“Goshiki… Can you please tell me what you are doing?”
Ohira Reon's soothing voice breaks the near-quiet of the club room. A dark-haired boy had been muttering softly, while staring at a closed locker with such an intensity that it's a surprise his gaze hadn't burned a hole through it.
The silence that follows his question only lasts for a second, during which Goshiki Tsutomu seems to have turned into a human ice statue. He quickly defrosts, though, shaking a little as he turns to face his senpai. The explanation that follows comes in the form of one giant sentence, Reon only interrupting Goshiki when the other’s face is starting to become too red to be healthy. He waits until Goshiki’s skin colour looks more or less normal again before he asks:
“So… You’re staring at Ushijima’s locker because you want to become a better ace?”
Ohira tries to school his expression into a more neutral one. Years of listening to Tendou’s exaggerated stories and one year of entertaining all of Shirabu’s (not so) quiet insults have made him quite proficient in maintaining a poker face at all times.
“YES!” Goshiki nervously waves his arms around in a marionette-like fashion, relieved that Ohira seems to understand his explanation.
“But that… doesn’t make any sense? How would staring at his locker help you?”
Goshiki keeps waving his arms, but lowers his voice to an excited whisper, his words trembling with emotion.
“I need to follow Ushijima-san as closely as possible, if I want to beat him and become ace. A boy in my class says that Ushijima always buys the same things from their family shop. I need to eat what he’s eating if I want to beat him. I’m sure there must be some clue to his secret diet plan in his locker.”
If this plan made any sense to Ohira he didn’t let it show.
“They’ll be here any second. I just came after you because I saw you running away. Can’t you just ask Wakatoshi for his meal plans or something?”
Goshiki’s reaction that he obviously couldn’t do that since Ushijima would surely lie to protect his title went unheard as the door bursts open and a bickering Semi and Shirabu enter the room. They’re closely followed by Soekawa and Ushijima, the last of which frowns lightly when he sees Ohira and Goshiki huddled together in front of his locker. The youngest tries desperately not to be seen – with the result of standing out even more as he tries to shuffle behind Ohira’s back.
“Ushijima. I believe someone has to ask you something about your locker.”
Ushijima waits silently as he watches how Ohira tries to step aside, only to be followed by Goshiki with every move he makes. It’s almost as if Ohira gained a moving, bowl-haired hump. This little show continues while the rest of their teammates leisurely file into the club room.
Ushijima breaks the weird dance off by simply asking: “is there something you need from my locker, Goshiki?”
Goshiki seems to finally accept that he can’t run from his senpai and appears from behind Ohira’s back. His face is white but determent.
“C-can you please show me what’s inside of your locker, Ushijima-san?!” Ushijima blinks.
“Why would you-“
“I need to know to become a better ace, senpai!”
Shirabu clicks his tongue from where he’s standing at his own locker, hitting Goshiki’s cabinet from his place next to it.
“Stop blabbering and get dressed Tsutomu, you idiot.”
“Language!” shouts Yamagata from across the room.
Ushijima turns his head to look at Ohira, trying to make sense of it all. When Ohira shrugs he turns back to Goshiki and regards his clenched fists and bright eyes.
“I don’t know why you need to see my locker, but I don’t really care either way.”
Goshiki seems to hold his breath when Ushijima steps forward to unlock the door. The locker opens with a little creaking sound, revealing… clothes.
Goshiki frowns, disbelieving.
“I don’t get it? Where’s your special food? The diet plans and stuff?”
Ushijima is understanding less and less of what his kouhai is talking about. Nonetheless, the disappointment that’s currently showing on the younger’s face is disconcerting and he tries to answer the weird comments as candidly as always.
“I just use the diet plan that coach Washijo gave us.”
He steps past Goshiki to take his clothes. Ohira turns and reaches for his own locker.
Goshiki remains rooted to the spot, seemingly unknowing what to do with this non-discovery.
“But Shinso said-“
He gasps when Ushijima pulls out his sweatshirt and a paper bag become visible.
“Aha!” All life seems to have returned to Tsutomu’s face. “That’s it, right?! That’s your secret food?”
Ushijima stares at him with an impassive face.
“Those are just my peaches.”
He pulls out the bag and shows its content to his kouhai. Inside of the bag are two perfect, reddish pieces of fruit with fuzzy peels. Goshiki seems to deflate where he stands and looks at the fruit as if they destroyed his every hope and dream. Ushijima doesn’t understand the severity of this reaction.
He just puts the bag back into his locker and finally pulls on his sweatshirt.
“I like peaches. Their smell is comforting.”
“Just… Peaches? But how will that–“
A pale face with red hair appears from behind Ushijima’s back and rests their chin on his shoulder.
“Are you holding a party in front of your locker Wakatoshi~kun? Why wasn’t I invited? That’s so rude~”
Goshiki cuts his sentence short as lazy eyes focus on his face. They seem to glow almost red in the late afternoon sun that’s streaming through the glass roof. Though Tendou has never been mean to him, he can’t help but be intimidated by the tall middle blocker. The unnerving feeling dissolves at the next words that leave the redhead’s mouth.
“Are you talking about your peaches again, Wakatoshi~kun?”
This seems to give Goshiki a new idea. Instead of trying to get answers by interrogating the taciturn ace, he focuses all his attention on this new well of information. Tendou-senpai seems to be in Ushijima’s vicinity at all times after all, so he must know about the secret shopping trips too.
“What do you mean by that, senpai?”
“Wellll~ it’s just as I said, isn’t it? He has an intense love for peaches.”
“You should talk while dressing, Tendou”, Soekawa sighs. Goshiki is no longer the only one who’s intrigued. The other first years have decided to listen too, while their senpais continue their conversations – disinterested in a story that they’ve heard before.
“Our miracle ace has been eating peaches by the dozens since second year. I guess he’s probably eaten three thousand by now. Maybe he’ll wake up one day and be covered in peach fuzz! Or maybe he’s just secretly sacrificing peaches to some fruit demon to become a more powerful ace~.”
Goshiki’s mumbling about getting his own special fruit is interrupted by Shirabu’s sneering.
“If you need a magical fruit to have enough energy you’ll never become our future ace.”
Semi narrows his eyes as he turns to face Satori. “Don’t scare the first years, Tendou.” His following lecture almost drowns out Shirabu’s: “–not why he finds it comforting, idiot!” in the background.
The other first years are still whispering about the story, regularly glancing at Ushijima, who steadily keeps redressing.
“He’s eaten THREE THOUSAND in a year and a half?” one of them squeaks eventually, eyes bulging out of their head.
Tendou seems to take this as his cue to escape Semi’s complaining.
“Okay, that last bit might be a little exaggerated. But he has eaten a lot of them, even if the number does not lie in the thousands. I still can’t figure out why they’re so comforting either”, he concludes, as Ushijima closes his locker and walks to the door. He’s already biting into one of the peaches before he’s left the room.
* * *
Ushijima squints his eyes against the sun as he chews, changing the arch of his wrist so the peach juice will drop to the floor instead of running past his skin and soil his fresh uniform. He’d usually wait for Tendou before returning to the main building, but the redhead apparently forgot his homework in his room and told him to go ahead. He recalls Tendou’s last remark when he takes another bite from the fruit. He’s never understood why people keep asking him things like that. He doesn’t have a particular reason to find comfort in eating peaches. He just… does.
Truly, it doesn’t seem like the type of behaviour that deserves all this attention. After dropping the hard pit of the fruit in a nearby trash can, Ushijima uses his clean right hand to search for a handkerchief to clean his left with. He heaves a long but quiet sigh as he considers the way the conversations before and after volleyball training will go for the next few weeks. Especially now that Tendou had been made aware of the first years’ curiosity towards his peculiar eating habit. Tendou always seems thrilled whenever he learns something new about one of his friends. It almost felt like he saw Ushijima’s love for peaches as some sort of riddle that he had to unravel. This heightening of attention for the ace’s eating habits had also lead to a whole new variety of peach-centred puns that the redhead didn’t seem to get enough of. The more his jokes made Eita and Jin cringe, the more he seemed to enjoy making them. Ushijima takes an automatically left turn to walk to the building where he needs to be, his mind still on Tendou and his fruit puns. He does hope that things don’t escalate as much as they did last year. The amount of puns got nearly uncontrollable as Satori told the story over and over again to the then-first years. He doesn’t want to have to physically restrain Semi again, though he has to silently agree with Shirabu that it was entertaining to see him chasing a cackling Tendou with the sole purpose of throwing the screaming redhead out of the first floor window. Perhaps an easier way to avoid this outcome would be requesting Shirabu to not repeatedly command Tendou for more stories about that certain subject. He isn’t 100% sure his kouhai did it on purpose, but the way Kenjirou’s eyes were glinting as he watched a wound-up Semi were a bit too eager to be innocent.
Yes… Yes- asking Shirabu to help will probably be the best option. He can always pull Semi away before he becomes murderous again. And even if he didn’t; their nature is such that Semi gives Shirabu all of his attention when asked for it (mostly by yelling at him). Honestly, Ushijima is a bit surprised when he realizes he doesn’t even feel a mild form of annoyance when thinking about the jokes. He supposes that he should find them irritating, since they have the ability to distract his teammates during training. The fact that Washijou made them do 30 laps of diving drills because of the ruckus wasn’t all that great either. But the only thing coming to mind when he lets himself think about the dry jokes is the image of Satori, lying on the ground while Ushijima is using his every ability to stop Semi – and laughing so hard he’s crying, not even trying to escape anymore. The memory fills him with the same relaxing warmth that he’s become used to when talking to Tendou.
Ushijima stops, standing stock still and moving his hand to his lips, as if to explore the small smile that lingers there. Why would he smile about people breaking the rules? Even if Tendou’s his friend, he’s never outright smiled or laughed when people were disrupting practice – that’s just something that shouldn’t happen. He frowns. Really, he shouldn’t–
His body jerks forward in surprise as a hand suddenly lands on his shoulder.
“Ushijima! What are you staring at the door for, did you forget how they work?” The broad smile on Jin’s face falters when Ushijima turns his head to stare at him, still frowning.
“Euh.. Hey man, are you okay?” Jin’s eyes flit to the fingers Ushijima is finally withdrawing from his face. “Did you hurt your mouth some way or another? You’ve been standing like that since I turned the corner.”
Ushijima’s frown grows even deeper and turns to blink at the door in front of him. He was so lost in thought that he almost didn’t notice he was standing in front of his classroom already. Jin isn’t perturbed by his lack of response, used as he is to Ushijima’s aloofness. He just gives him a pat on the back and motions with his head towards the door.
“Let’s go in. You don’t want Yamada-sensei yelling at us for being late, do you?”
Ushijima rolls his shoulders and moves to follow Jin inside, resolutely putting the subject out of his mind. As ace, his focus on his grades and his training should be absolute and unfaltering. ‘It isn’t important’, he decides, ignoring the small tingles that always seem to flood his stomach at the memories of boisterous cackles and tear-streaked cheeks. Faint laughter is still ringing in his ears as he enters the classroom behind his vice-captain.
* * *
Consistency is something that should be cherished. Well, according to Ushijima it is. While a lot of people bemoan the boring aspects in their existence and want everything to continuously be exciting, Ushijima appreciates the predictability that structured order brings. It keeps your head clear and lets you focus on the goals you want to achieve, instead of worrying about your agenda and trying to remember everything you need to do. Not that he dislikes spontaneity (he’s friends with Tendou after all), but still; he loves the ways his days are structured – the sense of calm that the stability provides.
Since the bell of his last class just rang, that means he now has 5 minutes to calmly put all his stuff away and wait for the lump of overly excited people that always get stuck in the doorway to disentangle. He nods to his teacher before leaving the classroom and takes into account the amount of time he might need to ask them a question if he didn’t get something they explained during class. He has enough time to finish his short conversation with Jin or whomever was seated next to him during that class, before he needs to turn right to walk to the dorm building where the 3rd year Shiratorizawa boys reside. Instead of going to the lake with his friends, like some of the other students, Ushijima always goes to his room straight away. The seven-minute walk gives him at least 3 minutes to put his school bag away and take out his sports bag to put it by the door – ready for the moment he’ll leave for practice. This leaves approximately 20 minutes before he has to leave and take a 10 minute walk to the gym where he’ll redress with the rest of his team before practice starts.
One might take Ushijima for a fanatic, with such a tight schedule, but those people would be mistaken. It’s not like Ushijima can’t handle changes to the way he planned his day – it’s just that the familiarity provides him with a certain sense of comfort. On most days he’d use those 20 minutes to sit and read for a little while, or clean his room. Yamagata only shows up to get his bag in the last minute before they have to leave for training. That means these 20 minutes are often the only moment he’ll be truly by himself on a school day.
Ushijima pulls the keys from the door with his little finger, doing a weird hop when he enters the room. Tendou almost had to go to the infirmary the first time he saw Ushijima enter the room like that. He was laughing so hard that he missed the bag Yamagata always drops in front of the door. It was quite hard to decipher if the crying afterwards was because of the laughter or because he almost broke his nose when he fell on his face.
He puts his bag next to his desk and disables the air freshener that he leaves on during the day. After putting his sports bag next to Yamagata’s and laying out his school books for when he returns from training, he takes his book and nestles in the cosiest of the two armchairs in the room. He’s just about to find out how the main character will conclude her tirade about George Wickham when someone knocks on the door. Ushijima shoots a quick glance at the page number, before closing his book and getting up to open the door. He’s preparing himself to lightly scold Yamagata for forgetting his keys again when he opens the door to see Semi instead, who’s looking at him grumpily.
“Can you please let me in?”
Ushijima gives a small nod and steps aside, giving Yamagata’s bag a shove with his foot so Eita can come in without stumbling. He closes the door and gestures toward the armchairs, trying not to sigh as Semi plumps down in his favorite one. Ushijima takes place in the chair next to the small table, ignoring the way Semi raises an eyebrow at his book and choosing to just look at him expectantly. Semi suddenly groans and drags his hands over his face in such a slow manner that Ushijima can see the white stripes his fingers left on his cheeks.
“Thanks for letting me in, Wakatoshi. I’m sorry if I bothered you or something, but if I had to hear one more ‘son of a peach’ joke, I swear I would’ve-“
Ushijima huffs a quiet laugh at Semi’s frustration. Having been Tendou’s roommate the previous year, he knows first-hand that their friend can be quite a handful.
“It’s no problem, Semi. You know you’re always welcome.”
Semi grins at him.
“You can continue what you were doing, ‘Shijima, I don’t mind.”
Ushijima takes a second to think about his response, but Semi has already pulled his cell phone out of his own sports bag and is quickly typing a message.
He’s just found the line where he stopped reading earlier when Semi raises his voice again.
“You know… About Tendou, I was wondering about this when I came in; did he get here before me?”
Ushijima squints at him.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand? Tendou hasn’t been here since last Friday.”
Semi’s eyes seems to bore right through Ushijima’s skull with their sudden intensity. “It’s just.. You kinda… Your room- it smells.”
“Yeah, like his shampoo.”
Ushijima gapes at him.
“I’m afraid that I don’t know what brand of shampoo Satori uses, I’ve never paid attention to it before. It might be the new air freshener, though.”
He shows the item proudly to Semi, handing it over for inspection.
Semi laughs as he holds the air freshener in front of his eyes.
“Again with your peach scented fixation? What is it with you and-”
Semi’s voice trails off, snapping his mouth shut with an audible click. He stares so long without blinking that Ushijima is starting to get worried. But right as he’s about to open his mouth and ask what is going on, Semi closes his eyes. Ushijima just stares, waiting for an explanation. When he receives none, he tries to pick up the conversation where it left off – answering Semi’s question about his air freshener.
“I’m don’t believe I have a fixation. I’m just quite partial to the smell, it’s soothing.”
Semi cracks one eye open and squints up at him. His lips twitch and he seems to be on the brink of hysterical laughter. Ushijima has only seen him make this expression once before – when he didn’t sleep for two days while studying because he misread the date of a test, only to hear later that the test had been cancelled.
“You’re kidding right? Tell me you’re kidding.”
Ushijima doesn’t get what’s happening at all. Why does everyone have a problem with peaches these days? He decides to just shake his head.
“I can’t believe I didn’t get it. All that stupid fruit. He’d better never get wind of this. The peach jokes will never stop.”
Ushijima’s thoughts seem to bounce at top speed in his head, driving Semi’s muttering to the background. Semi has to be talking about Tendou, but why does it matter what his shampoo smells like? It’s not like Wakatoshi matched the scents on purpose, it’s just a weird coincidence.
“I just don’t see why it matters?”
Semi stops muttering and looks at him consideringly.
He hands back the air freshener before continuing: “I’ve never seen you eat that much fruit in our first year, you know. It only seems to have started about a year ago. How can the smell of a fruit suddenly become that comforting when it wasn’t before? Are you sure you didn’t just… Recognize it from somewhere else?”
Ushijima moves out of his chair, planning to get a glass of water while thinking about the things Semi is insinuating. Now that he thinks about it, Tendou does always smell quite nice. Ignoring the scent of sweat after practice and the deodorant he uses, there’s always been another scent clinging to him. Something sweet. Sweet and soothing.
Ushijima puts the now empty glass down and turns sideways so he can glance at Semi without having to look at him directly.
“There are lots of things that are peach scented. Satori’s shampoo isn’t the only thing in the world that smells like peaches.”
“Ah, yes, I’m sure about that.” Semi’s drawl echoes softly against the walls, the ticking of the little clock on the table the only other sound filling the room. “I’m sure you can give me some other example then? Right, Wakatoshi?”
Ushijima stands stock still, his mind racing a mile a minute. He has the feeling he’s taking part in some kind of test, the little clock next to him showing the few seconds he has left to come up with an answer. It’s a test he’s about to fail.
“Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.”
He can’t come up with anything. The only thing filling his mind while he thinks of the smell of peaches is loud laughter and red hair – and the fruit itself, of course. Ushijima stretches his hand towards the fruit basket on the table – eating something will give him more time to think, without having to focus on the awkward silence. He doesn’t know what to do with the information he’s been given.
Wakatoshi blindly takes a piece of fruit out of the bowl and brings it to his face. Really. Maybe he should buy something different than peaches once in a while. His hesitation only lasts for a second, but Semi has seen it. He takes a bite, using every excuse to look away from Semi’s victorious expression.
“You know... The first step of handling an addiction is accepting the fact that you have an addiction, Wakatoshi.”
The mirth in Semi’s voice stings a little, and Ushijima feels his stubbornness return at its challenge.
“I’m not addicted to any piece of fruit, Semi.”
Semi snorts, but his answer is interrupted when the door bursts open and an excited Yamagata appears. He storms inside, unimpressed by the way his friends stare at him. After throwing his backpack on his bed, he turns around and speeds towards the entrance of the room. He stops at the front door to sling his sports bag over his right shoulder and turns to his silent teammates. He blinks.
“Aren’t you guys coming too? I understand that you’re hungry after class, Ushijima, but I don’t think Washijou or Saitou really care about the reason you’re late.”
Ushijima moves a second slower than Semi, still having to take his bag from where he’d dropped it next to the door. He feels Semi pass him in the doorway, where he pauses for a second, only to mutter: “You know perfectly well that I wasn’t talking about fruit.”
Ushijima slowly rights himself and searches for his keys. Taking another bite from the peach, he follows his friends – all the while wondering if reading at the lake with the other students would have been a better decision after all.
* * *
Training was hell that day. Ushijima has never felt so disoriented while playing volleyball. It’s like Tendou is everywhere he looks. No… That’s not correct. It’s more like Ushijima’s senses had an unanimous agreement to betray the body they were supposed to be working for, and fixate on Tendou’s instead.
Ushijima tries his hardest not to look. He really does. But even if he can’t see Tendou directly, he can still hear his humming, feel his movements behind him... Tendou almost ran into him during one of the earlier exercises. They didn’t even touch each other, but still Ushijima’s body decided that was the perfect moment to overreact – goose bumps prickling all along his arms in reaction to the small gust of wind to his neck. He’s more aware of the way his friend’s body moves than he’s ever been before and it doesn’t make any sense at all. Not really.
When Ushijima turns around after his stretches and notices that Tendou’s nose is only a few centimetres apart from his own, it takes everything he has not to squeak. He’s had enough after that – the rest of the training is spent practicing with Semi instead of Shirabu, in a desperate attempt to be as far from Tendou as he can. He expected some sort of reaction, but his friend just narrowed his eyes a bit and remained silent. Concentrating on volleyball has never been this hard. It pulls at him – his head automatically trying to turn, where he’s never had that happen before. The longer training goes on, the more frustrated Ushijima gets. Even from the other side of the court he can still hear the way Tendou shouts and laughs.
It all feels wrong, somehow. This isn’t how it should be. He never thinks during practice, or at least not about anything non-volleyball related.
The pep talks during training are the worst. Satori automatically comes to stand next to him and Ushijima can’t find it in himself to push him away. It’s not like anything’s happened after all. So now all he can do is try not to breath in the peach scent that originates from someplace behind his shoulder.
Stupid Semi! Stupid Semi with his stupid comments. This had to be his fault. Ushijima feels the childish need to stomp with his feet. He’d never been conscious about the smell of someone’s hair until the fact was pushed in his face. What does it even matter. He bets lots of people know how the hair of their friends smell. It’s probably nothing important. Something he’ll laugh about in a couple weeks, when he– Ushijima’s thought process is rudely interrupted when a sharp chin comes to rest on his left shoulder. He stiffens, his whole body feeling like he rolled in the snow only to feel like he’s burning up two seconds later. The only other thing he notices than the sudden rise in temperature is the way his nails are stinging in his palms with the way he’s clenching his fists. He tightens his hands even more, trying to erase all other sensations he’s feeling at the moment. His only focus should be on what the coach is currently saying. Not the too-warm bodies all around them. Not the chin on his shoulder, or the way the smell of peaches seems to get stronger by the second. Focus on volleyball. Volleyball. Volleyball. Volley-
“Are you okay, senpai?”
Ushijima blinks, the rest of his team already moving away, preparing for the last part of practice. He just nods, not even looking at Shirabu, before he turns and starts to walk towards Semi.
A grip on his wrist stops him. Shirabu is staring straight at him, eyes as calculating as ever.
“We’re supposed to switch players. You’re with our group now.”
He simply nods again, walking next to Shirabu as they leave for the net closest to them. He’s never been happier that his kouhai isn’t that talkative.
The rest of practice passes in a blur. Ushijima rushes out of the dressing room as quickly as he can, mumbling that he doesn’t feel that good to a concerned Tendou, who quickly waves him to the door and orders him to sleep. He pushes past any guilt he might feel – not that he feels much over the white lie anyway. It isn’t even really a lie, Ushijima tells himself, just- a little logical ruse. He does feel weirdly off after all.
It’s only when he’s lying in his bed, waiting for Yamagata to return to their room, that he has time to think things over. It must just be the shock – he concludes, staring at the little spider web in the left corner of the ceiling. Just the surprise of knowing where his positive peach-connection comes from. Everyone would be shaken by hearing something like that. And it isn’t that weird, is it? Of course he’d like the scent? Tendou is his best friend after all. It’ll be better tomorrow. Since he has the time to think about it now, the surprise will have worn off and everything will be back as it was.
Ushijima’s breathing slows, calmed down by his conclusion. It was just the surprise. Nothing more. Everything will be fine tomorrow.
* * *
Everything was not fine. It’s been only three days, but Ushijima’s more confused than ever before. He’s always liked walking next to Tendou, being at his side, but it also didn’t bother him whenever he was alone. Now though – it feels like there’s a string that connects them at their core. Whenever Tendou’s too far away, it feels like something will snap. Like the invisible cord will break and strike him as it recoils. His need to be close to someone else has never been this strong. And Ushijima might be stubborn, but he isn’t stupid. He knows what people will tell him if he describes everything he’s feeling. He even understands why they would tell him that, but still… It doesn’t really makes sense. After all, if he were… If he thought… That. He would know, wouldn’t he?
Tendou is his best friend. People don’t think things… Feel things… more than friendship without noticing, do they? That must mean something’s wrong. There must be a fault somewhere. He should look at this rationally.
The rest of Thursday morning is spent trying to analyse his behaviour and everything he’s been experiencing, and comparing it to the way he felt before. The way he feels at home whenever Tendou is around and can’t be bothered by the volume at which his friend talks, even though he’d dislike it if it were anyone else. The way he doesn’t mind all the physical contact, and how the hugs he receives make him feel warm and dizzy. The way Tendou’s laugh makes him want to laugh too – feeling floaty and almost giggly. The way he sometimes feels like he’ll stumble when the redhead’s too close, or not being able to concentrate on anything other than what his friend is telling him; intoxicated by his voice and the singing cadence of his words.
Hmm. Maybe he did overlook a few things…
Even though the evidence of his thoughts are staring him right in the face, Ushijima doesn’t want to lose all hope of normalcy. He doesn’t want any of this, he just wants… No complications. Desperate for some last way he can convince himself this means nothing, he plans a way to test himself. After all, people who… feel things like that shouldn’t enjoy things as much when their… person isn’t there, right? He’s heard Semi whine about that more than enough. This is the only way he can prove to himself that this isn’t that serious. But if his tests fail…
But they won’t. No matter what the voice of reason inside his own head says – Ushijima has never not been able to enjoy being alone. Even with the recent developments, this will still be the same as ever. Especially since he isn’t totally… He doesn’t think… Ushijima isn’t really…
He just isn’t.
* * *
Ushijima’s plan to test out certain activities starts that evening. He’ll do the two things Tendou and him always do together. He’ll enjoy them just the same as always and he’ll have crushed most of his fears in the process.
Wakatoshi feels strangely numb as he leans back on his bed, shifting his laptop a bit so he’ll see the screen better. The sound of baby sloths drifts from the speakers as he tries to focus on the subject of the nature documentary.
Only 56 minutes have passed, but he has already switched to two other documentaries and is starting to get restless. He’s had to rewind 3 times now, failing to understand what the host was summarizing about dwarf tomatoes. He’s never failed to listen when someone was talking about this subject before. The only thing he can think of is the way Tendou would comment on the sloths and impersonate them, or trying to distinguish which kind of tomato red looked most like his hair. In the end he just closes the tab altogether, not feeling like watching it any further.
In a fit of inspiration, he tries to watch the series Tendou wanted to show him for a while. After two episodes of watching an angrily exploding dandelion-looking kid shout at some other kid with broccoli-like hair, he decides to give up. It’s not that he didn’t enjoy the show – it was funnier than he expected, but it still didn’t really feel the same as usual.
Even the half hour of reading he normally does before bed doesn’t feel as relaxing as it normally does. In the end he just closes his book and goes to sleep.
* * *
Ushijima takes a deep breath as he looks up. Everywhere around him are trees, the light filtering between the leaves as they rustle in the wind. The walk through the woods next to campus calmed him more than trying to watch the documentary series. He walks further until he sees the small bushes that mark where he’ll leave the path. Taking another right turn, he ducks under a few slanting trees and enters his favorite place in the prefecture. They found it when Tendou ran away from the path once, in their first year, sure that he’d seen some kind of bird he wanted to draw. The little field is filled with grass and, during some months, the edge of the field is filled with multi-coloured flowers – just like when they stumbled upon the clearing the first time.
Ushijima shuffles forward and goes to lay in the small clearing, created by the low hanging branches of the weeping willow that grows there. He tries to concentrate on the light filtering through the leaves, but closes his eyes after only a few minutes and focuses on the sound of the wind instead. He’s lucky that his English teacher didn’t feel great that day. Not that he wishes his sensei ill, it’s just that he has a free hour next and can use the two hours before lunch to relax and enjoy the silence. Something rustles at a point to his right. Looking up, he sees a small brown bird with a yellow patch on its head hopping around. He smiles and turns his head left, ready to tell Tendou about the bird and its nesting habits. He feels his smile falter and disappear as he watches the sunlight reflect on the piece of grass where usually a freckled boy would lay, humming with his eyes closed. This has been the fourth time that he’s turned to tell Tendou something in the 20 minutes since he’s entered the forest. It makes him wonder why people think him to be taciturn. Instead of talking he just silently watches the little bird as it hops around, until it spreads its wings and flies up again. He watches the bird until he can’t see anything but the sky anymore. Laying back down again, he wracks his brain – trying to analyse the woods and tranquillity he’d normally find here. It feels better than watching the TV show did, but still – he feels… empty.
Wakatoshi closes his eyes again, focused on relaxing as much as he can, even though it doesn’t feel as peaceful as he normally does. He feels his muscles relax as he imagines Tendou lying next to him, a bit to his left, just like always. He’d probably be drawing or humming some new song he recently heard. Sometimes he just rests next to Ushijima, not doing anything – and they just lie there, silent. It’s not that hard to imagining him being there, resting next to him, listening to the wind. Ushijima shifts as he hears a twig snap, a couple of metres away. He pinches his leg, trying not to fall asleep but unwilling to open his eyes. If he opens them again, Tendou will be gone in less than a second. It’s so easy to forget he’s not really there – easy to think he’ll smile whenever Ushijima opens his eyes and turns his head. He can almost hear him laugh in his head – sniggering softly, only to open his mouth and say the same thing he always says when they lay there.
“You kinda look like a Disney prince, you know?”
Ushijima’s eyes fly open. He stares right into a face that’s hanging upside-down. Tendou’s hair droops a bit, gravity trying it’s hardest to win the battle against a ridiculous amount of hair gel.
“Tendou”, he simply says.
Tendou plops down behind him, legs spread, so Ushijima’s head is laying between freckled thighs, hidden behind purple trousers. Ushijima says nothing, staring at the still upside-down face of his friend.
“~Are you not going to ask how I found you, Wakatoshi-kun~?”
Tendou yawns and stretches, leaning back – his face disappearing from Ushijima’s view.
“How did you find me?”
Tendou shifts a bit, still leaning backwards.
“It wasn’t that heard you know. I knew you had Yamada before us, so you’d have two hours off. And you always come here when you have time to spare – ~which is never, by the way~”
Ushijima shifts his gaze, trying to determine if the name of the cloud he’s gazing at is altocumulus or altostratus. He’s learned that it’s easier to be this close to Tendou by not focusing on him with all his senses – the way he did before.
“~We shouldn’t stay here for too long, though, we don’t want to be back late for lunch.~”
Ushijima keeps gazing at the clouds, still doubting what their scientific name is. He misses Tendou’s explanation, only noticing he’s asked something when Tendou’s head appears in his vision again. He can see the freckles on his eyelids when they’re this close. He wants to ask Tendou to repeat what he’s just said, but a sudden tickling in his throat forces him to keep his mouth shut and concentrate on not coughing right in Tendou’s face.
As he focuses on Tendou’s face again, he sees that the other is still gazing at him expectedly. Ushijima nods, signalling to Tendou that he can continue his story, still not trusting himself to not cough if he’d try to speak.
It appears he made some sort of mistake, though, as Tendou’s expression morphs into one of utter excitement.
“REALLY?! ~That’s so great! I can’t believe you agreed so quickly, Wakatoshi-kuuun? It normally takes far more effort to convince you~”
Ushijima just stares at the way his friend is rocking left to right from happiness, not knowing what to say or how to rectify the situation. He still has no idea what Tendou’s talking about.
“~I can’t wait to tell the others!~”
Ushijima shifts his eyes again, overwhelmed by Tendou’s happiness. He supposes it’s best that Tendou only ever laughs at him like this. His whole ‘scary façade’ would never work on other teams if they’d seen him smile like this even once.
“Do you know which one you’ll choose?”
Before Ushijima can decide to finally confess he has no idea what they’re talking about, Tendou continues: “which song, I mean?”.
“~Yes! You can’t come with to a karaoke bar and then sing nothing, ya doofus?!~”
Ushijima hides his face behind his hands as he tunes out Tendou’s excited babbling.
‘Oh. Oh no.’
* * *
Saturday morning training is exhausting.
Everyone has a deceptive air of calmness around them, except for Ushijima and Shirabu, who openly dislike singing and are dreading the evening to come. Coach Washijou may not know about their evening plans, but he still watches them with suspicion clear in his eyes. He quickly seems to decide that he doesn’t care why they’re quiet and uses their tranquillity to work them harder than ever.
They ARE legitimately calm afterward; too tired to move except to drag themselves to the club room, plopping down on the bench as soon as possible and starting to redress with the speed of elderly turtles.
“~Help me Semisemiiii~”
Wakatoshi sleepily leaned his head back against the wall while he watched Tendou try to convince Semi to help redress him.
“Stop whining and dress yourself, Tendou. Do I look like a maid to you?”
“Well no~ But I’m sure Kenjirou would love it if you- aaah! No! Nonono – not my fingers! Stop your demon, Semi – I’m sorry!”
“You should think before you speak sometimes.”
“You should only ask people that if you really want them to undress you”, Shirabu chimes in.
Tendou pouts, unconvinced.
“You’ll help me, right, Wakatoshi-kun~?”
Ushijima freezes at the question, not expecting it in the slightest. It’s like the air in the room has dried up and vanished, and he has to force himself not to lick his sudden dry lips. His mind immediately conjures an image of himself helping Tendou out of his sweaty T-shirt, for half a second, before he drops himself back into the present – shaking his head to clear his mind from the way his dream-fingers had lingered over freckled skin. God, this is getting worse and worse.
He’s lucky the others seem to take him shaking his head as his answer.
“I think Shirabu explained it well enough, Satori.”
“~Impassive as ever.”
Satori is still pouting. “It’s just clothes, no need to make such a big deal out of it~”
“Stop whining and dress, Tendou! If you take any longer I’ll make you close up the room.”
“~But I’m too tired! I’ll die Semi, do you want that on your conscience~?”
Semi’s “yes” Is heard at the same time as Shirabu’s “then perish”.
Ushijima stands and finishes pulling on his sweater while ignoring the shrieking match that starts behind him when the keys of the club room collide with Tendou’s head.
This is going to be a long day.
* * *
“We’ll be late if we don’t leave soon.”
Ushijima can’t see Yamagata from where he’s waiting at the door, but he still cringes when he hears things fall in the bathroom.
“I’ll be out in a second! I just need to find my phone.”
“You left it on your bed.”
“Ah! Great! Thanks Wakatoshi!”
Hayato’s muttering moves to the bedroom. “And I was so sure that I’d searched here before I- Ah! Got it!”
Ushijima goes to stand outside, waiting with his keys in hand until Yamagata is ready. Once his friend has joined him outside he closes the door and they’re on their way.
The 18 minutes it takes to walk to the little karaoke bar next to campus are far too short. They’d encountered Reon and Kawanishi on their way there and decided to all walk towards their doom together. Or, that’s how Ushijima sees it, at least. The others appear far less gloomy about the whole thing. No matter how nice Ushijima found his teammates, there will never be a day that he’d truly look forward to having to sing while people stare at him.
They’re the last ones to arrive, which is a weird feeling in itself, since Ushijima prefers always being early instead of just on time. The overly excited way Tendou waves at them makes him feel a bit lighter, though – not that he lets it show on his face.
He catches Kenjirou’s gaze. The second year looks about as tired as Tendou is excited and gives Ushijima a little nod – having found a partner in his suffering.
They all enter together. For a second it seems like they’ve gone back in time, engulfed by the retro theme that shapes the bar’s interior. Even the microphone and stage seem like they came straight out of an Elvis video.
It’s only 21h30, but two of the six tables are already surrounded by little groups of chattering people. The bar isn’t split, sadly enough, so you have to wait your turn if you want to sing. Ushijima waits until Semi slides further down the bench before he goes to sit next to him. He lets his eyes get used to the purple and pink neon lights while Tendou drags Goshiki with him to go get some bundles with song-options. Jin leaves too, picking up a menu from the table on their left, so they can all choose what to drink. Semi’s peering at the ‘drinks’ section of the menu that was left on their table already.
“They even have your favorite, you know.” A slender finger taps on the second option out of the list of liquors Ushijima is currently blinking at. He knows that Semi’s taunting him, but the peach flavoured liquor does sound quite appealing at the moment. He waits until most of his teammates have chosen a drink before taking the menu himself. He tries to look very busy when he hears Tendou return, happily discussing song options with Goshiki and Kawanishi. He’s been looking at the liquor options for about 4 minutes when Tendou suddenly says “Look, Wakatoshi-kun~ they even have Disney classics like the Circle of Life! You could totally–“
“I think not.”
The contrast between Kenjirou’s almost proud expression and Tendou’s crestfallen one would be funny if he wasn’t so sure that his redheaded friend truly would try to make him sing such a song. He’s relieved to note that he’s not fallen that far that he’s singing Disney songs in public. Yet.
He’d never have agreed to accompany them if he didn’t know how effective this was as a bonding experience for the team. The last three times they did this had been a huge success, with more and more team members joining the outing.
Jin returns with the drinks, excusing himself to Wakatoshi when he notices that he’s forgotten to take his order before heading to the bar. Ushijima waves him off and stands to go get his drink himself. A shot might be just what he needs if he doesn’t want to die of shame in a couple of minutes. He decides for an alcohol free drink in the end – asking for it to be poured into a cocktail glass to try and conceal the fact that it’s peach flavoured, in a weak attempt to bypass Semi’s pointed looks.
They have to wait for seven songs before it’s their turn. Ushijima goes to collect a second drink while he watches Tendou dance toward the stage where the mic stands. The bartender just looks at him as Ushijima repeats his request for it to be poured into a cocktail glass and turns to take the bottle, apparently too intimidated or uncaring to ask too many questions. Ushijima just stands there, patiently waiting and trying to ignore the antics of the table right behind him.
The girls who’ve been sitting there have obviously been at the bar for a while. They’re swaying in their seats and their sniggering get louder by the second. He gave them a stern look when he walked by, not appreciating the fact that they were shouting at some of the previous singers. He’s just thinking about the fact that he hopes they’ll leave before it’s his turn, when the words of one of the girls gets his attention.
“You’ll have to suggest someone hotter, hun’, I have way better taste than that.” Her words are slurring a little, obviously already affected by the alcohol they’re drinking.
“What?! Noooo, that guy deserves so much more than a 6,5 – he’s a seven at least, maybe a 7,5.”
“What about,” one giggles, “that one?”
“Oh my god, NO! Are you blind?! My standards aren’t that low?”
“Can we give minus points?”, chuckles another.
“I mean,” the first girl hiccups, “just look at that guy. Where did he crawl out off? They shouldn’t let people like that in here.”
“He probably can’t sing for shit. Look at that hair!” The giggles intensify.
“I think his hair’s cool enough.”
“Yes, if your blind!”, the first girl chimes in again.
“His hair? Look at his face?! What a creep.”
Ushijima’s frown deepens. His strong distaste for bullies has only intensified by the stories of some of his friends. He must look quite menacing, because the bartender flinches when he catches his gaze. He’s just stretched out his arm to accept the glass when the next comments makes his blood turn to ice.
“Just look at the way he’s wiggling – he’s way too excited, what the fuck? I can’t believe they gave him the microphone, he’ll probably just screech instead of sing.”
“It’s so creepyyy! Imagine having him in your family?”
“Imagine him being your brother?!”
“What the fuck, no?! I don’t want to look like some redheaded monster.”
The derisive laughter of the group behind him fades out into a high ringing noise. It’s not hard to figure out who they’re talking about. He knows that Tendou believes strongly in a quote he heard in one of his beloved TV-shows, about “wearing what you are like armor so people can’t use it to hurt you”, or something of the sort – but he still hopes with his whole being that the redhead can’t catch anything the girls are saying from his place at the mic. Ushijima finally grabs the glass the bartender was holding out to him, slamming his payment on the edge of the counter and stepping to the side to walk back to his seat.
As he turns he directs the full power of his scowl at the girls who are shit-talking his friend. He’s sure that even Oikawa’s gaze towards him has never been filled with as much animosity as Wakatoshi’s glare at this moment. They are so shocked about his anger that they just gape at him, not daring to move until he’s passed their table.
He hears them mutter angrily behind him. “What’s with that guy?”
“Look, look! The demon child is about to sing!”
Ushijima breathes deeply in and out. He knows physical or verbal violence are never a good option, but sometimes he wishes he could just–
He’s glad most of his teammates are looking at the way Tendou’s adjusting the height of the mic, instead of interrogating him about his sudden mood swing. Goshiki opens his mouth when Ushijima sits down at their table, but wisely shuts up when he sees the annoyance in his senpai’s usually impassive face. His round face is red and his eyes are somewhat unfocused. Ushijima decides to lecture to others tomorrow about letting the first-year taste their drinks instead of making sure that he kept to his own soda. He nods to himself after making this decision and lets his thoughts drift to the rude girls again.
He’ll never understand why people like to talk so negatively about others. It doesn’t even make sense. Even if he were ugly – which he isn’t – why in the world would that mean that he can’t sing either. Everyone on their team knows that Tendou is a great singer. They were surprised at the beginning, seeing that Tendou has the habit of cackling and shrieking loudly most of the time, but they’ve learned that he can make his voice turn clear and smooth if he so desires. The only reason they know this is because Tendou has the tendency to try and sooth his nerves by singing and sometimes dancing before all of their matches. Semi tried to stop him at first, but after Tendou looked like he was going to have a mental breakdown they just let him do as he pleases.
Ushijima narrows his eyes. He hopes they choke on their wine when Tendou starts to sing. Or that there’s at least three hairs in their soup tomorrow. Or that all the milk in their fridge turns sour. Or that-
His thought process on all the horrible things the people of the other table deserve disappears when the first notes of Tendou’s chosen song start to fill the room. He recognizes the rhythm – it’s one of the songs Tendou’s been humming on and off for the last few weeks. Satori winks at their table, slowly swaying his body to the music where he stands in front of the microphone. Then he closes his eyes and sings.
Ushijima feels strangely vindictive as a hush takes over the room. Even the first table seems to have shut up – transfixed by the way Satori’s clear voice is washing over them. Their expression has changed to one off neutral attentiveness and he can’t understand why they didn’t look like that from the beginning. The way so many people judge Satori has started to bother him more and more over the years they’ve known each other.
“~Every weekend with your friends
Every weekday when it ends
Damn it's all good, I guess~”
Semi clicks his tongue as Tendou launches into the refrain, distracting Ushijima from trying to translate the lyrics.
“How can he sing like that and be so shitty at languages at the same time.”
It doesn’t really sound like a question. Ushijima tries to defend his friend nonetheless.
“Tendou has some affinity for Korean.”
Semi looks at him from the corner of his eyes. Ushijima, thinking that his friend is still doubting his claims, tries to elaborate.
“And he hasn’t failed any of his English tests this semester.” He omits mentioning that Satori only narrowly escapes failing his tests each time, but the look in Semi’s eyes hints at the fact that his silver-haired friend is all too aware of this.
Semi purses his lips a little, squaring his shoulders in an attempt to sit still and not openly sigh at Ushijima’s defensiveness.
“It wasn’t meant as an attack. You know very well that he only speaks Korean because half of his family lives there and they’ve been traveling there since he was born. And he can only seem to speak English when he’s singing. But I must admit that his pronunciation isn’t bad.”
“Then again. Does it matter how he learned to speak Korean? The fact still is that he can”, Shirabu said, seamlessly entering into the conversation. “I don’t think it has much to do with singing in itself.”
Ushijima looks on as the setter pokes Goshiki’s forehead, which is resting in the crook of his arm. “Don’t fall asleep here, idiot!” He then continues like he never stopped talking.
“It’s just that he sings the same songs for a couple weeks straight, so it’s only natural that he’s able to pronounce it better after a while.”
Goshiki lifts his head and blearily blinks. “I’m awake, though, senpai”, is all he says before promptly dropping his head on his arms again.
“Ah, it lives.”
Ushijima turns his head as Semi elbows Shirabu in the ribs.
“Stop being a shit, Kenjirou.”
Both Ushijima and Semi ignore Shirabu’s half-pout as they turn to watch Tendou again.
No, really – he shines in the lights of the stage, dancing slightly on the music. Tendou’s left hand is closed around the mic while his right hand gestures as he sings. His eyes are closed.
Ushijima wonders how many people in this club are fooled by the relaxed way the redhead moves his body – seemingly entirely at ease. The people at their table know that’s only possible when he closes himself off from the strangers who are watching. Or when he’s surrounded by their team. It’s a shame, though – his eyes would be beautiful with the way the light frames his face.
Tendou must’ve heard his thoughts somehow and his eyes sparkle when he opens them to send another mirthful gaze towards their table.
“Dancing with the demons, oh
Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit - Grips you like a pistol
Wet the whistle, wet the whistle – Abyss of ice crystal”
The light appears to turn his hair even brighter, setting him ablaze and illuminating his face in such a way that onlookers might worry his head is on fire. Ushijima just thinks he’s radiant. Even after all the realizations he’s been through this week, that last thought still hits him like a sucker punch.
He shakes his head a little, wanting to clear his mind from the warm fuzziness that is starting to plague him more and more these recent days.
Tendou’s eyes are closed again as he heads into the second refrain.
“This is what it feels like when you become one of the drunks
This is what it feels like when you become one of the drunks
Searching for a new high, high as the sun, uncomfortably numb
This is what it feels like when you become one of the drunks”
Japanese seems far easier to sing, in Ushijima’s humble opinion. He must admit that he likes the way Tendou’s voice changes when he speaks in another language. And the fact he’s singing about the sun – or something of the sort. It fits his image: a warm source of light and life, someone everyone wants to turn to and follow, and is greatly missed the moment they leave your side.
Semi clicks his tongue as he watches Tendou sing. He clicks his tongue again as he seems to come to some sort of conclusion. Ushijima is strongly reminded of the loud ticking of his grandmother’s favorite clock.
“It suits him, though – the song, I mean.”
Ushijima nods, only understanding about half of the words his friend is singing. The thoughts he’s been having can’t be that unusual, if Semi is thinking the same things he is.
“Yes. Tendou is a lot like the sun.”
Shirabu snorts as Semi nods sagely.
“He can be… Too bright to look at sometimes.”
“That’s one way of putting it.”
“Would I go blind if I looked at him for too long?”
Shirabu’s cackle and Semi’s dumbfounded face must mean that his mumbling wasn’t as quiet as he thought it to be. Ushijima chooses to ignore them as he continues to ponder his question. The most logical thing would be to not ever look at Tendou again and remain a seeing individual – but the thought hurts him more than he expects. Would he be able to turn away, even with such dire consequences…?
Another glance at his neighbour's face has him confused. Semi is still staring at him, ignoring Shirabu’s sniggering. Ushijima is starting to wonder if he made some sort of mistake.
“I told you, didn’t I?”
This seems to finally get Semi out of his stupor. He closes his half-opened mouth and blinks rapidly. When his thoughts settle, he fixes Ushijima with an unreadable expression before stating: “Kenjirou was right. You guys ARE like a married couple”. His comment was loud enough to have raised Reon’s attention, who shuffles past a dozing Goshiki to listen to the conversation.
Ushijima blinks at their expectant faces.
“Gay marriage isn't legal in Japan, Semi.”
Reon pats his back with something akin to pity on his face.
“I'm afraid you're missing the point here, Wakatoshi.”
“Why would I marry Tendou..?” Ushijima speaks slowly, trying to understand why everyone is staring at him like he just asked what a spike is. Before he can say anything else he's interrupted by a bleary Goshiki who lifts his face from his arms while making a confused noise.
“Wait.. So you guys aren't together?”
Wakatoshi knows he isn't the best with social cues, but there isn’t really a way to misinterpret Goshiki's question.
Yamagata appears next to the first-year and pats his shoulder.
“Don’t worry about it Tsutomu. This is a topic you should remain blissfully unaware of, unless you want to help convince our oblivious captain to ask a certain middle blocker on a date.”
The turn in the conversation makes Ushijima’s antsy feelings increase until he starts bouncing his left knee underneath the table – his nervous tick getting the best of him. He wants the conversation to be over, to focus on another subject, but at the same time he’s feeling annoyed that he doesn’t understand the intentions of his friends.
“Why would you guys convince me to date Tendou?”
“It’s a horrible decision, really”, drawls Shirabu.
Semi quirks his left eyebrow. “You were the one who told me to confront him with the peach-thing, Kenjirou.” He pointedly ignores the betrayed glare he gets in return and moves to look at Ushijima again. All the boys at the table are now talking through each other – their voices forming a cloud of noise that gets quickly overwhelming. The only silent one is Goshiki, who is just watching them with an occasional yawn.
Ushijima considers himself a patient man, but even his stoicism has it limits. He’s getting more and more uncomfortable with the direction the conversation has taken. The tension of all their voices makes him bounce his leg even faster and he just wants them to shut up, to be done with this.
“I politely request that you all stay out of it.”
He goes on when he sees Semi open his mouth. “I mean it. You all mean well, but I don’t want anyone to meddle.”
They must see something in his eyes, because all of them nod quickly – even though Yamagata’s nod seems a bit reluctant.
The sound of clapping makes him turn away from the table to see an exuberant Tendou bouncing in their direction. There’s already another singer in front of the microphone, waiting for their song to start playing.
The others suddenly seem very interested in talking to the few people who are seated at the other end of the table and slide further to the right, talking quietly to each other.
Tendou carefully takes place in front of Ushijima, trying not to bother Goshiki too much while at the same time trying to cool himself by fanning his face with his hand.
“And? What did you think?”
Ushijima smiles a little, amused by Tendou’s eager hopefulness.
“You did well. I did not understand the meaning of the song, though.”
As expected, his comment gives Tendou the opportunity to launch into an in depth conversation about the song he’s sung and all the different meanings he’s read about. Ushijima is relaxing more and more as he just listens and takes in Tendou’s excitement, watching the way his hands flutter through the air as he talks.
“What do you think, is there a theory you like more~?”
“~Yes. I thought you’d say that~.”
Tendou’s laughter fills the air. He’s still flushed from his performance, his eyes glittering in the half dark. He leans forward a bit, leaning on his elbow.
“Are you drunk already, Wakatoshi~kun? Your pupils are huge~”
The question takes Ushijima completely off guard. His mind betrays him by only providing explanations about the way people’s pupils dilate when they see something they’re attracted to. The fact that he can’t denounce this thought right away confuses him even more. Maybe his teammates do have a point after all.
Tendou cocks his head, still waiting for an answer.
“Yes. I guess the drinks have taken a stronger effect than I assumed they would.”
Shirabu’s exasperated huff takes him by surprise, not having realised that his kouhai had switched his attention to their conversation again. He seems to know full well that Ushijima has only drunk normal peach juice since the moment they entered the club. Tendou looks curiously at Shirabu, but the setter keeps quiet, tapping a nail against his glass as Tendou starts a conversation with Eita instead.
That short moment of having Tendou’s attention turned away from him becomes Wakatoshi’s undoing. It’s like the smile that’s blooming on Tendou’s face unlocks the thoughts inside that have been fighting to escape for ages.
He’s engulfed by clarity and the powerful feeling that this is something he’ll never have. This person isn’t someone meant for him – he’s too bright. Too everything. He’d burn away, turn to dust if he were to be tied down to Ushijima. There’s a feeling of intense loss when you realize you can’t have what you’ve desired for a long time. It’s like losing a dream you didn’t know you had. The fact that Ushijima wasn’t aware of his own wishes before this week – no, before this day – doesn’t diminage the wave of negative emotions in the slightest.
“I have to leave.”
He’s glad that most of his peers don’t hear his comment, still talking to each other at the other end of the table. Tendou and Semi shoot him a confused glance, while Shirabu’s gaze remains fixed on his glass.
It’s too much. He just wants to get out of there – to escape the negativity that seems to hug tighter and tighter around his body the longer he thinks. He needs air and solitude. He just wants to go.
Tendou’s disappointment is palpable.
“But it’s still so early? And you didn’t get to sing?”
“It’ll be for next time, I’m afraid. I’m just… I’m…”
“You should go straight to bed, Ushijima-san. Too much alcohol can have nasty effects on people who aren’t used to drinking.”
Ushijima nods to Shirabu, thankful for the excuse he’s been given. The younger one is looking as though he’s trying to convey some sort of message, but Wakatoshi’s too out of it to pay him much mind.
“Yes, yes. I’ll go back. I don’t feel too well.”
“Do you want me to-?“
“No, it’s alright Tendou, you should stay. I’ll find my way back on my own.”
He feels dizzy as he gets up and grabs his coat. Semi pats his arm and gives an understanding nod.
“Just go, we’ll explain to the others.”
The fact that Ushijima just turns and walks away seems to put down the facts for Tendou, not ever having seen Ushijima behave this rudely by leaving without saying something to the people gathered.
“He must really feel out of it. He looks like that clip I send you yesterday – the one with the derpy bird who forgot how to fly.”
“I don’t think you realize how true that is, Tendou-san.”
* * *
The walk back to the dorms did clear his mind a bit. It helped; being able to focus on the cool wind on his face and the sound of rustling leaves.
The cold clear air outside might have been a bit too much, in combination with his flushed cheeks and the hurried way he took in his breaths – causing him to have a coughing fit right after leaving the bar. Even after reaching his dorm he still has to cough every few minutes, though it seems to have slowed down immensely.
The comfort of nature disappears when Ushijima enters his dorm building. He doesn’t have the luxuries of staring at the trees and distracting himself when he’s just lying in bed. No matter how soft his mattress feels – it doesn’t give him an escape from the thoughts he’s trying to evade. He really does feel like shit now, his throat tight and uncomfortable – though he can’t conclude if that’s because of his thought process or the coughing fit earlier. In the end he decides to halve the distance of his morning jog for the next day, in an attempt to avoid catching some sort of illness. He gets out of bed one last time to take some cough syrup, just in case. Even if he doesn’t catch a cold, he still hopes it might help against the scratchiness in his throat.
He checks his alarm clock once more before he gets under the covers, looking at the way the numbers set a faint red glow on the books lying next to it. He’s finished the one on top of the stack only recently, right before the book he’s reading at the moment. He tries to relax by contemplating the book again, waiting for a familiar calmness to creep into his bones. It was one of the birthday gifts he received from Tendou, filled with stories of Greek mythology. The one on the cover had been their favorite – a story about a boy who flew too high, ignoring his father’s warnings and chasing the sun.
He spends the rest of his time falling asleep thinking of Icarus, the story morphing more and more the sleepier he gets. If he dreams of a redheaded sun he’s trying to chase with faulty eagle wings that break down mid-flight, Ushijima couldn’t tell you. He doesn’t remember anything but a longing for the sky when he wakes up.
“One should not try to touch the light, my boy. Have I not told you of Icarus? Once a human has tasted the love of the sun, their eyes will forever be turned skywards, ignoring the ground and its safety below.”
“Worry not, father. I don’t believe myself deserving of that splendid brilliance. But even so: Icarus might have flown too close to the sun, but at least he flew.”