“Wah, there’s so many!” Bokuto exclaimed. He was flat on his back, arms outstretched over his head like he was going to catch stars like fireflies. “Like thousands! They’re so pretty.”
“We really are city boys,” Kuroo chuckled, sprawled out in the grass next to Bokuto, their heads almost touching so they could talk quietly, not that Bokuto was doing that. More and more stars appeared slowly as his eyes adjusted, some bright, others shyly lurking only at the edges of his vision and hiding if he tried to look at them directly. “We can barely see any of these at all in Tokyo.”
“They even kinda have colors, don’t they?” Bokuto marvelled. “I always thought that was a fake art thing, or something you needed a telescope for.”
Bokuto’s hands flopped into the grass above his head. They were both quiet for a few minutes, just looking, and Kuroo wondered if the same thoughts were drifting in and out of Bokuto’s head as were in his own: how his muscles ached and his stomach was still full from dinner, how many bug bites he was going to have in the morning, how they were already halfway through their last training camp, how they might be at the same university next year or they might be not even in the same prefecture. Kuroo wanted to ask Bokuto about those things, but also wanted to lie quietly in the grass and not talk about it and just let the universe make him feel small.
“Hey,” Bokuto spoke up. “Do you know any constellations?”
“Nope. I can find the bear and stuff.” Kuroo lifted a hand to point, tracing the seven bear stars. He wished he did know more. He and Kenma had learned some once, one summer, but the memory of it was too faded to recall the details. “We could make some up. You know, find shapes and make up stories for them. That’s what ancient people did.”
“I wanna do it!” Bokuto exclaimed, pointing too. “Like there, that bright M shape? Looks like a pair of pants.”
“No, you idiot,” Kuroo laughed, eyes scrunching up. “Not like dumb shapes you find in clouds. Constellations are supposed to be bigger stories than that, like, mythological and shit.”
“Fine, genius, you do one,” Bokuto grumbled, letting his arm drop. “Since you’re so smart.”
“I will.” Kuroo searched for a few seconds, settling on a line of stars of suitable brightness, roughly the shape of a へ, with several other stars trailing underneath it. He grabbed for Bokuto’s wrist and pointed with both their fingers, making sure Bokuto was looking in the same place as him. “See those?” Kuroo traced the line of his celestial hiragana with their hands. “It’s a wing.”
“Is it?” Bokuto asked. “Hm, ok. What’s so mythological about your wing?”
“Well, I’ll tell you. That’s the wing of Tsubasa, and he saved a whole village.”
Tsubasa, the Winged Spiker
“Tsubasa was a really strong guy born with a pair of huge, snowy white wings. He lived in the forest all alone, but he was lonely so he often hid in a shrine just outside a tiny village and watched the villagers doing stuff. He was afraid if he showed himself, the superstitious villagers would be scared and chase him away.”
“Aw, don’t tell me a sad story!” Bokuto protested. “What is he, like a youkai or something?”
“Hm, I don’t think so,” Kuroo said thoughtfully. “Maybe one parent. Anyway, shut up. Tsubasa stayed there in the shrine for seasons and seasons. Sometimes he chased away wolves, or tried to do other things to help the villagers without them seeing him. Over time, they started bringing offerings to the shrine because they thought a helpful spirit was there. This made Tsubasa happy, but he still was afraid to show himself and still was lonely. Better than nothing, right?”
“I guess,” Bokuto answered dubiously.
“Finally, it was the summer festival, and all the villagers were out in their best clothes, lighting lanterns and playing games and waiting for fireworks. Tsubasa wished more than anything that he could come down from the shrine and have fun too, but at least there were fireworks, which he loved. So he was watching the sky and waiting, and suddenly a bright light lit up, but it wasn’t a firework. It was a falling star, headed right towards the village.”
“Oh nooo,” Bokuto said, like a bad sentai television announcer. “Whatever will he doooo?”
Kuroo elbowed Bokuto hard, making him cut off laughing. “Tsubasa didn’t want to be seen, but he had no choice or else all of the villagers were going to get squashed flat. So he leapt up and took off from the shrine, flapping his wings as hard as he could. Just in time he reached the star and slapped it away, and it veered off to land in the ocean instead, making a huge splash and hissing in the water.
“When he landed, sure enough the villagers were all watching him, terrified and huddled together. So even though he was sad he was probably going to have to leave, Tsubasa put his hands on his hips and laughed, wings stretched all the way out.
“‘Don’t be scared!’ he told them. ‘It’s just a game I play with my friend, the ocean! We throw a ball in the air and both try to hit it down on the other’s territory. If it hits the land, he wins, and if it hits the ocean, I win! He’s a sore loser, though, and as you see, he’s swallowed our ball and won’t play anymore. I can teach you our game if you want. It’s great fun!’
“For a minute nothing happened, but then some of the children came forward and said they wanted to play. They had a ball of stiched deerskin, and Tsubasa drew a line in the dirt and declared one side the land and one side the ocean. When they saw how much fun the children had, everyone wanted to play and they made teams so they could make the land and the ocean bigger and more people could play at once. So they played all night, and there were fireworks, and Tsubasa got to stay and wasn’t lonely anymore.”
“Because he invented mythology volleyball,” Bokuto snorted.
“Yup. So?” Kuroo asked. “What did you think?”
“I liked it,” Bokuto said. “I wanna do one.”
Bokuto pointed close to Tsubasa, tracing his finger in a circle. “So that’s the monkey,” he said.
“What, like Journey to the West?” Kuroo asked.
“No, no -- okay, maybe a little, but also no,” Bokuto said. He made another circle. “That’s Monkey’s mandarin. So, like my man Monkey was pretty smart, like at least by monkey standards --”
“So smarter than you.”
Bokuto grinned and thwapped Kuroo hard on the chest, making Kuroo wince and rub the spot. “Shut up and let me tell you a story, dude.”
Kuroo put one hand behind his head, letting the other drop between them, his pinky just touching Bokuto’s. He wiggled a little in the spot. “Okay, I’m ready, shoot.”
“Monkey was smart for a monkey, which means he wasn’t book smart because, you know, monkeys can’t read, but he had, like, street smarts. And his whole monkey village or whatever you call groups of monkeys lived near a market, so Monkey developed a whole set of skills where he could rip off the humans. He didn’t take much, just some food that the humans had already gathered or cooked and were selling in their stalls, because what were monkeys going to do with hats or jewelry or whatever?”
“I guess they could set up their own monkey stall and resell it there,” Kuroo said.
Bokuto cooed. “God, how adorable would that be? Monkey salespeople! I’d buy them out, I swear it.”
Kuroo laughed. “Of course you would.”
“But stop distracting me!” exclaimed Bokuto. “Anyway, Monkey never got into any big trouble before. He had pretty bright fur, but he was small, even smaller than the average monkey. One day, though, a new food seller moved in and though this dude had the juiciest fruit and the nicest-looking nuts --”
Kuroo snorted, loudly.
“I said what I said,” Bokuto said. “Anyway, Nice Nuts also had the meanest expression and the quickest reflexes. So, even though Monkey had nothing but good luck before, now it was all a shitshow. Every time Monkey tried to steal from the new guy, he got nowhere with it. But Monkey wasn’t a quitter and he liked a challenge, so instead of just going back to the easy stalls, he kept trying and trying to steal from the angry guy. It became, like, a rivalry.”
“Ooooh,” Kuroo breathed.
“Yeah! So they kept going back and forth like that for months or whatever, until Monkey-bro managed to steal a single mandarin, the same color as his fur and about the size of his head. The fruit-seller guy was so, so mad, but the monkey ran off to enjoy his fruit in peace, using his adorable little monkey paws to get the peel off because you just don’t eat oranges with the peel on. That’s weird.”
“Even for monkeys?”
“Even for monkeys,” Bokuto said firmly. “And anyway, the mandarin was the sweetest, juiciest, well-earned piece of fruit ever, but Monkey only got two sections in before the guilt set in.” Bokuto shook his head and paused, like he too was internalizing the fictional monkey’s guilt. “He felt so bad because the chase was finally over! He realized that playing with Nut Guy had been fun and he wanted to keep doing it, over and over again. Anyway, what wound up happening was Monkey took back the fruit and shared it with the fruit-seller and the fruit-seller was so impressed with Monkey’s gumption that he wound up acknowledging him.”
“Nice!” Kuroo said, admiringly.
“And in the end, they were friends, and Monkey would perch on the guy’s shoulder and all, and it was super adorable and they put the monkey and his stolen mandarin in the sky so we’d all know about the power of friendship and the importance of persistence.”
“That’s a pretty big word for you,” Kuroo said.
Bokuto beamed. “I know. Aren’t you proud?”
“Always,” said Kuroo. “Okay, my turn again.”
The Great Squid
Kuroo heard a soft sigh and tilted his head to the side enough to see Bokuto’s face out of the corner of his eye. Bokuto’s expression was soft and thoughtful, wistful. Kuroo turned back to the sky, squinting until he found what he was looking for, nudging at whatever part of Bokuto was closest to his hand. “Ok, look.”
“Hm?” Bokuto asked curiously. Kuroo lifted his hand and traced a group of stars above Bokuto with his finger. He did it slowly, paying attention to the way he could practically hear Bokuto puzzling over it, until finally Bokuto gave up. “What is it?”
“That swirl of stars there are tentacles, you see?” He waited for Bokuto’s hummed affirmation, and points to another, brighter star right above them. “That’s an eye.”
“A squid. The Great Squid, to be exact.”
“Wow.” Bokuto paused and then continued, voice hushed in amazement. “The Great Squid.”
Kuroo dropped his arm back to the ground, leaving it resting against Bokuto’s, their skin warm where they pressed together. “She’s the best squid of them all.”
Another soft hum, and then a question. “Why do they call her the Great Squid?”
“Well,” Kuroo started, dragging the syllable out until Bokuto nudged him impatiently. Kuroo laughed and continued, staring thoughtfully back up at the swirl of stars. “She was a pirate. A very good pirate, with a ton of pirate friends.”
“Oh!” Bokuto exclaimed, pulling his arm away from Kuroo’s to point up at the sky. He traced a vague stick figure next to the squid. “There’s one right there. Her best friend, right? Who has a wooden leg!”
Kuroo chuckled and lightly smacked Bokuto’s hand. “Yes, of course. Do you know how they became friends?” He waited a moment, not really needing to look to know when Bokuto shook his head in a wordless denial. “Well, one day she was swimming along when a big shadow passed overhead, and even though she knew that people were always scared of her, she went up to the surface to see anyway. And when she peeked into the boat, there was yelling, but it wasn’t directed at her.”
Bokuto’s voice was hushed, easily absorbed by Kuroo’s story. “Why were they yelling, then?”
“The ship was going off course, and the captain was trying to steer, but they’d been through a bad storm, even though it was bright and sunny now, and the ship was headed right toward a big rock.”
“But she helps them, right?”
“Of course. She wraps her tentacles around the ship, and that’s when the crew notices her, and then they get even more scared, but she just holds on and pulls the ship around the rock to safety. When she lets go though, the ship just floats there, and the captain comes to lean against the railing, looking down at the squid curiously.
“‘Thank you for your help,’ the captain says, ‘but our rudder is broken. Do you think you could guide us somewhere safe so we can fix it?’ And so the squid says yes in the way that squids do, and pulls the ship to a nearby island, giving it a great push once it’s close enough to make it to land. The pirate captain thanks her greatly, and declares her an honorary pirate for her service, so the squid stays with them while they fix the ship, and once they’re ready she pulls them back out to the ocean.”
“But that’s not the end, right? They stay together.”
Kuroo nodded. “Yes. The squid is sad when the ship is ready to set off, and just before she dives back to the deep the captain yells over the railing, asking if the squid wants to be a real pirate, and the squid is so grateful when the whole crew clamors for her to join them that she goes along and becomes part of the fiercest pirate crew in history.”
Bokuto laughed, a happy sound that made Kuroo warm from the inside out, and he traced the stars that made up their new constellation again.
The Ghost in the Stairwell
“That squid thing was pretty good,” Bokuto said, still grinning, “but I’ve got a constellation that’ll put yours to shame.”
Kuroo raised his eyebrows, a challenge. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah,” Bokuto said. He pointed to the left of the squid and drew an indistinct blob with his finger. “That, my friend, is the ghost in the stairwell.”
“That’s not a constellation!” Kuroo protested. “That’s what we tell first-years so they we can jump out at them to scare them on their first night at training camp.”
Bokuto sat up and put on his most serious, most innocent face. “And where do you think that came from?” he said in a reverent tone. “Obviously, from the sky.”
Kuroo laughed so hard that he had to sit up and put his hands over his stomach; Bokuto was really pleased with himself, getting that reaction, even though Kuroo had pretty much the ugliest laugh ever. Then again, his entire face smiled when he did it, the corners of his eyes crinkling up, and Bokuto was into anything that got Kuroo’s whole body involved.
“Okay,” said Kuroo, once his laughter tapered off again, “let’s hear all about it.”
Bokuto grinned. “Glad you asked. Once upon a time, there were two friends, best buds who met at school. You know, something old-timey, like samurai school.”
“Samurai school,” Kuroo repeated flatly.
“That’s right,” Bokuto said. “And of course samurai had to work hella hard because they were going to go out into the world to become badasses. These two samurai were from different clans and had different masters, but twice a year, their clans came together for a joint training camp so they could get better at their weapons or jumping out of hidden spaces to ambush their enemies.”
“Sounds plausible,” Kuroo said, a trace of laughter back in his voice.
“Anyway, so these two bros totally bonded at training camp and became best pals, and after they became full-fledged samurai, they went out into the world to fight the good fight and they kept running into each other so often and got along so well that they decided, hell, if we’re near each other all the time and are cool bachelor samurai, we should just be roommates.”
Kuroo’s eyes widened. “Oh my god, they were roommates.”
“They were roommates,” Bokuto said again. He found Kuroo’s hand and squeezed it. “They had to be. They got along so well; it made sense. So every year, around the time their clans would gather the young samurai-in-training for their training camp, these two would go back and hide in the far staircase, the one with the creaky third stair, and they’d jump out to scare the young ones because it always, always made them laugh.”
“Did they always make out with each other while they were waiting, too?”
Bokuto smiled slyly. “You’d better believe it, bro. But, you know, time likes to move forward, and eventually these badasses were old badasses and one became sick. The other one took care of him, but…”
“Time likes to move forward,” said Kuroo. He made a distressed noise, and they both fell silent for a moment, as if remembering how much time and uncertainty really could suck. “So, then what happened?” Kuroo asked, once the moment passed.
Bokuto shrugged. “The guy who was still around went back, and you know what?”
“The spirit of the other samurai jumped right out as soon as the old guy made the third stair creak, and that spirit stuck around on earth until his friend --”
“Partner,” said Bokuto.
“Yeah,” agreed Kuroo. “Partner.”
“Until his partner moved on, too. And the samurai that remained remembered them both, and that’s how we got our constellation and also why it’s our duty to scare the crap out of first years still.”
Kuroo laughed, but it was softer and more thoughtful than before. “I have to lighten this place up now.”
“Light it up like a thousand stars,” Bokuto said.
“Corny,” Kuroo said and punched Bokuto’s arm, but he was smiling as they both lay back down again.
The Bamboo Cup
“You’re up,” Bokuto said, yawning.
“Mm...there. Next to your ghost, that really bright one? Makes a rectangle with the three other ones. It’s a bamboo cup, like when you cut a segment of a bamboo stalk off, survivalist camping style.”
“Laaaame,” Bokuto said. “Lame shape.”
Kuroo pinched his arm. “It’s the story that counts, jerk, not the shape. All right, there’s a traveler, going out to seek his fortune in the wide world, you know, and he’s out in the middle of nowhere on a long, long, dusty road, when he comes across an old man on the side of the road. The old man asks if he can have a drink. The traveler knows he has a long way until he can fill his water skin again, and he doesn’t have that much left to start with, but he takes pity on the man and pours what he has left into the old man’s bamboo cup. As thanks, the old man gives him the cup to take with him.”
“And it’s magic, right?” Bokuto asked. “For doing a good deed.”
“Sure is,” Kuroo agreed. “When he’s thirsty, it fills with water, and when he runs out of money, it fills with broth. He doesn’t get how it works or if it’ll run out, but he has more than he did before, so he shares it with anyone he runs into who seems to need it. One day he comes to a farm that looks like nobody’s taking care of it, and thinks if the farmhouse is abandoned, maybe he can stay there.”
“Wait, wait,” Bokuto interrupted. “Fairy tale story or ghost story? I just wanna be prepared.”
“Haven’t decided yet,” Kuroo said, shifting position and making the grass rustle. “Scared? What are you, a first year?”
“I’m just asking--”
“Wait and see. So the farmhouse isn’t abandoned, just neglected because the farmer and his wife have only a teenage daughter, and she’s really sick. They’ve spent all their money on doctors and now might even have to sell their farm. So our guy says he’s real sorry to hear that, and he offers to do some work around the farm for them if they let him stay. That night he shares what’s in his cup with them, but when he gives it to the daughter, he notices it smells funny, like herbs, sharp. Sure enough, in a couple days she’s regaining her strength and getting out of bed again, and the farmer’s so thankful he asks the traveler to stay as his son-in-law, since he doesn’t have a son to pass his farm on to anyway. He marries the daughter, the farm’s land is good, they have some strong sons and kind daughters, and they always have enough to eat.”
“Happily ever after?” Bokuto asked. He sounded satisfied, but he added, “You could’ve gone ghost, I can take it.”
“Here, have some murder at the end,” Kuroo chuckled. “One of their neighbor gets jealous of all their good luck, so he breaks into the farmhouse in the night to steal the cup, which isn’t a secret. As soon as he picks it up, the cup fills up with something, he can’t see what in the dark, and he throws it back, figuring it’s some kind of magic potion. In the morning, they find the neighbor dead on the floor, poisoned.”
“I mean, damn,” Bokuto laughed. “You didn’t have to go that hard.”
“Yeah, you’re just mad my training camp ghost stories are always better than yours.”
The Epic Pants
“My turn, my turn.” Bokuto pointed, and Kuroo followed the path of his arm to see the original M shape. “So those are still definitely pants.”
“Here we go,” Kuroo snorted, folding his hands behind his head. “All right, fine, if you absolutely must.”
“They’re epic pants,” Bokuto said, voice sly, making Kuroo laugh quietly. “Like, the best pants in the whole world. They’re soft, like you wore them a million times, and light and they never bunch up and they make your butt look great.”
“Got a pair just like that,” Kuroo said.
“Not like this,” Bokuto insisted. “So this guy finds these pants, he’s a treasure hunter and it’s in a chest with all this other great stuff, gold and jewels and jade, and he can’t figure out what’s up with these pants. But when he puts them on--”
“His ass looks sooo good nobody can resist him,” Kuroo interrupted.
“Dude, shut up!” Bokuto slapped his hand down flat on Kuroo’s chest, making him grunt. “When he puts them on, it turns out he can jump super high, like crazy. First he jumps over a river that nobody can build a bridge across. Then he jumps over a forest, and then once he really gets the hang of it, over a whole mountain! So he keeps practicing, jumping everywhere he goes, and eventually he can even jump as high as the moon.”
“Well, ok,” Kuroo agreed amiably. “How’d the moon feel about that?”
“Not good, bro, he was super jealous,” Bokuto went right along with Kuroo’s question. “‘Cause he’s a rabbit and stuff, so jumping’s like his pride point. And he was afraid this guy was coming up to steal his moon treasure, once he saw he was a treasure hunter.”
Kuroo tried not to laugh, but he couldn’t help it. “His moon treasure? What the heck treasure does the moon have?”
“You don’t know the moon’s business!” Bokuto exclaimed. “So the moon hid. He made himself smaller and smaller until he was invisible, and that took all the fun out of it, so our man went back to jumping over rivers and mountains and stuff. But after a while, the moon thinks it’s safe to come out again, so he goes back to normal, and they just keep going round and round about it, the man who wants to prove he can still jump as high as the moon and the jealous moon trying to hide his treasure. The end.”
It was quiet after Bokuto’s story ended, the only noise the loud churring of cicadas.
“Was that one good?” Bokuto asked when Kuroo didn’t say anything right away.
“Yeah, it was good,” Kuroo assured. He felt sleepy and heavy, like he could feel gravity pulling on his limbs, pressing him down into the grass. He knew they should get up soon before he fell asleep, but he wanted to stay where he was, here, in the grass, with Bokuto.
“Do you think they could’ve been friends?” Bokuto asked, quietly. “Your wing guy and my pants guy. Do you think they could’ve hung out?”
Kuroo turned his head, grass tickling his cheek. His eyes had adjusted enough to see Bokuto’s face, frowning. He realized, all at once, that most of Bokuto’s stories had been about friends, and that maybe Bokuto had also wanted to talk about next year and feeling small, without wanting to actually talk about it. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”
“Because mine’s over here, and yours is way over there.” Bokuto swiped his palm from one to the other, like he was measuring the distance. “We should have put them closer together.”
“Aw, Kou, it’s fine. They can be great friends anyway. Hey, look.” Kuroo pointed towards the horizon, where the moon was just starting to rise over the tops of the trees. It was only half full at the moment, but it gave Kuroo an idea. “The moon’s gonna rise right in between them, see? When it’s full, it’ll look like a ball. They can play against each other even if they’re not right next to each other. At least once a month, anyway.”
Kuroo didn’t know if next year they’d be samurai roommates or separated by the moon, but he was sure that they’d be partners either way. He felt pretty ok about that, now.
“Promise?” Bokuto asked. He moved his hand over to grip Kuroo’s wrist, but didn’t move it anywhere, just held on. Kuroo let his arm fall between them in the grass. He could feel his pulse thrum against Bokuto’s fingertips.
Kuroo’s eyes fell shut, too heavy to keep open, but he could still see the stars on the backs of his eyelids, the shapes Bokuto had named with him. “Promise.”