oikawa’s trap. He was about to leave when a voice called him.

“Akaashi-san?” the boy from the small ticket stand of the attraction called him.

“Yes?” Akaashi replied, frowning in suspicion. He’d never seen him before.

“Bokuto-san left a message for you, please have it!” he said, handing him a plain white envelope.

Akaashi took the envelope, thanking the boy. Inside, he found a piece of paper with bad, bad handwriting. Unmistakably Bokuto’s.

I’m inside. Come find me.

Other than that, there was a small, hot pink coin.

Akaashi closed the envelope, securing it in one of the folds in his yukata.

“Should I give it to you?” Akaashi asked, showing the coin to the boy.

“Yes please, have fun inside the house of mirrors, Akaashi-san,” he said with a smile and hint of blush on his face. He was cute.

Akaashi threw the coin to him with a wink and pushed the heavy metal door open.

As he closed it behind him, all the festive sounds from outside faded, eaten by the absolute darkness of the inside. Akaashi took a step forward. The sound of his wooden sandals echoed in the emptiness around him. Akaashi shivered.

“Bokuto-san?” he called him, taking another step forward.

There were some light bulbs scattered on the glass ceiling, casting a soft, orange light that made his surroundings barely visible.

“Bokuto-san, it’s me…” he tried again, but no answer came. His voice just echoed until it faded away.

Akaashi’s breath was uneven, his hands were shaking as he tentatively moved forward. He didn’t know where to go, he was surrounded by glass walls all identical, his reflection following and running away from him at the same time. The emptiness was disturbing, the silence so absolute it made the sound of his pounding heart defeating.

Akaashi was fumbling around in the dark, his hands stretched in front of him to search for an opening in the immaculate mirrors around him. They were so thin they reverberated at the slightest touch. He didn’t really look into the mirrors, too scared to make eye contact even with himself.

He sensed something moving close to him. He turned around, but there was nothing there. The wind blew, making the light bulbs swing gently in the darkness. Akaashi closed his eyes, and took several deep breaths, trying to collect himself and not freak out. He just wanted to find Bokuto and get out of there as fast as he could.

When he opened his eyes, the bulbs finally stopped moving. When he lifted his gaze, where before there was nothing but darkness, Bokuto was there, smiling warmly under the amber light.

Akaashi let out a sigh of relief. He was beautiful, wrapped in his dark yukata with the tasuki tight around his shoulders to hold his sleeves up. His hair was parted in a side quiff, how Akaashi liked it most. He walked to him but realized soon enough it wasn’t really him, it was just a reflection. Akaashi tried to touch his face in the mirror regardless, clinging to the first familiar thing he saw.

“Bokuto-san, where are you…” he said, his voice nothing but a trembling whisper.

Bokuto’s reflection stayed awfully still until, suddenly, it smirked deviously.

Akaashi jerked back, letting out a scream. His back hit something, not hard as a mirror would be. It was soft, as soft as the chest of a person would be. He twisted, trying to buck whoever was off, but strong hands were clasping his arms, making it impossible for him to run away. He struggled with all the force he had but there was nothing he could do.

“Akaashi!”

All it took was hearing the sound of his name being called by his voice. Bokuto’s voice.

Akaashi’s vision finally cleared and he realized he was tight in Bokuto’s arms, who was looking at him with equal concern and amusement.

“Bokuto-san, you scared me,” Akaashi pouted, still shaking a little.

“Fear eats the soul, Akaashi,” Bokuto said, his voice low and smooth like velvet. “And you made me very hungry.”

“Bokuto-sa…” Akaashi couldn’t finish, Bokuto’s name turned into a moan as he pushed him against one of the mirrors, sinking his teeth in Akaashi’s neck, sucking in hard.

In one moment, the chills of fear turned into other chills entirely.

Bokuto pulled at the fabric of Akaashi’s yukata and slid his collar down, granting himself access to the base of Akaashi’s neck, then his shoulders, his chest, his nipples and any strip of naked skin his mouth could reach. Akaashi arched his back against the coldness of the mirror, as Bokuto was feasting on his skin.

“Bokuto-san…” he panted. “We can’t… what if…”

Bokuto looked up at him for a moment. His tongue travelled up to Akaashi’s lips, slipping in a fierce kiss.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered against his mouth. “This thing is mine and pretty boy outside knows better than to let anyone else come inside.”

“So this is the thing you were setting up.” Akaashi quirked an eyebrow. “You planned this. All of this.”

“Yes.”

“Just for the sake of fucking me in a mirror house.”

“Yes.”

“I love you so much,” Akaashi said as he grabbed Bokuto’s sharp jaw in one hand to clash their lips together once more.

Bokuto pulled him closer, taking a few steps back until they reached the centre of a round, open space. He sat down, securing Akaashi on top of him. There were mirrors all around them. Anywhere Akaashi looked, it was always the same image, Akaashi with his yukata almost undone straddling an already dishevelled Bokuto, but from every possible angle.

He spent a lot of time watching Bokuto, committing his everything to memory, but he never spent much time truly looking at them, together. Akaashi trembled at the sight.

“Now you know why sometimes I space out when we’re together…” Bokuto whispered. “You’re beautiful.”

“We are,” Akaashi corrected him.

“We are,” Bokuto smirked.

With his fingers, Bokuto traced the line from Akaashi’s naked ankles up and didn’t hesitate when he reached the point where the skin was covered by the fabric once again. He proceeded underneath his clothes and Akaashi was well aware of what that hand was aiming for. Just the thought of it made Akaashi’s thighs tighten around Bokuto. Their bodies brushed against each other and Akaashi could feel how hard they both were.

“Akaashi!” Bokuto gasped, snapping Akaashi out of his aroused daze.

“Mh?” he mumbled, blinking to regain focus.

Bokuto looked at him as if his brain cogs couldn't turn fast enough to process the information his hand registered. “You’re not wearing any underwear!”

“How forgetful of me,” Akaashi said in a small shrug, faking a surprised look. The movement made his yukata fall open on his chest even more. Not that he planned it. Not at all.

“You nasty…” Bokuto smirked. Akaashi answered with an innocent smile and pulled at the end of the tasuki, which unravelled instantly, falling to the ground and freeing the long sleeves of Bokuto’s yukata. Akaashi slid his hands over Bokuto’s strong shoulders, pushing the fabric down until all his upper body was exposed, naked and glorious. But it wasn’t enough, Akaashi needed more, he wanted to see more. He reached for the obi that was still tight around Bokuto’s waist and slowly undid it. Bokuto was silent still underneath him, enjoying his greediness with a satisfied smile. Akaashi threw the fabric away from them and finally opened the yukata. Not content, he peeled his boxer briefs away as well, getting rid of the last piece of fabric that stood in the way and exposing everything that was left to expose of him.  

“Oh my god,” he let out in a sigh, almost a whine, looking at Bokuto’s body with open lust. He’d seen Bokuto naked countless of times before, he spent more time with him naked than fully dressed at this point, but he was never able to process just how beautiful he was.

It was too hot. Akaashi reached back to unravel his own obi but Bokuto stopped his hand.

“Don’t,” he said, firmly.

Akaashi’s hand dropped instantly at his command.

Bokuto slipped two fingers between Akaashi’s lips and he grasped at it with both his hands, sucking them in, hard and deep. They tasted sweet, like the candy apple Bokuto probably ate before. Akaashi bobbed his head up and down, purring as he slowly started to grind his clothed erection against Bokuto’s stomach.

“A-Akaashi…” Bokuto stuttered, pulling his hand just a little. “Please, you’ll make me come… too soon…”

 

The idea of making Bokuto come untouched just by the power of his tongue intrigued Akaashi. If it was a night like many others they had together, he would never have listened to his complaints, but he wanted to make it last as long as he could. Akaashi grunted, letting his hand go with a loud pop.

“Please, Bokuto-san,” he whispered languidly in his ear, lifting the lower end of his yukata with a small thrust of encouragement.

That was all Bokuto needed to hear. Akaashi tensed under his fingers, wrapping himself around Bokuto’s upper body as he slowly worked his way inside him. Hearing his ragged little breaths, Bokuto wrapped his free arm around Akaashi’s waist, holding him firmly.

“Shh, Akaashi, relax a little bit for me,” he smiled, nuzzling in the middle of his chest.

Akaashi nodded, taking long, slow, deep breaths. It was unusual for him to be so disquieted. He lost count of how many times they had sex and Bokuto always took the time to prepare Akaashi, it was a little ritual of theirs, and yet that night it felt so new to Akaashi that every movement of his fingers sent a sparkle of adrenaline up Akaashi’s spine. He sank down, each time lower and lower. Akaashi looked down between them: Bokuto’s dick was so tempting, hard and already shining with precum, it made every second spent without riding it a waste of time. Akaashi licked his lips in anticipation.

He slid all the way from Bokuto’s fingers and moved forward, taking him all inside him in one, graceful move.

Everyone single person outside probably heard the sound Bokuto made.

Akaashi gritted his teeth at his own boldness but the feeling of Bokuto filling him so deeply made the pain disappear fast enough. He gripped at Bokuto’s hair and rode him, slow and hard until Bokuto was nothing but a whining mess underneath him. Akaashi loved to see him that way.

He lost himself a bit, looking at Bokuto’s powerful back in the mirror: his muscles moved in sync with his thrusts, casting a dance of shadows on his skin that seemed like melted caramel under the warm lights. Akaashi bit him on the shoulder, sucking a bruise in.

He caught a glimpse of Bokuto’s face in the mirror behind him. His eyes were narrowed now, the gold boiling in them. Akaashi smirked, confident in his success. Adrenaline finally took over. He awoke the beast.

Bokuto did something he’d never done before. He grabbed Akaashi’s neck with one hand and slammed him to the floor. He looked down at Akaashi with the eyes of a beast ready to devour his prey, his teeth out, his chest broken by his rushed breathing. Bokuto dug his fingers even deeper into the soft skin of Akaashi’s neck, while his other hand brushed along Akaashi’s leg, pulling it over his shoulder. Akaashi vibrated with excitement.

The first thrust was strong, perfectly aimed. The second made Akaashi scream, but pleasure took the sound before he could make it. With the third, Akaashi was sure he would faint, for the lack of air and for the overwhelming feeling of belonging. There wasn’t a cell in his body that wasn’t screaming Bokuto’s name, desperate and needy, crying for the emptiness when he pulled out, crying more for the pleasure of welcoming him home again.

He wanted to look at him, to focus on how savage Bokuto seemed while he was ravaging him without mercy, taking everything Akaashi had to offer him, but his vision started to become fuzzy on the edges. He wasn’t scared. He would trust Bokuto with his life, he would let Bokuto do anything he wanted with his body.

Bokuto eased his grasp but his body wasn’t used to letting anything other than Bokuto in. Oxygen rushed through him forcefully, hitting his lungs exactly when Bokuto hit the sweet spot inside him. It was too much to take and Akaashi came, hard, in a scream so loud it ripped his chest apart. Bokuto collapsed on him, kissing him as if he wanted to breathe in him all the air he denied. Bokuto let out a moan against Akaashi’s shoulder, so small it was almost a whimper, and Akaashi felt hotness filling him. He embraced him, until shivers finally let Bokuto rest in blissful peace.

“I’m sorry,” Bokuto said, still out of breath. “I don’t know what-”

“It was amazing, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said softly, caressing the back of his neck.

Bokuto propped himself up on his elbows, he opened his mouth but a loud hiss cut him off before he could start. A second of silence and then colors exploded above them, fiery blooming in the night sky, visible from the glass ceiling above them.

“Should we…” Akaashi said, tentatively. Fireworks are always the time when people realize who’s missing.

Bokuto rolled off him, stretching himself on the floor. “I don’t think you’re quite able to stand, right now,” he said with a mischievous raise of his eyebrows. “And this is just the first round, there will be two more later so don’t worry.”

Bokuto was right. Every movement sent an unpleasurable jolt of pain and Akaashi was barely able to curl up on Bokuto’s chest.

They stayed there, cuddling, enjoying the view in silence. The fireworks burned one after the other, sending hot sparks into the warm summer air; vermillion, gold, silver, and acid green, soaring into marvellous patterns until they all extinguished back to blackness. But the true spectacle wasn’t in the fireworks, it was the beauty of being embraced by the person Akaashi loved, calm in the certainty of being loved back just as much.

He really did score big time.

=

“Oh no, you didn’t,” Kuroo said, hands on his hips and a yakitori in his mouth, looking between them with all the contempt he was capable of. “You nasty bitches.”  

They tried to restore their appearance as best as they could, but nothing could escape Kuroo’s clinical eye. They probably did a very poor job to begin with.

“Pray the Matsuhana won’t see you,” Kuroo added, folding his bare arms across his chest. The sleeves of his yukata were rolled up to his shoulders while the tasuki was wrapped around his head like a band under his dark fringe.

“You’re a vision tonight, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi smiled. It was the truth.

“Do you think flattery would get you anywhere with me, Akaashi?” Kuroo asked, raising one eyebrow.

“Yes.”

“You are very right, indeed.” Kuroo nodded, bursting into a smile. “You’re very pretty as well but the fact that you both have we just fucked written all over your face is unnerving me a little.”

“Who just f- OH MY GOD!” A peach colored head screamed, peeking from behind Kuroo’s shoulder. It was Hanamaki.

“Hello, Makki!” Bokuto greeted him with a big smile.

“Don’t hello me, you bastard, what have you done to my yukata? Do you know how much it costs?” he asked, all resentful. As expected from him, his own yukata was a masterpiece of embroidery, dark blue with countless birds.  

“I don’t know, because it was a gift,” Bokuto pouted.

“A gift I personally sewed,” Hanamaki protested. “And don’t play it cool Akaashi, I’m talking to you as well!”

Kuroo sniggered, enjoying the drama he accidentally caused.

“My, my,” Matsukawa sighed, appearing out of nowhere. “I barely remember the last time I saw you personally sewing an entire piece.”

“In my heart I sew every piece of our collection,” Hanamaki said with a proud look. “Come on, you two, come here.”

Bokuto and Akaashi silently compiled and let Hanamaki fix their rumpled yukata. He smoothed the fabric, arranged it on their bodies, folded and tied the obi. He personally tied Bokuto’s tasuki around his shoulders as well. In a matter of minutes they both looked ten times better than before the mirror house accident happened.

“There,” Hanamaki said, looking at them visibly pleased with his work.  

“Makkiiii…” Kuroo tried, with his most seductive voice.

Hanamaki examined him, frowning a little. “I can’t fix something that’s already perfect,” he said, eventually.

Akaashi cracked up, while Kuroo’s ears suddenly turned burning red. Hanamaki took him by the hand and placed him next to Bokuto. The three of them blinked, not knowing what was happening.

“They look good,” Matsukawa said, solemnly, after having inspected them attentively. “They are different but all the same.”

“Just like they are,” Hanamaki smiled. “But I need to see the other two.”

“What’s happening?” Kuroo asked in a whisper to Bokuto.

“I have no idea, but they don’t look angry anymore which is nice,” he replied.

Matsukawa nodded, walking away.

“The yukata you are wearing are from a festival capsule collection we designed, inspired by the legend of the five dragons. That’s why we decided to have the five of you try it and see how it looks before launching it,” Hanamaki explained.

“The five dragons?” Akaashi asked, confused. In that moment he noticed he wasn’t the only one bearing a dragon on his back: Bokuto had a golden one, while Kuroo’s was green. Both Oikawa and Iwaizumi must have had one as well.

“Yes, once upon a time there were five dragons living in heaven, but one of them decided to take human form and live with the humans,” Hanamaki started. “We don’t know much about him but it’s believed he was a very kind and loving dragon god, who helped the humans make their world a better place. He became their king but, eventually, he was betrayed by the humans he saved. Despite that, he bore no hatred towards them. That was the red dragon.”

Akaashi shivered. It was his dragon.

“In heaven with the red dragon there were four other dragon gods. They despised the treatment the red dragon received and told him they should kill all the humans, as punishment for losing their faith towards the gods. But the red dragon, Hiryuu, rejected them, saying he loved the humans regardless of what they did to him.”

“Idiot,” Kuroo snorted.

“Don’t you dare talk like that about my dragon,” Akaashi protested.

“That’s exactly why you’re not the red dragon, Kuroo,” Hanamaki giggled. “Anyway, the four dragons understood Hiryuu's decision but didn’t want to leave him on earth alone, that’s why they gave their blood to four human warriors, granting them their powers. That’s how the dragon warriors were born. They told them their mission in life was to protect and never betray Hiryuu, staying with him until the end of time.”

“It looks like one of them took the mission very seriously…” Kuroo pointed out, elbowing Bokuto in the ribs.

Akaashi couldn’t help but think how thrilled Oikawa would be to hear this story.

“Actually, that’s exactly why Bokuto is Ouryuu, the yellow dragon. He was the king’s favorite dragon warrior and swore to be with him forever, no matter what. The yellow dragon is also immortal and has an indestructible body.”

“Pretty cool, eh?” Bokuto said with a smug smile.

“What about my dragon?” Kuroo asked, impatient.

“Ryokuryuu was the one who always cared and protected his brothers the most but, at the same time, he was annoying, overly confident and extremely flirty. His legs were so powerful it’s said his jumps could make him fly.” Hanamaki paused. “I think it’s a good match.”

“I think Ryokuryuu was reborn as me,” Kuroo said, his eyes were shining at the revelation.

“Here they are, my last two dragons,” Hanamaki said, turning to meet Matsukawa who was walking with Oikawa and Iwaizumi by his side. He made them stand right next to Kuroo.

“What’s happening?” Iwaizumi asked.

“He’s telling us the story of the dragons on our yukata, mine is quite frankly awesome,” Kuroo replied.

“I know the story of mine,” Oikawa said. “Hakuryuu, one of the four dragon warriors, so strong he can destroy everything in its path. He’s very straightforward and believes people should fulfil their duties no matter what.”

“Correct,” Hanamaki nodded. “He’s also said to be the most beautiful of the dragon warriors.”

“Of fucking course,” Kuroo snorted and Oikawa just viciously smiled at him in response.

“The last one is Seiryuu, the blue dragon. His power is in his eyes, so beautiful it’s said they can suck you in. He can see at long distances, and he can even see into a person’s heart. But that can induce hallucinations and paralysis in the owner of the heart, and unbearable pain for the dragon.”

“Well, that escalated quickly,” Kuroo commented, squeezing Iwaizumi’s shoulder. “Thanks for the history lesson, peachy.”

“Thanks to you, now that I see you all together I’m even more sure of this collection,” Hanamaki said.

“We can go drink now?” Kuroo asked and Hanamaki dismissed him with a small bow. Kuroo locked his arms with Bokuto and Iwiazumi, who were only guilty of standing by his sides, and dragged them to the closest sake stand.

Oikawa stayed still, his eyes fixed on Akaashi. Decades could have passed but Akaashi would never learn how to handle Oikawa’s undivided attention. He was waiting for some venomous remark on the story of the dragons, but Oikawa just smiled at him. It was such a thin, fragile smile. He turned and walked away, catching up with Bokuto, Iwaizumi and Kuroo. The dragons were sparkling on their backs, each in its signature color. It was so unusual to see the four of them hanging out together, tight to each other, just enjoying themselves with seemingly not a single care in the world.

They were so beautiful, the four dragon warriors.

“Hanamaki-san, may I ask you a question?” Akaashi said, making Hanamaki stop in his tracks.

“Of course Akaashi, what is it?”

“What happened to the Hiryuu in the end?”

Hanamaki sighed.

“Hiryuu and the four dragon warriors lived together for a long, long time, but his body was just the body of a human. The dragon inside him eventually got tired of all the adventures and just... fell asleep.” Hanamaki stroked Akaashi’s cheek, softly. “When that happened, Hiryuu died.”

Chapter Text

There was a baby crying.

Somewhere in the darkness there was a baby crying. Akaashi opened his eyes, slowly at first, his eyelids as heavy as never before, blinking the drowsiness away and squinting at the first rays of dawn. The blinds were never closed in Bokuto’s roulotte: he hated the sounds of alarms so he relied entirely on the sun to wake him up. Akaashi found it extremely inefficient, even annoying at times as he liked to sleep in absolute darkness, but he liked to sleep beside him far more than anything else. He rubbed his face, turning to look at Bokuto who was laying by his side, like always.

The baby cried again and its voice reached Bokuto in the depths of his dreams making one of his silver eyebrow twitch. Akaashi stood up, drawing the curtains just a bit. There was no one outside and all the lights in the other roulottes around them were turned off. But the voice was close, really close. And it was real, it wasn’t just a figment of his imagination or some kind of weird dream.

No babies were allowed in the circus area. Actually, no one under the age of 20 was allowed in the circus area. Between wild animals, highly inflammable items, knives, ropes and whatnot, it was too dangerous for anyone who wasn’t a fully responsible adult to live in. Akaashi could argue that, despite their age, he knew some examples of people who lived there without being fully responsible adults, but that was a different story entirely. Also, any performer who was caught pregnant would be forced to leave immediately because of said safety issues. That was why, as promiscuous as it sometimes got, everyone was extremely careful with their casual hookups.

There couldn’t possibly be a baby in the circus. Especially not in such a heavily guarded one as the Midnight Moon Circus. And yet there was.

“Akaashi?” Bokuto’s raspy voice called him from the bed.

“Did you hear that, Bokuto-san?” Akaashi asked, his gaze still surveying his surroundings.

“Yeah,” Bokuto said. “I think it came from Kuroo’s place.”

“Excuse me?!?”

“I’ve heard every kind of sound coming from Kuroo’s roulotte over the years, I can perfectly recognize the origin of that one, it’s undoubtedly Kuroo’s,” Bokuto sighed. He was now fully awake and it was written all over his face he was hating every second of it.

“But… a baby? How?” Akaashi asked, confused.

“Akaashi...” Bokuto whined, sinking back in the fluffy duvet.

“Bokuto-san, please, if it’s really Kuroo-san then he could get in quite a lot of trouble,” Akaashi said, already jumping into his tracksuit. “You don’t have to wake up, I’ll go.”

Bokuto sighed once again. “No, ok, I’ll come, who knows what that idiot is doing…”

He finally dragged himself out of bed and didn’t bother to fix his messy hair. He grabbed the first clothes he could find and followed Akaashi outside, still half asleep.

They weren’t the only ones who thought of checking on Kuroo. Outside the door of his big red roulotte there were two people posted already: a perfectly awake Iwaizumi and an Oikawa who was definitely in worse condition than Bokuto. Akaashi couldn’t help but look at him for longer than was probably appropriate, but Oikawa in gym clothes was such an unusual sight. A hoodie was gently pressed over his chocolate hair while his shorts were displaying most of his long, lean legs, up to the middle of his thigh. It was the first time Akaashi had seen Oikawa displaying some skin in a place that wasn’t the circus ring.

“Good morning you two,” Iwaizumi greeted them, his voice as warm as his smile. “Here to solve some mysteries as well this fine morning?”

“How could you possibly be so awake, Iwa-chan…” Bokuto whined in response.

“I’m always up before dawn,” Iwaizumi said, frowning a little.

“Because you’re our sun, Iwa-chan~” Oikawa said, his voice drenched in sleepiness.

They all watched him for a bit, waiting for a rectification that never came. Oikawa looked back at them, raising an eyebrow in confusion. Akaashi smiled to himself. Sleepy Oikawa was simply amazing.

“Anyway, did you hear it too?” Iwaizumi asked.“Yes, the baby…” Akaashi nodded.

“It couldn’t be a baby,” Oikawa commented. “Having a baby would end the career of a circus performer. And Kuroo is stupid but not that stupid.” Oikawa paused, looking intently at Kuroo’s door. “At least I hope not.”

“It was a baby and it was coming from -” Bokuto started but he was cut off mid-sentence.

The door of the roulotte slammed open.

“What the hell are you all doing out here? Do you know what time is it?” Kuroo bawled, making all of them startle.

“Shh!!!” Bokuto silenced him. “Why are you yelling? Do you know what time is it?”

“I know! Do you??” Kuroo snapped, growing more and more annoyed as each second passed.

“You’re standing in front of my place in the middle of the night and I’m the one at fault??”

“Kuroo, listen,” Oikawa started, taking a step forward.

“No,” Kuroo scoffed. “I don’t care, go back to bed, all of you. We have rehearsals in four hours for fuck’s sake.”

“Kuroo-san, we’re worried about you,” Akaashi said, calmly, stepping beside Oikawa. “That’s the only reason we’re here.”

“Worried about what?” Kuroo asked, frowning.

“Worried that you might have been hiding a kid from us,” Akaashi replied.

Kuroo blinked at them. “Excuse me, a fucking what ?”

“There was a child crying, just now, and it came from here,” Iwaizumi explained, calmly.

Kuroo sighed, frustrated. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, now please -”

“Bro, I just saw something moving inside,” Bokuto said, peeking inside Kuroo’s roulotte.

“Oh shit. No, no, no, I -” Kuroo fumbled, looking back.

“Wait, it’s not a child, it’s…” Bokuto continued as the moving thing slowly approached and purred, rubbing its little head against Kuroo’s legs.

“A cat?!” the three of them said in one voice and with increasing levels of bemusement.

“See? Pointy ears, tail, fur... It’s a cat, definitely not a child,” Kuroo said, pointing to the cat. His face was so pale it looked like he lost ten years of his life span since their exchange began.

“It’s a big cat,” Bokuto pointed out. With its fluffy black fur, big round eyes and uncertain steps, it had the appearance of a kitten but in the size of a full grown cat.

“I like big cats,” Kuroo said and no one could argue with that.

“Kuroo-san, you know you’re not allowed to keep private pets, right?” Akaashi asked, even if he already knew the answer. “Any animal in this circus must be kept in the designated area and is under my direct responsibility.”

Kuroo picked up the cat, cuddling it in his arms. “That’s exactly why I didn’t want you to find it out.”

Akaashi raised an eyebrow. “But I just did.”

“Akaashi, dude, please, it’s me and it’s just a cat,” Kuroo grumbled.

Akaashi didn’t want to be annoying for the sake of it, he was just utterly suspicious. He heard the baby crying, they all did, but somehow it ended up being just a cat instead. And Kuroo was acting far too out of character, probably annoyed by having had to hold the conversation in the first place. It felt like he could have snapped at any moment; his eyes were narrowed, somehow dangerous.

“Kuroo-san, are you trying to corrupt me because of our connection?” Akaashi sighed with a hint of a smile.

“I won’t try to use my connection when you give up all the benefits your connection gave you!” Kuroo shouted.

For a moment they all stood still. Kuroo’s angry panting was the only sound.

“It… didn’t give me any benefits,” Akaashi said, without the courage to look either Kuroo or Bokuto in the eye.

“Really?” Kuroo laughed, his voice as black as thunder. “What about your all areas pass? The luxury clothes? Shodoshima?? It’s all because you f-”

“Ok, ok, ok, I got it,” Akaashi stopped him before things could escalate any further. He felt Bokuto tensing by his side and the last thing he wanted was for the two best friends to scuffle in front of everyone. “You have a point, Kuroo-san,”

“No shit,” Oikawa snorted.

“Please,” Iwaizumi scolded him in a whisper. “Not you too.”

“So?” Kuroo asked, still holding the cat close to his chest.

“I’ll remit the decision to the Circus leader,” Akaashi said, dismissively.

Bokuto looked between them as if he had been appointed Circus leader for the first time that very moment.

“I think Akaashi can forget this little thing if you… offer us breakfast,” Bokuto said, still a little confused.

Kuroo burst into laughter. A genuine, bright laughter that made them all breathe a little easier.

“Bro, it’s not even six a.m.,” he said, shaking his head.

“I’m hungry,” Oikawa said, raising his hand with a big, annoying smile.

“Me too, and my shift starts in less than an hour so it’s perfect,” Akaashi nodded.

Kuroo sighed, defeated. “Fine, ok, come in.”

Inside it was surprisingly messy. Not the kind of chaos-like messy that always reigned inside Bokuto’s place, but the difference from the always perfect interior Akaashi was so used to was striking. Clothes were scattered around, leftover food was still on the table and everything in the kitchen area seemed a little out of place.

“Sorry, I wasn't expecting guests,” Kuroo apologized, picking up one of his discarded t-shirts.

“Oh my, my,” Oikawa sighed, pulling up his sleeves. He put the kettle on first and started the rice cooker after. His movements were filled with the confidence of a person who’d done that countless of time before, of a person who knew that kitchen just as much as his own. There was a rooted domesticity in how Oikawa was preparing breakfast and now that Akaashi knew about their past together, everything was more than obvious.

“Will tamago kake gohan do? Not that I can come up with anything else with what you have in here,” Oikawa asked, looking inside Kuroo’s fridge.

“Whatever, I’m starving!” Kuroo replied.

“Can you please, like… prepare the table at least?” Oikawa said, looking at where Akaashi, Bokuto and Iwaizumi were standing, somehow all enraptured by the scene. Akaashi had the distinct feeling of being not Kuroo’s but Oikawa’s guest and suddenly all the familiarity he had with the placed vanished, freezing him in place.

“Sure,” Bokuto said and proceeded to get the tableware as Akaashi helped him get rid of everything that was still on the table, cleaning it up.

Iwaizumi, on the contrary, just sat down on the edge of Kuroo’s freshly made bed, petting Kuroo’s cat. It purred so loudly at Iwaizumi’s touch, curling up immediately in his lap and enjoying its cuddles.

“Care to tell us something about it?” Iwaizumi asked, looking down at the cat ever so softly.

“It’s called Kenma,” Kuroo replied. “I found it in Shodoshima while I was taking a walk around.”

Iwaizumi waited some time before asking: “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Kuroo confirmed, drily.

“Ok,” Iwaizumi sighed, dropping the subject entirely. There was so much more to that story, Akaashi was sure Iwaizumi knew that as well, but they couldn’t force Kuroo more than they all already had. It was better to just wait for him to tell them the truth than to make him go through the trouble of coming up with an articulate lie on the spot as it was so clear that Kuroo had no intention of sharing more than he did. He would probably tell them the truth himself, in due time.

“Breakfast is ready!” Oikawa called, putting on the table five identical bowls of rice with a raw egg perfectly placed in the middle and seasoning all around.

“Thanks, mom,” Kuroo said, flopping down on one of the chairs. Looking at him closely, he seemed extremely tired, with heavy dark circles under his eyes.

“It’s the best looking tamago kake gohan I’ve ever seen, Oikawa-san,” Akaashi said, picking up his bowl. It was the easiest breakfast dish to make, anyone could do it, but most people, Akaashi included, just smashed everything together, stirring vigorously and hoping for the best. In Oikawa’s dish there was the same sense of effortless perfection that radiated from the man himself.

“It’s the only thing he can cook properly though,” Kuroo said with a smirk despite his mouth being half full already.

“Oh no, are we really doing this here? Now?” Oikawa asked with an exasperated sigh.

This what?” Bokuto asked as he was pouring tea for everyone.

“What the hell happened this time?” Iwaizumi asked, folding his arms across his chest with that powerful inquiring aura of his.

“We just had… a massive argument… over chicken,” Kuroo grunted, rolling his eyes.

Akaashi did his best to suppress his laugh. He failed.

“Excuse me?” Iwaizumi said, raising an eyebrow. He sounded more curious that surprised.

“He cooked me some chicken and when he gave it to me, it was all pink!” Kuroo explained.

“Oh no, you can get really sick because of it,” Bokuto said, frowning a little bit. His genuinely concerned expression was so cute Akaashi lost all interest in the drama that was about to unfold for a second.

“Yeah, I don’t want salmonella!” Kuroo cried out, way too dramatically even for him.

“Ok, I gave him slightly uncooked chicken but he didn’t even say thanks though!” Oikawa argued back, slamming his chopsticks on the table.

“Let me get this right,” Iwaizumi started, looking already exhausted. “You really had such a massive argument just because he didn’t cook your chicken properly?”

“Yes, and we actually stopped talking to each other for two weeks,” Kuroo said, eyes on the ground. “This is the first time I’ve talked to him since it happened.”

“Two weeks?” Bokuto gasped. “Isn’t that the longest you guys have been gone without talking to each other?”

“Yeah… but I really missed him,” Kuroo pouted.

“This is… very dramatic,” Akaashi commented. What he didn’t say, though, was that he was enjoying every single second of it. Especially the part where he, for once, wasn’t the centre of Oikawa’s rage. Or of the drama in general.

Iwaizumi sighed deeply. He turned his head, looking at Oikawa who was probably about to stab Kuroo in the chest with his chopsticks. “Can I have your side of the story, please? Did you give him undercooked chicken?”

“No,” Oikawa said, sounding slightly offended. “Well, ok, I made chicken and I didn’t leave it long enough because… I was hungry and I gave him and… well, he could have said thanks though, still. I know it was undercooked but I still… tried.” Oikawa’s voice was so small it was barely audible. He sounded so vulnerable and Akaashi had such an inexplicable soft spot for that side of him, for the side of Oikawa which was genuinely human.

“I know you made the effort,” Iwaizumi said, with the softest smile on his face. “But still, it seems like Kuroo is very mad because of this.”

“I…” Oikawa started, his voice a bit choked. “I didn’t want him to be upset like that but…”

“Hey, he says he missed you. Didn’t you miss him as well?” Iwaizumi asked.

“Yeah… I suppose,” Oikawa said, uncertain. It took just one direct look from Iwaizumi to correct himself though. “Yeah, yeah, I did.”

“Did he?” Kuroo asked in a whisper.

“He surely did,” Bokuto nodded, patting him on the back a little.

“Then get your skinny ass here and hug me, bitch!” Kuroo yelled, unnecessarily loudly.

“Iwa-chan, I’m going back home,” Oikawa said, standing up ready to leave the table, but Iwaizumi sprinted to grab his arm.

Bokuto pushed Kuroo up to meet him. The two looked at each other awkwardly for some moments before Kuroo pulled Oikawa into his arms. Oikawa fought for a tiny bit before abandoning himself into Kuroo’s embrace.

“Asshole, don’t try to kill me anymore,” Kuroo said, his laugh shaken by some little tears.

“I’ll try to be more subtle next time then,” Oikawa muttered, now trying to free himself from the hug.

Kuroo blinked at him, trying to figure out if that was the truth or a lie. Probably, it was both.

“Don’t worry, if he truly wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already,” Iwaizumi tried to console him. The news was a little bit comforting for Akaashi as well.

Iwaizumi took a deep breath and finally dug into his breakfast bowl. As the MVP of the morning, he’d truly earned it. Akaashi envied the calm confidence with which he handled the matter, without a hint of jealousy.

“Yeah,” Oikawa smiled, one of his glacial smiles that told them everything about how Oikawa was already back to his true self.

“All's well that ends well,” Akaashi commented, looking at Bokuto and Iwaizumi.

“Yeah, rest assured, at least for the next couple of hours,” Iwaizumi said, shaking his head.

“Let’s enjoy it while it lasts, then,” Bokuto smiled.

Somehow, it was the saddest smile Akaashi had ever seen.

=

The rain was pouring outside, hammering relentlessly on the thin metal sheets of Akaashi’s roulotte. Akaashi hugged his knees to his chest, a warm cup of tea in his hand. He blew it softly, the heat causing a halo of condensation on the little window; in the background the drops were running fast over the glass. He drew a little sun on it, as if it could make up for the absence of it, outside and inside.

It was one of those weeks in the Midnight Moon Circus, the ones with a tight schedule, too many things to do and too little time for everything, the ones that left Akaashi unable to do anything but collapse in bed and resurface just in time for his early morning errands.

On top of that, Bokuto’s schedule was unable to match his own and, despite living literally a couple of steps away, they hadn’t seen each other’s in days. To Akaashi, it felt like weeks.

It was unusual and Akaashi didn’t like it. A lot of things had changed since the award, in Akaashi’s eyes definitely for the worse. All the staff were somehow always a bit tense, the performers more and more stressed and as tired as ever.

The pressure on them was insane. Every person who came to the Circus show after the award didn’t have the simple joy of curiosity anymore, but the scrutinizing eye of judgement instead. People didn’t come because they wanted to enjoy a spectacular show, they came to verify if they were good enough. If they were worthy.

Akaashi didn’t like the dark aura the circus was spreading and now that summer slipped through his fingers like sand and the coldness of autumn swapped the sun for the rain, everything felt even darker. A little heavier too, somehow.

Akaashi sighed. He picked up his phone but everything was exactly like he left it the last time he checked. “I miss you” Bokuto texted early in the morning. “I miss you too, Bokuto-san” Akaashi replied. After that, just silence.

When he was about to drop the phone on the bed again, it buzzed. Akaashi’s heart flipped in his chest but the excitement died down as fast as it came. It wasn’t Bokuto.

From: Pain-in-the-ass-Kuroo-san. 8:07 pm.

“I know you don’t miss me but I do. Wanna come over for some pizza? I have a new one, 3000 pieces, LET’S GO CRAZY BABY!”

Disappointment didn’t last long on Akaashi’s face. Kuroo always had a way with him, always knowing when he was feeling down, as if he could read his mind and feel his heart. Pizza and a 3000 piece puzzle didn’t sound like the worst idea Kuroo had ever had. He was obsessed with puzzles lately, he said he liked the idea of being able to put all the pieces into place, at least there. And his house was always so warm, with the soft lights, the candles and now his little Kenma-san sleeping peacefully on the bed.

Despite what his thoughts on his own life were, to Akaashi it seemed a life where the pieces were already put together. Probably not all of them, but not because they were scattered somewhere on the board, but simply because he still had to find them.

Akaashi was about to type his positive answer when banging on his door made him jump out of his skin.

“Akaashi!”

It was Bokuto.

“Akaashi, it’s me, let me in!”

Akaashi rushed to the door and barely had time to unlock it before Bokuto slammed it open, jumping inside the ruloutte and into Akaashi’s arms.

Bokuto was soaking wet, but Akaashi didn’t mind. He was holding him so tightly he was almost cutting his breath away, but Akaashi didn’t mind. The only thing Akaashi cared about was having him in his arms, again, finally.

Akaashi felt like he could breathe again.

“Akaashi, I’m sorry,” Bokuto said, softly, almost tentatively.

“Don’t worry Bokuto-san,” Akaashi whispered in his ear. “You’re here now.”

Bokuto nuzzled him in response. Akaashi took his face in his hands and his heart tightened at the sight of his eyes. They were heavy, the golden washed out by the darkness and the exhaustion. His silver hair was half sticking to his face and half spiking wild.

“Let’s take you out of these wet clothes first, shall we?” Akaashi prompted him, starting to unbutton his shirt. It wasn’t the kind of wet a person could get running from one place to another without an umbrella. It was the kind of wet of a person got by standing in the rain for far too long. Akaashi wanted to ask why, but he didn’t. He felt like he couldn’t ask. He peeled Bokuto’s shirt off first, then his shoes, his pants, his underwear. Bokuto let himself be wrapped in a fluffy towel and his hair be dried a bit. He didn’t say a single word in the process, he didn’t even meet Akaashi’s eyes.

When he was finally done, Akaashi sat down in front of him, taking his hands, ever so cold, into his. “Bokuto-san,” Akaashi started, rubbing his thumbs over his knuckles. “What’s happening?”

“I want to make love to you, Akaashi. Now.” he said, simply. “Would you let me?”

Akaashi was speechless. His mouth opened but he couldn’t do anything more than nod in response. If that was what Bokuto needed in that moment, he would put all his questions aside, he would grant him that wish. Words were useless and superficial anyway now, and could never explain the extent of their longing.

Bokuto leaned closer, his forehead resting against Akaashi’s. Both their breaths were shaking.

“Thank you, Keiji,” Bokuto said in barely more than a whisper before brushing their lips together.

Never before had his name sounded so beautiful to Akaashi.

It wasn’t hot, fiery and passionate as Bokuto had always been with his kisses. It was warm, calm and delicate as the brush of a feather and comforting in ways words could never be. There was no hunger in his lips, no rush in his hands as he slowly undressed Akaashi and laid him down on the bed underneath him. Bokuto’s eyes were glimmering now in the dim light, focused and soulful once again. They softened with tenderness before sparking with something else entirely. They were darting all over Akaashi’s face, as if he wanted to look at everything at the same time, as if he was committing every detail to memory.

Akaashi did the same. There was something so hurt in the way Bokuto was looking at him, something that moved Akaashi’s finger to trace Bokuto’s gorgeous face, the sharpness of his jaw and his nose, his surprisingly soft cheeks, the feathery tufts of hair that were falling over his forehead. His full lips. Akaashi leaned forward, sucking them in to imprint their taste in his soul.

He stole a moan from Bokuto and it encouraged him to move forward, Akaashi’s fingers now lingering on his strong chest, playing with his nipple. Bokuto’s hand settled on Akaashi’s hip, pulling him even closer, moaning again at the stronger contact of their bodies.

Bokuto had no intention of leaving Akaashi’s lips alone and he kept kissing him, each time deeper, stealing his breath, his mind, his soul. During sex Bokuto was a lot of things, but delicate had never been one of them. He was gentle, at times, even reverent, but never delicate. Most of the time he was rough, dominant, passionate and unbelievably intense, and Akaashi liked that side of him, he craved it. And yet Bokuto was now touching him with trembling fingers, stealing the heat from Akaashi’s skin with his fragile touch and giving it back with his soft breath.

Everything unfolded between them like it had countless of times before, and yet it was completely different. Every one of Bokuto’s movements felt like a ceremony, his sleek fingers moving slow and deep inside Akaashi, his other hand stroking Akaashi’s hair, his eyes taking in every shade of Akaashi’s delight on his face. Bokuto was smiling, enchanted.

When Akaashi’s back arched dangerously against his chest, ready to be broken by pleasure once again, Bokuto slipped his fingers away and rolled on top of Akaashi. He stayed still for a moment, just looking into Akaashi’s eyes. Bokuto’s eyes glistened in the light and Akaashi could do nothing but close his own, afraid that if he stared any longer he would have spoiled their beauty. Akaashi’s lips parted slightly as he instinctively nodded, giving Bokuto the consent he never needed to ask for but which he seemed to need so much now. Wrapping his legs around Bokuto’s waist, Akaashi let out little whimpers of anticipation.

With just a hint of hesitation, Bokuto moved in, slowly, and Akaashi’s body melted into his right away. The world was starting to fade around Akaashi, but the feeling tugging at his heart didn’t. In that moment, when the boundaries between his and Bokuto’s body didn’t exist anymore and they were just living and breathing as one, Akaashi knew.

It was a goodbye.

Akaashi squeezed his eyes closed, hiding his face in Bokuto’s neck, holding him impossibly close. Suddenly his defences were just as thin and vulnerable as crystal, shattered by the force with which their bodies called each other’s name. Akaashi could feel Bokuto’s chest and the heart that was beating so strongly underneath it pressing against his own. Akaashi was shaking, tears gathering at the corners of his eyes. He wanted that moment to last forever and yet he couldn’t do anything to fight the need to meet Bokuto’s thrusts, to put out the fire of pleasure blazing between them. Bokuto held him closer, kissing his eyelids. His softness brought far more relief than Akaashi’s body could hold and everything sparkled, like the fireworks they watched together on a night that seemed lost in time.

When Bokuto kissed him again, it was sweet and tender. It tasted like Akaashi’s tears.

“I love you, Akaashi,” he whispered. “Thank you.”

“No,” Akaashi sobbed. “Bokuto-san, please…”

Bokuto dropped down to one side, hugging Akaashi’s close to him.

“I have to go,” he said after a long moment of silence.

“…go where?” Akaashi asked.

Bokuto sighed. “Away… There are…things I have to do.”

Akaashi freed himself from Bokuto’s strong grip, pain cracking inside his heart. “Would you please stop being monosyllabic and tell me what the fuck is going on?”

Bokuto didn’t answer. He just pulled himself up, dropping his head against the headboard. Typical of Bokuto, thinking he could just say goodbye without coming up with a way to explain why. Anger cracked, just as loud as pain.

“This is about the letter, right?” Akaashi pressed.

“What letter?”

“The one you got at the award ceremony. I was there, Bokuto-san, I saw you with that creepy man, he gave you a letter and said something to you... Who was he? What did the letter say?”

“It’s… a long story, you wouldn’t understand,” Bokuto was clearly taken aback by the revelation but, just as clearly, he had no intention of explaining anything to Akaashi.

“Try me!” Akaashi challenged him.

“No!” Bokuto shouted. “That’s pointless, Akaashi…”

“Why?”

Bokuto’s voice cut like a blade. “Because you are not one of us.”

That was it. The truth Akaashi always tried to escape and push aside, the truth Oikawa ever so often liked to drill into his brain, the truth Kuroo tried to conceal and Iwaizumi never considered. The truth Bokuto forgot but now remembered was there, burning in front of his eyes.

He wasn’t one of them. He never was. He will never be. And, as long as he lived in that world, some things would forever be held outside his reach.

“I knew it. Everything changed since that night. You changed. Did you really thought I wouldn’t notice?” Akaashi asked, his voice dangerously high.

“I was hoping so,” Bokuto said, dropping his eyes down.

“Are you insane?” he shrieked. “It was impossible not to notice it! You grew darker, distant, like something was eating you from inside!”

“Why didn’t you say something then?” Bokuto yelled, his voice choked.

Akaashi felt his eyes filling up with tears once again. “I… I don’t know. I guess if you wanted to talk about it you would have… I’m… I’m sorry, Bokuto-san.”

“You’re not the one who should be sorry, Akaashi,” Bokuto said.

“Can you at least tell me what all this nonsense is about?” Akaashi asked. He was so sick of the conversation already but, at the same time, if arguing was the only thing that would keep Bokuto there a little longer, he would have argued with him forever.

“This is not nonsense Akaashi,” Bokuto replied, dryly. “It’s… it’s about the circus, it’s about me, about the boys, about all the people that work here.”

“About everything but us ,” Akaashi argued back.

“This place is all I’ve ever wanted, this is my dream come true, I’ll give up everything to keep it alive!” Bokuto shouted, slamming a fist on the wall behind him.

“Even me?”

“Even myself.

Akaashi let out an anguished breath, closing his eyes.

It was over.

“Before coming here… I was about to leave,” Bokuto said, his voice soft again. “I’d already crossed the exit gates when I realized I couldn’t do this without saying goodbye to you. So I asked them to wait for me and ran here.”

What Bokuto probably thought were comforting words just ended up being the final straw for Akaashi. “Oh, and I have to thank you for that? For allowing me the privilege of saying goodbye to you in person? To fuck you one last time?” Akaashi snapped. “I’m your boyfriend Bokuto-san. How could you even have thought of leaving without telling me?”

The pain in Akaashi’s chest was inexplicable. He could physically feel Bokuto slipping away from him and, no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t find a way to keep him. The tears pushed to stream down his face but he fought them as best as he could. He tried to suffocate all the awful feelings that were building in his chest, but it was too late.

He cried, for the agony of letting his lover go, for the sadness of the empty days that awaited him, for the injustice of their faith that promised them such a bright future together only to take everything away from them, for the sickness of the world they lived in, so rotten underneath the thick layers of silver and glitter. He cried for the light of his life, for his broken heart, for his empty soul. He cried for the absurdity of it all, he cried for the anger which was screaming inside his chest still louder than anything else. He cried for himself, for his stupid self, for his helplessness and for his naivety. He cried for Bokuto, for the weight of his life and for the darkness of his secrets.

Bokuto held him, as strong as ever, as if he wanted to absorb all the pain he caused, all the pain Akaashi was so sure he’d never wanted to cause. It crashed like waves, never ending moments of sobbing broken apart by imperceptible pauses of recovering breaths.

“I promised…” Akaashi whimpered. “Back in Shodoshima… I promised I would never let you go.”

“Listen to me Akaashi, please,” Bokuto said, softly. “It will eventually be your luck, not being so involved with all the mess that happened to me and the boys in the past. You’ll be safer that way, not knowing things, so they won’t be used against you.”

“Bokuto-san, tell me…” Akaashi said, with the last drop of strength in his body. “What did you expect from me? That I would let you go like nothing happened? You’re not even telling me where the fuck you’re going, how on earth am I supposed to be ok with that?”

Bokuto cupped Akaashi’s cheeks with one trembling hand, staring directly into his eyes. “I wasn’t expecting anything at all, Akaashi.”

Akaashi leaned into the touch, not really knowing what to say anymore.

“Do you know how much I love you? Will you always remember that?” Bokuto asked, a small, wounding smile dancing on his lips.

“Yes…” Akaashi whispered under his breath.

“Good.” Bokuto leaned forward, pressing a kiss on Akaashi’s forehead. He was about to stand when Akaashi stopped him, holding his hand.

“I know you won’t tell me where you’re going, but I want to know that you’ll be back.”  

“I’ll be back,” Bokuto smiled. “I promise.”

Akaashi let his hand go. He watched Bokuto searching for some clothes in his closet and his mind flew back to Christmas Eve, when they spent the whole day lazing in bed, without a care in the world. Akaashi wished he could blink and turn back time. He wished it was just a bad dream, a dirty trick from Oikawa. He really wished it was.

“Do you want to… shower at least?” Akaashi asked.

“No,” Bokuto shrugged. “I want to keep your smell on me as much as I can.”

“That’s gross, Bokuto-san.”

“I know.”

He stole a hoodie and a pair of sweatpants from Akaashi’s closet, leaving his still damp clothes on Akaashi’s chair.

“I really have to go now,” he said, turning to Akaashi again, his face painted with guilt.

“You’ve kept them waiting for you a long time…” Akaashi considered.

“All the time we needed,” Bokuto said, sitting down on the bed next to Akaashi.

It felt surreal. Everything was so calm around them and the storm seemed to have suddenly quieted down inside Akaashi. He still couldn’t understand a single thing, but his heart trusted Bokuto too much to fight him any more.

“I love you, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said, dropping his forehead against Bokuto’s.

Bokuto caressed his face, brushing their lips together one last time.

Before the warmth of their last kiss grew cold on Akaashi’s lips, Bokuto was already gone.  

Akaashi fell on the bed, exhausted. He could never have won that war, and yet he fought so fiercely. He wrapped himself in the duvet that still smelled so much like Bokuto. He wondered why in fairy tales loving someone above everything else was always enough to overcome any trouble. He loved Bokuto more than he could possibly love anyone else in his life. And yet, it wasn’t enough.

Akaashi’s phone buzzed.

From: Pain-in-the-ass-Kuroo-san. 8:22 pm.

“Well I’m ordering the usual for you as well, I’ll text you when the pizza arrives. Don’t stand me up xx”

Akaashi frowned at first, sure Kuroo would already be full of pizza and snoring on his couch by then. As he read the message again, he widened his eyes in shock, blinking all the remaining tears away.

8:07 pm.

8:22 pm.

The first message Kuroo sent and the last one were only fifteen minutes apart. He checked his phone, the old clock on the kitchen counter, he even turned on the tv. Everywhere he searched he always found the same answer. It really was 8:22 pm.

“I’m coming over now, we need to talk.” Akaashi managed to type despite his shaky hands.



From: Pain-in-the-ass-Kuroo-san. 8:23 pm.

“Oh shit.”

Chapter Text

Bokuto-san,

Once I read a book where one of the characters said the only harmless way to wait for someone is writing to them. So here I am, writing a letter I won’t send because I don’t know where you are, I don’t know how to reach you. Your phone died a long time ago and now I’m left here with nothing but your voice on the voicemail. Besides that, just silence.

All this silence is making me think a lot. I’m thinking about the most random things. I’m remembering the most random things. Like your annoyed expression when I used to tell you that I knew you loved me. “I do”, you just answered with a smile, I can recall your voice so clearly in my head, and then you kissed me. You always kissed me.

Contrary to popular belief, I think it’s memories, not ghosts, that haunt houses most of the time. And I’m surrounded by so many memories. The Candy Bar where we used to buy our favourite treats, the roads where you skated, your roulotte with all your toys still outside, and of course, the circus ring. I still have the pass that you gave me for Christmas last year and every show night I sneak behind the scenes, expecting to see you come out and perform. It’s silly, I know, but I can’t help myself.

Nobody replaced you in the show, they told everyone you got injured and are going through a slow recovery. We can’t tell them the truth, maybe we can’t even tell ourselves the truth.

My place is not safe anymore either. Maybe it’s the most dangerous place of all. Here I can see the little kitchen where I used to make you tea in the morning, the couch where we cuddled so many times, the shower where you loved to wash my hair. I still have your clothes in my wardrobe from that rainy night when you came here before leaving. On stormy nights like that one, I think I can still hear you knocking on my door shouting “Akaashi, it’s me, let me in!”. I can’t stop playing with my head, making a fool of myself. We made love on this bed that night, for the very last time.

This is the spot where I have the dearest memories of us. I will never forget the colour of your skin lit by the shine of the full summer moon or by the soft rays of the winter sun. The way you wrapped yourself in the blankets because it was too cold, the way you called me back to bed next to you and, suddenly, the cold was gone, replaced by the heat of our bodies entwined together. I honestly couldn’t get enough of you. There was always more, always something new to discover, a strip of your skin I hadn’t kissed yet.

This bed is so small, you always complained about that, but now I’m alone it feels too big for me. I wish you were here, filling the emptiness between my sheets and the void within me.

Still, all our memories make me smile like an idiot, but then I remember that you left. I remember those miles that separate us. I don’t know where you are but I know you are far away from here. I used to feel the warmth of your presence even in those days where we were too busy to even meet for just a kiss. But I knew you were here. Somewhere. Next to me. It was exactly like one of those days, the day that you left. And now it’s so cold here without you. Even your favourite tea now tastes like emptiness and it’s not warming me up anymore.

I hope that, wherever you are, you’re accomplishing whatever you need to do. Do you miss me? The Circus? The boys? Us? Somehow I can really feel you do.

I tried to understand, you know, even if you said I couldn’t.

You were right, I couldn’t.

I have no idea what’s happening, I still don’t know why you decided to leave. The only thing I know is that it’s bad and that the life of the Circus as a whole is on the line. I wonder if other people realize as well. I don’t think they do. Sometimes I think I can spot the oddities in this situation just because I’m, like you said, not one of you. And that’s why all those secrets are deafening silences in my ears, whispers in a language I can’t comprehend, that dig deep in my brain at night and make me wake up a little less sane every day.

But, when I’m feeling at my lowest, you always come back to find me, to save me. Even from afar. You always find me, you always save me, Bokuto-san.

You know, all the things we leave behind somehow always manage to come back and hit us, like boomerangs we forgot we threw. Or maybe we try to hide those things because they can harm us, but we can never find the courage to destroy them. We put them in the drawer, sometimes literally.

I was searching for one of my scarves when I found it. The moment I saw it, I hesitated. How a small object like a little lemon shaped maraca could hold so many memories may seem stupid to some people. Not to me. A chasm opened in the middle of my heart. The words you said to me sounded vivid in my ears: “Keep it. It’s magical, you know?”

Magic.

I thought a lot about this word. It haunted me from the very beginning.

I talked to Kuroo-san the night you left. He told me about magic, about everything. He told me everything was real, that magic is real. That there are some people on this planet born with it and that, since forever, the Circus is the place where they gathered, where their oddities and peculiar abilities weren’t demonized but celebrated. It’s a safe place for magic, a place where people can truly be themselves, where they can be free. And this is why you all are here, why the Circus will always be the home of the magical children of the earth. Like you all are.

Is this what you meant, when you told me I’m not one of you? And yet, despite not having a single drop of magic in my blood, I found a home here as well. There’s some magic in that as well, I think. See? I believe it now. I really do.

Kuroo-san told me about your power too. I know you deliberately used it that last time to make me realize. I did. I wonder how many times you used it in the past, without me truly noticing. I always felt like time flew differently when we were together. Now I know. And I’m happy. Happy you decided our time together was worth stopping time itself.

Kuroo-san didn’t want to tell me about his own magic powers, he said it’s funnier if I figure it out on my own. He wants to see how much longer it will take me. He said he used his magic on me since the first time we met. The more I think about it, the less I can understand. Maybe he’s just messing with me, like he always does.

Often, I think about Shodoshima. When I do, there’s always one thing you said to me that comes to mind: “You are here. You will always be here.”

I asked myself so many times if I was really there, if I will always be there, if I’m still there, even now. It’s the most common question that I ask myself when I think about you. And your words are always there to answer me, I can even see the mild annoyance on your face and your deep golden eyes smiling at me.

I wonder what’s left of me, of us, inside you, if you ever think of me, if you search for me in the crowd, if you still feel the need to escape this word in one of our long hugs.

“I miss you, always,” you said to me, once.

I miss you, always, I say to you now.

Some days more than the others. And now I’m afraid, because some of those days run like sand through my fingers and, without even realizing it, they are gone. And you are not here. That’s the thing about time that never fails to amaze me: it passes. Whether we like it or not, whether we are happy, sad or drowning in pain, it passes. Even if you, quite literally, tried to stop it.

I thought that every day since you left would have been eternal, hours heavy and time still. I spent the first few weeks without a purpose, lost in the realization that I couldn’t do anything to bring you back. I thought nothing would ever happen and so I waited. It started snowing, so I thought I should just wait for the snow to stop falling from the dark sky and then wait maybe a little more for it to be completely melted on the ground to let the flowers bloom again.

It snowed for a very long time.

Your laughs were so warm. I wish I could have knitted them together to keep me warm for all the winters to come. But I didn’t because something inside me told me you would be there to keep me warm. (And also because I can’t knit.)

This is one of the days where I feel like I can’t breathe anymore, where nothing makes sense anymore. But back then, I thought the fire that was burning wild in my heart had gone out, leaving just tiny little ashes floating weightless in the air. I thought I was finally quiet, not at peace, not happy, never happy, but somehow quiet.

To protect us, sometimes our heart plays nasty games with us. Mine made me believe that already too much time had passed and, in this time, you’d forgotten about me, you stopped loving me, wanting me, wanting our life together. I even tried to convince myself you found someone else along the way, that you are building a new life with them away from me, that all your sweet words were just a lie, the easiest way to abandon me for something greater. And when I have these thoughts I want to rip my brain out of my head, because they are completely nonsensical and I don’t want to be weak. But, sometimes, I am. And I hate myself for that.

If there’s one thing I believe now it’s that you love me. You still do. As much as I love you.

In some ways, I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving you. That’s how it is with first loves: you never really stop loving them, even if it’s in a different way than you did before.

Now, I feel the urge to hold you close, to feel your soft hair through my fingers, to smell your scent, feel your warm lips on mine and make love to you. I would be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t miss that. I do. We made love a lot, really, a lot. So much that I wish I could have treasured some of those moments for times like this. As I would with your eyes, always glowing with tenderness and lust.  

We made a lot of love but, in the end, we weren’t able to find a home to keep it in.

But there’s one single thing that I miss more than making love to you: hugging you. Feeling on my skin all the things you didn’t dare to tell me, all our feelings, our strength, our peace, our love, our blinding happiness… all in that space between our arms. Your hugs were the place where I felt protected the most and where I felt I could even protect you, not from what was out there, but from all the demons inside you.

Before everything started between us I used to think that loving you and you not loving me back was the worst that could happen. Now I know it’s so much worse when you do love me back and still can’t be with me.

You were never supposed to leave.

The idea that you could leave my side never crossed my mind. You were the only constant, the sun of my little, insignificant, universe.

It was your light that made me fall in love with you. It was the way we chatted about our daily lives, it was the way you teased me, the way we argued about the most random things that made me fall in love with you. It was the way you kept me safe, the way you let my dreams run wild, it was all the times you reminded me you can never tell someone you love them too much that made me fall in love with you. It was the way your tired eyes looked at me but didn’t want to sleep because you wanted to keep talking to me that made me fall in love with you. It was the way you held my hand tight while walking together, the way you always found me in the crowd, the way you smiled at me that made me fall in love with you.

It was how you seemed to accept anything and everything about me and took everything in that made me fall in love with you.

It was the way you told me you had to go, the way you put everything, even yourself, aside to keep your dream alive that made me fall in love with you.

It broke me, but I can’t think of a better person to be broken by, because I fell in love with someone so amazing and full of every possible good feeling like you are and, despite how much pain I could feel now, I would never regret falling in love with you.

You taught me the courage of stars, Bokuto-san. You taught me that there’s a light within us that carries on endlessly, that no one can put out, not even ourselves. You taught me how rare and beautiful it is to even exist here and now, to the fullest. You taught me to climb mountains and took me to the top, seeing a view I could have never seen alone. And there, you taught me how the infinite feels.

I'd give anything to have you by my side teaching me everything, all over again. I'd give anything to hear you say one more time that the universe we’re in right now was made just to be seen by my eyes.

You know, Bokuto-san, sometimes it’s just hard because everything here reminds me of you, I find some traces of your presence even in each one of the boys.

One day I was going to see Kuroo and I saw your roulotte door open. My heart skipped a beat and I stopped breathing. For a solid second I thought you were back but somehow I didn’t find the courage to run in. I slowly got closer and, peeking inside, I saw Iwaizumi-san, humming softly while changing your bed sheets. I stayed there, unseen, just looking at him for a few minutes; he was so calm and all his movements were somehow spreading a comforting warmth. He didn’t seem sad while going through all your stuff, folding your shirts and dusting your furniture, he was just… peaceful.

When I asked him why he was doing it he just answered: “He could be back any minute. I don’t want him to think that we’ve abandoned him, forgot about him or that we gave in to the idea that he’d never come back. I always took care of him when he was here, even if he didn’t know. This is my way to continue doing it, even from afar.”

He still cleans your place once a week, changing the sheets even if nobody has ever slept in your bed again, not even me.

Sometimes I think I should help him, that in some way it’s one of my duties, but then I remember the look on his face when I saw him the first time and I always stop myself. He lost you too and that’s his way to stay strong, to feel closer to you, to keep his faith alive. I will never interfere in that little ritual of his. Ever.

And Kuroo-san… if only you could see him. There are crumbs of sadness in his eyes, he looks like a wonderful sunflower desperately searching for a ray of light. I’m spending a lot of time with him, most of it is just us being miserable together, indulging in our sadness, but we’re doing our best. We even learned how to walk in high heels, to distract ourselves during practice. Iwaizumi-san said he's a little bit proud of us. And Kuroo-san learned how to do acrobatics as well. He's doing all sort of things, to distract himself.

When I have moments where I just can’t bear being apart from you and I can’t stand the thought of not knowing when I will see you next, in those moments when I’m frantic and not sure what to do with myself, Kuroo-san lets me sleep in his bed without saying a word even if I spend the night just quietly crying. I don’t know what I would have done without him here.

That’s probably what they wanted: for me to give up on you. I could see it in their eyes, in their smiles when they thought I couldn’t see them. I will never give up on anything.

The boys miss you so much, even if they try to hide it most of the time. When other people look at them from the outside, I guess they don’t see any difference. They’re carrying on with their jobs, still smiling at the roaring crowd every night. Only a careful observer could have noticed the shadows in their eyes when they look at the spot where you were supposed to be in the final bow.

After the first show without you, Oikawa-san left immediately and none of us saw him until the next one. He barely talks to Iwaizumi-san now, he’s never spoken to me since. I tried to reach out to him but he never bothered to answer me. Iwaizumi-san said he needs time. He doesn’t. He needs you back and blames me for your departure, I saw it in his eyes burning with contempt. And, most of the time, I blame myself too.

I wanted to stop you, to run after you, to search for you, to find you. But I didn’t. Something in your eyes told me that you didn’t want me to. Your eyes asked me to wait for you. And I will, Bokuto-san. I will wait for you.

You’re still my favourite star in this huge dark sky above me and your light is always with me.

My original idea was to write just a simple sentence on this piece of paper but then I got carried away with words. I haven’t talked to you in such a long time, after all.

I love you.

Akaashi Keiji

You are here. You will always be here.

Chapter Text

Akaashi never truly realized how big the inside of the circus tent was until he saw it stripped of all its luxurious decorations and lit up as if the sun itself was shining indoors. He looked down from the high spot he was standing in and his vision overlapped with the afterimage of how it was supposed to be. The dim blue and purple light, glitter all over the floor, the chandeliers with their shiny crystals, the audience looking around in awe, the musicians in the orchestra pit, the smell of popcorn and cotton candy. The only things that remained the same were the long rows of purple velvet seats, almost all empty. Everything was pristine, almost surgically clean, as if any trace of human life inside it had been erased.

“Somehow being on this side of the ring feels so wrong…” Akaashi said, nervously looking around.

“Tell me about it,” Kuroo sighed, hesitating a bit before taking a step forward.

Kuroo chose their seats up in the last row of the parterre, close enough to the exit and hidden enough by the shadows. Around them, every artist Akaashi had seen working in the Midnight Moon Circus in the past year was slowly entering the tent and sitting down, some closer to the empty ring than others. It wasn’t just being on the side of the public, everything about what was about to happen felt incredibly wrong to Akaashi. He had never seen before a mandatory meeting that required the presence of not only all the artists but all the employees of the circus as well. Kuroo confirmed it was the first time it had happened in the whole history of the Midnight Moon Circus.

“Do you think they’re about to mass terminate us?” Iwaizumi’s warm voice came from behind them. “That’s why you chose such a hidden spot?”

“Do you know how easy it would be for them to take us all out right now?” Kuroo said, his narrowed gaze pinned on the circus ring in front of him.

Akaashi shivered at the thought.

“I could have killed you at least five times on my way here if I really wanted to,” Iwaizumi laughed, sitting down next to Kuroo. “You're watching too much Netflix. No one is going to kill anyone, don’t worry. I don’t know if it’s good or bad news, but they still need us to run this place.”

“Do they really?” Kuroo asked. “We haven’t performed for a whole month now.”

“And I guess they will explain why right now…” Iwaizumi said, still as calmly as before.

Akaashi really appreciated Iwaizumi’s efforts to talk sense into Kuroo, but he couldn’t help but feel how tense he was as well. It was such an unfamiliar situation for all of them and no one really knew what to expect. The summoning came as unexpectedly as the news of the suspension of all the circus shows scheduled for an unspecified period of time. It was just the cherry on top of a month filled with unanswered questions and a generally uneasy atmosphere between the members. It felt as if dark clouds were slowly gathering above them and now the lightning was about to strike. They all knew it was coming, but somehow no one was prepared for what was about to happen.

“Where’s the princess?” Kuroo asked, his hawk gaze now sweeping the room.

“I guess he’s not coming,” Iwaizumi sighed. “If they thought a piece of paper would be enough to summon Oikawa Tooru, they’re going to have a pretty damn bad time in the future.”  

One corner of Kuroo’s lips lifted up in a little weird smile. In that moment the lights on the audience dimmed as the ones on the ring intensified. “Let’s see what kind of shit show is about to begin,” he smirked, this time fully.

The now almost full room gradually quietened down in the same way it did when the actual circus show was about to start. Instead of the music, the only sound that echoed was of footsteps coming from a young man who slowly gained the centre of the ring. At first, Akaashi didn’t recognize him.

“Your ex-boyfriend’s looking good,” Iwaizumi whispered at Kuroo with a hint of mockery.

Akaashi looked at Kuroo with widened eyes. Just how many ex-boyfriends did Kuroo have? He didn’t ask, as Kuroo would have probably told him he should have researched that as well.

“Gross, he’s not my ex-boyfriend!” Kuroo whispered back, all outraged. “I’ve never even fucked him!”

“Not even once?” Iwaizumi asked, unconvinced, raising one eyebrow.

“No!” Kuroo scoffed but his cheeks turned a bit red.

“Kuroo-san, do you like him?” Akaashi asked, intrigued by this strangely embarrassed version of Kuroo. He looked at the young man again and suddenly memories came back to him. He remembered the snake eyes and the dark emerald-coloured hair from the Crystal Feather Award night. Along with that, he remembered all sort of painful things from Shodoshima as well, but he tried his best to push them in the darkest part of his brain, where they belonged.

“No, listen it’s a long story…” Kuroo sighed. “Iwa-chan, I’m going to kill you.”

Iwaizumi just giggled, dismissing Kuroo’s threat.

The young man cleared his voice, making sure all the chatter died down before speaking. “Good evening everyone, thank you for being here. I’m Daishou Suguru and I’ve been managing the Midnight Moon Circus on behalf of my father since the day of its foundation.”

Akaashi gasped as another piece of his big unfinished mental puzzle fell perfectly into place. His voice. Akaashi recognized it immediately. It was the same voice he heard the night such a long time before, when he was searching for Kuroo and ended up overhearing the conversation between Bokuto and that mysterious person. The conversation about him wanting to leave and Daishou not letting him because they had some kind of deal . It was him.

“Probably for a lot of you, especially the newest additions to the staff, this is the first time you’ve met me in person, as I always prefered to work behind the scenes not even people who usually work behind the scenes could reach,” Daishou continued. “This was because giving the maximum amount of freedom to the people working here has always been a priority for both me and my father and I didn’t want my personal opinions to work against the equilibrium of the circus environment and, most of all, against the brilliant vision your circus leader had for the show.”

“I can’t believe someone could say so much bullshit in such a short amount of time,” Kuroo whispered through gritted teeth. “Iwa-chan, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be good news…”

Iwaizumi didn’t respond, he just exhaled sharply, folding his arms across his chest.

“But I decided it was time for me talk to all of you directly, especially in the light of the recent events which undermined the already fragile stability of this circus. First of all, what is by far the greatest success of the Midnight Moon Circus and, generally, what could be considered the greatest accomplishment for any circus: the winning of the Crystal Feather Award. You all felt in your bones how great an impact it had, for better and for worse, didn’t you?”

No one could argue with that. He was absolutely right.

“Well, I’ll be completely honest with your on this. I was deeply disappointed when I was told the show would remain exactly the same as it was before the winning of the award. It was argued to me that exact show was the thing that made the circus win...”

It was argued . Meaning Bokuto argued with him. Akaashi felt his blood starting to boil in his veins.

“... but, in my opinion, it wasn’t. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had to risk the life of our own lion tamer in order to get it. And, for the record, I would have never allowed that, if I had known .”

Kuroo visibly tensed beside him, hands closed in tight fists. As horrible as it was to admit it, he was right, once again, and both Kuroo and Iwaizumi knew it. There was nothing in the regular circus show a person who witnessed the Crystal Feather performance could recognize. They raised the bar too high, even for themselves.

“Again, I didn’t interfere and let your circus leader do as he saw fit. Which leads us to the next, most recent, event. I won't dance around or sugarcoat the news, in the name of our full disclosure relationship: you don’t have a circus leader anymore. Since he couldn’t precisely determine the extent of his hiatus and obviously couldn’t fulfil his duties, Bokuto-san spontaneously decided to withdraw from his role as your circus leader.”

A chill swept over every single person present. They were all astonished and no one really knew how to react. The people filling the parterre started to whisper between themselves, bewilderment painted all over their faces. Iwaizumi’s expression was petrified while Kuroo’s lips were trembling as his breathing grew faster and faster.  

It was a lie, there was no way Daishou could have contacted Bokuto and Akaashi was sure Bokuto would never have let his title go that easily, no matter how much he disliked it. Bokuto left because he loved the circus and the people in it more than he loved himself… he would never have abandoned them. It was so unfair and the last thing Akaashi wanted was for Bokuto’s name to be stained like that. Akaashi felt his eyes filling with hot, angry tears.

“But, fear not. Of course the Midnight Moon Circus can’t stay without a leader and, in fact, the main reason why I gathered you all here today is to introduce you to your new one.” Daishou paused, taking in all the carnival of reactions he was seeing in the audience with a subtle yet still smug smile.

“This cannot be happening,” Kuroo said, his own eyes red with unshed tears. “Iwa-chan wake me up, this is just a bad dream, isn’t it?”

“I really wish it was…” Iwaizumi whispered, for the first time looking just as lost as they all were.

“You all know that it’s custom in the circus industry to replace a leader by inviting an artist of equal value from another circus. This is not our case. It’s already enough of a shock having to deal with the loss of your own leader to also manage to welcome a complete stranger to the family. That’s why I decided to search for a new one among all of you and I was lucky enough to find him.”

No.

“A person who was simply born a leader and who also happened to be one of the closest people to Bokuto-san himself, if not the absolute closest.”

No.

The realization of what was about to happen froze Akaashi in place. No. It couldn’t really be happening. It couldn’t really be him .

“Let me introduce you to the person who will guide the second generation of the Midnight Moon Circus, your new circus leader: Oikawa Tooru.”

And yet, it was.

“No…” Akaashi let out in a choked cry.

“You… You’ve got to be kidding me. Iwa-chan, did you know about this?” Kuroo asked but the expression on Iwaizumi’s face was speaking for itself. He was utterly distraught.

“I…” Iwaizumi tried, but his voice barely came out. “I didn’t know anything about it. I haven’t seen or talked to him in weeks… no matter how much I tried, he was always far out of my reach.”

In that moment, Oikawa made his way beside Daishou. Looking at him, anger tied a knot in Akaashi’s throat, so tight he couldn’t breathe. He was the same unfairly gorgeous Oikawa they all knew but, at the same time, it felt like he’d aged several years since they last saw him. He wasn’t smiling and his eyes were dark, darker than he had ever seen them, without a single spark of light inside. It seemed like every single drop of life had been sucked out from him. He felt no longer human.

“Good evening, everyone. I know a lot of people here are in disbelief right now and, let me tell you, so am I,” he started, but there wasn’t a hint of emotion in Oikawa’s voice. “But the show must go on, and so do we. We cannot afford to stay here pretending the absence of Bokuto-san isn’t affecting us all. Because it is. Believe me when I say it is not with joy or with a light heart that I have accepted this task. I accepted because it was the right thing to do.” Oikawa paused. His gaze travelled up, far up, until he reached the point where Akaashi, Kuroo and Iwaizumi were seated. “I accepted because no one else could or would have.”

Moving on was exactly the thing they all tried to avoid since Bokuto left. They survived, they distracted themselves, they carried on as best as they could. But moving on would have meant accepting Bokuto’s absence and the possibility of him never coming back, would have meant not having a place for him anymore, would have meant stop waiting for him and no one was ready to do that. No one wanted to do that. No one besides Oikawa, it seemed.

“I’ve been working in the Midnight Moon Circus since its foundation and, as you all know, I am one of four, now three, leading performers. I’ve been here since the beginning, I watched this circus grow and bloom from nothing. I won’t let it fade and be blown away like ashes by the wind. I know all of you and I spent a lot of time studying you and your acts. I’ve been personally reviewing the file of every single one of you, artists and supporting staff alike, all for the sake of perfectly knowing every gear in the engine before starting it up again. I’ve designed a new show that will showcase your best abilities and will take the Midnight Moon Circus even further in its journey. The journey starts now and I would like to take the first step together with all of you, if you let me. Thank you very much.”

Oikawa bowed and the whole tent fell in absolute silence. This time, no one dared to murmur a single comment.

He was about to take a step back when a person clapped. And then another. And then another. And then one after that, until the vast majority of the parterre stood up and clapped.

Akaashi suddenly remembered every rumour he heard in the crew before meeting Bokuto. He remembered how the vision most people in the circus had of Bokuto was distorted, how people considered him a spoiled diva, that there were people openly against his style of leadership. That people thought Oikawa should be the leader instead. Akaashi knew, but he forgot, blinded by the bright soul Bokuto was in reality. But the people of the circus didn’t. The perfectly written and rehearsed speech Oikawa just gave was exactly what the people wanted and needed to hear.

Since Bokuto’s departure they must have felt confused, lost, abandoned. It was a routine that lasted more than five years that was suddenly being mined, stealing away people’s certainties. They needed a guide, someone truly reliable who would take them by the hand and tell them everything would be alright, that nothing was lost and an even brighter future was waiting ahead of them. And no one in their eyes was probably more perfect than a true captain like Oikawa.

Oikawa looked at them with eyes widened in genuine surprise. Possibly the only genuine emotion he let himself show the whole time. He probably thought he would have been rejected right away, not celebrated like some sort of saviour.

“How… could he.” Kuroo’s voice came out in a strangled whisper. One single tear escaped from his amber eyes and ran fast down his cheek.

If for most people the news came as a huge relief, for the three of them it was a nightmare no one knew how to escape, no matter how much they tried, no matter how much they wanted it. They still couldn’t believe Oikawa really took everything away from Bokuto, erasing him from the circus’ existence. He’d thought about a lot of possibilities in his head, but that, such a public betrayal coming from one of the boys, was a scenario that never crossed his mind, not even remotely. Akaashi could have sworn Oikawa would have been the first to laugh and toss the proposal of a new circus leader in the fire and never accept anyone, not even himself, but Bokuto as the rightful leader.

The heinous reality of his miscalculation was unfolding right in front of his eyes in that very moment.

“Thank you very much, Oikawa-san,” Daishou said, visibly pleased with the reaction of the audience. “Now, just some little technical notes and then we can consider this meeting over. First things first, the news you are all eager to know: the first show of the revamped Midnight Moon Circus is planned one month from now, so your rehearsal schedule will resume exactly tomorrow. The location will be disclosed soon. I know it’s a very small amount of time you have to get ready, but we wasted so much already. Furthermore, you will find an updated version of your profile in your mail. There were no significant changes regarding the artists, however some drastic changes may have occurred on the supporting staff side and some positions and assigned tasks have been rearranged in order to boost the workflow of the circus to the maximum. Be sure to read the notes thoroughly and with all due attention.

This is all, thank you very much and I’m very much looking forward to working with all of you again.”

Drastic changes may have occurred on the supporting staff side. Imagining Oikawa going through his personal file and having so much power to dispose of him as he pleased. The blood that was previously boiling suddenly froze in Akaashi’s veins.

Akaashi didn’t need to see his file. He already knew. It was over.

Akaashi knew that having a new means to hurt him, Oikawa would not have hesitated. It wasn’t a matter of if , it was just a matter of how . How much damage he wanted to cause this time, how strong his desire to destroy Akaashi was.

Both Kuroo and Iwaizumi turned to look at him, eyes filled with open concern. They were probably thinking the exact same thing.

=

Somehow, the reality was even worse than he imagined.

Akaashi’s personal file was discarded on the floor. He tossed it fast and far away from him, as if the words on the paper burned his hands the moment he touched it. For sure, they were still smoldering in his eyes:

Akaashi Keiji. Status update: Oikawa Tooru’s personal attendant.

It was a nightmare, it had to be. Not only did Oikawa take Bokuto’s title, he also took away Akaashi’s freedom and the only purpose he still had in the circus, his only true reason to stay: the animals. If he’d survived till that day without going insane, it was surely because of them. He couldn’t imagine an early morning without the lions, not being able to chat with Oscar and tell him about his day, about his worries, about his feelings. He couldn’t imagine not being able to hug the giant kitties anymore. He couldn’t imagine not losing himself watching the shiny feathers of the birds, hearing them sing and distinguishing all their voices, not feeling the little tickles when they walked on his hands and ran along his arms and shoulders, sometimes nesting on top of his head. He couldn’t imagine not grooming the horses before the show, beautiful and triumphant like steeds ready for war.

The animals were the only thing left unchanged in his life since the day he arrived at the Midnight Moon Circus, with nothing but empty luggage and not a single dream for the future. At first, the only things he cared about were the animals and the paycheck. That was way back in a time that felt so distant, as if it even barely existed, when the boys didn’t matter and Bokuto was nothing but a pretty face on a poster of a billboard he saw in town.

He’d always loved animals, since he was just a kid. He used to bring back home every little injured creature he found on the road coming back from school, his ever so patient mother always helping him as best as she could to manage the makeshift animal hospital he created in the backyard. He remembered the time a big, old dog didn’t make it. He remembered sitting in the waiting room of a vet, his legs dangling from the chair, so short he could barely touch the ground with the tip of his feet, big tears falling down his face and, once again, his mother comforting him by his side.

“You did your best, Keiji, but sometimes you just can’t save them all.”

That day he decided he would try saving as many animals as he could. He studied on his own, staying up late every night reading books on animals, spending his summer vacations and every minute of his free time at the animal shelter, trying to learn as much as he could, so it would be easier when the time came to study it at university.

It was a dream that lasted for so long and was shattered in an instant.

One day, his father decided he wouldn’t come back home anymore and his mother, who dedicated her whole life to him, the house and their two kids, found herself alone with a cheque from her now former husband that became smaller and smaller every month, until it stopped coming. Akaashi couldn’t bear to watch the woman who gave up her whole life for them burn up like a match leaving behind just dark ashes on the ground. The money he was using for his studies turned into money he was using to sustain his mother, but it wasn’t enough to make her live the dignified life she deserved.  

That’s when he found out about the Midnight Moon Circus.

It was an afternoon like any other at the animal shelter when a young boy came by, asking if they’d found a white dove. They did. Akaashi himself found the bird not far from the shelter. It was clearly a trained animal that let itself be captured really easily as it was slightly disoriented. It was such a beautiful bird with a thin ring on its tiny leg. A silver ring with two letters engraved on it: BK. As he curiously inspected them, Akaashi couldn’t imagine how much those two letters would mean to him in the future. For some reason, he never told Bokuto the story of how his little dove found him before he even could. He promised himself he would, when he came back.

The young boy offered him a free ticket for the show as thanks for rescuing and keeping the dove safe, but Akaashi refused. He thought circuses weren’t really his thing. How ironic. But fate wasn’t done with Akaashi yet and it was somehow determined to bring him to the Midnight Moon Circus, no matter what. As he was about to leave the shelter, the boy turned around and, even if Akaashi had no clue at the time, said a single sentence that was about to change his life completely:

“It looks like you’re pretty good dealing with the animals, if you need a job and like to travel around send us an application, I’m sure they could put you to good use.”

Akaashi dismissed it at first but ended up being obsessed with the thought of it. It was the first time someone ever acknowledged his ability with animals, the first time he thought he could make a living out of his passion. Finishing vet school was out of the question, in his current financial situation at least, and, sooner or later, he knew he would have to search for some sort of “real” job. The thought of being trapped in an office being overworked for the rest of his life terrified Akaashi, it was as far as possible from the life he dreamed about.

When he was little he imagined himself in places like Africa or central Asia, running around in his white coat saving endangered species. He wanted to be a hero, he wanted to be able to tell his mother: “I did my best, mother, and I saved them all.”

Working in the circus wouldn’t make a hero of him, but at least a bunch of animals would be in his direct care. He would have started with that small group and, after all, he could quit whenever he wanted. It’s not like he was going to work in a circus for the rest of his life. Why would he?

Right. Why would he?

On the last day of the Midnight Moon Circus’ residence in town he sent the application. The day after he was moving away with them already… and the rest was history.

His staying in the Midnight Moon Circus was inextricably bound to the animals. If Bokuto wasn’t supposed to leave, the animals were never supposed to be taken away from him. And yet they were, by the worst hands possible.

Akaashi held his knees tighter to his chest, curling into a ball as he was fighting the tears forming at the corner of his eyes. It wasn’t fair. He knew Oikawa hated him, but he never imagined he hated him that much, not only taking everything away from him, but also making a fool of him. Adding insult on top of his already bleeding injury. Not sending him away but making him his pet. Being released would have been too good, after all, he already lost the one thing he cared for the most. Keeping him chained to himself and perfectly under his control was Oikawa’s ultimate, perfect revenge on him.

Akaashi took the man he loved from him, and now Oikawa was ready to take everything else from Akaashi.

Someone knocked on the metal door of his roulotte, making him startle.

“Akaashi.”

He gritted his teeth at the voice.

“I assume you’ve seen your file. I’m here to discuss the details with you.”

Akaashi heard the distinct sound of something breaking inside him. His nerves, his patience, his mind. Suddenly everything turned black and, one second after, he was already out of his roulotte desperately trying to grab Oikawa by the collar and beat the shit out of him. But someone moved faster than him. A couple of arms looped around his shoulders, stopping him and keeping him out of reach. Akaashi recognized him by the smell, it was Kuroo.

“You bastard!” Akaashi yelled through the tears, thrashing between Kuroo’s arms without much success.

“Calm down Akaashi,” Kuroo said to him. “I know you-”

“You don’t know anything…” Akaashi cried, still fighting despite how hopeless it was. Kuroo was just too strong for him. “How could you… how could you do that! You betrayed us!”

Oikawa was looking at him, absolutely unfazed by his reaction. Beside him, Iwaizumi was on high alert, ready to snap as soon as he sensed Akaashi could be a real threat.

The pain and the anger were crashing too hard inside Akaashi at the realization that the two people who earlier the same day were by his side and as shocked as he was had already abandoned him to his destiny. Of course Iwaizumi would stand by Oikawa’s side no matter what and it was simply foolish to think Kuroo wouldn’t have followed Oikawa, the love of his life, down to the depths of hell as well. They were his knights, the two people who loved him the most, no matter what.

But Kuroo and Iwaizumi were also the only two friends he had left and Oikawa took them away from him just as he did with everything else. Akaashi was alone in his fight against Oikawa, as he’d always been, even when Bokuto was still there by his side. He could never win, not alone, not like that. No one could win against Oikawa Tooru.

It was really over.

He abandoned himself, giving in to Kuroo’s tight hold. Kuroo kept him from falling and his arms progressively softened until they turned into an embrace.

“He’s too shocked, it’s not the right time…” Kuroo said, keeping him close to his chest and stroking Akaashi’s hair softly. Akaashi could hear his heart, it was beating very fast.

“There’s no such thing as not the right time ,” Oikawa said, stepping closer to where Akaashi was slumped. He crouched down and brushed one of his long fingers over Akaashi’s jaw, pushing his chin up and forcing their eyes to meet. “ I decide when it’s the right time. So stand up Akaashi, we need to talk and we will, right now. I’m afraid you have to realize the time when you just did whatever you wanted is over. The faster you adapt to the new rules the better.”

Oikawa stood up, making his way to Akaashi’s roulotte. “Come,” he said, extending an open hand to Akaashi.

“Kuroo-san… why…” Akaashi wailed, looking up at Kuroo with sorrowful eyes.

“Because you have no other choice,” Kuroo sighed, holding him closer.

Akaashi let himself whimper just one more time, indulging in the always comforting warmth of Kuroo’s arms. He wiped the tears away from his face. Oikawa was still looking at him, his eyes drilling into Akaashi’s. Akaashi couldn't help but think he’d never seen such warm eyes with so much coldness in them.

Kuroo was right, he really didn’t have any other choices. It was ride or die. Before joining the circus he asked himself why would he ever want to stay there, what could he possibly find in a circus that could make him want to stay? He found a new family, he found true love in such a hopeless place, he found something to fight for and, no matter how hard it would be, he wouldn’t go down without giving everything he still had left to give. It wasn’t the place or the time to give up.  

He stood up and took a step forward. Akaashi looked into Oikawa’s eyes again but there was nothing really there to see. Just an endless depth of darkness, fierceness and pride. Akaashi reached out and took his hand, giving in to his destiny.

“Good boy,” Oikawa smiled, tightening his grip around Akaashi’s hand ever so softly. “Now let’s get this started, shall we?”

Chapter Text

“Do you fully understand what we’re about to do, Akaashi?” Oikawa asked, moving closer to him. His eyes were narrowed and pinned into Akaashi’s, leaving no room to escape.

It wasn’t like Akaashi could do anything at all, he knew what was going to happen, even if he didn’t fully understand it. There was no way someone could understand how a person could go from fighting Oikawa Tooru in the streets to being half naked in bed, his own bed, with him just a handful of hours later.

There was no way someone could be in bed with a half naked Oikawa Tooru and stay calm about it. Akaashi never noticed how muscular he actually was as he always covered himself as much as he could and never revealed more than it was absolutely necessary. Of course, the moment the gods decided to carve his face they realized they couldn’t leave the job half done. Sitting right next to him without a single hint of embarrassment, Oikawa was just as enchanting and gelid as the pale winter moonlight that was painting his skin glowing shades of silver and blue.

Akaashi swallowed hard. Kuroo was right. Kuroo was so damn right.

“Just shut up and do it,” Akaashi sighed.  

Oikawa smirked. He gently cupped Akaashi’s cheeks between his hands and leaned forward, their faces now just a breath away from each other. His touch was so delicate and warm, as it always has been. Akaashi could smell the scent of the ocean Oikawa always carried with him. It was somehow so familiar and Akaashi hated it. It was such a good scent, but there wasn’t a single good memory attached to it.

“Wait!” Akaashi stopped him, instinctively recoiling and shaking his face away from Oikawa’s hold.

It was Oikawa’s turn to sigh. He didn’t force his grip and let Akaashi go immediately.

“Suddenly getting shy?” he asked with a half smile and a raised eyebrow.

“N-no,” Akaashi mumbled. “But did… are you sure this is going to work?”

“What do you think I’ve been doing all this time, Akaashi? Don’t underestimate me,” he scoffed. “Don’t worry, it’s not going to hurt.” Oikawa paused and graced him with another of his devious smiles. “Not physically at least.”

“This is not reassuring,” Akaashi said, closing his eyes and dropping his head back to the headboard. Oikawa’s proximity was making his heart race in his chest, making it seriously hard for him to breathe normally and not give away how nervous he was. And, most of all, how scared he was. He was sure Oikawa could smell the fear on his skin.

“Just try to stay focused on what you have to do and we’ll be done before you know it. You will have to trust me on this,” Oikawa said. He was unusually calm, strangely undemanding.

“I would rather not,” Akaashi scorned him.

Akaashi was expecting any possible kind of spiteful reaction other than the one that came. Oikawa looked at him for a couple of seconds before he burst out laughing. There wasn’t a hint of mockery in it, it was a genuine, uncontrolled laugh. It was the first time Akaashi had ever seen Oikawa laughing like that. Probably, it was the first time he’d ever seen Oikawa laugh at all. He had no idea how to react, it was just too strange but as beautiful as seeing a small flower blooming through the snow.

“Are you really playing hard to get? Now ? With me of all people?” Oikawa asked, his smile still there, rosy cheeks still puffed a little.

Akaashi sighed, the knot of tension around his heart suddenly unravelled. There was no point fighting Oikawa, there was no way he could beat him at his own game. Not now, not after he agreed on doing what he asked and was fully aware of what that entailed.

“Ok, ok,” he sighed. “I’m ready. Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible.”  

Oikawa nodded. He shifted on the bed, getting closer to Akaashi. He raised his hands and held Akaashi’s face once again. This time, Akaashi didn’t recoil when Oikawa dropped his forehead against his own but a cold shiver of fear mixed with anticipation made his breath quiver. Akaashi closed his eyes.

“Sweet dreams, Keiji-chan,” Oikawa whispered against his lips.

Akaashi lost his senses almost immediately.

=

Everything exploded around Akaashi. The roar of the crowd, the burst of confetti, his heart.

Once again.

A waterfall of silver and purple was falling from the ceiling over the audience of the Crystal Feather Award while Tamaki Sou was still on the stage, the shiny envelope open in his hands and a radiant smile on his face.

“The winner of the Japanese Crystal Feather Award is the Midnight Moon Circus.”

His heart squeezed at the scene with the sheer power of the emotions the sight hit him with. Oikawa was right, it was a whole new concept of painful.

“We don’t have much time,” Akaashi said, eyes still lost in the crowd. He knew perfectly well where Bokuto was sat, but he didn’t have the courage to look for him.  

“Time doesn’t exist in dreams, Akaashi,” Oikawa informed him. Looking at him, Akaashi almost forgot how stunning he was in his white embroidered suit. “But I wouldn’t advise you to indulge yourself here for much longer than we need to. The human mind is a tricky place and wandering in a dream is like walking on quicksand. This is not a place where the dreamer should be sentient, let alone an intruder. I’m more than used to doing this but you’re not. One misstep and you’re done. We both are. So do what I say and don’t take initiatives of any sort.”

Akaashi shivered at the thought. He nodded, swallowing hard.

Oikawa called what they were doing a memory scoop . He forcibly accessed Akaashi’s memories, recalling them inside a dream. Akaashi couldn’t believe something like that could really be possible, but he guessed there was no limit to the extent of Oikawa’s power. It wasn’t completely absurd either; everyone has relived moments of their lives in their dreams, Akaashi begged his brain so hard every night to bless him with a memory he and Bokuto lived together. The memories were there, but the last thing Akaashi wanted was to have Oikawa inside his head again, once had been way more than enough, but there was no other way.

The reason Oikawa had disappeared so that he could spend all his time gathering as much information as he could to find Bokuto, but every lead brought him to a dead end. He realized there was a missing piece, something he couldn’t possibly find because he didn’t even know it existed in the first place and Akaashi was the missing piece on the board, the only person who could have seen something neither of them did. And, of course, Akaashi had.

Oikawa went over his, Kuroo’s and Iwaizumi’s memories countless times without finding any clue, now his plan was to go over Akaashi’s memories as well.

With the pieces he found, somehow Oikawa came to the conclusion that the key to understanding where Bokuto went was to be found on the night of the Crystal feather award. That’s when things really started to change, for everyone. They talked for a very long time and Akaashi told him everything he knew, everything they did during their stay in Shodoshima and, as Akaashi predicted on his own the night Bokuto left, it all came down to one thing: the letter. But, no matter how much Akaashi tried to describe the men who gave it to Bokuto, neither him, Kuroo or Iwaizumi could remember someone who matched the description. Akaashi started to wonder if he could have possibly seen a ghost.

Most of all, he was mad. Mad at Oikawa because if only he hadn’t sealed himself in his ivory tower and had actually sought help, they wouldn’t have wasted months. If only Oikawa had answered his calls, if only Oikawa trusted him, like he was doing now. But, mostly, he was mad at himself. He shouldn’t have given up in the first place, he shouldn’t have let his feelings get in the way and actually enjoy Oikawa’s absence from his life. He was relieved when he knew Oikawa would probably never interact with him again but, while he spent his days crying his eyes out, Oikawa was the only person actively working to find Bokuto and bring him back. Talk about who loved him the most. Probably Oikawa was truly the person who deserved Bokuto’s love the most, the person who -

“Akaashi!” Oikawa called him, making him snap out of the downward spiral of his thoughts. “This is not the time to contemplate either your or my life choices. We have work to do.”

“I-I’m sorry, Oikawa-san,” Akaashi apologized, regaining focus on his surroundings. He looked around and realized the only thing that remained the same as the night of the award was the feeling of it, but so many things around him were strange.

“This isn’t the same theatre we were in,” he informed Oikawa.

“It is, it’s only the way you’re remembering it. It’s almost impossible to recall the perfect configuration of a building in a dream, especially since we don’t pay much attention to it in the first place, unless it’s strongly connected to the memory we’re recalling,” Oikawa explained. “The fact that we know what we’re searching for will make this a little easier for the both of us, so just concentrate on where we have to go and we will find a way there.”

Akaashi took a deep breath in, trying to focus again. “How do I do it?”

“What did you do right after you heard the announcement?” Oikawa asked.

“I ran.”

“Then run.”

And so, Akaashi ran. He closed his eyes, recalling the labyrinth of alleys of the theatre but nothing was making sense. He passed all the places he remembered in absolutely random order, as if the actual logic of the building didn’t really matter. The room where he saw Oikawa and Iwaizumi, the corridor where Oikawa threatened him, the gallery where he and Bokuto stood before the ceremony, the foyer where he met with Souta, Poko and Nakajima. He saw Daishou sat at the table, his face now so vivid in his brain. The Kuroo twins cuddling their younger brother despite how much he complained. And then, finally, the backstage.

“We’re here,” Akaashi said, out of breath and folding himself in half. “He’s right by the stage curtain.”

This time, it was Oikawa’s turn to take a deep breath in. The time had finally come, the answer he searched for all this time was there, just around the corner. Akaashi stayed still, not having the strength to look and see Bokuto so close and he just focused on remembering the cold face of the man in a mint green kimono as best as he could instead. Oikawa nodded, more to himself than to anyone else. There wasn’t a hint of nervousness in his eyes. Or so it was until he actually peeked to have a full view of the scene.

Akaashi saw the shock register on Oikawa’s face before he could try to hide it. At first he stayed still, petrified, then he turned, too slowly to be normal. In his eyes there were all the possible shades of disbelief, the chocolate suddenly too glossy.

“Akaashi…” his voice trailed off slowly. “Are you sure about it?”

Akaashi could only nod in confirmation.

Oikawa suddenly grabbed him by the tie, pulling him close and drilling his eyes into his. “Swear to me this is the truth. Swear it on Bokuto you’re not toying with me.”

“I swear it on Bokuto-san and the love I have for him that is the truth and I’m certainly not toying with you, Oikawa-san, why would I?”

“As if you didn’t have any reason to,” Oikawa sneered, releasing his grip by pushing Akaashi away from him. “We’re done here.”

Oikawa turned around and started to walk away, towards the darkness that was slowly creeping around the edges of the dream. 

“Oikawa-san, wait!” Akaashi called him, instinctively grabbing his hand.

Oikawa looked at Akaashi’s hand around his own in mild distaste.

“Oikawa-san, who is that person?” Akaashi asked. He was worried. Whoever that person was, it surely wasn’t good news if Oikawa himself was so shaken by the revelation.

Oikawa’s eyes flickered somewhere behind Akaashi. For a brief moment his eyes softened, lighting up his face in a way Akaashi had never seen before. It was there and then gone the moment he focused on Akaashi again.

“We accomplished our mission, that’s all you need to know for now,” he said, dryly, his voice a little shaky.

“But-”

“Akaashi!”

A voice called out from behind him called, stealing all the words and coherent thoughts from Akaashi’s mind. His heart squeezed painfully in his chest.

Oikawa smiled softly. “He’s calling you, Akaashi. Don’t make him wait. You wanted to see him so badly, didn’t you?”

“Oikawa-san, please...” Akaashi begged him, but the moment Akaashi blinked, he disappeared, the only trace of his presence the warmth still lingering on Akaashi’s palm. He closed his hand in a fist. It was always like that with Oikawa, he couldn’t have expected anything more than be disposed of the moment he no longer served any purpose in his masterplan.

“Akaashi!”

The voice called again and it hurt like a stab wound to the heart. Silent tears were streaming from his eyes before he could stop them, rolling down his cheeks and meeting the outstretched edges of his smile, while others dropped steadily into the collar of his shirt. In every single one of them there was a drop of joy for being together again and a drop of sadness for every day they spent apart. His heart was failing him, beating out of control.

He was there, the man of his dreams. He wasn’t real, but he was there. It was everything Akaashi wanted.

Akaashi took a deep breath in and turned, the movement sparking small tears that glimmered like little stars around him.

“Yes, Bokuto-san?”

=

The sound of the waves was soft and steady like a lullaby. Akaashi’s breathing was in perfect sync with it. Finally. He felt like he hadn’t breathed for years.

“Akaashi…” Bokuto’s soft voice reached him deep inside his thoughts.

Akaashi raised his gaze up. Every time he looked at him he was at loss for words. He never knew he could desire to see someone so much and now that he was finally there he didn’t even know what to say.

Bokuto’s eyes were just the same, a deep pond of hot, melted gold. Akaashi’s heart was beating so fast in his chest, pressed against Bokuto’s. There were no clothes between them, just a thin layer of linen covering them and, even then, just barely.  

“Akaashi… you’ve been crying a lot, haven’t you?” Bokuto asked, gently stroking Akaashi’s hair away from his forehead.

Akaashi could only nod in response. The truth was written on his face and he couldn’t, he wouldn’t, lie to Bokuto. There was no point in trying to pretend he had been stronger than he was. With one look Bokuto knew everything already.

“I’m sorry, I… really didn’t want to make you cry so much…” Bokuto apologized, pressing a kiss on Akaashi’s forehead. His lips were so warm and yet the touch sent cold chills down Akaashi’s spine.

“It’s not your fault, Bokuto-san. I shouldn’t have let myself go so much, I should have been stronger, a lot more positive. I should have had more faith in you and not given in to my darkest thoughts and work -”

Bokuto’s small laugh interrupted him. “You know, it’s exactly because you say things like this that I know you really love me…”

“What...?” Akaashi looked at him, puzzled.

“You know you truly love someone the moment you start making up excuses for the way they hurt you. And this is what you’re doing right now, Akaashi.”

Akaashi didn’t know what to say. He was right, of course he was. But Akaashi couldn’t accept the concept of blaming Bokuto for all the pain he suffered. He cried because Bokuto left, he cried because he missed Bokuto, he cried because the desire to have him back smashed his heart and blew his brain. There were no other people to blame, and yet Akaashi only blamed himself for it.

“It’s ok, you can be mad at me, I know I am. Mad at myself. I mean. Not at you, I could never be mad at you,” Bokuto said, brushing his knuckles across Akaashi’s cheek. “I shouldn’t have left you behind, I should have taken you with me, protected you from all the mess I caused and not made you shed a single tear… the pain I caused you made you cry so much, Akaashi…and I’m really, really sorry.”

Mad at him. Akaashi never stopped to think if he was mad at him. How could he? He was broken, yes, but not angry. Only a lover could wound so deep, down to the very core, but the same love which tore him apart healed his wounds again. It was love, only love, the feeling that resonated in his heart at the sound of Bokuto’s name. And the heart is a muscle, just like all the others, that gets stronger and stronger with every time it breaks.

“...thanks to you I have a strong heart now,” Akaashi said with a nearly broken voice, the border between the words he said and the words he thought more blurred than ever. “But still I… I miss you so much; Bokuto-san.”  

Bokuto smiled at him. “It’s not fair, Akaashi. You really know how to make me cry when you look at me like that, with these beautiful ocean eyes of yours.”

Before he could reply, Bokuto leaned down and kissed him, ever so softly, hugging him close in his strong arms. The tender touch made everything around them disappear. There wasn’t anything else on that forgotten strip of land lost in the twilight between imagination and reality other than the strong fire of the love burning between their tired bodies and the delicate crash of waves on the sand.

“There’s no way I can undo what I did, but let me promise you one thing, Akaashi,” Bokuto said, pulling away just slightly, his eyes centred again into Akaashi’s. “I promise we'll be together forever. This is the first and last time we’ll ever be apart.”

Akaashi smiled. He felt tears in his eyes again and he averted his gaze immediately.

“Forever Akaashi, I mean it,” Bokuto insisted, pulling Akaashi’s chin up to make their eyes meet again. “I lost you once, I won’t lose you again.”

“Bokuyo-san, are you… sure?” Akaashi asked. He had the feeling of what Bokuto was trying to say, but no matter how much he claimed his heart to be far stronger now, it still couldn’t process a joy like the one that was threatening to burst it once again.

“I’ll marry you, Akaashi. No matter what’s happened to the circus when I get back, I’ll marry you. No matter what kind of mess there is. Even if no one will let us, even if we have to go to the world’s end or even if you won’t be there when I get back, I’ll still marry you! I will come for you, I will find you, no matter where you are, no matter where we must go, I’ll marry you and I’ll always stay by your side, I promise. No matter where or how I meet you, no matter if you’re not in love with me anymore… I will wait and hope you will fall in love with me again. If I can meet you again, against all the odds… I’ll marry you, Akaashi Keiji.”

It burst, joy overflowing and soaking right into his bones. There wasn’t pain anymore, just blinding love that was brightening up the future. Their future. For the first time since Bokuto left, Akaashi could see it, he could see their life together, he could see the days spent exploring the world, the lazy days falling in and out of sleep, the days where they fought and the days where they never stopped making love for a single second. Their love was a force able to dismiss all his fears and Bokuto was a wind blowing strong inside him, pushing him forward.

“See, I’m hopeless, I made you cry again…” Bokuto chuckled.

“Hurry up and come back home,” Akaashi whispered, closing his eyes. His body was suddenly feeling heavy, sleepy, as the last ounce of strength was slowly being drawn from his limbs.

“I know that you are tired of waiting, and you may have to wait a little more, but I’m on my way, Akaashi. And I’m getting there as fast as I can,” Bokuto said before kissing him one last time.

Before everything disappeared, once again.

=

There was something tickling his nose. The more Akaashi tried to ignore it to fall back in the depth of sleep, the more the tickling increased. When he finally found the strength to wake himself up, he was met by a pair of soft black paws and huge yellow eyes.

“Good morning, Kenma-san,” Akaashi groaned.

Akaashi petted the big cat on the head, ruffling his fur a little. It was so warm. Kenma sniffed his nose once again before turning tail and curling up between his legs.  

“Good morning, sleeping beauty~” Kuroo echoed, as lively and teasing as usual.

Wait.

“Kuroo-san? What are you doing here? What time is it?” Akaashi asked, confused. He looked around and he was still in his roulotte. Nothing had changed, except for Kuroo lounging around and a kettle for the tea on the stove.

“It’s 6:30 pm… you slept for more than 24 hours straight,” Kuroo informed him. “Which is probably the only straight thing you’ve done from the very moment I met you.”

Akaashi scoffed, falling back down and hiding his face under the duvet. “I’ve been awake for less than a minute and you’ve already managed to be annoying,”

“That’s just who I am as a person,” Kuroo said, very pleased with himself.

“Shouldn't you be at rehearsals?”

“I should, but it was more important to watch over you, so I stayed here,” he said, pouring some tea.

“Where’s Oikawa-san?”

“Aren’t you full of questions this morning, my dear?” Kuroo sighed, shaking his head. He sat down on the bed next to Akaashi, offering him the cup. “I don’t know where he is, but he’s probably doing the thing he always does, you know… scheming and shit. But no, don’t worry, he didn’t sleep with you, he called me the moment he was done with you and left.”

Akaashi sat up, careful not to disturb Kenma in the process. He accepted the tea and lost himself for a moment looking at the light green liquid. He held the cup close to his face, warming his skin and his hands a little. Everything was so real yet so confused inside his head. He needed to see Oikawa as soon as possible, he had so many things he needed to ask.

“Why do you look disappointed?” Kuroo asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m not disappointed . It’s just…” Akaashi trailed off, not sure of what he was saying in the first place.

“I hope you weren’t misled by his memory scoop outfit which, as you might have guessed, consists in nothing at all, but it’s only because the more you recreate the setting of actual natural sleep the better the results it gets,” Kuroo shrugged. “But he never sleeps after. He has to write down all the events in detail as soon as he wakes up, otherwise he’ll forget everything.”

“Forget… What?!”

“Yes, he doesn’t remember the dreams he takes part in, creates, manipulates or whatever the thing he does is. They stay with him for a bit and then they’re simply… gone. No matter how much he tries, he can’t recall them anymore.” Kuroo said, a bittersweet smile on his face.  

“Will it be the same for me? Will I lose it?” Akaashi asked, panicking. He didn’t want to lose Bokuto’s words, he was clinging to them as if his whole life depended on them.

“No, for better or for worse, the dreamers will always remember them, some times more vividly than others.” Kuroo paused, absently running his fingers through Kenma’s fur. Kenma purred, leaning into his touch. “You know, I still dream about him… about us, at times. And the dreams are always so good. It’s like living the happiness we could never have. They’re so calm. It’s always sunset and we never fight, we never scream, I just say bad puns and he laughs a lot. And we make love, a lot of it even. And it feels so real, Akaashi, so real. When I wake up from those dreams I wonder if it was just a gift of my own mind or if he sometimes likes to come back and spend some time with me in a perfect world with no problems where we’re still together…. I know he doesn’t, but I can’t help wondering about it regardless…”

Akaashi looked at Kuroo and his heart squeezed in his chest. He wondered why destiny was so cruel with a man who didn’t deserve it. He wondered if they didn’t deserve a second chance, after all. Maybe it wasn’t the right time, the first time. Maybe they needed to find other things before they could find each other again. Despite everything, Kuroo still loved Oikawa so much it hurt not only himself, but the sharp edges of his pain could wound all the people around him as well. Akaashi knew Kuroo loved him because, as Bokuto said, he was still making up excuses for the way Oikawa kept on hurting him.

He wished Oikawa would wake up one day and decide it was time to stop escaping in Kuroo’s dreams and it was time to live again the happiness he was chasing. That love was exactly where it wasn’t supposed to be: right in front of him.

Akaashi hated it, he hated that it had to be Oikawa of all people because Kuroo deserved so much more, but what people want and what people deserve are often two opposite things.

“Kuroo-san…”

“It’s fine, really,” he smiled. “His dreams are just the best, aren’t they?”

“It was… a really good dream, yes,” Akaashi nodded. Kuroo was right, he remembered Bokuto’s eyes, his voice, his smell, his warmth so vividly, even more than the memories he had of when Bokuto was actually there with him.

“How is he?” Kuroo asked. Akaashi didn’t need to ask who he was talking about.

“He said he’s getting here as fast as he can,” Akaashi said, and the promise vibrated so warmly in his heart, making him smile. It was silly, counting on a promise a dream made to him, but he couldn’t help but truly believe in it.

“He better, that huge dumbass,” Kuroo laughed. “How are you feeling, by the way? Physically I mean,” Kuroo asked, placing the back of his hand on Akaashi’s forehead to feel his temperature.

“Still a little dizzy…” Akaashi said, massaging his temples. Despite having slept for more than a whole day, he felt he could have used another full night’s sleep.

“It’s natural, a memory scoop isn’t something everyone can endure, especially people like you… you know…” Kuroo trailed off, gesturing vaguely.

“Yes,” Akaashi nodded. “For normal people like me.”

“Yeah,” Kuroo nodded with a sigh. “But anyway, you were really amazing, Akaashi. You probably don’t realize how much it takes, both physically and mentally, to go through something like that. There are things hidden in our minds that are better left forgotten and you can never know what will come to meet you in a dream.”

Akaashi frowned. “It… it was actually pretty easy.”

“Easy?” Kuroo echoed, surprised. “There are many words I would use to describe a memory scoop, but easy isn’t one of those for sure!”

“I don’t know, it felt pretty straightforward to me,” Akaashi said. “Oikawa-san said I should just focus on the scene I remembered and everything would work just fine… and it just did. Oikawa-san was with me the whole time so -”

“He was with you? Like, you actually saw him? Oikawa?” Kuroo asked, bewilderment painted all over his face.

“Yes?” Akaashi confirmed. Kuroo’s reaction was confusing him even more than he already was. “He was with me, we talked exactly like we would outside a dream, I even touched him. If it wasn’t for the surroundings, I could have sworn it was real life and not a dream.”

Kuroo just blinked at him.

“Kuroo-san, you’re making me worry, what’s the problem with that?”

“He… He never does that. He never accompanies people during the memory scoop. He recalls the memories, watches them unfold, and then he leaves, otherwise he can mess up a whole lot of shit in the memories of the person if he tries to get the dream to go in a certain direction.”

“I guess he doesn't care much about messing up my memories,” Akaashi grimaced.

“I think it’s actually the contrary. Having you sentient inside your own dream was a bloody huge gamble, but he made sure you were sort of awake in your own dream so you could be the one controlling the flow, not him,” Kuroo explained, his face relaxing as things started to make more sense to him. Too bad that, on the other hand, they started to make less sense to Akaashi.

“A gamble?”

“Dreams are the place where you can find a door to areas inside yourself that would otherwise be inaccessible,” Kuroo said, suddenly turning very serious. “Peeking behind those doors can be very tempting. It’s not that our mind stores only the bad things. It stores the good things as well and I dare you to leave a place where happiness seems infinite. That’s why you can lose yourself inside your own mind and never find a way out.”

Akaashi’s mouth opened without letting out any sound. Leaving out such a huge detail was absolutely the most Oikawa thing to do.

“He didn’t warn you about this, did he?” Kuroo sighed. “That’s why, as a reward, he gave you a brand new dream and didn’t let you relive a memory with Bokuto. No matter how beautiful and perfect it is, no matter how much you don’t want to, you will always wake up from a dream. But often there’s no way back from living inside a memory we don’t want to let go.”

Akaashi let out a sigh of relief. He knew why Oikawa didn’t mention it, no matter how dangerous it was. Akaashi wouldn’t have bet a paper clip on his ability to resist reviving his bright past with Bokuto and never letting him go. The memories were true while the dream was a fake, but Akaashi was glad Oikawa let him have that one thing. Instead of letting him linger in the past, he gave him a final push to move forward.

“That’s fucked up,” Akaashi said, dropping his head back to the headboard.

“No shit,” Kuroo snorted. “Now don’t force yourself to do anything, just rest and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Kuroo-san, wait!” Akaashi stopped him as he was making his way to the door. Kenma jumped off the bed to follow Kuroo, climbing up his shoulder. “One last thing… Oikawa-san saw the person but he didn’t tell me who he was. His reaction scared me. Who was it?”

Kuroo stopped in his tracks. He hesitated, biting his bottom lip. When he finally raised his eyes to meet Akaashi’s, Akaashi knew it couldn’t possibly be less awful news than he expected it to be.  

“It was his father.”

Kuroo sighed, his lips pressed together in a thin line. His gaze fell to the floor, the only safe place where he could avoid Akaashi’s. He reached for the door handle but Akaashi jumpedforward, with all the intention of physically stopping him from leaving his roulotte.

It was in that moment he realized the toll the memory scoop took on his body. His bones were hurting and his muscles failed him, making him crash on the bed like a broken doll. He grasped at the duvet with both hands, pulling himself up on his elbows as best as he could. His joints made a horrible sound, but he didn’t care. His eyes were burning, this time not because of tears but because of the fire blazing in them. He needed his answers and he was determined to have them. Now.

“Kuroo-san,” Akaashi said through teeth gritted with pain. “Would you mind articulating… it?”

Kuroo looked at him, worried, but he didn’t move. “I don’t think now is a good time for -”

“If not now when?! Don’t you think keeping things from each other already caused way too much harm?” Akaashi said. He would have screamed at him, if only his body would have let him. “I’m sick and tired of all of your fucking secrets.”

Kuroo looked at him, narrowing his eyes. Kenma jumped from Kuroo’s shoulder right to Akaashi’s bed, bumping his little forehead against Akaashi. Kuroo sighed, once more, finally making his way back to the bed. He looped one of his strong arms around Akaashi’s chest, cupped the back of his head with one hand and slowly pulled him up and back to rest on the pile of pillows. Kenma accommodated himself in his favourite spot between his legs. Kuroo smiled at Akaashi, who was still glaring at him.

“Don’t look at me like that, you’re scary,” he laughed.

“I’m serious, Kuroo-san…”

“I know you are,” Kuroo said. “It’s a long story. And complicated. And probably doesn’t make any sense.”

“It’s not like I have anything to do or anywhere to go and nor do you,” Akaashi shrugged. “And I’m used to things not making sense here, trust me. I’m ready.”

“Well, buckle up, it’s gonna be a hell of a wild ride,” Kuroo said, finally sitting down at the foot of Akaashi’s bed.

“I expect nothing less.”

=

“It actually started long before we were born. Our families have always been close, very close. Mine has been running the Nekoma circus for centuries now while Oikawa’s is one of Japan’s most prestigious horse breeding families. They provide horses for every kind of competition and, of course, for entertainment as well, the circus included. But it was with the our parents’ generation that the bond got tighter between them and they started to obsess over getting together as one big family and, as you might have guessed, there was only one way to do it: making the kids marry each other.

Oikawa only has one sister, she’s a literal angel on this earth, and my brother… well. The relationship was heavily encouraged but my brother is the enemy of all women and marriage was the last thing he had on his mind. Still the same now. She was so sweet to him but I think it never really clicked. Thank god, if I may say so myself. Now Oikawa’s sister is married to this crazy rich guy, they have a little brat together while my brother is still out there… being himself. Gladly, my sister was spared from all this mess even if I think things could have gotten really interesting between her and Oikawa’s sister if they were given the chance.

With the first opportunity missed, our mums decided to try it again. I don’t even want to imagine the disappointment on their faces when they discovered they were both pregnant with boys. And so, only four months apart from each other, Tooru and I were born, and that’s how it all began.

It makes me sick just to think about it, that the sole purpose of us being conceived was for us to be together. Fate is a fucking joke.

Despite the initial letdown, our mums still kept us around each other, made us grow up together, go on vacation together and all that jazz. Oikawa is the first person, besides my mum, I have memories of. Not my father, who was never at home because of the circus, not my brothers, but Oikawa.

Close is hardly an accurate adjective to describe our bond. We were inseparable . We could have been mistaken for twins if we didn’t look so different.

I was the one who discovered Oikawa’s power. We were still little kids and one night we stayed up late reading pirate stories. I told him how cool it’d be if I could become a pirate when I grew up. He said to me that dragon trainers were way cooler and we kept arguing until we could barely keep our eyes open. See? Arguing is our speciality since forever. Anyway, that night we both had the same dream, of us travelling the world, me on my pirate ship and him on the back of his giant dragon. It was such a beautiful dream I said to Oikawa I wished for it to continue the night after, and so it did. And the night after that one. But, as the dreams got bigger and better, Oikawa woke up every day weaker, until one day he couldn’t wake up at all. After that episode, we weren’t allowed to sleep in the same room anymore and we never continued our epic dream adventure.

I felt so lonely at night without him.”

I still do. Akaashi read in Kuroo’s eyes, but he didn’t say it.

“I’ve never considered him one of my brothers. For me, my brothers were these sort of perfect circus machines I should look up to and walk in their very steps so I could become a lion tamer worthy of bearing the title of the Nekoma family. I love them and they do love me, they always say I’m their little doll, but it’s not like we ever spent much time together.

I never had a choice with my future, I’ve never even bothered to dream of a different life than the one that was written for me the moment life sparked in my mother’s womb. And that future came knocking on my door rather soon. There’s this thing called circus school prep, a place where the kids from the circus families can go to start training much earlier than others so things will come easily when the time to go to real circus school comes. It’s a way to make those families certain their children will excel and wipe out all the competition.

I remember the first afternoon I told Oikawa I wasn’t going back home with him after school because I had circus school prep. That afternoon and all the afternoons to come. Oikawa just looked at me and quietly walked away. He jumped in the car that usually picked the both of us up alone, without saying a word.

The day after, when I was leaving, Oikawa took me by the hand and said he was coming with me. That he would go to circus school as well because if that was where I was going, he would have to come with me.

Can you believe, Akaashi? Oikawa Tooru, age nine, a boy who could have become anything he wanted, the heir of a horse empire included, decided he would become just a circus performer… because of me.”

No, Akaashi couldn’t believe it. He never stopped to think about why they all chose that life for themselves but to think that Oikawa Tooru was still living a life he chose so he could be with Kuroo was simply unimaginable. And yet.

“Fast forward to ten years later, things between us evolved the way you already know and, when our families knew about us, about the fact that we were together, the reaction was… mixed. Of course our mums were very happy and they didn’t seem surprised by the plot twist in the slightest. My father, after everything my brothers did with their personal lives, was mostly unfazed. I guess it was because my sexual orientation didn’t interfere with his lion trainers lineage masterplan, so it was all good.

Oikawa’s father… on the other hand. He never forgave me for taking his son away from him not just once, with the absurd circus thing, but twice.

I know he was mad at us, at Oikawa especially, but still he set aside the best horses for his son to use and started to tanke an interest in the circus school business as well. I guess at first it was to keep a closer eye on Oikawa, but his influence there grew so much he eventually ended up being part of the sorting committee. He’s still one of the judges now who decides if an artist is mature enough to access the sorting ceremony.

I don’t know if he wanted to prove a point or not, but he rejected Iwa-chan, me and his own son once. He rejected Bokuto twice. I mean, not him alone, but the whole committee. And we were good, Akaashi, trust me, we sure as hell were. But we failed, and with us all the other poor guys who were only guilty of being in the same battery as us.

And then, just like a miracle, it happened. We didn’t need any sorting. We were chosen to be the lead performers of the newborn Midnight Moon Circus, just like that. I won’t deny it felt strange at first, but Oikawa and I had been fighting like crazy, obsessing over the fact that we would quite surely be sorted into two different circuses, so when we were granted a future working together, we accepted in the bat of an eye. Iwa-chan didn’t even think about it. He didn’t come from a prestigious family, so that was the best shot he could ever have.

Oikawa’s father was barely starting to accept the fact that me and Oikawa were together, probably because he finally realized a possible marriage between me and him would have produced the same financial outcome as the one between my brother and Oikawa’s sister, when the news of us breaking up hit him and, from that day, he never wanted to see or talk to Oikawa, or any of us, again.

I’m sure that, in his eyes, it was all for nothing. Oikawa betrayed and destroyed his future for nothing. I’m sure he said to him countless of times we would break up eventually and Tooru always yelled back we would be together forever. And, in truth, everyone was under the impression we would really stay together forever, and now Oikawa was stuck in a life that he chose only to match mine, alone. But he could only move forward, there was no place at home for him anymore.

At home, in fact, it was chaos. Our personal business became everyone’s business and it stained the relationship our families had with each other, like some sort of reverse Romeo and Juliet bullshit. I don’t even want to think about it.

So yeah, this basically sums the jackassery up. Thoughts?”

Thoughts?

Akaashi had so many thoughts it was hard for him to even form a coherent one.

“Ok but… what was Oikawa’s father even doing with Bokuto? Did they have any relationship at all?”

“Not at all! I think that’s what Oikawa is trying to figure out… but the only way to know is to either ask Bokuto or his father directly, but both things are quite obviously out of the question.”

“Well, I hate to repeat myself but that’s truly fucked up, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi said, still unable to process all the information Kuroo just threw at him. “Someone should write a book about all this jackassery.

Kuroo held his knees to his chest, resting his head against them. He looked very tired, both physically and emotionally.

“Ha,” he smiled, “Someone really should.”  

Chapter Text

Oikawa didn’t move into Bokuto’s dressing room even if, as the new circus leader, it was rightfully his. He said there was no need for it since it wasn’t that much bigger than his own anyway and because he didn’t have the time nor the patience to move all the stuff he’d accumulated there in the past five years.

Akaashi pretended to believe that was the real reason.

There were indeed a lot of things in there, it was hot, dark, and, most of all, the room smelled like Oikawa more than Oikawa himself.

Akaashi just couldn't get used to it, no matter how much time he spent in Oikawa’s dressing room.

As his personal attendant, Akaashi followed Oikawa almost everywhere he went, or better, almost everywhere Oikawa let him follow. His duties included always having an eye on him before, during and after practice or rehearsals, in case he needed anything. His duties also included getting him dressed before and undressed afterwards, every single time.

Akaashi really couldn't get used to it.

But, on top of that, there was something palpably strange in the air that night. They’d just completed the first dress rehearsal of the new show and Oikawa was surprisingly quiet. Not his usual silent self, he was distant, as if lost in some kind of thought too far away from where they were. His gaze was lost, absently following the slight movement of the flame of one of the many candles in the room. The light was casting a dance of shadows on his beautiful face, reflecting warmly inside his eyes.

“Oikawa-san…” Akaashi tried, as softly as he could.

He didn’t move, nor did he respond to Akaashi’s call. Probably he didn’t even hear.

Akaashi walked to him slowly, without making any sound. When his hands touched Oikawa’s chest, he didn’t even flinch. Akaashi quietly started to undo the many laces that were squeezing Oikawa into his new stage suit: a high neck white frilly shirt was barely visible under the dark purple velvet military jacket embroidered with silver silk thread. The embroidery ran down his skinny trousers as well, only to disappear in his thigh high black boots.

Definitely an intricate look that took Akaashi almost half an hour to set in place, and not without a huge load of complaints from the person wearing it.

Oikawa’s body was particularly warm that night, Akaashi could feel the heat radiating right through his clothes. His heart was beating a little faster than usual as well.

“Do you hate me, Akaashi?” Oikawa asked, suddenly breaking the silence.

Akaashi’s hands winced around the laces of Oikawa’s jacket.

Akaashi stayed silent. He spent a lot of time on his own trying to answer that question, but he never could make sense of his complex feelings towards Oikawa Tooru. It was… difficult.

“I know you don’t, even if you should,” Oikawa said. His eyes didn’t move, they were still lost in the fire. “Everything I did to you was deliberate. I wanted to hurt you, to make you feel unwelcome, to make you feel uneasy and uncomfortable. I wanted to make it clear you’re not one of us and you will never be. Do you know why?”

“Because Bokuto-san chose me instead of you,” Akaashi said. It wasn’t a question anymore because there was simply no other thing Akaashi could have done to call the fury of Oikawa Tooru upon himself.  

“You took away from me the only thing I’ve ever let myself desire.” Despite what he was saying, Oikawa didn’t sound angry. There was no emotion at all betraying the soft sound of his voice. “We had a life before you, Akaashi, and it was beautiful, not peaceful, but still we had it all. And then you came, with your pretty face and bright heart, turning everything upside down, lighting a spark in Bokuto’s heart where I thought it would be dark forever, succeeding where I failed, without even trying.”

Oikawa paused. When his eyes met Akaashi’s, the fire of the candle was still burning in them, making Akaashi instantly recoil.

“You know, I think you were right. I do think I’m more worthy of Bokuto’s love than you are. But sadly, love is not about worth, otherwise -”

“Otherwise Kuroo-san wouldn’t still be in love with you?” Akaashi asked through gritted teeth, before he could even realize what he just said.

Oikawa raised an eyebrow, mildly surprised, definitely irritated. “Don’t you dare to talk about him. The extent of our relationship is none of your concern.”

“Oh, it sure as hell is, Oikawa-san,” Akaashi retorted. “He’s my friend and I hate seeing him suffer. You don’t deserve him or the love he still has for you.”

“I know I don’t,” Oikawa said, calmly. “See, this is exactly why I hate you, Akaashi, why I despise you and everything you stand for. Just looking at your face sometimes makes me sick to my stomach. I wanted you to disappear, I wanted to wake up and realize you never existed, like you’d been just a bad dream.” Oikawa stopped again, a dangerous smirk forming on his lips. “Isn’t it ironic, Akaashi? A bad dream. And yet I woke up every day and you were still there, making me feel things I’ve never felt in my heart. Pain, despair, hate. Failure. And… I didn’t know how to deal with them. I wanted to hurt you, and so I did, in the only way I knew. At first, it felt so good. And yet… I see you’re scared of me. I see you don’t like me. But, despite all the terrible things I did to you, you still don’t hate me, and the more you don’t, the more I hate you. I even failed at making you hate me. Would you ever let me win at anything, Akaashi? Or is the purpose of your existence mocking mine?”

Oikawa’s eyes were glossy but his body was visibly loosened by the relief of the admission. Akaashi wasn’t surprised, because he already knew. He knew how much he hurt Oikawa. On the contrary, he was glad. Glad Oikawa, for the first time, decided to be completely honest with him, showing the feelings he always kept so hidden inside him.

“I wish, Oikawa-san, I really wished, hoped, wanted to hate you, but I can’t. I don’t know why, but I can’t,” Akaashi replied, stepping forward and resuming his work untying the laces.

Oikawa blinked at him, this time genuinely surprised, but he didn’t back off. Akaashi looked up at him with a thin smile. It was a tiny bit surreal, but Akaashi didn’t want it to end. He wanted to know how Oikawa really felt. It was a long overdue talk between them, the stepping stone to build a somehow honest relationship.

“Stop… stop looking at me with those sympathetic eyes. You should hate me, Akaashi,” Oikawa said, almost muttered.

“I just think that if that… if it happened to me… I couldn’t have endured it the same way you have, Oikawa-san. I would have gone completely crazy.”  

The sole thought of seeing Bokuto happy with someone else and having to live so closely with that someone else for as long as Oikawa had was the worst torture Akaashi could imagine. And yet Oikawa did it, and was still doing it.

“Don’t talk as if you know what that meant to me, you can never know how it felt!”

“That’s right, but even if you keep hating me, nothing will change,” Akaashi said, finally undoing the last button of Oikawa’s jacket. He walked behind him, pulling the jacket off his shoulders. “It is what it is. Your pain won’t be relieved, it will probably grow deeper and deeper until darkness consumes your heart and your soul and please, Oikawa-san, don’t let it happen. If you want to take revenge on me, by all means do, but do it in a way that won’t hurt Bokuto-san.”

“There’s no way something like that could happen. He loves you too much and would go insane if anything happened to you,” Oikawa sighed. He started to unbutton his shirt himself and, despite the impossibly dim light, Akaashi could see the red marks the too tight jacket left on his torso. Akaashi had already asked him countless times to let him get it fixed, but Oikawa never allowed it.

“He loves you too, Oikawa-san,” Akaashi smiled, even if Oikawa couldn’t see him. Especially because Oikawa couldn’t see him. “Not in the way you wanted, but he does.”

Oikawa scoffed. “I have no use for a love like that.”

Akaashi grabbed Oikawa by the arms and forcefully turned him around. He felt Oikawa’s muscles tensing underneath his fingers, but he kept holding him tightly, locking his eyes into Oikawa’s. “Yes, you do! You can use all the love you can possibly get. You just have to stop pretending you don’t need anyone, that you can do everything and endure everything alone. Because you can’t, you so clearly can’t! Look at what all of this did to you…” Akaashi trailed off.

Oikawa opened his mouth but, for the first time, it seemed like he couldn’t find the words to argue back. He just looked at Akaashi, with his chocolate eyes trembling with too much emotion. He was just a tiny bit taller than Akaashi, but he suddenly felt so small inside his hands. Almost fragile.

Akaashi softened his grip, but didn’t let him go.

“You did horrible things, Oikawa-san,” Akaashi continued, voice much softer than before. “But you’re still standing here, doing what you can to protect the home Bokuto-san gave you. You could have disposed of me now that you have the power to, and yet you kept me as close to you as possible. You protected me.”

Oikawa let out the faintest of sighs. “I’m just doing this for him.”

“He didn’t ask you to.”

“You truly can never let me win, can’t you?” Oikawa said, shaking his head. With the movement, the thin silver ring around his head sparkled in the low light.

“Would punching me make you feel better?” Akaashi asked, only partially joking, finally letting him go.

“Finding Bokuto is the only thing that would make me feel better right now,” Oikawa said, regaining his composure. “That’s why you’re leaving, Akaashi. Tomorrow, at the break of dawn.”

“What?! Me?”

“Yes, in the current situation we’re in right now, you’re the only one who can find him,” Oikawa said. “It’s not safe to discuss everything here, but I’ll get you all the details soon. You should go and get ready now.”

Typical Oikawa, of course he had a plan figured out already. But Akaashi never thought he would be the one putting it in action. He never thought Oikawa would ever trust him enough to actually let Akaashi help him.

“Oikawa-san, I don’t understand, how am I-” Akaashi tried.

“At the due time you will have all the information and all the guidance, don’t worry,” Oikawa cut him off. “I’m not letting you do everything alone.”

“Who’s coming with me?” Akaashi asked.

“None of us, but you will find some valuable companions along the way,” Oikawa explained, turning away from him and resuming taking his clothes off. “Again, you will have to trust me on this.”

“Again, I would rather not.”

Again , you have no other choice,” Oikawa shrugged, letting his shirt fall to the ground. Akaashi had to force his gaze away. “But if you prefer to stay here and do nothing just tell me and I’ll find a way to rearrange my plan.”

“No,” Akaashi jumped in. “I’ll go. I’ll be the one going. I will find him.”

“You’d better,” Oikawa smirked, perfectly satisfied with the good outcome of his manipulation. “Go, Akaashi, I can continue on my own from here on. You’re suspended from all your obligations until you get back.”

“Oikawa-san… I’ll do my best,” he said, as if Oikawa Tooru truly needed to be reassured by him, as if he needed him to make a promise like that. But, somehow, he felt it was the only right thing to say, to say goodbye. Akaashi knew that was the last time he’d see Oikawa before his imminent departure and, possibly, for a very long time.

There were so many things he still wanted to say and to ask Oikawa about, now that he felt a little closer to him, now that he felt Oikawa would at least listen to what he had to say but, as always, it was already too late.

“There are… there are just two things I regret in my life.” Oikawa said, unprompted, making Akaashi stop in his tracks on his way out. He turned around but Oikawa wasn’t looking at him, he was sat at the makeup table, absently spinning a brush between his fingers. “The second one of those things is what I did to you that night in Shodoshima. I don’t want you to forgive me, I don’t want you to understand me. I just need you to know that I am sorry. I don’t… I don’t remember what it was, but I’m sure it was…. horrible. And wrong. Given the chance to go back, I wouldn’t do it again.”

Akaashi’s heart squeezed in his chest and he could only bow in acknowledgement. Before leaving the tent for good, Akaashi found the courage to ask one last question.

“Oikawa-san… What’s the first thing?”

Oikawa took the silver ring off his head, shaking his fringe out of his face. He looked up at Akaashi through the reflection in the mirror in front of him. The moment their eyes met, Akaashi already knew.

“The first thing I regret is letting Kuroo believe I’ve never loved him.”

=

When the first rays of light started to creep behind the heavy clouds, Akaashi was already awake. Not that he’d slept much, anyway.

Fourteen days. That’s how much time was separating them from the great debut night of the new Midnight Moon Circus show. That’s how many days he had to find Bokuto, before it was too late.

Oikawa’s plan was very easy in its diabolic genius: it was all pretending. He never actually planned for them to debut as a new circus, he was just buying time for Bokuto to come back and take the lead again. The news of Bokuto leaving and Oikawa being the new circus leader didn’t make it to the media, it was kept as a “surprise” for their big return; they just said the show was completely new, and that was enough to sell all the tickets in less than a day. They were still the best circus in Japan, after all.  

What Akaashi needed to do was find Bokuto and bring him back just in time for the show, so that he could take his rightful spot as the circus leader again and perform like nothing ever happened. Ideally, Akaashi should get him back at least one day before the show, so that he could at least understand what was going on and be prepared, but the extreme of his time limit was the last minutes of the show. If he could bring Bokuto in the proximity of the Circus, then they could quite literally have all the time in the world to figure things out and make it work.

As the circus leader, Oikawa was scheduled to perform last. Bokuto just needed to get on the stage right after him and the plan would be perfectly complete. If he failed, then it was over.

What was scaring Akaashi the most was that if Bokuto failed to show up in the first show he wouldn’t be able to perform in any other show of the Midnight Moon Circus. The line through his name was already drawn behind the scenes, no one was expecting him to come back ever, Daishou didn’t even want him to come back, especially not now that he’d found his perfect circus leader in Oikawa.

The only advantage they had was was the assumption that Daishou surely wasn’t expecting that same Oikawa to betray him. He wasn’t expecting him to conspire behind his back so he’s never see the light of day as the new leader of the Midnight Moon Circus. He wasn’t expecting him to trick him into having no other choice than to have Bokuto back on the team again and in his rightful place.

If Bokuto could perform and act like nothing ever happened, Daishou would be forced to acknowledge him and keep him, since the image of the Midnight Moon Circus would be tied to his face once and for all. At least, that’s what they were hoping. There was no need for the world to know the mess that had gone down backstage in the last couple of months, the only thing they needed to know was that Bokuto was there, where he always had been, where he always will be, leading his crew to an even greater glory.

There was no way Daishou could do a leader switch after that. But, if Bokuto came back even one second after the lights of the show were turned off, then there wouldn’t be a place for him in the circus anymore.

Akaashi was feeling all the pressure of his task, but he knew he couldn’t fail. He would bring Bokuto back just in time. He promised.

Oikawa’s instructions didn’t explain much of the technical details though, he just had to prepare a light duffel bag with his basic necessities and leave it in a designated spot, with the promise of finding it again where he was headed. A car would wait for him outside the gates of the circus and the person inside it, code name Mr. Refreshing, would take him to his next destination. It would have looked like a perfect plan to get rid of him for good if Akaashi didn’t know better. Now he knew Oikawa would never do anything to purposefully harm him. Not again.

Oikawa worked so hard to be hated, but Akaashi only ended up trusting him more than anyone else. He smiled, knowing how much Oikawa would hate it.

Akaashi sneaked out of his roulotte, dark clothes to help him blend with the shadows around him. There was a heavy feeling in his heart. Even though he’d moved all around Japan with the circus, it was the first time he was leaving it alone. Since he joined the Midnight Moon Circus he’d stopped being alone. His love was there, his new friends, his animals. His family.

There was such a strange sadness in leaving a place that, despite everything, he loved so much, where countless of memories bloomed as unexpectedly as pansies through the snow. He savoured each one of them, some of them so strongly they almost came alive once again.

Looking at them on the calendar, fourteen days were nothing. And yet it felt like such a huge amount of time where too many things could happen, too many things could go wrong. He had to be back, he promised, but something inside him kept telling him to look around, to take in everything, to seal all those memories in his heart because there was the possibility he would never come back to it again.

And, if that was the case, there was someone he had to say goodbye to first.

When he found him, Akaashi’s chest tightened a little. He hadn’t changed a bit since the last time he saw him: he was sleeping in his favourite place, snout resting on his two big front paws and body all completely relaxed. His rib cage raised and fell with the steady rhythm of his breath, yet Akaashi could tell he wasn’t sleeping that deeply. In the early daylight his fur was golden, shimmering over his majestic frame and powerful muscles.

Akaashi stood in front of the big cage just watching him for a moment: Oscar, Kuroo’s lion, the first friend he ever made in the Midnight Moon Circus, was sleeping peacefully, unaware of all the mess that was happening around him. He was just as handsome as his owner, but far more manageable in comparison.

Probably sensing his smell, Oscar opened an eye and graced him with one of his usual huge, sharp-toothed yawns. When their gazes met, he had such a soft look in those huge, dark rimmed amber eyes which somehow looked so much like Kuroo’s. In one fluid movement he was up, stretching a bit like the huge house cat that he was and then he made his way towards Akaashi, vigorously rubbing his head against the metal rods that were separating them.

Akaashi looked around and, exactly as he’d done countless of times before, he climbed the cage and leapt inside, Oscar jumping on him immediately. He was purring like a tractor and, despite how much he tried, Akaashi couldn’t manage to contain his tears as there was such a flood of them. But, after all, he never needed to hide them with Oscar. He hugged the lion as close as he could, burying his sobs in his bristly mane. His fur was thick and stinging, but he didn’t care.

He missed him so much.

He selfishly wondered if Oscar missed him as well, at least a little.

Oscar was the only one who saw right through his soul, he knew about his sadness, his fears, his hopes, his love. How many things had Oscar seen, how many rants, tears and dreamy sighs had he heard in all the time they’d spent together, from the very first day.

He was there when Akaashi was just looking at Bokuto from the roof, following him with his eyes in and out of the circus tent. He was there when he learned how to meditate. He was there the night Akaashi saw the show for the first time. He was the first to know when Bokuto kissed him, the first to know when they made love for the first time. He was there when they were blindly happy, he was there when that same happiness was suddenly torn out of his hands. He was there when Akaashi couldn’t be there for him anymore. He was there even when Akaashi wasn’t there for himself either.

Akaashi breathed deeply. The warmth of Oscar’s body alone was enough to calm his soul and clear his mind.

“I’ll be gone for a tiny bit, Oscar-san, take good care of Kuroo-san and the others while I’m away,” Akaashi said with a smile, taking Oscar’s snout in his hands.

“You’re just like your boyfriend,” a voice said from behind him. “Were you really going to leave without saying goodbye to me?”

Akaashi ruffled Oscar’s mane one last time before standing up.

Yes. Yes, he truly was going to leave without saying goodbye to him, because he wasn’t ready, he wasn’t strong enough to do it. He hated saying goodbye and he was the last person he wanted to say goodbye to.

“I’m not very good at saying goodbye… Kuroo-san,” Akaashi sighed, making his way out of the cage.

“Who is it, anyway?” Kuroo said, shaking his head. He was dressed in his usual running gear, holding a familiar little purple paper bag in his hand.

“Wait, are you eating…?”

“Popcorn for breakfast?” Kuroo shrugged, shoving a handful in his mouth. “Hell yeah.”

“Kuroo-san…”

“What? Some of them are salty caramel glazed, they’re perfect for breakfast!” Kuroo said between the munches.

“Kuroo-san…”

“Don’t look at me like that…” Kuroo said, rolling his eyes but with a smile on his face. “So… are you ready for your big adventure?”

“I guess I have to be,” Akaashi said. He unconsciously started fidgeting with his fingers, not finding the courage to fully meet Kuroo’s prying gaze. “How did you know I was leaving?”

“Your new bestie told me,” Kuroo said with a smirk.

It was Akaashi’s turn to roll his eyes. “Oikawa-san is not my bestie , we’re merely acquaintances,”

“He’s gonna be sad to hear that,” Kuroo fake pouted.

“Kuroo-san, please…” Akaashi started but trailed off. This is was why he didn’t want to see him before he left. It was just too difficult to find the words to say goodbye to him. “Please… Take good care of yourself.”

“Cut this shit out, come here,” Kuroo said, pulling Akaashi into a tight embrace. He held him to his chest, resting his face on top of Akaashi’s head. “Give him a punch in the face as soon as you see him on my behalf,” he whispered against his hair.

Akaashi could do nothing but hug him back, just as tight if not more. Kuroo was surely the person he was going to miss the most. He hugged him and hid his face in his chest, indulging in the familiar warmth that had comforted him so many times in the past.

He hugged him and didn’t want to let him go because in truth, when Oikawa told him he was going to go, he wished he’d planned for Kuroo to go with him as well. He really didn’t know how he was supposed to do it without Kuroo and his unwavering optimism, his constant support and ridiculous confidence that everything would be alright.

Akaashi already had to learn how to live without Bokuto, he didn’t expect to have to learn how to live without Kuroo as well. It was bizarre and he didn’t fully realize until that moment how much time they spent together, how many things they did together, how many things Kuroo did for him, how much Kuroo truly meant to him. How life changing it was to have the unconditional affection of a person by your side who’s not asking anything in return and just thrives on making you happy and occasionally lose your temper.

He never knew how life changing the pureness of the love of a friend could be, because he never had an irreplaceable friend like Kuroo Tetsurou before. 

“Kuroo-san…” Akaashi whispered. “What if… what if I don’t make it in time?”

“You will make it in time,” Kuroo said, calmly.

“No, seriously Kuroo-san, what if I don’t make it in time?” Akaashi insisted, pulling away slightly.

“Akaashi… you have to believe you will make it in time,” Kuroo said, taking Akaashi’s face between his hands and looking him straight in the eye. “I really believe you will. And I’ll be with you to make you remember it even if you won’t be able to see me this time.”

Kuroo smiled, pulling Akaashi’s face forward and pressing the most delicate kiss on his forehead. And, just like that, Akaashi felt the slightest glimmer of hope sparking in his heart again.

“I’ll always be with you, Akaashi,” Kuroo said. “And I’ll miss your annoyingly beautiful face.”

“And I’ll miss yours,” Akaashi said, this time fully indulging in watching his eyes sparkling with all the warm shades of hope.

Kuroo put both his hands on Akaashi’s shoulders, squeezing them. Akaashi didn’t know if that was encouragement for him or for Kuroo himself. Probably both. “Remember that this is your home as well, Akaashi, we’ll be waiting for you. Both of you. Come back soon.”

“I will,” Akaashi nodded and, this time, he truly believed it.

“Now go, don’t make me kick your ass out of this freak show,” Kuroo said with his signature smirk and raised eyebrow.

“I won’t make you go to the trouble of that,” Akaashi laughed. “I’ll go, see you soon, Kuroo-san!”

And, with two small bows, one for Kuroo and one for Oscar, he made his way out, his heart ever so strong. It felt like time slowed once again, but the dawn didn’t wait for him to be done and the sun was already peeking from the horizon. Birds were singing, like little feathered timekeepers, bringing Akaashi back to the reality of his task.

Akaashi took a deep breath, enjoying the pastel colours of the sky and the musical sounds of dawn, little tokens of nature’s peace given so freely before being taken away by the harsh reality of day.

“Akaashi, wait! One more thing!” Kuroo called him. When Akaashi turned around, he had the face of a person who was were ready to collect their debt. “Say… Who’s your bestie?”

“You.” Akaashi smiled at him, happy to finally pay it. “You are, Kuroo-san.”

=

There was a young man, probably around Akaashi’s age, waiting by a shiny black car just outside the main gate of the Midnight Moon Circus. He was dressed to match, all in back, and his hair was the same colour as the moonshine. He looked at Akaashi and smiled warmly.

He resembled one of those urban angels who live amongst the humans, the ones you usually see in movies or tv shows.

There was a mole right by his left eye and Akaashi couldn’t stop looking at it. It was such a perfect detail to complete his delicate beauty.

“Are you… My. Refreshing?” Akaashi asked, voice a little shaky equally because of the grace of the man in front of him and because of how absurd that code name was.

“I can’t believe he’s still up at it with that ridiculous nickname,” the young man laughed. “Yes, it’s me, but my real name is Sugawara Koushi. Get in, Akaashi-kun, we don’t have much time.”

Of course. His race against time had already begun.  

“Sugawara-san, where are we going?” Akaashi said, sitting in the passenger seat.

“Oh, he didn’t tell you? We’re going back to school,” Sugawara winked, starting the engine.  

“School?”

“Yes, we’re going back to the Sendai School of Circus Arts... the school where everything started.”

Chapter Text

Sendai, prefecture of Miyagi. 14 days to the circus show.

If it wasn’t for the sign “Sendai School of Circus Arts” engraved in marble, from the outside Akaashi couldn’t find any difference from the many private academies found all over Japan. It was just a school. A big one, surely, but just a school.

He always had this strange image of it in his head. The place was so dense with mysteries and bad feelings that he was surprised to find it so… normal.

The halls were crowded with kids, the chaos they were making so typical of their age: the multiple conversations of the boys going off all at once, the whispery chatting of the girls, the laughter, the stressed groans and helpless sighs.

Even the students were just like any other students, all dressed in their beautiful uniform which consisted of a white shirt and a navy blazer. The girls were wearing a light blue ribbon and a plaid skirt, while it was a light blue tie and navy trousers for the boys. He tried to imagine Bokuto, Kuroo, Oikawa and Iwaizumi in that uniform and the results were… varied. Something told him Bokuto was on the side of the kids who never wear their uniform properly. He found the thought unsurprisingly endearing. He wanted to ask Sugawara about it but he decided against it, not ready for his warm little fantasy to be shattered.

On their way through the hallway, Akaashi saw something that made him stop in his tracks. As if he was expecting it, Sugawara stopped right next to him, a subtle smile on his face.

Perfectly framed on the walls there were a lot of pictures far too familiar to him, so much it stung painfully inside his chest. The purple light was unmistakable, as was the group of people in them. They were all pictures of the Midnight Moon show. There was Iwaizumi, portrayed in all his muscled glory wielding a double-ended fire stick in his hands; there was Kuroo, smiling blindingly with Oscar’s paws on his shoulder; there was Oikawa looking fearless on his rearing horse; there was Bokuto with his sly smile and a dove in his hand. There was a picture of the boys, squeezed tight together in the final bow. They were all smiling so genuinely and Akaashi couldn’t remember the last time he saw them smiling together like that for real. He could tell, just by the look of it, that the picture was taken several years ago, probably in the earliest days of the Midnight Moon Circus.

“They were so beautiful…” Akaashi let out in a sigh.

“They still are,” Sugawara whispered, his tone so reassuring.

Next to the final bow picture there was another group picture, this one even more familiar because Akaashi was there when it was taken. The boys were all hugging each other, smiling, while Bokuto was triumphantly lifting the Crystal Feather Award. There was silver and purple confetti filling the air around them, some of it sticking to their iconic suits or getting tangled in their hair.

Akaashi felt that feeling in his chest, the one that ever so often led him to tears, so he breathed deeply, averting his gaze from the picture.

“The school went nuts when they won,” Sugawara said, unprompted. “It’s not like they were the first alumni to win the Crystal Feather Award, this school is so old that it probably lost count of how many time that happened, but there was something entirely different in their victory.”

“What was it?” Akaashi asked.

“They were the underdogs of the circus industry,” Sugawara explained. “Think about it: four students all from different backgrounds who were rejected at the sorting ceremony, somehow became the leading artists of a new circus. They created a show from scratch with no previous experience and with a supporting cast made of a bunch second-string artists borrowed from another circus. Miraculously they made it work and in a matter of five years they became rising stars, eternally sold out, and standing at the very top above all the other circuses in the country. It’s a pretty rad story, crazy enough to fire the young generation up, like a good shonen manga, if you will…”

“A story crazy enough indeed,” Akaashi considered. A story crazy enough to have something fundamentally wrong with it and Akaashi had to figure out what as soon as possible.

“They’re sort of heroes around here, we wanted to invite them to give a speech to the next generation of circus artists here  but… you know…” Sugawara trailed off.

“Yeah, I know,” Akaashi nodded, lips pressed in a thin line.

“Don’t worry, Akaashi,” Sugawara said, placing a hand on his shoulder and flashing him one of his comforting smiles Akaashi was already a bit accustomed to. “We will fix this mess and everything will be ok.”

“Yes, Sugawara-san.”

“I told you Suga-san is fine, you don’t have to call me by my whole last name, no one else does,” Sugawara said, starting to walk again.

“Better than Mr. Refreshing,” Akaashi chucked.

“Anything is better than Mr. Refreshing,” Sugawara laughed.

It was a nickname Oikawa gave him for mysterious reasons back in their fourth year of circus school. The school system was identical to all the other schools in Japan, the only difference was that the kids didn’t change school after the three years of middle school but stayed there to continue their high school education, making the circus school a fully-fledged six year program. In the morning the kids studied like they would have in a normal school but, instead of the usual school clubs like sports, arts or science, they could choose between the various circus disciplines and explore them to find the one they felt most suited to, unless, as Kuroo did, they entered the school with a very clear project in mind and decided to spend all six years sharpening their one blade. But, as Bokuto once told him, they were also all trained in the basic circus specialities and had to take an exam in them at the end of their very first year of circus school.

Sugawara was one of Oikawa’s classmates, seated right next to him from the first year of high school until graduation day. His speciality was acrobatics and he was now working as the school’s head acrobatics coach. But not just that. He was also the school secretary, a role which allowed him access to every single record stored in the building. And those records were the target of Akaashi’s secret mission there.

Akaashi really wanted to ask him why he wasn’t working in a circus, but he didn’t have have the heart to.  

“Suga-san! Sunga-saaan!!” a young voice yelled, approaching from behind.

As they turned, a young boy was running towards them trying to dodge all the people around him, not so successfully.

“Yes?” Sugawara said, unfazed, raising one eyebrow. “You know running in the hallways is not allowed so I hope you have a good reason to raise all this havoc.”

In that moment Akaashi understood why Oikawa liked him so much. Even if Sugawara was radiating a far more angelic and kind aura, at a close look anyone could tell they were birds of a feather. Probably Sugawara was acting towards Akaashi the same way Oikawa would have behaved if he didn’t… well, hate him.

The boy folded himself in half, panting harshly under Sugawara’s calm yet severe stare.

“There’s a problem in the gym… they are fighting,” he managed to say.

“Again?” Sugawara sighed. Even if the boy didn’t explain who was involved in the fight, Sugawara seemed to already know quite well.

“Yes,” the boy nodded.

“Good grief,” Sugawara sighed again, this time even deeper. “I can’t believe you can’t manage to survive five minutes without a supervisor. Let’s go.”

The boy sprinted ahead of them and Sugawara gestured at Akaashi to follow them, so he did.

The gym was almost on the opposite side of the school building and it took quite some time to get there but, when they did, Akaashi was stunned by the size of it. It was huge and it contained every type of acrobatic training equipment imaginable, including a real size trapeze, loops and fabrics for aerial performances. The floor was almost entirely buried by thick blue mattresses which prevent the students from hurting themselves during practice.

But the mattresses could do little to prevent the mess that was taking place in the middle of the gym where two boys were being kept apart, not without a lot of struggling, by a bunch of their classmates while all the others had stopped practice and were just watching it unfold, some even from their privileged seats up in the air.

“ENOUGH!” Sugawara roared, clapping his hands as he entered the gym.

It was all it took to make the entire room fall silent. The people who were keeping the boys apart took a step back, leaving the two of them in the middle of the room, frozen in place in their colourful bodysuits under Sugawara’s stare.

“What are you doing? This isn’t the time or place for sparring!” Sugawara said. “What happened this time?”

“He said he’s not progressing because I’m slowing him down,” one of the two boys said. He was rather tall, with a delicate face but fierce eyes. “I think he’s the one slowing us down. We would improve twice as fast if only he could follow the rules and not always do as he pleases.”

“Thank you, Yahaba-kun,” Sugawara said. “Is this the truth, Kyoutani-kun?”

“I just want to get out of here as fast as I can and I won’t ever get sorted if you keep sticking me with him,” the other boy said with the angriest eyes Akaashi ever saw. He was smaller than the other and was displaying unique short blonde hair with two dark lines running around the lower half of his head.

“Don’t you think that learning how to work with your partner is a faster way to secure you a ticket out of school?” Suwagawa asked.

“But Nakahara-san doesn't-” Kyoutani started but Sugawara’s scoff cut him off.

“Don’t you even start comparing yourself to Nakahara Chuuya. You’re still in school and he won a Crystal Feather award. And trust me when I say that he always worked in group and pair before getting where he is,” Sugawara said. “You’re an acrobat. You will be evaluated on your ability to work with the other acrobats already present in the circus and, quite surely, you won’t have someone like Yahaba-kun by your side if and when that will happen. What are you going to do? Do you plan on doing acrobatics on your own?”

“Why did you even choose acrobatics in the first place if you feel that way?” Yahaba asked, irritated. “There are plenty of circus disciplines you can do on your own!”

“Shut up!” Kyoutani barked. “You haven’t seen him… he’s…” he muttered, trailing off.

“I have,” Akaashi said, without thinking. Suddenly, all the eyes in the gym were on him. Sugawara looked at him with a raised eyebrow but he didn’t look too bothered. “I… I saw Chuuya Nakahara and I understand Kyoutani-kun’s feeling towards him.”

“You saw him? In person?” Kyoutani asked, the revelation swapping rage for excitement on his face.

“Yes, I attended the last Crystal Feather Award and he was the one entrusted to retain the title for the Yokohama Bay Circus,” Akaashi explained. “He’s a magnificent artist, all the audience was captivated by his performance.”

“And yet those Midnight Moon bastards stole the title from him,” Kyoutani hissed, full of disdain.

Sugawara’s eyes widened alarmingly.

“Damn right they did,” Akaashi thought but he didn’t say anything.

He breathed deeply once, twice, before replying. He wasn’t there to pick up fights with kids.

“The Midnight Moon Circus delivered an outstanding performance, I can tell you because I saw it with my own eyes,” Akaashi said, calmly. “I’m not an artist like you are or aspire to be. I have no circus talent. I’m simply a boy who managed to snag a ticket for the show. But remember, Kyoutani-kun, the circus’ audience is made of people like me. When you work, you’ll barely have time to survive, let alone go around watching the shows of other circuses. The ones who do, the ones who pay for the tickets which will turn into your salary are the people like me. The normal people. And all those people were in absolute awe. It was a very close race the one between the Midnight Moon and the Yokohama Bay Circus, I won’t deny it, but no one could argue they didn’t deserve to win.”

Kyoutani held Akaashi’s stare until the last word, then he dropped it and took a step back. He finally looked perfectly calm. Next to him, Yahaba gave him the smallest yet fondest smile. Even Akaashi could tell how much the other boy cared about his difficult partner, despite everything.

Looking between them and Akaashi, Sugawara let out a subtle sigh of relief.

=

“Thank you for everything you did in there, truly,” Sugawara said when he was sure to be out of hearing of the gym. “For a moment I feared the worst… I’m truly sorry for the behaviour of my students…”

“Don’t worry, Sugawara-san, they’re just kids… I was glad to hear so many honest opinions actually!” Akaashi smiled, following Sugawara down the hallways of the school once again.

Even if he’d spent less than an hour with them, Akaashi was in awe of the dedication and resolution Sugawara’s students displayed. After the little squabble, they sat down in a close circle and Akaashi let them ask all the questions they had about the Crystal Feather Award. They were so eager to know everything and their eyes shone at every detail he revealed. He had to do his absolute best not to blow the cover he’d invented for himself, but they didn’t seem to notice how strange it was for a normal person like him to be so insightful. Luckily.

They took turns to show Akaashi the routines they’d been practising in a race against each other to impress him and he couldn’t believe how good kids still in school could already be. Standing next to him as they watched them perform, Sugawara told him about the ruthless training regime they had to undergo every single day, how much blood, sweat and tears they had to shed on the gym floor and how the constant fear of being judged not good enough was looming over their practice.

At first they looked like any other teenagers out there, but these boys and girls already knew how hard the path to follow their dreams was and how fierce the competition was. They already knew everything they wanted they had to work for, harder than anyone else.

Sugawara also told him about the dropout rate the school had. Out of the 20 kids Akaashi was watching, at least five of them would surely abandon the circus studies or switch to non-performing circus arts. The rate was higher for commoners, as they called them, since the children who came from circus families literally had no other choice, exactly like Kuroo had told him. Akaashi couldn’t help but think about how Oikawa was among those commoners and still he managed to come out of it on top of everyone else. He wondered if Oikawa might even be the first commoner entrusted to lead a Circus.

Then a sudden thought made Akaashi stop in his tracks.

Wait a minute. What about Bokuto-san?

“Akaashi-kun?” Sugawara called him, a few steps ahead and one eyebrow raised in confusion. “Is there something wrong?”

“No,” Akaashi lied, walking right by him. “I was just a little bit lost in thought.”

“That’s fine, we’re here anyway,” Sugawara said with a small smile, gesturing towards one of the many identical wooden doors along the long hallway. “This is your room whire you’re here, all your things are already inside, along with some food. I suggest you eat something and rest, you have a long night ahead.”

“Will do, thank you, Suga-san,” Akaashi said with a smile of his own.

“You sure you’re ok? You look troubled,” Sugawara said, looking at him with slightly narrowed eyes as he gave him the key to the room.

“I’m fine, really, I just think I could really use some rest now,” Akaashi reassured him, as convincingly as he could.

Sugawara’s expression was telling Akaashi he didn’t buy his lie but he let it slide regardless.

“I’ll be back to get you around midnight, don’t go around the school alone while I’m gone,” he said. “See you later, Akaashi-kun.”

“See you later, Sugawara-san, thank you for everything,” Akaashi said with a small bow as Sugawara was quickly walking back to his duties.

Akaashi opened the door of room number 5 and, once again, he was surprised by how normal everything was. Not that he was expecting anything fancy, but still it was so oddly anonymous: white walls, a small window, a rather spacious bed, a closet and a desk with a chair. There was another door inside, leading to a basic bathroom. That was it.

On the desk there was a plate with far too many onigiri, all perfectly aligned, some fruit and water. At the sight, Akaashi’s stomach growled. He couldn’t remember the last time he ate something.

He snatched two onigiri and quietly walked around, munching and searching for some sign of the life that passed there before him. He could tell the furniture had been used for many years but everything was pristine. It was in a room like the one he was in now that the boys had spent their adolescence in, that Kuroo and Oikawa fell in love with each other, that Iwaizumi fought to find a place of his own, that Bokuto rehearsed his card tricks until he reached the absolute perfection. Somehow, they all felt so close and their gloomy past so real.

Now that his stomach was finally quiet, the weariness hit him all of a sudden. The adrenaline of the mission that kept him running until now was slowly leaving his body, making him feel all the weight of his sleepless night, the long morning drive from Nagano, where the circus was momentarily stationary, up north to Sendai, and the afternoon around the school. Not that he was able to rest that much in his last days in the circus either.

Akaashi laid down on the bed, exhausted. The bedsheets were a little rough but they felt as soft as a cloud on his tired body. He closed his eyes, sure he’d fall asleep in no time but minutes passed and nothing happened. He was perfectly still, breathing deeply, and the room was dark and silent. Maybe too silent. There wasn’t the usual background noise of the circus lulling him to sleep, there wasn’t anyone beside him to distract him from it. Since Bokuto left he’d got used to sleeping alone again, but this was the first time he was not only alone but in an unfamiliar bed as well. And the bedsheets felt rough again, the mattress too soft and the pillow too thin.

Akaashi sighed.

He pulled himself up, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. This wasn’t the time to be a fussy baby, he had to find a way to switch off his brain and rest, otherwise he would never endure a whole night checking the school registers in the desperate attempt to find something that could solve the mystery of how the Midnight Moon Circus was created. Oikawa was sure there was something deliberately wrong in how the things went in their last year of school and it was Akaashi’s duty to find it. Oikawa was also sure Bokuto already knew what happened because that was what his father had written in the letter he gave him. It was the only thing he could have told him to spark such an extreme reaction in Bokuto.

“This place is all I’ve ever wanted, this is my dream come true, I’ll give up everything to keep it alive.”

“Even me?”

“Even myself. ”

Akaashi’s heart ached as he remembered the words Bokuto said to him the night he left but he had no time to linger in the pain, not anymore. It was time to take action and find that key which would hopefully tell him where Bokuto went. He wished he could just go out now and start his research, instead of being locked inside that room until sundown.

He went straight to the bathroom, turning on the water to fill the small bathtub. It was his last resort for resting at least a little bit. After all, taking a bath had always been the best solution for most of his bad days, ever since he was a little kid. Water always had a magical effect on him, he just needed to be engulfed by the warmth of it to feel his nerves relax and everything around him disappear. Just watching the tub slowly fill up was already having a soothing effect on him.

Akaashi stripped down and slid down into it even if it wasn’t completely filled up yet. He crouched in there, hugging his knees close to his chest and resting his forehead on them. The water slowly rose by his sides as his mind faded into dullness and everything started to take the form of a foggy illusion. He couldn’t hear anything other than the steady sound of the water, not even the sound of his own thoughts. Akaashi wished the tub would expand so he could lay down completely, and then even more so he could start swimming, like he used to do on those beautiful, hot summer days in his hometown, when he and his sister spent the days by the sea, without a single care in the world. Those days were such a special treat. It was so long ago, and yet Akaashi remembered it so clearly. As he remembered the worried look on his mother’s face when he stayed underwater too long, his sister never wanting to let her hair get wet, his father letting him jump from his shoulders into the sea. He wished that summer was eternal, that last summer they spent all together.

A single tear escaped from his eyes, running fast down his face and disappearing into the water as if it never existed.

Despite how painful those memories were, his heart was beating slowly. The sensation of the steamy water was calming him, making his mind drift away. He let his head fall back onto the cold bathroom tiles, his eyes closed, his breathing barely audible in the absolute silence.

On good days, Akaashi would just stay there and let the warm feeling of peace soak into his bones. On bad days he shed tears until the water turned from hot to lukewarm and then from lukewarm to ice cold.

He wondered which kind of day it was.

=

...Kashi?

In the distance of his sleep, a small voice was calling his name.

...Kashi?

He didn’t recognize it. He was sure he had never heard that voice before.

...Kashi?

The voice was insistent and this time closer than ever. Was that… a child?

A little splash of water hit Akaashi’s face. He lazily opened his eyes and was met by a pair of big yellow ones. He gasped, the drowsiness suddenly erased from his body and mind.

Those eyes… those eyes he recognized. But there wasn’t the usual heart shaped nose, the pointy ears and the soft black fur around it. Instead there was shiny black hair, rosy cheeks and a small, pouting mouth.

“K-Kenma-san?” Akaashi gasped, incredulous.

“Kashi!” the child he thought was Kenma whined, splashing his little hand in the water once again. “Hungry!”

“W-what?”

This had to be a dream. Of course. He fell asleep. Of course it was a dream.

“Oikawa-san...” Akaashi growled, clenching his fists. “Oikawa-san, I swear this is not funny!”

“...Tooru?” Kenma said looking up at Akaashi, his head tilted to one side, a little confused.

“Oikawa Tooru you better show yourself fast, what the hell is this, I’m not in the mood to let you amuse yourself with me.”

“No Tooru,” Kenma said, shaking his head solemnly. “Tooru home with Kuro!”

Akaashi blinked at the small child in front of him who was looking at him with such a serious face. He leaned forward to watch him closer and there was no mistake. The big yellow eyes were the same he saw so many times back in the circus, those big sunshine ponds that stared at him in a way that always felt too human to be true. He had a thin silver necklace with a lion pendant around his neck.

“Oikawa-san…” Akaashi let out in a sigh. “This isn’t a dream, is it? You’re real, aren’t you, Kenma-san?”

“Yes!” Kenma said, sinking his sharp teeth into Akaashi’s hand to prove his point.

“Ouch!” Akaashi yelled, more out of shock than real pain, trying to free his hand from Kenma’s bite without hurting him. “Ok, ok, I believe you, now let me go!”

Kenma reluctantly opened his mouth but he didn’t stop glaring at Akaashi.

“... hungry,” he muttered with an exaggerated put.  

“Ok, ok,” Akaashi nodded, standing up in the tub filled with now ice cold water. He wrapped a towel around himself and took a smaller one to wrap up Kenma, who was completely naked. He picked him up and sat him down on the bed, offering him one of his many leftover onigiri. Kenma accepted, grasping at it and attacking it with small yet very resolved bites.

As he watched him slowly working his way through the onigiri, Akaashi picked up his phone and pressed the second name on the list of his favourite contacts. The phone rang for way longer than usual, so much that Akaashi thought he was purposefully avoiding answering. He probably was.

But then, when Akaashi was about to end the call, his voice erupted through the phone, as annoying as always.

“Hello babe, you missed me already?”

“Kuroo-san,” Akaashi said in his most disappointed tone of voice.  

“Oh shit, what did I do now?” Kuroo sighed. Even if Akaashi couldn’t see him, he knew he just rolled his eyes as well.

“Kenma-san… is here,” Akaashi explained, trying to not sound too crazy. He was still struggling to believe the child on his bed was the same as the cat Kuroo always had with him since Shodoshima.

“I know,” Kuroo said. Not only he was sounding completely calm, he was quite surely eating as well.

“Kenma-san is… not…” Akaashi tried, but Kuroo cut him off.

“He’s a shapeshifter Akaashi,” he said in a matter of fact way.

“A shapewhat?”

Kuroo sighed once again. “A shapeshifter. A magical creature that shifts between an animal and a human. I suppose he’s in his human form now.”

“Yes,” Akaashi confirmed.

“Isn’t he the cutest child you’ve ever seen?” Kuroo said, his voice suddenly so soft.

In that moment, Kenma slammed a much too big bite of onigiri in his mouth, spilling grains of rice everywhere.

“He’s kinda… feral,” Akaashi said, offering Kenma a tissue, which he refused. “Why is he with me?”

“I… I can’t keep Kenma with me now, it’s too risky with how things are now. You know about the kids ban and such… So I put him in your bag and hoped for the best,” Kuroo explained, his voice the same as a child who’s trying not to make his mum angry despite the mess he made. “It was actually Oikawa’s idea!”

“Of course it was,” Akaashi sighed.

“Suga knew about it, don’t worry, you just have to take him to the Nekoma circus, to my family, they’ll know what to do with him,” Kuroo said, a hint of genuine concern in his voice.

“Does your family know about it?” Akaashi asked.

“Uhm, sort of. But he’s marked, he’s basically their property so they can’t refuse him. They will take him, I’m sure,” Kuroo said, but he didn’t sound as sure as his words suggested.

“What does it even mean?”

“Akaashi, please, don’t ask me questions, just do the thing and I promise I’ll explain everything when you get back, ok?” Kuroo begged him. “You will do it, right? For me? For your best friend?”

Akaashi sighed. As if he wasn’t running against time already, a mission within the mission was exactly what he didn’t need. But it was Kuroo, regrettably his best friend, who did so much, even too much, for him already. It was the least he could do for him. “Yes, of course I will.”

“Great!” Kuroo said, relieved. “I really gotta go now Akaashi, you know it’s not safe for us to talk and such.”

“Yeah, I know,” Akaashi said.

“Thank you babe, I love you.”

“Bye, Kuroo-san.”

Akaashi took a deep breath then slapped both his cheeks hard, trying to wake up from that strange dream which wasn’t a dream at all. The sharp sound startled Kenma, who lost grip of his onigiri, making it fall to the ground. Kenma peeked at the floor, looking at Akaashi with guilty eyes. Kuroo was right, he was very cute.

“Don’t worry Kenma-san,” Akaashi smiled, picking it up and throwing it away, along with all the mess Kenma made on the bed. “Do you want another one?”

Kenma shook his head, covering himself more with the towel.

Akaashi couldn’t really wrap his head around it, though. He came to terms with the fact that magic existed, he’d experienced it firsthand lots of times now, but shapeshifters? Really? How could it be possible for that child to be the cat that so often warmed him at night and enjoyed just lazing around so much? How could a cat turn into a child in the first place? And what was Kenma’s true form anyway?

“You’re cold, aren’t you?” Akaashi asked and Kenma just gave him a small nod.

As naked as he still was, Akaashi was cold as well. He opened his bag to get something clean to wear and found some kids clothes in there as well, along with shoes, socks and even a small toothbrush. Akaashi smiled. Kuroo was truly a doting father, despite everything.

He dressed himself and took out a little tracksuit for Kenma. As he was putting Kenma’s clothes on him, he lifted his long dark hair to look at his ears. They were normal, small human ears. There was no sign of a tail either. Of course there wasn’t. He was a real child. There was a strange thing that caught his eye though: a mark on Kenma’s back, right above his ribs. It didn’t look like a tattoo, let alone some sort of hot brand. It was more like a drawing, but it didn’t fade even if Akaashi tried to erase it with his thumb. Some thin lines were drawn together to form the geometric face of a lion. It was the exact same lion that was hanging on Kenma’s necklace. Now that Akaashi could see it closely, he recognized it: it was the crest of the Nekoma circus.

That’s probably what Kuroo meant when he said Kenma was “marked”.

“I can’t believe Kuroo kept this secret all this time,” Akaashi said, more to himself than to anyone else, stroking Kenma’s hair. It was so soft, exactly like his fur was. Kenma yawned, leaning into Akaashi’s touch.

Akaashi laid down on the bed, letting Kenma cuddle up by his side. He still had some time before sundown, not that he was feeling at all sleepy, but Kenma surely could use some rest. He couldn’t imagine what a shock it had been for him as well, going from his secure place by the man who took care of him for so long to a trip into the unknown with a person who didn’t have a the first idea of how to take care of a child. The thought that even someone like Kuroo Tetsuro managed to not kill Kenma and had even successfully taken care of him provided little consolation. Akaashi had truly never felt more unprepared in his life. But, at the same time, Kenma was also a cat and Akaashi had prepared his whole life to take care of animals

He just… wasn’t a kid person at all. Not that he disliked them, but there was always something beyond his comprehension when it came to them, something he was missing that never allowed him to really click with them. Some people were true naturals, like Bokuto who made Poco fall in love with him in a matter of seconds, but it wasn’t like he really envied them. As gay as he was, the thought of having a baby of his own never crossed his mind.

Kenma was breathing softly, his breath almost whistling a bit from his nose. His little heart was beating regularly against Akaashi’s ribs. There was something so calming, almost healing, about his proximity alone, a feeling Akaashi remembered all too well. And in that, Kenma and Kuroo were so similar. He knew both of them did far more for him than he did for them, he knew he needed them more than they did him.  

Stroking Kenma’s hair, Akaashi smiled. He was really, really happy not to be alone.

=

“This is impossible,” Akaashi whined, dropping his forehead to the desk.

He was surrounded by papers, files, binders and everything he could find in the libraries which covered the years the boys spent at the school. And six years of documents were… a lot of documents. Too many for a single person to go through in one night, but he had to make it, he didn’t plan to spend more than a night in the school, he physically didn’t have more time to waste.

He tried to start from the end, but there was no sign of the register that kept record of exams held as an access to the sorting ceremony. Or rather, all the registers were there but the one with the record of the boys was coincidentally missing. Of course it was. The absence of it among the official records was more proof than Akaashi needed to determine that the secret was certainly held in there. There was nothing he could do if someone had taken it away or destroyed it, but Akaashi was more than determined to find something else, anything, that could have said something. A hint was all that he needed.

Akaashi was starting to feel restless, anxiety creeping in the back of his mind stronger than ever. He rubbed his eyes and stretched, letting his frustration out in a loud sigh. He glanced at Kenma who was peacefully sleeping, curled in a ball in an armchair. When Sugawara woke him up from his second nap, the Kenma he found sleeping next to him was in his usual cat form and Akaashi wondered if all that happened before had only been some sort of fever dream. Anyway, he was glad Sugawara let him bring Kenma with him, he really didn’t want to leave him alone in the room, too worried that something might happen to him. Akaashi swore to himself to never leave Kenma’s side until his mission was accomplished.

He was going through the list of the school teachers, in order to at least reconstruct the membership of the exam committee, when he heard the door opening behind him. It was Sugawara.

“How is it going, Akaashi-kun?” Sugawara asked with that usual sweet smile of him. He looked a little sleepy.

“Sugawara-san, shouldn’t you be asleep?” Akaashi asked.

“I should, but I couldn’t sleep well. And it’s only an hour earlier than how I usually wake up so it’s not that big deal,” he said, sitting down on one of the desks.

“Wait,” Akaashi said, alarmed. He checked the time on his phone and almost had a heart attack. “It’s five already??? Oh my god, oh my god I will never do it! I did nothing, I found nothing! Oh my god,” Akaashi said but the words start piling up incoherently on each other, talking like he didn’t have enough time to say what he wanted to. Because he didn’t, he didn’t have more time.

Suddenly, panic sparked inside him, taking over his body, leaving no room for him to put up any resistance. Tension was growing in his muscles as he started to move around the room as if there was a hurricane inside him. He touched all the binders he found, frantically scrolling the pages but not seeing a single word written in them. All the fears he’d shushed were tumbling out, in some kind of mental free-fall. Sugawara tried to tell him something, he heard his voice, but his words bounced off him like hard rain. The only thing he could hear was his mind telling him it was over, that he failed already. The thoughts were accelerating vertiginously inside his head and his breathing was out of control. He really wanted to slow them down, his thoughts, his breathing, the time he had left, he wanted to slow everything down but he couldn’t.  

The room started to spin until it suddenly stopped. When Akaashi regained focus, he saw his white-knuckled hands holding onto Sugawara’s arms and Kenma’s worried eyes behind him.

“Akaashi-kun, breathe,” he was saying, ever so softly. “It’s ok, it’s not too late.”

Akaashi’s breathing was still rushed, his heart still beating much too fast. But it was slowly getting better, passing like a tsunami leaving behind calm and destruction.

“Akaashi-kun… I know where the register you’re looking for is,” Sugawara said, tentatively.

Akaashi’s eyes sparkled. “Y-you do? H-how do you know it’s the one?” he said through trembling lips.

“Because…” Sugawara bit his bottom lip, visibly conflicted. “Because Bokuto-san came here before you to search for the same thing.”

“B-Bokuto-san?” Akaashi let out in a choked breath. He felt tears gathering at the corners of his eyes.

“Yes,” Sugawara nodded. “He searched, searched and searched for hours like you did but wasn’t able to find anything. He stayed here for days, spending every night hunting for clues, until he found the register and he stopped, saying that he finally found it.”

“Why… why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Akaashi asked, the relief and the pain fighting painfully inside his heart. He felt like he could barely breathe.

“Because Bokuto asked me not to say anything. He knew you’d come here, sooner or later, but he really, really didn’t want any of you to be involved in this,” Sugawara said. Akaashi could see in his eyes how much it was costing him to tell him the truth.

“How long ago did he come here?” Akaashi asked, finally letting Sugawara go and dropping back down on the chair.

“It was at least a month ago,” Sugawara said, making his way to one of the bookcases.

A month ago.  

Sugawara took out one of the big binders Akaashi saw earlier but didn’t touch because it said it contained the tuition payment receipts. He flipped through it intently, searching until he finally took out a slim register well buried under tons of innocent papers.

“I really, really hope showing you this is not as much of a bad idea as Bokuto thought,” Sugawara said, putting the register down on the desk in front of Akaashi.

The little white label said: Sorting Ceremony Admission Exams 2008/2010.

It was it.

“I never opened it, you know,” Sugawara said, his voice a little shaky. “I don’t want to know what dark secret is written inside it. Bokuto doesn’t want any of you to know, that’s why he asked me to hide it so well. So I’m… I’m leaving now Akaashi. Do what you have to do by sunrise, put everything, everything , away like you found it and go back to your room. Rest and… I will see you later, ok?”

“Of course, Suga-san, thank you so much for… everything,” Akaashi said and he really meant it.

Sugawara bowed with a faint, almost anguished smile and walked out, closing the door behind him.  

Akaashi took a deep breath and opened the register. His hands were shaking as he flipped through the pages but it wasn’t long until he finally found the name he was searching for.

The day Bokuto took his first admission exam, the committee was made up of ten people, exactly like it had been in all the previous exams. From what he understood, the judges could attribute the candidates a mark going from 0 to 10 points each. To pass and be admitted to the sorting ceremony the candidates needed to reach the minimum threshold of 60 points.

The points distribution in Bokuto’s evaluation was one Akaashi couldn’t find anywhere else before in the register: 10. 10. 10. 10. 10. 0. 0. 0. 0. 0. 50 points. The votes were all reported anonymously and there was no way of knowing who were the ones who gave him zero points.

The following semester, Oikawa, Kuroo and Iwaizumi had the exact same results. The four of them were the only ones who managed to divide the jury so perfectly… too perfectly even. Anyone could tell there was something incredibly strange in the outcome of their exam, it was impossible for a school performance to cause such extreme votes, while all the others were generally average and the consensus on the promotion or failing was more than obvious. Unless… unless someone rigged the voting and the failure of the boys was written long before they stepped on the exam stage. No matter how wonderfully they performed, they never stood a chance in the first place.

But why? Why would anyone do that? Akaashi couldn’t understand, but he rushed to make copies and photograph everything in that register, names of the committee included. In that list, the name of Oikawa’s father stood out painfully among them.

A timid ray of sun crept from behind the clouds just as Akaashi was putting away the records he’d so anxiously examined before Sugawara came in to save him. At the break of dawn, his mission was finally done.

There was just one file left, one he left unopened in the rush. It was Bokuto’s personal file. He had so little time left but he couldn’t help himself and opened it.

Akaashi heart squeezed in his chest as he was welcomed by a photo of teenage Bokuto, smiling timidly with locks of his silver hair falling over his face. His big, golden eyes were the same, but the naivety Akaashi could see in there was completely erased and was nowhere to be found in the Bokuto he knew. He looked so young, so innocent.

 

Bokuto Koutarou

Academic Status: Graduated/Sorted.

Current Status: Midnight Moon Circus leader.

 

Akaashi let out a sigh of relief. It was somehow comforting to see Bokuto’s rightful place in the circus still written on paper like it was a reality.

As Akaashi went on reading, though, things started to become more confusing.

 

Gender: Male

Date of Birth: 20/09/1991

MPT: Positive/Active

 

Until they became utterly shocking.

 

Birthplace: Unknown

Parents: Unknown

 

Akaashi widened his eyes, rereading the last line of his file several times before his mind could register it properly.

 

Origin: Fukurodani Orphanage

 

A moment lost in time flashed before Akaashi’s eyes. It was cold. Snowing outside. But so warm inside. Everything was so soft and Bokuto was so close.

“Don’t you miss your family?”

“I do, but I’m an only child, so there’s not so much to miss.”

His smile. His smile felt so sincere back then.

“I don’t know why, I always imagined yours to be a big family...”

“You’re not the only one! But it’s just me and my parents. They come to see me from time to time, when the circus is somewhere nearby.”

And yet, it was a lie.

Chapter Text

Sakawa, Prefecture of Kochi. 12 days to the circus show.

Icy flakes were falling from the night sky, dancing in the pale moonlight. As he watched them, his eyes grew a tiny bit wider, as open as they were when he saw that same countryside around him turning white on the cold winter mornings many, many years before. He looked at them swirling in the wind until one reached the top of his nose, melting immediately.

Wasn’t it a little too late for snow?

He resumed his walk up the muddy track towards the house upon on the hill, his heart sinking and rising all at once. It was the first time he’s walked up it since he walked down it for the last time more than ten years before. He used to know every single bump on the trail but now it felt so different somehow. And yet it was the same.

He felt he could hear again the laughter echoing in the warm spring air as they ran down that hill, feel the dew on the grass underneath his feet. He felt he could hear a voice calling for them, scolding them for always going too far. And then the smell of curry rice, the green sea and the open blue sky. The memories of his childhood before everything changed for him.

There was a light coming from the house, so small and yet so warm. It was a place of more love and warmth than he ever had in those countless days away that had gone much too fast.

It was strange, being there again after so long. Being home, after so long.

Despite how much time he’d spend away, he still remembered everything about the place and was pleasantly surprised to see nothing had really changed: the purple hydrangeas planted in the front yard, the big maple tree with its scarlet leaves, the wooden frames of the windows, the engawa running around the ground floor. It was a place suspended in time, as if each step he took up the hill took him several years back into the history of Japan.

There were no walls around it nor a gate to stop him, just a small marble post engraved wirth the name Fukurodani .

He walked past it, aiming for the front door, but he stopped just before taking the few steps up. He took a deep breath in, looking at the night sky once again. The snow didn’t seem to have any intention of stopping falling, despite how quickly it was melting on the ground.

“How much longer do you plan on staying there? You’ll get all wet.”

So many times in his dreams he walked up the hill but never had the courage to knock on the door. The house was ever so silent, just that little light on the porch guiding his way up.

But now there was more light coming from the house and suddenly everything felt more alive. It felt real.

He turned his head and she was there, with her loving smile and warm eyes, shining a bit with how watery they were. Without saying a word he walked to the door, embracing her tiny figure in a tight hug, suddenly unsure of why he hadn’t returned in so long.

“Tadaima,” he said in a whisper against her head.

She held him close, burying her face in his chest.

“Okaeri, Kou-chan.”

=

Even on the inside, everything was just the same. He took off his shoes and placed them in the spot in the shoe rack which always belonged to him, but he was surprised to find it already occupied by a pair of bright pink sandals. He blinked at them, not really sure what to do now.

“The adults put their shoes on the last row, don’t you remember?” Yukie said in a small laugh.

It was true, he just… forgot he was an adult and not a child for a moment.

He put his shoes in the right place and followed Yukie into the kitchen, the only room in the house which still had a light on. He closed the door behind him, breathing in deeply in the familiar smell that always lingered in there.

“Did you have dinner?” Yukie asked, already opening the fridge. “We made curry rice, there’s some leftover if you want, it was your favourite, right?”

“I… I’ll have some, yes, thank you,” Bokuto said, sitting down at the table.

“I’ll warm it up then,” she said with another smile and immediately proceeded to get things ready for the late night dinner.

“You look like a proper housewife, you know?” Bokuto teased her.

“I’m not a housewife, I’m more like a… housekeeper,” she scoffed, meeting him with a grin that took him back to when they were little kids.

“Anyway, you grew up so much, Yukie-chan,” he said, fondness seeping through his every word.

It was true, she looked nothing like the blooming teenage girl he left there, yet her beauty was exactly the same. Yukie had always been beautiful, with her shiny chestnut hair, that little dimple in her right cheek, her big cinnamon eyes. She used to have a very athletic build, as expected from the captain of her volleyball team, but now there was almost only skin attached to her bones. And yet, she didn’t look any less strong.

Yukie was the closest thing to a sister, even to a mum at times, he had ever had. She was five years older than him and was one of the very first memories he had. No matter how far back in time he went, she had always been there by his side. She helped him get ready in the morning, walked him to school, helped him learn how to write and quizzed him on kanji, made sure he was tucked up in bed at a reasonable time every night. Always together, laughing and crying, playing and studying, watching so many of the kids that for some time grew up with them go and leave them behind. Tied by the same strange destiny of never finding a family that would take them in.

Perhaps that was why she didn’t have kids now, maybe raising him had been enough for her.

“You grew up too, Kou-chan,” she said, placing a piping hot curry plate in front of him and sitting down at the table as well.

Bokuto smelled it, savouring all the memories that came back with it. Before he realised it, his smile had grown so wide on his face.

“Thank you so much,” he said, taking a spoonful of curry without hesitation. The taste was exactly the same. Their homemade curry tasted like curry but was completely different from any curry found in a restaurant. It had raisins in it and almonds and the rice was a little bit firmer and… it was his favourite thing in the world to eat.

He ate it all in silence, avoiding Yukie’s firm stare on him. He was waiting for her to ask him the impending question that had been lingering between them since he stepped into the house. 

“You make the same face you used to make when you were little,” Yukie giggled, breaking the silence.

“Do I?” Bokuto smiled.

“Yes, you do.”

Once again, thick silence fell between them. Only the steady ticking of the clock marking the flow of time. Bokuto didn’t even try to slow it down to give himself some extra time to think, he wouldn’t have anyway. He’d had many chances to articulate an explanation in his mind but he never made himself do it.

“You’re not going to ask me why I’m here?” he said, looking up at her.

She stood up, taking his empty plate to the sink. Then she came back, placing a kiss on Bokuto’s temple.

“No,” she said softly. “This is your home, why would you need a specific reason to come back?”

Bokuto let out a sigh of relief.

It was really good to be home. Really, really good.

=

When he heard the sound of the door sliding just slightly, Bokuto had already been awake for some time, just contemplating the way the dust was dancing in the pale rays of morning light underneath the warm cocoon of his futon. It was a regular seven hours sleep, one that normal people probably have every single night, but there wasn’t anything normal in his life and he couldn't remember the last time he slept so deeply for seven consecutive hours, without a single worry bothering him. Not that he didn’t have any worries, he had one too many probably, but everything disappeared the moment he laid his head on the pillow and closed his eyes. For the first time in so long, he felt safe.

Bokuto groaned a bit, stretching his arms above his head. Being well rested was such a good feeling. He turned his head and found a small boy spying on him through the gap. The moment their eyes met, the boy gasped.

“Bokuto-san!” he said, sliding the door open with all the force he had.  

Bokuto startled at the sudden gesture. “Y-yes?”

The boy walked all the way to him, crawling on the futon until their faces were just a tiny bit apart. Bokuto froze underneath him, not sure what to do. The boy, probably around the age of six, was studying him with narrowed eyes. Then, satisfied, he leaned back, sitting on his heels between Bokuto’s legs.

“You look exactly like the pictures!” he declared, victorious.

“Pictures? What pictures?” Bokuto asked, confused.

The boy sighed, folding his arms across his tiny chest. “Your pictures, obviously.”

“Well, I sure hope I look like the pictures of myself,” Bokuto laughed. “Where did you see them?”

“Come with me, I’ll show you,” the boy said, taking Bokuto by the hand and doing his best to try to lift him up.

“Wait, can you at least tell me your name?” Bokuto asked.

“I’m Komi!” the boy said. “Now come!”

“Ok, ok,” Bokuto said, still a little surprised.

He stood up, letting Komi guide him down the stairs to the big living room where other kids of various ages were busy playing with each other. Seeing so many of them gathered there and all still in their pyjamas, Bokuto realized it was a Sunday. Upon his arrival, some of them dropped their activities and gathered around him, curiously staring at Komi who was searching among the many books piled around the room.

“Here it is!” he said, triumphantly holding up what looked more like a photo album than a book. “Look!”

Bokuto frowned but still took it, sitting down on the floor. In an instant, all the kids were either around him or climbing on him to see as well.

It was neither a book nor a photo album, it was a scrapbook with pictures, newspaper clippings, tickets and much more, a collection of everything the media had produced about him and the Midnight Moon Circus. Bokuto flipped through the pages in awe, retracing the history, his history, from the beginning to the end. The last thing in there was an article about the announcement of the Midnight Moon Circus’ new show. At the sight of it, Bokuto turned his nose up.

“Who collected all this?” Bokuto asked.

“Yukie-nee-san did!” Komi said. “She said her little brother who lived here is very famous now and that she wanted to let us know that we can do biiiiiiiiiig things and make our dreams come true!”

Seeing such a pure light in Komi’s eyes, Bokuto’s heart squeezed painfully in his chest. But, at the same time, he was certain Yukie knew something was wrong in the circus, and still didn’t want to ask him what the hell he was doing there, playing house despite having a supposed big debut in less than two weeks.

“Can you take us with you, Bokuto-san?” one of the girls who was resting on his knee asked. “Can you take us to see the circus show?”

Bokuto didn’t have the heart to tell them that there was no such thing as the Midnight Moon Circus as that saw in the pictures and idealized in their heads, not anymore. He just patted the little girl on the head instead.

“I can’t take you with me now,” he said, smiling warmly. “But I promise you that when the time is right I will take all of you and you will see the greatest circus show the world has ever seen.”

“Yay!” all the kids chanted in one voice, brightening up the room with their smiles.

“Can you show us some magic now?” Komi asked with a little pout. “Pretty please?”

Who was he to refuse a pretty please?

“Of course, can you lend me a deck of cards?” Bokuto asked.

The kids started running around the living room, searching until they found an old deck of cards which they promptly handed to Bokuto. They all sat down in front of him, ready to be enchanted.

“Ok kids,” Bokuto said solemnly. “Let’s make some magic!”

The kids excitedly squeezed close to each other to see Bokuto better. Seeing them he couldn’t help but smile. After years of grand shows he forgot how the true magic of being a magician lay in the eyes of people who looked at him so closely, their breath already held and their hearts beating a little bit faster. He forgot how much he actually enjoyed doing magic, even in times like this where he didn’t have to rely on magic at all, because card tricks were his signature tricks and he never wanted to perform them with anything but the skills he’d acquired through so much work over the years. Actually, he’d always had a twisted fear of suddenly losing his magic and all his future with it. He couldn’t afford that. He wanted to be the best magician in the world, with or without it.

Bokuto took a deep breath, a shiver of excitement running down his spine.

“Ok kids, look at my hands very closely, ok?” he said, giving the cards a good riffle shuffle that hypnotized the kids by itself. “Shuffling is what establishes trust between a magician and his audience. Learn how to shuffle your cards well and people will instantly believe you can do anything” , his teacher in school always said to him. He never truly realized how true it was until he saw it in the people he performed his trick on. He remembered Akaashi’s face the first time he did a magic trick for him. He was so close to messing things up, only because Akaashi’s beauty was distracting him so much.

“Now, I’m going to turn the first card around and this card is going to be your card, Komi-kun, alright?” Bokuto said and Komi nodded enthusiastically.

Bokuto turned the card around, it was a king of hearts. He smiled at his deck, always giving away what he was thinking. Bokuto turned the card over on the top of the deck again.

“Now I’m going to lose your card in the deck of cards,” Bokuto said, separating the deck in half and carefully riffle shuffling the cards again.

He then took the whole deck in one hand, riffling the cards on the side with his thumb. “Now say stop whenever you want.”

“Stop!” Komi said when Bokuto was almost at the end of the deck.

“This is a very interesting place to stop, Komi-kun,” Bokuto smiled mischievously. “And you know why?”

Bokuto turned around the card he stopped on and the revelation was met with a loud gasp of surprise from the children.

“It’s your card, the king of hearts!”

“No way!” Komi said, his jaw still dropped. “How did you do that?”

“It’s magic!” Bokuto winked, ruffling Komi’s hair.

He heard some clapping coming from behind him and he found Yukie resting on the door frame, looking at them with a soft smile.

“Things were suddenly so quiet I came here to check if the kids killed themselves in the meantime,” she said. “It turns out we’ve got an entertainer with us today!”

“Bokuto-san is magical! He truly is!” Komi said and, with him, all the kids voiced their belief in his magic skills as well.

“I know he is,” Yukie said, her smile telling a truth only Bokuto could really read. “But now it’s time for all of you to go get dressed and start your homework, ok?”

“Yes, nee-san!” the kids said in one voice and quickly left and ran upstairs to their rooms.

“They’re all very good kids,” Bokuto said, following them with his eyes.

“They are,” Yukie nodded. “And that was a really good card trick!”

“It’s the first card trick I ever learned, it’s super easy,” Bokuto said, still shuffling the cards between his hands.

“Everything is easy when you can do it so well, Kou-chan,” she said, tidying up what was left of the small mess the kids made in the living room.

“I guess,” he sighed, picking up the scrapbook with all his pictures in. “I’d never expected you to do something like this”.

“Why not? It’s a sister’s duty to brag about her little brother, especially when he’s so famous!” she shrugged.

Bokuto blinked at it, flipping through it once more. “I really don’t know what to say…”

“A thank you is enough sometimes, you know?”

“Then thank you,” he smiled.

“I’m the one who has to thank you,” Yukie said, turning all serious. “Really, thank you for everything you’ve done for us and all the money you sent, it really helped a lot giving the children a more carefree life.”

“It’s the least I can do for all of you,” Bokuto said. He truly believed it was the best money he’d ever spent and part of him not blowing everything up sooner was exactly because he needed to make sure the Fukurodani household had a permanent income, no matter what. He hated how much everything always came down to money, and he hated how there wasn’t anything he could do about it. “This is my home, I haven’t forgotten.”

“I know you haven’t and we haven’t forgotten about you either,” Yukie said, placing the scrapbook back in the bookcase.

Looking around the living room, Bokuto realized things truly hadn't changed in there either, everything was exactly like he remembered it, the only difference was that it wasn’t Yukie who was the one tidying back then, but someone else.

“Yukie… how is Obachan?” Bokuto asked, breaking the silence that fell between them.

“She’s good, as good as a 96-year-old Obachan can be,” Yukie giggled. “She was very robust until a couple of years ago. She would walk down the hill to go to the market every morning, come rain or shine, even if it was just to buy a few potatoes. She went even if she always complained that all her friends were either dead or too weak to still go shopping with her. But she liked the market so she would go regardless. She was never still, she’d prepare all the meals, do the laundry and clean the house. She did everything despite how many times we told her to rest and to leave everything to us, but she never listened.”

“She was always like that,” Bokuto considered. “Just being around us kids gave her all the energy she needed.”

“I know but now… I feel like old age claimed her all of a sudden. Her body is really weak but her mind is as sharp as always, at least,” Yukie said with a half smile. “Do you want to go upstairs and say hello?”

“Yes,” Bokuto nodded. “There are some things I need to ask her.”

“I’m sure she’ll be happy to talk to you,” Yukie said encouragingly.

“Will she scold me because I haven’t come back in so long?”

“Quite surely,” Yukie laughed. “But you know she’ll be happy more than anything else. She missed you a lot, Kou-chan.”

Bokuto sighed deeply. He missed her a lot as well.

“Shall we go now? I prepared some tea we can bring her.” Yukie asked, making her way to the kitchen.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

They put the pot and the cups on the tray and walked up the creaking stairs of the house, up to where they were never allowed to go when they were kids. They did it slowly and quietly, as if they still had to be careful not to get caught.

When they reached the sliding door of Obachan’s room, Yukie hesitated, turning around and looking at Bokuto with uncertain eyes.

“There’s one thing you need to know though,” she started, voice heavy-hearted. “Obachan… She can’t see us anymore.”

Before Bokuto could reply, a voice came from the room.

“But I can still hear you, Yukie-chan! Come in!”

“Yes, ‘Bachan!” Yukie said, smiling again.

She slid the door open and, as she did, the most familiar smell invaded Bokuto’s nose. It was incense mixed with the rice straw of the tatami, the wood of the door and window frames, the faint scent of the roses she loved so much. Bokuto closed his eyes, breathing in deeply, travelling back in time to when she would let him in there, cuddling him as he cried, and cried, and cried on the days where the sadness of not having a family took over and no words could console him or give him the love he never had.

When he opened his eyes she was there, her small figure standing out in the pure light of morning that was flooding the room. She seemed so delicate, almost like a vision from another world. She was in the same rocking chair, a knitted blanket over her knees warming up her legs. She loved knitting blankets, they were the vivid expressions of her soul. She lovingly knitted so many of them, one for each of her many children, weaving wool and love with her delicate fingers to create such colourful masterpieces.

She had lived there for her whole life, raising countless children on her own, never wanting a man by her side. Men are all useless , she always said, but the ones I raised are a little less useless than the others.

Never a truer word.

She had known midnights and dawns, she saw days where the house was so full it was almost impossible to move and days where everything felt far too silent. She’d said many goodbyes, probably too many for her heart to take.

“You have a visitor today,” Yukie said, sliding the tray with the tea on the floor next to her.

“Oya?” she gasped, suddenly all lively. “And who would want to visit this old lady?”

Bokuto took a couple of steps forward and kneeled down before her. “It’s me, Obachan. Koutarou.”

It was like light came back to her face. And tears with it.

“... Kou-chan?” she asked, her voice uncertain around that name she hadn't used in so long.

“Yes, Obachan,” he said, taking her hands into his. They were so cold. “It’s me.”

She opened her mouth but she couldn’t say a single thing. Her lips were trembling and her eyes were glossier with each blink. She held his hands close, then traced the features of his face ever so slowly, as if she was letting her hands do what her eyes couldn’t anymore.

Bokuto couldn’t help but lose himself looking at her face, following all the wrinkles as if they were the map of her soul, so intricate and filled with all the life that danced among them.

“You grew up so much, Kou-chan,” she said, finally.

“I guess I did,” Bokuto smiled. “You look like you haven't aged a day since I left you.”  

“Because I was old and shrivelled already when you did!” she said with a laugh of her own.

Her laugh was still the same, that joyful sound that tickled everyone inside and always made them smile so widely. “It’s just… My eyes. I really wish I could see you know, Kou-chan, see the man you’ve become. But these old eyes of mine just couldn’t bear watching you all go, so now I don’t have to anymore. But still… even if my eyes can’t see… my heart… it sees all the things… even if they’re a little bit blurry.”

Bokuto felt his heart aching again in his chest. He never thought of the emotional toll a job like the one she had could have on a woman who poured love and affection on so many kids, who has been the mother of so many kids, just to see all of them being taken away from her. It was her life purpose, yes, but still it had to be so difficult. And now all that was left for her was to treasure those memories. Bokuto wanted her to create new ones as well, while she still had the chance.

“You’re still very much amazing to me, Obachan,” Bokuto said, squeezing her fragile hands just a little.

“You can bet I am!” she said with a pleased laugh.

She was the strongest woman he had ever met, stronger than any man would ever be and certainly a hundred times braver. She loved him but kept enough of a distance to remind him she wasn’t his real mother. She would smile and ever so patiently listen to everything he had to say, asking a few questions here and there before gently guiding him to find his own conclusion, a decision little Bokuto felt he owned. He would always feel more at peace after an afternoon spent in her company in that same sunny room.   

“But you are as well…” she continued, stroking Bokuto’s face once again. “You’re sparkling. Even if I can’t see it, I can feel you are. Are you perhaps in love with someone, Kou-chan?”

Bokuto felt his cheeks light up fire red. “I… I….” he tried, but the question caught him too off guard.

“This is getting interesting…” Yukie muttered, hiding her mischievous grin behind her hand.

“Come on, Kou-chan, this old lady wants to know!” Obachan said with one of her giggles.

“I am,” Bokuto declared. “I am in love right now but… the thing is… it’s… he’s… a boy.”

Obachan blinked at him furrowing her brows. “Why are you saying it like there’s a problem in the person you love being a boy?”

“There’s not a problem!” Bokuto said, much harsher than he intended. He took a deep breath, trying to regain his cool.

“Kou-chan, listen to me,” Obachan said, her tone calm but firm. “ I couldn’t care less if it’s a boy or a girl. The only thing I care about is that you’re happy, and I’m sure it’s the same for Yukie-chan here, right?”

“Absolutely,” Yukie nodded solemnly. “Nothing could make us love you less, especially not a thing like this! Love is love and he’s a really lucky boy to have you.”

Bokuto felt all the tension disappear from his shoulders, magically shattered by the love of the women in his life. Of course, of course there wouldn’t be a problem, of course they wouldn’t judge him for being gay, of course they wouldn’t love him less. But still, hearing them say it out loud almost brought him to tears.

“I’m the lucky one having him,” Bokuto sighed.

“Describe him to me,” Obachan asked. She shifted in her chair, making herself more comfortable.

“He’s… beautiful,” Bokuto started, stating the obvious when it came to Akaashi. “He really is the most beautiful boy anyone has ever seen. He’s tall, but shorter than me. He has dark, dark hair and eyes so blue it looks like he carries the ocean inside them. He’s funny, but he doesn't realize he is. He thinks he’s a bit boring, and sometimes he really is, but I always have so much fun when I’m with him. He’s so smart, really, the kind of smart that drives you insane when you’re trying to do a crossword puzzle with him. He also keeps me in check when I lose my temper and pushes me out of my comfort zone. He’s sassy and likes to challenge me, but he’s also very sweet and affectionate. I… I just love him so much, I really do.”  

“I can feel you do,” Obachan said.

“Can you show me a picture of him?” Yukie said, all excited.

“Yes,” Bokuto said, flipping through the many pictures of Akaashi on his phone. He tried his best to glide over the not safe for work ones and he chose one taken during the Crystal Feather Award night. “Here he is.”

“OH WOW!” Yukie gasped, wide-eyed. “I know you said he’s beautiful but he’s… wow.”

“I know right?” Bokuto whined, as if the sole thought of Akaashi’s beauty was physically painful. In truth, it really was. He was missing Akaashi so much that just thinking about him was enough to take his breath away.

“And he sounds really beautiful on the inside too and this makes me really happy for you, Kou-chan,” Obachan said.  “Nothing makes me happier than knowing you’re happy.”

Bokuto felt an overwhelming wave of affection towards the old lady and wrapped his arms around her, as delicately as he could, placing a kiss on her cheek. He felt the feeble touch of her hands on his back, her arms doing what they could to hug him back. No matter how weak it was, her hugs were still the most comforting ones.

“Thank you,” he said as he pulled away, sitting back down on the tatami floor.

“Kou-chan… now tell me… you didn’t come here for a courtesy visit, did you?” she said with that knowing grin she always had when she saw right through the things he didn’t know how to tell her.

“He said there was something he wanted to ask you, Obachan,” Yukie said, standing up. “I have to do some chores now, I will call you when lunch is ready.”

Yukie smiled politely and bowed, leaving the room before either of them could reply. Bokuto knew that she simply didn’t want to invade his privacy and he loved her even more for that.

“So, what is it?” Obachan prompted him.

“I… I was wondering if you could you please tell me the story of why I was offered a place in the Circus School,” Bokuto asked, finding the courage to as he spoke.

“Oya? That’s a really old story...”

“I know but… I really need to know. It’s the one piece of my past I’m missing. Sorry for asking you out of the blue like this and I know I never seemed to care in the past but -”

“It’s fine, Kou-chan…” she said with a knowing smile. “Would you pour some tea for us? It’s a pretty long story.”

“Don’t worry Obachan,” Bokuto smiled, complying with her request. “We have all the time in the world.”

=

“There once was a man who came to my door. He was the most handsome man I’ve ever seen in my life. I was already an old lady but my heart fluttered when I opened the door and saw him there, with his emerald kimono and that gentle smile I would never forget. He told me he came from far, far away and asked me if I had time to listen to his request so I let him in. I poured some tea for him and for the longest time he didn’t speak. He just sat in front of me in silence. I didn’t prompt him, there was only one thing a man could want from a place like this but somehow he couldn’t find the words to ask me.

When he spoke, he told me he was married and that he loved his wife very much. They had been blessed with a lovely girl as soon as they got married but now some time had passed and his wife couldn’t seem to get pregnant with another child. He told me they did all the medical examinations but there was nothing wrong. There were both healthy and able to conceive a child but somehow they just couldn’t. His wife was convinced she did something that angered the gods and blamed herself entirely for her failure to give him another child. She really wanted a boy, the boy he always desired so much.

He told me seeing his wife like that was tearing his heart apart. He swore to always protect her and make her happy during their wedding day but now he was just hurting her and bringing her despair.

He came to me because he wanted to adopt a boy. He told me he would have paid any price to have a male infant he could bring home and end his wife’s sorrow. He came to me because somehow he knew this house gathers a lot of magical children. He told me he didn’t have any magic in his blood, but his wife did. So he would have gladly taken a magical child, as MPT positive kids were always the ones no one wanted.

I happened to have one. A newborn, male, MPT positive. It was you, Kou-chan, I found you in a wicker basket in front of the door just a couple of weeks before.

When I told him, he almost burst into tears.

He asked me if he could see you so I brought him to the nursery. At the time, you were the only one there as it’s so rare to have such young kids. And you were so beautiful as a baby, Kou-chan, I’m sure you are now too, I know you are, but you were such a lively child, with big golden eyes and hair the same colour as the moonshine. The man had completely different colouring but he said he didn’t care if you two didn’t look alike. I will never forget the look on his face when he held you for the first time, I’ve never seen someone so genuinely happy to look at a child who wasn’t his own.

Despite having you for such a short amount of time I was really protective of you and I swore I would be very picky about the family that took you because you deserved nothing but the best. I didn’t expect to find it on the very first try.”

Bokuto’s heart tightened in his chest. So there had been one, there had been one person who truly wanted him. He had a chance at a normal life in a normal family. He could have had a true sister, a father, a mother… but something went wrong. He grew up in the orphanage, he never had a true family. His dream shattered before he could even have it. Knowing he truly had a chance and that it was taken away from him was hurting more than knowing he never had one in the first place. His heart was aching so much it made it difficult to breathe.

“What… what changed then?” Bokuto found the courage to ask.

“The paperwork for adoption always takes a long time but he came to see you every week. He would come and bring a little present for you and some flowers for me. One day he arrived with the biggest and most beautiful bouquet I’ve ever seen in my long, long life. But he wasn’t smiling behind it and, in my heart, I already knew what he was going to say. I’d seen it happen too many times before.

When we sat down and had tea like we always did when he came to visit, he stayed silent, like he did the very first time. But this time I spoke. I told him I knew, I knew his wife didn’t sign the adoption papers.

He told me his wife was finally pregnant. He told me it was the best but also saddest news he had ever received because he knew he would have to give up on you, the child he searched for so long all around Japan and finally found.

He was really happy for the child they were expecting but he didn’t want to give up on you entirely. He told me he would send us money for your support, so that I could give you everything you wanted, until you were adopted. He made me promise to never tell you anything about it, he just wanted to know you were growing up healthy.”

“So… the gift I received on my birthday every year…” Bokuto said, his eyes still lost in the green of the tea, his mind travelling back in time. He remembered how happy he was, how lucky he felt to receive such beautiful gifts, to have his one wish granted every year. He remembered how lucky he felt, despite everything.

“Yes, it was him,” Obachan confirmed. “I wrote to tell him what you desired and each year he would buy it for you. All the money I spend on you, from your clothes to your books, your toys, the little amount I gave you when you went to the summer festivals with the other kids… it was his money. ”

Apart from a real family, he truly didn’t have anything missing from his childhood. He never wondered how Obachan did it, but now he knew there was someone he needed to thank for everything. He could have forgotten about him, the spare one, the moment he had a real child, but he didn’t. There was something really noble about it, he felt.

“Eleven years passed until I saw him again. He came to this house, as unexpectedly as he did the first time. He brought me flowers and a box of daifuku that would be nice to eat with tea, he said. He asked me about you and I saw his eyes trembling and turning glossy the moment he saw you running in the yard, a ball under your arm and dirt all over your face and clothes. He told me you were nothing like his son. Yes, the child his wife gave him was indeed a boy. He smiled as he said so and I know he meant it in a good way.

He told me his son had decided to go to the Circus School. It wasn’t what he wanted for him but he didn’t want to interfere as he was so determined about it. He told me he’d love for you and his son to meet each other and become friends, so he asked me if I’d allow you to attend Circus School as well. He’d pay completely for it, for all the six years.”

“I remember the night when you told me about the school. You… you gave me a daifuku as a treat that night…” Bokuto’s voice was shaking.

“Yes, it was his daifuku,” Obachan nodded, taking a sip of her tea. “I remember you said yes without batting an eyelid.”

“I was… waiting for a chance that never came my whole life so… when you told me I thought that was it, my chance to go out and have a life of my own. I knew no one would adopt me anymore so…”

“Knowing how it turned out in the end, I think it was the right choice, Kou-chan,” Obachan said, smiling proudly at him.

“Probably it was…” he sighed with a bittersweet smile.

“You know, the most ironic thing is that, many years later, he told me that you and his son never became friends during Circus School but you did meet each other right after. He actually works in the Midnight Moon Circus with you now.”

“What? He does?? What’s his name???” Bokuto asked, wide-eyed.

Obachan sighed, gently caressing Bokuto’s face. “His name is Oikawa Tooru.”

=

Bokuto was sprawled on the floor of his room, looking up at the ceiling without seeing anything at all. It was one of those times where he was really glad to be blessed by his ability, but probably not even all the time in the world would have been enough to make him process the information.

He could have been an Oikawa.

He could have been Oikawa.

He wondered what kind of life he would have led, if he would have loved horses, if his mother would have resented him for not being blood of her blood, if Kuroo would have fallen in love with him the same way he did with Tooru, if he would have chosen to follow Kuroo to Circus School as well or if he would have chosen a path for himself.

His life could have been completely different if only Oikawa Tooru hadn't have been born, but Bokuto was so glad he had been and didn’t wish otherwise, not even for a second.

No matter his family name, he would never have been like Oikawa Tooru. Oikawa was all the things he wasn’t, he was flawless in everything he was and everything he did. He was one of the people he admired the most, one of the people he trusted the most. Bokuto knew he’d left far too much weight on Oikawa’s shoulders since he left and for that he was feeling just as guilty as he felt now that he knew he’d stolen bits of his father’s love all his life. As if he hadn’t caused Oikawa enough pain already.

 

It was exactly because of Oikawa’s father that he started his journey to discover his origins and the shady genesis of the Midnight Moon Circus. That night, as he was about to hold the prize he wanted so much in his hand, he came to him, talking to him for the first time in his life.

There was something strange in his eyes, now Bokuto remembered, an indiscernible mix of emotions that made them gleam and almost quiver. He always saw him so serious, he would never forget his ice-cold eyes the two times he went before him to be examined in school, and yet he was so warm that night.

He called him by his first name, as if he’d known him his whole life. Now Bokuto knew he really had.

He said he promised himself he’d tell Bokuto everything the moment they won the Crystal Feather Award but in truth there wasn’t really anything in the infamous letter he gave to him, he just told him that he knew how much he wanted to quit, that he knew they were feeling trapped in a golden prison, worked down to the very bone by the people who owned them like animals in the zoo. He said that there was a way for them to win their freedom back, if only Bokuto knew the truth. A truth he couldn’t tell him but that he had to search for.

And so Bokuto did. He left his new home, his job, his friends, his love. He left everything to find that truth. And now that he had, after travelling across the whole of Japan and talking to so many people and searching for long he wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

Now that he had a key to unlock his shackles he didn’t know if he truly wanted to do it. Because it wasn’t just him, he would take everything away from everyone else as well.

He left because he wanted to protect his dream but there was no way for him to do it without shattering it first.

He needed to go back, he promised he would be back. He wanted to hide inside one of Akaashi’s embraces, pretending the world didn’t exist outside of it. He wanted to hear Iwa-chan telling him he had nothing to be afraid of because everything would be ok. He wanted to see Kuroo’s fearless smile and just be silly with him. He wanted to talk with Oikawa about everything, he knew he’d find a solution for everything but still… he was scared. So scared he wondered if it wasn’t just better to leave things like they were now. He knew someone would replace him in the upcoming circus show, they’d probably already adapted perfectly without him. Who was he to come back revealing a truth that would only burn down everything they’d built untill now?

They would hate him, they would all hate him so much.

Bokuto’s head was hurting, he didn’t want to think anymore. He curled into a ball, trying to shut all his thoughts out.

It could have been a minute or hours when he heard a voice next to him.

“Are you ok?”

It was Yukie. Of course it was her.

“I don’t know,” Bokuto said, without even looking at her.  

“It’s fine, you don’t need to always know what’s going on. Take your time figuring it out,” she said. “If there’s something I can help you out with just let me know.”

“Actually there’s one thing,” Bokuto said when Yukie had almost left the room. When he finally opened his eyes, he found her in the doorway, waiting for him to continue.

“Are there any children in the nursery?” Bokuto asked.

Yukie looked at him, puzzled. “Yes, we’ve got two.”

“May I see them?”

Bokuto could tell Yukie wasn’t wrapping her head around his strange request but she nodded regardless, gesturing at him to follow her.

It was Bokuto’s first time in the nursery. It was a room like all the others, just a little bigger and with several cribs perfectly lined up next to each other and, by the wall, all the necessities to change and wash the newborns. There was something so sad inside that room but Bokuto couldn’t tell what it was.

The two children were placed next to each other. One of them was sound asleep while the other was wide awake, busy trying to eat his own foot. Bokuto was drawn to him immediately. He looked like a little ray of sunshine in human form.

“You can pick him up if you want,” Yukie encouraged him.

“I’m afraid I might break him,” Bokuto said in a laugh which barely concealed his nervousness.

“You won’t don’t worry,” Yukie reassured him. “Just hold his head up and everything will be fine.”

Bokuto looked at the child, taking a deep breath in. He picked him up, holding the baby to his shoulder. Tiny toes were peeking out from his blanket, dangling in the air and gently kicking his chest while tiny fingers were wrapping around his finger. His head, a crazy mass of bright orange curls, wobbled beneath his hand. He couldn’t believe how tiny humans could be are, how incredibly vulnerable, how awe inspiring.

So that was what it felt like.

It was an overwhelming wave of love and need to protect a small life. He couldn’t even imagine how it would have felt for a person who wanted a child so much but couldn’t have one.

Bokuto kissed the baby on the top of his head. He really smelled like a child, like innocence which still doesn’t know how much life already betrayed it, like everything good and pure in the world. Just holding him made Bokuto feel so calm, finally at peace with himself.

“Thank you,” he whispered, to whom, though, he didn’t even know himself.

=

As Bokuto was about to enter the kitchen, the doorbell rang.

“Kou-chan can you open the door for me?” Yukie said. “It’s probably the couple I was waiting for, let them wait in the guest living room, thank you!”

“Got it!” he replied, walking all the way down the hallway.

He opened the door without hesitation but was frozen in place as soon as his brain registered who was in front of him. His heart leapt out of his chest looking into those blue eyes that were staring into his, just as incredulous as his own.

It must have been a vision from his wildest dreams.

He reached out a shaking hand and touched his face. He didn’t disappear, he just leaned into the touch, smiling. He was so, so warm and Bokuto could feel his pulse accelerating underneath his skin and his breath with it.

“You’re not real,” Bokuto let out in a choked breath.

“I am,” he said, a tear escaping from the corner of his eye. “Are you?”

“I am,” Bokuto nodded, feeling tears of his own streaming down his face. “I just… can’t believe you found me...”

“Of course I have,” he said with the brightest smile he had ever seen. “I will always find you, Bokuto-san.”

Chapter Text

Okayama Prefecture. 13 days to the circus show. 

They were halfway through their trip when Akaashi realized Kenma was sick. 

At first, Akaashi barely noticed. Kenma made a little fuss over eating his breakfast but, other than that, he let himself be dressed and clung to Akaashi’s chest for the majority of the trip, hiding his face in his little black hoodie. 

At first, Akaashi thought children were just difficult. He thought there was nothing to be worried about. But now Kenma wasn’t speaking or opening his eyes, refusing any kind of food or refreshment Akaashi desperately tried to offer him.  

At first, Akaashi thought he was just a little bit tired. After all Kenma had to leave home, travel across the country in a bag, stay up almost all night while Akaashi was losing his mind trying to find clues on how and where to find Bokuto. Akaashi himself fell asleep almost as soon as they got onto the train, waking up two hours later only to find Kenma shivering like a leaf in a thunderstorm in his arms, his forehead all sweaty and fire hot.

He was trying to think and not give in to the panic which was slowly crawling up his spine. He couldn’t break, not there, not now when Kenma needed him the most. But still, Akaashi really didn’t know what to do. 

Kenma was in his child form but Akaashi could tell he was struggling to maintain it, to maintain the promise he made to Akaashi to not turn into a cat until they arrived in Fukuoka, where the Nekoma Circus was stationed at the moment. Because of course they’d be on the exact opposite side of Japan. 

Akaashi knew nothing about how to treat a child’s fever, he had never been good at treating his own adult one either, always sleeping it away, hoping it would pass sooner or later. And, even if he did, they were on a bullet train and there was nowhere he could go to buy something that could relieve his pain. 

If only he knew someone who had kids so he could ask for some advice. 

Wait. 

He knew someone. 

Akaashi went through his contacts, calling a number he never called before. The phone rang a couple of times before a familiar voice came from the other end.

“Hewwo?”

Despite how tragic the situation was, Akaashi couldn’t help but smile.

“Hello, Poco-chan, it’s Akaashi Keiji, is Souta-san home by chance?” he asked.

“Kashi!!” Poco said, all excited. “Souta!! It’s Kashi!!”

There was some commotion on the other end of the phone, mostly Poco running around screaming Akaashi’s name. After a series of indistinguishable sounds, Souta finally managed to snatch the phone from Poco’s hands. 

“Akaashi-kun! It’s been a while!” Souta said in his usual gentle voice.

“Souta-san, hello,” Akaashi started his voice suddenly unsure. 

“Is there something wrong?” Souta asked, sensing it.

“Well, yes,” Akaashi sighed. “It’s a long story but I’m watching over a child and he’s got a fever and I don’t know what to do. I’m on a train to Fukuoka and I don’t have any meds with me…”

“Oh no, that’s bad,” Souta said, concerned. “What are the symptoms?” 

“What happened?” a voice close to Souta said. Akaashi recognized it, it was Nakajima, Souta’s husband. 

“Akaashi-kun, I think it’s better if you talk directly with Nakaji who’s a doctor, I’m sure he will sort things out. Just stay calm, ok? Everything will be alright,” Souta said, sounding as calming as he could. 

“Ok, Akaashi-kun, tell me what’s the problem,” Nakajima said. Just hearing his doctor voice made Akaashi feel calmer somehow. 

“I have a child in my custody, he’s around the age of three, and I think he has a fever. He’s really hot, a little sweaty, he’s shivering and he hasn’t drunk or eaten much. He’s not really responding when I talk to him either and I’m… really worried, Nakajima-san,” Akaashi said, voice a little shaky. He watched Kenma next to him, so small and helpless. 

“I see. Where are you now?” Nakajima asked. 

“I’m on the bullet train coming from Sendai, I think we will arrive in Okayama in about an hour. I have to change trains there and take the one to Fukuoka.” 

“Ok, I’ll come to pick you up in Okayama then, there’s no way you can continue a trip with a child in that condition. He needs to see a doctor as soon as possible,” Nakajima said. “We live in Takamatsu, it’s an hour and a half from Okayama.”

“An hour, considering your sporty driving,” Akaashi heard Souta comment.

“I… but...” Akaashi tried to argue, but he didn’t find anything to dissuade them or himself. Nakajima was right, he couldn’t keep travelling with Kenma in that state and the only thing he wanted now was someone who could heal that small child who did nothing wrong and found himself caught in a huge mess, paying the price for something he never asked for. He didn’t want to be a burden to the ever so gentle Tawara-Nakajima household, but he wasn't in the position to refuse the offer either. There was no other way and he should be nothing but grateful to have such responsive friends he could depend on. 

“No buts , Akaashi,” Nakajima said, firmly. “Keep the child warm and try your best to make him drink at least some water, I will take care of him as soon as I’m there, ok?”

“Ok,” Akaashi conceded. “Thank you so much, Nakajima-san.” 

“You’re welcome, you’re a friend and it’s my duty as a doctor to help whenever I can,” Nakajima said. “If anything happens in the meantime just call us, ok? We’ll be on our way!” 

“Yes, thank you again… really,” Akaashi said, hanging up with a slight sigh of relief. 

He took Kenma in his arms again, cuddling him. He felt so small, so light. 

“Hang in there, Kenma-san, backup is getting here,” Akaashi whispered against Kenma’s forehead. “You’re gonna get better soon, I promise. 

=

The hospital hallway was so still and immaculate it was driving Akaashi’s insane. The stainless steel was shining in the early afternoon light and so was the sleek floor, but there wasn’t a single human walking on it. At every step he heard in the distance Akaashi snapped alert, hoping for someone to call him, to tell him what the hell was going on. 

On the walls, the many painted anime characters were smiling at him, beautifully unaware of his misery. In the background soft music was playing, just the right level to give the patients and the staff a little emotional lift. But it was having no effect on Akaashi. He breathed the ever so pure air in. It felt so clean, almost sterile. 

Akaashi didn’t even know how long he had been sitting there, everything since they arrived in Okayama station passed in a blur. He remembered Nakajima taking Kenma from his arms, feeling his temperature and his pulse, forcefully opening his eyes. He remembered the worried look he gave to Souta, his “we have to go back as fast as we can” .

Poco wasn’t with them, they left him playing at one of his friend’s houses, Souta said. 

Akaashi remembered Souta stroking his hair in the back of the car, telling him everything would be alright as he gave Kenma a baby bottle of mineral salts he prepared for him. Souta looked so confident with that child who wasn’t his and Akaashi felt like he was one as well. Vulnerable, lost and terrified. 

He remembered Kenma’s breath becoming weaker and weaker. He remembered thinking that, despite what they were saying to him, Kenma was about to die. 

But Kemna didn’t. Of course he didn’t. 

Just as they arrived at the hospital Nakajima was called away for an emergency but he assured Akaashi he would leave Kenma in the best hands he could. Souta sat in silence next to Akaashi for a long time, until his phone rang and he had to go to pick up Poco. When he left, Akaashi could clearly read in his eyes how worried he was. He tried to smile, but he couldn’t bring himself to. He was just too scared. He’d never been as scared in his life before. 

“Akaashi-san?” a voice called him, snapping him back to reality once again. 

It was a nurse, young and with a beautifully calm smile. 

“Yes!” Akaashi said, popping right up, his way too loud voice echoing in the empty hallway.

“The doctor will see you now,” she said, gesturing at him to follow her. 

“How’s Kenma?” Akaashi asked impatiently as they walked to one of the many closed doors.

“You don’t have to worry, Akaashi-san,” she said, gently. “The doctor will tell you everything.”

As she opened the door, Akaashi rushed inside only to freeze right after. It surely wasn’t the scene he was hoping to see. Kenma was lying in the middle of a bed too big for his small, small frame, a cloth on his forehead and the IV attached to his hand under a thick layer of bandages. His eyes were closed, his breathing deep and regular. 

“W-what…” Akaashi tried but was too shocked to continue. 

“He’s fine, he’s just resting and getting all his basic nutrients replenished,” a voice next to him said, startling Akaashi. It was a voice he recognized, how could he forget that detached and slightly condescending tone? 

Turning around Akaashi saw Tsukishima writing something down on his clipboard, without bothering to look up, his eyes hidden behind his glasses. 

“Is he really?” Akaashi asked, still concerned. Kenma looked anything but fine. 

“He is,” Tsukishima said simply, finally standing up and getting close to Kenma, examining him as if he wanted to confirm his own claim. Wrapped inside his white coat, he looked like a proper doctor. Probably because he really was. 

Akaashi felt every action Tsukishima took was precise and purposeful. As he watched Kenma, he had the faintest smile on his face, the cold and distant way professionals always have. 

Akaashi never liked that kind of smile and surely it wasn’t enough to let him breathe again. Knowing Kenma was fine did nothing to relieve his anxiety, it probably somehow made it even worse. Akaashi couldn’t relax watching a face like Tsukishima’s, he needed to see a genuine smile, a truly comforting one. He knew Kenma needed it as well and Akaashi was more than ready to fake it if that was necessary. 

“What happened to him?” Akaashi asked, voice still trembling a little.

“He was dehydrated, but the high fever was most likely caused by the stress of the change of environment and the abrupt separation from his owner,” Tsukishima said, 

“Owner?” Akaashi echoed, suspicious with the unusual yet very appropriate term he used. 

“Yes, owner, that’s what Kuroo-san is,” Tsukishima said in a matter of fact way. “I know Kenma. I know what he is. I knew him long before you did.”

“It looks like I’m missing a fundamental part of this story, then,” Akaashi admitted in a frustrated sigh. He was clueless and that was another feeling he really didn’t like. Secrets, once again. Even if he wasn’t even searching for anything this time, things he didn’t know came right to him once again, making him reevaluate everything he thought he knew. After all Kuroo, his self proclaimed best friend, hid the fact that he was taking care of a shape shifting child for months, hiding him right under his nose, but that was just the tip of the iceberg, apparently. 

“For now the only thing you have to know is that I’m not a random doctor, I’m actually his trusted pediatrician and this is not the first time I’ve treated him,” Tsukishima said, looking Akaashi straight in the eye in an almost challenging way. 

Akaashi didn’t let himself be intimidated, he’d endured far scarier stares before, Tsukishima’s attempt felt almost endearing in comparison.   

“Tsukki…” Kenma’s fleeble voice called, making both Akaashi and Tsukishima snap in his direction. His tiny hands were stretched over the cold fabric of the sheets in search of something. Tsukishima sat on the bed next to him, taking one hand in his own and pushing the one attached to the IV gently down. 

There was something more profound, more rooted in the way Tsukishima was looking at Kenma. Something Akaashi could only feel but he couldn’t find a name to describe. It was deep and exceeded the limits of the doctor/patient relationship, despite how detached Tsukishima tried to seem. 

Akaashi had quite surely missed far more information that he could have first imagined. 

“Did you inform Kuroo-san already?” Akaashi asked.   

“I’m obliged by law to inform Kenma’s legal guardian that he’s been hospitalized,” Tsukishima said, gently stroking Kenma’s hair. 

A shiver ran down Akaashi’s spine. He couldn’t even imagine how scared, how angry Kuroo must have been. He’d entrusted Kenma’s life to him and this is what he got, his precious Kenma being hospitalized two days after. He was probably regretting his choice, and he’d be right. Akaashi had never felt more guilty and inadequate than he was feeling in that very moment. 

“He’s not mad at you, don’t worry,” Tsukishima said and Akaashi wondered if his feelings were once again that clear on his face. “It’s actually his fault, not yours, Akaashi-san.” 

“How could it be his fault?” Akaashi asked, confused. 

“How irresponsible do you have to be to do something like that? Put such a small child through so much stress and push his care in the hands of a person who never expressed consent for such a huge task? In which fairy tale world does he think we live in? What if something more serious had happened to him?” Tsukishima said, his usual neutral tone now replaced by something that was unmistakably anger and true concern. 

Akaashi blinked at him. He didn’t know how to react to such genuine words coming from Tsukishima the person and not Tsukishima the doctor. He didn’t expect him to show any form of emotion over the matter, Akaashi doubted Tsukishima could have any emotion at all. But he had, he so painfully had. For Kenma and Kuroo both. 

“Anyway,” Tsukishima continued, adjusting the glasses on his nose. “I will discharge Kenma as soon as the IV comes out. I know you have to take him to Fukuoka but I strictly forbid you to take him there tomorrow. He needs a day of absolute rest to recover completely. If you can’t assure me of that I won’t discharge him and I will keep him here until I’m confident in his ability to endure the trip.” 

Tsukishima’s eyes were serious, unwavering and pinned into Akaashi’s. There was no way to argue with that. He was a doctor and, as an aspiring one, Akaashi surely wasn’t there to question his prognosis. 

“I assure you Kenma will have a day of absolute rest tomorrow,” Akaashi said. “I will search for a hotel now and -” 

“There’ll be no need for that, Akaashi-kun.”  

At the sound of the voice coming from behind him, Akaashi turned around. At the door of the hospital room was Nakajima, a smile on his face despite how clearly tired he was. 

“Souta already set up the guest room, you can stay with us and be taken care as well. You deserve some rest too, after all,” Nakajima said, his tone not leaving any room for argument. 

“Thank you,” Akaashi smiled, the relief so intense he felt he could have passed out any moment. “We’ll be in your care, then.”

Having friends to rely on was truly the best treasure a human could have. 

=

The only thing that really stood out about Souta’s house was Nakajima’s shiny black Maserati parked in the driveway. Other than that, everything was so wonderfully normal.

It was a normal sized house in a normal neighbourhood, with a normal garden, normal furniture and, despite what other people might think, a normal family living inside. 

Akaashi learned that it was the house Souta’s father left him after he died just a couple of years before, the house that made him come back to Kagawa and, eventually, never go back to the life he had in Tokyo. At first, Souta had every intention of selling it but, after finding Poco in his family’s abandoned udon shop right outside, his life changed forever and he decided to keep the house for himself and make it a place he could call home again. For him, his husband and his child as well. 

It was a beautiful traditional Japanese house, so similar to the one Akaashi grew up as well. It smelled like udon, like cozy Sunday mornings, like memories that don’t hurt anymore. Like happiness and everything that’s good and pure in the world.  

It smelled like family. 

It was so long since Akaashi had indulged in the warmth and beauty of normal things he felt he was about to cry. He realized how different and absolutely crazy his life had been only when he sat down at the low table, a home cooked meal in front of him and the bristly feeling of the tatami under his skin. It had been so long since he was in a real house in the first place. 

He couldn't believe there were people who lead such a simple and steady life every day. He couldn’t believe he forgot that was the life of the majority of people in Japan and it was his own life that was the strange one. Not that he hated it, he loved it, he was just… missing everything, all of a sudden. He was just wondering if he could ever live just like that in the future, in a real house with the love of his life by his side.

Or maybe, he was just really, really tired. 

“Kashi?” Poco called him, putting a tiny hand over Akaashi’s. “You ok?”

“Yes, Poco-chan,” Akaashi smiled, “I’m ok, I just spaced out for a moment.” 

“Akaashi-kun had a really difficult day, Poco-chan, don’t bother him,” Souta said gently. 

“But Kenma is good now!” Poco pouted, pointing at Kenma with his colourful chopsticks. 

Akaashi looked at Kenma who was slowly sipping his miso soup sat next to Poco on a high pile of pillows by the short side of the table. Since he’d been discharged from the hospital he hadn't said a single word. 

“Thank goodness,” Akaashi sighed. He felt the urge to pat Kenma on the head but forced himself not to, he didn’t want to bother him now that he was finally so calm. 

Well, in truth, he was feeling too guilty to. 

“It’s only natural that you got scared so much, Akaashi-kun,” Souta said. “The same thing happened to me as well the first time I took Poco to Tokyo with me, I didn’t realize he was unwell until he literally collapsed on the floor, it was horrible!”

“Oh my god,” Akaashi gasped. “I’m… just so glad that you answered the phone and helped me, really, thank you so much, I will forever be in your debt,” he said, bowing. 

“Well, at least Nakaji ran to help you, that one time he didn’t even answer the phone,” Souta said, with an evil smirk on his face. 

“Really?” Nakajima snorted, rolling his eyes. “Are we doing this again?”

“We’re going to do this as many times as I want,” Souta said, shooting him a smug look.

Akaashi couldn’t help but smile at the scene. The husbands truly reminded him of a certain duo he had back home. 

Nakajima let out a deep sigh. “Anyway, kids’ fever is scary because it’s so high, us adults are not used to it and freak out rather easily. But kids are strong, much stronger than we think, especially the kind of kids Poco and Kenma are.”

Akaashi looked at him, confused. He knew Tsukishima was aware of Kenma’s situation, but did Nakajima know as well? He didn’t know how to react as he instinctively wanted to protect Kenma’s secret. 

“It’s fine, Akaashi-kun,” Souta said. “Poco is just like Kenma, right, Poco-chan?” 

“Yes!” Poco said and, as he vigorously shook his head, two round ears appeared on his head and a big, fluffy tail slid out from his long t-shirt. 

Akaashi jaw almost fell to the floor. He’d seen Kenma in his cat form and his human form but that was the first time he’d seen a half transformation. 

“I’m a tanuki!” Poco said with a big, proud smile. 

Watching him, Kenma gasped in awe, shaking his own head repeatedly but with no success in making his cat ears appear as well. As he started to look really frustrated, Akaashi reached out for his head, petting him gently to make him stop. Kenma looked at Akaashi, his eyes a little tearful, and extended his arms to let Akaashi pick him up. 

Of course, Akaashi did and settled Kenma on his knees, still gently stroking his hair. 

“Ken-chan?” Poco called him, tilting his head to one side. He was looking almost guilty. 

“Kenma is still too young to manage half shifts, but he will get there!” Souta said with a reassuring nod. “But yes, we do have our fair share of magical kids as well!”

“I… I would have never thought!” Akaashi admitted, still a little in disbelief looking at Poco’s ears and tail. 

“Shikoku is the only place in Japan where shapeshifters are still born, they’re impossible to find in the other three main islands, I don’t know why though,” Souta explained. “I think just being here in his homeland will do plenty of good to Kenma’s health.” 

“I hope so,” Akaashi sighed.

“So?!” Poco grumbled, stomping his feet and putting his tiny fists on his hips. Clearly he didn’t like how his big revelation took second place.

“Your ears and your tail look wonderful, Poco-chan!” Akaashi said, enthusiastically. “You’re such a beautiful tanuki!” 

“I know!” Poco grinned. “Touch! They soft!” 

Akaashi was kind of scared of touching his ears as he didn’t know what to expect. But Poco was just too adorable, with his little pout and his pure aqua blue eyes, Akaashi could do nothing but give in to his desire. His ears were warm and soft, just like those of a true animal. It was strange, impossible to understand, a thing that could possibly happen only in a dream, and yet he was real, alive, once again proving him how much magic there was in his world, if only he opened his eyes a little sooner.

“You grew up so much since the last time I saw you, Poco-chan,” Akaashi smiled as Poco stood on his tiptoes to indulge in Akaashi’s touch.

“Just like aggressive weeds do,” Nakajima said with a smirk.

“NAKAJI!” Souta thundered before exploding in a laugh that infected them all. Even Kenma jiggled a little. 

“Bad Nakaji, bad!” Poco said, sticking his tongue out playfully. 

“Be grateful I still haven’t turned you into a tanuki soup!”

At the mention of the tanuki soup, Poco shivered making a high pitched sound and ran straight into Souta’s arms. Nakajima, who was sat right next to him, patted Poco on the head, sticking his tongue out in return. It was such a pretty picture, the three of them radiated far more love than they probably realized. 

“Was it hard…” Akaashi started. “Was it hard to accept a shapeshifter as your son?”

“It was more shocking than hard, I’d say,” Souta said. “See, neither of us have magical powers. Poco is the first magical being I’ve ever met and he made me open my eyes about everything. I think it’s the same for everyone… you just need to meet someone magical to start seeing how much magic there is in the world.”

“That’s very true,” Akaashi said, his heart squeezing in his chest a little. “Now that I live among them I’m so used to people having magical powers that I assume everyone has them while… it’s actually the contrary.” 

He had been lucky enough to meet not just one, but so many magical people in his circus experience, people who, one way or another, completely changed his world and the way he viewed it. 

“For me it was more of a relief, actually,” Nakajima sighed with a smile. “Souta tried to keep this information from me for the longest time, but I knew something wasn’t right with him, there was a secret so scary he didn’t even want to tell me, his best friend, his lover. I started to think that Poco was really his love child, like the rumors started by people in town said, and that he didn’t know how to tell me. He waited for me to propose to him to actually tell me. He said ‘before I answer there’s something I need to tell you’ and I swear I thought that was it and, in truth, at that point I didn’t even care, I was ready to take the lovechild as well if that meant I could have had Souta by my side forever. I loved him and there was nothing in the world that could have changed my mind, not even the son he made with someone else.”

Souta squeezed his nose, letting out a sigh of endearment. “I remember you laughed so much when I told you about Poco you almost started to cry.”

“No, I genuinely cried,” Nakajima laughed, shaking his head. “I still don’t understand all this magic thing but Souta loves Poco and I love Souta, so I was ready to love him as well and take him as my own.”

“I think this is what it means to be a father, Nakajima-san,” Akaashi said, nodding. 

“Well, I personally struggle with calling myself Poco’s dad, to be honest,” Nakamjima admitted. “I don’t do half of the things Souta does for him. I’m not with him all the time, I don’t cook for him, I don’t know the names of his kindergarten teachers, I barely know a bunch of his friends. I’m his doctor, of course, I live with him and play with him and occasionally I put him to sleep but… that’s it. I love him, I really do, I would turn into a cold blooded killer without a second thought if anyone dared to hurt him, but…”

“Shinobu…” Souta started, suddenly serious. “You work all the time to make sure we have everything we need and beyond. You sorted things out with your parents so that Poco could know the love of two grandparents. You try to be present as much as you can. You married me, despite me having a child already. Despite him taking me away from you so much. You loved me and now you love him like he was one of your own. You took on a lifelong responsibility and you have no intention of quitting. I think that is what it means to be a father, and that’s enough.” 

“Poco loves Nakaji!” Poco said, extending one hand to touch Nakajima’s face.

“Thank you,” Nakajima said with a smirk, ruffling Poco’s hair.

“That’s not how you respond to that, Nakaji,” Souta snorted, still smiling. 

Nakajima sighed. “I love you too, little runt.” 

“That’s better,” Souta smiled. 

=

One of the things Akaashi missed the most from his home was being able to bathe before bed in a deep soaking tub. He was so glad there was one ready for him in Souta’s guest bathroom, a beautiful one made of Japanese Cypress which gave off a wonderfully relaxing evergreen scent. If he closed his eyes, Akaashi could feel like he was immersed in a forest with each breath he took. 

Souta volunteered to take both the kids and bathe them himself so that Akaashi could enjoy his bath to the fullest without any interruption and Akaashi was truly grateful for that. 

The water was hot and steamy, just as Akaashi liked it. He felt like the weight of the past two days was slowly coming down on him, but not as hard as he thought. He almost felt like it had been just a fever dream and that he would wake up the next day still in his roulotte, like nothing really happened. 

Akaashi was dozing peacefully, one step away from falling asleep, when he heard his phone buzzing. At first, he decided to ignore it but a sudden spike of hope made him snap his eyes open and grab the phone as fast as he could. 

Seeing the name on the screen, he froze. He knew he should have been the one to make the call in the first place and there was no way he could escape it now. 

He picked up the phone but couldn’t say a single thing.

“Akaashi…” Kuroo’s voice came after some time. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, Kuroo-san, I’m not the one you should be worried about,” Akaashi said.

“I’m actually far more worried about you than I am about Kenma,” Kuroo said. He was sounding serious. “I talked to Tsukki earlier, I know he’s fine now.”

“Kuroo-san… I,” Akaashi started but a knot suddenly formed in his throat, choking the words. “I’m sorry. I really am, I -

“You have no idea how much I want to hug you right now,” Kuroo said and Akaashi could actually feel the way Kuroo was smiling. 

He probably had no idea how much Akaashi wanted to hug him in that very moment. 

Akaashi closed his eyes, swallowing hard. “What?”

“It’s not your fault Akaashi, it truly isn’t,” Kuroo said. “Various things built up and exploded all of a sudden. It was all my mistake, I should have never forced you to do this.”

“No, I… I should have just paid more attention.”

“You did great. It was a mess and now everything is fine…” Kuroo reassured him once again. “Damn it feels like you’ve been away for weeks, not days.”

“A lot of things have happened, everything’s gone by so fast,” Akaashi said. “But tomorrow I have a whole day to get a hold of myself, your boyfriend ordered me to let Kenma have total rest.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Kuroo mumbled, suddenly embarrassed. 

“Isn’t he really?” Akaashi smirked. “It looks like he knows both you and Kenma very well… and was actually really smug about it. Are you sure there’s nothing you have to tell me about it? Actually everyone here seems to know more of this story than I do.” 

“Why would you think I hooked up with a pediatrician in the first place?” Kuroo asked, his pleased smile palpable even on the other end of the phone. 

“Because you’re an overgrown child?” Akaashi smirked. 

“That’s accurate but not 100% correct,” Kuroo laughed. “I told you I found Kenma when we were in Shodoshima… he was severely injured so I took him to the first children hospital I found and that’s where I met Tsukki.”

“I figured as much,” Akaashi said. “And…?”

“And you know how I am, I liked him, I flirted with him shamelessly and I never expected him to actually say yes. He probably just wanted to see how far I’d go and… well, you know I’m a snack.” 

“You would think so, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi sighed but couldn’t stop a smile from forming on his lips. Kuroo truly never changed. 

“Pfff, back me up once in a while, Akaashi, come on!” Kuroo whined.

“Bokuto-san always told me the exact same thing,” Akaashi considered.  

“See? So, in the loving memory of your boyfriend, back me up!”

“Don’t talk as if Bokuto-san is dead!” 

“I sure hope he’s not, there are one or two things I have to settle with that bastard,” Kuroo grumbled. “Anyway, we fucked, a lot Akaashi, really a lot.”

Akaashi sighed once again. “Can you glide over the sexual details, please?”

“It’s seriously no fun talking to you, man,” Kuroo complained. “You sound just like Oikawa sometimes!”

“I won’t take that as a compliment,” Akaashi said, raising one eyebrow.

“It sure as hell wasn’t,” Kuroo scoffed. 

“Go on with the story, please,” Akaashi pushed him. 

“Yeah so I thought things would end when we came back from Shodoshima and that was how we both intended it, a nice vacation fling with no strings whatsoever, but I’m a soft asshole so I kinda missed him so, long story short, we kept seeing each other one way or the other and yeah… that’s it.”

“Annoying bitches truly are your type, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi said with a small laugh. 

“That’s why I like you so much babe,” Kuroo purred like the annoying bitch that he himself was as well. 

“I wasn’t talking about myself,” Akaashi grumbled, suddenly offended by the comparison. 

“I know, I know…” Kuroo laughed. “But yeah, don’t tell me about it, I’m so mad at myself.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Akaashi said, seriously. “I’m glad you found someone you really like. You truly deserve all the happiness you can get, Kuroo-san.”

“Don’t you dare to make me cry, bitch, I’ll kill you.” 

Akaashi laughed. “Thank you, Kuroo-san, you can tell me all the details when I’m back.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Kuroo said. “And I’m the one who should thank you. Take good care of yourself and kiss Kenma on the forehead for me.”

“Will do, goodnight, Kuroo-san,” Akaashi said with a smile.

“‘Night baby, bye.”   

Akaashi put his phone back on the shelf and let himself fall back in the tub, letting the water soak him completely. 

He was so relieved.

Since Kenma started to feel unwell, in the back of his mind he constantly thought about how he was going to tell Kuroo about it, about how guilty he felt, about how he was going to handle Kuroo’s fury with him. Once again, Kuroo proved himself to be one of the best people he knew. Even if he did get angry at first, he got over it fast and his ever so fierce protective instinct made him call Akaashi first because the need to check on him was stronger than anything else. Once again, Akaashi wondered what he would have done without him. He wondered if he truly deserved the unconditional love Kuroo had for him. 

Akaashi felt little bubbles forming on his skin, lingering there for a bit and then running away to pop on the surface. It was like every one of them carried one of his thoughts, his worries, his fears, leaving him there, perfectly at peace. 

It lasted just a moment, but to Akaashi it felt infinite. 

He wished he could hide there, safe underwater, where no problem coming from the real world could reach him, where everything felt distant and softened. He did it so many times, when he was little, only to be scolded by his mother for giving her a heart attack. The people around him always told him the water could hurt him, could kill him, but Akaashi never felt any fear. He felt like water could never, would never, kill him. In truth, he always thought water was the only thing that could heal him. 

Akaashi reemerged, slowly, eyes still closed. He indulged there just a little longer before getting out of the tub. He wrapped himself in the ever so soft towel, breathing in the scent of the fresh linen. 

He couldn’t help but be constantly surprised and delighted by the many aspects of a normal, quiet life. He had never desired a life like that, he’d have ran from it until not long ago, but now it was the only thing he could think about. How beautiful living a normal life would be. Maybe he was getting really old, other than really, really tired. 

“Akaashi-kun?” Souta’s voice called him from the other side of the door. “Are you ok?”

“I am! I’m almost done, I was about to get dressed,” Akaashi said, jumping inside the traditional pyjamas Souta prepared for him alongside the bath. 

As he was done, he slid the door open, finding Souta outside waiting for him. 

“I just wanted to tell you that Kenma fell asleep in Poco’s room and I’m afraid I’d wake him up if I try to pick him up and move him to your room,” Souta said. 

“If he’s sleeping already, there’s no need to move him,” Akaashi smiled. “May I just see him?”

“Of course,” Souta nodded, heading down the hallway. 

Souta stopped in front of a door which wasn’t entirely closed. As he peeked inside, Akaashi could see Kenma in the faint blue light, curled into a ball on the bed next to Poco. They were both turned entirely into their animal form. 

Akaashi slid in, carefully walking to make as little noise as possible. He kneeled by him, placing the softest of kisses on his forehead, whispering goodnight to him. 

=

When Akaashi woke up the next morning he found Kenma drooling over his chest with one of his tiny fists grabbing at his pyjama top. It was one of the most endearing scenes he’d ever witnessed. As he stroked his hair, Kenma opened one of his big yellow eyes, yawning widely. 

“Good morning, Kenma-san,” Akaashi said, his voice a little rusty. “When did you get here?”

Kenma just grumbled, curling up really small and hiding his face from the light. 

“Come on, Kenma-san,” Akaashi sighed, sitting up and wrapping an arm around Kenma, keeping him close to his chest. “I’m sure it’s late and Souta-san is waiting for us.”

Akaashi managed to stand up and walked downstairs to the living room where he found breakfast already waiting for him on the low table in the living room. 

His heart squeezed at the sight. Being taken care of was a feeling he just completely forgot. 

“I told him he could go and wake you up, but it looks like he just fell asleep with you instead,” Souta giggled, peeking from the kitchen. “Good morning, please help yourself!”

“Good morning, Souta-san,” Akaashi smiled, sitting down at the table. As he did, Kenma jumped from his arms and sat on the pile of pillows next to him. Seeing him, Poco left his crayons on the floor and sat next to Kenma. 

Both of the kids looked at Akaash, their big eyes wide in anticipation.

“Don’t let their animal shelter eyes fool you, Akaashi-kun,” Souta said. “They both had breakfast less than an hour ago.”

“But they look so hungry,” Akaashi tried, feeling torn seeing Kenma finally with some good appetite. 

“Waver a moment more and all your food will be gone before you know it.”

Akaashi looked at the food, then at the kids, then at his food again. The lovely smell made his stomach growl and his mouth water. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, picking up the chopsticks. “Itadakimasu!”

And, just like that, their day of absolute rest began. The morning was spent in the quiet comfort of home between drawings, watching Poco’s favourite tv show “Gaogao-chan”, a long mid-morning nap for the kids and helping Souta prepare udon for lunch. He had never prepared udon at home before and he discovered it was such a long yet entertaining process. 

Souta told him that, despite being the son of one of the best udon chefs in the prefecture, he’d never prepared it himself until Poco came into his life. The first time he did, it turned out so horrible Poco though it was mochi instead of udon, but he assured him it would turn out amazing this time. And it did. Both the kids ate an adult size portion and Akaashi helped himself to two servings, all under Souta’s delighted smile. It was truly the best udon he ever had.

Despite knowing he was basically losing a whole one of the precious days he had left to find Bokuto, Akaashi didn’t mind all. He thought he would have felt nervous and restless, but he was enjoying the break more than he wanted to admit. It was just a nice feeling, being so far from the problems and the hectic life of the circus and being able to indulge in the warmth of the family life. And the kids surely helped brighten up his whole day. They were better than actual television, watching them interact was so funny on every possible level and Akaashi was sure they must have met plenty of times before, seeing how in tune they were with each other. 

Before they knew it, it was already afternoon. After having apologized profusely, Souta and Poco left to attend the birthday party of one of Poco’s classmates, leaving Akaashi and Kenma alone at home with a giant watermelon they were now quietly eating on the porch. Kenma made a mess of himself and had juice all over his hands, face and clothes but he looked so relaxed and happy Akaashi didn’t have the heart to stop him. 

Suddenly a car entered the driveway. At first, Akaashi thought it was Nakajima coming home from his day shift at the hospital, but he noticed soon enough the car was nothing like a Maserati.  It was just a regular car but, at the sight of it, Kenma stood to attention and dropped the watermelon slice he was holding, jumping off the porch and running in its direction. 

Akaashi couldn’t react fast enough and almost tripped on the ground trying to reach Kenma who was now jumping as the car stopped and the driver’s door opened. 

“Kenma, wait!” Tsukishima shrieked but it was too late. Kenma’s sticky hands were already around his neck. He sighed, kissing Kenma on the temple. One long kiss and then several little ones that made Kenma giggle and squirm. 

“... Tsukishima-san?” Akaashi said, blinking in confusion. 

“Hello, Akaashi-san,” Tsukishima said, walking towards him with Kenma still secured in his arms. “Nakajima-san told me you’d be here so I came to check if you were keeping your end of the deal.”

“Just how much don’t you trust me?” Akaashi scoffed.

“I don’t know you, why should I trust you?” Tsukishima said, raising one eyebrow. 

“Fair enough,” Akaashi sighed. “Are you so protective of all your patients?”

“It depends on the circumstances,” Tsukishima considered, casually inspecting Kenma’s eyes, his ears, his pulse. Kenma was slightly annoyed by it, but he didn’t try to fight him. 

“I think the circumstances , when it comes to Kenma-san, are pretty clear,” Akaashi smiled. 

“Which are?” 

“You love him.”

Tsukishima’s hand froze as it was running through Kenma’s silky hair. 

“Kenma-san stopped being just one of your parents the moment you started dating Kuroo-san,” Akaashi continued. “It’s only natural for you to have come to care deeply about him, especially since he’s the reason why you and Kuroo-san met in the first place, and now you can’t separate your protective instinct from your professional duty.” 

“That is… correct,” Tsukishima admitted after a long silence. He still wasn’t meeting Akaashi’s eyes though. 

Akaashi smiled to himself. That was a trick he learned from all the time he spent close to Oikawa. The best way to disarm people with that kind of attitude was to put them in front of the raw truth they really didn’t want to face. That was the only way to make them realize that he wasn’t the enemy they had to fight so fiercely, but themselves.  

“Would you like some watermelon, Tsukishima-san?” Akaashi asked, cutting a fresh new slice. 

“No, thank you,” Tsukishima said. “I had enough with how much of it Kenma already put on my face.”

“You can use a tissue then,” Akaashi suggested, offering one. 

“Don’t worry, watermelon juice is the least of the gross things that ended up on my face since I started this job,” Tsukishima sighed, but took the tissue regardless. 

“So,” Akaashi started, taking a casual bite at the watermelon. “As you can see Kenma-san is fine, he ate a lot without making any fuss and is well rested.”

“I see, but I’m still against you taking him to Fukuoka tomorrow,” Tsukishima declared, seriously. 

“But you said that if he had one day of-”

“I’m mostly afraid of what will happen once you hit the road again,” Tsukishima said. “Shape shifters are a very rare commodity in the magical word, people would do anything to have them.” 

“What do you mean?” Akaashi asked, mildly disturbed by the thought. 

“What if someone realizes he’s a shapeshifter and tries to steal him? It wouldn’t be the first case. And, even if you get to Fukuoka safely, are we sure Kuroo-san’s family is to be trusted? Kenma was only released from the hospital yesterday, what if he has a relapse and no one knows how to treat him?” Tsukishima said, his voice getting rushed and worried as he spoke. “It’s true that they are stronger compared to normal children, but still they’re pretty delicate beings.” 

“What do you suggest, then?” Akaashi asked, now fully worried. 

“Leave him here with me,” Tsukishima said, tightening his hold around Kenma’s waist. “Kuroo-san can come and take him once things are better in the circus.”

“Have you talked to him about this already?”

“No, I haven’t,” Tsukishima said, shaking his head. “He’s particularly stubborn sometimes, that’s why I came here to ask for your help on the matter. After all, you’re his best friend.” 

Akaashi laughed. “Only when it’s convenient for him.”

“But still, you are.” 

Akaashi let out a deep sigh. “I think it’s worth a try, why wouldn’t Kuroo agree to it?”

“I…” Tsukishima started, but couldn’t come up with anything. “I don’t know.”

“You’re scared of asking him because you think he wouldn’t trust you?” Akaashi tried, because that was exactly what he would have thought in Tsukishima’s position. 

“I’m just a stranger compared to his family,” Tsukishima admitted in a frustrated sigh. 

“But you’re his…” Akaashi gestured in confusion, not really knowing what to call him. “You know, whatever you two are, and you’re the one who saved Kenma now and in the past.”

“I just conveniently have a healing ability, that’s all,” Tsukishima shrugged. 

“You… what?”

“Look,” Tsukishima said, putting down Kenma at a safe distance. He then picked up the knife with which Akaashi cut the watermelon and took Akaashi’s hand into his and, with a sharp movement, cut all the way across his palm. 

Akaashi tried to pull back with a hiss of pain but Tsukishima’s grip was firm and resolute. He made sure Akaashi could see the drops of blood slowly trailing down his arm before he covered Akaashi’s hand with his own. Akaashi only felt mild tingling and the pain was gone. As Tsukishima wiped the blood clean from his hand, the wound has completely disappeared. 

“Oh… wow,” Akaashi gasped. “I can see why you’d say this is a… convenient ability to have.”

“Don’t be mistaken, my medical degree is real,” Tsukishima clarified. “I only use it in extreme cases where human tools are failing me.”

“Like when you cured Kuroo-san’s burns after the award show?” Akaashi asked, his brain finally putting all the pieces into place. 

Tsukishima widened his eyes in surprise. 

“I thought it was a miracle he didn’t have any scars after that, now I know it was just magic.” Akaashi explained. “Anyway, Kuroo-san is an asshole, but I don’t think he’s doing what he’s doing with you just to repay his debt. Even if repaying debts with his dick sounds exactly like something he would do.” 

Tsukishima let out the faintest laugh. Akaashi could see now how profoundly different, he was from Oikawa, despite the many similarities. 

“I’m going to call him now, watch over Kenma-san for me in the meantime, ok?” Akaashi smiled, determined to resolve the issue.

The conversation with Kuroo ended up being far more difficult than Akaashi imagined it would be. Tsukishima was right, he was unbelievably stubborn on the matter but Akaashi could tell it wasn’t because he didn’t trust Tsukishima with the task, but mostly because he didn’t want to get him involved in the circus drama and ask him to do more than he had already done for both him and Kenma. Having him take care of Kenma would expose Tsukishima to the exact same risks Akaashi would have been exposed to, minus the health issues, of course. 

The Nekoma Circus was undoubtedly the safest place for Kenma to be hidden in, an impregnable fortress no one would be able to break into. All of this under the assumption the Nekoma Circus would actually take Kenma in, which would be uncertain until the very moment Akaashi knocked at their door delivering the precious package. Truth to be told, Akaashi himself was feeling nervous at the idea of leaving a child like Kenma in the hands of people he didn’t know. Would they physically protect him? Maybe. Hopefully. But who would take care of him? Feed him, cuddle him, play with him? Who would make him feel safe and not get another round of stress fever? 

Tsukishima was right and, most of all, Tsukishima loved Kenma just as much as Kuroo himself did. Was it a little risky? Yes. Was it worth an attempt for Kenma’s sake? Also yes. 

Akaashi could tell from his voice how conflicted Kuroo was about making this decision, he’d never felt him so indecisive ever. He was scared. And Kuroo Tetsurou was never scared. Both options scared him to an extent but, at the end of the day, he decided to prioritize Kenma’s wellbeing above anyone else’s. Tsukishima’s and his own included. 

Kuroo agreed with Tsukishima’s proposal, officially releasing Akaashi from his side mission. 

When Akaashi passed the phone to Tsukishima so he could actually have Kuroo telling him the details, he could see Tsukishima’s eyes were glossy with happiness. For the first time since they’d been separated, Kuroo wanted to talk to Kenma as well. He talked for a very long time and Kenma listened to him carefully, almost captivated by his voice. The only thing Kenma said was a small yet resolute “yes” and that was it. 

“I owe you one, Akaashi-san,” Tsukishima said when the phone call was finally over. It had lasted so long the warm rays of sunset were now sweeping over the porch. 

“Nah,” Akaashi smiled. “We’re just a little closer to being even now.”

=

Saying goodbye to Souta, Poco and Nakajima was hard. Saying goodbye to Kenma was one of the hardest things Akaashi had ever done. As he hugged him one last time he felt those tiny hands pulling at the strings of his heart, squeezing it hard. Even with tears in his eyes, he smiled, knowing that, for once, everything was truly going to be ok because he was leaving him in the safest hands, in his homeland, surrounded by people who truly loved him.

And soon he’d be reunited with Kuroo as well. 

As if Akaashi needed it, he now had one more reason to succeed in his mission. 

If anything, Akaashi was sad he had to be the one to leave. Even without Bokuto close, he felt like those two days passed in slow motion with how filled with new experiences and emotions they had been. Once again, he was feeling stronger than before, his heart filled with all the unconditional love he was so lucky to experience. 

As he stepped down from the bus which took him to the other side of Shikoku Island, all the way to the heart of the Kochi Prefecture, he felt like his adventure could finally begin again. 

He took a deep breath in and started his walk up the hill, to the old house that was his new destination. Around him, the wind was sweeping through the vast sea of grass, the only sound in that Akaashi could hear. The walk was short, just a little muddy. As he arrived at the top, he allowed himself to just stand there for a moment, admiring the beautiful view before turning and taking one final step towards the house. 

The Fukurodani orphanage. 

If he had still been in Sendai, his first choice after discovering the records at the circus school would have been hunting down Oikawa’s father directly. No one had the guts to do it before but he would have found him and demanded an explanation. But his detour towards Fukuoka brought him too close to that place for Akaashi to turn tail and go away. It was almost like fate made everything happen for him to be there at that very moment. 

And he knew his visit had so much to do with Bokuto and so little with the whole mission of uncovering the past of the Midnight Moon Circus, but he couldn’t help thinking that, if someone had to run away, his home would be the first place he’d go to, even just to rest a little. And that was the only other home Akaashi knew of. 

There was no gate around it, no one he could announce himself to. He took the few steps up to the door and rang. 

Seconds that felt infinite passed and then the door slid open without hesitation. 

At that moment, it was like the entire world crumbled around Akaashi without making any sound. There was no oxygen for him to breath. There was no room in his chest for his heart to beat. There were no tears for his eyes to blink away. 

There was just him.

His hand reached out, trembling, touching Akaashi’s face. 

Akaashi felt like he could have broken down into a million pieces. 

“You’re not real,” Bokuto said, his voice choked. To Akaashi, it felt like a beam of light right through his soul.

“I am,” Akaashi said, fighting with his tears and letting only one escape. “Are you?”

“I am,” Bokuto said with a sniff as tears were streaming freely down his face. “I just… can’t believe you found me...” 

Happiness was overflowing Akaashi’s heart, taking over his whole body. It started as a light tingle in his hands and feet, much like fear did, but instead of worrying it was warm. He felt it invade him like an ocean wave, washing away all the pain, the anxiety, the stress he was carrying inside, leaving him light and refreshed. The wave had the gentlest of touches. It had Bokuto’s touch. And his voice and the blissful memory of all the time they spent together. Of all the happiness they had shared. 

“Of course I have,” Akaashi smiled. “I will always find you, Bokuto-san.”