Graduating from high school and starting university was extremely oversold, or so Kentarou thought. Sure, the amount of work to be done doubled and a lot changed, but, as he finishes his first semester in college, he also thinks a lot stayed the same.
He doesn't live with his parents anymore, but they still call him all the time and his roommate is never around, so it almost feels like he's hanging out alone in his room with his family downstairs. He's not the ace of the team anymore, but he's still part of the volleyball club.
Probably the only thing that has actually changed is his friends situation. Watari decided not to pursue higher education and Yahaba, albeit attending the same uni, is in a different course. At first, it was a bit bewildering, considering they were always together last year. However, they make it work as best as they can. Watari makes a text group and visits them on campus often. Somehow, Kentarou adapts and gets used to his new, troubled routine.
“Everything is fine,” Yahaba says, looking the farthest thing from fine Kentarou has ever seen in his life.
Watari and Kentarou exchange a concerned look, neither of them making any comment.
“Really,” Shigeru continues, trying to drink from his phone while pocketing his coffee cup, “I never been better.”
Another exchanged glance. Watari pleads something silently and Kentarou shakes his head negatively, because he knows better. Stubbornly, Shinji says:
“Yahaba, you don’t look fine. At all.”
Yahaba’s – let’s be honest – slightly crazed eyes lose all of their sparkle. Kentarou sighs. Truthfully, the bags under Yahaba’s eyes are too prominent to be ignored anymore. His cardigan is inside out and his usually flawless hair is flat against his skull. Kentarou has seen Yahaba (almost) like this before twice. The first being before their last volleyball championship in high school and the second being on the days before they took their university entrance tests. Then, Yahaba stressed himself out to his limit and Kentarou, as his ace and classmate, had to learn how to deal with him.
That’s when he started compiling (in his head) a short and comprehensive guide to how to take care of a Yahaba.
First, and most importantly, the Yahaba must never know he’s being taken care off. Upon hearing the words “are you okay?”, the Yahaba will raise walls after walls and lie incessantly about being fine. Once your Yahaba believes he has you fooled, he’ll relax and not try as hard to appear well when he’s not. That’s an accomplishment.
Watari, bless his soul, doesn’t seem to understand that. Regardless of how many times Kentarou tells him to just leave Yahaba be, he insists, because he’s a good friend and he cares. Kentarou can’t really blame him, since Yahaba is the weird one.
“Geez, thanks, Watari,” Yahaba says, rolling his eyes theatrically. “No need to be rude. Enough about me, though, how are you two doing?”
Watari pouts, unhappy with the unsubtle change of subject, and turns to Kentarou for support. Much to his disappointment, Kentarou does exactly what Yahaba wants him to do – and not because he’s always had a hard time saying no to Yahaba, but because he knows Yahaba.
“Nothing new,” Kentatou grumbles. “Just tests and shit. We did find a tarantula in the campus and we videoed it. Wanna see?”
Yahaba gives Kentarou a grateful smile for letting him indulge in his unhealthy coping habits. Little does he know that Kentarou is only engaging in step two of the Taking Care of Your Yahaba guide: distraction.
“No one wants to see that, Kyou!” Watari groans. “What’s with you vet students and bugs?”
“They’re cool,” Kentarou says with a shrug.
“Tarantulas are not cool at all,” Yahaba argues.
Kentarou shows him his middle finger and they start bickering for the rest of the way to their favorite café, Kentarou vehemently defending tarantulas and promising to bring one to Yahaba's room and Yahaba threatening to break his fingers if he ever come near him with any kind of arachnid. You know, their usual activity.
However, even as he is successful in taking a bit of the edge off of Yahaba’s expression, Kentarou can’t deny that his friend still looks absolutely miserable. It’s the first time this month that Yahaba shows up for their (originally) weekly meetings and he looks a lot more tired than the last time. He really is working himself to the bone. Kentarou can’t say he’s surprised.
“Enough of that,” Watari interrupts them. “I didn’t come all the way here to hear you fight.”
“But fighting is our favorite thing to do,” Yahaba says. “And I haven’t seen Kyoutani in weeks. If I don’t put him in his place today, who will?”
“You haven’t?” Watari is surprised. “But you two live in the dorms. How difficult could it be for you to hang out?”
Kentarou shrugs. “Mismatched schedules.”
“Still,” Watari insists. “You two were inseparable last year. And when I see you, you’re together. What do you mean you don’t see each other often?”
“You see us together because you specifically ask to meet both of us when you come by,” Yahaba reminds him as they head to their usual table.
Watari doesn’t look happy with that. The truth is Kentarou isn’t either – although he’ll never admit it out loud.
It’s been months, but they’re still adapting. He feels like his last year of high school lasted a decade. A decade of exhausting volleyball practices, endless mock tests and countless sleepless nights. Nonetheless, during that decade, Yahaba and Watari were always there, be it for last minute review or stress-relief evening jogs.
They're doing their best. Watari is happy, if a bit lonely, and constantly says that running a small business is his true calling. Kentarou hates that he has to meet new people, but classes are more interesting than high school classes ever were and he still has volley practice. And Yahaba...
“I do see Kyoutani taking care of the cows now and then,” Yahaba says.
That throws Kentarou off his rhythm. “What?”
“I take statistics with people from the agronomy course,” Yahaba tells him with a shit eating grin. “The building is right next to the stables. You look cute in overalls, Kyoutani.”
Kentarou feels himself blushing. “You— were you fucking watching me? That’s creepy!”
That makes Yahaba get a bit flustered, but he soon enough brings back his signature annoying scowl.
“I was not watching, I just happened to— what are you grinning about, Watari?”
“Who, me?” Watari doesn’t try to hide his fond smile. “Nothing. I was just worried that things would change so much we could drift apart. But seeing you two flirt-fight like a couple of toddlers after not seeing each other for weeks gave me hope again.”
Torn between the need to tell Watari NOT to call their fight “flirting” and to reassure him that they won’t ever stop being friends, Kentarou and Yahaba end up as flustered, stuttering messes, stammering unfinished sentences and throwing insults at each other. Watari keeps smiling. For a moment, it feels like the old times.
When he’s stressed out, Yahaba tends to forget to eat, so the third step to make sure your Yahaba gets better is to give him food. This is why Kentarou breaks his religious never-texting-first policy and invites Yahaba for dinner. It was easier in high school. All he had to do was to bring an extra large bento and ask Yahaba to help him with the leftovers or make up some stupid story about the vending machine spilling an extra carton of chocolate milk.
(Not because Yahaba was too prideful to accept free food, but because Kentarou was too embarrassed to admit he went out of his way to get Yahaba food.)
God, their friendship sure was a lot of work.
Anyway, Kentarou texts Yahaba asking him to have dinner together. He spends hours editing the text that ends up overly long anyway, a complicated story about wanting to try a place that opened recently and a discount for people that came with friends that Kentarou didn’t fully understand. He wonders if Yahaba sees through him and half expects him to call him out and tease him about it. Surprisingly, Yahaba agrees easily, without much comment.
As he waits for Yahaba in the student lounge of the dorms, Kentarou wonders if it is because Yahaba is too tired to think or something else.
“Hey! I’m sorry for making you wait,” a familiar voice calls.
Whatever comment Kentarou was about to make about Yahaba being late gets stuck in his throat. Because Yahaba isn’t wearing the ratty flannels and crocs Kentarou has seen him in around the campus. He had actually put some effort into choosing coordinate pieces of clothing and, although he still looks paler than usual, he clearly combed his hair.
Kentarou swallows and grunts something in response, as Yahaba stops in front of him.
“Shall we? I’m starving.”
“Whose fault do you think it is that it got so late?” Kentarou snaps, to which Yahaba rolls his eyes.
They walk out side by side and Yahaba starts talking about some annoying classmates of his and Kentarou puts some effort to actually pay attention. It’s not that he never noticed how beautiful Yahaba is. He had noticed that even before they became friends, as Yahaba’s looks always drew attention. But it’s been a while since he got so distracted by that. He wonders what caused Yahaba to put extra effort to look pretty tonight.
He decides not to think about it.
Listening to Yahaba (and teasing him and being teased back and laughing at him and with him and being laughed at and– ) makes Kentarou forget he spent a great deal of his day telling himself he was only doing this because Yahaba needed a break. It's just nice to spend time together like this.
The restaurant is a little too crowded for Kentarou's taste, but he stops thinking about it when a tired looking waiter gives them a knowing look and asks:
"Table for two?"
Something in his tone and general expression makes Kentarou imagine him thinking something on the lines of "ugh, another couple." Because... well. There are a lot of couples. And this whole dinner with just the two of them feels a lot like a date.
Holy crap, this feels like a date.
"You okay?" Yahaba asks him, when they sit down.
He's not. He's the farthest thing from okay, because he feels his neck and face getting overly warm and he's definitely overthinking this just because Yahaba looks nice.
"I'm hungry, just pick what you want and let's order."
Is it him or does Yahaba look a little disappointed? Was he expecting something or-
Kentarou his his own face with the menu.
"Ack! What are you doing, you weido?" Yahaba scowls.
Kentarou grumbles something impossible to understand. Luckily for him, Yahaba accepts that with only a mild eyeroll. Kentarou doesn't want to ever have to say that out loud, but he's thankful for Yahaba being Yahaba in times like these.
"So," Yahaba starts. "Thank you for inviting me."
Kentarou swallows. "Aren't you supposed to say that by the end of the date?"
A blink. A flushed face. "The date?"
"The outing! The platonic outing! Th-that is- Fuck, the word date just was in my head, okay?"
"Hello!" A cheerful voice interrupts them, making them both jump on their seats. Although she looks as tired as the rest of the staff, a pink haired waitress beams at them. "I'm Keiko. Are you ready to order?"
Kentarou, who's on the verge of punching himself in the face, could've hugged this random girl. He wants to ask her to sit with them and prevent any further conversation. Instead, he half-barks:
"I want curry!"
The girl startles a bit but manages to keep her smile in her face. Nevertheless, she discretely takes a step back. And there go Kentarou's brilliant plan to ask her to stay.
"And what can I get for you?" She asks Yahaba, hesitantly, as if she fears he'll start yelling too.
"A mildly spicy curry for me," Yahaba says, giving the girl an apologetic smile.
"Coming right up!"
And she twirls around, leaving behind uncomfortable silence. Kentarou starts to panic.
"Waka-chan gave birth," Kentarou cuts him off, pulling his phone out of his pocket with urgency.
Yahaba barely has time to say anything before Kentarou is forcing him to look at a bunch of calf pictures. He isn't sure if it actually works of if Yahaba is just letting him off the hook easily for the second time that night. Either way, Yahaba grabs his phone and starts cooing and telling him they need to send pictures to Oikawa.
The conversation is back on tracks for a while, Kentarou telling him about how he was able to take care of the cattle for a while along with his classmates. And maybe Kentarou is overthinking, but when Kentarou tries to ask about Yahaba's classes, Yahaba deflects and frowns a bit.
Kentarou starts to worry his emergency guide to get Yahaba to relax isn't working. Their food arrives and a rattled looking waitress wishes them to have a nice meal before running back to the kitchen. With all tables occupied and short-staffed, all the waiters look a tad stressed out. Still, Yahaba manages to look twice as tired whenever Kentarou makes the mistake of mentioning classes.
Or, well, at least he does, until he takes the first spoon of curry and his entire face goes beet red.
"Christ," Yahaba coughs. "This is not mildly spiced."
"They got your order wrong?" Kentarou asks with a frown.
"I guess. Ugh." And he takes another spoonful.
Kentarou glares at him in disbelief. "What are you doing?"
"Eating. It's not a big deal."
"Yahaba, you can't handle spicy food."
"Pfsh. You can't handle spicy food."
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Kentarou snaps. “Just go and tell them to change your plate.”
“My mother didn’t raise me to send back food, Kyoutani!” Yahaba says, indignant.
Or as indignant as he can look with teary eyes and unevenly red cheeks. Kentarou doesn’t say anything, but the pitiful look he gives him must be enough, because soon Yahaba is protesting:
“She didn’t raise a little bitch either, so I’m eating this freaking curry or so help me!”
Kentarou glares at him, torn between annoyance and an overwhelming wave of affection.
“Fine!” He says, and he pulls Yahaba’s bowl closer to him. “Let’s split our meals, then.” When Yahaba looks like he’s going to protest, Kentarou says: “There’s no way I’m letting you win at eating spicy curry.”
Although Watari isn’t there to call them out on how stupid it is to compete over who can eat spicier food, both of them hear his exasperated voice anyway. However, Watari not being physically there means that there’s no one to stop them. Turning dinner into a competition seems perfectly reasonable to both of them.
“You’re on,” Yahaba says.
They eat the curry.
(They almost die in the process and they definitely cry a bit before the bowl is empty, but at least the word date isn't brought up.)
(Later, Kentarou will have an upset stomach and very uncomfortable trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but he’ll remember Yahaba’s pained, but satisfied smile, and he’ll think it was worth it.)
The fourth and last step to get your Yahaba to chill a bit is to invite him to play volleyball, but Kentarou finds himself with a little bit of difficulty on this one. Yahaba has never joined the volleyball club after college started and he's always busy when Kentarou asks him to practice.
Suddenly, their text conversations become full of "sorry, I can't hang out today" and a whole lot of "sorry for not replying, I fell asleep!", even though it's morning.
When Watari texts him, he always asks if Kentarou knows something about Yahaba, who's been really evasive lately. Kentarou knows it's because Yahaba doesn't want to worry Watari, even though the dumbass is achieving the opposite.
Kentarou is starting to think his amazing guide isn't that amazing anymore.
The next time Kentarou sees Yahaba is in the library.
He’s there to return some books and get some new ones when he sees a familiar mop of hair in one of the study rooms and does a double take. Yahaba is sitting with a bunch of other engineering students. Most of them look as bad as Yahaba does: purple circles under their eyes, disheveled hair and sleepy expressions as the lean over the same heavy looking book.
Yahaba seems to feel Kentarou’s eyes on him, since he lifts his gaze to meet Kentarou’s.
Kentarou realizes he expects Yahaba to smile at him, as he usually does. He wonders when that became a habit. Back when they were classmates, Yahaba usef to scowl whenever Kentarou was within his eyesight. When they became teammates, Yahaba started giving him this suspicious look, as though he expected Kentarou to suddenly attack him and he had to be on guard at all times. Lately, whenever Yahaba sees Kentarou, he gives him a dashing smile that makes Kentarou’s heart skip a beat.
Now, however, Yahaba only indulges him a soft curl of lips and a halfhearted wave before a girl from his study group draws his attention and he turns his tired gaze to her.
Kentarou can’t take it anymore. Seeing Yahaba miserable like that is killing him. He doesn’t care about his pride anymore. He’s going to do the unthinkable.
The voice on the phone is familiar, but at the same time not. Kentatou has never heard him speak so soberly before.
“Oikawa,” he greets. .
There’s a beat. And then, still in that weirdly calm tone, “Yes? Who’s this?”
“Mad dog-chan!” Ah, there it is. The annoying sweet tone. “It’s been a while! Since... your last high school game, I believe? How have you been?”
“Good, that’s good. I’ve been great myself, if a bit busy,” Oikawa informs him even though Kentarou didn’t return the question. “So... what do I owe the pleasure?”
Kentarou takes a deep breath. He knows Oikawa can be useful when it matters and that Oikawa can be smart and reliable... but not without being insufferable about it. It takes guts to do what Kentarou is about it do.
“I need your help,” he says. The words taste like poison.
“Oh? Anything for my cute underclassman!” Oikawa keeps his upbeat tone, but even him can’t hide the surprise. “I’m here for you, Mad dog-chan. Though I must admit I’m surprised you’re calling me instead of, say, Iwa-chan.”
Kentarou knows that. He considered it. He first considered calling Watari, but Watari has always been his best friend, not Yahaba’s. He then thought of Iwaizumi as the obvious answer, but the painful truth was that Iwaizumi was never close to Yahaba. Oikawa, on the other hand, basically mentored Yahaba for an entire year before graduating and Kentarou knows the two of them kept in touch after Oikawa graduated.
That, and the fact that Oikawa is really smart, mas Kentarou finally swallow his pride and reach out.
“This is about Yahaba,” he says.
“For real?” Oikawa sounds genuinely excited for once. So much he forgets to use his sugary voice. “Are you calling me for dating advice? Are you and Yahaba finally making some advance? It’s about damn time, because we all—“”
“What the hell are you talking about!” Kentarou interrupts him, feeling flustered. “It’s nothing embarrassing like that!”
“Oh. That’s a bummer. What is it, then?”
"Yahaba is doing that Yahaba thing in which he works himself to death. Do something about it."
After all, Yahaba always listens to Oikawa, if anything. Much to Kentarou's annoyance, Oikawa is silent for several seconds and then he hums, annoyingly.
"Now, don't get angry, but have you tried talking to him?" And, when Kentarou scoffs impatiently, Oikawa hurriedly continues: "I know! I know how he gets, but you have to push a little, Mad Dog-chan. I think there's a bigger chance of him opening up to you then to me."
Kentarou can't tell if Oikawa is making fun of him, so he stays silent, scowling even though Oikawa can't see him.
"Look, I'll talk to him. But I think you should, too. Yahaba cares about you and what you think a whole lot more than you imagine, Kyoutani-kun."
His face starts getting warmer. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Ahahaha I wonder! I already said too much, though. I'm gonna see if I can talk to Yahaba now, so don't worry too much, Mad Dog-chan."
Kentarou ends the call without saying goodbye, because he kind of wants to punch Oikawa. Then he bites his lower lip hard enough to sting and promises himself he won't overthink Oikawa's stupid jokes.
(He definitely overthinks Oikawa's stupid jokes for the rest of the night.)
Kentarou loves what he's studying. He really does. But, honestly, who the fuck thought biochemistry was a good idea? Screw biochemistry. Hard. However, it's 10pm on a Friday night and he has an assignment to finish for the next day, so he has to let biochemistry screw with his brain instead. The assignment is due next Monday, sure, but he had promised Watari he wouldn't leave his homework to the last possible minute as he did in high school.
That being said, when he hears a knock on his door, he gladly pushes the book away, embracing wholeheartedly the excuse to procrastinate some more.
It isn't until he is twisting the knob that he stops and realizes he shouldn't be getting visitors at 10pm. He freezes, frowning at the door. Then, a soft voice calls from outside:
Kentarou swings the door open and finds a sheepish looking Yahaba.
"Hi," he says. "I know this is sudden, but can I come in?"
Kentarou gestures for him to come in, mystified, and closes the door when he does. Uncharacteristically awkward, Yahaba stands there looking around and unsure of what to do with himself. Kentarou usually is okay with silence, as awkward as they get, but he has to distract Yahaba before he notices the pile of unfolded laundry (mostly underwear, because of course) by his bed.
"Uh, my roommate is out," Yahaba says, "and I don't know where to. And I lost my keys, so I'm locked out of my room."
Kentarou starts to blush for no reason.
"So I was wondering if you could let me stay over...?"
"Sure," Kentarou says. Why does his voice sounds weirdly high-pitched? "You can have my roommate's bed."
"What? No, I... Just give me a blanket, the floor is fine."
"Don't be ridiculous, just take the bed. My roommate basically lives at his girlfriend's place anyway."
Still unsure of what to do with himself, Yahaba sits on the edge of the bed that, honestly, is kinda dusty at this point. Kentarou isn't thinking of offering clean sheets, though, he's thinking of his last conversation with Oikawa and how Yahaba still looks like he's ready to snap at any moment.
"Hey." Kentarou calls. Like a skittish cat, Yahaba startles. "How much coffee you had today? You look like a drug addict."
Yahaba frowns. "I'm fine."
"Bullshit." Kentarou walks up to him and lets himself fall by his side. "You've been lying for fucking weeks now. What is the big deal? I thought we were fucking friends!"
"Then why the hell do you refuse to talk about your damn problems?"
Yahaba bites his lower lip as if fighting to keep the words from escaping. For a moment, Kentarou thinks he's going to get mad at him and leave. What was he thinking for believing in Oikawa, anyway? Of course Yahaba won't open up to him, he's-
"I'm failing half of my classes," Yahaba blurts.
Kentarou frowns. "You mean failing as in high school when you got one question in a test wrong then complained for the rest of the week or-"
"I mean actually failing." Yahaba runs his fingers through his hair and lets out a bitter chuckle. "I'm super average at everything else, but I've always been good at studying. Not anymore, I guess."
Now that Kentarou is starting to see what the problem is, he's also remembering he sucks at comforting people. He sits there in silence for solid five seconds, unsure of what to say. Then, finally:
"I mean, I heard the first year of engineering is pretty tough."
"A lot of my classmates have better grades than I do, though," Yahaba comments, bitterly. "And I'm trying my best and studying my butt off, but... but it's never enough and there's always more shit to do and... and..."
"You need a break," Kentarou says.
That makes Yahaba's frown deepen. "Nonsense. I need to stop being a wimp and work harder."
"Are you an idiot or what? You're a mess, Yahaba. You look like you're about to snap. So what if you're getting some bad grades?"
"What do you know about that?" Yahaba snaps. "You never had to work hard like this!"
Well, that hurts. But, for once, Kentarou holds back his anger and just stares at Yahaba in silence, until the boy realizes what he's said. Yahaba's furious glare melts into a regretful grimace.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. That wasn't true and- Fuck. It's just that my studies are all that I have. All that I'm good at. And now not even that and... ugh. I'm so pathetic."
"I didn't mean you shouldn't care about it," Kentarou starts, carefully. "It's just..."
It's not more important than your well-being. It's not all that you have. You have so much more than that. Do you even know how amazing you are?
Kentarou doesn't know how to say that. He can't bring himself to put those thoughts into words. Not without snapping and letting Yahaba know of his stupid massive crush, which, let's be honest, is not the world's best kept secret, but it's still Kentarou's and he's not ready to confess. At least not in this situation.
With a pained sound, Yahaba lets himself fall against Kentarou's side and buries his face into the crook of his neck. Kentarou freezes.
"You're the last person on earth that should see me like this," Yahaba mutters, so low Kentarou can barely make the words, despite their closeness. "Bet you think I'm a wimp now."
Without thinking, Kentarou wraps his arms around his waist.
“Shut up,” Kentarou says. When Yahaba gives him a lost look, he repeats, “shut the fuck up. You terrify me.”
Yahaba looks up to him, nonplussed “What?”
“You’re one of the scariest guys I know,” Kentarou tells him. “You’re strong and ruthless. I wouldn’t have followed a captain that wasn’t. Have you forgotten about the time you shoved me into a wall? That made me both scared and horny and I most certainly did not forget.”
That startles a laugh out of Yahaba, which satisfy Kentarou enough he doesn’t even realize how much he’s admitting.
“I know you’re fucking strong, Yahaba,” Kentarou insists. “That won’t change because you’re having troubles with school.”
Yahaba bites his lower lip hard. The look in his glassy eyes both makes Kentarou’s stomach do somersaults and breaks his heart. He didn’t lie when he said he would never think less of Yahaba because he’s struggling, but it does make him feel like shit seeing him like that.
Wordlessly, Yahaba buries his face into the crook of Kentarou’s neck.
Kentarou tightens his grip around his waist.
"I guess I can afford to take a break," he murmurs. "Go back to study with a fresh mind."
Kentarou lets out a relieved sigh. "Cool. I can take a break with you, if that makes you feel less guilty."
Yahaba's lips are dangerously close to his throat. Kentarou can feel it when he smiles. "I'd like that." And then, he whispers something so softly Kentarou can't hear.
"What was that?"
"Nothing," Yahaba says. "I'll tell you in a more romantic situation."
Kentarou doesn't ask any other questions.
On that night, however, he adds a fifth item to his guide to how to make your Yahaba chill. He feels he's a little dumb for not adding this sooner, but who would have imagined Yahaba was such a cuddler? Not that Kentarou is complaining, really. Some things ought to change now and then.